Monday, March 14, 2016

Victory Portrait: Meet Darius

Darius Arrento
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.

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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.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Prayers Answered...A Thank You

A year ago I asked my blog readers and Facebook friends for prayers for a little premature grandson. He was born at 27 weeks gestation after a difficult pregnancy (his mother’s water broke at 16 weeks and she was on bed rest until he arrived).

When born he weighed only a pound. His lungs were underdeveloped and he needed help breathing. Over the next several weeks his parents were called to the hospital four times because both his lungs collapsed and he was not expected to make it. But the little guy was a fighter! And I think those prayers helped.

I mean really. Because soon after I asked for them, and so many of you sent words of help and support, he began to improve.

He got stronger. Doctors removed the chest tubes and he started to breathe on his own. He also began to eat on his own.

He is now over a year old actual, and not quite a year from when his due date should have been.

And he is bright, happy, and doing great!

Thank you!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Victory Portrait: First Chapter Excerpt

While waiting on the cover art for Victory Portrait I thought it would be fun to share an excerpt. Here’s one from the first chapter, wherein a young imperial captive named Peta learns he has a chance to realize a dream and meet the famous general about whom he has fantasized for years….

****

Inspiration for Peta
“He’s returned to Uttor. Rhent has been captured and Sebboy subdued. It’s time.” So why did Gaspar look uncomfortable? “The thing is, Darius doesn’t like your family. After what happened with Adora—” He didn’t need to say more. The war between Uttor and Sebboy had broken out when Lorant had kidnapped Gaspar’s sister. “Well, he’s a less forgiving man than I am. My marriage to Julissa doesn’t sit well with him, but I can persuade him that the union will solidify Uttor’s conquest and make our position in Sebboy much stronger. She he might accept because of me. The rest of you he never wants to see free of chains.”

Peta’s heart squeezed tight, as if no blood filled its chambers. Arrento hated his family? And him by association? “Lorant did it,” he hastened to explain, “and my father when he didn’t send her back. But no one asked the rest of us. The girls and me…we were at school. We didn’t even know—”
“I realize that…now. It took some explaining. Maybe in time.”

Time, the worst of platitudes. There was never enough of it, or of opportunity. Peta realized he was staring at his booted feet the way he always did when trying to think of a way out of an impossible situation.

“I could force a meeting, of course.”

“No.” Peta couldn’t bear the thought of the great man begrudging his presence. “I mean, I’d rather not.”

Gaspar nodded that he understood. He looked thoughtful. “Then maybe you will indulge me in something else. I would like to ask a favor of you.”

“A favor?” This was the part that didn’t make sense. Under every definition of slavery that Peta knew of, Gaspar could have simply ordered him.

“I have a problem, a very interesting one, and you could help me. Trouble is, it impinges on your body.”

Peta simply stared at him. Where was this conversation going? Gaspar was confusing at times, but the emperor was neither a lover of men nor a whoremonger. Right now he looked like an earnest older brother.

An unopened crate creaked as Gaspar sat upon it. He was being congenial. “The problem is simple: while I own your body, you inhabit it.”

“That’s a problem?”

“Not usually.”
“But now it is?”

“It is, because I have a use for your body—and I need to be sure my plan won’t permanently damage our relationship.”

That statement begged to be turned inside out and made to reveal its bones. “I fail to see how a slave’s relationship to his master can be damaged by the master’s use of him.”

Gaspar lifted The Pargaea Campaign and riffled the thick pages. Music from another level of the villa drifted in through the chamber’s one window to mingle with the sound of disturbed paper. “Our relationship could not be harmed were you, say, a book. If I read a book, or lend my book to someone else, the book doesn’t really have an opinion about that, does it? No book I ever read did.” A bit of warmth crept into Gaspar’s voice. “You, however, possess qualities a book does not, foremost being feelings, memory, and will. Slavery might subjugate the will, but it doesn’t remove feelings. And memory can turn bad feelings into daggers against those who cause them.”

What Gaspar was trying to say made sense, though Peta wasn’t sure yet how it applied specifically to him or whether he should be getting worried. “I bear you no ill will, sir,” he hastened to assure the man. “My father…he wants me erased from this world, and his anger is even greater because he believes pagans thwarted his punishment. He prays to the Prophets, asking for god to smite me.” He swallowed fear of his father along with uncertainty over where this conversation was leading. “If becoming your slave got me away from him, I owe you at the very least the courtesy of a slave’s obedience.”

My life, he could have said, remembering how his father had tried to kill his sister the day they’d both been taken into Gaspar’s custody. I owe you all our lives.

“I should get you to give that pretty speech to my other slaves. They might learn something from it.” Gaspar laid the book aside and hunkered forward, getting to his point. “I do want your obedience, but I would also like your consent. That’s the tricky part.”

“Maybe if you would tell me what I’d be consenting to…”

“I’m getting to that.”

“Today?” Peta seasoned the prod with a grin.

