Feeling a bit chuffed, as my UK friends say, that The Shadow of this World is finding interest on Amazon. Probably because it’s different from the normal historicals (it’s occult and paranormal wrapped in history with a side of romance thrown in).
Yesterday, I introduced the first of the de’ Medici brothers, Antonio—the one called The Demon. Today, let’s meet the youngest…
Stefano is the youngest of the Medici brood, considered the handsomest, the most adept at courtly manners and an irresistible charmer for women of all social stations. The pater familias, Cosimo, turns a blind eye to the many inappropriate liaisons that threaten to drain the family purse, the price never too high to smooth over outrage from cockolded husbands. Cosimo is a patient and indulgent father for he knows his youngest will service the family’s interests when the time is right.
When Veluria targets the young man as her entrée into the seats of power in Venice and Florence, even her sophisticated training cannot prepare her for the delights she’s about to experience.
Cosimo is no fool and he suspects Veluria is more than the vapid French courtesan beguiling his youngest. To learn more about a potential threat to the family interests, he dispatches his eldest son, his enforcer—Antonio, to bring the woman in for interrogation.
In this scene, Antonio and young Stefano have rescued the mysterious courtesan, Veluria, from an unknown assailant. They seek shelter in an alcove, trying to assess from what quadrant the danger emanates.
“Stay back, Brother. She is fine.” The tall man carefully shouldered his way into the narrow cubicle, mindful of his burden. He set the woman on a makeshift cot and turned to his sibling.
“Tonio,” Stefano whispered, “she should not be here. This was a mistake. I never would have written that note,” he paused, his face a mask of fear and concern, “had I realized how much danger…”
Tonio glowered at his brother, cutting him off. The young man had no idea of the stakes in this particular game. As always, his infatuations and conquests occupied him to the exclusion of all other considerations, a fact he and Nico secretly admired but their father no longer found amusing.
Whatever Cosimo had divined from his spies, the woman’s elevation to person of interest had been swift and surprising, brooking no hesitation on Tonio’s part when tasked with drawing the woman away from the court, forcing her into a vulnerable position. His father’s preternatural instincts, bordering on prescience, had so far fueled considerable success in manipulating events in the family’s favor. If this woman, and her supposed French connections, had merit in the old man’s plans … well, who was he to argue the point. Politics seldom concerned him. Exercising directives did. This one had gotten interesting the minute he’d detected the interplay of energies in the tunnel.
As did the fact they had apparently picked up what amounted to a parade of stalkers. He’d lost the shadowy figure in the tunnel, but apparently not the hive of frustrated Papàl Guards who’d been dogging his heels for days. He tolerated their interference most times. This was not going to be one of them.
Stefano continued to fuss over the prone woman, mindlessly adjusting her gown until the tiny cubicle filled with an irritating high pitched rustle as the lengthwise grain of the silk resisted his frantic strokes.
Tonio hissed, “Uncle Giovanni’s guards approach. Be quiet. It would be best if they did not discover all of us together. I have made other arrangements that do not include the family’s incessant meddling.”
His younger brother whined, “But why are they here?”
“Because Father or Uncle could not be sure you would follow through.” His thoughts skipped a beat, logic dictating that there might be some question about his own commitment in this matter. His fondness for Stefano was no secret. Ignoring the implied complication he assured the young man, “You have nothing to fear, little brother, nothing but your unseemly attachment to this strange woman.”
Stefano hissed, “I fear nothing, Brother, and I don’t give a damn about unseemly. Do you think having the Papàl Guards parading about in all their finery will insure that I will—as you put it—’follow through’? If you do, you are a bigger fool than our dearest uncle.”
Tonio advanced toward his younger brother, shoulders tense, long, elegant fingers fondling the jeweled hilt of his cinquedea.
“I think perhaps, dear Stefano, you should have more respect for Pope Leo. Father worked his particular form of magic to ensure our family’s right to the succession. It would not do for anyone to think we are not united in this matter.”
Stefano sneered at the older man, “Always the apologist, Brother. Whatever the old man says, you are there to kiss his…”
Tonio moved with uncanny speed, pinning his brother against the ancient frescoed wall, his right arm pressed against the young man’s windpipe, his left gripping the short sword. Stefano’s pupils narrowed to slits as he succumbed to his brother’s brief show of mastery. Tonio recognized the capitulation with a brief nod, taking a fractional step back to put some space between them. The young man’s slight intake of breath assured him he had his undivided attention.
The Shadow of This World is still #FREE on Amazon HERE