Unraveled by Her
November 1, 2014, 6:15 a.m.
I’m floating on a heart-shaped emerald lake through an enchanted kingdom. The lake is shrouded in ice crystals of mist, violets shimmer on the mirrored surface of the water, and I’m drifting and dreaming, lulled by the waves lapping against the boat.
Thousands of stars glitter above my head. The air is crisp but not cold, and I feel so relaxed, so serene, so content.
In the distance, I hear our song again, the song I first heard on our romantic Palm Beach interlude. “Hymne à L’Amour” opens with the words “Le ciel bleu”—the blue sky. The song tells of a love that will never die, a love that is eternal. A love like mine and Robert’s. And it is a symbol of our pact that no matter what happens to us in life, no one will ever be able to hurt us or tear us apart, and no one and nothing will ever prevent us from loving each other, no matter what.
And then I hear Robert’s deep and gravelly voice, the voice that makes me feel safe, secure, and cherished, say the words that transformed my life utterly and completely: “Miranda, I know now that you are a born submissive, and that we will be together forever.”
I start to reach for his hand, the strong, muscular hand that can caress and punish in equal proportion, the hand I love so much, but to my horror, I find that I am unable to move even a fraction.
I open my eyes and am confronted by brutal reality. Through the mist, iron chains crisscross my limbs and my body and pinion me to the rough, wooden floor of the boat.
The Grim Reaper, clad in a black cloak and hood, is silently ferrying me across Hartwell Lake, away from Hartwell Castle, the home of Robert Hartwell, the love of my life, my Master and my destiny, and toward Hartwell Island, Lady Georgiana Hartwell’s final resting place.
Is it destined to become mine, as well?
Will I ever see Robert again?
Or is he dead?
If he is, I want to die, too, because the idea of living without him is unthinkable, unbearable, and more terrible to me than death itself.
Distraught, I tug against my chains, desperate for Robert, desperate to find him, to save him. As the world turns black again, I hear a woman laugh. Her laughter is like the sound of glass shattering.
The boat has stopped rocking and I guess I am now on dry land. Hours have passed, or maybe minutes, days, weeks, seconds. I don’t know which. All I know is that my head feels heavier than a hundred-pound weight, and my entire body aches.
I have a faint recollection of long, thin, delicate fingers unlocking my chains, and thick, heavy hands lifting me high in the air onto a stretcher.
The stretcher sways from side to side through tall rushes with weeping willows above me, all cloaked in fog, then in showers of refreshing, beautiful drizzle.
The drizzle is beautiful because it isn’t made of water but of diamonds. No, not diamonds. Emeralds. The sky is drizzling emeralds, but when they hit my body, they suddenly melt into rich, soft milk chocolate and don’t hurt me at all.
Only the back of my neck hurts.
Hurts like hell.
I try to raise my hand to massage it, but I can’t, because my hands are tied behind my back.
Has Robert tied me up?
Are we in still in the Honeymoon Suite together?
Am I about to be whipped, or will he fuck me as if there were no tomorrow?
I purr in erotic anticipation.
A sudden, sharp blow to my head and the world is blotted out once more.
I sleep the heavy sleep of the drugged but still toss and turn, wracked by the pain of my sore head and body.
Finally, just as I start to drift into a deeper, calmer sleep, someone shakes me.
“Time to wake up, Miranda. Time to wake up and smell the violets,” says a woman with a teasing note in her British-accented voice.
I know that voice, know it as well as if it were my own.
It can’t be her.
She is buried in a purple mausoleum on Hartwell Island, where the Grim Reaper has ferried me, and where—my best guess is—I’m now, chained to a purple marble floor.
A purple marble floor inside a purple marble mausoleum.
The purple marble mausoleum where the late Lady Georgiana Hartwell is buried.
Dead and buried.
“Georgiana . . . ?” I say, and hold my breath.
“So we meet at last, Miss Stone,” the woman with the British accent says.
Her words actually manage to eclipse her accent and her voice, as for an exquisite moment I am catapulted back into the past, to the September day when I first set eyes on the most handsome, most macho man I ever saw in my life, and he said those very same words to me in a resonant voice that vibrated right through me.
What I wouldn’t give to hear that voice right now, right here, to be swept up in Robert’s strong, sinewy arms and whisked away from this place, this woman, this nightmare of not knowing why I’m here or whether he and I will see each other again.
