Francesca Fairbourn is one of those tiny, fair-haired, impulsive females protected by all the gods of romantic fiction. She graduates from a cloistered girls' school into the horrors of real life in 1860, when her artist father expires, and his ""protector"" (lover), the fiendish Lord Shelton, tries to rape her--only to be thwarted by the miraculous entrance of her Italian cousin Andrea Tarconti, ""Saint George, Apollo, Perseus rolled into one."" In no time, Francesca is off to the family castle in the Papal States, under the wing of an indomitable chaperone, Miss Perkins, amateur archaeologist, linguist, and revolutionary, a Miss Marple with politics. The unification of Italy via Garibaldi is the order of the day, but the Tarconti family is divided. Andrea is one of Garibaldi's redshirts. His twin Stefano seems a coldhearted cynic laid up by a bum leg--or is there more here than meets Francesca's eye? The Count, Fran's grandpa, is a conservative old party obsessed with Etruscan tombs--as is Francesca, till he locks her into one. A local Zorro type, II Falcone, wins her heart by aiding the poor, performing heroic rescues, and ripping papal pronunciamentos off church doors--what can be his true identity? Asti Spumanti--too sweet and bubbly perhaps, with no surprises, but full of high spirits.