It was as I was returning from a trip up to Manchester that I saw the sign: ‘Stewartby Park Prestige Hotel’. I vaguely remembered hearing that the old place had been converted, some years after she died, but it hadn’t really hit home to me until that moment. Before I’d even realised it I’d swung the car between the gate posts and started up that familiar wide, sweeping gravel drive, framed by rhododendron bushes. After a few hundred yards I rounded a corner and saw again the huge, sprawling former stately home I’d last set eyes on more than 30 years earlier, its crooked Tudor chimneys silhouetted against the afternoon sky.
I paused for a moment; it was ridiculous, in barely an hour I could be back in Maidenhead, relaxing in my own home, sipping my own 20-year old malt whisky, sleeping in my own bed next to Susie. But as I released the handbrake I knew I was going to check into the hotel, was going to spend a night again in this place that held so many memories for me.
I entered the cavernous reception hall, with its grand staircase winding towards the upper floors, its glassy-eyed stag heads on the wall, and its medieval polished suits of armour — they were an addition since I’d last been here. The wall behind the reception area was dominated by a huge portrait in oils, of a slim, elderly woman, haughty but with a warm twinkle in her eye, with Slavic features, dressed in white silk, a tiara perched in her white hair and a double string of pearls around her long neck. The receptionist noticed me staring at it and explained that it was of the lady who had formerly owned the estate. Of course, I didn’t need telling. Later, as I lay back in the king-sized bed in my room, I thought about that painting and the past flooded back into my mind.
It was 1975 and I’d just left university, very proud of my shiny new degree and determined to make up for the years when Susie had supported me with her salary and the handouts she got from her wealthy parents, despite their thinly disguised disapproval of me. We’d been married just over a year, and now Suze was pregnant with Jemma and it was time for me to become the family breadwinner. Not that we were going to be holidaying in the Seychelles on the weekly wage I was getting from my new employer, the Bedfordshire Weekly Gazette, but everyone has to start somewhere. Nobody would have believed then that the skinny, long-haired 23-year old in the fur-trimmed parka and the brown corduroy trousers would eventually achieve the status I enjoy today, Richard Chapman, one of the most respected commentators in the British news media.
My boss at the Gazette was Reg Hollins, the Features Editor, who’d been with the paper 40 years. (As is so often the way with small local papers, he was also Sports Editor, Crime Editor and Obituary Librarian.) One Monday about two months after I started, Reg called me into the broom cupboard he called his office and told me he wanted me to go to Stewartby Park — which I’d never heard of at that time — to interview the owner, the Grand Duchess Xenia Yekaterina Alexandrovna Romanova-Devers-Stewartby, no less. Once he’d explained to me who she was I raised objections. I was a bit of a leftie — the left wing of British politics still existed in those far-off days — and I’d gone into journalism to right social wrongs and reveal scandal and corruption in high places, not interview some old Tsarist crone, no doubt dripping in jewellery, furs, and opinions which would make Adolf Hitler sound like a modernising libertarian. But Reg patted me on the shoulder and introduced me to the real world.
“Look, College,” (his nickname for me) “I’d love to be sending you to interview Nixon about the truth behind Watergate, but unfortunately that doesn’t have much impact on the good citizenry of Bedfordshire. I’ve got a crap features page to fill with meaningless bollocks every week, and in case you haven’t noticed we’re not exactly overloaded with celebrities around here. I’ve done Eric Morecambe (our local comedy legend) to death, and the vintage car rally’s not till next month, so I’ve got to find something to put on the bloody page. Lady Xenia’s just turned 75, and the august journal which pays what we laughingly call our salaries was founded 75 years ago this month, so that’s a nice tie-in. Plus she’s a bit of a recluse, hardly been seen outside the place since Lord Stewartby died 15 years back, so her condescending to give us an interview is a bit of a scoop — a world exclusive you might say. Sarcasm aside, look on the bright side, she might tell you where they hid the Romanov millions, or where Anastasia really is, or something. Anyway, you’re doing it, so stop whining, get off your spotty Marxist-Leninist arse and get down there. She’s expecting you at two-thirty.” So I stomped bad-tempered back to my desk, grabbed my camera and notebook and, as I left the office, I heard the old bastard whistling Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago.
Stewartby was a few miles outside Bedford, and as I approached it, along a country lane, I drove beside a mile of eight foot high stone wall, which turned out to be the boundary of the 400-acre estate I was to visit. The entrance was marked by two gate posts, lacking the gates that had obviously once hung there, each surmounted by a stone eagle balancing precariously on a cannon ball. The rather winding driveway took me between a forest of trees and flowered bushes, which opened out onto a wide circular gravelled area in front of a massive, ugly house. I couldn’t even begin to guess how big it was — four storeys, plus an artificial looking crenulated tower at each end, and what seemed to be hundreds of windows, most of them looking pretty grimy. As I parked I realised how out of place I was going to look in my War On Want clothes and my crappy, rusty Ford Cortina; but I wasn’t going to kowtow to any bourgeois aristocrat leftover from history, and I strode up the dozen steps to the massive front door with my head held high and firmly gripped the brass bell pull.
