Bound by limits dictated by society, Art Historian Nicolas Halstead lived a guarded life until a tempest in the form of Elenora Schwaab blew into his world. At first Nicolas can’t decide if the audacious American is simply mad or plotting blackmail for not only does she declare knowledge of his homosexuality, she offers him a marriage proposal.
After Ellie tells him of a previously unknown work of Leonardo da Vinci, a book of erotic love poems and sketches dedicated to the artist’s long-time lover Salai, Nicolas joins her in a race to save the book from destruction. Along the way they encounter Historian Luca Franco and discover a comfortable compatibility that comes to redefine their long-held notions of love.
The trio embarks on an adventure of sensual discovery, intrigue, and danger. Little do they know Leonardo da Vinci’s book is far more than meets the eye.
Nicolas has an encounter aboard ship and Ellie wants details.
I’d just returned when Ellie entered our stateroom and informed me she wanted to take that bath she’d missed earlier. I watched her gather this and that and close the door behind her. That I experienced a sudden wash of guilt over my romp with the fair Dutchman came as a surprise. I didn’t like that feeling, nor did I care for it overlaying my angst associated with my newly-realized sexual nature. Pulling the cord, I waited for the steward.
The man arrived several minutes later. “How may I help you, sir?”
“Please send ‘round a decanter of brandy and two glasses if you would.”
“Yes sir, I’ll get that straightaway.”
I used the time to dress for bed. I had only the dressing gown as I usually slept in the nude, but decided for our first shared bed, it was better to be clothed. We’d been together round the clock for three days but this was our official first night. Thankfully, we had a lifetime to become accustomed to one another. And this was a good thing. My nerves were strung taut. I hoped the brandy might help.
By the time she entered the sitting room smelling of jasmine, I was pouring her a brandy and having myself a third. I’d always enjoyed the scent of jasmine.
For the first time I took notice of the little things about her, things that I’d found pleasant enough as we traveled but now found strikingly beautiful. Ellie had delicately arched eyebrows and her pink bottom lip was fuller than the top. Unpinned, her riot of cinnamon curls fell like a cloud to the small of her back and damp ringlets framed her fresh-washed face. I’d only seen her hair up in pins these past few days. I had no idea she possessed a lovely mane that would bring about the desire to bury my fingers in the mass. Art historian I, she reminded me of William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Venus. She smiled prettily and that Venus transformed into Renoir’s Little Irene so completely, it made me blink. I’d found her high-styled and attractive that day she breezed into my home. I found her no less than a work of art now. Port and brandy loosening my tongue, I told her so.
She smiled and it lit her eyes. It wasn’t quite the bold smile she treated me to in my townhome, but it had that quality I found so appealing. In what could only be described as having the minds of two men inside my head, I felt my cock thicken, the sensation instantly squelched by that returning rush of guilt. We had to talk, and god help me, I didn’t know where to begin. I handed her the glass, took another for myself, and swept my hand to the settee. “Come sit with me, Ellie.”
She sipped her brandy and sat beside me. She said, “We don’t have to revisit our conversation, you know. We can talk of other things.”
I nodded. I had other things on my mind at the moment. So we chatted about the meal, the dinner company, the voyage in general. Then, she suddenly thrust at me a point of no return. “He was quite handsome, don’t you think?”
I blinked. “Who?”
“Our dinner companion, Jerone Some-such. I don’t remember his last name — you know, the Dutch brother to the sister sitting with us tonight?”
My heart started to pound. “Pleasant enough. Why do you ask?” Draining my snifter in one overlarge sip that nearly choked me, I let the alcohol flame run like a burning fuse down my gullet.
Eyeing me sharply, she smiled that knowing smile of hers; a smile that caused me to feel a heavy presence between my legs. It was everything I could do to keep my robe from rising like P.T. Barnum’s circus tent.
I couldn’t help but feel she led the conversation when she said offhandedly, “I assume there will be men in your life. I might be wrong, yet I’m certain the man is attracted to you.”
Refilling my glass for the fifth time, I reached for hers as an afterthought. “You bring up a point I wish to discuss.”
Realization dawning in her wise ocean-blue eyes, she drained her brandy in one astounding swallow. Those same eyes watering, she handed me her glass. I saw the dawning transformation a split second before she burst into a delighted squeal. “You didn’t!”
I opened my mouth to speak and absolutely nothing came forth. I couldn’t think of what to say for myself. My silence condemned me.
Ellie’s eyes were bright and her color high, either from spirits or the request forming in her mind. “Will you tell me about it?”
Her assertiveness appealed to me, no question about it. However, I wasn’t sure this was a topic one had with a wife. “I don’t think… ”
“Fiddlesticks. If my own husband can’t talk to me about his lovemaking, then who can?”
My quickly-downed libations were affecting me. I didn’t know what words to use, where to begin, or even what to say. But that didn’t stop her interrogation.
