After The FuneralAlthough she would never admit it to anyone else, Claudiawas actually relieved when Mark died. Theirs had notbeen what you would call a fulfilled marriage. She hadnever been too keen on sex, so she could hardly complainwhen he sought his pleasure elsewhere. But it was hisattempts to introduce her, convert her, to practices shethought were just plain wrong that really annoyed her. Imean, tying someone up before making love to them –what was that all about?‘At least he didn’t suffer,’ her sister, Helen, said in aneffort to comfort her, though she didn’t need comforting.His BMW had crashed into a wall, head on. Brakefailure.The police and insurance people had finally satisfiedthemselves that it had been an accident, despite the factthat Claudia would inherit the Harrington fortune after herhusband’s unfortunate demise.‘So, how much did he leave you?’ asked Helen.Claudia eyed her sister curiously. Was she hoping for ahandout because she was family?‘The town house, the country house, the villa, multipleinvestments. An obscene amount, I hope,’ she replied.‘Although I won’t know for sure until I speak to thesolicitor. He asked me to come in later today, to sort outthe paperwork.’The office of Elliott Westerham and Associates was inthe city centre, a big Edwardian converted house,tastefully decorated. Mark and Elliott had got on wellsocially and Elliott had visited the house on occasions, sothey were on first name terms. But, for some reason, todayClaudia was aware that he was regarding her oddly, as ifhe was uneasy in her company.‘Elliott.’‘Claudia.’He looked and sounded formal in his pin-stripedbusiness suit. He handed her an envelope.‘Mark left this with me. You were to have it after hisdeath.’‘Is it to do with the will?’ she asked, with a little toomuch enthusiasm.‘Open it.’He was making her uncomfortable, staring at her. Sheripped open the envelope, keen to get the legal affairs overwith. As she started to read, her mouth dropped open.Eventually, when she had read the letter twice more, shelooked at Elliott.‘Is this a joke?’‘No joke. Mark was deadly serious, excuse the pun.’‘So you’re saying that unless I respect Mark’s lastwishes, I won’t get a penny.’‘Correct.’‘But have you seen what he’s asking me to do?’He blushed. ‘Yes.’‘Did you put him up to this?’‘Of course not. Mark was very strong-willed, you knowthat.’‘I can’t. It’s just too…God, I don’t even want to thinkabout it.’‘Then Mark’s entire estate goes to the DonkeySanctuary.’‘Now that is obscene.’‘You have until tomorrow midday to make yourdecision. Go home, sleep on it.’Of course, gaziantep escort she couldn’t sleep a wink, cursing Mark fortreating her like this. He knew her views on anything sheregarded as remotely kinky. She had made that very clear.The next day, she went back to Elliott’s office, havingcarefully considered what the money would get her andtrying to imagine life without it.‘I’ll do it. Under protest, of course.’‘Of course. I’ll make the necessary arrangements.’‘Thank you. But I don’t see why you have to be there.’‘I have to witness the proceedings, to ensure Mark’swill is respected. I hope you understand.’The house was in a cul-de-sac – an upmarket butotherwise ordinary looking house in a relatively affluentpart of town. She allowed herself a nervous smile. She hadvisualised a gothic mansion. Her fingers kept involuntarilyreaching up to touch the leather collar around her neck.She wasn’t used to being restricted in any way at all. Partof her wanted to tear it off, yet a part of her that hadalways remained hidden felt a strange comfort.She shuddered as Elliott helped her out of the car, herthin black slip clinging to the contours of her firm andsupple body. No underwear, just a pair of shiny high heels.All part of Mark’s instructions. He had been very precisein his requirements. A stickler for detail. What shewouldn’t do for him in life he was going to make her gothrough anyway. She wondered if he was laughing fromhis new home beyond the grave, wherever that might be.The door was opened by a very tall woman in a tightrubber dress and heavy make-up, who gestured her andElliott up the stairs to a warm room, lit by candles.Swathes of red silk were d****d across the walls and floor.The air was heavy with exotic incense.A large mirror lined one wall. In the centre of the roomwas a small wooden table, d****d with a velvet cloth.‘Sit down.’ She was taken aback at Elliott’s firm tone.As she moved forward he said, ‘No, take off your slipfirst.’‘I can’t.’‘You must. Mark’s instructions were quite explicit.’How could she let Elliott see her naked? Perhaps thiswas all a bad dream and any moment now she would wakeup.Elliott regarded her gravely. ‘Take it off,’ he repeated.With a sulky pout, she let the slip fall to the ground andstepped out of it.‘Now you can get on the table.’Claudia felt his eyes burning into her. Her face flushedcrimson, she had to look away to avoid his gaze. She wasseething. If it wasn’t for the money…‘Kneel. Leave your shoes on. Spread your knees.’It felt awkward to sit in such an exposed position on thesmall table, and acutely embarrassing, but she did it.