Love and Dreams: The Coltrane Saga, Book 6

Dedication

“For Lonni…a heart of gold…

and that one particular harbor”

Life is a dream, and it is well it is so,

or who could survive some of its experiences?

Isadora Duncan,

My Life

 

 

The curse of the romantic is a greed for dreams,

an Intensity of expectation that, in the end, diminishes the reality.

Marya Mannes,

Out Of My Time

Prologue

The first peach and melon fingers of dawn began to slowly creep above the shadowy domes, spires, and crosses that made up the skyline of St. Petersburg, Russia, to stealthily push aside the clawing vestiges of night, parting the skies for a new day…in that late summer of 1893.

Jade O’Bannon stirred dreamily as she slept, there in the early morning mist of her mind. Visions of her world, past and present, passed in review, crowding out the anticipatory future.

Jade’s current affluent status was far removed from the rusticity of her beginnings. Her home in the magnificent palace of the brother and sister-in-law of Czar Alexander III, the Grand Duke Vladimir and Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna was so regally situated on the banks of the Neva River in St. Petersburg that it was more than just miles in distance from the small fishing village in Ireland where she’d spent the first years of her life as the daughter of a simple fisherman.

Fate had decreed another destiny for the green-eyed colleen, due to her not being a pure-blooded colleen at all. Russian blood flowed in her veins—royal Russian blood. Jade’s mother, Natasia, had been a first cousin to Czar Alexander II. However, her marriage to not only a commoner but a foreigner as well brought disfavor from the Imperial family. But Natasia obeyed the callings of her heart, turned her back on her heritage, and went to live in the homeland of her beloved, Patrick O’Bannon. Several years later, when he was lost at sea, she was left destitute but managed to scrounge means to return to Russia for the funeral of her royal cousin, only to die there soon after.

Jade, with her rare and special beauty, caught the eye and captured the heart of Marie Pavlovna, sister-in-law of the new Czar, Alexander III, and was unofficially adopted into the wealthy Romanov family, thus belatedly bestowing upon her a silver spoon of good fortune when she was eight years old.

Exposed to the very best of the world of art and culture, Jade was given the ultimate advantages to pursue her love of ballet. Studying under the expert tutelage of the renowned chief ballet master, Manus Petipa, she became a member of the Imperial Ballet by the time she was only thirteen.

Sought after by the rich, noble, and royal, Jade evaded romance in favor of her dancing. She was fanatically committed to her art…until John Travis Coltrane, known as “Colt,” came into her life…and her heart.

She had met him when she agreed to help a dear and beloved friend, Drakar Mikhailonov, as he sought to claim Colt’s sister, Daniella Coltrane.

Jade had always been a mischievous, fun-loving sort, given to pranks and practical jokes. To take part in Drakar’s scheme, by pretending to be a hard-working servant girl of poor background, seemed only a lark, at first.

The plan called for Colt, the handsome son of an American millionaire, long plagued by fortune-seeking women, to become smitten with Jade only to be rejected, thus eventually restoring faith in himself and dissipating doubts that a woman could care for him for any reason save his wealth. After all, he was to finally reason, if a poor servant girl could turn him down, then surely there was something to be said for the honesty of some, if not all, women, wasn’t there? This was to become blatantly obvious when, ultimately, he was to learn who Jade actually was: a wealthy member of the famous Romanov family, who would certainly never have to resort to being attracted to a man for money alone.

However, Drakar Mikhailonov’s plan went awry when Jade fell genuinely in love with Colt and, likewise, his heart was helplessly, hopelessly, mesmerized by the Irish-Russian ballerina named for the color of her devastatingly beautiful eyes.

For a time, Jade felt torn between her devotion to her dancing and her growing affinity for Colt. After all, a prima ballerina does not give every shred of her being over to her craft only to toss it aside the first time love beckons. But as time passed, Jade became achingly aware of the temptation to allow nothing, not even ballet, to take precedence over the great and abiding love thatgrew for Colt each day.

Yet, despite the stirrings within, the passion they shared, Jade spent much time wondering why Colt did not ask her to marry him. He professed to love her; he neglected his family in Paris and took up residence in Russia, studying the people and the language, and spending almost every moment with her.

But he did not speak of marriage…or of a future together.

A few months after they met, they attended the most lavish wedding Paris society had ever seen when Colt’s sister, Dani, married Drakar. During the ceremony their eyes had met and held with secret, heated messages of love, but still their own future matrimony was never discussed.

Then came the night when she was asked to dance as Imperial Prima Ballerina in Tchaikovsky’s
The Nutcracker
, choreographed by Lev Ivanov. It was truly the moment every dancer dreams of, and Jade was ecstatic. Costumed in frothy net, chiffon, and satin, she sparkled before the audience like the diamonds entwined in her coppery chignon. The Czar and his family sat in the royal box, but Jade did not see them or anyone in the aristocratic audience of the opulent blue and gold Mariinsky Theater. Her heart, mind, body, and soul were enraptured and dedicated to the hour for which she had surely been born.

When the performance was over, the patrons stood on their feet and applauded until the very floors and walls shook with the echoing thunder. Again and again the thick brocade drapes swished open and closed as Jade accepted the accolades, tears streaming down her cheeks. Bouquets of flowers were brought to her by ushers. Czar Alexander himself stood up to throw an armload of red roses at her feet. She blew him a kiss, then turned glistening, happy eyes to her adoptive mother, the Grand Duchess Marie.

