One Knight in Venice
by Tori Phillips
One touch of Venus was nothing compared to the magic in the hands of Jessica Leonardo. The mysterious signorina was a woman unlike any Francis Bardolph had ever known, for she alone could make him face his most dangerous secrets – and still have hope for her love!
Though Sir Francis played the man of leisure, Jessica saw through his disguise. The man was dangerous – in ways that thrilled the private places of her heart. But would his desire still run hot when her true self was revealed – and her secret shame unmasked?
I adored this story of the passionate but physically flawed Jessica Leonardo and the lost, lonely knight Francis Bardolph who falls for her. Francis, an English spy working in Venice, originally goes to Jessica, a healer, to relieve his sore shoulder. Her strong fingers massage away his pain, and her oils and ointments soothe his physical hurt, but her intuition also sees that this young knight is nursing a broken heart. Francis knows his deceased mother was a silly, brainless whore, while his father is one of two great Cavendish brothers, either Sir Brandon or Sir Guy. But without any true knowledge, he feels alone and betrayed, unable to love another since he cannot love himself.
Jessica, meanwhile, has her own troubles. Born with a port-wine stain on one cheek, she wears a mask at all times and avoids being seen in public, not only from shame but also so that the Venetian Council of Ten will not denounce her for being a witch. Jessica is in deeper danger as well, for her Jewish parents have returned to their faith, after years of pretending to adopt Catholicism, and in the times of the Inquisition, any association with a heretic means instant death.
Francis and Jessica are drawn to each other from their very first meeting, not only physically but emotionally as well – both fill a void in the other’s life. Their slow, steamy courtship is a pleasure to read, especially since Jessica tries so hard to resist Francis’ advances, thinking no man can love her if he sees what’s beneath her mask.
Meanwhile, Francis is fighting off the most popular and lusty courtesan in the city, Cosma di Luna. He does everything possible to turn her away, while she does everything possible to win his heart, include having him followed so she can find out where he spends his idle time. When Cosma finds him at the house of a “witch,” it’s only a matter of time before she exposes Jessica to the Council, and the heroine is put on trial before the entire city.
What makes this story so rich is the combination of a wonderful love story set amid a time of true danger and corruption in Venice. One Knight in Venice takes place during Carnevale, and the rich party atmosphere both heightens Francis and Jessica’s romance and serves as a backdrop to the kind of opulent lifestyle that the rich enjoyed during this historic period and the poor and persecuted had to endure. The minor characters here are wonderful as well: Cosma du Luna is a desperate tramp that readers will love to hate; Sophia and Gobbo, Jessica’s foster parents, are loving guardians with questionable pasts; and Jobe, Francis’s good friend and protector, is a magnificent African sorcerer who can see the future and who comes to the couple’s rescue at nearly every turn.
I give this novel my highest recommendation. The combination of historic intrigue and a love story between two flawed characters who find each other despite repeated dangers will have readers cheering. Don’t miss One Knight in Venice!
Review by Dandelion
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