40

Naturally, there was a silent competition among Dimitri’s wives. But since they were professionals, they lived harmoniously together. Yet, somehow Ava could sense that the other girls were annoyed by her presence.

Natalia, Ilona and Oxana were gorgeous, but when they were at a party, it was Ava who entranced the media. And whenever the other three managed to outdo her, Ava would leave the battle arena with grace, bowing out. She would then proceed to chat up a powerful party guest, making Dimitri jealous enough to forget about the other three girls. He couldn’t let his property be stolen. Even without him ever admitting it, Ava knew she had become his favorite.

But the reason Ava was running such a good game with Dimitri was that she had managed to keep her emotions in the fridge, so she could strategize full-time. The love she had felt for him had been powerful, almost as powerful as the hatred that sprang into her heart after his deception. But that hatred soon cooled to indifference, which then allowed her to calculate her next moves without letting her emotions get in the way.

That is, until Ava accidentally discovered that Dimitri suffered from bipolar disorder. 

He had burst through her door by surprise—he was not due to return to Moscow for another four hours and the hairdresser was still in Ava’s suite, finishing up her work.

Dimitri entered without knocking and said to the hairdresser, “Get out.”

The woman obeyed immediately, leaving her professional paraphernalia behind.

When the door closed, Ava laughed. “What good manners. What’s the emergency?”

As he walked toward Ava, Dimitri discarded his clothing. “I need you. I had a terrible day.”

He had sex with her on the spot, and immediately rose to take a shower. That was not typical of Dimitri. He liked to stay in bed after an orgasm, telling jokes and betting how long it would take him to get another erection. Clearly something was the matter, but when Ava asked about it, Dimitri merely said he had not slept well and changed the subject.

Any normal girlfriend would have insisted on a better answer. Instead, Ava simply fell silent. She had already learned to be the fantasy girlfriend who didn’t pressure her man, even when he was being a complete idiot. But while she picked up his clothes, a scrap of paper fell out of his pants’ pocket. It was a prescription from a local psychiatrist.

The shower water was still running, so Ava went to her desk and jotted down the names of the doctor and the two medications. She hid her notes, and after a short deliberation, walked into the bathroom.

“This was on the floor,” she said to Dimitri, showing him the prescription, “Do you want me to call the pharmacy?” Ava knew she would get more information by acting casually.

“You can throw it in the garbage. I’m not taking that shit.”

She looked at him innocently. “I thought they were sleeping pills.”

"No. I went to this doctor because I’ve been tense and he comes at me with this bipolar disorder bullshit. I almost told him to go fuck himself. But who needs these idiots? I’m just tired. There’s nothing wrong with me.”

That night after dinner, Ava spent hours researching the sickness. It was something she’d only heard about on TV. The symptoms were frightening, but worse still—they matched Dimitri’s behavior perfectly. She researched the medicines the doctor had prescribed and discovered that although they did not cure the patient, they helped stabilize his or her behavior.

Ava had believed that Dimitri was mean and spoiled, but as she continued reading the articles, she realized that his bad behavior was not entirely his fault. He had a problem and if he took the right medication, he might be able to realize his absurdities and stop them.

Taken by hope, Ava started to remember how Dimitri was in those first months they dated. That facet of him—the sweet man in love—had not completely disappeared in the subsequent years. It showed up now and then when they were alone, or when he held her passionately in bed. Ava had assumed he was faking his nice side, but after her research, she realized that it might have been a genuine part of Dimitri, a good part that had been overshadowed by his mental instability. Maybe she was being naïve, but Ava chose to rescue her old love.

The problem was that in his arrogance, Dimitri would never admit that he possessed a single flaw; much less that he needed medication. So Ava decided to conduct the situation in a tricky way. In the morning, she called Dimitri’s psychiatrist and made an appointment for herself under a pseudonym.

When she walked into the office the doctor’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second. Ava tensed. But the man composed himself immediately and she assumed his reaction might have been merely because he had found her attractive.

Aware of the confidentiality between doctor and patient, Ava knew she could not tell the doctor the truth. Dimitri would not volunteer to take the medication, so she had intended to crush the pills and mix them with the shakes he drank before exercising. Once his thoughts were clearer, she would try to convince him to get treatment. But Dimitri had ripped his prescription into pieces as he left her room that night, and now Ava was hoping that the doctor could prescribe the same medication for her.

When he asked how he could help her, Ava described Dimitri’s symptoms as if they were her own. “I have mood swings and hyperactivity. Sometimes I exercise for hours and can’t sleep without taking sleeping pills. I feel an enormous need to be the center of attention, to have people constantly making an effort to please me. I also have a compulsive urge to lie a lot.”

“Do you lie to the ones you love?”

Ava paused, recalling the day Dimitri had revealed his true colors. “Yes, I do. And I don’t feel the least bit of empathy for the pain I inflict on them, nor the least remorse.”

