Part One – To The Races
Lady Jane watched as the chauffeur opened the door of the Bentley and waited for her to step out. Keeping her knees together, she twisted her hips sideways and swung her legs out of the door, planting her heels onto the tarmac. She reached for the chauffer’s offered hand and stood straight, tall and elegant, feigning indifference at the attention that was being directed towards her from the public that were queuing at the common entrance to the racecourse.
The chauffer closed the car door and stood ready for further instruction without waiting for the thanks that would never come. Lady Jane gave him no acknowledgement as she walked towards the VIP entrance.
Today was Ladies Day at the race meeting. It was the day where fashion in all its expressions and lapses of judgement met the competitive world of horses, jockeys and owners. It was the day where it was more important to be seen than to watch the race, and where hierarchy was not decided on the track but by what you wore and who deigned to converse with you or, in Lady Jane’s case, who you deigned to converse with. It was a day to display designer labels or, far better, outfits of such distinction and uniqueness that they needed no label. It was also a day where Lady Jane hoped to attract the attention of Lord Whitburn, the most eligible of bachelors and one that she had so far been unable to arrange more time with.
Chasing Lord Whitburn had required more effort than Lady Jane was used to making, not only because he was certainly one of the most handsome men in her extended social circle, but also because he was one of the richest. Lady Jane’s family tree dated back thirteen generations and, due to both her looks and her position, she was more accustomed to having to fend off approaches than trying to attract them. She found it puzzling that, rather than switch to an easier target, she had started to thrill in the chase and, the more the object of her desire had seemed unobtainable, the more she was determined to gain his attention. Maybe if she reached thirty years of age and was still unmarried she would lower her sights slightly, but that was a few years away yet.
Personal attraction aside, a marriage to Lord Whitburn, with all of this wealth, would have the added benefit of propping up the ailing family finances. Despite the thirteen generations of heritage, the chauffer and the Bentley, Lady Jane was increasingly close to either bankruptcy or selling the family home. She had inherited a reasonable sum but, and in this respect she was perfectly honest with herself, a number of poor decisions, an inability to reign in her spending, and a long habit of gambling at previous race meetings had all but emptied the family coffers.
At least now she was facing up to her problem, and knowing how poorly she could rely on self-control she had elected to bring no money, no credit cards, and very little of value to the racecourse that day. Some would say that blindly hoping to marry one of the richest men in England was not exactly a mature way of dealing with her debt issues, but compared to some of Lady Jane’s previous decisions she was displaying uncharacteristic forward planning.
Lady Jane continued towards the security guard at the VIP entrance and took the small ticket from the purse she held in her one hand. He looked at it, subjected Lady Jane to the indignity of holding it beneath an ultraviolet light to check its authenticity, and then handed it back. Lady Jane reddened slightly but refrained from making a scene. She would make a complaint to the organisers later: if the man had been briefed properly he would already know who she was without even looking at the ticket, let along checking to see if was real.
Instead she glared at the security guard, whose expression passed from puzzlement to resentment at the arrogance and entitlement of the upper classes as she passed, and she walked through the entrance into the racing enclosure.
Part 2 – A Chance Encounter
Thankfully, the VIP entrance opened onto an area of grass separated from the regular attendants of the race meeting. Lady Jane looked over the white picket fence at the cacophony of fuchsia dresses, patterned blouses, white stilettoes, ill-fitting suits and brash jewellery that was what passed for high fashion amongst the middle classes that filled the rest of the race meeting.
Turning her attention back into the private area Lady Jane could recognise the much more elegant lines of Dolce and Gabbana, Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel and others. Even the outfits by designers she couldn’t identify by sight had a level of sophistication and a perfectness of fit that was not found just by spending the right sum of money but also by being worthy of the designer’s attention in the first place, and having the figure to show their work in its best light. It was one of the reasons that she, as did most of the women there, kept so physically active and were always conscious of their diets.
As was the tradition on Ladies Day, the women were also wearing hats of various individual designs. The contrast between the VIPs and the common people was stark in this regard too. The display outside was as if a hundred different exotic birds were all competing for a mate at the same time, where the most garish and outlandish feather arrangement would be declared the winner. Some of the more extravagant designs would be unrecognisable as hats if they weren’t attached to the wearer’s head, and many had to keep one hand on the rim at all times just to keep them balanced.
Amongst Lady Jane’s peers (or as close as could be regarded as peers), discretion and understatement were the watchwords, and the hats were altogether more complimentary to the rest of their outfits rather than fighting for attention with them. This year, the fashion seemed to have taken an Art Nouveau turn, and so the styles were even more discreet, with designs based around berets or small caps, not dissimilar to those that might be worn by air hostesses, but always with an element of flair and individuality once one looked carefully.
Lady Jane looked around and felt at home; these were her people. For her part, she was wearing a simple summer dress with a sweetheart neckline that shaped around her slender waist and hips before finishing at the knee. It was pale cream and of a smooth fabric with no patterning or texture. Over this she wore a short, light brown bolero, rather than a full jacket, and the material had a hint of sheen. It fitted over her shoulders and then barely covered the curve of her breasts before cutting back at the waist. The sleeves were folded into exaggerated cuffs just below the elbow, displaying her slender arms and smooth, pale skin.
It was a warm day so she had elected not to wear tights or stockings, judging correctly that the occasion was intended to be informal despite all of the formal clothing on show. Her light shoes revealed the tops of her feet but covered her toes, and the small heel gave a pleasant curve to her leg without being showy or impractical on the grass surface.
Finally, Lady Jane’s hat was as understated as the rest of her outfit, which it matched perfectly. To the untrained eye it would appear to be little more than a small sunhat, within an even smaller rim that was reminiscent of some of the hat styles of the 1930s. Of course she, and most of the others in the room, would know how much work and money had gone into something so simple and elegant.
