Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane

Chapter One


A MONSTER.

She missed the signs before. Maybe ignored them without fully realizing it. Now she couldn’t unsee them.

Adrenaline raced through her as she tore their bedroom apart. Overturned the laundry basket and scattered the contents. Shoved the bed, banging her shin on the metal bed frame before pushing the mattress to check underneath. Crawled on her knees across the floor, ignoring the shooting pain as bone struck hardwood. She even checked behind the heavy curtains he insisted they use because light in the morning gave him a headache.

The revulsion festering inside her, carefully tucked away for years so as not to spill over and contaminate their tenuous peace, exploded. A wave of scalding heat ran through her, poisoning and erasing every good memory.

The stupid blackout curtains. She’d searched for weeks for the combination of the right color and the perfect dark liner he’d barked at her to find. Never mind that she preferred waking up to the light pouring in or that the heavy material gave the room a suffocating sense of darkness.

His rules and his needs.

All of her energy—all of that pent-up hate—built and concentrated until it boiled. The recent string of slights and snide comments she’d ignored. The frustration she’d choked back. The disappointment that she’d let her need to feel normal, to mimic everyone around her, lead her here. To him.

Throwing all her weight into it, she tugged and yanked on those precious curtains. Pulled as a scream rumbled up her throat. A ripping sound screeched through the room, and her balance faltered. The stiff material she’d pulled painfully taut at last gave. The left side shredded on the rod, and the pressure holding her up released in a whoosh.

Her feet tangled and she fell. She landed in a hard sprawl near the end of the bed then stayed there, staring at a blank space on the white wall, wishing she’d made better choices.

There in the quiet, she heard the snap. That barrier deep inside her, walled off and hollow, that allowed her to stumble along and ignore what she needed to ignore, crashed down. Anger and distaste, disappointment and guilt. The emotions tumbled and mixed, spilling through her, flooding every cell.

As soon as the rush of flaming heat arrived, it evaporated. Dried up and disappeared in the space between breaths.

She felt nothing.





Chapter Two


AN HOUR HAD PASSED SINCE THE INITIAL FRENZY. SHE’D MANAGED to sit up, but not much more. She balanced on the edge of their bed buried in a pile of clothing. Dirty and clean mixed until one merged into the other. Jeans and sweatshirts lay scattered around, thrown in her haste to dig to the back of every drawer and search through every hidden nook.

Random thoughts slipped into her mind then whipped right back out again. She couldn’t hold on to an idea or manufacture an explanation for what she’d found. None that made sense or matched the stories he told. Not one.

The truth bombarded her, but her brain refused to focus. Every time she tried to fit the pieces together, to decipher, something inside her misfired.

Such an ordinary thing landed her here, in this upended state. Clothing. She’d been searching for the T-shirt he blamed her for misplacing while doing the laundry. As if that were even possible.

“Lila?”

She jerked at the sound of her name. He shouldn’t be home for hours. Of course he picked today to slip away early. To surprise her.

What do you want now?

“Where are you?” he shouted to her as he stomped through the house.

Her muscles refused to move. They’d clamped down, locking her in a haze of blurry vision and fogged thinking.

The damn videos. She’d punished herself by watching the first one. Then the next. That’s as far as she got before the breath left her body.

Minutes ticked by while she stared at the cell screen. Her fingers clenched around the phone she’d never seen before. The one he hid from her in the chest of drawers he insisted she leave alone because she didn’t fold clothing the way he wanted it folded. Stored behind stacks of thin and faded T-shirts he kept promising to weed out and throw away. So many promises . . . gone.

Didn’t take a genius to guess why he’d been so territorial over a piece of furniture. It was his hiding place. The phone clearly meant something to him or she would have known about it before now. No one hid meaningless things.

The screen, now dark, the battery having blinked off, tormented her. Somewhere in minute two or three of listening to those female voices spin in her head, her brain clicked off. All those years of pushing the dark back, of denying and pretending she’d locked this type of horror out of her life, of wallowing in guilt until it threatened to suck her under, jammed up on her. The memories. They flooded her now. All the yelling and name-calling. The questions. So many questions.