This book is based on a true story but does also contain some fictional material. Some of the characters have fictional names to protect their identities. You as the reader may decide which is which.
This story displays a host of emotions. There is bitterness and hate, sexual ecstasy and satisfaction followed by tragedy and torment.
The actual beginning of the story has been written from Chapter Two of the book, however Chapter One seemed an appropriate chapter to begin with, to later, sew the unfolding of it all.
The scene is set with the main character, Natasha Cunningham. Her childhood is tempestuous. She marries to get away from her home life, sadly however on the rebound. Her husband is a violent; sexual, emotional and mental abusive man. The marriage happens because of Natasha’s hopes not only to escape her parent’s clutches but also to have their approval. Her parents are horrified when she leaves her husband and meets Neil who works in the same business park as herself.
Neil totally captivates her, he makes her feel special and he takes her to the height of sexual ecstasy that she has never experienced or ever dreamed of before.
Natasha is warned by the two brothers who have a company in the same business park, that Neil is a sexual magnet to women and that he cannot be faithful to just one, even if he tried to be. Natasha refuses to listen to them or to believe what they are saying and very soon marries Neil.
One afternoon, she is proved wrong, when she unexpectedly arrives at Neil’s office and finds him engrossed in a passionate sexual activity with another woman.
Natasha moves many miles away to Hampshire. One of her neighbours is a doctor and his wife who is a nurse.
The doctor’s wife has suffered her own personal tragedy that affects her health mentally. She threatens Natasha’s life, forcing her to move back north for her own safety.
Natasha holds the key that will affect her future. She is the only one who can unlock it. Does she do so? …
As Neil Garside and I drove through the pretty little village of Broughton near Hampshire, I noticed that there was a small shop, a post office and a few surrounding cottages.
As Neil drove his Bentley up the lane and through the open gates, and slowly across the sweeping gravel to the car park at the front of the building, I looked in awe at the mansion that stood before me in its own grounds.
The Georgian Mansion, which had apparently been vacant for some time, had recently been converted into six luxury flats. The mansion grounds boasted beautifully kept and colourful gardens. The mansion itself, was owned by the Earl of Hampton.
The scenery was breath-taking and was surrounded by as far as the eye could see, with green velvet pastures and rolling countryside. A view of the downs and the tall spire of the nearby Winchester Cathedral could be seen in the distance. All were part of the picturesque surroundings of “Marton Manor”.
My recently divorced husband Neil and I stood together on the pebbled driveway beyond the electric gates. We were waiting for Brian Worsley, the local representative from Coe Midgley and Bates, estate agents in Winchester.
Neil had driven down from his off ices in Ryedale, North Yorkshire to Broughton with me, to look at the show apartment of the complex, which, should I decide to take the apartment, would be a part of our divorce settlement.
Neil had left his Ukrainian partner up in Yorkshire for the day, but that story will soon unfold …
Mr Worsley arrived. He parked his Mercedes Benz close to the impressive wildlife pond, situated beside an impressive water fountain.
Mr Worsley greeted us and invited us to accompany him to the Manor House.
The front door of the Manor House was made from heavy oak. The marble f loor in the entrance hall sparkled and gleamed with the sun shining through the narrow stain-glassed window.
As we walked through the entrance hall, in the middle of the reception area was a large sweeping staircase with a period wooden handrail. The stairs were decked with a pale green Axminster, or of a similar quality, thick pile carpet.
“Well,” Mr Worsley began, “I’ll give you a summary of the Manor. The top three apartments are occupied and one of the apartments downstairs is occupied. The first one here, as I know you are already aware of, is the ‘show house apartment,’ which is now ready to be sold.”
Mr Worsley pointed his hand at the front door of the apartment.
“As you might have expected, this apartment is already decorated and it does contain some fixtures and fittings. It’s at a discounted price, being the show house, and the last one available at present.”
Mr Worsley unlocked the door and opened it, saying, “I’ll leave you to it, to look round at your leisure. I’ll be in my car if you need me. I’ve a few calls to make. Enjoy your perusal and I will see you shortly.”
He beamed at us. His small frame was immaculately dressed person in a crisp grey suit, white shirt and ruby red tie; finished off with expensive leather brogues, certainly was a good representation for the estate agents who he worked for.
Neil and I didn’t say much to each other as I walked round the apartment on my own.
It was tastefully decorated, with a large main en suite bedroom; and directly opposite it, a much smaller bedroom with a small bathroom next to it. Obviously not made for families, I thought.
The lounge was perfect. My eyes were drawn immediately to the wood burner fireplace set in an exquisite marble hearth.
I turned to Neil, my eyes lit up with excitement. “Look, exactly what I’ve wanted for ages – a real fire!” I exclaimed.
Neil was sitting on an armchair that formed part of the twopiece lounge suite. It was a pale grey, or as I had noticed from the description, “Medusa Silver,” and had a two-seater settee with matching cushions.
I took my high heels off before I stepped across the period wooden flooring and made my way to the rear of the living room.
