Book Title: The Black Madonna
Series: Roundheads & Cavaliers (Book 1 of 4)
Author: Stella Riley
Publication Date: 31st May 2013
Publisher: Stella Riley
Page Length: 622
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance
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Book Title and Author Name:
The Black Madonna
by Stella Riley
(Audiobook narrated by Alex Wyndham)
As England slides into Civil War, master-goldsmith and money-lender, Luciano Falcieri del Santi embarks on his own hidden agenda. A chance meeting one dark night results in an unlikely friendship with Member of Parliament, Richard Maxwell. Richard’s daughter, Kate – a spirited girl who vows to hold their home against both Cavalier and Roundhead – soon finds herself fighting an involuntary attraction to the clever, magnetic and diabolically beautiful Italian.
Hampered by the warring English, his quest growing daily more dangerous, Luciano begins to realise that his own life and that of everyone close to him rests on the knife-edge of success … for only success will permit him to reclaim the Black Madonna and offer his heart to the girl he loves.
From the machinations within Parliament to the last days of the King’s cause, The Black Madonna is an epic saga of passion and intrigue at a time when England was lost in a dark and bloody conflict.
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Excerpt 7 (1425 words)
The ruin of Thomas Ferrars – Luciano’s first act of vengeance
On Wednesday morning, Luciano prepared precisely as before for what he expected to be his final meeting with Thomas Ferrars. Having equipped himself with every advantage he could think of, it did not seem that anything could go wrong this time … nor, with the clock ticking steadily away in Genoa, must it be allowed to do so.
Thomas arrived, shaking, on the stroke of eleven and sat on the same strategically placed chair he had occupied before. Then, addressing the shadowy figure of the man who was either his torturer or his life-line, he said abruptly, ‘I – I’ve brought them. Alice’s jewels.’
‘Put them on the table. I’ll look at them presently. I trust your wife saw the wisdom of surrendering them?’
‘No.’ Thomas tugged at his collar, recalling the horrible scene when Alice had caught him emptying her coffer and the unbelievably cruel things she had said. ‘No. I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘Then let us address the business in hand.’ Luciano surveyed his prey clinically and took his time about continuing. Then he said coolly, ‘As matters stand, you are completely insolvent. The shop-keepers of the town will supply you with no further goods until your various accounts are paid – but you can’t do that without increasing the already substantial amount you owe me. None of the other money-lenders will touch you with an eighteen-foot pike … and even wealthy acquaintances such as Cyrus Winter are loath to help you.’ He paused and, in response to the other man’s expression, said, ‘How do I know that? Suffice it to say that the extent of my knowledge might surprise you. However … to resume. You’ve brought me security in the form of jewellery to support both your existing bond and the additional sum you have asked for – and presently we shall determine if it is equal to the task. But first we have to consider the fact that, in a little over a week, I shall require you to pay me the last quarter’s interest. And we both know you won’t be able to do it.’
Ferrars’ skin felt clammy and he could see the bottom of the pit rushing up to meet him. In a voice which seemed to come from a long way off, he said, ‘You’re refusing me?’
‘At the moment I am merely establishing the precariousness of your position,’ came the maddeningly calm reply. ‘It seems to have escaped your notice that this is not simply a question of whether I will or will not help you out of your present predicament. It is whether or not I will bankrupt you.’
‘Oh God.’ Ferrars drove his face into his hands. ‘Oh God. What can I do?’
‘You can cast your mind back to the year of your marriage,’ said Luciano with severely controlled impassivity. ‘And you can tell me everything you know about the trial of Alessandro Falcieri.’
The lank brown head came up revealing a face contorted with shock.
‘You heard me. The case of Rex versus Falcieri – in which you and three others gave evidence for the prosecution.’ There was a long, terrible silence. ‘The case in which you perjured yourself for the purpose of sending an innocent man to the gallows. I’m sure you remember it. And please don’t try convincing me that you don’t know what I’m talking about or that you didn’t lie under oath. I’ve spoken to Samuel Fisher.’ Luciano took a folded document from the table and held it lightly between his fingers. ‘I also have the trial record.’
Ferrars seemed to shrink in his chair. He said, ‘Then you know it all. There’s n-nothing more I can tell you.’
‘On the contrary. You can tell me how it was done … and why.’ An undercurrent of nameless danger flowed through the melodious voice. ‘You ought to be grateful, Mr Ferrars. I am giving you the chance to unburden your soul and engage my sympathy. Or would you rather I had simply sent someone to knife you in the back one dark night? Surely not. And you must have realised that – after so long and with what I already know – nothing you can say is likely to make matters any worse for you than they are at this minute.’
