Nathaniel is an artist but he’s lost his urge to create. His muse comes in the form of a beautiful prostitute who hides the face that she is really a male. When his dark past catches up to him, he must flee but the action breaks Nathaniel’s heart. Nathaniel is determined to save his muse and the love of his life. What a romantic, beautiful, intense, amazing story. I am really blown away by how lovely this book is. Nathaniel is in a dark place when he meets Gabrielle/Gabriel. They are both such vibrant, complicated characters. The historical world is beautiful portrayed. This story has so many layers and I had such a great time getting to the center. My only complaint is actually the point of view. Changing between the characters is confusing and clunky. It kept throwing me out of the story. Overall, A Muse to Live For is a wonderful historical romance.
An artist lives to create. When Nathaniel’s urge to paint died, so did his will to live.
Until the night he meets Gabrielle.
Gabrielle may be just a poor prostitute, but she has the beauty of a Pre-Raphaelite stunner and the otherworldly aura of a fallen angel. She also has a secret. Gabrielle is Gabriel, and when Gabriel’s dark past comes knocking and Gabrielle must abandon her new career as an artist’s model, Nathaniel’s whole world comes crashing down again.
Better to die than living without her love, and the breathtaking creative drive she brought him. But it’s dead easy to die for a woman. Any fool can die for love. To live for it, that takes altogether more courage, doggedness, and imagination.
Be Warned: transgender romance, queer romance, cross-dressing, m/m sex, anal sex, rape
I am not sure how to touch Nathaniel. I want him to kiss me again, I want him to hold me, I want him to look at me that way he does in his studio, when he watches every line of my body and sees a woman. And at the same time, I wish he would see me for what I am, all that I am, once and for all, so I don’t have to hide anymore.
So I shed my jacket, and the blouse underneath. I shiver a little in the cold when my arms are bared, and he runs his warm palms on my goosebumps, soothing them.
Then I stand to unbutton my skirts and petticoat, and untie my bustle, and I let it all swish down around my knees, and I stand here naked, in my small chemise, and stockings and corset, and my boots.
I am still silk-skinned and woman shaped.
Except for that one thing.
I steal a glance at his face—I can hardly bear to look at his eyes, standing here so naked—thinking he will wince, or frown. Or scream, what do you know. You can never tell, with a sensitive artistic temperament.
But he does none of these things.
Instead he goes to his knees on the floor, like a man about to propose in some play, and with a sort of mute reverence he strokes my thighs and my buttocks, and the back of my knees, through the stockings. When he lays a kiss and then his forehead on the hard of my hip, where the bone pokes sharply under my skin, I put my hands on his crazy hair, and hold him there, and with the barest, lightest touch of his fingertips he caresses the front of my corset, on my belly, and then down, down.
And to my acute embarrassment, the damn thing shivers to his touch, stiffening, rising.
Well. He has certainly seen me, now. He really has.
He is not screaming.
I pull him to his feet and I step out of my puddled skirts, and gently I undress him. Jacket and shirt and trousers and drawers, socks, everything.
He is as tall as I am, which I had never noticed, because he always stands with his head bent and his shoulders slumped. He’s not muscular, but there is no fat on him either. He has well-built bones under his lumpy clothes—he badly needs a good tailor—and he would be rather handsome if he held himself straight, with his chin up, and didn’t look so much at odds with himself. He’s pale, but not as pale as I am, and there is just the merest spray of hair on his chest.
I caress his skin all over as I undress him, and he looks transfixed, as if it had never occurred to him that it takes two to dance this dance. Perhaps he thought I’d make him spend the night on his knees adoring me.
The heat of his skin is like a deep current, and it draws me to him.
We stand here mute, the only sounds the drumming of the rain and the swish of falling clothes, and gently kissing lips.
When I push him to lie on the bed, I have a moment of dread that he might want to do that to me. I cannot have it. I will not be taken that way ever again.
I’ll make my living giving blowjobs for the rest of my days, I guess.
But I am not afraid of him. I do not believe he’d be capable of hurting a fly, let alone me.
“So, do you fancy that blowjob, finally?” I whisper in his ear, smiling, but he holds me close, too close for me to slide down along his body.
“I love you,” he whispers, his lips on my ear, so that words are made into a caress, “I love you, I love you.”
“Hush,” I whisper back, bearing down on him, grinding my cock on his. “Don’t say such things. It cannot be. It can’t.”
“This night, this once, please, let me say it. I love you, I love you, I love you.” His body rises to meet mine, and I feel those tears spilling now, with joy, and grief, and pity. Pity for him, for me, for both of us, lost in this narrow garret under the drumming rain, orphans in this storm, desperately naked in this terrible iron city.
