michael-parulava.Moscow, Russia Published on March 3, 2018 ILCE-6000 Free to use under the Unsplash License Saint Basil’s Cathedral

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The Stain
By Catherine Ivers Norton
Released October 1, 2021

Excerpt from The Stain, Chapter 7
St. Petersburg, Russia, September 1997

Our eyes met again.
A warm, welcoming smile lit his face.
I smiled back nervously. It would have been rude not to.
I didn’t mean to stare, but I’d never seen a man like him before. He was enormous, over six feet tall, and broad. He was muscular but not inflated like he spent time pumping up his muscles in the gym. He was just a powerfully built man with a lot of meat on his bones. He’d tossed his suit jacket aside when the formality of this party broke down an hour ago. His white dress shirt was unbuttoned at the neck, revealing a gold chain that disappeared out of view.
Wavy dark brown hair framed his broad face and set off his large greenish-golden hazel eyes. His thick black eyelashes were extremely long, but they did not make him look feminine. Instead, they gave him a sultry appearance so convincing I imagined he was a master of the carnal arts. His strong nose was long and straight. It led down to full cherry lips that glistened with light as if he just licked them. My gaze lingered there a little too long, so I looked down at his hands.
The long fingers of his right hand tapped the beat of the dance music playing in another room. There was a hefty gold signet ring on the middle finger of his left hand with a prominent Cyrillic letter B, which corresponds to a V in the English alphabet.

Vladislav Pavlovich Valkov.

His name was a mouthful, but I had no trouble remembering it. Everyone called him by the familiar name, ‘Slava.’ He seemed to be well-liked by the people here. Some of the men clapped him on the back as if he’d recently won an award, a gesture of affection and respect perhaps.
He was not wearing a wedding band.
I quickly glanced back up to his waiting eyes.
His smile was even broader now.
I found him perilously attractive.

My unease sharpened suddenly, and I had an urgent desire to leave. I looked to the right to see my husband still steeped in a conversation with the dignified blond man in the next room. He was facing the other way, but his hands gestured as if he was making an emphatic point. Politics. I knew better than to bother him when he was in the middle of a rant. That conversation would probably take a while.
I did not want my first night out in Russia to end early, especially after spending the first three months isolated in the country, but I could not sit here any longer. I glanced at the handsome stranger one last time. He nodded his head slightly to his right and shot me a wink. I laughed.

The attention was flattering.
Too bad I wasn’t single.

I was surprised to feel the floor undulating beneath my feet as I rose to stand. I bent down to remove my strappy black heels and carried them casually on a finger, trying to look nonchalant. The other guests were drinking vodka late into the evening. Surely no one would notice if the American was a little tipsy from a few glasses of wine.
I made my way to the kitchen and found it mobbed with people smoking and talking. My eyes burned in the haze. I decided to find a quieter place to collect myself. I remembered seeing a modern laundry room nearby, so I picked up a bottle of mineral water and set off in search of it, praying it would be dark, deserted, and cool.
Thankfully, it was. I marveled at the fine honey maple cabinetry and white marble countertops. There was no sign of Soviet austerity with two washers, two dryers, and a sink with a waterfront view. This laundry room was the poshest I’d ever seen.
I stood at the sink and gazed at the city lights twinkling outside the window as I swallowed two tablets of aspirin from my purse and drank the entire bottle of water. Hopefully, it would be enough to stave off a hangover.
I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, pausing to hold the air for a moment before releasing slowly. I repeated the breathing exercise for several minutes. Feeling clearer, I turned to leave.

My heart jolted to discover a wall of a man blocking the exit.

Vladislav Valkov!

The big man eyed me with mischievous intent but said nothing. His powerful presence held me like a deer frozen in the headlights of his eyes. We gazed at each other for a long moment until I blinked and looked away. I could not speak Russian, so I shot a little embarrassed smile and tried to step around him. I was tired and wanted to go home with my husband. I certainly didn’t want to deal with a behemoth drunken admirer.
Vladislav put his hands on my shoulders to stop me from leaving. My shoes fell from my finger and clattered to the floor as I took a step backward. I was stunned, but I felt no fear.

I did not cry out for help.
I did not say no. ‘Nyet’ was one of the Russian words I knew.
I was so stunned. I did not say anything at all.

He wrapped his large hands behind my head and grabbed two fistfuls of my hair. As he pushed his body against mine, his enormous erection pressed a lewd promise into my ribs.
I tried to turn my face from him, but he held my head forward.
I tried to pull away, but my back wedged against the counter.
I had no choice but to let him kiss me.

Electricity coursed through me as Vladislav’s broad face came closer to mine. I was awestruck as if I was watching the moon suddenly crash into the earth. His green eyes sparkled with golden fire and the corners crinkled with satisfaction to see my eyes go wide and my mouth open in astonishment.
His hot cherry lips brushed against mine, igniting an instant wildfire.
Vladislav quickly found my traitorous tongue to be a willing playmate for his. I knew it was wrong. I was married, but I could not stop myself. I couldn’t even think with all of the blood rushing from my head to my lady parts. I felt drugged within an erotic dream. All I could do was respond with primal, animalistic desire.

