Thursday, July 2, 2015

#FreedomHop The Live. Love. Read. Blog Hop!

Welcome to the Freedom Hop! Join dozens of talented authors gathering to celebrate love in many shades. Find the participant list at the very end of this post. We all have prizes! Be sure to comment to win a copy of my newest release ~ The Leonardo Chronicles ~ a bind-up of my award-winning, Victorian polyamorous series Loving Leonardo.

Setting the scene~ This is where my story begins. Nicolas meets Ellie and receives an outrageous proposal. 

The clock below stairs chimed once, then twice. Miss Elenora Schwaab would arrive at any moment. Sure enough, the bell rang in the front hall and shortly after, I met the woman in my library where Mrs. Fletcher had deposited her.

In a color scheme that would have inspired Pierre-Auguste Renoir to fetch a blank canvas, she wore a cream-and-blue cotton confection accented by a blue-and-cream rose-bedecked bonnet, reticule, and parasol. Excitement shone brightly in eyes the pale turquoise-blue of a clear autumn sky. Ripping off her cream lace gloves, she jumped from her chair to thrust her hand at me. “Sir Nicolas! Thank you for receiving me on such short notice.”

Americans. Chuckling to myself, I bowed over her smaller hand. “Miss Schwaab, what a pleasure to see you again.” They had the oddest mannerisms. Not rude, exactly; rather forthright without the stodgier affectations of the Empire. On the whole, Americans reminded me of impressionist artists. The artists violated the rules of academic painting, and Americans violated the rules of conventionality. As a student of nuance, I very much liked it.

Mrs. Fletcher entered with the tea. Addressing my guest she said, “I wasn’t sure if you’d like lemon or milk, Miss, so I’ve set the tray with both.”

“Why, thank you ma’am.”

The housekeeper turned to me with a smile sparkling in her eyes. I could tell the sparkle came from being addressed formally when she considered herself only a housekeeper. She said, “And that bread is warm from the oven as you like it, and the butter’s fresh from the dairyman this morning. Is there anything else, Master Nicolas?”

“No dear, this is quite fine. Thank you.”

Alone now, I buttered my bread and addressed the lady busily adjusting her tea to taste. “So Miss Schwaab, you say you’ve a venture in mind…”

“Please, Sir Nicolas. Call me Ellie as all my friends do.”

I smiled at what she implied. I could certainly see us as friends. “Very well, how can I be of service, Ellie?” I took a bite and nearly choked at her next words.

“To be blunt Sir, I’m in need of a mandrake. I need you.”

My mind raced. The chit was declaring me homosexual. “I beg your pardon?”

She smiled a rather unsettling sentient smile. And in those pale intelligent eyes, I could see her thoughts forming like clouds before a rainstorm. In fact, I could almost smell the ozone in the burning machinery of her mind. When she spoke, her thoughts were perfectly ordered.

“I’m not one to beat around the bush, Sir Nicolas. Not being forthright wastes time, and time may very well be short. Last June, I overheard a rather intimate verbal exchange between you and another man. I didn’t see who he was exactly, but I did see you.”

I felt a hollow sensation in my chest. In it, I could hear the echo of my up-tempo heartbeat. “Miss Schwaab, I—”

She held up a hand to interrupt me. “Please, hear me out. I consider myself to be a progressive. You see, I don’t care what adults do behind closed doors. An individual’s nature and sexuality form the most intrinsic core of their person. And who are we to take issue with another’s nature? Only a fool would see one path to human intimacy. We are naked apes after all, and apes have no issue with homosexuality.”

I couldn’t fault her logic. “So, what do you propose Miss Schwaab? Blackmail?” Though my obvious concern wasn’t humorous in the least, she laughed merrily.

“Please, call me Ellie.”

“Ellie. I believe that was a reasonable question.”

The same smile was back and with it, sparkling eyes. “I want you to marry me.”

Completely dumbfounded, I just looked at her. “You can’t be serious Miss…”


“You can’t be serious, Ellie.

Her laugh was filled with mirth. “Oh, but I am!”