The butler who answered my summons was straight out of central casting — sixty-ish, six feet three, receding white hair, frock coat, and gold and black striped waistcoat straining over a puffed-up chest. I immediately felt about a foot shorter than my five-ten and, staring at my scuffed plastic shoes, mumbled that I was here to see her ladyship. The guy looked me up and down as if wondering how best to lift me into the bin without actually touching me, glanced with distaste at my car and, in a pained voice, told me he supposed I’d better come in. He pointed mutely at a red and gold chaise longue and, without another word, stalked off, his footsteps on the marble floor echoing around an entrance hall larger than my entire flat. From the distant wall a severed red deer stag’s head with huge antlers stared disdainfully at me. After a couple of minutes Jeeves returned and ordered me to follow him. We went down a long corridor panelled in dark wood and lined with 18th Century fox hunting prints, towards a very solid looking door, on which my guide rapped smartly before entering.
The room I followed him into was a surprise — it was delightful. Small and cosy, decorated in cream, with a matching modern three-piece suite, French windows looking out on a pretty rose garden. Sitting in a comfortable armchair, one hand on the handle of a tall silver coffee pot, was the lady I’d come to see. She rose as I entered and, with a warm smile, stepped forward and shook my hand then directed me to a chair opposite hers. In flat shoes she was a couple of inches shorter than me, with a surprisingly firm handshake. In a light voice tinged with, to my ears, a slight Zsa Zsa Gabor accent she invited me to sit in the chair opposite hers, in front of a real fire, and dismissed the butler with thanks. As I sat an elderly cocker spaniel, sprawled in front of the fireplace, raised its head, but clearly decided I wasn’t as exciting as the rabbits of its dreams and flopped back down.
Lady Xenia offered me tea and, as she poured for me from a silver pot I surreptitiously studied her. Her snow white hair, permed into loose curls, hung almost to her shoulders. Her skin, almost as pale as her hair, seemed as thin as tissue paper, stretched taut across her high cheekbones, marbled by fine blue veins at her temples and on the backs of her hands. She had a good bone structure, only a few laughter lines around her pale blue eyes and mouth, a nose just a little too long and pointed for perfection and thin, wide lips. I guessed that in her youth she was probably breathtakingly beautiful. She was dressed in a cream silk blouse and navy slacks which emphasised a trim figure. I thanked her for the tea, calling her your ladyship, but with another warm smile she said, “Please, you must call me Xenia, and you are Richard, yes?”
My determination to despise the Russian grand duchess of my imagination quickly disappeared as I relaxed and chatted to this elegant, charming lady. After we’d talked for a few minutes she said, “Well, you’re here to learn about my life, aren’t you, so I suppose I had better tell you.” She explained that she had been born in St Petersburg in 1900, a distant cousin to Tsar Nicholas II. His daughters had been her childhood friends, especially Olga and Anastasia. To my embarrassment Xenia wiped away a tear as she told me of her devastation at their assassination, and how she blamed Britain’s Queen Mary for it. “People say it was King George who stopped Uncle Nicky and the family coming to England, for fear of the British communists, but in truth it was Mary who insisted against it. She was a very minor German princess who married above herself and, like so many small people in that position, she adored exercising her power and influence.” The blame didn’t stop there either. “The Bolsheviks offered to let the girls go at least, but their stupid, sauerkraut mother Alicky (the Tsarina) wouldn’t let her little chickens go without her, so instead she allowed them all to be slaughtered with her.”
Truly fascinating though these snapshots from history were, time was wearing on and I still knew very little about the Grand Duchess herself. How, for example had she escaped the Revolution? “My papa paid an officer in the Imperial Guard, Captain Kazamirov, to get me away. He must have been in his mid-30s but, my God, he seemed so old to me, although rakishly handsome. Petersburg and the route to Finland were locked off by the Reds, so we had to go south. It wasn’t easy, but the countryside was in total chaos.” She paused for a moment, then said, in a very calm voice, “Kazamirov waited until the third day before he raped me while I slept — my 18th birthday. After that he made it clear that I was his price for carrying out his mission. I was to sleep with him every night, and do whatever he demanded, or he would simply abandon me, or worse. He was a pig, but I had grown up in palaces, I knew nothing of real life, the entire country was in chaos, so I did his bidding.”