Gaspar laughed. “I wish I didn’t like you. Ordering you would be easy in that event. ‘Do it or else’ works in most cases. But I do like you, you have royal rank even as a slave, and I’m marrying your sister—all of which narrows the amount of room I have to work with. So here is my proposition: I want you to assist a painter.”

“A painter?” Peta had feared worse. Now he was intrigued.

“Aldous Brazzi. You won’t be the subject, you’ll be the…helper. He has an unusual process. You’d be naked and, well, he can explain the rest to you better than I can. He’s not predatory. Adora assures me of that; she defended him from charges of indecency and she’s convinced he won’t do anything out of line. I am your owner, after all. No one can use you without my permission.”

The painter, then, was not the cause for concern. Which only meant…. Peta’s mouth went dry. “Who is the subject?”

“Darius Arrento.”

It should not have been possible for mere syllables to evoke so many feelings. Peta had seen with his own eyes seasoned generals blanch upon learning Arrento had set foot on Sebboyan soil. He’d heard with his own ears his father and brothers, and other of his countrymen, call Arrento god-forsaken, a monster, the Butcher of Cheda—and then later he had heard the people of Uttor cheer Arrento’s name in the streets. Savior. Hero. Favorite of the gods. Arrento’s fame spanned the world and Peta could not remember a time when hearing that name had not heated his blood, filled his loins, and set his imagination soaring.

He was staring at his boots again and it took a few moments to realize Gaspar was still in the room, studying his response.

“Are you all right?” the emperor asked.

“I—I don’t understand. You said—”

“All I said is I want you to assist the painter. All I want from Darius is that he sit for the damn portrait. Is that too much to ask?”

No. Of course it wasn’t, but….

“That’s the problem,” Gaspar continued. “I know Darius. I know exactly what his response to sitting for this painting is going to be—and that is where you come in.”

“Me?” That Peta managed to shape that much of a word was an accomplishment.

“This is where you have to trust me. I know what I’m doing.”

If there was one thing Peta had learned from his short experience as Gaspar’s slave, it was that the man’s reputation as an inept heir who should never have become emperor differed vastly from reality: Gaspar’s maneuvers, military and political, rivaled his general’s for brilliance. They were just a little harder to follow. That Uttor’s enemies had yet to realize this was one of the reasons they failed so miserably at fighting him.

“You want me to assist the painter. Only that?”

“Yes. I just want you to understand you will be naked and…Brazzi will want you to be sexually aroused.”

“What?”

“It’s what Brazzi does. Not for himself—not unless you’re a woman—but for his method. He was tried three years ago on charges of obscenity because he uses…sexual fluids for mixing his paint. He truly is a genius. His colors are astonishing.”

“And you want Arrento to see me like that? Naked and…being used?”

“No.” Gaspar was being firm. “I want a portrait of my general. And I happen to think that the sight of you will keep his ass firmly planted for whatever sittings the painter requires. You see, Darius has one weakness—only one. He cannot resist a thing of beauty—and you, my pretty slave, are the most breathtaking young man I have ever had the privilege to look upon.”

Peta flushed. Gaspar wasn’t smiling. The man was serious.

Could he do it? Did he want to do it? Peta knew he was pretty. His looks had blessed and cursed him all his life. His beauty had attracted Kesme as a fellow cadet and was what Kesme had praised that last night when they’d made love...and Peta’s face was what Lukacz, his own father, had sought to destroy, thinking that doing so would release him from predation and unnatural desires. And now Gaspar, too, wanted only one thing….

“Just sit there and look pretty,” he said, heart sinking as he grasped what Gaspar was asking him to do.

“Only if you’re willing. I’m not completely oblivious to what this sort of service might entail. It could be rather…awkward. On the other hand, it might not be for long. Darius can be stubborn. It’s possible he won’t show up.”

And just as possible that he would.

Peta wanted to say no but he could not get his mouth to form the word. He might never get another chance to see Arrento, perhaps hear his voice. Be in the same room with him.

He’d be silent…naked…terribly exposed even in his utter worship.

But he would at least be able to say he had seen the great man.

“I’ll do it,” he said.


Friday, March 4, 2016

A Story of Art and War

Mix a matchmaking emperor, a battle-hardened general, a beautiful hero-worshiping slave, and an artist who uses paintbrushes as sex toys and what do you get?

You get Victory Portrait, the fourth book in the Pride of Uttor series.

I'm so pumped for this story! Originally free online as a short, it was just shy of 12,000 words. An added POV and many pages of development later, it stands at 78,000 words of art, war, and two men destined for each other--if only they could meet.

Just for starters, here are inspiration photos of Peta, a prince held as slave by the Uttoran emperor, and...

Darius, the triumphant general whose portrait the emperor wants painted.

Darius has no patience for portraits...but he might be tempted to stay for the sittings for a chance to gaze upon the most beautiful young man in Uttor.

One look at Peta and Darius falls. Hard. Very, very hard.

If only the artist, who uses semen and pre-come to bind the colors of his paints, would stop teasing the slave boy for more....

I hope to have a cover soon to share. Maybe an excerpt on Monday? Sex scene? Character moment?