Lady Jane looked around again, scanning for Lord Whitburn. Her heart sunk as she realised he was nowhere to be seen. She was sure he was due to attend; perhaps he would be arriving a little later so as to make more of an entrance.
“Lady Jane!” A voice startled her from her thoughts. She recognised the voice and turned around.
“Jess! How good to see you!” Jessica was both an acquaintance and a friend; a rare combination in this social circle.
“You’re looking fabulous!” Jess told her. Jane knew she did, but at least she knew Jess meant it.
“You’re looking lovely today too.” Jane returned the compliment. Jess didn’t have Jane’s taste or style, or her figure, if she was to be brutally truthful, but she was wearing a nice flowing outfit. A jacket would have complemented the dress nicely, but maybe Jess couldn’t make the colours work.
“Have you seen Lord Whitburn at all?” Lady Jane asked her. Jess rolled her eyes.
“Now if I had a penny for every single lady that had asked me that… Well, I’d have at least three pence, and that’s just this week.” She laughed and Jane smiled back. “But no, I haven’t seen him. Maybe he’ll deign to visit us, maybe he won’t.” She shrugged; it made no difference to her either way.
Lady Jane felt disappointment again. If she couldn’t meet Lord Whitburn again, then there wasn’t much reason for her to be here. Suddenly Jess turned her head to look at one of the monitors displaying race information.
“Come on,” she said, “The first race is about to start. It’s very exciting: I’ve put a bet on a horse, so you have to cheer for it with me. I think it’s called ‘Longest Night’ or something. I’m not sure if it’s ‘night’ like the opposite of ‘day’, or ‘knight’ like a ‘knight in shining armour’. As long as it wins it could be the longest nit for all I care.”
It was Jane’s turn to roll her eyes in an exaggerated fashion now and Jess laughed as they both made their way to the edge of the VIP area to overlook the course.
Part 3 – Win Big
The two ladies reached the railing just as the race started. The gun fired and the horses shot out of their starting boxes with the tiny jockeys perched precariously on their backs. Longest Night got off to a slow start, but there was little to separate any of the eight runners.
“Come on Longest Night!” Jess shouted, and, as if it had heard her encouragement, it put on a spurt of speed and swept past another three to sit in third place. Jess jumped up and down excitedly while Jane stood, reserved as ever and slightly embarrassed by her exuberant friend.
As Jess continued to shout Longest Night continued to surge and, at the mid-point of the race, was in second place.
“Come on! Come on!” Jess’s voice was now being lost in the shouts from everyone else, the volume virtually equal for each horse in the race.
They were on the last straight now and Longest Night was neck-and-neck with the leader. Jess could hardly contain her excitement and was bouncing in place, willing her pick to edge forward. With a last bound it did so and crossed the line, winning by a nose, as the announcer declared.
“I won I won I won I won!” Jess squealed, “I can see why you do this so much!”
Lady Jane felt a twinge of guilt; her habit was well-known, although none would have guessed at the previous extent of it, or the consequences.
“Well, don’t get carried away, Jess,” she said, “Just because you were lucky this time it doesn’t mean you will be again.” She spoke with some authority on this subject, although she wished she had listened to her own advice in the past.
“But it wasn’t luck!” Jess said. Jane rolled her eyes again.
“Of course it’s luck. Anything can happen in a race. A horse can fall, or be pushed out, or just not really feel like running fast today.”
“Yes, but I knew this one was going to win,” Jess said with a wink.
“And how did you ‘know’?” Jane asked.
“I knew because somebody gave me this piece of paper. Here.”
Jess handed over a small piece of notepaper with the words “Longest Night” written on it. Jane was shocked. Was the race fixed?
“Jess! You could get in big trouble for this.”
“For ten grand it’s worth a bit of trouble!”
“Ten grand!” Jane’s head span. That sort of money would sort out her finances for a couple of months at least. “That horse was only at five to one. Are you telling me you put two thousand pounds down as a bet?”
“Of course not, silly.” That didn’t help to clear up the situation. “You might carry that kind of money around with you all the time but I know I don’t.” Little did she know that Jane was carrying no money at all with her.
“No,” she continued, “Through there,” she indicated a door with her head, “a Russian gentleman, one of the bookmakers, said he’d take my jacket as collateral and valued it at two thousand pounds. Which is about right, actually. So now I’m going to go and collect my jacket, and my ten thousand pounds.” She smiled, turned away from Jane and disappeared through the door. Lady Jane turned back to look at the track. To think what she could do with ten thousand pounds … She needed a drink.
Jane looked towards the back of the VIP area where a waiter was dispensing glasses of champagne from behind a long table and she started to make her way over. The area near the railing was crowded with people gathering to watch the first races and she had to squeeze her way through the gaps.
As she pushed, she felt a bump against an unyielding shoulder and looked around to see who had presumed to block her way. She looked straight into the eyes of a young woman with dark eyes and wide, flat features.
“I am sorry,” the girl said with what sounded like an eastern European accent. Jane felt a hand on hers and looked down to see the girl wrapping her fingers around it and squeezing it into a fist. Was that how people apologised where she came from? She then turned and disappeared into the throng. “How inappropriate”, Lady Jane thought, and then realised that she had a small piece of paper buried in her closed fist that had been passed to her by the girl.
She opened her hand and unfurled the paper. Written on it were the words “Dream Demeanour”. Lady Jane looked up at the race information screens. Dream Demeanour was showing odds of seven to one in the next race. Without dwelling on how bad an idea this was, Jane headed towards the door to find the Russian bookmaker.
Part 4 – Place Your Bets
Lady Jane walked out of the VIP area and found herself in a large hallway with five bookmaker booths along the far side, each with a door beside the hole-in-the-wall. She wondered how she would find the Russian, and then she saw the girl who had passed her the note standing beside one. Jane walked towards the door and, as she approached, it was held open for her. She walked inside. Entering a small office she saw a large man, who was probably in his early forties, sat on a leather chair behind a desk.
