Chapter 3

I twirled and spun and danced around the ballroom, feeling lighter than air. I went from one dance partner to the next. I laughed and talked with all of the guests. Maybe I was better at this social game than I thought.

My sister Tatiana winked at me from over her dance partner's shoulder. I had danced with almost every man in the room. Almost.

Dmitri stood in the shadows, never taking part in the festivities and the guests didn't even know he was there. But I did. Of course I did.

I really didn't want to deal with this change in our relationship or the fact that he was back. Our friendship was too important to me to try to recreate. I didn't want to take that risk.

"May I cut in?" A familiar voice spoke from behind me. Speak of the devil. I thought to myself.

My dance partner nodded, placed my hand in his and bowed his leave.

"You shouldn't have done that." I said, somewhat disapprovingly.

He shrugged his shoulders. "I needed to talk to you and besides, you didn't exactly look thrilled to be dancing with him either." Dmitri answered.

I glared at him. He just grinned but then sighed. "We have a lot to talk about don't we?"

I nodded. I was starting to feel a little lightheaded from all the spinning. Dmitri seemed to notice because he led me off the dance floor and toward the door.

I looked up at him, surprised. "We can't leave. Everyone will be wondering where I am." I couldn't leave my own party.

He looked at me and rolled his eyes. "Since when have you cared about rules, Anna?" (Imp in Russian)

I glared. "Well you wouldn't know, would you?" I hissed. I thought I saw a flash of hurt in his eyes but it was gone before I could be sure.

He led me to an alcove in the hallway. Oh no, if I was caught in here with him it would be such a scandal!

He went to sit by the ledge of the window and leveled me with a frank look. I was still looking around, in shock.

"We aren't kids anymore, Dmitri. We can't be sneaking off in the middle of a ball because we need to talk!" I said, trying to keep my voice quiet.

"No one will find us." He assured me. "Do you remember this place?" He asked with a slight smile.

I did, of course. It was one of my treasured memories as a child.


A young girl ran through the long, winding corridors of the palace. Her friend was close on her heels. They had snuck into the kitchen to sneak a cake from the chefs. There was to be a grand ball tonight. But they didn't need all the cake, did they?

They had gotten so close, but the chef caught them just as they were about to make their escape. They were certain the chef would come after them.

So they ran. The young girl giggled as she ran through the halls, ducking underneath the tapestries and tables. She ran through a footman's legs and ducked under a courtier's coat, startling them. The young boy following behind her was quick on his feet. He hardly made a noise as he ran.

He quickly ran ahead of her. The girl gave a cry of indignation as she saw he was faster. He saw the souse-chef coming out of the kitchen, probably to scold them, so he ducked into an alcove in the wall.

He grabbed the girl as she ran past, pulling her into the corner. He covered her mouth as the chef went by. They both tried to stifle their laughter as he looked around confused.

When the danger was over, the two of them sat talking in their secret corner. There was even a vent that led to the ballroom in it. You could hear the music from the orchestra.

They smiled at each other. They would keep this their secret.

I nodded. "We thought we were so clever, ducking in here." I laughed.

He grinned. "It was almost a tradition. Every time there was a ball or party being held, you and I would try to steal cake." He said, smiling.

"It never worked, but we tried anyway." I said.

We both sat there for a while, laughing at the memory. But all too soon the laughter faded away. I figured I might as well get the conversation started.

"What happened to you after you left the palace?" I asked quietly.

He took a deep breath and started. "My father took me to the military camp in the country. I went through years of training until I was actually put into the ranks. I traveled to the reaches of the empire to settle disputes and rebellions. I thought I would never return to the Peterhof. So you can imagine what I felt when they told me I was to be appointed as a guard to the royal family. But I had no idea it was you, Anna." He said.

He and I just looked at each other for a while.

"But I'm glad it was." He said softly.

For a moment there I could have sworn there was something between us, but just as fast as it came, it was gone. He laughed. "And nothing has changed. I'm still trying to keep you out of trouble. Only now I'm getting paid for it."

I tried to smile. Nothing has changed. He had said. I must be imagining things. Of course nothing has changed.

"Well, I'm glad to see you were successful in your career." I said formally. And without another word I stood up, and walked out into the corridor. I heard him calling after me and heard his footsteps on the marble but kept walking. I straightened my skirts, fixed my hair and slipped into the ballroom.

I sighed. I don't think anyone had noticed that I had slipped out for a few moments. I was just one in a sea of faces.