Prologue: Just Past
squatted in the squalor of an alley that ran between a dry goods store and a
tailoring shop. She hung her head and
sobbed, pushing her back harder against rough brick. In worn sneakers, torn jeans and ripped tee
shirt, she shivered as the night grew damp.
Her hair hung in unravelled braids to her shoulder blades, wisps of it
obscuring her left eye and right cheek.
Her stomach growled, a sound like a soul going down an inner drain.
footsteps echoed Alexandra pulled her knees up to her chin and huddled deeper
into the shadows. Crawling things
skittered around and over her but she neither shrieked nor moved. She shut her eyes, though, and bit her lower
footsteps entered the alley. It was a
measured tread, neither the scurrying of a giddy teenager nor the trudge of a
dutiful beat-cop, the sort of pace a comfortable local would use to stroll
unhurriedly home after a long day at profitable employment.
the sounds stopped directly in front of her, Alexandra opened her eyes. Her lower lip slipped from between her small
white teeth. Her face showed no fear but
her posture tensed.
well. What have we here?”
voice both soothed and excited. It held
confidence and control in a resonant baritone. His manner of speech spoke of education and
gazed at the man’s silhouette as the gathering darkness robbed him of specific
features. Her body quivered slightly.
voice dropped half an octave. “It’s
okay, I won’t hurt you. Are you
shuddered at the warmth in his tone.
haven’t been attacked, have you?”
“No.” She had nearly added a Sir to her answer and
wasn’t sure why it arose, or why she bit it off just then.
took half a step closer and reached out a hand.
“Here, let me help you up.
There’s no need to hide anymore.
My name is Martin Halstead, what’s yours?”
knew there was a chain of bookshops called Halstead’s Attic; was it connected
to this man, or he to it? “I’m Alexandra
Menning.” She reached up and took his
hand, surprised to find he was wearing soft cotton gloves, dove grey and dusty.
been sorting a shipment of books.” He
said this as he backed away to give her room to step free of the trash she’d
been huddling in. He removed the
gloves. “No offence. I left them on to keep my hands warm and
forgot about them. There, you seem fine. Here.”
He shrugged out of his overcoat and, before she could protest, draped it
inhaled its scent and wobbled, suddenly dizzy.
okay, aren’t you?”
“Hungry.” She said it without thinking, at once
embarrassed at how quickly she’d learned to beg.
old are you, Alexandra?”
hung her head as if ashamed of her age. “Nineteen.”
gestured for her to walk with him and began strolling down the alley as if it
were a fine boulevard. She noticed he
wore a suit and again enjoyed the scent of his warm coat, which spoke of baths,
colognes and comfortable skin not pestered by itches and scratches from vermin,
bugs, and exposure.
her hands into the coat pockets, she found she had keys in her right fist. She could run from him, maybe find his car
and steal it. She could, but she knew
was.” She started to cry again, choking
paused as they reached the end of the alley.
Placing a hand lightly on her shoulder, he gestured with his other hand
across the street. “I live in that
brownstone.” He paused, watching her
swallow a surge of emotions. “You have a
choice right now, Alexandra. You can
come inside and share some supper with me, have yourself a bath or shower and
be warm for the night, or you can let me call you a cab and send you home.”
crying worsened for an instant, then she clenched her teeth and stood straighter. Taking a shaky breath she said, “I don’t have
anywhere to go.”
come with me. You’ll be fine.”
looked at the older man. He appeared to
be in his forties and held himself tall and straight. His hair, with a touch of grey beginning just
over his ears, was combed back all over and cut short. It looked old-fashioned but timeless. His gaze held hers, steady and open but with
a touch of amusement twinkling. His
strong nose and chin gave him a commanding look.
wanted very much to please him.
he said, as if reading her thoughts and he led her across the street and up the
stairs to the brownstone. The window set
into the carved oak door was of bevelled and etched glass. A small bronze plaque above the ivory
doorbell button to the right of the door, set into the frame under a tiny
awning, read HALSTEAD. The handle on the
door sparkled as if polished today.
held out his right hand. “Keys?”
blushed and dug them from his coat pocket, realising he’d known all along what
choices he’d actually given her.
entered a mosaic-tiled foyer. Stairs
rose along the right wall. The left wall
offered a door. “We’ll go upstairs,
shall we?” He gestured for her to go
walked up the stairs, worrying that she might smell bad. To stink up such a nice place bothered
her. She noticed that the steps had
diamond-shaped black inlays in their centre.
