Location: Aboard Assimilation ship EOC-2789, the private vessel of Count Doloroso.
Time: .05 solar seconds following the departure of invaders who absconded with the Earth female, Zoe McKinley, a known Pure One and La-ti-zal, marked for impregnation with the first organic Assimilated.
The echoes of the invaders boots had scarcely faded from the corridors of the Assimilation ship when a panel in the control room slid aside and a small, silver insect came buzzing out. It paused for a moment to ascertain that the invaders were truly gone, then continued its flight down to the medical suite. It hovered for a moment over the fallen body of its last host, the pink, featureless face twisted almost completely backwards with the blow that had broken its neck.
The nano-chip inside the silver insect hummed. A waste. But this body had almost outlived its usefulness anyway. It had been chosen for its durability and the great wealth of its previous occupant—both of which had been nearly exhausted. The Assimilation had been hoping to make it last until another of the correct kind became available. Only a body of one of the Twelve Peoples, those grown from seeds scattered by the Ancient Ones, had long term compatibility with an Assimilation mind.
But though no such organic body was available, there were a few “burner bodies” stored in the stasis booths located in the hold. The silver insect buzzed its way towards the hold and the large doors slid open soundlessly to admit it.
In front of the first stasis booth, the insect hovered, waiting patiently as the organic unit inside was brought slowly back from the suspended animation it had been held in for the last fifty cycles.
Soon enough it came stumbling out of the booth, its black, compound eyes blinking stupidly, its long ears twitching as it tried to ascertain its situation. It had green skin and a small, wrinkled blue hole for a mouth—a Grubbian. They were a species of traders and merchants, practical to use as temporary organic units since they were ubiquitous to the entire galaxy and so never attracted attention.
The silver insect gave the Grubbian no time to get its bearings. Before it had taken two steps, the insect struck. Sinking the silver barbed stinger located at the end of its metallic abdomen deep into the greenish, pebbled skin at the base of the target’s neck, it injected its payload.
“Ah!” The Grubbian cried out and flailed wildly—but only for an instant. As the nanobytes injected by the silver insect reached its bloodstream, it came under the control of the Assimilation. Its brain function was circumvented as new thoughts raced through the neural synapses. Soon the Grubbian’s personality was nothing but a distant memory—it had, in effect, ceased to exist.
It had been Assimilated.
The being lately known as Count Doloroso smiled and stretched his new arms. It was good to be in a fresh body, even if this one was only temporary. Of course, this body wouldn’t do for the planned impregnation of the La-ti-zal he had marked as the mother of the new race of organic Assimilated. He would have to find another and neither of the two in the stasis stalls would do. They were both of outside races, those not descended from the Ancient Ones.
He frowned. Of course, it would do him no good to have the correct body, if he had no female to impregnate. Zoe was gone, in the company of two large and very capable males. She would be nearly impossible to recover.
Reluctantly, Doloroso decided she was a lost cause. He would have to turn his attention to finding another female to take her place.
Luckily, he had an idea of where her home planet was located. And he had two names to work with—the names of her friends who she had told him to leave alone.
“Charlotte and Leah,” he mused, his voice hissing from the small, puckered blue hole of his new, temporary mouth. “Hold on, my future wives. As soon as I find the correct body to wear, I’ll be coming for you…”
I’m not a nice guy.
I’m a murderer and an ex-con and an all around son-of-a-bitch, ask anybody who knows me.
But I’m also a Protector.
I took an oath to guard the females I take as wards with my life, and I take that oath very fucking seriously. That’s why, when I see someone I’ve sworn to protect in danger, I take immediate action, even if the female I’m acting for doesn’t know I’m assigned to protect her.
Of course, it helps if she knows I’m watching out for her—helps if she knows she can trust me. Because, unfortunately, I’m not the kind of male females trust on sight.
I’m one ugly bastard, is what I’m trying to say.
Half Braxian and half Vorn—the two most hated and feared of the Twelve Peoples the Ancient Ones seeded the galaxy with. I’m not smooth like an Eloim or pretty to look at like a Majoran. I have bluish-gray skin, black curling horns, and white-on-black eyes that can see every spectrum of light.
And don’t forget my prison tats.
But it doesn’t matter what I look like—I get the job done. And at the moment, my job was getting planet-side to save one of the Earth females who had been put under my protection.
