The Borgia villa in Monaco’s ancient Old City stands fast on Le Rocher, the headland that spurs down into the Port of Hercules and opens into the Mediterranean Sea. With its master gone, and not liable to return for some time (Cardinal Borgia has business in Rome, what with this new ecumenical council, Vatican II, called by Pope John XXIII) that leaves the run of it to his son and daughter, who have already invited over most of the rich and idle progeny of Europe for a party that has gone on for a fortnight and shows no signs of abating any time soon. Cesare raced in the Monaco Grand Prix today, Lucrezia watching approvingly from the stands, hidden behind her Chanel sunglasses. If the rumor is circulating in the losers’ circles that Cesare had their cars sabotaged – well, that is only bitter calumny and speculation. Nothing they can prove. And Cesare takes the winner’s purse, the front pages of the European papers, and in Rome with their father – where no matter the other liberalizations being considered to accommodate the Catholic Church to the modern world, surely it will not extend to legitimizing a cardinal’s bastard children – they will whisper, and they will plot.
It is twenty years past the end of the second World War. Spain, the Borgias’ ancestral homeland, is subjugated under Franco, and Italy is still recovering from Mussolini. Borgia power and Borgia connections rebuilt it, at a price. Rodrigo, the family patriarch, has been in the church for decades, though at various points they have vigorously tried to have him excommunicated for this offense or that one, not least his scandalous sexual activities. They have never succeeded, but whether this is due to some inherent virtue that emerges only under fire, or the family’s well-rumored and long-running connection to the Sicilian mafia, remains unclear. His four children – Cesare, Lucrezia, Juan, and Gioffre – have every luxury that money can buy, homes in Monaco and the French Alps and London and New York, private-school educations, designer wardrobes, all the expensive toys and vehicles their hearts can desire. Cesare plays polo and poses for magazines; Lucrezia is photographed on the yachts of the European elite, sipping cocktails, lipstick red on the glass, passionate trysts in dim corners with other serried sons of privilege. Juan drinks their money, makes diplomatic faux pas as if they’re going out of style, and gets into trouble with nubile young socialites. Gioffre is as yet too young to matter much.
It is Cesare that Rodrigo hopes to follow him in the church, and he has tried his utmost to make this happen, but something always seems to happen to undermine it. Cesare has been kicked out of both Oxford and Cambridge for unspecified “misdeeds”; when a popular professor of politics with whom he had publicly feuded turned up mysteriously drowned in the Thames, questions were asked, inquiries were opened, and Rodrigo sped his son back off to Italy to shield him from the slings and arrows of the unmerciful British press. It is doubtful whether any of the pontifical universities in Rome will accept an applicant of such questionable nature and bloody background, no matter how much mob money the cardinal endows them with. Tall, dark, handsome, blessed with a virile sexual magnetism and a sharp, lethal wit, it is plain to see that Cesare Borgia will never make a man of the cloth.
With such a colorful and dramatic family, therefore, their personal lives cannot but help become the subject of scandalous gossip and innuendo. And as of now, their current belief is that when he could have his choice of all the aristocratic daughters of old European families, Cesare Borgia has instead chosen to look past them all, and settle his gaze instead on the one woman even he cannot have, that would solidify the sordid nature of their family (it seems not possible, but it is) even further. His little sister, Lucrezia.
The siblings’ behavior has done nothing to dampen these whispers. Lucrezia’s lovers keep meeting sticky ends, and Cesare is so openly jealous and confrontational of them that even those not given to petty, scurrilous, back-biting gossip have to wonder. Their father, shut up in the Vatican, has managed to remain ignorant of these (though his eyes have been closed for years when it comes to truly seeing what his children are) but it is the rumor du jour in Monaco, and Lucrezia’s passionate kiss for her brother when he won the Prix today is doubtless only fuel for their fire. She is as fair as he is dark, a blonde, leggy beauty whose every fashion choice is as closely regarded as the American first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy. She is just as dangerous, if not more.
And so, tonight in their villa, drinking expensive French champagne like water, lying on the bed together, windows open to let in the summer, Cesare and Lucrezia cannot help but laugh. The constant hangers-on have been cleared out; this night is theirs, the world is theirs, and they see no point in denying any longer what has been an unspoken truth between them for years. She straddles him, his hands on her hips, occasionally reaching up to card through her loosened curls, until at last she bends, graceful as a swan, and their lips meet. Briefly at first, then longer and longer. Shy, then beckoning.
Lucrezia sighs, and settles atop him at full length. His hands caress her back, her spine, pulling her closer, into the shape of his arms. He has always known exactly how she fits. In her ear he whispers, “To hell with them all.”
She smirks back at him. Knows, too, precisely what he means. Lowers her head again, and presses a kiss to the hollow of his throat. Into the warmth of his sweat-dewed skin, as she strokes his shoulder, molds her hand around it, she whispers, “Only a Borgia can love a Borgia, Cesare. So let us.”