“Ardent” by Heloise West

ardent-blog-banner-500px Ardent from Manifold Press

Historical M/M Romantic Suspense

Renaissance Florence

 

In the village of Torrenta, master painter Morello has created a color that mimics the most expensive pigment of all, the crimson red. Master Zeno, from strife-ridden Medici Florence, tells him the color gives him a competitive advantage – but Morello must be careful. Fraud is ever-present in the dye and pigment markets.

As they work together in Torrenta, Morello falls hard for Zeno’s assistant, Benedetto Tagliaferro, a young man of uncommon beauty and intelligence. Benedetto is still fixed on his old lover, the master painter Leo Guisculo, and cannot return Morello’s affections.

But when Leo dies in a terrible accident, it’s to Morello that Zeno and Benedetto turn for help. And Morello soon finds that in Florence, every surface hides layers of intrigue.

 

75,600 wordsCOVER IDEAS 3

Publication February 1, 2017

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Excerpt:

The village of Torrenta, Tuscany, June 1475

Morello

The sun thrust warm fingers into the ancient Tuscan earth. The gray-green leaves of the olive trees shimmered, and the woods beyond beckoned Morello to abandon the painters’ workshop for their cool refuge.

In the growing heat the apprentices inside settled into an afternoon nap, curled on benches in dark corners behind him. The harsh fumes of linseed oil and varnish had irritated Morello all morning, and he was unable to sleep in the miasma. Perhaps before their visitors from Florence arrived, he might escape the heat. A long tramp in the woods pulled at his bones.

He reached for the walking stick behind the door, but a horse’s whinny stopped him, and a man’s voice called out. When no one stirred within to answer, he cursed the sleepers and stomped back through the shop, thwarted. In the lane in front of the workshop, two men removed packs from their horses.

“Good day, Master Zeno!” From the doorway, Morello called to the older of the two. “You made good time!”

At the sound of Morello’s voice, the apprentices roused themselves from sleep and peered around him.

The gray-haired master raised his hand and smiled. “Good day, Master Morello.”

Master Zeno’s companion, a tall young man with flowing golden hair, took the older man’s pack for him and shouldered the straps of both.

“Take their horses to the stable and fetch Master Franco,” Morello ordered the apprentices, and they hurried to obey.

Master Zeno’s journeyman brushed dust from the sleeve of his sweat-stained linen shirt, slapped more dust from his long thighs, and ran a forearm across his brow. His smile was uncertain as his glance met Morello’s.

Donato stood at the window yawning and scratching his stomach. He shaded his eyes for a better look into the misty glare of the afternoon. “Who’s the beauty with the master?”

Donato’s fellow journeyman Primo jumped to his feet and crowded against Morello in the doorway. “Can it be? He’s brought Tagliaferro?”

Donato groaned. “The man you’ve been mooning about since you last went to Florence, Primo? You’ve only just finally shut up about him.”

Morello ignored them. His irritation over his interrupted walk had vanished. Primo’s garlic- and onion-laden breath on his neck registered only remotely. He gazed out at the man from Florence, who, in Morello’s memory, had once been a long-legged boy with a head of yellow fluff too big for his skinny body. Morello stepped out into the sunlight that appeared to pour itself over the grown man, and stretched out his hand in greeting. Maintaining frank eye contact, Benedetto Tagliaferro adjusted the packs and took his hand.

When flesh met flesh, Morello stumbled – at least, his heart did. As if the wind from the beating wings of the love-inspiring putti he had painted just that morning pushed them toward each other.

“Do you remember me?” Benedetto asked with the shadow of that boy’s grin.

 

 

About Heloise West:

Heloise West, when not hunched over the keyboard plotting love and mayhem, dreams about moving to a villa in Tuscany. She loves history, mysteries, and romance of all flavors. She travels and gardens with her partner of thirteen years, and their home overflows with books, cats, art, and red wine.

Where to find Heloise:

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Double Trouble: Chapter 99

 

Wednesday Briefs

The continuing saga of three generations of ranching family. Below the story you’ll find links to other flash fictions.


Chapter 99

Josh stepped through the door, closed it behind him, and enjoyed the quiet. Trapped in a camper trailer with four teenagers for most of a week would count as cruel and unusual punishment anywhere else. On the drive home there had been several times he’d considered putting the entire lot out onto the side of the road and gone home without them. But he’d bit his tongue and drove as fast as he thought he could afford a ticket to get back home. Fortunately, the highway patrol was sparse.

