Raven recognized Ambrogio’s voice. She also recognized that he was being cool with her.
“Could I come inside and wait? I really need to see him.”
There was a long pause.
When Ambrogio didn’t reply, she decided to change tactics.
She lifted her wrist, displaying the gold bracelet to the security camera.
“His lordship ordered me to return this,” she lied. “And his lordship’s orders are always obeyed.”
Raven bit her lip, trying to keep a straight face. It was too ridiculous.
Raven waited and the high iron gate opened, allowing her to pass through. She was shocked her strategy had worked.
She drove to the triple garage and parked in front of it, storing her helmet inside the Vespa’s seat. She picked up her cane and walked through the garden to the door.
Ambrogio greeted her, directing her to Lucia, in the kitchen.
“Ah, Miss Wood. Sit down.” Lucia gestured to the kitchen table, on which she’d already set a bottle of wine and a plate of fruit and cheese. She gestured to an empty glass. “Shall I?”
“Please.” Raven tried not to drum her fingers on top of the table as she watched Lucia pour her a glass of red wine.
“His lordship is not here.” Lucia corked the bottle and set it aside before placing the full glass in front of her guest. “In fact, he is not expected home this evening.”
“He has another residence that he sometimes uses. He stayed there last night and will probably stay there again tonight.” Lucia’s expression was carefully controlled.
Raven derived the impression that there was much, much more that Lucia was not telling her; none of it good.
“Can I wait for him?”
“I would not recommend that. As I said, he is not expected home.” Lucia glanced significantly at Raven’s wrist.
She removed the bracelet. “If you could return this to his lordship, I’d be very grateful.”
“Of course.” Lucia took the item.
“Can I still see his version of Primavera? He ordered me to give him my report for the restoration, but there’s one part of the painting I need to see again.”
Lucia smiled. “Please enjoy your wine, and when you are ready I will escort you upstairs. Will you need to have the painting removed from the wall?”
Raven shook her head.
Lucia gestured to a small bell that stood in front of Raven’s plate. “Ring when you are ready.”
With a nod, Lucia disappeared, leaving Raven to finish her wine alone.
While she sipped her wine and nibbled nervously on the fruit and cheese, Raven came to the conclusion that there was something wrong with Ambrogio, Lucia, and Luka.
They seemed to lack something, in addition to a sense of humor. And the way they mindlessly followed William’s instructions . . .
William had mentioned something about mind control when he took her to meet his coven. Perhaps his household staff were under mind control, which was why they’d blindly let her in when she referred to his orders.
Having come to this momentous conclusion and having finished her remarkable glass of wine, Raven rang the bell. Lucia escorted her upstairs to the master bedroom.
As usual, the space was immaculate. The bed looked as if it hadn’t been slept in.
Lucia instructed her to ring if she needed anything and closed the door behind her.
Raven examined the room carefully, searching for anything that would give her a clue as to William’s whereabouts. But she found nothing.
It was possible, she reasoned, that he was at Palazzo Riccardi. Given what had happened the last time she went looking for him, Raven decided not to go there.
Surely he would have to return to the villa sometime. Unfortunately, Raven didn’t have days to wait. She needed to be at the Uffizi early tomorrow morning for work.
What a mess.
In order to keep up the lie she’d told to Lucia, she decided to examine the painting.
She took a few photos of it with her phone, especially of the figures of Mercury, Chloris, and Zephyr. Then she sat, analyzing it.
Seeing William as Zephyr was jarring, especially since she now knewthe story behind his depiction.
She examined the features of Chloris. It was difficult to make them out, since her head was turned. If what William had said was correct, the woman who’d fallen in love with him was the model for Chloris and for the second of the three Graces.
It was at this moment that Raven saw the painting in a new light.
Under the benevolent hand of Venus, Cupid pointed his arrow at the second Grace, who was already gazing with longing at Mercury. Mercury was busy stirring the clouds, his back to the Graces.
On the right side of the painting, Zephyr hovered in an orange grove, having captured Chloris. She was producing flowers from her mouth, marking the result of his fertile breath.
Without the figure of Flora, which appeared in the other version of Primavera, Botticelli’s work was a dark morality tale.
Reading the painting from left to right and substituting the Renaissance persons for their classical counterparts, Botticelli told the story of Allegra, who fell in love with the handsome but indifferent William York. Subsequently, he was revealed as a monster. He captured her and had sex with her, but she fled from him.
Eventually, she killed herself.
Raven stared wide-eyed at the painting. It no longer seemed beautiful and serene to her. No, it was a portrait of horror and despair.
And he’s had this painting for over five hundred years.
No doubt he’d stared at it daily, perhaps feeling guilt over the woman who’d loved him as one being, but killed herself when she realized what he truly was.
No wonder he’d never had a pet. Perhaps he feared the same outcome. If he was capable of feeling remorse.
Raven was fairly sure that William felt remorse and guilt, as evidenced by his reaction to her shaming him. Without guilt or remorse, shame was an empty emotion. Indeed, shame would not be shame.
Raven gazed with sadness at the second Grace.
What a tragic end.
She contemplated what William’s overnight guests thought of the painting—if he’d ever told anyone its dark history.
Raven wrinkled her nose.
She tried not to guess the number of overnight guests he’d entertained over the centuries. The idea sickened her.
She threw back the curtains and opened the balcony doors, letting the night air into the room. She breathed deeply, staring up at the stars and the winking moon. With night blanketing the city, William and his coven would be free to walk the streets.