The Mask, Alice Ward

The Mask by [Ward, Alice]

Healing, love, acceptance, a boat load of passion, and quite a bit of intense drama make up this story.  Adara is running from her past and heartbreak and isn't expecting a life any larger than the small stage of Jewel, an exclusive brothel frequented by the elite and their guests.  She's not one of the Jewels selling themselves, but does everyone have their price?  Two men think she does but for two very different purposes.  She refuses on principle but finds herself drawn to one offer that she can't see any reason to refuse.  Finding herself sitting across from Roman Wellington brings about a change in herself and in her life.  Whether she's open to those changes or not is the question.

Roman is the king of his own dot com world.  He has a strong support system in his employees but their interests are in the profitable and honorable business he has built.  Their loyalty to him comes from those two things as well.  For Roman himself?  Well, he's a work-in-progress and we can see very early on that he's missing something, or rather someone essential to bring him out of himself and see reason in warmth.  His personal support comes from his twin sister and her husband.  They help Roman in keeping him from retreating to his mansion in the hills and running his empire in solitude.  He doesn't have desires to be a recluse but there are many times that he has no patience for other people and their expectations and vices.  One vice, however, he uses to his advantage.  By being an exclusive member at Jewel he sates his client's base desires while forging business ties at the same time.  Until one night when he finds himself curious about The Butterfly and what might be behind her mask.

As Roman and Adara get to know one another they feel a pull toward something bigger than themselves.  Roman is willing but Adara isn't ready to let down any walls or guises she hides behind just yet.  Until one man forces her to flee.  Roman rides to her rescue and from his giant home in the mountains she finds safety, peace, and maybe a way to help all the women she left behind.

Once things come together for them things also begin to fall apart.  Roman is incredibly distracted by all the turmoil at work caused by Jack's revenge and leaves Adara feeling confused, frustrated, hurt, and isn't sure what to do or where to go.  Her heart is poured out onto the page and we begin to see that she may do just fine.  But fine on her own?  Roman has some ideas about that and is determined to pull a Mariah circa 1997.

Despite his well-intentioned retreat, he knows he's made a mistake and needs to get her back.  Adara is finding strength on her own.  Getting her life back and going about the motions of physically healing and dealing with the trauma of her past.  When they find their way back to one another it makes things better because Roman bears his heart in a way that he didn't have the courage to do before.  Adara has gotten to a point where she accepts herself for who and what she has become and it allows Roman's confession to sink deep, be believable, and draw them closer together.

I can't help wanting the proposal to come from the other person instead, but the end was satisfying.  The wrap-up of everything was a bit lackluster only because the happiest parts of their life from confession and proposal on were kind of summarized.  Overall, however, there was healing and happiness in abundance.  Sweet, tender, and passionate after overcoming all the distress from Jack and Jewel.

 The Mask, Alice Ward
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