#TeaserTuesday: Fiorenzo by Sebastian Nothwell

Fiorenzo releases on Saturday, September 30th and we are so happy to be able to share this excerpt with you!

From the blurb:

Fiore has a plan. Find a wealthy elderly gentleman, delight him until the end of his days, and retire on the resulting inheritance. It’s the best outcome a low-born courtesan in the city of Halcyon can hope for.

And it seems a perfect scheme… until a mysterious masked man upends it.

Banished from university after a disastrous duel, Enzo wanders the city searching for scraps of the affection he’s lost. His public mask conceals private agonies. A single night in the company of a courtesan, however, balms his wounded heart, and he finds himself returning again and again to Fiore, revealing more of himself than he’s ever dared before.

Furthermore, and more astonishing still, Fiore finds he returns Enzo’s affections.

But while Fiore wears no mask, he nonetheless has secrets of his own. And when the ghosts of their pasts return to haunt them, only the bond of trust between them will carry them through.


Crowds flooded the streets and canals surrounding the dry-docked ship. This, despite the icy winter wind that threatened to spill snow into the lagoon surrounding the city. The paper lanterns strung from windowsill to windowsill across every street, canal, and alleyway defied the evening’s darkness. Likewise the music of fiddles, lutes, pipes, tambourines, and raucous human voices defied any gloom. It was the final night of Saturnalia, and the people of Halcyon intended to make the most of it—Fiore among them.

Fiore, a young man of twenty summers, leaned against the railing on the upper deck of the Kingfisher which he called his home. The ship had run aground about a century earlier. Captain Corelli, lacking the funds to make it seaworthy again, had left it ashore and turned it into a tavern. She had willed it to her daughter, also called Corelli, who in turn willed it to her daughter, the third Corelli, who generously let a chamber below-decks to Fiore by the week for his lodging and trade alike. 

Tonight, Fiore wore a mask—most holy days in the city required at least a token mask—but his was a mere black-paper domino that covered a slender two inches or so around his eyes and little else. To cover anything more wouldn’t serve his purpose.

His clothes didn’t cover much, either. He had his breeches and hose, of course. Above the waist, however, he’d untied his shirt-collar’s laces so the deep plunging neck opened to expose the dark hair over his bronzed chest. He didn’t have the brawn of some fellows, but his small and slender frame still had a particular appeal to a certain sort of gentleman whom he hoped to attract tonight. The scarlet sash around his waist removed any doubts about his trade.

Despite his lack of cloak, the winter wind hardly seemed to touch him. The sheer crush of bodies drinking, dancing, and flirting on the deck created a bonfire’s worth of warmth. Fiore had counted himself amongst their number for most of the evening. However, most of the gentlemen on deck seemed more inclined towards his feminine cohorts.

And so he’d made his way to the railing for a breath of fresh air.

The view below proved just as exuberant as the celebration aboard the dry-docked ship. Boats crowded the canal like a pod of playful porpoises, hardly able to slide past each other, each carrying as many masked revelers as they could hold. The narrow fondamenta surrounding the ship itself likewise teemed with a multitude of costumes in a full prism’s worth of color.

The clear night sky, the fullness of the moon, the festive lanterns, and the ever-lit aediculae on every bridge and corner combined to set the whole city aglow. It afforded Fiore a marvelous view—

Except for one particular sliver which remained in perpetual shadow.

Shadows flitted all throughout the crowd, for one could hardly have light without casting shade. But this singular shadow remained rooted to one spot. At first Fiore didn’t realize why his gaze kept returning over and again to this anomaly. When his mind caught up to his eyes, however, he leaned out and squinted down for a better look at the queer phenomenon.

And realized it was not a shadow at all, but a human figure.

They stood well above the crowd swirling past them. They wore the costume of the bauta; tricorn hat, waistcoat, breeches and hose; the tabarro cloak and zendale hood; and finally the bauta mask itself, with its distinctive prominent beak obscuring everything from nose to throat. Unlike the traditional bauta, however, this particular shadow had everything in black—including the mask itself.

From this distance Fiore couldn’t pick out the eyes in the black mask. Nevertheless he met the mysterious gaze and, when he felt certain he held the bauta’s attention, granted them a winning smile and a resplendent bow, arising to toss his hand carelessly over his head as he invoked, “Io Saturnalia!”

Several anonymous voices returned the cheer from the crowds both below and above. The bauta did not. They continued staring up at Fiore in silence for another moment.

Then they dropt their gaze and headed towards the ship’s starboard gangplank.

