Authors: Heather Guimond
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance
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The Perfection Series
Mimi Bishop found the man of her dreams when she met Vance Ashcroft in a chance encounter. During their whirlwind courtship, they learn they share a sparkling and dynamic chemistry, filled with humor, happiness and steamy sensuality. Their relationship is effortless and blossoms into a passionate love. Soon Mimi is living her happily ever after with Vance as his wife until his behavior mysteriously begins to change.
Vance grows cold, then hostile, finally becoming violent one fateful night. Her perfect life and heart shattered, Mimi attempts to move on to a life without Vance. Powerful memories of their love haunt her, making it almost impossible to heal and become whole again. Just when Mimi thinks she can finally put the past behind her, she learns a devastating secret about Vance that threatens to shatter her forever.
Heather R. Guimond
Text copyright © Heather R. Guimond 2015 All rights reserved
Cover Art by Melissa Coutino Richet
Table of Contents
For the Captain of Team Awesome, without whom this book would have forever remained a first draft on my hard drive; and for the love of my life, my wonderful husband, who is my indefatigable champion, no matter what hair-brained idea I have.
“You’re a stupid, worthless bitch!” Vance screams as he throws his dinner plate at the kitchen wall. I wince as I watch the gravy drip down the stark white wall and leak between it and the baseboard, before pooling onto the floor while Vance rants and raves about how inedible my cooking is.
“All this time and you still haven’t learned to serve anything at the proper temperature. Your potatoes are lumpy and the broccoli tastes like it was steamed with a sweaty gym sock,” he sneers. “I don’t know why I continue to put up with you. Everything about you is inferior. The way you dress, the way you behave…you’re a total bitch to my coworkers and friends…hell Mimi, even the way you fuck. You’re absolutely worthless.”
I sit there calmly, listening to words I have heard dozens, maybe hundreds of times before.
“What are you waiting for?” he asks in a mocking tone, that infuriating smirk on his handsome face. “Go on, clean up this mess.”
I take a few seconds to indulge in the fantasy of grabbing him by his wavy dark hair and driving my index and middle fingers into his piercing blue eyes. It’s gruesome, I know. However, I’ve spent the last six months of our year and half marriage enduring scenes like this. I think anyone would be driven to graphic, if not homicidal, imaginings by now. I know it’s crazy to put up with the abuse, but there are a couple of reasons why I do. First, he wasn’t always like this. He used to be attentive and caring. He was kind, loving and generous. He is intelligent, has always had a playful sense of humor that never failed to make me laugh before, and we almost never disagreed. Until recently, I still saw snippets of that man. The second, I suppose, is my pride. I married Vance only a few short months after meeting him in a chance encounter at Los Angeles International Airport. We had an intense, passionate love affair, both of us falling head over heels from almost the moment we met. Logic told me not to rush headlong into things, to back off and take my time getting to know him before making such a serious commitment, but he was
. I don’t want to admit to myself that I was wrong.
Sighing, I rise and move to the closet by the sink and grab the mop and the dustpan.
“No. I want you down on your hands and knees with a sponge, like the dog that you are,” he spits out.
I can’t take anymore. The anger flares inside me, rising like a tsunami of venom. Months and months of suppressed emotion bubbles up and out of me, seemingly spilling onto the tile floor, splashing over every surface of the room and coating us in its hatred.
“I am not a dog, you vicious mother fucker. Nor am I lazy, stupid, or worthless. You have been right about one thing recently, though. I am a real bitch.” Lost to the emotions flooding my system, I grab a glass from the drain board on the counter and pitch it at his head. He swiftly dodges it, lunges out of his chair and is on me in an instant. The breath rushes out of my lungs as my back hits the floor and stars burst behind my eyes as my head slams against the tile. His hand presses against the base of my throat and he squeezes tightly.
“Do you think you can smart mouth me, Mimi? Throw things at me? You must have lost your mind. I should kill you for this.” His grip tightens, causing my vision to dim around the edges. For the first time, I am genuinely afraid. I clutch at his wrist, my nails scratching futilely at the skin. I writhe beneath his heavy body, my legs trying to find purchase on the slick tile floor, but his weight keeps me pinned.