Was the whole place hand-built?
the top of the staircase she came to a landing.
Two doors opened off it. Halstead
went to the door farther from the stairs and unlocked it. Pushing it open, he smiled. “Be welcome, Alexandra.”
entered in front of him and for a split second wondered if he would hit her
from behind with a hammer or something.
That feeling fled when she saw the rich carpeting, the pair of simple
wingback chairs and the mantled fireplace.
The living room was lined with barrister bookshelves their glass fronts
leaded crystal as if plucked from a Tudor cottage. A three seater sofa, low coffee table and
indirect lighting made the room cosy.
TV, I’m afraid, but then, I do have this.”
He touched a switch on the wall and Baroque music filled the apartment.
the high, light, bright, clear music Alexandra’s spirits danced. For a moment
she forgot the misery of her body, her fate.
She stood transfixed, wanting such things for herself and knowing that
could never be.
to Halstead, she took off the coat. She
didn’t want to dirty it any more than she already had.
took it and hung it on a coat rack just inside the door. “May I offer you a small tour?”
showed her the galley kitchen, enhanced with modern conveniences. He showed her the art room, as he called it,
where he painted; it was the only room one might call a mess. He showed her the guest bedroom suite, which
included a private bath. And he showed
her a door at the end of the hall. “This
is my private room.” He tapped the door
with his knuckle, lightly. “I’m the only
one who goes in here.”
smiled and nodded as if she understood.
smiled into her eyes. “You’ll find soap,
shampoo and towels in the guest bathroom and a robe and probably some clothes
you can use, too. Go ahead and get
yourself clean while I make supper for us.”
really appreciate this.” She thought, in
the back of her mind, that she’d probably have to fend off his sexual advances
eventually or, if her despair surfaced, give in to them in exchange for his
kindness, but just then it seemed a fair trade.
She so craved fine things and a bath in this luxury apartment would be
heavenly just then.
wrong about me, you know.” He said this
with a small smile. “I’m not what you
didn’t know how to answer that.
smiled wider. “Go ahead, come out when
you’re ready. Do you like Italian?”
Thank you.” She felt odd inside, as if
his approval would be important before long.
cried during her shower, thinking of all she’d lost and where her life had so
cruelly taken her. Then she perked up as
she found skin lotions and even a delicate perfume. Maybe the cold, harsh lesson of life was to
be short for her.
wondered idly if Mr. Halstead might be seduced.
The thought made her blush. She
was not a virgin but not much past it, in truth, and wasn’t entirely sure she
could vamp a man his age without giggling.
body, not itchy anymore and soft from the shower, glowed with renewed
vigour. She dried her breasts and found
her nipples responding. For a moment she
caressed them, eyes half shut. Her body
relaxed, a tingle that could bring warm wetness beginning in her. With a sigh she left off the temptation and
went to the guest bedroom to look through the clothes there.
a bureau she found underwear in several sizes, all women’s. Some was plain, some was fancy and some
looked to be antique lace and silk. She
chose something from the plain and found it fitted her fine. There were bras in the draw below again a
wide range. She again chose something
familiar and plain.
the bottom drawer she found tee shirts and blouses. She chose a tee shirt with Sylvester the Cat.
the closet hung jeans, slacks, skirts and dresses, again in a range of sizes
and styles. Jeans won out almost without
thinking, although Alexandra lingered amidst the dresses. Some might be bridesmaid worthy and some
dared her to attend some Hollywood cocktail party.
the back wall on the floor of the closet she found shoes in pigeonholes. The sizes were marked discreetly on the
wooden slots. She found a pair of
moccasins and slipped them onto her bare feet.
much more human now, she returned to the bathroom. The steam was cleared and she brushed her
hair. It hung straight to the middle of
her back, a shining cascade of mahogany shot with ripples of honey blonde. She opened a crystal box and found barrettes;
one clipped her hair back.
gazed at her face for a moment then scowled.
She’d never worn make-up, so she skipped the array offered by the sink.
was only as she walked across the room again, past the four-poster queen-sized
bed, that she started thinking. She
stopped mid-stride. Halstead kept this
room for women, but not for any particular woman. That meant maybe he picked up strays all the
time. And if so, Alexandra wondered,
where are they now?
new wariness informed her actions as she came out of the guest room and walked
down the hall, but the scent of marinara sauce simmering had her stomach
growling by the time she reached the kitchen.