Fiore watched their progress in eagerness. He hadn’t really expected his proposition to work from such a distance and towards so mysterious a figure. Whoever they were, they moved with astonishing grace for someone of their stature. Not too drunk yet, if at all, which boded well for Fiore’s purpose. He wearied of gentlemen who drank themselves out of performance and then blamed him for their inability to raise their masts.

Soon the bauta had surmounted the ladder and plunged into the crowded deck, whereafter Fiore beheld a particular tricorn hat bobbing well above the rest. The tide of bodies parted as the hat sailed forth, revealing in short order the full costume standing before Fiore.

Or rather, looming over him, for the figure stood at least a head taller on a long, lean, lithe frame.

With scarcely an arm’s length between them, Fiore had a better look at their garb. He beheld the same hat, cloak, hood, and mask as before, but now they’d drawn near enough for him to realize the exquisite make and quality of these articles. The mask not of paper but of gleaming leather; the silken hood trimmed in black lace; the cloak’s wool of so fine a weave that it seemed almost as shining smooth as the satin lining it. It matched the silver-buttoned waistcoat in black satin rather than wool. Modest sprigs of lace at the cuffs and throat of the white linen shirt beneath provided the only spots of light in an otherwise pure black costume. Black silk stockings clung to well-turned calves, and the satin breeches belied supple thighs. All this Fiore glimpsed as the figure swept their cloak aside to grant him a bow. Their commanding presence and the evident expense of their costume bespoke an aristocrat—yet, Fiore noted, not one too proud to grant courtesy to a courtesan.

“Good evening,” a deep voice rumbled up from the mask’s depths.

“Good evening,” Fiore replied in kind. And then, because it was only polite to enquire, added, “My lord…?”

The bauta—evidently a gentleman—gave a slow and solemn nod.

“I’ve a room below-decks, if you have coin.” Fiore found it best to state his intentions at the outset to prevent any misunderstanding, red sash or no.

The gentleman appeared in no way off-put by this revelation, though admittedly Fiore could perceive little beneath cloak, hood, and mask. “Lead on.”

Fiore smiled and offered the gentleman his arm.

And after a moment’s hesitation—whether reluctant, shy, or simply astonished at a courtesan’s audacity, Fiore couldn’t say—the bauta accepted, winding his arm through the crook of Fiore’s. His touch, even through both their sleeves, surprised and delighted Fiore with its warmth.

The crowd parted before the pair of them as it’d done for the bauta alone. Fiore led the way across the deck, through the dancers and drinkers, past the bar built into the forecastle to the hatch behind it, and, with a nod to Corelli so she knew he was going below and with whom, down into the belly of the ship.

The captain’s daughter had gutted the ship’s hold when it became not just a tavern but an inn and brothel. A dry-docked ship, after all, required far less cargo space; just enough to store a few dozen wine-casks would suffice, as opposed to the hundreds of barrels of hard-tack, salt-cod, and fresh water a crew of sailors would need on a years-long voyage, plus whatever goods they intended to transport to or from Halcyon. Thus the floors of the living quarters had dropped down several feet, and more rooms put in below them. This meant Fiore could walk quite comfortably below-decks. Even one so tall as the bauta need only duck beneath beams rather than crouch all the way through.

Likewise, unlike the sailors of old, Fiore had an entire cabin to himself, rather than sharing a berth with two-score other sailors all crammed in head-to-foot and stacked three high.

Fiore took more than a little pride in his cabin. The scarlet curtains in the porthole window—as broad in diameter as the span of Fiore’s arms and well below the water-line, as if there remained any hopes that the Kingfisher could ever return to sea—precisely matched his own scarlet sash. Deck prisms set into its ceiling, original to the ship, gave ample light by day. By night, he had hanging lanterns scavenged from scuttled gondole, their angles softened by curling brass laurel leaves. His own sketches adorned the walls; peculiar corners of Halcyon beneath bridges and behind staircases alongside figures and portraits of strangers and bed-fellows. 

The cabin’s most prominent feature was the bed, for reasons beyond even Fiore’s profession. He’d cobbled it together out of the remnants of a whaleboat snapped in half by leviathan’s jaws and deemed beyond repair, fit only for scrap. While he couldn’t make it seaworthy again, he could remove what remained of its keel and all the planks of its hull below the water-line and use them to fill in the jagged gaps until he had what seemed like the prow of a whaleboat sailing through the floorboards and out of his wall into the center of his room. A dozen or so cross-beams sufficed to support a mattress he’d sewn into its peculiar shape. 

