Once Upon a Christmas Wedding

The Russian Betrothal

Fourteen years ago the betrothal of Miss Georgina Franklin’s betrothal to Prince Vladimir Demetri James Petroski caused a fluster in parlors across London. Fourteen years later the Petroski brothers arrived in London setting it alight with their breathtaking presence, bone melting accents and heart fluttering masculinity; eligible women were all interested in their availability. And yet the Prince’s betrothed, Miss Georgina Franklin, was yet to receive a visit.

Below is a taster of The Russian Betrothal, I hope you like it!

The Russian Betrothal

Miss Georgina Franklin’s betrothal to Prince Vladimir Demetri James Petroski was announced to the world when she was six and he was eleven. The idea that a well-to-do capitalist and investor of an untitled family could arrange such a match for his daughter kicked up a fluster and a fuss throughout parlors across London. As the years went by and far more current and interesting events took the limelight, the gossip paled, and the betrothal became a little-known fact. Fourteen years later and only the old vanguard of dowagers still had it on their registers and lists. So, when the Petroski brothers arrived in London in December 1898 and set it alight with their breathtaking presence, bone melting accents and heart fluttering masculinity, eligible women of status were all interested in their availability. It was simply a matter of time until the Russian Betrothal and all its attendant speculation would once again raise its head.

PART ONE: THE BETROTHAL

CHAPTER 1

Georgie’s hand curled around the newspaper, crumpling its middle. Blast him! Prince Vladimir Petroski and his brother were reported at Madam Debuverey’s salon, again. She stalked over to the sideboard and slapped the newspaper down on the glossy mahogany surface. The night before, he was seen at the opera before heading to a gaming hall. And…the night before that he was sighted at the theatre and then the Fervors Salon, purportedly a hive of artists and painters set on turning beauty on its head.

Over the last seven days reports had begun to piece things together and there at the bottom of today’s edition was her inevitable shaming:

Were the Petroski brothers in town on special business? Reportedly, a well-to-do Miss might be keeping secrets the rest of London is yet to remember? Or is it the elusive and shockingly beautiful widow haunting the salons recently that has brought them here?

In any of those seven days had he come to visit her? Had he come to make her acquaintance? Had he come to pay his regards to his betrothed, the woman he would whisk away to St Petersburg and wed in less than a month?

No.

Had the date of their wedding been posted?

No.

Had there been any celebration of the long-standing event now pending?

No. No. NO.

The pain each of the reports generated was not the worst of it, she had lived with the shame of rejection years.

Her hand tightened on the paper before letting it go, smoothing it out and folding it on the sideboard for the others who wanted to read it…that was the hardest part. First her father, then the butler, the housekeeper and finally the other staff. Everyone in the house would read how Prince Vladimir Petroski, her long-standing betrothed, was gallivanting around London instead of coming to make himself known to her.

If the last few days were anything to go by, after the news was well and truly spread through the house the hushed voices and whispered discussions would begin, about him, about her, about the salons and more, the whole debacle of years of neglect. If that were not torture enough, it would all happen with small loyal glances in her direction, with eyes that silently said ‘there, there’ or ‘poor thing he will come around’.

Damn a literate household. When was it that everyone started to read?

Georgie stalked the room; around her the sun shone through the front parlor window, a rare stream of winter light shamelessly bright and cheery. If there were any justice, a Bram Stoker storm should be dragging itself through the sky with lightning breaking through the clouds to gallantly set the guilty salons, gaming halls and theaters aflame.

The elusive and shockingly beautiful widow…. her throat tightened.

Upstairs, her entire possessions were slowly being packed, everything readied for her new life in St Petersburg, the home of her devoted betrothed. Georgie screwed up her nose.

What kind of man failed to make himself known to his betrothed? How could he think that she would not read of his exploits in the gossip columns?

A horse cantered into the forecourt and a Prussian military uniform flashed past the window in that bright winter sunlight.

Her heart stopped.

Georgie rushed to the window pulling the curtain in front of her and peeking over the edge to ensure she stayed hidden. The last thing she needed was him to see her gawking and add to her shame. What she saw made her heart lurch and start racing. The gossip columns were not wrong, he was breathtakingly handsome.

