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The Russian Bride

By: Juliette Banks
Published By: Blushing Press
Copyright: © 2017 Blushing Books® and Juliette Banks
Ten Chapters / 59,000 Words
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Natasha, a Russian-born woman living in London, catches the eye of Viktor, a middle-aged Russian gangster. He wants her as his wife, the mother of his son, and his submissive partner in the kinky sex he enjoys at his isolated home near Saint Petersburg. But he doesn’t ask her to accompany him – he just takes what he wants.

Surprisingly, Natasha begins to accept her new life. Is she really a natural submissive, or has Viktor brainwashed her? Viktor is adamant that he will not have sex with her until they are married, but he shows her just how kinky he likes it by taking her to orgies held by his friend, and tells her that this is the type of life she can expect as his wife.

Everything turns sour, however, and on a visit to London, Natasha has to flee for her life – where a businessman, James Miller, comes to her aid. Over the course of the next few days, Natasha tells James her story, and as horrified as he is, he cannot deny his attraction to the beautiful young woman. He vows to help her. 

Neither of them realize quite how much danger they will be in for defying Viktor, but James is willing to risk everything to rescue her from this man. Can he do it? And does Natasha return his feelings?

Publisher’s Note: This fast-paced tale contains explicit themes including power exchange, multiple sexual partners, and discipline scenarios. If such material offends, please do not purchase.

CHAPTER ONE 

London, present time

His breath was hot against the back of her neck, as he stood as close as he could without actually touching her. He ran his finger lightly across her naked shoulder and up her arm, which was suspended above her body, and it made her shiver. Her skin was damp with sweat, even though the room was not excessively hot. But he was not done with her yet. He whispered into her ear.

“Now, as I promised you, my darling, I will use the strap before I fuck you. It is a while since you felt the licks of a leather strap, isn’t it?”

Her reply was also in a whisper, as though she was afraid to break the spell between them.

“Yes, sir. It’s been a long time.”

He stepped away from her and she heard the familiar sound of the strap as it whistled through the air in a practice stroke. He had warmed her with the flogger on her back and buttocks, but she knew the strap would be more severe. Nevertheless, she craved the feeling as it whistled down and thrashed across her buttocks, the sting of the immediate pain soon turning to pleasure as she absorbed what he administered with great skill. He knew exactly what she needed, exactly how far to take her. She always craved the intense pleasure she got from him, the man who had made her live again, the man who had helped her to love again, the man who had made her feel again.

“I think ten with the strap, precious, don’t you? That should warm you up nicely.”

“Yes, sir. I think ten would be good.”

He began.

*****

James Miller saw the girl in the corner of the car park as his headlights picked up the pale features of her face. It was late, after eleven p.m., and he was on his way home after a business dinner with some potential investors. He was tired after a gruelling day, but the girl caught his attention and he slowed the car. She made no move away but stood quite still, her long brown hair looking matted and dirty, and she was wearing a short black dress that was muddy and dishevelled. Despite the coolness of the evening she was not wearing either a sweater or a coat.

His immediate impression was that she was a drug addict, probably looking for a fix. He doubted that she was a prostitute, for they didn’t usually look as unkempt, and were more likely to be seen on the street looking for their clients, rather than skulking in the corner of a car park.

He drew alongside her and lowered the window. It was probably a stupid move, but the girl looked so forlorn, and she was obviously not carrying a weapon, for there would have been nowhere to conceal it on her body. As he beckoned her to the car she took a hesitant step towards him, stopping a couple of feet away. She seemed reluctant to look him in the eye; instead her eyes were on her feet, which were encased in rather down-at-heel black pumps. She was slim; in fact, a little on the thin side, as though she wasn’t eating regularly. Her arms were bare and there were no obvious track marks that would have revealed her addiction, if she had one.

“It’s getting cold out here. Are you okay? Do you need any help?” he asked.

He could just imagine the expressions on his friends’ faces if they heard him say that. Don’t be a fool, James, they would likely tell him; she spells trouble. Leave her be. But there was something about her that had drawn him towards her and now kept him there. He wanted to find out more about her.

