The Stargazer

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Overview

Michele Jaffe's sensual new novel Stargazer, set against the exquisite background of Renaissance Venice, is the story of a brilliant and beautiful doctor's daughter and the aristocratic rogue who crosses her path. Each suspects the other of killing a well-known courtesan; when they're forced to team up to prove their innocence, sparks fly. Jaffe is a Renaissance scholar, so she knows the era -- and she knows the romance as well: this is timeless historical fiction, with the kind of luminous heat that shines from ...
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Overview

Michele Jaffe's sensual new novel Stargazer, set against the exquisite background of Renaissance Venice, is the story of a brilliant and beautiful doctor's daughter and the aristocratic rogue who crosses her path. Each suspects the other of killing a well-known courtesan; when they're forced to team up to prove their innocence, sparks fly. Jaffe is a Renaissance scholar, so she knows the era -- and she knows the romance as well: this is timeless historical fiction, with the kind of luminous heat that shines from the romance shelves.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"My Lord, I scarcely expected to see you here," says Bianca Salva, calmly, in the opening scene of this stellar debut novel set in Renaissance Venice. Bianca holds a bloody dagger over the dead body of Isabella Bellochio as she addresses Ian Foscari, who believes, since the dagger bears his coat of arms, that Bianca murdered Isabella to frame him. But Bianca, the sharp-witted and unconventional daughter of a physician, knows the dagger is not the murder weapon. The two banter with mutual vigor, contempt and sublimated lust--between Bianca's hilarious bouts of sneezing. Ian formulates a plan that allows him to investigate the enigmatic woman while satisfying his family's desire for him to wed. He will install Bianca in his palazzo as his fianc e and give her one week to prove her innocence. Bianca agrees on the condition that she can autopsy the corpse for her own iconoclastic research on female anatomy. Ian hides the body to prevent suspicion from falling on him until he can solve the mystery. A vivid collection of sensuous, dangerous characters complicate the plan, including secretive servants, an exhibitionist courtesan and Ian's lascivious ex-fianc e, as well as the quirky all-male Arboretti family. An unknown source, possibly the murderer, drops hints to the government regarding the whereabouts of Isabella's body, and Ian is still stubbornly suspicious of Bianca. Jaffe's sure prose moves to an exquisitely dramatic climax as Bianca's lot grows desperate. The intricacies of Venetian society, imaginative love scenes and a memorable cast enlivens Jaffe's creative and suspenseful plot. Since five more novels are promised in this series, one hopes that Jaffe will develop the fertile stories of the other Arboretti and their mysterious cousins, and continue to combine historical context with lush sensuality and nuanced wit. Agent, Susan Ginsburg. (July) FYI: Jaffe holds a doctorate in Comparative Literature of the Renaissance. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
While practicing medicine among the courtesans and prostitutes of Renaissance Venice, Bianca Salva comes upon the victim of a brutal murder and is almost simultaneously discovered with the body by the notorious Ian Foscare, Conte d'Aosto. Each suspects the other of being the murderer, since Ian's coat of arms embellishes the hilt of the bloody dagger held by Bianca. In order to conduct their investigations into the crime, the two announce their betrothal, that being the best way each can keep a close eye on the other. From this inventive beginning, first novelist Jaffe (who holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature of the Renaissance from Harvard) develops a sensual, exciting, and amusing tale, richly embellished with details of Renaissance life. Bianca and Ian's romance is set against a backdrop of intrigue and danger from a wide assortment of other possible villains, so the story never drags. Devotees of Amanda Quick and Karen Robards will love it.--Kim Uden Rutter, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kathe Robin
Michele Jaffe bursts upon the romance scene with an extraordinary debut novel that combines the lush beauty and sensuality of the film "Dangerous Beauty" with the witty repartee and suspense of a mystery romance by Amanda Quick. Be swept away by the intrigues and passion of Renaissance Venice and immerse yourself in a sumptuous novel by a bright rising star. I can hardly wait for the next book, The Water Nymph. Very sensual.
Romantic Times
Kirkus Reviews
What can you say about a debut novel, set in Renaissance Venice, that opens with Bianca Salvo, the brilliant, 24-year-old daughter of a famous doctor, standing over the bloody corpse of a courtesan, holding the stained dagger that killed her, being discovered by blond, coldly handsome Count Ian Foscari, who has come to visit the courtesan and whose family crest is on that very dagger? Rather than mourn the loss of their acquaintance, Bianca and Ian fall into arch discussion of—well, just arch discussion. This lofty wordplay resolves when the count, who is being hounded to marry, orders our heroine to live with him as his betrothed while they have the body schlepped to his palace, where Bianca can study it both as a medical examiner seeking answers to a murder and as a scientist making drawings for the first-ever book on female anatomy. Chapter upon chapter in this steamy costume drama strains belief, as does the prose: "Bianca's heart dropped through the deck and into the lagoon below," "His heart, now frozen, shattered into a thousand bits," and "His tone pierced her like glittering shards of ice"—all this from one inch of type on a single page. Her Harvard Ph.D. in Comparative Literature of the Renaissance not withstanding, Jaffe's quite up to such genre necessities as varying "beleaguered shaft" with "beleaguered organ" and rising to "her pleasure exploded in a glittering, overwhelming. trembling climax." Should sell splendidly.
From the Publisher
Amanda Quick Fast, clever, exciting. Michele Jaffe is a winner — a terrific new voice.

Jane Feather A racing read...Fascinating and wonderfully refreshing....A great first novel.

Kathe Robin Romantic Times Sumptuous and seductive, lush and romantic, completely captivating....Combines the lush beauty and sensuality of the film Dangerous Beauty with the witty repartee and suspense of a mystery romance by Amanda Quick. Be swept away by the intrigues and passion of Renaissance Venice and immerse yourself in a sumptuous novel by a bright rising star. I can hardly wait for the next book, The Water Nymph.

Library Journal Inventive...Sensual, exciting, and amusing....Richly embellished with details of Renaissance life. Devotees of Amanda Quick and Karen Robards will love it.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) [A] stellar debut novel....A vivid collection of sensuous, dangerous characters. The intricacies of Venetian society, imaginative love scenes, and a memorable cast enliven Jaffe's creative and suspenseful plot.

Teresa Medeiros The Stargazer is an artful and witty blend of history, mystery, and romance. Everything about the book — setting, characters, and dialogue — felt fresh and dynamic to me. Michele Jaffe is definitely an author whose star is on the rise!

Booklist Jaffe makes an impressive debut with this sensual historical romance....[Her] characters are intriguing, and the plot's many twists and turns are wonderfully entertaining.

Kirkus Reviews [A] steamy costume drama.

