Survival Tactics

By Erica R. Stinson

Thriller, General fiction

Paperback, eBook

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455
31 mins

Survival Tactics: Prologue

The pounding on the door matched the pounding in my head as I trembled in the master bathroom, hoping that he wouldn’t get inside.
He was drunk.
Again.
“Daphne! Open this fucking door!!” he raged, banging against it with his heavy fist as I whimpered and took a step back towards the tub. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the large mirror over the double sinks, noting all the telltale signs of a relationship shot to hell, at a point of no return.
I took a long look at myself in the mirror, staring at my newly battered face, wondering what I had gotten myself into.
A wild woman stared back at me as I took in my appearance, shaking my head in disbelief at how horrible I looked.
My hair was a mess, thick, auburn-colored curls spiraling in every possible direction and out of control. My hazel eyes were reddened from crying, and my caramel complexion appeared a sickening yellow, jaundiced by fear. My lips, already full and pouty, appeared to be swollen a bit and trembled as I realized that I had a very serious problem.
A sad, weary face was all I saw where once I’d been happy to be Evan’s fiancé, now covered in cuts and bruises from his rage. My shoulders shook as I started to cry again, and I held onto the marble vanity for strength, as I prayed for a way out of this mess.
Damn him.
“I said I was sorry, so what’s the fucking problem?!” he was bellowing, along with more pounding against the door. I knew that he was getting weary, and that soon he would tire and then go sleep it off.
I waited him out for twenty minutes, the silence louder than anything I’d ever witnessed in this apartment the eighteen months I’d been living there with him.
My hands were shaking as I finally opened the door, after waiting another half an hour just to be sure he’d had a chance to calm down.
The bedroom had only one lamp glowing, the bed linens in disarray. Half the contents of my makeup table strewn across the carpet, perfume bottles and other beauty paraphernalia scattered everywhere, all victims of his wrath.
I stepped over the other lamp that normally sat on my nightstand, carefully in my bare feet, the glass base broken as it lay on the floor.
Evan was sprawled on our bed, still wearing his tux from the events of earlier that evening, snoring loudly as I gingerly crept past him and out of our bedroom.
I knew that he was going to end up this way, especially when I’d watched him down drink after drink while we’d been at the annual summer gala his office held every August.
I went to the guest bedroom down the hallway and entered it, locking the door behind me. As an afterthought, I tucked a chair that I had bought just for this purpose the last time I’d had to do this, underneath the doorknob to further keep him out.
I went into the adjoining bathroom and did the best I could to clean myself up with the first aid kit that I now kept in the medicine chest. My right eye was already starting to swell pretty badly, and my side hurt.
I sniffled, wiping the blood that had trickled out of my nostrils away, ashamed to even meet my own gaze in the small mirror over the sink as I closed the medicine chest.
My stomach roiled with nausea, and I thought of the baby in my womb, the one I hadn’t told him about yet, as tears filled my eyes.
I recalled the gala, and how humiliated I’d been to see him openly flirting with anything that had on a dress. One woman in particular had stood out, as I glared at the two of them being so cozy in a darkened corner.
Brooke Hunter.
Brooke Hunter was a tall, raven-haired, overly made-up, model-thin, goddess. She’d worn a short, black cocktail dress with strappy, five-inch heels on her perfectly manicured feet as she held court with just about every man, single and attached, throughout the evening, including mine.
At one point, both she and Evan had disappeared, and I’d been livid. He hadn’t exactly been discreet about his infatuation with Brooke and I was very sure that they were seeing each other on the sly.
And if I’d any doubts, the envious voices I’d overheard talking in the ladies room had driven it all home. I was just glad that no one had realized that I was in the bathroom
stall, as they prattled on and gossiped about lucky Brooke Hunter snagging such a catch.
The company’s lavish affair was a gift to the entire staff for pulling in massive accounts and contracts all over the country, and putting their name amongst the very best in the field. Evan was one of the top associates in the firm, and he was well on his way to the top. I knew he’d do whatever he had to, in order to get there, too.
Evan had completely ignored me most of the evening, and once he stopped ogling Brooke long enough to notice that I wasn’t nearby, he’d found me at the buffet table sampling some of the tasty hors d’oeuvres they’d set out.
I dabbled in cooking and the gruyere cheese puffs they had set out were amazing. I was still nibbling at one, my third, when he grabbed my wrist, hard, making me drop it in surprise at his touch.
“I think you’ve had enough, dear.” He’d said, giving an alluring smile to the young woman, who was serving behind the catering table, as if he was scolding a petulant child. She smiled back, giving him a once over as he forced me along with him. “Come, I want you to meet some people.”
And then Evan proceeded to parade me around to scores of people, that I didn’t know from anybody, boasting about what a spectacular wedding we were going to have next year. He went on and on about how he wanted to give me the world, appearing a doting and adoring fiancé to everyone he introduced me to.
He’d looked over me then, my body stuffed into the creamy white evening gown I’d worn that night, the contempt in his eyes as I’d squirmed uncomfortably under his close scrutiny.
He’d been getting on me about my weight, about my diet, about everything to the point that I was a nervous wreck around him.
Stress made me eat.
That, and the fact that I was pregnant, had caused my appetite to increase.
As it was, I was barely able to breathe in the gown he’d made me wear, which was about a size, too small. I’d begged him to let me wear something else, telling him that I looked and felt stupid in the dress, but he’d denied me.
“You do look stupid, Daphne.” He’d said, in what I felt was a very satisfied tone as we’d gotten dressed for the party. “You don’t have a bit of self-control whatsoever when it comes to food.”
He’d openly gloated to see me ridiculously crammed into that damned dress as we’d entered the room, and I felt self-conscious and insecure about my overall appearance as the other women stared at me, whispering behind their hands.
They were probably actually staring at Evan, but nonetheless, I felt like an ugly beached whale on his arm, and he’d strode away, leaving me alone not even a minute after we’d gotten there.
Of course, we’d gotten into it because I didn’t like the way that he was treating me, and I escaped him by excusing myself to the ladies room right before I stopped myself from slapping the arrogant look right off of his face. I had never actually struck him, and probably really wouldn’t have, but I had really wanted to and that scared me.