“I’m assuming the two of you had some sort of encounter… ”
Seeing the blushing excitement before me, my heart fluttered unexpectedly. My Yank was desperate to know the act. The thought she’d want me to describe it left a heavy presence between my legs. In for a penny, in for a pound, I asked, “And what would your feelings be if I had?”
My eyes searched the whole of her for clues as to what she was thinking in that moment. My god, she was a lovely thing. Free of her blousy clothing, she also had small pert breasts in the gossamer folds of her dressing gown. Her nipples were hard. Wondering why, I reached for the decanter.
Her hand on my arm stopped me. Inserting the glass stopper in the bottle, she set it and snifters aside. “Nicolas, we’ve only recently met. And while I grow fonder of you by the day I’m not feeling jealousy, if that’s your concern. I do understand that you have needs that must be seen to. Homosexuality exists in the natural world, therefore is a natural chapter in the book of life. Don’t you agree?”
I nodded. In my inebriation, she might have said Father Christmas was a hedgehog who took tea with the Queen and I would have agreed.
I watched her absently twirl a cinnamon curl around her finger as if she saw what had occurred between the Dutchman and me. Her next words should have surprised me, but they didn’t. “I find the idea of my husband having male lovers a fascinating concept. And besides, how else will I learn about you if you don’t tell me?” Dropping her curl, she laid her hand on my knee. Her touch was warm through the brocade of my dressing gown. I could see the sincerity in her pale eyes when she added, “Please Nicolas, trust me with this aspect of your life. You’re safe with me.”
After three days of non-stop companionship I found myself thoroughly loving how her sharp mind rationalized things. What’s more, an assurance of safety struck a chord in me. I felt myself relaxing, or perhaps this was the work of the liquor. The latter proofed when I heard my own words come out in a slur, “What would you like to know, my dear?”
That gamine smile widened and seeing it, my cock started to thrum to my heartbeat again.
“All of it, of course. I’ve never had a man in my bed, but the mechanics of man and woman are down well enough in my mind. Though try as I might, I can’t fathom how two men come together.”
Bold-as-brass, I said to myself. My Yank was consumed with questions and responsible for a rather stiff cock to boot. I felt a sticky dribble soaking into my robe front. What an astounding notion my attraction was.
Covering her hand with my own, and taking her at her word, I explained my encounter in the young man’s cabin.
Her brows went together as she worked a maiden’s piecemeal imaginings into information. “Wouldn’t he choke? I mean it’s rather large, isn’t it?” Her eyes went to my crotch while my heart pounded loud enough for me to hear. The fabric of the big top began to rise as the center pole lifted. Sure enough the small hand slipped from under mine in a tentative climb. Pausing, she met my eyes. “May I see?”
I couldn’t fully comprehend my case of anxiety. In many ways, I too, was as untried as she. I might have had my male lover since the age of seventeen, but I’d never shared an intimate exchange with a woman before this moment. It wasn’t the lesson in futility I’d always assumed such a chance meeting would be either. I eyed the decanter again but decided I’d had more than enough and was likely sound asleep and dreaming the encounter anyway. Untying the sash, I experienced a peculiar disconnect between my sotted brain and the quavering hands at the ends of my arms. Swallowing nervously, I folded back the sides of my robe and exposed myself to her.
“That’s amazing.” She looked from my cock to my face as if expecting me to concur. Clearly deliberating how to proceed, she worried her bottom lip as questions filled her mind. “It is fully engorged, isn’t it? I mean, you’re much larger now than when you finished your bath.” Her eyes met mine. “Are you thinking of him now?”
Damn me if her unabashed words didn’t fill the last inch. Seeing that, she drew a sharp breath. The strange thing is, I wasn’t thinking of the Dutchman in the least. Noticing the unconscious flexing of her fingers in a tentative itch to feel my length, I heard a voice come out of my mouth. My drunken brain could scarcely credit it was I who suggested, “Touch me if you’d like.”
Though her reaction to my words rivaled finding the lucky bean in her Twelfth Night cake, her reach was at once hesitant yet curiously eager. Her fingertips found me first. They traced the knots of veins just under my skin.
“Oh, you’re much warmer than I imagined, and unbelievably firm. I never imagined that, nor did I think I’d be able to feel your pulse down here.”
My breath caught as small soft fingers closed around me then eased my foreskin down until the crown of my cock lay fully exposed. She released it and my sheaf resumed its natural position. Like a child with a new wind-up toy or a scientist on the verge of discovery, she tested my flesh again. Over and over she plied me until her comfort in touching me grew. I imagined her picturing the Dutchman and me; and I half expected her to try to swallow me like he had. The heady thought brought about a shiver that raced through me from head to toe.
Apparently she hadn’t missed the sexual tremor that seized me. Her exploration halted, those eyes met mine but her hand stayed put. Somewhere in my haze I recalled I’d found them pretty just that morning, but good god they were lovely. For the first time I noticed her irises had dark olive green rings around the blue and small gold flecks in a corona around the black center.
