"It's time you took a wife, my boy."
Whatever Thomas Pine had been expecting Number One to say, it was not that. Pine had risen to the second position in one of the most powerful crime organizations in Europe by anticipating every move from not only his rivals, but within the Corporation- Jaguar Holdings- as well. He'd thought, perhaps that the man seated across from him and enjoying an excellent glass of scotch would maybe compliment him on the flawless execution of a partnership with the terrifying Russian Solntsevskaya Bratva crime syndicate. Or gloat over the multi-million dollar agreement that would send the Corporation into Eastern Europe, extending their reach three times farther than their current chokehold in Great Britain and South America.
But... what the hell was this nonsense?
One dark, elegant brow rose as Thomas eyed the urbanely smiling monster across from him. Ben Kingsley may look like everyone's favorite bald uncle, but he was a terrifying sociopath who took enormous pleasure in the suffering he caused for his many enemies and occasionally, his friends. There were few enough of them, better described as uneasy allies. And for Kingsley's wife? Thomas snorted silently. Number One had married a beautiful escort with superb social skills who was just aging out of the most lucrative portion of her career when she turned 30. She was happy enough to leapfrog into the position of Trophy Wife, though 10 years later it seemed Arabella Kingsley was a shaken, diminished version of her former self who just barely managed not to flinch every time her husband looked at her. But, she did deftly handle the many fundraisers and social engagements the Corporation used to keep strong ties to the most powerful in society, the excessively wealthy, politicians and the like.
Taking another swallow of the scotch and enjoying the warm burn it made sliding down his throat, Thomas shook his head. "I beg your pardon, Number One? Where on earth did that come from?"
Kingsley smiled at him in an avuncular fashion. "I was speaking with Ivan Kuznetsov, the head of the смерть Triad branch."
Thomas forced a smile, "I've negotiated mainly with Semion Mogilevich. What did Kuznetsov have to say?" What he wasn't saying to Number One, but was quite clear was that Pine had been dealing with the titular head of the Bratva organization, not one of his lieutenants.
But Number One was not the head of the Corporation without reason. "My dear boy. We will not see Mogilevich again for months, likely years. Unless, of course, the Corporation fucks up." He chuckled mirthlessly and took another sip of his drink. "Kuznetsov will be overseeing our co-interests. And he discussed his concerns about you tonight."
Feeling the heat rising from his expensive cotton dress shirt, Thomas took a deep breath. "Do enlighten me."
Knowing he had his arrogant Number Two's attention, Kingsley relaxed and crossed one leg over the other. "There's to be a rather large party in Moscow in June to celebrate the merger of our combined business interests. Have you been to a Bratva gathering before?"
Brow furrowed, Thomas shook his head. "We've always avoided such large gatherings for a reason."
"That's not how Bratva works," Number One scowled. "It is expected, which is to say it is mandatory. And we've worked too long to lose this now. You'll see that Russians are very fond of family. All the wives will be there, older sons. And we will be there with our wives."
Thomas was losing his patience, but he forced himself to chuckle lightly. "Did Number Three get married within the last... what? Twenty-four hours?"
Rising to fill his glass, Kingsley raised the heavy crystal decanter to Pine, who shook his head. It was clear they were in a bizarre negotiation and he'd prefer to keep a clear head.
"No, Fassell did not marry Clara, but they are engaged, and the key players did see the ring on her finger at dinner. But they expect more from you, since you will be our point man on the Bratva project." One corner of his thin mouth turned up at Number Two's incredulous headshake.
“You must be joking. How would being saddled with a wife make me a better business partner?”
Kingsley shrugged, seating himself again. “The Russians equate wife and family with stability. They are violently opposed to homosexuals, and if you’re an attractive man in your mid-thirties without a wife and children on the way, they’re going to question it. And you. And by extension, the Corporation.” His pleasant smile vanished. “And this, I cannot allow. If you do not wish to marry, I will have to assign this partnership to Number Three’s handling-” here, Thomas actually choked on his drink- “or take it over myself.”
