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I've decided since there are six days to the hop and I just happen to have six books, I'll offer a juicy snippet from each novel each day. That worked out well!
And...because my latest release, Loving Leonardo - The Quest, is out now, I'll start with a chapter from book 1 in Loving Leonardo.
Setting the Stage: Nicolas, Ellie, and Luca discover they have more than an interest in Leonardo da Vinci in common.
I shook my head and explained my opinion, “For fifteen years the Mona Lisa went everywhere with him, it was even with him when he died. That’s hardly the action of a man who’d painted that portrait as a commission, is it? No, I see the work as a riddle. Her face compels us to try to read her character. Leonardo challenges us to interpret her thoughts, ‘to capture,’ as he said in his own words, ‘the motion of her mind and the passion of her soul.’ Then he draws a veil of ambiguity across her features and creates a riddle of her smile. On top of that, there is nuance to the form and shadow… something deliberate in the smoky quality akin to a magician’s trick.”
Luca asked, “The sfumato?”
That he knew the proficient’s term for the shadowy quality found in da Vinci’s oils surprised me. Nodding, I sipped my wine and continued, “The sfumato plays a role none of us knows, unless we learn the reason behind it from Leonardo’s own words. As I interpret it, the background and the subject are one and the same. In the Mona Lisa, I can see the artist’s face in the work. That’s clear when you see the man’s self-portrait and compare the two. But beyond the deliberate ethereal quality to the piece, there’s a part of me that believes the painting is a blending.”
I could tell Ellie was intrigued by the idea when she sat forward. “A blending, how so?”
“A blending of the artist himself, and Gian Giacomo Caprotti. This was the person for whom Leonardo held passionate love.”
Luca nodded. “Ah yes, Salai, the ‘little devil.’ I can certainly see that, now that you’ve mentioned it.”
In that moment I had the distinct impression Luca too was drawn to homoerotic art, led perhaps by his own sexual proclivity to identify with artists who walked a very different path in both love and life. Knowing how compatible Luca had been with our blond Dutchman, I was certain he’d find it interesting that Salai’s face and body could be found in several da Vinci artworks from sketches to oils to frescos. In for a penny in for a pound, I threw my seeds to the furrow and voiced it, “He wasn’t free in society to love whom he wished. So he used his lover’s face and form in many works he created. What he didn’t reveal blatantly, he concealed in symbolism. But it was there, his lovers were there.”
Pausing with her grape in mid-air, Ellie said, “I find this topic utterly fascinating.” Then, in her bold-as-brass fashion, she turned to our guest and asked, “You’re not put off by the topic of Leonardo’s homosexuality, are you Luca?”
In Great Britain the topic on the table was not usually discussed in a lady’s presence. Not that my nymph of a wife minded, indeed, she voiced it plain enough. Luca didn’t answer right away, instead he sipped his wine. I wished in that moment I could read his thoughts for he appeared nervous. I wished for a lot in that moment.
Luca met her eye. “Did you know the ancient Greeks didn’t consider sexual proclivity to be a social characteristic? They didn’t distinguish a person’s sexual desire by biological sex, only by the role that he or she played in the act.”
Ellie took on her lovely blush, and for the first time I realized both desire and discomfiture lie within the hue. She asked plainly, “Do you mean to say all that mattered in ancient society was whether someone played the active penetrator or the passively penetrated?”
Bold-as-brass. I chuckled.
Luca’s smile widened and his shadow-blue eyes sparkled. “Yes.”
I believe we were all aware of a sexual tension growing in the intellectual-rich loam. There were little things at play now: the way Ellie moistened her lips and looked at us with eyes that lingered from one to the other. The way Luca’s irises had darkened from snow shadow to moon shadow as he looked upon her. The way I’d catch myself with a reminder to breathe as my eye was drawn to these small distinctions. Like da Vinci’s sfumato, our mutual attraction hung in the air, and I was struck by the notion that the smoky quality depicted in his art was desire. Desire like this.
“Ah.” Ellie nodded in understanding and circled the rim of her wine glass with her fingertip. I could feel the gears turning in the perfect machine of her mind. She proved my estimation right when she laughed suddenly, “Why Signore Franco, I do believe you’ve evaded my original question.”
He touched his heart with mock surprise. “Would I do that?”
That made Ellie laugh just as she was about to sip her red wine, causing her to slosh it on her white silk blouse. “Fiddlesticks! Please excuse me gentlemen, I must see to this before it sets.” Giving us an adorable self-deprecating smile, she quickly excused herself. We watched her go and shortly after the tap ran in the bathroom.
To a man such as I who’d lived on the same side of the fence for so many years, Luca’s answer had been plain enough. There was a silent language men like us used in public that only those of the same persuasion might guess what lie below the surface. Society might speculate all it wished, but unless the intent was blatant, no one knew of it for certain. In a world of unfounded prejudice, discretion might save one’s life. Our eyes met. We knew.
He told me sincerely, “She’s a treasure. Your Ellie is unlike any woman of my acquaintance.”
I smiled. “Indeed. My good fortune is beyond measure because she’s my match in all ways that matter.”
He set his glass aside to rest his hand beside mine on the settee. “She seems an open-minded woman. I confess other than with my sisters, I’ve never found myself so comfortable in the presence of the fairer sex. She makes this easy.”
My little finger stretched slightly, I swear by its own accord. “She does, at that. She declares herself a progressive in her world view. Ellie is extremely open-minded, and this is a truer fact than many know.”
He raised his hand to the side of my face, and there his thumb traced along my bottom lip. My heart started to pound and my cock swelled. The hand slid around to the back of my skull and pulled me close for a kiss. A kiss I very much wanted.
I could taste him under the sweet tang of grapes and wine. I fed my tongue into his mouth and found his. The small whiskers trimmed so close to his upper lip and chin were sharp exclamation points along my heady exploration. I’ve no clear image of how exactly it happened, so absorbed was I in the sensorial bliss of the moment, but shirts and flies opened as magically as if Ali Baba himself called “open sesame” to the cave.
Lean-ribbed and fit, he had a raven thatching over his chest that was slightly thicker than my own, and I petted him as though he were a sleek jungle cat. We freed each other’s cocks as we kissed and caressed and I soon learned that chest hair wasn’t all that was thick on Luca. Da Vinci himself couldn’t have sketched a finer image than this bold firm cock. His kiss deepened and he stroked me slowly with an expert hand while I closed my fingers around a shaft a few inches shy of the length of my forearm. Driven to make free with all he offered, I broke from our kiss. It was then I saw her.
Assessing her attitude quickly, I detected no condemnation. However, my years of secrecy and constant vigilance made me pause. Luca followed my gaze. Appraising the scene she’d walked in on, Ellie stood quietly, her breathing erratic and her cheeks quite pink. This time I knew why. Naturally, Luca was unable to discern what passed between my wife and I. Wary, no doubt from a lifetime of similar conditioning and secrecy, his eyes went to us from one to the other. And he very much looked like the cat that ate the canary.
The sensually-charged static in the air was palpable. No one said a word.
>۞<:) Want more? Read another excerpt inside the cover on Amazon's Look Inside feature.
The adventure continues tomorrow with Loving Leonardo - The Quest
Love Waits in Unexpected Places
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