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Tormentor Mine(83)

By:Anna Zaires

“Right. Another way to kill George.”

Feeling sick, I push away from him and escape into the bathroom—the only place my tormentor lets me be alone. Sometimes, I almost forget how everything began, my mind conveniently skipping over the horrors of our early relationship.

It’s as if something inside me wants me to fall in line with Peter’s fantasy, to pretend that all of this is real.

* * *

“So you never told me what happened between you and George,” Peter says as we’re having a leisurely Sunday brunch some three weeks after his return. “Why weren’t you the perfect couple everyone thought you were? You didn’t know what he really did, so what went wrong?”

The piece of poached egg I’m chewing sticks in my throat, and I have to gulp down most of my coffee to wash it down. “What makes you think something went wrong?” My voice is too high, but Peter caught me totally off-guard. Usually, he tends to avoid the topic of my dead husband—probably to foster the illusion of a normal relationship.

“Because that’s what you told me,” he answers calmly. “While you were on the drug I gave you.”

I gape at him, unable to believe he went there again. Ever since our conversation about the bodyguards last week—and my subsequent crying in the bathroom—we’ve been tiptoeing around the topic of what he did to me, neither one willing to poke at that raw wound.

“That’s…” Suppressing my shock, I compose myself. “That’s none of your business.”

“Did he beat you?” Peter leans in, his metallic eyes darkening. “Hurt you in some way?”

“What? No!”

“Was he a pedophile? A necrophiliac?”

I take a calming breath. “No, of course not.”

“Did he cheat on you? Do drugs? Abuse animals?”

“He started drinking, okay?” I snap, goaded. “He started drinking, and he never stopped.”

“Ah.” Peter leans back in his chair. “An alcoholic then. Interesting.”

“Is it?” I ask bitterly. Picking up my plate, I walk over to dump the remnants of my breakfast in the trash and put the plate in the dishwasher. “You like hearing that the man I knew and loved since I was eighteen—the man I married—transformed after our wedding without apparent cause? That in a matter of months, he became someone I could hardly recognize?”

“No, ptichka.” He comes up behind me, and my breath catches as he pulls me against him, brushing aside my hair to kiss my neck. His breath warms my skin as he murmurs, “I don’t like hearing that at all.”

“I just… I never understood it.” I turn around in his arms, the old hurt welling up as I meet Peter’s gaze. “Everything was going so well. I finished med school, we bought this house and got married… He was traveling a lot for work, so he didn’t mind my residency hours, and in return, I didn’t mind all the travel. And then—” I stop, realizing I’m confiding in George’s killer.

“And then what?” he prompts, his fingers curling around my palm. “What happened then, Sara?”

I bite my lip, but the temptation to tell him everything, to expose the full truth for once, is too strong to deny. I’m exhausted from pretending, from wearing the mask of perfection everyone expects to see.

Pulling my hand out of his grip, I walk over to sit down at the table. Peter joins me there, and after a moment, I begin talking.

“Everything changed several months after our marriage,” I say quietly. “In a span of a few weeks, my warm, fun-loving husband became a cold, distant stranger, one who kept pushing me away no matter what I did. He started having these strange moods, cut down on work travel, and”—I take a breath—“began drinking.”

Peter’s eyebrows lift. “He never drank before?”

“Not like that. He’d have a few drinks when we went out with friends, or a glass of wine with dinner. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary—nothing I wasn’t in the habit of doing myself. This was different. We’re talking black-out drunk three, four nights a week.”

“That is a lot. Did you ever confront him about it?”

A bitter laugh rips from my throat. “Confront him? All I did was confront him about it. The first few times it happened, he explained it as stress at work, then a boys’ night out, then a need to relax, and then…” I bite my lip. “Then he started blaming me.”

“You?” A frown knits Peter’s forehead. “How could he possibly blame you?”

“Because I wouldn’t leave him alone about it. I kept nagging, wanting him to go to rehab, to attend AA, to talk to someone—anyone—who could help. I asked the same questions over and over again, trying to understand why this was happening, what caused him to change like that.” My chest constricts with remembered pain. “Things were going so well before, you see. My parents, all our friends—everyone was overjoyed with our marriage, and we had this bright future ahead of us. There was no reason for this, nothing I could latch on to to explain his sudden transformation. I kept prying and pushing, and he kept drinking, more and more. And then I—” I drag in air through a tightening throat. “Then I told him I couldn’t live like this, that he had to choose between our marriage and his drinking.”