Only she didn’t know me—didn’t know I was watching her. And she sure as hell didn’t know I was trustworthy. I mean, what would you say if a seven foot tall blue alien with horns and freaky-as-shit eyes showed up at your door?
But none of that mattered—she was in danger and I had to save her.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. I should start at the beginning…back when I first came aboard the Commercians’ space station, which was circling in low Earth orbit, spying on Earth females for their Alien Mate Index. A site which claims they can hook up any alien male with the perfect Earth bride or concubine—for a price.
I wasn’t looking for either. I just wanted to serve and protect, no matter what it took…
* * * * *
“Can you tell me the sort of female you are interested in?” Char’noth S’roth, the lead Commercian asked me in his high, silly voice. “We have all sorts, my Lord…”
“Grav,” I said, frowning. “And I’m not a ‘Lord,’”
“Ah yes, forgive me, my Lord” Char’noth squeaked, rubbing several of his hands together.
Commercians look kind of like dark blue worms with multiple limbs. They have the most ridiculous fuckin’ voices imaginable, but they’re shrewd in business and almost always the first to exploit any kind of commercial situation. It didn’t surprise me a bit that they had discovered Earth, once a closed planet, was finally opening up. Or as they put it, “ripe for harvest.”
“As I was saying, my Lord Grav” Char’noth continued, “We have all kinds. Some tall, some short, some thin, some thick…”
“I’m not a Lord,” I said again, interrupting him. “And I don’t wanna look at any you have for sale. In fact, I’m interested in two that aren’t for sale. Or they’d better not be—their contracts were bought and paid for with the understanding that they were to be left strictly alone.”
“Ah…you must be referring to the two La-ti-zals whose contracts were bought by Lord Sarden, whom I am told has recently ascended to the throne of Eloim?”
“That’s right,” I said, glaring at the little worm. “Which means he’s got considerable clout—so you’d better be keeping those two off your fuckin’ database.”
“If you have been sent to see if we are honoring our agreement with Lord Sarden, you can put your mind at ease.” Char’noth’s high, piping voice sounded offended. “We Commercians do not renege on business deals. In fact, another customer has already come asking to see them and we refused all his offers, though they were quite considerable.”
My protective senses went on high alert.
“What? Why didn’t you say so? Was it a male about this high?” I showed him with my hand level to my chin. “With a smooth, pink face—only slits for eyes and a mouth?”
Describing him left a bad taste in my mouth. The freak show of a Doloroso was disgusting—he even managed to make my ugly mug look pretty in comparison. I had killed him though—I’d felt his neck break in my hands and seen the life leak out of his slitted eyes. Still, Lady Zoe, Sarden’s bonded mate, was certain the bastard had somehow come back to life and was stalking her friends. That was what I was there for—to check up on them. I had never expected Lady Zoe to be right, but here we were. Apparently Doloroso was already on the prowl…
But Char’noth was shaking his little blue head.
“No—it was a Grubbian merchant. He said he wanted something extra-special for a client. A La-ti-zal.”
La-ti-zal is the name for a female who has been extra-blessed with talents from the Ancient Ones. Lady Zoe was one and so her friends likely were too. It only takes one female with those latent abilities to start them growing in her closest friends and female relations. So it stood to reason that Lady Zoe—who was an Opener—would have friends who were also La-ti-zals, though what kind they would be, only the Goddess of Mercy knew.
“So this Grubbian asked for a La-ti-zal and you showed them the two girls?” I growled. “Even though their contracts had already been paid for by Sarden?”
“For demonstration purposes only!” Char’noth took an alarmed step back. “We have recently added special scanning equipment to the Alien Mate Index which enables us to pick out those females who are specially gifted. The two that Lord Sarden paid for shine the brightest of all.”
“Shine the brightest?” I said. “What in the Frozen Hells of Arnoth does that mean?”
“See for yourself.”
Char’noth made a motion with two of his blue, clawed hands, causing a light-screen to appear in front of us. It was split in two parts and each half showed one of the females I was assigned to protect.
I had seen them before in Lady Zoe’s memory cube but I had to say, her memories, while beautiful, didn’t do them justice—especially not the little morada who she called “Leah.”
She had pale skin, big brown eyes, and long, silky brown hair my hands itched to touch. I could imagine the soft texture of those strands, sliding over my fingers. Braxian women usually have extremely short hair. Any female with hair past her shoulders is considered exceptionally beautiful and this little one called Leah had hair that went down to the curve of her lower back.
