An intelligently crafted first novel by a British fashion- writer supplies the expected inside look at the inbred world of Italian couture--and some unexpectedly vivid characters and dialogue, especially the gossipy exchanges that provide much of the drama here. After a long setup, the story roars into action when a beautiful, headstrong young Englishwoman with an eye for fashion- -the plucky but virginal 18-year-old Constance--heads for Italy and marries the first man she encounters on her first trip outside England just days after they met. Ludovico is a romantic Italian nobleman who sweeps Constance neatly off her feet, though she regains her balance abruptly after the wedding when she learns that he depends on his mother for the meager allowance he lives on. Partly to support them--but mostly because she loves the work and craves acclaim--Constance devotes herself to establishing an elegant line of clothing. But the more successful her business, alas, the less successful her marriage: The couple's three children are sadly neglected by Constance and her increasingly depressed husband, who finally kills himself. And that's not the worst of it. Before long, the merry widow realizes she barely knows her own kids; her bisexual lover betrays her nightly with a series of young boys; she has only two friends she can trust; and her business alone can't make her happy. Naturally, she soon establishes good relationships with all three kids and finds the perfect mate while keeping the business humming once again, but, still, her travails along the way are entertaining. Like a good cup of cappuccino: frothy, full of energy, and not too sweet.