About the Author

An American with maternal Slavic ancestry, named by her mother in remembrance of Catherine the Great, Catherine Ivers Norton, developed an early interest in St. Petersburg and the Russian people. A precocious child, she read every work by Russian writers at her local public library, including Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, while still in primary school. She spent her childhood writing short stories and composing poetry, planning to become a writer someday, with the dream of traveling to Russia close in her heart. Finding English studies painfully dull, she changed her academic course once in college.
The author earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with the highest honors from Alfred University in New York State. She went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Syracuse University. The degree eluded her as she needed more practical work during a time of upheaval involving a difficult divorce. This story was born with urgency during that tumultuous period. Writing became a recreational outlet, an escape from emotionally intense work in the field of adolescent psychology.
Catherine lives in Ithaca, in the heart of New York State’s beautiful Finger Lakes region, a woman of insatiable curiosity. She is looking forward to the moment she arrives in St. Petersburg, takes her first breath of Russian air, and wanders the city that has always felt like home in her heart.

About the Novel

When recent Ph.D. graduate Cassandra Abbington lands on her new love’s remote Russian estate, she is utterly unprepared for the dark psychological secrets emerging from the shadows of his past. Can the love of an American psychologist redeem Sergei Ivanovich Karpov? Or will the truth of what he has done force her to seek shelter in another man’s arms? Ride along with Cassandra on this scorching international adventure of passionate romance, suspense, and drama.

The Stain is available for purchase on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Stain-Catherine-Ivers-Norton/dp/1737890100/

Please visit Catherine’s website for more information about the series: https://www.catherineiversnorton.com/.

THE STAIN Copyright © 2021 by Catherine Ivers Norton
All rights reserved

New York City, United States, April 1997

I must have looked unsure about the prospect of moving to his country without knowing how to speak the language. I spent the last four months watching silly French films and practicing to become fluent in French. Had I known this was coming, I would have spent that time learning Russian.
I knew very little about life in Russia, except for what I read by Tolstoy. Of course, that was super outdated. I learned about Catherine the Great, how Napoleon’s army was defeated when winter came early, and the Romanov family’s demise during the Revolution. I knew the Soviet Union was devastated by the Nazis in World War II but was pivotal in ending the war. Then there was Communism, the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear annihilation with the United States. The Soviet Union broke up a few years ago. Russia was known for its space program, and Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. They have world-class chess players and scientists. Russia invests heavily in education, which I admire. Oh, and I knew Russian bad guys in movies say “do svidaniya” before they kill someone. That’s about it. I was embarrassed by my ignorance, but I wasn’t a history buff. In my defense or complete lack of it, I didn’t know that much about American history either.
My impression was that chaos reigned in Russia today as the country struggled to move from government-run everything to a market economy. The administrative and economic shift was a considerable change. Surely it would take time to work things out.
Sergei seemed to sense my uncertainty and said,
“I will teach you Russian myself. We will give it one year. If you don’t want to stay, we will move anywhere in the world you want. I only have one requirement – to be near an international airport.”
Sometimes, I swear the man could read my mind. Russia couldn’t be that bad if he lived there and wanted me to join him. He had horses. I love horses! What was a year anyway? Nothing.
It was a deal.

St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1997
The sun was still up at 11:00 pm as we approached St. Petersburg. I recognized the Neva River snaking through the city, just as I had seen on the map in my atlas.
The passenger cabin erupted into applause as the plane landed safely on the ground. I was stunned by this unexpected burst of enthusiasm and turned to see my husband chuckling.
“It’s what we do,” he explained with a slight shrug of his shoulders.
The airport was disorienting, with signs spelled out in indecipherable Cyrillic letters. I could read none of it. Fortunately, Sergei was there to guide me, and we moved through customs quickly with minimal questioning.
Sergei’s bodyguards met us at the airport. I recognized Uvar from his trips to New York City. The burly man had light blue eyes, blond hair and seemed to be in his late 40s. His thick build reminded me of a retired football player – long legs, barrel chest, and muscular arms. He smiled warmly, showing off a complete set of crooked, discolored teeth.
“Welcome to Russia, Cassandra Davidovna Karpova,” he spoke in English.
I knew he didn’t speak English well and probably practiced that statement just to make me feel at home. I appreciated the gesture and said,
“Thank you.”
I looked to Sergei, who said, “Spasibo.”
“Spasibo,” I repeated to Uvar.
I was totally unprepared for this!

People did not always have the surnames we use today. In Russia, they used patronymics – your father’s first name, with ‘-ovna’ generally added to the end for a female and ‘-ovich’ for a male. The name is similar to English names like ‘Johnson’ that started as ‘John’s son.’ The patronymic moved to the middle position in Russia. Addressing someone with all three names together, as Uvar just did with me, is a sign of respect. Using the patronymic without the surname maintains confidentiality in case anyone is listening to a private conversation. Privacy is more of a concern than in the States, where people tend to be more open about everything. Sergei explained this tradition to me in an earlier conversation.
I remembered a sign on one of my psychology professor’s doors that said, “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.” I took it to mean there is a grain of truth in everything.
Karpov is a male surname in Russia. Karpova is the female version. The language is simply more gendered than English.
My new name meant Cassandra, daughter of David, a female of the Carp people. I laughed to myself. The original Cassandra was a Trojan princess with a gift of prophecy. The Greek name means ‘She who shines over men.’ Put that all together, and it sounds like the name of a fantasy role-playing character.