That’s not who I was.
After I came out of the bathroom, we’d argued some more and he’d shoved me, causing me to lose my footing and my dress to tear along the seam on one side as I nearly fell to the floor.
I’d tried to keep my balance in the high-heeled sandals I wore, horrified as the sound of my gown ripping with every breath I took, filled the silence and we glared at each other.
No one had seen us, but I was through with him and his bullshit, and I’d left the party immediately to come home.
He’d stalked off in the opposite direction, no doubt to find Brooke, who he could fuck until the cows came home for all I cared now. I knew that I wouldn’t be seeing him anymore tonight.
But he’d surprised me by showing up at the apartment a short while after I’d gotten there, enraged as he accused me of deliberately embarrassing him in front of everyone by leaving.
Honestly, I was quite sure that no one had paid either of us a lick of attention at the party since the whole office was attending. There were at least three hundred people there, and they were too busy eating and drinking all the free stuff to worry about us.
But as usual, Evan was trying to make everything all my fault so that he could have an excuse to get angry at me, and then start a fight. We were really getting heated in our argument, when he suddenly grabbed me roughly by the shoulders, his fingers digging into my flesh as he hissed at me.
“You bitch! Who do you think you are!?” he’d snarled, as he shook me so hard that I’d thought that my head would roll right off my shoulders. I’d shoved him away from me, hard enough that he fell. He was pretty drunk, so it had been easy. I’d run into our bedroom and bolted the door, glad that he didn’t bother to follow me.
I couldn’t do this anymore.
I sat on the bed, wincing in pain as I laid my weary head against the decorative pillows, and cried myself to sleep as I wished I had never met Evan Mitchell.
*******
A soft knock on the door woke me early the next morning, and Evan’s voice filtered through the heavy wooden door. I rolled over and looked at the clock on the nightstand.
Eight o’clock.
He probably wanted his breakfast. There was cold cereal in the kitchen or he could heat up some water and make some fucking oatmeal. I didn’t care.
“Daphne? Are you awake?” he asked, his voice choked with sobs. “Please open the door….”
I didn’t say anything, as I heard him choke off a sob and move off down the hallway. He was back at the door an hour later, just as I was heading into the bathroom because I was nauseous.
I had just found out about the baby a week ago. My doctor informed me that I was at least three months along. She had also given me a card for a women’s shelter, telling me that I could go there any time and get help. I had pretended not to know what she was talking about, and had left the card there on her desk.
I didn’t bother making another appointment with her, because I was too ashamed to face her again, now that she knew. Apparently, my makeup skills weren’t as good as I’d thought.
I would have to work on that.
I came out of the bathroom a few minutes later, listening silently as Evan’s heart-wrenching sobs on the other side of the door, started to tear at me.
It was bizarre how I seemed to have a love/hate relationship with him. Part of me really wanted to work it out, but the other part of me was not going to live through this shit again.
I had been physically and sexually abused as a child, growing up in a foster home as a result, until I was eighteen. Raised by the most wonderful and loving couple that I knew, Barbara and Ethan Knight, who’d rescued me from foster-care hell, had allowed me to grow up somewhat normally.
But I still had a shitload of problems as a result of being repeatedly raped by my own father from the time I was about seven, until I was removed from my home at ten. I had trouble dealing with my mother enabling my father to do this to me, even as she blamed me and physically abused me, regularly.
No, I was done.
I would not allow this shit to happen to me again, and hated myself for living through indecision and fear for the past year or so.
I tried to shut out Evan’s excuses on how he’d been under a lot of stress, and all of the other shit he was crying about as I thought of my family.
I swiped at my sudden tears as I thought of my foster parents, angry at myself for allowing Evan to make me estrange my whole family to the point that I had barely spoken to them since we’d started living together.
Evan had complete control over me; mind, body and spirit.
I was mad, hell, furious even, as I mulled it all over, thinking of how many times he had blackened an eye and reddened a cheek, just because he could.
He had become someone that I didn’t know anymore, if I ever knew him at all. True, he didn’t look like the monster he became at times, but then again, looks could be deceiving.
Barbara and Ethan Knight, or Mom and Dad as I still called them, were the only parents I recognized from the moment they took me in. I had never seen either one of my biological parents again after the court hearings when I was about thirteen, nor did I know or even care whether or not they were alive or dead.
Mom and Dad had done their best to help me get past the trauma, spent countless thousands on years of therapy because they loved and cared about me. Now, here I was, throwing it all away by allowing Evan to abuse me physically and emotionally.
Tears of shame slid down my cheeks as I thought of how disappointed in me my parents were going to be when I ended up coming back home, when I never should have left in the first damned place.
They had pleaded with me to reconsider when I told them that Evan had invited me to live with him in New York. I had never lived on my own before, nor had I ever been out of the state of Virginia, much less Charlottesville.
"Honey, you barely know him. Please think about it first," Mom had begged me, two days before I left. Dad hadn’t made me feel as bad about going, but I could feel his disapproval of the whole thing, despite the fact that both my parents seemed to like Evan very much.
But I was in love, and I had followed my heart to the upper east side of New York City to be with the man that I thought was going to make all my dreams come true.
None of this turned out like I thought it would. My life has become a struggle of constant chaos as Evan’s moods shifted from night to day, and then back to night again,
I shuddered with the memory of that first episode, which seemed like just yesterday, even though it had happened more than a year ago.
“Do you think I enjoy having to teach you how to behave?!”
“I’m so-sor-…..” I tried to speak, as I lay on the floor where he’d put me, but I couldn’t stop crying.
“You’re sorry?” he spat and then scoffed. “Yes, Daphne, you are sorry. What am I going to do with you?!”
My shoulders shook as I sobbed, and Evan paced back and forth across our bedroom floor, muttering about what a crybaby moron I was. I knew that he was worked up to the point that he couldn’t control his anger if he tried. He was glaring at me now as I tried to stifle my cries, feeling as if I were going to throw up. I keeled over, clutching myself as I willed him to just leave me alone.
“Oh, what are you going to do now? Lay there and cry?” he taunted, as I continued to weep and my stomach roiled with nausea. I tried to answer, but started coughing instead as I tried not to vomit.
