the serpent and the pearl

Surprise! Two Books Coming Up . . .

I’ve gotten the ok from my publisher, and I can finally let slip some news I’ve been keeping quiet for a while.

My usual writing schedule is simple: one 450 page book per year, give or take. But that’s going to be different this year. I didn’t write one 450 page book last year–I went on some kind of insane hyper-drive, and wrote two.

And they’re both going to be released in the next six months.

As for one more bit of news? Both books are Borgia novels. I know some of you are looking ahead for the sequel to Empress of the Seven Hills (more on that later) but all I can say is, I took what was intended to be a one-book vacation to the Italian Renaissance, and my one-book vay-cay turned out like a high-school kid’s two-day sight-seeing trip to Paris which somehow morphs into two years of backpacking through Europe. The Borgia world grabbed me like a vise, and so did my characters. Giulia Farnese, mistress to the Borgia Pope and my irrepressible heroine, had far too many real-life adventures to confine to one book. A standalone novel became a duology instead–and to avoid leaving poor Giulia (and my readers) on another cliff-hanger, I wrote both books of the duology back to back. The Serpent and the Pearl is the first installment, set for release five weeks away on August 6, 2013 (though if you want to enter the new Goodreads giveaway for an advance copy, click here.) The concluding installment of Giulia Farnese’s story will be titled The Lion and the Rose, and it’s slated for release January 7, 2014 – just five months later.

And for those looking for news on the Empress of the Seven Hills sequel, I can tell you that I’m busy writing it now. It has no fixed release date yet, but it will be titled Lady of the Eternal City. Hopefully the Borgia novels and their trio of heroes will tide you over: Giulia Farnese, the Renaissance’s most beautiful woman; her cynical bodyguard Leonello who duels with Cesare Borgia and hunts serial killers for fun; and a fiery cook named Carmelina who has a genius for gourmet food, a mummified hand in her pocket (don’t ask), and more secrets than she can count.

Take a look here at my duology’s two gorgeous covers, and two (spoiler-free) descriptions:


Rome, 1492. The Holy City is drenched with blood and teeming with secrets. A pope lies dying and the throne of God is left vacant, a prize awarded only to the most virtuous–or the most ruthless. The Borgia family begins its legendary rise, chronicled by an innocent girl who finds herself drawn into their dangerous web . . .

Vivacious Giulia Farnese has floor-length golden hair and the world at her feet: beauty, wealth, and a handsome young husband. But she is stunned to discover that her glittering marriage is a sham, and she is to be given as a concubine to the ruthless, charismatic Cardinal Borgia: Spaniard, sensualist, candidate for pope–and passionately in love with her.

Two trusted companions will follow her into the world of the Borgias: Leonello, a cynical bodyguard bent on bloody revenge against a mysterious killer, and Carmelina, a fiery cook with a past full of secrets. But as corruption thickens in the Vatican and the bodies begin to mount, Giulia and her friends must decide if they will flee the Borgia dream of power–or if they can even survive it


From the national bestselling author of “The Serpent and the Pearl” comes the continuing saga of the ruthless family that holds all of Rome in its grasp, and the three outsiders thrust into their twisted web of blood and deceit . . .

As the cherished concubine of the Borgia Pope Alexander VI, Giulia Farnese has Rome at her feet. But after narrowly escaping a sinister captor, she realizes that the danger she faces is far from over–and now, it threatens from within. The Holy City of Rome is still under Alexander’s thrall, but enemies of the Borgias are starting to circle. In need of trusted allies, Giulia turns to her sharp-tongued bodyguard, Leonello, and her fiery cook and confidante, Carmelina.

Caught in the deadly world of the Renaissance’s most notorious family, Giulia, Leonello, and Carmelina must decide if they will flee the dangerous dream of power. But as the shadows of murder and corruption rise through the Vatican, they must learn who to trust when every face wears a mask . . .

Cosmopolitan: Special Renaissance Edition!

Since my next book is moving from ancient Rome to Renaissance Rome, it’s time for some Renaissance-themed blog posts! Starting with something fun for the weekend: a circa-1492 edition of Cosmopolitan. Because why not?

Plenty of mentions here of my heroine from the upcoming The Serpent and the Pearl, Giulia Farnese, and all her various Borgia companions . . .

