Tune the Violin
In Atlantis? Wesley backed away cautiously. Atlantis? He glanced over her shoulder and then behind him, certain the men in white coats were going to arrive any second. They'll strap me in, my arms will be restrained. I'll be locked in a padded cell and the jerks will throw away the key, he decided, amazingly calm at the thought that this was inevitable. Everyone will talk about the FBI's crazy assistant director. It'll make front page news. He grinned at how that would drive the Director crazy. Then the news will be replaced by some other event and I'll be forgotten and can go on dreaming and hallucinating until...
"Atlantis?" he shouted. "What in blazing hell are you talking about? You're a crazy old woman and if I..." He bent his head, weary from her words and his dreams, wishing he would wake up, have a drink, or die.
"Sergei!" she reprimanded him. "Such language!"
Wesley took a deep breath and stretched out beside the fire. "Tell your story, old woman. I cannot stop this dream. I may as well listen to you."
"Ah, Sergei," she murmured, her hand stroking his shoulder. "It's not as wild as you think. Relax," she smiled at the handsome muscular man. "I think you'll like my story."
"What was it like in Atlantis?" he asked quietly. "Was I a slave or...?"
"There were no slaves in that paradise, only free men and women. You were a scholar, of course."
"Oh? What did I study?" he asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"You studied art and music and architecture and living things, as we all did, but your specialty was..." Sinovia paused, then smiled. "It is not time to talk of Atlantis. It is time to talk of Russia and other places where you've lived."
"Was I always a scholar... in all the places I lived?" he asked with an indulgent smile, hoping to hasten the dream along.
"No, you had many different kinds of lives."
"When I was a kid," he remembered, "I always wanted to be a Viking, a Norseman, and follow Erik the Red."
"That's because you were, Sergei," she answered quietly.
He arched a brow at her words, certain she was saying what she thought he wanted to hear. "And like a lot of little boys, I thought it would be fun to be a soldier, a mercenary, or a cowboy."
Sinovia said nothing, but smiled at his words.
"When I was in high school," he looked at the old woman, wondering why he was telling her his boyhood dreams. "My family wasn't rich. We weren't dirt poor, either, but my folks stretched the dollars as best they could. I... this sounds foolish, but I wondered what it would be like to be an English Lord of the Realm, have the Regent's ear, be somebody important."
Sinovia put her wrinkled hand on his face. "Your soul has had many adventures, Sergei. Let me tell you about Russia and Raisa Orlov."
"I met her, you know."
"I know," she said, turning to face the fire.
"The young woman you were to wed watched you from the front parlor window of your mother's home. You were so angry about the arranged marriage that you galloped away and never met her. She heard your angry words and thought you disregarded her womanly ways because she was not what you wanted." Sinovia turned to the man sitting quietly, listening to her. "She didn't know you didn't trust any woman."
Wesley arched a brow. "Why didn't I trust women?"
"Do you trust them now?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
"Some of them," he answered vaguely.
"With your heart?" she asked.
"No," he admitted, memories of a failed marriage still tearing him apart.
"Raisa didn't have a choice about this marriage any more than you did. She had hoped to meet you, get acquainted, perhaps, become friends before she had to face you on your wedding day." The old woman dropped her head for a moment in memory. Her voice took on a sad note. "She was especially worried about the wedding night."
"No one told her what would happen?" he asked, incredulous that a grown woman wouldn't know what went on between a man and a woman.
"She was a virgin, familiar with the farm animals, but not of the ways of people. She only knew that you would hurt her, nothing else."
"Did I?" he asked quietly.
Winter of 1838
Raisa wiped the tears from her eyes, berating herself for acting the romantic fool. It's not as if I'm in love with him she thought in disgust. I had just hoped we would meet first, talk a little, maybe, see if we would make a good match.
Anya watched her button her heavy coat when she slipped out the front door. A little fresh air will revive her spirits, then I'll fix her a nice glass of hot tea. The elderly housekeeper shook her head. Sergei will come around - He must!
Sergei's conscience bothered him. He had left his father's house in anger. He knew his mother would make excuses to the matchmaker, but in her heart of hearts, she would be saddened by his actions. His father would understand, but naturally, he would be disappointed that his hasty departure had caused his mother grief. He turned the huge horse around. Better to act the proper son; time enough later to vent my anger.
It was snowing again, the white drifts building rapidly and making it harder and harder to see the path ahead. He heard a woman scream and felt something soft bump against his stirrup as he pulled on the reins.
He dismounted when he felt the bump and heard the soft thud as something or someone hit the ground. Holding onto the reins, he dashed around the horse, and saw a small person almost beneath the horse's hooves.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, his voice almost lost in the wind. "Answer me!"
He lifted the bundle to his arms, wondering why anyone was walking in this storm. When the hood of her coat fell back, he was stunned. A woman!
"Are you hurt? Can you stand?" he shouted at her over the wind.
Raisa heard him, but the wind had been knocked out of her lungs, and she needed a few moments to get her voice back. The whole ordeal was a little too much for her. Her eyelids shut as she lost consciousness, her head falling on his shoulder.
When she opened her eyes a few minutes later, she was astride a horse, cradled to a stranger's chest, feeling snug and warm. Raisa liked the feel of his arms around her. He held her tightly, and she had a feeling of being protected. It was a nice feeling.
His horse plodded through the snow, neighing loudly and shaking its massive head when a stable boy opened the barn door. Sergei bent forward, staying in the saddle until the doors closed behind them. When he dismounted, he was careful to hold the woman in the safety of his arms.
