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Dinner at the Sforza household was always a formal affair, being the ruling Ducal family over Milan, and most of the known world as far as they were concerned, they felt entitled to only the finest. It was generally a stilted thing, quiet and painfully polite, but tonight the eldest son’s future hung in the balance, and he had other plans.
“The Countess DeTrevalle is a lovely girl, Ludovico,” Beatrice trilled happily, “She would produce such fine heirs!”
Duke Ludovico Sforza nodded in distracted silence. Many times he had heard this particular statement from his wife, and already he had conceded to this particular proposal; he needed no further convincing. DeTravalle’s lands were fertile, the family rich, the daughter attractive and voluptuous. He already looked forward to having such a lovely daughter-in-law, the thought of seeing her alone in the passageways of Castella Sforezco gave him enough incentive to arrange the marriage now that his son was 18 years old. He had been beating around the bush too long about this anyway. It was about time the boy had some interest in something other than his dogs, his horse and his Doctor. Beatrice was excited about an impending wedding to plan, grandchildren to dote on, an actual girl around the castle she could bring up to her bower to gossip with on endless warm summer days. Ludovico was content to stay out of it until it was time to sign papers with DeTravalle, and to sample the tastes of the young Countess. Beatrice’s endless trilling and gushing over it was grating on him, but it was nothing new. The look on his son’s face suggested that he shared the sentiment, though there was something more to his look than he let on, a sourness that was more than simple annoyance, and he was more than certain that the relative peace of the dinner table was going to be short-lived tonight. The old Duke had not been as successful as he was through ignorance of his surroundings and the emotions of those around him, and that included that of his strong-willed, fiery-tempered oldest son.
For his part, the youngest, Massimiliano, was content to sit quietly and enjoy his meal, out of the spotlight for the moment, and mentally preparing for what was to be an interesting evening. He shared his father’s sense of his surroundings, and his silence, though Max was not going to fool himself into thinking silence would stop it from happening. He saw the storm brewing in his brother’s brooding blue eyes, and it was all he could do to stifle the case of anticipation giggles he felt coming on. At 14, he was too young to be in his mother’s sights for looking for a wife, but old enough to find his older brother’s discomfiture endlessly amusing.
Dr. Ivan Urbane was quietly, blissfully unaware of the storm brewing around him. He was all too familiar with this kind of conversation, and was under the impression that perhaps with the choice having been made already that he could enjoy a respite from it in a few weeks’ time. He had learned early on in his career with the Sforzas to selectively tune out Beatrice’s endless dinnertable prattle, thanks to Ludovico’s example. Smile and nod, smile and nod, as he had once learned of his late wife’s henlike sisters so many years ago, seemed the only way to enjoy any amount of peace. The memory elicited a melancholy sigh from the quiet Russian, which was quickly mistaken by the wretched Adrian to be something other than what it was.
“I won’t have it,” Adrian spoke quietly, almost unheard over his mother’s chattering. Max stifled a snort of laughter. Ivan and Ludovico did not react at all, either too absorbed in their own thoughts to hear, or tuning out the boy as much as they were his mother.
“I refuse!” Adrian spoke a little louder; on a level with Beatrice, now, and getting impatient. Max took another mouthful of cannelloni to hide his giggle. Here it comes, he thought. Ivan glanced up at Adrian over his wine glass. Ludovico simply sunk lower in his seat, pouring another glass of sweet red wine to dull what he knew was going to be a headache to end all headaches. Beatrice continued to blather with no regard for the little drama beginning to play out around her. She was not about to be able to ignore it for long, though.
Adrian finally stood, kicking his ornate wooden chair out behind him with a booted foot, his fists hitting the table with a thud that rivaled his father at his angriest, his blue eyes flashing with old-fashioned Italian passion. “I refuse to marry this girl or any other! I will not have it!” he shouted at the top of his lungs.
Beatrice looked startled and offended that she had been interrupted and she glared at the boy. Ivan nearly dropped his wine glass, his eyes widening as he stared at him. Max giggled obscenely. Ludovico uttered a long suffering sigh, draining his wine glass.
“What are you talking about, Adrian?” his father said with cool patience, waving Beatrice down from what was going to be a noisy tirade that would accomplish nothing. He casino oyna was used to fiery tempers when it came to politics, and family politics need be no different.
