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Authors: Alicia Rasley

Royal Renegade

BOOK: Royal Renegade
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Royal Renegade, a Regency Romance Novel

 

By Alicia Rasley

 

Published by Midsummer Books

 

Copyright 2011 Alicia Rasley

ISBN:
978-1-4660-5880-4

 

 

Chapter One

April 1811

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg

 

"Napoleon will hardly stay home just because I marry a murderer!" Tatiana put her whole small body into slamming the schoolroom door, but Prince Dmitry inserted a booted foot and pushed through. His gaze swept over the chaos, taking in and then dismissing the tumble of books on the table, the cache of toys in the corner, the shabbily dressed children in the center. Finally he focused coldly on his niece.

"The Duke of Cumberland is a royal prince and now your future husband, young lady. He deserves greater respect than that." As Arkady, an undersize tot with oversize voice, clung to Tatiana's leg and screamed, Dmitry's thin face twisted in distaste. "We shall discuss this when your brats have left for their feeding."

The Princess Tatiana kicked the door shut behind her uncle, but that only made Arkady cry louder. So she crooned as she carried him back to the rug where six other children played. Depositing the boy unceremoniously in the middle, Tatiana shook her head at Anne Buntin's attempt to pick him up and comfort him. The frail English governess always strained herself trying to keep up with their charges. Now Buntin let Arkady go and looked up, her prim lips mouthing a question.

Tatiana could always speak more eloquently with her expression than her voice. She lowered her brows and set her mouth militantly, declaring, "Prince Dmitry is a—" Then, with unusual tact, she remembered the children. "I shall tell you later."

She joined Leo, the budding architect, in building towers with scarred wooden blocks. Leo was painstaking, his tongue caught between his teeth, his fingers delicately edging the block into place. Tatiana was not so careful. Haphazardly she piled block on block, then just as her tower was about to fall, she knocked it down. If only Dmitry were so easily vanquished, she thought, Dmitry and his murderous English prince.

"No hit, Tania," remonstrated Darya, the tiny daughter of a chambermaid. When she first came to the palace school, Darya could not speak, for she had been left with a deaf-mute neighbor while her mother worked. Now Darya was the self-appointed class disciplinarian, and especially enjoyed chastising her disobedient teacher.

As the children chattered, Tatiana imagined her uncle skulking outside in the great stone hallway, his teeth gritted. He hated her involvement in this school for servants' children, but then he hated everything about her. That was why he wanted to marry her off to a mad prince in an alien land.

Suddenly she could stand the tension no longer. "Time for luncheon," she announced, pulling Leo to his feet, in the process knocking down his proud tower. He set up a howl, but she diverted him with a well-placed tickle. When he was helpless with laughter, Tatiana pushed him gently toward the door.

Buntin's fair eyebrows rose, for this was earlier than their usual mealtime. Still she lined up the children to lead them out. Tatiana protested, "They're just babies; they don't need to march like soldiers." She tugged Leo out of the formation to make her point, for he was rather too careful as it was. "I'm sorry, Buntin. But do let's get on. Prince Dmitry will be coming in a moment and"—for the children she made a horrible face—"and he's such an ogre! And Buntin, ask one of the maids to watch the children this afternoon, and come back quickly."

Dmitry pushed the door open as soon as the children were past. He was gaunt as a monk, but without any suggestion of godliness in his icy green eyes. Once his hair had been dark red like Tatiana's, but had long since grayed, as if frosted by his wintry temperament. He no longer bore any resemblance to her gentle mother. "As I said, your wedding has been set for Christmastide. In London."

Tatiana turned away, hiding her trembling hands in front of her full skirt. She could never let him know that he frightened her, for he would enjoy that too much. So sweetly, as if declining a dinner invitation, she only said, "You'll have to give them my regrets then, for I shan't be able to make it."

As imperious as their feudal Romanov ancestors, Dmitry replied, "You have no choice in the matter, my dear niece. We have already decided."

Rage shuddered through her and left her weak. She put one hand on the children's table as if to straighten the books, but actually to give herself the support to continue standing. His malicious endearment—"my dear niece"—echoed in her mind. "Who has decided? My dear uncle? You are so eager to rid yourself of your sister's child. But then, you were just as glad to get rid of your sister!"

Dmitry kicked a toy soldier out of his path and advanced on her. He stopped short a few feet away, as if repelled by her slight figure in the dusty-blue kerseymere frock, and his voice grew silky with threat. "Count yourself lucky that you won't be following your parents to Siberia, my dear. In fact, this is a quite an achievement, a misbegotten child like you wedding the son of a king."

Tatiana stood her ground, though Dmitry's face loomed like death above her. "Misbegotten, am I? You forget, my father was also the son of a king! And I am no pawn to be wed at your whim." Her rebellion was mostly automatic, as she sought feverishly for a way out. She knew other princesses were married off for political purposes—Anastasia Romanova had just this winter gone off to wed a Montenegrin prince she'd never laid eyes on. And before Napoleon had married his Austrian, several of Tatiana's cousins had been imagining "Empress" in front of their names. But Tatiana had neither desired nor expected to receive the dubious privilege of royal marriage.

Indeed, the Romanov court seemed to have forgotten about her, shut off in a distant wing of the Winter Palace with her companion Buntin. Oh, occasionally Tatiana would do something outrageous, like starting the school for servants' children or sneaking into the convoy of princesses going to Paris to meet Napoleon, just to prove that she was still alive. But most of the time, she was as invisible as the maids who emptied the royal chamber pots. She was a cast-off princess, considered unworthy of any marriage, much less one to save the nation. Now, finally, her family had remembered her, just in time to send her away forever.