Fiore could glean little of what the bauta thought of this chamber at first glance. But even beneath the mask and cloak, something in the gentleman’s stance as he strode in at Fiore’s invitation, how he turned his head to look about at all its features, and the way he laid a reverent hand on the bed’s gunwales and slid his fingers up towards its prow, made Fiore think he was at least somewhat impressed.

“Now,” Fiore said, shutting the door behind them with a soft thud. “How would you like me?” 

They couldn’t kiss, if the gentleman wished to keep his mask, but he might have Fiore on his knees before him, or bent over to take him from behind. Some gentlemen—more than most folks might expect and much more in line with Fiore’s own preferences—wished to have Fiore inside them, and perhaps this gentlemen would prove of that sort.

The gentleman hesitated. “I’m afraid you may find it strange.”

Fiore doubted he would. He had a whole sea-chest of treasures ready for gentlemen who wanted him to bind, gag, switch, or flog them. To the particular gentleman standing before him tonight, he said, “Try me.”

Again the gentleman hesitated. “I would like to watch you.”

Fiore raised his brows. “Watch me as I…?”

“Pleasure yourself.”

Easily enough done. And, as Fiore had predicted, far less strange than the gentleman supposed. He smiled. “As you wish.”

A hard swallow travelled down the gentleman’s slender throat.

If Fiore had read the gentleman correctly, he seemed the sort who enjoyed a bit of a tease. To that end, Fiore withdrew out of arms’ reach and set his fingers to work unwinding the scarlet sash from around his waist. Some fellows liked to keep the sash as a token. Fiore charged more for that; about double the cost of its replacement. Tonight he folded it over his arms, letting the scarlet fabric flow smoothly over the back of his hands, before laying it aside across the bow of his bed for the gentleman to peruse as he wished.

The gentleman spared the sash a lingering glance. Then his dark gaze flicked back to meet Fiore’s own.

Fiore bit back a knowing smirk. His fingertips fell to the buttons fastening the knees of his breeches. Then they arose to address the fall-front. This was the part that seemed to draw the interest of most fellows, and the bauta proved no exception. Fewer buttons than the waistcoat, though Fiore found a way to draw them out almost as long. 

The breeches joined the sash on the bed. Their loss offered a mere glimpse of his prize before the hem of his shirt fell into place like a demure linen curtain. 

Fiore bent to unfasten the garters of his hose in a manner which he knew elongated his whole frame. Some gentlemen liked to claim these as souvenirs as well, and again, Fiore felt willing enough to let them, for a price. The bauta made no mention of it, though if his hungry gaze were anything to go by, he felt sorely tempted. And if Fiore’s fingertips did rather more caressing of his own calves than necessity demanded, the gentleman didn’t seem to mind in the least.
Garters and hose tossed together on the bed. And at long last he drew his shirt over his head, hiding the gentleman from his view for a mere instant.

When he threw the shirt aside and met the bauta’s gaze again, the sheer intensity of the longing in the stare behind the mask seemed ready to devour him.

A grin stole over Fiore’s face. He had the gentleman in the palm of his hand, without laying a single finger on him. 

Still smiling, Fiore performed a quick turn for the gentleman. Not half so elegant as a ballerino before the opera, perhaps, but graceful nonetheless, and offering what he’d been told was a magnificent view. Though he had no looking-glass of his own, many of the fellows who hired him had declaimed the beauty of his behind. Several—for Fiore worked with many artists, some as a courtesan and still more as a model—had rendered it in pencil, ink, paint, or sculpture. He wasn’t vain enough to ask to keep any of the resulting artworks, but he did appreciate the opportunity to see himself from another angle.

“Does this meet with your approval, signore?” Fiore asked, tossing a coy glance over his shoulder.

While Fiore couldn’t see anything of the gentleman’s face beyond the dark and compelling eyes, he saw plain how the whole shadowed frame had gone rigid, and it was with a certain hoarse quality that the gentleman replied, “Indeed.”

Which Fiore found rather more inspiring than he’d anticipated.

And so, without further ado, he crept onto his bed and knelt atop the counterpane to face the gentleman at the prow.

Fiore smoothed his palms over the tops of his thighs as he settled into his performing posture. There was something about the bauta’s evident desire for him that provoked an answering desire within him—perhaps a touch of narcissism on his own part, but so be it. Either way it meant that as he trailed his fingertips down the center of his own bare chest and over his navel through the soft nest of hair surrounding his cock, he was already at half-mast.

The gentleman’s hand clenched on the prow. The long and elegant fingers within his black glove attracted Fiore’s notice. He imagined how their silken grasp would feel around his prick. Another time, perhaps.