The other dancers in the Imperial Ballet company gathered about her, themselves applauding and heralding their new star. The master himself, Petipa, came up on the stage to kiss her hand and bow before her.

Then, as the cheers and applause diminished, and the other dancers moved away from Jade, one man began to walk purposefully down the aisle toward the stage. Jade blinked against the bright lights, felt the sudden rush of love within as she realized it was Colt. She’d thought him to be in Paris, called there suddenly by his mother due to his father’s being ill, but now he was here to share her glory, her triumph, the culmination of every ballerina’s dream.

He stood beneath her in front of the stage, holding up a single yellow rose tied with a slender satin ribbon of green. She smiled through her tears of joy and gracefully leaned down to accept it—then froze, blinking in bewilderment.

A huge, glittering diamond ring was tied to the stem.

Colt gazed up at her adoringly as he continued to hold out the single yellow rose. “What better time,” he whispered so that only she could hear, “for you to decide which you want to be—a prima ballerina…or my wife.” Later, he would confide that his behavior was not premeditated, that he’d planned to make his proposal afterward, in the quiet and romantic atmosphere of wine and moonlight. But as the glory of her performance exploded, he had been struck with the notion that this was the time for her to truly understand the emotions surrounding her decision.

Jade’s smile of consent was conceived in her heart. She reached out with trembling fingertips to take the yellow rose, pressing it against her lips, her green eyes shining with love and glory…love and splendor…love and dreams.

Then, with all the grace and aplomb that had brought her to this night, this moment of stardom, she fell into his waiting arms…and he held her tightly, lovingly against him as he carried her away.

Dreaming.

Jade was dreaming.

Would reality destroy the dream, as so often happens in life?

Perhaps not.

Perhaps if love was strong and true, the dream could become the reality.

Jade opened her eyes, awakening to the dawn of a new day—her wedding day.

And the quest to make the love and dreams a reality began.

Chapter One

Jade O’Bannon sat on a small velvet stool before the famous gold mirror that had been used by every royal Russian bride on her wedding day in the Winter Palace. She stared at her reflection, wondering if she truly looked like royalty. Lifting her chin ever so slightly, she decided her pose was that of a prunish dowager.

She was not a pure-blooded Russian like her mother, who’d also been a princess. Jade was but a third cousin to the Czar, Alexander III, who was brother to her foster father, but the Czar had, just last night, on the eve of her wedding, bestowed upon her the honorary title of princess.

So now she was royalty.

Princess Jade.

She wrinkled her nose, lips curving in a pixie smile. She didn’t feel any more like royalty now than she had when she was adopted into the Romanov family as a child. Titles were so superficial, she felt, as had been her inclusion in the Imperial Court. Formally included, yes; sincerely welcomed, no. After all, her mother’s disfavor with the royal family might have diminished in memory through the years after her death, but Jade had always been aware as a child of how some of her cousins at court had snickered behind her back and called her names concerning her mixed blood.

So, she thought with amusement, it would make no real difference to be a titled princess now. She no longer cared, anyway, though once she painfully had. Love had taken precedence over everything else in her life, and all she wanted, yearned for, was to be Colt Coltrane’s wife, Mrs. John Travis Coltrane.

Earlier, she had ridden in a royal carriage beside her foster mother, the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, down the Nevsky Prospekt to the Winter Palace. Though the day was to be warm, the morning had a slight chill, and she had worn a white velvet coat, trimmed in mink, over a simple blue dress. Then, at the palace, as was the custom, she had been formally dressed by the ladies of the Imperial family. She wore an old-fashioned Russian court dress of gold brocade, interwoven with tiny diamonds and pearls. Her long, flowing cape of stunning gold cloth, lined with ermine, was held by a huge chain about her shoulders, fastened by a stunning gold, garnet, and ruby pendant, fashioned by the Imperial Court jeweler, Peter Carl Fabergé.

Her cardinal-red hair was coiffed in ringlets atop her head, tresses intertwined with tiny ropes of emeralds and diamonds—a gift from her foster mother. Her earrings, hanging almost to her shoulders, were of pear-shaped diamonds, held by clips of emerald chips and set in shimmering gold—an engagement gift from Colt, but not as cherished as the massive diamond ring he’d presented at the Mariinsky Theater that memorable night so many months ago.

After Jade was dressed, Marie had asked everyone to leave them; then she had embraced Jade, there in the quiet of the royal dressing room, as she tremulously whispered, “You are truly the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen, Jade, and I want you to know that your family and I wish you every happiness, every joy, that life has to offer. Our only regret is that you’re leaving Russia…and your family.”

“I go where my heart leads me, and Colt is my heart.”

Marie could only nod in sober agreement as she quietly declared, “Natasia spoke those same words. I suppose the Romanovs could expect no different from her daughter.”

Jade felt a twinge of anger, for she had suspected what was being said in court—that inheriting her mother’s rebellious and disloyal spirit had caused her to turn her back on her family, country, and heritage, as well as toss aside all her long years of devotion and study to become a virtuoso ballerina in favor of marriage to a foreigner, a commoner, who would take her all the way across the ocean to live. Yet she struggled against the urge to defend, reminding herself that she did not want to burn any bridges or leave bitter words behind. Forcing a smile, she hugged Marie warmly and assured her, “I’m doing what will make me happy, and if you love me, as I know you do, you’ll be happy for me, not sad.”

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