She lifted her eyes for a few seconds and then, as though scared to look him in the face, dropped them again and shuffled a little. James repeated his question, this time making his voice a little firmer as though he was demanding she reply. The resolve in his tone worked and the girl began to talk, in a quiet voice.

“I-I would greatly appreciate a little money for some food, sir.”

Her words and her polite little request surprised him. It was quite a cultured voice—the voice of someone he would not have expected to be in such a situation—but with a slightly foreign accent. But then that was rather patronising of him, he considered. There was no reason why a girl from a good background could not fall on hard times as easily as one from a poor home.

“What are you doing here in the car park?”

“I-I’m sleeping here, sir, over there.”

She pointed to a corner of the car park where a couple of cardboard boxes lay. She was obviously sleeping rough.

“What’s your name?”

“It’s Natasha, sir.”

“You are a very polite young lady. Do you always address men who stop to talk to you as ‘sir’?”

The question seemed to confuse her. He wondered if she was selling her body for food, or just relying on the goodwill of the men who stopped their cars. He was tempted to give her twenty pounds and be on his way, but there was something about her that got to him.

“How about we go and get you something to eat? There’s a café at the end of the block that will still be open.”

She looked at his face, clearly weighing up whether she could be getting into the car of a mad axe murderer, but her hunger obviously overruled everything and she nodded and moved around the car. He leaned over and opened the door and she climbed gratefully into the warm, plush interior.

He didn’t speak until they reached the café and parked on the street in front. 

“I could just drop you here with some money for food, but I want to find out more about you. I’ll come in, too.”

She didn’t respond, but didn’t look unhappy about that idea, and he followed her into the café, which was nearly empty, with just a couple of men sitting in one corner.

They sat down in a booth near the door and James passed her the menu card.

“Order what you like, as much as you want. I’ll just have coffee.”

She asked for ham and eggs, with a portion of fries, and James passed on the order to the middle-aged woman who was serving. He turned his attention back to Natasha. 

“So, do you want to tell me why you are sleeping rough? No one does it unless they are at rock bottom, surely.”

“I-I’d rather not, sir, if you don’t mind.”

“Very well. It’s none of my business, of course, but it looks as though you could do with some help. But I’ll respect your privacy.”

She looked a little confused, as though she was expecting him to be annoyed with her for being secretive, but when she saw that he wasn’t, she relaxed a little.

The food arrived promptly and Natasha set about it with gusto. James wondered when she had last eaten a hot meal. He studied her while she was engrossed in the food. Apart from his initial assessment of her background, based on her voice, it was clear that the dress she was wearing, although now grubby and dishevelled, had once been an expensive buy, the sort of dress that one or two of the more exclusive boutiques in town would sell. She wore no jewellery or wedding ring. Perhaps she had already sold any valuables for food, or perhaps it had been stolen from her? She was probably only around twenty, although he found it difficult to tell women’s ages these days, now that there were so many ways of maintaining one’s youthful looks. She was around five foot six and had a slim build. Probably too thin for my taste, he thought; then quickly dismissed it from his mind. This was purely a mercy mission. His own personal tastes didn’t matter.

James Miller was thirty-seven and single. He was a successful property developer, having built his business from the ground up, and now ran a company that employed thirty people in the heart of London, having expanded into commercial property too. At times he had had brief relationships with women he’d met through his work, or in a bar, but they didn’t usually last long. He was a loner in many respects, as well as having very specific needs as far as sex was concerned. James was a Dominant in his relationships with women, and most of those women weren’t prepared to accept this way of life. 

For a number of years he’d been a member of a local BDSM club, The Black Orchid, and usually called in there several times a week to relieve the sexual tension that built up over time. It wasn’t the ideal solution—having a willing woman chained to the end of his bed would perhaps save him the inconvenience of having to go out for sex and spanking late at night, but that was just wishful thinking on his part. He would occasionally pick up a woman at the bar where he called for a drink after work, but those episodes were not usually very satisfactory and rarely led to a second meeting. 

