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John Falconer watched the line of people on the ridge, silhouetted against a leaden sky. When he heard the clank of chains, he knew. He made out a dozen figures locked together. A horseman ambled behind them, reins held loosely in one hand. A leather quirt was tied to the rider's other wrist and rested upon the saddle. The rider wore a low-brim hat that masked his eyes. But Falconer knew the rider watched the chained group with a predator's gaze.
The sun finally managed to pierce the clouds. A golden lance fell upon one of the chained men. His face became illuminated, as though touched by the finger of God.
The chained man turned then. He looked straight at Falconer.
And spoke his name aloud.
* * *
Falconer rose from his bed and slipped into his clothes. The actions gave his hands something to do while his heart resumed a normal pace. Moonlight fell through his window, illuminating a room far too cramped for his massive frame. He lit a candle and watched the sputtering flame for a time, sorting through the dream's images.
For years after coming to faith, Falconer had awoken to dread images and drenching sweats. But this dream had been no nightmare. In fact, as he listened to his breathing steady, he felt something else entirely. Despite how the image linked Falconer to his own tragic past, he felt neither sorrow nor dismay. Instead, he feltexhilarated. What was more, he found himself wondering if perhaps the dream had carried some form of divine message.
Falconer seated himself at the narrow table and read his Bible by candlelight. He had no idea of the hour, though he knew it was very late. The church towers stopped counting the hours at eleven. His eye caught sight of his reflection in the window opposite his little table. The window was filled with his bulk, like a dark-haired beast caught in a narrow cage door. The candlelight flickered, making the scar that ran up the left side of his face writhe like a serpent. He traced the scar with one finger and wished his outsize frame was merely due to the window's uneven glass. In truth, he carried a fighter's look about him. No wonder Alessandro and Bettina Gavi were so alarmed about his affection for their daughter, Serafina.
Falconer folded his hands over the open Book and lowered his head. He presented his midnight prayer, faltering and terse. But Falconer had come to believe firmly in God's ability to look beyond his awkward words and see the heart's message. And his heart was sore indeed.
His first few words were a request for clarity over the dream's image. From there he wandered far. It was difficult for a strong man to face the helpless moment. And Falconer was trapped by his love for Serafina.
When he lifted his head, the candle's glow drew Serafina's image in the window beside Falconer's reflection. Hair the color of winter wheat framed a perfect face, palest lips, and eyes of captured sky. Her father was a Venetian merchant prince, her mother from the Italian Alps. She was rich, she was lovely, and she trusted him so fully he felt crippled by wants and needs he feared she would never share.
He shut his eyes again and rested his forehead upon his hands. Hands made for sword and pike and pistol. Fists so powerful they could punch through a solid oak door, and had done so more than once. Folded now in prayer, turned from violence and wrath by the miracle of salvation. Father, I am the worst of sinners and the least of all. I have no right to ask you for anything more. Not after you have given me the greatest gift of eternity. Yet ask I must. For I am as powerless as ever I have been. Is there any hope that my love for Serafina might be returned? Flawed and sinful as I am, might I ever know the gift of a wife and family? Give me a sign, Lord. For the days lay empty before me and the nights rest heavy on my heart. Give me a sign.
Then the knock came upon his door.
Falconer rose slowly. "Who goes there?"
"It is I" came the urgent whisper.
His heart surged. Was this his sign? "One moment." Falconer lifted his eyes to the ceiling close overhead and let his exultation surge in one silent shout. Then he stepped into his boots and opened the door.
Serafina stood before him. Beside her was Mary, the traveling companion from England who had remained as Serafina's maid. Both were dressed in the hurried fashion of having reached for clothes in the dark. Mary appeared terrified, continually throwing glances back down the servants' hallway.
Serafina, however, showed Falconer only steadfast trust. "I saw men. Three of them. With guns."