Max knew darn well what his brother was getting at. He had heard him whisper in the night more than once what his desires were, had seen the longing glances, the heartsick sighs, the awkward arousals at the wrong times. His heart was already quite taken, and not by any courtly lovely their mother had paraded through the castle in the past few months.
Adrian lifted his chin in a remarkably accurate portrayal of his father’s haughty glare, the one that suggested he would take no refusal, and came off much like a young lion cub practicing his sire’s lordly mien. His voice was steady, strong and confident, though still cracked slightly with youth’s transitional fragility. “I have someone I want, and I will take no other. I need no woman, now or ever. My heart is spoken for, and that is final!”
Ludovico seemed bemused by this, his dark brows rising in mellow interest. “Oh really now, son? And just who is this lucky recipient of your affections?”
The boy could not have looked prouder of himself in that moment, his hairless baby smooth chin lifting higher, his graceful hand lifted to point a finger as though delivering the judgment of God as he announced, “Dottore Urbane. I will have none other.”
Ivan nearly dropped his wineglass again, his eyes dropping instead to the table to avoid the gazes he knew to be trained on him, now. Beatrice nearly fainted with shock. Max could not contain his amusement any more and promptly fell out of his seat in a gale of laughter. Ludovico blinked slowly at his oldest son, no longer quite so bemused. “Max, sit down and behave yourself!” he barked, allowing his temper to flare.
Max crawled back into his seat beside Ivan with a muttered apology. Adrian looked triumphant, but it was to be short-lived. Ludovico gathered his wits about him, he had been unprepared for this development, and did not like to be caught unawares. “Dottore, what do you know of this?”
Beatrice recovered from her shock in time to practically shriek, “Dottore!! What ideas have you put into my boy’s head?? How could you? The future of the duchy is at stake here!”
Ivan attempted to recover his own wits, so utterly taken aback was he that he barely knew how to react. “What? I had nothing to do with this! I have no idea where he got this idea from! I…”
Ludovico propped his elbows on the table, steepling his fingers, pressing his thumbs into his aching forehead. “Do you return these sentiments, Dottore?”
“What? No! Of course not! That’s absurd!”
Adrian’s blush was redder than the Sforza coat of arms, his expression easily read, his hand dropping so fast his knuckles scraped the table edge hard enough to bleed, his blue eyes glossing over. “But… Dottore…”
Beatrice began to weep, loudly and quite dramatically. The Duke sighed, returning his gaze to his stricken son, “Look, son, it’s not as though the good Dottore could provide the family with heirs. Be sensible, now.”
Ivan sputtered at the remark about providing heirs, practically choking.
It was all too much; the eldest of the Sforza boys was not used to being refused anything, especially something he was this passionate about. It had all been planned in his mind for God knows how long. Ivan’s loving smile, his father’s approval of his conviction, his mother’s stunned silence and lack of an excuse to parade any more brainless females in front of him anymore. This was not the reaction he had expected. He certainly had not expected the utter snubbing he had just received. With a sound like a dying animal, and the click of his hard-soled boots, the young Duke fled the dining hall in a rush of black and silver silk and velvet.
Beatrice continued her hysterics, relatively unheeded by her long-suffering husband. “Angelo mio! How could I have known? What will befall the duchy? I will never be a grandmother, now!!”
The Duke pinned Ivan with a serious look, his sonorous voice still soft, but with an edge of menace that brooked no argument. “I suggest you go speak to the boy and straighten this out. Get this ridiculous idea out of his head. He won’t listen to us, and you know that’s a fact. If you cannot talk some sense into him and bring him around I will have to terminate your employment with us. I’m sure you understand; I cannot have this kind of thing going on. We have a duchy to think of.”
Ivan stood shakily, “I would leave voluntarily, Your Grace…”
“Talk to him, first,” he replied firmly. “He won’t listen to me. Whether or not you leave on your own, he needs to have the sense beaten into him. If you cannot, then I bloody will beat it into him, and I would rather not resort to that.”
“Yes, Your Grace…” Ivan whispered, and left the dining hall himself.
