Genre: historical romance
Cover: beautiful, but she could have smiled a little bit.
New York Times bestselling author Bertrice Small continues her glorious historical-romance series featuring four sisters in Renaissance Florence who have anything but marriage on their minds....
Giovanni Pietro d'Angelo selected his oldest daughter's husband, and the marriage proved to be a disaster. He offers to give his next oldest daughter, Francesca, more latitude in choosing a husband than her sister had. But the arrogant beauty has no desire to marry, and she drives every potential suitor away.
The Duke of Terreno Boscoso seeks a wife for his heir, Rafaello, and invites Francesca, along with several other possible brides, to come meet him. Francesca's parents think it's a good match, but she refuses to consider it until her father makes her a promise: If he does not suit, you may return. She is therefore shocked when, not long after they meet, Rafaello chooses her as his bride and her parents agree to his proposal - without her consent.
Furious and feeling betrayed, Francesca flees into the woods and takes shelter at an inn. There, she earns her keep as a servant - and meets an unlikely suitor who steals her heart. But the future remains uncertain for the runaway bride, who is still promised to another.
I have to admit, after the shocking sex scenes in the first book of this series, I was a bit anxious about this one. But my worries were ungrounded, as there are no such scenes in this book. Just the “normal” hot love scenes Bertrice Small writes so well.
After the scandal in Venice, Francesca is sent back home to Florence, to find a husband there. But she scorns away all her suitors, determined to never marry. Which is just not done for a lady in the 1400’s in Italy. She is 15 already, and almost to old to be married. So when the invite comes from the Duke of Terreno Boscoso to spend some time at his country and get to know his son, Francesca wants to refuse. Her father doesn’t allow that, as his friend and benefactor, the great Lorenzo de Medici is behind this scheme.
And so, dressed to the nines, with her two beautiful horses with their own slave boys to take care of them, her grey hounds, two nuns as her chaperones, her own priest, her personal maid and a big guard of men-at-arms, Francesca sets out on the month long journey from Florence to Terreno Boscoso. Of course she has no intention of staying there and marrying the Duke’s son, she would miss her family and city too much. Her father is a very wealthy silk merchant, and he can and does give his family the best. Her mother though has her heart set on this match, her daughter marrying a Duke! This will sure make the prospects for her other daughters so much better. Even though Terrono Boscoso is only a small country between French and Italy, it has some strategic importance.
Besides Francesca, there are two other girls invited. Louisa Maria de Genoa is the bastard daughter of the Duke of Genoa, and a very sweet girl. Unfortunately, she is terrified of Rafaello, and has fallen in love with his best friend instead. The third girl is a real shrew, Aceline Mary du Barry, daughter of the Comte du Barry. Aceline is convinced that Rafaello will chose her as his bride, as she is very beautiful and of higher birth than both Louisa and Francesca. But Rafaello is intrigued by Francesca, who doesn’t seem to be interested in him at all. He knows that his best friend has fallen for Louisa, and such a timid girl would never suit him. Aceline is only interested in him because he will be the Duke soon, and she wants to spend his money. Rafaello also dislikes how she treats the other girls and the servants, he will never choose her. And so Francesca is the logical choice for him. She is beautiful, but so are the other girls, but she also has a kind heart, and is smart and not afraid to tell him what is on her mind.
So when Francesca finally learns that Rafaello has chosen her for his bride, and that her parents have already consented to the marriage, she is furious! She does not want him! She wants to go home to her sisters and her parents. And with the help of her servants and slaves, she escapes the castle and seeks to find her way home. But she gets lots in the forest quite soon, and the howling wolves scare her very much. So when she finds an Inn, and the owner promises to bring her to the main road come spring, she has no choice but to stay and work as a servant. To her own surprise, she grows to like the work, to feel useful and have a purpose. The woodsmen for whom this inn is intended leave her alone after their leader puts her under his protection.
Later that winter a new woodsman arrives, Carlo, and to her own surprise, Francesca is attracted to him. But she will not sleep with him; she will go into her marriage a virgin. Carlos keeps trying to seduce her of course, but Francesca does not give in to him. Until that last night, before they will close the inn for spring and summer, and she will be free to return home. But to her big surprise, Carlos is now the one who refuses to take his price.
Back in town, Francesca learns that the next day is the day Rafaello will be married. So he did find a new bride after all? She will try to find out if her servants are still at the castle, and take them home with her. But very early the next morning soldiers come to take her with them, and she is taken to the castle where she is bathed and dressed for her own wedding. Apparently, the Duke has know where she was the whole winter, and has decided to leave her there, to reconsider her life. Francesca is ready now to do her duty to her family, even though she has fallen in love with Carlo. She knows she can never have him, and she will honor her marriage vows to Rafaello.
After the wedding, the old Duke abdicates, and Rafaello and Francesca are crowned the new Duke and Duchess. But Rafaello is ignoring his bride, and Francesca will have none of that. If they are to make a success of their marriage, he will have to talk to her, and sleep with her. And so they decide to take a few days for themselves, to get to know one another again. Francesca comes to like Rafaello, and is willing to be a good wife and Duchess for him. And to do that, she wants to know everything that is happening in their Duchy.
The French girl, Acelinde, was not happy when Francesca was chosen instead of her, and she has made quite a scene. And apparently, their troubles with her and her family are not over yet, as she claims to have given birth to Rafaello’s son…
I really enjoyed this book, and I wanted to finish it in one evening. Which is not smart to do on a Monday, when I kept on reading way past my bedtime. But the book is certainly worth losing a few hours of sleep.
In the first book, I did not really like Francesca, but I quickly warmed up to her in this book. She had no choice but to go on the visit, but she sure got everything else she wanted from her father. Her life was not easy, especially not after her marriage, but she was a great duchess, and she was a lot smarter than her husband. He was pampered and a good warrior, but had no idea of the world and the politics behind his borders.
I have to admit, I liked the Old Duke better than his son. Rafaello was arrogant as a noble man can be, but also kind of naïve and too trusting and soft.
I am not going to spoil the story itself for you, and the bad things that happen, but it is a great historical romance, with an emphasis on historical. I did try to Google for this country though, and did not find it, other than the English meaning of the name: woodlands. Which is appropriate.
I am looking forward to the next book in this series.
© 2013 Reviews by Aurian