He wasn’t sure what exactly he was looking for in a woman, just that he hadn’t found it yet, and he sometimes wondered if he ever would. He wanted a woman who was strong, intelligent and independent, and yet he also wanted a woman who would happily subjugate herself to him in the bedroom; who would agree to be spanked and restrained, and yet still keep a mind of her own. It was a conundrum that he was not sure could be solved. Most submissives he encountered were just that, submissive, timid even; but women who were too timid and who agreed to everything he suggested without question didn’t appeal to him. Perhaps he needed a woman with a split personality. What was it that the wife of a famous rock star once said? “To keep your man, you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen, and a whore in the bedroom.” Well, he could afford to employ both a maid and a cook, so his particularly selfish desire was a woman who could be an elegant and interesting companion in his business and social activities, and a submissive whore in his bedroom. Clearly, he thought, I am just too damned choosy.

Natasha ate her food as though someone was going to take the plate away from her at any moment, hardly looking up as she forked it eagerly into her mouth, while James sipped his coffee and studied the young woman in front of him. She had beautiful blue eyes, he noted on the rare occasions that she looked up from her plate. Her lips were plump and looked eminently kissable, should he feel so inclined, and her face was heart-shaped, with prominent cheekbones. Even in the state she was in now, she was undoubtedly a beautiful woman. Scrubbed up and wearing a designer dress and diamond earrings, she would be stunning. What on earth had happened to reduce her to the desperate circumstances she was in now? Would she tell him? Did he really want to know? Or should he just give her some money and be on his way?

Natasha eventually looked up from the now depleted plate of food and realized that he was looking at her with an amused expression.

“Sorry. I was very hungry. I don’t normally eat like that.”

“I’m sure you don’t. Can I get you anything else? Perhaps something to take away for later?”

“No, that will be fine. This meal will last me until tomorrow, thank you.”

“It was my pleasure. I’ll get the bill.”

He was pleased that sleeping rough had not removed her manners. As they left the restaurant, he had a crazy thought. Why not offer her his spare room for the night? He was reluctant to leave her in that cold, dark car park, where any drunken tramp or drug user could molest her. He doubted that she could fight off such an approach, not in her present state, at least.

They walked to the car while he weighed up in his mind what was the best to do. He didn’t think that his conscience would allow him to just eject her from the car and drive on to his warm, comfortable apartment. But would he wake up in the morning and find all his valuables gone? He doubted it somehow. He was usually a good judge of character and he was certain that this woman was not a thief. As for what else she was, he wasn’t sure. Perhaps he would soon find out. His mind was made up.

“I’m taking you home with me, Natasha. I don’t think the car park is a safe place for you. I only live a short distance away and you will be perfectly safe with me. You can have my spare room for the night, and tomorrow we’ll try and find somewhere for you to live. Perhaps the Social Services will be able to help.”

She looked a little uncertain, but after a moment, nodded her head in assent.

“Is there anything that you need to collect from the car park? Any valuables?”

That was a rather stupid thing of him to say. The woman clearly hadn’t two pennies to her name, so she was unlikely to have a secret stash in the car park. She shook her head.

“Good, let’s get you home then. It’s freezing outside now.”

By the time they reached his apartment it was nearing midnight; too late for meaningful conversation. Besides, he was tired. He would take the morning off tomorrow and try to sort this young woman out.

He showed her to the guest bedroom, which had its own bathroom.

“I’ll get one of my shirts for you to sleep in, and tomorrow we can get you a change of clothes if you like.”

He was already talking as though she was about to become a longer-term guest, rather than an overnight one. Better get that idea out of his head. He had enough in his life to cope with without an added complication.

Natasha looked a little shell-shocked, gazing around at the opulence of his penthouse apartment. It was clearly a huge contrast from the place where she had been sleeping. Not that James had done very much work on the decor. He had employed a top notch and very expensive interior designer to do all that. Apart from making a couple of suggestions, the work had been entirely that of others, so he felt he could hardly take any of the credit for how it looked.