Pine ran his thumb over the scotch on his lower lip. “You must be joking. This is my acquisition. I made the contact, I have handled the entire negotiation since. I do not intend to relinquish control to Fassell. Or you, Ben.”
The unspoken threat hung in the suddenly tense room, and finally Number One stirred. “I’d warned Kuznetsov you would react this way. He said you were welcome to contact Mogilevich himself, that he’d be expecting your call. I would strongly suggest making it a call to assure him of your imminent wedding.” With that, Kingsley finished his drink and left the boardroom, leaving Thomas to stare incredulously into the fireplace.
“What the bloody hell?” He hissed, slamming his glass down and reaching for the phone.
Had he’d been there, Kingsley would have taken enormous satisfaction in the look of stupefaction that spread across Number’s Two’s handsome face, which then transformed into utter fury. Calmly bidding the Bratva head a good evening in flawless Russian, Thomas pushed a button to end the conversation, then lobbed his glass across the room, gritting his teeth as it shattered into a satisfying spray of crystal.
It was only 2 weeks later when Thomas found himself furiously knotting a blue silk tie around his throat, yanking it just a bit tighter to make the sense of a noose tightening around his neck feel more than just symbolic. 'How did I end up in this mess?' he raged silently, 'How did that bastard Kingsley manipulate this without me even guessing?' Thomas knew perfectly well that there was more to this than just the Bratva's insistences of "home and family." Number One had been throwing women at him since he'd risen in rank in his mid twenties. Kingsley liked associates with family. It gave him the ultimate tool to ensure compliance. Wives, children, were valuable collateral. And Thomas's infuriating indifference to either was a problem for Kingsley. There was nothing to hold over his slippery vice-president's head. Finally dressed, Pine looked bitterly in the mirror.
"This is a transaction. Like any other. Select the most viable candidate and get this over with. It will be like having a housekeeper with a larger list of duties." With that inspiring assurance, Pine got into his Jaguar- midnight blue this year- and roared off to St. Luke's. Handing his keys to the valet, he straightened his tie and glared at the beautiful building as if it had personally offended him. Entering the restored old church, he chuckled slightly, tapping the toe of one shining Louis Vuitton loafer on the entryway, half expecting to burst into flames. When his first step proved he was unscathed, Thomas strolled in, mildly surprised at his fanciful thought. "Must be deconsecrated," he murmured.
Jerwood Hall inside the building was exquisitely decorated with huge arrangements of spring flowers and expensively dressed men and women, chatting and laughing. Number One's gathering, which he macabrely labeled "Pine's Buy A Bride Bash" was doubling as a fundraiser for the London Symphony Orchestra, who'd supplied the talented string quartet playing on the riser in the center of the room. Accepting a drink from the closest bar, Pine took a sip, letting his polar blue eyes canvass the room. Kingsley and his wife had gathered a dozen or so young ladies who would fill all the requirements of being a Corporation wife. Good breeding, well-educated, beautiful, and capable, as he'd disgustingly leered, "of keeping their mouths shut about Corporation business and their legs open." The statement was so appalling that even Number One's wife stared at him, forgetting to laugh.
"Pine!" Sighing inwardly, Thomas turned and plastered a polite smile on his face as Number Three came towards him, hauling his fiancee along by her hand. "Good to see you! No date tonight?" Michael Fassell's slate grey eyes twinkled. The tall, handsome third in the Corporation knew perfectly well why his partner was dateless. "Eh, knowing your charm, I'm sure you'll be leaving with one. Or maybe three."
Clara giggled, "Never mind him, Thomas. Nice to see you." She would have liked to have kissed his cheek in greeting, but there was a nearly palpable barrier around him that clearly said touching would not be welcome.
All the same, Thomas looked down at the cheerful redhead with a smile. "Clara darling. Are you ready to come to your senses and leave this fool for me?"
Fassell laughed a little too hard, "Now, Number Two. No pouting that I can find someone who adores me, even though that terrifying stare of yours sends sane women screaming."
