Copyright © 2019 by A.R. Conti Fulwell. All Rights Reserved.

Prologue


“Lina?”


Lina hid her letter in the folds of her dress, as her husband, Lorenzo, the Prince of Florence, peered into her sitting room. “Yes?”


“Ready to go? We shouldn’t keep the pope waiting.”


Lina nodded. The Pope. Such an important man who seems to know less about the Lord than I do. She waited until Lore had left to open the letter again.


Lina,


I hope my efforts have not fallen on deaf ears. I want you to forgive me for my foolishness. I have taken up painting again and would love to hear your thoughts. Mother does not approve, but it is my life and I will make of it what I please.


Lina rose, knowing if she hesitated much longer, she would kindle her husband’s wrath. She glanced at her reflection in the mirror, hardly recognizing the tired, young woman who stared back at her. Her eyes caught that last bit of the note.


Your smile is the only joy in my life, and without you I have none. I should have changed your mind about me a long time ago. I acted in an irrational fashion, and now you have married another man. Please, just let me see you.


Affectionately Yours,


Piero


Chapter One


Life is like a canvas: if we could see the whole painting, there would be nothing left to paint.


Piero wanted to challenge those odds.


It had been a month since he had begun writing to Lina, and he knew eventually she would cave. All I must do is remind her of our relationship, and what we meant to each other. Piero stared at the blank canvas before him, stroking his chin with a clean paintbrush.


Perhaps Lorenzo intercepted the notes. He put the brush down. Maybe she never even saw the notes. He huffed, kicking the stool beside him. She married a coward who refused to face me when it came to it. How pathetic. He picked up the brush, twirling it between his thumb and index finger. To be married to a coward when she could have had a champion. His lips curled into a hopeful smile, dipping the clean brush into red paint. He made a smooth bell-shaped stroke on the canvas. Perhaps there is but one thing left to do.

Piero laughed for the first time in months. Perhaps I should pay her a visit.


****


Amore, don’t look at me like that,” Lore said, seeing his wife’s fallen face in the looking glass. “It is only for a fortnight.”


“I know,” Lina said. “I just don’t understand.”


“We’ve been through this, amore.” Lore sighed. “The Pope wants me to intercede on his behalf.”


“I just don’t understand why someone else can’t go.” Lina twirled the pale blue ribbons that hung from her gown around her fingers.


“There isn’t anyone else. Seppe and Sofia are on their honeymoon, and it would hardly be fair to send father. He is far too feeble to make the trip.”


Lina nodded. The hollowness in his eyes tore at Lina’s heart.


Amore, I’ll be back before you know it.”


She glanced up at him. “I hope so.”


“All ready?” Lupo, Lore’s servant ducked into the room.


“We mustn’t keep them waiting,” Lore glanced over at his wife, giving her a kiss on the forehead. “Pray for me, amore. I know you worry.”


She squinted at him playfully, as if he had wished her well in French. “I will.” She took his hand. “If you miss me, you can find me in the clouds.”


“And hear your voice in the breeze.” He gave her hand a squeeze before letting it fall limp at her side. She stood watching him leave, alone and afraid.


****


A single ray of light beamed in from the window in the cellar, glistening off every blown glass vase stacked on the dusty wooden shelves.


Carità DelCuore held a translucent blue vase, her palms clammy. Each vase was different, a small piece of the past – a life she would never see again. Her father, Cosimo DelCuore, owned a print shop in Florence, making a respectable living. The rest of his time was spent blowing glass. In the last few months, people were coming from all over Italy to see his glass creations, and commission one of their own.


Carità held the vase up to the light, feeling her teeth clench together. The light mocks me. Anger kindled inside of her with each labored breath causing her to feel the slightest bit light-headed. In one swift motion, she hurled the vase at the window, crying out as she did, watching it smash into a million pieces, destroyed. They destroyed him. They destroyed my family.


