As the first-born son of a royal duke and cousin to the prince, Cathal has always put his duty to family and country first, even when it conflicts with his own wishes. When Cathal's father arranges a marriage between him and Velia, cousin to the emperor of Ardunn, without consulting him, he sees no alternative but to go along with his plans for the good of Tournai. But it's Velia's companion, Flavia, who fascinates Cathal from the moment he first sets eyes on her. Cathal doesn't know Flavia is really Flavian, an artist masquerading as a woman to escape Ardunn, a restrictive and repressive place where Flavian's preference for men is forbidden.
Even when Cathal discovers Flavian's identity, even as he struggles with his obligations and duty, he cannot fight his attraction to the sharp-tongued artist. Flavian is intrigued by him as well, but Cathal is still betrothed to Velia, and Flavian worries he is more taken with the feminine illusion Flavian presents than the man beneath it. He came to Tournai to start a new life—a safe one—as an artist, and an inconvenient attraction to his friend's betrothed, a man who happens to be a member of the royal family, is not a part of his plans. While both men battle their longings for each other, spies from Ardunn infiltrate the capital, attempting to uncover Tournai's weaknesses and secrets. They are also searching for Flavian, who possesses a magical Talent giving him the ability to see the truth of a person just by painting their portrait—something that would be invaluable to Ardunn's emperor.