“Can I get you anything? A cup of tea, maybe, or a bottle of water?”

She shook her head.

“No, thank you. You’re very kind.”

“Yes, well, we’ll talk in the morning, Natasha. I’ll get you that shirt and then you can take a shower, or a bath, before you sleep. I’m sure that a hot bath will make you feel much better.”

He fetched the shirt and laid it on the bed where she sat, looking thoughtful.

“Goodnight, Natasha. I hope you can sleep well. We can talk tomorrow.”

He turned and left the room, closing the door behind him, and went to his own bedroom next door, where he sat on the bed, thinking, before undressing and getting under the covers.

*****

James wasn’t sure what had woken him. It was still dark, but a little light was coming from down the hall, which he could see under the door. Was Natasha all right? Was she in the process of walking out with his expensive music system and his other toys? Should he leave his warm and comfortable bed to check? His eyes went to the bedside radio alarm, which showed a time of three-thirty. He was about to fling back the bed cover when the door opened, and there, framed in silhouette and naked, stood Natasha. He layabsolutely still, his eyes open, and looked at her. Was she sleepwalking? It was hard to tell because her face was not visible in the very low light. She didn’t move, just stood frozen, like a statue, as though waiting for him to react. As enticing as she was, James was not going to fuck this woman until he learned a little more about her. 

“Go back to bed, Natasha. We can talk in the morning.”

Silently she withdrew from the room and the door was quietly closed. Just seeing her like that had made him hard, but he was tired and desperate for sleep, so he ignored it and turned over in bed. 

He awoke at around eight a.m. and lay for a moment on his back, going over the events of the night before. He must have been crazy, bringing home a woman like Natasha; anything could have happened. Supposing she was mentally disturbed? She could have picked up a knife from the kitchen and plunged it into his sleeping body. He decided to get dressed, and give the woman some breakfast and a wad of money to salve his conscience before dropping her back where he found her. Yes, he would do just that.

Fifteen minutes later, showered and dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, he opened his bedroom door and smelled coffee. Natasha must be in the kitchen. Sure enough, as he entered his luxury kitchen, which he seldom used, not only was there a pot of freshly brewed coffee, but she had found some bacon in his fridge and was frying it. The smell of the coffee and bacon was intoxicating; a good way to start the day, he thought. He normally left for the office on an empty stomach, and had his secretary bring him a coffee and bagel as soon as he arrived. 

She certainly looked better than the night before. She had clearly showered and washed her hair, which was still damp, and was again wearing his shirt. If ever a woman looked fuckable, Natasha, with her shapely figure encased in a man’s shirt, with bare legs, and probably a bare arse too, was it. He moved swiftly towards the breakfast bar so that he could conceal the bulge in his jeans. He was determined that he wasn’t going to let his dick be the one in charge.

“Good morning, Natasha, I hope you slept well.”

He decided not to mention the little episode at three-thirty, unless she brought it up.

“Good morning. Yes, I slept very well, thank you.”

“Mmm, something smells good. Coffee and bacon is a good way to start the day,” he said.

“I hope you don’t mind… you know… doing this without your permission.”

“Not at all. I might have to make it a condition for my future girlfriends, that they make me breakfast before they leave.”

That was a crass thing to say, he thought. Implying that there was a revolving door of women who stayed over at his place when, in fact, it was a rare occurrence, but she made no comment and her expression didn’t change.

“I didn’t make toast yet because I couldn’t find bread in the fridge.”

He couldn’t remember when he last ate toast at home, but had a feeling that there was some bread in the freezer. He had guessed right, and brought a small frozen whole-wheat loaf to the toaster, which sat pristinely on top of the breakfast bar. He hoped he could remember how it worked, but he didn’t need to.

“It’s okay, I can do it. You sit and have some coffee, sir.”

“You don’t have to call me sir. My name is James.”

“Oh, I… yes, of course.”