"This is no whim, my dear. Or if it is, it's the whim of the tsar." At this reference to his patron, Dmitry permitted himself a thin smile. "Of course, I was happy to assure him that a marriage between the two royal families would cement a new alliance in this troubled time."

"The alliance would not need cementing," Tatiana observed acidly, "if we hadn't spent so much of the war in Napoleon's pocket."

Dmitry had been an advocate of the Franco-Russian alliance, tenuous now in the face of Napoleon's eastward aggression. An overture to England—with his niece as bait—could restore Dmitry as a palace advisor. "I told Alexander that of all the princesses underfoot in this nation, you were the obvious choice. You are, as you say, the granddaughter of a king, although Saraya Kalin was a meager sort of kingdom even before it was annexed. You learned English well from your governess, and your looks won't offend the duke."

"And my closest kin will be happy as can be to send me off to the other side of the world."

Prince Dmitry smiled in grim amusement. "Just so. Of all the princesses in this palace, you're the one we'd all like to send to the devil."

Tatiana inquired with real interest, "What did the tsar say to that?"

"I shouldn't be so proud of your notoriety, Tatiana Nicholevna." Dmitry's smile vanished. "Had you been more biddable, you'd already be rearing your own children instead of training servants' brats. Your only hope is that the English haven't heard of your wildness and won't object to your advanced age. For no man in Petersburg would have you."

Tatiana thought of her cousin Peter, exiled for the crime of soliciting her hand, and she was provoked into rashness. "I like to think I livened up this dull pile. Since the Tsarina Catherine died, there's been so little excitement—except for a strangling or two."

Dmitry paled to a deathly shade, and indeed, Tatiana was frightened by her impulsive words. Dmitry declared rigidly, "You of all people should discount that scurrilous rumor."

Once again, passion overcame Tatiana's limited good sense. "If it's only a rumor, why was my father sent away? Why does Alexander refuse to acknowledge me? It's guilt, that's what. He prays and prays and attends mass and takes confession, and never admits his own guilt. Instead he blames Papa, and even me, though I was just a child and knew nothing of it. That is why I am shut away here like some bastard when I am more Romanov than Alexander. And why you have deserted me—" Tatiana's words piled up like Alexander's sins. But it was no use reaching out to her uncle. He had abandoned her long ago, when he stood by as the tsar sent her father to his death.

Now Dmitry refused to meet her eyes, muttering his self-serving version of recent Russian history. "Your father was an impetuous fool, who liked to boast of his importance. And your mother was no better, loyally following him off into exile and just as loyally dying with him." Dmitry's twisted features made clear his view of such fealty; his only allegiance was to power.

He kept talking, his voice raspy with cruelty, but the princess hardened her heart to the pain. She knew better, after all, and so did he, and so did Alexander. The only one to take advantage of her father's impetuousity was Alexander himself.

Dmitry might pretend that her own rash behavior had isolated her from the rest of the Romanovs. But Dmitry had spent years distancing himself from his brother-in-law's specter, and even had she been the perfect niece, Tatiana would have shamed him. He—and Alexander— must have seen this arrangement with England as an opportunity to send Tatiana and her long memory far away.

"As far as you are concerned," Dmitry went on, one hand inserted into his gray waistcoat in unconscious imitation of Napoleon, "you are fortunate that Alexander let you live here in the palace instead of pensioning you off to a convent somewhere. Now you can repay the great debt you owe him with the only value you have— your title and your Romanov blood."

Her Romanov blood as repayment to Alexander—it was too ironic for comment. Tatiana, at least, really was a Romanov, blood-linked to Peter the Great through both parents—more than Alexander could claim. And she recognized no debt, just the opposite, in fact.

"Well, you may tell our great leader that I prefer to go my own way, in marriage as well as in this palace." With all the dignity she could muster in her paint-spotted frock and stockinged feet, she started for the door. "And I wouldn't marry Cumberland if my life depended on it."

"What if the life of your country depended on it?" Prince Dmitry intercepted her, shooting out a hand and grasping her arm. "When Napoleon marches across the steppes, and England feels no obligation to help her, then perhaps you'll regret that vow ... if Bonaparte lets you live, that is. Surely you remember what the French did to their own royal family. Do you think they will treat us any better?"

As his bony fingers tightened on her wrist, she caught her breath to keep from crying out. She turned her head, but she could feel his words hot on her bare neck. "You haven't any choice, after all. For your alternative is exile. Yes, we'll send you to Siberia, where no doubt you'll meet the same fate as your stupid parents. And we'll deport that silly governess of yours. Think about it. I am sure you would prefer Cumberland Palace."

With her free hand, she grabbed his thumb, bending it back until he cursed and released her. "I'll praise the day I'm shut of you and your wicked tricks. Let the English have the taming of you. I hear the duke is a master disciplinarian." Dmitry's face, grim as an executioner's, clenched into a smile. Then he turned on his heel and strode out of the room.

Tatiana was shaken by her uncle's threat of Siberia, the wasteland that haunted her nightmares. But she turned that fear into anger, picking up a block and hurling it, hitting the door just as it closed behind him. "Damn him! I've half a mind to go to England, just to get away from him." Then she clapped a hand over her traitorous mouth, for if Dmitry heard her declaration he would find some way to use it against her.

When her uncle did not burst triumphantly back into the room, Tatiana retrieved her block and opened the door. Buntin, who had been hiding behind a marble pillar, slipped into the schoolroom. She had mussed her gray coiffure with her agitated hand. "You made him so angry. I could see from the way he stalked out of here. What did you say to him?"

"I suppose I shouldn't have mentioned strangling," Tatiana replied, kicking sullenly at the table leg. "But he made me so furious, pretending that I had disgraced myself, when all along it's been Alexander who has shamed our family."

BOOK: Royal Renegade
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