Harriet Klausner Paintedrock.com The Stargazer is a rousing Renaissance romance that will provide much pleasure to readers....Combines elements from historical mysteries with romance in a delicious mix. The resplendent details bring the era to life....[A] rousing climax.

Amazon.com The Stargazer's mixture of murder mystery, historical romance, and steamy passion certainly has universal appeal....The overall flow and quick pace, not to mention Jaffe's charming characters and a few choice, steamy sections that should make you blush, make for a fine debut from a fresh new voice.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671027407
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 5/28/2000
  • Series: Arboretti Family Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Visit Michele Jaffe's website at www.michelejaffe.com
Most people's response upon hearing that I write romance novels is to glance furtively at my husband, lean close to me and whisper, "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer to that question is, of course, a professional secret, but the answer to the question that inevitably follows - "How do you do it?" - is not. For me, writing romance is enormously delightful and, at times, enormously difficult. In an effort to illustrate some of the gnarly dilemmas I encounter, I thought I would share some of the scenes that I wrote that did not make it in to my new book, The Water Nymph.
One of my constant struggles is to keep dialogue compelling, as this scene illustrates:
Crispin looked impatiently at the woman sprawled on the bed. "Come on, Sophie. we have work to do."
"Can't move," Sophie whispered, barely moving her lips. "Faint from hunger."
"You are not in a faint."
Sophie's eyelids fluttered and she gave a pitiful sigh. "Life...seeping...away..."
Crispin leaner over her, struggling to suppress a smile. "Sophie, you are not starving to death. you ate my entire breakfast."
"I did not!" Sophie's eyes snapped open, and color returned to her face.
"You did too."
Sophie sat up. "I did not!"
"Yes, you did."
"No I didn't. I barely got the crumbs." Sophie sucked in her cheeks and tried to look wan.
"Only the crumbs. Is that so?"
"That is so. You ate everything and left me only scraps."
"I did not."
"Did too."
"Did not."
"Did too."
"Did not."
"Did too."
"Did not."
"Did too..."
I have set my books during the Renaissance because it is the period about which I know the most - I have studied it for over a dozen years - and because it is peopled with fascinating characters, like Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare. But as with writing a book set in any historical period, there are difficulties with the language. In order to make my books interesting to modern readers, I do not restrict myself to Elizabethan English, but I do try as much as possible to use words that would have been current during the 1580's, especially in my dialogue. This has, on occasion, proven to be more difficult that I imagined:
Sophie smiled at Crispin with her mouth full of her third biscuit, then frowned as she looked down at the object in her hand. "What are you going to do about this?"
"First, I am going to wipe the crumbs from your chin. Then I am going to eat my breakfas — " Crispin reached for the platter formerly containing a steaming pile of biscuits, and found it barren. "My God, Sophie, when you said you were hungry, you were not
kidding (not introduced into English until 1811)
fooling (not in use in this sense until 1609)
joshing (1891)
prevaricating (1631)
pleasanting (1655)
razzing (1921)
overstating (1803)
jollying (1370, but sounds strange)
obfuscating (1650, plus it's a bit pedantic for the morning)
fantasticating (not a word)
masticating (not the right word)
jesting (1526! Hurrah! — oops, not in use in English until 1798)
My years in the library were good training for poring over historic word lists, but nothing about my academic training prepared me for the stylistic freedom of being a romance novelist, a freedom which can still make me giddy. Sometimes, caught up in a scene, my metaphors will creep away from me, assuming a life of their own, generally reflecting whatever is in my mind at the time.
He swung round to face her, and when he spoke, his voice was
sharp like a freezing wind
sharp like an Arctic (1391) wind
sharp like the wind off the Pyrenees (1555)
sharp like the knives wielded by the peasants of the Pyrenees
sharp like the whetstone used by peasants to sharpen their knives wielded by the peasants of the Pyrenees
hard like the whetstone used by peasants to sharpen their knives
hard like the whetstone of his cook
hard like the crust of his cook's bread
warm like the crust of his cook's bread
warm like the crust of his cook's chicken and mushroom pie
warm like the crust of his cook's apple pie with a dollop of caramel (1725) or rather, sweet cream, on it
warm like apple pie with iced cream on it...
The pleasure I get from writing is due in great measure to the challenges it poses for me. By far the largest of these is having to leave out some of the scenes that make me like my characters the most, scenes that they seem to write themselves.
Sophie pushed herself up on one elbow and looked down at Crispin as he slept. Moonlight played over his features, catching in his light hair, making shadows of the planed of his face. His beauty made Sophie's heart pound.
"Crispin," she whispered. He did not move.
"Crispin," she said again, this time louder. "Crispin," she pushed on his shoulder. "Crispin, are you awake?"
Slowly, as if being dragged from a great depth, Crispin sat up. His eyes were stil closed as he murmured groggily, "I know, I know. More biscuits. I will be right back." He moved to swing his legs off the bed but Sophie stopped him.
"No," she said softly. "I am not hungry."
Crispin, vaguely awake now, opened one eye and looked at her. "Not hungry? Didn't you just wake up?"
Sophie smiled shyly. "Yes, but it was not to ask for biscuits."
Crispin gave an uncomprehending frown as he resettled himself amongst the bedding. "It wasn't?"
"No. I...I just wanted to say 'hi.'" (1475, possibly)
"Hi?"
"Yes," Sophie paused, then rushed on. "And that I love you."
Crispin pulled her to his chest and held her as tightly as he could. "I love you too, Sophie."

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"My lord, I scarcely expected to see you here." Bianca looked up at the well-built man filling the doorframe and sneezed.

Ian Foscari, Conte d'Aosto, was uncharacteristically stunned.

"I should say not," he responded finally, focusing on the bloody dagger she had pointed toward him. Even as a trained observer, he was having trouble making sense of the scene that confronted him. The room was richly appointed; peach silk curtains embroidered with golden flowers flanked the tall windows, and Turkish carpets in luscious pastels covered the floors. The center of the room was taken up by an enormous bed, covered with the same silk that framed the window. Stretched out on the bed was the scantily clad figure of the courtesan Isabella Bellocchio, who would have appeared to be sleeping peacefully except for the large red gash in her chest. Above her, covered in blood and brandishing a dagger, stood the woman who had just addressed him.

Their gazes locked, and complete silence fell over the room as each contemplated the countenance of the other. The moment ended abruptly as she sneezed again, twice.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded, finally moving her gaze away from his face. Murderers, Bianca thought to herself, should really be harder on the eyes.

"I could ask the same of you."

"I should say it is obvious." Bianca sneezed, returning his glance with what she hoped was a scowl.

He scowled back at her, shocked by her forthrightness. "Yes, I suppose it is. But whatever possessed you to murder her?"

