Title: Behind The Mask
Author: Lisa Worrall
Publisher: White Stiletto Press
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Contemporary M/M, Interracial
Length: Novella/109 pages/22,800 words
Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Review Summary: What do you give the man you love when you’re no longer there? Another man who will love him just as much.
The Downe’s Valentine’s Day Masquerade Ball has been an annual event for over a hundred years and where, four years ago, Gabe met Mike.
It’s been over six months since Mike’s death and Mike thinks that Gabe is ready to move on. How does Gabe know this? He receives a letter and a ticket to the ball, from Mike. Gabe isn’t sure he’ll ever be ready to move on, but in deference to Mike’s memory, he attends the ball.
What Gabe doesn’t know, is that his best friend, Tom, the one constant in his life since college, has also received a letter from Mike. Will Gabe be able to move forward and remember a long forgotten love, or will his world come crumbling down around his ears, again?
I think this is the third book I have read recently by Lisa Worrall, and other than some purple prose in A Nanny for Nate I like her writing. In Behind the Mask the story is told partly in flashbacks and the rest in present day.
Gabe and Tom became best friends when they met in university but somehow they seemed to have missed the boat where friendship turned to love, as each time there could have been a love connection between them the stars weren’t aligned correctly and the opportunity was lost. Tom was in love with Gabe but he was always disappointed when Gabe didn’t pick up on any hints he put out, and in a desperate attempt to make Gabe see him as a lover and not just a friend he suggested 4 years ago that they attend the annual Downe Valentine’s Day Masquerade Ball together. Just as he was about to put his cards on the table at the ball Mike waltzed in and stole Gabe right from under his nose. Tom was devastated. Gabe meanwhile was so captivated by Mike he never realized that his best friend was in love with him.
Under duress, this year Gabe was attending the Valentine’s Day Masquerade Ball again where he had met and fallen in love with Mike all those years ago. Mike passed away 6 months previously, but before he died he decided to play matchmaker and had written a love letter to Gabe that was delivered after his death in which he requested that he go to the ball because he wanted him to fall in love again and move on. But Gabe was still grieving and that was the last thing he wanted to do. Unknown to Gabe, Mike had written a similar letter to Tom.
When Gabe arrived at the ball that evening he met someone who was clearly fascinated by him and they had a little dalliance that made him feel as if he were alive once more. Since they both wore masks and did not speak he didn’t find out until it was too late who his partner in fun or crime was and he felt used. Tom was also angry with Gabe, but for a different reason.
Stories like this are usually angst filled and when Mike passed away after he lost his battle with cancer Gabe went through all the usual stages of grief, but it was not as over the top as I expected. In fact the author managed to introduce some humour through flashbacks and I got to know and like Mike, although I thought he was quite pushy and aggressive but he knew what he wanted and went for it. I felt that Tom had only himself to blame for letting Mike steal his man because he was the complete opposite of Mike – too laid back and not assertive enough. It was no wonder he lost Gabe to the first man who showed him that he wanted him above all others.
Tom had remained Gabe’s faithful friend in the years he lived with Mike and stood by him during Mike’s terminal illness and his death, but after Mike passed away he wondered if he was fated to remain in the role of friend forever because Gabe didn’t appear to see him as someone other than his best friend.
Despite his flaws Tom was my favourite character in the book because he was constant and stood by Gabe even when he thought he didn’t have a chance to be with Mike forever, and he didn’t think circumstances would change such that he would have a second chance with the man he loved.
Gabe had always admired Tom’s looks because he was quite beautiful but he never ventured beyond admiration because he was afraid that if he told Tom he had tender feelings towards him that might spoil things between them and he would lose his best friend. Also, at times he thought they had moved beyond the point where they could have transitioned to lovers as Tom seemed comfortable with their current relationship.
The pacing of this romance which took four and a half years before our heroes came together finally was done well, with the help of a few three dimensional secondary characters who ensured that they kept their eyes on the prize. While one could consider the plot to be pretty predictable what I appreciated was the way that the story evolved, with a different take on an old trope.
I enjoyed the architectural detail of Downe Hall where the ball was held that was a homage to Gabe’s love of the discipline. The period costumes of the attendees in the ballroom were also delightful and very detailed and I thought that the author did an excellent job of giving readers a sense of actually being there in a time that had long passed, over a century ago.
If you like stories of best friends becoming lovers I think you will enjoy Behind the Mask as I thought that Lisa Worrall did a great job on the characters and Tom’s and Gabe’s world.