Sergei’s other bodyguard, Ilya, was younger, in his mid-twenties. He had rich brown eyes and loose brown curly hair to match. Strong jaw muscles added a certain intensity to his lean face, giving him a determined appearance. The way he held himself felt threatening as if poised for a fight. He looked like he spent whole days in the gym with his thick arms, powerful legs, and muscular torso. Perhaps these are good traits for a bodyguard, but he made me nervous. I assumed he was single because he did not wear a wedding band. While Uvar was very friendly, Ilya avoided eye contact and did not speak to me at all. He nodded in my general direction and looked away as we were introduced.
“Ilya is a little shy,” Sergei whispered into my ear as we settled into the backseat of a black Mercedes SUV with dark tinted windows while the men loaded our luggage into the back. He told me it was an armored car with bulletproof glass. My husband was just a businessman, not a politician or a celebrity.
“What are you worried about?” I asked.
“Just a precaution,” he replied cryptically.
Against what? I wondered nervously.

Just outside of St. Petersburg, the police pulled us over. An officer shined a flashlight in each of our faces and asked to see identification. I was petrified because he looked so commanding in his military-style uniform. When you don’t understand the language, anything a policeman says sounds threatening. I had a bit of a phobia of law enforcement in my own country, but this was far more frightening. Sergei gave my hand a reassuring squeeze and told me it was not a big deal. We were pulled over for speeding. That fact seemed debatable, but Uvar paid the ‘fine’ on the spot, and we were on our way. This sort of thing happened frequently.
There was still a two-hour drive ahead of us, and it wasn’t long before Sergei fell asleep. I was much too nervous for napping, so I studied the passing landscape. The area around St. Petersburg is coastal and flat. I’d read the city was built on reclaimed marshland by Peter the Great only 300 years ago, young by European standards. The city’s name changed to Leningrad during the Soviet era, and the original name returned after the Soviet Union disbanded.
The landscape gradually began to change as we drove to higher ground. The land was still relatively flat, but there was some variation in the relief. I was surprised to see there were many rivers, streams, and wetlands. Occasionally, I glimpsed a low hill. Birch and pine forests alternated with farm fields. I smiled when I saw fields planted with potatoes, a common crop in New York State.

St. Petersburg, Russia, September 1997

St. Petersburg is a city known for a vast sea of apartment complexes. The older apartment buildings appeared utilitarian and dismal, reminding me of the housing projects for poor people back home in the States. Newer, more attractive buildings offered larger dwellings and more amenities. There were few if any, single-family homes within the city. People with money seemed to combine multiple apartments or repurpose former office spaces into larger, modern homes for themselves. There were no exclusively wealthy or crime-ridden poor neighborhoods. I found this admirable, but I also wondered how long that would last as the economic gaps continued to grow. Russia was becoming more like the United States, and with that would come some of the same problems.
Lena and Piotr lived in a secure neighborhood for the ultra-rich well outside the city. Not many people knew about this exclusive community. The enclave was hard to find and completely concealed behind a wall of trees and privacy fencing. The entrance was gated and manned by armed guards 24 hours a day. Ilya stopped the Mercedes at the guardhouse, where a man checked our IDs against the Orlov’s guestlist for the evening. Once cleared, the gate opened, and we drove in to see the elite neighborhood of mansions and meticulously kept grounds.
The Orlov house was obscenely huge and extremely gaudy, with shiny gold surfaces everywhere. Lena had to have the best of everything, even if the ‘best’ was hideous. But who was I to judge? How people spent their money was not my concern. I brought her a bouquet and told her how much I loved her home. A white lie, perhaps, but I adored her, so the feeling was authentic. Lena was proud, and she loved to entertain. I couldn’t be happier to be there!

THE STAIN Copyright © 2021 by Catherine Ivers Norton
All rights reserved

Top review from the United States
Susan N.
5.0 out of 5 stars This book has it all
Reviewed in the United States on October 6, 2021
Verified Purchase

This book took me along on a wild, exotic journey. I get to go along with Cassie to foreign lands, see Russia, have amazing adventures, and experience some incredibly spicy, sexy moments. Whoo-hoo! When I say it has it all, I mean that it has intrigue, passion, love, travel, and intense moments of self-discovery. So many other books I read are either too soft ~ all romance and perfect endings with no ‘umph’, or too sexual where I don’t have a relationship with the characters. But not in this book, The Stain. In her extraordinary first novel, Catherine finds the fine balance between love and lust, light and dark, and holds me there…. and I am caught!!!! I can’t wait for her next novel.