On the cover: GIULIA FARNESE: The Pope’s Mistress Spills Her Secrets


Furred gown (price upon request). Paris hat with plume (price upon request). Pearl earrings (on loan from Vatican treasury). To get Giulia’s subtle-but-sexy look, try kohl in Botticelli Blue and lip rouge in Raphael Red, and luminescent skin powder in Da Vinci Diamond. (Use actual diamond dust for extra glow.) Hair: wear a pearled snood for this sophisticated look, or just let those gorgeous golden waves hang all the way to your feet! Don’t have floor-length hair? Try Giulia’s secret weapon: a weekly mask rubbed into the scalp to encourage fast growth. (Details page 88) You’ll have those locks down around your knees in no time!











Cosmo News
35 Hot Sheet
Trends we’re buzzing about! Are dagged sleeves here to stay?
44 Sexy vs. Skanky
Botticelli’s Venus–he left her naked, but should he have painted a dress on her? You decide!
56 The Real Story: A Nun Escapes The Convent
Why she risked everything to break her holy vows
62 Confessions
She lied to her confessor about sleeping with a condottiere!
64 Guys Spill: The Little White Lies They Tell You
He promised to marry her–but forgot to mention that he’s a priest!
66 Beauty Evolution: Lucrezia Borgia’s Style Progression
Our Pope’s little princess is all grown up! Lucrezia Borgia trades her pastel frocks and girlish slippers for daring necklines and (gasp!) towering stilt clogs! Get this look for less than 300 ducats.

Lucrezia likes hers a full ten inches tall! Scandalous, but good for keeping skirts out of the mud!

Cover Story
69 The Bride of Christ
Lean in close for some girl talk with Christendom’s most notorious woman! Giulia Farnese spills to Cosmo about that famous floor-length hair, not to mention Pope Alexander VI, her surprising friendships with his children, and the five things you should never tell your guy (even if he’s the Pope!)










The question only Cosmo would dare to ask: does having the Pope as your BF damn you to hell, or is the Holy Father’s absolution the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card? Read her answer here!

Fun Fearless Fashion
74 In-Style Indian
In honor of our recent discovery of a new continent, everything this season is coming up native! Fringes, beads, and leather equals hot, hot, hot–all plundered cheap and chic from the New World! (Allow six months for trans-oceanic shipping.)
75 10 Steals at the Piazza
Bargain-price accessories at the Piazza Navona–replica silver saint’s medals, every possible saint guaranteed!
78 Not Your Mother’s Snood
Pearls and spangles put a sexy spin on the old-married-woman staple!

Cosmo Look
86 Beauty News
Crownless sun-hats allow you to sun your hair and keep that skin white–genius!
88 His Picks
Gentlemen prefer blondes, so wash your hair in Giulia Farnese’s special saffron and cinnabar rinse
92 Beauty Q&A
Use our special bean-flour and pigeon-dropping face mask to tighten and tone!
93 Wiggin’ Out?
Four wig styles that flatter everyone

Guy Watch
102 Stud Meter

Cesare Borgia hits the top! We can’t get enough of this scary-but-sexy bad boy who makes a bishop’s robes look so damn hawt. Meet his companions in . . .
104 Deadly Dreamboats
Henchman-in-chief Michelotto has stone-cold killer eyes and the abs to match, but don’t overlook the latest addition to the Borgia stable of assassins: smart-mouth Leonello. Sure, this little man’s only up to your shoulder, but we hear he’s got wicked knives, and a wicked tongue to match!
10 The Other Borgia Boys
Cesare’s younger brother Juan has a wife, but who cares? She’s in Spain, and he’s looking for a new mistress! And don’t neglect little brother Joffre–his memoir Growing Up Borgia comes out this year!

Juan Borgia: ok, so he has a reputation for rape, murder and killing stray dogs. But who can resist a guy in a plumed helmet?

107 Bad Hair Days Around The Papal States
Come on, priests–we know church law mandates tonsures, but shaving the crown of your head is so not sexy. Keep it minimal like Cesare Borgia with a short patch at the top, and let your curls go wild!

Love and Lust
110 21 Relationship Tips From Venice’s Most Successful Courtesans
You can’t be seen associating with these women, so we did the research for you.

You won’t believe her Tip #19!

112 Arranged Marriages: Getting It Right
Learn to love the man your parents picked for you
116 Ask Him Anything
Will your husband mind if you breast-feed your baby? Yes! Remember, ladies, he needs heirs, so he’ll want you pregnant again as soon as possible.
121 He Slept With A Courtesan�Does It Count As Cheating?
First question: did she give him the French pox?

You, Even Better
138 How To Be An Artist’s Muse
Botticelli’s famous Primavera dishes tips on posing nude, holding still, and dealing with the artistic temperament. Everlasting artistic fame will be yours in no time!

Getting a crick in your neck during those long modeling sessions – occupational hazard!