"Don't you mind him," Clara scolded, "I know you enjoy your freedom. I'm just lucky Michael's ready to settle down." She went up on tiptoe to kiss her fiance's cheek, and Thomas smothered a grin, remembering there'd been a spray of blood right across the spot she'd kissed, just last week when Number Three had participated in an interrogation. Oh, if only sweet Clara knew what she was marrying into...
That was a good point, Thomas thought morosely, accepting another drink from the bartender. At least the "candidates" about to be thrown before him here knew exactly what he was. What the Corporation did. Not that he'd ever discuss even the most mundane detail of his work with a spouse, but at least he wouldn't have to make the effort to hide it. So, when he heard the oily, amused tone of Number One crowing, "Thomas, my boy! There's someone I'd like you to meet..." he turned and forced a less forbidding expression on to his beautiful face.
A nauseating two hours later, the ice-cold Number Two was moments away from drowning himself in the punch bowl. He knew Kingston feared and likely hated him. But surely no one could despise another human being enough to attempt to saddle them with this bevy of harpies.
Carlotta: Italian mafia, fire-engine red hair and a screeching laugh that sounded like a goose getting buggered.
Wendy: Terrified brunette and the daughter of one of their division heads. Nearly started crying when he looked at her.
Misha: An "administrative assistant" in one of the London-based Bratva outfits. She purred "Zdravstvuyte," and immediately cupped his genitals. She also husked something into his ear while licking it, when trying to decipher it later, Thomas gathered she was telling him she was "free of diseases."
And these were the three top candidates.
Tossing back his sixth drink, Thomas looked around the room, his face set and expressionless. The less ammunition he gave Number One, the better. But the bald-headed bastard would pay for this. His frigid gaze swept the room, landing idly on the string quartet, who were finishing their final number. After the scatter of appreciative applause, Kingsley's wife stepped up. "Thank you all for joining us tonight- these wonderful musicians are here as an example of the fresh blood being pumped into the London Symphony Orchestra. All under thirty. All in first seat positions with LSO this season. Your donations tonight will continue to help promising young students through scholarships to some of the best music schools around the world..." Turning to the four, Arabella Kingsley pointed to the young blonde, seated with her cello. "Lauren, dear! Come up for a moment, would you?"
With a shy smile, the girl gracefully set her instrument aside and stood. Thomas's thin mouth curled slightly to see her brush her hands against the full skirt of her black dress, clearly trying to dry her palms and leaving white resin marks against the dark velvet.
"My dear, please introduce yourself and speak a bit about how the scholarship program helped you."
Forcing a smile, the girl nodded. "Hello, and thank you all for your kindness tonight. I'm Lauren Marsh, and I graduated from Juilliard School- that's in New York City- oh, you probably know it's in New York, you're music lovers, right?" She flushed a little under the ripple of laughter, chuckling a little herself. "I was very fortunate to be blessed with a scholarship courtesy of the LSO grants- funded by your generosity. The arts are fading in schools around the world with budget cuts. Most students struggle to attend a fine arts school, so the support from forward-thinking corporations like yours will save the arts."
Thomas was utterly still, glass half raised to his mouth as he watched the blonde girl blossom, her pale cheeks flush and her eyes sparkle- a peculiar shade- lavender? It must be the lights, he mused.
"See, music is the one commonality that serves a global consciousness. It is the one sensory element that lights up all areas of the brain- you hear a song you love, and it brings you back to a particular moment in your life- you can feel where you were, smell and see your surroundings... practically taste it..." There was something rapturous about her lovely voice that made Thomas's previously disinterested cock begin to stir and take notice. Arabella took another discreet step back from the mic. She knew a moneymaker when she heard one. And everyone was paying attention to the girl.
