About Spoken from the Heart
by Jane Davitt
As an up and coming actor in the city of Sorrent, Julian always has the perfect words to say, even if someone else wrote them. But when it comes to wooing the innocent young country man he's rescued and befriended, he's going to find that the only words that count are spoken from the heart, not the page.
Alex is innocent, eager to please, friendly, lovable -- and a trouble magnet. With the ducal court offering both temptations and danger, and the theater at risk from the duke's temper, both Alex and Julian find it difficult to separate friend from foe. Julian's ambitions drive him, even as his heart tries to lead the way, and Alex tumbles from one scrape to the next as the city swelters in the summer heat and sickness stalks the streets.
When Julian is faced with an impossible choice that will change his life, he's left with no script to follow, no stage direction to guide him. But if they're to make it unscathed and take a final bow, they'll need to be sure of only one thing. Each other.
Kiernan Kelly, author of Cornfed, writes:
When Julian Melville, actor extraordinaire, first meets country boy Alex Martin, it's under shockingly scandalous circumstances. Moved to an enjoyable act of chivalry, Julian takes Alex under his wing and roof, offering his sponsorship to Alex until other arrangements can be made.
Those arrangements never come to pass. Instead, Alex remains living in Julian's house, and is drawn into the world of the theater, finding work as a stagehand. But life in the city, regardless of the comforts, is never easy, not when living under the eye of the court, where politics and betrayals abound.
In Spoken from the Heart, Davitt creates a rich and vivid world, and characters so well developed and layered they fairly leap off the pages. Julian has just the right measure of an actor's pomp and arrogance mixed with gallantry and sensitivity, while Alex is imbued with strong country values, honesty, and endearing innocence tempered with a quick mind. The quick-paced plot draws the reader in, and keeps the reader rooting for Julian and Alex to find their way through court intrigues and past emotional barriers, into each other's arms.
"You misbegotten son of a flea-bitten whore!"
Julian automatically tried to place the line -- Season's Turn? Lady Whimsy's Wish? before realizing it had been said with genuine anger thickening each syllable. Jolted from his reverie, he turned his head, lazily interested in whatever had prompted the outburst.
The justice stocks, discreetly tucked away in a corner, a hundred paces or so from Julian's table, were occupied, and by the sound of it, one of Justice's helpers wasn't happy.
Julian grinned. Some of the duke's innovations were decidedly on the eccentric side. Offering petty criminals their choice of punishment had caused an uproar amongst the citizens even before word had leaked out about the nature of some of the options.
With the idle curiosity of a man with nothing better to do, he swallowed down what remained of his wine, then refilled the wooden cup from the jug. Wine in hand, he sauntered over to the stocks, approving the relative cleanliness of the cobbles these days. His boots were new, their glossy black leather soft to the touch, the buff-colored cuffs as deep as the current mode demanded. Soiling them with mud or refuse would have been a pity.
The young man kneeling in the stocks, his head a perfect height for the action he'd need to perform to be released from them, was flushed with indignation. Julian gave him a swift glance, the watchful guard another, then turned his attention to the man who was tucking his prick away inside his breeches, his mouth still spouting abuse. Julian summed him up at a glance. Tall, burly, with cold gray eyes and the tang of the ocean about him. A sailor, his skin burned dark by the southern sun, gold rings hanging heavy from his ears.
"You'll not count this against what he owes!" the sailor told the guard whose lack of interest was palpable. "The thieving piece of shit bit me."
"You got what you wanted." The guard looked pointedly at the snail's trail of white on the man's breeches. "Move on. There's others waiting."
"Oh, I'm not waiting." Julian sipped his wine and gave the two men standing a sunny smile. "Just observing."
"If you don't want to use him, you can move on, too." The guard didn't trouble to rest his hand on his sword. The duke's men rarely needed to draw steel within the city after the Night of Blades a decade earlier. He glanced down at the prisoner and scuffed his hand through the lad's thick, curling hair in a friendly way. "One more to service and you can go home to your mother and tell her what a busy day you had. Or lie. If you want my advice, I'd choose to lie."
The sailor snorted, wiped his hand down his breeches, and slapped it, wet with come, against the prisoner's cheek. "I hope you choke on what he spills down your throat, you little--"
"Citizen. Move on." The words stung like bees, sharp and swift.
The sailor drew himself up and walked away, his gait unsteady as if a deck still heaved beneath his feet, not the solid, unmoving earth. Julian watched him go, letting the details of the man's walk soak into his mind. He couldn't recall a decent sailor's role, but who knew when it might come in handy to know how a man fresh from a voyage put one foot in front of another? An actor could learn a lot from simply using his eyes and ears.
The guard cleared his throat. "If you've need of release, use him, otherwise…"
"Move on. I know." Julian sipped his wine again and gave the prisoner a considering look. The youngster's head was lowered now, but the mop of silky, auburn curls and the slender wrists and strong, tanned hands he could see were somewhat intriguing. He wasn't surprised the guard had tousled that hair. It drew the eye. He let himself wonder what it would be like to plunge both hands into it and hold the lad steady before fucking his mouth in slow, luxurious strokes, but it was no more than a passing thought. Julian Melville didn't rut in public and his partners were willing -- and clean. And usually older. The lad's jerkin was a grubby brown, his leather breeches patched and stained, and Julian put his age around nineteen, if that.
"What did he do?"
"Stole food from a stall. Caught with it before he'd gone a few paces."
"I was hungry." The words were directed at the cobblestones, filled with a weary defiance. "I didn't -- at home, no one would've minded--"
"You're in the city now, boy. Everything has a price, even kindness." The guard jerked his head at Julian. "If you please, citizen."
Something about the bewildered hurt in the lad's voice caught at Julian. He hesitated, pity replacing his amused lack of sympathy -- the penalty was a kinder one than the loss of a finger, after all, which would've been the lad's fate under the old duke.
"Can I buy his freedom? A whore would charge, what, ten coppers a time? I could give you fifteen?" He could afford that and the glow of magnanimity would be pleasant. Even if the boy would most likely steal again if his belly was empty -- and though Julian was hazy on the exact wording of the law, he had a feeling the penalty for a second offence wouldn't be as light. The duke was eccentric, not stupid.
The guard shook his head. "'One Law for Rich and Poor'," he quoted. "Peasant or prince, he chose this and he stays here until he's done, and I with him to see justice." With a rougher touch than before, he grabbed a handful of hair and brought the prisoner's head back, exposing his face and the pure lines of his throat, the fair skin tanned by the sun. "He's pretty enough to pass as a girl if that's more your fancy."
"I am not!"Julian laughed uneasily. Those eyes, blazing with indignation, and a swollen, lush mouth had his cock hardening, but he had some standards, damn it.