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She is one of the most beautiful and photographed women in the world.
She is living every young girl’s dream.
But sometimes the dream and the reality don’t match up.
The missing father; the predatory stepfather; the abusive lover; they all let her down.
Then she meets the man of her dreams – but fate is cruel and she is left alone again…
… until a powerful and charismatic Dom, who excites her like no other man before, steps into her life.
Is he the man she has been seeking her whole life? Will he show her the way out of the darkness and into the loving, submissive relationship she has always craved?
Publisher's Note: This sweet and sensual love story is a revised and newly edited version of a book previously released under the same title but with the pen name Rachel De Vine.
*** Currently available exclusively at Amazon ***
The room was almost dark, with just flickers of light coming from the logs burning in the hearth. As I stood at the door I could just see his shape, sitting in the leather, wing-backed chair, silhouetted by the fire.
His voice was quiet, but with the firmness I had come to expect from him. I moved closer and knelt down in front of him, my naked bottom facing the warmth of the fire. I bent my head downwards and looked at the floor as I had been taught, but he surprised me by lifting up my chin with his hand.
"You look so beautiful."
He bent and kissed me softly on the lips, and I shivered in anticipation. Was it to be pleasure or pain this time? Or perhaps a combination of both, delivered the way that only he could. Producing a dark silk scarf from the arm of the chair, he tied it around my eyes so that the gloom of the room was reduced to complete darkness. I could feel his breath on my bare shoulders as he tied it tightly at the back of my head. He stood and pulled me up with him.
"Hands behind your back."
I obeyed immediately. He turned me around to face away from him and I felt the click as he connected the wristbands together so that my hands were firmly joined.
I heard him move away for just a few seconds, returning swiftly to stand in front of me. I trembled, not knowing what was in his mind or what was probably now in his hand. I felt something soft and ticklish brush against my breasts.
"What is this?"
I racked my brain to put a name to the sensation. The soft tickle moved to the inside of my thigh as it brushed slowly up my leg from my knee, almost to… He stopped, waiting for me to answer his question.
"It’s a feather, Sir."
"Very good. It’s a soft, white feather." He was silent a moment. "Now, what is this?"
I was jolted out of my reverie by a sudden swishing noise and a sharp sting on my breast. "It’s a crop, Sir."
"Yes, you’re correct." He reached forward and his lips grazed my left ear lobe, sending a shiver straight to my sex. He whispered into my ear. "Now, which one should I use first, do you think?" He knew that the blindfold added greatly to the anticipation. If I couldn't see what was coming, I couldn’t ready myself for whichever sensation to expect. He walked around me, the occasional feel of his clothes as they caught against my arm or leg were all that reminded me he was still there. I couldn’t see him but I knew he was watching me intently. Several seconds passed and nothing happened. My senses were on edge, trying to anticipate when and where he would strike first. I shivered as the feather stroked down the middle of my back, the first touch. Would it be the feather again?
I felt the same sensation on the back of my calf. I was sure that the crop would come next, but he was lulling me into a sense of relaxed bliss and used the feather yet again, this time drawing it between my legs, barely touching the lips of my sex, yet setting off a yearning deep within me.
One second later, I felt a fiery burning from my bottom as the crop was lashed across it. Even though I knew that it was coming, it seemed to have come from nowhere. My cheek was still burning when a fresh sting came from the front of my thigh. My breath caught in my throat.
"Breathe, my darling. Don't forget to breathe."
He kissed me softly on my shoulder and I felt the feather touch my belly and slide downwards. I breathed quickly several times, totally lost in the sensations that were pulsing through my mind and my body as I struggled to cope with the intensity of what he was doing. He was controlling me completely, body and soul. I gave myself totally to this man. I trusted him completely. I adored him.
He stopped for a moment and I felt his warm fingers slide down my body and between my thighs, where the dampness revealed the depth of my pleasure. He pushed two fingers into me and used his thumb to rub my clit until I couldn’t stop from groaning.
He laughed gently. "No, my darling, you haven't earned your pleasures yet. Move over here and rest your hands on the chair."
He moved me gently towards the leather armchair in which he had been sitting, and pressed my body downwards until my hands were flat on the chair seat. I could feel the warmth of the fire on my bottom as I arched my back and spread my legs apart in the way he had taught me. I was ready for him and I knew that he was watching me for any little deviation from the rules. If I moved from that position the strokes would be increased, so I stood absolutely still—waiting for him.
