Chapter 1: KIEV, July 1914

     Just a few days after her twentieth birthday, Katherine Kazakova rode in a closed carriage down Shevchenko Boulevard toward the railroad station. There was a glow on her face as she looked out across the gardens and flowering chestnut trees sweeping down to the Dnieper River and she realized that there could be no city more beautiful than Kiev. For a while she was content with this summer scene and the clattering hooves, but then the domed roof of the station came into view, and with sudden clarity she understood that by getting on the train to St. Petersburg, she could be making a terrible mistake: leaving friends, leaving home, leaving her father. She sat back to think it through, but hardly a moment had passed before she reminded herself that a Royal Appointment was the opportunity of a lifetime, and not something one could defer.
     She watched her father check his vest pocket watch before reaching up to rap on the roof. “There’s plenty of time, Papa,” she said, staying his hand. “Let’s enjoy it. Do you like my new suit?”
     “Perfect,” he said with a quiet smile. “Navy blue, almost obligatory for business . . . and it shows off golden hair so well.”
     Katya held his hand until the carriage pulled up to the main entrance. A porter opened the door and Papa stepped out quickly. “I must get a paper, Katya. Meet me at the gate.”
     Katya watched him hurry toward a kiosk while the porter took her bags. She frowned at the headlines: ASSASSINATION IN SARAJEVO! FANATIC SHOOTS ARCHDUKE FERDINAND AND WIFE.
     Recent tensions had taken a nasty turn. She knew that Archduchess Sophia was with child. Tragic! Nevertheless, she tightened her lips determinedly and followed the porter into a waiting-room busy with soldiers carrying kit bags toward the gate to the far platform. A clock high on the wall showed five minutes past eight as she worked her way toward the marble counter. With a nod she accepted her ticket before pushing back through the crowd to the first-class entrance.
     There was her father waiting beside a chalkboard bearing the message: EXPRESS TO ST. PETERSBURG. FRIDAY, JULY 29, 1914. 8:15 a.m. He looked wonderful in his smartly tailored clothes she thought, but she could also see his anguish. His eyes squinted with worry as he broke the silence, “I wish you would reconsider, Katya. War is very close.”
     With a shake of her head, Katya presented her ticket to the attendant then moved through the gate to the platform and the waiting train. “We’ve planned this for too long, Papa. I won’t let a career slip away just because Germany and Austria rattle sabers at the rest of Europe.”
     It was cooler as they walked under the platform’s arched roof. Glass panes, high above and stained with soot, must have diminished the power of the sun which speckled down onto flat-bed cars loaded with artillery pieces.
     “It was a marvel how you ever arranged the appointment . . . and to have Grand Duchess Marie as my confidante– unbelievable.”
     A flicker of pleasure crossed his face. “Never forget the power of connections,” he advised while watching the porter stow the luggage.
     “They’ll see what I can do by myself.”
     He nodded. “I wish your mother were here.”
     “I know. I miss her too.” Katya said as she slipped the porter some money.
     “I would prefer you to leave the gratuity to me,” he complained.
     She brushed his lapels. “Sometimes bankers don’t give enough,” she said softly. “When will I see you again? We’re both alone now.”
     Her father’s emotions welled up as a whistle blew. “In God’s good time,” he managed to say. “Young men will crowd your day.”
     “Not until I establish myself.”
     “Your Mother would be so proud . . . the first woman to serve in the Czar’s Treasury. What a singular honor.” His eyes shone with tears.
     Not wanting to see him break down in public, Katya kissed him quickly, then stepped into the compartment just as doors all up and down the platform began to slam shut. When the whistle blew again and the train crept slowly away, she waved until he was out of sight, then she pulled on the leather strap to close the window.
     Looking out through her reflection she watched a tear thread its way down her cheek. “I’ll get you to Petersburg, Papa,” she whispered. “It’s where we both belong.”



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