And the thought that we might not is more than I can bear. How could fate be so cruel as to bring me the man of my dreams and, just as I had found love and supreme happiness with him, tear me from his side?
When Robert and I first met, we were both so broken by the shadows of our respective pasts, but we could not deny the passion that flared between us. And then he tested the level and authenticity of my sexual submission to the very limits of my endurance—mind, body, and soul. Miraculously, triumphantly, I passed his tests, and we were thus transported to the pinnacle of love, trust, and sexual ecstasy.
But just as a world of exquisite sexual sensation and sexual experience in every extreme was beginning to open up to me, and all the love and security for which I’d secretly longed was finally mine, with Robert as my Master, my mentor, and the great love of my life, I was kidnapped from Hartwell Castle.
The last thing I can remember is the Honeymoon Suite, where I awoke from sleepwalking to find myself wrapped in a lynx coat, and Robert soothed me so lovingly and tenderly. Then darkness. Then nothing.
Back in the mausoleum now, I reach for his hand, but instead I am gripped by agonizing pain and pass out.
Tomato soup. Someone is feeding me tomato soup through a straw. Not lobster bisque out of a silver bowl.
I’m not in a suite at the Carlyle or on a private Dreamliner flying across the Atlantic, but am a prisoner in a purple mausoleum, instead.
I’m fed mashed potato, spoonful by spoonful.
Then chocolate mousse.
The chocolate mousse is sweet, too sweet even for me with my sweet tooth, and I gag and then spit it out.
The slap to my face comes so hard, so fast, that I’m once again on the verge of losing consciousness. But I force myself not to.
My captor must never realize how strong I really am. I loll my head to one side, pretend to pass out, and lie there, my eyes closed tight, but secretly I’m alert and listening to every word.
“How very strange! I thought the little minx loved chocolate,” the British woman says with a tinkling laugh.
“Of course she does, she eats it on practically every single one of the tapes,” a second, raspy female voice adds.
I recognize that voice as well.
I hate that voice.
Worse still, I hate the idea that someone—whether the hated raspy-voiced woman or the British one—has secretly taped me.
Was my apartment in Hoboken bugged?
Or Hartwell Castle?
A split second and I have my answer.
“I’d rather hear her guzzle chocolate on all the other tapes than be compelled to listen to the fourth dungeon one again, with her bleating, “Please, Master, give me one, please, Master, give me two.” The British woman imitates my voice with uncanny accuracy, then adds, “And when she gets to five, he asks her how many she’s had. She says five, he declares in that devilishly dominant way of his, ‘You’ve only had two,’ and she accepts it uncomplainingly, like a lamb. A silly little lamb!”
“You’re just jealous!” the second raspy voice says.
“Ah, but you already knew that, Tammy,” the first woman says.
I hear a dog bark. The raspy-voiced woman yells, “Down, Pluto, down!” and I brace myself for a guard dog to take a run at me, even bite me, but to my relief, it doesn’t.
Instead, a door clanks closed, footsteps recede, then there is silence. I struggle to replay the conversation in my mind.
Tammy? Who is Tammy? I don’t know a Tammy. Or do I?
Clearly. I must think clearly. But I’m so dizzy again, so tired, in so much pain, that I don’t believe I can.
Focus, Miranda. Try to make some sense out of all this, because your life may well depend on it!
Jealous, the British woman said she was jealous . . .
Jealous because I am Robert’s submissive? Surely she—if she’s the woman I’m terrified she might be—would never be jealous of my capacity for submission?
Suddenly, I hear Robert’s voice again, loud and clear, as it trumpets through my mind. “Georgiana was never a true submissive, Miranda. She was a liar, an actress, a charlatan, but never a submissive.”
Georgiana used Robert’s dominance as a weapon she could turn against him. To lure him into marrying her, so that she could get her hands on his fortune. In the eleventh hour, on their wedding night, she tore off her mask of submission and issued her evil blackmail threats to him. Her supposed submission was just a means to an end. So why would she be even the least bit jealous that Robert exercised his dominance on me?
Besides, Georgiana is dead, buried here in the purple mausoleum on Hartwell Island.
So the British woman can’t be Georgiana, can she?
Then the name Tammy swims through my mind again.
