PROLOGUE

 

On a dark November night, a weary motorist driving on the long straight Strada del Sole, the magnificent highway running up the entire west coast of Italy, saw in his headlights the unusual sight of a tall blonde girl standing by the side of the road. Unusual, because it was one in the morning and this long lonely road stretched for at least fifteen kilometres before skirting the next town. Furthermore, she had not even signalled him to stop.

The driver, an Englishman who represented in Italy a British Publishing House, slowed rapidly and pulled into the emergency lane at the side. He kept the car in gear, ready to accelerate if it was a baited trap for an unwary motorist.

But she appeared to be alone and walked slowly towards the car. He noticed she wore high stiletto-heeled black boots and a long shiny green rubber raincoat, buttoned to the neck. She opened the passenger door and, with a heavy rustle, subsided onto the seat. As he drove on, he spoke to her in Italian, but she did not answer. He tried English and then his limited French, but she remained silent, staring ahead as if in another world.

It was still two hours' drive to Genoa and he had an appointment with a leading Italian publisher at ten a.m. He was tired and concentrated on his driving.

Suddenly she laughed (so he told me later) and spoke in perfect English, "What a gentleman you are! If you had tried to rape me you would have found I am totally nude under this rubber coat, except for my leather thigh boots. I suppose it was my Master's idea of a joke, or perhaps it had a deeper meaning. I can't seem to concentrate; I've been walking for hours."

"But why? Have you no money at all? Couldn't you have thumbed a ride? Aren't you cold?"

"No," she said distantly. "Rubber is warm if you keep moving. I was ordered to keep walking until midnight. From noon until midnight, without spending any money or talking to a soul. About an hour ago I reckoned it was after midnight and hitched a lift. He was a nasty little man with a stupid little mind. Finally, when he realised I wasn't about to play ball he dropped me at that lonely spot."

The bewildered representative had been trying to follow the sequence of her story. "But what are you doing here, in the middle of nowhere, obeying some lunatic orders?"

For the first time the tired blue eyes turned towards him and in the reflected glow of the headlights he realised she was stunningly beautiful. "I've been sent back into the world for three months," she said simply. "Shall I tell you some of my story?"

Refreshed by several swigs from a brandy flask he always carried in his briefcase, she commenced to tell an incredible tale in a low, factual voice. At first he thought she must be on pot or hallucinating on something stronger, but the details were too coherent to be a casual fantasy.

They entered Genoa a few minutes before 3 a.m. Still confused by this strange girl, he drove to the small hotel where he always stayed on his once-a-month goodwill trip from his base in Rome. It was off-season and there were plenty of vacant rooms. He picked up his own reservation and the sleepy night porter gave him a tired wink and a key to the room next to his.

She was so exhausted she sat on his suitcase as the elevator crawled upwards. He gave her the key to her room, to show there was no funny business. "I must go out fairly early. You promise you'll wait till I get back? Before noon."

Perfect teeth showed in a brief smile. "I'm in no hurry. But let's make it dinner instead of lunch; I'm going to sleep for at least twelve hours."

She kept her word. At seven the following evening she knocked on his door. "I feel much better; I've taken a bath and I'm ravenous. Will you take me to dinner?"

She wore the high-buttoned rubber coat like a Dior creation, teetering gracefully on the high-heeled boots. Although his loose schedule had called for him to drive on to Torino, his instinct for a story told him he would not be wasting his time by remaining here an extra night.

 

This is Gerda's story, related to the Englishman during that long evening and afterwards 'ghosted' into dramatic form by me. For obvious reasons, Gerda changed some names and places. J.E.D.

 


Chapter 1

 

The applause continued as Gerda made her final exit from the long cat-walk, a narrow stage surrounded by a dense celebrity-loaded audience. Although she was physically exhausted, Gerda knew it had been a successful fashion show. With her experience she could almost smell it half way through, either an aura of sympathy or antipathy exuding from the Beautiful People and the top buyers. She was doubly pleased because this year Madam Poiret had made her the 'star' of the ten models and allocated her the more exclusive designs. Her final appearance in a skin-tight silver satin wedding dress, clinging wickedly to her tall slim figure but demurely covered by a transparent waist-length veil, had brought prolonged clapping and discreet cheers.

