Author's Note: This story has a bit of build up and the sex may be a while in coming. Like all good things, I hope you find it worth waiting for. Enjoy.
I ought to have been feeling cheerful, but I wasn't. The terrace of my suite in the Eden au Lac overlooked the lake in Zurich. In the distance, I could see the lights of the city and beyond that, the hazy outline of the Alps. It was the middle of December and the air was sharp and invigorating. The suite itself was luxurious, tastefully done, with soft lighting, elegant drapes and period furniture. I had just worked my way through a delicious meal - the Hotel's signature Hors d'oeuvres chaud and a Turbot au champagne, washed down with a wonderfully dry white wine of an obscenely ancient vintage.
The Michaelmas term had just drawn to a close in Balliol college at Oxford where I was reading the Classics and I was free for a month from the burden, actually rather a pleasant one, of being a student. I was headed the next day for St. Moritz, where my family owns a chalet, for a reprieve that I was eagerly awaiting.
I love the lake and the ring of mountains that surround the Engadine valley. The upper reaches of the mountains are covered in a blanket of snow in this season and the lower slopes are draped in stands of pine. And yet, for all of this, the breath left my lungs in a soulful sigh. My father always had that effect on me.
I had just received a call from him, which had been, true to character, brief and cryptic. He had hired a bodyguard to accompany me to St. Moritz and he was to remain with me for the entire season. Our conversations were always awkward and stilted and he had hung up even before I could ask him why on earth I needed a bodyguard in the first place. It was a mystery I couldn't fathom.
My father, Vladimir Lubyanov, is a man of many parts -- entrepreneur, takeover artist, commodities speculator and according to some, rogue at large. My father's family had been Russian aristocracy and had fled Russia during the revolution. Having had the foresight to stash a large part of their wealth in various Swiss banks, they had suffered less than others did during that tumultuous period. In my father's family, no heads had rolled and the dent in the family fortune, while substantial, had not been crippling.
My great grandfather had chosen England as the place the family would recoup and re-array their forces for a fresh assault on the portals of wealth. The operation had been immensely successful. Over the years, the family had acquired business interests in virtually every country in Western Europe. Some of the investments were so discreet and the web of cross holdings so convoluted that I doubted that even the family knew the true extent of their wealth. Unlike other Russian refugees of that period who were glad to have escaped alive and wanted nothing further to do with the motherland, my father's family had had the vision to cultivate their former contacts in the Soviet Union.
After the initial storm had spent itself, it was business as usual and my great grandfather, and my grandfather after him, had found ways of making money from the new Communist masters of the old country. So when the winds of change began to blow and the tide turned once again, my father was perfectly poised to take advantage of the political turmoil that ensued. As state property began to pass into private hands under the new dispensation, my father was there to help carve up the pie. A fortune that was already large multiplied several fold and began to assume proportions that were gargantuan. My father now found himself in control of a petrochemical giant whose tentacles stretched across Europe into Asia and the Middle East.
In all the empire building, my father had neglected a couple of things. One was me. I was happy to be ignored and can't claim to have missed him. The other was my mother. She regrettably couldn't say the same. She was old money, Scottish aristocracy, the sort of family that took pride of place in Burke's Landed Gentry. I think that's what drew my father to my mother in the first place. With the respect that dispossessed aristocracy always has for good breeding, my father placed much stock by the fact that the blood in my mother's veins clearly ran blue.
She was a fragile soul, given more to poetry and to painting the melancholy landscape of her country than to being the wife of a captain of industry. She spent her entire life in her family's manor house in the Northern highlands near Durness. It was a forbidding place, rock strewn and wind blown. The manor stood on the edge of a cliff, the foaming sea on one side and a ring of undulating hills, ghostly shapes lost in mist, on the other. The weather was not the most cheerful. It was cold and wet, the moss covered walls of the manor more often than not submerged in fog that had rolled in from the sea. The few trees that dotted the landscape struggled to stay upright, beaten into submission by the gale force winds that tore across the land. And yet the place had a magic all its own. It was almost unreal, trapped in a twilight zone where every shape assumed an ominous meaning.
