The Secret Daughter of the Tsar: A Novel of The Romanovs

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9781250028686: The Secret Daughter of the Tsar: A Novel of The Romanovs

A compelling alternate history of the Romanov family in which a secret fifth daughter―smuggled out of Russia before the revolution―continues the royal lineage to dramatic consequences

In her riveting debut novel, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, Jennifer Laam seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte. Veronica is an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles when she meets a mysterious man who may be heir to the Russian throne. As she sets about investigating the legitimacy of his claim through a winding path of romance and deception, the ghosts of her own past begin to haunt her. Lena, a servant in the imperial Russian court of 1902, is approached by the desperate Empress Alexandra. After conceiving four daughters, the Empress is determined to sire a son and believes Lena can help her. Once elevated to the Romanov's treacherous inner circle, Lena finds herself under the watchful eye of the meddling Dowager Empress Marie. Charlotte, a former ballerina living in World War II occupied Paris, receives a surprise visit from a German officer. Determined to protect her son from the Nazis, Charlotte escapes the city, but not before learning that the officer's interest in her stems from his longstanding obsession with the fate of the Russian monarchy. Then as Veronica's passion intensifies, and her search for the true heir to the throne takes a dangerous turn, the reader learns just how these three vastly different women are connected. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is thrilling from its first intense moments until its final, unexpected conclusion.

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About the Author:

Jennifer Laam earned her master's degree in History from Oakland University in Michigan and her bachelor's degree from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. She has lived in Los Angeles and the suburbs of Detroit, traveled in Russia and Europe, and worked in education and non-profit development. She currently resides in Northern California. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is her first novel.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One
 