Without warning he began to use the crop across my bottom, but this time there was no soft feather between the strokes. This time, the strokes were hard and quick. The teasing and the waiting between each stroke were gone. Again and again he brought the crop down until my cheeks were stinging. It was painful, but it was also intensely pleasurable as I absorbed the impact of each stroke and gloried in the fact that I was loved and desired by my Master, the most exciting man I had ever known.
He stopped and I heard the crop drop to the floor. I heard the zip on his trousers and felt the hardness of his erection as it pressed up against me before thrusting into me in one swift movement. He filled me like no one had filled me before and I gloried in his length and girth as I thrust back hard against him.
He slowed his pace and reached around me, rubbing my clitoris until I knew that I was ready to explode. My Master was unlike many others, not wanting to deny my pleasure. He gloried in the way I shrieked and groaned with the ecstasy that only he could give me. He only ever denied my completion when I was being punished.
"Come for me, precious. Let me hear your pleasure."
I did not need further encouragement as I came apart. My Master continued to thrust deep and hard, until he, too, groaned out his pleasure and collapsed down onto my back. I supported us both for a few moments until he stood and, moving me sideways, he sank down onto the chair and pulled me down onto his lap, where I curled into his body.
He stroked my breasts for a while and we sat in silence, watching the dying embers of the fire. Words were not necessary. His strong arms around me were sufficient. I was home, within his arms, the only place I wanted to be.
* * *
My Master, William Northcroft, and I had been together for five years. We met at London's Heathrow Airport in the first-class departure lounge, waiting to board a British Airways flight for New York. I was sitting quietly, reading a book, but had the feeling I was being watched. I looked up, straight into the eyes of a man seated opposite. I gave a half-smile, but he didn’t respond immediately, which struck me as odd. He continued to look at me in quite an intense way for several seconds before he, too, smiled. I returned to my book, not particularly wanting to start a conversation with a stranger.
In the few seconds that we had eye contact, a very strange sensation passed through me. I knew I hadn’t met this man before but I felt comfortable, as though we were old friends. He seemed about twelve years older than my twenty-five, and he had the appearance of a successful businessman, with a well-made, hand-tailored suit, and expensive looking briefcase and small leather carry-on bag. However, as a successful model, I had never been short of admirers and lovers. I wasn't about to be bowled over by yet another man who was probably more attracted to the kudos of being seen with a beautiful woman on his arm than on getting to know the real me.
I'm not sure that even I know the real me. My life had changed so often since I'd been 'discovered' at the tender age of fifteen, while walking down the King's Road in Chelsea, and within two years I was pictured on the covers of all the glossy magazines. It all happened so quickly. One day I was a fairly ordinary London schoolgirl, and the next I was travelling the world and being wined and dined by the world's glitterati. Then there were the men. Mostly, they were older, successful and wealthy men who bought me champagne and dinner and then thought they owned me. Some of them were very powerful, men you would not want to cross for fear of the consequences. A few were kind, but many were not. I sometimes wondered if the fault lay with me. Did I do or say things to attract the wrong type of man? Did I give off the wrong vibes, or was I simply unlucky? I had no idea.
The working life of most models is quite short; youth and beauty being such transient states. Make the most of it was the advice I often received, especially from older models who knew that there were always younger and prettier women to take their place. Many of the girls, if they didn't make it right to the top where the serious money was made, adopted the other route of marrying wealthy men. It wasn’t always a guaranteed success. I knew of several older models who had given up the catwalk and married such men, some of whom turned out to be serial philanderers. They became second or third wives, and probably realized with a sinking heart that they were destined eventually to be replaced, as their predecessors had been.
I had a few love affairs, but I had never fallen in love. I saw most for what they were, men who viewed a beautiful woman as another symbol of their success, like expensive sports cars, yachts, and luxury villas. I tried to stay away from that sort of man, but I wasn't always clever enough to spot the ones who should be avoided at all costs. They didn't all look like Russian gangsters.
My mind went back to my worst 'mistake.'
* * *
The man who introduced me to the 'darker arts,' as I often referred to them, was Leon, a French multi-millionaire who invited me for dinner, which turned out to be on his yacht in the Mediterranean. He sent his private jet to transport me from London to St Tropez.
"Isn't this rather a long way to go for dinner?" I asked, telling him that I had a fashion shoot in Paris the following day.
"Not at all, ma chère. I will fly you down tomorrow at midday. We can have dinner on the yacht and you can stay overnight. In the morning, I’ll have my plane fly you to Paris. Il n'y a pas de problème."
Leon had a very slight air of menace to him, even though he was handsome beyond words, and I hesitated briefly. He leaned over and kissed me gently on the lips and, in a moment of insanity I accepted his invitation.
