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Setting: Italy during the high Renaissance, an age of new ideas, sexual license, corruption, sublime art, and genius. The history is real and chronologically accurate. Famous individuals meet when and where they did in real life. None has been moved farther than across Rome to participate in the story.

Nicola Machiavelli, fictional illegitimate daughter of the famous statesman Niccolò Machiavelli,is a bright and occasionally comic child being raised at her Machiavellian father’s expense in an exclusive Roman convent. Lucrezia Borgia, who is staying in the convent, becomes her friend.

Nicola’s happiness is colored by the death of Sister Annaluisa, her first friend at the convent, whose strangled corpse has been found in the Tiber River. She vows to find Sister Annaluisa’s killer. At Lucrezia Borgia’s wedding to her second husband, Nicola tries unsuccessfully to question Sister Gerolama, who knows something about the death.
Sister Gerolama was born Gerolama Borgia, the second of Pope Alexander VI’s nine acknowledged children, who has been hiding from her father in this convent since she was thirteen. On Easter Sunday, 1500, Sister Gerolama is poisoned in St. Peter’s Square, while receiving the pope’s blessing in a crowd that includes thousands of pilgrims as well as nuns, students, servants and guests from the convent.

Nicola attempts to find the murderer(s) but is thwarted at every turn. Her bewitching mother Caterina, ex-mistress of the famous Machiavelli, converges on the convent with Leonardo da Vinci and Cesare Borgia, at the point in history when da Vinci worked for the Borgias in real life. Cesare assigns Leonardo to find his sister's killer after poison apparently intended for Cesare kills Caterina's husband. Suspected in her husband's murder--even by Nicola, her own daughter--Caterina works with Nicola and Leonardo to find the killer(s). Nicola's photographic memory, Caterina's aggressive determination and Leonardo's genius combine to solve the crimes.

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