Zoya - By Danielle Steel



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