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Secrets and Sins: Malachim
By Naima Simone, Tracy Montoya
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Naima Bryant
All rights reserved.
"I know you're not asleep."
The sibilant whisper was hot against her ear and cheek.
She'd known it was coming. Like a dog that had been kicked in the ribs one too many times by its master, she was sensitive to his moods; his body language; the hard, flat glint in his green eyes. Something she'd done tonight — smiled too warmly at a colleague, spoken too long with the man seated on her left at the dinner party, not glanced at Alex often enough during the evening — had been inappropriate or offensive. Some act of disrespect had broken one of her husband's many rules. Now she would pay for the indiscretion.
"I know you're awake, Elena," Alex repeated and brushed a gentle kiss below her ear. She shivered. Not out of desire. "You didn't think I would forget, did you?"
No, she hadn't. At one time, she might have hoped or prayed he would grant her a reprieve for whatever sin she'd committed. But now she knew better.
He enjoyed it too much.
Giving up the pretense, she slowly rolled over. Met her husband's hooded gaze and mildly disappointed smile. Disappointment. Another façade she was well acquainted with. Alex had spent the last hour and a half downstairs, barricaded behind his study doors whipping his rage higher and hotter. Her one transgression would have bloomed to three inside his mind by now.
"I was waiting for you to come upstairs," Elena whispered. "You know I can't sleep without you beside me."
"Such pretty words," he crooned, cupping her cheek and smoothing his thumb over her trembling bottom lip.
"Such pretty lies."
"Shh." The pad of his thumb pressed hard against her lip, crushing the tender skin inside her mouth to her teeth. A faint metallic tinge stained her tongue. "Excuses. You're about to give me excuses, Elena. And what have we said about that?"
She hesitated, the words trapped in the noose of panic strangling the breath in her throat.
His eyes narrowed into green slits. The pressure on her lip increased. More blood trickled onto her tongue.
"What have we said about excuses, Elena?"
"Excuses are tools of the incompetent used to build monuments of nothingness." She stuttered to a halt and wet her lips.
"Yes?" he prodded with silky menace.
"Those who specialize in them seldom amount to anything other than an excuse."
"What are you, wife?" he asked softly.
"An excuse," she whispered. Shame, hot and rancid, scalded her chest, eating a noxious hole in her heart ... in her soul.
"That's right. A pitiful excuse of a woman, a wife who seeks validation in the attention and accolades of others. You embarrass me with your weakness, Elena. Shame the Rainier name with your whorish mannerisms." He shoved his face closer, and the overpowering, sweet-and-sour scent of Jack Daniels singed her skin. "Sometimes I despair of cleansing the stink of your mother and sister out of you." He shook his head and eased off the mattress. Mock regret and compassion turned down the corners of his mouth, softened the forbidding lines from his forehead. "You leave me with no choice," he murmured, crossing the floor to the closet. He opened the door and tugged a wide, thick leather strap free.
"Alex." She whimpered, throwing the covers aside and scrambling off the bed. Oh dear God. Please, not again. I can't ...
"Come here, Elena," he ordered almost tenderly. "We're going to spend time together now."
Her heart somersaulted then dove for her stomach. Spend time together. She knew what that meant ...
She shook her head, terror stripping away any sense of self-preservation. Her feet shuffled backward, the primal animal inside her raising its wary head to carry her out of the line of danger. The back of her thigh bumped the heavy bedside drawer, and she stumbled, her arms windmilling before she found her balance. His lips twisted into a derisive half-smile.
"You're only making it worse, honey," he murmured, stroking his wide palm down the leather strap as if caressing a lover's tender skin.
What the hell had she done to deserve this brand of torture? Her mind raced over the evening, replaying every minute on fast-forward. Nothing. She'd done nothing. Helpless anger poured through her, stinging her eyes.
"I'm giving you one last opportunity to walk over here, Elena. If I have to come get you ..."
The warning shattered her paralysis. As he rounded the edge of the mattress, she shot forward. Leaped onto the bed and bounded over the other side. Her heart thundered, soared to the back of her throat and lodged there. His enraged roar filled the room, and her steps faltered. But only for a second. With a desperate cry, she lunged for the bedroom door, twisted the knob. Jerked it. Jerked harder.
The door was locked. She was trapped.
"You bitch." Pain stabbed her scalp as Alex grabbed her hair and whirled her around. Automatically, her hands rose to clutch his wrist, to try and alleviate the bee stings attacking her scalp as strands were ripped from her head. "You stupid cunt. I'll kill you if you ever run from me again," he snarled down into her face. "Do you understand me?"
He jerked his hand from her hair and stepped back, his chest heaving.
She lifted her hand toward him, her fingers trembling. "Alex, I'm —"
Fire exploded across her jaw.