“Why do you always have to play the victim, Daphne? Huh?” he barked, squatting over me as I sniffled, and remained where I was.
“Why do you always have to make me look like the bad guy!?” he roared directly into my face, as I squeezed my eyes shut and tears slid down my cheeks, “You’re fucking worthless, you know that, right? A complete fucking waste of space and breath!”
I cringed, a whole new world of hurt beginning in me from his cruel comments. My whole life I had suffered from low self-esteem and no self-worth, and a lot of times Evan’s words hurt just as much as his touch. I buried my face against my arm in shame, as he continued to verbally strip me down to my very core with his cutting remarks about my looks, my competence, and how I was nothing without him.
How no other man would ever want me.
How lucky I was to have him.
I felt him shove me roughly with his bare foot; right into my backside, as I remained curled up in the fetal position. He shoved me again, harder this time, as I willed myself to look at him. I hurt, all over and I just couldn’t move.
“Seriously, Daphne? We’re really doing this? I barely touched you.” He defended himself, when I didn’t move. “Get up.”
All I could do was lie there as Evan stood over me and then let out a snort of disgust, throwing his hands up into the air in exasperation.
“Whatever. Just remember, you started it, as usual.” He said, stalking from the bedroom and I heard the door to our guest bedroom slam a moment later, where I knew he’d spend the night.
Of course, he had apologized the next day and had sworn to never strike me again. Evan had been very upset, as he begged me not to leave him.
I recalled packing my suitcase as I ignored his pleas, barely able to see out of my left eye because it was swollen shut from where he’d hit me. He had gotten on his knees, even, crying as he said that he was sorry and that it would never happen again. Over and over he wept and begged me to reconsider until I was crying too, and forgiving him.
He’d been really nice to me after that, the incident forgotten, until it happened again a couple of months later, and then a third time a couple of months after that, which ended with me in the emergency room to have my broken arm set in a cast for six weeks. At that point, I really did leave him, opting to stay at a hotel so that I could heal in peace and then decide what to do next.
At the time I couldn’t decide whether to try to live in New York on my own, or return to Virginia and admit to my family that I’d made a huge mistake.
I didn’t have any money or a job, and didn’t know anyone else in New York City thanks to him not allowing me any friends. I had gone to the police and they encouraged me to take out a restraining order. There was no way I could do that, and I was sure that Evan would kill me if I did.
Of course, in true Evan Mitchell fashion, he managed to find me. I had stupidly used our credit card to check in to a nearby Marriott, and he’d tracked me there.
After causing a huge scene at the hotel, and begging me to come home to him as he cried, again, I had felt sorry for him and relented.
I had agreed only to come home after he’d promised to never hit me again, ever. And he had to get therapy for his anger management issues. It was an ultimatum on which I was not going to budge. He’d promised that and more, as he’d shown me an appointment card for a mental therapist, stating that he had set up a session for that coming week.
I had loved and believed him, telling him that I wanted to make it work between us.
Of course, Evan managed his way out of the appointment and had never actually gone to the therapist, blaming his busy work schedule when I asked him about it, in the heat of yet another argument two weeks after I’d stupidly returned home.
I hadn’t said a word when he had tried to sell me his bullshit, angry at myself for believing that he would ever go to therapy in the first place. He hadn’t hit me that time, but I knew it was eventually going to happen again at some point.
Evan became a different person when his temper got the best of him, and I didn’t like him when he was like that.
“I’m going to leave now. You just….rest….for today. I’ll take you out for dinner tonight.” He wept at the door now, sniffling as I imagined his handsome face swollen with tears. “If you feel up to it, call me in a bit. Even if I’m in a meeting, I’ll answer, but please Daphne. Please, just talk to me. I can’t stand it when you’re mad at me.”
Then he was crying again, and I was too now, as I opened the door a crack to see him standing there. Before I knew what was happening, Evan was on the other side of the door and inside the room as he gathered me into his arms.
His lips rained kisses on my face, as he held me tight and begged for forgiveness amidst the tears streaming down his cheeks. I cried for us, too, returning his kisses as my anger completely evaporated. He took me up into his arms and carried me down the hall to our bedroom, laying me on the bed once we got there.
I didn’t really care for sex, not like Evan did, and he seemed to want it all of the time.
I’d recently discovered a collection of porno movies he kept hidden on the top shelf in our bedroom closet. It had repulsed me, looking at some of titles and photos on the gleaming DVD cases. I felt more afraid than ever for what he had in store for me once we were married.
Painfully, I still carried the scars from being molested, and it was affecting my everyday life with my fiancé.
Even though he was more than aware of my past sexual abuse and trauma stemming from it, I was going to therapy for it, alone. Evan felt that I just needed to get laid regularly to get through all this ‘frigid nonsense’, as he’d put it, when I’d asked him to come with me to one of the sessions when we first got engaged.
As it was, he was always trying to do lewd stuff when we were in the bedroom. And all I could do was just lie there ‘like a fucking corpse’ as he’d so bluntly put it, while he did whatever he needed to satisfy himself.
I didn’t want it to always be this way, so a few months after we were living together I found a sexual therapist that I felt could help. And I wanted someone who specialized in couples, and had researched a top therapist that I felt was a good fit for us. Since it was his sex life too, I figured it might help if Evan and I tried to work on it together.
“You’re the one with the problem, not me.” He’d accused, ending any further ideas I had about including him in my treatment.
I tended to be clingy when it came to Evan, terrified that he was going to leave me.
I had abandonment issues and I didn’t know how to be alone, nor did I like it. The thought of it made me feel sick to my stomach as I remembered the early years of
neglect and no socialization or attention from my biological parents, unless it was negative.
I grew up thinking that it was normal to be treated this way, and that I was bad. That I deserved it for disappointing my mother and father all of the time, to make them treat me like they had.
I had mistaken my father’s sexual abuse for love, realizing over time that he only rewarded me for letting him do the nasty things he wanted to. I hated him for what he’d done to me, though I had liked his touch at times, even while knowing that it was very wrong.
I hated my mother more for seeing what was going on, and making me an enemy instead of an ally and making him stop.