139 6 Tips To A Perfect Basse-Danse
Just remember to keep your back stiff during this classic after-dinner dance�but don’t be afraid to show a flash of ankle in the turns. So daring!
142 How To Be Noticed In Church
Everybody knows men scout for future brides during Mass�with these subtle-but-sexy tips, you’ll be engaged by the time the Offertory comes around!

Health Check
150 The Cosmo Health Report: Your Sexual Health
Here’s the real truth about the French Pox, and how to spot the bad boys who have it. (Hint: avoid men with rotting noses.)
154 Cosmo Gyno
The new birth control: half a Neapolitan lime, and you won’t believe what we tell you to do with it! (Just don’t tell your hubby.)
155 Your Body
Ten exercises to keep that waist tiny, even after the tenth childbirth!

Need To Know
161 Bull Through
Our fail-safe guide to the bullfights our Spanish Pope has made so trendy. Impress your man with your bull-fight know-how the next time he takes you to an afternoon of bloodshed!

Cesare Borgia bullfights for fun – and he can take a bull’s head off in one stroke! Now that’s sexy.

Fun and Fearless
164 The Naughtiest Thing I’ve Ever Done
Lucrezia Borgia hired courtesans to entertain at her wedding–and they picked up chestnuts off the floor with their what?
166 Are You There, Sancha?
Sexy Sancha of Aragon might be married to little Joffre Borgia, but this sexpot Borgia daughter-in-law moonlights as our resident bad-girl columnist! This issue, she spills on papal conclaves, world domination papal-style . . . and just what she thinks of all these Borgia incest rumors.

Cosmo Life
170 Weekend
Lent is just around the corner, but you know what comes first: Carnival! Get in the spirit by putting on a mask (Giulia Farnese likes a unicorn mask) and running wild through the city!

Go ahead, make out with a masked stranger – you can always atone once Lent begins!

172 You and Him
Men may like floor-length hair, but it sure gets tangled around everything whenever you and your man get frisky. Pause your sexy time long enough to make a quick braid.
178 At Your Place: Carmelina’s Cena
Giulia Farnese’s private chef is a woman who knows her business. Copy her menu for Lucrezia Borgia’s (first) wedding banquet, and impress your guests with an all-sweets buffet: miniature tourtes of caravella pears and summer strawberries, honeyed pastry stars stuffed with blood orange segments, sugared violets and apple blossoms, creamy swans with candied almond feathers . . . yum!
181 Healthy Sexy Strong
Muscle tone is so not sexy�here’s how we keep you looking soft all over

Cosmo Astrologer
188 Your priest disapproves of astrology, but we won’t tell!
A bad month for Taurus (don’t fall for a sweet-talking artist who swears he’ll make you famous if you only take off your clothes!) but a good month for Sagittarius (a rich suitor is waiting just around the corner with a marriage proposal. Already married? Then the proposal will come for your twelve-year-old daughter!)

It’s never too early to settle her future!

Red-Hot Read
192 Swoony Sonnets
You’ll sigh for Petrarch’s latest dreamy lyrics�and just who is this mysterious golden lady he calls his Laura?

Cosmo Quiz
193 The Three Female Fates: Nun, Wife, or Whore. Which Are You?
Mostly A’s: nun. Let’s hope you look good in veils.

Mostly B’s: wife. But wives can be sexy too! Just ditch the bad hat.

Mostly C’s: Courtesan! Get yourself a sexy dress and start charging by the hour!

Hope you enjoyed this Renaissance edition of Cosmo!

The Serpent and the Pearl: The Audio-Book! Starring . . .

Some news I’ve been bursting to spill: my forthcoming Borgia novel “The Serpent and the Pearl” will also be released in digital audio-book form!

This is my first audio book, and even more exciting, “The Serpent and the Pearl” is getting the deluxe treatment: not just one reader but three. Two female readers who will provide the voices for my two heroines, and a male reader who will voice my hero.

Not just any male reader, either: my hero in “The Serpent and the Pearl” will be read by none other than Ronan Vibert, who is currently co-starring on Showtime’s series “The Borgias.” (He looks considerably more unshaven and villainous there, as Lucrezia Borgia’s brutal first husband, than he does in the picture here!) You may also remember Ronan as Lepidus in HBO’s “Rome,” as Robespierre in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” as Mira Sorvino’s dissipated English lord in “The Buccaneers,” and from a thousand other BBC productions. I’ve already heard clips of his reading, and he’s going to be marvelous as my cynical hero Leonello. (Looks not unlike him too, except for a leetle height difference.)