The force of the blow spun her around like a broken ballerina. Her uninjured cheek smacked the wall before she could brace her fall. She cried out, shocked. He'd always been careful — so very careful — to hit or grab her where others couldn't see the bruises. Her back, stomach, thighs. Her throat in the winter when the marks could be hidden by turtlenecks. That he'd struck her in the face where a split lip could bear witness to his brutality scared the hell out of her.
He's going to kill me. Tonight is the night he murders me ...
She uttered a desperate plea for her husband to please, listen, but she knew it fell on deaf ears. Cruel fingers dug into her hair again, dragged her head back until she feared her neck would snap from the pressure. Pain raced up and down the side of her face, arrowing down her neck to return and throb like a heartbeat in her jaw.
The first lash of the leather strap whipped across her lower back. Her spine bowed under the agony. Air burst from her lungs as she drooped to the floor on her hands and knees. Another blow slashed across her shoulder blades. Her ribs. Her buttocks. Over and over. Crack! Crack! Her world narrowed to the ugly whistle of leather through air and fire rupturing along her body. At some point, she curled into a ball and surrendered.
* * *
Dawn spread her pale pink and orange fingers across the sky, and the purple night shrank away from her touch, fleeing westward. The sun heralded its return over the Rainier household with exploratory splashes of soft pastels over the windowsills. Elena crept down the wide, spiraling staircase, grateful for the shadows yet to be dispelled by the new, encroaching day.
Each tiny movement caused agony to streak up her legs, hips, and back, only to race down again in a torturous circuit. She shoved the pain to the rear of her consciousness and continued down the stairs. Later ... later, she'd surrender to the aches and the tears. But right now, with escape so near, she couldn't afford that luxury.
A whisper of sound echoed down the hall as her foot hit the bottom step. She froze, a deer caught on the edge of a wood as a car's headlights swept over the trees. Deliberately, she inhaled, held the air in, and listened. Several moments passed.
But the scare galvanized her into action. Shaking, she entered the four-digit code into the security system — the tiny beeps mini blasts to her oversensitive ears — unlocked the door, and slipped into the still cool June morning. Her purse — all she'd grabbed before sliding from under Alex's heavy arm — bounced against her bruised hip as she stumbled down the white stone steps and the long, winding drive. By the time she hit the quiet main road, her legs trembled violently from fear and pain. Quickly, she dug into her bag and withdrew a cell phone. She searched the internet for a taxi service and dialed the number. After giving them an address a couple of blocks away, she set off. She cast several glances over her shoulder, terrified she would glimpse Alex charging down the street after her.
This wasn't her first attempt at leaving him. But if he caught her, as he'd done two years ago, she knew he would follow through on the threat that had kept her at his side for far too long — he would kill her. But after last night — after his fingers had nearly squeezed the last breath from her throat — she was willing to risk his rage and try escaping again.
She nearly passed out from relief when the taxi pulled up, and she got inside without incident. She glanced at the window, her pulse drumming a rapid beat at her throat. The driver eyed her bruised face and ginger movements with suspicion that turned to quiet concern when she asked him to take her to the nearest hospital. Please drive, she urged him silently. Please just go. As much as going to the authorities scared her, the thought of dying at Alex's hands terrified her more. Last night was the last time he'd touch her.
Several hours later, she scooted up over the sterile sheets of a hospital bed, tugging the blue-and-white speckled gown over her shoulder. The doctor had just left after completing a thorough and humiliating assessment of her injuries, including a pelvic examination.
The door to her exam room cracked open, and a fresh-faced nurse with a blond ponytail and pink scrubs peeked in.
"Mrs. Rainier." She smiled, the sympathy and pity in the small curve of lips grating Elena's nerves and soul. "There are two detectives here who would like to speak with you."
She nodded and assumed the habitual, composed mask her career and her husband had required. The world could be going to hell in a handbasket, but Alex demanded poise.
Rainier Rule #3. Control separates humans from animals.
Two men entered the room behind the nurse. They were older, dressed in suits and ties. Elena searched their faces. In one, she spied tired skepticism, in the other, compassion.
"Mrs. Rainier," the skeptic said, withdrawing a small pad from the inside pocket of his jacket. "Can you tell us what happened to you?"
She swallowed then licked her dry lips.
"My husband. My husband happened to me."CHAPTER 2
Two Years Later Boston, Massachusetts
Most people arrived for work at eight-thirty in the morning, not evening.
But then again, most people didn't have a formerly thriving law practice swirling down the toilet like the Ty-D-Bol Man.
