For that I will reward you.
This third book has been extremely frustrating. Finally it has become clear that it must be written in two parts.
It was originally my intent that each book would begin with the "new Maria." That has changed. Slightly. It would of course be Henrietta's daughter who would demand her time in the spotlight.
Book three begins with Katie, daughter to Henrietta. The year is 1905. What does 1905 have to do with Bolsheviks? Surprisingly, quite a lot. It was important to find a thread that connects 1905 and 1917 and still makes sense within the framework I had already plotted out. This meant more research. Studying royalty and international relations pre-World War II makes my head hurt a bit. Especially royal lineages. On top of that everything from automobiles to fashion to popular slang and so on had to studied for the 1905 period. So exciting.
So, for your patience, Snippets!
This IS how it begins (but only snippets of it, I try to be mindful of those who haven't read all three books yet. You know I hate spoilers with a passion.) :
St. Louis, Missouri
“Katie, darling, you are clogging the doorway. We have all night for Doctor von Strassenberg to regale us with his adventures.”
“Yes, sorry,” she smiled a bit guiltily as Henry came up beside her, placing a possessive hand on the small of her back. “Forgive me for keeping you.”
Peter flashed her a brilliant smile, “Not at all.”
Henry and Katie stepped aside to allow Peter room to push the wheelchair into the salon. “And here you had me convinced you didn’t approve of the von Strassenbergs,” her husband whispered in her ear as they welcomed another guest. She only smiled, quite uncertain this was the appropriate time for him to challenge her. Henry didn’t push her any further while they received the remaining guests. When Gibbs finally closed the door and bowed low to his employer before going to check on the state of the formal dining room, Henry grabbed her arm.
“You’re hurting me,” she hissed, a smile still painted on her face.
“You are my wife. You remember that.”
“What has come over you?”
“I see that you’re smitten with the doctor.”
“You’re mad. This is the first time I’ve seen him in nearly five years. His presence makes it just a bit easier to endure his grandfather.”
“That is my client, the best one I have.”
“And I’m your wife, the only one you have. Henry? You know the old man makes me ill. I only wish you weren’t forever inviting him to our dinners.”
“That old man practically paid for every brick and every piece of furniture and frippery in this house. You should be grateful.”
Weary of it all, for this was far from a new argument, Katie sighed, “I am grateful, dear. Only I wish I were allowed to know what it is he has you so preoccupied with all the time. It seems you are always, always accomplishing some task for him.”
Henry nodded at someone across the room and motioned for just a moment of their patience. “You should know by now, I cannot tell you. I am bound to confidentiality.”
With a flip of her hand she waved him off. “Yes of course I know, only a wife can’t help herself but wonder, can she? Forgive me, darling. It is only that I am quite jealous for your attention.”
He leaned in, his whiskey scented breath caressing her cheeks, “And I am jealous for yours.” His eyes flicked across the salon to the young doctor. “The son is a bit of a cad, don’t let him lure you into trouble while his grandfather has me away.”
“Of course not,” she stroked his smooth cheek. “I love only you.”
“That’s my girl,” he said and strode into the mass of bodies in their salon.
St. Louis, Missouri
He pulled the massive door open, the wet heat of the day spilling around him. The early evening sun was at her back making her nothing more than a silhouette against the golden light. Her bright smiled flashed in the shadows. “I was beginning to think you’d ditched me,” he stepped aside, allowing her to pass into the cool shadows of the von Strassenberg fortress.
“No,” she laughed as he closed the door, sealing off the offensive weight of the heat and humidity. “I just got a little lost.”
“You could have called and asked for directions,” he shoved his hands into his pockets. “I did give you my number.”
“You did,” she socked him on the arm, her touch light and playful. “But what fun would that be?”
“Not much, I guess.” He felt awkward standing here with her. He had never invited guests over before. He had no friends in St. Louis. He had never had the opportunity to make any. All of his friends were from England or Italy or New York. Anywhere but here. “You know,” he cleared his throat. “I don’t really spend much time in the house. Except for the kitchen,” he laughed. “I’m mostly out in the carriage house. You want to go out there?”
“Hmm, the carriage house,” she winked at him. “Does it still have a carriage?”
“No,” he ran a hand through his already tousled hair. “Well not exactly. It has an old motor wagon. Grampa von Strassenberg-whichever won it in a poker game or something.”
“Really,” she was intrigued. “Well that might be interesting.”
“I’ll warn you now,” he began walking toward the kitchen. “It doesn’t work. I don’t know if it ever did but it is pretty cool.”
Abbie followed him, taking her time, soaking in the gothic architecture, the soaring ceilings, the winding stone staircase. “I’d like to see it. Maybe you can give me a tour of the house sometime too? This place is incredible.”
“Uhhh,” he laughed. He wasn’t one to usually feel ignorant about anything but it was going to become quite clear that he knew very little about his own home. Curiosity was a trait his father rewarded but not when it was curiosity about what was behind all the locked doors in the mansion.
That was how he thought of it.