“Welcome, Lady Jane,” he said with a thick accent. Lady Jane was used to people knowing who she was. “I see you would like to place a bet.”
“I would indeed,” she replied, “I would like to bet on Dream Demeanour to win the next race.”
“Very good, very good. And how much would you like to stake?”
“Well… you have to understand, someone in my position has very little need of carrying cash with me, so I don’t have a sufficient sum with me… so I’m hoping we can come to an arrangement.”
“I’m afraid I do not take IOU’s, Miss Jane, no matter how illustrious the author of the note.” Jane turned red at the insult, and that her title had been dropped from “Lady” to “Miss”. “However, if you have a credit card, I’m sure your limit would be sufficient to cover a sizeable bet.”
“There is a small problem in that case too,” Jane continued, “In that I don’t carry a credit card either. I was hoping that we could make a special arrangement.” Jane gave the Russian a look what she hoped would convey that she knew about his deal with Jess. He chuckled.
“Well, well, well… You English women will bankrupt me. Let us see what we can do… Your jacket, it is rather too small. Is it supposed to be that size?” He indicated it with his eyes.
“It’s a bolero,” Jane corrected him, “So, yes, it’s the size it’s supposed to be.”
“Still, it is small, but it is nice. I have not seen one like it before. I think my wife would like it. Let me see, if it is worth six hundred pounds…” It was worth closer to a thousand but Jane was not going to sink to negotiating with a bookmaker, not when she had a racing tip to act on and was going to be winning anyway. “So if you win, I keep the jacket… sorry, the bolero… and if you win, you will gain… let me see… You will win four thousand two hundred pounds.”
Jane smiled at the sum.
“Do we have a deal?” He raised an eyebrow. Lady Jane thought for a second; now was her chance to back out.
“Yes, we have a deal,” she said and started to remove the bolero. Before she got very far she felt hands on her shoulders that pushed it down her arms and looked around in surprise: she hadn’t noticed the young woman who had given her the note follow her into the room. Suddenly she wondered what on earth was going on: why was she being given a racing tip by the man who would take the bet? Was it some kind of money laundering operation? She didn’t even know how that might work, but had never understood such things. But surely losing money was never a good thing?
Perhaps the girl was a disgruntled employee, she thought. That was the likely explanation: she was teaching her boss a lesson by inflicting losses on him and somehow had access to insider information.
The girl folded the jacket over her arm and placed it on the bookmaker’s desk, and then stood to one side with her arms crossed. Meanwhile, the Russian wrote out a betting slip.
“Here is a note for a wager of six hundred pounds at odds of seven to one on Dream Demeanour.” He passed Lady Jane the piece of paper which she placed into her purse without a glance. She didn’t really trust the man but it would be bad manners to make it obvious.
“Now, Miss Jane, I suggest you go and watch the race. I think Branding Lee, the three to five favourite, will have a good chance in this one, especially with a champion jockey on his back. But of course I wish you good luck with your bet. Did you know that Dream Demeanour has never won a race yet?”
Jane’s heart sank: had she just been conned? She hadn’t even looked at the other runners. She looked across at the young woman but was unable to discern anything in her expression. Maybe there was a hint of a smile, but was it Jane or her boss that she believed she was fooling?
She turned around and left the bookmaker’s office, carefully closing the door behind her. “Well, it’s only a jacket,” she thought, suddenly wishing that she had stuck to her resolution not to gamble again.
Part 5 – Race 2
Jane pushed her way through the crowd towards the railing again. No-one seemed to have noticed that her arms were now bare and she made sure she did not bump into Jess, the only person who might have remembered what she was wearing before and, more importantly, who would make the connection as to why. She reached the front and pushed herself against the handrail. Within a minute, the race was underway.
Branding Lee took an early lead with Dream Demeanour lagging in fifth place out of the eight starters. She was beginning to think she had fell for a very easy con. She felt like a fool and had no enthusiasm for cheering her horse on. Once the race was finished, if she could bear to stay to the end of it, then it was time to call it a day and head back home. There was no Lord Whitburn and now she had gambled away an expensive jacket. (“An expensive bolero,” she corrected herself).
She looked at the track again. Branding Lee was still leading with Dream Demeanour now at the back of a bunch of three a few paces behind. They were coming onto the final corner now, and she started to feel her excitement rise as Dream Demeanour took the inside line and started to pull forwards. It was still at least three paces behind Branding Lee, which was charging on regardless, but was firmly in second place.
Branding Lee was not giving in, however and the distance between the two horses was not closing. Dream Demeanour followed it onto the final straight, its jockey flapping his whip hand and his head bobbing as he frantically tried to push his horse on. Suddenly, Branding Lee fell forwards and the jockey was thrown onto the floor. The crowd took a collective intake of breath both at the surprise event and concern for jockey and mount. He and the horse performed separate rolls before standing, safely avoided by the chasing group, and Lady Jane jumped in the air as Dream Demeanour crossed the line in first place.
She suddenly remembered her reserve and straightened her dress, using the physicality of pressing the fabric to try to calm her mind. She took a deep breath. “Four thousand two hundred pounds…” she thought. Not as impressive as Jess’s win, but it would make a difference, for a while at least.
She turned and pushed through the crowd again, back to the bookmaker’s hall. The young woman again opened the door for her, and, again, her expressionless face and sharp eyes revealed nothing. Lady Jane stepped into the office.
