Authors: Cate Beauman
Copyright © August 2014 by Cate Beauman.
All rights reserved.
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First Print Edition: August 2014
Editor: Invisible Ink Editing, Liam Carnahan
Formatting: Rachelle Ayala
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are a work of fiction or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
To the courageous.
Sophie’s hands shook as she crushed the white pill
beneath the waxed paper. Heart pounding, she glanced at the elegant wall clock ticking away each precious second, knowing he would be home any minute. She had mere moments to get this right. If it didn’t work…
She shook the thought away, taking three quick steps to the fridge, gasping when the front door opened. “Oh god.” She grabbed the beer from the second shelf and moved back to the countertop, twisting off the top as his footsteps echoed down the hall.
“Hurry, Sophie. Hurry,” she chanted in a desperate whisper, looking over her shoulder as she dumped the first few sips of amber liquid into the sink, then lifted the creased waxy paper, trying her best to steady her hands as she coaxed the powerful sleeping aid into the bottle with several gentle taps. Holding her thumb over the opening, she wiggled the chilled glass, making certain there were no traces of the powder left along the inside of the neck.
Crumpling the waxed paper, she shoved the small scrap into her pocket, wiping sweaty palms on her baggy pants as she darted glances around her workspace, searching for telltale signs of her deception, terrified he would somehow know and punish her the way he had last night. Her arms still throbbed where the bat had cracked against her skin.
“Where’s my wine?” He strolled into the room, his long, lean frame towering over her five-foot-five stature as he pushed her body into the counter.
She swallowed, turning, careful not to spill on his Armani pinstripes. “Uh,” she cleared her throat, her shoulders automatically tensing as she stared into his cool blue eyes. “I thought—I thought you might like this instead.” She held up his favorite lager, handing it over with a small smile, praying he would drink instead of discipline her for making a decision without asking him first. “I—I bought lobster too.” She licked her lips and smiled again, doing her best to ignore her pounding pulse. “A celebration,” she continued, trying to gauge his measuring eyes. “Since today was my last day at work.”
“I gave you permission to go to the store for a
meal, and you picked out lobster and beer?”
She shrunk under his glare, waiting for the smash of the bottle against the wall or a nasty grab to the back of her neck. “I’m sorry. I thought you might—”
“That’s what you get for thinking. Stupid.” He shook his head. “You’re so damn stupid.”
“I’m—I’m sorry,” she murmured for the second time. “I was going to make a salad. And I bought some of those butter rolls you like so much.”
“That doesn’t make you any less dumb.”
“I know.” She turned toward the sink, grabbing for the head of romaine she’d left on the counter, hoping he would go, but she was whirled around instead.
“Where’s my money?”
“Right here.” She groped behind her back for the receipt and dollar forty-two she hadn’t spent.
He ripped the change from her hand, glancing at the paper slip he’d taken with it. “Ruthie checked you out?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Who bagged you up?”
“I don’t know her name. She’s new.” She’d waited in the longer line to make certain Robbie Winters didn’t put her items in a bag. It didn’t matter that Robbie was little more than seventeen and of no interest to her. Interactions with the opposite sex, no matter how harmless, were never worth the consequences.
“You were late getting home. I said five thirty. I checked the GPS. You pulled in at five thirty-four.”
She clenched her stomach with the rush of dread. Last night’s beating started with the same conversation. “The traffic was bad with the tourists heading into town. I didn’t go anywhere but the grocery store.”
“Twice in two days.” He squeezed the welts on her forearms. “I guess I didn’t make myself clear.”
She struggled to suppress her whimper against his merciless grip. “No you did. I—”
“Good thing you’ll be staying home from now on.” He pressed harder on her bruised skin and shoved her away. “I won’t have to listen to your foolish excuses.”
She hated that he’d made her give up her job—her last piece of freedom. “Right.”
“I expect dinner by six-thirty.”
“Yes.” She relaxed her shoulders a fraction when that appeared to be the end of his latest interrogation. “I thought we could eat out on the deck. It’s so nice out tonight—an early tease of summer.”
“You know all about teasing.” He sipped the beer, stepping closer, backing her into the hard knobs jutting from the drawer. “I know how you like to flirt.” He grabbed her hair. “Did you bat those witch’s eyes and smile at all of the men walking by?”