Finding that impish gleam in her eye irritating in that moment, I set my plate aside. In my mind, this meeting could go one of two ways — she’d out me for a sodomite if I didn’t do as she asked, or I’d be saddled with an insane wife. While Parliament abolished the death penalty for deviants like me years before I was born, my truth wasn’t fodder for the masses. “You have me at a disadvantage, madam. What madness would spur you to make such an outlandish proposal?”

She set her cup down and leaned forward as a man might when sharing an inside stock tip. I found myself oddly attracted to her forthright and almost mannish American attitudes. Looking me square in the eye, she said, “You are an authority on Leonardo da Vinci, correct?”

“On his artworks, I am.”

“Then I assume you are familiar with Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno?”

I suppressed a smile at her halting Italian. Gian Giacomo Caprotti was da Vinci’s protégé. Affectionately called Salai or the little devil by the master himself, it was said when Leonardo painted nudes and phalluses, they were modeled by his young lover Salai. The most telling of these — the sketch called Angelo-Incarnato or Angel Incarnate, which depicts the little devil himself with a substantial erection. On the back, da Vinci wrote out his turbulent feelings for the young man in Greek: astrapen, bronten, and ceraunobolian. His metaphoric choices literally translated: lightning, storms, and thunderbolts. I nodded.

She smiled. “And I assume, although not in your field of expertise, you must also be aware of such erotic artworks as Japanese pillow books and the Kama Sutra. One chapter of which was so recently translated by your celebrated orientalist, what’s the fellow’s name?”

Field of expertise? I took her question to mean I was unaccustomed to erotic works depicting women. Beyond my proclivity and given profession, of course I knew of these ancient works of erotica. I named the man for her, “Sir Richard Francis Burton—”

She cut in, “Yes, that’s the man!”

“And yes, I am aware of such books.” It was obvious when her pretty smile widened that she could see she’d hooked me like a trout. In fact, I had the impression this woman had somehow studied me at length. Though my interest was piqued, I couldn’t fathom what she was driving at, nor could I see a connection between ancient Asian renderings and da Vinci’s longtime lover… let alone a connection to a proposal of marriage to me. “And what does Salai have to do with these works?”

She smiled that smile again and this time I was met with a sense of familiarity I couldn’t quite identify, like there was more to it than what was seen upon the surface. My focus redirected when she explained, “My father is in the American Consul, you see. And now with my elder sister Luise Marie wed to Jean-Paul, I’ve become my father’s hostess when he entertains here. I don’t mind it, though listening to men talk trade and commerce mostly bores me. Anyway, enough about that.” She waved her hand and shook her head, as if determined not to go off point. “The other night my sister and her husband joined us when we entertained an Italian merchant and his relation by marriage. The former, a Signore Ambrosini, deals in raw fibers such as cotton and jute from India and is seeking business relations in the New York textile industry. I found him a likeable man. The latter... well, there was just something not quite right about him. His name is Carlo Posateri. He…”

My mind could barely keep up with the twists and turns Miss Schwaab’s mind was wont to take. Then too, I was somewhat surprised that this conversation was being piloted by a woman at all. Women of my acquaintance steered clear of most sexual topics, though every one of them would perk if the focus of conversation leaned in that direction. Sifting through her rambling recount of that night, I learned this Signore Posateri hated all things homosexual in nature, including the works of the masters. Apparently the man took pride in influencing Pope Pius IX to castrate the statues in the Vatican for the homosexual thoughts they provoked. Out of sight out of mind, I’d say, or a gloss on the phrase Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: The man doth protest too much, methinks. In my experience, them that had the most to say against a thing often coveted that very thing. Her next words pulled me from my contemplation.

“To put it simply, I plan to steal it.”

What's at the heart of this unusual love story? 
Loving Leonardo has a message of tolerance between the lines. Aside from that, it's an exciting, sexy romp through Victorian Europe on a quest for a book written and illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci for his homosexual lover Salai. Discover the story in The Leonardo Chronicles. And the adventure continues!

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  1. How intriguing. I would love to read this book.
    debby236 at gmail dot com

  2. I love your Leonardo books, Rose. They're worth reading more than once!

  3. Thank you for the excerpt!