Falconer moved to his desk and swiftly blew out the candle. He drew the door shut behind them. "Tell me everything," he said, keeping his voice low.
"Something woke me. A sound perhaps. I'm not sure," Serafina began.
"I heard it too," Mary whispered.
"You were fast asleep. I heard you breathing."
"I heard it clear as the nose on my face, miss. I tell you-"
Falconer halted the disagreement with a touch to Mary's arm. "You heard a sound. What then?"
"I moved to the window and saw three men."
"Were you spotted?"
"No. I had crawled across the floor and came up slowly by the glass."
He repressed his smile. "Good girl."
Nonetheless Mary caught his amusement. "How you can find anything humorous in this affair, good sir, is beyond my understanding."
"Tell me about the men."
"Three, as I said. One very tall. The other two thicker and shorter. I saw something in the moonlight. The tall man moved, and I saw he carried a musket. We came to you because they stood between our cottage and my parents' apartment."
The previous summer, when Falconer had brought Serafina to Washington, they had found Alessandro and Bettina Gavi residing in an apartment at the rear of the Austrian legate's manor. The building fronted Pennsylvania Avenue, with six large official chambers stretching along the street. But the apartment assigned to the Gavis contained only three rooms-kitchen, parlor, and cramped bedroom. Serafina and her maid had been assigned a chamber in the manor's rear cottage. Falconer had been given a room in the servants' wing, across the courtyard from the Gavis' apartment. Which meant he was effectively isolated from both Serafina and her parents. This arrangement caused him no end of concern. Especially when the rumors began swirling.
Falconer was treated as just another guest's hired man, only larger and potentially more lethal. Few of the legate's entourage even bothered to learn his name. He slipped about, he scouted, and he listened. That week, Falconer began hearing below-stairs rumors that Alessandro Gavi was marked for destruction.
Falconer repeatedly warned Serafina's father. But Alessandro Gavi was a diplomat by training and by nature, which meant he preferred to take a course of action only when everyone was in accord. Falconer wanted them moved to a private home, where they could be more protected. But when approached, the legate insisted that Alessandro and his family were his honored guests. Alessandro dithered, hoping to move only with his legate's blessing.
Falconer pushed open the servants' exit, motioning for the women to remain well back. The door was at the base of the rear stairs, connected to Serafina's cottage by a narrow brick path. The moon was hidden behind scuttling clouds. The March night was cold and very quiet.
Falconer searched in every direction and saw nothing. But his well-honed senses felt danger lurking close by. He was at full alert as he drew Serafina forward. Quiet as a breeze he whispered, "Where did you spot them?"
She pointed at the likeliest spot for an attack. "There."
Falconer's eyes searched the dark reaches, trying to discern human legs. But it was futile. He backed away and silently shut the door. "We'll go around the front."
Mary protested, "But, sir, I'm forbidden from entering the main rooms."
"As am I. Come along, swiftly now." In fact, Falconer had never entered the formal chambers. They were said to be very grand, not that Falconer cared. He hurried the two ladies down the narrow servants' corridor and through the swinging doors at the end. Down a connecting hall they sped, committed now. Past the kitchens and through another pair of swinging doors, which led into the dining salon. The doors swished softly over the polished marble floor, and one squeaked quietly as it closed. Falconer heard footsteps in the distance, undoubtedly a guard. He hissed softly, "Fly!"
Serafina took the lead. She had been through these chambers often enough, drawn into public view at the legate's insistence. Prince Fritz-Heinrich was a minor prince in the Hapsburg Empire and a tyrant within his own household. He had been known to fly into an uncontrollable rage over a singed roast. The front salons were treated as a distant reflection of the palace in Vienna, and guards were ordered to shoot intruders on sight.
Had they not been in such a scramble, Falconer might have spared a second glance at what they passed. For here on Pennsylvania Avenue stood a sample of royal grandeur. The central hall was a full eighty feet long, the ceiling three stories high and domed. They raced beneath a forest of crystal chandeliers.
