In the shadows . . .
Rebecca Bingham takes up the flag and continues The Masked Ball:
Bacigalupo watched Sarina step beneath the overhanging branches of the large tree. His hand sketched a quick sign and the shadows deepened, as though a dark curtain had been drawn around the two figures, concealing them from view. Turning away, he unhurriedly walked to the fountain, where Parthenope awaited him. They exchanged a conspiratorial look.
In the shadowed silence, Sarina and Hugh gazed at each other for a long, fraught moment. As always, she longed to wrap her arms around him and draw him close, but – as always – something in his manner held her back. “Hugh!” she breathed, “Why are you here? What has happened? I am so very happy to see you, but is it safe? How do you know Signore West? Did . . . ”
Amusement lit his deep green eyes for a moment and his lips quirked in a quick grin. “Hush, for a moment, Sarina. ’Twas ever thus with you. A thousand questions and no pause for answers.” His face turned serious. “Yes, my being here is, perhaps, a bit risky but it is necessary. More is at stake than you suppose and the situation is exceedingly complex.”
“I am aware that the amulet is important, although I admit I do not know precisely why that is the case. Do you remember how we talked of it when we were children? We used to weave elaborate play around the amulet and how we would find it and be great heroes. A small part of me has always been on the look-out for it. But I admit that I had no real expectation that it would surface, because I had begun to believe that it was not real.”
“I remember our games. As we got older, I thought perhaps you had forgotten.” Eyes locked, emerald and amber, and for a heart stopping moment she thought that perhaps, at last . . .
As though he knew what was in her mind – and heart – he broke the gaze. Withdrawal. Subtle but definite. Sarina said, “You know, Hugh, I imagined that you would be quite astonished when I wrote you about the amulet. But you were not surprised, were you? You expected it to surface and you were waiting for word.”
“I don’t understand. In what way is Signore West involved? How do you even know him? Can he be trusted? He is very odd. I wonder that Parthenope –” She stopped, suddenly. “Good heavens, is Parthenope involved in this?”
“As I said, the situation is considerably more complex than you imagine. Baci – Rodolfo is at the center of everything. As for Signora Neroni, I am not certain what is her involvement or motivation. Rodolfo trusts her, so perforce must I.”
“This complicates matters. I do see that. We must make a plan. Dare I be direct with Parthenope? The situation is exceedingly odd, as though each of us walks in a foggy field with no knowledge that the others are present. Hugh! What of Lucia?”
“Hush, Sarina,” he raised a hand to halt her musings. “There is not much time. Your plan to steal the amulet was a good one when we thought we were the only ones aware of it. But it is clear that there are many competing interests and we do not know who is friend and who is foe. It will no longer be enough merely to gain the amulet. It must be destroyed, or at least locked safe away. We will have to be ready to take our chance when it presents itself. And it will have to be at that damned ball. I believe we must—” Sarina heard a slight rustling behind her. Hugh gazed over her shoulder and said hurriedly, sotto voce, “I must go. I will come to you before the ball. I do not know when, precisely, but it will be in the night. If you are able, please do what you can to keep the way clear and give leave away to all but your most trusted servants.”
As she moved into the sunlight, she looked back. As she had expected, Hugh was gone.