The halls of Castella Sforezco were quiet, the servants in the basement kitchens having canlı casino their own dinners, and Ivan’s heightened senses allowed him to track the errant young lord through their drafty lengths. He wasn’t sure what to expect, or really where to look first. The boy’s room, adjacent to his own, was empty, as was the library and den where he liked to curl in the great armchairs on cool fall evenings like this. At a loss, he wandered outside, the chill in the air clearing his head. Even the dog kennel was quiet, the hounds at their meat or snoozing with full bellies in the warm hay that lined their stalls. There was only one place left to look, and Ivan prayed he was right.
He wasn’t sure what he was going to say, or even how he felt about the situation, thinking of his words carefully as he approached the horse stables. Should he chastise the boy in hopes that it would shock him back to reality? Reality, Ivan mused, was a tricky thing now. What was the boy’s reality? What was his own? How did this revelation change their reality? How did he really feel about the passionate little lord? Certainly he had loved him in his own way over the years, else why would he have worked so hard to save his life? But what the boy was proclaiming was something more than a patient’s appreciation for his Doctor, a student’s admiration for his teacher, a boy’s affection for a trusted family friend. He wanted to give up his entire future for his love of Ivan! Surely, many nobles married women they never loved for the sake of politics, and had mistresses on the side whose hearts were truly their own. Were there not lords who loved other men as well? If this were true, then why did the idea of Adrian marrying another woman fill Ivan’s gut with such writhing dread? Could it really be jealousy? This was absurd, and had to be put to ground right now. Ivan was certainly not into relations of this kind with other men! And most certainly not with a boy barely old enough to shave!
He approached the stable with a grim determination he only barely felt, and promptly felt it shatter when he spotted the young lord.
Deep in the shadows of the well-kept stables where the Duke kept his prized war horses was the birthing stall where his best mare had just foaled the day before. The colt had been promised to Adrian, and he had been thrilled at the spunky little foal’s will and instant recognition and acceptance of him when he had first laid eyes on him. Ivan made his way slowly down the aisle between the stalls to the back, where he could just hear the softest hint of tears, interspersed with the newborn foal’s snorts of confusion. Finally, he spotted Adrian, sitting in the hay beside the little black stallion, his arms wrapped around his withers, his face buried in the lanky little neck, his hair mingling flawlessly with the impossibly soft ebony mane.
All thoughts of cruelty to the boy melted away at the honesty of Adrian’s reactions. No hint of falseness or duplicity in those tears sinking into the soft hide.
He looked up, his eyes reddened, his expression utterly miserable.
“Your father requested that I talk to you.”
Adrian leaned back against the foal, toying with his mane, gazing off at the lamplit walls to avoid Ivan’s eyes. “This one, Dottore. This one was promised me. He cannot be taken away from me. So few things are ever denied us in the nobility, we barely know how to react when something truly precious to us is taken. I don’t know what to do. I’m sure Father has his ideas as to how this should be handled, but I am the future of this duchy, and someday my word will be law, and he will be but a memory.” He raised his gaze; his tear streaked face vulnerable, yet somehow undaunted in its misery. “I could make a case to forbid my losing of you; I’m sure he has threatened your position, but ultimately it will be my choice when I am Duke.”
Ivan found this amusing. Despite the fact that he had proclaimed that he did not love the boy in front of them all, Adrian was determined to keep him around. For what, he wondered, and smiled. The boy was as devious as he was passionate, and it was something he had always liked about him. That mind of his was always working, ever in motion. Even in his young boyhood he always thought three steps ahead of his playmates, and was almost impossible to beat in chess. This was no different, and despite his obvious heartbreak, that devious mind of his was not about to lie down and take defeat. It was that strength of resolve and character that would make him a powerful noble, and potentially a dangerous Duke.
“And what would you do, Oh Duke, should I decide to leave the service of your father voluntarily?” Ivan pressed.
Adrian pulled himself to his feet, stroking the foal’s forehead one more time as he rose. His resolve showed in his posture, though there was an exhaustion there that made him look almost more mature, his half-lidded eyes smoldering instead of ablaze. “Lo vieterei, I would forbid kaçak casino it,” he replied clearly.
With the stealthy steps of a predator, Ivan approached the boy, ready to see just how far he could push him. “And if he should fire me, instead?”
Adrian held his ground, even though he was a good head and a half shorter than the Doctor, only lifting his chin defiantly to meet his eyes. “I would hire you back on myself. It is my right as Duke of Milan to have whomever I wish on my staff. Including physicians.”
