The Press of His Hand
No More Brothers is Serafina Florio’s second mystery, a novella. It takes place on the northwest coast of Sicily in 1867.
Summary. When Serafina Florio discovers a body on the beach, she plunges into the investigation despite dark secrets, diminishing funds, and a budding romance. Evidence leads her to a forest on the edge of the Madonie Mountains where she uncovers the truth and conceives a daring plan to catch the killer.
In this scene, Serafina is talking to Loffredo, the town’s doctor. Without giving too much of the story away, Loffredo and Serafina have history. They are about to make more.
Tuesday, February 11, 1867
Dr. Loffredo’s waiting room was empty so she let herself into his office.
“A pleasure, my dear. You’ve finished dinner, I take it. May I offer you a caffè? Biscotti?”He rang the bell.
In a few minutes, his maid entered. Looking askance at Serafina, she bustled around and cleared the porcelain from his desk.
After she’d left, he came around to kiss Serafina’s hand. So gentle his touch and understanding of women. No children, a shame: they would have jammed that empty villa of his with offspring. “Nothing for me. I haven’t much time.”
“So which is it, birth or death?”
“The latter, I’m afraid.” Loffredo’s gaze would melt the icicles of a warrior princess. The two met in school. He was studying medicine and she, midwifery. They both knew their affair couldn’t last. Loffredo would need to marry within his class or find a woman from a wealthy family. A few months after Serafina and Giorgio wed, Loffredo married Elena, the daughter of a fashionable Palermitan milliner.
“You investigate Ugo’s death,” he said.
“With police help, I hope.” She felt a sudden prickle of desire. Unbidden, not unwelcome. She must suppress it, concentrate on hearing what Loffredo thought of the case, so she forced herself to imagine Giorgio in his coffin.
“Don’t count on Colonna’s help. He told me most of his men have been sent to Catania to quell a riot.”
“He always says that. Catania should have been razed last year, to listen to him. And out of province, half way round Sicily. Who would call on him?”
Loffredo touched her hand. “You’re flushed. A fever?”
Oh, Madonna, help me. “When’s the autopsy?”
“Scheduled for—let me see—next week some time. By then the body ought to be ripe.”
“Not sooner?” Her nostrils flared.
“Corpses fill a room waiting for me.”
She reached into her bag, pulled out the glass and linen. “I found these in Ugo’s home.”
He held the glass up to the light and looked at the napkin. “Stained. And a residue in the bottom of the glass. I’ll take a quick look. Can you return in an hour?”
She still felt the press of his hand on hers as she headed across the piazza.