Suddenly, he releases my neck and I gasp in heavy gulps of air. His hand twists into my blonde hair, wrapping it around his fist and tugging my head to the side. He buries his face into my neck and bites down hard. I cry out at the sharp pain as his other hand grabs ahold of the collar of my blouse and rips it down the front. I pummel his shoulders and back with my fists, trying to get him to stop, but he is completely out of his mind. He raises up off me slightly and reaches for the front of my pants, tearing those wide open too. In desperation, I drive the tips of my long fingernails into his ear canals.
His full weight crushes me as he drops down, gasping in pain or surprise, I’m not sure which. His breaths come fast and hard, but he is no longer savagely pawing at me. He inhales deeply and rolls off, sprawling out on the hard floor, his arms and legs splayed wide. I curl away from him into the fetal position, my body shaking from the adrenaline pumping through my veins. We lay like that for five, ten minutes, an hour. I don’t really know. Eventually, my trembling subsides, but I’m afraid to move. Vance finally stands and nudges me with his foot.
“Clean this room up.” He says quietly, before exiting the room on soft feet.
Once I know he is in the back of the house and well away from me, I rise and test my muscles. I’m bruised in spots, there is a knot at the back of my head, and I know I will most likely be sore as hell tomorrow morning. Given the gravity of the situation, things could have turned out a lot worse.
I walk through the kitchen to the adjoining laundry room and sort through the basket of clean clothes I have not yet taken to the bedroom. It’s a stroke of good luck, under the circumstances. I quickly shed my ruined clothing and don a pair of leggings and a sweatshirt from the load that I folded earlier in the day. I find a pair of flip flops by the back door and slip them on. Traveling back into the kitchen, I grab the mop and dustpan once again and head to the sink.
I fill the sink with warm water and absently watch the bubbles form after I add a few squirts of dish detergent. I look down at my unsteady hands, wringing them together in an effort to still them. I know I provoked him, but Vance has never been violent before. I don’t even want to think about where he was headed before I was able to stop him. What if I hadn’t? What if…what if…what if… It doesn’t bear thinking about.
I can’t stay any longer. Suffering the verbal abuse was enough to make any sane person leave long before now. I know I shouldn’t have tolerated it for as long as I have already, but there is no way to delude myself into believing there is a reason to endure physical confrontations between us. Physical abuse, possibly attempted rape, and death threats? Even my love and pride can’t overcome those things.
I set about mopping up the now congealed gravy, chicken and other detritus from my failed meal and push it into the dustpan. I dump it into the garbage can, along with the cold contents of my plate. I rinse out the mop, drain the sink and scour it out well, all the while making a plan to start a new life. Sure, I had considered leaving him before. I’d be lying if I said I’d never thought about it, but I’d always somehow convinced myself that the good outweighed the bad, or that things would magically get better. Assuming that were even possible, I can’t stick around and wait for it to happen now.
First things first. I need a place to go. A hotel would do fine for a couple days, but I’m going to need an apartment. I have a good job as a corporate paralegal, but Vance’s salary from his work as a mergers and acquisitions attorney paid all our bills. I don’t have a realistic perspective as to how far my wages will go to support me in Los Angeles anymore. I had done fairly well before I married Vance, so I suppose I shouldn’t worry too much. It would only mean saying goodbye to our charming bungalow in the Fairfax District, a quiet enclave flanked by West Hollywood, the Miracle Mile and Beverly Grove. It was Vance’s house, where he had lived before I met him. Prior to our marriage, I had been living in a small studio apartment in the San Fernando Valley. I wasn’t much of a social climber or status whore, so this would be no great loss to me. I didn’t have a problem doing a little extra driving to my job downtown again.
As I finish cleaning up the kitchen, I make a list in my head of things I need to do the following day. I plan to call work and take a week off. I have plenty of time off stored up, so even though it is short notice, it shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll pack up my clothes after Vance has gone to work and find a hotel over the hill to stay for a few days. I could go to my friend Grace’s house. I’m sure she’d let me stay in her spare bedroom, but I know Vance will come looking for me and that’s the first place he’ll go. I don’t want to involve her in this mess any more than crying on her shoulder, if I can help it.