I listened with growing astonishment as she continued the tale of her flight. Her father had given her money and jewels, but that was quickly used up as the pair paid their way across the land, dodging Bolshevik lynch mobs. At one point, near Rostov, they were captured, and for 24 hours it looked as if they would be killed. “But then I let the brigands’ leader have me over his desk in return for safe passage.” It was not just the story Xenia was telling me that had me staring at her in open-mouthed incredulity; it was also the matter-of-fact way she was relating it, as if she was describing a slightly irritating journey to work by public transport. She actually smiled at the look on my face. “When you are desperate enough to live, Richard, you will do whatever is necessary to achieve it. When I left my parents’ home I had never so much as held a boy’s hand. By the time we reached Sochi I was as skilled at pleasuring men as any Moscow street whore. Kazamirov once told me that he had slept with a thousand whores, and I had the cleverest tongue in all the Russias.”
In Sochi Kazamirov found a Dutch merchant ship whose captain agreed, for a high price, to carry Xenia to sanctuary. The price included an armed guard on her cabin door every night, and to his credit the captain kept that bargain. Kazamirov didn’t go with them, but faded into the murky shadows of a country in turmoil. Xenia never found out for sure the fate of her parents, but the family home outside St Petersburg became the dacha of a high-ranking Soviet minister. She was quiet for a few minutes after that, while my head spun at what she’d told me. Then she said, “I haven’t thought about those days for a long time. I am tired now. We will continue this tomorrow Richard.”
I hadn’t planned on visiting the place more than once, but before I could say anything she’d summoned old Jeeves and he’d whisked me out of there like a bad smell. As I drove away I was beginning to think that there was more than just a provincial newspaper feature in this, possibly an entire biographical volume. I stopped at a telephone box to give Reg the bad news (the only place where they had mobile communications devices in those days was the Starship Enterprise). I could envisage him raking his hand through his thinning hair as he sighed heavily and replied, “Okay, but don’t forget, College, your deadline’s four o’clock Thursday, or we’ll be printing your obituary come Friday.”
The following morning Suzie looked at me in amazement when I dressed in a suit and tie for work. The look turned to one of scorn when I explained that as I was interviewing a member of the Russian nobility I felt I ought to make a bit of an effort. As I arrived at Stewartby, just after nine in the morning, I saw Xenia emerging from the woods behind the house, dressed (ironically) in corduroy trousers, complemented by walking boots and a wax jacket, the dog at her heels. As she approached she gave me a cheery wave, and explained that she liked to walk at least two miles every day. Then she looked me up and down, and said almost teasingly, “You’re looking very smart this morning Richard.”
She led me into the house via a small utility room where she removed her boots and jacket, then left me in her sitting room while she showered and changed. I sat and petted the old spaniel for a while, getting muddy paws on my suit, then took the opportunity to have a look at some silver-framed photos standing on a sideboard and confirmed my suspicions about my hostess’s looks. In one of the pictures she was in her twenties, quite stunning in monochrome, a willowy blonde wreathed in furs and diamonds, accompanied by an equally glamorous young man in top hat and tails.
I jumped as the duchess spoke close behind me — I hadn’t heard her enter. “That’s dear Teddy Mountebanks — he and I were lovers for a while in, oh, 1922 I think.” I was still a bit shocked at the relaxed way in which she talked about her ‘romantic encounters’ to almost a complete stranger, and she laughed brightly at the look on my face. Shaking her head as she sat, she said, “You young people, you act as if you invented sex! I found early on that I enjoyed being with men, and that I was good at it. When I first arrived in England I was young, beautiful and exotic, but penniless. Fortunately I met several lovely young men who saw to it that I never had to pay for anything, and who were very kind to me.” Sitting opposite her, I gallantly told Xenia she was still beautiful. She laughed off my compliment, but clearly enjoyed it. She was wearing a knee-length, short-sleeved black dress, with a silver and pearl brooch at her left breast. The dress accentuated the paleness of her skin and, I couldn’t help noticing, revealed a surprisingly shapely pair of lower legs, sheathed in sheer black stockings.
Xenia continued her story from the previous day. The Dutch ship had taken her to Alexandria, where the British administration had arranged her transit to England. She stayed there for a couple of years, but found it dull. “I met the king and queen a few times, but generally they froze me out, like all the Russian aristocracy who had settled in London. In the spring of 1921 Xenia accepted an invitation to accompany her latest paramour on a luxury cruise liner to New York. She didn’t love the man, but she did fall in love with the Big Apple.