The psychiatrist reclined in his chair and studied her for a moment. “Without a doubt”—he called her by the false name she had provided—“these are the symptoms of bipolar syndrome.”

“So could you give me medication to fix this, doctor?”

The doctor grinned. “I could, if I thought that’s what you had.”

Ava stared at him, confused. “I don’t understand.”

“I said these are the symptoms of this illness, not that you had it. True patients would never admit they deliberately hurt people or feel no empathy or remorse. They don’t realize any of that. And even when they do, they deny it.” The doctor paused, as if waiting for Ava to confess why she had come to see him. When she remained silent he said, “He threw out the prescription again, didn’t he?”

It immediately became clear to Ava that the doctor had known who she was the minute she entered his office. Dimitri appeared so much in the media with different women that Ava had hoped the doctor would not recognize her. But apparently, now that she was the favorite wife, the spotlight must have been shining hotly on her.

Resigned, Ava said, “I just want to help him. Dimitri isn’t always this bad.”

The psychiatrist nodded. “It’s very noble what you’re trying to do, but I cannot help you. Actually, I wouldn’t have even seen you if you had made the appointment in your real name. It wouldn’t be ethical. And I cannot discuss Mr. Petrov’s case with you.”

“Doctor, I understand your position, and please, forgive me for coming here this way, but just tell me one thing: you asked if he had thrown out the prescription. So he’s been here other times, right?”

The doctor hesitated, but sensing Ava’s desperation, he nodded. “I’ve been trying to treat him for the past five years.”

“Five years?!”

“Yes. He doesn’t want to do this.” The doctor rose from his chair. “I’m sorry, Miss, but you can’t save him. Now, you need to leave. I won’t tell anyone you were here.”

“But now that I see a reason for all the bad things he does, I want to help! Please, Doctor, if you give me the medication, I can make Dimitri take them without him knowing.”

“I cannot do that. And if I were you, I would take this advice.” He looked into Ava’s eyes with genuine sympathy. “It’s very hard to love someone who suffers from bipolar disorder. Even harder when he’s as rich and powerful as your boyfriend, because he can afford to do whatever he wants. Now you know there is a logical explanation for his behavior, but this won’t make your life any easier.”

It would really have been better for Ava if she had never found that prescription. It was easier to use Dimitri when she believed he was just evil. Now she faced a dilemma; she could try to forget the whole thing and go on playing her game, or try to fix him. Disregarding the doctor’s advice, she chose the latter. 

Without mentioning she had gone to his doctor, Ava told Dimitri she wanted to have a heart to heart chat that night. She said she had researched his problem on the Internet and suggested he try the treatment. She talked about his symptoms and the benefits of medication. For the first time since she had moved in, Ava had removed her mask to reason with him.

Sitting in an armchair in Ava’s room, Dimitri silently listened to her. His expression conveyed that he was deliberating. This filled Ava with hope. But when she finished, he simply rose and said, “If you start talking about this shit every time I come home, I will have to ask you to move out.” He headed toward the door and said over his shoulder, “I’m going to spend the night with Natalia.”

That was the last time Dimitri laid eyes on the real Ava.


41

At the end of the year, Dimitri decided that they would all move to Monaco. Apparently for Ilona, this was the perfect opportunity to leave him. After five years of living together, he allowed her to take everything she had in her closet, gave her 15,000 Euros, and told her to go to hell—Dimitri did not like to lose his pets.

The beautiful villa that was to become their home was much smaller than the mansion in Moscow, but even still, it was truly a paradise. Ava loved Monaco and her French improved in the blink of an eye. Also, they were now only a few steps away from Cannes and the famous Saint-Tropez. Ava had never stopped thinking of Mara, the gold digger who had first told her about the place, three long years ago. Ava would see the girls that Mara had mentioned, scattered throughout bars and hotel lobbies in search of their targets. But now, Ava could spot all of their faults, all of the scratches on the girls’ finish. It betrayed their suburban upbringing underneath all their designer clothes.

Ava was thankful to Dimitri. She would never have gained her level of sophistication if she had simply gone on the hunt with Mara. The millionaires, or black card benefactors, as Mara had called them, could hang out with many women and buy them expensive gifts, but they knew the difference between a cheap girl hunting for the summer and a classy gold digger who was worth keeping. 

Now that Ava had been playing the game in a much higher class than Mara, she felt like sharing her experiences in exchange for the advice the blonde had given her.

Ava did not have any real friends, and while a total stranger, Mara had been the only person who had treated her as such. When she returned home, Ava turned her chest of belongings from Saint Petersburg upside down and found the old, faded paper with Mara’s information on it. She called first, but the number was no longer in service. So Ava wrote an email and to her surprise, two days later, she received a response.

    Of course I remember you, Ava!

    I saw you in a magazine a few years ago and could barely believe it.

    Dimitri Petrov, huh? Looks like my advice served you well! :)

There was a telephone number and when Ava called, she discovered that Mara had met a British man that year, and had apparently impressed him so much that she moved to London with him, where they later got married.

