I’ve been told, is fickle.It favors the strong-bodied,
the strong-willed, and paints them as heroes.France’s
Napoleon could be seen as such. In my own country, my great-grandfather, Alexander
II, was considered as a hero among my people, for freeing the serfs.His physical stamina was amazing and it took an assassin’s bomb to stop
him from carrying out reforms that my country desperately needed.
As I sit here now, on the steps of the Ipatiev House, before the supper
hour, I listened to the sounds of the artillery guns ratting in the distance.
I wonder what fickle history will write about my father, Nicholas II.I have always adored him since I was a toddler, but while my father was
strong in body, he was not in spirit.He took our
country down a path no one expected it to go – least of all himself.
He is inside playing bezique with our mother, who has always had a delicate
constitution.Alexi is resting in their room, his
knee painfully swollen.Our father wonders what
our fate will be, but Tatiana and I doubt we will leave here alive.Sadly, for one brief opportunity, my father had a chance in 1913 to exercise
his strength and set our country, and my destiny, on a path that might have
seen happier days.If only he had the strength of
will to follow this bold way!However, I have a
feeling fickle history did not want to see him follow this opportunity through.
This may be one of my last journal entries, so I write freely, with little
shame, not caring if my other mother sees it, for if she did, she would punish
me even now.I know history will cast my father
as a weak man.It will not favor him and I fear
the scandal it will bring the Romanov name.But
for another weak man, Czar Paul I, I would have been Czarina of all the Russias.Only he, like my father, was a man history did not favor.
One – The Handsome Stranger
so it began on a cold, March day in 1913.I
was seventeen years old.Some would say the world
was at my fingertips – being the daughter of Russia’s ruler, Czar Nicholas II,
but I didn’t feel like it was. Oh, I suppose I led a carefree life, but I was
missing something.What that something was I did
not know until I met him.But I digress and
jump ahead of my story.
was the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty, 300 years after Michael Romanov
had been crowned Czar of Russia.My father had planned a grand celebration of the event, which would last
several months and include a tour of our country.Our
family would proceed from the Winter Palace
at Tsarskoe Selo to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kaman where a Te Deum mass
was to be sung in the family’s honor by the Orthodox patriarch of Antioch. There
would be a twenty-one-gun salute and that evening, a royal ball would be held
at our home in the Catherine Palace. It would be the first ball my father had
hosted in eight years – and the first ball my sister, Tatiana and I, would attend.Both of us were looking forward to the event.Tatiana
and I were of age to marry, but neither one of us were thinking of such a thing.We were enjoying our youth far too much.In fact, we both had reputations as flirts around the castle, but it
wasn’t that as much as we were discovering the fact we were blossoming into
young women, and that men actually found us engaging.Mind
you, the only men we were allowed to be around were the soldiers that guarded
the castle, but still, it was enough to intrigue us.
I had three sisters, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia, I was closest to Tatiana.She was sixteen and very outgoing compared to my own reserved nature.
When we returned from the Te Deum mass, Tatiana and I went to our dressmaker
and tried on our dresses for a final fitting.Last
minute alterations were made.As we proceeded to
the room we shared, we found out the younger pair as they were known, Marie
and Anastasia, were missing from Tatiana Botkin.She
was a faithful friend to us all and was the daughter of Alexi’s doctor. With
so many last minute preparations for the royal ball going on around us, it was
imperative that Marie and Anastasia be found immediately.Tatiana and I felt they might have gone out to play in the woods around
the Palace, as they had taken to doing that recently, and so we snuck out through
a side door near the servants’ quarters.
Selo was a huge complex, consisting of two palaces, the Catherine and Alexander.We lived in the smaller, Alexander Palace, which was also known as the
Catherine Palace was mere feet away, and Father would go there to conduct official
matters of state.I cannot begin to adequately describe
the Catherine Palace’s long façade, the classical colonnades or the curved spires
that shot up toward the sky except to say it was very intimidating. The courtyard
of the Catherine Palace was wide and spacious, and over the years hosted several
military inspections, parades, and announcements.