He glanced around the room to find a grinning Trent staring back at him. Knowing his husband would understand, he unloaded a weeks worth of baggage and frustration in his direction.

“Those heathens could tear up an anvil with a rubber hammer. And if there’s any trouble within a hundred miles, they will be right up in the middle of it. It’s a miracle we survived the whole week and nothing bad happened. You so owe me after this.”

Trent’s smile never wavered and in actuality it was possible it got larger before he spoke. “So it wasn’t the nonstop party you thought it would be?”

Josh snorted. “Yeah, right. Party. Those little shits were into everything.”

“Well, how did the cattle place?”

Josh walked over, sat on Trent’s lap, and wrapped his arms around his husband’s neck. “Is that really what you wanted to talk about?”

A grin formed across Trent’s lips as Josh ground his ass against Trent’s crotch. Josh slipped his hands on either side of Trent’s face. He leaned closer, his heart pounding. Their lips touched, and it was as if fire raged through his system. He pressed his lips harder, loving the rough texture of Trent’s face. As he luxuriated in the heat of their kiss, he slipped his tongue between Trent’s lips. Their tongue tangled with each other until Trent pulled away.

“Where are the kids?”

Josh rested his head against Trent’s shoulder and sighed. “They went to help Levi get his animals home before dark.”

A smile crept across his face. “That means they’ll be gone at least an hour. Mitch and Darrin are off visiting friends down in Dallas. It looks like we might have one of those rare moments when the signs have aligned and we have an hour of guaranteed privacy.”

“Holy fuck! Why are we not naked?” Trent said.

Josh chuckled and returned to kissing Trent until when he broke the kiss there was a hard cock pressing against his butt. He slipped his hand down the front of Trent’s jeans and wrapped them around his husband’s steel hard shaft. Trent’s moan echoed through the house for a minute before he stood with Josh in his arms, almost sprinting into the bedroom.

When they reached the bed Trent jumped forward, and they landed in a tangle of arms and legs. Before Josh caught his breath, Trent had him pinned against the mattress and Josh remembered they had been apart for most of a week, and he had no privacy in the trailer. Josh ripped open Trent’s shirt and launched it into the air. His own shirt joined it a moment later as Trent bit down on one of his nipples. Between his teeth and tongue, Trent had jolts of pleasure racing through Josh’s body. He released himself to the sensations flooding him.

Trent slipped lower and pressed his nose against Josh’s crotch and inhaled. Just the sound of Trent enjoying himself drove Josh deeper into the euphoria of their lovemaking. After a few moments there was an urgent tugging at his jeans. Josh found himself stripped naked and watching as Trent joined him.

Trent plunged his face between Josh’s legs. The amazing sensation brought Josh closer to climax as his body revealed in the sensations Trent was giving him. But soon Josh changed their positions until he hovered over Trent’s hard dick. He lowered himself until Trent’s plump cock head was kissing his hole. He relaxed and moved lower, letting Trent slip deeper. As Trent scraped across his prostate, Josh drowned himself in the pleasures. Soon he lost himself in the sensation and his world was reduced to him and Trent.

Some time later the couple spooned with each other with a crisp white sheet wrapped around the two of them. The feel of Trent’s warm chest against him was amazing and the gentle throb of his well-satisfied hole left a grin on his face. Trent kissed the back of his neck and whispered. “Welcome Home.”


The links listed below go directly to the individual stories.

 

Release day for “Camouflage”

artwork for "Camouflage"Hello! The day has finally arrived for Camouflage’s release. I’m excited and love the story. I hope you enjoy it too.

Nash Gallo and Luke Meyers seem like complete opposites on the surface. Nash is a city boy from Atlanta, while Luke is a rancher from rural Oklahoma. Nash is covered in tattoos and piercings, while Luke is self-conscious about his muscular, hairy body. Luke doesn’t have much sexual experience with other men, while Nash has plenty to go around.

But both men are lonely, and neither of them has ever been in love.

They also both have secrets. For Luke, it’s his shame over an affair with a local closeted and married man, something Nash accepts. Will Luke be as tolerant of what Nash is hiding—his job as a prostitute back in Georgia?

A week-long vacation on Luke’s ranch and the idyllic landscapes surrounding it gives both men the chance to relax and explore the attraction growing between them. But can the budding relationship survive secrets and small-town prejudices? As they search for the place where their lives might intersect, Nash and Luke risk far worse than broken hearts.

