In 18th century Siena, Count Salvesto Masello has returned home to find the family villa and his father’s estate steeped deeply in debt. In order to save it, he has been selling off valuable family heirlooms, but he is running out of silverware. Somewhere in the villa his deceased father had hidden the art treasures that will pay the debt, but Salvesto can’t find them anywhere.
Amadeo Neruccio has been on the run from the vicious pimp, thief, and pawnbroker Guelfetto, but his toughs finally catch him and bring him to the cellar where Count Masello is selling off his silver. When the count learns what fate Guelfetto has in store for Amadeo, he intervenes and trades the last of his mother’s dowry for the young man’s freedom.
Salvesto had left home over ten years ago to live the life of adventure he craved. He had also hoped to leave his broken heart behind. When he rescues young Amadeo, he does not expect to find love again, or that his adventures had yet to end.
Seated in the shade of the loggia attached to the surgeon’s house, Amadeo waited for the conte, barely able to think for the pain in his body. Bone-deep pain, like a bad tooth. He sighed, but his breath hitched like an uneven stitch.
He jumped at the sound of his former lover’s voice. Glancing around, he espied Barone Malavolti standing in the narrow street beneath a chestnut tree a few arm lengths away; his expression was a mask of boredom, though he stood there without his hat, a little breathless and pink-cheeked. Leaning on a silver-tipped cane he did not need, he had dressed today in a beautiful dark gray velvet jacket and the long pale blue waistcoat beneath it embroidered with bright flowers, all held together with small ebony buttons. His creamy white linen shirt and cravat were spotless. All that fine cloth hid a mercurial character and a whippet-lean body that contained a fierce strength. Glossy black hair, brown eyes, and a slightly round, handsome face, the dark circles under his tired eyes spoke of a long night of debauchery. Amadeo turned quickly away, angry and embarrassed all at once.
“Don’t ignore me.”
“No, Barone.” Amadeo stood.
“I wanted to make sure you were—not dead, as someone said, murdered in Guelfetto’s cellar or sent off to Florence to pay your debt.” His clipped tone made Amadeo wince.
“It was never my debt!” He lowered his voice. “I came to you for help, but you did not believe me. He told everyone that I agreed to lose the race for payment. You believed that bandit over me.” Amadeo swallowed back his disappointment. “Me. Your bad habit.” It was terribly rude, but he had to sit in the shade and close his eyes, as the hot, bright sun pierced his skull and made his head pound even harder. To his surprise, Malavolti followed to stand beneath the loggia with him. Encouraged by that, Amadeo whispered, “You said you loved me, but you lied. How is what you think I have done worse than that?”
Malavolti said, “I am not a liar. And only a poet would see that as a crime.”
Amadeo truly wanted to shake the barone until his teeth rattled, but restrained himself. “Guelfetto had sold me to a bathhouse in Florence to whore for those stinking pig-dogs until I die. Conte Masello has rescued me. I do not need you anymore.”
Malavolti flinched. “What has Conte Masello to do with all this, Neruccio?”
“He was there….” Amadeo stopped and considered his words. Malavolti need not know the conte was there selling his mother’s silver plates. “He took pity on me when I said I would give myself to the Arno and paid my debt to Guelfetto.”
“Paid your price, you mean.”
Stubborn, prideful man! To think he wept at the lines I wrote for him and him alone. He believed me then, at least. Perhaps the new one in his bed has left him, and left him bitter.
“We have a bond agreement,” Amadeo said wearily. “I’m to be the new groom for the stables. At least I’ll be with the horses.”
“Ah, my poor poet,” Malavolti mocked. “Poor Cecco. ‘But to show wisdom’s what I never could. So where I itch, I scratch now.’”
A pet name for the famed Sienese poet of a long dead age, Cecco Angiolieri, and the old lines fell upon Amadeo’s ears like a slap. Malavolti had encouraged and supported his own poetic lines at one time, but no more. “If you do not believe me still, be gone, Gianni. No one torments me as much as I do myself, so you waste your time.” His grieving heart forced him to continue the lines: “‘I’m down, and cannot rise in any way; For not a creature of my nearest kin/Would hold out a hand that I could reach….’”
Except for one man.
The door to the house creaked open, and Malavolti turned away, continuing on his path up the street as if they had never spoken.
About the author:
Heloise West, when not hunched over the keyboard plotting love and mahem, dreams about moving to a villa in Tuscany. She loves history, mysteries, and romance of all flavors. She travels and gardens with her partner of 10 years, and their home overflows with books, cats, art, and red wine.
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