With utter relief, she allowed her dresser to unzip the form-fitting white gown. The cheerful old lady, who had worked for Josephine Baker and many other top stars over the past forty years, knew the symptoms.

"For better or worse, my dear, that's it! You were splendid and Madam Poiret should give you a big fat bonus, but she won't, of course. Now, you take a shower and relax and think of that lovely holiday you're going on tomorrow. Somewhere in Spain, isn't it?"

Gerda smiled gratefully at her dresser, but her mind was elsewhere and she did not correct the woman. Le Comte Guy de Rhislain, her lovely Guy, owned a house on a small island not far from Elba, off the Italian coast. After two arduous years of work, without any sort of holiday, she had gladly accepted his invitation. Although she had known him only two months, there had been an immediate physical attraction between them and later, after the first magical bloom of sex, she had realised with some astonishment that for the first time in her life she was in love.

When dressed, she peered out the window and saw the drab Parisien street gleaming wetly in the rain. How wonderful, she thought joyfully, two whole weeks lazing in the sun, swimming and water-skiing, eating and drinking what and when I want - thank goodness I never have a weight problem - instead of those eternal sandwiches between fittings and shows; when Guy takes me out to Fouquets or some lovely restaurant I'm usually too tired to eat. She turned to find her dresser holding out the bright red mackintosh Guy had insisted on buying her the previous week.

"You can never park your car near the Salon," he had joked, "And you turn up sometimes looking like a wet spaniel. It may not be a mink, but it's far more useful and you'll look gorgeous in it."

She eyed the gleaming rubber coat with faint distaste. It was thick, heavy and made a loud rustling noise when she moved in it. But she had to admit it did keep off the rain. She slipped into it, buttoned it up tightly to the neck and pulled the rubber hood over her hair.

Sorrowfully she said goodbye to her faithful dresser, then made her rounds to thank Madam Poiret and take her farewell of the other models. She came out the side door of the fashion house and looked for Guy's Mercedes. It was parked along the road and she ran to it, feeling the rain patter on her coat, causing it to glisten in the fading daylight. He opened the door and took her case, kissing her lightly and for a moment running his hands over her gleaming shoulders.

 

The next day they flew to Rome, where Guy hired a Lancia Sports and they continued northwards towards his island. Gerda had slept well and was already enjoying the peaceful feeling of relaxation which had overcome her. She turned her head and studied the man beside her, wondering what had attracted her to him. She reckoned he was in his late forties, the hair greying at the temples, the mouth generous but with a cruel twist to it when he smiled. His hands on the steering wheel were long, thin and strong and could excite her just by watching them.

'We’re nearly there,” he announced, “then we have a half hour journey by boat, which I am afraid is usually rough, especially at the end of spring, the sea seems to resent summer approaching."

“I'm a good sailor,” she smiled, “I was brought up in little boats.”

“Excellent. But we must dress properly for the trip; otherwise we will get very wet. This boat is a converted drifter, very reliable, but the spray covers it when we are in mid-channel.”

They arrived at the small port and were met by a smiling servant who was introduced to Gerda as Renato. The luggage was put aboard the twelve-metre boat, then Guy helped her aboard and into the small charthouse.

“Here you are, my darling. Climb into these clothes and you will be completely water-tight.”

From a small cupboard he brought a chest-high pair of green 'totes', the smooth but strong rubber used in deep-sea diving. “These will fit closely, so do not wear anything underneath. Then over it you will wear the jacket and hood and these long gloves.”

She took the bundle of clothing, feeling the smooth rubber and finding it curiously unattractive. “If you insist, but I won't look very glamorous.”

He smiled broadly. “You are so wrong. Renato and I have a few things to do. We will leave you in the charthouse to change.”

In five minutes she had undressed and slid into the cool green rubber trousers with the boots hermetically attached. She pulled the straps tight over her shoulders so that the high trousers clung to her and encased her waist and breasts. Then she slipped the long rubber tunic over her head. It had a short zip up to the neck and she pulled the hood up over her head before zipping it firmly under her chin. She was pleasantly surprised how well the outfit looked on her, the tunic moulding her figure and ending just below her bottom. Then she pulled on the long black rubber gloves which came up to her elbows, effectively sealing her suit and making her completely watertight except for her face.