"For instance, like... Bob Marley's protest song, 'Get Up, Stand Up,' it’s immortal! The song’s been embraced and re-imagined on every continent in the world- adapted slightly to blend with their musical style and instruments, but the song remains the same. One song, every nation on the planet. That's the power of music. And that's what your donations fund- a chance for communication and a powerful connection with anyone- everyone, really. So thank you for funding my dream and allowing me to find a home within the LSO. And I hope you'll do the same for the next generation of students." Stepping back from the mic, Lauren actually jumped a little when thunderous applause greeted her finish, everyone in the ballroom flush with the grandeur that a swipe of their credit card was saving the world. Looking around at the beaming faces, Thomas shook his head slightly. If only the girl knew she'd been speaking to members of one of the most brutal crime enterprises in Europe.
Putting his glass on a passing waiter's tray, Thomas ambled closer to the girl, talking in the corner near the exit with her three fellow musicians, who were clearly praising her efforts. The violinist, a pretty African-American girl gave her a hug. "Nice work! You think they might toss you a bonus for hiking the donations? I could use a loan."
Lauren laughed and shook her head. "I don't think it works that way, but I can still spot you a couple of bucks-"
"Pouuunds," drawled her friend in a terrible cockney imitation, "pounds here, dahling, and- wait." Squinting, the girl eyed a man crossing the ballroom. "Lauren, shit! Is that your dad?"
Thomas's dark brow rose as he watched Lauren stiffen. "Why would- what the hell! He's supposed to be in- Night, guys. I'm gone." With a slippery grace he appreciated, the girl disappeared.
Frowning, he turned back to look at the man who'd nearly reached the remaining three of the musicians, and a mild recognition stirred. 'Marsh... hmmm... ah. Frank Marsh. CEO of Atlantic Equities in New York. One of our under-performers.' "Under-performer" was a very bad designation in the Corporation. Very bad. As in, 'the management was about to be shot and fed to the alligators to dispose of any evidence' bad. But Thomas knew the man was wealthy. Extremely so. Yet his daughter worked through a school as rigorous as Juilliard on a LSO scholarship?
"Now, why isn't Daddy dearest paying his angel's way through university?" Thomas murmured. Pulling out his cellphone, he texted a request to an associate with a dark smile on his face.
"Now that's what I wanted to see!" Number One's heavy hand clapped him on the shoulder of his beautifully tailored jacket. Kingsley must be drunk, Thomas thought, even he wasn't foolish enough to touch someone as unapproachable as his second in command. "A smile, Pine! Does that mean one of the ladies here tonight has caught your interest?" He couldn't read the strange expression on the younger man's face, but it was almost... avaricious.
"Perhaps," Thomas finally answered. "Goodnight Ben. Arabella, darling." He bent to kiss the woman's cheek and was gone.
Number One's smile disappeared at he looked at his wife, still a little fluttery from the kiss. "Go find out which girl he was interested in." Arabella nodded anxiously and disappeared.
Meanwhile, Thomas didn’t drive home. The new sexual interest stirred by the pretty and mysterious Lauren had to be satisfied. The door he entered after parking his Jaguar was unremarkable. He strode through three separate check-in points before entering the sultry underground of London’s least-known kink club. It was not an establishment that catered to amateurs.
Hands in pockets, Thomas strolled through the series of rooms, each showcasing a particular- or peculiar- interest. Finally pausing beside a gleaming steel cage containing a naked young woman, he cocked his head thoughtfully. “My, my, darling. That looks extremely… confining.”
The caged girl’s breath hitched excitedly. She'd seen this man before- he was ridiculously hot. Tall, several inches over six feet and dark hair cut close to the scalp to control his curls. His body was always beautifully dressed but a little terrifying- he might be lean, but there was a ferocious sense of power in his broad shoulders, those thickly muscled arms and thighs. Cheekbones sharp enough to cut her and those eyes… god! She’d fuck him just for those eyes to look at her long enough to let her come. She knew a couple of the girls who’d been lucky enough to have a go with him. He was a lot to take, they said. But worth it.
“Darling. Are you paying attention?” His voice had gone cold, and the naked girl shivered.
“I’m sorry, Sir. Yes, Sir.”
Now he leaned closer, that rapacious gaze not helping her goosebumps at all. “If you promise to be a good girl, I will unlock this cage.”