As she spoke nostalgically of her days as the toast of New York society, the men who had buzzed around her like flies, and the ones she took as lovers, I was slowly drawn into the glamorous world of her memories. Listening to her reminiscences, I could see the beautiful young woman from that old photo in the elderly lady sitting before me. In fact, despite the white hair, and the frailty of her advanced years, she still was beautiful. Her eyes shone, her gleaming smile radiated warmth, as she laughed at some memory or other her small but prominent breasts rose and fell. I had never previously thought it about an elderly lady, especially one older than my grandmother, never even considered the possibility, but there was no doubt that Lady Xenia Stewartby remained a very attractive woman.
She drew proceedings to a halt at the point where, after five years of playing the field of high society in Manhattan, she met her late husband. It was still early afternoon and I pleaded with her. “Please Xenia…your ladyship,,,I have to file this story in two days’ time, and I need time to write it up. Can we not go on just a little bit longer?”
She smiled but shook her head firmly. “Tomorrow Richard. Then, I promise you, I will tell you everything else there is to tell about me.” I didn’t like it, and I knew Reg would be tearing his hair out when I told him, but I had no choice. Instead of calling her butler Xenia led me towards the front door herself, but she paused at the entrance to a side corridor. “Would you like to see the ballroom?” Anything to spin things out a bit longer I thought, and smiled and nodded. She led me down the corridor to a large set of double doors, and flung them open. The room beyond was huge, with a raised stage at one end, but rather dingy with a scuffed wooden floor, and looked as if it hadn’t seen a paintbrush for at least 20 years. But as Xenia’s eyes roamed over it they sparkled, and her voice softened. “Ah, we had some great times in here, such wonderful balls. A full orchestra playing, the cream of society; it only ever gets used for the occasional village bring and buy sale and suchlike these days. Do you know, I danced with David…Edward VIII as he became…in this room. He was a lovely dancer, and a gorgeous man. That was only a few months before he met that dreadful Simpson woman who ruined everything…”
Her voice trailed off, leaving me wondering exactly what Wallis had ruined, then, surprising me, she turned to me, took both of my hands in hers and asked, “Will you dance with me Richard? Just one dance.” I thought maybe I’d found her batty streak, but I needed to keep her happy so I moved into a waltz position and we began twirling around the room. Xenia started to sing a tune from her memory; she was an infinitely better dancer than I, still very light on her feet, and I began to relax and actually enjoy the dance, my arm resting lightly around her slim waist as she gazed into my eyes, a broad smile on her face. We danced for perhaps five minutes then Xenia halted and stepped back. My hand in hers she half-whispered “Thank you Richard. It is so long since I’ve done that.” Still holding my hand she led me to the entrance hall, past the snooty butler, and, at the door, leant in and kissed me on the cheek before mouthing “I’ll see you tomorrow darling.” My stomach was churning as I steered down the long drive to the road, my mind fogged in confusion. I was a young, married man, very much in love with my wife, who was carrying my unborn child; yet as I’d danced with Xenia I’d felt a distinct stirring in my loins, and thoughts had flashed through my head which I would never have believed I could have about an old woman.
Before driving home I called at Bedford Central Library, and borrowed a couple of books on Imperial Russia, and a volume of biographies, including that of Lord Stewartby. One of the Russian books made the briefest of references to Xenia; in the other I found a double-page photo of the extended Romanov Royal Family, lined up almost like a school photo, or a rather bizarre football squad. It dated from 1913; there must have been 50 or 60 people in it, the Tsar and Tsarina at its centre, but in the front row just to their left, sitting on a lawn beside her cousin and friend the Grand Duchess Anastasia, was the young Xenia. In an appendix to that book I found an order of precedence to the vacant throne of Russia. It was a few years out of date, and ignored the fact that, at the time of the Revolution, only a male heir could succeed, but in that list Xenia was 17th in line to become Tsarina of Russia, were the position ever restored. In the Stewartby biography she played a surprisingly small part, little more than a shadow always some steps behind the Great Man. That night, even as I lay holding my half-asleep pregnant wife in my arms, my last thought before sleeping was of Xenia, as was my first thought on waking.
The next morning I arrived at Stewartby Hall sharp at 9.30am, knowing I had to finish the interview that day in order to pull my article together. Xenia was wearing an attractive peach-coloured sleeveless dress which showed off her slim arms and ended just above the knee, reminding me how shapely were her legs, clad this time in flesh-tone stockings. I tried to get straight down to things but, to my growing frustration, she spent the first half hour talking about everything but her life story: the weather, her rose garden, her dog’s ear problems…Eventually she giggled and shook her head. “I’m sorry Richard, I am being very naughty, teasing you like this. Okay, so, in 1926 I met Joe Stewartby…”
Xenia had met her husband at a party on the opening night of a Broadway show he’d funded. He’d been born Joop de Vos in Johannesburg, but changed his name early in life to Joseph Devers. A skilled and uncompromising businessman, within a few weeks of settling in Britain he had bought an ailing newspaper business, the Daily Inquirer, and after two years had turned in around and made it one of the successes of Fleet Street. He bought his grand home from a baronet ruined by stock market speculation and gambling, and changed his name again to Stewartby when he bought a peerage from Lloyd George’s government, an infamous cash for honours trade long before Tony Blair thought of it. As Xenia wryly put it when she saw the look on my face, “Yes, he could pretty much buy anything he wanted, including me.”