The mansion. The castle. The fortress. The dark abode.
Anything but home.
Home was the carriage house with its smell of cigarettes and engine grease. Home was a ratty orange and gold sofa pushed in front of the ancient motor wagon, a couple TV dinner trays, rickety and stained with many years of bacon grease and spilled coffee. Andy had his own quarters above the workshop but he liked to sit downstairs and watch Peter attempt to figure out the components of the engine. Not that he ever allowed him to touch Mr. von Strassenberg’s car. But he did let Peter tinker around with his 1970 Dodge Challenger. A sleek, shining black beauty, Peter thought it more awesome than any of his father’s luxury vehicles. Anyone could own the newest Porsche or Mercedes, but how many of them had a 1970 Dodge Challenger in perfect condition? It was the car’s rarity that made it so special to Peter, the rarity and the care that Andy took to preserve it.
Once when he was maybe ten, eleven at most, Peter had blasphemed the family name. He hated being a von Strassenberg. He hated having to go away to school all the time. He hated not having any friends nearby during vacation. He hated having to come home for vacation. He hated being alone. His father told him to grow up and to accept that being a von Strassenberg meant being alone. It was the curse of their passion and their duty to all that the previous von Strassenbergs had entrusted to their care.
Peter had run from the house, filled with rage and sorrow and the uncontrollable emotions of a boy becoming a man. Andy had ruffled his hair, stamped out his cigarette and crouched down to be at eye level with him. “What’s eatin’ ya, kid?”
Being a von Strassenberg, that’s what. Living in a creepy house with more locked than unlocked doors. Being alone, always alone, except for Andy.
“I hate being a von Strassenberg.”
Andy had led him into the carriage house and pulled out two bottles of Coke from the antique fridge. He popped them open on the workbench and handed Peter one. “A lot of people would give their right eye to have all that you’re complaining about, young man. A lot of hungry people. A lot of people sleepin’ in their cars or sleepin’ on the street,” he pulled out another cigarette and popped it in his mouth. “A lot of hurting people, who would rather be alone with all you got than be in a house with somebody who’s always wailin’ on ‘em.”
Peter swiped his nose, swallowed his tears, “I know. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry.” He lit the cigarette and puffed a few times, blowing smoke rings as a distraction. “It’s not all your fault. Your old man should spend some more time with you.”
“But you see that car over there?” He pointed lazily at the shining Challenger.
“How many cars like that you see out on the road?”
“That’s right,” Andy took a long drag. “None. Except maybe at parades or the first nice day of weather after the snow is gone.” He hunched down so he and Peter were face to face. “Now granted, that’s a beautiful piece of machinery. Even if everyone had one, it would still be a beautiful piece of machinery. But it’s the fact that it’s been preserved, taken care of, maintained,” he poked Peter’s shoulder with a strong finger. “And that not everyone has one, that makes it special.”
Peter nodded even though he didn’t particularly understand why they were discussing cars instead of his angst.
“How many von Strassenbergs have you ever met?”
Peter shrugged, “Just me and Father.”
“You met a lot of Smiths, right? Smiths and Johnsons and Joneses. But only two von Strassenbergs your entire life.”
Peter nodded again still not seeing the relevance to his personal pain.
“You got a big house and lots of old stuff, not everybody’s got that.”
Andy leaned against his Challenger, took a few more drags. “A house like this, all those portraits, all those things, they represent a lot of hard work. You respect this car because it’s beautiful but also because of all the hard work that’s gone into it.”
“Yeah,” Peter had shrugged his skinny shoulders.
“Your house, it might be kind of gaudy,” he conceded. “But it is beautiful, in a Frankenstein Castle sort of way and all that old crap, it took a lot of hard work to get that stuff. Especially back in the day. And that name you hate so much,” he said it like a question. He had a habit of doing that, making statements that sounded like questions and letting them hang in the air until your brain assembled the pieces of his argument for you.
“Not everyone has it and it takes a lot of hard work to maintain it,” Peter mumbled. He felt a bit betrayed. He wanted Andy to hate his father, to hate what the von Strassenbergs stood for. Whatever that was.
But Andy had a point. Not every family had a legacy. Most family histories had been washed away by time. But he had one. A long one. His blue eyes had swung over to the where the motor wagon rested beneath a tarp.
Andy laughed, coughing a bit as he did. “And definitely not everyone has one of those!” He strolled in his lazy way over to the motor wagon and flipped back the tarp so Peter could see the year emblazoned on the side. 1877. He didn’t know anybody who had a car THAT old. “Your old granddaddy must have been one cool cat.”
Peter had lifted one shoulder, trying to let himself accept that it was pretty cool to be a von Strassenberg even if he hated it. “I guess.”
“One day,” Andy had flipped the tarp back over the wagon. “You’ll have the keys to the place.” He smiled around his cigarette. “And I’ll bet you find stuff that blows your mind.”
As Peter led Abbie into the bright kitchen he doubted even his father’s death would finally allow him to discover all of the mansion’s secrets.
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