He left the horse in capable hands and carried the woman to a room in the back of the stable. Mindful of her reputation, he left the door open for propriety, but continued to hold her when he sat on the wide bench near the fire. He opened the top of his heavy coat and proceeded to remove the woman's woolen hood and scarf.
She was a beauty, tiny, with dark brown hair that held a touch of red highlighted by the glowing fire. Her eyelashes were thick and long, dark against her ivory skin. Sergei ran a gentle finger down her cheek, surprised by the softness of her face.
Who is she? Where did she come from?
He continued to touch her face, his thumb testing the skin beneath her eyes, finding it silky.
She opened her eyes when he cupped her chin and stared into the warmest brown eyes she had ever seen. She noted that his hairline was receding and she wondered what he would do if she touched his forehead.
He remained silent while she pulled her gloves off, but when her small hand touched his face, he inhaled sharply.
"Who are you?"
"My given name is Raisa Katerina Orlov. My... my family calls me Kat. Who are you?"
"Sergei Nicholai Skovetsky," he replied properly as if they were being formally introduced.
"Has... has anyone ever told you that you are a beautiful man, Sergei Nicholai Skovetsky?" Her voice was soft, a little husky for a woman, and Sergei was immediately drawn to it.
"You are the beauty, little one, not me. I'm just..."
"Just beautiful," she murmured, cupping his cheek. "More beautiful than I have any right to deserve." She recognized his name and her heart was lighter now that she knew he was her intended.
He arched a brow at her, questioning. "Do you think you deserve me, little one?" he asked, laughter lacing his words.
Kat blushed. "I don't know if I've done anything to deserve you, Sergei Nicholai, but I am yours regardless. Whether or not you will be mine remains to be seen."
Sergei narrowed his gaze at her, pondering her words, dissecting their meaning. "Explain yourself."
She sat up in his lap and laid a bold hand on his chest. "I... I know you will be mine for one night anyway," she whispered, looking up at him. "Well... maybe only for a few moments." She lowered her gaze away from his face, suddenly shy. "I'll take whatever you offer that night, Sergei Nicholai, no matter how much it hurts and..." she sneaked a look at him from under her long lashes. "I know you don't want me, and I promise to stay out of your way. I don't want to be a burden, although I do hope we have a child from that night. I'd very much like to have someone to love."
He was dumbfounded. "Who...? You're...?" The arm around her back tightened, and the look on his face morphed from horror to astonishment to fright, and finally, to a sneer. "You're my...?" He paused as her eyes filled, realizing his tone had not only insulted her, his brief words had insinuated that she wasn't good enough for him.
Kat tried to get out of his lap, but he held her tightly. "I beg your pardon," he murmured, cupping her chin so she had to look at him. "I didn't mean to sound so... rude. I don't even know you. I have nothing against you. I... just have no desire to be wed. You are my intended bride, are you not?"
Kat nodded, unable to speak, her throat choked with emotion, and her eyes overflowing. I'm not pretty enough. He doesn't want me.
Sergei was popular with the ladies - and also with the mamas of eligible young women. He was of good stock and came from one of the best families, one that had the ear of the Czar. He was well educated, financially well off, well mannered, and very handsome. He was a good catch.
He was also very attuned to the highs and lows of the emotional spectrum that was indigenous to women. Women like his sisters who teased him, practiced their wiles on him, flirted with him, berated him for any slight, and just plain wore him out. Women like his mother and her friends who expected every courtesy, and pouted when they felt ignored. Women like the ladies of the Czar's court, as ingenious as they were beautiful as they tried to get him into their beds - many of whom succeeded in that particular endeavor.
But tears in a woman? He was undone. Women didn't cry when he ignored them. They pouted, ranted, called him names or left him alone. They didn't cry. This little one didn't lash out at him when he said he didn't want to be wed. She didn't pout. She cried - silently. Big fat tears overflowed and ran down her cheeks - her nose began to run. She hiccuped.
Sighing, he reached into his coat pocket and retrieved a soft linen handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes and nose. "Don't do that."
"Don't do what?" she asked softly, looking up at him, the tears still flowing.
"I'm sorry," she murmured as two more tears made their way down her face.
"Don't be sorry. Just don't do that."
"Can't help it. Have no control," she continued to cry.
"Your eyes will get all red and blotchy," he commented, hoping that would make her stop crying.
"You don't want me," she hiccuped again, laying her head on his chest.
"It's not you I don't want," he tried to explain. "I don't want to be married."
"How do you know?" he asked, stroking her back, wondering why he was trying to soothe her. She was just a woman, after all.
"You signed the marriage contracts and you didn't even know my name. And you made your mama sad."
"I *am* going to marry you. I do not go back on my word."
"But I'm not what you wanted, am I?"
"I don't want to be tied to any woman," he admitted. "Marriage is... forever."
"You would be faithful to our vows?" She looked up at him.
"I didn't say that, little one," he smiled. "I said..."
"Let me up, you... you cad, you adulterer!"
"Adulterer?" Sergei was flabbergasted. "We're not even married! How can I be an adulterer?" He held her, not letting her off his lap.
"I will not marry a man who will go to other women!" she said defiantly, the fat tears flowing faster down her cheeks.
"You don't have any choice, barushka sweet one. Your father has already signed the marriage contract. For better or worse, you are mine."
"I'm not," she cried into his chest. "I can't be. You were my last hope," she sobbed, "my very last hope."
"Your last hope?" he asked, clearly perplexed. He tilted her head back so she would look at him. "Your last hope for what?"
"You wouldn't understand," she sobbed.
"You don't know that," he said softly, kissing her brow. "Tell me."
There was a note of tenderness in his voice and Kat responded to it. "You were my last hope for happiness," she whispered. "My last hope to have someone to love and who would love me."
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