“Daphne?” Evan whispered, interrupting my thoughts, his lips pressing against mine gently, “I love you.”
He hovered over me, his face serious, but calm as he gazed at me and I felt the ice around my heart begin to melt.
My God.
He was an Adonis.
Evan was tall, six feet two inches, had a dark mop of hair with neat sideburns, broad shouldered with dark blue eyes that glittered like sapphire gems, his lips firm and somewhat full. His nose was a shade too long, but you didn’t really notice it too much because you were so busy appraising the rest of him.
Extremely charming and eloquent at everything he did, he was greatly admired by his peers and superiors at work. It was his gumption that was rapidly taking him to the top of his career as an architect, but he wasn’t quite there, despite his hard work. It was this that was causing the current problems with his stress levels.
He felt that was doing everything right, but still was not rewarded for his efforts. He wanted the corner office with the big window, to live like he felt he was entitled and have enough wealth to afford the lifestyle he could only dream about. We were hardly poor, but we weren’t filthy stinking rich either.
His dark blue eyes were deep and roving when they stared into mine. His lips firm and sensuous, with his fine, straight nose upturned just enough to give him a regal air.
With the expensive clothes he wore and the sexy smile he put on for all women, young and old, Evan was a definite hunk. He was the source of lusting for all single females, and even some of the married ones, I was sure. So often, the phony women in our social circle told me how lucky I was to have such an adoring fiancé even as they tried to get at him, as if I didn’t know what was going on.
Evan Mitchell had won me over as he’d displayed the genteel manners of an eighteenth century gentleman from a Jane Austen novel, my favorite author, and was just as witty as could be. He would hold doors for me, or help me out of the car, offer me his jacket if the air grew a hint too cool. He’d constantly tell me how beautiful I was, and then he’d kiss my hand tenderly as I’d blush and giggle, loving every second of it. I can admit that I had fallen hard for Evan’s charms, and I was besotted.
That was one of my favorite words that Mrs. Jennings used in Sense and Sensibility to describe Colonel Brandon’s feelings for Miss Marianne.
Evan was sweet and very loving towards me for the rest of the morning as he began his foreplay, a first for him. I was pleasantly surprised that he was being so caring with me, lust in his eyes, as he kissed me passionately. I was trying hard not to stare at the erection straining against the front of his pajama bottoms, already dreading the pain that I knew was coming.
He reached down there a moment later, and I cringed as I caught sight of the angry red tip of his penis as it poked through the opening in the crotch of the striped fabric, his breath hot on my face as he hovered over me.
Evan fumbled with the drawer of the nightstand on his side of the bed, removing a large bottle of KY Lubricating Jelly that he kept there and squirted a dollop on the palm of his hand before gripping the tip of his large penis, and working his hand over the engorged shaft and head.
I stared at the ceiling, already zoning out from what was happening, as I felt his heavy weight press on top of me, my legs forced apart by his body as he pulled me to him. I knew by now, it didn’t do any good to tell him no, so I just laid there. I wanted it to be over, already.
But it never went fast, or well.
The mattress was squeaking underneath our weight as Evan moved on top of me, his face against my neck, as his cries and grunts increased. I was always disappointed that I couldn’t feel anything but pain, whenever we made love.
I knew that I wasn’t normal, and my eyes filled with tears as I felt sorry that Evan was stuck with someone like me. I wouldn’t do the wild and crazy shit in bed that he wanted at times, not on my own anyway, and he’d force me when he wanted it bad enough.
No wonder he was gallivanting with Brooke Hunter.
I had driven him to it.
Finally, Evan collapsed on me, letting out a loud groan as his body completely relaxed on top of mine, but I couldn’t move from underneath him, his heaviness crushing me against the bed.
I felt nothing.
I was hollow.
A moment or so later, he finally propped up on his elbows as he stared down into my face.
“You’re getting better at this.” he murmured, caressing my cheek softly with his fingertip as he gazed into my eyes, deeply “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
I shook my head, despite the terrible stinging in my vagina. He’d been so rough with me and even with the lubricant, it had been painful.
I fought the urge to scream as Evan’s hands roamed over me, his lips kissing the breasts he’d bared when he’d shoved my nightgown up over them, nibbling at my nipples, as if he thought that it was something that I would like.
“Maybe we can go for round two after breakfast.” He said huskily, as I remained quiet, just wanting him to get off of me already, and I faked a smile.
Last time he’d gotten angry, complaining that I was weird because I lay so still and quiet and I had cried afterward.
I hated being called weird.
He blamed me for our boring sex life, and for being frigid, pissed that I couldn’t even get wet when he’d done nothing but try to please me, according to him. In truth, Evan normally didn’t believe in foreplay, often thrusting into me before I was ready for him. Humping away on top of me until he finished, and then he’d roll over and go to sleep. Or worse, hold me in a vice grip while he got ready for the next round.
I shuddered as I hoped that he wouldn’t want to do it again.
True, my heart would race when he’d kiss me and hold me in his arms, and I wished that it could just stay like that. But the kisses and hugs had lessened recently, and he was spending more and more time away from home and coming home late from ‘the office’.
I wasn’t stupid, and even though I knew that he was fucking Brooke, I couldn’t blame him.
I could smell her on him when he’d stagger home in the middle of the night, the expensive perfume being the very one Brooke had been wearing at the party the evening before.
Recently, he’d started using the jelly and at least this time he wasn’t angry at me, but I knew that he felt that I was cold in bed. I felt ashamed every time we got intimate, and the pressure of trying to please him, sexually, was crippling.
I rolled over as he began using his iPhone and started checking some emails before he made a call to the office to tell them that he was going to be unavailable until one that afternoon.
“Forward all calls to my cell.” He was saying, as he stood in front of the picture window, completely naked, and he stared out into the rapidly graying skies. “I’ll be in later this afternoon.”
He tossed the phone down onto the bed as he headed out of the room.
“I’ll get us something to eat.” He grinned over his shoulder, sauntering away, as I tugged the sheets up over my breasts and sighed.
