Giulia dreamed. Madre Magdalena’s searchers had caught up to her. The abbess’s face loomed over her, then somehow it became Domenica’s face, distorted with rage. She felt Domenica’s hands tearing at her clothing; she tried to resist, for she knew Domenica meant to claw through not just her garments, but her skin and bone, to plunge her fingers into Giulia’s heart and rip free the secret of Passion blue—
And then Giulia understood that she was awake, and that there really were hands on her and faces above her, and for an instant she was utterly bewildered, utterly disoriented, but then she remembered where she was, and realized that the faces were the brothers’ faces, the faces of the men who had let her ride in their cart, and the hands were their hands, and the whites of their eyes were glinting in the moonlight, for it was full night now, and one of them was holding her down while the other was pawing at her doublet—
She began to struggle. But the younger brother had her hands over her head, gripped fast by the wrists, and as she tried to whip her body to the side the driver, the one who had offered her the ride, planted a knee across her thighs, immobilizing her.
“Help!” she shouted. “Help!”
The driver laughed. “Shout away, boy, there’s no one but us to hear.”
He’d stuffed her tunic under her chin so he could get at her doublet. His fingers closed on the knot of the purse sewn into the inside. He tore at the doublet’s laces, wrenching it open. She heard a ripping sound, felt the purse tear free.
“There.” He held it up, shaking it so it clinked. “I knew there was more where that silver came from.”
He tossed the purse aside, then leaned over her, his weight crushing her thighs, his breath foul.
“Got any more on you?” She turned her face away; he seized her chin, jerked it back. “We’ll strip you to find out, so if you don’t want to be walking to Venice naked you’d better tell us.”
“No,” she gasped. The pressure on her legs was agony. Her arms were yanked so high over her head she could barely breathe. “There’s no more.”
“Strip it is then.” His hands went to the points of her hose, fumbling at the ties that attached them to her doublet. Panic burst inside her; she screamed, unable to help herself. The driver laughed again. “Screams like a girl, don’t he?” Then suddenly he paused. “Wait a minute. Wait…just…one…minute.”
His hand moved down her belly. She writhed, trying pointlessly to pull away. His fingers slid between her legs, closed hard on the tender flesh there. She gasped, every part of her desperate to escape that violation. He began to laugh, really laugh this time, great chortling peals of mirth.
“Oh, so that’s the story, is it? Looks like we’ve caught ourselves a different fish than we thought, Santello. Not some soft stupid painter boy at all, but a girl. A real girl.” His free hand went to Giulia’s chest, probing. “Yes indeed, there’s tits under there, they’re bound up tight but I can feel ‘em. Oh, girly, we’re going to have us a good time tonight!” His fingers dug brutally between her legs. She cried out. “See, Santello? She likes it!”
He leaned forward, taking his weight off her thighs. With both hands he pulled her shirt out of her hose, then grasped the collar and ripped the shirt clear down the front. He was grinning, the moonlight glinting off his teeth. Santello, the silent brother, was breathing hard through his mouth. Giulia could see his face upside down—his wet lips, his avid eyes. She felt his grip on her wrists slacken as his brother took hold of the binding around her breasts.
In a moment of complete clarity, she saw that she had one chance, and this was it. There would not be another.
She whipped her legs up, twisting her body as violently as she could. Her arms came free. She bolted upright, lunging at the driver with clawed hands. Her nails raked his cheeks; he bellowed in surprise and pain, rearing back.
She scrambled blindly toward the end of the cart. One of the brothers grabbed her foot. She kicked out; the too-large boot slid off. Then she was falling, tumbling off the cart, landing on the road with a thump that knocked the breath out of her. Gasping, she scrambled to her feet and ran.
“She’s blinded me!” Behind her, she heard the driver shouting. “The bitch blinded me! Go after her, Santello, you idiot, go after her and get her back!”
Then all she could hear was her own panting, her own uneven footsteps pounding against the ground.