The absence of sun and warmth bred sorrow and longing. For all his shortcomings, and there were many, my mother loved my father and she did not take to his long absences kindly. She moped about the corridors of that house, regarding the incessant rain with a doleful eye. While present in my life, she was yet absent and I had no choice but to get used to it. One winter night, while the wind rattled the windowpanes, she sat at the carved oaken desk that had belonged to her father and to his father before him and fired a bullet from the ancient revolver that had always hung in a glass case in the study through her brain. She died instantly. I discovered her slumped over the desk, her hair matted in blood, the stained glass window behind her shattered where the bullet had whistled out into the fog.
I never forgave my father for it though I don't think he was entirely to blame. My mother's was a delicate disposition and I don't think he could have ever been the husband that my mother wanted. And yet, I could not forgive him for not being there, for letting me find her body strewn across that desk, for that scream trapped in a ten year old's throat. I was already older than my years and when my mother died, I grew up in an even greater hurry. I resented my father for that too, for the loss of my childhood. But most of all, I think I resented him because I feared that I would become like him or even worse that I was already him. I took some consolation from the fact that while my name -- Ivan -- was unmistakably Russian, I was my mother's spitting image, with raven black hair and an aquiline nose that screamed Scottish.
For a brief space, I thought, she lives on through her son...
My reverie was interrupted by a discreet cough from the direction of the suite. It was the butler, elegant as usual, impeccably turned out ... this is one of those hotels where the valets are always better dressed than the guests. Well, I would presently have the answers to my questions, I thought. The figure beyond him was shadowy. The lights were not on in the room and I strained to make out the features of the bodyguard who had been assigned to protect my person and who was being shown by the valet into my presence.
When the figure finally passed through the door into the soft light of the terrace, I noted with some surprise that it was a woman. This was eccentric even by my father's prodigious standards. She walked up to the table where I was sitting and placed a thin folder on the lace tablecloth. When I looked at her enquiringly, she said briefly, "My credentials."
I flipped open the folder only to look at her name -- Elena Pemkova -- and then snapped it shut. I had no doubt that she would be qualified to do whatever it is that she did. That way, my father could be quite exacting. I wasn't surprised that he had picked a Russian. In the end, for anything important, he trusted only his own kind. That was true even for the string of women that he ran through after my mother's passing. They were the same body type -- tall, blonde, blue eyed and bigboned. I could barely tell one from the other. I wonder sometimes why he married my mother in the first place.
He makes a half hearted attempt to hide his dalliances from me for reasons that I haven't entirely understood, perhaps out of some sense of delicacy that is otherwise quite unlike him. But these things are, of course, hard to hide. We maintain a conspiracy of silence about his little flings and pretend during our occasional meetings that he is celibate. Just like his marriage with my mother, his relationship with me is also beginning to fill up with lies. I wondered idly if Elena was also a squeeze, one of his occasional diversions. I somehow thought not.
I had not offered her a chair. My manners were brawling with my sense of irritation at being imposed upon and the irritation was winning. If she had an opinion about my lack of grace, her expression didn't reveal it. Her face was calm and composed, the face of a person who had the rare blessing of certainty. Her eyes were clear blue, like slivers of arctic ice. She had high, sharp cheekbones, which were an interesting counterpoint to lips that were soft and pronounced. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She was tall and rangy, her limbs loose and relaxed. Her hands were very still, the kind of hands that didn't need to fidget. She was dressed in a dark blue jacket over a white silk shirt paired with soft woolen trousers. An unmistakable bulge in her side revealed a shoulder holster. She was evidently packing. Her gaze was level and met mine without hesitation or dissembling.
"Despite what my father might think," I said, "I don't need a chaperone."
"I'm not a chaperone," she replied softly, "I'm a bodyguard. You already know that."
Her voice was deep, with a warmth that was in stark contrast to the severity of the rest of her. I caught myself thinking that perhaps the warmth was genuine and the severity was a pose.
"Whatever," I drawled, "But I don't see why I need either."
"I don't know very much, Mr. Lubyanov, but I was informed that your father recently acquired a company that owns a perfumery near Basel and laid off a couple of hundred workers."