The first time I set eyes on Mrs. Hatch—or Mrs. Hatchet Face, as I secretly dubbed her—at Hartwell Castle, where she ruled as housekeeper, she was clearly obsessed with Georgiana to the point of craziness. I was terrified of her. It takes a lot to terrify me, but after Robert told me that Tamara Hatch was the most cold and calculating woman he’d ever met in his life, and I discovered that in a previous incarnation she was a professional dominatrix, with all that entailed, I realized that I was damn right to be terrified of her. At the same time, he also told me that he paid her a vast amount of money to leave Hartwell Castle forever and never utter a single word about him or his story to anyone, so surely I don’t have to be afraid of her anymore, do I?
But if Mrs. Hatch isn’t my kidnapper, then who is?
Surely not Georgiana!
Like practically everyone in the world, I recall exactly where I was when the news of the tragedy was first made public.
It was a Monday morning in November and FedEx had just delivered the first printed copy of my very first published book, an autobiography I ghosted for a legendary Hollywood star, now long past her prime but still hauntingly beautiful.
When I first held the book in my hands, saw my name in print, my photograph on the inside of the jacket, my initial euphoric response was to call Mom—only to have her answer the phone in floods of tears.
When she told me the news about Lady Georgiana, my first thought was that this must be a prank, a viral rumor that somehow got to Mom. Then I switched on the TV, and there, “She”—Lady Georgiana’s favorite song—played in the background of a reverential montage of iconic images; Georgiana at the Met Ball, Georgiana sun-kissed and laughing on the deck of a yacht, Georgiana in her couture Chanel bridal gown—Lady Georgiana Hartwell, the woman every man wanted to have, the woman every woman wanted to be.
After the montage ended, there was Robert, standing tall outside Hartwell Castle, the dramatic Windsor Castle replica built on Long Island decades ago by an eccentric English lord with money to burn. While armies of cameramen and photographers were kept at bay by Robert’s security force and by the moat, in a resonant yet expressionless voice, magnified by the battery of microphones in the vicinity, Robert made the statement that brought tears to many who heard it that day.
“Three days ago, my beloved wife, the unique, the extraordinary Lady Georgiana Hartwell, disappeared from our home here at Hartwell Castle. The last person to see Georgiana alive witnessed her diving into Hartwell Lake, as was often her custom. According to the eyewitness, she wore a purple swimsuit and seemed her regular bright and vivacious self.
“At first, I was optimistic that after her swim, she had gone for a run in Hartwell Woods and would soon be home again. However, after she did not return, I began to fear that her disappearance might be due to more sinister forces. But, not wishing news of it to leak out to the public prematurely or to alienate a possible kidnapper, I did not immediately report it to the police.
“Instead, while I waited for a ransom demand to materialize, I spearheaded my own extensive search led by a handpicked team of crack private investigators, trained sniffer dogs, and seasoned professional trackers who scoured the estate and miles of the surrounding countryside, but to no avail.
“Consequently, I reported my wife’s disappearance to the police. And when I did, given the love and respect felt for her by tens of thousands throughout the world, it was agreed that until the exact nature of her disappearance was established, it should not be announced, so as not to cause universal distress.
“At that point, Hartwell Lake was dredged, but no trace of my wife was found. A second, even more extensive search of the estate produced nothing—no clues, and no hint of what might have happened to Georgiana.
“As a result, both I and the authorities continued to nurture the hope that she would ultimately be found alive.
“Now, however, I must report with great sorrow that when—in a last-ditch attempt to find my wife—Hartwell Lake was dredged for a second time yesterday afternoon, the badly decomposed body of a woman was found at the bottom of the lake.
“It was only when I examined the gold bracelet she was wearing, and realized that this was the bracelet I gave my wife on the occasion of our marriage, that I was able to identify the body of the woman found at the bottom of Hartwell Lake as that of my wife, Lady Georgiana Hartwell.”
Pandemonium broke out among the media, but Robert stood tall, his eyes veiled, his jaw set, his face impassive.
“I shall not be taking any questions, nor will I comment further on this very personal tragedy. I ask the media to respect my decision and my privacy. Thank you,” he said.
With that, he turned, squared his shoulders, and strode back into the castle.
When I watched that news report six years ago, I never dreamed for a second that I’d ever meet Robert Hartwell, or that I’d one day become a part of his life, and he the ultimate meaning of mine. To me, he was an Olympian god, a man from another planet, of which he was the supreme ruler, and which was far removed from a mere mortal like me—just as he was and always would be.
