Soul Shards

Chapter 1 ‘Til Murder Do Us Part

LATE AGAIN.” Kate sighed at the sight of the dried-up chicken tetrazzini on the counter. If Tony had come home when he said he would, or had at least called to say he’d be late, the culinary disaster could have been avoided.

What now? She wondered as her stomach roiled at the thought of him walking through the door with no dinner waiting.

While Tony had shown his volatile temper from the very beginning of their relationship with an occasional slap or shove, it wasn’t until he left the private investigation firm he had worked for since college and struck out on his own that he had become truly violent. Kate assumed it was the stress of running his own business—dealing with employees, payroll, traveling, and the day-to-day angst from unhappy clients that caused the escalation in his drinking. And in his fury.

What was most difficult to deal with, however, was the unpredictability. He reacted differently to the same behavior from one time to the next. She was never sure if her efforts would be received with praise or punishment. It was nerve-wracking and Kate always felt like she was river-dancing atop eggshells.

But as so often curiously happens with the human psyche, Kate rationalized that the abuse was her fault. If only she were a talented lover, a more proficient housekeeper, a delectable chef. Thinner, better coifed, chic. Then he would truly love her and wouldn’t be forced to lose his temper.

She knew deep down that even if she were to achieve such stellar status with any of those talents, she would still feel “less than.” Of course, that recrimination was helped by Tony’s constant belittling. One of his favorite sayings was, “You’ll never find another man who’ll take you. You’re used goods now.” The drain from years of trying to please the unpleasable made her feel a hundred years old, so it was all too easy to believe the statement. No one wanted a scarred, skittish mouse of a woman who’d had all spark of life beaten out of her.

But now the long-awaited event they had both yearned for had finally happened; they were going to be parents. However, with the way his moods had been swinging in even more erratic directions lately, Kate could only hope Tony would be pleased.

Sighing heavily and deciding the chicken wasn’t salvageable, she dug around in the freezer for something quick. Thankfully, she had made a double batch of lasagna the week before and she could defrost the dish in the microwave.

Humming one of her favorite Scottish songs she had learned at the knee of her maternal grandmother Maddie, Kate chopped cucumbers for a salad and mulled over the conversation she’d had with her long-time best friend earlier in the day over lunch. If Kate were to be honest with herself, she knew everything Heather had said was painfully true. Tony did suck as a husband and probably would as a father.

Kate recalled how she had tried to defend her husband, however lame it might have been. “I think knowing that he’s going to be a father is just what Tony needs, the proverbial kick in the pants, you know?”

Heather had snorted in disbelief, rolling her milk chocolate eyes.

“Yeah. You said when you were dating, ‘Oh, when we get engaged, then he won’t be so jealous, because he’ll know I’m his.’ Then again, before you got married, same crap. Now it’s ‘Everything will be peachy when he finds out I’m having his baby.’ Next it’ll be ‘When the baby is born’ then ‘When the kid graduates’ or ‘When Tony retires…’ Your whole relationship with the man has been based on ‘when’. When is ‘when’ gonna happen, Kate? Huh? Tell me that!”

And to make matters worse, despite Kate’s best efforts to hide herself beneath an oversized blouse, Heather’s knowing eyes had missed nothing. Seeing the large bruise on Kate’s collarbone, a small bit of evidence of the beating Tony had given her the evening before, Heather had become enraged, promising she would “take him out” if he ever touched her friend again.

Kate knew how much Heather had meant those words. As a defense trainer, her petite friend was proficient at “taking out” men even larger than Tony.

Heather hated knowing Kate was so defenseless against her husband’s attacks. She had given Kate her business card at lunch, begging her to consider taking the next beginner’s course. Kate had obligingly taken the card and tucked it into her blouse pocket, knowing she would never be able to take the class. Tony might find out and then there wouldn’t be any need to defend herself. She’d be dead.

Sighing as she began dicing tomatoes, Kate mulled over the fact that she should have seen the early warning signs of Tony’s abusive personality before she committed her life to him. And his controlling nature was apparent right off the bat when they were first dating. He “suggested” what type of clothes she should wear, who she should associate with—which meant his family only—what music she should listen to, what types of food she should cook. After they were married, the suggestive “shoulds” turned into controlling “woulds.”