"Who goes there!" came a shout behind them.
"Faster," Falconer said.
Serafina pushed through the connecting doorway to the side passage. Mary's face was stretched tight with terror. No doubt the servants who worked the front rooms regaled their fellows with tales of what awaited those who trespassed. Behind them they heard the clipped sound of leather-clad feet. Then came a sharper sound, one Falconer knew all too well-the metallic click of a percussion rifle being cocked.
Falconer slipped through the hall door and halted just inside. He tensed as the footsteps raced toward them. When the door began to swing inward, Falconer applied all his strength in the opposite direction. The door hammered back, smashing hard against the oncoming guard. Falconer continued straight through, his fists at the ready. But the door had caught the guard square in the forehead and knocked him back a dozen paces. Falconer bent over the supine form, saw he was breathing but unconscious, and relieved the man of his weapon.
He hurried down the side hall and outside to find the two women clutching each other outside the Gavis' apartment door. "Why did you not enter?"
"I left my key in the cottage," Serafina whispered.
Falconer did not want to knock and then bandy about with who goes there and why and all else that others might hear. Instead, he gripped the knob with one fist, readied himself, and heaved.
There was a short sharp crack, and the lock wrenched free of the doorframe. "Inside."
He stepped into the small parlor and fitted the door back into place. Hopefully the damage would be missed in a hurried midnight inspection. "Go wake your parents, lass. Urge them to make haste."
Mary asked, "Shall I light a fire and make tea?"
"There isn't time." Falconer moved to the window. The moon remained shrouded. He could see nothing save light from one window across the courtyard.
Mary pulled the drapes shut and lit one candle. Falconer shifted one corner of the curtains and kept surveying the courtyard until Serafina returned with her parents.
Alessandro Gavi hurried into the front parlor, wrapping a quilted robe about his frame, his face still rumpled with sleep. His wife followed close behind, looking both confused and frightened.
Falconer silently watched the candlelight waver over the faces of the three Gavis as Serafina continued her explanation of events. Gradually his exultation over Serafina's appearance at his doorway evaporated. In its place was an ache so deep he could hardly breathe. He saw now that his prayerful request for a sign had been answered. Not by Serafina's arrival, as he had first thought. Instead, by the very grave concern he saw in Alessandro and Bettina Gavi's expressions.
The months together with this family had shown him one thing above all else. Serafina would never defy her parents' wishes again. All her early troubles had started through rebellion. She was determined now to honor her family. This she had said over and over.
In this moment Falconer understood why she had repeated the words so often.
As though to emphasize his bewilderment, Alessandro Gavi finally spoke in English. "I do not understand. You went first to this man and not to me?"
This man. Falconer had saved his daughter's honor. He had sheltered her in a transatlantic voyage. He had reunited her with her parents. Yet here in this moment of danger, he remained this man.
Bettina Gavi must have seen Falconer's distress, for she spoke quietly to her husband in Italian. Alessandro tried to recover by adding, "Not that we are ungrateful for your kind assistance, good sir. We remain in your debt. But you must see, after all, I am her father."
"I sought his protection," Serafina replied, her forehead creased in confusion. "Was I wrong?"
"No, daughter." Bettina Gavi gripped her husband's hand and squeezed. "Your father was merely concerned over, how do you say, decoro?"
"Decorum," her daughter supplied.
"Exactly. After all, it is-what time is it, Alessandro?"
"My pocket watch is back in the bedroom. But very late." Alessandro Gavi might have been sleepy, but he had a diplomat's smooth ways. "Sir, I of course meant no offense."
Falconer knew he was expected to respond in kind. But here and now, raw from his desperate nighttime prayer, he saw his answer upon display. The three of them formed a silent tableau, a message as clear as fiery words scripted upon the dawn sky.
Serafina turned not to him, but to her parents. Her parents stood to either side of their daughter, seeking to shield her from the closest present danger. John Falconer, the man they needed, yet feared.