Short and squat with a bull-neck, and almost twice Xenia’s age, she found him physically unattractive but was drawn like a moth to a flame to the air of authority and power he exuded, not to mention his fortune. The next day he telephoned her and informed her he was taking her to dinner; the following morning, after she slipped out of his hotel suite, she broke off her engagement to a New York bank heir, and within two months she had become Lady Stewartby, her husband’s third and final wife.
She was quite frank about the nature of their relationship. “There was never really any love between us, but the arrangement suited both of us. My background gave him the status to rub shoulders with the upper echelons of society whose respect he craved, and his wealth gave me more or less anything I wanted.” Her next comment caught me completely off-guard. “Joe was very coarse, and he had no finesse. He used to roger me like a bull attacking a gate, from the front or behind, slamming me into the headboard of the bed. I’ll bet you’re not like that, Richard. I see you as a sensitive, considerate lover — am I right?” She placed a hand lightly on my knee and, feeling my face turn scarlet with embarrassment, I quickly tried to move the conversation on, causing Xenia to give a soft laugh and shake her head in amusement.
Despite his best efforts, Xenia and her husband never had children, and the divide which had always existed between them gradually widened. Joe’s newspaper had supported Mosley’s black-shirts in the years before the Second World War, whereas Xenia, with her experiences at the hands of the Bolsheviks, despised all forms of political extremism. A few years into the marriage she fell deeply in love with another man, but Stewartby refused her a divorce and her lover married another. After that they went their separate ways within the marriage: Joe had his mistresses and Xenia was free to take lovers as long as she was discreet and didn’t expect to escape her husband’s clutches. They rarely spoke to each other, or even saw each other in private, occupying different parts of the house, although for years they kept up a public show of togetherness. During the war Xenia had volunteered in the WRVS and run their local headquarters from the house. When her husband died from a heart attack in 1960 — allegedly in the bed of an up-and-coming young stage and TV actress the Inquirer had been promoting — it was one of the happiest days of Xenia’s life. In the years since she had lived quietly with her horses, until following a fall her doctor forbade riding, her dogs and a handful of deeply loyal staff.
I was appalled by this sad, lonely tale, and actually felt a lump in my throat as she related it to me. Xenia smiled and, reaching for my hand, said, “Come, let’s go dance and cheer ourselves up. Then you can go away and write your story about me.” Feeling a little dazed I followed her to the now familiar ballroom. It took me a moment to realise that since the previous day she had set up a tape player in the room; she pressed a button, kicked off her shoes, took my hand and we began to dance. The first two pieces were waltzes, one by Strauss and one I didn’t recognise. It felt strange, just the two of us twirling around that huge empty room to the echoing tinny music, but once again I found myself relaxing and enjoying the experience. As it ended I started to disengage myself, but then, in total contrast, Glen Miller’s Moonlight Serenade struck up. Instantly Xenia reached her arms around my neck and pulled me close. I rested my hands on her hips and we shuffled together to the mellow, slow rhythm of the music. Inclining her mouth towards my ear she murmured, “Ah, this brings back such memories.”
As the tune continued Xenia pressed herself still closer to me. To adjust to her movements I shifted my hands from her hips to the small of her back. As we swayed together, her midriff in constant contact with mine, to my surprise and embarrassment I felt my cock beginning to stir, and quickly rising to a full erection. Xenia couldn’t have been unaware of it, and delicately I tried to pull away slightly, so as not to alarm her; but far from being perturbed she followed my movements, and I was quite sure that she was consciously rubbing against me, causing my prick to rise still further. I could feel a sheen of nervous sweat forming at the nape of my neck, dampening my hair, but I continued the dance to its conclusion, her belly pressed to mine, her breasts a twin pressure against my chest. The music ended but we remained locked together in that position for several seconds, my heart racing. Xenia smiled up at me, her eyes gleaming with pleasure, her cheeks flushed, her expensive perfume filling my head, her red-painted lips inches from mine. I could actually feel her breath on my face, and I was certain she was going to pull my head down to into a kiss. After a few seconds, though, she broke the silence, whispering, “Thank you darling, that was quite wonderful”, then released her arms from around my neck and stepped back, before turning to recover her shoes. As she dropped her arms, however, the palm of her hand passed ‘accidentally’, but very distinctly, across my bulging crotch.