And then there was the jealousy. While dating, Tony would become sullen and withdrawn if she so much as spoke to a waiter or a male salesclerk. Kate learned in a hurry to let him order for her or purchase items at the store, or else she’d have to suffer through days of his pouts. And I’d give a king’s ransom if pouting was the worst of his behavior now.

The microwave dinged and she turned the lasagna dish, restarting the defrost cycle. She wondered if she should dare call Tony’s cell to see if he was on his way. A wifely phone call was one sure way to set him off, though. He would scream at her that she didn’t “own him” and he’d be home when he damned well pleased. But the truth was if she did call him, it was guaranteed to get him home quickly…he wouldn’t be able to wait to “set her straight.”

And he was never sorry for the beatings. Not like her father, who was always contrite the morning after one of his drunken rampages, begging for forgiveness from his wife and daughter, swearing “never again,” promises he would inevitably fail to keep when the next bottle was emptied.

But not Tony. Oh, no. Not only was he never sorry, not even the first time he bloodied her nose on their wedding night, he actually blamed Kate for each and every bruise he was “forced” to leave on her body. Sometimes he’d even go so far as to get angry with her if her blood splattered on his clothes, and the beating would start all over again.

So, the glaring question remained unanswered: Would he be a good father? Kate was talking herself into serious doubts. Abusive alcoholics didn’t make good parents, not even passable ones, a fact she knew all too well from first-hand experience.

Heather’s words from earlier in the day haunted her: And what if he starts beating your child? Would you put up with that, too? Kate knew she would not, could not, ever allow him to beat her child. In that respect, she was definitely not like her mentally and emotionally absent mother. Kate could be the punching bag, but not her child. Placing a protective hand on her still flat stomach, through gritted teeth she vowed Never.

But did she have the nerve to leave Tony without telling him she was pregnant as Heather had suggested? The offer she had presented was tempting—too tempting. The prospect of moving in with her best friend, her only friend, living in freedom from fear, raising her child without worry, was so very appealing.

Kate was so caught up in her thoughts she didn’t hear the door open that led to the laundry room from the garage. She literally jumped when she heard the angry growling baritone behind her.

“What the hell…you mean to tell me dinner’s not ready!”

Heart pounding, she turned to stare at her husband with wide frightened eyes. Kate immediately took in the fact that his clothes were disheveled, his jet black, never-a-one-out-of-place hair looked like it had been styled with a weed-whacker and his eyes were glazed as they struggled to focus on her while he swayed.

Oh, sweet Jesus, help me, he’s drunk, she thought with pain gripping her stomach as her heart hammered violently in her chest, her mouth going dry.

After swallowing to try to bring some moisture back into her mouth, she modulated her voice to the tone that least pissed him off, the one learned from years of practice.

“I’m so sorry, honey. The chicken tetrazzini got ruined while I waited for you to come home.” She hurried to the microwave and gestured. “Thankfully, I had lasagna frozen—”

He exploded, the veins in his high forehead bulging. “I don’t want freakin’ lasagna, you moron! I told you this morning I wanted chicken for dinner!” He shook his head in disgust. “You are such an idiot!”

Tony took a step toward her with his fists clenched at his sides and Kate backed up against the stove, holding her hand up in a feeble attempt to block him as he towered over her.

“Baby—” She cringed at the word coming from her lips, hating all the terms of endearment she felt she needed to use with him. Lies, all lies. They meant nothing, only useless words meant to soothe the savage beast. Although, with the mood he was in, she figured that was wasted effort.

She spoke as calmly as she could while her entire body was quivering, “I’m sorry about the chicken. If you had called to tell me you were going to be late, I would have taken it out…”

Her voice trailed off as she watched his face transform into such a ferocious scowl that he scarcely looked human. It was as if a gruesome Halloween mask had been poured over his skull. As he slammed his hand against the cabinet next to her head, Kate involuntarily flinched and ducked.

“Don’t start bitching to me about calling you. I do NOT answer to you, you got that?” He poked his finger in between her breasts. Hard.

“You, on the other hand, my dear wife, do answer to me.”

Kate blinked to hold the tears back. Tears really set him off. Hell, everything sets him off. I live my life trying to walk in a field of eggshell land mines.

In a low, menacing growl, the monster she called husband continued his tirade. “And perhaps you would like to tell me just where you went today.” His lips curled into a sneer. “Joe told me he saw you going into O’Brien’s. Out whoring around, I assume? Spreading your legs for anyone who gives you the time of day while your husband slaves his life away trying to keep you in comfort?” His voice was filled with venomous hate.

