In this excerpt from my work in progress, a time travel story set in Renaissance Florence, Alessa has just met Mason, and has seen a portrait of herself that has yet to be painted.
Alessa couldn’t feel as sorry as she ought. Oh, Matteo was trying as hard as possible to make her feel sorry, appealing to her sense of family honour, of filial duty, of love for him and for Grandfather. But he couldn’t make her sorry. Wretched, yes, but not sorry.
She endured his lectures all the way home, glad at least of his company and the safety of the carriage on the dark road even if her magical evening had ended so abruptly.
“What have you to say for yourself?” He pinned her with a stern look so like Grandfather’s that she drew away, eyes wide.
He softened then and held out a hand. “I’m sorry, Alessa. I know how you feel about things. It was a cruel accident of birth made you a girl, otherwise you would have had the same freedoms—and responsibilities—as I do.”
She took his hand in forgiveness. “I don’t regret begin born a girl, Matteo. I rather like being a girl.”
He looked at her skeptically. “In any case, what is cannot be changed. You are a girl, not a boy, and you have the family you have. You simply can’t go flitting off into the night alone like some serving wench to dally with strange men. What might have happened had I not found you when I did, I don’t want to imagine.” He shuddered at some horror involuntarily brought to mind.
Alessa scoffed. “Nothing happened, or would have. Mason is nothing like that.”
“How do you know? Do you know anything about him? None of my acquaintances have met him before tonight. Do you know he appeared in Florence wearing the most outlandish garments this morning?”
“What?” Matteo stared at her. “How did you know?”
Alessa realized her mistake and blushed, though he couldn’t see it in the dark. “I heard. I also heard he was in the company of the artist, Botticelli. Doesn’t that vouchsafe his character?”
Matteo shook his head. “The word of an artist? You are sheltered, my dear sister. Things may not be as bad as Grandfather says, but the art community is not the picture of moral uprightness, either.”
She shook her head and looked out the window, frosting the darkness outside with her breath. But Matteo’s seed of doubt had taken root inside her heart and was sending down roots into the hidden places.
What did she really know about the stranger? The more she thought about him, the more mysterious he seemed. He had been seeking her, just as she had been seeking him. And he had a portrait of her—a portrait that as far as she knew never should have existed.
Memory of the painting sent a chill through her, not entirely unpleasant. It was undoubtedly her. Not just the face and the hair, but the dress. That was the strangest part. She had altered this dress only today, but the mysterious painter had captured every detail to perfection. It couldn’t be possible, but that painting had to have been made only today.
Besides that, there was the state of her in the picture—her hair unbound and flowing around her shoulders, just as she’d imagined earlier today, her dress unlaced and half-open at the neck, the deep flush of her cheeks and the knowing smile in her eyes …
Alessa blushed deeply even now, thinking about someone painting her like that, seeing her like that. It just wasn’t seemly. But at the same time, she wanted to know what would make her look at someone like that. It was a look she’d never given anyone before, she was sure of it.
“What are we going to do with you?” Matteo said with a sigh, startling her out of her strange thoughts.
“Oh, please!” She placed an appealing hand on his arm. “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”
He gazed at her for a long moment, appraisingly, then sighed again. “I couldn’t. It would break Grandfather’s heart, for one. And yours. For all your foolishness, I know you didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I’ll have to swear the groom to secrecy, as well, you realize.”
“Yes. Thank you.” Alessa lowered her eyes, miserable at having caused this trouble.
“But you’ll have to promise not to do this again.”
Her eyes snapped back to his, wide. How could she promise such a thing, after the night she’d had? It would be tantamount to vowing never to see Mason again, never to be free again, and though she wanted to do the right thing, her mouth wouldn’t let her say the words. “I can’t.” Her voice broke. “God help me, Matteo, I can’t.”
At first he frowned. She could see the outlines of his features, mask-like in the dim wash of the carriage lantern. But then he softened, resigned. “I doubt anything would stop you. Nor me, if I was in your plight.”
She watched him, eyes wide as though she might miss something.
“Alright. Promise me, then, sister—don’t do this without me again.”
She inhaled deeply, unaware till now that she’d been holding her breath. “I can promise that, at least. Oh, thank you, Matteo!” She threw herself on him, holding him tight.
As always, please share your honest opinion. 🙂