Every so often readers email me about secondary characters who’ve become as important to them as the leads. Recently I’ve had several questions about Giovanni Sozzani, who is mentioned in the San Rimini books as the king’s good friend. In the final title of the series, To Kiss a King, Giovanni plays a critical role.
To Kiss a King is a romance novel. It’s also a novel about a deep, lasting friendship.
A good romance novel tells the story of two characters overcoming conflict to build a lasting relationship. Sometimes those challenges are external, such as a rivalry between the characters’ families. Sometimes they’re internal, such as when the fulfillment of one person’s lifelong dream necessitates the end of the other’s dream. In the best stories, the characters must tackle both internal and external conflicts to find their happily ever after. They make sacrifices, grow, and find solutions together.
Simple enough, right?
In To Kiss a King, the conflicts were obvious. A king is known worldwide for the great romance he enjoyed with his late wife, Queen Aletta. When he falls for someone new, he knows his country will judge him for it. Worse, the woman he finds attractive happens to be an ambassador to his country, one who’s been burned by a partner before.
I enjoyed writing Eduardo and Claire’s story. It explores the realities of a later-in-life romance between two individuals with successful, challenging careers, each of whom feel a duty to those they represent.
To Kiss a King also offered me the opportunity to focus on a lifelong friendship between two men. Eduardo and his best friend, Giovanni, have known each other for decades, since well before Eduardo held the throne. Over the years they’ve navigated weddings, funerals, career changes, children, and heartbreak. They tease each other about whether cycling or running is the superior solo athletic pursuit. They play regular cribbage games on a board given to Giovanni by his grandfather, one with worn pegs and scrapes around the edges. When I wrote the story, I had no idea how to play cribbage. My parents played, but I never did. Still, I liked the physical aspect of a battered, inherited board and gave it a history that spoke to the friendship between the men. Writing the scenes with Eduardo and Giovanni required a crash course in game play.
It’s during their games the men work out their problems, share their triumphs, engage in healthy competition, and serve as gut checks for one another. For instance, Eduardo subtly encourages Giovanni to keep a positive outlook despite having been cheated on not once, but twice by women he loved. When Eduardo wants to ask Claire on a date, he deliberates the idea with Giovanni over cribbage. Giovanni is blunt in a way no one else could be with a king:
It’s not complicated. You simply ask a woman if she’d like a date. Then she says yes or she says no.”
“I shouldn’t have suggested a second glass of whiskey.”
“Of course you should have. I give my best advice after the second glass.”
Eduardo shook his head, then tried to focus on the count. It didn’t matter. Giovanni hit the target score almost immediately, ending play.
“I was thinking of asking her to the symphony,” he said. “The season begins next week and I usually attend one of the early performances.”
“You can’t take a date there. Think, Eduardo.”
He met Giovanni’s gaze, then realization dawned. “It’s the Queen Aletta Concert Hall.”
“Given the range of salacious headlines the media could run, they’d be ecstatic. You and your date, not so much. This woman must be something else, because that is not a misstep the Eduardo I know is prone to make.”
When Eduardo admits that the woman who’s caught his eye is the new ambassador, Giovanni understands the depth of the conflict. He doesn’t hesitate to express his opinion, but he knows just how to temper it:
“I like her, Giovanni.”
“That much is apparent.” Giovanni ran a finger along the base of his whiskey glass. “If she’s smart, she’ll say no.”
“She is smart. She likes history and movies and she cares about the greater good. She’s also not intimidated by me, by which I mean all of this.” He swirled his hand to encompass the palace. “She isn’t afraid to let me see her wit. That’s why I like her.”
“She’s also hot.”
In romance novels or movies, the friendship between a male romantic lead and his friends is often relegated to the background or used as a gag. One of the great joys in writing To Kiss a King came from showing how a lifelong friendship informs Eduardo’s choices as much—perhaps more—than political pressure or society’s expectations. It thrills me to know that for many of you, Giovanni made the book a favorite in the series.