The ladies sound wonderful too, both of them young stage-trained British actresses with lots of Shakespeare in their background. The reader for Giulia Farnese has a husky alto drawl that would charm any Pope to his knees.

So come August 6, download the audio edition of “The Serpent and the Pearl” and listen to the fun!

Habemus Papam: We Have A Pope!

As I type this, 115 cardinals of the Catholic Church are trooping into the Sistine Chapel to begin that most holy of voting procedures: the conclave which will result in a new pope. I’m not Catholic, but I still find myself inordinately excited. I’ve spent the last year researching another papal conclave: the conclave of 1492, in which the characters of my next book The Serpent and the Pearl: a novel of the Borgias have a great deal at stake.

The conclave of 1492 was the first to be held in the Sistine Chapel, a tradition that continued afterward to this day. The chapel hadn’t yet been painted by Michelangelo–a certain Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who sat in several papal conclaves over the course of his career, might well have stared vengefully at the ceiling and thought to himself, “Ok, if I ever win one of these things, I’m putting some decent paintings in here.” Della Rovere was one of several cardinals who probably considered himself papabile, which roughly translates to “pope-able.” Papal conclaves were held in strictest secrecy, but you could generally tell who thought they had a shot at the papal throne by seeing which cardinals had their palaces cleaned out beforehand: Roman tradition during the Renaissance dictated that any new Pope promptly had his palace sacked by a celebratory mob (the reasoning being that the guy didn’t need a private residence anymore, since he was moving into the Vatican). That’s one tradition that has fallen away over the centuries, but it was highly appreciated by the bettors and bookies of the Renaissance, who touted the odds on the next pope according to which cardinals had all their best belongings carted away pre-Conclave, just in case things swung their way. Cardinal della Rovere had his hopes up for the conclave of 1492, and so did his arch-enemy, a certain affable Spanish cardinal named Rodrigo Borgia.

Modern conclaves have streamlined the voting process for efficiency: votes can be held up to four times per day, as opposed to the Renaissance when conclaves could last for weeks. (There was one conclave which supposedly lasted several years, and the cardinals were finally restricted to bread and water to hurry them along. When even that didn’t work, the roof was removed from their voting room. A few showers of rain later, a pope was chosen with remarkable speed.)

But in 1492 as in today’s conclave, a two-thirds majority was required. Also identical in process is the expulsion of outsiders, the ceremonial locking of the doors, and the oath of silence. Vegas has nothing on the Vatican: on pain of excommunication, what happens at the Conclave stays at the Conclave. Voting ballots are still hand-written (you don’t want to put in computers to tabulate this vote; wouldn’t it be embarrassing if Anonymous posted “Dude, I hacked the Vatican!” on Facebook?) And both today and in 1492, fierce jockeying occurs behind the scenes as cardinals angle for Christendom’s ultimate prize.

The conclave of 1492 was notorious for the bribery that went on among these supposed men of God. If you think the clergy today has a bad reputation, the cardinals of the Renaissance had them outdone by miles. There were only twenty-three present in the Sistine Chapel that summer day in 1492 (travel distances being what they were, cardinals didn’t tend to make flying visits from France or England as they do today), and all twenty-three were known less as men of God than as princes of the church: worldly men who ate and drank like kings, made merry with women, slept in luxurious palaces, promoted their families, sponsored great art, and lived it up. The poster child for this system was Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, an unabashed sensualist who played proud papa to at least four notorious illegitimate children–and at the time of the conclave, was head over heels in love with a gorgeous eighteen-year-old blonde by the name of Giulia Farnese. In my version in The Serpent and the Pearl, Rodrigo is more distracted during the conclave than he should be, tabulating possible votes with one half of his mind as the other half wonders if he can make Giulia his mistress. Not a good time for a man of God to be distracted, but Rodrigo Borgia always made time for love.

When he wasn’t dreamily doodling Giulia’s profile on his ballot, Cardinal Borgia made other arrangements. Four mule-loads of silver and the office of Vice-Chancellor reportedly went to Cardinal Ascanio Sforza in return for his papal vote; fortified towns and bishoprics and revenues were handed out like party favors among the other cardinals in exchange for their support. Cardinal della Rovere must have been very tight-lipped indeed during the four votes that followed: with every cast of the ballots, his enemy’s star rose. The first three sets of ballots were burned ceremoniously, releasing the black smoke above the Vatican roof that to this day symbolizes to the watching crowd outside that yet another vote has been unsuccessful. On the sixth day of the 1492 conclave, a hot summer day in early August, the crowd saw white smoke: a pope had been elected.

In Rodrigo Borgia’s day, tradition had it that the newly elected pope demurred modestly when offered the papacy, then formally accepted before taking his oath and making his first public appearance. Supposedly Rodrigo Borgia was too excited for modesty, and just let out an exultant yell of “I AM POPE!” This tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Rodrigo Borgia.

After accepting his title, the new Pope goes at once to change into his papal vestments (several sizes are usually laid out, then as now, since no one knows what size man will be climbing into those vestments). He then goes out to give his first official blessing to the crowd outside, announced officially by his chosen papal name. The official announcement, unchanged through the centuries, is Habemus Papam, or “We have a pope.” The assembled crowd of 1492 heard the words “We have for Pope, Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia of Valencia.” To the surprise of no one who knew the man, he had chosen the name of a conqueror rather than a saint.

After the blessing, preparations are always made to crown the new Pope in an official ceremony, but everyone has a few days to prepare first. The new Pope Alexander would have had time to go home, celebrate with his exultant sons Cesare and Juan and Joffre, and tell his daughter Lucrezia about the splendid marriage plans he arranged for her as part of the bribe to Cardinal Sforza. The new Pope would also have made time to kiss the golden-haired Giulia Farnese–whom, to the scandal of all Rome, he refused to give up after taking the papal throne. And the new Pope probably would have heard the scurrilous epigram that soon made its way through Rome after the election: “Alexander sells the Keys, the Altar, Christ Himself–he has a right to, for he bought them.” Rodrigo Borgia never minded trash-talking; he probably roared with laughter. Besides, it was true: the conclave of 1492 became famous as one of the worst examples of bribery and simony in conclave history. When Cardinal della Rovere finally became Pope Julius II two conclaves later, he passed stringent anti-bribery laws for future conclaves (in between bullying Michelangelo about that Sistine Chapel ceiling).

The papal conclave of 2013 is already famous: it’s the first time since the Middle Ages, long before Rodrigo Borgia or any of his colleagues were born, that a conclave has been held on a pope’s resignation rather than his death. Who knows if it will be famous for any other reasons? All we can do is wait and watch for that plume of white smoke.

Habemus Papam.

My Next Book!

I treasure the memory of my three days at the 2011 Historical Novel Society Conference for many reasons–watching Diana Gabaldon trot around with a glass of wine in one hand and a broadsword in the other; laughing as C.C. Humphreys narrated a blow-job scene in his mellifluous English drawl; bonding late at night with a gaggle of new best friends–but one of the best pieces of advice I took home with me came not from a discussion group or advice panel, but over a bagel and a cup of coffee.

“What historical era are you doing after ancient Rome?” the lovely Michelle Moran asked me. “It’s something to think about–you don’t want to be writing the same book over and over, after all.” Since the queen of ancient Egypt novels had recently made a very successful switch to revolutionary France, I started thinking. I have written three books set in ancient Rome, and while it’s an era I adore, I was starting to fantasize about writing a book in which I never, not one single time, had to type the word t-o-g-a. Emperors and legions, chariot races and consulship campaigns, atriums and slave girls and silk stolae–I needed a break. So, after much thought and discussion with my editor and my agent, it was agreed that my next book would stay in Rome, but not the 1st century. I’ve jumped forward a millenium and a half, and have landed smack on the Borgia bandwagon.

My fourth book, slated for release in August 2013, revolves around the minor historical figure of Giulia Farnese, a Renaissance beauty with floor-length hair who became mistress to the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI. (Yes, another mistress!) Giulia’s story is joined by that of her cynical bodyguard and her fiery household cook–and of course, the Borgias themselves in all their mysterious and murderous glory.

Goodbye, ancient Rome (at least for now). And hello, Renaissance!



Rome, 1492. The Holy City is drenched with blood and teeming with secrets. A pope lies dying and the throne of God is left vacant, a prize awarded only to the most virtuous–or the most ruthless. The Borgia family begins its legendary rise, chronicled by an innocent girl who finds herself drawn into their dangerous web…

Vivacious Giulia Farnese has floor-length golden hair and the world at her feet: beauty, wealth, and a handsome young husband. But she is stunned to discover that her glittering marriage is a sham, and she is to be given as a concubine to the ruthless, charismatic Cardinal Borgia: Spaniard, sensualist, candidate for pope–and passionately in love with her.

Two trusted companions will follow her into the world of the Borgias: Leonello, a cynical bodyguard bent on bloody revenge against a mysterious killer, and Carmelina, a fiery cook with a past full of secrets. But as corruption thickens in the Vatican and the bodies begin to mount, Giulia and her friends must decide if they will flee the Borgia dream of power–or if they can even survive it.