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Against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution and World War I Europe, Zoya, young cousin to the Tsar, flees St. Petersburg to Paris to find safety. Her entire world forever changed, she faces hard times and joins the Ballet Russe in Paris. And then, when life is kind to her, Zoya moves on to a new and glittering life in New York. The days of ease are all too brief as the Depression strikes, and she loses everything yet again. It is her career, and the man she meets in the course of it, which ultimately save her, as she rebuilds her life through the war years and beyond. And it is her family that comes to mean everything to her. From the roaring twenties to the 1980's, Zoya remains a rare and spirited woman whose legacy will live on.
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"Genuinely touching... It is the misguided reader who skips a single page."
Zoya closed her eyes again as the troika flew across the icy ground, the soft mist of snow leaving tiny damp kisses on her cheeks, and turning her eyelashes to lace as she listened to the horses' bells dancing in her ears like music. They were the sounds she had loved since childhood. At seventeen, she felt grown up, was in fact almost a woman, yet she still felt like a little girl as Feodor forced the shining black horses on with his whip. . . faster. . . faster. . . through the snow. And as she opened her eyes again, she could see the village just outside Tsarskoe Selo. She smiled to herself as she squinted to see the twin palaces just beyond it, and pulled back one heavy fur-lined glove to see how much time it had taken. She had promised her mother she would be home in time for dinner. . . and she would be. . . if they didn't spend too much time talking. . . but how could they not? Marie was her very dearest friend, almost like a sister.
Ancient Feodor glanced around and smiled at her, as she laughed with excitement. It had been a perfect day. She always enjoyed her ballet class, and even now, her ballet slippers were tucked into the seat beside her. Dancing was a special treat, it had been her passion since early childhood, and sometimes she had secretly whispered to Marie that what she wanted most was to run away to the Maryinsky, to live there, and train day and night with the other dancers. The very thought of it made her smile now. It was a dream she couldn't even say out loud, people in her world did not become professional dancers. But she had the gift, she had known it since she was five, and at least her lessons with Madame Nastova gave her the pleasure of studying what she loved best. She worked hard during the hours she spent there, always imagining that one day Fokine, the great dance master, would find her. But her thoughts turned swiftly from ballet to her childhood friend, as the troika sped through the village toward her cousin Marie. Zoya's father, Konstantin, and the Tsar were distant cousins, and like Marie's, her own mother was also German. They had everything in common, their passions, their secrets, their dreams, their world. They had shared the same terrors and delights when they were children, and she had to see her now, even though she had promised her mother that she wouldn't. It was stupid really, why shouldn't she see her? She wouldn't visit the others in their sickroom, and Marie was perfectly fine. She had sent Zoya a note only the day before, telling her how desperately bored she was with the others sick around her. And it wasn't anything serious after all, only measles.
The peasants hurried from the road as the troika sped past, and Feodor shouted at the three black horses that drew them. He had worked for her grandfather as a boy, and his father had worked for their family before him. Only for her would he have risked her father's ire and her mother's silent, elegant displeasure, but Zoya had promised him no one would know, and he had taken her there a thousand times before. She visited her cousins almost daily, what harm could there be in it now, even if the tiny, frail Tsarevich and his older sisters had the measles. Alexis was only a boy, and not a healthy lad, as they all knew. Mademoiselle Zoya was young and healthy and strong, and so very, very lovely. She had been the prettiest child Feodor had ever seen, and Ludmilla, his wife, had taken care of her when she was a baby. His wife had died the year before of typhoid, a terrible loss for him, particularly as they had no children. His only family was the one that he worked for.
The Cossack Guard stopped them at the gate and Feodor sharply reined in the steaming horses. The snow was heavier now and two mounted guards approached in tall fur hats and green uniforms, looking menacing until they saw who it was. Zoya was a familiar figure at Tsarskoe Selo. They saluted smartly as Feodor urged the horses on again, and they rode quickly past the Fedorovsky chapel and on to the Alexander Palace. Of their many imperial homes it was the one the Empress preferred. They seldom used the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg at all, except for balls or state occasions. In May each year they moved to their villa on the Peterhof estate, and after summers spent on their yacht, the Polar Star, and at Spala in Poland, they always went to the Livadia Palace in September. Zoya was often with them there until she returned to school at the Smolny Institute. But the Alexander Palace was her favorite as well. She was in love with the Empress's famous mauve boudoir and had asked that her own room at home be done in the same muted opal shades as Aunt Alix's. It amused her mother that Zoya wanted it that way, and the year before she had decided to indulge her. Marie teased her about it whenever she was there, saying that the room reminded her far too much of her mother.
