Island of Shadows
Island of Shadows is a gothic romance set in Venice in 1930.
There is a dark undercurrent to the glamor of the lagoon and its lavish masquerades. The Ombra are a vampire-like race, living in the shadows. Instead of feasting on blood, they survive by feeding on the souls of the dead. The Ombra exist alongside the living without fear of detection. Having thrived for centuries, they are powerful, wealthy, fear no one and ruthlessly destroy those who stand in their way.
Maggie Forbes has come to Venice to see if she can discover what happened to her husband, Martin, who disappeared on a research trip to the island of Poveglia, the most haunted place on earth. Soon after her arrival in Venice, Maggie makes the acquaintance of two very different men. Torn between friendship and lust, Maggie must follow in Martin’s footsteps to unlock the secrets of Poveglia.
But time is running out. The Ombra lord is seeking a bride and the wedding day is looming.
Copyright © 2015 Jane Godman
All rights reserved
A tap on the door, instead of heralding the arrival of my evening meal, prompted the entrance of Rosa, who regarded me with new interest. “Don Raul bids you to join him for dinner on the terrace, signora,” she said. Her tone indicated the honour she felt the request conveyed. “In one hour exactly.” She looked me up and down, and I sensed her disfavour. It was clear she did not consider me worthy of this particular distinction. “Do not be late,” she advised me sternly.
It would have been an exaggeration to say the next hour was the longest of my life. I had lived through longer. Of course I had. The hour when I waited for the police officers from Scotland Yard to come and tell me what their Venetian counterparts had discovered about Martin’s disappearance. The hour I had spent packing up Martin’s study in the Oxford College where he taught, the hour before my father had walked me down the aisle and placed my hand in Martin’s, the first hour of the many I had spent gazing out at the haunting beauty of Poveglia. All of those hours had been longer than this. I think. None of them, however, had involved quite so many changes of clothing.
In the end, when I made my way down to the terrace, I wore a simple sleeveless dress in pale lemon-yellow silk with a dropped waist and a scarf neckline. I threw a white lace shawl around my shoulders and wore low-heeled sandals. My disobedient hair was secured at the nape of my neck and, although it was doing its best to escape, when I stepped forward to the railing overlooking the lagoon where Don Raul was waiting, the restraints were still holding it in place.
“Mrs Carson.” His English was flawless and unaccented, and he gave no indication that we had met, or, to be more precise, seen each other before. He pressed his lips to my hand with old-fashioned courtesy and a ripple of something unexpected shimmied through me. I thought of the snippets of information I had heard about this man. None of them had prepared me for the magnificence of his physical presence. My first impression had not been wrong. He was stunning. I recalled Carlo’s moving account of his bravery in the Great War, when he was only a boy. Surely Carlo had also said his injuries were severe? Looking at him now, I could see no evidence of this and decided his devoted servant must have been exaggerating.
He lifted a hand and a hovering waiter came forward. “What would you like? Champagne? Campari? A cocktail, perhaps?” The suggestions all seemed too decadent. Just wrong. Too much like I was on a dinner date with my favourite movie star, the handsome Ramón Novarro. The dark outline of Poveglia drew my eye. There were no lights there. No seductive men with dark brooding eyes, expensive clothing and subtle cologne. In case I needed one, it was a reminder of why I had come to this part of the world.
“Thank you, just soda water.”
When the waiter returned with my drink, we took our seats at the table which had been set at the edge of the terrace, overlooking the darkening lagoon. Lamps were festooned along the terrace rail and hundreds of citrus candles kept the evening insects at bay. A mischievous impulse that I would never act upon prompted me to imagine asking Don Raul if he afforded the same treatment to every new employee. Or was it reserved only for those he had seen half naked? His next question was so closely aligned to my thoughts that I almost choked on my drink.
“Do you swim every day?”
“No, only occasionally,” I said, trying to keep my tone indifferent.
“You do not care to use the pool?” He indicated the vast, tiled swimming pool that occupied its own terrace. It was flanked by elegant pool loungers and parasols.
“I prefer the lagoon waters.” He seemed to be waiting for something more. “It is very refreshing to swim out there, especially early in the day.”
“I agree. When I was younger I was forced to undergo an intensive exercise regime that involved swimming every day, whatever the weather. Although I rebelled against it at the time, I can appreciate the benefits now.”
Looking back, I could never quite recall the details of that strange night. Vague memories of the scent of orange blossom and bay trees and the papery sound of bats’ wings rustling in the trees lingered. I remembered the taste of ripe tomatoes, basil, tender lamb and figs, and heard Don Raul’s voice enquiring if there was something wrong with the food. When I answered in the negative, he had replied quietly, “Then perhaps you should eat it.” I surprised myself by clearing my plate.
We didn’t speak much, but I could not say the silence between us was uncomfortable. Nor could I call it companionable, or easy. It was…My mind searched for the right word. Watchful. That was the best I could come up with. When we did speak, it was with purpose.
“You are a widow?” His eyes dropped to the slim gold band on my wedding finger. I had removed my diamond engagement ring because it had become too loose and I was afraid of it slipping from my finger.
“Yes.” The simple word was so much easier than a full explanation.
He didn’t waste time with sympathy, and I was glad. “Did you come here to forget?”
“I don’t want to forget. I loved—I love my husband very much.”
“So why have you come here to the legendary city of lovers? Why not London, Frankfurt or Madrid? Does it not cause you pain to be here? Alone?”
I felt my eyelids flutter briefly closed. “The pain is inside me, not here in Venice. I needed a job. Donna Gabriella needed a secretary. I speak Italian. It’s that simple.”
“I see.” I felt he knew more about me than those two words conveyed. His army career may have been brief and bloody, but after all these years, his bearing was still military and upright. It would not do, I thought, to underestimate Don Raul Orsini. He took a sip of rich ruby wine, watching me all the while. “And your work for Gabriella? You are enjoying it?”
“I count myself very fortunate. The work is not greatly demanding, and I have come to live in a very beautiful place. I am enjoying discovering more about your region.”
He continued to regard me steadily without speaking, and I squirmed slightly. My eyes flickered briefly across to Poveglia, hidden now in a blanket of darkness, revealing every nuance of my deepest thoughts to the probing beam of his eyes.
“I think Gabriella said your husband was a teacher?” He broke the spell with the normality of the question.
“He did some teaching, yes,” I explained. “He was an academic.” I was still uncomfortable speaking of Martin in the past tense. It felt like an admission that he must be dead. An acceptance. “His goal was to become a professor of history at Oxford University.”
I felt he sensed my discomfort. There was a large bowl of fruit in the centre of the table, all of it grown in the extensive gardens of the palazzo. Changing focus, Don Raul selected a pear. “This is the local variety known as the Abaté Fétel.” He held it up so that I could see its speckled, pale yellow skin. “It is the exact colour of your eyes. I have never seen anything so striking or so beautiful.” I felt slightly breathless suddenly. I wanted to ask whether he was referring to the fruit or my eyes, but somehow the words would not come. He was not a man who invited frivolity.
To cover my confusion, I rose quickly from the table to bid him goodnight. He gripped the ornate balustrade that ran the length of the terrace and used it to haul himself up from his seat. His right leg remained unbending, and when he walked toward me to bow over my hand, I could see at last how severely he limped. I saw pride flare in his eyes, challenging me to look down, daring me to show him pity. I did neither. Instead I maintained eye contact, thanking him for his hospitality. For the second time that day, I was aware of those intense, dark eyes probing a point midway between my shoulder blades as I walked away from him.