The Princess and the Rogue (Bow Street Bachelors #3) - Kate Bateman Page 0,1
Now, two days later, her tears had dried. A hollow, aching sadness remained.
She’d told Elizaveta they would return to St. Petersburg, but in truth it held little appeal. What was left for her there? A series of beautiful, empty palaces filled with the ghosts of happier times. Her parents had died five years ago, both carried off by the same fever. Now that Dmitri was gone, her closest male relative was some distant cousin in Moscow, who’d hound her to marry the first fortune-hunting fool who came her way.
Her father had refused plenty of suitors over the years. Men like the scheming Vasili Petrov, who hadn’t wanted her, merely the cachet that marriage to a Russian princess would bring. Anya was adamant that her union—like that of her own parents—would be based on mutual respect and appreciation, and not financial inducement. She’d seen far too many unhappy arranged marriages at court to consider settling for one herself.
After her father’s death, Dmitri had done the refusing. Now he was gone too.
Pain and grief balled inside her, but Anya pushed them away. She had to be practical, for Elizaveta’s sake. She pinched off another piece of bread, inserted another diamond, and swallowed it down.
Concealing a selection of gemstones inside their clothes was an expedient thing to do, considering the volatile situation outside. It was a long way from Paris to St. Petersburg. Two women alone would be an easy target for would-be thieves. If Anya’s baggage was stolen, they’d have the jewels sewn into the hem of her cloak. And if her cloak was stolen too—well, then the diamonds she’d just swallowed would be a last resort.
With bleak humor, she wondered how long it would take for the gems to work their way through her body. A few days, probably. How horrified her former tutors would be to know she’d been called on to make such an obscene calculation.
Elizaveta finished stitching a small pearl choker into the lining of a walking dress and picked up the mangled baguette. “That’s quite enough. You’ll make yourself sick if you have any more.” She scooped the remaining loose jewels into a reticule and folded the newly weighted garments over her arm. “I’ll go make us some tea.”
Tea, in Elizaveta’s opinion, was the answer to everything.
After she left, Anya sat listening to the heartbreakingly normal sounds of the street outside. Carts rattled, birds sang. Tradesmen haggled. How could the world carry on as if nothing had happened? How was it possible to feel so alone amongst hundreds of thousands of people? The ache in her chest intensified. Thank God for Elizaveta. Without her dear friend, she’d be truly alone in this world.
Footsteps echoed on the stairs, too heavy to be Elizaveta returning with a tea tray. Anya frowned. Another visit from General Di Borgo? She stood and started for the door, but it opened after only the briefest of knocks. Her skirts swirled around her ankles as she came to an abrupt stop.
“Count Petrov!” she managed. “This is … unexpected.”
It definitely wasn’t “a pleasure.”
Back in Russia they said: In a foreign country you are glad to see even the crow from your own land. But that wasn’t true. She wasn’t glad to see Vasili Petrov, at all. If she’d had her wish, she’d never have set eyes on him again.
Back in St. Petersburg, they called him handsome, with his pale blond hair and cool blue eyes, but Anya had known him since childhood. He was sly and vindictive, always jockeying for position. A preening peacock who bragged of his female conquests and his luck at the gaming tables with equal pride. She narrowed her eyes. He was neat as a pin, pure military perfection in his powder-blue uniform edged with gold braid. Unlike General di Borgo, whose head had still been bandaged beneath his battered hat, Vasili didn’t look as if he’d been anywhere near a battlefield.
“Have you just arrived in Paris?” she asked. “Were you at the battle in Belgium?”
Vasili removed his pristine white gloves, tugging at the tip of each finger before folding them carefully in his palm. “Alas, no. We arrived a few hours after the French retreat. It was all over by then.”
A wave of indignant fury welled up inside her. Why should a bastard like Vasili be spared, and good, brave men like Dmitri die?
Vasili slapped his gloves against his thigh and his pale gaze roved over her as if he were inspecting her for flaws. “I heard about the