Title: Masks Off Too: Fool Me Twice
Author: Missouri Dalton
Length: 19 pdf pages, 5200 words.
Publisher: Torquere Press
Genre: m/m paranormal
A well-written story with an intriguing setting that just tried to do too much within the limited word count.
Fool Me Twice opens with vampire Edmund in a typically mournful mood, hanging around in an area of Florida swamp that has special meaning to him. Not only is it where he died, it’s also where he killed his maker (the odious Lucas) and where his 300 year old gravestone is located. There was a strong evocation of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire here, from the swampy setting to the morose, French colonial vampire, and I was intrigued. Edmund has made a virtue of his affliction by becoming an expert in night-blooming swamp flowers, and manages a life of sorts as an academic who teaches at night. I wasn’t entirely sure how he dealt with the practicalities of this (along with having to assume a new identity every few years while staying in the same area), but detailing that would have been beyond the scope of this story.
The first half of the story shows us Edmund’s daily life and illustrates just what a grumpy, isolated hermit he’s become. He’s terrified of other vampires, especially as the only one he’s ever met was such a nasty piece of work. However, when he agrees to attend a masquerade ball in order to help his university department obtain funding for future projects, he discovers that the potential benefactor he’s meant to be charming is another vamp. James Argent isn’t quite so quick to sniff out Edmund’s identity, but when he eventually does, Edmund discovers that he has a lot still to learn about his true nature.
I feel like this story has suffered from having to be short enough to fit in an anthology word-count limit, which is a shame as there’s the potential for a really interesting novella here. Instead of a fully developed romance we just have a frustrating tease, skating over lots of Edmund’s back story but not really satisfying in the here and now. Not only is there a fade to black on the sex scene, but we don’t get to find out much about the mysterious James either. From the little we did see of him I found him to be rather arrogant and patronising with his “little bat” endearments, so the way Edmund falls for him felt like too much, too soon. However, I’ve given the story a C+ because I thought the prose was flawless, the world-building intriguing, and it had the seed of a fascinating story here. I particularly loved Edmund’s crocodile!
In short, I feel this probably works well enough as an anthology story, but as a standalone it lacks both the erotic and romantic content to really satisfy an m/m romance reader. I do want to track down more of Missouri Dalton’s writing, though, because she certainly knows how to write beautifully.