ISBN 9780399257278 | 336 pages | 20 Mar 2014 | Philomel | 9.01 x 5.98in | 14 - AND UP years
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Summary of Starling Summary of Starling Reviews for Starling An Excerpt from Starling
In the stunning conclusion to the Secrets of the Eternal Rose tirlogy, there is nothing more dangerous that a secret closely kept…
Cass and Luca are fugitives, on the run from the law and the deadly Order of the Eternal Rose. As they separate to pursue the only evidence that could save them, their worlds—and their romance—are torn apart by spiteful friends and murderous enemies.
When Cass finds herself ensnared in the Order’s twisted plot, Falco emerges once again as her only hope for freedom. But it turns out Luca has a shocking scheme of his own.
From ancient mercenaries to sly magicians, from clever courtesans to vengeful killers, no one can be trusted. In the breathtaking conclusion to the Secrets of the Eternal Rose trilogy, Cass must confront the Order and once and for all decide her destiny. Who will fly beside her when she finally finds her wings?
This historical romantic thriller is perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, Anna Godberson's The Luxe, and Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty and The Diviners.
Chapter 1 When the last drop of light drained from the sky, Cass and Luca crept out of the shed where they had been hiding. Cass took a moment to stretch, her muscles grateful to be free of the cramped enclosure. After Luca had torn open his shoulder escaping from the Doge’s dungeons, the wound had festered, leaving him feverish and incapacitated for nearly a week. Cass knew each day that passed meant fewer people would be searching for them, but the waiting had been agony. She was desperate to resume her quest to destroy the Order of the Eternal Rose.
There was only one way to do that—find the Book of the Eternal Rose and pray it contained enough evidence of wrongdoing to bring the Order’s members to justice. Hatred coiled inside of Cass like a tangle of serpents. She embraced it, channeled it toward the task at hand. “The shore is this way,” she said.
Luca squeezed her fingers as they turned off the path, and she relaxed slightly. The whispering tide ebbed and flowed just out of sight. The wind was warm but brisk, whipping the fabric of her dress up around her legs. Luca walked stiffly, his injured arm cradled against his torso. They traveled east along the water until Cass found what she was looking for—an old batèla tied to a wooden dock. She glanced around. A handful of cottages—all dark—stood nearby. The boat might belong to any of them.
Walking boldly out onto the dock, Cass knelt down and loosened the rope that moored the small rowboat. “Get in,” she told Luca.
He paused. “Is there no other way than to steal from peasants?”
“Our alleged crimes have gone beyond mere theft,” Cass said. She didn’t remind him that they were heading to Villa Querini so they could steal from her beloved aunt. There was no other way. Cass and Luca would need money to return to Florence and seek out the book. It was safer for Agnese if she believed they were dead. “Besides, someone will probably find the craft and return it.” Nimbly, Cass’s fingers worked through the knots while Luca watched with a mixture of surprise and admiration.
“I had no idea your talents were so . . . varied,” he said.
Cass smiled. It felt like the first smile in days. “Wait until you see me row.”
And row she did. Wood ground against metal as she pulled the oars, leaning into each stroke, her muscles burning in protest as the boat moved slowly and steadily through the lagoon. She scanned the water as she rowed, looking for other craft, for boats that held soldiers, for anything out of the ordinary. But the night was a curtain of blackness, with nothing but a hazy moon to guide her. If they suddenly came upon another boat, there very well might be a crash.
Luca took in each of her movements, the expression on his face suddenly making Cass feel shy.
“What?” she asked. She looked down at the water, her eyes tracing the path of the wooden oar as it cut through the lagoon, before letting her gaze return to her fiancé. He was still watching her. “You’re staring.”
“I was thinking that each time I feel I know you, you surprise me again.” His voice was low but full of warmth, like if he were feeling a bit stronger, he might lean over and kiss her.
Cass fumbled one of the oars at that thought. As she reached out to retrieve it, she remembered a trip in a batèla she’d made with Falco. It was the night they had found the body of Sophia, Joseph Dubois’s former servant. Cass’s cheeks grew hot as she thought of Falco tugging at fabric and undoing laces, at the two of them tangled together beneath a blanket as their mouths tasted each other. Idiota, she cursed herself. She was certainly full of surprises. Unfortunately, not all of them would make Luca look at her with such tenderness.
“You’re starting to get winded. You should let me take a turn,” he said.
Cass shook her head. She’d force herself to row until her back was breaking and her hands were bleeding before she did that. Luca would reinjure his shoulder if he tried, and besides, she deserved to suffer. She had dishonored him with Falco. She had put her handmaid in harm’s way, and Siena had died. Cass didn’t know if she would ever forgive herself.
She followed the southern coastline of the Giudecca around to the east and then turned south before reaching San Giorgio Maggiore. The shore of San Domenico appeared out of the mist, its tall grass blowing back and forth as if beckoning to her. Cass navigated the boat past an open field and around to Agnese’s dock. She looped a coil of rope around one of the mooring posts. Tying what she hoped was a secure knot, Cass rose slowly to her feet in the wobbling craft.
Luca took her arm and steadied her as she alighted from the boat. She turned to give him her hand as he stepped from the batèla after her.
They stood at the edge of the dock, uncertain, a pair of silhouettes backlit by the moon. Cass couldn’t believe she was home again. It had been only a week, but the place felt alien to her. Patches of the normally neatly manicured lawn were unkempt, the shrubbery that framed the front of the villa beginning to overtake the grass. Her knees went a bit quivery, and her heart rose into her throat. Giuseppe had never neglected his gardening duties. What did it mean?
“Cass? What is it?” Luca asked.
Rather than explain why the unruly hedges seemed a harbinger of bad tidings, Cass stepped from the dock onto the lawn. Luca was close behind her. As she neared the front door, she could see the draperies of black fabric that covered the door and all of the windows. Draperies that meant someone was dead.
A shudder moved through Cass. She reached out for the carved molding around the door to steady herself, trying to deny to her brain what her heart was screaming. Her aunt was fine—she had to be. For all Cass knew, the swatches of fabric might be for her. Perhaps after failing to locate them, the Senate had declared Cass and Luca dead. Agnese could have hung the ceremonial draperies to honor Cass, despite having no body to bury.
Luca rested a hand on her back. His touch gave her the strength to move forward, but the front door was locked, the villa completely quiet. Cass didn’t know what she’d been expecting. It was late—of course the place would be secure. She wondered who might answer the door if she knocked. Bortolo, the butler, had been Agnese’s servant for more than twenty years, but age had taken its toll and Cass had no doubt he was dozing somewhere. Agnese’s handmaid, Narissa, might still be lurking about, mending chemises by candlelight.
But Cass couldn’t knock. Even though she thought of the servants as family, she and Luca were criminals, with large bounties on their heads. She had to assume that anyone would turn them in for a life-changing amount of gold. Men had betrayed their real families for much less.
Instead, Cass led Luca around to the back of the villa, to the garden, where she was dismayed to find that Agnese’s rosebushes looked as if they hadn’t seen water in days. The stems were gnarled and twisted, like witches’ fingers; the blooms hung low. Even the marigolds had withered, their petals littering the dirt like a field of golden teardrops.
Luckily, the servants’ door was unlocked, and Cass and Luca slipped quietly into the kitchen. And then she knew for certain. It wasn’t merely the faint smell of decay, masked by rosewater and the tinge of something medicinal. It was a feeling that overwhelmed her the instant she set foot inside the villa. A feeling of emptiness.
A feeling of death.
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