"Hello, Natalya. My name is Dimitri Pavlovich," the man said with a smile. "I know you don't know me, but I'm your husband's cousin."
"How do you do," said Natalya. "Please, come in."
Dimitri entered and sat on the sofa. "I was deeply saddened to hear of your loss," he told Natalya.
"Thank you," she said. "But how did you know I was here?"
"I have sources inside the palace that keep me informed of the comings and goings of the various members of the royal family," Dimitri replied. "You see, Natalya, I've been waiting for an opportunity to speak to you privately."
"Of what?" Natalya felt uneasiness tinged with just the slightest hint of fear.
"Natalya." Dimitri's voice was soft as he sat back with folded hands and looked at her earnestly. "I've loved you from afar for ever so long. You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, and I long to hold you in my arms."
"But...but you don't even really know me," Natalya stammered. "And besides, I'm very much in love with my husband, Michael."
"I could make you forget all about Michael, if you'd give me the chance." Dimitri looked at her with longing in his eyes and reached for her hands, but she stepped away from him, holding them protectively behind her back.
"I think...I think you'd better leave," she said timidly. "But thank you for coming by. I'm very flattered." Although uncomfortable with Dimitri's forwardness, she didn't want to seem impolite to Michael's cousin.
"Very well, then." Dimitri looked so disappointed that Natalya almost felt sorry for him. "I hope that the remainder of your stay in Moscow is a comfortable one."
Natalya felt dizzy with relief when he finally left.
Olga's funeral was the following day. Natalya's stomach churned as she entered the chapel and saw her sister's casket, surrounded by sobbing family members.
"Natalya!" Natalya turned to see her surviving sister, Vera. She was shocked to see how pale and wan Vera looked. She seemed a mere shadow of her former self. "I'm so glad you're here!"
"How have you been, Vera?" Natalya couldn't hide the concern in her voice.
"Oh, I'm all right. Don't worry about me," Vera said bravely.
"You certainly don't look all right," Natalya told her.
"The last few weeks have been so hard," Vera said softly.
"You should have told me!" Natalya exclaimed. "I would have come!"
"I knew that you had two babies to care for and a husband away at war," Vera replied.
Soon it was time for the service to begin. Numbly Natalya watched as the priest circled the casket sprinkling incense and chanting. It seemed to go on forever. Finally it was over with and time to return to the motel. As Natalya said good-bye to Vera, she couldn't shake the conviction that she'd never see Vera alive again.
She'd almost reached her motel room when she felt someone grab her arm, and her heart almost stopped when she realized that it was Dimitri Pavlovich.
"Give me a kiss, and I'll let you go," he said.
"No!" Natalya screamed. She tried to wrench her arm free, but Dimitri was too strong for her.
"Come on, darling. Just one kiss," he whined. Natalya felt his lips crushing her own, his hand upon her breast. Somehow she managed to break free of his grasp and ran away as fast as she could, finally collapsing by the side of the curb and bursting into sobs.
After a fearful, sleepless night in the motel, it was time for the long train ride back to St. Petersburg. Emotionally drained, Natalya slept on the train in fits and starts. At last the train was pulling into the station at St. Petersburg, and from there it was a short ride back to the palace. Natalya made her way back to her chambers as quickly as she could.
"Mama!" cried little Michaela, rushing into her mother's arms. Natalya held her little girl as if she'd never let her go, then asked for George. Never before had she been so happy to see her children.
"Darling, what's wrong?" asked Alexandra. She could tell right away that her sister-in-law was badly shaken.
"Do you know a man named Dimitri Pavlovich?" asked Natalya.
"He's Nicholas' cousin. Why?"
Natalya told Alexandra all the details of her trip to Moscow.
"Oh, you poor thing!" Alexandra gasped when she was finished. "I shall tell Nicholas as soon as possible."
Natalya wondered what Michael's reaction to the news would be. More than anything she wished that she could tell him herself what had happened.