The Reluctant Heiress
by Art Forster

Chapter One

"So there have been eight generations of your family in this house?"
"Correct, Mr. Cairns," - said Lady Millicente Barriston. "Each generation more self-willed than
the previous, I'm afraid. No sons this time, but two daughters. Both long married and moved far
"And neither have any interest in the family home?' I surveyed the dining hall with ist gilded
woodwork and great chandeliers. "It seems odd they don't appreciate this. This house is
extraordinary and wonderful."
She smiled. "You see, Albert," she said to her husband, a stout balded man with tired eyes and
heavy sideburns, "as a writer Mr. Cairns was a perfect choir. And he has such intriguingly guileless
eyes, one would never suspect him of weaving such tangled literary webs. We look forward to your
stay, Mr. Cairns. I think our joint interests shall be mutually satisfied."
Though outwardly pleasant, I could see these were complex people, Lady Barriston in particular.
She was an elderly yet handsome woman, with alert and amused eyes. Her second husband, Albert
Parthans, was congenial but more self-absorbed. What little I knew of the family suggested a rich
history, thick with social and cultural ties, and with their old and magnificent London area house, it
was a perfect setting for a mystery novel. I loved best to set them among these bastions of the
golden age, and the Barristons would see their mansion captured in fiction, as well as in a nonfiction
addendum complete with family history. I could stay as long as I liked.
But I'll admit it wasn't desire that had brought me here, it was need. I had become a terrible
recluse, buried at my remote home in Maine, speaking with no one but my publisher. Odd for
someone who used to travel rampantly. But that had been when I was married, and when she left so
had all interest in the outside world. I would never have reemerged if after two years of exile I hadn't
finally just dried up. Total writer's block. Lady Barriaton's invitation came like a rescue. I was
The servants cleared the plates, and Mr. Parthans invited me to the smoking am for a cognac. As
we rose I asked Lady Barrister about her niece, a young woman of twenty-four whom she'd
mentioned was staying with them. Not that I wanted anything to do with a single woman, I wasn't
ready for that again. But if I knew where she was I could steer clear.
"She'll be along pretty soon," came the answer. "She's been a busy one. She had an errand in
"In this rain? lt. must've been important."
As though precipitated by the mention of rain, as we passed through the entrance hall the main
door suddenly swung open, unleashing the sound of heavy rainfall. A maid in a raincoat hurried in,
stepped to the side and held the door. And waited, a full minute it seemed.
Finally a figure completely shrouded in a shiny wet black cape shuffled through, a dripping hood
concealing all but a glimpse of dark eyes. The maid went to the closet, leaving the dark eyes standing
at the entrance. They met mine for a moment, then quickly turned away, but not before I was struck
by their beauty. No doubt this was the niece! She didn't try to take her cape off, but simply stood
silently near the door.
"What timing my dear. Mr. Cairns, this is Tara Winthrop, my niece. Tara, this is the writer I
spoke about. He'll be staying with us for a while."
"A pleasure," I said, and stepped forward and reached out a hand. But she didn't reciprocate, only
nodded and stood in her place. "May I take your cape?" I offered, noticing that though it buttoned
closed in front, it lacked the usual hand slits.
But the maid stepped in with an "Excuse me, sir" and carefully unbuttoned it and proceeded to
unwrap her. But underneath was another black rubberized garment, and I saw why she couldn't aid
herself, for it enclosed her completely, like a sack, even around her feet and hands, drawn in at the
waist with her arms bundled in the top. Her head was mostly concealed by still another hood, and
some sort of thin rubber mask stretched across her lower face. She had to have felt like a prisoner in
the thing.
I continued to sure, amazed, as the maid hung up the cape, then returned to help with the sack-like
coat. Tara stood silently while she worked in back with the fastenings.
"Were you at the studio, my dear?" asked her aunt. The niece nodded.
"Tara's an artist," said Albert as they waited. "A painter mostly, though she does other things as
well. Fashion design, for instance. We're going to the smoking room for an after-dinner drink, Tara.
Would you like to join us?"
Still she said nothing, but waited while the maid worked. I found myself transfixed by this silent
creature, who either didn't speak or couldn't somehow beneath the mask, but whose eyes were so
alive and clear. At last the hood came apart, then the waist loosened and the top came off forward,
her arms seeming to emerge from some inner sleeves. Then as the zipper was undone to her feet, she
stepped backwards out of the sack, and reached up to undo her mask. She worked with this awhile,
then gave up and waited for the maid to return, and after a moment it was carefully removed. She
took a deep breath through full red lips, then tossed her head, shaking lipase dark curls that
descended to the base of her neck.
I stood entranced. She was incredibly lovely, from her firm chin and slender nose to the lithe
well-proportioned figure encased in a bright red minidress, to the slim legs and feet laced in
thigh-high boots. Gleaming jewelry adorned herders and throat and slender wrists. But mostly I was
enchanted by her eyes, so bright and defiant amidst so patient a demeanor. I mentally shook myself
awake, thankful she didn't seem to notice me staring.
"Thank you Albert, but I think I will rest early tonight. A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Cairns." She
extended a gloved hand which I took. In spite of myself I felt like kissing it. But she was brief and
businesslike, and in a moment she had vanished.
We spent the next hour or so talking, about the house, about the book, about the family. I learned
that the house was a matriarchal inheritance - others shod the family fortune and enterprises, but the
house always went to a daughter or female relative. Lady Barriston insisted the daughters weren't
interested. Was the niece then next in line?
There I was again, thinking about the niece. I decided to stop fighting it and asked where she was
"Philadelphia," she answered. "she come to London to study art and we were happy to have her
with us. Albert thinks her work a little eccentric, but personally I love it."
"He clothing, that is, her coat, was certainly a bit unusual."
"Oh that. Well, that's actually been with this house some time. Being an American, you probably
don't appreciate how wet our weather I. That motoring wrap was designed to protect expensive
gowns from the worst conditions. It's not even open at the feet, you noticed? That's to protect trailing
hems and trains. Tara now, she uses it for any outfit at the first sprinkle. I think she's her most
protected art piece."
A work of art. Yes, that was her. A perfect work. And in that coat a lot? I wondered if she were as
powerless in it as she appeared, an idea I found almost unbearably exciting. I suppose I might as
well admit now that bound women have always been a turn- on for me. I vividly recalled her defiant
eyes, waiting for release.
"More cognac, Mr. Cairns?"
"Thank you but no, Lady Barriston. I think I should like to retire to my room and make notes.
Tomorrow, if it's okay, I would like to peruse the library."
"By all means. You have the freedom of the house. Use it as you would your own.
"Thank you, but if it's all the same I will treat it better than that. Good night."
I wrote for about an hour, but my mind kept wandering to my brief encounter with that
mysterious niece, and her slow emergence from her cocoon at the doorstep. Such a charming
creature to find amidst the age of this grand house! I prepared myself for bed, but my mind wouldn't
settle down. I looked about the magnificent guest room, with ist intricately carved hearth, the great
bed, the paintings and tapestries on the wails, the bay windows... And especially the smell, the rich
smell of old wood and fine cloth. And then I thought about the niece again. Damn. Finally I gave up
and put on a robe and slippers and decided to go to the kitchen for a glass of milk.
I was passing down the corridor when I thought I heard a voice, a woman's voice, coming from
behind a door. Not wanting to eavesdrop, I continued along, till I heard it again, this time distinctly
calling out, "Is there someone in the hall?"
"Yes," I said, moving toward the door. "It's David Cairns."
"I wonder if you might open the door for me."
That was a strange request! But gingerly I tried the knob. It turned easily. I swung open the door,
and there stood Tara!
She was as radiant as before, but now with womanly elegance, enveloped in a slim nightgown of
shimmering pink silk, slinking closely but gracefully to her ankles where it flared with a long train
of some sheer stuff, concealing her feet. Her arms were at her sides in long filmy sleeves that hung
beyond her hands, the high close fitting neck was trimmed in lace, and a cutout between her breasts
revealed a tempting cleavage. In fact, in the modest back lighting all her limbs and contours stood
out with immodest clarity. Somehow I had envisioned someone her age wearing something free and
easy, like a nightshirt or pajamas, not something so sophisticated and sensual. I was no longer a
youth, but I was struck dump with boyish shyness.
"Thank you," she said simply and without expression. "I realized I hadn't eaten tonight, and was
suddenly hungry."
"Uh, right," I said, waking myself. "Can I join you? I was heading for the kitchen myself."
"If you wish."
An interesting answer! Very cool, very neutral. In a whisper of perfume she passed me with tiny
graceful steps, the long low train trailing like a snake behind her. I nearly forgot that she had just
asked me to open her own bedroom door.
"The door, is it giving you trouble?"
"Not any longer", she answered without stopping.
Again interesting! But to satisfy my own curiosity, I went in to look at it myself. In disbelief I saw
that not only was it missing a knob, but even the hole for one. The door had been built without any
means to open it from the inside.
And that was her room. Fascinating. The mystery of the house grew.
I shut her door, then went to catch up. It was not difficult, for she was taking such small, shuffling
steps. Soon I realized why, for not only was her gown narrow, through the sheer train that swam a
dozen feet behind her I could see that the bottom of the gown went around her feet and closed off,
trapping her feet inside, the train concealing the gown's sack-like nature. Furthermore, her sleeves
proved to be attached along the sides of the gown, which must have made it difficult if not
impossible to move her arms away from her body. The gown was then laced up the back, shaping
itself to her very nicely. I could have enjoyed walking behind her for hours.
As we reached the stairs, I offered my arm, but she said "No, thank you," rather coldly and
worked one hand out from under her sleeve to hold the bannister as best she could, and with the
other helped with her narrow bag-like skirts as she started down the stairs, one by one. She looked
at me and said arrogantly, "You needn't wait."
"I'm in no hurry," I replied, a bit put-off. She wasn't being very friendly. I tried not to watch her
hard-earned progress, though I found it delightful, instead admiring paintings and other ornaments
while not taking my eye off her lest she stumble. Besides being narrow, her gown was mercilessly
without stretch, and she could barely reach one step to the next.
But at last we were down, and worked our way to the kitchen. I went to the refrigerator for some
milk, she to a cupboard. I was getting a glass when I noticed her gathering what little slack there was
in her gown and trying to reach up to a shoulder level shelf. But with those attached sleeves she
couldn't even come close.
But I thought this time I wouldn't make so many helpful offers to this cool cucumber, so I sat
down and poured my milk, pretending not to notice her. Through the corner of my eye I saw her try
again, then sigh and close the cupboard, think for a moment, then go to the refrigerator. Again she
saw something she wanted, but again it was too high.
I smiled to myself. She was still to proud to ask for help. Instead she did the next obvious thing,
and stepping to where she thought I couldn't see her, reached behind to undo her gown and free up
an arm. But her arms, held in those sleeves, couldn't move enough to reach the laces. I watched in
fascination as that fabulous body squirmed in ist silken prison. With all the pushing and tugging I
expected to hear a rip, but evidently her nigh tie only looked delicate, for not a single thread snapped.
She was actually trapped in the thing!
Then she stopped, and as though nothing had happened quietly closed the refrigerator and went to
the cupboard again, and worked a tin of biscuits off a lower shelf. She sat across from me at the
table and held the tin on her lap as she struggled with the lid. She had to bend forward to get the
cracker to her mouth. It was hard not to gaze in at her suspended breasts.
"Dieting?" I asked her ingenuously.
Her eyes bashed, but she was quick to control it. "I suppose I am," she answered.
I asked her a few more questions, but she kept answering in monosyllables, so after a while I gave
up. But as we were finishing I asked her about her room.
"Doesn't it frighten you, being closed up in there? What if I hadn't happened along tonight'?"
