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 filled with sensual discovery, intrigue, and danger. Little do they know Leonardo da Vinci’s book is far more than meets the eye.
Excerpt – Ellie and Nicolas meet Luca for the first time. Nicolas had a little too much to drink the night before so he’s feeling a tad queasy.
Ellie and I weren’t the only passengers to arrive as the last bell struck. People filed through the dining room’s double doors to take their seats. This congestion would lessen as people became accustomed to how long it took them to ready themselves between the ring of the first and last bell.
More so than the other meals aboard, dinners were often a mingling affair. We sat with the Ormonts and the Brookses again while the Dutch brother and sister took their seats at the table next to us, the sister involved in a rather animated conversation with a new friend. Jerone did smile when I looked his way. His eye jerked toward the door in open invitation. Despite the twinge that silent proposal sent to my loins, my smile widened as my eye jerked to my wife. He gave me a pretty moue, his brief pout good-natured. It was a long voyage after all.
I sat Ellie and pulled a chair for Mrs. Ormont as she waited for her husband. A moment later, Colonel Ormont brought the historian to our table and made introductions. Luca Franco, late of Florence, was a Professor of Antiquities returning from London. I found the Italian quite the attractive fellow, impeccably dressed as he was. When in the presence of true beauty, my mind often imagines the person unclothed as the artists of the ages might have seen him. Sitting at my table was a statue carved in marble by Gian Lorenzo Bernini; an artist known for his remarkable ability to capture the essence of a narrative moment. And I found Luca Franco to be exactly that — a moment indelibly captured in time — a moment of meeting the mind could revisit in its entirety.
From every angle, he was beautifully made: black-haired, of medium build, and physically fit. He possessed a warm hue to his skin, his lineage no doubt stamped centuries past by the darker Moors or Turks. In startling contrast, and quite handsomely framed by black lashes, he had striking eyes the color one might see in a shadow falling across snow — not quite sky blue nor exactly steel gray, but a blending of the two in gradated rings.
I rose to shake his hand and felt the unmistakable current of compatibility. If this man weren’t forward in his mutual attraction, it was there nonetheless. I watched him bow over the ladies’ hands and found it curious that he lingered over Ellie’s fingers a tad longer. It made me smile. I had the distinct impression I was in the presence of a fellow dual-nature like myself.
The regular chit-chat occurring over the courses was quite enjoyable. There was a part of me, however, that would have been content to take my wife back to our stateroom and lose myself in the wonder of my newfound truth. Like the great navigators in ages past, the thought of uncharted lands titillated my imagination. I was anxious to explore her body, anxious to immerse in her heated places and scent, and smell and taste every part of her. I wanted to lose myself in the hedonistic feast of the senses I knew I’d find.
Ellie’s question pulled me from my imaginative foray. “Professor Franco, it’s my understanding that you are an authority on Leonardo da Vinci.”
Chuckling, he shook his head and replied in softly accented English, “You flatter me, Lady Halstead. As a professor of antiquities my work takes me into the far corners of the world’s history. The museum I work for sends me to procure various historical treasures. But where da Vinci is concerned, I wouldn’t say I’m an authority per se. You see, my interest is personal.”
Ellie’s eyes lit. “May I ask then, what is it you find so interesting about the man to spur a personalpursuit?”
He gave her a genuine smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes. It was a very handsome smile indeed. As he appeared to be of an age with me, the crinkles had me wondering if he often worked in the sun.
“Da Vinci was a universal genius.”
Reaching for the buttered peas, Mrs. Ormont repeated dully, “A universal genius? My goodness.”
The Colonel followed, “I say dear fellow, what is that title, exactly? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
Even the blind could see that Luca Franco possessed an innate animal magnetism, but when he smiled the world tilted on its axis. My gaze went to my wife and knew she concurred by the distinctive tint upon her cheeks — the sexual tint I’d so recently come to recognize. I couldn’t help but wonder what brewed in the cauldron of her mind. As for myself, I harbored an undeniable attraction for the both of them. It was all I could do to keep the stallion of my imagination in the paddock.
Luca explained, “Da Vinci wasn’t simply an artist. His range of accomplished study went far beyond producing memorable artworks. He was an inventor and a scientist who never developed his ideas systematically, because he didn’t need to. He intuited their success, because he simply understood processes.”
Brooks wiped the crumbs from his curled mustache, “How’s that?”
“If one already knows it’s been proven that lead melts at a lower temperature than iron, one needn’t employ a bellows to test it.”
Brooks nodded like a walrus. “Makes sense, makes sense. That would be useful knowledge, eh?”
“Precisely. He understood numerous systems — the series of actions needed to arrive at a particular place in his inventions. This knowledge was implemented whether his inventions remained preliminary sketches or were actually created. Scholars believe that were his drawings implemented today as plans, and those same inventions built, they’d do exactly what he theorized they’d do.”
“Hmm.” Satisfied with the answer, Brooks nodded again then busied himself with his meal. I watched the Bordelaise sauce deposit a greasy gleam where the crumbs had been a moment ago. The sight brought a brief recall of my head in the commode.
The Colonel said loudly, “The man sounds like an Italian Faust!”