Author Bio

Jon Keys’ earliest memories revolve around books; with the first ones he can recall reading himself being “The Warlord of Mars” and anything with Tarzan. (The local library wasn’t particularly up to date.) But as puberty set in he started sneaking his mother’s romance magazines and added the world of romance and erotica to his mix of science fiction, fantasy, Native American, westerns and comic books.

A voracious reader for almost half a century, Jon has only recently begun creating his own flights of fiction for the entertainment of others. Born in the Southwest and now living in the Midwest, Jon has worked as a ranch hand, teacher, computer tech, roughneck, designer, retail clerk, welder, artist, and, yes, pool boy; with interests ranging from kayaking and hunting to painting and cooking, he draws from a wide range of life experiences to create written works that draw the reader in and wrap them in a good story.

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camouflage_fbbanner_dspExcerpt

Nash watched Luke as they drove down the road toward town. He’d looked good at the airport, at least what Nash could remember before Luke ran through the pouring rain, but once he cleaned up he was outstanding. The pullover shirt tapered to his hips, and Nash licked his lips in appreciation. Even more importantly, he seems like a nice guy. Not that I’m a great judge.

“So what do you think?”

Nash jumped, afraid he’d been busted. But he realized the question wasn’t what he’d thought when Luke motioned at the scenery that rolled past.

“The house is cool. I mean, you have all that space to yourself. It’s so quiet too. I don’t know how I’m going to sleep without sirens and squealing brakes.”

Luke fixed his eyes on the road ahead, his knuckles white on the steering wheel. “Yeah. It’s quiet most of the time.”

“Sorry. I forgot how you got it.”

“It’s okay. I just miss them a lot.”

Nash reached over, patted Luke’s leg, and gave it a squeeze. “Sorry, but at least you had someone who loved you.”

Luke started to say something, but Nash interrupted, not wanting him to get too inquisitive. “So, we’re going for barbecue? I love pulled pork.”

“This might be more Texas barbecue than you’re used to. I always get the brisket.”

“And you like their fries, right?”

Luke glanced over at him. “How did you know that?”

“Oh I don’t know, maybe because you told me one night when we were chatting.”

Luke relaxed his grip on the wheel and a grin appeared. “Oh. Yeah, I guess I did.” He looked over to Nash and then refocused on the road. “Makes me wonder what else I’ve told you and forgot.”

Nash chuckled and twisted in the seat so he faced Luke. “Let’s see. You like corn dogs with mustard and ketchup, which is disgusting. You also like to rope, but you can’t help but worry about the calves sometimes. What else….”

“Okay, okay. You’ve made your point. Enough Luke stories. And why don’t I know any of your embarrassing habits?”

Nash’s relaxed moment faded and he turned back to the wall of trees they were driving through. “Nothing worth sharing. Especially nothing as cute as how you got the crescent-shaped scar on your butt.”

“There was nothing cute about that. The damn dog was trying to kill me.”

“It’s the owner’s fault. They make the dogs mean.”

“Whatever. The owner didn’t bite me.”

They drove the rest of the way in silence. The typical small-town business staples rolled past as they got closer to their destination. Looks familiar, a lifetime and a thousand miles ago.

“You hungry?” Luke asked.

Nash’s stomach picked that point to rumble. “From that sound you’d think I was about to starve.”

“Good, ’cause we’re there.” Luke turned into the parking lot as Nash checked out the low-slung building with its simple “BBQ” sign in front. As Luke searched for a parking spot, Nash inhaled the hickory-smoke-laden air. When they rounded the back of the place, Nash spotted the monstrous black behemoth filling the area with the scent of meats of every kind.

They found a place to park and made their way inside. Luke threaded his way to the counter with Nash close behind. A smiling woman with her blonde hair pulled back motioned them closer. “What sounds good tonight, Luke?” she asked.

“I think a couple of the sampler plates and two sweet teas.”

She looked knowingly at Nash. “And fries. He always has fries.”

Luke grinned and shrugged. “Guilty. They’re the best.”

The woman motioned toward an empty table. “Grab a seat and I’ll bring it out to you.”

A short time later Nash had both elbows propped on the table and was halfway through a side of ribs. “You were right. The hot barbecue sauce is killer.”

Luke swallowed the piece of brisket he was working on and looked at Nash. “Told you. The beans are great too. The place isn’t fancy, but it’s delicious food.”

