PROLOGUE:  Six months earlier

Lacy was sitting on the window seat in their bedroom staring out the window, lost in thought when her husband Derrick walked into the room.

“What are you looking at?” he bellowed, causing her to jump.

“Nothing Derrick,” Lacy answered in a timid voice.  “I was just staring into space, lost in my thoughts,”

“Really?” he asked as he came up behind her to look out the window.  Down below, the young gardener was mowing their massive backyard.  “I see who you are looking at.  You were looking at him, wondering how you can get into his pants,”

“No, I wasn’t Derrick.  Honestly,” Lacy assured him, starting to tremble as she could see the glint of anger in his eyes. “You are the only man for me,”

Reaching out, he grabbed her forearm, pressing his fingers into the soft part of her arm.  She knew that she would have a bruise there.  He yanked Lacy to her feet, entangling his fingers in her hair.  Yanking her head back, Derrick brought his lips down on hers, kissing her hard before he bit her bottom lip.  Lacy could taste the blood on her tongue as she licked her bottom lip.

“My cock is the only one you should be considering putting your lips on,” as he forced her to her knees.

Lacy fought back the urge to gag as she reached out to unzip his trousers, working his member free.  She had no objections to giving Derrick head but the mood he seemed to be in, she knew he would be rough and play one of his favorite games.  He would push himself so far and hard in her mouth, trying to gag her and make her throw up or make it hard for her to breathe.

Lacy gently wrapped her hand around him, stroking him as she leaned in, her lips lightly licking the head before she took him in her mouth.  As her lips and tongue worked their magic on the top half, her hand was stroking the bottom of his shaft.  When Derrick just stood there, not forcing her to move faster or take more of him inside her mouth, she felt she was home free.

But then things changed.  He grabbed two handfuls of hair and pushed himself deep inside her mouth, the head brushing against the back of her throat.  Lacy tried to relax her throat because she knew if she even made a gagging sound, it would be that much worse.  Derrick continued to thrust hard and deep into her mouth.  As he rubbed her bottom lip, it began to throb due to the cut there, but she did not cry out.

Lacy tightened her lips around his shaft, hoping to get him to cum faster but to no avail.  After what seemed like forever but had only been several minutes, Derrick pulled her back as he pulled out.  He grunted loudly as he covered her face.  When he was finished, he shoved her back on the floor.

“Get cleaned up.  You disgust me,” he said, tucking himself in his pants before walking out of the room.

Lacy sat there for a few seconds before she dragged herself to her feet and went in to take a shower, the water as hot as she could stand it.  As she stood there under the hot water, her thoughts went back to when they first got married.  It was not a marriage of love, but it was more of a business deal.

She had always been a daddy’s girl and wanted for nothing.  Her mother died giving birth to her, so her dad spoiled her to make up for her not having a mother.  When she was nineteen, Lacy learned he had inoperable brain cancer. On his death bed, he told her that he wanted her to marry Derrick, who was twenty years older than she was. He told her that if she married Derrick, at the age of twenty-one, half the company would be hers.

Lacy thought it would be a marriage in name only, but Derrick had other ideas. He seduced her with sweet words, caresses, and champagne.  After a few months, he started to change.  He became more possessive and demanding.  Lacy wanted was hers when she turned twenty-one, so she stuck it out.

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The morning of her birthday, Lacy was so excited.  At breakfast, she told Derrick, “Today I turn twenty-one, so half the company is mine.  I kept up with my end of the deal and now I want a divorce.  I am not happy Derrick.  I don’t want anything from you, not even alimony,”

He just looked at her like she was crazy.  Derrick laughed at her and told her that her father had a huge gambling debt and had embezzled money from the company.  He said he agreed to replace the money for ownership of the company and her hand in marriage, which her father had agreed to.

She started screaming at him and calling him a liar.  When she slapped him, that is when the marriage really started to go downhill.  The next morning, her ribs hurt from where he threw her into the wall and a bruise on her cheek from where he had slapped her.

Lacy immediately packed a bag because she was not going to be some man’s punching bag, but she never made it farther than the front door.  This time, Derrick slammed her against the front door, leaving a knot on the back of her head and bruises on her arms.  Derrick also started to control the money, took away her car, and cell phone.  That is when she realized she was a prisoner in her own home.  Lacy began to plan her getaway at that time, saving a few dollars from the allowance he gave her to give her enough money to run.  After a year, she almost had enough.  Just another month or two.

Lacy was brought out of her thoughts by the shock of the water turning cold.  She quickly rinsed off and turned off the shower. Stepping out, she grabbed the towel and dry her body.  Standing in front of the mirror blow-drying her hair, Lacy noticed the imprints of fingers on her upper arms from where he had grabbed her.  Shit, now I have to rethink what I am going to wear.  I sure in the hell cannot wear that sleeveless dress Derrick picked out.

Padding naked to the closet, she looked over all her clothes until she settled on a burgundy sheath with long sleeves and a scoop neckline.  Lacy put the final touches on her makeup and walked out of the bathroom into the bedroom to slip on her heels just as Derrick walked into the room.

“What the hell is taking you so long?”  he asked.  “The guests should be in a few minutes and you need to be down there to greet them. Do I have to do everything?”

“I just have to slip my heels on,” she assured him.

“That is not the dress I told you to wear,” Derrick said angrily.

“Sorry, but you put bruises on my upper arm so I cannot wear a sleeveless dress unless you want to explain how they got there,”

Derrick stomped over to her, grabbing her face with his hand, squeezing her cheeks. “I do not like your tone Lacy. You know I hate sassy mouths,”

Trying to pull away from his grasp only made Derrick squeeze a little harder. Before he had a chance to say or do anything, the doorbell rang.  He let her go, giving her a light shove, before heading toward the bedroom door.

“Saved by the bell but this is not over Lacy,”

Lacy stood there for a second before she started down the stairs.  Tonight, they were having the new programmer, April, and her husband Jason, over for dinner to welcome him to the company.

When she stepped into the living area, Derrick came over to her, wrapping his arm around her waist, making sure to dig his fingers into her ribs while introducing her to them.  He kept his arm around her until dinner was announced by Sabrina, their head cook. After a delicious dinner where the wine flowed freely, they moved to the living room where they had a couple of mixed drinks.  Lacy had stopped drinking after one glass of wine.  She liked being in control.

“I see you are like me, not into all that programing and software jargon,” Jason said sitting down beside her on the couch.

Lacy instinctively moved closer to the arm of the couch to keep a respectable distance between them.  She knew how liquor affected Derrick, and tonight he was already in a bad mood before he had started drinking.  It seemed that lately, he had been drinking more when he came home from work and was a little more physical with her.  She was learning to read his moods and knew that seducing him usually defused the situation.

While Derrick and April sat on the other couch talking, she and Jason did the same. Lacy could feel Derrick’s eyes on her, watching her every move.  Finally, April stood up and announced that they should be getting on home.  As soon as they left, Lacy turned and headed for the stairs, only to be stopped by him grabbing her upper arm roughly, squeezing.

“Am I not good enough for you?” he asked angrily.

“Of course, you are Derrick.  Why would you ask such a silly question?”

“I saw how you were flirting with Jason.  Always staring at the crotch of his pants in front of his wife even,”

“I was not doing either of those things Derrick and you know it,” she protested. “Come on, let’s go upstairs and continue the party,” as she reached out to cup him through his trousers, giving him a little squeeze.

“Oh, so if you cannot have him then you are willing to settle for me,” Derrick accused her reaching out to pinch her nipple hard.

Lacy bit back a cry of pain, figuring with as much as he had to drink that he would pass out as soon as he hit the bed.

“No, you are number one baby.  I only want you,” Lacy assured him as she tried to move closer to kiss him.

“Whore!” he yelled shoving her away.

Not expecting that, she fell hard on the floor, knocking the breath out of her. Before she could recover, Derrick reached down and grabbed her by the hair, dragging her across the tiled entranceway.  It felt to her like her hair was being pulled out by the roots.

“Derrick, stop, you are hurting me,” Lacy cried out.

“I haven’t begun to hurt you yet,” Derrick growled as he attempted to pull her up the stairs by her hair.

Yanking her up two stairs, her back smacked hard against the edge of the wooden stairs sending waves of pain up her spine.  Being drunk, Derrick stumbled and started to fall down the stairs, pulling her with him.  When they landed in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, Derrick was half laying on her. She tried to move, pain radiating up and down her right arm.

Shit, I think my arm is broke,as she tried not to cry.  “Derrick, I think my arm is broken.  I need to go have it checked out,”

“You will be okay,” he told her.  “Now get your ass up and get up those stairs.  You are too fat for me to get you up them,” as he struggled to his feet, slowly making his way upstairs.

Lacy laid there for a few minutes, cradling her right arm, tears flowing freely as the pain became worse.  This was the first time that Derrick had broken something.  She knew that she needed to get to a hospital, but she had no car and no phone to call for help.

