A little more than five months later, Catherine was awoken by Alexis Orlov, the brother of her current lover. Alexis violently shook her, waking her with a start.
Rubbing her eyes with her hands, Catherine asked, “What has you acting as if the devil were chasing you?”
“Come along. We must be quick,” was his only reply.
Alexis tugged at her arm, trying to urge her to rise. She would not budge without an explanation. What gave him the right to drag her out of bed in the middle of the night?
“Not until my question is answered,” she said, her chin set stubbornly.
Alexis heaved a sigh of exasperation. “Now is not the time to fight. One of our conspirators has been arrested by your estranged husband. Everything we have planned must happen now.”
“Can it not wait?”
Alexis shook his head. “Your husband and his pawns might be extracting a confession from him as we speak. There is no time.”
Fear gripped at Catherine. Although she wanted to lay claim to the throne, she was still coming to terms with her schemes and the possible consequences. If discovered, it could mean the death of her and all those connected. “Is there any possible way we can delay our plan? There is the possibility our conspirator will not confess.”
“Peter is a menace. He will torture the answer out of him, and maybe a lie or two.”
“I am not certain if Russia is ready to have a foreigner on their throne,” objected Catherine.”
Alexis clenched his hands into fists, wishing to cast aside all her doubts. She was a strong, intelligent woman who knew what she was capable of. He could not understand her hesitation. “The Russians despise their own Emperor, their own blood. Peter withdrew from Russia’s war with Prussia before his aunt was rotting in the ground. To further the hatred of his decision, he negotiated an alliance with Frederick. This alliance with Prussia, our most hated enemy, has made him immensely unpopular. Let us not forget his ridiculous war with Denmark over a tiny province of little consequence. There is his mockery and alienation of the Orthodox Church. He has created many enemies amongst God’s holy messengers. Let us not forget about the small eccentricities that bother many courtiers, such as holding drills with his soldiers on palace grounds and maintaining Prussian customs. Most importantly, the Imperial Guard are against him and back you. Foreigner you may be, but Russia will prefer you over a lunatic. We have already dallied long enough. The time to act has come. Tonight you are a discarded wife, but when the sun rises you will be the Empress and Russia’s only ruler.”
Catherine felt fear’s claws loosen. Her plan was risky, but the throne she envisioned since the day she wed Peter enticed her to move forward. She could not take the coward’s way out and hide under her blankets. It was time to abandon the appearance of a wife and don the courage of a ruler.
Shoving aside her blankets, Catherine ordered, “Fetch me a dress fit for an Empress.”