Malachim Jerrod strolled toward the brownstone that housed his law office, located in Boston's historic Beacon Hill neighborhood. Authentic gas-burning lamps provided ample light as he passed elegant buildings with their black shutters and dark windows. Boughs of bright red poinsettias and white lights decorated the sills and arched doorways in deference to the holiday season. Usually, he enjoyed the walk — the graceful, ageless beauty of the neighborhood never failed to charm him. Time seemed to have screeched to a halt on the quiet block off busy Charles Street. If he closed his eyes, he could almost detect the murmurs of revolution and freedom, the clack of hooves and rumble of carriage wheels.
But tonight, as he headed back into his office after having left it two hours earlier, his thoughts were as dark as the shadows that stretched across the cobbled sidewalks. An image unfurled in his mind — a single sheet of paper with official letterhead scrolled across the top, the body of the message containing the words LICENSE, SUSPENSION, PENDING, DISBARMENT. A sliver of fear slid between his ribs like a shiv. With every breath he took, the cold, steel edge of it wedged deeper.
Damn, it would be so easy to just turn around, put in a call to his best friends, Gabriel Devlin, Raphael Marcel, and Chayot Grey, and ask them to meet him at the bar around the corner. There, he could drown his worries in two-dollar beers and testosterone-heavy conversation. And he didn't doubt the three men would drop everything to answer his distress signal. He, Gabe, Rafe, and Chay had been friends since birth — before, really. Their mothers had met during their prenatal workshops and appointments at Boston Children's Hospital. High-risk pregnancies had brought the women together, but admiration and love had connected them. Though from different social and economic backgrounds, Pam, Ana, Sharon, and Evelyn had remained close and passed down their friendship to the sons they'd all named after angels — angels God had blessed them with.
There hadn't been a moment in his thirty-five years Malachim hadn't been able to lean on Gabe, Rafe, or Chay. But this evening, as he contemplated his law office's precarious future, he knew he couldn't burden them with his fears. Especially since Chay would carry most of the blame on his already weary shoulders.
He quickened his step as he approached the building that was a second home. Malachim had loved this place since he'd been a small boy visiting his grandfather. Samuel Resner hadn't been a demonstrative man, but his mother's father had gifted Malachim with the thing begrudged him at home: acceptance.
And when his grandfather had passed, the brownstone he'd bequeathed to Malachim had been the one thing in his entire life that had belonged solely to him. The one thing his father, Christopher Jerrod, had been unable to snatch, steal, or bribe away.
Malachim shook his head. Not going down that slippery slope of —
A hard gust expelled from his lungs. He lifted his hands and gripped the shoulders of the petite woman who'd barreled into his chest. "Son of a ..."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
Sultry nights. Twisted limbs. Breathless moans. Malachim allowed her low, rasping tone to tease over his skin like a luxuriant pelt of fur — sensuous, beautiful. Only phone sex operators had voices like hers. Practiced and perfected to elicit thoughts of sex, sweat, and pleasure.
His fingers flexed but clutched air. The woman had shifted away, escaping his grasp and stepping into the pool of pale light cast by one of the street lamps.
Holy shit. Only a face as lovely and cool as the Madonna's could eclipse that voice of sin and rich dark chocolate.
His breath stuttered in his throat. An image of a still, watchful animal slid into his mind. As if she waited, undecided if he was foe or friend. Part of him wanted to soothe her, murmur words of reassurance.
And the other wanted to lunge forward, scare her off so she went back to wherever she'd emerged from. Something about those large, liquid doe eyes and aloof, beautiful face stirred a distant response like dust motes in a neglected attic. The sorrow, the loneliness it evoked resonated in his chest like a clock in the distance chiming the hour. He wanted the uncomfortable feeling — and her — gone.
"Excuse me," he said abruptly.
If she was taken aback by his harsh tone, her serene expression didn't reveal it. The slight stiffening of her small frame did.
Shit. Next thing, he would start kicking dogs and tripping old ladies.
"I'm sorry," he continued, softer this time. "Long day. And I wasn't watching where I was going." He slid his hands in the deep pockets of his coat. "Are you looking for someone?"
She briefly hesitated. "Yes. Well, no," she said in that voice capable of coercing gold from King Midas. "I was looking for the office of Jerrod & Associates." Pause. "Malachim Jerrod?"
His eyebrows arched high as surprise winged through him. "Yes. Do I know you?"
"No." She stepped forward, reclaiming some of the space she'd placed between them. "My name is Danielle Warren."
"Okay, Ms. Warren." Danielle. He silently rolled her name over his tongue as he cast a cursory scan down her body. She shivered beneath a black jacket that was inadequate against the winter night, faded blue jeans, and scuffed sneakers. Curiosity pricked him. Hard. "What brings you by at eight-thirty in the evening?"
Excerpted from Secrets and Sins: Malachim by Naima Simone, Tracy Montoya. Copyright © 2013 Naima Bryant. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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