“What is wrong?” she asked.
“Most women are beautiful under the light of the moon and lose a bit of mystery during the day. You are even more stunning.”
She laughed. “I would not have expected they teach chivalry in the Prussian army training camp.”
He offered her his arm. “Only officers. It is how we keep our advantage over the common soldiery.”
Hagen escorted her outside under an overcast day that threatened storms. “So do all countesses usually sleep to late hours or was it the late night of the ball?”
“You have uncovered my first secret. I am a creature of the night,” she replied.
Hagen grinned proudly and helped her inside a carriage. “I do intend on uncovering all your secrets.”
“A women’s mystery is part of her allure.”
Hagen closed the door of the carriage and walked around to address the coachman. “Take us by the Spree,” he commanded and entered the carriage next to Katerina. “A ride by the river. I hope that pleases you.”
Katerina nodded. “That sounds lovely.”
Over the years, she had grown used to the gallantry of men to the point that it had become a bore. There was nothing she could do; it was common social practice in the art of wooing a suitor. Everything was done at her behest and comfort, and although she anticipated the gestures, she desired more.
She felt Hagen’s burning focus upon her. She knew she was an intended prize as an unconquered territory. A wise smile crept upon her face.
“So, Colonel…,” she started.
“Call me Hagen,” he stated without letting her finish.
“Hagen. Where does Prussia currently have its sights?” Her heart raced sensing his intensity rise with her daring question.
He was slow to give his response but then replied with surprising ease and gentleness. “South.”
“Makes sense. France’s forces are still strong, yet they could not win against Russian’s frozen winter,” she replied.
Hagen grinned at her knowledge of politics. “Napoleon is dead, Russia is weakening under an incompetent Czar and all our neighbors to our south want to do is listen to parlor music. It is time for a new power in Europe.” He rested against the seat and admired the tree-lined scenery next to the Spree River. “I have known of few women with the same political wisdom. Ironically, you share the name with one powerful Czarina.”
The comparison to the great Catherine of Russia stroked her pride. Men often tended to win over women by complimenting their beauty, but to praise her wit and political prowess was something Katerina had not experienced until now.
There was more to the comparison with the late Czarina of Russia. She too, a young woman taken from her hometown, placed outside her element where she had to fend for herself or die. The savvy Catherine seduced the forces of the military and had her witless husband executed. For women of the day, power was in the seduction of men.
“How is it, may I ask, that you have come to know so much about politics?” he asked.
Throughout her many years, Katerina rarely had looked at men, rarely had seen them; she just had accepted their presence. Today was different. Hagen was different. She studied him carefully—the precision of his uniform, not a blond hair out of place, his sculpted features and piercing blue eyes. He was the epitome of Prussia and the perfection it tried to present. She had to admit to herself that she was impressed.
“As Countess it is important to know the allegiances of all nations, especially those with which we share a border,” she replied.
“Yes, it is always wise to know your neighbor,” Hagen said and glanced downward at her gloved hands crossed over the silk of her skirt. “Do you mind?”
“No,” she said without hesitation.
Hagen reached over and held her hand in his. Through the satin weave, he could feel the coolness of her skin. “Are you chilled?”
“No. I just have cold hands.”
He caressed the back of her hand against his cheek. “You know cold hands mean a warm heart. I suspect your heart burns like fire,” he said.
Katerina wondered if it was too soon after burying the count to indulge in another man. As he kissed her hand, her thoughts blurred. He did manage to stir passions inside her. Maybe it was time for love instead of simply being kept by a man.
She leaned toward him giving him the signal to proceed with seduction. It was a sign even he did not expect, but he took. He guided his hand over her face and grasped firmly onto her neck pulling her toward him, his thumb pressing into her throat. At first, she sensed he sought to choke her, but when his lips brushed against hers, he lowered his hand over her breast.
When her lips parted from the pressure of his, her cold body melted, something she had not experienced in many years and what she yearned for. His hold around her tightened to the point she felt the brass buckles of his coat stabbing her chest. Her instinct was to push him away yet there was a wicked sensation in the pain.
She desired to touch him; the old count had offered only limp satisfaction. While he massaged her breasts and kissed her with hungry osculates, she reached between his thighs and felt him through his trousers. Already hard, she massaged him with firm strokes.
After a moment, he pulled himself away and studied her with the wild eyes of a savage soldier left on the battlefield without rations. He wanted her desperately and wanted to take her in the cramped compartment of the carriage yet he surrendered to decorum. Smoothing out the wrinkles in his coat, he glanced out the window.
“I apologize. I do not know what came over me,” he said.
“Passion,” she replied.
He turned to her and laughed. “Yes. Passion. I want you to know that my intentions with you are honorable. I do not wish to belittle our budding romance with shameful indiscretion.”
Katerina straightened her dress. “I do appreciate that, but a woman does not like to be teased. When you ignite her fire, do not put her out until you have a chance to let her burn.”
Hagen grinned and kissed the back of her hand. “I will keep that in mind.”
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