Nicholas opened the door to the bedroom very quietly, in case she was asleep. When he stepped into the bedroom, he saw Alexandra's head lying on the pillow, her eyes closed. She was snoring softly.
Nicholas stood for a long time just watching her chest gently rise and fall. In sleep her brow was smooth, all signs of the worry and pain that constantly plagued her waking hours gone. To Nicholas she looked much younger, more like the carefree girl he'd married years before.
His heart swelled with love for her as he quietly undressed and got into bed beside her. As she was a light sleeper, the slight pressure of the mattress sinking with his weight caused her to stir.
"Nicky?" she mumbled sleepily.
"I'm right here, my love," he whispered. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to awaken you."
"My Nicky." She sounded very happy as she clung to him. "You're back."
"I wanted to be here before you went to bed, but the train was delayed," he said apologetically.
"It doesn't matter. You're here now." He couldn't see her face but knew that she was smiling. "Oh, Nicky, I've missed you so much!"
"I missed you too, darling Sunny."
"Something strange happened. The night after you left for Stavka, I discovered that my favorite nightgown was missing."
"I have a confession to make." Nicholas sounded unquestionably guilty. "I hope you'll forgive me."
Alexandra's heart almost stopped as the missing nightgown was instantly forgotten. Her husband had been away at the Eastern Front for several months, and she knew that there were plenty of young, attractive women at Stavka to tempt lonely soldiers. She knew that Nicholas had never been unfaithful to her before, but she also knew that he was only human.
"What is it, Nicky?" She wasn't at all sure that she wanted to know.
"I took your nightgown to Stavka with me, Sunny." Nicholas sounded sheepish. "I just couldn't help it. It was so soft, like you are, and it had your scent. At night in bed I held it close to my heart and imagined that I was holding you instead, and it brought me great comfort."
Alexandra was softly sobbing. Gently he touched her face, wiped her tears away. "Please don't be angry, Sunny."
"Oh, Nicky, I love you so much!" she gasped. "I could never be angry at you for that!"
"I brought it back with me, Sunny. It's packed away with my most precious possessions. I'll get it for you right away, if you want."
"That's all right. It can wait until the morning." She held him as tightly as she could. As his arms tightened around her in response, she felt the softness of his pajama top, heard the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. Oh, Nicky, I should have known better than to doubt you.
She felt that she'd never loved her husband more than she did right at that moment.