Past Neil, I could see the French doors looking out onto the back of the apartment; beyond which was wooden decking and an open garden that overlooked the Mansion grounds that had rows and rows of fir trees and a mature woodland around the parameters of the estate. A large, beautifully maintained rockery was situated on one side. Everywhere was pure unadulterated beauty. Unlike Oksana, I thought, sarcastically to myself.
I made my way upstairs to inspect the rest of the apartment. The master bedroom was at the back of the apartment. It had an en suite shower room and built in wooden wardrobes. The sash windows complemented the room and gave ample views of the beauty of the surroundings.
To the front of the property was the bathroom with a standalone bath and copper accessories with a shower head.
Next to the bathroom was a smaller bedroom which also overlooked the front of the building.
Neil sat entirely engrossed, focusing on his laptop. I felt my blood pressure rise at first as a thought passed through my mind. He’s probably emailing ‘Blondie’, as I had nicknamed Oksana, his girlfriend, and he was likely not contacting clients as he usually said that he was. He was probably watching her posing naked in his office, where I had previously caught him at the climax of sexual activity with her one day.
Neil had been photographing her with a plastic warning sign between her legs that read, “Warning Toxic Levels”; her tiny breasts thrust forward and her hands behind her head over her short spiky blonde hair, and slowly and enticingly licking her lipstick red lips. He then photographed her posing with a picture of me with a sign underneath from the workshop that read, “Needs restoring, so half price”. At one time it would have cut me to the core, but now, even I could see the funny side as my bitterness and anger were now a thing of the past.
I gave an exasperated sigh. Neil looked up at me, expressionless.
“It’s you that’s going to live in it, not me. I’m just the ‘Bank of Neil,’ who’s paying for it.”
I chose to ignore the comment and moved on to the kitchen. I felt a childlike excitement as my eyes glanced over at the two-oven kitchen range, that was also on my wish list; surrounded by plenty of stone worktops. There was a decent sized American style fridge with an outside temperature gauge, and a drinks dispenser next to the sink unit, with a washer-dryer and a dishwasher.
I came back into the lounge and Neil was still glued to his laptop.
“I’ll take it,” I declared confidently.
Mr Worsley, at that point came back, still sporting his beaming smile, and I told him about my decision. All the official paperwork was arranged to be completed.
Mr Worsley turned happily to me and reassuringly he said, “You won’t regret it. You’ll soon settle-in and you have some fine neighbours.” Little did Mr Worsley know what or how my fate would steer me through some of the most challenging tapestry in my new life here, in Broughton, Hampshire.
Firstly, though, I’ll go back to my childhood and how I eventually ended up moving miles away from the North to the South, into this new apartment, and what terrible challenges I was still to face.
My life began in Ewell, Surrey.
My parents, Ron and Martha Cunningham, named me Natasha. I was always reminded by my mother that I was an accident, and that she had been taken by surprise, when she discovered that she would have to go through bringing a child up again. (She did tell me, out of the blue one day many years later, that she had tried to miscarry me and the methods she had used to do it). You will see later-on in the story how this was in painful contrast to events that I would have to eventually face, myself.
My parents ran a successful electrical goods workshop for many years. My older brother, Seth, worked with my father for two years after leaving school. My mother worked from home, running the accounts and office side of the business. Looking back many years later, I think that was another way my father had control over my mother, as she didn’t have any contact with the outside world.
There was a large gap between my brother’s age and mine, in fact twelve years. I was still very young when he left home.
Seth had been introduced to a girl named Mel by an old school friend. Mel had, at that time, stayed with her aunt near Ewell, before she started college up in Grasmere in North Yorkshire. My brother started a whirlwind romance with Mel. In fact, when Mel had to return home, my brother declared to our parents, that he was moving to Yorkshire to live with Mel and her parents. Our parents were heartbroken, but Seth was adamant. I think that he just wanted his freedom from the grip of their control, which I later understood myself.
Sure enough, my parents tried to gain back their control over him, especially when Seth and Mel announced their engagement and their wedding for the following year. This became more apparent when my father suddenly decided to sell our house and his business, and after just one weekend’s visit to Mel’s family, found a house in Grasmere, just around the corner from Seth and Mel.
Previous to this happening, my parents had become dedicated to, and part of, a religion.
My upbringing was quite suffocating and not because of their religion. Their grasp on me was heightened because of their loss and grip on Seth’s life.
I used to love dropping in at Seth and Mel’s house. They were so welcoming and always invited me to visit, especially in the school holidays. It was always the going back home that I dreaded. I think that Seth invited me to visit as he knew that it would give me a break from our parents.
I remember one year, when I was about ten years old, I ran away to Seth’s and begged him to allow me to live there. My brother had understood, but my parents arrived and marched me back home and I was locked in the house for a week. I knew that I needed to take desperate action. Their grasp became more controlled when, a few years later Seth died tragically from a heart attack at a very young age.
I lay awake many nights and planed my escape. This was however futile as I was a teenager and not financially secure by any means. I didn’t have any close relatives to run to, especially now that I didn’t have Seth anymore. I just knew that I needed to break free as soon as the opportunity arose, which it eventually did, but as the saying goes, ‘Out of the frying pan and into the fire’.
I was eighteen years old, and I had just completed a secretarial course and started my first job as an office junior at a nearby accountancy firm.