For the first time, Bianca realized how she must look. In her right hand she held the bloody dagger she had pulled from Isabella's heart, and her dress was covered with blood from her attempts to save the girl. The situation seemed almost comic, she thought, wiping her running nose with the corner of her sleeve, until abruptly, she remembered the insignia on the hilt of the dagger. Boldly she met Ian's eyes, holding the handle of the weapon up between them. "Should not I be asking you that, my honorable lord?"

It was undoubtedly his coat of arms emblazoned garishly on the hilt of the dagger in rubies and emeralds. He shrugged, moving his eyes from the gaudy re-creation of his heraldry back to Bianca's small oval face. "That certainly is not mine. Of course, it is my coat of arms, but I would never commission anything that ostentatious."

"I am afraid, my lord," Bianca sneezed, "that good taste is not an adequate defense," she sneezed again, "against a charge of murder." Bianca tried to keep her gaze level with his as she sneezed five times in quick succession. "Perhaps if you could tell me what you are doing here...?"

"It is certainly not any of your concern, signorina, but I received an urgent summons from Isabella."

Undaunted by Ian's frigid tone, designed to send her cowering into a corner, Bianca plunged ahead with questions. "What was it like? What exactly did it say?"

Ian was mad at himself. He had answered her first question without even thinking about it, instinctively responding to some sort of authority that oozed from her like vile jelly, and now he was doing it again. He knew it had to be another person who extracted the note from his tunic, unfolded it, and said to his unidentified interrogator, "Here, you can see it." The mutinous part of him extended the letter for Bianca's perusal.

rdBianca's brow wrinkled as she sneezed again. The letter was written in a clear cursive hand on lightly perfumed parchment and signed by Isabella, begging the presence of the Conte d'Aosto immediately at her house. Bianca held the paper up to the light, studied it, and handed it back to the impossibly handsome blond man facing her.

"Was it delivered directly to you?" Ian nodded. Bianca scowled. And sneezed. "Then you are certainly not guilty." Her eyes moved from the note still dangling in his hand to the dagger she was holding. "And yet it really does appear that someone is trying to frame you. But who? Or is it me they are trying to frame?" She sneezed. "Perhaps if we tried..."

Ian put down the mutiny in his head and returned to his laconic, unhelpful self, striving to be even icier than usual in recompense for his earlier softness. "I cannot tell you how relieved I am to learn that I am not guilty," he rudely interrupted, "but I am curious about your reasoning and slightly alarmed by your use of the pronoun 'we.' I have no idea who you think you are, or even who you are, and I certainly have no use for some young signorina fresh from the schoolroom. I assure you, we will be doing nothing."

His words, designed to sting, hit their mark. Bianca cringed, not because his tone was as cold as the northern wind, but because of the patronizing way he had called her "signorina," as if daring her to disobey his impressive and sophisticated person. By the fingertips of Santa Barbara, he was arrogant! Bianca had no doubt that he used exactly the same tone when scaring available young women away from marriage. For herself, she had no interest in marriage, in being yoked to some idiotic lout who would waste her fortune betting on the ebb and flow of the tides and condemn her to childbed. But she resented that her desire to preserve her independence gave the high and mighty Conte d'Aosto the right to speak to her in that infuriating, condescending tone, reminding her with every word that she was only an inexperienced woman.

"Of course, you are right. I prefer to work alone anyway." Furious, Bianca had put down the knife and was cleaning her hands in a porcelain basin. Even worse than his arrogance was the rebellion going on in her head. How could she let herself be so easily convinced of the man's innocence and, what was worse, why was she so relieved? What difference could it possibly make to her if the glacially cruel Conte d'Aosto was innocent or guilty, or wealthy or extremely handsome, with those strong hands and long graceful fingers...

Her reverie was cut short by his voice. "You haven't told me exactly what convinced you of my innocence. The obvious answer would be that you yourself, whoever you may be, are the guilty party." He looked pointedly at her.

Bianca tried to sound incredulous as she sneezed. "My lord, you must be joking." She sneezed. "I, a murderess?"

Was that the hint of a smile he saw on her lips? Ian was damned if he would let her stand there looking so, well, innocent. "I never joke."

Even without the sharp tone in his voice, Bianca would have accepted this as true. She knew that Ian Foscari, Conte d'Aosto, was one of the wealthiest, most handsome, most aristocratic — and least sought after — bachelors in Venice. He was known as the man of stone, cold, distant, emotionless. Only his closest friends, the other Arboretti, knew of the vital being beneath the cold exterior, and even they could hardly remember what it was like. For the past two years, Ian had been a different person. He was as brilliant and efficient as ever, perhaps more so, but not previously prone to mirth, he now never laughed or smiled. Not even his brother, Crispin, could thaw the cold that gripped him, though he had tried for every day of the two years since the incident. Ian seemed to rejoice in keeping everyone at an emotional distance, routinely terrifying the young women whose mothers were vain enough to attempt a match with him.

But Bianca was no young signorina to be terrified, she assured herself, even when a stone block accused her of murder for no good reason. She squared her shoulders and summoned up all the courage of her twenty-four years to meet his eyes. "My lord," she said, "like so many other women today who are considered unworthy of education, Isabella was illiterate. She was no more capable of writing to you, than I am of using this knife to take someone's life — " she picked up the weapon again, sneezed twice, and pointed it at him " — or, for that matter, than you are of feeling anything through that thick, superior skin of yours." She sneezed three times like a rapid-firing cannon. "By Santa Lucia's eyes," Bianca demanded finally in exasperation, "what is the cause of this infernal sneezing?"

She dropped the knife and turned from him to face the window, sneezing ten times without stopping. As she wiped her runny nose and eyes on her sleeve, she studied the raindrops rolling off the glass panes, working to suppress the rising tide of her anger and frustration. Between the shock of discovering a corpse instead of her friend, the audacity of the semipetrified man to accuse her of murder, and the cruelty of her own traitorous tickling nose in making her appear a spectacle in front of him, Bianca felt her emotional control ebbing rapidly. She would not cry, she warned herself; she would not allow that golden-haired human stone the pleasure of seeing her cry, no, no, no, she would not!

Ian watched her face reflected in the glass of the window, watched her battle with her sneezing and her emotions, and felt nothing like superior. It had been so long since he had been impressed by anyone or anything that at first he could not identify the emotion, but he was soon able to label it: grudgingly he was forced to admit he felt admiration for her. Her deduction of his innocence had been so simple and so elegant, something obvious that he himself would have seen only after hours of thought. He realized that he did not even know the name of this woman who was as uncommonly intelligent as she was uncommonly beautiful, although she seemed to know him. Even as he was thinking that she might be a tremendous help in solving the mystery of Isabella's death, he caught himself appreciating the graceful curve of her body as she stood with her back to him, the way that a wisp of hair wound its way down around her neck and...