He was snarling and bits of spittle hit her face with each hateful word. As she stared into his red-rimmed ebony eyes, Kate wondered absently how she ever thought the man was good looking. With his face twisted and blotchy, chest heaving with rage, and teeth bared in a snarl, she felt like a small child cowering before the Big Bad Wolf.

Forcing her brain to function properly, she blurted her denial. “No, of course not! I just had lunch with Heather—”

“Heather!” He screeched and Kate cowered, instantly regretting her mistake.

Taking a deep breath, which Kate knew was not an attempt to calm himself but to restock his air supply, he screamed just an inch from her bent head.

“Did I not tell you I don’t want you to have anything to do with that slut?”

Kate dared a glance up at him. While she didn’t think it was possible, his horrid face had scrunched up even further in rage.

“Oh, but nooo, you don’t listen to your husband, do you, you stupid whore?”

His finger was back to its painful stabbing of her breastbone. She wondered if he might actually penetrate right through to her heart. Then I’d die of a broken heart, Kate thought insanely, almost giggling in hysteria.

“You just think you can just do whatever you want, go wherever you want, do whoever you want. Well, I won’t have it! DO YOU HEAR ME?”

The last was screamed against her face, nose to nose, his alcohol-laced spittle once again splattering across her cheeks and chin. Kate thought her heart was going to pound out of her chest as she nodded obediently at him as best she could with their faces touching.

He leaned back a bit and she flinched, slamming her eyes shut when his hand came up, trying desperately to brace for the pain she knew was coming. But instead Tony reached behind her and jerked the microwave door open. Grabbing the now thawed Pyrex dish of lasagna, he slung it across the room at the refrigerator, and she watched in horror as it shattered into a million pieces, the contents exploding in all directions.

Kate stared in dazed amazement at the red sauce and white lumps of ricotta and noodles and thought it looked like a gruesome crime scene. She shivered at the image, suddenly feeling it might be a harbinger for the next moments of her life.

She jumped when Tony screamed again. “And you think you can just cook whatever you want? What are you, freakin’ Emeril, or what?”

The face that she had once considered to be model-perfect was hideously contorted and purple. Kate blinked to focus on the wrathful demon before her. He might be expecting a response and heaven help her if she didn’t give one.

“I’m sick of you trying to run the show in this family! I wear the pants. Me, not you!”

His hand grabbed her blouse and yanked her to within an inch of his face while he panted like a rabid beast. The putrid smell of alcohol again accosted her nostrils and she fought not to grimace. That would set him off, too. Of course, he’s already off and running now, isn’t he? We’re steamrolling all over those shells. The inner voice running its insane dialog tsked at her.

The collar of her blouse tightened around her throat as his fist twisted the material. She fought to take shallow breaths as the edges of her vision blackened. But if I pass out, then I won’t feel the beating, she reasoned.

His next words were spoken so low she almost had to strain to hear them. To her shame, she felt herself wet her panties when he spoke.

“I’m gonna teach you a lesson you will never forget!”

Tony dragged her by the blouse toward the living room. Kate fought to stay on her feet as they passed the refrigerator and she slipped on the pasta carnage left from the explosion. She gasped in pain as she felt shards of glass embedding themselves in her bare feet.

Knowing better than to beg, she couldn’t help herself as hysteria overwhelmed her. Grasping his wrist and clinging she sobbed, “Please, Tony, I didn’t do anything wrong. It was just lunch.”

She choked a bit, still fighting for air. “I hadn’t seen Heather in months. We just talked and ate, and I came home. That’s all. I was barely gone two hours.”

She cursed herself for allowing the tears to stream down her face. Now she was really going to get it. Oh, too late, girlfriend. You’re gonna get it regardless.

Thankfully the monster didn’t notice that she was crying as he threw himself down on the couch, dragging her over his knees. She cried out as he jerked her wool slacks down without unbuttoning them, the fabric rubbing burns on her thin hips. He then literally ripped her panties off, the satin shredding easily.

“You WILL learn to obey me!” The first crack of his hand against her bare bottom caught her by surprise and she yelled out in pain.

Her body heaved as he continued to pound her backside. Tasting blood, she realized she had bitten through her lip in the effort to hold back her cries as he continued to beat her.