The yacht was enormous and very luxurious. He had a chef cook us a magnificent dinner and serve it on the private deck that lay outside his personal quarters where, he informed me, only very special people were invited. It was obvious that the price of dinner was to be sex, but it was to be of a type I had never encountered before, even if other men had hinted at it from time to time.
We drank champagne and the heady mix of that, together with the velvety Mediterranean night air and the gentle rocking of the boat, made me lower my defenses. When he stood and took my hand and led me into his cabin, I offered no resistance at all.
I was wearing just a simple, silk shift, with spaghetti straps and a thong. It took a second for Leon's practiced hands to remove my dress, which fluttered down around my feet. He bent and kissed my breasts and ran his hands over my bottom.
"You are so beautiful. Do you understand how you make men wild with lust when they see you?" He didn't seem to expect an answer to his question. His voice became deeper and more masculine than ever. "I would love to leave my marks on you. Have you ever been whipped, ma chère?"
He must have sensed my alarm, for he held me a little closer and kissed me on the lips, reaching the tip of his tongue to meet mine.
"Don't be afraid. I’ll try not to be too harsh with you for your first time."
Although I was trembling, it wasn't entirely because of fear. I felt something deep within me—something that excited me.
Leon sensed it too. "I think you would like to try, no? You must try everything once in life, I think."
I didn’t know what to do. I had thought myself so grown up and sophisticated, but underneath I was just a nineteen-year-old London girl, in a situation with a forty-year-old wealthy and powerful man, and I allowed myself to be swept along in the moment.
Leon sensed my acquiescence and led me towards the bed. His voice had become a little harsher. "Lie flat on the bed, on your stomach." He put a couple of pillows in the middle of the bed and indicated for me to lie over them.
I did as he instructed, and from somewhere, he produced a pair of handcuffs, which he attached to my wrists. He then pulled my arms above my head and hooked them on to a bar that formed part of the headboard. My legs were pulled apart and each ankle was attached to a strap that came from beneath the bed. He bent over and ripped my thong from me, and I began to panic and wonder what I had got myself into. I sensed that Leon wanted more than a little light spanking.
My rapid breathing must have alerted him to the need to calm me a little. He sat on the side of the bed and ran his hands over my skin, bending and kissing me from time to time.
"Don't be afraid, ma chère. You may find you like what I do to you very much. I am opening the door to an exciting new life for you."
His hand went down between my legs where, despite my fear, the evidence of my excitement could be felt. He massaged my clitoris and slipped a finger inside me for a few moments, stroking me until he could sense that I was calmer.
All went quiet for a few seconds as he left my side. I heard a door open, but I couldn’t see what he was fetching. He returned and placed some items at the end of the bed, out of sight. There was a short pause until I felt his palm come down on to my bottom, which startled me. I released the breath I had been holding. He began to slap me, firmly but slowly, one cheek at a time. My bottom started to feel hot, but the pain was bearable, and I even felt excitement build up within me. I craved something hard inside me.
But Leon was nowhere near that stage of the proceedings yet. He knelt on the bed beside me and began to slap me harder. I couldn't stop a little gasp escaping from my mouth from time to time as the pain began to penetrate my brain.
"Yes, express your pain. Shout it out. Don’t worry, there is no one else on board now but us."
I didn't know whether that last sentence was meant to calm me or terrify me. I inclined towards the latter. I recognized that I was completely at this man's mercy. He could do whatever he wanted with me and there was nothing I could do to stop him. That thought both terrified me and excited me beyond measure.
He must have hit me twenty or thirty times—I lost count—before he paused. Was he going to fuck me now? He stood up and removed his shirt to reveal a well-toned and suntanned body. He was obviously a man who liked to take care of himself.
He leaned over and stroked my back and kissed me on my now heated bottom. "That has warmed us up nicely. Now we are going to step things up a bit." I noticed he said 'we,' when I was making none of the decisions. Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I saw that he was holding a cane in his right hand. For the first time the fear overtook the sexual longing.
His voice lost some of its earlier tenderness. "Now, to take care of business."
He raised his arm to shoulder height and brought the cane down hard on my buttocks, and the pain was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I screamed, but that seemed to excite him. He looked at my face, pressed against the sheet, and his eyes had a hard glint to them.