Why had she called him sir, and why did she seem surprised when he told her to call him by name? He wondered if perhaps she was a submissive. It was about time they had a little chat.

He waited until she had made the toast and placed it with the bacon in front of him. She looked a little uncertain as to what she should do next. It was as though she didn’t understand what was expected of her. He patted the empty chair next to him.

“Sit and eat some breakfast. I’m sure you must be hungry, despite all that food you put away last night.”

She smiled and sat, and he watched her profile as she cut some neat pieces of toast and put a small piece to her mouth. This woman reeked of class and privilege, so what was she doing sleeping in a car park? 

“Can we talk, Natasha? I’d like to know a little about you.”

She stopped eating and looked a little nervous.

“It’s okay, I’m not here to judge you,” he said, “ I just want to help you if I can. You can talk to me and I promise the conversation won’t go any further. I’d like to know why a woman like you is sleeping outside. Has something happened to you?”

She squirmed in her seat, and he could visibly see her discomfort, but she remained silent. He touched her hand gently, trying to make her understand that he was genuine in his wish to help. Eventually she spoke, in a quiet voice.

“I’d like to tell you but I can’t. Please don’t ask me.”

“Are you afraid of someone? Is that why you can’t tell me? Has someone hurt you or threatened you?”

She lowered her head and he could see a tear slowly rolling down her cheek. He took her hand in his.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. How about we get you some clothes? As lovely as you look in my shirt, I’m sure you would feel more comfortable in women’s wear. I have a friend who can help. Let me make a call.”

He went into his study to make the call, giving Natasha a few minutes to regain her equilibrium.

“Trudy, it’s James.”

“Hi James, how are you? I haven’t heard from you in a while.”

“I’m good, thanks. I’d like to ask a favour from you.”

“I’ll try my best. What can I do?”

“I need some clothes from your boutique for a young woman who is at my apartment.”

There was a pause of barely a second before Trudy replied.

“Yes, of course. What size is the lady and what clothes would you like?”

That’s what James liked about Trudy. She did what he asked with few questions.

*****

One hour later the buzzer sounded, and the CCTV picture showed a woman of about thirty, holding a garment bag and pulling a small suitcase. James buzzed her up, and kissed her lightly on the cheek when he greeted her at the door. He introduced the two women.

“Natasha, why don’t you take Trudy to your room and try on the clothes she’s brought over, and make sure they’re the right size. If they fit, you can keep anything she’s brought.”

He had asked Trudy for a selection of clothes, four or five outfits in total, plus some underwear, cosmetics, shoes and anything else she thought a young woman might need. Some would say that he was being extraordinarily generous to a person he had just met, but he enjoyed spreading some of his wealth around to make other people happy. If he was able to help Natasha to move on in her life, away from the desperate conditions she had found herself in, then he would be satisfied that he had performed his civic duty in helping someone less fortunate than himself. I hope that doesn’t make me sound too much of a pompous ass, he thought.

The two women emerged from the bedroom, and this time Natasha was not dressed in one of his shirts but was wearing a pair of well-fitting jeans and a pale pink crepe blouse. James noted that she had the type of figure that filled out a pair of jeans very well. 

“Everything fits her well, James. There’s no need for me to take anything back.”

“Thank you Trudy. I’m grateful for you bringing them over.”

He pressed a cheque into Trudy’s hand, and had generously added on a hundred pounds more than the agreed price. Trudy kissed him on the cheek, smiled at Natasha, and left the apartment.

“I need to make a couple of phone calls. Why don’t you relax for a few minutes and then, when I’m done, we can have a little talk and decide what you want to do,” James said.

Natasha picked up the previous day’s newspaper and sat down in an armchair, and James went into his study to make his calls. His first one was to his secretary, and he spoke while looking at his schedule that Hazel, his reliable right-hand woman, conveniently posted online each day. It was Friday, and she had scheduled his weekly staff meeting, where he caught up with how everyone’s projects were proceeding, for eleven a.m. The only other item pencilled in was a game of golf at four p.m. with Don Bradshaw. It wasn’t entirely intended as a relaxing wind down to the week, even though Don was his long-time friend; it was also a business meeting to discuss a project they were thinking of investing in jointly. He could catch up with other work from home over the weekend.