Was he going mad? This woman was probably a murderess. "Probably" — even his mind was in cahoots with her, injecting that seed of doubt into an otherwise obvious situation. For if a smart woman were planning a murder, wouldn't she think of everything, including those petty little details about writing and such that would never occur to a man? Women's minds were so utterly devious that they could be trusted to think of anything that would contribute to the illusion of their innocence, to remove the burden of culpability from their narrow shoulders. He had learned that lesson well and would not — would not — be duped again, not even by someone with shoulders as interesting as those of the woman before him.

First "Admiration"? Then "Probably"? And now "Interesting shoulders"? This could not continue. He was superior and thickskinned, she had said so herself, and he would show it. "Now it is my turn to ask the questions, simple questions, which even a signorina like you should have no trouble answering. Let us start with, who are you?"

He had addressed her back, and she did not turn from the window as she answered. "My name," Bianca sneezed, haughtily she hoped, "is Bianca Salva, the daughter of..."

She sneezed again, and Ian seized the moment to interrupt. "Do not go on, I have heard of your family." If he was surprised to find a woman of noble birth covered in blood at the house of a courtesan in the middle of the day, he was true to his reputation as a stone and did not show it. His tone when he resumed his questioning was indifferent if slightly menacing. "Would you be so kind, Signorina Salva, as to tell me what you are doing here?"

He had used that word again, saying "signorina" as if it described the lowest of the Deity's creatures. Bianca knew then that she couldn't, or rather, wouldn't tell him the truth, which left her with only two choices: she could either refuse to answer him or tell a lie. She had never lied in her life, not even as a child when — against her father's strict orders — she had taken herbs from his workbox to mix a medicine for a poor girl her own age, or later when she had stolen anatomy textbooks from their lodger to learn the parts of the body. Those times and the hundreds of others like them that formed her education, Bianca had always admitted the crime and been forgiven by her saintly, understanding papa. But Papa was gone now, and the Conte d'Aosto seemed about as yielding as a stone pillar.

She turned away from the window, to face him. The sneezes were coming fast and furious now, and Bianca tried to speak quickly to avoid being interrupted. "I would prefer not to answer that question, my lord d'Aosto." She sneezed twice, as if she were allergic to his title, then went on. "I can't see that it has any bearing on the death of this poor girl," she sneezed, "for which I have already told you I am not," she sneezed, "responsible." Upon hearing this brilliant defense so airily punctuated by sneezes, Ian found himself closer to laughing than he had been for months. "Is something wrong, my lord? You appear to be in pain."

The urge to laugh left as abruptly as it had come. His eyes turned from crystal blue to gray, the only outward sign of his change in mood. "I am afraid, signorina — " Ian paused to watch the effect the word had on her; revenge was indeed sweet, " — that I cannot accept your failure to answer, despite your winning protestation of innocence. I ask you, why should I believe you?"

Bianca answered his question with one of her own. "What motive could I possibly have to murder this woman?"

"'Women need no motives, only means,'" Ian quoted the odious Venetian proverb. "You would do better to answer questions than to ask them."

Without realizing it, Ian had begun to count her sneezes. He was up to twelve when she resumed speaking.

"Then you," she sneezed, making it thirteen, "would do better," fourteen, "my most irreproachable and honorable Count," fifteen, "to ask questions worthy," sixteen, "of answers." Bianca sniffled, trying hard to make his title sound as despicable as possible. As she spoke, she began to gather up her belongings, using any excuse to keep her seditious eyes from straying to the contours of his face. "Indeed," seventeen, "your time would be better spent," eighteen, "as I intend," nineteen, "to spend mine — finding out who killed Isabella Bellocchio and why," twenty, "they," twenty-one, "wanted," twenty-two, "to frame you for the crime."

Ian shook himself from his calculations just enough to retort icily, "Besides questioning the prime suspect, the person found drenched in the victim's blood clutching the murder weapon over the body, what would you propose I do?"

"You might try looking for the actual murder weapon, which certainly was not this gaudy toy." Bianca concentrated on repressing a sneeze in order to resist the urge to see the effect this news had on him. "Or you could devise a plan to uncover," she sneezed, "the person willing to go to such expense," Bianca gestured with the gem-encrusted hilt of the dagger as she sneezed again, "to label you a murderer."

Ian, whose total was now up to twenty-five, refused to play into her hands by asking her to elaborate her wild claim about the weapon. He also had no doubt that she had a plan ready to implement if he seemed willing. She was cunning and clever, his little sneezing murderess. And even if she was not herself responsible for the murder, the odds were very good that she could lead him to whoever was. With his customary acumen, Ian assessed the situation and saw that Bianca could be very useful to him.

Very useful indeed. In a flash he realized that the murder was only part of it, even the smallest part. He completely lost track of enumerating Bianca's sneezes as the full force of his brilliant inspiration struck him. Staring at the defiant beauty in front of him, Ian saw the perfect way to put an end to Francesco's and Roberto's ceaseless urgings toward matrimony. Indeed, it was in order to escape another such a harangue from his uncles that he had so promptly replied to Isabella's — or the Salva girl's or whoever's — summons that very morning. And now, as if by destiny, he was being offered an opportunity to escape from them for all time. The plan he contrived in those few seconds was, he congratulated himself, gloriously simple and flawless. If he betrothed himself to the dangerous-looking Salva specimen and moved her into his house, he was sure that within three days — four at the most — Francesco and Roberto and the other Arboretti would be begging him to break the engagement and return to his bachelor ways forever. He was already savoring the taste of victory when he spoke.

"As it happens, signorina, I do have a plan." The corner of Ian's lip quivered, his version of a smile, as he watched Bianca struggle not to flinch at his intentionally condescending tone. He knew she would agree to his terms only if she were goaded into it, and he was surprised at how much he enjoyed the prospect of this goading. Plus, the madder she was, the worse she would behave and the faster his plan would come to fruition.

Bianca waited for him to continue, sneezing twice in the silence that followed his words. That twitching at the corner of his mouth told her she would find his plan distasteful, whatever it was, but she little expected exactly how bitter it would be. She had decided not to encourage him, yet after what felt like an eternity had passed she heard herself saying, "Ah, I see, my lord, you are indeed as clever as everyone says you are." She sneezed. "You plan to wait for the body to decompose, so that your problem will literally disappear."

Ian ignored her gibe. "My plan is to detain you until you explain exactly what you were doing here and tell me all you know about Isabella. You may do so here, now. Or I will find you quarters, as uncomfortable as possible you can be sure, in the basement prison at the Palace until you are ready to answer. Think of how quickly this sneezing illness of yours will worsen there. Not to mention how your family will react to hearing you have been incarcerated as a murderess."