She took a deep breath, letting the feeling of liberation settle into her veins. She took another vase from the shelf, glaring at the beam of light shining down from the window. “You want to take him from me?” She cried out again, hurling the vase at the window. It smashed into the stone wall just below the window sill.


“I’d like to see you try.” Carità paced the floor, her breathing grew heavy. Suddenly, something caught her eye on the floor. The beam of light danced on the shards of cobalt glass. Carità picked up a piece of the shattered vase, raising it to her own eye as if to see the world through its jagged lens. “An eye for an eye.”

 

She threw the piece down on the floor, crossing the room to the window. The sound of her heels crushing the glass made an eerie grin appear on her face. She could see the palace in the distance. She scoffed, remembering how she had begged, pleaded, and bartered with the king to let her father go, even going as far as to appeal to the prince – surely, he would understand – what a fool I was. She could see the look on the king’s face when he found her talking with the prince – an unflattering mix of disgust and frustration, veiled with restraint.


“There is nothing more to be done,” Prince Lorenzo told her. “Once he serves his sentence, he will be free, unless the Pope pardons him. It is in the Lord’s hands now.” Carità could still see the prince reach for her hand as he spoke. She jerked it away. I do not need your pity.


“I don’t need anyone’s pity.” Carità gazed out the window at the palace. “I don’t need anything from anyone – man or god.” She scoffed. “‘In the Lord’s hands’? Why wait for the Lord to do something? After all,” Carità picked up another vase, running her index finger along the delicate rim at the top. “The Lord seems quite busy with the Pope and punishing sinners.” She tossed the vase from hand to hand. “He would probably thank me for giving him a hand.”


****


Piero walked through town wearing a leer gilded with satisfaction. Each step brought him closer to the start of the plan that would fix everything. Sitting alone with nothing but a brush and canvas had done him no good. He had begun to despise the canvas, feeling like a caged animal. He wanted to see her. He had to see her.


And today was the day.


His letters, though he had poured his soul into them, had done him no good. Had she even received them? Or had that buffoon of a husband intercepted them? He scoffed. That must be. She would never keep me waiting this long. How fondly he remembered the days when they would paint together; both having such talent, they challenged each other. With each brushstroke, they were one step closer to reaching their potential.


But their potential was stunted. Stopped. Stilled. All because one man with a prominent name thought he could be her champion. Piero nearly spit in the street at the thought. That buffoon? Her champion? What a ridiculous thought.


How easy it would be to dispose of the problem all together. Piero had met a man in an inn, a month before, claiming to know exactly how to take down the entire Medici family.


Piero nearly counted his florins in front of the man. Eduardo Pazzi was the man, and his plan was a good one. It merely depended on Piero’s ability to set it all into motion.


Getting Lina was the first step, even by force.


Nearly at the palace gate, he tried to anticipate what Lina might say. Would she be happy to see him? Would she cast her husband aside and run away with him? He chuckled at the thought. No, Lina is a gem, and far too proper for that. His lips curled into a thin smile. And I intend to woo her properly. When he reached the palace gate, a guard spotted him.


“May I help you, signore?” the guard’s manners were overpowered by his looming glare.


“I’m here to see her Royal Highness.”


The guard eyed him suspiciously. “The Princess Clarice?”


“Yes, she is expecting me.”


The guard hesitated, then opened the gate. “This way.” He said, closing the gate behind Piero.


“Whom may I tell her is calling, signore?”


“Forte.” Piero’s lips curled into a smile slick with satisfaction. “Signore Forte.”


****


“Carità?”


Carità nearly hit her head on the shelf above her, stacking new pamphlets to be set out in the shop. A warm smile spread across her face. She knew that voice.


She stepped out into the shop, at once spotting the middle-aged man with a youthful appearance loitering by the pamphlets.


“You know, you should let me, or someone stay in the shop with you.” He said. “It isn’t safe.”


“Uncle David,” Carità regarded him as she would her father. “That is kind, but you have plenty to do. I am doing fine.”