She came out on to the deck and was surprised to find Guy similarly clad, but in black. He waved to her, then turned back to cast off the stern lines.

In a few minutes they were in the open sea and Gerda could see the necessity for the rubber protection. She and Guy remained on deck and very soon the bows were dipping into the angry sea and spray was creaming over them.

The open-face hood fitted tightly round her neck and chin and came over her head and down to her forehead, giving complete protection. In seconds they were both streaming with spray, the rubber gleaming wetly as it repelled the sea water. She found it vaguely disturbing, a faint sexual thrill at being encased in the heavy material, totally dry. She had never liked the texture of her red mackintosh, although feeling protected in it when it was tightly buttoned up; but this was a different sensation. Even her hands were dry inside the long rubber gloves.

Guy indicated a wooden seat in front of the charthouse. It was covered with a plastic cushion of the type used in speedboats. Unsteadily Gerda moved across to it, feeling the long waders cling to her thighs, experiencing an unaccustomed thrill as she sat down and felt the rubber tighten around her.

She looked up and saw Guy watching her, a faint smile breaking the hardness of his face. “You don't mind being out in the open? We could go below where it's warm and dry.”

She tried to shake her head, but the tight hood held her neck in a vice. “No!” she replied quickly, “I love it out here. I feel snug and safe.”

Another burst of spray hit them and made her gasp, the water streaming down her face. She wiped her eyes with the black gloves, noticing the smell of the rubber and wondering why people did not wear them in the rain; it was much more practical than ruining a pair of expensive leather gloves.

Guy leaned towards her, his black outfit shining in the wet. “I have special hoods at the island which you can wear to keep you dry in the rain. They completely protect your face as well.”

Gerda wondered what he meant. How could one protect one's face from the rain? Even a high collar was no protection from a heavy downpour; the rain would make her mascara run and eventually trickle inside the neck.

It was almost with reluctance she saw they were entering a tiny harbour and the waves subsided. Renato ran the boat towards a smartly-painted jetty and expertly reversed until the vessel gently kissed the tyres on the side of the wooden piles. He and Guy jumped ashore with lines and made fast the boat. A sleek launch rode at anchor near the jetty.

She stood up and rustled across to the rail. “Should I get changed in the charthouse?” Guy looked at her in a strange manner. “No, stay as you are. The house is only a few hundred metres from here. I like to see you properly dressed and protected in your suit.”

She collected her clothes and stuffed them into one of her suitcases, which Renato took ashore. Feeling slightly foolish now, she jumped onto the jetty and started to unzip her rubber top.

“Don't touch it,” Guy told her quickly. “You are now on my island and subject to the rules and laws. From now on you will be always dressed in costumes which I will provide and you will consider yourself as my slave. If you behave you will be treated like a queen. That may sound like a paradox, but you will understand better in a few days. Meanwhile you will obey my slightest whim or order; otherwise you will be severely punished.”

Gerda listened to him, only half comprehending what he said, not sure whether to take him seriously, or laugh at him, or go along with the joke. “My dear Master,” she said lightly, “how romantic of you. You mean I must consider myself a captive, kidnapped by you, forced to do your bidding or suffer unspeakable tortures?”

“You understand perfectly,' he replied seriously. “I know that you joke now, but you will learn that what you have said is exactly the truth. Now, shall we walk up to the house?”

In silence the two rubber-clad figures walked up the track to the house, passing through a shaded wood, then emerging into a circular driveway, neatly lined with huge clumps of vivid geraniums and hydrangeas. Despite her confused state of mind, Gerda stopped, staring at the villa. It was enormous, built Moroccan style with arches and terraces, towering majestically over the Mediterranean.

“Is that really yours?" she asked in awe. "It's magnificent!"

"Thank you, my dear slave. Yes, the villa and the whole Island belongs to me. This was originally built as a hotel, a resort for millionaires who wanted to get away from their business worries for a time. Unfortunately, through lack of publicity in the right places and no doubt a lack of millionaires, it went bankrupt. I bought the whole place some years ago, Ah! I see your serving-maid is waiting for you." They walked up wide steps to the imposing front door, flanked by two high white pillars. Gerda gave a sigh of relief, the exertion and heat was making the heavy rubber cling moistly to her skin.