Venice belongs to the mysteries of night, to darkness and deep waters. And so does Julietta Bassano. The beautiful perfumer hides her secrets from the light of day, selling rose water and essence of violet to elegant ladies rather than taking her rightful place in society.
Then enters Marc Antonio Velasquez--a fierce sea warrior determined to claim her. Seduced by his powerful masculinity, Julietta begins to let down her defenses.
But in the city of masks, plots spiral and form around Marc and Julietta--plots that will endanger their lives and their growing love....
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July 31, 2007
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Excerpt from A Notorious Woman by Amanda McCabe
Oh, yes. He was really dead.
"Madre de dio," Julietta Bassano whispered, leaning close to examine the man's corpse, sprawled across the rich silk cushions of his gilded bed. It had not been an easy death, nor a pretty one. His face, so florid in life, was turned a dark, mottled purple-blue, his black beard matted with bile and spittle and blood. The wide, staring, sightless eyes were dotted with tiny spots of red, and his stiffening limbs were thrown wide in abruptly frozen death throes.
No--not an easy demise at all. She recognised the signs. She had seen them in her own husband three years ago, as he collapsed in the middle of their own bed, convulsing and heaving.
"Witch!" he had screamed. "Sorceress! You have murdered me." And his clawlike hands had snatched at her gown, his blood and vomit spraying her flesh with death.
No! she thought sternly, closing her eyes and her mind to the memories. Giovanni was long dead; he had deserved his end, the pig. He could not hurt anyone ever again.
Unlike this man...
Julietta opened her eyes to stare down at the corpse of Michelotto Landucci, noble of the Most Serene Republic, high member of the Savio ai Cerimoniali. His richly brocaded robe hung open, revealing a heavy, hairy stomach, a flaccid, blue-tinged member. With a snort of disgust, she grabbed the edge of a silk sheet and drew it up over him, hiding him from view.
Behind her, she heard a soft, frightened sob, a stifled gasp. Julietta tried to take in a deep, steadying breath to calm herself, but the stench of death had grown too strong. It stuck in her nostrils, clung to her hair and cloak. Clasping the black velvet closer about her throat, she spun around to face the woman who huddled in the shadows of the palatial bedchamber. Cosima Landucci, wife--nay, widow--of the man beneath the sheet. Unlike her spouse, she was still fully dressed in an elaborate gown of gold-embroidered blue silk. Thick, dark red hair spilled down her back and fell over her white, unlined brow, proclaiming how very much younger than her husband she was. Just a child, really.
A child whose husband lay poisoned in his own bed. Well, well. She would not have thought it of timid little Cosima. People were surprising. Ever surprising.
"What happened here, signora?" Julietta asked, as gently as she could. She knew this girl--Cosima had been a loyal patroness of Julietta's perfume shop for almost two years, coming in weekly to buy her special scent, jasmine and lily, and to talk to Julietta. And talk, and talk, as if she had no other friend in the world but her perfumer. And Julietta had been glad to listen. She felt sorry for the girl, who seemed so lost and unhappy despite her fine gowns and flashing jewels. She--well, she rather reminded Julietta of herself so long ago, when all her dreams of marriage and family were shattered in the face of cold reality.
But this--this was something else altogether. "Well, signora?" Julietta prompted, when the girl just went on sniffling.
Cosima pressed a lace handkerchief to her face, her hands shaking. "I--I do not know what happened, Signora Bassano!"
"You were not here? You simply came in to find your husband dead?" Julietta gave a pointed glance at the dainty slippers and jewelled headdress discarded on the lavish Turkish rug.
Cosima followed her gaze and shook her head, the waves of red hair spilling over her shoulders. "No, I was here. We had just returned from a supper party, and he--he..." Her soft, little-girl voice faltered.
"Requested his conjugal rights?"
Cosima slowly nodded.
"Hmm," Julietta continued. "What else did he do?"
Julietta suppressed an impatient sigh. Dio mio, but they did not have all night! Already it grew very late, and the Landucci household would be up and about in only a few hours. Julietta wanted only to discover what this girl wanted of her, why she had summoned her here, and then be on her way. She had her own business to attend to, business of far more import than a silly patrician woman and a dead husband who no doubt greatly deserved to be dead.
What was the point of this whole exercise?
Yet she knew she could not rush Cosima, or the girl would collapse entirely. Already she was trembling like a winter leaf in the cold wind.
"What did he do before he demanded to bed you? For you are still dressed, madonna." Julietta gestured towards Cosima's gown, the sleeves still neatly tied in place, the gold lace on the high-waisted bodice smooth.
Cosima bunched the handkerchief in her fist. Her eyes were red-rimmed, her skin chalk-white. "He drank some wine, as he always does before--before... Quite a lot of it."
Julietta frowned. There were no goblets or ewers around the chamber. Cosima's tearful gaze flickered to the floor, and that was where Julietta saw it--the jewelled stem of a silver goblet, barely glimmering under the edge of the bed. She knelt down and drew it from beneath the heavy fall of velvet bedclothes.
In the very bottom of the cup rested the dregs of dark red wine, stagnant as blood, already drying at the edges. Julietta lifted it to her nose and sniffed cautiously. A faint hint of some green, grassy scent met her sensitive nose, along with the sweet headiness of the expensive wine. And something else. Jasmine and lily--Cosima's own perfume, mixed by Julietta's own hand and poured weekly into Cosima's vial of blue Murano glass.