It was starting to rain, the large drops of water splattering against the windows, as he came back a moment later with some fresh fruit and the blueberry muffins I’d baked the day before, just to have in the house. My mother used to always bake goodies ‘just to have in the house’ and we’d come in from school to the most wonderful smells. Sometimes it was cinnamon and sugar, or chocolate, or some other mouthwatering aroma.
“Aren’t you fat enough as it is?” Evan had asked me, when he started to notice that I always had something sweet in the glass cake dome that I kept on the marble island in the kitchen.
But he never complained after he got used to my treats appearing weekly, and he’d often polish off whatever I’d had in there before I even got a chance to have any of it.
He smiled as he set down the tray and then went to the mini-fridge to get some orange juice. I usually bought fruit juices to keep in the mini-fridge in our bedroom, since we often had breakfast in bed. We also had a single-cup miniature coffee maker that sat on top of the mini fridge for the same reason.
“Green tea?” he asked, and I smiled at him and nodded as he made my tea. He made himself a cup of coffee next and we had breakfast. I was relieved when he decided to shower afterward instead of wanting more sex, as I hadn’t really been in the mood for it in the first place.
I started a load of laundry after my own shower, and then went through the inventory in my commercial-sized refrigerator to make a shopping list.
“Don’t forget, we’re going out tonight.” Evan reminded me as he opened the hall closet to get his umbrella. “I have a lunch meeting in twenty minutes, but I’m not going to eat much and spoil our dinner out. You should probably do the same.”
“I will.” I promised, as he pulled me to him to kiss my lips, tenderly. I watched him as he walked the short distance to the elevator and pressed the call button. He was smiling at me, his dark blue eyes bright as the doors opened and he went inside the car. The smile left my face the moment he disappeared from sight and I closed the front door.
Things went well for a couple of weeks, before they fell apart for the last time, ending my stay in New York City and turning my life upside-down.

Daphne

Friday evening I was late coming home.
Late-late.
I hadn’t told him that I was going anywhere, and my cell phone hadn’t rung in hours, which was unusual, but I knew I had to get dinner started and the house ready. It was well after six, and he was usually home just about this time. It was only then that I looked at my cell phone and saw that it was off.
“Idiot.” I muttered aloud, realizing that I’d forgotten to charge it again, pretty sure my phone had been dead for a while.
Please don’t let him be home, yet
Please don’t let him be home, yet
Please don’t let him be home, yet
Like a mantra, that sentence ran through my head, repeatedly, as I fumbled for my house keys. I hurried down the carpeted hallway to the door of apartment 23-E and quickly unlocked it. As I got inside, I listened for the sound of a television, radio, anything at all to indicate that Evan was at home.
I didn’t see him at first, but he suddenly sprang from the leather sofa, where he’d been lying in wait in the living room as I entered it, and I let out a shriek of surprise.
I pivoted and tried to run back towards the front door, but bolting past me, he got there first and slammed it shut, just as I had opened it, blocking it with his athletic body.
Evan held my stare as I backed away from him and he advanced towards me, closing the gap between us. I shuddered as I felt the wall up against my back, realizing that he had me trapped.
He put his large hands up on the wall directly on either side of me, causing me to flinch, as he leaned close to ask me his question in a dangerously quiet and calm tone.
“Where were you?”
It was a simple question, and I knew the answer, but I was so scared of him that I couldn’t even speak. My lips moved, but no sound came out. All I could see was his cold expression and unwavering glare as he repeated his question in a slow and deliberate tone, and this time I knew I’d better answer.
Apparently, I didn’t react fast enough and I saw the slap coming just before I felt it explode against my face, my cheek stinging from the blow as tears sprang to my eyes.
“Do I have your attention now? Huh? Where the fuck have you been?” he demanded, delivering another, harder, slap to make my nose bleed as I tried to explain my absence.
“I…I..” I faltered, before the tears came on full force and I started to cry.
“I’ve been calling you for over an hour! Do you know what I’ve been through, wondering where the hell you were? Why do you provoke me, Daphne?!” he snarled as I fought to stop crying, because it only enraged him when I did.
I sucked in my tears as we both took a moment to calm down, swiping at my bloody nose with the back of my hands, Evan’s broad chest heaving as his lips tightened.
“I had a doctor’s appointment…..” I finally said, quietly.
“A doctor’s appointment? Now what’s wrong with you?” he interrupted, as I told him that I hadn’t been feeling well lately. I still hadn’t said anything about the baby, because I didn’t know how he would take it. The morning sickness was pretty bad and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to keep my secret much longer. As it was, my clothes were tight and I’d bought some things in slightly larger sizes to try and hide what was going on.
We’d never discussed children, but I had a feeling that Evan wasn’t going to be happy about this. He was very career-oriented, and he only cared about getting to the top. He didn’t have time to deal with a baby. And then there was me, driving him absolutely crazy, just by being myself.
Evan had me walking around on eggshells lately, and I kept messing up, despite knowing how quick his temper was.
“You’d better not get me sick, Daphne.” He threatened, shaking his head in annoyance, as he glared down at me. “I’m serious. I have to go to Chicago tomorrow and I don’t have time for you and your shit.”
We stared at each other for a long moment before I finally gathered up enough courage to speak.
“I can fix dinner, if you want…” I said, meekly, trying to appease him, as he continued to glare at me, his eyes so hard.
“You’re an idiot, just as stupid as they come. If you’re sick why the hell would I want you touching my food? Go on, get out of here. I can’t even look at you right now.” Evan snorted derisively, effectively dismissing me, as I slowly made my way to our bedroom. I went into the bathroom once I got there, and closed the door.
My entire cheek was red and there was some swelling around my nose. My wild hair was all over my head as my eye makeup ran in rivulets down my cheeks. I began to cry again as I stared back at myself in the mirror, realizing I was getting tired of going through this with him. I could see the angry fingerprints on my upper arms where he’d grabbed me, the bruise beginning to appear underneath my left eye from when he’d struck me. I tried to imagine life here, with him, once the baby came. Would becoming a father change him? What would happen the first time he lost patience with our child? I shuddered at the thought as tears streamed down my cheeks and I moaned softly as I began rocking myself.
I was trying to get myself together an hour later, when I heard a soft knock on the bathroom door just before it opened, and Evan came into the room wearing a sheepish expression as he hung his head.