Once again body won out over mind.
would soon learn to change that.
the meal Martin -- he insisted she call him that and kept adding, “for now” --
asked Alexandra many questions. He
learned she’d been going to college locally until her father had been caught
embezzling. In a fit of despair that
Alexandra empathised with, her father had burned the family home to the ground,
killing himself and her mother.
Alexandra had escaped with minor burns.
insurance company, citing arson, refused to pay her a dime, so Alexandra found
herself unable to pay for the next semester of school, despite a few emergency
loans the administration tried to arrange.
worked at a pizza joint for a short time but her boss had come onto her and,
when she refused to put out, he’d fired her.
She’d been on the street since then.
long?” Martin leaned closer, sipping
shrugged. “Only a week or so.”
you have no friends here? No one to
shrugged. “I didn’t want to be that
wondered exactly what he did see in her, thinking maybe it was more than she
could grasp just then.
is, I didn’t get to know many people and, well. I guess I’m shy.”
self-reliant and proud. Yes.”
warmed at the compliments and dared a glance at him. She found him smiling but with an inward look
in his eyes.
must have wondered about my guest room, why it’s stocked for women that way.”
put some pasta into her mouth and partly nodded, not knowing what to say.
must think I’m a womaniser, hm?”
not at all.” She sure hoped not.
“Good. I’m not.”
He leaned back. “I’m in contact
with a wide range of the city’s important people. The ones whose ideas and decisions affect
thought you owned bookstores.”
nodded. “So I do. And in the course of building my business I
made contacts and, well, proved myself a discreet person when it comes to
felt a frisson; was he about to confess he laundered mob money or handled
of the men who come to me for rare books enjoy a certain type of literature
that isn’t well-known to most. They pay
extra for it, of course. And inevitably,
as they get to know me, they speak of wanting other things. Living things.”
chuckled. “Like slaves. Not the antebellum kind from plantations and
the Civil War, mind you. Another, more
mean sex slaves?”
smiled and held her gaze. “You’ve heard
of this lifestyle, then?”
shrugged. “I had a Women’s Studies class
and Professor Eldon talked about how women to this day are sometimes kidnapped
and flown to like the Middle East where Saudi princes buy them to be in their
harems. Or the sex workers from Russia,
poor women forced to prostitution and sent into the Balkans and even West
Germany and, well ...” She ran out of
Alexandra, what if I told you there is still another category of slavery? One that fulfils the women involved and sets
them free as they discover their own true natures?”
blush embarrassed her. Looking at her
plate she took a sip of lime-water and shook her head. “I don’t know what you mean.”
a trainer, on occasion. I supply a
perfect finished product, a woman who is submissive to her Dominant and refined
in the ways of pleasing him with complete obedience.”
wondered what kind of training and didn’t think he meant typing. She also got nervous and glanced at the door.
spotted this and chuckled. “Don’t worry,
you’re free to leave at any time. I’m
not a brute.”
all right, Alexandra. You’re not stupid
and of course you must be cautious.
You’re young but you’ve already learned that women are too often a
commodity in this world.”
he sounded as if he were on the women’s side.
Had he not just said he supplies them, like a commodity?
never brought a woman here on my own.
This apartment is reserved for training slaves who have already agreed
to be trained, in order to please their Dominants. You, Alexandra, are the first to see this
place without understanding its purpose.”
chill entered her. She gazed now
directly at him, feeling both bold and afraid.
reached across the table and took her hand.
“Because I sensed you even before I entered the alley. I felt your presence in a way that puzzles
me. You’re different, Alexandra. I was drawn to you and that’s not happened
before. Are you special?”
been flattered before by ardent, horny young men full of poetry and beer, so
she wasn’t going to let his words sway her but there was something in his tone
that was new. It thrilled and terrified
her because something deep inside herself responded to it in ways she couldn’t
control or describe.
almost felt as if she’s been dared.
mean you want to train me?”
heaved a sigh and ran a hand through his thick hair. “I’m not yet sure, Alexandra. I’ve never craved a sub of my own and, well,
I don’t know if you’d be the one even if I did.”
feelings flip-flopped. She’d felt the
heat of his lust and now she felt the slap of his ambiguity, his possible
had nowhere to go and no means of escaping the grind of low-paying jobs, brutal
bosses and crass co-workers. She’d
already decided that Mr. Martin Halstead was a sexy older man, she liked being
around him, she really liked the way he lived and that she wouldn’t mind if he
came on to her.
she found herself out of her depth. It
wasn’t a quick coupling he wanted.
fact, he wasn’t even sure he wanted her at all.
made her determined to seduce him, somehow.
saw this in her and smiled without showing it.