Mrs. Ormont laughed lightly, “Oh my! Given his gifts by the devil! And here I only ever understood him to be a simple artist.”
I offered, “Oh, da Vinci was far more than a simple artist, Mrs. Ormont. Aside from being the most complex genius of the Renaissance, and perhaps of all time, his artistic skill was enhanced by a working knowledge of mathematics.”
“Well said, Sir Nicolas.” Luca smiled at me and I felt it like static in the air prior to a thunderstorm. I returned it.
I would have rather continued our mutual adoration of the man in private, but Mrs. Ormont drew my attention once more. Her silver brows knitted in confusion, and she looked at me over the rim of her bejeweled spectacles. There was self-critical humor in her voice when she said, “Sir Nicolas, I’m afraid you’ll think me quite silly, but what do you mean? What has mathematics to do with it?”
Brooks chuckled, and taking a drink, dipped his mustache in his water glass. He came up for air looking very much like the Emperor Tamarin Monkey I’d once seen in the London Zoo.
I set down my fork and knife and helped myself to the heel of dry bread to calm my stomach, then explained, “Were a trained eye to look upon da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man with his arms and legs spread wide in the illusion of movement, it would see an image based on the much older writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius. Many of the sacred geometry principles of the human body as well as ancient architecture have been compiled into art by Leonardo da Vinci. His perspectives are considered perfect and balanced.”
Mrs. Ormont, either lost or disinterested, said, “Oh.”
That was the way of it for most of my academic career. A certain curiosity went part and parcel with being an art historian, and not everyone shared it. Luca Franco however, had found one of his own. I could read the truth of his discovery upon his face when he added, “That is quite fascinating about his art. It’s my understanding that da Vinci was a philosopher and dreamer unhindered by the opinions of others. For example, he had little interest in things that would cloud his own personal discovery such as literature, history, or religion for that matter, much to the great annoyance of the church. Because the church was a determined hindrance to his pursuits, he eschewed religious doctrine.”
My bold-as-brass Yankee progressive harrumphed and all eyes went to her. I chuckled, knowing what had irked her. Yes the church hindered the poor man, and hindered was a poor word at that to describe it. They repeatedly condemned the artist for sodomy. Perhaps the Anglicans and Catholics at the table didn’t find the artist’s lack of faith all that amusing. The Professor of Antiquities smiled at her and she returned it in her sparkling blue eyes. I felt the current of attraction pass between them, and by default through me as well. A fleeting image of Édouard-Henri Avril’s erotic sketches came to mind and I pictured myself sandwiched between my wife and this sensually charismatic man. The thought made my balls ache.
Rather than be lost to my own imaginings, I added to the conversation at hand, “From my own field of expertise I would agree with you, Professor Franco. The ideas of other men muddied the waters of da Vinci’s personal immersion in discovery. He concerned himself with what the eye could see, rather than with purely abstract concepts. To him it didn’t necessarily matter what had come before his personal observation. He was a most excellent observer.” My smile was for Luca when I added, “A dreamer, as you say.”
He returned it and this time I caught the nearly imperceptible scent of our mutual chemistry.
Ellie addressed our dinner party with a winsome grin, “If you haven’t already guessed, my husband finds da Vinci, the man, fascinating. I admit his life and works have captured my fancy as well though I gravitate toward his reasoning rather than his art.”
Mrs. Brooks announced that she knew little of the man, but was stunned to discover the Mona Lisa to be the small a painting it was. I looked at Ellie. Thatwas the smile I found so similar in hers but had yet to identify — a smile that hinted there was more than met the eye. The mention of the Mona Lisa put our dinner conversation on far simpler ground — a ground void of invention, theology and speculation on genius. The conversation around the table went to galleries we’d seen and we came to speculate on the artistry of the Renaissance in general. I filled them in as far as their interest held. I could feel both Ellie and the historian’s disappointment over abandoning our interesting topic. It echoed my own.
Our Italian dinner companion reached for his glass, the action raising his cuff slightly. He had fine strong wrists, a jagged scar run up the side and I briefly wondered what he’d done to have gotten such a wound. Drawn to artistry as I was, bone structure often caught my eye when I looked at people and this wrist drew my attention. Michelangelo’s David came to mind — David with his corded forearms and finely-detailed hands slightly larger than they should be. A hint to the size of the full erection the artist had in mind, were it made of flesh and not flaccid stone. I wondered who had been his model, for like his contemporary and rival da Vinci, he had a male muse among his models. Lost in thoughts of anatomy, I watched Luca raise his glass to his lips and licked my own before I was aware I’d done so.
He leveled me a snow-shadow glance over the rim of his wine glass, before saying, “If you have the inclination Sir Nicolas, I would enjoy conversing about da Vinci’s life with you. It’s my good fortune to find a man of your knowledge and kindred interest on board.” Grinning, he lowered his voice conspiratorially as if he confessed to the others there, “You see I’m considered quite the bore at home.”
The throng laughed, and Ellie met my eyes with excitement burning in her own. I read her mind. Luca Franco was approachable after all, and perhaps in more ways than one. The laughter continued after I pulled my wife’s hand to my lips and kissed her knuckles in sympathy, “As am I.”
The adventure continues. Coming Soon: Loving Leonardo – The Quest