“Well well well… it seems that Lady Luck is Lady Jane’s friend today, hey?” The Russian laughed philosophically. Lady Jane smiled. “Here is your jacket… my apologies, your ‘bolero’…” The young woman had again silently followed Jane into the room and helped her arms into the sleeves. “And here is your four thousand two hundred pounds.” He handed over a pile of money wrapped with an elastic band. It was much smaller than she had expected, but then it wasn’t much more than a few dozen fifty pound notes. Jane tried not to show her enthusiasm as she took it and, without counting it, placed it into her purse. To check the amount would be impolite to say the least.
“Thank you, and I hope you have some luck today,” she said to the bookmaker. Jane hoped no such thing, and the Russian knew it.
“I don’t know, I feel like this will be a very expensive day for me. One thousand lost here… two thousand lost there… ten thousand lost there… Perhaps we should shut up shop for the day and go home, eh Mishka?” He looked at the young woman. Was she his wife? No wonder she was so resentful, being trapped with this unpleasant man, Jane thought spitefully.
Jane smiled and turned. Mishka opened the door for her and then, as she passed, she took Lady Jane’s hand and shook it with both of hers. “Thank you for betting with us,” she said, her accent thick, and Jane felt a piece of paper being pressed into her palm. This girl was playing a dangerous game, and right in front of her husband.
Part 6 – A Bad Habit
Lady Jane kept her face expressionless as she was released from the handshake, the paper curled up in her hand. She returned to the VIP area and only then did she unfold the note and read what it said. The writing spelt “Untold Bridge” and Jane looked up at the monitors for the next race. “Untold Bridge” was at four to one. That meant that she could place all of the money in her purse – four thousand two hundred pounds – and she would win back sixteen thousand eight hundred. That would last her almost six weeks… Jane’s head spun at the freedom it would give her.
She shook herself back to reality. She had some money, which was more than she had expected from the day, and this whole setup with Mishka and the Russian bookmaker was very suspicious. Maybe she was being set up for something: Untold Bridge would lose the next race by a nose, but not enough to make her suspicious, and then she’d do something rash like stake the Bentley, or the house, on a last tip to try and win it back. She made a resolution to herself: she was not going to bet on Untold Bridge.
She walked to the champagne bar and took the offered glass. “One glass of champagne, and then I can go home and enjoy my winnings,” she thought. She felt relief: she didn’t even need to go and watch the race that would start any minute, and she had made a big step in conquering her compulsion.
Lost in thought, she daydreamed about the cash she was now carrying in her purse. She had always had plenty of money, right up until the point that she had had none. Money had recently become an obsession, but obsessing about it had become a necessity if she wasn’t going to have to downsize the family home and suffer the consequent lack of status.
Lady Jane looked at the people around her in the VIP area; these people easily sensed weakness and vulnerability, and they avoided anyone with bad luck as if it was contagious. It would take a long time to rebuild her reputation if her debt problems were revealed. Thankfully, that day was now postponed due to her day’s winnings.
The race had finished and Lady Jane looked up at the screen. In first place, there was Untold Bridge. She put down her champagne glass feeling sick in her stomach. She would have won over sixteen thousand pounds if she had bet the contents of her purse. If she had been bold enough.
She turned around and went back into the bookmaker’s hall. Mishka was still standing by door, but didn’t open it for her this time. Lady Jane grabbed her by the arm and Mishka’s eyes flashed suddenly, but she showed no other reaction.
“What’s going on here?” Jane asked her in a whisper between clenched teeth.
Mishka, however, stayed silent, and slowly held her free hand towards Lady Jane. It held a small piece of note paper. Jane took it and read the text. It had the words “Sent Oar” written on it. Jane looked up at a monitor: Sent Oar was running in the next race, with odds of twelve to one. If she bet her four thousand two hundred pounds she would have… she couldn’t calculate it exactly, but it would be almost fifty thousand pounds. Oh, how she could do with that money at the moment.
She released Mishka’s arm and the young girl turned and opened the door for Lady Jane, knowing exactly what was going through the English woman’s mind. Inevitably, Jane stepped into the bookmaker’s office again.
“Ah, Miss Jane again! Have you come to rob a hardworking Russian peasant one more time?” Despite the previous loss, he actually seemed pleased to see her.
“How big a bet can you take on Sent Oar?” Lady Jane asked. The reserved, stiff upper lipped, English aristocrat front dropped easily when there was this much money at stake. She needed to negotiate to get the most out of this transaction.
“Let me see… odds of twelve to one, eh? I think if you keep picking outsiders then perhaps one day you will regret it, hm?” Lady Jane stayed silent. “Now, assuming I want to keep my home… Maybe I could take ten thousand pounds, or a little under, and then you would win maybe one hundred and twenty thousand pounds. But… have you been winning more money since our last wager? I did not think you had any more with you than the money you have already taken from me.”
“I have four thousand two hundred pounds still,” Lady Jane replied sternly. “If you will take my Bentley, parked outside, you will find it is valued at over one hundred thousand pounds.”
The Russian inhaled. “Nooo no no no no no… I cannot match that bet today, and I have no need of a new car, not one that will be stolen within five minutes if I leave it on the street in this country, eh?” Lady Jane ignored the insult. “Let us see… your jacket… sorry, bolero… we said six hundred pounds, no? There, I still think Mishka would like it, and you would have four thousand eight hundred to bet with.”
Lady Jane started to remove her bolero but the Russian raised a hand. “There is no need for that this time. We can do business based on trust, now that we have worked together, eh? It is Russian way.”
Was it “Russian way?” Lady Jane wondered.
“But let me see if I can help you some more, if you want to bet ten thousand pounds. You have a very nice dress, and, well, what is the jacket by itself, eh?… Sorry, I shall just have to call it a jacket. I am a man of simple tastes and simple words, but I think Mishka would look good in that dress too. So how much did that dress cost you, Miss Jane?”
The colour rose to Lady Jane’s face. Never had she been asked so directly how something had cost her!