“Only this once, then,” I whisper. “Tomorrow, you must forget.”
And before he can answer or kiss me again, I slip out of his arms, and down, along his chest and belly, so he cannot see me cry.
I have pleasured so many men this way, but never one I loved, and maybe it’s the same thing, and yet it’s something altogether different. He’s all silk and warmth and heaving life and fire pulsing, and his flesh matters to mine, so that my whole body loves his.
“You—don’t—have—to do this,” he whispers at first, but then he surrenders finally, and lets the pleasure take him.
I told him, the first time we met, that I’d do him for free. Who would have guessed, then, that I would end up doing him for love?
And I don’t know if he’s a virgin—but he is indeed quick. His cock grows even tauter on my tongue, and he breathes in short, hard gasps a few times. When his body arches and heaves and his hand fumbles at my cheek, I hold him, and hold him, and hold him… He comes with a broken moan, hotly. I swallow it all.
On the street I never do. But here, now, with him, I could not bring myself to spit.
Take the vibrant colors of the Pre-Raphaelites, the desperate longing of Keats and Swinburne, the dirt and danger and prudishness of Victorian London - and you might have an idea what you'll find in this book. Nathaniel is a melancholic artist who lives inwardly, in his own head, but a startling encounter turns his dull and cheerless life upside down.
Katherine Wyvern is one of the most complete storytellers I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Her characters are a delight, her settings (geographic and temporal) wondrous, and her narrative technique a thing of beauty. She draws you into her stories in a way few authors can, and does it so naturally, you immediately become lost in the world. A Muse to Live For opens with a quote from Edgar Allan Poe, and it sets the tone beautifully. It evokes an era, a time and a place, and the language Katherine uses to tell the story is a near-perfect match. This genuinely reads like an old manuscript, rediscovered after so many decades, and merely given a polish for a contemporary audience. We meet Nathaniel first, and he is very much the kind of lost, tortured, melancholy artist you would expect from such a period drama. He is sad, yet likeable, a young man who is both innocent and endearing. Gabriel/Gabrielle paints a different picture, a young lady of the night who may not be any older, but is certainly wiser, more experienced, and a natural survivor. These two souls from different words cross paths by chance, beneath a lamppost’s golden halo, but there is an instant connection. Nathaniel sees in Gabrielle the woman who can save him, restore his muse, and give him reason to live. She does not expect anything of this awkward young artist, but it soon becomes clear that his love is destined to save her as well - if only she will allow them both the risk. This was such a beautiful read, such a wonderful romance, I hardly have the words to do it justice. It matters not that it is set in dirty alleys, tiny attic spaces, and dusty salons. The uncomfortable, unsavory nature of their world only serves to cast a brighter light on their relationship, and the people who populate it may be of the lowest class, but it is their heart keeps the lovers' hearts beating. Katherine weaves a work of art about the creation of art, and her literary brushstrokes are just as bold as those that Nathaniel puts to canvas, and just as delicate as those that Gabrielle applies to herself. The story gets dark, and seems destined for tragedy, but where there is love there is hope. I will not tell you how we get there, or where it takes us, but I will say there is a happily-ever-after that warms the heart. I cannot recommend this enough.
If this review is not as long as it should be, it's because I couldn't stop reading this book and now the day is almost gone. I hardly know where to begin praising it. First off: A Muse To Live For is pretty flawless historical fiction, and that's not an easy thing to do. Secondly, it is every bit as gorgeous and dreamy as the pre-Raphaelite art that is so much a part of its plot; the prose is simply luminous. But it never goes over the top or gets self-conscious, which is a stunning accomplishment, really. Nathaniel and Gabriel/Gabrielle are wonderful main characters, and their two distinctive voices narrate this love story. Like Woman As A Foreign Language, also by Katherine Wyvern, this is a tale about the redemptive power of love. Imagine being gender fluid in the late nineteenth century, before there were words that "respectable" people could use for it. Gabrielle at the opening of this novel is a prostitute working presenting herself as a woman on the dangerous midnight streets of London, but by the end of the book...well, no spoilers. Likewise, Nathaniel learns that it is better to live for your muse than to die for her. The scenes evoking cramped, dark Victorian rooming houses are movie-in-your-head real, as are several really terrifying plot turns. And the blissful scenes in Europe are drenched with the purest kind of artist's light. The characters are lovable and true--except for the ones who really and truly don't deserve to be, and they are well-rendered in their evil. The love scenes flow naturally out of the plot. A Muse to Live For might not be quite as good as a vacation in the Italian countryside--but it comes pretty darn close. Read it!