I met Matt while I was at college. He was training to be an English teacher.
We spent many lunchtimes together, sometimes in the dining area of the college. Sometimes we would buy the “student” deal at the café next door – a cup of soup and a sandwich.
We really did hit it off and we never ran out of things to talk about.
Eventually, just before the end of my course, which was only twelve months in total, we had been out for our lunch and Matt told me that his sister, Jade was having her first wedding anniversary party at the social club and would I like to go with him. I said that I liked the idea, but he already knew a little bit about my restrictive home life and he understood when I said that I would first have to clear it with my parents.
I remember arriving home. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I already knew what their reply would be. I felt a longing and yearning to lead a normal life and to be a part of the community, instead of having to be controlled by religion and my father. There was also the agony of picking the right moment.
As it was to become more apparent later, my father was a force to be reckoned with, especially during his temper tantrums. My mother would always back him up, even if she felt or she knew that he was wrong.
When he came home from work it was never a good time as all he wanted was my mother’s attention as he went through his day at work, and nobody dared interrupt this. After tea, and for the rest of the evening, it was always the television and the programmes that he liked to watch, regardless of what anyone else wanted, until they went to bed. So, picking a time to ask them wasn’t easy. I didn’t have a lot of time to play with, as Matt needed an answer sooner rather than later.
I nervously seized my opportunity one Saturday afternoon, when the television sound was on low as there was a football match. My father had no interest in sport. He and my mother seemed in a reasonable mood. They had eaten their lunch which was a good thing as my father had a ferocious appetite and food had to be “on tap”.
I broached the subject gently. I had never spoken about Matt before. I brief ly explained to them that I had met him through college (I omitted to mention the lunch time meetings), and that sometimes we were together on the same study times. I then bravely went ahead with Matt’s invitation to the anniversary party.
It was as if a black cloud had suddenly descended over our house and was ready to burst.
“If this Matt or whatever you call him, is suddenly inviting you to a family party you must know him pretty well, more than you’re letting on!” my father hissed.
“I only know him from college. I’m bound to meet people at college, male and female,” I said trying to be brave.
“Don’t be impertinent,” my mother said. My father nodded in agreement.
“It’s a party where there will be a lot of people. It’s an anniversary party so it isn’t a type of gathering that I wouldn’t be allowed to go to within the organization,” I said defensively.
My father said that it would be totally out of the question. I would mix with “heathens!” He was probably right when he said that it wouldn’t end there and that it would probably lead to Matt asking me out on a regular basis, which was forbidden. My father also added that my now being eighteen years old that he had to let me choose, but he wasn’t going to make it easy. Yes, I could go to this party and pursue this relationship, and I would still have a home if I did as they expected of me and the beliefs that I had been raised to respect. So, I had to choose between Matt and a roof over my head.
My parent’s religion demanded that all single people wanting to get married, had to marry a fellow believer; so as not to be misled and would stay firm in the faith; and so Matt obviously didn’t come into this category.
The following Monday, when we were back at college, I explained the outcome, regarding my parents. Matt was flabbergasted.
Matt really was one in a million. He offered to come and meet them and speak to them to reassure them that he was genuine and only had my best interests at heart.
I told him how much I appreciated his offer, but, because of being steeped in their religious ways, it was pointless, and as heart-wrenching as it was, I would have to conform, as I hadn’t any other income and that I hadn’t anywhere else to live.
Matt, bless him, immediately said that he would have a word with his older sister, Amelia, and that he was sure that she would let me stay with her, rather than my having to live under the same roof as a tyrant and his accomplice, my mother. Matt confessed that he had been confiding in Amelia about me, and that she was extremely sympathetic and so he already knew that she would take me in.
I said that I was extremely grateful, but I felt that I needed to be independent and that meant my being self-sufficient with a job and my own income. I knew that Matt understood. It was a tough decision to make, and that one day I would look back and ask the question – “What if it had happened differently? all those years ago.”
The end of year came far too soon and Matt and I went out to a pub near to the college and we had our final drink together. Neither of us said much, but we hugged each other.
I wished him well for the future and secretly I hoped that I would “accidentally” bump into him now and again in the town.
That night, my heart felt like lead and inside I felt inconsolable.
My father picked up on my obviously low mood and depressive state.
I had to bite my tongue as my mother and father put on a sympathetic air.
I walked into the living room after tea, my father, already spread out in the armchair with the television on full blast, extended his arm, and beckoned me to come and sit beside him.
I mustered all the strength that I could to do so, but inside my feelings of bitterness and anger towards him were welling-up.
“Natasha, I know that you’ve made a real tough decision about your friend, but you’ll see it is for the best.” He tried to sound convincing.
I was too hurt to speak, so I just looked blankly at the floor. “You know the saying, ‘there’s always plenty more fish in the sea’?” That was not a quote that I wanted to hear.
Father sounded triumphant as well, with the knowledge that he had won, and that his power was still very much in force. He wouldn’t have to lose face, with his daughter becoming involved with a “nonbeliever”.
As you will see later, yes, there are other fish in the sea, but it was me who ended up with a shark!