Finally, she got slowly to her feet and stumbled up the stairs, praying that Derrick had passed out in their bed.  When Lacy walked into the bedroom she could hear loud snores coming from the bed.  Breathing a side of relief, she went into the bathroom and managed to get the top off a bottle of Tylenol and downed four of them, sinking down on the cool tile, willing the pain to go away.

“What the hell are you doing sitting on the floor of the bathroom?  Were you too drunk to make it to bed?”

Lacy quickly opened her eyes, trying to focus but the pain was much worse that morning. “Derrick, I need to go to the hospital. I think my arm is broken,”

“What are you talking about?” he asked stepping over her to use the bathroom.

“You fell on me last night,” she started to explain but was cut off by Derrick.

“No way are you going to the hospital and tell them I did that to you,” he said. “I have a reputation to uphold here in this town.  I run the largest software companies in town,”

“The only one in town,” she muttered under her breath.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing,” Lacy quickly said.  “I will tell them I fell down the stairs, that I tripped carrying laundry down, but I promise not to say anything about what happened.  Please take me to the hospital, Derrick.  I really hurt,”

Derrick stared at her for a few minutes, then said, “You need to change clothes first. You are still wearing that ugly dress from last night.  You have ten minutes,”

Lacy slowly got to her feet and went into the bedroom.  Derrick just stood there looking at his watch, not offering to help her. Finally, she managed to tug on a pair of jogging pants and tee-shirt, slipping her feet into a pair of flip-flops.

When they got to the hospital, Derrick handed her some money.  “Call a cab to take you home.  I have a meeting to get to that I cannot miss,”

Lacy got out of the car, no sooner shutting the door before he was roaring off. Slowly she walked into the ER and up to the desk.

“How may I help you,” the nurse at the desk asked.

“I fell down my stairs and think my arm is broken,”

“Have a seat and fill out these forms.  Do you have your insurance card?”

“No, I left it at home, and I cannot fill out the forms.  I am right-handed.  I am Lacy Hartfield, wife of Derrick Hartfield,”

Recognizing her husband’s name, the nurse took the forms and helped her filled them out. Thirty minutes later, she was called back to the exam room.  The young female doctor looked at her arm and sent her up for x-rays.  When she came back in an hour later, she informed Lacy she had cracked a bone in her forearm.

“And how did this happen again?” Dr. Gilbert asked.

Lacy repeated her story and watched the doctor just shake her head.

“Are you being abused?”

“No, why would you think that?” Lacy asked, trying to look shocked at the thought of her even thinking that.

“Because of the bruises on your upper right arm.  They look like fingerprints and there is a bruise on your jaw,”

“No, I am not being abused,” Lacy assured her, just wanting to get her arm fixed and go home. “Do you have to put a cast on it?”

“We can help if you are being abused.  We can help you get away from him and into a shelter,” Dr. Gilbert said not believing Lacy as she had seen too many battered women, herself being one at one time.

When Lacy kept insisting she was not abused, Dr. Gilbert finally gave up, figuring that she would be back again and then may be ready to leave her abuser. She put a cast on it, gave her a prescription for pain medications, and told her to come back in six weeks to have the cast removed and have another x-ray to make sure it was healing okay.

As Lacy stood up, Dr. Gilbert handed her a business card and walked out of the exam room. Back at the nurse’s station, she asked to use the phone and called a taxi.  As she was waiting in front of the ER entrance, she looked at the card Dr. Gilbert gave her.  It was a card for a domestic abuse hotline.  Lacy crumbled it up and dropped it into the trash, figuring she would never need it, that this was a one-time occurrence.

For the next six weeks, things were quiet around the house.  When she got the cast off, the doctor suggested that Lacy do physical therapy three times a week for two weeks to get the strength back into her arm, but Derrick said that she did not need it.

As spring headed toward summer, Derrick decided to host a barbeque on Memorial Day weekend and all the employees of the company were invited.  Because there were so many people invited, a catering service was hired.  The day dawned bright and sunny and Lacy was looking forward to the party.  Derrick had been treating her like a princess since the accident, making her glad she had thrown the card for the domestic abuse hotline away.  She knew she would not need the number.

As she slipped into her summer dress, Derrick stepped into the bedroom, looking her up and down with a smirk on his face.  Seeing the look, Lacy felt her heart drop into her stomach.

“Is something wrong Derrick?” she asked as she slipped her sandals on.

