Danielle Steel: Zoya

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Zoya: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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“A new bauble, Nicolai?” Like his wife, he had also heard the story of Nicolai's allegedly very pretty little dancer.

“A gift from a friend, Papa.”

Konstantin smiled indulgently. “That's more or less what I was afraid of.” Both men laughed and Nicolai furrowed his brow. He was still young but he was wise for his years, and he had a sharp mind in addition to his good looks. He was most emphatically a son to be proud of.

“You have nothing to worry about, Father. In spite of what you hear, I'm only having a little fun, nothing serious, I promise you.”

“Good. Then what brought you here tonight?”

Nicolai looked worried as he stared into the fire, and then into his father's eyes. “Something a great deal more important. I'm hearing unpleasant things about the Tsar, that he's tired, that he's sick, that he shouldn't be in charge of the troops. Father, you must be hearing it too.”

“I am.” He nodded slowly and watched his son. “But I still believe that he will not fail us.”

“I was at a party with Ambassador Paléologue last night. He paints a very gloomy picture. He thinks the shortages of food and fuel are far more serious than we admit to ourselves, the strain of the war is taking its toll. We are supplying six million men at the front, and we're barely able to take care of our own at home. He's afraid that we might crack … that Russia might crack … that Nicholas might crack … and then what, Father? Do you think he's right?”

Konstantin thought about it for a long time, and finally shook his head. “No, I don't. Yes, I think we're feeling the strain of all that, and so is Nicholas. But this is Russia, Nicolai, this is not a tiny, weak country in the middle of nowhere. We are a people of stamina and strength, and no matter how difficult the conditions without or within, we will not crack. Ever.” It was what he believed, and Nicolai found it reassuring.

‘The Duma reconvenes tomorrow. It will be interesting to see what happens then.”

“Nothing will happen, my son. Russia is for always and forever. Surely you must know that” He looked warmly at his son, and the youth felt better again.

“I do. Maybe I just needed to hear it.”

“We all do sometimes. You must be strong for Nicholas, for all of us, for your country. We must all be strong now, and the good times Moll come again. The war can't go on forever.”

“It's an awful thing.” They were both aware of how severe had been their losses. But none of that had to mean an end to what they held dear. Now that he thought of it, Nicolai felt foolish for having been so worried. It was just that the French ambassador had been so convincing with his predictions of doom. He was glad now that he had come to talk to his father. “Is Mother all right?” Nicolai had found her even more nervous than usual, or perhaps it struck him more now because he saw her less often, but Konstantin only smiled.

“She worries about the war too … and about you … and about me … and about Zoya. … She's quite a handful.”

“Lovely, though, isn't she?” He spoke of Zoya with a warmth and admiration he would have denied vehemently had anyone told her. “Half my regiment seems to be in love with her. I spend most of my time threatening to murder them.”

His father laughed, and then shook his head sadly. “It's a shame she has to come out during wartime. Perhaps it'll all be over by June.” It was a hope they both shared, but which Nicolai feared wasn't likely.

“Have you anyone in mind for her?” Nicolai was curious. There were several of his friends he thought might make excellent suitors.

“I can't bear to think of losing her. It's foolish, I suppose. She's too lively to stay with us for very much longer. Your grandmother thinks a great deal of Prince Orlov.”

“He's too old for her.” He was every bit of thirty-five, and Nicolai frowned protectively at the thought. In fact, he wasn't sure if anyone was good enough for his fiery little sister.

Konstantin stood up and smiled at his son as he patted him on the shoulder. “We'd best go back to them now. If we don't, your mother will get worried.” They walked out of the room, with Konstantin's arm around Nicolai's shoulders. And when they joined the ladies in one of the smaller drawing rooms, Zoya was pleading with her mother about something.

“Now what have you done, you little monster?” Nicolai laughed at the look on her face, and he could see that his grandmother had turned her back to hide a smile. Natalya's face was as white as paste, and Zoya's was bright red as she looked angrily at her brother.

“Don't you get involved in this!”

“What is it now, little one?” Konstantin looked amused until he saw the look of reproach on his wife's face. She thought he was entirely too easy on his daughter.

“Apparently,” the younger Countess spoke in outraged tones, “Alix gave her a totally ridiculous gift today, and I absolutely will not let her keep it.”

“Good God, what is it? Her famous pearls? By all means, darling, accept them, you can always wear them later.” Konstantin was in good spirits after his visit with Nicolai, and the two men exchanged a warm glance over the heads of the women.

“This is not amusing, Konstantin, and I expect you to tell her just exactly what I did. She must get rid of it at once.”

“What is it, pest? A trained snake?” Nicolai teased.

“No, it's one of Joy's puppies.” Tears shone brightly in Zoya's eyes and she looked imploringly at her father. “Papa, please … if I promise to take care of it myself, to never let it out of my sight, or my room, and keep it away from Mother … please? …” Tears trembled in her eyes and her father's heart went out to her, as Natalya stormed across the room, her eyes like her diamonds flashing in the lamplight.

“No! Dogs breed diseases! And you all know perfectly well how delicate my health is!” She looked far from delicate just then, as she stood in the center of the room, a vision of exquisite fury. It reminded Konstantin of how taken he had been with her the very first time he laid eyes on her, but he also knew now that Natalya was not an easy woman.

“Perhaps if it lives in the kitchen … perhaps then …” He looked hopefully at his wife, as she strode to the door and pulled it open.

“You always give in to her, Konstantin, don't you?”

“Darling … it can't be a very big dog. Theirs is quite small.”

“And they have two others and a cat, and their child is constantly hovering on the brink of death.” She was referring of course to Alexis's chronic ill-health.

“That has nothing to do with their dogs. Perhaps Grandmama would keep it at her house….” He looked hopefully at his mother and she smiled, secretly enjoying the storm. It was just like Alix to give Zoya a dog, knowing full well how furious it would make her mother. There had always been a secret rivalry between the two women, but Alexandra was, after all, the Tsarina.

“I'd be quite willing to have him,” the elder Countess offered.

“Very well.” Konstantin felt he had found the perfect solution, but the door slammed with a resolute bang, and he knew he would not see his wife again until the next morning.

“And on that happy note,” Nicolai said, smiling around him, and bowing to his grandmother formally, “I shall return to my extremely peaceful barracks.”

“See that you do,” his grandmother said pointedly with an ill-concealed smile, and then chuckled as he kissed her good night. “I hear that you're becoming quite a rake, my dear.”

“Don't believe everything you hear. Good night, Grandmama.” He kissed her on both cheeks, and gently touched his father's shoulder as he bid him good night. “And as for you, you little beast …” He gave the bright red hair a gentle tug as he kissed her, and she looked up at him with the love she felt for him scarcely hidden. “Behave yourself, goose. And try not to come home with any more pets. You're going to drive your mother crazy.”

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