Bianca blanched. With her brother gone on another of his last-minute journeys, there would be no one to protect her from the wrath of her aunt and uncle if she besmirched the family name yet again. But if they found out what she had actually been doing at Isabella's, it might be even worse than if she were accused of murder. She wondered if he could even guess the full force of what he was proposing.

The girl was genuinely conflicted, Ian noted with surprise. Perhaps, he mused, she really was innocent. What if he were persecuting an innocent woman? He hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should continue and then remembered that "innocence" and "woman" were fundamental opposites. Even if she were innocent of this crime, he decided, she had undoubtedly committed others, and besides, that mouth of hers had earned her some upset.

When he judged his last words had had enough time to make an impression on her, he continued. "There is, however, one other option, but I fear you will find it even less pleasant than the others." Ian then added, apparently as an afterthought, "It's too bad, because it would be very convenient for me. You see, my priority is to get as much information from you as possible. If you were to move into my house, I would be able to question you at my leisure — whenever or wherever I wanted and using whatever means of persuasion I preferred. I am rumored to have a rather fearsome staff."

There was something decidedly threatening in the way Ian spoke his last words, but Bianca refused to be scared off by him or his reference to the rumors that circulated around him. She was sure that his house contained nothing more terrifying than a morbid butler or a lecherous steward, and impertinent questioning in the home of a count was nothing compared to the horrors of the Venetian prisons. Of course, strictly speaking, it was not proper for a single woman to spend a few days under the same roof as an unmarried nobleman, but it would win her nothing like the infamy she would face having been imprisoned for murder. Her family might even thank her for the valuable social introduction.

Bianca sneezed and then prepared herself to savor the look of surprise on Ian's face when she agreed to his proposal. "Despite your best efforts to scare me away from it, my lord, I should say that this last option is decidedly the best. I accept it," she sneezed, heightening the dramatic effect of her final words, "with one condition."

Ian, disappointingly nonchalant, only managed to raise one eyebrow. "You can scarcely imagine how that surprises me."

Bianca ignored his sarcastic tone. "I would like to bring Isabella's body with me to study it for evidence of how she was killed," she sneezed, "and by whom."

Ian paused for a moment, thinking, and finally nodded. "Actually, that will work quite well. If I keep our possession of the body a secret, I can circulate a notice that Isabella is missing. This will make my inquiries easier and doubtless more fruitful." Ian, still lost in thought, was apparently speaking to himself. Bianca thought he might have forgotten about her until a violent fit of sneezing brought his eyes to where she stood.

"Fine," he said, facing her, "it is settled. I will send my man, Giorgio, with the gondola for you and the body. You will stay here until he arrives." Ian pulled a beautiful gold box out of his pocket, opened the lid, and glanced at the face. Beneath it, Bianca saw what appeared to be a very small version of the huge clock in Piazza San Marco. She was so absorbed by the intricate work and delicate mechanism that she missed the twitching at the corner of Ian's mouth as he resumed speaking.

He tried to keep his tone light, pretending the thought had just occurred to him. "Of course, it will be quite unseemly for you to reside under my roof." Ian leveled his eyes at her.

f0 "My reputation does not concern me," Bianca retaliated haughtily, crushing his obvious ploy to make her shrink away, then sneezed four times.

"I don't doubt that at all, signorina, but mine concerns me. No, having you in my house like that won't do at all." She had walked right into his trap. Ian lowered his eyes to his watch again as if thinking, but actually to conceal the triumph on his face. He spent a moment reestablishing control of his expression, then moved to the threshold. When he turned to deliver his last horrible words, he already had his hand poised over the doorknob, ready for a clean escape.

"I see there is nothing else for it. I will have to announce our betrothal tonight at the meeting of the Senate." The sentence was punctuated by the click of the door shutting smoothly behind him.

As she stood staring at the space Ian had just occupied, too bewildered to protest or even sneeze, Bianca could have sworn she heard someone laughing.

Copyright © 1999 by Michele Jaffe

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First Chapter

Chapter One "My lord, I scarcely expected to see you here." Bianca looked up at the well-built man filling the doorframe and sneezed.

Ian Foscari, Conte d'Aosto, was uncharacteristically stunned.

"I should say not," he responded finally, focusing on the bloody dagger she had pointed toward him. Even as a trained observer, he was having trouble making sense of the scene that confronted him. The room was richly appointed; peach silk curtains embroidered with golden flowers flanked the tall windows, and Turkish carpets in luscious pastels covered the floors. The center of the room was taken up by an enormous bed, covered with the same silk that framed the window. Stretched out on the bed was the scantily clad figure of the courtesan Isabella Bellocchio, who would have appeared to be sleeping peacefully except for the large red gash in her chest. Above her, covered in blood and brandishing a dagger, stood the woman who had just addressed him.

Their gazes locked, and complete silence fell over the room as each contemplated the countenance of the other. The moment ended abruptly as she sneezed again, twice.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded, finally moving her gaze away from his face. Murderers, Bianca thought to herself, should really be harder on the eyes.

"I could ask the same of you."

"I should say it is obvious." Bianca sneezed, returning his glance with what she hoped was a scowl.

He scowled back at her, shocked by her forthrightness. "Yes, I suppose it is. But whatever possessed you to murder her?"

For the first time, Bianca realized how she must look. In her right hand she held the bloody dagger she had pulledfrom Isabella's heart, and her dress was covered with blood from her attempts to save the girl. The situation seemed almost comic, she thought, wiping her running nose with the corner of her sleeve, until abruptly, she remembered the insignia on the hilt of the dagger. Boldly she met Ian's eyes, holding the handle of the weapon up between them. "Should not I be asking you that, my honorable lord?"

It was undoubtedly his coat of arms emblazoned garishly on the hilt of the dagger in rubies and emeralds. He shrugged, moving his eyes from the gaudy re-creation of his heraldry back to Bianca's small oval face. "That certainly is not mine. Of course, it is my coat of arms, but I would never commission anything that ostentatious."

"I am afraid, my lord," Bianca sneezed, "that good taste is not an adequate defense," she sneezed again, "against a charge of murder." Bianca tried to keep her gaze level with his as she sneezed five times in quick succession. "Perhaps if you could tell me what you are doing here...?"

"It is certainly not any of your concern, signorina, but I received an urgent summons from Isabella."

Undaunted by Ian's frigid tone, designed to send her cowering into a corner, Bianca plunged ahead with questions. "What was it like? What exactly did it say?"

Ian was mad at himself. He had answered her first question without even thinking about it, instinctively responding to some sort of authority that oozed from her like vile jelly, and now he was doing it again. He knew it had to be another person who extracted the note from his tunic, unfolded it, and said to his unidentified interrogator, "Here, you can see it." The mutinous part of him extended the letter for Bianca's perusal.

