Genre: Historical Fiction
Author: Marty Ambrose
Publisher: Severn House
Find out more on Amazon
About the Book:
1873, Florence. Claire Clairmont, the last survivor of the haunted summer of 1816 Lord Byron/Mary Shelley circle, is living out her final years in genteel poverty. The appearance of British tourist, William Michael Rossetti, brings Claire hope that she may be able to sell some of her memorabilia to earn enough cash to support her and her niece, Paula. But Rossetti’s presence in Florence heralds a cycle of events that links the summer of 1816—when Claire conceived an ill-fated child with Lord Byron, when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, and when four tempestuous lives collided—to a tragic death. As Claire begins to unravel the truth, she must go back to that summer of passion to discover the identity of her old enemy.
Florence, Italy, 1873
His letter came just at the point when I thought death was my only option.
Poverty had been creeping in like a shadow edging out the light, and it was only a matter of time before it engulfed what was left of my life and snuffed out any prospect that fate would offer another way. I could no longer envision a road that led to some lost, yet cherished land of dreams – especially when I was too old to pick up and start over on some adventure that would lead me into a new dawn.
It was too late for that.
Those were the youthful regions where fortune bestowed some great, golden happiness on anyone who had the courage to live with soulful purpose – hardly the reality of my present circumstances.
Yet, the letter brought a glimmer of hope . . . a wild fancy that I might, even at this late stage, turn things around. What I did not realize was that it would take me back to the early days and expose a labyrinth of deception and lies that had altered the course of my existence.
But I digress . . .
I must start at the beginning because the echoes of one’s origin never fade to silence, no matter how much it is desired. I did not know my own origin because I never knew my father – not that I needed to learn his identity, but it would have centered my world at the very least with a beginning point. A compass for my life. A moment when I first became aware that I drew breath.
Sadly, it never happened.
My last name is Clairmont. A melodic sobriquet to be sure, but my mother simply chose the name like someone would choose a ribbon for the bodice of a dress: – it seemed appealing and created just the right effect of class and respectability – but it was for show, nonetheless, since she never married a man named Clairmont. Not that I particularly minded her choice. I love showiness. In my opinion, modesty in a woman is highly overrated, though no one in my family agreed with me. But I, Clara Mary Jane Clairmont, always went my own way – even without the compass – and I am more proud of that than anything else in my seventy-five years on this earth.
Just as I claimed my version of my name: Claire Clairmont.
Il mio nome.
‘Aunt Claire, don’t overtax yourself,’ my niece, Paula, said as she strolled into the warm, slightly stuffy room, a cup of my favorite oolong tea in her hand. It was late morning – not terribly hot yet, but by afternoon the midsummer Florentine temperature would soar and everyone would take refuge inside, resting and praying to St Clare of Assisi for a breath of air. My rented apartment faced the Boboli Gardens – a lush, open space on the outskirts of Florence, perched on a hill – that often provided a slight breeze, whispering through the centuries-old cypress trees and hidden grottos.
Paula set a delicate blue-and-white patterned china cup on my tea table, already cluttered with letters, books, and an inkwell. ‘You need to move around more, Aunt. Your ankle is starting to swell again, and, if you cannot walk, I will have to call in Raphael to carry you to bed.’ My niece’s voice took on that familiar combination of love and exasperation of the young who are tethered to the old; she cared for me deeply, but I tried her patience as well when I refused to heed her advice, which occurred quite often. I wasn’t ready to give up my independent ways yet.
Besides, she would not mind calling our domestico, Raphael; I’d seen the sweet longing in the glances that she cast at him when he was distracted by some task in the kitchen. Paula might be the daughter of my dearly-departed brother, Charles, but she was also my niece, after all. Spinning romantic fantasies around a handsome face was embedded in her nature. Certainly, I had done that a time or two in my life – sometimes finding regret in my impulsive feelings, sometimes not. But always true to my passions.
Quickly, I slipped the letter under the stack of books, shifting in my chair and smoothing down my faded blue cotton dress. I was not ready to share it with her yet.
‘Is that the missive you received this morning?’ she asked absently, leaning down and plumping the delicately embroidered pillow under my sprained ankle, which was propped up on a footstool.
‘Nothing important.’ Assuming an air of nonchalance, I shrugged. ‘Just a letter from one of my many old friends, Edward Trelawny, inquiring as to our well-being.’
Paula straightened with a sigh. ‘Do we have any old friends left who have not abandoned us to our state of poverty, except Trelawny?’
‘Thank you, my dear, for pointing that out. I am well aware of our impoverished state of affairs since my last ill-conceived investment in that farm.’ Folding my wrinkled hands in my lap, I echoed her sigh. Investing in my nephew’s farm in Austria was a foolishness that I could ill- afford, but I never could resist helping my family, even though it had pushed me to the brink of bankruptcy.
‘I apologize – that was unkind, Aunt.’ She placed a hand on my forearm, glancing down at me with her dark eyes clouded in guilt.
‘You are forgiven, even though I must remind you that friendships can ebb and flow during the years regardless of one’s financial status – even those who are closest to us can disappoint us.’ Of course, I meant the members of the sacred Byron/Shelley circle of my youth: Byron, the great poet who broke my heart, and Shelley, the husband of my stepsister, Mary, whose brilliance lit my life and whose small annuity protected me in my advanced years. I had loved them all – especially my accomplished and beautiful stepsister, Mary. Even though Mary had created a hideous monster in her novel, Frankenstein, she herself possessed that kind of tranquil loveliness that made everyone gravitate to her.
Serenità, as the Italians would say.
I could never sit still.
I talked incessantly.
And I never let my head rule my emotions, which caused me more heartache than I can say. But my life was never dull.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Marty Ambrose has been a writer most her life, consumed with the world of literature from the time she first read Agatha Christie mysteries and British Romantic poetry. Marty pursued her undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, both in the U.S. and the U.K. so she could teach students at Florida Southwestern State College about the writers that she so admired. Three decades later, she is still teaching and has enjoyed a writing career that has spanned almost fifteen years, with eight published novels for Avalon Books, Kensington Books, and Thomas & Mercer. Marty Ambrose lives in Florida with her husband, ex- news anchor Jim McLaughlin. She plans to travel to Italy in the Fall to research A Shadowed Fate, the next book in the trilogy.
Links to your site and social media: