“How do you ask?”
The hair on my nape stood on end. Most other couples would think this a fun game. A play on dominant versus submissive. But nothing about the way Nick held me felt playful. It felt…threatening.
“Please, Nick,” I said, partly begging for him to let me go. Partly begging for whatever it was he brought me, even though a voice in my head told me I shouldn’t want anything to do with it.
Pushing down the trepidation swimming in my stomach, I swallowed hard, brightening my expression as I forced out a charming smile.
“Can I please see what you’ve brought me? You always spoil us.”
He crushed his lips to mine. I moaned, playing the part of his affectionate, loving wife, even though everything about this felt…wrong.
But I had no proof. He’d never hit me. Never hurt me. In fact, he did everything to give me my dreams at the expense of his own.
“Because you’re my Hera,” he murmured against my lips. “My goddess. My queen. My eternal beloved.” He trailed kisses along my jawline before pressing his mouth back to mine.
When he finally pulled away, much to my relief, he kept his eyes trained on mine. Reaching into the inside pocket of his tweed jacket, he removed a long, gold chain, a tulip dangling from the end, the bulb a pear-shaped opal. The gold appeared tarnished and worn. This definitely wasn’t something he’d found at the corner jewelry store.
“When I saw this, I knew there was only one neck on this planet it would look good on.” He stepped behind me, brushing my long, blonde waves off my shoulders.
I remained frozen as he secured the piece. It was delicate, weighing mere ounces. But it felt so heavy around my neck, suffocating and cutting off my air.
I had no reason to believe this was anything but a generous gift from a doting husband.
But, somehow, I sensed there was more to it.
That he simply didn’t walk into an antique store and purchase this.
That there was something incredibly malevolent about how he came to be the owner of this necklace.
I wanted it off me. Wanted nothing to do with it.
But I didn’t have a choice.
With Nick, I never had a choice.
I stared ahead, consumed by my thoughts. My memories.
It was back, coiling through me, wrapping around my lungs and heart, cutting off my ability to breathe, to think, to survive as I tried to process everything I’d learned in the past few minutes.
The man I’d been sleeping with lost his sister to suicide. The same woman who, mere days ago, had approached me when I was out to lunch with my daughter, insisting my ex-husband was responsible for more recent deaths.
The same woman who, hours later, was found dead of an apparent suicide, a method my ex-husband was known for.
Even admired for by some.
I kept telling myself it was impossible. That Nick was in prison. That he’d spend the rest of his life in an orange jumpsuit, only allowed an hour of fresh air a day.
It was better than he deserved.
He’d left a trail of dead women in his wake, something that could have been avoided had I simply opened my eyes and saw what my gut had tried to force me to for years.
But that was the thing about being married to a master manipulator. It was impossible to pinpoint the moment it all started because you were unaware anything was happening until the truth became unavoidable.
You were married to a monster.
On the outside, Nick was this charismatic, charming man everyone respected and admired. Handsome. Exceedingly intelligent. And just an all-around good person.
But his soul was as black as a starless night.
This was a man who often fixated on a woman for something as small as a kind smile. Who stalked his prey for months. Who raped her, then continued stalking her, breaking into her home, the one place she felt safe. Who wanted her to know he’d been there, often moving things around. A coffee mug here. Opening a window there. All to make her feel like she was losing her mind. To make her friends think she wasn’t doing well mentally. He’d observe her downward spiral with a sick sense of excitement, manipulating her until he watched her take her final breath.
He was smart. Chose his victims wisely, never targeting two women in the same jurisdiction for fear the police would catch on. Not that they would. After all, his victims died of “suicide”, a fact the authorities were certain of.
Until I found his journals detailing the stalking, as well as the keepsake boxes containing all the souvenirs he’d kept.
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