Natalya opened her eyes to find that she was lying in her bed, and that the court physician, Dr. Botkin, was sitting beside her.

"Micky..." she said weakly.

"Your little girl is fine," Dr. Botkin assured her. "Olga and Tatiana are taking care of her. You're one lucky young woman, Natalya, as you received only a concussion and some bad bruises. It could have been much worse. The little one inside you is fine as well."

"What?"

"You're about two months pregnant, Natalya. Congratulations."

Despite the circumstances, a feeling of joy flooded Natalya's soul. This time she was sure that the baby was Michael's. She couldn't wait to tell him that he was to become a father, possibly for the first time.

Alexandra stopped by to visit Natalya when she learned that the other woman was awake.

"I don't know how to thank you, Tasha," she said. "You saved Alexei's life. If the cart had hit him, he surely would have been killed."

"It's all right," said Natalya, thrilled with Alexandra's changed attitude toward her. "He's my nephew, and I love him."

"I hear he's to have another new cousin soon, and I'm to be an aunt again." She smilingly patted Natalya's abdomen, and what made Natalya even happier was the implication that her daughter would now be fully accepted as a member of the royal family.

Reports flowed in regularly from the front lines of battle. On August 25, Nicholas' Fourth Army was defeated by the Austro-Hungarian First Army led by Conrad von Hotzendorf and Viktor Dankl at Krosnik. Alexandra and Natalya mourned the loss of twenty thousand soldiers' lives but rejoiced that Nicholas and Michael had been spared. Happier news arrived almost a month later, on September 11, when the Austro-Hungarians were defeated and forced out of Galicia and Lemberg was captured.

Alexandra, Olga, and Tatiana completed training as Red Cross nurses and went to work at the Catherine Palace, which had been turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers, so most days Natalya was left with only Maria, Anastasia, Alexei, Michaela, and the various servants for company. Anastasia kept everyone amused with her mischievous pranks, and Alexei played for them on the balalaika, but Natalya's heart still ached for Michael. To her it felt like forever since she'd seen his face or heard his voice. As their child grew within her body, she longed to be able to share the experience with him.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, Anastasia rushed into Natalya's chambers, her cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkling with excitement.

"Papa and Uncle Mischa are on their way home right now! They'll be here soon!" she cried. "We're all going to the station to meet them!"

At the railway station, Natalya waited impatiently with the rest of the family for Nicholas and Michael to emerge from the train. At last they did, heavily bundled but looking happy.

"Mischa!" Natalya cried.

"Tasha, my darling!" Michael laughed with joy as he embraced his wife.

"Papa! Papa!" little Michaela shouted, jumping up and down excitedly. Michael picked her up and kissed her cheek, and held her all the way home.

Natalya waited until they were back inside the palace to tell him.

"Great news, Mischa!" she exclaimed. "You're going to be a father! This time it's for sure!"

Michael looked startled for just a minute, then grinned the biggest grin she'd ever seen from him. "Oh, Tasha," he said in a voice that was barely a whisper as he caressed her abdomen. Then he laughed with joy and embraced her.

"I can't begin to tell you how happy I am that you're having my baby," he murmured. Then he scooped Michaela up into his arms. "Guess what, Micky? You're going to be a big sister!" The little girl, too young to understand, chortled with glee.

That night Michael made love to Natalya very gently because of her pregnancy. Afterwards they cuddled in bed and talked.

"I'm so glad to see that your relationship with the Tsarina is so much better now," Michael told Natalya.

"It began after something that happened several months ago," Natalya said. She told him of the incident in which she'd pushed Alexei out of the way of the cart only to be struck by it herself. Michael's eyes grew round with surprise and fright.

"Oh, Tasha, I'm so relieved that you're both all right!" he exclaimed. "You're such a brave woman, my love. You saved not only Alexei, but the future of Russia as well."

"I'm just so glad I was there," Natalya replied. "I shudder to think what might have happened if I hadn't been."

"So do I," Michael told her. "And Natalya, I couldn't love Micky any more than I already do even if I knew that she was really mine."

"I know that, Mischa," Natalya said. "You're such a wonderful man. I simply can't believe how lucky I was to find you."

Michael laughed. "Oh, I'm the lucky one." He kissed the tip of his wife's nose. "Go to sleep now, my love."

"But I don't want to go to sleep," Natalya pretended to pout. "I want to stay awake and talk to you. It's been so long..." She yawned mightily.

Michael chuckled softly. "Go to sleep, darling. I'll still be here when you wake up, I promise."