Since then, Robert had made his dramatic entrance into my life and stolen my heart, my body, my soul, and all my deepest emotions. Thinking back to that far-off day when I watched him on TV, I remind myself once more how blessed I am to have met him and to love and be loved by him. Not simply because he is six foot three, loving, generous, kind, and a sexual stud beyond all my most heated imaginings (he has a body that would have inspired Michelangelo to sculpt it), but because his macho dominance cloaks a practically supernatural capacity to understand me almost better than I understand myself, and far more than any other human being in this word has or ever will. And I love him for it more than I can express.
All that was ahead of me. But even then, as I watched the news report on Lady Georgiana’s disappearance, along with a worldwide audience of millions, and the imposing figure of Robert Hartwell retreated behind the castle walls, I was overwhelmed by his dignity, his courage, his fortitude, his power, his almost godlike presence.
My little sister, Lindy, and I were glued to the TV some days later, when, with the grounds outside Hartwell Castle obliterated by literally thousands of tributes (most composed of purple flowers, purple stuffed animals, and framed odes to her charm, her beauty, her charity in dedicating herself to her Foundation for Mentally Disabled Children so selflessly), Lady Georgiana’s purple casket was ferried by gondola across Hartwell Lake, accompanied by Robert and four pallbearers, then carried to the purple marble mausoleum, which, on Robert’s instructions, teams of workmen had toiled night and day to construct with lightning speed.
After the casket was carried into the mausoleum, according to reports, a grief-stricken Robert placed a love letter, a bouquet of violets, and a gargantuan bottle of her bespoke fragrance, Georgiana Royale, inside it. And then Lady Georgiana’s casket was sealed and placed on the marble funeral bier. The news anchor closed the coverage in somber tones: “And while her life has now been tragically snuffed out at the untimely age of thirty-five, the legend of Lady Georgiana Hartwell will live on forever.”
Rumor had it that after Lady Georgiana’s interment in the mausoleum, only Robert ever entered it again, on the last day of every month, when he placed twelve fresh Lady Georgiana roses on the casket. To this day, they say that the casket rests like that of some ill-fated Egyptian pharaoh, on a purple marble bier in the main hall of the purple mausoleum.
I’m now in that purple mausoleum chained to the floor, blindfolded, wrapped in what feels like some kind of fur blanket, and with my hands cuffed behind my back.
So am I imprisoned here in the mausoleum, just feet away from Lady Georgiana Hartwell’s body in its purple casket like some devoted handmaiden buried close to her queen?
Before I can take a stab at answering my own question, the earsplitting bark of a dog cuts into my thoughts. Then footsteps, one set heavy, the other dainty, come closer.
“The minx has slept for far too long,” the British woman says. “Let’s wake her up and get her started on the work right away . . .”
Started? Work? Start work on what? And why?
“Can’t face having her up and about yet. Let’s finish listening to the birthday tape before we wake her,” the raspy-voiced woman replies.
The birthday tape . . .
Before I can work out whose birthday the raspy-voiced woman means, there is the click of a tape recorder being turned on.
And suddenly, I hear Robert’s commanding voice ring out, “Present your breasts.”
I hear the clank of nipple clamps, followed by a sharp exhale of breath.
My breath, hissing through gritted teeth as I fight not to betray how much he is hurting me, and not to flout his instructions to remain silent, no matter what.
“Hands behind your back,” he orders, and brusque and harsh though his voice may be, it still makes me feel safe, even under these terrifying circumstances.
“Now close your eyes, my darling,” he decrees.
Then I hear his footsteps move away from me, only to return a few minutes later.
Even now, in the midst of this nightmare, I recall the heat of his body pressed hard against mine, and desire for him scorches through me.
“It’s exactly ten minutes after midnight on the morning of your birthday. Open your eyes, my darling,” he says.
And I do, to be dazzled by a glitter of gold, emerald, and diamonds.
“Once Marlene Dietrich’s, and now yours,” Robert announces gravely.
“He must have purchased that for her in Palm Beach,” the British woman says.
“I always told you that not bugging them when they were down there was a big-time mistake,” the second woman says.
“No time to dwell on past mistakes, Tammy . . . Time to introduce myself to our little prisoner, don’t you think?”
With that, I’m lifted to a seated position, the blindfold is ripped from my eyes, and I recoil, not from the light but from the radiant smile of a woman.
“Good afternoon, Miranda . . . Lady Georgiana Hartwell, Robert Hartwell’s wife.” she says.