Basilio, Count Montevarchi, scholar and poet, is the most Romantic hero I’ve ever read. I’m talking Romantic with a capital “R:” extravagant emotion, an emphasis on honor and truth, idealism, seeing beauty in the ordinary, loving with one’s whole heart and being. These kinds of Romances are rare and I know some people can’t get into the over-the-topness of it, but Barbara Samuel served up a doozy of one for her last historical romance, Night of Fire, written in 2000.
Basilio has kept up a two year correspondence with the widowed Cassandra St. Ives, who lives in England, herself a scholar of some note. The letters began as scholarly debate, and that continues to be a part of their relationship, but they have found in each other kindred spirits and already love each other dearly. When Basilio senses Cassandra’s restlessness, that she is ready for a new adventure, he writes: “Come to Tuscany, my lady. Breathe new winds.”
Each has an image of the other as your typical middle-aged scholar. Very safe. When they meet and see the reality of the other—vibrant, sensual, beautiful beings—it is a shock. Each immediately believes the meeting to be a mistake. They already love each other’s minds and souls, but when it is combined with physical attraction and lust, the combination is potent and combustible. Their first kiss is explosive.
He had thought that a poet in love should deliver the most beautiful of first kisses. But there was no grace in him now.
Without speaking, he moved to her, a sense of something beyond heat, beyond desire, rushing through him. It seemed as if the air crackled, as if she glowed. He reached for her, and putting his hands on her face, bent and kissed her.
Kissed her full on the mouth, with all the longing he’d hidden. A roar came into his ears, the hugeness of his need for her, for the taste of those lips, and the smell of her and the feeling of her hands flying up around his neck.
He wanted to be skilled and patient and kind, but it was impossible. The kiss blazed, igniting him and her, and they kissed with hungry, open-mouthed need, inexact and brilliant.
Night of Fire, indeed.
But, alas, the course of True Love never did run smooth. Basilio promised his mother he would wed Analise, a dear friend of the family, in order to keep her safe from her father who would sell her to the highest bidder; in this case, the highest bidder is a middle-aged brute of a man who has already buried several wives. Analise is a sweet, pure, very young girl who has only ever wanted to be a nun. Basilio cannot break his promise to his mother; he cannot be the reason this innocent girl is brutalized, and so he and Cassandra must part. Cassandra agrees, unable to live with herself if her love destroyed another, but the farewell is wrenching.
He climbed the stairs to the chamber he’d shared with Cassandra. When he opened the door, the scent of her—musk and wildflowers and cloves—enveloped him. It brought the memory of her hair, trailing over his arm.
A feeling like a knife wound seared the middle of his chest. His flesh burned with sensual memories—the smoothness of her skin, the sweetness of her kiss, the throatiness of her laughter. He thought of the long conversations they’d shared, and the simple, rare, deep pleasure he’d found in a mind that engaged his own. His heart ached with the certainty that she was his only love, would ever be the only woman his soul would even recognize. It was more than passion, more than friendship, a combination that transcended both.
How could he let her go?
Once Basilio and Analise are married (but unconsummated), the poet must give vent to his feelings, and so
Basilio took up his pen, and the words frozen in him for a month came pouring free. He wept as he wrote, and once was so overcome that he put his head in the curve of his elbow, waiting for it to subside. But write he did. And every word held Cassandra’s breath, and the curve of Cassandra’s breast, and the sound of Cassandra’s laughter.
He wrote until his pen fell from his fingers, leaving a small blot in the shape of a star across the page. Then he fell, exhausted, into sleep.
Delicious. Will this ever work out?
Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com