I endured the cane for what seemed like forever, but was probably no more than thirty strokes, but each one brought fresh agony. I screamed, I begged, I cried—but he was in a place where I couldn’t reach him. Finally, my ordeal came to an end when he flung the cane to the ground and dropped his trousers. I lay in a pain-induced stupor while he climbed over my body and took me from behind, his body rising and lowering over my painful buttocks. With every hard thrust into me he shouted out in French until he came with a shudder and a loud groan and collapsed on to my back before rolling off to the side. Within minutes, he was sleeping soundly while I lay sobbing, still tied to the bed.
I slept fitfully for short periods during the night and woke as the sun was rising. He had woken during the night and fucked me again, but still didn’t untie me, and when I awoke in the morning I was so stiff and still in such pain that, even when he unfastened me from the bed, I lay for a while, unwilling to move my stiff, aching body.
Leon was a changed man from the night before. He acted as though the previous night had never happened. He was almost cheerful.
"Why don't you take your shower, ma chère, and make yourself ready for your flight to Paris. The car will be here to take you to the airport in thirty minutes and you can take breakfast on board. I need to stay here for a few days, so you don't mind if you fly up there alone, do you?"
I didn’t care where I went, or who took me, so long as I could escape from Leon. If this was a gentle introduction to his type of sex, I didn't want to stick around for the more advanced levels. I went into the bathroom and saw the livid purple and scarlet stripes and bruises that he had inflicted on my bottom and the backs of my thighs, as well as the restraint marks on my wrists and ankles. There was no way that I could take part in the photo session in Paris but I said nothing to him about that, in case he tried to persuade me to stay.
I had brought a case with a selection of clothes with me from London and I found a loose cotton shift that hid most of the marks, and applied make-up to the rest. I was much too sore to wear jeans or a tight fitted dress. I barely had time to brush my hair and apply a little make-up to my face for the inevitable press photographers who hung around airports, longing to take shots of models or actresses looking the worse for wear, which they could sell to any number of newspapers and magazines.
Leon accompanied me to the car and kissed me on both cheeks in the Gallic way, as though we had merely met for coffee.
"You were wonderful, my darling. We must do it again soon, yes?"
Then he turned and walked away without a glance. I had been dismissed, and he had never once spoken my name.
At the airport, I telephoned my agency and told them I wasn’t well and that I would be unable to fulfill the booking in Paris. I left the private jet at Orly airport and hopped on a flight to London, and home. It was a shame that a photograph of me arriving at Orly made the cover of a French weekly gossip magazine. The client and my agency were most displeased at my duplicity, but I could tell no one of the real reason why I didn’t make the photo shoot.
I learned my lesson after my experience in St. Tropez with Leon and I tried never to put myself in such a vulnerable situation after that. I never met Leon again, but I heard a year later that he had died of a drug overdose and that they had found a woman in the room with him, tied up and badly beaten. I had had a lucky escape.
On the flight to New York, the steward leaned over and asked if I would like a pre-dinner drink and I looked up from my book.
"Just a glass of water, please," I said. I had learned over the years that flying was quite dehydrating, and that alcohol made the problem worse. As a model, my appearance was all I had to sell, so, if I wanted a long career, then I had to make a few sacrifices along the way. I was also much more wary after my experience all those years before in St. Tropez. I liked to keep my wits about me, especially where men were concerned, so I only really relaxed when I had people around me whom I felt I could trust.
The steward brought me the water and I was about to settle down again with my book when I saw that the man from the departure lounge had stopped next to my seat and was looking down at my book.
"You're reading one of mine," was his introduction.
I was startled and looked again at the front cover, momentarily confused. The author was a woman.
He saw the puzzlement in my face and smiled. "I didn’t write it. I own the firm that published it. It’s one of our top sellers at the moment."
"Oh, I see. Well I can understand why. It is a very absorbing book. I can hardly put it down."
"So I’ve noticed."
There was a pause, but the man made no move to continue down the gangway. He was looking at me quite intently, but his face carried no hint of malice. I had become an expert at reading people's characters from their facial expressions. Besides, within the confines of a transatlantic flight, I felt very secure and safe. I don't know what made me do it, but I asked him if he wanted to join me in the empty seat beside mine.
"I would like that very much. My name is William Northcroft and, as you now know, I own a publishing company. And you, I believe, are the very famous and very beautiful Marianne Delaney. It would be very ungallant of me not to know the name of one of the top British models."
I smiled at him. "Believe me, there are times when I would give anything to go back to being anonymous. But I've no right to complain. Fame has brought me many privileges, like travelling First Class for example."
"I quite agree. I have no wish to return to flying Economy, have you?"