You’re only here to protect and serve, I reminded myself sternly, reeling in my libido. And even if you weren’t, a female this gorgeous—not to mention a Pure One and a La-ti-zal—wouldn’t want anything to do with an ex-con murderer like you. Also, she’s already got a mate. So get a grip, Grav.
Yeah, I’d like to get a grip on her, whispered a lustful little voice in my brain, completely ignoring my stern self-warning, as Leah bent over.
She had full hips and a lush ass too, which was good. I don’t like females that are too skinny—nothing to hold on to. I saw she was surrounded by young ones, some playing and some sitting quietly. She seemed to be concentrating on one in particular—a small male with thick oculars covering his eyes. Hadn’t Lady Zoe told me something about her working with them? Young ones with some kind of disability, I thought, but I couldn’t remember what exactly. Something that made them non-responsive at times. But the small male seemed to be responding to Leah well enough. In fact, she seemed to really have a way with him.
It made my heart ache as I remembered my last ward, Teeny. She had been older than the young ones I saw surrounding Leah on the light screen, but her beloved grandmother had been killed right in front of her. Then she had been captured and kept in a cell by the infamous gangster, Tazaxx of Giedi Prime. Sarden and Zoe and I had managed to rescue her but her big eyes were haunted and she had cried and cried when her grandfather canceled my contract with her and decided to send her to an all-female planet for finishing school.
I wondered how Teeny was doing now. In all probability, I would never find out since her grandfather was a fuckin’ idiot. Poor kid needed counseling and to be with people who cared for her—not to be shipped off to some ridiculously expensive finishing school for the ultra wealthy of the galaxy. But what can you do? Though I had sworn my oath to Teeny, her grandfather had revoked it. Still, she would always be in my heart, even now that I had two new females to guard.
“Do you see the glow?” Char’noth said, motioning to the light-screen.
I dragged my eyes away from the little morada’s curvy behind and looked at both females with clear eyes. It was true that both of them had a kind of aura around them. Leah’s was a pale, lovely translucent blue. But the female named Charlotte—well, her glow was something special.
Most males with Vorn DNA can only see colors when they meet a female they could call as a mate. But though I am half Vorn, my eyes favored my Braxian side. And, as I told you that Braxian eyes can see every spectrum of light—even those invisible to most other species.
The female called Charlotte was putting out rays that would have blinded a normal male. A golden glow suffused with every color of the rainbow surrounded her from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet. Clearly she was something special.
It was fucking amazing and yet…my eyes kept getting drawn back to Leah with her big brown eyes and pale blue aura.
“The glow, right,” I said, frowning. “So did the Grubbian merchant offer to buy them?”
“Of course he wished to purchase them,” Char’noth said. “Especially this one.” He pointed to Charlotte. “She has the brightest and most complex glow we have yet seen. Clearly she is extra-blessed by the Ancient Ones—a La-ti-zal’s La-ti-zal.”
“Whatever that means,” I grunted. “So what did you tell him?”
Char’noth drew his little wormy body up to its full height of around three feet.
“I told him no, of course. That these females were already paid for and were unavailable for anything but display purposes.”
“As of now, they’re not available for that either,” I snapped. “Except by me. I’m here to make sure they’re safe and you’re honoring your end of the bargain.”
“But how will we show that our equipment can spot a La-ti-zal?” he demanded in his high, squeaky voice. “No other females shine so brightly!”
“Too fuckin’ bad,” I growled. “Stop displaying them now. As much as possible, they need to be left alone to live their lives. Well…” I cleared my throat. “Except for one thing. I need to go down to the planet’s surface and deliver these crystal message cubes.”
I extracted them from my pouch, both square cubes cupped in one palm like an oversized pair of dice.
“It will not be possible,” Char’noth said, hissing disagreeably. “Our transport facilities are only able to send living tissue. Unless you are able to conceal these communication devices somewhere inside your body, they will not be able to travel with you.”
“Fine,” I growled. “Then I’ll go down myself in my own ship.”
“Negative.” He hissed again. “The Earthlings have extremely primitive technology but they are able to detect foreign ships entering their atmosphere and they have the weapons to blast them out of their sky. Why do you think we have hidden our station amongst their space junk? We cannot allow you to risk our commercial operation by exposing our position.”
