Title: The Mask He Wears
Author: Fae Sutherland & Marguerite Labbe
Publisher: Amber Allure
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Length: 46 pages
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
Ian Dennison loves his job, but when he’s invited to the Mardi Gras ball thrown by his law firm, it’s not for company loyalty that he goes. It’s for Stephen Caulfield, his boss and the man for whom he’s been longing since his first day.
Amidst the costumed revelry and fine champagne, the sparks fly between the men. Ian begins to think perhaps there is hope for them, despite the rules against company fraternization. That is, until a drunken senior partner lets slip the secret Ian never knew Stephen was keeping…his wife.
Is there more to the story than Ian suspects, or is the mask Stephen wears really who he is?
This story begins with a masked ball which sets the scene for the theme of the book: How easy it is to hide ourselves behind a mask. Ian is in love with his boss, Stephen, and has been for a while. The pair get on very well and have a good friendship at work. When Stephen makes sure that Ian gets invited to the exclusive company masked ball, Ian hopes that this means that Stephen may be gay and have feelings for him too. It is therefore crushing for Ian when he discovers that Stephen is married and all his ideals about Stephen come crashing down around Ian’s ears.
Out of the two characters I liked the flawed Stephen the best. He has made a few decisions in his life to take the easy option, to hide his sexuality and create a false front. All this is exposed when he realises that he has fallen for Ian. Despite these perhaps unwise and easy decisions that Stephen has made, they were also entirely understandable which made Stephen a sympathetic character. It was also a mix of amusing and heartbreaking that Stephen has so much trouble articulating his feelings towards Ian and explaining why he has acted as he has in the past.
Ian came over as being a little too self-righteous and also quite priggish. He is hurt when he realises that Stephen hasn’t told him of his marriage and this manifests itself in recriminations towards Stephen. However, it isn’t Stephen’s fault that Ian had held him up as a paragon of virtue. As far as I could work out, Stephen has made no moves on Ian until that evening and then, when he does kiss him, he then tries to explain all the issues surrounding his marriage. By then though Ian is embittered at what he sees as a betrayal by Stephen and refuses to even hear him out. Once Stephen has had the opportunity to explain, Ian still isn’t satisfied and wants Stephen to expose himself fully by coming out at work and divorcing his wife before he will even begin to start a relationship with Stephen. I felt that this was actually asking quite a lot of Stephen to do all in one go and Ian’s ‘holier than thou’ approach was irritating to say the least. He does marginally redeem himself by the end but still I didn’t like how he made Stephen feel bad about a situation where he had attempted to help his best friend.
Despite my dislike of Ian, this is a well written book. The fact that I did have strong opinions on the characters is a reflection of the skill of the authors at painting two well rounded and believable characters. The story is quite short with most of the scenes being centred around the two heroes talking to one another and trying to work out their problems. Although this meant that the book was quite static, I didn’t ever feel that I was bored as the emotional intensity of the piece kept my interested throughout the book.
Overall, I would recommend The Mask He Wears to those of you who like short angsty stories about two men working through their problems on the way to love.