“No. No of course not.” She cringed, ready for the fist to the ribs as she darted a glance at the bottle he still held, wanting him to drink again and swallow every drop. “I—”
“I hate it when you lie.”
“Yeah you are.” He wrapped long ropes of blond around his hand, pulling her head back. “I know how you operate. Flirting is the only way you sell any of that ugly crap you make.”
She said nothing for a moment, waiting for him to punish or release. “I—I have your cheese and crackers ready if you want me to bring them to you. I already turned the paper to the arts section.”
He let her go, but not before the quick, cruel tug that made her gasp and him smile as he left for the living room.
She turned toward the counter, gripping the cool granite, already exhausted after one exchange. He’d only been home minutes, and the tension squeezing her muscles was unbearable. Letting loose a shuddering breath, she walked back to the fridge for the cheese, praying he would drink his beer faster than his miserly sips to his nightly glass of cabernet.
She reached in the cupboard for Eric’s preferred selection of gourmet crackers, placing five wafers on a plate exactly two inches apart. Brie wedges in perfectly cut triangles followed, then green and purple grapes she scrutinized, making certain there were no imperfections among the fruit before she set them down. She glanced at the clock, stalling for as long as she dared, hoping the pill would start to kick in before she brought him food that might lessen the effects.
“Where are my cheese and crackers?” he hollered, his words slurring.
“I’ll—I’ll be right there.” She bit her lip with a surge of hope, too afraid to let herself believe she might actually get away. “I’m coming,” she added for good measure, waiting for his nasty reply.
Several more seconds passed, and she lifted the cobalt platter, making her way to the living room with her heart thundering in her ears, deafening, as she moved down the hall, peeking in at the man she feared. He lay in his La-Z-Boy with his eyes closed and his head resting against the butter-soft leather.
“Er—Eric,” she whispered, her voice trembling as she walked closer. “Eric?” She crouched in front of him, touching her finger to his cheek, terrified he would open his eyes and make her stay. “Eric,” she said louder, and he began to snore.
Her breath heaved in and out as tears—part terror, part relief—slid down her cheeks. This was real. This moment she’d dreamt of for months was truly happening. She stood on watery legs, grabbing the half-full beer bottle from his lap. “Eric,” she said once more as she hurried from the room and dashed up the stairs, rushing into the master suite, looking over her shoulder the entire time, sure he was steps behind.
She closed herself in the bedroom, locking the door, and moved into the walk-in closet, yanking down the zipper on the enormous white bag holding her dreaded wedding gown. She fought with the endless layers of organza she hated but Eric had insisted on, and grabbed the business envelope she’d stuffed with cash and loosely secured in the bodice of the dress, then turned, crouching down, feeling around in the recesses of a small space behind her shoe rack, snatching out the framed picture of her and her mother smiling. Hustling into the bathroom next, she dumped the remaining contents of Eric’s beer bottle down the sink and stood on the cushioned bench, reaching on top of the vanity for her mother’s jewelers tools she wasn’t supposed to have kept but couldn’t bear to part with. She made her way back to the bed, shoving everything, including her purse, into her backpack.
Flinging the strap over her shoulder, she paused by the window, staring into the backyard at the mound of dirt packed over her beloved Cooper. “I’m so sorry, Coop. I’m so sorry.” With one last glimpse she turned, tossing the four-carat diamond engagement ring she’d never wanted to the plush comforter and cautiously opened the door, listening, then booked it down the stairs when the house remained silent, making her way out the rear entrance.
The refreshing spring breeze tickled her face; the sun was sinking on the horizon. She yanked free Dylan’s bike she’d hidden among the bushes along the side of the house, then glanced around at her neighbor’s homes, making certain no one was looking out the windows, and mounted herself up on the seat, pedaling quickly, careful to keep her pace steady instead of frantic with the rush of adrenaline. Sweat dribbled down her temples as she pulled further away from the line of million-dollar homes, taking the path leading to town.
One mile quickly turned into two then three, barely straining her athletic body before she turned right toward the row of rundown apartments, stopping in front of the building where her one and only secret friend lived. She struggled to get the cumbersome mountain bike into the hallway and lock the chain in place, then dashed up two flights of stairs, pounding on the door marked 3B.
