by Melissa Rea

Published: 2021-10-30T00:0
Paperback : 196 pages
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The spoiled daughter of a count, stands falsely accused and sentenced to hang.

Disgrace: When bright and curious Gabriella discovers passion beyond her music in the arms of a handsome stable hand, she brings shame on two noble families. Her parents send her to a school for orphan girls ...

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The spoiled daughter of a count, stands falsely accused and sentenced to hang.

Disgrace: When bright and curious Gabriella discovers passion beyond her music in the arms of a handsome stable hand, she brings shame on two noble families. Her parents send her to a school for orphan girls in Venice, the Ospedale della Pieta. Leaving behind her home and family, Gabriella knows she is saying goodbye to her hopes of a respectable marriage.

Passion: At the school, Gabriella teaches music, the passion of her soul, to the young students while she and her new friend Veronica share their love of music with the Maestro of the Ospedale, Antonio Vivaldi. The brilliant Maestro inspires and is inspired by his fellow teachers, but is forced by his vows to the church to seek satisfaction only in the music. Rejected by Vivaldi, Gabriella falls in love with the handsome overseer who returns her feelings despite her past.

Murder. An ancient curse is said to haunt the Ospedale. Gabriella, far too intelligent to believe in such things, vows to find the source of tragic deaths that plague the school. While she searches, Veronica's dark secrets are revealed. Unhinged, Veronica blames her friend and seeks revenge framing Gabriella for murder. Condemned to hang, will Gabriella's friends save her or will her life end on the gallows?

"A delicious and steamy read!" Mark Schulz.

Editorial Review

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I stand this bright summer morning on the gallows that will end
my life. Though the sun rises just above the trees and warms my
face, my whole body trembles. I feel a soft breeze ruffle my hair
and plaster it to the tears that flow down my cheeks. I rub my
wrists, grateful that the soldiers who guard me feel I no longer
need to be tied. They stand twenty feet from me, looking bored,
evidently unafraid that I might escape. A high wall encloses the
courtyard surrounding the gallows. Down a narrow street, I see
several buildings and red liveried soldiers stand at this entrance as
well. Three people stand watching: a milkmaid, a young
blacksmith and a dwarf.

It is odd that this gallows stands within the walls of a
convent, close to Venice, where I spent so much happy time. A
nun told me, as she watched me dress in this simple white
garment that will be my last, that this gallows is reserved for the
execution of important people in special circumstances. Am I
special because I am innocent of any murder? Or is this a parting
gift from friends who, though they cannot stop my death, have
arranged this special place for my execution?

This singular gallows looks more like a stage than a place to
end one’s life. The wood I stand upon is over twenty feet wide
and the boards have been sanded and feel smooth as silk beneath
my bare feet. The dark wood from which the rope will hang is
polished with wax until it gleams in the morning light. Though
the setting may be special, the play to be performed today can
only be a tragedy.

I catch my breath and feel the need to speak to those souls
who will witness my end. “I beg of you your kindness. Would
one of you have something I might sit upon?”

The woman takes a step nearer, pushes a dubiously white cap
back on her head with a plump hand and answers me. “I’ll not
lift my little pinky to give no murderess comfort. Them you
killed ain’t none too comfortable, I’d wager. Them that rots
stinking in the grave.” The woman bites off those words through
thin pale lips and rubs her hands against her ragged dress,
splashed from hem to sleeve with mud. She hugs a milking pail
tight against her.

I smile as best I can manage. “Your point is a good one and
you would win that wager, but I am innocent. The girl I stand
accused of murdering was my friend, and I grieve for her death as
much as for my own, too soon to come. Though I will hang for
her murder, my only crime is that I tried to save her.”

Tomorrow would mark the beginning of my nineteenth year.
I fear there is little chance I will see that day dawn. I find it ever
more difficult to stem the tide of tears.

The woman cackles and nods at the two men standing near
her. “Ain’t none of our concern why you swing. And that
sniveling won’t change a thing.” She pushes the tangle of red hair
that hangs below her cap out of her eyes and she looks me up and
down as if I were a cow whose milk has soured. Smirking, she
turns her milk pail over and sits down. “We come to watch a
hanging and watch it we will.”

She speaks true. I must pass the short time left me with some
bit of grace, as I was taught. Perhaps if I could tell my tale, their
listening might give me a crumb of comfort. I can do nothing
but sit awkwardly on the edge of the gallows and tug the thin
garment up at the neck in an attempt at modesty. I look at the
three people staring up at me in anticipation of the entertainment
I will soon provide. “Might it be more pleasant to hear my tale
than to watch me snivel?”

They examine me, squinting in the morning light. The young
blacksmith in a leather apron smiles at me. “I will listen, Miss. I
want to know your tale.” His face is smudged with soot, but his
dark eyes are kind. He stands tall, muscled arms crossed. The tiny
man between the milkmaid and the blacksmith is dressed all in
brown and holds a pitchfork. On his back is a pack nearly as large
as he. He says nothing but nods and in his smile there are fewer
teeth than in his fork. He lays his fork on the ground and settles
down on his pack to listen. The young man stands with his feet
wide apart. Shifting her weight until she is comfortable on the
overturned bucket, the woman looks up at me expectantly.

I begin.“My life, short that it may be, has not been all sorrow, and I
would tell the good with the bad.”

“Wait,” says the young man in the leather apron. “I will fetch
you my stool. I’ll do no blacksmithing till this deed be done,
anyway.” He runs across the courtyard and down the street a
short way to a rough wood building with smoke curling out of a
brick chimney. Returning in a few minutes with arms full, he
hands me a three-legged stool, then sits himself down on a
nail keg.

The milkmaid snorts. “You, Smithy, I wager you’d not be
giving her a thing if she weren’t a pretty piece. Everybody knows
what brings any of you with a prick to stiffen at the sight. That
thin dress they gives ‘em for hanging don’t cover much.” The
woman cocks her head at me. “That angel’s face won’t keep you
from swingin’ but go on. My milkin’s done for the morning and I
got nothin’ better to do.” She leans back and begins to pick her
teeth with a piece of straw.

Now sitting comfortably on the blacksmith’s stool, I begin

“My name is Maria Gabriella Constanzi, daughter to the
Count Pompeii of Florence. I inherited this face from my dear
mother. It has served me well, as such things can be of use to a
maid.” I could feel my cheeks grow hot; but if I am to tell my
story, I must tell all of it and tell it true.

“You can believe what I tell you, for what would be the point
of lies on my last day? I beg your indulgence when I call myself a
maid, because while I have no husband, neither have I the
innocence to deserve that title. Thank you, gentle lady and kind
gentlemen, for agreeing to listen.” I give my audience a little bow
of my head even on the gallows I cannot shed the manners taught
me by my mother.

The smithy gestures toward the milkmaid. “Bess surely ain’t
no lady.”

The red head cuffs him in the ear. “Marco, you ain’t no
gentleman, nor Spud neither.”

We all laugh. Even in this most dire of circumstances, this
shared laughter soothes me.
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

Was Gabriella responsible for her ill fortune? What could she have done differently and would it have resulted in a happy ending for her?

Was Tomasso a hero or a villain?

Why do you think Veronica blame Gabriella?

Did the real historical Antonio Vivaldi get only inspiration from the girls?

Which one of the three original members of the crowd, do you think was the hardest to win over and why?

How did Gabriella win over the crowd?

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