Nash pulled off another rib and gnawed it like an ear of corn. The food was good, but he thought the company was better. Feeling a little ornery, he leaned closer to Luke, making smacking noises, knowing his face was smeared with sauce.

“Hey, what’d you think? Want some of this?”

With a nervous laugh, Luke glanced around them. “Knock it off, you goof. You’ve got barbecue all over you.”

Nash gathered up a few paper towels and wiped his face. After considering Luke, he leaned across the table. “You okay? If me teasing around is making you uncomfortable….”

“No, it’s okay. I don’t mind.”

“Then what’s making you so uptight?”

“They might think it’s more than friends out for barbecue. I haven’t really been out with anyone before.”

“You’ve never been on a date?”

“Not really. I went out a few times in college, but not since coming back.” Luke paused and glanced at Nash before he continued. “Yeah, nothing I’d call a date.

“You’ve been out of college for a while. How could you not date? I thought you were out.”

“Oh, they know, but you know little towns and all their crap. It’s—” Luke stopped, and his eyes locked on the business’s door as it swung open.

Nash wondered what was going on when a mass of people swept through the entrance. They all seemed loud and excited. He watched closely and turned to Luke. “What’s going on? Did everyone get their egg money at once?”

“The high school football game’s over. It’s more important than money, at least around here.”

Nash watched the crowd for a few more seconds before he shrugged. “Doesn’t take much to get some people worked up, I guess.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Luke glanced at the crowd again, and he went rigid.

Nash looked again but couldn’t see anything more than the same milling throng. “What’s wrong?”

“Not a big deal. You ready to go? We could stop for some ice cream at—”

Nash laid his hands on top of one of Luke’s. “You might as well tell me. I’m going to worm it out of you eventually anyway, even if it takes liquor.”

Luke sighed deeply. “I suppose. It’s not like I’ll be able to avoid him the whole time you’re here.”

Nash waited for Luke to continue, but he realized more information wasn’t going to happen soon if he didn’t help it along. So he gave it another shot. “He who? What’s going on? You know you can talk to me. Hell, if it’s making you nervous, text it to me.”

“Yeah, apparently I’m a blabbermouth around you. So, you might as well know. My sort of ex just walked in. Long story.”

“Your ex? I thought….”

“Like I said, it’s complicated. Do you mind if we go somewhere else for dessert?”

Nash considered saying something, then decided against it. Instead he looked over the people, trying to decide which one was Luke’s former lover. His curiosity got the best of him. “Which one?”

“The blond guy with the red shirt that says ‘Stillwell Indians.’”

Nash started chuckling. “You’re kidding me, right? They’re all wearing a red Indians jersey.”

“Him. The guy in the corner….”

Nash looked again, and this time immediately spotted who Luke must be talking about. Almost as tall as Nash, but with the build of a fading high school football star. He was at the center of the mob of men waiting by the door and talking loudly.

Nash glanced at Luke. “The big blond guy everyone seems to want to talk to?”

“Yeah. His name’s Bobby. Robert Doyle.”

 

Double Trouble: Chapter 98

 

Wednesday Briefs

The continuing saga of three generations of ranching family. Below the story you’ll find links to other flash fictions.


Chapter 98

It didn’t take long before the four of them headed down the midway. After having camped at the fairground for the better part of a week, they knew everythings location, from food to thrill rides. Danny, who was always hungry, had forced everyone to stop at his favorite food vender. The three boys ate their fill while Samantha stood and rolled her eyes.

When they walked past the Tilt-a-Whirl Levi’s lips formed a hard line and turned a little pale. Rob pulled Danny close and whispered. “He’s not going to get lucky if he doesn’t stop doing that shit.”

Danny chuckled. “I know. Right? What’s in his head?”

“He’s thinking he’d rather be right than get some.”

Danny grinned even larger and swatted Rob on his Wrangler wrapped ass. Rob yelped a little and then winked at Danny. The two of them were horsing around when they heard Samantha call to them.

“Hey, get your ass over here and let’s win Mama some bling.”

Danny rolled his eyes but moved beside Samantha, along with Levi. Rob had followed too, but seemed less interested in keeping Samantha happy. Danny grinned. Rob had more interested in keeping Danny happy. He could tell Rob wanted a little horizontal mambo, which Danny was fine with.