“Your tits are too exposed,” he stated.  “Change…now,”

Lacy looked at herself in the mirror but did not see anything wrong with her dress. “Derrick, my tits are not exposed,”

“Are you challenging what I said Lacy?” he asked stepping close to her face, glaring down at her.

Lacy fought the urge to take a step back.  “Derrick, the guests are going to be here in a few minutes, and we need to get downstairs to greet them,”

“I will greet them while you change,” he said turning on his heel.  “Don’t disobey me, Lacy.  You won’t like what will happen if you do,”

She watched him leave, breathing a sigh of relief.  She had no idea what had gotten him so upset today.  Lacy thought that things were going so well for them but apparently, she was wrong.  Thinking a minute, she decided to change, not because she was afraid of Derrick but to make sure that the party was not ruined.

When she finally made her appearance, Derrick was talking to a bunch of the guys from work.  Lacy began to make the rounds of the other guests, trying to be a good host.  It was almost midnight when the last guest left. The caterers finished cleaning up and left soon after.  Lacy looked around for Derrick but he was nowhere in sight.  She stood there in the moonlight, enjoying the quietness of the night.

When she finally walked into the house, she locked the door, turned off the lights, and headed toward the stairs.

“About time you got your ass in the house.  Who were you screwing?  Which of the young men from catering was it?”

Surprised at hearing his voice coming from the darkened living room, Lacy jumped and let out a loud squeal.

“Damn it, Derrick, you about scared the life out of me.  I thought you were already in bed,” she said, trying to get her heartbeat under control.

“So, who was it?” he asked stepping out of the living room with a drink in his hand.

“I was just enjoying the night air for a few moments,” Lacy told him as she tried to sneak past him to get to the stairs, but she was not quick enough as he grabbed her arm tightly, splashing his drink on the front of her dress.

As he got closer to her face, she could smell the bourbon on his breath and realized he was drunk. Suddenly he released her arm, shoving her backward into a side table, sending the lamp crashing to the floor after hitting her in the shoulder.

Before she could move, his foot crashed into her side, knocking the breath out of her. Instinctively she curled up into a fetal position to protect herself, hoping that Derrick was finished but she was wrong.  He put his drink on the side table, reached down, grabbed her by the hair, hauling her to her feet.  Drawing his hand back, he slapped her hard across the face, his ring splitting her lip, blood dripping down her chin.

“I will teach you to cheat on me,” he yelled as he slapped her again before throwing her toward the front door, her head hitting the floor, temporarily knocking her unconscious.

She was awakened when Derrick dumped a glass of cold water on her face.  She spit and sputtered, trying to sit up as pain shot through her head and face.

“Derrick, I have never cheated on you,”

“I saw how you were flirting with the catering guys tonight,” he told her.  “You are going to regret cheating on me,” as he kicked her again in the side.

He then ripped off his belt and swung it, catching her on the thigh.  Lacy bit back a scream, knowing that is what he was trying to get her to do.  As he continued to beat her, she thought, He is crazy drunk.  There is no reasoning with him.  I am going to die, were her last thoughts as his hand closed around her throat, her world turning black.

**********

PRESENT DAY

Lacy blinked her eyes, trying to get them to focus but they were both almost swollen shut.  As she attempted to move, Lacy let out a low moan.  In the background, Lacy could hear what sounded like machines beeping in the background.

I am not dead.  I must be in a hospital, Lacy thought as she tried to move her arms, but they felt too heavy to move.

“I see you are finally awake.  Welcome back.”

“Where am I?” she managed to whisper, her throat feeling a bit scratchy.  “What do you mean?”

“You are in the hospital,” the nurse explained, checking her IVs and looking at the monitors. “You have been unconscious for a week. You had a pretty nasty concussion.”

“A week!” Lacy squeaked.  “How…how did I get…here?”

“A nurse found you in front of the ER when she was leaving work.  You had no ID on you nor do we know how you got there or how long you were laying there.  All we know is you were beat pretty bad,” the nurse explained.  “Do you remember your name or what happened?”

Lacy started to give her real name but something told her not to, so she said, “Julie,”

The nurse saw the hesitation in Lacy giving her name, but she did not push it. Something told her that this was not a random beating.  After all, she had a wedding ring on and if it had been a robbery, they would have taken it along with the diamond ring.

The nurse started to ask about calling her husband when there was a knock on the closed door.  The nurse stepped over to the door and went out, closing it behind her.  A few minutes later, the door opened and two police officers walked in.  Lacy immediately started to panic, wondering if Derrick had sent them or told them.

“I am Officer Pickrell and we are sorry to bother you but we need to ask you a couple of questions,” the female officer said.