“You don’t own this planet,” I pointed out. “You’re just harvesting the females. Which I don’t fucking approve of, by the way. Females should be protected and cared for—not sold like chattel.”
“We have first rights to this planet.” Char’noth was getting really upset now. “And we have every right to harvest it. Though it was locked by the Ancient Ones, the inhabitants of Earth foolishly dissolved the protective barrier left in place, tearing a hole in their own ozone layer. Thus legally opening themselves to outside contact with other species.”
Okay, this was getting us nowhere. Clearly I couldn’t fly down to the planet in my ship—the Earthlings would detect it and might shoot me out of the sky. But I was also not going to be cramming the memory cubes—and everything else I needed to bring, including clothing—up my ass just to bring it with me through the Commercians’ transport.
“Try this,” I said to Char’noth, whose little blue back was still up. “Can you send living and non-living things separately? Could you send the cubes and my other equipment down in one shipment and me in another?”
He paused, apparently deep in thought.
“You ask the same question the Grubbian merchant did.”
“And what was your answer?” I growled impatiently.
“That it is possible,” he squeaked reluctantly. “Though the transporter must be reconfigured between each transport. Do you wish to send your possessions down first and then go yourself, or go first and wait for us to send your possessions.”
“Seeing as how a naked blue alien appearing out of nowhere might startle the Earthlings, I prefer to send the fuckin’ things down first and follow after,” I said. “That way I can get myself together as soon as I’m down there instead of waiting naked in the bushes. Or whatever kind of vegetative cover they have on Earth.”
“Very well.” He nodded. “We shall reconfigure. But it will take some time.”
“Reconfigure away,” I said, making a sweeping gesture with one hand. “I got time.”
He made a motion as though to dismiss the light screen with the two girls but I stopped him.
“No—leave it. At least, leave the one with the morada—the long haired female,” I said. “I’ll watch while you work.”
“As you wish, Lord Grav.” Char’noth bowed stiffly and turned to go, but I called him back.
“What poor female did you end up selling to that Grubbian merchant, anyway?” I felt sorry for her, whoever she was.
He shook his wormy head. “None. He wanted no females if he could not have the two you came to watch over. He did, however, order a male.”
“A male?” I frowned. “But they can’t be La-ti-zals, can they?”
“Assuredly not,” Char’noth said. “But he requested a male anyway. A powerful, rich male with all of his personal accoutrements, actually. Though I do not know why he wished such a thing.”
“And you found him one?” I asked.
Char’noth nodded. “We found a rich and well recognized one—though I am not certain how respected he is. The Grubbian left most pleased and said he might be back for a female later.”
“Let me know if he returns.” Of course the Commercians had no chairs that would hold my weight, but it didn’t matter. I settled myself on the floor in front of the light-screen, watching Leah as she worked with the little ones. I was used to waiting patiently when I warded females. And watching Leah was a pure pleasure, though I knew well enough she wasn’t for the likes of me.
I wondered what I would say to her when I brought down the cube—or if I would speak at all. It might just be best to leave it in a place where she would find it. I didn’t want to scare her, after all. Even with the saphor juice to change the color of my skin and the smart-fabric mask which would make me appear more or less human, I wouldn’t be able to disguise my size or musculature.
Well, time enough to decide the details. In the meantime, I watched the sway of her hips and the way her long, silky hair fell around her shoulders and dreamed.
It had happened twice before, but this time was the worst.
I could tell by the look in Gerald’s eyes when he came in the door that a storm was brewing. He’d been gone on a business trip for the past few days and he often came home in a bad mood whenever he had to leave me for an extended period of time. I don’t know why—he said it was because he loved me so much he couldn’t stand it when we were apart.
But that wasn’t it.
I think it was because he didn’t like the idea of me being on my own—of me having a life without him to control every aspect of it, not even for the length of time it took to go on a short trip.
Never should have married him, I thought as I took his coat and kissed his cheek, waiting for the storm to break. Never should have let him talk me into moving so far from my family.
But I had, and now I was stuck.
I think I let Gerald talk me into getting married and moving because of what happened to my best friend, Zoe. Around six months ago, she had disappeared. Literally vanished into thin air.
My other best friend, Charlotte and I, were on the phone with her when it happened. One minute she was complaining about her horrible boss and the next we heard some strange, blaring trumpet music and then her voice cut off and she was gone.
Of course, we went to the police and they investigated. They couldn’t find a trace of her anywhere.