As she had done the previous day she took my hand in hers and led me towards her front door. This time she interlaced her fingers in mine and walked very close to me, her arm resting against mine. My mouth dry with nervous tension I comforted myself with the thought that I’d got all I needed for the article, and however awkward the situation I’d never need to visit Stewartby again.
At the door Xenia took my other hand as well and turned me to face her. Looking serious,, her eyes fixed on mine, she asked, “Richard, will you come and see me again tomorrow?” My heart in my mouth I asked why. She held my gaze for a long moment then, with a small shrug, answered simply, “Because I asked you to. And because we are friends — aren’t we? And because dancing with you has given me more…pleasure than I have felt in a very long time.”
As I drove away I cursed myself bitterly. Why the fuck had I said yes? From the moment I got home until late into the night I worked and re-worked my article on Xenia, but always with my promise to visit her again weighing in the back of my mind. I left a lot of things out, and I skimmed over a lot of things; frankly, it would have been easy to make her appear to have spent her life as an aristocratic whore and a leech, but that would not have been accurate, or fair, and I didn’t want to do it to her. After all, I was writing for the Bedfordshire Weekly Gazette, not the News of the World or Titbits, and I wrote the fluffy, pandering personality piece I knew our readers would want.
I didn’t sleep well that night, and ended up hunched on the couch so as not to disturb Susie. I got up early, tucked my story into a manila envelope, together with a film cartridge containing several shots which could be used to illustrate it — the house, Xenia, the rose garden, the dog — then drove into Bedford and left it with a yawning receptionist to pass to Reg. To cover my absence for the day I also left him a note that I had a splitting migraine and was going back to bed. Then I sloped off to a back-street café to kill time eating a bacon sandwich and drinking a couple of gallons of coffee.
I felt as guilty as hell, not for throwing a sicky at work, but because it felt as if I was betraying my wife. Not that I expected anything really outrageous to happen — after all, I was just paying another visit to an eccentric elderly lady. I was deeply aware, though, that this old lady had once been a predatory young beauty who had screwed Christ knew how many blokes, who had told me that “being fucked” was the greatest joy of her life, and who was clearly attracted to me. And the worst of it was, despite the differences in our ages, and despite the cloud of guilt hanging over me, I found Xenia intriguing, and fun, and I couldn’t deny to myself that I felt a certain physical attraction towards her too. I expected that all that would happen that day was that we would dance again, she would probably get her rocks off by rubbing herself up against me again and maybe giving me another hard-on, and then I’d leave. Even so, there was no valid reason for me to be going back to Stewartby, and I knew I shouldn’t go.
We had agreed to lunch, and I arrived about 20 minutes early. Xenia herself met me at the front door of the house, closely followed by the spaniel, its stumpy tail wagging. She looked fabulous, having opted for the Greek goddess image: a thick gold band circling her throat, a white figure-hugging ankle-length dress, which exposed an expanse of pale chest and a hint of cleavage, an intricate gold wire bracelet around one wrist, and strappy gold sandals exposing gold painted toe nails. As I stepped close she placed her hands on my shoulders and kissed me softy on each cheek. Her lipstick was darker than usual, a burgundy shade, her cheeks were lightly rouged and she was wearing a different fragrance to her usual, a flowery one with slight musky undertones.
We drank rich, oily sherry before entering a small dining room, not the huge hall where in the past 60 or more guests at a time had eaten. Xenia was in professional hostess mode, bright and charming, full of small talk, the conversation entirely neutral. The butler served us, trying hard not to look as if he resented my very presence in the house, assisted by a middle-aged Filipino maid I hadn’t met before. The meal was superb: real oxtail soup, succulent roast beef that melted in my mouth, and a deliciously spiced apple crumble with cream, all washed down with a bottle of glorious red wine probably more expensive than I could afford with a week’s wages. Then, with me feeling rather stuffed and a little lightheaded from the drinks, we retired to the familiar sitting room. Instead of the chairs we had previously occupied, Xenia directed me to large soft sofa then sat beside me, perhaps a foot away, and poured coffee.
I handed her a copy of the article and watched nervously, praying she wouldn’t demand changes, as she read it, sipping her coffee. For minutes the only sound in the room was the ticking of a large and ornate ormolu clock on the mantelpiece. Finally she looked up from the article and, with a shy smile, said softly, “Thank you Richard, you’ve been very kind, very discreet.” Finishing my coffee, weak with relief, I thanked her for a wonderful lunch. She nodded and said, “It was my great pleasure darling.” Then she placed her cup on the low table in front of us, slid along the sofa to within inches of me and took my cup. She gazed searchingly at me for a few moments then with a single finger stroked a strand of hair from my forehead. Then she dropped her hand to my shoulder and murmured, “You know, Richard, you really are a very beautiful young man.”
