The Artist’s Masquerade
by Antonia Aquilante
Genre: M/M Fantasy Romance
Series: Chronicles of Tournai
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Release Date: December 21, 2015
Length: Novel (300 pages)
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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The first meeting with his betrothed hadn’t gone exactly as Cathal had thought it would. During the carriage ride to the port, Father had been full of instructions on what Cathal should do and say when he met Lady Velia and just as full of annoyance at Elodie’s presence. Cathal wasn’t surprised by either of those things.
Father would have preferred Elodie not come with them, but Cathal knew that Father would have been even more upset if Philip or Amory had been available to accompany them. A representative of the crown traditionally attended this type of meeting, and though Father believed himself a suitable representative, Philip didn’t think so. First, because Father was the father of the bridegroom, and second, and possibly more importantly, because Philip likely didn’t trust Father in the matter. He had, after all, negotiated with a not-entirely-friendly empire and not disclosed it to the crown prince of Tournai or any of the prince’s advisors or ministers.
For that matter, he hadn’t even disclosed it to his own son.
Cathal did not blame his cousin for wanting an observer of his own at the meeting. He was somewhat surprised that Elodie had been chosen, but he supposed that, despite her flightiness, she did notice things. She could be relied upon to recount everything that happened. If she didn’t get distracted by what Lady Velia’s gown looked like or something else interesting to her. No, he would have thought that Philip would have sent someone else just to be safe.
Of course, he didn’t know that his cousin hadn’t. Cathal of all people knew that not everyone was as they seemed and saying spies were everywhere was not always paranoia. The carriage, along with its driver, was from the palace. He and Elodie had taken it to collect his father. For all Cathal knew, the driver would report everything he saw and heard back to Philip when they reached the palace. And Cathal didn’t resent his cousin for that either. Father took his responsibility to family and country seriously, but Cathal didn’t understand his actions in negotiating the marriage.
Father had told Philip of Cathal’s betrothal before Cathal had the chance, and Philip hadn’t been pleased. Cathal had been touched to find that many of his cousin’s misgivings were for Cathal, but Philip needn’t have worried. Cathal had been prepared for the duty for his whole life.
By the time they arrived at the dock to meet the ship from Ardunn, Father was peeved, Elodie was bubbling over with enthusiasm, and Cathal was tired. He just hoped his betrothed was someone he could like.
He was going to have to spend his life married to her. Liking would be good, so would attraction, though neither was necessary for a marriage like theirs.
And Lady Velia was beautiful, just the type of woman he was usually attracted to with her soft curves and golden curls. She was ladylike and demure and absolutely correct in her responses to their introduction, and charming in what little conversation they had between meeting on the dock and traveling back to the palace. She was well dressed, if not in a fashion popular in Tournai. He had no doubt it was the fashion in Ardunn—she was entirely too well put together, from hat to embroidered shoes, for it to be anything but. Altogether, a woman he would have noticed, and one who, at first glance, wouldn’t make a bad duchess.
So why couldn’t he stop staring at Lady Flavia?
The woman who had been introduced as Velia’s companion was not conventionally beautiful. Flavia was lithe not curvy, her features a bit delicate, her mouth full and lush—she was pretty in a way but would never be considered beautiful. And though she was dressed as well as Velia, she didn’t seem as comfortable in the finery as the other woman did. But Flavia’s eyes were absolutely mesmerizing. Even in the first moment they focused on him, wide and startled, the large, blue-green eyes captured Cathal, and he found it difficult to look away from their swirling depths.
But he had to, and he had to forget about the surprising spark, so sharp he would have thought it a literal spark, when they touched. Because Flavia was not his betrothed.
And still his gaze kept going back to her. Flavia looked horrified when Elodie announced they would be staying at the palace. Cathal was certain Father had mixed feelings about the invitation, but that was to be expected—Flavia’s reaction was strange. Why wouldn’t she want to stay at the palace? The invitation was an honor, and Velia accepted it with graciousness and just a hint of a belief that it was her due.
But Flavia was not happy. As they all moved toward the carriage, Elodie chatting easily with Velia’s aunt and Father talking with her uncle, pulling Cathal into the conversation, Flavia whispered furiously in Velia’s ear. He couldn’t hear what she said or how Velia responded, but he saw Velia’s dismissive gesture and Flavia’s narrowed eyes and compressed lips. The woman was fuming and trying not to show it.
He could have let someone else help Flavia into the carriage. He could have found some reason to step away after helping Velia into the carriage. He should have let someone else help her. But he didn’t want to. He wanted to know if the heat of that first touch had been an anomaly or if it would happen again.
Flavia looked at the hand he held out to her as if she wasn’t sure why he was offering it, but an instant later, she shook her head and smiled, taking his hand. The smile was charming and unexpected; the feeling when they touched was the same as it was earlier. Something that might have been dismay darkened her eyes. It matched what he felt himself. Breaking eye contact, she got into the carriage and dropped his hand quickly.
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.
Giveaway: One signed paperback copy of The Prince’s Consort, the first book in the Chronicles of Tournai series. (Paperback for US entrants only; if winner is international, they’ll receive an ebook.)