“It was made especially by a very well-known designer. It cost me five thousand pounds, and is unique in the world!”
The Russian laughed. “Did it cost five thousand pounds, or did you just produce a figure that got you close to ten thousand pounds? Hm?” Lady Jane turned even redder at yet another insult. “No matter, no matter…” he continued, “I take you at your word, but what costs five thousand pounds, may not be sold again at the same price, eh? I say four thousand pounds, no more.”
Lady Jane stayed silent. It would have to do.
“You are silent, so we have a deal, eh?”
Lady Jane nodded, and then had another idea. “Plus the hat. It cost seven hundred pounds. If I lose, I’ll send you the dress, the bolero and the hat.”
The bookmaker laughed again. “That may be, that may be… but I do not like hats, and I do not think I like to see Mishka cover that pretty head of hers. No… no hat, neither I nor want it. We do not have a deal.”
Lady Jane ran a mental total in her head: the cash, the bolero and the dress came to eight thousand seven hundred pounds, and that would win her over one hundred thousand pounds. She could really start to rebuild her situation with that sum. However, the Russian bookmaker had more to add.
“But perhaps this deal is not fair after all… Let us see… If you win, you will take all of my money. Well, a deal is a deal. But if you lose, then Mishka will have an expensive dress and a jacket. But what about Sergey, eh? I feel I will not win either way, except the four thousand pounds, which I feel was mine in the first place, and seeing Mishka looking pretty, which she does already. No… no…”
Lady Jane felt disappointment well up. Although, if the bet wasn’t going to go ahead, at least she would be taking her money home with her.
“Miss Jane, I think there is something of value you have. I think you have your pride, no? So maybe we can make a bet… This is a story that I would tell back home, but maybe no-one would believe me that the rich English Lady would give me her dress and her jacket to try to win a few thousand pounds. Let us add to the deal whatever it is you are wearing under your dress then we shall consider the wager to be ten thousand pounds. A good deal, no?”
Lady Jane turned instantly red again, and this time in pure embarrassment at the proposal rather than the insult.
“Of course, I presume you are wearing something under the dress?” he continued, “I’m sorry if I have assumed something that is untrue. I am unfamiliar with many English customs.”
Lady Jane continued to blush. Her underwear was expensive, but it wasn’t worth thirteen hundred pounds. “What could he do with it anyway?” she thought. If the worst happened then certainly no-one would believe she had sent it to him.
With her face still glowing, Lady Jane took a leap of faith on the racing tip. “We have a deal.”
Sergey chuckled. “Let me just write you a betting slip…here, unfortunately I have to write the terms of the deal, and since I will not be taking anything by way of a deposit… this should be in order.”
Lady Jane looked at the paper this time. It had the name of the horse, “Sent Oar”, the odds of twelve to one, the stake value of ten thousand pounds, and the condition that her dress, her “jacket”, as Sergey had written, and her underwear would be his were she to lose. She put the paper into her purse and handed Sergey the money she had previously won.
“I trust this will be satisfactory as a deposit?” she said, not expecting a reply.
“I think you had better watch the race, eh?” Sergey said. “I think I will watch it on the screen too. This will be interesting…”
The door behind Lady Jane was opened and she returned to the VIP area again, still unable to read anything on Mishka’s expression as she passed.
Part 7 – Race 3
Lady Jane heard the starter’s gun fire as she was pushing through the crowd in the VIP area. Soon, she could almost see what was happening on the track below. The stakes were high and decorum went out of the window as she elbowed and shoved her way through to the front.
The horses were just rounding the first bend as she reached the handrail and, to her relief, Sent Oar was near the front. She had had no time to see which of the two was the favourite to win, but there appeared to be two others that were running strongly.
The three horses continued down the back straight virtually neck and neck. Lady Jane resisted jumping and shouting as Jess had done earlier, although it would have gone unnoticed amongst the crowd that were all doing the same. Butterflies filled her stomach and continued to grow as Sent Oar nosed every so slight further forward. By the time the horses exited the last bend it was a head in front and Jane felt her hands clenching, her nails digging into her purse as she willed it on.
As the line approached, the horse in second place began to edged alongside. Closer and closer it came, until it looked like it could be level, and would be in the lead any moment. Suddenly, the race ended. Neither jockey celebrated, each one unsure if they had won. The loudspeaker announced that there would be a photo to determine the finish.
Jane turned away from the track and retreated back into the VIP suite. Once away from the crowd she stopped, staring anxiously up at the monitors, waiting for the result. Within a few seconds the photo appeared: Sent Oar had finished in second place.
Lady Jane felt sick again. She had lost the four thousand two hundred pounds, and now she would have to send her clothes to that offensive man. She had gone too far, yet again, and now she would go home and contemplate what a huge mistake she had made.
She walked towards the exit door. She was only a few feet away when she felt one strong hand on her shoulder and another around her waist that steered her away. She tried to resist but continued to be pushed along. She looked around and saw the hands belonged to a large, muscular man in a suit. “Sergey wishes to see you,” he said, and continued to move her towards the bookmaker’s hall.
Should she make a scene now? She was certain it would attract the attention of the security guards, and that this man had no right to be handling her like this, but how could she explain it to all of the people around her?
In a moment she was through to the bookmaker’s hall and it was too late. She stopped her ineffectual resistance and allowed herself to be steered towards Sergey’s office. Mishka again opened the door, and again her expression was unreadable as her eyes met Jane’s.
Sergey smiled at her as she went inside.
“Ah, Lady Jane, I had not expected someone of your breeding to try to run away from your debt. Well, so be it, so be it.”
Lady Jane looked around her. The muscular man was standing in front of the door and Mishka had taken up position next to him.
“I wasn’t running away. My business was done here and I was returning home so that I could have your winnings sent to you.” That was genuinely what her plan had been.