 
LOS ANGELES
PRESENT DAY
“I’m trying to change your life for the better,” Jess said. “Just listen for one minute, will you?”
Veronica Herrera rubbed her bare left ring finger, a nervous tic she’d indulged too much lately. For a short while, she felt like a well-adjusted thirty-eight-year-old woman enjoying another glorious Southern California morning. She’d thrown on a dark green sundress, rather than one of the black outfits she usually favored, and walked to the café on Tujunga Boulevard. Nobody walked in L.A., except Veronica Herrera. And Aroma Café lived up to its name. The patio always smelled like cinnamon toast.
But then Jess ruined it all by raising the forbidden topic of Veronica’s love life, the one subject guaranteed to reduce Veronica to adolescent gawkiness.
“Eighteen months is enough time to get over anyone or anything,” Jess added. “I’ve made it my personal mission to return you to the land of the living.”
“Forget it.” Veronica picked at the remains of her muffin and threw the crumbs to a trio of little gray birds gathered at her feet. “No set-ups. It makes me feel pathetic.”
“But you’ll like this one.” Jess gave an authoritative nod.
Veronica imagined her cousin in a tailored business suit, rather than the hippie blouse and Pea in a Pod maternity jeans she wore now. As an assistant district attorney, Jess knew how to grill an uncooperative witness into submission.
“All right,” Veronica sighed. “One minute. That’s it.”
“His name is Michael Karstadt. He’s an attorney too and we met at one of those ridiculous social mixers. Since I can’t drink and he was the only other halfway-sober person there, we got to talking. He’s a huge history buff. So when I found out he’s available, I couldn’t help myself. I mentioned you. I told him you teach Russian history and you’re writing a book about the last Romanov queen. That really piqued his interest.”
A gust of Santa Ana wind picked up, scattering the birds. Veronica ran her hand through the shorn layers of hair brushing against her chin, unaccustomed to the breeze on the back of her neck. Let’s say she actually agreed to meet this Michael Karstadt. He’d expect a witty, urbane author, not an untenured academic fraud. “Alexandra Romanov wasn’t a queen. Her formal title was tsarina, but she preferred empress.”
“Excuse me, Professor,” Jess said. “I haven’t taken any of your classes. Anyway, I showed him your picture. I have tons of pictures of you saved on my phone. He thinks you’re gorgeous. Who wouldn’t?”
An alarm sounded in Veronica’s head. “Which pictures did you show him?”
“The ones from my bachelorette party last summer. Don’t you remember?”
Veronica remembered. They’d gone to Cabo San Lucas. It was the first time she’d worn a bikini since college. Big mistake. “You keep those pictures on your phone? And show them to strange men?”
“Look at me.” Jess patted her swelling stomach. “I like to keep memories of the glory days readily at hand.”
“You do look ready to pop,” Veronica said. “You’re huge.”
Jess laughed. “Still no good at small talk, are you?”
“I didn’t mean it like that.” Veronica’s cheeks flared pink with embarrassment. Now the right adjectives sprang to mind. Jess didn’t look huge, but radiant, glowing. Everyone else in her family understood how to behave around Jess. They squealed and cooed, even Veronica’s grandmother, and her abuela was hardly the sentimental type when it came to babies. Meanwhile, Veronica hadn’t even asked to touch Jess’s belly.
“It’s okay. I know what you meant,” Jess said warmly. “So can I give Michael your number?”
“You met him at some after-hours bar party. You can’t say with any confidence he’s not a serial killer. That should be a goal in dating: don’t get killed by a serial killer.”
“Come on, Veronica. You know me. I had him checked out. Not so much as a traffic ticket. Besides, I know it’s been a while, but you remember the rules. Meet at a public place. If he creeps you out, leave. Oh! Look what he gave me.”
Jess grabbed her purse and pulled out her phone, red lipstick, a case for her sunglasses. “I know it’s here somewhere. Ah!” She withdrew a yellow legal pad, detached the first sheet, and flattened it on the table. “Michael wanted me to show this to you. He said he has an entire library and you can borrow anything you want. It was cute that he took the time to write it out on paper. He’s an anti-techie—like you.”
Veronica set the salt shaker on top of the paper to keep it from flying away in the wind. In elegant handwriting, Michael Karstadt had listed the titles of fifteen books on the Romanov family, some by academic historians and others by survivors of the Russian Revolution. He’d written the list in Cyrillic. Veronica felt a faint tingle along the backs of her ears as she decoded the exotic Russian alphabet.
“I told him you’re always complaining about being stuck in your research,” Jess said.
Veronica flinched. “Thanks.” Not that she could argue. She was stuck. She wasn’t in a position to refuse help with her research. She leaned back in her chair, trying to enjoy the feel of the sun on her face, wanting to sound casual. “What does he look like?”
“He’s your type.” Jess bobbed her head as though this would make it so.
“I have a type?”
“He’s everybody’s type.”
“What’s his favorite Joy Division song?”
“Come on, Veronica. Do you expect everyone to pass your impossible tests?”
“Did you ask him?”
“Actually, I did. ‘Shadowplay.’ He didn’t even hesitate. Seriously. It’s like I ordered him off of a menu for you.”
The Santa Ana wind gusted again, ruffling the edges of Michael Karstadt’s list of books and blowing a sugar packet off the table. Veronica bent to retrieve it, glad for the excuse not to look at Jess. She stuck the white packet at the front of its little caddy and then made sure all of the pink and blue packets were aligned.
