Felicity, Viscountess Barbridge, jerked her head up from her correspondence as the hard, harsh voice of her husband echoed in the hallways. She began to tremble as she carefully put away her quill and ink and pushed the papers aside. She knew that tone of voice. She had learned it well in the two nightmarish years she had been the viscount’s wife.
She also knew what normally happened when he had a few drinks in him and had his ire up. She had the bruises to prove it.
The door to her chamber flew open, slamming on the other side of the wall, where there was already a hole from that action having been performed so many times before.
“Erasmus,” Felicity said, trying to keep her tone calm and even as he entered the room. “I didn’t realize you’d be home so early.”
She had often wished this man was ugly. That his outward appearance matched the violence and brutality within him. But he wasn’t. Erasmus was tall, broad shouldered, with dark blonde hair and intelligent green eyes. He was handsome, though she had long ago ceased to think him so.
But it still seemed unfair that such a monster was encased in such a pretty package.
“You didn’t want me home?” he barked as he swung the door shut behind him and moved on her a few steps. “Why? Are you fucking someone behind my back, Felicity?”
She shook her head. “Of course not,” she whispered.
He caught her arm and tugged hard, almost dislocating her shoulder as his fingers pushed hard into her skin, bruising it. “I’d kill you where you stand if you were, you know that.”
She swallowed. “You’ve made it clear many times.”
He chuckled as he shoved her away, sending her backward a few steps as she tried to regain her footing. Her heart was pounding now, so loud she could hardly hear anything else but the blood whooshing through her veins.
“I could do it any time I’d like, you know,” he said, and he tilted his head as he stared at her, almost as if he were seeing her for the first time. “It would be so easy.”
Felicity stepped back. “Erasmus—”
“Take off your clothes,” he murmured, shrugging out of his jacket. “Now.”
“I’m having my courses and—”
“Don’t fucking lie!” he shouted as he moved toward her, a hand raised. “Take them off.”
Felicity jolted in terror. It had been a foolish, horrible mistake to marry this man, one driven by a broken heart. And she had suffered for it over and over both by his fists and by the demands like the ones he made now. With him this drunk, he would certainly hurt her as he had before.
“Why don’t you sleep?” she suggested, edging away from him. “And we’ll do this tomorrow when you can enjoy it more.”
The back of his hand came hard across her cheek, and she cried out as she fell against the bed. He began to push at her skirts, exposing her as he tore at the fabric.
“No!” she cried out, fighting his hands. “Stop!”
He ignored her, unfastening his trousers as he pulled out his half-flaccid cock. “By God, you will do your duty, woman.”
Years of fear, of pain, flashed through Felicity, and a great rage and terror rose up in her. Without thinking, without planning, she kicked at him and hit him in the stomach. He grunted out a sound of pain, and then it felt like everything in the room came to a screeching halt.
He stared at her, face wild with pure, unadulterated rage, and she stared back, realizing that by fighting back, she had sealed her fate. He moved forward in a flash and his hands closed around her neck. He began to choke her, squeezing the air from her lungs as his cock got harder.
He was going to kill her at last. She saw that in his angry, evil eyes. She was going to die, he was going to violate her one last time and then discard her. There was a part of her that whispered to her to simply surrender to it. To let the blackness that was starting at the end of her sightline fill her up and overtake her. To end the torture, to end the pain and just let there be blissful nothingness.
She let her eyes close, she let her body go limp, but as the darkness gathered, she heard a voice in her head. A voice she hadn’t heard in three years. A voice she had tried to pretend she’d never heard.
She heard that voice, that deep, kind, masculine voice whisper, “Fight, Felicity. Fight.”
Her eyes flew open at his order and she reached up to claw at Erasmus’s hands once more. She scratched his skin and his grip loosened slightly. Enough for her to reach out and grab the vase on the table next to her bed. She swung it, connecting with his skull, and he made a harsh cry, but he didn’t roll off of her enough that she could move. Desperation gripped her and she swung her arm out wildly. When she did so, her fingers touched the handle of the pistol Erasmus always kept in his waistband.
She pulled the gun free and swung it toward him. “Stop!” she croaked through her ragged and sore airway. “I’ll…shoot you.”
Blood trickled down from his hairline where she’d struck him with the now broken vase. He pushed off her and she gasped a breath, praying he would walk away. Sober up. But his eyes were lit up with rage that would not be contained and he laughed as he looked at her and the gun in her hand.
He lunged at her once more and his hands folded around her throat.
What happened next didn’t feel real. It was as if she left her body and watched it from a distance. Watched her dying self press the gun between them. Watched the trigger depress beneath her index finger, the weight of it making her work for her life. She heard the sharp, harsh echo of the discharge and then Erasmus’s face twisted in shock and disbelief and pain.
He looked down at her, his eyes wide as his fingers relaxed from her throat. She gasped for air as he wheezed out a long, heavy breath. “Bitch, you shot me.”
Then he slipped away, off of her body, down the side of the bed where he’d been leaning and into a heap on the floor. The gun smoked in her hand, filling her nostrils with an acrid scent. The harshness of it made some reality creep in and she slowly edged her body to the end of the bed. She stared down at him, down at where the blood began to pool out from under him. Down at where her husband lay, lifeless.
And then she began to scream.
The door to her chamber flew open and her maid, Cora, burst inside. The young woman looked first at Felicity’s face, and then at the lifeless body before her, and all the color drained from her cheeks. She shut the door and rushed over to Felicity.