“I’m an asshole.” He said, moving to press his muscular body up against my backside as his arms slid around me from behind, cupping me to him as his lips found the nape of my neck in a gentle kiss. “Daphne, you know how I get when you aren’t where I expect you to be and then you don’t call or answer your cell. Can you understand how worried I was?”
I didn’t say anything, but I felt my eyes welling up with tears. I didn’t say a word as he promised he would seek treatment when he returned from his trip. He admitted that he needed some help in controlling his temper.
I’m sorry, Daphne
It’ll never happen again, Daphne
I love you, Daphne
And on and on and on he went and then came the tears as he begged me to forgive him and he apologized profusely.
When he was in a great mood, I loved Evan more than anything. He was sweet and kind, thoughtful and loving. When he was in a bad mood, which seemed to be all the time now, I was frightened of him and of his hair-trigger reactions. Everything in Evan’s world was wrong, according to him and he’d try to convince me that everyone was against him, trying to keep him down.
I thought of our wedding coming up in April, right after my birthday on the twenty-third.
Over five hundred invitations had already been sent out, the reception hall’s non-refundable deposit secured, the honeymoon reservations in Hawaii booked, and my beautiful, custom-made, gown was hanging in the closet hidden from Evan’s view in its locked garment bag.
How could I call it all off now?
I blamed myself and no one else but myself for allowing this shit to go on for as long as it had.
“Forgive me?” he asked, kissing me as he pulled me against him in a crushing embrace. I sniffled as I pasted on a fake smile, and nodded. He left me alone then, and I was relieved that all was well, at least for the time-being.
I got into my nightgown and went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. As I sat drinking it, I wondered how someone could change so drastically in such a short time. Evan hadn’t always been like this.
I had met Evan two years ago while working at an upscale restaurant back home and he’d come there for a business lunch with some clients.
He had flirted shamelessly, leaving me an insane tip. Of course, I wouldn’t accept it because it was far too generous. He had asked me out as he and his associates headed out of the restaurant, charming me to the point that I couldn’t say no if I’d wanted to.
It was on our first date a few nights after, that I learned Evan Mitchell was one of the top architects in a prestigious firm, whose main offices were in New York City.
I’d tried to tell myself that he couldn’t possibly be interested in me, even as his eyes had stayed glued to me the entire time we’d had dinner.
He was a major hunk, and all of the females in the restaurant and in the night-club he’d taken me to afterward, were throwing themselves at him like crazy. But Evan hadn’t paid any of them a lick of attention, having eyes only for me as he held me close while we danced.
I normally didn’t drink, but he’d ordered some fruity concoction that I ended up liking a lot. I had a couple of them, before my head started to spin and Evan took me home. I allowed him to kiss me at the front door of my parents’ house, with him promising to call me after making sure that I was safely inside.
After that, my cell phone was ringing constantly as Evan pursued and wooed me with a flurry of dinners, dancing, gifts and the dazzling nightlife. He didn’t move too fast, and he didn’t pressure me about sex at all, which was a plus in my book.
The one sore point about our relationship was Brent, my foster brother. I felt a stab of guilt as I thought of how long it’d been since I’d last spoken to him, over a year ago.
Brent and I had been best friends since we were both nine years old. He had been the one that had told Mom and Dad what had been going on with me, and that’s how they got involved.
My foster dad had been a family court lawyer, and he did everything he could to get me released to their care so that I could heal, grow and be nurtured in a stable environment.
We were thick as thieves, rarely fought, and were like two peas in a pod.
Brent and I had each other’s back, no matter what.
My best friend had always been overprotective of me, especially since kids were cruel despite knowing just how horrible my situation was. I’d hated going to school, and I had been unmercifully bullied for just about my entire academic career until I got to college.
Brent had gotten into plenty of fights and had gotten his ass kicked trying to defend me, more times than I could count, well into high school. But to everyone's surprise, Brent had suddenly grown taller and had filled out the summer before our junior year.
After a while, they realized that they’d have to deal with Brent if they messed with me, once he started doing the ass-kicking.
I had less problems then, and over time the other kids grew bored with me and I was left alone, finally free of the bullies that had tormented my everyday life at school.
I had come out of my shell somewhat by senior year, and then started college while working at the restaurant. Guys hit on me all of the time, but I just ignored them and did my job. I didn’t really feel all that comfortable in male company, and had never even been on a date.
The job was fun. I got to meet lots of people, and I needed my paychecks to help offset the expense of college textbooks and other stuff. I hadn’t wanted to bother with men, period, sure that I was going to die an old-maid.
Then one day Evan walked into my life.
In all of this, during my whirlwind romance, Brent was the only one who hadn’t liked Evan on sight. The two just could not seem to be able to tolerate each other, at all. It was more than a little uncomfortable when the two were in the same room together, but thankfully it hadn’t happened too much before I’d moved away.
I tried to tell each of the men that they had the other pegged all wrong, but everything just fell on deaf ears on both sides. I hadn’t pushed it, but I wished that Evan and Brent would try and get along.
I was so relieved that Evan still wanted to bother with me, despite my history, that I didn’t know what to do. I knew that I wasn’t normal, compared to any of the other women he could have had, but yet he still hung around.
He had been respectful with his advances, just holding my hand as we’d go for long walks or have a quiet dinner at one of his fancy restaurants. We talked about everything under the sun during those dinners, growing closer as the weeks passed and Evan wanted to know my dreams for the future.
My feelings about marriage was a subject that he’d touched on, often, and I grew giddy hoping that he was going to propose. And when he did, five months into our relationship on a trip to Paris for the weekend, I’d cried with happiness as I told him that I wanted to be his wife.
Evan was smooth.
And I had fallen for it all, hook, line and sinker.
A few weeks after moving to New York City, and after the initial bliss of being with him wore off, little things about Evan began to bother me.
For instance, I wanted to work, but he wouldn’t allow me to have a job. I had seen plenty of openings in the zillions of restaurants all over Manhattan and I was stoked. So, I was very surprised when he flat-out told me no.
