The Paradise Series, Book 1
The world’s largest oil painting. A 400-year-old murder. A disembodied whisper: “Amore mio.” My love.
Nick and Julia O’Connor’s dream trip to Venice collapses when a haunting voice reaches out to Nick from Tintoretto’s Paradise, a monumental depiction of Heaven. Convinced his delu-sions are the result of a concussion, Julia insists her husband see a doctor, though Nick is ada-mant the voice was real.
Blacking out in the museum, Nick flashes back to a life as a 16th century Venetian peasant swordsman. He recalls precisely who the voice belongs to: Isabella Scalfini, a married aristo-crat he was tasked to seduce but with whom he instead found true love. A love stolen from them hundreds of years prior.
She implores Nick to liberate her from a powerful order of religious vigilantes who judge and sentence souls to the canvas for eternity. Releasing Isabella also means unleashing thousands of other imprisoned souls, all of which the order claims are evil.
As infatuation with a possible hallucination clouds his commitment to a present-day wife, Nick’s past self takes over. Wracked with guilt, he can no longer allow Isabella to remain tor-mented, despite the consequences. He must right an age-old wrong – destroy the painting and free his soul mate. But the order will eradicate anyone who threatens their ethereal prison and their control over Venice.
Angelo eyed the boat. He had already been forced to flee danger twice in three days. The mere notion of abandoning Venice without so much as a goodbye to his friends and family grated his core. He’d never set foot on the mainland and was now told to traverse it. A most uncertain future lay beyond the horizon. How could he help Isabella from across the oceans, idling for years with a handful of ducats to his name?
“No,” Angelo said. “I cannot leave my home.”
“You should have considered that before seducing a married woman.”
Angelo seethed. “She’s the love of my life. Not some wanton mistress. I’ll join your cause and fight them here.” He grasped the rapier at his hip.
“Your prowess with the blade is well known.” The nobleman laid a gentle hand over Angelo’s and guided the sword into its sheath. “But how will you fare against a hundred men?”
“I shall die fighting.”
“Death is but the first consideration. And then your beloved will indeed be lost forever.”
Angelo conceded and released the hilt. He accepted the letter and coin purse, tucking them into his doublet. “To what purpose do you aid me? Answer that, I pray you.”
“Mutual adversaries. You may be the key to their demise. I’ll send word when it’s safe to return. When we can free Isabella and the others. Now go.”
With a reluctant nod, Angelo untied the small boat, then clasped his collaborator’s hand. “Thank you, sir. Tell me. How can I save her?”
“We need to—”
A whiz through the air was followed by the sickening thud of penetrated flesh and bone. The nobleman gazed at the blood pooling around the tip of the arrow jutting from his right shoulder, then at Angelo, with a mouth agape and befuddled eyes.
A second arrow embedded itself in his collaborator’s thigh. Cries of anguish slipped from the old man’s sagging lips. He dropped to his knees. The sight of yet another person’s blood inches
away was too much for Angelo to bear. Like all Venetians, he was accustomed to injury and death, but never like what he’d witnessed recently. Never so sadistically.
“Go,” the man ordered, straining to utter the command. “You’ve seen what happens if they catch you alive.”
Angelo crouched and examined the arrow.
“There’s nothing you can do.”
Shifting to the wall, Angelo peeked around the corner. Two hulking men dressed in dark garb—one winding a crossbow, the other loading a bolt into his, stood thirty paces away.
“How? How can I save her?” Angelo asked in a whisper, crouching close to his collaborator. If he didn’t learn now, he’d likely never learn.
“Love of God, Mascari.” The man gripped Angelo’s collar. “What are you waiting for?”
Footsteps ambushed them.
Angelo squeezed the nobleman’s uninjured shoulder, then drew his rapier. “Wrongs shall be righted. Starting now.”
The attackers reached the corner. Both wore hoods obscuring much of their faces. A scar spread from the larger one’s eye to his mouth. The shorter of the two, though taller than Angelo, had an unruly brown beard.
“Run, you fool,” the nobleman shouted as he slunk into the canal, just below the bearded man’s swipe. The nobleman struggled to swim away, but the assailant caught his cloak and hauled him back onto the ledge.
The larger attacker charged. Angelo was ready. He lunged his rapier at the man’s crossbow, inducing an errant shot. The arrow ricocheted off the wall. In a flash, the man dropped the weapon, drew a short sword, and unleashed an assault. He pressed Angelo without remorse, driving the bout down the length of the narrow fondamenta.
The strikes were relentless and crushing, but the attacker’s shoddy technique exposed a weakness—his arm remained stiff, his wrist lacked rotation. Angelo parried the hacks, anticipating the right moment to riposte. It soon arrived. He angled for a side-cutting stroke, but an arrow flew through the flesh between his knuckles, cleaving a lump of skin from the back of his hand and spraying his arm with blood. The bearded assailant, while kneeing the nobleman to the ground, had shot with remarkable aim. Angelo gritted his teeth; his scorching right hand would be useless in this contest.
In one fluid motion, Angelo parried a wild swing from the attacker, tossed his rapier to his weaker left hand, and pivoted, dodging another blow. The switch drove his opponent off balance. His blade scraped the wall.
Angelo circled the man’s short sword with his rapier and squatted, completing his move with a slice through both thighs. The man dropped to his knees, writhing in agony. Angelo kicked his chin, then booted him into the canal.
Isabella was not yet lost.
He rushed to aid his collaborator but stopped short. From the alley, the commotion of an untold number of men, yelling and running toward him, reverberated off the adjacent walls.
At the corner, the nobleman’s eyes grew wide at the fast-approaching mob. “Go,” he screamed to Angelo with his remaining strength.
Death is but the first consideration. His collaborator’s words tolled in Angelo’s mind.
He spun, stomped on the scarred man’s fingers gripping the fondamenta edge, and raced for the skiff. An arrow zipped over Angelo’s head as his horsehide boots met the boat’s bottom, his impetus propelling the craft forward. He thrust the oars into the murky water.
Half a dozen men, all in black, rounded the corner. The first gave chase, dashing along the canal edge. Angelo paddled with all his strength, an excruciating task with a mangled hand.
At the canal’s edge, the pursuer tossed his empty crossbow on the cobblestones and dove for the boat. He caught the gunwale, nearly capsizing it.
“The Order will take you,” he cried as he climbed in.
Angelo yanked an oar from its rowlock and swung it into the attacker’s cheek, knocking the man into the water. Resuming his frantic paddling, he glimpsed the far end of the fondamenta. As the bearded assailant pressed the nobleman to the ground, the old man stretched for his boot, retrieved a dagger… and slid the blade across his own throat.
Stunned, Angelo rested an oar to cross himself.
An arrow struck the skiff. Another flew past from his ear. As more arrows landed in the water, Angelo hunkered and rowed furiously to the wider Rio di San Girolamo canal, which led to the open waters of the Venetian Lagoon.
Guilt roared through him—his collaborator’s death was on his hands. A vision of Isabella flashed in his mind. ‘Mòre mio. I failed you.
One day, he vowed. One day, her captors will feel a pain far more severe.
Thank you, Rob Samborn and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the Author
In addition to being a novelist, Rob Samborn is a screenwriter, entrepreneur and avid traveler. He’s been to forty countries, lived in five of them and studied nine languages. As a restless spirit who can’t remember the last time he was bored, Rob is on a quest to explore the intrica-cies of our world and try his hand at a multitude of crafts; he’s also an accomplished artist and musician, as well as a budding furniture maker. A native New Yorker who lived in Los Angeles for twenty years, he now makes his home in Denver with his wife, daughter and dog.
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