“You’re organizing,” Jess said in a flat voice. “That’s never good. What’s really the problem here?”
Veronica folded her hands on the table, staring at her cuticles. “You know the problem.”
“And you know I’d like to rip that jerk’s throat out for what he did to you.”
Jess meant this to be reassuring, so Veronica fought the impulse to double over. Thoughts of her ex-fiancé still made her feel as though she’d swallowed spiders—queasy. Couldn’t her cousin just play the exultant mother-to-be, oblivious to everyone else’s pain? Eighteen months wasn’t a long time, no matter what Jess thought. Veronica stared once more at the Cyrillic list before her. She tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear.
“By the way, I love your haircut,” Jess said. “It’s a statement. I know what it means. You’re ready to move on.” She reached across the table and took Veronica’s hand gently in hers. “What if I give Michael your office number?”
“Is there any way I can stop you?”
Jess grinned and rolled her eyes upward. She gave Veronica’s hand a squeeze.
“Fine,” Veronica said. “My office number. And you owe me for this.”
“No, you owe me, Professor.” Jess flashed Veronica a triumphant smile. “You’ll see.”
*   *   *
“You’re up for tenure in January.” Regina Brack, dean of Alameda University’s College of Arts and Sciences, repositioned herself on her plush throne of an office chair. “That’s only four months away, and you haven’t completed your monograph?”
Veronica felt a pinching at the base of her skull, like someone squeezing her nerves with a pair of pliers. The office décor didn’t help matters any. A row of colorful butterfly specimens were displayed in a glass-fronted box on the wall behind Dr. Brack. Pins impaled their delicate abdomens, as if they’d displeased some medieval despot.
“I’ll admit, I don’t understand the attraction,” Dr. Brack said. “Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov are the most spectacular failures in Western political history. Why devote an entire book to the woman?”
Veronica tried to read Dr. Brack’s stoic expression. Was she suggesting Veronica would fail spectacularly as well? “I guess I’m just a sucker for history’s losers.”
Dr. Brack frowned. Not that she’d really been smiling in the first place. “With a subject this well known you need to find a unique angle. Some of your colleagues feel you haven’t yet refined your argument well enough to claim such an angle.”
A quiver of panic bristled in Veronica’s chest. Still, she knew better than to let this woman see her rattled. Regina Brack collected information as methodically as she collected butterflies. Any change in Veronica’s demeanor would be noted, logged, and no doubt passed on to key members of her tenure review committee.
Dr. Brack formed a steeple underneath her chin and tapped her index fingers together. Veronica once watched her make this same gesture in a seminar, right before she publicly decimated an untalented student. “You want me to be honest, right?”
Veronica’s fingers clawed the sides of her chair and she scanned her brain for something diplomatic to say. “Sure.”
“If the committee voted today, you wouldn’t make tenure.”
Veronica’s panic morphed into a shimmering wave. If she failed to make tenure, her career was over. Russian historians were like three-legged puppies, pitied but seldom adopted because the upkeep was too expensive. She imagined standing under the freeway with a sign: Will explain the dynamics of imperial Russian court politics for food.
“Can we discuss this, at least?” Veronica managed.
Dr. Brack nodded toward a sturdy duffel bag and a glass jar propped beside it. “Maybe next week. I’m headed out the door. I’m collecting specimens in the Mojave this weekend.” Her eyes momentarily brightened. “Have you ever been?”
Dr. Brack would spend the weekend tramping around the desert on her skinny little legs, trapping butterflies for her ghoulish collection. Meanwhile, Veronica would retreat to the darkest recesses of the library trying to resuscitate a career that might already be over. “I’m not much of an outdoorswoman.”
“How unfortunate.” Dr. Brack began to shut down her computer. “In the meantime, keep an eye out for job postings. That’s all I have to say about that.”
The last twelve years of her life— poof—into thin air. Veronica’s career was in shambles and not one strand of Regina Brack’s helmet of a bob had fallen out of place. Veronica slipped into a sloppy Southern accent. “And that’s all I have to say about that.”
Dr. Brack looked at Veronica like she was from outer space.
“It’s how Forrest Gump ended his stories,” Veronica explained.
“Oh. I don’t watch films like that.”
Veronica slung her bag over her shoulder and eyed Dr. Brack’s skewered butterflies for a last time. Once full of life, now useless. Veronica could relate.
“I only need access to the right materials. I’ll finish my monograph.” Even as Veronica articulated the thought, she heard the off-putting tentativeness in her voice. She felt the dull ache of tears and blinked them back, refusing to give this woman the satisfaction. “I’ll find a publisher.”
“I hope so. From what I understand, university presses aren’t as indulgent with junior scholars as they once were.” Dr. Brack gave her a prim smile.
As Veronica walked down the stairs, back to her office, the clean lines of the administrative suite gave way to disorder: vintage travel posters clumsily tacked to walls, bulletin boards overflowing with flyers for study-abroad programs, outdated political cartoons taped to office doors. For a flashing moment, the bohemian chaos of her department inspired her. She would jump-start her brain with strong coffee and lots of sugar. If she determined what to write next, a sentence even, surely the rest of the chapters would flow.
