Excerpt from Death In Bagheria
March 23, 1870
No patients in the waiting room, and despite the talk she’d given herself on the way to his office, her heart leapt when she opened the door and saw him. Loffredo stood smiling at her, tall and straight, his face like the chiseled stroke of a master sculptor, dark hair tightly curled in the back and barely touching his collar. His clothes fit his frame to perfection, and the scent from his neroli oil was overpowering. He reminded her of a painting she’d seen in Rome of the archangel Gabriel, or one of those other manly angels. Their eyes locked for a long moment, and she tried to resist, the Madonna knew, but once again the sheer power of him, along with some perversity of her will, made her weaken. Was it pity for his suffering? If her children should discover their—what to call it—their friendship … but no, she would not, could not imagine their dismay. He took her in his arms, and when their lips touched, it was an explosion.
Their romance began years ago at university when he attended the school of medicine and she studied for a certificate in midwifery. Like a thunderclap, their mutual attraction made the heavens spin, but they both knew the affair couldn’t last. Serafina came from a family of scholars, Loffredo, from the impoverished nobility, which meant he would have to marry within his class or find a woman of wealth. Some months after Serafina wed the son of the local apothecary, Loffredo’s family announced his betrothal to the daughter of a prominent Palermitan milliner.
She managed to free herself somewhat from his embrace. “We mustn’t,” she murmured. “The maid …”
“I sent her to Paris to be with Elena.”
Throughout her marriage, Serafina had remained true to her husband, and Loffredo, faithful to his wife until a few years ago when Elena departed with friends for an extended visit to France. As if the saints had conspired, he and Serafina found themselves working on the same case. In the face of their daily meetings and his relentless pleas, their friendship deepened, and she risked abandoning her moral compass on more than one occasion. Lately, she realized he was becoming a vital part of her life, but Serafina knew that she must learn to control herself. “The maid will arrive with tall tales for Elena.”
An eyebrow shot up, and he smiled. “So? I doubt that she cares.” He pressed himself against her.
What could she do? “Elena will be returning soon, and our … dalliance is wrong. She’s a friend—well, an acquaintance. We cannot continue.”
“I received a letter from her yesterday. ‘Don’t worry about me, my little pet!’”
Serafina laughed at his imitation.
He continued. “A free spirit, Elena. She keeps up with society, and many of her friends have also gone to Paris. Now they’ve all taken country homes in Aix and will go there later this spring.” He stared into space. “I no longer amuse her, and I feel absolutely ebullient. Oh, I could drop everything, show up, and demand her return, but why? For the first time, I’m free. I have a chance to love the woman of my dreams, to make a better life.” He looked into her eyes.
Serafina was silent, losing herself.
Loffredo kissed her again.
This time, stars shone.
Photo: Taormina. Credit: gnuckx (Flickr), Creative Commons.