Tatiana and I made our way across the cold ground and dead winter trees, we
thought we heard giggles coming from near the wrought iron fence by the roadway.There was no snow on the ground, but it was hard and frozen.The trees were lifeless, their shivering branches without leaves to warm
them, and several large boulders, gray and rugged, dotted the woods that surrounded
Soldiers normally patrolled the roadway from an elite Cossack
regiment, of which my father had made me an honorary colonel.Tatiana was also an honorary colonel of a Cavalry regiment.Marie would receive an honorary title on her sixteenth birthday as well,
which was still two years away.
suddenly stopped and caught my wrist.
you hear that?”
shrugged my shoulders and Tatiana frowned at me with her big, hazel eyes, pulling
me to a nearby rock to hide ourselves.There was
nothing that exasperated me more than when my sister looked at me like I was
a ten-year-old.Mind you, Tatiana and I shared all
our secrets, and were each other’s closest confidantes, but she was far more
outgoing and bold than I.She peered around the
side of the thick, gray boulder and I looked over her shoulder.
was totally unprepared for what I saw.Marie and
Anastasia were talking to three young people, two men, one girl, closer to my
age.They were laughing and giggling over some unknown
joke, but the sight of him nearly stopped my heart from beating.I stumbled against Tatiana, accidentally pushing her to the ground,
collapsing on top of her.She screamed my name at
the top of her lungs and he immediately ran to our position.His strong hands helped me to my feet while his companion helped Tatiana
to hers. The electricity that jolted my body sent waves of pleasure rippling
down my arms, and I had no idea a touch could inspire all that.
minute our eyes met, I stumbled again on the hard ground, and he wrapped his
muscled arm around my waist to prevent me from falling.His firm lips curved into a sweet, sincere smile and his almond brown
eyes held me riveted to the spot. His thick black hair gleamed in the beams
of the sun.He wore a long overcoat to keep warm, but underneath he
wore a simple shirt, with the top button undone to reveal manly wisps of dark
hair curling against the opening.I had no doubt
he was used to the cold and that he enjoyed it. My mystery man had an air of
authority and confidence of one who commanded respect.As his body pressed ever so gently into mine, I could feel his granite-like
muscles and I knew in that moment he was a man fickle history would recall as
you all right?”
deep, masculine voice seemed to purr in my ear and I thought my cheeks might
color under his heavy gaze.
fine, just a little…”
think Olga likes you, Paul.I’ve never seen her
blush like so,” added my sister, Marie.
took a step away from him, glaring at my young sisters, as I brushed off the
remnants of the ground’s hard dirt from my jacket’s sleeves.
stopped my hurried, flustered actions by taking my hand in his.Another warm jolt of electricity seemed to shoot down my arm the minute
he touched me.Then, like an imperial gentleman,
he bowed before me, sweeping his lips lightly over my knuckles.
is a pleasure to meet you, Grand Duchess, Olga.I
am Paul Kerensky.”
was Russian! I swore to Tatiana I wanted no man unless he shared my nationality.
Could a man be so perfect?
watched him stand up, his height perfectly complementing mine.I wanted to lean closer to him, to smell his wonderful, musky scent,
to feel his hard body next to mine.I wanted
to shamelessly flirt and say something witty like I know Tatiana would, but
under my sisters’ teasing eyes, nothing witty came out.
as usual, took charge of the situation.As I stood
there, trying to admire Paul without being obvious, she fired question after
question at the three pleasant intruders.And that’s
what they were – trespassers to Tsarskoe Selo.They
admitted their crime freely, relating they had done so out of curiosity.They were from America and had never seen such grand buildings and pageantry
before. They were curious about the celebration, so we explained to them it
was the tercentenary, and as we talked, time escaped us.
they came to trespass upon Tsarskoe Selo none of us really paid attention to,
or cared; however, I did conduct a brief scan of the fence, and to my surprise,
I found no bent bars or damages that might have given them access.
my curiosity as to how they came to enter the compound quickly left as Paul
and his friends asked questions about Russia.They seemed to absorb everything we told them, yet they were brief and
vague when it came to answering our questions about them.I also noticed that when we spoke they listened intensely, but did not
reply back immediately.There was a moment’s hesitation
before they replied back to us.It was as if they
there thinking of the right words to say in Russian.Now,
I totally understood, after all, being from America, their first language was
probably English, and that was a language all of us were tutored in and spoke
fluently, yet they seemed intent on talking to us in our native tongue.