“And if I refuse this appointment?”
This seemed to shake Adrian yet again, his defiance faltering for only a second. Ivan encouraged him in his own mind, don’t give up on me yet, boy, you’re too headstrong to let this break you down. Fight it. Instead, the young lord turned his momentary lapse into an expression of righteous indignation. “You would refuse me? I am your Duke! I would have you punished for your insubordination!”
Ah, so he resorts to pulling rank, Ivan mused, way to show those teeth, cub. He stepped forward, slowly forcing the boy back toward the wall of the stall. “Ah, but I am not Italian, nor have I ever been. How can you be my Duke when I am not even Italian? What would you do?”
Adrian’s tone took on a timbre Ivan had never heard from him before. He had heard him shout, he had heard him scream, he had heard him wheedle and bully and push, but never had he heard the silken venom that now dripped from his young voice, and it stirred him deliciously. “I would have you flogged for your impertinence! How dare you defy me!”
The back wall suddenly met with Adrian’s back, and he startled again, his gasp almost audible as he was forced to stop his unintended retreat. Ivan’s hand came up to cup the boy’s cheek, holding him steady as he devoured the look of vulnerable surprise that crossed Adrian’s vulpine features. Suddenly, he was the 16 year old boy again, alone in a horse stall with the doctor he had proclaimed his love for not half an hour earlier, his fierce blush betraying his realization. Ivan relished the sudden vulnerability; the headstrong little beast was now at his mercy.
With a swift movement, Ivan wrapped his long-fingered hand around the boy’s throat, pressing him hard against the wall, locking his gaze with his own, his excitement making him rough. He could feel Adrian’s pulse rabbiting fast beneath his fingers, the tremble in his long legs, his breath hitching in his throat, and he knew the boy was afraid, and aroused as well.
“D…d…dottore…?” Adrian whispered, his hands fluttering like dying butterflies at Ivan’s fingers, his eyes wide and frightened in the dark.
Ivan hissed softly to hush him, then leaned forward and pressed his lips against Adrian’s, eliciting a whimper of surprise from his captive. He only struggled for a moment, then his body quivered under Ivan’s like a reed in the wind, and he melted into the kiss. His first. The young lord’s fingers clutched at Ivan’s arms as though unsure of where they should be. As his knees gave out beneath him, Ivan followed him down to the grassy floor, the kiss unbroken.
Adrian’s mouth tasted like red wine and tears as Ivan slipped his tongue hungrily between his lips, devouring his half hearted protests, drowning him in his own unfathomable desires. Suddenly, his lack of experience with men meant little in the heat of the moment, his hands knowing well where the young lord would be soft, and wanting, or hard and needing. Adrian’s youth served only to make him more delicious, succulent in it’s untouched virginal purity, and Ivan wanted it all to himself. All his. Ivan ran his fingers through Adrian’s long mane of ebony hair, clutching it to hold his body against him, to pin him so he would not move, could not move. He delighted in his lean, long-limbed form beneath him, feeling him tremble with anticipation, lust, fear. He pushed him all the way to the floor to lay over him, covering him in his robes, stretching over him to feel all of him underneath him, trapped and helpless.
Adrian tried to return the strokes and caresses the doctor bestowed on his hungering body, but he could barely keep his own thoughts straight, and his hands could only clutch Ivan’s arms. Finally, Ivan gently nudged the boy’s trembling hands to his own silver hair, wanting to feel him bury his beautiful long-fingered hands in it. Ivan moved to kiss Adrian’s tear streaked face, down to his lean throat, the boy’s frantic pulse under his lips, driving him mad with desire. He could easily feel Adrian’s arousal under him, despite the layers of clothing between them, and he was sorely tempted to pull his clothes off. He wanted to see him naked and virginal under him. He wanted to violate his beautiful body, make him utterly his. To be the first one to touch him, to kiss him, to caress his naked skin, to enter his body and take him completely, to make him bleed and cry out his name and never let him go. Ivan felt his own frisson of lust pass over his body, the temptation was too great, and he could hear Adrian panting his name, pleading with him, begging him to take him. “I want you, Dottore. Please, God, please…take me. Be my first. Be my only. I don’t care.”
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