Slowly, very slowly, comprehension filtered into the numb disorder of Thomas Ferrars brain.
‘You – you bought my bond because of this? And the shops … it was you who – who made them stop my credit. It was you. All the time, it was you … because of this!’ He stopped, trying to suck some air back into his lungs. And then, with a kind of compulsive horror, ‘Who are you?’
‘I think you know.’ For the first time, Luciano came out of the shadows into the light and gave Ferrars time to look at him. ‘I am Alessandro Falcieri’s son.’
Ferrars stared at him, incapable of speech, movement or even of coherent thought. He looked at the well-cut black clothes, the long, fine-boned hands and the slight irregularity of the left shoulder; and then with petrified reluctance into the sculpted face with its hard mouth and fathomless eyes. His heart gave a single, heavy thud and seemed to plummet into his stomach.
‘And now,’ continued Luciano inexorably, ‘we will proceed. You robbed me of my father, my home, my childhood and caused the death of my mother. And I have brought you to this point so that you may attempt to justify yourself. What, for example, had Alessandro Falcieri done to you?’
‘N-nothing.’ The word arrived on a choking gasp. ‘It … it wasn’t like that.’
‘No? Then how was it?’
‘It wasn’t my idea – you’ve got to believe that! I was in d-debt to your father and I couldn’t pay because I’d have lost Alice even before the betrothal contracts were signed. But I never meant to harm anybody. I – I just did as I was told.’
Ferrars’ eyes slid away and his knuckles glowed white on the arms of his chair.
Luciano took his time about replying. Then, silkily, ‘How very convenient. He’s dead.’
‘I can’t help that. He’d lost a fortune on the Cadiz expedition and if Falcieri had foreclosed on him, he’d have found himself in the Fleet. So he – he – oh God. It was his idea, I tell you!’
There was another eviscerating silence.
‘Mr Ferrars … I don’t believe you. Look at me.’ Luciano waited till he’d collected the frightened gaze and then said crisply, ‘Rid yourself of the notion that there is any easy way out. There isn’t. I want the truth. Now start again.’
‘All right – all right!’ His nerves at breaking point, the only thing Thomas Ferrars wanted was to be allowed to leave. ‘I – I had a letter. It w-wasn’t signed so it may have come from Langley or – or one of the others. Or perhaps they all had one too. I don’t know. And that’s the truth. I d-don’t know. We never – we never spoke of it. And when it was over, we went our separate ways. I don’t even know where they are any more – and I’ll swear that on anything you l-like!’
This, decided Luciano clinically, had both a certain logic and, at last, a ring of truth. He said, ‘And the letter?’
‘It told me what to do. I was to go to his Grace of Buckingham’s secretary and say I’d overhead Falcieri and some others plotting to assassinate the Duke. I was also to say that I’d got the impression the Italian was passing information to Richelieu about the Duke’s plans to take La Rochelle. I was to give them the dates and places supplied in the letter and say …’ He stopped, the sheer hopelessness of it overcoming him. ‘But you’ve got the record. You know what I said.’
‘Yes.’ Luciano turned unhurriedly to the requisite page and read aloud from it. “I heard the accused say that a clear shot might be taken from the upper window of one of the buildings overlooking King Street and that he had found an expert marksman who was willing to undertake the commission in return for two thousand in gold.” He stopped and looked up. ‘Since this conversation is supposed to have taken place with a Florentine, it’s odd that it appears to have been held in English. Forse si capisce l’Italiano?’ He paused again, head tilted in gentle enquiry. ‘I asked if you perhaps understand Italian, Mr Ferrars. Obviously, you don’t.’
Winner of three gold medals for historical romance (Readers’ Favourite in 2019, Book Excellence Awards in 2020, Global Book Awards in 2022) and fourteen B.R.A.G. Medallions, Stella Riley lives in the beautiful medieval town of Sandwich in Kent.
She is fascinated by the English Civil Wars and has written six books set in that period. These, like the seven-book Rockliffe series (recommended in The Times newspaper!) and the Brandon Brothers trilogy, are all available in audio, narrated by Alex Wyndham.
Stella enjoys travel, reading, theatre, Baroque music and playing the harpsichord. She also has a fondness for men with long hair – hence her 17th and 18th century heroes.
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