Author: Heloise West
Publisher: Manifold Press
Release Date: February 1st 2017
Genre: Historical MM Romantic Suspense
In the village of Torrenta, master painter Morello has created a color that mimics the most expensive pigment of all, the crimson red. Master Zeno, from strife-ridden Medici Florence, tells him the color gives him a competitive advantage – but Morello must be careful. Fraud is ever-present in the dye and pigment markets.
As they work together in Torrenta, Morello falls hard for Zeno’s assistant, Benedetto Tagliaferro, a young man of uncommon beauty and intelligence. Benedetto is still fixed on his old lover, the master painter Leo Guisculo, and cannot return Morello’s affections.
But when Leo dies in a terrible accident, it’s to Morello that Zeno and Benedetto turn for help. And Morello soon finds that in Florence, every surface hides layers of intrigue.
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The village of Torrenta, Tuscany, June 1475
The sun thrust warm fingers into the ancient Tuscan earth. The gray-green leaves of the olive trees shimmered, and the woods beyond beckoned Morello to abandon the painters’ workshop for their cool refuge.
In the growing heat the apprentices inside settled into an afternoon nap, curled on benches in dark corners behind him. The harsh fumes of linseed oil and varnish had irritated Morello all morning, and he was unable to sleep in the miasma. Perhaps before their visitors from Florence arrived, he might escape the heat. A long tramp in the woods pulled at his bones.
He reached for the walking stick behind the door, but a horse’s whinny stopped him, and a man’s voice called out. When no one stirred within to answer, he cursed the sleepers and stomped back through the shop, thwarted. In the lane in front of the workshop, two men removed packs from their horses.
“Good day, Master Zeno!” From the doorway, Morello called to the older of the two. “You made good time!”
At the sound of Morello’s voice, the apprentices roused themselves from sleep and peered around him.
The gray-haired master raised his hand and smiled. “Good day, Master Morello.”
Master Zeno’s companion, a tall young man with flowing golden hair, took the older man’s pack for him and shouldered the straps of both.
“Take their horses to the stable and fetch Master Franco,” Morello ordered the apprentices, and they hurried to obey.
Master Zeno’s journeyman brushed dust from the sleeve of his sweat-stained linen shirt, slapped more dust from his long thighs, and ran a forearm across his brow. His smile was uncertain as his glance met Morello’s.
Donato stood at the window yawning and scratching his stomach. He shaded his eyes for a better look into the misty glare of the afternoon. “Who’s the beauty with the master?”
Donato’s fellow journeyman Primo jumped to his feet and crowded against Morello in the doorway. “Can it be? He’s brought Tagliaferro?”
Donato groaned. “The man you’ve been mooning about since you last went to Florence, Primo? You’ve only just finally shut up about him.”
Morello ignored them. His irritation over his interrupted walk had vanished. Primo’s garlic- and onion-laden breath on his neck registered only remotely. He gazed out at the man from Florence, who, in Morello’s memory, had once been a long-legged boy with a head of yellow fluff too big for his skinny body. Morello stepped out into the sunlight that appeared to pour itself over the grown man, and stretched out his hand in greeting. Maintaining frank eye contact, Benedetto Tagliaferro adjusted the packs and took his hand.
When flesh met flesh, Morello stumbled – at least, his heart did. As if the wind from the beating wings of the love-inspiring putti he had painted just that morning pushed them toward each other.
“Do you remember me?” Benedetto asked with the shadow of that boy’s grin.
The bells began to ring, quickly followed by booted feet pounding up the stairs. Benedetto shoved the door open with his foot, bearing a pitcher of water, a bowl for Morello to wash in, and a length of linen draped over his shoulder. He placed these on the table with a grin and backed out again. He returned with Morello’s freshly brushed doublet and a silk shirt the color of saffron that he laid on the bed.
“This is one of mine, not Leo’s, but I shortened it for you.” Benedetto knelt and opened the chest of beautiful clothing.
“You’re a lively bird this morning.” Morello scooped hot rose-scented water and splashed his face with it. He picked up the bar of soap that lay on the table and sniffed at it in appreciation.
“I slept well, for once,” Benedetto said, his voice muffled by the open chest. He pulled his head out. “I am confident we will find some answers today.”
“What’s your plan?”
“Where is my … here it is.” He pulled out a doublet of blue and cream damask, and a silk shirt of rose embroidered in blue thread at the neck and sleeves, blue hose to match. He shook everything out, talking as he began to dress. “After Mass, we must find where Arinchino lives and speak to him. I remember what he looks like, but he wasn’t at Leo’s funeral.”
Morello, disconcerted by Benedetto’s naked limbs and aroused again as memory batted at his common sense, turned his back, and washed quickly.
“Is he your only concern?” Morello rolled his eyes. “Must we track down every one of Leo’s lovers?”
“If we must.”
Morello turned, completely dressed, and eyed the man. Determined Benedetto took his breath away. The blue cloth and his mood appeared to darken his eyes to twilight. The padded doublet hugged his body. Morello stepped forward to tie the blue-and-rose-striped sleeves for him. Benedetto smelled of the soap he had given Morello, and his hair was damp at the tips. The room was warm, too warm, and Morello began to sweat.
“Hold still.” Morello tied the sleeves to the doublet with laces. He slapped Benedetto’s chest lightly. “What if we encounter the murderer you seek, you foolish man?”
Benedetto pressed his lips together in a stubborn line. “Bring your dagger, then.”
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About the Author
About the Author
Heloise West, when not hunched over the keyboard plotting love and mayhem, 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 thirteen years, and their home overflows with books, cats, art, and red wine.