Sergey laughed. “Oh, we have a misunderstanding… I had feared this would happen. If you will look at your betting slip you will see that all wagers must be settled before leaving the racecourse.” He smiled at Lady Jane, but there was little humour in his expression. It was pure gloating at a victory won.
“I’m afraid we do have a misunderstanding, Sir,” Lady Jane replied. “I distinctly remember an offer that, if I were to lose, I would send you my bolero, my dress and my hat. A verbal offer to send the items to you, and a verbal agreement is ‘Russian way’, I believe? No matter what the betting slip says.”
“Yes, but that was an offer that I declined, I’m afraid Miss Jane. I didn’t just decline the hat; I declined the entire proposition. You may assume what you want, but we did not discuss any variation of my terms. Delaying payment was never agreed.”
Lady Jane turned red and felt panic rise. How was she to extricate herself from this situation?
“Are you saying that you do not accept my word, sir? The word of me or my family has never been questioned before. In thirteen generations we have never failed to pay a debt or to keep a promise.”
Sergey laughed again and raised his hands in a calming motion. “I am saying no such thing, Miss Jane… I trust your word completely. But you must understand that we have a deal, and since you were so willing to bet your pride, I expect you to deliver on your half of the bargain. So, I would like, now, to see what kind of body it is that is produced by thirteen generations of English aristocratic breeding.” His eyes scanned up and down her tall, slender frame and Lady Jane felt herself cringe inside.
Nevertheless, she stood her ground. “I refuse,” she said, “What you are proposing is indecent and I will not countenance it. I will settle my debts in my own way and you shall receive payment today. Now, I will leave and you will be hearing from me shortly.”
Sergey made a gesture with his head and the large man in the suit took a step forwards. “If you are not willing to give me what is mine, then I can have Vlad take it from you. One way or another you will settle your debt before leaving this room, Miss Jane. It is your choice as to how this happens, although I believe I can guess which way Vlad would prefer, eh?”
Jane sighed and her head dropped for an instant. Then, she remembered who she was. She was Lady Jane, sole heir to the family name and, no matter what else might happen, she would not give this common man the satisfaction of seeing her cowed in shame, let alone to have her forcibly manhandled. She lifted her head and stared at Sergey as she put her purse onto the table and started to remove her bolero. She saw him smile and he nodded to Vlad to step back into position in front of the door.
As she struggled with the tight sleeves she felt hands on her shoulders that slid them down her arms. She realised with some relief that the hands on her were those of Mishka and not Vlad’s.
Sergey smiled, his face a picture of pure satisfaction. “I am glad you have decided to be reasonable, Miss Jane. Now, with Mishka’s help, we can resolve our business quickly, no?”
Lady Jane kept her eyes fixed on Sergey, determined not to show a hint of embarrassment. She felt the zip on the back of her dress opened down to the waist and Mishka’s soft hands were placed on her neck before moving outwards, parting the dress over her shoulders and pushing the straps so they dropped from her upper arms. Then, with a start, she felt a kiss planted on the back of her neck. An involuntary shiver ran through her that was generated partially from fear and, she had to admit, partially from pleasure.
“You can see that Mishka enjoys her work,” Sergey chuckled, “And sometimes she likes to improvise, eh Mishka?”
Lady Jane looked around at Mishka and saw her pupils wide and dilated and a slender tongue flick across her lips to moisten them. She turned back to glare at Sergey.
Mishka’s hands pulled the straps of the summer dress down Lady Jane’s forearms then moved to her waist and slid down over her hips and thighs, savouring every curve and pushing the dress down with them to pool on the floor at her feet. Lady Jane unconsciously crossed her arms over her chest, trying to project defiance at Sergey. Her white lace bra was largely opaque but the instinct to cover her breasts and hide the outline of her nipples was impossible to resist. She also felt more confident with arms folded. “I may be standing in front of you in my underwear,” she thought, “But I will always be better than you.”
She felt a hand around her ankle and compliantly lifted one foot and then the other as Mishka collected the dress and tossed it onto a chair.
“Okay, you’ve won,” she said, “Now, let me go. You’ve had your fun.” Perhaps she could stop this now.
Sergey just smiled. He was not going to stop now. She could see that in his face and a question formed in Lady Jane’s mind.
“Tell me: how did you do it?” she asked, “I mean, how did you fix the races?”
Sergey laughed as if the question itself was preposterous.
“My dear Miss Jane… I have never fixed a race in my life, and you must be careful about making such accusations. In my countries men have killed for less.” Lady Jane was even more confused and Sergey continued. “I had a bet with Mishka that I could get an English aristocratic lady to remove her clothes in front of me. She, of course, did not believe me because why would someone such as yourself, with breeding and class, do such a thing for a simple peasant such as I, eh?”
Lady Jane felt Mishka’s hand run teasingly up her spine and her back arched in response. She felt fingers under the back of her bra and it was unclasped and her small breasts sprang apart slightly. The hands again ran over her shoulders, pushing the straps outwards, but it was still held in place by Jane’s folded arms. Mishka’s hands continued across the front of her chest, moving her crossed arms out of the way and brushing over her breasts as her bra was taken from her. Her nipples hardened in as they were touched. Sergey paused in his speech and he was unable to prevent dropping his eyes to her chest. Jane’s nipples were pointing towards him as she saw her bra tossed onto the chair to join her dress.
“Although, if I had known that a lady of breeding would enjoy being undressed, then perhaps I would have set myself a more difficult challenge, eh?” Sergey laughed again and Lady Jane quickly re-crossed her arms, covering her nipples. She could feel them pressing into her forearms. “Such exquisite breasts should not be hidden, Miss Jane. But unfortunately, I did not think to put such a term onto the betting slip. Well, I shall remember next time, eh?