His eyes met hers, seeing right through her. “You say that now, little one, but what happens when Florence forgives your father?”


Carità felt her jaw clench. “You mean for the sins of someone else?”


“Carità,” David said, putting his hands on her shoulders, “you have got to forgive also.”


Carità choked down a scoff. Forgive the city that condemned my father? An innocent man? Never! “So, what brings you here today, uncle? Isn’t anyone in need of an apothecary?”


Catching his niece’s jab, he raised an eyebrow. “I’m watching you. Your father asked me to take care of you.”

“I can take care of myself.”


“Does that mean you’re not coming to dinner tonight?”


Carità glared at him. “Of course, I am.”


“Good.”


****


Lina was beginning to feel like the world had stopped turning. This incredibly odd and uncomfortable feeling that could only be described as anticipation and dread raged like a storm in her mind and threatened to strangle her heart. When had everything gone against her? She and Lore had been married for eight months, almost a year, and now nothing she said or did was good or right in her husband’s eyes. He had even asked for his father’s blessing to have Lina’s painting of the Medici palace courtyard taken down. Something that had symbolized their growing relationship, now banished to an attic or dungeon, and might never be seen again.


Lina gazed out at the courtyard below the balcony. Lord, what did I do? How can I fix this?


“Your Highness.”


Lina glanced up, not fully knowing, or taking an interest in whom she addressed. “Yes?”


“Your Highness, Signore Forte is here to see you.”


Lina’s glazed-over eyes melted back into reality. Roberto of the palace guard stood before her.


“May I send him in?” Roberto said.


Lina hesitated. Who is this imposter? Remembering the hidden dagger strapped to her ankle, she straightened. “Send him in, Roberto.”


Lina swallowed hard. Waiting.


She gaped at the sight.


She could never mistake the broad-shouldered stance and self-assured smirk of Piero Catone.


“Lina,” he stopped. “Or should I say, ‘Your Highness’?”


“Forte?” Lina said. “That’s foolish, even for you.”


He took a step closer. “I assume you’ve read my letters.”


Lina took a step forward meeting him head-on, contriving a way to loosen the dagger from her ankle. “My patience with you is wearing thin. What do you want from me?”


He put his hand on her shoulder. “Leave him. Come away with me.”


Lina stiffened. Glimpses of her past danced before her eyes of red paint, a sword fight, and a fear that often haunted her. “You must think me an imbecile.” Lina shrugged off his hand from her shoulder and walked past him. “Do you think anything might tempt me to accept the man who tried to kill me?”


He rushed to her. “I didn’t know it was you, you must believe that.”


“And if that is true, you want us to live in sin?” Lina scoffed. “You disgust me.”


He reached out to take her arms, but she backed away from him.


“It could be done properly.”


That was it. There is no other way to get rid of him. What if someone recognized him and tells Lore? Lina lifted her right leg inconspicuously under her dress, whipping the dagger out, creating a reasonable between the two of them. She pointed the dagger at Piero’s chest. “Do you realize what you have done in coming here today? You risk my reputation, and yet you claim to love me. I am married to the Prince of Florence, Piero! Only death can part us now!”


Piero seemed as though he might laugh. “I’ve missed you, you know.”


“You won’t miss me if you are dead.”


“You won’t kill me. You need me for when your marriage goes sour. Though, as I have heard, the prince has cast you aside.”


Lina instantly stomped as hard as she could on his foot.


Piero yelped in pain. “Must you abuse me so?” He grimaced.


Finally! I have your attention! “Let me be understood – I am the Princess of Florence. I am married to Prince Lorenzo and nothing, and I do mean nothing, you do will change that. If you try, I will have you hanged.” Lina nearly lost her grip on the dagger from her palms sweating profusely. She kept her eyes fixed on Piero.


A muscle twitched in his jaw. He grabbed her wrist with an iron grip, tossing the dagger across the room. He moved toward the door. “This is far from over.”