He's "cultured, romantic and commanding," just the kind of man fledgling Chicago magazine writer Veronica Ames has always dreamed about.
But David de Morrissey, the reclusive playwright in Santa Ana romance writer Lori Herter's new book, "Obsession," is not quite what he seems.
He's a 400-year-old vampire, whose "unholy secret frightens (Veronica) even as it draws her irresistibly closer."
Heartland Critiques, a review magazine for romance readers, calls "Obsession" (Berkeley; $4.50) "graphic in nature, sensual and provocative. . . . This shows the depths of loneliness and love that (vampires) endure."
This must be the season for lovelorn creatures of the night. "The Vampire Memoirs," a spring release by Newport Beach writer Traci Briery, was a romantic vampire story that featured a 1,600-year-old female vampire living in present-day Los Angeles.
But Herter, who has written eight other romances, believes "Obsession" is the first romance novel in which the romantic hero is a vampire. The closest that she is aware of is Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's 1978 novel, "Hotel Transylvania."
"It had romance in it, but the emphasis wasn't on the romance," she said, noting also that best-selling author Ann Rice's vampire novels also "are not really romance. The emphasis is a little bit more on horror, although she writes in a very sensual style."
The same might be said of Herter, who acknowledges that writing love scenes between her vampire and her 23-year-old virgin heroine tested her writing skills.
"Yeah," she said with a chuckle, "I had to stretch my imagination and try to do sex scenes that were beyond the human experience, into a little higher plane of sensuality."
Herter, 44, said her inspiration for writing a vampire romance novel was the original "Dark Shadows," the '60s soap opera she watched in college. Since her first romance novel was published in 1980, Herter said, "I kind of had it in the back of my mind to do a vampire."
She wasn't sure whether a vampire romantic hero would sell, she said, "but a book-packager came up with the concept and found me through my agent. He was the one who managed to sell it to the publisher."
Herter figured "there were probably a lot of other people out there like me who liked vampires but didn't necessarily go for all the blood and gore (associated with the genre), so I hoped it would find a audience."
Still, she said, "I felt I was taking a chance because it is different."
The challenge for her as a writer, she said, was in writing a supernatural hero.
"Up until then I had only written about normal people," she said with a laugh. "So I had to create a whole background--the vampire is 400 years old--and figure out what kind of home he'd live in"--she chose a mansion in Chicago--"and where his coffin would be and where he'd obtain blood because he's too moral to go around attacking people."
As Herter explained: He takes a victim's blood only after getting permission. "And he robs blood banks. He stores the blood in a refrigerator and sends an anonymous monetary donation to the blood bank."
David de Morrissey is obviously a vampire with a conscience.
"He feels guilty," acknowledged Herter. "He made the choice to become the vampire because he studied with Shakespeare and so when Shakespeare died, he was afraid that Shakespeare's works would be lost to posterity."
To ensure Shakespeare's writing would be preserved, she said, de Morrissey went to Transylvania and sought out a vampire to bite him, thus transforming him into a creature of the night.
"But once he was transformed," she said, "he began to realize the huge mistake he had made. He feels alienated from people and from God, so he feels guilty about what he's done."
"Obsession" is the first in a series Herter is writing for Berkeley. The second, "Possession," will be out in January, and Herter is working on the third.
Readers have responded favorably to her vampire romance. With the book out less than a month, Herter said, she has received at least 20 fan letters--a deluge for her.
"They all want to know what happens with David and Veronica," she said. "They can't wait six months for the next book and ask would I please tell them."