He demonstrated one such benefit when, merely by lifting a finger, a stewardess read his mind and brought over the drink that he had left by his previous seat. The woman, who was young and very attractive, was reduced to a blushing wreck when, after taking the drink from her, he stroked her hand just once and with one finger. I noted also that he looked very intently at her for perhaps a second longer than was usual, and I gained the impression that the woman was known to William. He was clearly a frequent flyer and used to receiving prompt attention.
He seemed a very powerful, charismatic man, but one who exercised his power in an understated way. I couldn't imagine him losing his cool and shouting. Some sixth sense also told me that he was a dominant man, especially in bed, and the thought brought a spasm and dampness between my legs. I hadn’t had a lover for a little while, so it didn’t take a great deal for my normally healthy libido to respond. He looked sideways at me and I knew that he knew about my spark of interest. He was clearly very intuitive, but he gave no obvious response. He was not flirting with me and he made no attempt to touch me as he had the stewardess.
"So, Marianne, what takes you to New York, work or pleasure? Or perhaps the two come together for you."
"Mainly work, although I am hoping to do a little shopping while I’m there. And you? Work, I suppose?"
"Yes, but I never overlook the need for a little pleasure too. Life is too short for all work and no play. As someone once said, very few men on their deathbed say that they wished they had spent more time at the office. Is that not true, Marianne?"
I loved the way he looked directly at my face as he spoke my name, even though he was sitting alongside. He gave me his complete attention, unlike many men who seemed to look everywhere but my face when they were talking to me. I often thought I should have a second pair of eyes on my breasts, so men could look at both at the same time.
"Yes, you’re right. My father worked himself into an early grave and never got the chance to enjoy the fruits of his labor."
That was a lie, because I never knew my father. For all I knew, he could be the British Prime Minister. But it just seemed the right thing to say at the time, and for some years I had talked to people about this fantasy father, as though it was more acceptable to have had a father and lost him, than never to have had a father at all. Perhaps it was the lack of a father that made me search for a fatherly figure in my life; a search that had only brought fleeting happiness so far.
"Oh, I work hard, but I play hard, too. Do you play hard, Marianne?"
I shivered and half turned in my seat to look at his face. Sure enough, there was the glint in the eye and the almost imperceptible facial expression that I had seen before, and I knew that he was a Dominant. I had been around enough of them to recognize one. After my past experiences, I should have been more wary, and run a mile. But where do you run to when you are 33,000 feet in the air over the Atlantic? I couldn't stop myself from saying it as though an invisible force was drawing it from me. "Yes, I do like to play hard, Sir." He lifted my hand to his lips and gave me a soft kiss. From that point on my fate was probably sealed. The attraction had been instantaneous. I knew that William and I were almost certainly going to play together, in one way or another.
There was only one other man in my life to have had the same powerful effect on me. My mind drifted back to an earlier time in New York, in what seemed like another lifetime ago.
* * *
After my experience with Leon, I was very wary of men and hardly dated for nearly a year, but at the age of twenty, I decided to take advantage of an offer from another model, Lily, to move to New York with her and share an apartment. We had both been earning well and knew that there would be just as much modelling work—if not more—on the other side of the Atlantic.
We found a rather charming place, a three-bedroomed condo in Greenwich Village, and soon a third girl, Emma, to take the extra room. Within weeks, it became party central for the models, photographers, playboys, and general hangers on, who would flock there several times a week for riotous evenings (which sometimes lasted whole weekends). It was great fun and I came to love the whole atmosphere, shops and restaurants of the Village and the people I met. For the first time in a long time, I managed to avoid the rich and powerful men who had flocked around me in London, and I met actors, artists, and musicians instead.
We felt that we were in the center of the universe and that we were indestructible, but drugs began to appear and before we knew it, people would be sniffing coke and shooting heroin in our bathroom. We would wake up in the morning and find a comatose body lying on the bathroom floor, or drug apparatus on the side of the bath, and I began to feel anxious that things were getting out of control. Sure, I'd smoked a few spliffs over the years, but I had always managed to resist taking anything else.
I spoke to Lily about it, and about Emma, who I suspected was doing heroin.
"We’re going to get raided before long if we don't watch out. I don't know about you, but I don't want the negative publicity, especially with the ad campaign I'm working on. They wouldn't take kindly to being associated with drugs."
Lily agreed, but didn't seem willing to take action. "Don't worry, hon, I'm sure it will sort itself out."