That was more than I knew. But it did sound like my father, though perfumes were not our usual stomping ground.
"Nothing new," I replied, "There's always trouble in my father's empire. Sometimes, I believe he wouldn't sleep soundly if there wasn't."
I struggled to keep the sarcasm out of my voice and failed. She pretended not to notice.
"I believe there has been some unrest among the laid off workers. Your father fears there may be an attack on you. You are a soft target."
"I see. Why you?"
"You mean ... why a woman?" Since she had put it like that, I nodded.
"Don't be fooled, Mr. Lubyanov. I'm good at what I do. And your father thought that I would be less obvious." She hesitated before adding, "He thought that perhaps I would pass unremarked, being a woman, if I escorted you."
I was a little surprised that my father had thought it through quite so thoroughly. It was not exactly typical.
"I see," I said dryly.
I let her stand there for a while as I gloomily contemplated the reflection of the moon shimmering in the waters of the lake. After a while, she spoke.
"If you have no further need of me, may I be excused? In case you need to go out, please call me, regardless of the hour."
"I'll do no such thing," I said, in as firm a voice as I could muster.
She sighed heavily, the first hint of exasperation she had betrayed all evening.
"Then I have no choice but to wait outside your door the entire night. My orders were clear."
I can be difficult sometimes when provoked, but even I'm not that churlish. I suddenly felt very, very tired.
"Oh, alright," I said finally, "I'll call you if I need you. Get a good night's sleep."
She flashed me a look of gratitude and strode off through the interconnecting door that led from my suite into her room. I would just have to make do, I thought with resignation. My father could be determined when he wanted to be.
The next morning, she was already up and raring to go by the time I wandered groggily into the hall. The last thing I needed was someone to remind me how slow I'm in the mornings, I thought, as I poured myself a cup of coffee.
It was a short drive to the station, from where we were, to catch our train to St. Moritz. By the time we checked out of the hotel, it was nine in the morning. I stepped onto the pavement and drew in a lungful of the cold morning air. I reached the waiting car in a few short strides. I was about to get in when I heard the voice behind my shoulder, "You Ivan Lubyanov?"
I turned towards the voice. There were two of them. They were wrapped in several layers of clothing and the lower halves of their faces were concealed by thick woolen mufflers. Their hands were stuck deep in the pockets of their jackets I presumed against the cold. Their clothes looked a little worse for wear and their eyes were red rimmed, from drink or lack of sleep. I was sure I had never seen them before. As I looked at them quizzically, the man in front drew his hands from his pockets.
I barely saw the glint of metal before my vision was obscured by a wall of black. She had appeared seemingly from nowhere, her swirling limbs a soft blur. Before I had time to react, a shapely foot had landed in the man's groin and he was doubled over in pain. His friend lunged for her. She swayed out of his path and, as he tumbled forwards, off balance, she grabbed the back of his head and smashed her rising knee into his face. I heard the bone break before I saw the droplets of blood stain the freshly fallen snow on the pavement.
I was a little shaken, but it was evident that the fight had gone out of them. They were moaning piteously and rolling about on the pavement. Their hands wearing knuckledusters clutched the stricken parts -- a swollen groin and a broken nose. It looked like they would be there for a while. She was standing over them, her hands on her hips.
"Should we turn them over to the police?" she asked, now sounding a little uncertain.
"Leave them be," I said softly as I grabbed her elbow and pulled her into the waiting automobile, "I think we have done enough damage for one day."
We sat quietly during the short journey to the train station. It was a busy hour and the station was crowded. It was only when we were safely settled in our seats that she finally relaxed. The tension eased from her limbs almost visibly and she allowed herself a little smile. Despite the recent incident, she had had the good grace not to gloat and I was grateful.
As the train began to pull away, I reached across and covered her hand with mine.
"Thank you," I said, "I was wrong and you were right. ... My father was right."
"You are welcome," she replied, "Just doing my job."
She seemed almost embarrassed that I had thanked her. I could see her hesitate. She looked out of the window for a while and then turned to me quickly to add in a rush, "You know, Mr. Lubyanov, you are a good man."
