Chapter 13

Madam Giry looked at her daughter with a few tears in her eyes. "I was completely and utterly devastated; but I refused to let him get the better of me. I received several letters from him, attempting to explain what had happened, and although I believed him, I was too hurt to accept him back into my life. No one has hurt me the way he hurt me. I didn't respond to his letters, too wounded to write a few lines, too depressed to think of a possible future for us and determined to move forward."

"Why did you not attempt to write him back, mama?" Meg asked silently.

"After a month of self mourning, I realized that he had made a mistake, but so had I. I learned from several people who knew him and his wife, that the marriage was indeed troubled. A separation of some sort had taken place before we met. I was going to write to him when a woman came to see me, Tatiana Alexandrov, his mother."

FLASHBACK

"My dear, I know all about the little romance between yourself and Nicholas. I also know my son is deeply in love with you." She spoke gently as she walked close to the young Antoinette. Never had Antoinette seen such a matured beauty. The woman must have been at least in her mid-forties but appeared to be in her twenties. Her jet-black hair was gathered up in a stylish up do where several braids were elaborately woven around her head. Her elegant black dress was snug enough to reveal her slim waist before the skirt spread out, and her face showed almost no signs of age other than a line or two under her eyes. In truth, she was far prettier than girls half her age.

"Madam Alexandrov, I do not know what to say."

"Please let me speak first. I understand you and my son have feelings for one another, and I also understand the situation you find yourself in. Like my son, my marriage was arranged and although my late husband and I shared little in common, we came to care a great deal for each other. Nicholas and Marie are having the usual troubles in a young marriage that have been unable to form a family. Marie is a very fragile girl who has not been able to adjust to our country's harsh winter. You may know she has delivered two sons, both have died. This has not been easy on them; the loss of their children has placed an enormous strain on their marriage. This was why Nicholas had to get away, this is why he came to Paris, to forget his problems for a short while. He came here looking for peace and instead found you." Antoinette blushed and looked down unable to meet the gaze of the woman, who was being very polite yet very blunt.

"I understand you care about Nicholas. I love my son and want what is best for him and our family. I have nothing against you, I feel you are a wonderful girl, but I'm afraid an Alexandrov cannot marry a ballet dancer." Antoinette flinched at the comment, even when spoken gently, the insult stung. "If my son divorces Marie to marry you, he will be stripped of his title, estates, entire fortune, and be exiled from Russia. He is willing to give up everything for you, but you must think, is he really thinking straight? He is the last of the Alexandrov's, he must have an heir. He has to continue the family name." The older princess gave Antoinette a sympatric look as she lifted her hand to raise Antoinette's chin. "I do not expect you to understand, but in our culture, our name is everything. He may not regret giving up his fortune now, but what about later? He has never known a life outside the privileged life I have given him. Can you really see him working as an average man? Can you believe he won't wake up one day and wonder what have I done?"

Antoinette couldn't hold back the tears that were streaming down her face. She loved Nicholas and was willing to do anything for him, just as he was for her. He was willing to give up his entire lifestyle, everything that made him who he was just to be with her. "I do not tell you this to hurt your feelings, but I cannot allow my son to ruin his life this way. It is nothing personal against you. I beg you on my knees to let him go. If you really love him, you'll let him go." She pleaded.

Antoinette looked at her and turned away, holding herself up against her chair. She was right; she couldn't allow Nicholas to give up what was his birthright. She loved him too much to see him fall from his pedestal. Love is sacrifice...and because she loved him, she would do what was best for him, even if it meant breaking her own heart. "I swear to you, Madam, I won't allow him to leave his wife. I shall continue with my life and he will continue his. It was but a dream to think it would end differently."

Madam Alexandrov approached Antoinette and put her hand on the small girl's shoulder. "Thank you. This is for the best." She whispered before leaving Antoinette to her grief, as she realized what she had just done.

END FLASHBACK—

"His mother came to you?" Meg asked.

"She had every right, Nicholas was determined to leave Marie and if he married me he would have had nothing."

"He would have had you." Meg whispered as she laid her head on her mother's lap.

"He would have regretted it eventually and I could not have endured the thought of him blaming me for his misery. I much preferred to be a happy memory in his life than a bitter chapter." Madam Giry wiped the tears away from her eyes as she patted her daughter's head.

"What about father?"

"Your father and I had worked together for some time and he knew of my heartache. He said he had cared for me for some time, and promised to be true to me and only me. I knew I had to place distance between Nicholas and myself, so I accepted his proposal. He was such a kind man, Meg. I cared for him deeply, I always will, but I cannot lie to you. It's always been Nicky who I have loved."

Meg said nothing, only blinked several times trying to gather her thoughts. "You are both free now."

"Yes. Marie died when Tatiana was about six years old."

"Are you going to marry him?"