Feodor climbed from his seat while two young boys held the prancing horses, and the snow whirled past his head as he carefully held out a hand to Zoya. Her heavy fur coat was encrusted with snow and her cheeks were red from the cold and the two-hour drive from St. Petersburg. She would have just enough time for tea with her friend, she thought to herself, then disappeared into the awesome entranceway of the Alexander Palace, and Feodor hurried back to his horses. He had friends in the stables there and always enjoyed bringing them news from town, whenever he spent time with them, waiting for his mistress.
Two maids took her coat while Zoya slowly pulled the large sable hat from her head, releasing a mane of fiery hair that often made people stop and stare when she wore it loose, which she did often at Livadia in the summer. The Tsarevich Alexis loved to tease her about her shining red hair, and he would stroke it gently in his delicate hands, whenever she hugged him. To Alexis, Zoya was almost like one of his sisters. Born two weeks before Marie, she was of the same age, and they had similar dispositions, and both of them babied him constantly, as did the rest of his sisters. To them, and his mother, and the close family, he was almost always referred to as "Baby." Even now that he was twelve, they still thought of him that way, and Zoya inquired about him with a serious face as the elder of the two maids shook her head.
"Poor little thing, he is covered with spots and has a terrible cough. Mrs. Gilliard has been sitting with him all day today. Her Highness has been busy with the girls." Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia had caught the measles from him and it was a virtual epidemic, which was why Zoya's mother had wanted her to stay away. But Marie had showed no sign whatsoever of the illness, and her note to Zoya the day before had begged her to come. . . . Come to see me, my darling Zoya, if your mother will only let you. . . .
Zoya's green eyes danced as she shook out her hair, and straightened her heavy wool dress. She had changed out of her school uniform after her ballet lesson, and she walked swiftly down the endless hall to the familiar door that would lead her upstairs to Marie and Anastasia's spartan bedroom. On her way, she walked silently past the room where the Tsar's aide-de-camp, Prince Meshchersky, always sat working. But he didn't notice her as, even in her heavy boots, she walked soundlessly up the stairs, and a moment later, she knocked on the bedroom door, and heard the familiar voice.
With one slender, graceful hand, she turned the knob, and a sheaf of red hair seemed to precede her as she poked her head in, and saw her cousin and friend standing quietly by the window. Marie's huge blue eyes lit up instantly and she rushed across the room to greet her, as Zoya darted in and threw her arms wide to embrace her.
"I've come to save you, Mashka, my love!"
"Thank God! I thought I would die of boredom. Everyone here is sick. Even poor Anna came down with the measles yesterday. She's staying in the rooms adjoining my mother's apartment, and Mama insists on taking care of everyone herself. She's done nothing but carry soup and tea to them all day, and when they're asleep she goes next door to take care of the men. It seems like two hospitals here now instead of one. . . ." She pretended to pull her soft brown hair as Zoya laughed. The Catherine Palace next door had been turned into a hospital at the beginning of the war, and the Empress worked there tirelessly in her Red Cross uniform and she expected her daughters to do the same, but of all of them, Marie was the least fond of those duties. "I can hardly bear it! I was afraid you wouldn't come. And Mama would be so angry if she knew I had asked you." The two young women strolled across the room arm in arm and sat down next to the fireplace. The room she normally shared with Anastasia was simple and austere. Like their other sisters, Marie and Anastasia had plain iron beds, crisp white sheets, a small desk, and on the fireplace was a neat row of delicately made Easter eggs. Marie kept them from year to year, made for her by friends, and given to her by her sisters. They were malachite, and wood, and some of them were beautifully carved or encrusted with stones. She cherished them as she did her few small treasures. The children's rooms, as they were still called, showed none of the opul...
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