Even his horse looked aristocratic, the type of horse a Prince would ride. It stomped and shifted at a height that made other horses look stunted. The man himself, uniform aside, looked as if the sun beaming around him had come out at his command. Each fluid mesmerizing movement spoke of his sovereignty in the world around him. Quivering threads of warmth slinked through her body even as she tried to beat them down with the anger of moments before.

Years she had waited for this moment, the chance to meet her betrothed. The agreement between their fathers was made when she was only six. Every event set up for them to meet over the years had been cancelled by his family, so here they were, the marriage a month away and they had yet to meet each other in the flesh.

Georgie drew out the small miniature portrait she kept in her pocket, the latest one which had arrived at Easter last year, and compared the man outside with the image.

His face was not clearly visible, shielded by the hat he wore, the distance from the window and the angle he dismounted obscured his visage. Yet she could think of no one else who would arrive in a Prussian uniform. His ash-blond hair was the same as in the miniature. Her thumb passed over the glass of the small oval frame in her palm. Can you fall in love with someone based on their image alone? It sounded foolish and shallow, but she had watched his face evolve over so many years, saw the change in his eyes and his features as life molded him. Having the small miniatures over the years she’d felt as if he was there with her in some way. It made his behavior since coming to London all the more painful, the rejection deeper than that of someone whom she had never met. To her mind, they had grown up together.

Georgie released the drapery and slipped the miniature back into her dress pocket. Regardless of the turmoil his recent behavior caused her, meeting this way, suddenly with no warning, no time to prepare, was not how she planned to begin. He was going to be glorious; he was going to glide in the front door and look magnificent. She didn’t need to glance down to know she wore a functional although pretty day dress, her hair tickled her cheek, clearly starting to come loose from the bun Maria had put it in this morning, and there was no powder on her cheeks or nose to camouflage her freckles. To arrive unannounced now after she had read yet another account of his exploits, the elusive and shockingly beautiful widow…., thus allowing no time to make herself into the goddess she needed to look like the first time he saw her in person, was another willful slight.

Damn him. She flew to the parlor door as her father came through it.

“Goodness what’s the problem?”

Georgie whisked past him, “He’s here. I need to change. Keep him occupied, father.”

And now that she had seen him in all his masculine glory, her mission was even more important. She needed to fell him, fell him and steal his heart at their first meeting.

Georgie raced up the stairs. She would make herself as beautiful as she could manage in the ten minutes she would have before being summoned. She would show him what kind of a woman he treated with such disregard. She was accomplished. She was modern. She understood business and could speak of politics. Her whole life had in fact prepared her to take up her role by his side.

As she ran up the stairs shouts went up from the grooms as they ran to the front of the house to take his horse. Then the sound of their large brass knocker chased after her as she flew down the hall. Totally unnecessary to bang like that as the butler, in all likelihood, had his hand on the doorknob. Her mind whirled as she dashed to her room.

Damn him, damn him, damn him.

And yet…he was here.

He had final come!

She was dizzy with excitement. Even as the week’s neglect tugged for her attention, she pushed it aside, hungry for the chance to finally meet the man who had been the center of all her girlish and womanly fantasies.

What if he took one look and didn’t like her? Her stomach twisted.

Nonsense, she had sent him miniatures every other year. He would know what she looked like. She simply needed to make his first sight of her in the flesh even better. Something to banish any doubts he might have.

Georgie flung the door to her rooms open, “Maria, Maria help!” The fire had been stoked but the bed was not yet made.

Oh heavens, what was she going to wear? The buttons at the side of her skirt refused to undo as she tried to remove her clothes.

Maria came rushing out of the dressing room with last night’s nightgown still in hand.

“He’s here,” Georgie yelped, the sound of desperation reverberated through the room. Those flurries of excitement turned to anxiety in a flash. And those buttons refused to give.

“What, unannounced?” Maria dashed first in one direction and then another. Georgie found herself doing the same until, realizing they were both blindly running about, she stopped herself.

Calm down. Georgie took a deep breath, calm down. “So, it appears.” She willed herself to relax. If she simply focused on one controllable thing after another, she would get through this and get the result she wanted.

“Are you sure miss?” Drawers were flung open and the nightgown landed on the dressing table followed by ribbons, decorative combs, lace and velvets. The frenetic activity unhinging her yet again.

