Tune the Violin
He snorted at her words and swallowed wrong, making him cough. She laughed, and handed him a napkin while pounding on his back. Her hand was so small, it felt like she was patting him. When he could take a decent breath without wheezing, he scowled at her.
She ignored his look, placed the spoon in his hand and gestured toward his plate. "Once upon a time," she began again.
Wesley sighed. At least I can eat while she spins her tale.
"We were in a beautiful place. The walls were covered with tapestries, the floors were covered with furs. Outside, the snow was so heavy, it came down in great drifts, but we were warm. The fire in the hearth was never extinguished."
"Where were we?" he asked, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "Montana? Wyoming? Chicago?"
"Russia," she continued. "But I'm ahead of myself. We first met when I impulsively ran into the road to chase the wolfhound. You almost ran me down on your big steed. You were very angry at me, my love," she said softly, a smile curving her lips, memories flooding her mind.
"Russia? I was on a horse?" Wesley shook his head. "I haven't ridden in years." He looked at her for a moment. "What year was it?"
"Mid 1800's, and yes, you were on a horse."
Winter of 1838
The snowfall had been heavier than he remembered. His horse plowed through it, moving slowly, even though Sergei Nicholai Skovetsky was in a hurry. He was going to be late for supper, but he didn't want to chance having his horse break a leg. You'd think a man who had reached the age of one and thirty wouldn't have to hurry home for dinner, but he had sworn an oath he would eat at his mother's table this evening. No one in their right mind, not his father, his sisters, not even the Czar himself, would break an oath to his formidable mother.
He knew what she was up to, and he wished he could have had a reason to be elsewhere, but it was not to be. He would break bread at her table and listen to the matchmaker once again. He did not want to marry. Marrying was for fools. "Let a woman think she rules your heart and she will be the death of you," he muttered, his horse's ears twitching at the tension in the reins.
His friends had all succumbed. Besotted louts, every one! He wasn't surprised when Petrov fell under Ilyana's spell; Petrov was a romantic at heart, and Ilyana's beauty was not to be denied. The fool! He could have taken her to his bed without the priest's blessing. Mikhail was another idiot. All his Katarina has to do is arch a brow and the man turns into a simpering lad. And to think he almost bested me in the wrestling matches at last year's harvest festival! But the lowest blow of all had been Stanislaus, the confirmed bachelor. The man's reputation for pretty girls was legendary until he met Simone. The French maid had refused to share his bed until he wed her. There weren't enough women in all of Kiev to satisfy him? He had to go to Paris! Now here he was, Sergei Nicholai Skovetsky, alone in his bachelorhood with a mother who wanted grandchildren to spoil.
It didn't matter that she already had more grandchildren than her lap could ever hold. His sisters had married well and given her grandsons and granddaughters. Why do I have to add to the brood? He sighed heavily. He knew why. He was the only son. Even his father sided with his mother against him in this matter.
The day's light had long since faded from the sky when he finally placed the care of his horse into the reliable hands of one of his mother's stable lads. Sighing heavily, he made his way to the back of the grand house he had called home until his eighteenth year. He stomped his feet to get rid of some of the snow clinging to his boots. It wouldn't do to bring it into the house. His mother would frown, but old Anya would scold him. Even now, she'd box his ears if he didn't behave.
He got as far as the outer hallway before she caught him. "Sergei Nicholai! Have you forgotten you are a man? Have you forgotten that this house has a front door? What ails you that you have to come sneaking into your father's house by way of my kitchen?"
He had two choices. He could turn tail and run - he was a child again in Anya's presence - or - he could remember that he towered over her and that she was more bark than bite. He smiled his most charming smile - the one that was guaranteed to melt a woman's heart and render her speechless. A good thing, since most women chattered endlessly, and foolishly, and made his head ache.
"Anya, my love," he grinned at the ancient housekeeper. He swung her up into his arms for a quick hug and a kiss before her hands could smack his ears. "You are more beautiful than ever."
"Put me down, you overgrown pup! You'll not get my fresh baked tarts if you keep behaving like an idiot!"
Gently, he set her on her feet. She smelled good - like fresh bread straight from the baking fires, and sweet apple tarts with cinnamon. It reminded him of the many hours he spent in her kitchen when he was a boy.