wanted to know everything about Paul and what brought this handsome trespasser
to our woods.Their explanations were brief, yet
plausible, and I suppose since they charmed us all, we easily believed them.Paul’s parents had died recently in America and he wanted to come to
Russia to search for his family.His friends, Ian
and Stephanie, accompanied him on this quest.
learned that Ian’s name was van Rennsular, and he was of Dutch descent.He too was handsome, with blond, curly hair and sparkling blue
eyes.He wasn’t as tall as Paul, nor did he appear
as confident, but he carried himself with a quiet air of assurance. In fact,
the comfortable way he looked at Paul, and Paul at him, gave me the impression
they were closer than friends – they were brothers – much like Tatiana and I
were sisters.Still, their physical differences
were obvious – if they were not brothers physically, they certainly were in
for Stephanie, she was about my height, with short walnut brown hair that came
in a bob right before her shoulders.She was slender
and lithe, and I got the impression she was very agile. Paul and Ian seemed
very protective of her, as though she were a younger sister. She was very engaging
and in a way, slightly in awe of my sister, Anastasia. My youngest sister was
also quite taken with her.They shared laughter
and jokes in a coquettish manner that surprised me; though they had just met,
they seemed to know each other well.
you want to see the palace?” Anastasia finally asked.
pushed back her coat sleeve and frowned. “We have to get back.Olga and I are supposed to meet Father in his study in an hour!”
Paul’s face fell ever
so slightly and he took a small step toward me.There
was an unspoken longing in his sweet eyes, and I knew he did not want me to
don’t you take Paul and Ian to the ball as your escorts?” Marie ventured.
Tatiana had been shamelessly flirting with Ian in her way, batting her eyelashes,
and slyly touching his arm, but at Marie’s suggestion, I could see her pull
away from him. It became obvious to all that Ian would escort Tatiana and Paul
would escort me if we agreed to this.Tatiana and
I exchanged tentative looks.Certainly, Paul and his friends meant no harm.They had convinced us their being here was out of pure curiosity, but
to take such strangers into our home was practically unheard of.
a nervous silence, Anastasia came up with a plan.She
said that her and Marie would acquire some dress uniforms from the regiments
we were honorary colonels of, and we could tell Father we asked our soldiers
to escort us. Again, this seemed plausible. Our father had only to meet our
escorts before the ball began.He would trust our
discretion, and as long as our escorts were from our regiments, polite, and
minded their manners, they would be allowed.
looked at me with such a passionate stare, I found it hard to refuse him.Our eyes met, unwilling to leave each other.He
walked up to me, putting his firm hands on my upper arms, and raked his eyes
over me in such a fashion, my knees became weak.
would be honored to escort you to the ball.I know
we are strangers having just met, but I, for one, would enjoy this opportunity
to get to know you.”
could barely breathe under his intense look.There
was something in the air between us, electricity, heat, longing; I had no idea
how a man could affect me so.
Tatiana, Olga, what say you?” asked Anastasia.
looked in my direction.She knew me well enough
to know that despite our better judgment, I wanted this.
think it would be nice to have such handsome escorts,” Tatiana replied.
lips curved into a sweet smile, and in that moment some hunger inside me wanted
to press my lips into his.I wanted to feel his
arms wrap around my body, pressing me into him.When
it came to being near him, I must confess I could barely think straight.
it was agreed, Marie and Anastasia would sneak back into the palace through
a secret trap door near the servant’s entrance.Those
two were incredible in finding secret doors and hidden rooms.Anastasia especially could sniff them out.She
was very knowledgeable of the palace.It was how
she was able to get away with so many pranks.
and I went through the servant’s door and quickly rushed up to our rooms to
change.My sister gushed at how Paul was very handsome
and that he only had eyes for me.She swore they
never strayed from me, and they sparkled in the sunlight whenever I dared to
look at him.I blushed at how she recalled this,
realizing that there was no hiding from my sisters how smitten I was with him.Still, I was concerned. How could a complete stranger capture my attention
so quickly?I hoped we had not been too bold or
rash letting them into the palace.
I dressed, that concern was replaced by something welling up inside me that
was indefinable.Paul stirred serious longings inside
me I thought no man might.Despite how I came to
meet him, I wanted to be with him and learn more of his past.I hungered to dance in his arms and have him hold me close to his body.