Excerpt: Nonna's Book of Mysteries

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Emilia Serafini barely dared breathe as she waited for the master’s reproach, although she had done absolutely nothing wrong at all.  Inside Lorenzo Jacovelli’s bottega, his famous workshop, beads of sweat trickled down her neck from beneath the brimmed cap she wore low on her head to hide hair that was too long, too glorious to cut.  Everyone in Florence knew that painters’ apprenticeships were not for girls, so Emilia was disguised as a boy.  Wearing a shapeless brown tunic over a coarse linen shirt, she denied her true self.

“The workshop is no place for childish bickering.  Go on, both of you. Scrub the courtyard.”  The enormous man whose panels and frescoes delighted the likes of the Medici and Rucellai was shooing her out the back door, all because of what Luigi had done.  Emilia was fuming over the injustice of it all when Jacovelli’s emerald ring caught in her cap.  It slid over one ear and out tumbled her hair.

Quickly Emilia tugged the cap straight, stuffing her hair back inside, hoping that Jacovelli had been looking anywhere else but the back of her head.  Sadly, she was wrong, for in a matter of seconds she felt his grip on her shoulder.

Jacovelli turned Emilia around to face him. Without warning, he removed her cap.  Emilia’s hair spilled out like golden wheat rippling in the wind.  Her heart fluttered in her chest as he stood there quietly, taking a long, close look at his fourteen-year-old apprentice.  She braced herself for another reprimand, but clearly he was more surprised than angry. After a thoughtful silence, his lips curved into a smile.  “Something tells me your name is not really Alessandro,” he said.

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