"They're waiting for you in your father's study."
At his inquiring look, she rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Yes, your mama is there, and the matchmaker also. After you hear what they have to say, you will eat." She shook a finger in his face. "But no food until you have listened and signed the contracts."
"Contracts? What contracts?" he asked, narrowing his gaze at her.
"Do not scowl at me Sergei Nicholai. I have told you again and again that you must marry. Quickly! Go to your father and be done with it."
"An arranged marriage?" he muttered. Marching into the study, the scowl on his face announced his displeasure before he heard what anyone had to say.
"Ah, Sergei Nicholai. You have arrived. Come. Sit, sit," his mother smiled at her only son, and beckoned him to her side.
"Mama," he murmured, bending to kiss her cheek. "Papa," he nodded as he strode to his father's side and kissed him on both cheeks. He ignored the matchmaker. Ancient troublemaker he grumbled.
"Sergei Nicholai," the matchmaker's tone was stern and commanding. "I have made an excellent match for you. The girl is from a fine family. She is comely and will make a perfect bride."
"Yes, I'm sure she will," he muttered bitterly. "But will she make a perfect wife?"
"Sergei!" his mother chided, and then sent an exasperated look at her husband, whose hand covered his mouth, laughing at his son's wit.
"It's an excellence alliance, my son. Your father and I are pleased. You will sign the contracts and be done with it. You are one and thirty. It is past time you were wed." "So be it," Sergei capitulated, anxious to be done with the odious task. "Give me the documents. I will sign them and be on my way." His father pointed to the desk and handed the documents to his son. Sergei skimmed them, taking in the major points. He penned his name and handed them to the matchmaker. With an angry look, he announced his intentions. "I will wed her and bed her. If she pleases me, I will keep her. If she does *not* please me," he looked pointedly at his parents, "YOU can keep her."
With that, he stormed toward the door.
"Sergei, you have not had supper. Where are you going?" his mother cried, alarmed at this turn of events.
"I cannot eat."
"But the wedding?" she implored. "Don't you want to know about your bride? Don't you want to...?"
"You will notify me when and where. I will be there, or..." He turned to look at his father, who had remained silent. "You can wed her for me, as my proxy."
"He will do no such thing!" his mother cried.
"So be it," their stubborn son announced, and left.
His mother watched him go, sad that her only son scorned marriage.
His father smiled sadly. He knew Sergei did not trust women and for good reason.
The matchmaker sneered. She got what she wanted. The contract was signed, the money for the liaison was hers.
At the other side of the house, Anya's eyes filled. She had heard Sergei's angry words and knew he was hurting. Her heart was heavy, knowing she could do nothing to make it better.
The young woman watched from the front parlor window as her intended galloped away. She had heard his angry speech and wondered if she would ever know him. She had hoped to meet him this evening, the marriage contract her hope for the future. She didn't even know what he looked like - she had only seen his back from a distance. Not that it mattered. She would have a husband, if only in name.
"More borscht, Sergei?"
Wesley wanted more borscht; that is, his mouth wanted it, but his stomach was full. If he had another bite, he'd explode. He hid behind his AD fašade.
"So, what happened next? After I rode away on my white steed?" he smirked.
"You rode a dark brown horse, my love. Very handsome, too." Her small wrinkled hand cupped his cheek and she laughed softly. "The horse, Sergei."
At his questioning look, she explained. "The horse was very handsome, my love. I had no idea what you looked like."
Wesley snorted, and Raisa laughed again.
"Answer my question. What happened next? Did we ever meet? Did we marry? Why don't I have any memory of...?"
"I think that's enough for one day, Sergei. Come back and visit me again, and I'll tell you more."
"Come back?" he growled. "Tell me now."
"I think not, my love," she murmured, and left him sitting in the kitchen.
He rose from his seat, intending to stop her, to demand that she finish the story. As soon as he stood, he felt a wave of dizziness, and sat down again. When his head finally cleared, he glanced at his watch and saw that over two hours had passed since he had entered the deli. Now he wasn't sure if Raisa had really told him a story, or if he had somehow fallen asleep and had simply been dreaming.
What the hell is going on?
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