"Nicholas has been officially courting me for several weeks now, Meg. He wanted to prove to me his love and show me he could love you as his own child just as he loves Tatiana. The more time we spent together the more I realized I could never love another the way I loved him. I sacrificed our love years ago, but now things are different and there is no need to sacrifice. It may sound selfish but I want to be happy, I want to spend whatever life I have left with him. I have accepted his proposal." She said nervously.

Meg smiled and embraced her mother. Madam Giry couldn't help the surprised laugh that escaped her lips as she returned the embrace. It seemed everything was finally coming together the way it should have come together years ago.


During the dinner everyone toasted and rejoiced as Nicholas announced his intentions of marrying his Antoinette. Both Meg and Tatiana smiled at each other as they both realized their parents would finally be happy.

No one could contain their excitement. Well, almost everyone. Erik would give a slight smirk here and there, but other than that, he showed no other emotions throughout the dinner. Nothing could have been more perfect had they dreamed it. It seemed it had been forever since the dining room had last heard so many joyful voices.

Tatiana picked at her food; her thoughts lingering on her scheduled meeting with the Tsar. What would occur tomorrow when she had to face the Tsar? She then realized her father, too, would need to speak with him about his marriage. As always, it was the Tsar who had the final say in their lives.

She noticed her father smiling but saying little as Meg rambled on and on about the wedding. She could not help but wonder what was going through her father's head at that moment.


Nicholas POV

I had never meant to fall in love. I had only planned on taking a trip to escape the misery that had consumed my life. At twenty-seven I had been very unhappy in a arranged marriage. It had been arranged without my knowledge, by my parents and the results had been disastrous. As much for myself as it had been for Marie.

Marie was a wealthy aristocrat and with her came, not only wealth, but prestige, or so my mother had said. Marie was attractive enough, but her manner was distant and cold I could not love her no more than she could love me. As heir to one of the largest private fortunes in Russia, I had to have a child, an heir to continue the family legacy. However, unfortunately Marie, who was a woman of fragile health, had a harder time than most women carrying a child. Marie would suffer through two miscarriages before she would finally give birth to a stillborn son, Nicholas. I cannot deny I suffered much and for a time, the grief over the death of our son brought us together as we had not been before.

Marie became obsessed with having a child and wanted nothing more than to bear me an heir, which I desired, but not at the cost of her health, which had suffered more and more after every pregnancy. When Marie became pregnant again I was very attentive and caring towards her. When our son Sergei was born alive, we rejoiced, but not for long. Sergei had been a rather small baby and, like his mother of ill health, he died before he turned one.

Grief over our first-born son had brought us together, but grief over Sergei drove us apart. We both grieved differently. Devastated by the loss of another son, I decided to travel aboard, away from everything and everyone around me. Marie did not care; she had come to accept my withdrawn attitude and spent her time with her mother, spending away her monthly allowance. We were leading separate lives and my own mother was starting to regret the match. It was during this difficult time that I met the lovely Antoinette.

I had been practically dragged to the Opera with a group of my friends and, while they had their sights set on some of the more available dancers, my gaze had fallen on the young and graceful ballerina floating across the stage. She was not the prettiest girl I had seen, but there was something about her that made her far lovelier than all the rest. When I went backstage to meet her, I was taken aback by her harsh words. Never having been treated in such a manner, I refused to give up on her until she accepted my friendship. I had no intention of making her my mistress; I was far from perfect and, like many men of the day, I had my share of uneventful flings here and there, but never long term.

I was taken by the young girl whom I discovered was only sixteen. She intrigued me with her strong maturity and determination to be the best dancer in Paris. It was with her that I managed to forget my problems at least for a few precious moments. I promised myself that I would not disrespect her in any way, therefore always made sure to leave the dressing room door opened, so no one had any doubts about her reputation.

Perhaps I had fallen in love with her on the night I first laid eyes on her, or perhaps I had fallen in love with her without realizing. But one evening while we were talking, I looked at her reflection in the mirror and realized I was in love with her. She had given me hope of being able to love and be loved. I knew she cared for me before she even admitted it, there was something in a girl's eyes that always reflected their true emotions. Antoinette had my heart in the palm of her hand and I would have done anything she asked, if only she asked, but she never asked me for anything.

My guilt was too much for me to carry sometimes, feeling I was sinning without actually sinning. I also couldn't gather the courage to tell her I was married; deep inside I didn't want to her know. The fear of her pushing me away if she found out burned me inside, I loved her perhaps more than she would ever know or imagine.

When she kissed me for the first time, instead of pulling away, I pulled her closer to me, unable to deny my flesh the pleasure of having her in my arms. It was within a few days of our first kiss that I finally made up my mind to go speak with the Tsar and request a divorce. I didn't care if they took all my fortune, if they exiled me out of Russia, I didn't care about anyone but her. I wanted to be with her and form a life together. Her letters of love and devotion would bring tears to my eyes as I realized how truly innocent she was. The guilt I carried was too much to be kept inside and, before long, everyone was commenting on my tired appearance.

