WICKED WAYS (1996), by Kate Hoffmann, is a Harlequin Temptation from back in the day when that was Harlequin's hottest line. (Amazon stocks used paperback copies, and the book has been re-released in Kindle.) As such, the cover illustration and title don't so much as hint at vampirism; you have to consult the blurb for that detail. It's not strictly a vampire romance, since the hero isn't the vampire, although several other characters suspect he is. Hoffmann crafts a lighthearted tale that plays with the burgeoning popularity of vampire fiction at that time. We don't learn whether there's actually one of the undead lurking around until near the end of the novel.
Heroine Hallie Tyler lives in the village of Egg Harbor, Maine, with her twin eighty-year-old great-aunts. They've converted the huge nineteenth-century family home into an inn. Perfectly content with a steady but not luxurious income, Hallie reacts with more dismay than delight when a horde of tourists descends on the town in response to a NEW YORK TIMES article about a Tyler ancestor's alleged vampirism. In response to the vampire-hunters, the curiosity seekers, and her aunts' enthusiastic promotion of the rumor, she insists it's all nonsense and wishes it would go away. A dark, ravishingly attractive man who calls himself Edward Tristan arrives one evening and rents the half-renovated coach house, since no regular rooms are vacant. At his initial appearance, numerous hints imply to the alert reader that he's a vampire. In the first chapter, though, we discover from scenes in his viewpoint that he is, in fact, Tristan Montgomery, a bestselling horror author of solitary, nocturnal habits, but completely human. He has come to Egg Harbor in search of an isolated spot in which to break the writer's block impeding his latest work in progress.
Since he comes out only after dark and doesn't eat the meals provided by the inn, Hallie's aunts quickly decide he must be a vampire, as does one of the visiting vampire-hunters. Hallie herself, struggling against an immediate, powerful attraction to Tristan, entertains the idea that they may be right, although her better judgment repeatedly dismisses the notion. Meanwhile, clues showing up near her ancestor's grave hint that a vampire may be stalking the neighborhood, even if it isn't Tristan. For Hallie, the last straw comes when the local authorities put on a vampire festival at Halloween, a severe blow to her desire for the village to remain unspoiled by tourist kitsch.
This novel requires the reader to accept two common tropes—instant, irresistible sexual magnetism between two characters who scarcely know each other and belief in vampirism by otherwise sensible, modern adults. For vampire fans who can embrace these assumptions, WICKED WAYS is a fun riff on the tropes of the genre.
Margaret L. Carter
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