I wasn't prepared to let it sort itself out, however, and within a few weeks had found myself a single bedroom apartment, still in the Village, but several blocks away. It was lonely at first, after all the partying at the other place, but I wasn't afraid of being alone. It was kind of nice to come home to a peaceful sanctuary after a long day in front of the cameras or after a long flight from the west coast, where I sometimes went on assignments. Besides, I had already met a lot of people in my short time in New York, and still received invitations to gallery openings, concerts, and parties, so it wasn't as though I was completely alone.
I was glad of my decision two months later, when a guest at one of Lily's parties was found dead one morning. All hell was let loose after the police and press became involved. Poor Lily lost a job she was up for when the client decided that they didn't want to be associated with the seamier side of life when advertising wholesome, family products. She was lucky to even hang on to her contract with the agency. Models had been let go in the past for similar connections to scandals. I reckoned I had had a lucky escape.
About three weeks after the drug fatality, I went to the opening of a photography exhibition at an uptown gallery on Madison Avenue. The gallery was featuring Chad Baker, a well-known photographer recommended by a fashion photographer I sometimes worked with.
I arrived at about nine, two hours after it had opened, and a lot of champagne had been consumed by then. I hated going to places too early. For a start, with a face as well-known as mine, people tended to zero in on me when they were sober. But after a few glasses of bubbly they ceased to care who was in the melee alongside them. Unlike many other celebrities (and how I hated that word) I refused to employ 'people'—assistants, security, hangers on, and the like. Sure, I had a PR company and the modelling agency, which handled contracts and publicity, but I kept them at arm's length.
Some people thought I was crazy, going out without a minder, but I found that having people with you drew attention to yourself more than if you travelled alone. Most people only saw the glamorized, expensively dressed and coiffured person who appeared in the magazine or on the billboard. I was able to change my look sufficiently that many people did not even realize who I was. The danger was when one eagle-eyed person spotted me, alerted all the rest, and created a stampede.
Fortunately, that didn't happen too often.
I grabbed a glass of champagne as soon as I arrived and began to wander around the gallery, looking at the photographs. Most people, by this time, had looked at them and were now concentrating on the drinks and chatting in small groups. Good. I preferred looking at them without being constantly jostled.
The exhibition was a retrospective of a number of years' work by the world-famous photographer, about whom I had heard but had never met. I had heard that Chad Baker was quite reclusive and rarely appeared in public, so I was not expecting to meet him at the gallery.
The photographs were at times raw, shocking, thought provoking, and sometimes amusing. He covered a multitude of subjects—men, women, children, and sometimes just objects and landscapes. I was fascinated by them, and so engrossed that I didn't notice a woman eyeing me from a few feet away until she shrieked at the top of her voice, "Oh, my God, it's Marianne Delaney."
Suddenly, almost every pair of eyes in the room were zeroing in on me. The cool people pretended not to hear, or that they had no idea who I was, but many of the others, uninhibited by several glasses of champagne, began to move towards me, trying to chat to me as though they were my new best friend, or asking me to sign their programs. Pretty soon I had a dozen people around me. I felt hemmed in and embarrassed for the exhibition organizers, who didn’t deserve such a distraction. Perhaps it was time I went? But which way to go? I didn’t want to run down Madison Avenue with a crowd of people giving chase.
I was just about to make a dash for it when a hand firmly clamped on to mine and pulled me forcefully through a nearby door, which was then shut behind us, leaving the baying crowd— thankfully—on the other side. I looked to see who my rescuer was and came face to face with a rather scruffy man of about mid-forties, with tousled brown hair that was starting to turn grey, and a weather-beaten face that looked as though he spent a lot of time outdoors. He was wearing an un-ironed check shirt and jeans. I wondered if I’d fallen out of the frying pan and into the fire. Perhaps this guy was the mad janitor, who was kidnapping me for his own evil purposes?
I must have looked a little concerned, because his face broke into a broad smile.
"It's okay. My intentions are honorable. I just thought you needed rescuing from the mob."
I relaxed. The man looked benign, although I detected a slight glint in his eye. But over the years of modelling I had seen that look many times—friendly, but eyeing me up and trying to figure out if the rest of me was as good as the outside. I truly wasn't a vain woman. Fate had given me certain advantages in the looks department but, when staring at myself in the mirror, I didn't always see myself as anything special. I was lucky, I guess, in having high cheekbones and good skin, but the rest of me seemed pretty ordinary as far as I was concerned. I smiled apologetically at the man.
"Sorry, I deliberately came late to avoid that sort of reception. And I was just beginning to enjoy the exhibition. There are some fabulous pictures and I only got to see half of them. I’ll have to try to come back another time. I hope the organizers aren't too pissed at me for causing a riot in the middle of their event."