After I get settled, I’ll start my search for an apartment. No, wait. I have to apply for a restraining order. As I realize this, that’s when the night’s events truly hit me. He attacked me. He bit me, he choked me and it seemed like he was getting ready to rape me. This man, the man who once swept me away on a wave of passion and overwhelming love, threatened to end my life tonight. My chest expands and contracts involuntarily, forcing a heavy sob out of my throat. I hang my head and cry tears I have not allowed myself in all this time. I cry for all the suffering I have refused to acknowledge, for all the humiliation I have endured through his words, but mostly for the death of my love for him. I know all this must make him seem like a monster but it wasn’t always this way.
Eighteen months earlier
Standing in line at the security check point at LAX, I pushed my carry-on bag ahead of me with my toe as the line shuffled forward. I scanned the ticket in my hand as I heard a deep, but seductive voice coming from just over my shoulder.
“Headed home?” the honeyed, but masculine voice dripped in my ear.
A tingling sensation began at the back of my neck and moved to encompass my entire scalp, culminating in a ringing in my ears as I turned to see a very tall, very handsome man, about thirty years old, standing over me, smiling. He had a dark mop of hair, somewhere between dark brown and black (I wasn’t sure which, but would have been thrilled to get up close and personal, running my fingers through it to make a well-informed determination). He had thickly lashed blue eyes, the kind that seem to glow when the light hit them just right, just as they were doing at that moment. He also had those high cheekbones that all demi-gods have, and full sensuous lips I imagined would have been at home on just about any inch of my skin, surrounded by just the right amount of scruff. He also had what my mom would have called a Pepsodent smile, probably the product of years of orthodontic work (which, somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt was reassuring; perhaps he wasn’t actually born completely perfect).
All that was missing from the picture was a halo, a sunbeam and a pair of white wings. Perhaps also a bare, oiled chest and a white drapey covering over his hips, but who was I to be so choosy when I already had this Adonis speaking to me. Being the extremely cool and confident young woman I was, I’m sure I gave him a slightly deranged looking smile in response.
“Uhhh…. leaving home, actually. Short trip to New York. Going to visit an old childhood friend,” I said with all the wit and brilliance of a canned ham. Undaunted by my own awkwardness I blundered forward. “How about you? Leaving L.A. after working on your tan?” I said with what I hoped was a saucy wink, but probably looked more like a nervous tic.
He laughed outright (to my great relief) and shook his head. “Nope. I’m leaving home just like you. I’m also headed to New York.” The line inched ahead again, and we moved forward with it.
“Wow, that’s a coincidence,” I said. “Business or pleasure?” That sounded like a fairly normal question a fairly normal person would ask, I told myself. I cleared my throat and stood a little straighter, hoping it wasn’t too late to salvage my image.
“It’s a business trip, but I’ll be there a couple of weeks so I’m hoping to fit in some fun while I’m there.” His eyes lit up a little. “I love the city, you know? If it were all work… well that would just suck. I want to do it all, take in the sights, see the shows, eat the food, and watch the people…” He looked at me sheepishly. “I suppose that’s expecting a little too much for a work trip though. They’re paying me to actually get a job done.”
“They must be some crazy bastards to bring you to a place like that then expecting you to work around the clock for two weeks straight, resisting the temptations of New York. What nerve.” I said, shaking my head in mock disgust.
“It could be worse, I guess. They could be sending me somewhere in Kansas.”
“Ah, but then you could visit the world’s biggest ball of twine.” I offered earnestly.
He looked at me skeptically. “I’m think I’m afraid to ask how you know that.”
“Sadly, I’m filled with a million useless facts. The good news is I’m a great partner for Trivial Pursuit.”
“I didn’t know that game was played with a partner,” he said.
“Err…well that’s usually the only way anyone will play with me,” I said looking at my feet.
He laughed silently for a moment, one hand pressed against his mid-section, which appeared to be extremely taut beneath his tight black t-shirt. Although it was probably a very bad idea, given my already embarrassingly strong physical attraction to the man, I took a moment to look over his lean physique. His shoulders were broad and muscular and his pectorals were clearly defined beneath the cotton clinging to his form. His chest tapered to a trim waist, and his faded denim jeans were slung low on his hips. A pair of scuffed black boots completed his look. I wondered what he really did for a living, because all he needed was a leather jacket, and I could easily imagine him on a motorcycle riding from town to town doing odd jobs for pocket money.