She watched the blaze grow taller and brighter. Slowly the beautiful masterpiece crafted in 1683 by the master carver Esposito drifted into the flames, a priceless work of irreplaceable art forever lost to the world.
She was glad she had lit the match. If she had known the thrill it would give her, the passionate release, she would have initiated the destruction earlier.
Should she burn down the entire estate? Reluctantly tearing her eyes from the flames, so satisfying in their escalating fury, she glanced behind her.
It was all stone. It would not burn.
Fontechiari, a magnificent sixteenth century castle on the shores of Italy’s Lake Garda, would remain a constant reminder of the betrayal and deception.
But the fire helped. The intricately detailed depiction of a young woman now surrounded by flames filled her with a strange sense of camaraderie even as she destroyed her. Now crumbling into nothingness, this ancestral reflection of herself had been lovingly carved into the resplendent four-poster bed by some of the most gifted hands of all time.
And those weren’t the only gifted hands associated with the bed. Other hands, lying hands, had caressed and awakened her there, promising her love, companionship, and faithfulness.
Faithfulness. In an instant Sophia’s laughter mingled with her heartbreak. Devotion, honesty, undying love: all illusions. Was there ever a love so true?
“Goodbye, my sweet, innocent girl,” she whispered. “Adieu.” Sophia blew a kiss.
“What are you burning?” a beautiful baritone voice asked, drifting through the crackling embers.
“Memories,” Sophia answered without looking away from the fire. She would not deprive herself of one second of her pleasure. “Commitments. A lifetime of misery: the usual thing.”
“And why the fire? Do you imagine your beloved husband will burn in hell?”
“Never!” she laughed. “He shall strike a deal with the devil. And when the time is right, he will toss Lucifer into the fire and take his rightful place as the Prince of Darkness.”
“Your husband is not that clever, my dear. And he is far too lazy.” He sat down beside her on the stone bench. She refused to remove her eyes from the fire, but she knew that he was tucking his dark, unruly curls under his hat and stretching his strong arms, every inch the Italian male. Stealing a glance out of the corner of her eye, she was surprised to see that his characteristic smile, always begging to break into laughter, was noticeably absent.
“That is the irony of it. The Count of Silviatti always wins as if he were . . . that clever. He is the luckiest person I have ever encountered in my life.” She shook her head, still disbelieving after nineteen years of marriage to Téodoro.
She glanced beyond Fontechiari’s stone terrace to Lake Garda, so blue even in the moonlight. Perched on a ridge above the village of San Giorgio di Silviatti, with vineyards covering the hillsides, she lived in a castle with one of the most breathtaking views in the world.
How could a person who lived in such a magical place be so unhappy?