As she has done in The Secret Wife of King George IV, Haeger draws on an actual love story that is as passionate and consuming as any fictional romance. As the Renaissance artist Raphael lies in state, dead at the height of his career, his mistress Margherita Luti is on her way to a convent where she will be safe from the vindictive Cardinal Bibbiena.

Margherita must pay the Mother Superior's price—the ruby ring she wears as a symbol of Raphael's love. In the quiet of the walled community, she reflects on her loss and how she, the daughter of a baker, became the model for the artist's famous painting of the Madonna and the love of his life. Margherita ponders whether she can relinquish the ring or face harassment from the Church.

Haeger's magic touch recreates the beauty, passion, intrigue and glory of the Renaissance, portraying the powerful Church, artists' rivalries, the majesty of the Pope and corrup- tion of the Church through a truly beautiful and bittersweet love story that will resonate within readers' hearts. SWEET (May, 400 pp., $12.95)
Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin