I SMELL FEAR

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RUSSIA

Two layovers, and seventeen hours later she was finally in Russia, thank goodness she had grabbed a warm coat, the air was frigid, she unclipped her long black hair to let it frame her neck and shoulders having forgotten to get a scarf.

Thankfully once in the airport, a chauffeur was standing by the welcoming guests with her name on aboard. It wasn’t often she had needed such a chaperone, most places she ventured on business, the people knew her, she hadn’t needed to be lead blindly, but Russia was nowhere near her usual traveling route.

She nodded at the chauffeur who offered to take her onboard luggage.

“Do you speak English?”

“Yes ma’am” A heavy accent but audible

“Great, I assume you have been in contact with my assistant?”

“Yes, maám I have, if you are ready.” He bowed showing the way out, Sintia thanked him following him through the airport maze to the parking lot where a wine-red Bentley Bentayga stood, the chauffeur opened the back door to white cushioned double-stitched leather seats.

She raised an eyebrow, usually, a limo would be waiting for her, she loved a Bentley but was just taken back that it wasn’t usual for Kiki to book such a transport.

“I apologies, this was the only SUV we had that would make it into the mountains.”

“Ah yes, very well.” She climbs in as he closed the door behind her.

She had googled Russia and looked at the most secluded areas with single units to book, she didn’t want a hotel or something cramped, she had found a lodge with individual log houses standing a great distance apart from one another on the edges of a private game reserve that sounded just like heaven, she booked the one on the very end closest to the forest line and had paid without much focus on the road there. Thinking about it now though, it made sense, perhaps an SUV was needed to get through the reserve.

Two hours later the chauffeur turned off the highway through winding rounds until they reached the entrance to the reserve; huge stone arch with high clad stone walls, it had a sign on the front carved into the stone, of course in Russian but it depicted a stunning pack of wolves howling at the moon, the moon had a light behind it which she was sure was never switched off, she wouldn’t, it was a proud design.

Once at the entrance the chauffeur opened the door for Sintia who was then greeted by reception staff holding a tray with a glass of champagne on it.

“Welcome.” The lady said doing a short bow moving the tray forward.

“Thank you.” Sintia nodded taking the glass walking past inside the foyer, it was indeed a great choice.

“What a hidden gem,” Sintia said sliding off her coat admiring the large wooden archways, grand polished floors, and thankfully indoor heating. The windows had ice around the edges and most of the drive there she had seen large snow patches thawing, wondering if winter had ended or begun.

“Indeed, she is, and welcome to Russia.” The manager said stepping out from behind the front desk in a dark red suit. “I hope your journey was pleasant Mrs. S?” He confirmed looking down at the booking on his tablet, he frowned a little confused at the simple S and no first or last name, but with such a high-paying guest he would push it just yet.

“Miss, and yes it was, I believe there are some forms I need to sign?” She moved away from the name issue, she wasn’t trying to hide, she knew no one in this part of the world would know her but the less she was recognized the better, after all being in the newspapers and magazines, she was sure her face was around here somewhere. Threat or not she just wanted to relax take a breather, rest the soul to stand strong again for the road ahead.

Sitting in one of the high back chairs in the lobby the manager handed her the car rental forms to sign along with a few other forms she wasn’t able to finalize on the flight.

“There you go, all done, may we provide an escort to your room Miss S?” He emphasized the last part of his question ever so slightly hoping it would prompt her to elaborate without crossing the line of rude, she ignored it.

“Yes, and a menu please.” She said standing to leave, the manager bowed clicking his fingers to a nearby bell boy who responded instantly making his way outside to fetch one of the lodge SUV’s.

“Our bellhop will escort you to your suite, and your car will be delivered tomorrow morning at 8am.”

“Perfect.” She nodded going outside to the SUV pulling up, but instead of it being the guesthouse wheels a massive black Jeep that kids could run under pulled to a stop. She turned to the manager helping her put her coat back on with an eyebrow raised.

“I apologize.” He bowed raising his arm in the direction of the lodge’s SUV pulling up behind it in the cul-de-sac.

When she turned from the manager to make way to the SUV she hit solid rock.

The impact made her stubble back almost losing her footing.

“Excuse me.” A deep voice said grabbing her by both arms steading her.

She looked up into a sea of hypnotic blue eyes between golden hair, a perfectly chiseled face, and strong jaw, and from what her face had felt a few moments ago a solid well-formed everything.

He held her a few moments longer than was necessary and she couldn’t help but stare; she hadn’t seen such a well-bred man since her youthful days in South Africa, the kind that almost every girl would line up to be with, the kind other men respected.

Tall well built, and reminded her of someone, but how could he, they were worlds apart.

He steadied her letting go turning to the manager.

“I told you to reseal the stairs, in this weather, all our guests will start breaking their pretty little necks.”

“Excuse you, you walked into me.” Sintia cleared her throat correcting the situation, she was not some damsel in distress that would fall and cause a scene.

The manager about to respond shut his mouth at the same time his eyes went slightly larger looking at the huge bulk of a man. She guessed then by the way the manager had lost his cool calm and in control posture that this had to either be the owner or something close to it.

“I did say excuse me.” He frowned looking down at her. “If you are quite done ma’am I will be on my way.” He mocked turning to walk inside.

“Pig.” She stated to his back turning to make way to the SUV, she ignored the glare she was sure was now following her down the stairs.

As she passed the Jeep she spotted another set of brilliant eyes sitting behind the wheel, slightly darker and he had a smirk plastered on his gorgeous face, clearly from having watched the scene moments ago.

Without another glance, she walked past and got into the SUV which without any delay took off in the direction of her suite.

The suite was perfect, about two hundred meters from the other identical cabins all fenced off by rows of pine trees. The Bellhop opened the back door of the car for her, then lead them up to the entrance going in.

“The central heating runs right through, here is the control panel for all rooms as well as light settings.” He pointed swiping through at the led screen mounted into the wall of the main lounge.

The fireplace was already lit and the lights were set to a low glow giving a warm welcome feeling.

“The tablet is for your use while you are here for all calls and orders.” The bellhop continued his short, well-rehearsed speech.

“Thank you, I’m sure I can manage from here, you may go.”

He bowed placing the suites cards on the nearest glass counter and left.

Finally, some peace and quiet, she thought waltzing into the large lounge with huge windows and matching glass double doors opening onto a wooden deck overlooking a large valley with nothing but nature and thick foliage.

She sighed with joy turning back inside to fetch the tablet, she wanted to see their menu, never having eaten anything Russian that she was aware of, this could be quite a new exciting experience, thankfully the tablet was set to English.

While waiting for her dinner to arrive she went back onto the deck hearing a heavy rustle in the leaves, and sure enough down the slope over the lodges, tall walls stood a bear clawing at a nearby tree.

“Wow” She smiled watching it in fascination she had seen bears in movies, zoos, etc, but not in the wild like this, not even an hour in and she had caught a glimpse of a fantastical beast in its natural habitat. In the distance far off she heard rushing water, an odd bird, the wind rustling through the forest, and then the bear stretching his massive paws against the poor shaking tree.

No humans, no traffic, no sirens, nothing but pure nature, she smiled again, perhaps this is how life should be lived.

Her phone pinged then pulling her back to reality. She retrieved it to find just over eighty emails waiting for her, logging onto the WIFI she downloaded the files and got to work replied to a few forwarding others Kiki needed to attend to. On that note it was about time perhaps she needed to call her rattled assistant and see how things were going.

“Hello?” Kiki answered a bit hesitant.

“It’s me.”

“I’m glad you safe, I nearly called reception.”

“No need, how’re things there, give me an update.”

Kiki updated her on the latest pitch they had been working on before she left, thankfully it had been a huge hit and had opened doors for them to line up many more for at least another ten years. Another nine-point three-million-dollar deal in the bank. Moving on to more personal matters, she updated Sintia on a few bodyguard referrals as well as paperwork her lawyer needed her to see urgently.

“I will be back in action to sort it all out in a couple of hours ok?”

“Thank you, how is Russia?” Kiki dared to ask.

Sintia stood up and looked back outside to where the bear had been, nothing but scratch marks and a broken branch were left as evidence.

“It’s cold.”

“Oh,” Kiki replied disappointed in the answer.

“It’s just what I needed, the wildlife here is amazing.” As if on point a howl echoes through the woods distrusting the speaker on the phone slightly, with a small fright Sintia turned to go back inside.

“What was THAT?” Kiki gasped through the phone.

“I believe that, was, a wolf.” Sinta giggled looking behind her to see if she could spot it, the echo faded and she couldn’t see anything.

“Be careful I read they can smell fear.”

“I think most animals can, what makes a wolf any more special?”

The doorbell rang.

“Ok I’m off, dinner is here.” She said goodbye opening the front door two the manager and a young woman in uniform pushing a collapsible trolly with built-in steel draws on it that smelt divine.

“Hello again.” She smiled at the manager mildly irritated that he was there, what did he want?

“The suite to your liking miss S?”

“Yes, it’s wonderful.” She answered watching the lady sweep past them unpacking the draws, each one had a perfectly fitted plate with a start, main, dessert & side dish of sauces.

“We would like to present you with a full spa treatment at our newly renovated facility in the main lodge during your stay.” The manager smiled pulling out an envelope from inside his suit to hand to her. She was no fool this was clearly to keep their rating up and pretend the earlier rudeness with whomever that was hadn’t happened.

“You can’t buy me.”

“No miss, we would never.” The manager suddenly apologized looking offended.

“Who was that man from earlier?”

“One of the owners miss.”

“Did he make you give me this?”

“No miss, this is just part of our package.” He hesitated, he lied.

“Thank you but, no thank you if I need your spa ill book.” She said turning to look at the feast before her.” If that is all I would appricate some rest, I have had a long flight.”

“Yes of course miss, if there is anything at all that you need please call us.” They said bowing and backing out the door closing it behind them.

“Suck up.” She mumbled to herself picking up a fork tasting the perfectly roasted wild boar smoothed in a garlic cream sauce.

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