Bianca's brow wrinkled as she sneezed again. The letter was written in a clear cursive hand on lightly perfumed parchment and signed by Isabella, begging the presence of the Conte d'Aosto immediately at her house. Bianca held the paper up to the light, studied it, and handed it back to the impossibly handsome blond man facing her.

"Was it delivered directly to you?" Ian nodded. Bianca scowled. And sneezed. "Then you are certainly not guilty." Her eyes moved from the note still dangling in his hand to the dagger she was holding. "And yet it really does appear that someone is trying to frame you. But who? Or is it me they are trying to frame?" She sneezed. "Perhaps if we tried..."

Ian put down the mutiny in his head and returned to his laconic, unhelpful self, striving to be even icier than usual in recompense for his earlier softness. "I cannot tell you how relieved I am to learn that I am not guilty," he rudely interrupted, "but I am curious about your reasoning and slightly alarmed by your use of the pronoun 'we.' I have no idea who you think you are, or even who you are, and I certainly have no use for some young signorina fresh from the schoolroom. I assure you, we will be doing nothing."

His words, designed to sting, hit their mark. Bianca cringed, not because his tone was as cold as the northern wind, but because of the patronizing way he had called her "signorina," as if daring her to disobey his impressive and sophisticated person. By the fingertips of Santa Barbara, he was arrogant! Bianca had no doubt that he used exactly the same tone when scaring available young women away from marriage. For herself, she had no interest in marriage, in being yoked to some idiotic lout who would waste her fortune betting on the ebb and flow of the tides and condemn her to childbed. But she resented that her desire to preserve her independence gave the high and mighty Conte d'Aosto the right to speak to her in that infuriating, condescending tone, reminding her with every word that she was only an inexperienced woman.

"Of course, you are right. I prefer to work alone anyway." Furious, Bianca had put down the knife and was cleaning her hands in a porcelain basin. Even worse than his arrogance was the rebellion going on in her head. How could she let herself be so easily convinced of the man's innocence and, what was worse, why was she so relieved? What difference could it possibly make to her if the glacially cruel Conte d'Aosto was innocent or guilty, or wealthy or extremely handsome, with those strong hands and long graceful fingers...

Her reverie was cut short by his voice. "You haven't told me exactly what convinced you of my innocence. The obvious answer would be that you yourself, whoever you may be, are the guilty party." He looked pointedly at her.

Bianca tried to sound incredulous as she sneezed. "My lord, you must be joking." She sneezed. "I, a murderess?"

Was that the hint of a smile he saw on her lips? Ian was damned if he would let her stand there looking so, well, innocent. "I never joke."

Even without the sharp tone in his voice, Bianca would have accepted this as true. She knew that Ian Foscari, Conte d'Aosto, was one of the wealthiest, most handsome, most aristocratic -- and least sought after -- bachelors in Venice. He was known as the man of stone, cold, distant, emotionless. Only his closest friends, the other Arboretti, knew of the vital being beneath the cold exterior, and even they could hardly remember what it was like. For the past two years, Ian had been a different person. He was as brilliant and efficient as ever, perhaps more so, but not previously prone to mirth, he now never laughed or smiled. Not even his brother, Crispin, could thaw the cold that gripped him, though he had tried for every day of the two years since the incident. Ian seemed to rejoice in keeping everyone at an emotional distance, routinely terrifying the young women whose mothers were vain enough to attempt a match with him.

But Bianca was no young signorina to be terrified, she assured herself, even when a stone block accused her of murder for no good reason. She squared her shoulders and summoned up all the courage of her twenty-four years to meet his eyes. "My lord," she said, "like so many other women today who are considered unworthy of education, Isabella was illiterate. She was no more capable of writing to you, than I am of using this knife to take someone's life -- " she picked up the weapon again, sneezed twice, and pointed it at him " -- or, for that matter, than you are of feeling anything through that thick, superior skin of yours." She sneezed three times like a rapid-firing cannon. "By Santa Lucia's eyes," Bianca demanded finally in exasperation, "what is the cause of this infernal sneezing?"

She dropped the knife and turned from him to face the window, sneezing ten times without stopping. As she wiped her runny nose and eyes on her sleeve, she studied the raindrops rolling off the glass panes, working to suppress the rising tide of her anger and frustration. Between the shock of discovering a corpse instead of her friend, the audacity of the semipetrified man to accuse her of murder, and the cruelty of her own traitorous tickling nose in making her appear a spectacle in front of him, Bianca felt her emotional control ebbing rapidly. She would not cry, she warned herself; she would not allow that golden-haired human stone the pleasure of seeing her cry, no, no, no, she would not!

Ian watched her face reflected in the glass of the window, watched her battle with her sneezing and her emotions, and felt nothing like superior. It had been so long since he had been impressed by anyone or anything that at first he could not identify the emotion, but he was soon able to label it: grudgingly he was forced to admit he felt admiration for her. Her deduction of his innocence had been so simple and so elegant, something obvious that he himself would have seen only after hours of thought. He realized that he did not even know the name of this woman who was as uncommonly intelligent as she was uncommonly beautiful, although she seemed to know him. Even as he was thinking that she might be a tremendous help in solving the mystery of Isabella's death, he caught himself appreciating the graceful curve of her body as she stood with her back to him, the way that a wisp of hair wound its way down around her neck and...

Was he going mad? This woman was probably a murderess. "Probably" -- even his mind was in cahoots with her, injecting that seed of doubt into an otherwise obvious situation. For if a smart woman were planning a murder, wouldn't she think of everything, including those petty little details about writing and such that would never occur to a man? Women's minds were so utterly devious that they could be trusted to think of anything that would contribute to the illusion of their innocence, to remove the burden of culpability from their narrow shoulders. He had learned that lesson well and would not -- would not -- be duped again, not even by someone with shoulders as interesting as those of the woman before him.

First "Admiration"? Then "Probably"? And now "Interesting shoulders"? This could not continue. He was superior and thickskinned, she had said so herself, and he would show it. "Now it is my turn to ask the questions, simple questions, which even a signorina like you should have no trouble answering. Let us start with, who are you?"

He had addressed her back, and she did not turn from the window as she answered. "My name," Bianca sneezed, haughtily she hoped, "is Bianca Salva, the daughter of..."

She sneezed again, and Ian seized the moment to interrupt. "Do not go on, I have heard of your family." If he was surprised to find a woman of noble birth covered in blood at the house of a courtesan in the middle of the day, he was true to his reputation as a stone and did not show it. His tone when he resumed his questioning was indifferent if slightly menacing. "Would you be so kind, Signorina Salva, as to tell me what you are doing here?"