“My wife doesn’t have to work.” He’d proclaimed, kissing me as he told me to just take care of the household and he’d do all the hard stuff. I quickly grew bored sitting at home all the time, but my cooking skills increased as I watched The Food Network religiously and actually learned how to make some really good dishes. I watched Restaurant Stakeout, Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef religiously, watching and learning. I wished that I had the brains to open my own place someday. I didn’t dare say anything to Evan about this for fear that he’d laugh at my stupid ideas, make fun of me like he always did. I just let the silly notion go, eating and watching others live their dreams as I sat in front of the television day in and day out, growing fatter.
When some courses were advertised at The French Culinary Institute, I begged Evan to let me take them. He’d hemmed and hawed, but he finally relented when I told him that I needed something to keep me active during the day while he was at work. I told him that his meals would
be a lot better, and since he already liked my cooking, he was sold. He was impressed with the new dishes I’d learned, and often praised my talent to others.
I had even made a number of friends in the class, a welcome change from being alone for most of the time. I was invited out for drinks and just fun stuff like lunches, movies and concerts in the park, loving the fact that I had finally met some people that wanted to be real friends, unlike the phonies that Evan hung around with. But Evan had complained that all of these activities would keep me out of the house too much, and that my place was at home.
I had been mad as hell about this one, because he couldn’t really expect to be my only friend in the entire state of New York.
I wanted to go out.
I wanted to see the city, the sights and taste the different foods that we didn’t have in Virginia, just have fun with my new friends. But to keep the peace, I started to decline whenever I was invited out. This had happened over a year ago, and after not hearing from me for so long, my new friends slowly stopped calling and finally ceased altogether.
One of the other things that really bothered me was that Evan would pick fights over little, stupid, shit for no reason, because he could be incredibly anal about things at times. Lord knows, I tried to be better and do everything I could to keep the peace, but Evan wanted me to be perfect and I had learned a long time ago that nobody was perfect.
Sometimes I just got tired of trying to be something I wasn’t. In Evan’s eyes, I had to look and be perfect all of the time. Deep down inside, I think I antagonized him out of spite because the pressure he put on me was enormous.
I thought about killing myself sometimes, just to end it on my terms instead of waiting for him to lose control one day and do it for me.
I lay awake for most of the night, with all that had transpired since I’d discovered I was pregnant, while Evan snored loudly next to me, not knowing what to do. And as the sun rose the following morning, after an agonizingly long and sleepless night, I knew then exactly what I had to do.
I had to get out.
******
When his alarm went off a short while later, I got up and made the bed, and while he showered, I laid out one of the more casual business suits that he reserved for traveling. I dutifully packed his suitcase and I made sure that he had all of his toiletries and other things he’d need for his business trip. I picked out his best suits and put them gently into the garment bags where they belonged. I checked the shoes, from an expensive label that he insisted on wearing, for scuff-marks and packed them neatly.
Evan strode out of the bathroom, naked and smiling and he slipped his arms around me, pulling me close as I fought the bile rising in my throat.
He took his time getting dressed and then making phone calls to his office as I made a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast which included freshly squeezed orange juice. His New York Times lay at the side of his plate, the business section on the top, just the way he liked it.
Evan told me all about his upcoming business trip as he ate, snatching up a third piece of toast to slather it with some of my homemade orange marmalade.
“Aren’t you hungry?” he asked, directing his gaze to my plate which was scantily filled with eggs and bacon, dry toast.
I hadn’t taken a single bite yet, sitting at my place across from him with my hands folded neatly in my lap. It was to the point that I almost hated to eat in front of him, because he always had a comment waiting.
“I’ll eat some in a bit. I still don’t feel too well.” I answered, in a near-whisper.
“It’s probably for the best, right now.” He said, thoughtfully, as he appraised me. “We need to get you back in the gym. You’ve really put on some weight lately. I don’t know how you think you’re going to fit into your dress in April.”
I didn’t even bother to respond to that one as Evan prepared some peppermint tea for me, setting it down next to my plate, as he rubbed my back affectionately.
I winced as the stinging bruises there came alive at his touch, the ones he’d given me a few days ago when he’d shoved me so hard that I fell against the wardrobe in our bedroom.
“Drink this. It’ll help.” He said, softly, as I sipped it gingerly, after thanking him.
“Better?” he asked, moving my hair aside so that he could press a kiss against the nape of my neck, as I nodded. “Good.”
I got the dishes cleared, washed and put away as Evan checked last minute emails and got some papers from his home office. I waited for him at the front door as he made sure he had everything. He pulled me to him, placing his hands on my backside and gave my buttocks a gentle squeeze.
“Have I told you how much I love you, today?” he murmured against my hair as his grip on me tightened. Evan was gazing at me now, as he leaned closer and then paused.
He was still convinced that I was contagious.
“You’re sure you’re going to be all right, Daphne?” he was asking now, clutching me to him as we stood in the foyer. “I can call off the meeting, if you need me to. That’s what Skype is for.”
I shook my head, and pressed my cheek against his broad chest as he hugged me.
“When I come back, we’ll go somewhere nice for the weekend. Anywhere you want to go.” He whispered as I nodded against him and he cupped my face in his large hands as he stared deeply into my eyes, stroking my cheek.
“Hurry home.” I said, before he gave me a tender kiss just off the side of my mouth.
“Behave yourself, and watch your intake.” He reminded me, as I nodded and hoped he hadn’t seen me roll my eyes at the comment. Even though he was heading out the door, my diet was still foremost in his mind.
“I will.”
And then he was gone down the hallway to get the elevator down to the lobby so that he could catch a cab to JFK.
I was starting to have second thoughts about everything as I began to pack a suitcase for myself, feeling sick about my decision to finally leave him once and for all.
I ran to the bathroom to throw up, rinsing out my mouth afterward as I tried to get my stomach to settle down. I raised my nightgown up over my stomach and I could see the faint
swell that hadn’t been there a few days ago and I thought of the baby that I was definitely carrying.
This was not the only time I’d been pregnant, losing the first baby to a miscarriage not too long after Evan and I started living together. I was sure it was due to that first beating Evan had given me, and I’d never said anything to him about it.
Ever.