“Cancel the eleven o’clock, please, Hazel. I’m not going to be able to make it. Send an e-mail out letting everyone know, but tell them I still want a brief, and I mean brief, update. They can e-mail me by tonight and, if necessary, I’ll speak to them on Monday about any problems they are having. Tell them I only need one paragraph from each of them. I don’t intend to spend half the night reading a ten page thesis from them all.”

“Yes, of course, Mr Miller.”

“Regarding my appointment with Don Bradshaw, I’ll call him myself. Ring me if there are any issues that need dealing with, otherwise I’ll see you on Monday, Hazel.”

“Okay, understood, have a good weekend, Mr Miller.”

“You too.”

His next call was to his friend, Don, but his phone went straight to answerphone. James left a brief message.

“Hi, Don. Something has come up and I’m not sure I can make the golf course for four. Can we re-schedule? I’m free this weekend if you are. Call me. Thanks, buddy.”

His schedule now free, he sat at his desk for a couple of minutes, musing on his possible courses of action, and then made his way back to where Natasha was still reading the paper.

She looked up and smiled; the first proper smile she had given him, and he found himself entranced by the lovely woman before him. It was a complete transformation from the nervous, hungry and destitute woman of the night before, and he had to admit that her appearance wasn’t just a feast for his eyes. Another part of his anatomy was also pleased with the sight before him, but he pushed such matters out of his head and concentrated on what would be in Natasha’s best interests.

“My schedule for the day has now been cleared, and so I can now concentrate on trying to help you solve some of your problems. Firstly, you need somewhere to live. I’ve been thinking about it and I am happy for you to stay on here for a couple of weeks.”

Her eyes lit up and she was about to speak, but James held up his hand.

“Before you speak, let me tell you what I think might be best for you, and then you can tell me what you would like to do.”

He sat down in the armchair opposite and set out his ideas.

“Without a job, if we went to the Social Services, you would only be offered a place in a homeless hostel, and believe me, you don’t want to live there. They’re miserable places; I’ve seen one. So I’m offering you the chance I think you deserve. Or at least, I hope you deserve it. With no knowledge of your circumstances and your background, it’s rather a leap of faith on my part.”

“I’m very grateful, James. I won’t let you down.”

“Wait, you haven’t heard my full terms yet. You need to get work, and I might be able to help there, too. You sound educated, Natasha. What skills or qualifications do you have?”

“I… well, I don’t have any… well, qualifications, as such.”

“Nothing! No A Levels? Which school did you attend?”

“I went to school until I was nearly eighteen, but I didn’t take any exams. I left before my A Levels and had… sort of private tuition after that.”

Her head went down and she looked troubled. James wondered how deeply he should prod her to reach the truth of how she came to be on the street.

“I see. What things did you study?”

“Well, it wasn’t…”

“Wasn’t what?” He prodded her gently, willing her to give up some of her secrets.

“It wasn’t ordinary.”

“So you didn’t study English and Maths, things like that?”

“I used to read a lot. He had a very big library.”

She stopped suddenly and her hand went to her face in a nervous gesture, as though she’d said more than she’d intended. James wanted to know who the ‘he’ was who had just entered the conversation. This was the first time that she’d mentioned anyone from her past, and he said nothing for a moment, hoping that she would continue, but disappointingly, she fell silent.

He spoke very gently to her, as though he hoped that by doing so she would be more relaxed and willing to continue talking.

“So he had a lot of books for you to read?”

Natasha looked up, her big brown eyes almost shedding a tear. Her speech was reduced to a whisper. “Yes, but I had to ask for permission to read them. Sometimes he would let me, and sometimes…”

James suddenly had an idea where this conversation was leading.

“So you’d be allowed to read them if you’d been good?”

Her voice was now barely audible. “Yes.”