‘Now, you do have a choice about the next bit. You canwatch everything that happens to you or be blindfolded.’She hesitated. She wanted to see what was going tohappen because she hated surprises. But on the other hand,she couldn’t bear to look at herself naked and vulnerable.‘I’ll take the blindfold.’A soft red cloth was placed over her eyes.She heard the door open, someone else enter the room.A man’s voice. Unfamiliar. She guessed it must be thenawashi, the rope master.‘Is she ready?’‘Yes. You can start now.’She trembled as she felt her arms pinned behind herback, rope biting into the soft flesh of her wrists. Thenmore rope – or was it from the same length – wrappedaround her waist, across her chest, circling her breasts andnipples, pulling tight, momentarily taking her breath away.Then more around her legs, ankles, in an intricate pattern;even the heels of her shoes were bound together.She winced as rope pinched the insides of her thighs. Ithurt. She nearly panicked, feeling a brief flash ofclaustrophobia before the calm returned.Then stillness. An amazing stillness. Her body wasrestricted yet her mind felt strangely liberated, free, as herfocus turned inwards, heightening awareness of everysensation.It was as if she was experiencing her body for the firsttime: a kind of revelation. Then rope was passed betweenher legs, grazing her delicate inner lips, like some invisiblefingertip. She gasped. Suddenly her entire being becamefocussed on this area, the slightest pressure magnifiedtenfold, as if it were the only thing that existed. The onlything.Unable to move, Claudia’s focus travelled to the deeprecesses of her inner self; she experienced completeintrospection and serenity. In her meditative state, shebecame vaguely aware of sounds in the room, othervoices, male and female: she had no idea how many. Sherealized that she was being looked at, admired, an objectof abstract beauty and wonder.‘She looks stunning.’ A woman’s voice, almost wistful.‘A work of art.’ A man.‘There’s a particular intimacy in allowing someone totie you up. There has to be complete trust that they won’tabuse the power you are freely giving them. The intimacycomes from opening yourself psychologically andallowing them to enter, explore and guide.’Another man. A familiar tone. Surely not Elliott? Whatwould he know about Japanese rope bondage?‘I’ve heard the experience can be overwhelming, veryintense and powerful.’The first woman again. ‘Can I take a photograph?’Suddenly, Claudia was jerked out of her trance-likestate. She wanted to shout ‘No way,’ but, for some reason,she couldn’t speak.Then she heard Elliott reply, ‘Yes, of course.’She wanted to scream at him, but she was reluctant toabandon this feeling of peace and calm. After all, therewas nothing she could to do stop him. She was tied up,helpless. She had to go with the flow. So she let go.When, finally, an hour or so later, the ropes wereremoved, one by one, she felt so light-headed she thoughtshe might pass out. She felt a hand reach out to supporther, to stop her falling. She didn’t want the blindfold to betaken off. She wanted to stay like this. Forever. She didnot want to return to the ordinary world. Yet she knew thatonce her eyes were open again she would feel anything butordinary. She felt like she had been reborn.‘Are you okay?’ asked Elliott.There was genuine concern in his voice, which bothsurprised and moved her.‘I don’t know.’She tottered as she placed a foot tentatively on thefloor. Her knees buckled.‘Hey, I’ve got you,’ said Elliott.‘Yes. You have.’She felt as high as a kite. Spaced out. And although theactual ropes were lying in a coil on the floor, like asleeping snake, she could still feel them around her body.Glancing at her arms she saw the marks like livid redbangles, deeply embedded.‘The physical marks and feeling stay with you longafterwards,’ said Elliott.How did he know?‘Really?’She was smiling vaguely, her body rapidly melting. Asher legs gave out on her again, Elliott scooped her into hisarms and carried her across the landing into a dimly litbedroom. He laid her gently on the bed and knelt besideher, kissing her lightly on the neck. Looking into his eyes,so dark and intense, she knew that he would make love toher and that it would be very good.‘We can’t, not here, not in someone else’s bed,’ sheprotested feebly.‘It’s my bed,’ he replied, tenderly stroking a strand ofher copper-red hair.‘Your bed?’‘And my house.’She blinked back at him, her mind fuzzy.‘Anyway, you’re a very rich woman now. You can dowhatever you want.’She sighed. She had actually forgotten about themoney. Yet it was the reason she was here, the reason shehad allowed this to happen.‘I’ve wanted you for a long, long time,’ he murmured,his lips grazing her cheek. ‘I couldn’t wait any longer.’He began to trace the rope marks on her body with histongue.She trembled as an unsettling thought struck her. Brakefailure, the police said. Unexplained brake failure.Then the tip of his tongue found the newly sensitiveplace between her legs and she arched her back andmoaned, abandoning herself once more to pure sensation.Any uncertainty she had about Elliott vanished for thetime being. There would be plenty of time to think. Later.Much, much later.