At this hint of blossoming confidence, the voices in Veronica’s head began to hiss. They had snakes for tongues, mythological beasts. You’re an academic fraud. What makes you think you can publish a book?
Veronica hummed to drown out the voices. She reached her office and fumbled for her key. When she turned it in the lock, the door gave way too easily. Veronica shared her office with an adjunct professor, but he should have left by now. She kept her hand on the knob, confused, and peered inside.
Her officemate had pinned five new pages from his graphic novel-in-progress to the back wall, zombie knight crusaders in chain mail and bloodied tunics. A man stood before the pictures, bending from the waist to examine each one.
Veronica felt her heart thump in her chest. She left the door open, in case she needed to scream for help. Clutching her bag tightly to her chest, she stepped inside. “May I help you?”
The man spun around. The curl in his lashes and the arch of his brows made his face look innocent and ironic at once. Flecks of gray speckled his dark, wavy hair. Veronica put him at six foot four, but then she was short and given to overestimating.
“Dr. Herrera? I’m sorry to startle you. A student at the front desk let me in.”
Veronica made a mental note to speak to the student first thing on Monday.
“I’m Michael Karstadt, Jessica’s friend.” He drew his right leg back and bowed to her, his left hand over his heart. Like an imperial courtier. Veronica took in the French cuffs on his shirt. A pulse of nervous energy shot from her stomach to her throat.
“Who?” she heard herself ask.
Michael quickly straightened again to his full height. He looked a little full around the waist, but his shoulders were broad and his suit tailored so cleverly it didn’t matter much. “Jessica told you I was coming, right?”
“There may have been a misunderstanding,” Veronica said carefully. She set her book bag on the chair behind her desk.
“She gave me your office number.” Michael motioned toward the numbers on the door. “She said you expected me to stop by.”
What a sneaky cousin she had. “She should have given you my office phone number,” Veronica told him. “I’m not accustomed to finding strange men in my office.” She cringed. She hadn’t meant to sound like a nineteenth-century spinster.
Michael gave a soft laugh and scratched the back of his neck. “So this is even more awkward than it should be.” He spun on his heels and wagged his finger at the pictures on the back wall. “By the way, are these yours?”
“They belong to my officemate. He’s a Medievalist. They’re all nuts.”
“If they were yours I’d need to reconsider this whole thing. You might be a serial killer.” When he looked at her, his eyes danced. “You’re not the only one who worries about these things, you know.”
Veronica tried to laugh, but the noise got stuck in her throat. Jess had a big mouth, all right. “I might be a serial killer regardless. You never know.”
“I’ll take that risk.” He picked up an old postcard of Alexandra Romanov from the corner of Veronica’s desk. As he looked at the picture, his expression pinched. “Tell me about your book. Why did you decide to write about the empress?”
“The empress?” The sudden reverence in his voice seemed odd. Instinctively, she took a step back and away from him. “You make it sound as though she’s still alive.”
“You evaded my question.” Now he sounded playful again, more like one of Jess’s attorney friends. “Why are you writing a book about Empress Alexandra?”
“I’ve never been a fan of happy endings.”
Michael looked at her, brows raised. “That’s it?”
Veronica glanced at the picture on the postcard. It had been taken at the height of Alexandra’s celebrated beauty. Even so, Alexandra appeared ill ...

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Descripción Griffin Publishing, United States, 2013. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. New.. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. In her riveting debut novel, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, Jennifer Laam seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte. Veronica is an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles when she meets a mysterious man who may be heir to the Russian throne. As she sets about investigating the legitimacy of his claim through a winding path of romance and deception, the ghosts of her own past begin to haunt her. Lena, a servant in the imperial Russian court of 1902, is approached by the desperate Empress Alexandra. After conceiving four daughters, the Empress is determined to sire a son and believes Lena can help her. Once elevated to the Romanov s treacherous inner circle, Lena finds herself under the watchful eye of the meddling Dowager Empress Marie. Charlotte, a former ballerina living in World War II occupied Paris, receives a surprise visit from a German officer. Determined to protect her son from the Nazis, Charlotte escapes the city, but not before learning that the officer s interest in her stems from his longstanding obsession with the fate of the Russian monarchy. Then as Veronica s passion intensifies, and her search for the true heir to the throne takes a dangerous turn, the reader learns just how these three vastly different women are connected. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is thrilling from its first intense moments until its final, unexpected conclusion. Nº de ref. de la librería BTE9781250028686

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