“Yeah, I know it sounds strange,” Mara said, “marrying a man who doesn’t show up on Forbes Billionaire List. But I’m going to be 26 and with so many new faces arriving in Saint-Tropez every year, soon the big fish won’t look at me anymore. Todd gives me everything, he’s crazy about me, and I have enough time by myself every afternoon for extra activities.”

Ava laughed. “I’m happy to hear from you, Mara. I’ll keep in touch from now on.”

“Please, Mrs. Petrov. But soon I’ll give you another telephone number. Todd is expanding his business to the United States and we’re going to live in New York for a while.”

Encouraged by finding Mara, Ava decided it was time to track down her sister. Maybe Irina needed help, and even if she still hated her, Ava was ready to apologize and help her with whatever she needed. She mentioned the idea to Dimitri and he hired a private detective.

A few weeks later, the detective was sitting in Dimitri’s living room with a report on his findings. He opened an envelope and told Ava, “There’s no record of your sister’s whereabouts for the first weeks after she ran away. She probably stayed around Saint Petersburg at some informal job, and then went to Moscow, working as a nanny for a British family. A few months later, she moved to the United States.”

The information sounded completely surreal to Ava. Mara was a woman who would live wherever the money took her, but Irina had hated the idea of leaving Russia. The news of her moving to the United States made no sense.

“Are you sure?” Ava asked, and the detective only refrained from rolling his eyes because she was Dimitri Petrov’s girlfriend.

“Absolutely, Ms. Kostova.” He grabbed a photocopy of the society section of the New York Times, dated two years earlier and handed it to Ava. “Your sister married an American she met in Moscow. A doctor named Nathaniel Foster. They currently live in New Rochelle, in New York State.”

The man provided photos, emails, and phone records of Irina’s life. Ava couldn’t take her eyes away from her sister’s wedding photo—she was absolutely radiant in her wedding gown. The tall blond man beside her was generally attractive, but his face was not very clear. He appeared in profile, placing an affectionate kiss on Irina’s cheek.

Ava smiled at the photo. Good job, Irina. You seem much happier than me.

“Would you like me to move forward, ma’am?” the detective asked. “Maybe try to organize a reunion or some form of contact?”

Ava considered this for a moment. She would love to see Irina, but what would she say to her? Hey, sis, while you got married to a doctor from a good family, I became a playboy’s sex toy! Ava shook her head. “No, thank you. I just wanted to know that she was all right.”

Seeing Irina’s happiness had alleviated Ava’s conscience, but it also made her reflect a lot on her own happiness, which was now nonexistent. This wedding photo had been the last straw: it was time to leave Dimitri.

She had acquired a European Union passport when they moved to Monaco, and now was planning to establish her residence in France. She had secretly talked to a realtor over the phone and found a few cozy apartments in the Parisian neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. But she wanted to physically see her new home before closing the deal and she hadn’t yet had a chance to travel without Natalia and Oxana spying on her. So for her birthday, she asked Dimitri to take her for a week to Paris—just the two of them. While he worked from their hotel suite in the afternoons, Ava took care of finding her new home. 

This time, she would be okay when Dimitri showed her the front gate. Ava had learned more about the ultra-wealthy than any school could offer. But besides the invaluable education she received, she had also achieved something none of Dimitri’s girls had ever done: squeezed half a million Euros in cash out of him. 

And no one would ever believe how.


42

Ever since that night when she was forced to watch Ilona in her cage, Ava had taken the competition among the wives seriously. First, she entertained Dimitri by role playing for him, wearing an assortment of themed costumes and lingerie. He enjoyed not only how great she looked in those clothes, but the way Ava used her ballerina flexibility to dance and strip for him. Later, she also mastered the art of foreplay and drove Dimitri crazy by emailing him erotic videos of herself while he was in his office, or having boxes delivered with the newest sex toys she wanted to try.

Ava was a perfectionist at her job and never stopped finding new ways to entertain her only client. Dimitri had already gagged her, tied her up, chained her, and had her beg on all fours. The man was addicted to new games; he couldn’t stop with one act of depravity—he had to push the limit further each night.

Then everything changed once Ava bought a chastity belt and locked herself inside of it. She would massage Dimitri’s body with scented oils as she whispered demurely into his ear. When he could no longer stand it, Ava teased him more, saying she had lost the keys, intending to reward him with oral sex.

Dimitri reacted like a madman. With frustration growling in his stomach, he grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. “Do you enjoy torturing me?” He pushed one of her hands onto his testicles and said, “They are full, you see? And that hurts. Do you want them to hurt more?!”

Ava told him to calm down and turned to retrieve the key when Dimitri whispered, “Squeeze them.”

“What?!”

“Are you deaf?! I said, squeeze my balls!”

Shocked, Ava obeyed.

Dimitri screamed, then laughed and said, “Harder...”

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