Dylan open the door dressed in short shorts and a cropped shirt, her long black hair tied back from her pretty pixy face. “Come in.” She tugged on Sophie’s arm, pulling her into the room.
She sucked in a sharp breath as Dylan’s enthusiastic grip sent a deep ache along her tender bruises.
Dylan immediately dropped her hand. “I’m sorry. God, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She stepped further inside the messy apartment.
“Let me see.”
“We have to go.” She looked out the window, certain the sleeping pill wouldn’t last long enough for her to make her escape. “He didn’t drink all of the beer. Most of it, but there was plenty left to pour down the sink. He might wake up.”
Dylan shook her head. “That stuff hits hard. You have until morning. I can guarantee it. You’ll be long gone by then.”
Gone but not far enough. She would never be far enough away from Eric Winthrop.
“I want to go.” She crossed her arms at her chest, uneasy standing idle. “I’m going to miss you so much, but I’m ready to leave.”
“I’ll miss you too, but I want you out of here…after the pictures. Now let me see so we can document this.”
Sophie sighed, quickly pulling up her sleeves to Dylan’s gasp as they both stared at the goose-egg-sized knots the wooden bat had left across her forearms.
“Sophie,” Dylan whispered, tenderly brushing her fingers over the horrid wounds. “You’re lucky he didn’t break them.”
The sound of the bat smacking against her bones echoed in her head. “It’s all right.”
She shook her head. “No it’s not.”
Dylan had seen dozens of her bruises—on her back, across her ribs, her arms and legs, but never ever her face. Eric always controlled his rage enough to keep her face free of the welts and dark purple bruises.
“It’s not okay, Sophie.”
“I know.” Or she did somewhere deep down. She looked out the window again into the dark. “Let’s just go.”
“This will only take a minute. You need proof. All of the reading I’ve done says it’s a good idea to keep everything documented.”
“Okay,” she said quietly, not meeting her friend’s eyes. Somehow every snap of the camera was as demoralizing as each violent blow to her body.
The digital camera clicked four times before Dylan removed the memory card and pushed it into the slot on her laptop, pressing several buttons. “Take off your nun clothes,” she said, pulling the thumb drive from her computer, and walked to a drawer, grabbing dark-wash skinny jeans and a breezy white long-sleeve top she’d bought for Sophie several weeks ago in preparation.
Sophie pulled off the bulky wool sweater and baggy cords she’d worn despite the mild temperatures and slid on the snug denim, hesitating as she stared at herself in the mirror. It had been over two years since she’d worn anything that actually fit. She put on the flowing, feminine shirt next, amazed at the sudden transformation.
“Oh, Sophie. You look so good. You’re so pretty.”
“Thank you.” She continued to study herself, staring into her own weary violet eyes, overwhelmed and exhilarated by her first step toward liberation.
“Here.” Dylan held out a hair tie and a shoulder-length black wig.
Sophie snagged both, twisting her long locks into a braid, making a flat bun at the back of her head, and settled the fake hair in place, fascinated by her fresh new look. “I don’t even recognize myself.”
“That’s the point.” Dylan went back to her drawer. “Here are the other clothes.” She grabbed a black backpack. “And the new bag.”
“Thank you.” Sophie gathered her meager belongings from the bag she arrived with, tossed Eric’s empty beer bottle she’d brought in the trash, and took the thumb drive Dylan still held. The shorts, second pair of jeans, and two tops went in along with her other items, then she tied a light gray sweatshirt around her tiny waist. “Let’s go.”
Dylan nodded, grabbing Sophie’s hand, and they left the tiny studio apartment, stopping on the first floor.
“Hold on a second.” Dylan knocked on apartment 1C’s door.
Sophie turned away as the tall, muscled man answered. She walked to the small window, tensing, staring out at the parking lot, waiting for Eric to walk around the corner. He would charm the group of men and women smoking outside on the stoop with smiles and small talk then take her home and punish her within an inch of her life—if he didn’t just kill her as he’d threatened to do hundreds of times.
“Thanks, Rod,” Dylan said to the buff man leaning against the doorframe. “I’ll have the car back by tomorrow morning.”
Sophie snuck a peak at the college-aged kid, keeping herself turned, not wanting Rod to get a full-on look at her. The fewer people who saw her, the more likely Eric would never find her.