Holding her gaze, I covered her little hand with my own and slowly stroked the length with her. To my surprised delight her slight grip tightened on its own. For all the sensation was different, I enjoyed this soft intimate caress as much as I enjoyed Thomas’ rough and firm hand.
She moistened her lips with her tongue and her left knee began to swing to and fro with tensile energy. Even in my inebriated state I recognized these small gestures as those normally reserved for when her focus was piqued by some thought. Whatever that mind of hers was thinking, it was evident my wife very much liked this imagery of hers. Her next words broke my trance, “I find myself envious.”
The slow soft stroking and my over-indulgence of spirits were muddying the waters of my comprehension of the moment. I could only imagine what that detail-hungry mind was thinking, for I was having trouble following the thought. My voice sounded dull to my ears when all I could do was repeat her.
Her next words had a breathy quality. “Yes, envious. I imagine what having a blade like this might feel when sinking into the heat of a lover’s body.”
For a moment it felt as though my heart had stopped, and I forced a breath to be sure it was still engaged. I’d once seen the marble statue of the androgynous Hermaphroditus: the bisexual offspring of Aphrodite and Hermes, sleeping in the Louvre. Lost in the erotic thought of her having a cock along with the rest of her fair attributes, the breathtaking notion enhanced by her softly stroking hand, I closed my eyes and immersed myself in the fantasy. What glorious imagery it was.
And while visions danced behind closed my lids, the effects of nerve-dousing brandy and travel fatigue coalesced. My new wife gently examined every male detail that made our bodies differ, and damn me if I didn’t miss most of it. Done in by drink and her gentle touch, I went off to sleep in the arms of Morpheus.
I woke sometime in the night to discover myself half on the settee and under the spare coverlet from the bed. For a moment I didn’t know where I was. At last the details of the evening came in from the sides of my mind. I lifted the coverlet. That my cock was glued to my thigh was a mystery. I couldn’t remember past Ellie’s novice exploration of my privates.
One thing was certain however; the copious brandy to settle my nerves had kicked me right between the eyes as surely as a mule. I felt plain awful. Trying hard not to wake her, I quietly went to the commode where, hugging the throne so to speak, my body expelled the evening’s spirits as quickly as I’d taken them in. I poured myself a glass of water to rinse my mouth then hied myself back to the settee where I curled into a miserable ball and promptly fell back to sleep.
The next morning when I opened my bleary eyes, I felt a little better thanks to my midnight purge. Experience told me my queasy headache would last for several hours. In the outer room, an ungodly loud rap on the door was answered by the pleasant voice of my new wife. I heard her say, “Thank you. No, I’ll take it from here.”
A moment later she brought a wait cart into the sitting room. I greeted her groggily. There were covered dishes and carafes, but I could easily determine the menu by the savory scent of bacon and kippers, and sultry aroma of butter and cinnamon. My sour stomach told my nose to ignore it all.
She smiled. “I thought you’d prefer breakfast in here this morning.”
Needing to atone for my poor behavior, I offered, “I very much regret last night, Ellie. Please accept my ap—”
She cut me off, “We drank a rather lot last night, you and I. I must say I… ”
I listened to her dismiss the fact I’d acted like a dreadful sot by including herself in my solo drunkenness. That she’d seek to protect me from embarrassment by sharing the blame touched me deeply. I gave her an appreciative yet apologetic smile. “You’re kind. But it falls on my head, and believe me my head feels my remorse acutely.”
Laughing lightly, she handed me a dry biscuit. She tsk-tsked, “You poor thing. Here nibble this… slowly.”
She poured me a cup of coffee, adding cream and sugar lumps, presumably to her taste. “Coffee helps the morning-after head far better than tea. And this helps even more, believe me.” To my surprise, she splashed a tot of brandy in the cup. After my early-morning episode with the commode, I admit the sight of the decanter made my stomach lurch. I found myself wondering how she knew the hair of the dog remedy for a drunkard’s hangover. I asked her.
Laughing, she confided she’d “learned the hard way,” explaining vaguely that progressive Americans much enjoy their leisure, though they occasionally must pay the piper like everyone else. She also asked I please not mention that to my new father-in-law.
I gave a head-splitting laugh and promptly quelled it in an act of self-preservation. That sentient smile played over her lips, and once more the notion of familiarity came to me and then it was gone. Instead, I was reminded of a comment Mrs. Fletcher once made after catching her nephew and I kissing in the buttery. “It is wise to conceal that which cannot be disclosed, and disclose that which cannot be concealed. Now go find yourselves a private place to test the waters or tongues will wag, and Master Nicolas, you don’t want that, dear.”
Handing over the steaming cup, Ellie met my eye, “Trust me.”
Damn me if I didn’t.
Loving Leonardo on Amazon:
Rose Anderson – Love Waits in Unexpected Places