Welcome to another wonderful Coming Soon Sunday!
The Artist’s Masquerade
Author: Antonia Aquilante
Release Date: Dec 21, 2015
As the first-born son of the Duke of Tournai and cousin to the prince, Cathal has always tried to fulfill his duty to family and country, including following through with an arranged marriage to Velia, cousin to the emperor of Ardunn. But it’s Velia’s companion, Flavia, who fascinates Cathal. Cathal doesn’t know that Flavia is really Flavian, a man masquerading as a woman to escape Ardunn, a restrictive place in which Flavian’s preference for men is forbidden.
Even when Cathal discovers Flavian’s true gender, he cannot fight his attraction to him. Flavian is intrigued by Cathal, but Cathal is still betrothed to Velia, and Flavian worries Cathal is more taken with his feminine illusion than the man beneath it. While both men battle their longings for each other, spies from Ardunn infiltrate the capital, attempting to uncover Tournai’s weaknesses. They are also searching for Flavian, who possesses a magical Talent that allows him to see the truth of a person just by painting their portrait—a skill invaluable to Ardunn’s emperor.
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“This is a bad idea.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“It’s never going to work.”
“Yes, it will.” Velia stepped back and glared at him, her green eyes narrowed to slits. “When did you turn so pessimistic?”
Flavian stared at her, incredulous that she even asked that question. Considering the circumstances of his life over the last several years, it was a wonder that occasionally pessimistic was all he was. But he only mentioned the current situation he found himself in. “Well, I’m trussed up in a gown—”
“And you look lovely in it.”
It was his turn to give her a vicious glare. She didn’t even flinch. “And heeled shoes, which are ridiculous torture contraptions on a normal day and even worse aboard a ship.”
“You’re very graceful on them, though. More so than I expected.”
He didn’t think he could glare any harder, but he did try. “And all for a plan that will never work.”
“But it is working. We left Ardunn with no one the wiser, and no one on this ship knows you’re a man. Now sit still.” She returned to the task he had interrupted—applying cosmetics to his flinching face. She had already fussed with his hair, pinning up his own chin-length locks around the hairpiece that matched the red-gold color almost perfectly. It hadn’t been easy to find, nor had it been cheap. Neither had the gown that Velia laced him into.
“There. Look,” Velia said, turning him toward the gilt-framed mirror in the corner of her cabin—and only Velia would have such a thing on a ship. “No one will be able to tell you aren’t a woman.”
Sadly, she was correct.
The reflection in that extravagant mirror was his and yet undeniably that of a woman. Not a raving beauty but not unattractive either. Velia had used her cosmetics to enhance the delicacy of his features, something smudged on his eyelids, something sooty on his lashes that made his blue-green eyes look huge. Something else gave his cheeks the look of having a delicate flush and his lips a rosy cast. The green silk gown was an excellent shade for him, complementing his eyes, highlighting the pale gold of his skin, which he was certain Velia had considered when she ordered it. She had also contrived a way to fill out the bodice of the gown with padding, giving his slender frame the necessary curves to appear female.
He knew he wasn’t the most masculine of men, but he never thought he could look so much like a woman. It was disconcerting to say the least, but he supposed it was good for their plan. Still. He didn’t have to like it.
“See?” Velia’s face peeked over his shoulder in the mirror’s reflection. “You look like a woman, a lovely woman at that.”
His expression immediately fell into something between a scowl and a pout. Not an attractive expression for a grown man. He made a lovely woman? It already made him cringe any time someone said he was pretty as a man.
“Hey. This is a good thing, remember?” Velia poked him in the shoulder.
“Ow.” He rubbed the area where her long fingernail had dug in. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“You’re ridiculous.” She turned away and began sorting through her jewelry. “You wanted to leave Ardunn.”
He had. He did. “But I didn’t want to do it in a dress.”
“A dress is the only way you managed to escape the empire, in case you didn’t realize that.”
“I would have figured something out.” He had been making plans already when Velia presented him with the idea.
“If you say so.” She fixed him with an arch look, and he gritted his teeth. “It won’t be for much longer. Another week until we arrive in Tournai. I’ll meet my intended, and you’ll disappear, leaving your disguise behind.”
“It can’t come soon enough.”
Velia laughed. “Here, help me with this necklace.”
He nodded and stepped behind her to fasten the sapphire and gold necklace around her neck. “You’ll have to find a maid to do this for you after I’m gone.”
He had been helping Velia dress when she needed it since they boarded the ship, just as she helped him. Though she needed far less help than he did getting all trussed up—mostly just fastenings she couldn’t reach on her own. Most men would probably consider it a gift to spend so much time with a beautiful woman in various states of undress. If they were interested in women. Which he was not.
“I’m certain that won’t be any trouble. I’ll finally have someone to help me with my hair again.” Velia grinned at him over her shoulder. “What will you do? I don’t think I ever asked. Will you stay in Tournai?”
“I might.” Tournai appeared to be a more hospitable place than Ardunn for someone like him, what with Tournai’s ruler having married a man the year before. It had been, in fact, his plan to go to Tournai all along. It was coincidence and serendipity that Velia’s arranged marriage provided him with a means of getting directly there. Still, he wasn’t sure he should tell Velia that his plans were set. Not because he didn’t trust her if someone came looking for him, but because he didn’t want to cause trouble for her. “Probably not in Jumelle if I do. Maybe somewhere smaller, on the coast. I think I like the sea. I’d like to paint it.”
Velia stared at him for a moment and then laughed. “I think I would go mad staring at the sea all day.”
She probably would, but the prospect didn’t seem bad to him. Peace, painting, maybe someone to share it with someday. That might be nice.
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About the Author:
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent – they all end in happily ever after.
She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats which she shares with friends and family, and of course reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to ebooks, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.
Born and raised in New Jersey, she is living there again after years in Washington, DC, and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.
She is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the New Jersey Romance Writers.
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