The man gave an amused smile. "I'm sure they’ll survive. You'd better not go back inside. Why don't we skip out through the fire escape? There's a quiet bar a couple of blocks away. I could do with a drink and I bet you could, too."
I looked at him for a second. He had a trustworthy face and I could do with a drink. "Sure, why not? Lead the way."
We slipped out into an alley and looked around to see if the escape was likely to be spotted from within the gallery. Seeing the coast was clear, we began to walk briskly away. It took just five minutes before we came to the bar. It was just an everyday place, nothing fancy, and had just a handful of people drinking their beers. A couple of men looked at me as we came in from the street, but a glare from my companion convinced them to stay away.
He led me to the back of the bar and a dark corner. A woman came up to us. She obviously knew the man.
"Two beers, Elsa." He turned to face me. "That okay with you?" I nodded my agreement.
The woman smiled and turned away. "Sure thing, Chad."
He looked at me and laughed as the realization passed over my face. I had dragged the photographer away from his own exhibition. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize…"
"No problem. I was getting sick of all the glad-handing anyway. You just gave me an excuse to leave. And you are, of course, the world-famous model, Marianne Delaney. I'm not a fashion photographer, but it would be hard not to notice your face looking down at me from every billboard around at the moment."
"Sorry, yes, I have been doing the perfume ad. People must be so sick of seeing my face."
"Well if I had to look at one face all day long, I guess it's no great hardship if it happens to be yours," Chad said, a smile on his lips.
"But you are clearly well-known too, and I feel bad that I didn't even know your name or recognize your face. You must think I lead a very shallow existence."
"Well that's mainly due to me, so don't feel bad about it. I avoid the limelight like the plague. The gallery owners had to threaten extreme torture to get me to come to their opening night. I bet the majority of people at the gallery hadn't the faintest idea who I was. Most of them come for the free champagne, I expect."
I was surprised at his answer. "So you don't enjoy fame any more than I do then?"
"I guess not. But I do have the advantage over you that I have an ugly and extremely forgettable face." He smiled at me and his smile lit up his face.
"Far from it," I assured him. "You have a face with character, and when you smile, you look quite handsome. Anyway, my mother always told me that 'Handsome is as handsome does.' You rescuing me tonight puts you in the Prince Charming category."
"Well, I've been called many things in my lifetime, but it's a first for Prince Charming. But I take compliments any way I can get them, so thank you, and you’re welcome. About the rescue, I mean. You ready for another beer?"
I nodded. "Yes, but I insist on buying them. It's the least I can do under the circumstances. You don't sound American, by the way. Is that a London accent I detect?"
He smiled. "Glad to know I haven't lost it completely, even if I’ve been here for over fifteen years. I was brought up in Finsbury Park, North London. But it’s twenty-five years since I last walked down the Seven Sisters Road."
I returned his grin. "We were practically neighbors then. I was brought up at Manor House, just up the road. Although, I have to say that you left Finsbury Park before I was even born."
"You really know how to flatter a guy, don't you," he said dryly. "Let him know how ancient he is when he is in the presence of probably one of the most desirable women in New York right now."
I laughed. "Oh, I don't buy into all that crap. I'm the face of the moment. Pretty soon, there will be a younger and prettier girl to take my place. Then someone will spot me and see a couple of wrinkles on my face and say, 'Didn’t that used to be Marianne Delaney? Boy, she sure has let herself go, hasn't she?'"
"So cynical, so young," Chad said, a wide grin crossing his face. "So what do you plan to do with the rest of your life, when all this is over?"
"I thought I might try your side of the camera for a change, and take up photography. Got any tips?"
"Only one: don't do it. Every Joe with a digital camera fancies himself as a photographer now. You'll never make any money at it." He smiled at me, somehow emphasizing his statement.
"Well, hopefully I'll be able to save some of the money I'm making now and I won't need to worry too much about making a living at it," I explained. After being the subject of so many cameras, being on the other side of one fascinated me.
Chad seemed to accept that answer simply enough. "I’d be happy to take you out sometime, and give you some pointers."
A grin of genuine pleasure spread across my face. "Thanks, I’d really like that." I wasn't just saying it. I’d only known this man an hour or so, and yet I felt so comfortable with him already. He was honest and straight, and he wasn't even hitting on me… yet. I had become so used to men's chat up lines that I thought I’d heard them all.
Chad looked at his watch. "The gallery will be closed now, and the people all gone. How would you like to walk back and have a private viewing, seeing as how you were so rudely interrupted before? Unless, of course, you have an early start in the morning."
