St. Petersburg, Russia, 1912
"Where are you taking me?" asked Natalya.
"Somewhere where you'll be safe," Michael said tersely.
The fact that the man who had just rescued her from her savage beast of a husband was none other than the younger brother of the Tsar himself hadn't quite had time to fully register with Natalya yet. All she could think about was the look of rage that had been on her husband's face and the icy cold fear that that look had always generated inside her.
Michael got into the back seat of a car and motioned for Natalya to follow. Too frightened to ask any questions, Natalya complied. The car immediately took off in a direction Natalya didn't recognize.
"Please don't be afraid." In the dark Natalya couldn't see Michael's face, but she heard the compassion in his voice. "I promise, I'm not going to hurt you."
Natalya felt herself relax just a tiny bit. Michael's hand gently touched her arm.
"You're shivering! Are you cold?"
"No, no...I'm all right..." Natalya said through chattering teeth.
"We'll be at the station soon. They'll have blankets and hot drinks."
"I'm fine...really." Natalya's voice was barely a whisper.
At the station Michael wrapped a blanket around Natalya and brought her a cup of hot chocolate. "The train will be here in about fifteen minutes," he told her.
"Thank you for being so kind to me," she said.
"You deserve nothing less." In the dim light of the station she could see his face now, the warmth and concern in his light blue eyes, and to her amazement she realized that he truly cared. She felt an unexpected sob catch in her throat.
"Hey." Michael's voice was tender as he held her and let her rest her head on his shoulder. "It's all right. It's all right."
On the train Natalya lay covered with a blanket with Michael sitting beside her. "Sleep, now," he said, gently stroking her hair. "You need your rest."
"You need to rest, too," Natalya said.
Michael chuckled. "Oh, don't worry about me."
Natalya reflected back over the past few hours - her husband's tantrum, the unexpected rescue by Michael, their swift exodus. Overwhelmed, she began to cry softly.
"There, there. Everything's going to be all right." Michael continued to stroke Natalya's hair, and she felt his lips kiss her damp cheek ever so gently. Slowly she drifted to sleep, thinking about what a very long time it had been since she had been kissed by a man.
A/N: Natalya's husband was a colonel in Michael's army. Michael suspected that the man had been abusing his wife, burst in on him when he was about to hit Natalya, knocked him senseless, and fled with Natalya while he was still out cold.