“I am sorry but I don’t remember what happened,” Lacy quickly said.

The two officers looked at each other and then Officer Pickrell said, “Look, its okay to be afraid but if you can remember anything that can help us get this rapist off the streets, please tell us,”

Lacy felt the tears running down her cheeks.  Derrick tried to kill me and then for some reason or other, he decided to dump me in the ER parking lot after raping me.  I cannot go back to him because I will end up dead for sure the next time, but I have no money to leave.  What little bit I have is back in the house, but I cannot go back.

“I am sorry, but I have no memory of what happened,”

Handing her a business card, the other officer said, “If you remember anything call us,” and with that they left the room.

Soon after they left, she heard a light tapping on the closed door and then it slowly opened admitting an older woman with a big smile.  “Julie, can I come in and talk with you for a few minutes?”

“Ah…. sure,” she agreed, wondering just who this woman was.

The woman pulled a chair up beside the bed, taking Lacy’s hand without the IV in it, and gave it a little pat.  Clearing her throat, she simply said, “I have been in your shoes Julie.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You are a battered wife,”

Lacy started to deny it but then thought that maybe this was her angel in disguise, that maybe she could trust her to help her out.  Heavens only knows she needed help.

Taking a deep breath, Lacy asked, “Who are you and how do you know what I am?”

“My name is Beth and I run the safe house for abused wives to find safety and help to get out of town if they want.  The nurse called me.”

Lacy stared at the woman, trying to decide what to do.  Beth just sat there, holding her hand, letting her have as much time as she needed to come to her own conclusion as to what she wanted to do. Beth knew exactly who she was because she had seen her with her husband on a society page.  She knew time was of the essence because someone else was sure to recognize her.

When Lacy stayed quiet, Beth said, “I know who you really are.  It is not going to be long before someone else figures it out so if you want to leave town, time is of the essence before he comes looking for you.  If you want to press charges, we will help you with that.”

Lacy began to cry as she poured out her heart to Beth.  Finally, an hour later, Lacy was all talked out.

“First thing we need to do is get you out of here.  Let me talk to Dr. Gilbert,” Beth said standing up.  “I will be back as soon as I can,”

Lacy immediately recognized the name as she was the doctor who had passed her that business card with the domestic abuse hotline on it.  An hour later, the nurse came in with Dr. Gilbert.  The nurse began to unhook the IVs while Dr. Gilbert went over her chart.  According to the chart, Lacy had several cracked ribs, a concussion, her throat was bruised where he had tried to strangle her, and bruises all over her body along with welts that were apparently from a belt.  She was lucky to be alive.

Once she had signed the discharge papers, Lacy was moved to the safe house.  It was a non-descript mansion just outside of town. The house was behind a locked gate. The story was that the woman who lived there was a recluse and did not go out nor want people to visit.  Slowly Lacy began to heal and after a month she was ready to move on with her life.

Lacy was given a new identity, had her hair cut and colored, and given a set of contacts to change her eyes.  She even went so far as to gain some weight to help herself become more unrecognizable. From the papers that were brought in, Derrick had filed a missing person’s report and was offering a reward for her safe return or information about her whereabouts.

Finally, two months after Derrick almost killed her, Lacy, now known as Julie Pritchard, was ready to leave her life behind.  The only thing she regretted was that she could not get a divorce, that she would forever be married to him, but it was a small price to pay for her freedom.

She decided that it would be safer and cheaper for her to take a bus so on a hot July morning, Julie was driven to the bus station with a backpack with two sets of clothes, some toiletries, and two hundred dollars.  Slipping her sunglasses on, her ball cap pulled down tight on her head, she trudged into the bus station, looking at the schedule to see when the next bus left and where it was going. The next bus leaving was in thirty minutes, and it was heading to Tucson, Arizona.

Walking up to the counter, she said, “One-way ticket to Tuson please,” her voice still a little raspy.

The clerk gave her the price and printed out the ticket after Julie gave her the money. Noting the door the bus would leave from, she went over and took a seat on the bench by it, her heart beating fast. She kept expecting any moment to feel a hand on her shoulder and Derrick’s voice whispering in her ear that she was not going anywhere, that she was his.

When it was announced that the bus was loading, it took all she could do not to run to the door and scurry onto the bus and hide.  After the driver checked her ticket, she climbed on and took a seat in the back, laying her backpack on the seat beside her.  Julie alternated between watching out the window and the passengers getting on the bus.  Suddenly she let out a gasp as a man walked out of the doorway.