He’d never even known that I was pregnant and I’d silently mourned my loss, convinced that the next one would survive, the child cementing our relationship and possibly even calming him down some.
But it hadn’t happened that way.
Stress, not eating well and my fragile nerves from dealing with Evan’s Jekyll and Hyde routine had caused me to lose the second baby I’d gotten pregnant with, less than a year ago.
This was my third shot, and I didn’t want to imagine anything happening to it.
I may not have made it past the first trimester with the other two, but this baby was going to be protected and loved.
Would she have my personality?
Evan’s good looks?
My hair?
What about his smile?
In my fantasy world, where Evan was kind and even tempered, I imagined a beautiful little girl for him to spoil rotten or a handsome boy for him to play sports with in Central Park.
It was stupid of me to even dream that things could possibly work out at this point. And I refused to put my child through a life with a father that would resent, batter and abuse. Evan’s own father treated him indifferently, and that was a big part of his problem. They had a strained relationship, to say the least, and I hadn’t even met his parents yet. I found all of this odd, and more and more I was convinced that I was doing the right thing by escaping the abuse.
I’d seen enough of that to last me two lifetimes and I was going to protect my child at all costs.
I slept for most of the day, intending to leave first thing the following morning. I thought about calling Brent to tell him that I was coming home, but I was sure that he would ignore my calls as I’d stupidly done his since I’d left home.
He’d tried to warn me about moving in with Evan, especially out of state and so far away from family, so quickly. I hated that fact that Brent had been right about Evan being everything he’d predicted and more, even though I knew that he would never berate me for not listening to him.
He had called me a number of times over the past few months, yet I had never bothered to return them, lest it start an argument between Evan and me.
Evan had an insane jealous streak, and in his world men and women could not be friends without something going on. I saw Brent as a friend, and nothing more, despite the fact that Mom and Dad had tried to push us together as teens, failing miserably.
But Evan could not be dissuaded of his beliefs, no matter what, so I’d just stopped mentioning Brent altogether.
On a whim I picked up my computer tablet and looked up Brent’s Facebook profile and saw that he was in a relationship with someone named Courtney-Jane Meadows now. Had been for at least a year, or so it seemed, as I’d done some more digging. Further clicking brought me to her profile, and what appeared to be a photo of a gorgeous fashion model staring back at me from the screen.
This girl was definitely high maintenance.
Her long, shimmering hair was a bold, brassy red color and her meticulously lined eyes were narrow, like a cat’s, and were a light, pale green color. Her lips were wide, and she wore a glossy red stain on them. Her pert nose had a smattering of freckles across it, but you could barely see them underneath the professional makeup job she’d done on her face. I looked at a picture of her nestled in Brent’s large arms, shaking my head at just how stick thin Courtney-Jane was. The woman had no breasts, hips, thighs or buttocks, to speak of. I had never seen someone so rail thin before, her thighs, underneath the very short skirt she wore, not even
touching each other at all. It looked like she could wear a bracelet for a belt, with her tiny waist, no fat of any kind anywhere on her lithe body.
Courtney-Jane’s fingernails were long and painted a fiery red color, as were her toenails in the designer sandals she wore, with very high heels.
She had put pictures of her and Brent up on her wall from a recent event, a gala of some sort, but I couldn’t see everything on her timeline because she and I were not friends, at least not yet.
I smiled faintly to see Brent looking so well and happy.
His hair had grown quite a bit, which was very different from the short style that he normally wore and a look I’d never seen him try before. I liked it on him.
Brent was tall, about six feet, four inches in height, with a muscular physique not betraying an ounce of excess body fat. His thick golden, blonde hair was styled in gentle waves, off his face. His beautifully shaped mouth always offered an easy-going smile to everyone he met, with his white teeth straight, even, and perfect. I shook my head with faint smile at the memory of how much he’d hated wearing those damned braces.
Brent could have easily landed a successful career as a model, with blue eyes the color of the Caribbean Sea that sometimes seemed to change shades depending on his mood as they went from light to dark. He’d actually had offers to model in the past, agents sometimes stopping him on the street, but it just didn’t appeal to him.
He loved finance too much.
People never believed what he did for a living, as his size always seemed to belie his occupation, and often people showed surprise that this handsome, brawny, blonde had some serious brains in addition to his good looks.
Brent had an IQ of one-hundred and twenty-nine, just shy of being gifted. Very few people knew this about him, and he liked it that way. Despite his humbleness, people were drawn to him like moths to a flame, and he got on famously with just about everyone that he met.
I knew that Brent would do anything for me, without regard for himself. He was like that, and that’s why I loved him so much.
I felt my eyes fill with tears as I realized just how much I had really missed Brent and needed to talk to him. I probably should have called him and told him what was going on long ago.
But what good would it do to have him in jail?
I clicked through some more of the photos on Brent’s profile, his blue eyes were shining in just about every one that Jane accompanied him in. Brent was smiling broadly in a photo of them in fancy restaurant somewhere, his arm slung familiarly around Courtney-Jane’s petite shoulders and I read the caption she’d written beneath the photo.
OMG! Just got engaged!!!
The photo was dated about three weeks ago. There was another of Courtney-Jane smiling happily, with teeth I was sure had been whitened, perched on Brent’s lap. His face was pressed against her cheek, his lips kissing it, his eyes closed in romantic bliss.
In another photo, her slender fingers showcased the impressive engagement ring that she wore. I stared at the large, elaborate ring, pretty sure that it had cost Brent some serious money, judging from the size of it.
I went back to Brent’s profile, starting to type something along the lines of congratulations in the comments section and then thought better of it.
He probably didn’t want to hear from me, anyway.
We’d grown so far apart since I’d left Virginia, and I knew that seeing him again might not be the happy reunion that I was hoping for. He hadn’t even told me that he had a girlfriend serious enough that he’d proposed marriage to her, and that hurt.
We had always told each other everything, kept each other’s secrets. Literally, if you saw one of us, the other one wasn’t too far behind. But I had no one to blame for our deflated friendship but myself. To give Brent credit, though, he had called, emailed, texted and tweeted a lot over the past eighteen months.
I was the idiot who had allowed Evan to make me alienate my best friend.


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