Georgie pressed her palms to her cheeks. “Large stallion, Prussian uniform, and arrogant enough to turn up without warning to a woman he is betrothed to yet has never bothered to come and meet!” Her voice reached an unattractive screech. She had no hope of gliding into the room as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She collapsed into a plush little velvet chair.

Marie turned and raised both hands and slowly lowered them. “We need to think.” Maria had pulled herself together.

Georgie closed her eyes. Breathed deeply and reminded herself again, stay in the moment, one thing at a time, then opened her eyes. A more purposeful Maria had set herself to work and, although still rapidly pulling out items from draws and boxes, she was focused. “You’ll go Russian,” Maria said with authority.

Georgie nodded then screwed up her face.

“That’s a bit eager don’t you think?” Her head spinning, she was short of breath. Damn him….and yet.

Deep breath in, eyes closed the image of him on that great horse was etched to the back of her eyelids. He was magnificent.

Eyes open, the image was still there.

Sparks skittled through her. How could a man be so magnificent? Her heart lurched and she slipped into optimism.

There must be a reason why he hadn’t called. Surely, a man of all his accomplishments had a good reason for his behavior? The hope was shallow.

Shallower still was the fact that she wanted to forgive him because of who he was, what he looked like and how he made her feel. Shallow, shallow and yet she would be lying if she didn’t see how her foolish, girlish heart desperately wanted there to be a plausible reason for his neglect, A reason that would restore her heart and his worthiness.

Maria emerged from the dressing room carrying the Russian blouse which had been sent with the miniature in her pocket. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to wear his mother’s gift? It wasn’t the strikingly beautiful impact she wanted to make but going down in a ball gown would be pantingly desperate.

“It never hurts to remind a man about his part of the world. It is home for him after all, and home brings with it all kinds of good feelings.” Maria reached out and pulled Georgie to her feet. “Besides, it also lets him know you are comfortable and familiar with it, you are going to be his wife after all.”

Wife…

Georgie started to pace back and forth, the moment of calm receding. “That feels very tenuous to me.” She still couldn’t believe it …how could he do this to her, to her family? Arrive unannounced, no chance to show their hospitality, no chance for them to present her as she should be presented for the first time; with dignity and aplomb, at an evening event when a person could be dressed for impact.

“His mother did send the shirt. Men like their mothers, don’t they?” Georgie rationalized.

Maria brought her to a standstill and unbuttoned her petulant buttons.

“Shh now Miss, arms up.”

In short shrift she was in a navy skirt and a darling white linen shirt with oversized embroidered sleeves in the Russian peasant tradition. A belt with a shiny silver clasp, showed off her petite waist giving her the current fashion’s much coveted hourglass shape. Her hair was always going to be a problem, a mass of tight curls that turned to frizz when she wasn’t looking. Maria found ribbons and some tortoise shell combs to calm the unruly curly mane.

“Maybe I should do the red jacket, the one with the smart epilates?”

“No.” Maria said decisively and misted her with cinnamon and vanilla water. “There, you will smell like a Christmas treat.”

It did smell wonderful, would he like vanilla? Leaning forward she checked the powder on her face, her freckles passably covered. “Maybe I need more powder?” her hand reached for the powder puff only to have Maria give it a little slap.

“You’ll look all caked up in the light. Better some freckles than to look as if you are hiding something worse.”

Georgie nodded as another wave of doubt hit her. “Oh dear, what if he takes one look at me and hates me? I’ll see it on his face.”

“You have been sending miniatures for years. I am sure he knows exactly what you look like.” Maria reassured her…it didn’t work.

“But seeing one in person is always different.” She wasn’t sure she could hide her hurt if he rejected her.

“Then you will release him and find a worthy man.” Maria guided her to the bedroom door and opened it.

Find a worthy man. By all accounts, other than the manner in which he handled his betrothal to her, Prince Vladimir Demetri James Petoskey was a worthy man indeed. It was challenging to reconcile the disinterested suitor with the provincial Prince who advocated in favor of education for all and a public medical system.

“Off you go. Remember to smile.” Maria gave her a gentle push out the door. Georgie looked back, clothing items and ribbons strewn all over the floor and chairs. A fitting reflection of her state of mind; she was going take a mess of it.

“Smile.” Maria said with confidence.