I grinned as I shook my head. "No, I'm between jobs at the moment, and yes, that would be great."
We walked back to the gallery and, sure enough, the place was deserted, although the lights were still on. An older woman was cleaning up the remains of the canapés and the discarded programs.
Chad stopped abruptly. "Let's start here. The shots are placed chronologically and these are the oldest. The current exhibition has material from the last ten years. As you can see, I don't do these things very often. Ask me anything you like as we go around."
"Tell me where they were taken and what you saw in the subject when you were taking them," I said.
"This was a fisherman I saw on the beach in West Africa," Chad said. He rocked back on his heels a bit, pulling up his memory. "I was there on an assignment for a magazine and had taken the shots I wanted, so I went for a walk on the beach. This man was probably about sixty, but he looked older because of the life he’d lived. He was too old to go to sea by then, but he told me he had no family to take care of him so he mended fishing nets for a living. It paid peanuts, just enough to keep him alive probably, but he took such pride in his work, as though he was sewing a church tapestry. The pride in his work came through in his eyes, and when he completed a section, he insisted on showing me how neatly he had mended the tear. You can see the satisfaction in his face, can't you?"
And truly, I could.
We walked past endless shots from the many countries and cultures that Chad had visited over the last ten years, and he kept up a fascinating description of his work. Some of the pictures were incredibly moving, while others were stunning in their simplicity. I wished that I could produce something as meaningful as that, rather than being paid a lot of money to stand around and wear expensive clothing—or wearing very little, when the occasion demanded. But when I told Chad this, he dismissed my self-deprecation.
"Don't knock what you do. You act out a beautiful dream for the man or woman looking at your performance, but you don’t use words or movement like conventional actors. Your job is much harder. You have to convey the dream by a single look, a single pose—silent acting. Not many people can do that. Also, beauty is important in a world that is often ugly and cruel. It helps us to forget the ugliness, at least for a while."
I’d never thought of what I did like that. It had always seemed a little trivial and shallow when compared with other professions.
We came to a group of four photographs of a nude woman. She wasn't very young— probably around forty—but she was beautiful and very sensual. The photographs were black and white, with a mixture of light and shade. I knew, without any doubt, that the woman was, or had been, his lover. She looked at the camera, or more likely, the man behind the camera, with such love it almost radiated out of the picture.
But there was another powerful message coming from the pictures, one that not everyone might pick up on. The woman was his submissive. I was certain about that. I turned to look at Chad's face as he looked at the pictures and, almost without thinking, I whispered to him.
"You were her Master."
There was a short pause and I wondered if I had made a giant error of judgement.
He turned to look at me. "Yes, you are very perceptive. Not many people see that."
"She loves you very much. I can see that, too. Are you still together," I asked.
He released a slow breath. "Sadly, no. We were together for ten years and I took those pictures the year before she died. She asked me to."
His reply was so sad that I couldn't help my eyes filling up with tears, and instinctively I lightly touched his arm. I didn't know what to say. Everything that came to mind was trite or invasive of the privacy of a man I had barely known for two hours, but felt as though I had known for much longer. "I'm so sorry."
There was a moment's silence between us as we both looked at the woman in the pictures. Slowly Chad spoke, without looking at me directly. "She had breast cancer and she wanted me to take the photographs before she had surgery, so she could remember…"
He paused for several seconds, and then continued to talk. "She had the surgery and the chemo, but it was too late. She died eleven months later, three years ago this month. Her name was Naomi."
I was so touched that he had shared this with me, but it was getting late and I felt that I had taken up too much of Chad's time. "I should go, but I want to thank you so much for bringing me back here and showing me the pictures, especially of Naomi. I feel very privileged to have been able to have you guide me around… and rescuing me, of course."
I put out my hand to shake his, but instead of shaking it conventionally, he took my hand in both of his and bent forward to kiss me on the cheek.
"I'm very glad to have met you Marianne, and it was my privilege to rescue you from the baying hordes. Perhaps we can meet for dinner one night, although I am sure that you will have half of New York pestering you for dinner dates, a lovely woman like you."
I thought of my little apartment and the fact that, partly through choice and partly through circumstance, I had not had a single visitor since moving in. "Well, contrary to what many people imagine, my life is not one long party. The nice guys are frightened to ask me out because they think there would be too much competition, and the ones who do are often slimeballs who just want an arm accessory to impress their friends. So actually, I would love to go out for dinner with you."
His face lit up with that wonderful smile of his, and we exchanged cell phone numbers and arranged to meet in two days at a small restaurant in the Village.