A happy squeal erupted from Samantha, and Danny brought his focus back to the arcade. Levi tossed huge plastic hoops at teddy bears too large for the hoop to fit around. Levi was already out several bucks and hadn’t got close to winning. They stood watching for a few moments before Levi scowled and turned to the others.

“This one’s rigged. It’s not even possible.”

The operator of the arcade took a hoop, stepped outside, and tossed the hoop. With no problem the hoop settled over the bear and landed on its wooden base. He smirked at the group and moved back into his booth.

Levi clenched his teeth and stomped off down the midway. They spent the next hour working a variety of games and got nothing more than a cheap plastic whistle that Levi could have bought for less than he spent trying to win it.

While they’d been at this, Rob had been curling around Danny. Now they enjoyed the opportunity to cuddle with each other in the less well-lit areas of the midway. They left yet another game and wandered into a dark part of the fairgrounds. In a lapse in judgment, Danny gave Rob a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Faggots! Get out of here. Your kind should rot in hell!”

Danny glanced up and saw four of five huge rednecks coming at them. None of them looked happy, and he thought most of them were drunk… or something. They turned to confront the thugs, but Danny wasn’t sure what they could do. Each man easily weighed twice as much as any two of them.

“Knock it off and get out of here.”

Danny jumped and looked behind them. Two of the carnival workers closed the distance between them, and each of them carried a shortened baseball bat. Danny’s stomach knotted as he wondered who the two were threatening. But as they got closer, it was obvious they were talking to the others.

“Get home. You’re drunk and ain’t got no business messing with these kids.” The expression on the carnie’s face would sour milk. He lunged at the others and yelled. “Get outta here!”

The gang of five stumbled over each other as they ran to escape. The slight action of their rescuers seemed enough to send them packing. Danny stepped forward with his hand extended.

“Thanks. We appreciate the help.”

The man stared at Danny’s hand for a second and then frowned.

“Get back where there’s light. Don’t be stupid.”

Danny let his hand drop and watched the two men turn and walk back into the midway.


The links listed below go directly to the individual stories.

 

Double Trouble: Chapter 97

 

Wednesday Briefs

The continuing saga of three generations of ranching family. Below the story you’ll find links to other flash fictions.


Chapter 97

Danny glanced at his sister, who seemed entranced by a bracelet he’d never seen before, and Levi looked more miserable than someone in an emergency room. Definitely something he wanted to stay away from. He was busy enough trying to find something to do, so they weren’t bored to death. He turned back to cooking their dinner. Once he had everything ready, he motion to the other three.

“You know, Dad’s meeting a friend of his in town. It’s our last night. We should blow our wad and hit the midway.”

Levi paled further and waved his hands. “Not me. I can’t handle any more rides today.”

Samantha chuckled, but didn’t add to the conversation.

Danny studied them for a few minutes and shook his head again, certain his sister had got the best of Levi in some scheme she had going. He considered them for a few seconds and then his lips quirked.

“No rides then. We clean them out at the game. How does that sound to everyone?”

Levi’s head popped up first. The transformation became nothing short of miraculous. “The midway? We’re going to win at the games?”

Without looking up Samantha said, “I could use the matching bracelet if you’re still feeling frisky.”

Ah! He made the mistake of betting with my sister. Betting against Samantha is a poor idea.

But if Levi let Samantha clean him out his cash, or she’d stand and laugh at him while he lost at every rigged game across the huge midway. Levi seemed to be unintimidated by the whole process. Danny played a few of the games every season, but he’d never won in the years he’d been going. But Levi seemed convinced that he would wipe out the fairgrounds. The games went on forever, but Danny felt he and Rob would enjoy the crazy pair in the search to regain Levi’s masculinity.

They were halfway through the meal when Danny grinned at the others, shooting a wink at Ron. “It’s the perfect night for hustling the hustlers. We should be able to win junk to bring home.” He paused for a moment and met Levi’s gaze. He started to share a warning for the innocent when Levi winked at him. Danny’s eyebrows shot up, and he decided Levi could sink or swim on his own. Danny wasn’t going to form up the rescue posse. He’d leave the issues up to Samantha and Levi. But when he glanced at Rob and saw a slimmer of mischievousness in his eyes.

“Sounds like fun. After today we’ll be back at redneck high. We should have a blast tonight,” Rob said.

Danny leaned to his boyfriend and gave him a quick kiss. “Let’s clean up and head out.”


The links listed below go directly to the individual stories.