"Then I would not have had these wonderful crackers," she said with dry sarcasm.
Wow. The lady was not sociable. But I kept fishing. "And that coat you wore tonight. It seemed
awfully confining. Isn't it difficult to get around in?"
"Would you like to see it?" she asked, her eyes inscrutable.
I shrugged. "Sure. I guess so." Actually, I was thrilled by the idea of seeing the garment close up.
She led the way to the hall, moving in her small confined steps which forced her body into a slow
graceful glide. I had to be careful not to step on her train, and kept wondering when it was going to
catch on something and send her sprawling. She opened the door to the front wardrobe closet,
struggled to reach the light switch, and led inside.
There were racks and racks of coats, everything from furs to different kinds of rubberized
garment's. She went to one and pulled it out to show me.
It was the sack she had worn. Inside were sleeves, closed off at the ends like long rockets,
attached to the sides of the sack as far as the elbows, after which they swung free. The bottom of the
sack was reinforced and had loops in it, presumably to aid with walking. It was an amazing garment,
and I said so.
"Would you like to try one on? There are larger ones." She looked at me directly with that same
unreadable gaze.
"Oh well, I don't think so..."
"Why not," she said, and gave me a little smile. "Satisfy your curiosity."
The smile did it. It was the first I'd seen on her, and I felt all will power turn to mush. I found
myself shrugging in agreement.
She looked through the rack, and finding one that satisfied her pulled it off and held it open for
me. I looked at her again, her eyes hard as steel as she waited with complete patience. Well, there
was no backing out now. Nervously I stepped in.
I held the sides while she went behind me and started the zipper up my legs. Then she held it
while I inserted my arms in the sleeves. There was enough room, but barely. She had me squat down
as she zipped it up the rest of the way. I heard a click at the back of my neck. The hood still hung
down in front of me.
I shuffled around a little, moving my arms around the their sleeves. The sack fit a little more
snugly than I would have preferred, and the sleeves prevented raising the upper arms, much like her
gown. I could see it would be trouble trying to reach the zipper myself. My face reddening as it was,
which I hoped wouldn't show in the daylight, I decided I wouldn't embarrass myself further by
trying to test my limits.
"I guess I would stay dry," I said with a shrug. "I wonder why there are sleeves on the inside?"
"Why indeed?" she said, also with a shrug. It struck me as a mockery of my own.
We stood there for a minute, she in no seeming hurry to do anything, I wondering if I should ask
her to let me out or to do it myself. She continued to look at me unabashedly. It was unnerving.
"So now what?" I asked.
She shrugged again, but still did nothing. I felt a little panicky. A bead of sweat formed on my
brow. Instinctively, I tried to wipe it, then flushed as my hand drew up short. Her expression didn't
change, but there had to have been amusement in her eye.
"Is there anything else you wanted to show me?" I said. There had to be a way to get her to let me
out without admitting I was helpless.
She thought for a moment, then walked behind me and said, "Lift your hands."
I did, and the next I knew the belt was tightened at my waist, confining my folded arms in the top.
Then she stepped to the back of the closet where she tried to reach for something. Again she had a
great deal of trouble, and after a small struggle calmly looked around, and finding a low coat hanger,
used it to knock the something down. She shuffled back over to me.
"Kneel down'" she said, which I did, but when I saw the mask in her hand I said, "Oh, I don't
think that's necessary.
"You want the whole outfit, don't you?" and before I could answer she pressed the rubber against
my face, then stepped behind me to tie it, standing right on the rubber sack between my legs which
pinned me in place. She tied it very tight, stretching it over my nose and around my chin. The rubber
sealed up my mouth, and for a moment I panicked and struggled, but she remained standing on the
bag until I stopped, noticing I could still breathe through holes at my nose. Then she fastened the
hood around my head, and my dressing-up was complete.
Or almost. Before I could get up she pulled out a rubber cape and buttoned that around me as
well, and put up ist hood, which obscured all but a little flannel of vision. At last I struggled to my
feet. We stood there again for a while, she simply looking at me. I tried to say, "Well, this has been
interesting," but the tight rubber mask turned it to garble.