“And if you were not good he wouldn’t allow you to read?”

“Yes.”

“And what did you do apart from reading?”

“When I… when I stopped going to school, I had to write in a diary.”

“What did you write about, Natasha?” he asked.

“I… I can’t say.”

“You can’t, or you don’t want to?”

 James saw a tear roll down her cheek and automatically moved closer to offer her some comfort. He was shocked when she flinched slightly as he leaned over.

“Shhh! Don’t worry. You don’t need to tell me. Here, have this handkerchief.”

He handed her a clean handkerchief from his pocket and she dabbed at her eyes with it. They sat in silence for a few moments before Natasha spoke again.

“I had to write about my life with him. But I can’t tell you more. He said he would punish me if I talked to anyone about us.”

Her face reflected the anxiety and fear she must be feeling. Her eyes looked troubled and she began to chew her fingernails. James knew he should be cautious and let her tell her story in her own time. He jumped up and looked at his watch.

“Why don’t we go out to lunch? You go and put on that pretty blue dress I saw Trudy bring and I’ll take you to a nice place I know.”

Natasha got up, looking relieved that James had stopped questioning her, and went off to change. James, too, went to smarten himself up, and fifteen minutes later they were in his car and heading for the restaurant, which was on the edge of Hyde Park. They were seated at a table overlooking the park, and Natasha seemed thrilled and slightly awed by her surroundings.

“You like it?” he asked.

Her delighted grin told him more than words could. She looked stunning, with the sun reflecting a few streaks of blonde in her light brown hair, and her broad smile made her look simply amazing. James, being a very wealthy and good-looking man, was never short of attractive dates, but Natasha was simply beautiful, and he had to admit to himself that being in the presence of this mysterious young woman boosted his libido hugely. So far he had restrained himself, telling himself that he must not take advantage of a woman in so fragile a state as Natasha seemed to be, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain his composure, especially looking as good as she did now.

He reached out and touched her hand, noting that, although she looked a little panicked at his movement, she made no attempt to withdraw it.

“You look lovely in the dress.”

She smiled a little hesitantly and looked puzzled.

“Has no one ever told you how beautiful you are?”

“No, I… well, I…”

She seemed lost for words. He wondered if the mysterious ‘he’ of whom she had spoken earlier was a man who was not given to express such feelings towards her.

Suddenly, with no warning, Natasha’s face registered sheer panic and she rose out of her chair, as though about to take flight. James couldn’t understand how anything he had said might cause such a reaction and he held more tightly onto her hand, to prevent her running away from the table.

“Natasha, what’s the matter?”

She didn’t need to explain, for at that moment, a large man loomed next to them. James looked up to see a stern-faced man of about fifty, elegantly dressed in a tailored three-piece suit, and with a neat grey moustache and short, trimmed beard. His chiselled face was set as hard as granite and his dark eyes seemed to James to be the eyes of evil.

Natasha, half standing and with her hand still in James’s firm grasp, was shaking like a leaf. James had never seen such an expression of terror on anyone’s face before, other than at the cinema.

The large man spoke at last, his accent coming over as possibly Russian or Ukrainian to James’s ear. Not that James claimed to be an expert on accents, but there had been a big increase in the population of Russian and Eastern European people in London over the previous few years, and such dialects were becoming more common.

“So there you are, my little runaway,” the stranger said.

James felt compelled to speak at this point. “Can we help you? What do you want?”

The man laughed briefly, but it was not a sound that indicated joy or pleasure. It seemed much too sinister for that. “I don’t believe that you can help me at all, sir. But this woman most certainly can. She belongs to me and I lost her for a while, but it seems that I have now found her.”

He leaned over and spoke quietly to Natasha, who had now sunk back on to her chair.

“You will come with me now, immediately, or the consequences will be even more severe than they are already.”

Both the words, and the tone of his voice, were menacing, and James had a good idea of the consequences to which the man referred. He had to act, and act now, to get Natasha away from this man as quickly as possible, and back to a place of safety.

 

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