I knew I wasn’t, but her blatant flattery caught me off-guard and I was tongue-tied and speechless. Of course, if I’d been sober that’s the moment when I would probably have leapt up, told her I was very flattered, then made my excuses and left, as they say. But the combination of the sherry, the wine and her cloying perfume acted like a drug on me, dulling my instincts and muddling my brain. Caught in her gaze like a moth held captive by a flame, after a few moments I felt bare toes slip up inside my trouser leg and stroke my shin. I was about to say something — I didn’t know what — when her hand slipped from my shoulder and around my neck and she pulled me gently towards her. Lost in the moment, a small part of my brain shocked at my compliance, I leant in and she kissed me on the lips.
Her other arm joined the first around my neck and she eased forwards, until she was laying half on top of me. At first we kissed softly, tenderly, but quickly our connection turned to a passionate gnawing at each other, our mouths pressed hard together, our tongues wrestling like combative snakes, as her thigh pressed between my legs, against my groin. Without me realising my hand found one of her breasts — unfettered by a brassiere beneath her dress — and I gently squeezed it, feeling a nipple pressing into my palm. One of Xenia’s arms left my neck and she began to fumble at the belt of my trousers. In moments she had skilfully undone it, and with no hesitation she dragged them and my boxer shorts halfway down my thighs.
Snatching her lips from mine, she slid down the sofa and I gasped as I felt her mouth close over my scrotum. She tickled my balls with her tongue while tracing her fingertips electrically along the length of my already hard prick, then ran her tongue up the underside of my shaft before taking me into her mouth. I gazed down in astonishment at the head of white hair bobbing at my groin, part of me still not quite believing that a woman 52 years older than me, a Russian countess distantly related to our own queen, was sucking my cock.
I heard a sound outside the door to the room and for a moment had a horrible vision of the butler walking in and finding us like that; then everything flew from my mind except the feel of Lady Xenia Stewartby’s lips and tongue feasting on my cock and balls. Old Captain Kazamirov had been right — it was the most fantastic blowjob I’d ever had as she trailed her tongue around my knob, and sucked me deep into her throat to take my balls into her mouth at the same time. I lay back, my eyes closed as I felt myself about to explode…then she stopped. I felt her slither up my body again then her lips were on mine, her tongue exploring my mouth and her fingers stroking through my chest hair under my shirt. She waited until I’d started to cool down a bit then repeated the process, playing my cock like a piccolo until my orgasm neared and then pulling back. By the third time she went down on me I was all but begging her to let me cum, and as the moment approached I wound my fingers into her expensive coiffeur and held her on my dick. She gave a throaty chuckle and guzzled greedily at me as, with a huge upward jerk of my hips, I erupted into her mouth. She kept sucking until she had every last drop then sat up and made a show of swilling my jizz around her mouth like a fine claret then swallowing it. Then she kissed me again, smearing the remnants of my juice around the inside of my mouth.
I was still a little drunk, and dazed by what had just happened. Xenia, however, calmly stood, pulled me up, re-secured my trousers around my waist and guided me by the hand out of the room and through a small door I hadn’t noticed before. It led to the back stairs of the house, and we emerged on the first floor opposite what turned out to be her bedroom. Once inside she eased her dress off her shoulders and it fell to the floor around her feet. Beneath it she was completely naked. Wordlessly she stepped out of the dress, crossed the room to the bed, lay on it with her legs slightly splayed and, sitting up on her elbows, gazed at me with one elegant eyebrow raised questioningly.
Christ, I had never seen anything like her. Her long slim body was as pale as alabaster, with only a few wrinkles here and there to mark her age. Without the support of a bra her breasts sagged a little, but were still impressive, with brown nipples, the longest I’d ever seen, perhaps an inch. A couple of blue veins traced down the thin skin on her hips, and at the base of her belly was a downy silver patch of pubic hair. Not an ounce of spare fat could be seen on her thighs, between which I could see the hairless pink folds of her vagina.
I must have stood staring at her beauty for fully twenty seconds before, with the tiniest hint of impatience, she said “Well?” That snapped me out of my reverie, and without a second thought I quickly removed my own clothes, lay beside her, took her in my arms and kissed her with renewed passion, her breasts crushed against my chest, one of her feet stroking my shin. When we came up for air she triumphantly whispered “I wanted you to fuck me the first time we met; and within half an hour I knew you would.” We kissed some more and I felt her hand close around my already stiff knob. Completely surrendering to my passion for her I slipped my fingers between her legs and she groaned appreciatively as two of them entered her, my thumb seeking out her clitoris. She was on fire inside, her flesh already slick, and I began to slide my fingers deep into her in a steady rhythm.
