Victory Portrait (still looking like an April release) revolves around Darius Arrento, a famous general whom Peta worships but has never met. The novel includes Arrento’s POV and this is an excerpt from Chapter Two, showing the first encounter between the main characters. I could tell you everything about Darius, but I think this snippet pretty much gives a complete picture, not only of Darius, but a bit of the artist, Aldous Brazzi, as well.
Peta's excerpt and inspiration picture (yes, I moved this pic and put up a new one) are here.
Arrento strode into the artist’s studio determined to make his ordeal as short as possible. The only thing he disliked more than inaction was frivolity—and he could think of nothing less active and more frivolous than having his portrait painted, even if the artist was the famed Aldous Brazzi. Although the man’s methods were controversial, Brazzi’s portraits were celebrated for their realism: vibrant colors and a luminous quality that supposedly drew the eye into a deep and seductive sensuality. Brazzi did not as far as Arrento knew paint soldiers. His most famous portraits were of women in the boudoir. Still the man’s work graced the palaces of princes and the galleries of kings and eminences.
The artist’s studio occupied one corner of a bustling temple yard that two hundred years ago had been consecrated to the fertility goddess Benuvia, a building of open spaces and wide windows filled with light. Arrento’s boots struck the worn boards of an ill-used wooden floor, creating echoes. An elderly slave appeared to acknowledge him, take his cape, and lead him up metal stairs.
“Welcome, General,” Brazzi greeted him warmly at the top landing. With a bald pate and deep black eyes, the artist had a recognizable face often seen at court where he was a favorite of the princess Adora. Green and blue pigment stained his surprisingly large hands, scarred and shaped by the demands of his art. He had been a sculptor in his youth, before turning his talent to portraiture. Brazzi walked Arrento toward one of the loft’s bright corners and what looked like an arrangement of crates.
An easel held a large blank canvas. In front of the easel was a stool. Beside the stool was a table bearing brushes, pots of paint, and a kneeling naked young man. With fair hair that drifted in feathered layers about his face and pale creamy skin so perfect it could have been carved from alabaster, he looked like a statue destined for the house of a despot.
“Is that an apprentice—or a catamite?” Arrento took the seat Brazzi indicated and reluctantly subjected himself to being arranged. Though he had thought the artist would want him to strike the pose for which he was most famed—standing erect with a finger raised to illustrate an order or point—the man wished him to be seated on the edge of a desk, chin raised and looking directly at the youth.
“The boy? No, no…I prefer women, truth be told. He’s part of my process. Relax your shoulders…there, like that.” The man stepped back and nodded approval. “I will need to balance that sizable chest.”
Arrento was aware of the figure he cut. He was tall and broad, with hair the color of lead and skin weathered by the elements. A warrior since early youth, he’d endured battle after battle and survived many hardships, and now in the full of manhood had the physique his hard life had shaped: sturdy and rough, scarred and thick with muscle. His officers liked to say he was made of pure granite, his mother having birthed a boulder. He owned a face and body few praised but many appreciated, especially the emperor whose royal ass he’d saved several times over.
While the painter puttered, Arrento studied the other person in the room. The young man looked pale and strained, his downcast eyes fixed on the table—more specifically, on the palette. The lowered eyelashes feathered high, lovely cheekbones. And that skin…every creamy inch of it was pampered, smooth and perfect, not knotted and ridged like his own. Everything about the lad, from his chiseled wellborn looks to his silent, grave expression, was beautiful. For the first time in weeks Arrento felt his cock stir with appreciation. A soldier didn’t find men like this one on the battlefield.
Brazzi ceased his fussing and took a seat on the stool before the easel. Long fingers selected a stick of charcoal from the table beside him and he began to sketch in quick, jerky strokes. Arrento of course could not see what the man was drawing, but at least the process was underway. He had reviewed some troops that morning and had a meeting with other officers of the high command within the hour. His schedule didn’t have many minutes to spare, not for the next two weeks, and he’d only agreed to sit for sketches this morning because his old friend Gaspar had issued an imperial command.
At least the boy on the table gave Arrento something to ponder. Why was he even present? He afforded no practical purpose to the artist. Perhaps he was a model. Arrento knew enough about artists to know they used models. This indicated to him there would be another figure in the painting, because this model was too slender to serve as a stand-in for Arrento himself. The kneeling posture suggested a possibility. One of the vanquished then, a captive or slave to be rendered kneeling at his feet? Details of the youth’s anatomy and coloring fell into place.
“He’s Sebboyan,” he said.
The young man shot him a brief and hastily masked glance. The wide almond-shaped emerald eyes confirmed what Arrento had guessed.
Fingers brandishing charcoal, Brazzi peeked around the canvas. “Most observant, Sar Arrento. Yes, he is. Our Imperial Majesty sent him over to grace your portrait.”
“A fitting choice.”
“A perfect choice.” The man resumed his sketching.
Arrento indulged the tug of a smile as he watched a hint of pretty color creep up from the youth’s neck into his cheeks. He looked for traces of a beard and found none, though there was a lovely bright halo of hair around the base of the youth’s flaccid prick. If Gaspar had ‘sent him over’ the man was probably a captive, which meant he was also likely a slave.
His cock thickened even more.
“How old is he?”
“Eighteen years…maybe nineteen. I don’t remember. Please stop fidgeting. I must capture your proper proportions and posture if I am to begin painting before next week.”
“Do it quickly then. I can only give you an hour.”
Brazzi poked his head past the canvas once more. “If that’s the case, I shall need another day at least.”
Damn painter. “I might be able to return the day after tomorrow.”
“Excellent, Sar. That will give me time to create some preparatory sketches for your approval and also His Imperial Majesty’s.”
Arrento fought a scowl. His emperor was determined to torture him. He turned his attention back to the artist’s boy, catching and holding the young man’s alert glance for just a moment before his pretty quarry looked back down at his knees. Arrento’s gaze skimmed shapely thighs and the smooth pale curve of a perfect ass.
“The boy…what is his name?”
“I believe he’s called Peta.” Brazzi’s impatience was clear. His charcoal skipped in fluid strokes across the canvas as color once more filled the youth’s pretty cheeks.
Arrento attempted to keep his mind on other things, like how to get Gaspar to issue orders for him and the XIIth to return to the conflict in Yur, but the youth presented an impossible distraction. When the hour was done, Arrento gathered his remaining wits and strode out the door.