“You know, some men back home say that English women have too little to offer, that their chests are flat, their hips are wide, and their waists do not exist, but I am glad to see you proving them wrong.” His eyes continued to savour her naked torso and scanned up and down her lithe legs. Jane’s crossed arms served only to enhance her cleavage.
“But where was I… Oh yes. You see, I gave Mishka lots of pieces of paper with different horse names written on them this afternoon, and she has distributed them to many of the ladies attending today. Some have ignored them, some have placed bets and won, never to return, and some have lost at the first or second bet. Lady Jessica was satisfied to wager her jacket and she left with some of my money, but unfortunately I could not entice her to make a second bet.”
That part of it made sense to Lady Jane. Jess had won money and her jacket back and had sensibly stopped there.
“And then there was Lady Fortnum, who is now without a jacket. That one will soon be hanging in Mishka’s wardrobe. Unfortunately, I did not guess the winner correctly and so, having been given an incorrect tip, she was not drawn to place another bet.
“Then Lady… what was her name Mishka?”
“Lady Porchester,” Mishka replied in an accent that was even thicker than Sergey’s.
“Yes, Lady Porchester… Her jacket is now very tightly buttoned as she was willing to stake her blouse on a second wager, although unfortunately no more. Oh how I wish she had been wearing a… what is it you call it?… a bolero rather than a jacket. But unfortunately her state of undress is not apparent at a glance, and she retained her bra in any case. Perhaps if I had been lucky with the horse I had chosen for her second bet she would have taken a third and we would have seen a bit more.” Sergey shrugged with a wistful look on his face.
“And the Viscountess of Abridge… she was most interesting. She was willing to offer me her underwear, but not her dress. I was most keen to accept the wager, but when she lost she had had the foresight to remove them beforehand and merely placed the garments on my desk. So, although it was a win, it was not a satisfying one. She was an intelligent woman, and one I would have liked to have seen a great deal more of… and speaking of which…” He nodded towards Mishka.
Lady Jane felt Mishka’s hands push into the waistband of her underwear, slide over her thighs, and the knickers fell to the floor at her feet. She resisted moving her hand down to cover herself; there was no real point, and she did not want Sergey to have the satisfaction of seeing her try. He, on the other hand, was staring directly down at her. She again felt a hand around her ankle and lifted one foot and then the other, and then Mishka’s hand ran up the inside of Jane’s leg. The sensation triggered a wave of pleasure that ran through her. She fought to keep control of herself as her knickers were added to the pile of clothes on the chair. Mishka stood by her side.
“You have a most beautiful body, Miss Jane. Perhaps I should spend more time in England from now on. Don’t you think so Mishka?”
Lady Jane looked at Mishka and, for the first time, instead of an inscrutable expression, her eyes were full of life and her lips lightly pursed. Jane saw in Mishka’s eyes more lust than in Sergey’s. It was time to leave here.
“You have your winnings, Sergey,” Lady Jane said, turning to him, “Now, if you would show me the way out, I believe our business is concluded.”
Sergey laughed again. “You already know the way out, Miss Jane. Vlad, could you open the door for Miss Jane?”
Lady Jane heard the door being opened behind her. She hadn’t counted on having to exit through the VIP area. There must be another way out, but fear rose inside her at the possibility that she would be seen. She could see there was no other doorway out of Sergey’s office, but hopefully the betting hall would provide an alternative exit.
“You expect me to walk out of here naked?” she asked Sergey, who just laughed again.
“I expect nothing. You are welcome to spend the rest of the afternoon with Mishka and I if you wish. I’m sure we can find a way to occupy the time, eh Mishka?”
Jane again looked at the young woman who licked her full lips again.
“And besides,” Sergey continued, “You exaggerate. You are not entirely naked, I think. You still have your shoes, and, how is it the song goes, ‘You can keep your hat on’, eh? I believe that is from one of your English singers.”
“Tom Jones is Welsh you ignorant man,” Lady Jane replied and, mustering every ounce of self-control and dignity she could, she picked up her purse and turned and walked through the door. She had gotten herself into many difficult situations in her life but she couldn’t think of any that compared to this.
Part 8 – VIP
Lady Jane stepped into the betting hall and looked around. Thankfully, it was deserted, but she could also see that the only doors onto it were the booths of other bookmakers or back into the VIP area. Jane ran her options through her head.
Firstly, turning back and going to Sergey’s office was clearly out of the question. She dreaded to think what might pass for fun as far as Mishka was concerned.
Secondly, she could try to wait in here, hope that nobody came in, and then escape when the event was over. Perhaps a kindly cleaner would find her and give her something to cover herself with. But the race meeting could go on for hours if people stayed to talk, and there was no chance that the betting hall would stay empty throughout all of that time.
Third, she could make a run for it. With one arm across her breasts and her hat across her groin the people outside wouldn’t see much, but they would see the one thing that she did not want them to see: they would see shame on her face, and they would see weakness. No, an undignified dash would cause too much damage to her reputation.
Lastly, then, she could do what Lady Jane always did: she would bring to bear all of her breeding, her self-confidence, and her arrogance, and she could face down anyone who dared to question her before they had even thought to speak. Unusual behaviour was not unknown in the English aristocracy and, as one of its most respected members, if she did something then, by definition, it was the right thing to do.
Before her resolve faltered, Lady Jane drew in a deep breath, straightened her back, pushed out her chest, and let her arms fall by her side. With chin held high, she made one deliberate step at a time as she walked back into the VIP area.
As she emerged through the doorway she could feel a frisson pass across the room. Eyes darted towards her, opened wide in alarm, and then tried to look away. Some succeeded in maintaining a faltering conversation, but any who were unable to avert their gaze were left confused by the juxtaposition in front of them. Was that Lady Jane? Was she really naked, except for a small hat? Can anyone else see this? Does she know she’s naked? She certainly didn’t appear to know, not by the way she walked. Why was she paying as little attention to those around her as she had always done?