"Yes Sir." This came out in a whisper, and she pressed herself against the barred door.
Pulling her from the cage, Thomas chuckled slightly as she groaned in relief. "Yes, won't it feel good to stretch all those cramped muscles?"
"I guess, Sir?" The nude girl followed him willingly into a small room off the main area, watching him shut and lock the door. The tall man circled her once, leaning in to run his nose along her jaw.
"What's your name, darling?"
Thomas chuckled as the answer came out in the form of a question. "Of course it is. Raise your arms, Tulip." She did as she was told, gasping a bit at how quickly he'd bound her wrists together and hooked them over her head, hoisting her a bit to raise her uncomfortably high, teetering on tiptoe. "There, isn't it nice to stretch after that uncomfortable cage?"
She answered breathlessly, trying on tiptoe to turn to him, "Yes, Sir. Thank you." It really wasn't. The pull of the rope was beginning to burn along her arms and back, but her pelvis was getting uncomfortably warm and taking precedence.
"What are your safe words, Tulip?" She shivered again. God, that voice... deep and smooth, like it was pouring over her jagged nerves like warm honey. She would do anything to make that voice sound so sweet, keep purring in her ear, and- Tulip let out a shriek as one broad palm cracked harshly across her bare ass.
"Sorry! Sorry Sir! They're uh, 'Kardashian' for red-" Thomas rolled his eyes. "And- and for yellow Kayne!"
With a faint sigh, he pulled a thin, flexible cane out of the armoire in the room, laying it on the table in front of her where the girl could see it as he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. "Very well, darling. Are you going to be my good girl?" He picked up the cane, slowly running it up her heaving stomach and very lightly tapping her breasts.
Tulip moistened her suddenly dry lips. "Yes, Sir."
Thomas leaned in close again, enjoying her shivering. "Very good. Let's begin."
By the time the dark and scary man had finishing caning her, Tulip was sobbing uncontrollably. She’d also come three times from his strong fingers inside her, stabbing deep while his thumb firmly circled her clit. Her breasts burned and her ass felt like he’d set it on fire, but the girl was begging for him.
“What do you need, Tulip?” His rough fingers were sliding up her sweaty skin, and she was stammering in her effort to get the words out.
“Please- please fu- AH!” He’d slapped her stinging ass for taking so long. “Can you please fuck me Sir!”
Suddenly, his arms were under her thighs and hoisting her against him, hard cock already sheathed in latex and probing for her center. Shrieking as Thomas plunged viciously inside her, Tulip kicked her legs, arching against the dark and scary man to take him deeper, even though the burn made her fiery ass feel like nothing but a love tap. Wrapping her legs around his waist, Pine began slamming in and out of her, nipping at her breasts and grabbing her generous buttocks with both hands, crudely pulling them apart as he plunged into her again, then again, going deeper each time until Tulip’s rapturous wailing grew louder. Finally feeling the pull at the base of his spine that told him he was close, Thomas deftly slicked his forefinger through the girl’s wet folds and slid the digit into her ass, appreciating her sudden stiffening, tightening her around him even more.
“You will come on three, or you will not come at all,” he managed between clenched teeth.
“One.” Her back arched as she screamed, feeling him spear so deep she could feel him against her cervix.
“Two.” Her sweating hands grappled to hold on to her bonds.
“Three.” Another finger plunged into her ass to join the first, and Tulip lost consciousness as she came, just as she was instructed.
After cleaning the sweaty and semi-conscious girl up and making sure she was relatively alert and functioning, Thomas patted her rosy bottom gently and left the club. Stripping to take a shower, he leaned over his laptop to type in a passcode. Reading the report compiled within the last hour, he smiled, pleased with his assistant’s thoroughness.
Typing an reply, Thomas wrote:
Contact Miss Marsh and instruct her to meet me at the office tomorrow at 3pm. Tell her it is an interview to have her perform at my next event. Begin the usual surveillance.
Finally showered, he crawled into his sheets naked, putting a forearm across his forehead and looking out his window. Yes. She’d do just fine.