Had Serafina herself shown a desperate love for him, perhaps they might be swayed. Yet she was still recovering from the previous summer's trauma. Her own heart had been sorely wounded. She was truly fond of him, he was sure, and would call him friend all her days. But when her heart healed, her parents would seek another's hand. Someone appropriate for their station. And Serafina would yield to their request.
Falconer felt a burning behind his eyes. He turned back toward the draped window, mentally picturing nothing save a bleak and empty night. He muttered, "I must depart."
"Excuse me, good sir, did you speak?"
Falconer's fists clenched at his sides as he clamped down on a sorrow that writhed and bucked and sought to bring him down. It was a silent struggle, one that no one else noticed. And he won.
He turned to face the four of them. "We must depart. Now."
"What, in the middle of the night? You can't-"
"Think on this, sir. Think carefully. Your daughter saw attackers. Whether they were after you, we can only guess. But I cannot protect you here. Do you understand what I am saying? I cannot protect you or your daughter. You are entrusting the legate with securing your family's safety."
"He is right, Alessandro." Bettina's face was drawn with growing concern. "What if the legate was behind this?"
"He would not dare have me attacked on his own property!"
"Lower your voice, husband." Bettina Gavi took daily instruction from an English tutor. Her abilities were growing steadily, but her accent remained very heavy, particularly now when she was so afraid. "Have you not yourself said the legate seeks to make trouble with the Americans? He could attack us, then accuse the American authorities of being unable to protect their foreign guests even inside their capital."
Rapid action went against the diplomat's nature. "But where would you expect us to go in the middle of the night?"
Alessandro Gavi wrung his hands. When dressed in his official finery and stationed in the halls of power, he cut a dignified figure. Now, in the depths of a night masked by cloud and fear, his hair a tangle and his movements nervous, he looked frail and aging. "Whatever will the legate think?"
"If you wait and ask permission, he might refuse." Falconer found every word an effort. "If you go and explain on the morrow, it is a deed already done."
Gavi offered Falconer reluctant approval. "You are right. Of course. Very well. We must pack."
"No time." Falconer straightened, as though easing his back. But the internal struggle could only be quashed by motion. "Tomorrow you will send me back with a message for the legate. Mary and I will then fetch your possessions. We must leave now. Before the guard in the formal chambers awakens and raises the alarm."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"Never mind." Falconer motioned toward the door. "Take only what you can carry easily. We leave in five minutes."
Excerpted from The Night Angel by T. Davis Isabella Bunn Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 5, 2014
This is the 4th in a series 5 Books. The series is called Heirs of Acadia. You should read them in order.
1) The Solitary Envoy 2) The Innocent Libertine 3) The Nobel Fugitive 4) The Night Angel 5) Falconer's Quest.
I love these authors.
Posted March 29, 2014
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extremely disappointed. I read through the Noble
Fugitive only to find the story of Serafina and Falconer not concluded. I immediately got hold of the sequel (t'he Night Angel) only to find
the author gives totally new love interest to Falconer and Serafina, Neither interest is believable.. Their new loves are flat characters. The relationship between Serafina and Falconer in the Noble Fugitive was one of the most tender and beautiful I have ever read. This book destroyed that relationship and asked the reader to "feel" right about new relationships of very flat characters 'wish I had not read this book..
Posted September 8, 2006
I am new to this series and grew to love the tough but tender Falconer by the end of this book. He is truly a hero! I ordered the rest of the series after I read this book and look forward to the rest of Falconer's story.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 3, 2006
I have read the first book in this series, The Noble Fugitive, and really held a fondness for Serafina and Falconer. I looked forward to reading about their growing romance in the sequel only to find out that they had totally different love interests I was led to believe otherwise in the book's preview. Needless to say, I won't be reading the sequel to this one.
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Posted August 12, 2009
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