I could feel that I wouldn’t last too long if she kept stroking me with her fingers, so I eased her legs apart and positioned myself above her. As I entered her she sighed “Oh God yes my darling, fuck me.” I started gently, but Xenia urged me on until before long I was thrusting powerfully into her, my knees drawn up to enable me to provide the power she demanded. I was sure I would cum first, but she suddenly swung her legs around my body, locking them behind my back, her hips pushing up spasmodically against me as she screamed her joy. I followed seconds later, driving my cock into her to the hilt, then we fell into each other’s arms and kissed tenderly, both panting for breath.
For a few minutes I sucked on her boobs — God, I loved the feel of her long spongy nipples in my mouth — and she cupped my balls in a hand, lightly grazing them with her nails. Then she pushed me onto my back and straddled me, sinking down onto my dick with a huge gasp. For a woman of her age she had very powerful thighs, and pumped up and down wildly on me, grunting with each downward stroke as I clutched her breasts, rolling the nipples between thumb and forefinger. That time I shot my load first and she continued to ride me for some time before falling onto my chest and whispering “Thank you Richard, I so needed this.” Within moments she was asleep in my arms.
I must have slept too. When I awoke it was early evening, and the first sensation I felt was Xenia’s lips sliding up and down my burgeoning erection. Opening my eyes, the first sight I saw was her cunt, inches from my face. It appeared she had been to the bathroom — there was no sign of my jizz — and the pink white lips were swollen with arousal, the dark void between them just visible. As I clutched her buttocks and pulled her to me she gave a long moan of satisfaction and wiggled her backside at me. I slid my thumbs onto her labia, prized them apart and dived in, tongue first. Xenia groaned more earthily and pushed back at me. I don’t know what she’d used down there to clean herself up, but I swear she tasted of strawberries. I licked at the front of her hole and her clit, while I fucked her lower pussy with two fingers. At the same time she continued to wreak havoc on my cock with her lips and tongue. I came first, and after she’d swallowed all I had she sat up, so that she was effectively sitting on my face, my hands gripping her thighs, my tongue and nose burrowing into her, one of her hands stroking my now flagging cock.
I’d slept with half a dozen women around my own age or younger, but what I enjoyed with Xenia over the next few weeks was without doubt the most fantastic sex of my life. She had remarkable stamina, matching me, and was filthy and inventive. As our affair developed we became more reckless: more than once we made love in the garden, and on one occasion , as Xenia was going down on me in a conservatory, she naked from the waist up, when the Filipino maid walked in. She stared at us in open-mouthed astonishment for several seconds, then bustled out giggling. Xenia carried right on sucking me, oblivious to what had just happened.
Each evening after seeing Xenia, as I sat at home with Susie, crippled with guilt, I swore I had paid my last visit to Stewartby, that I was going to end the madness. But I returned again and again, my loins on fire for her, anticipating the moment when we were both naked and her lips engulfed my cock, or she uttered the little whimper she gave each time I entered her.
In the end it was she who broke it off. As we were sitting on her bed, dressing, she kissed me softly on the cheek and murmured, “Thank you Richard, it has been wonderful. But your wife and child need you now — when is the birth due, two weeks? I will always remember you, and what we have had.” I nodded sagely, and we kissed goodbye. I wept bitterly that night, and on numerous other nights, for the loss of my Russian countess. And, on the day we brought Leah home from the hospital, a green and gold Harrods delivery van arrived, and disgorged a rocking horse; bu not just any rocking horse, this was a Bucephalus among rocking horses, a dappled grey beauty with real horsehair mane and tail, and saddle and reins of the finest, softest leather. There was no delivery card, and no indication of the identity of the contributor of the gift. Leah, Jody and Sam all loved that horse, as do their children now.
I was a rising star at the Guardian when I saw a small piece on the news wires about the death of a Russian aristocrat in Bedfordshire, rumoured to have left an estate worth millions. It made a few lines on the obit page, and I cried again that night. And when I was told she’d left me a six figure sum in her will, ‘for your friendship’. Susie asked me just one question: “Were you lovers?”
Snorting with laughter, and avoiding her eyes, I brayed “She was a 75-year old countess when I interviewed her, and I was a working class oik from Ilford — what do you think?” Whatever she thought, Susie nodded and never mentioned the subject again. I shrivelled inside at the smoothness of my non-lie.
I cried for Xenia once more on the morning I awoke in her home, now the Stewartby Park Prestige Hotel. And as I left, and drove for the last time up the gravel drive, to return to my beloved wife of nearly 40 years, to whom I have never since been unfaithful, I carried with me the memory of the woman who will always live at the very centre of my heart.