Jane walked over to the table at the back of the room and took a glass of champagne from the young waiter who, lacking the breeding of the others in the VIP area, was unable to do anything except gape as he handed her the glass.
“Oh, do grow up,” Lady Jane said, “Have you not seen a woman before?” She turned away, her chin still held high, determined that it was the waiter that was in the wrong. As it happened, the sight of Lady Jane was as much of a naked woman as he’d seen in the flesh for a long time, and he was going to make the most of every second of it. But would any of his friends believe the tale of the naked posh tottie that he’d seen today, and just how fit she’d been?
Lady Jane scanned the crowd, taking a sip from her glass. She judged that she could maintain her confident stride and the stern, unapproachable look on her face for another ten minutes before she would have to leave or crumple under the scrutiny. That would be enough time to assert to the stunned gathering that yes, she knew exactly what she was doing, and if anyone had a problem with it then it was they that would have to alter their world view.
No-one could maintain their gaze towards her as soon as they saw that Lady Jane’s eyes were going to meet theirs, but out of the corner of her eye she could see that most of the men, and some of the women, were unable to avoid sneaking glances at her. This had often been the case even when she was clothed, to tell the truth, as she had always cut an attractive figure.
The women would allow their eyes to flicker between her body and her face; Lady Jane led an active life, what with tennis matches, yoga and the gym, and knew her body stood up to scrutiny. She also knew how to portray complete confidence, having had it bred into her since birth, and the probing eyes could detect neither weakness nor self-doubt. Was this just a fashion statement? Lady Jane had worn daring outfits in the past, but this was far beyond that, surely.
The men, for their part, rarely lifted their eyes above her chest and she fought to keep herself from blushing as they visually devoured every part of her body, snatching furtive glances whenever they could. As she fought to master her embarrassment, or at least prevent it from showing, a strange sensation started to replace any feelings of shame and she realised that, in some aspects, the attention was quite enjoyable. On the one hand it was good that Lord Whitburn was not here to see her like this, but on the other: would it have been so bad? Perhaps he would like what he saw.
Lady Jane felt her nipples harden at the thrill. However, an aroused state was not something she wanted everyone to see and she decided to seek refuge in the crowd. She walked towards the front railing again to watch the last race of the day.
As she moved through the increasingly dense crowd she noticed Lady Fortnum looking at her, and noted that, as Sergey had said, she was without a jacket. Her eyes softened slightly as they met Jane’s; a mixture of understanding of her situation, and also gratification that she had escaped the same.
Jane paused and looked around the room and then saw Lady Porchester standing bolt upright, a nervous look in her eyes and her elbows firmly clamped against her sides to hold her jacket in place. “You and I both know you’re not wearing a blouse under there,” Jane thought with a smile, and almost forgot her own situation for a moment.
Continuing forwards she could feel the groups she passed tense as she wove between their conversations, which invariably faltered as those whose sight she passed in front of struggled to maintain a line of thought.
As the crowd became thicker still and she could no longer manoeuvre between gaps and had to physically push between people. She began to identify fabrics just by their feel against her skin. Soft cotton dresses against her thighs and silk blouses against her breasts were both pleasant sensations, although tweed jacket across hardened nipples was a little too much unless navigated at slow speed.
As Lady Jane squeezed through another space she heard a female voice speak quietly beside her. “Love the outfit, dear.” She looked around and saw the Viscountess of Abridge wink at her. “We must have tea together and swap stories.” This was an unexpected outcome: the Viscountess had never invited Lady Jane into her social circle before. Jane glanced down and thought she could discern the outline of the Viscountess’ nipples pressing against her dress as she remembered that the woman in front of her had recently lost her underwear to the Russian bookmaker.
Finally, she reached the front of the VIP area. The common folk below were too fixated on the horses on the track to turn around and see the naked aristocrat who was now idly sipping at champagne. Lady Jane gazed into the middle distance, taking in the race with a disinterested stare. At least there was nothing at stake now; she had maintained her dignity, somehow, and, although she knew there would be gossip, it would not know on what terms to discuss her behaviour. Most likely, it would be put down to a whim, or a dare, or just a strange foible of the type that people with money are wont to have.
Lady Jane leant on the handrail and enjoyed the feeling of the cool air flowing across her bare skin, the weak afternoon sun warming her bare back. There were certainly pleasurable aspects to this experience, once she thought about it philosophically, and, if she was soon to be entering a fall from grace and a debt spiral, then perhaps it was better to go out with a bang than a whimper. If there was one thing that was certain, it was that Lady Jane would not be forgotten.
She heard a small cough behind her and she turned her head. Standing there was a young man in a fine suit whose chin was virtually pointing towards the sky, so determined was he to keeps his eyes raised and not stare at the naked body in front of him. “Staff of the highest quality,” Lady Jane judged from his appearance and behaviour, and she approved.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the man said. Who would dare to approach her like this, she wondered.
“Yes? May I help you?” She turned her body to face him and he was unable to prevent his eyes flickering towards her bare breasts before he pointed his chin even higher and stared intently at a spot just above her forehead.
“I have been asked to give you this and wait for a reply.” He handed over a folded piece of paper without looking down.
What on earth was this? Lady Jane wondered. She had had enough of racing tips, and the last race of the day was just finishing in any case. She unfolded the piece of paper and read the message.
“Lord Whitburn requests the pleasure of your company from 7pm this evening. Come as you are.”
Lady Jane tingled inside. She smiled as she looked at the man who had delivered the note. “You can tell Lord Whitburn that I shall be very happy to see him at seven o’clock.” He made a slight bow and disappeared back into the crowd.
Lady Jane turned back to the now empty track to finish her champagne. Perhaps the afternoon had not been such a catastrophe after all.