"Ivan will do," I replied, grinning, "And I do try."
She had a smile that transformed her face. It was full of warmth, free of even a trace of bitterness. I wondered why I hadn't noticed it before. Well, actually, I hadn't given her much reason to smile so far. I would have to change that, I thought.
She was surprisingly easy to talk to -- intelligent, articulate and well informed. I struggled to conceal my surprise. My vision of bodyguards as muscle bound automatons who were intellectually challenged was rapidly disintegrating. Not that I had met any bodyguards before. But one acquires these prejudices rather easily.
We changed at Chur into the signature red coaches with glass roofs of the Rhaetian railway. It would take us another hour and a half to St. Moritz, through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. She was clearly enchanted by the view.
"Have you ever been to St. Moritz before?" I asked.
"No," she replied, "but I've always wanted to."
"I couldn't afford it before," she added softly.
We sat quietly as picture postcard Switzerland -- the Switzerland of neat farmhouses, snow clad mountains, lush meadows and lots and lots of cows -- rolled past our window. I thought I was inured by then to this beauty that I had seen so often before, but I found myself seeing it anew through her eyes and sharing her childlike delight. By the time we alighted at St. Moritz, she was beaming.
When we got to the chalet, she was all business again. The chalet was large, with six bedrooms and a slew of other rooms some of which we had forgotten the purpose for. She wandered slowly through the house, checking the doors and the windows, occasionally trying a lock or a bolt for sturdiness. It was an hour before she seemed satisfied. She claimed the bedroom next to mine. It was not the largest in the house or the best appointed, but she seemed more comfortable being close by. I didn't press the point. After the morning's incident, I was inclined to defer to her judgment.
The chalet stood in a clutch of pines, their branches weighed down by snow. It enjoyed magnificent views of the lake and the sharp uneven fangs of the mountain range in the distance. We had an early dinner on the terrace. We ate in a companionable silence that was so complete that we could hear the faint creaking of the branches springing back as the snow slid off their surface to drift to the ground.
The staff had built a fire before they left for the night and the living room was cozy and snug. She sat curled up on the sofa nursing a drink, lost in thought, as she swirled the amber liquid in her glass in slow lazy circles. I flipped open the grand piano which stood in the corner and ran a finger experimentally along the keys. It seemed to be in tune. She looked up in interest as I sat down on the piano stool and played the first few bars of the Sermon to the Birds.
"That's Liszt, isn't it?" she asked.
I must have looked surprised, so she added, "I learnt the piano for two years. I don't play any more, but I do listen to a lot of music."
"So why did you stop ... learning, I mean?"
She blushed and then replied after a momentary hesitation, "I took out my piano teacher."
"What do you mean exactly," I asked, intrigued, "that you 'took out' your piano teacher?"
"Well, I was just ten and my teacher was this cranky old fellow who would rap us on the knuckles when we made a mistake. It used to really hurt and then one day, he just hit me once too often."
"And?" I asked, afraid of the answer.
"Well, I just kind of nudged him gently in the solar plexus," she said, "and the next thing I knew he was rolling around on the floor clutching his stomach, gasping for breath and pretending he was dying. ... Well, maybe he did think he was dying. No more piano lessons after that." She concluded solemnly.
There was a moment's silence and then I ventured, "Well, I can teach you, if you like, if you promise not to nudge any part of my body with your knuckles."
She giggled at the feigned anxiety in my voice.
"I don't think that's a good idea. Your father isn't paying me to take piano lessons from his son."
"I learnt long ago," I said airily, "that what my father thinks isn't terribly important."
But she seemed to be of a different mind.
The next day was bright and sunny, the reflection off the snow on the slopes almost blinding. I'm not overly fond of the town itself. It's a cluster of not particularly charming buildings and far too crowded for my taste. The ski slopes aren't very inviting either. They are only moderately difficult and in season are smothered by eager skiers. But cross country skiing in St. Moritz is a different matter. The Upper Engadine has some of the best routes in the world for cross country skiing and it is my favorite thing to do in this part of the world.