He had used that word again, saying "signorina" as if it described the lowest of the Deity's creatures. Bianca knew then that she couldn't, or rather, wouldn't tell him the truth, which left her with only two choices: she could either refuse to answer him or tell a lie. She had never lied in her life, not even as a child when -- against her father's strict orders -- she had taken herbs from his workbox to mix a medicine for a poor girl her own age, or later when she had stolen anatomy textbooks from their lodger to learn the parts of the body. Those times and the hundreds of others like them that formed her education, Bianca had always admitted the crime and been forgiven by her saintly, understanding papa. But Papa was gone now, and the Conte d'Aosto seemed about as yielding as a stone pillar.

She turned away from the window, to face him. The sneezes were coming fast and furious now, and Bianca tried to speak quickly to avoid being interrupted. "I would prefer not to answer that question, my lord d'Aosto." She sneezed twice, as if she were allergic to his title, then went on. "I can't see that it has any bearing on the death of this poor girl," she sneezed, "for which I have already told you I am not," she sneezed, "responsible." Upon hearing this brilliant defense so airily punctuated by sneezes, Ian found himself closer to laughing than he had been for months. "Is something wrong, my lord? You appear to be in pain."

The urge to laugh left as abruptly as it had come. His eyes turned from crystal blue to gray, the only outward sign of his change in mood. "I am afraid, signorina -- " Ian paused to watch the effect the word had on her; revenge was indeed sweet, " -- that I cannot accept your failure to answer, despite your winning protestation of innocence. I ask you, why should I believe you?"

Bianca answered his question with one of her own. "What motive could I possibly have to murder this woman?"

"'Women need no motives, only means,'" Ian quoted the odious Venetian proverb. "You would do better to answer questions than to ask them."

Without realizing it, Ian had begun to count her sneezes. He was up to twelve when she resumed speaking.

"Then you," she sneezed, making it thirteen, "would do better," fourteen, "my most irreproachable and honorable Count," fifteen, "to ask questions worthy," sixteen, "of answers." Bianca sniffled, trying hard to make his title sound as despicable as possible. As she spoke, she began to gather up her belongings, using any excuse to keep her seditious eyes from straying to the contours of his face. "Indeed," seventeen, "your time would be better spent," eighteen, "as I intend," nineteen, "to spend mine -- finding out who killed Isabella Bellocchio and why," twenty, "they," twenty-one, "wanted," twenty-two, "to frame you for the crime."

Ian shook himself from his calculations just enough to retort icily, "Besides questioning the prime suspect, the person found drenched in the victim's blood clutching the murder weapon over the body, what would you propose I do?"

"You might try looking for the actual murder weapon, which certainly was not this gaudy toy." Bianca concentrated on repressing a sneeze in order to resist the urge to see the effect this news had on him. "Or you could devise a plan to uncover," she sneezed, "the person willing to go to such expense," Bianca gestured with the gem-encrusted hilt of the dagger as she sneezed again, "to label you a murderer."

Ian, whose total was now up to twenty-five, refused to play into her hands by asking her to elaborate her wild claim about the weapon. He also had no doubt that she had a plan ready to implement if he seemed willing. She was cunning and clever, his little sneezing murderess. And even if she was not herself responsible for the murder, the odds were very good that she could lead him to whoever was. With his customary acumen, Ian assessed the situation and saw that Bianca could be very useful to him.

Very useful indeed. In a flash he realized that the murder was only part of it, even the smallest part. He completely lost track of enumerating Bianca's sneezes as the full force of his brilliant inspiration struck him. Staring at the defiant beauty in front of him, Ian saw the perfect way to put an end to Francesco's and Roberto's ceaseless urgings toward matrimony. Indeed, it was in order to escape another such a harangue from his uncles that he had so promptly replied to Isabella's -- or the Salva girl's or whoever's -- summons that very morning. And now, as if by destiny, he was being offered an opportunity to escape from them for all time. The plan he contrived in those few seconds was, he congratulated himself, gloriously simple and flawless. If he betrothed himself to the dangerous-looking Salva specimen and moved her into his house, he was sure that within three days -- four at the most -- Francesco and Roberto and the other Arboretti would be begging him to break the engagement and return to his bachelor ways forever. He was already savoring the taste of victory when he spoke.

"As it happens, signorina, I do have a plan." The corner of Ian's lip quivered, his version of a smile, as he watched Bianca struggle not to flinch at his intentionally condescending tone. He knew she would agree to his terms only if she were goaded into it, and he was surprised at how much he enjoyed the prospect of this goading. Plus, the madder she was, the worse she would behave and the faster his plan would come to fruition.

Bianca waited for him to continue, sneezing twice in the silence that followed his words. That twitching at the corner of his mouth told her she would find his plan distasteful, whatever it was, but she little expected exactly how bitter it would be. She had decided not to encourage him, yet after what felt like an eternity had passed she heard herself saying, "Ah, I see, my lord, you are indeed as clever as everyone says you are." She sneezed. "You plan to wait for the body to decompose, so that your problem will literally disappear."

Ian ignored her gibe. "My plan is to detain you until you explain exactly what you were doing here and tell me all you know about Isabella. You may do so here, now. Or I will find you quarters, as uncomfortable as possible you can be sure, in the basement prison at the Palace until you are ready to answer. Think of how quickly this sneezing illness of yours will worsen there. Not to mention how your family will react to hearing you have been incarcerated as a murderess."

Bianca blanched. With her brother gone on another of his last-minute journeys, there would be no one to protect her from the wrath of her aunt and uncle if she besmirched the family name yet again. But if they found out what she had actually been doing at Isabella's, it might be even worse than if she were accused of murder. She wondered if he could even guess the full force of what he was proposing.

The girl was genuinely conflicted, Ian noted with surprise. Perhaps, he mused, she really was innocent. What if he were persecuting an innocent woman? He hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should continue and then remembered that "innocence" and "woman" were fundamental opposites. Even if she were innocent of this crime, he decided, she had undoubtedly committed others, and besides, that mouth of hers had earned her some upset.

When he judged his last words had had enough time to make an impression on her, he continued. "There is, however, one other option, but I fear you will find it even less pleasant than the others." Ian then added, apparently as an afterthought, "It's too bad, because it would be very convenient for me. You see, my priority is to get as much information from you as possible. If you were to move into my house, I would be able to question you at my leisure -- whenever or wherever I wanted and using whatever means of persuasion I preferred. I am rumored to have a rather fearsome staff."

