“You know I love you, right?” he asked, running one finger down her cheek, stopping at her chin. He lightly rubbed the cleft he found there as he leaned down and brushed his lips against hers.
She winced. Even that light brush of lips had opened up the cut on her mouth.
She tasted blood.
He pulled back. “Right?” he asked again, his brows knotting together in a frown.
She nodded, tears threatening to spill. She tried to brush them away before he could see them.
“Aw, Jeanie…don’t. You know I didn’t mean it. You just drive me crazy sometimes.”
“I’m sorry,” she croaked, her voice tremulous and hoarse. As if it had a mind of its own, her hand strayed to her neck, and tentative fingers brushed against the soreness there.
Her hand dropped. Her heart began to thud — loud, insistent…battering bruised ribs.
“Now, don’t go feeling sorry for yourself,” he said. “You know I hate that. I said I was sorry. Just let it go.”
Her hands fluttered nervously, reaching out to placate him. “I’m not, Mike…”
He grabbed her hand, jerking her closer. His breath rained sour upon her. “Let. It. Go.”
“I haven’t said anything!” she cried.
“‘I haven’t said anything, ’” he mocked. “You don’t have to. It’s in your eyes. I hate it when you look at me like that.”
He slapped her.
The biting sting fell across the previous layer of pain as she brought a hand to her cheek. Sting…upon ache…upon throb…tiled around her. “Please don’t, Mike. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again!”
His fingers bit into the tender flesh of her arm as he growled at her. “It better not.” He shoved her away and she fell, sobbing, across the bed. He stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
She lay there, bathed in more than aches and throbs. Misery, fatigue, and hopelessness blanketed themselves around her. She thought of the bliss and pleasure of their courtship days, dim and faded memories that belonged to another life.
She could remember the flowers, the sweet caresses, and the possessive way he had held her that had made her feel loved and protected. Back then his fingers had left trails of delicious heat that had pricked her skin and left her tingling as if a thousand tiny electrical shocks had run through her all at once.
She didn’t know what had happened to change all that. What caused her husband such anger and hatred toward her? Why couldn’t she say or do anything right? Why couldn’t she make him happy?
She couldn’t last like this. She couldn’t continue to live like this.
She cried then, silently, so he wouldn’t hear her. Her tears gave way to numbing fatigue and she felt herself drift away from consciousness.
She awoke when she felt him crawl into bed beside her. He ran one finger down her arm and she forced herself not to stiffen against him.
The heat from him was abrasive, the trail of his fingers as molten lava.
She trembled and her heart began to thud — loud, insistent…battering bruised ribs.
“You know I love you, right?” he whispered.
She stared into the darkness.
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