When I met with the Tsar, everything I knew would happen happened. "Nicholas Alexandrov, let me warn you. If you decide to go forth with this foolish idea of divorcing your wife to marry that commoner, I will have no choice but to strip you of your title, estates, fortune and have you exiled out of Russia." I accepted the warning but I had already made up my mind.

When I went home to speak with Marie, she reacted worse than I could have ever dreamed. She screamed, cried, threw things at me, ruined my mother's favorite painting in all the ways any woman would react to the news of her husband's intentions to leave her for another woman. I promised she would continue to live in the same luxury I had provided for her in our six years of marriage, but she refused to even consider the idea of divorce. She said she was willing to turn blind eyes to this affair, but she refused to disgrace her family with a scandal. Unable to come to terms with Marie, I started speaking with my lawyer and asked to start the divorce procedure, and in turn I started ensuring funds for myself and Antoinette, knowing full well if I married her, I would lose my entire fortune. It was during these crucial months that I began to write to her.

Antoinette,

My love, my life, my soul . . . You cannot imagine how your coldness towards me pains me. I have never felt the way I do now, nor do I expect to ever love anyone the way I love you. My sweet Antoinette, please think that if I only wanted one thing from you I would have gotten it and left, but I didn't. To me the greatest pleasure was being next to you, hearing your sweet words of love, and feeling your presence was enough to fill me with the greatest joys a man could have. You are the most important person in the world to me. I have prayed for forgiveness, it was selfishness, which caused me to hurt you so. The fear of losing you tormented me. I tried to tell you, but when you would look at me with those stunning innocent eyes of yours, I couldn't. I had neither the heart, nor courage to do so. I ask on my hands and knees that you forgive me. I'm requesting a divorce and although it may take some time to have the details and separation finalized, I swear to you on my life I will make you my wife and correct any wrong I have done you. Believe in me, love, that is all I'm asking of you.

Yours Always,

Nicky

I wrote several letters, trying to make some sort of a connection with her, but my letters never received a response. Finally unable to handle the separation any longer, I went to Paris in search of her. I was determined to make her hear everything, whether she wanted to or not. When I arrived, I found some hostility among the people who worked at the Opera house. No one would allow me to go backstage. Finally I used my power to summon the manager who would not refuse my request and allowed me entrance to the backstage area. When I arrived, I found her room empty.

"Monsieur, where is Antoinette?" I asked while looking over the room I had not seen for nearly three months.

"Monsieur Alexandrov, Madam Giry is on her honeymoon." He said quietly, his head lowered fearing my reaction. For a moment, I thought I had heard him wrong.

"Madam Giry? Did you say Madam Giry?" I blinked several times feeling a rush of hurt and anger touch my heart.

"Yes, Monsieur Alexandrov, she married a month ago." I couldn't believe it. She had married another man; my Antoinette had married another man. She belonged to another man. I would never forget the horrible rage that filled my entire being that day, and for the next several months as well.

I left Paris that very day with all hopes of happiness ruined. I made my way back to Russia, feeling completely betrayed, but I knew she had done nothing wrong. She had been in her right to marry, she had been free, I had not. I stopped the divorce papers and for the next several months drank and drank until I passed out. I couldn't bear the thought of Antoinette in another man's arms, and drinking seemed to be my only solution at least for a short while. It was during this time that Marie managed to get pregnant. My mother was overjoyed and prayed all would go well. I, as harsh as it may sound I did not care at the time. I was too consumed with my heartache, but still I managed to send Antoinette a letter.

Madam Giry,

I congratulate you on your recent marriage. I pray with all my heart you find the happiness I was unable to give you. You shall always have a special place in my heart; all I ask is to be allowed to carry the title of friend in your life. Should you ever need anything, please do not think twice before calling on me. I'm forever in your debt, for the few precious moments of happiness you gave me that I will always treasure and remember.

Sincerely,

Nicholas Alexandrov

On February 8, 1862 Marie gave birth to a healthy baby girl who weighed 9 pounds 3 ounces. I will never forget the moment I first laid eyes on my little princess, she was simply beautiful. My mother was overjoyed and threw a massive party to celebrate her birth. I named her Tatiana after my mother, and made a vow I would always put her before my myself and others. If God had taken away one love in exchange for another, then I accepted his will. I was stunned when I received a letter from Madam Giry, announcing the birth of her own daughter seven months after my own daughter's birth. I was both sad and happy, if it was at all possible. I sent her my best wishes, and from then on, we maintained a friendly correspondence for years until we both became widowers and were finally able to see each other again.

Everything and yet nothing had changed between us. We cared for one another, but she kept her distance and I she would never again lower her guard. I respected her silent wish and we remained friends.

When I discovered she had helped my daughter escape, something inside of me decided right there and then that this time things would be different and I would have her as my wife. Thus began my hot pursuit of the woman who had stolen my heart nearly 20 years before.


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