Her awful boss was a suspect at first—he had, after all, thrown a stapler at her head just before she vanished. But a secretary at the law firm where Zoe had worked confirmed that he was in his office at the time of her disappearance. In fact, everyone in the place was where they were supposed to be, as the security cameras her firm had had installed clearly showed.
The only place they didn’t have a camera was where they really needed one—in the bathroom. That was where Zoe had disappeared from and she hadn’t been seen since.
Zoe didn’t have any parents or family to fight for her but Charlotte and I tried everything—petitions to the police, calls to the FBI, picketing her law firm…we even hired a private investigator neither of us could really afford.
We came up empty handed with every effort. Zoe was simply gone—vanished from the face of the Earth as though she’d never been there in the first place. As though she’d never called me and sung me silly songs to cheer me up when I was blue or hosted Girl’s Night at her apartment with never-ending margaritas and chick-flicks. As though we’d never shared the cherry chocolate cheesecake at Ivarones and told each other every single secret and loved each other like sisters since we met in college.
Her disappearance tore out a piece of my heart—and Charlotte’s too. My other best friend hid her grief as she always does—in work. She was already a physician’s assistant to one of the most prestigious orthopedic doctors in Tampa, but she decided to go back to medical school and get an MD herself. I knew it was her way of grieving but it felt like another loss, especially since she had to move to Gainesville to attend med school.
That left me all alone in Tampa with my family and my fiancée, Gerald. And somehow I let him convince me to get married and move to another state away from my mom and sister. A fresh start, he said, and it was.
The start of a nightmare.
Don’t think that way, I told myself as I tried to smile at him. Maybe it won’t be like that this time. But there was something about the set of his shoulders and the look in his sharp gray eyes that put me on edge.
“How was your trip?” I asked, trying to sound casual as I stowed his coat in the closet. Gerald had moved us to Virginia, a state much further north than my native Florida. It was March and though the weather was already too warm for a coat down in the sunshine state, here in Virginia you still needed one to go out. I missed the warm weather but it wasn’t just the chilly wind blowing outside that made me feel cold. It was the way Gerald was looking at me.
“Just fine.” He smiled at me tightly—an expression that didn’t reach his eyes.
Gerald had a very handsome face—other women were always jealous of me because of his good looks. “He looks just like a movie star,” one of my old coworkers used to sigh whenever he dropped by to visit me at work.
But those classically handsome features could be colder than ice when he was upset.
“And how was your time here alone?” he asked.
I didn’t like the way he emphasized the word “alone.”
“Fine,” I said, trying to sound casual. What was he implying? What was he thinking? “I mean, I just went to work and then came home.”
Back in Tampa, I’d worked for a daycare that specialized in mildly Autistic children. I hadn’t been able to find anything like that in Virginia but I did find a family who needed an aide to be with their Autistic son during his school hours. It was a gay couple—Emilio and Jackson—who had adopted the little boy even though they’d been warned that he might have problems. They had taken him anyway and two more loving and concerned parents couldn’t be found anywhere.
My employers were both professionals—a lawyer and a dentist—so I picked up their adopted son, Taggard, in the morning, took him to school and stayed with him through the school day, then drove him back to their house (it was more of a mansion) in the afternoons.
For some reason, my husband, Gerald, didn’t like my job. Come to think of it, he hadn’t liked the job I had left back in Tampa either. I think he would have preferred for me to stay home completely, locked inside the house with no outside contact but him. But we couldn’t afford that and Emilio and Jackson paid me well, leaving him little choice other than to let me keep working.
Not that it’s his choice, I told myself fiercely. It’s mine—I run my own life.
Then why did I feel a tremble of fear rush through me when I saw Gerald’s gray eyes narrow and his thin lips turn down in a frown?
“Is that right?” he said in a tight, clipped voice. “You just spent time alone?”
“Well, other than taking Taggard to school and back,” I said, trying to make my voice light. “I see people there—I can’t help it. It’s part of my job.”
“You see people,” he sneered, his handsome face turning ugly. “Don’t you mean you see men?”
“What are you talking about?” I looked at him, honestly mystified. “What men? The teachers at Taggard’s school are all female. Even the gym teacher.”
“That’s not who I’m talking about and you know it,” he snapped. “I’m talking about who you’ve been seeing after you take that little brat home from school.”
