03 January 2013

Excerpt Thursday: Orphan of the Olive Tree by Mirella Patzer

This week, we’re welcoming author Mirella Patzer whose title ORPHAN OF THE OLIVE TREE is a tale of love, jealousy, betrayal and forgiveness in medieval Italy. Join us Sunday, when Mirella will be here to talk about the novel and offer an ebook copy to a lucky winner. This giveaway is open internationally. Here's the blurb:

Two families bound by a blood oath. A dreadful curse and the casting of the evil eye that will shatter lives, and the dark family secret one woman will risk everything to keep buried. An absorbing novel about wicked intentions, medieval superstitions, a curse uttered in envy, undisclosed secrets, unstoppable destinies, and two generations of women and the extraordinary event that will vindicate or destroy them.

From two neighboring villas in the heart of the Tuscan countryside to the elegance of Siena; from a world steeped in ancient superstitions to a culture where family honor is paramount comes, this multi-layered novel of the lives, loves, secrets and strivings of two women and their families in the 13th century. Felicia Ventura dreams of a happy future raising a family, but her hopes are shattered because of a curse and the casting of the evil eye by her envious neighbor, a dark Sicilian beauty named Prudenza. Prudenza’s envy of Felicia turns into a dangerous, frenzied obsession and she revives an ancient superstition, spreading the rumor that Felicia’s twins were fathered by different men. The scandal destroys Felicia’s marriage. But when Prudenza gives birth to twin daughters of her own, she is desperate to save face and rids herself of one infant, keeping the child’s existence secret. As the years go by, the truth has a way of making itself known. Soon Prudenza’s deception will lead to the unraveling of everything she values in life.

**An Excerpt from Orphan of the Olive Tree**

Felicia hummed a merry tune as she crossed over the bridge to Villa Bianca. The fragrance of ripening fruit floated on the breeze. Because of her pregnancy, she craved lemons and wanted to pick some that hung ripe and hearty on the tree next to Prudenza’s villa. After picking enough to fill a small basket, she sat to visit with Prudenza beneath the shade of a fig tree at the perimeter of a small courtyard. She had brought her embroidery.
Felicia wanted to keep her good news a secret, but her delight was too profound and she felt as if she would burst if she did not share it. Prudenza would have to know eventually. She might as well tell her now. “I have some wonderful news, Prudenza. I am with child.” She felt herself blush at the memory of her carnal escapades and could not help but smile as she pulled another thread from her sewing box.
Prudenza’s eyes widened. A glint of surprise sparked in her eyes, and then quickly vanished. “I am pleased for you. When will the little puttino be born?”
“In March or April, after the flowers first bloom, I think.”
Prudenza stabbed her needle through the linen in the hoop she gripped. 
Felicia covered her burning cheeks with her hands before she removed the now shriveled mammetta from her pocket, and straightened its silk and velvet gown. “Enrico does not believe in superstitions, but I know he is wrong. This helped me to conceive.” Felicia caressed the doll then laid it on her lap. She ran her hands over her belly that had yet to reveal the new life it contained. 
“Have you told Enrico yet?” Prudenza asked casually, her face void of expression. 
“No, but tonight I will roast a capon and serve him our finest wine. He will be thrilled. We have yearned for a child for so long that I want to ensure our evening meal turns into a happy celebration.”
Prudenza did not make any response. Instead, she embroidered with zest, making stitches one right after the other without pause, her lips pinched tightly together.
Felicia studied her neighbor, who seemed to have taken the news strangely. Blessed with almost perfect bone structure, everyone who met Prudenza could not help but stare at her beautiful features, statuesque figure, creamy complexion, and wealth of black curls. Yet, a perplexing coldness lurked beneath her great beauty. Her undisguised need to be better than others and to own beautiful possessions had always disturbed Felicia. Such desires invited greed and jealousy into one’s heart. Poor Prudenza, nothing ever seemed to satisfy her. She filled her home with expensive vases and intricate tapestries, and wore gowns cut from the best quality cloth. Talented stonemasons had even carved the bench they sat on. Yet despite all her lavish possessions, she never seemed satisfied, never seemed happy. 
Prudenza looked up from her work. Envy glittered from her dark brown eyes as she locked her unwavering gaze upon Felicia. With chin jutted forward, the corners of her mouth formed into an odd smirk that appeared to be more of a sneer than a smile. “You are radiant and beautiful in your delight, Felicia. I am glad you and Enrico will soon be blessed with a child. May you and your new family enjoy a future filled with profound love, good fortune, and much happiness.” Prudenza enunciated every word slowly, clearly.
A cold shiver ran down Felicia’s back. The kind words her neighbor spoke contrasted with her stiff posture and false expression. Felicia forced herself to smile at what she sensed was a contrived compliment. “Grazie, Prudenza. I hope you and Carlo will soon undergo the same joy.” Unable to stand the intensity of Prudenza’s stare a moment longer, Felicia glanced away.
They sat in tense silence for a while longer. A strange uneasiness settled over Felicia as she watched Prudenza now ply her needle with an unusual calmness, a slight smile curving her lips as if she harbored a secret. Whatever had just transpired signaled their visit was over.
Felicia rose from her chair. “I must be getting back to start Enrico’s supper. Thank you for the lemons and your hospitality.”
Puzzled, Felicia’s uneasiness grew with every step as she crossed over the little footbridge on her way back home.

* * *

Half-mad with spite, Prudenza tightened her jaw as she watched Felicia walk away. I’ll make you pay for your selfishness, Felicia. She felt the tension in her face slacken and she grinned. Immersed in thoughts of pregnancy, that idiot Felicia had failed to notice the evil eye Prudenza had so effortlessly cast upon her. 
Satisfaction filled Prudenza. No one knew she was a jettatura, able to cast the evil eye. Her Sicilian grandmother had been a jettatura too, with a rare and feared ability she had passed on to Prudenza. It was all so easy. A few words of praise uttered while thoughts of envy churned deep inside her heart. In such a simple way, she cast the evil eye. Now all that remained was to wait. Bad luck would soon do the rest.
Prudenza emitted a satisfied sigh. Felicia would suffer many years to come. Of that, she was certain.

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