Unsolicited Duke Pic
If you look past the intentionally laugh inducing title, Nico Rosso’s historical romance novella Unsolicited Duke Pic actually has a lot of substance and interesting plot ideas; enough that I was pleasantly surprised and pleased with the end result.
When Thomas Halsey, Duke of Lighthorn, loses a bet, he’s required to have a picture of his private parts painted and then to show the painting at his club. Finding a painter to do the deed is the challenging part, until he discovers that the man to whom he lost the bet, the Earl of Austrey, has been blacklisting local painter Sofia Bristo, a Portuguese immigrant. Thomas makes it his mission to help redeem her name, and make his penis portrait worthy of praise, not necessarily for its subject but for the artistry of the painter.
Sofia knows that men expect paying her a fee for her art entitles them to more, especially the gentlemen of high society. When she refuses the advances of the Earl of Austrey, he makes sure her business dries up, so when Thomas approaches her with his request, she can’t afford to refuse. Yet Thomas’ matter of fact and professional manner with her puts her at ease, and he’s very careful to listen to her requirements and keep himself from doing anything that might make her doubt his sincerity. Truth be told, this makes him quite attractive to her as he’s so unlike the other men of station that she’s encountered. In their sessions together, their frank conversations lead to interest in each other, and eventually a heated affair. But given their stations in life is there any chance of a real future together?
All jokes aside, the author does a good job of showing the challenges that Sofia endures on a daily basis due to her non-English heritage and her choice of career. Thomas’s commission is enough to keep her afloat for a year, and he endeavors to find ways to keep in touch with her by finagling another painting (of a less controversial subject) that will keep them in each other’s orbits. Like Sofia, Thomas tends to be a bit of an outsider despite his ducal heritage. His father was very strict and only since his death has Thomas’s brother Charles, a barrister who is gay, been able to return home, and he now lives with his male partner in Thomas’s house. Because of the conversations Thomas has had with Sofia and their unconventional relationship, he feels that he can trust her with this family secret, and indeed it doesn’t faze her at all, particularly since she’s had male and female lovers herself.
The sex between Thomas and Sofia is steamy and some of the experiences are firsts for Thomas, as Sofia is more experienced than he is, and the trust they develop in the intimacy of her studio means they can be free to express themselves in the bedroom. While Sofia understands the limits of their relationship, Thomas is determined to push through them and prove to her that she belongs with him, no matter what society expects. And he definitely wants her to be respected, both as his partner in marriage and for her art. Here’s where the story dips below DIK status, as their revenge against the Earl and his friends is a bit silly, even though it’s effective. That said, they successfully find a way to give Sofia the respect she’s due and they get their happy ending. This is a fine character driven romance with characters who liven the pages with a more realistic view of society and sexual norms that existed in that time period than most historical romances attempt. Sofia’s career as an artist comes across as well researched by the author and he manages to make the idea of a story centered on a ‘dick pic’ into something worth reading.