Excerpt: City of Dreams

“Oh look, isn’t that Bastian’s little friend?”

Marcus’s paintbrush froze mid-stroke at the silky feminine voice behind him. Then he deliberately finished, setting the brush in a jar of mineral spirits spritzed with a pinch of cleaner from Prestcote’s spell shop. If he didn’t pack up immediately, Marie and whoever was with her would tease and annoy him until the painting was ruined beyond saving.

He put the lid on his palette to save the colours he’d mixed and began to slot everything into place in his easel. It was such a beautiful day. He didn’t normally paint outside, but he’d wanted to get away from the common studio.

“Don’t go on our account,” Marie Bottrell said, taking the seat next to him in a flounce of ruffled silk and powder. “It is terribly funny, though. You thinking Sebastian Moreaux, of all men, would settle for one person. And even if he did, it wouldn’t be a pretty boy like you. He likes real men and real women, not whatever in between you are.”

“You must think I’m particularly stupid,” Marcus remarked, his voice calm while inside his emotions writhed and flinched from her words. “I’ve already gotten that message multiple times, from Bastian himself, no less. You were there, if I recall. I don’t need to be reminded daily. I’m not likely to forget.”

“Aren’t you? Then why do you still come around to Bastian’s salons?”

“Because he invites me,” Marcus said curtly. It wasn’t a satisfactory answer, not even to himself. Why did he accept Sebastian’s invitations? They certainly did nothing to further his art. He doubted even tomorrow’s luncheon at the café would be instructional, yet he knew he’d be there.

“He just feels pity for you, you know,” she continued, garnering twitters of laughter from those with her, whom Marcus was still purposefully not looking at.

“I doubt that Bastian is even capable of that much fellow-feel,” Marcus replied, hefting his easel across his shoulders. “Now if you don’t mind, I need some fresh air.”

He strode away across the park, ostensibly looking for a new vantage on the crumbling medieval pavilion, but he knew his concentration was broken for the day. Instead he took his things back to his room, trading them for a more portable sketchbook, and wandered the streets, trying desperately not to think about Sebastian Moreaux and his humiliation at the handsome man’s hands.

*~*~*

“Hello, beautiful.”

Marcus turned to see warm brown eyes surrounded by long dark lashes and blushed. The rest of the face was even more lovely to look at—a straight nose, broad cheekbones, lips… lips… He dragged his gaze back to the brown eyes, sparking with the reflections of golden spell lights. “Hello,” Marcus said, willing his blush to recede and failing as usual.

“I’m Sebastian Moreaux. I understand you’re new to my group,” he said with a smile. His head was resting on the back of the divan on which Marcus was sitting. Marcus was just honoured to be considered good enough to fall into such an elite group of artists. All he could see of the celebrated Moreaux was his head and he was so swept by the beauty of it, he almost forgot that Moreaux—the Sebastian Moreaux!—had called him beautiful. “What’s your name, beautiful? Haven’t seen you before.”

“Marcus. Allegro,” he managed to say without stuttering.

“Are you really old enough to be a student here? You look too pretty to be a man grown.” His smile was kind, and Marcus blushed even deeper. Normally he disliked being taken for a youth, but the friendly and interested way Moreaux was looking at him made the comment almost a compliment.

“Really,” he murmured, his voice not as firm as he felt it should have been.

Moreaux’s smile grew to a grin and he rested his hands on the carved sofa frame, peering at Marcus. “I’d need to see you standing,” he declared. His gaze dropped lower and Marcus squirmed from embarrassment. Sebastian grinned and winked salaciously. “No matter. I’ll find out soon enough.”

Then he was gone. Welcome to the City of Dreams.

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