For tonight he had only his own hands.

A few slow strokes sufficed to bring him to a full stand beneath the bauta’s compelling gaze. Fiore wondered if the gentleman would remark on his scars. The worst of them remained hidden by the nest of dark hair surrounding his stone-purse. The one which sliced up the left side of the mast to split his foreskin, however, refused to be hidden.

The gentleman’s gaze lingered on the scar. Or perhaps he merely appreciated Fiore’s proud stand. Regardless, he said nothing of either; just clenched and unclenched his hands against the boat’s prow. Though Fiore noted a hitch in the gentleman’s breath as he gave his cock a swift jerk.

Remarkable restraint, particularly when contrasted against Fiore’s own wanton display. For Fiore knew what he liked. And better still, he knew how to perform.

Fiore bit his lip as he smeared the first few drops of seed across the head of his prick with the pad of his thumb. His stomach rippled as he thrust his hips up to meet his own fist. He let his throat unleash the moans the gentleman reined in. His free hand roamed wildly, smoothing over the tops of his trembling thighs and flying up to feel the pulse fluttering in his collar. And throughout all this, Fiore looked up to meet the bauta’s masked gaze, then back down at himself, his lashes fluttering with each glance.

The gentleman said nothing. Nor moved, save to clench those strong hands against the wood. But his breathing grew ragged, musical to Fiore’s ears, and each catch in his throat made Fiore’s cock twitch.

Something about the gentleman’s seething desire paired with his impeccable restraint—the thought of the lustful tides surging just behind the flood-wall of his mask—stirred Fiore’s imagination. His fist moved faster and faster of its own accord. He envisioned what it might be like to lift the mask from the face and kiss whatever lips lay beneath. To slip his hands beneath the tabarro cloak and delve into the silken breeches to grasp what surely by now must be an iron rod to rival his own. To cross their blades until sparks flew behind both their eyes. To bend the gentleman’s great height over the boat’s bow and fuck him into oblivion.

And then his cock pulsed in his fist, and torrents of seed spilled over his knuckles as waves of pleasure wracked his body. Instinct bid him curl in on himself, all muscles tautly convulsed. But that would block the splendid view the gentleman had paid for. So instead he fell back against his mattress and let the last burst of his seed spray across his own chest.

The gloved hands clenched again. But this time the whole frame stiffened, and a choked-off gasp echoed from beneath the mask. Unless Fiore very much mistook the matter, it seemed the gentleman had spent likewise—and all without a single touch.

Satisfaction with both his own pleasure and with a job well done sent a slow smile creeping over Fiore’s lips. He raised his seed-spattered hand to his mouth to lick it clean.

The gentleman’s eyes widened behind the mask’s shadows.

Fiore swept up the seed from his heaving chest with his thumb and sucked it off for good measure.

A low sigh escaped the gentleman.

“Was that to your liking, signor?” Fiore murmured, breathless.

In a haggard and harrowed voice, the gentleman replied, “Quite.”

Fiore grinned.

The gentleman released his drowning hold on the bowsprit at last. A steadying breath trembled though his long frame. Then he bowed and strode from the chamber, pausing just long enough to set down a few coins on Fiore’s nightstand. The door thudded shut behind him.

Fiore listened to the heels clicking away down the corridor with more than professional interest. When they ceased, he roused himself from his ecstatic stupor and rolled over to his nightstand to inspect his earnings.

His set price for a solo performance was one silver ducat.

The bauta had left six gold zecchini.

Fiore stared at the coins as his mind executed rapid calculations. There was his room and board for the next few months, certainly. He’d set aside half against whatever infirmity might befall him, but even so, he’d still have enough to indulge in several small luxuries. More chalk, charcoal, and drawing paper. Proper pencils, perhaps. A new zibaldone bound in leather. He could almost taste the Crooked Anchor’s chocolate even now. His head lightly spun with the windfall, as if he’d already drunk too much of it. He went to his window. A breath of fresh air only increased his giddy thrill.

Still, he retained the presence of mind to enact the proper rite.

He didn’t bother untying the strings of his domino mask. It slipped off over his head with ease. Its paper construction felt light as a fallen leaf in his hands. He gave it a fond brush of his fingertips, almost wishing he could keep it as a memento of what had proved a strange but no less delightful evening.

Then he flung out his arm and cast it into the canal to join its brethren in tonight’s final sacrifice to Saturn.

“Io Saturnalia,” he murmured with another stolen smile.

Pre-order your copy of Fiorenzo today!  It releases on Saturday, September 30th!