The candles’ flickering light covered every surface in the ornate ballroom. Its gilded walls reflected the orange brightness emanating from the sconces, coloring the revelers’ faces in honey-like hues as they twirled and danced in three-quarter time. Skirts flowed, inflating with each spin so that the dance floor itself looked as if it was dressed in regal finery. The men’s stockinged legs moved as if skating across the frozen lake that lay mere yards from the walls of this magical place. The music itself swayed, the notes intertwined in a sophisticated orgy of motion and tone. The warmth engulfed all, the imbibed ambrosial potables lubricating the joints of the dancers. This was a place of joy, pure and true.

For all but one, that is: Count Victor Romanov stood just outside of the candlelight and watched; he watched the woman he loved dance and laugh with another man, his best friend. Victor grimaced in the pain of heartbreak each time he felt the breeze of her ruffled skirt pass by. Finally, when it became unbearable, he turned on his heel and left the room, running into the frozen night.

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