Marta had fallen asleep in front of the hearth, this was getting to be a habit. A kind young woman shook her awake.
“We have a room ready for you, upstairs in the servant quarters.”
Marta slowly opened her eyes, except one of them wouldn’t work, the swelling had shut the lid of her right eye.
“Oh, dear I’ll get Mrs. Davios.” Cinda volunteered.
“That won’t be necessary.” Came that same familiar male voice that belonged to the man that had introduced himself as Alex.
“First though Miss, I’ll need my boots back.”
Marta startled, stood, and looked at him through her one good eye.
“That is rather nasty.” he commented.
“I am so sorry, sir …”
“It’s Alex, please call me Alex.” he insisted. “Just return the boots and there will be no charges.”
Marta looked over to the hearth, where the boots were settled.
“Let me polish them up for you. I had no idea they were … stolen.”
“Ah, it serves me right, I had too many shots of vodka and had to stay at the Inn, even thought I live quite nearby. I’m glad it happened that way, I may have missed your knock at my door and who knows where you’d be if I didn’t rescue you from my demonic house keeper.”
“I needed boots to walk away from my abusive husband. I had been contemplating leaving but he just forced the issue.”
“Tell me his name, I will see what I can do, — I have connections.”
“I am Mrs. Phillip Sobienski. I was Martha Skavronskaya, now I am just Marta.”
“There is no just anything about you my dear, once that eye clears up you will be quite the charmer here in my household.” he teased. “I must be off, I have a soiree planned next week for the Tsar’s betrothal, just an informal gathering — no wedding yet, she is just a child. I will see what I can do for you at Archangel.”
Alex grabbed his boots and nodded to Marta, Mrs. Davios had returned with a warm cloth and a poultice for her injured eye. She was a might bit kinder.
Two days later Marta was growing used to her new surroundings and no one was knocking at the door looking for her. She had grown fond of Cinda who was very friendly and kind. She felt like she did at the Curious Allure at the Palace all those months ago.
The pace of the movement and excitement in the air grew as the days counted down to the return of the Master of the house and the Soiree planned for Royalty. Marta had no idea what to expect. She had the wrong idea though, there were no women present at this affair, just a bunch of bawdy men, and more than enough vodka and whiskey. The young Tsar was the very same one she was presented in front of and she darted from his sight. Leaning up against the wall in the pantry she realized how foolish she was, thinking the Tsar would recognize her from amongst all those beautiful young women.
She decided to act naturally and do the job she was hired to do. The tray was knocked out of her hand by a man who grabbed her arm, soon Alex was there again to rescue her. He helped her pick up the mess and wipe off the jacket of the man who had so rudely accosted her.
“Looks like you got back just in time to rescue me again.” Marta said coquettishly.
“You are quite the story back in Archangel.”
“You are taking me back?” Marta breathed as tears started to flow, stinging the eye that had almost healed.
Alex took her by the arm and ushered her into his private chamber. He poured her a drink and sat her down.
“That lug of a husband had to be persuaded to forget about you. Sergeant Kilov, was steadfast in your defense against your former husband. In fact he tried to bribe me to get invited tonight.”
“Former husband?” Marta gasped.
“Yes, my dear, you are no longer married. The papers were bogus to begin with, your uncle is a cad and the “ceremony” was easily wiped off the records. — you are free.”
Marta stood up and ran to Alex, hugging him and thanking him profusely. Then she remembered his promise from the first night. She drew back and insisted she get back to work. Alex’s hand lingered on her arm for a moment as she turned to leave the room.
Serving trays of food and filling half empty glasses Marta bore the looks the men were giving her and Cinda. Her new friend seemed to take it in stride and she resolved to do the same. When she went down the line filling glasses she happened to glance up to see the young Tsar looking back at her. She had her mind elsewhere and stammered to be so close to the Tsar. She bowed quickly, topped off his drink and tried to leave.
“Hello, you look familiar to me, are you from Moscow?”
“No your grace, but I have been to the Royal Palace.”
“Do you know my betrothed?”
“No, sir I only know … she broke off, what she was about to say would put her right in the middle of that circus she would dread for anyone to know she actually took part in that affair.”
The Tsar looked at her and then a light went off in his mind.
“Vonna, you were with her at the preview. I knew you looked familiar.”
It suddenly hit her that Vonna was the one selected, the ten year old child, the girl she befriended and promised she had nothing to worry about.
When Alex heard the volume go up in the corner of the room and saw Marta right in the middle of the controversy he immediately went over to investigate.
“Ivan Alexeyevich you have met my marvelous Marta.”