There was something decidedly threatening in the way Ian spoke his last words, but Bianca refused to be scared off by him or his reference to the rumors that circulated around him. She was sure that his house contained nothing more terrifying than a morbid butler or a lecherous steward, and impertinent questioning in the home of a count was nothing compared to the horrors of the Venetian prisons. Of course, strictly speaking, it was not proper for a single woman to spend a few days under the same roof as an unmarried nobleman, but it would win her nothing like the infamy she would face having been imprisoned for murder. Her family might even thank her for the valuable social introduction.

Bianca sneezed and then prepared herself to savor the look of surprise on Ian's face when she agreed to his proposal. "Despite your best efforts to scare me away from it, my lord, I should say that this last option is decidedly the best. I accept it," she sneezed, heightening the dramatic effect of her final words, "with one condition."

Ian, disappointingly nonchalant, only managed to raise one eyebrow. "You can scarcely imagine how that surprises me."

Bianca ignored his sarcastic tone. "I would like to bring Isabella's body with me to study it for evidence of how she was killed," she sneezed, "and by whom."

Ian paused for a moment, thinking, and finally nodded. "Actually, that will work quite well. If I keep our possession of the body a secret, I can circulate a notice that Isabella is missing. This will make my inquiries easier and doubtless more fruitful." Ian, still lost in thought, was apparently speaking to himself. Bianca thought he might have forgotten about her until a violent fit of sneezing brought his eyes to where she stood.

"Fine," he said, facing her, "it is settled. I will send my man, Giorgio, with the gondola for you and the body. You will stay here until he arrives." Ian pulled a beautiful gold box out of his pocket, opened the lid, and glanced at the face. Beneath it, Bianca saw what appeared to be a very small version of the huge clock in Piazza San Marco. She was so absorbed by the intricate work and delicate mechanism that she missed the twitching at the corner of Ian's mouth as he resumed speaking.

He tried to keep his tone light, pretending the thought had just occurred to him. "Of course, it will be quite unseemly for you to reside under my roof." Ian leveled his eyes at her.

"My reputation does not concern me," Bianca retaliated haughtily, crushing his obvious ploy to make her shrink away, then sneezed four times.

"I don't doubt that at all, signorina, but mine concerns me. No, having you in my house like that won't do at all." She had walked right into his trap. Ian lowered his eyes to his watch again as if thinking, but actually to conceal the triumph on his face. He spent a moment reestablishing control of his expression, then moved to the threshold. When he turned to deliver his last horrible words, he already had his hand poised over the doorknob, ready for a clean escape.

"I see there is nothing else for it. I will have to announce our betrothal tonight at the meeting of the Senate." The sentence was punctuated by the click of the door shutting smoothly behind him.

As she stood staring at the space Ian had just occupied, too bewildered to protest or even sneeze, Bianca could have sworn she heard someone laughing.

Copyright © 1999 by Michele Jaffe

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2008

    My First Historical Romance Novel

    This was actually my first historical romance novel. The only reason that I read,love and worship historical romance novels to this day is because of this novel. The first book I read by Michele Jaffe was Bad girl my friend let me borrow it and I loved it! I recomend that everyone read that book, but anyways back to this book. I didn't know it was a historical romance because the last book I read by her was by no means historical! Anyways it took me by surprise and I really enjoyed the plot and love scenes. I think it is kind of naughty how he confined her to his house. because he believes she is the murderer and has to stay imprisoned there under his rules until she can prove her innocence. Of course they are going to get down and dirty if they have to live with each other. I was reading the other reviews and I could not stop laughing about the person who said that Michele needs to get a thesaurus HAHA she does use nub alot LMAO! But the love scenes are hot! I personally like Water nymphe better but this book was good too. Water Nymphe was cuter though. Michele Jaffe likes to keep her women confined so they are helpless and have no where to turn to but the man who is god awful sexy and is going to take away her innocence..... and rub her nub HAHA! Ok I'm done, I have read numerous of other romance novels since this one and I can't really remember the whole story its been a long time ago but I really like this story, except how the guys is like I believe her but no she lied to me again but I can almost believe her but NO she has deceived me once again, lets do it anyways. Read the book Michele Jaffe is a good writer Dagnabit!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2007

    The Best Ever

    Once you start reading the Stargazer you will never want to put the book down it takes you in to the story and you will always wonder what happens next. Those who say it a bad book dont know what they're talking about.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2006

    AWFUL!

    This is, by far, one of the most poorly written novels to ever hit the shelves, and coming from someone whose thesis was about cheesy romance novels, that's saying a lot. The characters are incredibly 1 dimensional, the story is packed with cliches, and the story dragged on and on relentlessly. Lets put it this way, there are way more Silhouette & Harlequin romances that are better written than this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2006

    Terrible

    This book was awful. Seriously. The plot was so predictable I figured out whodunnit in the first chapter. Had the characters been anything other that suspicious then horny, maybe they'd have been interesting, but suspicious and horny were about it. Oh, sometimes they were angry, but not as often as the other two. Even the villain was boring! I can forgive boring plots if the characters are interesting, but alas, Ian and Bianca might have been, had they shown more that those three emotions. Sure, the sex scenes were OK, but repeated the same words and phrases over and over, particularly 'nub' and 'organ.' Break out the thesaurus once in a while, please!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2005

    Wonderful!

    I stumbled across this book one morning and spent the rest of it reading it! I loved every page and the fact that it was set in Italy made it that much better. Fast paced, steamy love scenes and a mystery to boot. I have now devoured all four of the Arboretti novels and am anxiously awaiting the next installment. I hope Ms. Jaffe doesn't keep us waiting too long!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2002

    Amazingly attracting

    I could not put the book down. Great historical mystery with wonderful racey love scenes. Jaffe has a way with her description of the setting right down to the fabrics in the clothes worn in those days.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2002

    awesome

    this was one of the best books ive ever read - when i first got it, i just couldnt put it down! I read it everyday for two months... i love all the characters =)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2002

    MY GOD!

    It was absolutely the most wonderful book I have ever read! It moves you to tears and laughter. For her first book it was VERY well written and deserved all the glory it's bound to get. The characters were all very amusing and witty and not to mention Ian who makes the book sizzle with his sensual character.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2001

    Fantastic book!

    I was enchanted with The Stargazer. I read it over a year ago while on vacation in Hawaii, and it was a perfect book! I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a good historical romance... Bianca's a doll. Jaffe's second book, The Water Nymph, is equally fantastic, if not more so. A must have for any book collection!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2001

    A great start, a not so great finish

    I was really into this book until I read the whole prison part. could have been a lot better......really faltered in the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2000

    DUMB, DUMBER, DUMBEST

    This was right up there when it comes to dumb. Dumb story line,dumb guy, dumb girl. BUT THE BOOK IS SAVED by the extremely steamy and erotic love scenes. My husband and I enjoyed them TOGETHER. I recommend having your main squeeze close by when you read this book. We are anxious to read her newest book - Water Nymph.

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