Tony stood suddenly, dumping Kate on the floor. He dragged the ottoman from its place in front of the side chair and hauled her by her hair over it, so her bare buttocks were high in the air, head and shoulders hanging off the end. Her heart nearly stopped when she realized he was taking off his belt. Oh, dear God, please help me.

The countless blows that followed had her sobbing and gasping for air. Her entire back felt like it was on fire as blow after blow came. In his drunken fury, Tony’s aim was off and he whipped not only her buttocks, but also her thighs and back. One crack of the belt even cut across her cheekbone. She felt the blood as it trickled along her nose on its downward path, ending in tiny pools on the beige carpet.

When Kate thought she might faint from the pain, Tony suddenly stopped the beating and went still, dropping the belt to the floor. Through her sobs she could hear him panting and she felt his hand between her thighs. She went limp as she knew what was coming next. He’s a beast. His intimate exploration became cruel as he pinched and pulled, and she cried out.

Her cries further excited him, and he reached down and grabbed her hair again, yanking her back so her bare bottom was hanging off the edge of the ottoman, her face buried in the cushion. Jerking her pants the rest of the way off, she felt him kneel behind her.

The baby! Surely the position she was in could cause harm when her husband slammed into her from behind, especially in such fury while she was completely unprepared for the onslaught. And he wasn’t a small man in any way.

Finding her voice, she cried out, “Tony, no, you can’t do this!” She sobbed as she felt his large arousal against her.

“I was going to tell you at dinner…I’m pregnant!” She gasped, “I’m afraid you’ll hurt the baby like this!”

Her husband suddenly went still, the only movement being his fingers as they squeezed into the small amount of soft flesh at her hips. Kate assumed the words had sunk into his alcohol-soaked brain and knew at that moment he was going to hold her and give her the words of love she needed from him. Everything was going to be fine.

She turned around to put her arms out so she could hug him. As the mother of his child, finally he would accept her, approve of her. The love she had so desperately needed all her life, the love that had only been found through her grandparents and Heather, would finally be hers. Shock reverberated through her being when, rather than giving her an embrace, he slammed his fist into her nose with a crack, knocking her to the floor.

“You WHORE!” He loomed over her, his strong hands grabbing her by the throat, literally squeezing the life out of her as he pounded her head on the carpet.

“Whose is it?” He screamed, his voice a higher octave. “Let me guess—that waiter you have the hots for at Tom’s, right? RIGHT?”

Through her tears, Kate realized the fear she had felt earlier was nothing compared to the terror coursing through her now. She had never believed in possession before then, but the insanely intense look in her husband’s eyes led her to believe that it was a demon kneeling over her, not a man. Even his voice sounded disembodied, fraught with evil malice.

“Slut! You’ve been panting after him for months. Did he finally lower his standards for you?” He spit in her face, the liquid sliding off her cheek into her hair. She sobbed, the pain wracking her body somehow overcome by this act of ultimate disrespect.

She stared in terror into his soulless eyes as a small voice in her mind questioned who the waiter at Tom’s was. She really had no idea.

“I’ll freakin’ KILL you!” And then her husband released her throat so he could let both fists fly.

As the blows connected with her body, Kate curled into a ball in a desperate attempt to protect her child, crying out, “No! The baby is yours, Tony! Ours! I have never been with anyone else! It’s yours, yours!” She choked on her cries as she felt the first rib crack, and then a second one.

Her denials didn’t penetrate his alcohol-fueled fury as he continued to pummel her body. Apparently, his hands grew tired, as he lurched to his feet and started kicking her. Several blows connected with her stomach even through her efforts to cover her unborn child with her arms and legs. One vicious kick connected with her shin and she nearly fainted as she felt bones shatter.

Strangely and mercifully, the pain soon subsided, and Kate felt numb, physically and mentally, as she wondered absently how long he had been beating her. Her mind retreated to the protection of the mundane. Surely, he’ll get tired soon. Then I can clean the mess in the kitchen, she thought insanely.

She gave up trying to see where the next blow or kick would strike until she heard magazines hit the floor and realized Tony had grabbed the heavy brass lamp from the end table. The last thing she remembered was seeing the lamp base hurtling toward her skull.

Soul Shards by Ria MacAlister is available on Amazon. Click HERE to order!

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