“Taggard isn’t a brat,” I said, frowning. “He’s a very sweet little boy. And I still don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“Yes, you do—don’t lie to me.” He took a step forward and though I wanted desperately to hold my ground, I couldn’t help it—I stepped back, putting some space between us.
It’s happening again, whispered a panicked little voice in my brain. He promised it never would but you knew it was a lie. He brought you flowers and cried and said he didn’t know why he did it. You forgave him—or said you did—but you knew he would do it again. The only question is, how far will he go this time?
“I…I’m not lying,” I said, willing my voice not to tremble. Gerald was a big guy—six foot three—much bigger than my own five foot seven. Plus he had a good seventy-five pounds on me, most of it muscle. He liked to work out, though he didn’t want me going out for exercise unless it was to an all female gym.
“You are lying,” he insisted. “I know because I came back from my trip early. I saw you Leah! I saw you go in the house with that little brat’s dad and you stayed there for fucking hours.”
I stared at him blankly, almost unable to comprehend what he was accusing me of.
Both of my employers were professionals, as I said. But Jackson, the dentist, was able to work his schedule to be home every day when Taggard got back from school. He usually had a fun sensory activity planned like digging in the sandbox or kneading dough for homemade bread. Sometimes I stayed and played with them, wishing I had such a happy home life myself. Taggard loved me and called me Miss Leah and Jackson and Emilio treated me like part of the family. It was like I was a sister to the two of them and an aunt to Taggard—but that was all. Absolutely all.
“You’re talking about me staying at Taggard’s house a little while after school?” I said at last. “You’re upset about that?”
“You’re damn right, I’m upset!” Gerald moved towards me threateningly and once more I found myself retreating. “You were in the house alone with that…that Jackson.” He spat the name like a curse. “I know what you were doing!”
“What I was doing was finger-painting,” I flared back at him. “It’s part of Taggard’s sensory diet—it helps integrate his nerves and senses. Jackson was finger-painting too. But that was all we were doing.”
“Bullshit!” Gerald stormed. He was red in the face now—a sure sign that he was about to explode. “You can’t tell me you spent over an hour in a house with a strange man and all you did was finger-paint.”
“Yes I can because that’s all that happened,” I insisted, taking another step back. My heart was beating like a drum by now and I felt sick to my stomach. How had it come to this? What had happened to the sweet and caring man I had married to turn him into a monster? “Gerald, Jackson is gay,” I reminded him. “He would never be interested in me that way.”
“Bullshit!” he shouted again, getting right in my face. He had managed to back me into a corner and his spittle flecked my cheeks as he screamed, his normally handsome features distorted with rage.
“Gerald, please—listen to yourself!” I couldn’t understand how my husband could be so willfully blind. How he could get so enraged over a scenario that wasn’t even remotely plausible.
“He was fucking you! I know he was! Did you give it up for him, Leah? Did you react with him like you never do for me? Tell the truth—you gave it up like a whore! You actually liked it for once!”
I flinched at his ugly words and nasty tone. But the worst thing was the seed of truth in his awful accusation. Not that I had been with Jackson—that was ridiculous. But it was true I felt almost nothing when Gerald and I made love, though I tried to pretend—God knows I tried. Was that the reason he was so jealous? Did the fact that he was unable to make my body react, make him think I was seeking out some other man who could?
I couldn’t get into this now. Deciding to ignore his oblique allegation, I confronted the direct one instead.
“Jackson lives with another man—his husband!” I pointed out. “They’re gay. Exclusively and monogamously gay.”
“He was fucking you! He was fucking you! He was fucking you!”
He screamed it over and over and then the hitting started.
In the past—well, the two times this had happened in the past I should say—Gerald had been careful to “punish” me, as he called it, in places no one could see. My upper arms, my stomach, my thighs—these were spots that could easily be covered so no one would see what he had done to me.
This time he completely lost control.
His fist looped into my vision like a runaway moon and slammed into my eye. Another punch plowed into my cheekbone, slamming my head against the wall so that I saw stars exploding in my vision. A third split my lip and I tasted blood, as salty as tears.
I cried out, cowering against the wall, trying to shield my face from his rain of blows. Though he had hit me twice before, he’d never gone crazy like this. I was unprepared for this level of savagery, this outpouring of physical hatred.
He’ll kill me, I thought, as I tried and failed to fend him off. My God, he’s going to kill me this time…
And then a huge man with a strangely distorted face appeared behind my husband and dragged him off me.