"Came with me," she said then, turning and shuffling out of the closet. I tried to protest, but again
the mask made any air passage through my mouth impossible, including speech. I looked around as
we emerged, but no one was about, thank God. Still, I tried to hurry and nearly fell on my face. I
actually had more leg room than she did, but she was obviously more familiar with walking with her
legs confined. She led me back into the kitchen, into a rear entry, then opened the door. To the
outside. And the rain.
Oh no, I thought.
"Try it out," she said.
First I tried to say, "No, that's okay," but of course that didn't work, so I shrugged and shook my
head, trying to look casual. Actually, I was terrified. There was no telling what she would do.
"You mean I went to all the trouble of getting you in that coat for nothing?" I couldn't answer.
When was she going to let me out of this?
Then she moved up to me, real close, so close I could smell her perfume, even through the strong
scent of the rubber mask. For a moment I thought she was going to get amorous. The combination
of fear of her and desire for her was strangely intoxicating. I was this creature's prisoner. But then
suddenly she turned and firmly pushed her soft body into mine. I tried to step back, but evidently
she'd been standing on part of the bag, because it caught and I went down instead, right out the door,
the mask muffing my cry, the hood falling further over my head. My feet were still in the doorway,
but when I moved them to try to get up she shut it.
I struggled to get to my feet. But it was too late. I was locked out!
Here I did panic, and fought and struggled to get my arms free. But it was useless. The rubber
was strong, and in those sleeves I couldn't get my hands near the zipper, nor turn the coat around to
get the zipper in front. And I couldn't get my arms out of the sleeves!
All my struggles did was to heat up my cocoon till I had begun to sweat. The clever vixen! She
had this in mind all along. I tried to turn the doorknob, but through three layers of rubber. One of
them tightly about me, it would have been impossible even if unlocked. I looked around. At least I
wasn't likely to get cold and wet from the rain.
I decided there was nothing for it, I'd have to go around front and ring the doorbell. It was a long
journey in the sack, but at last I struggled up the steps to the door. But the doorbell was a pull chain,
which I couldn't take hold of. And on the heavy door what knocking I could do had little effect.
All I needed was someone to unzip this thing. Anyone would do, even someone on the street. I
started the long walk down the drive. But at ist end was a gate, and it was shut. I pushed at it with my
body to no avail. Then some people came by, walking with umbrellas. I called out to them, or tried
to. But when they finally saw me, they looked frightened and hurried along. Of course, all they
could make out was a black hooded figure in a long cape.
I knew the entire perimeter was surrounded by a wall topped with ironwork, so I had no chance
there. Asides, where could I go, and how could I tell anyone what I needed? In frustration I tried to
abrade the bag against the gate, figuring if I could make a hole I could get an arm out and pay them
back for the damage. But the ironwork, as well as the nearby stone wall, was wet and slippery and
the outer cape tough, and I couldn't even make a mark. And when I crumpled onto the grass and
tried to wiggle out from under the cape, I discovered it was hooked to the bag enclosing me and
wouldn't come up. I kicked and fought again but for mere rainwear, the thing was foolproof. It
would have kept Houdini dry.
I don't suppose I had ever felt so humiliated as that night, being bound up by a woman, a beautiful
woman, and not being able to get free. But I worked my way to my feet and shuffled back to the
house. There was always a chance she would return for me. Then I noticed someone standing in the
lit window of a second story room. It was her, still in her nightgown, naturally, since she couldn't
remove it, the back lighting clearly delineating her slender figure and limbs. She washed for a
minute, then I could see her struggle to reach the drape pull. When that didn't work, she tugged on
the drapes themselves, closing them one at a time.
It occurred to me that whoever assigned her that room knew what they were doing: she belonged
in a cage. They owed me, however, for not putting a warning on her door. But now any chance that
she would end her little joke was gone. She was trapped once more. And now so was I.

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