Reunited Kindle cover

Bloodmoon Cove Spirits Series, Book 5: Reunited by Karen Wiesner

Nestled on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin is a small, secluded town called Bloodmoon Cove with volatile weather, suspicious folk…and newly awakened ghosts.

Don’t close your eyes…

 

Contains mature content that may not be suitable for sensitive audiences.

Reunited Kindle coverTwyla Kotter has spent the last three years of her life suffering under the depraved, insanely cruel hands of her husband Dominic. His death gives her a new lease on life: Freedom from his perversions and abuses and the chance to fall in love a second time with someone who truly cares about her-her old friend Graham “Gray” Mecham, now the Erie County sheriff.

She and Gray had grown up together in Bloodmoon Cove, but her well-meaning parents had seen how young they were, how close they were getting when they were teenagers, how intense their feelings for each other were, and so they’d made the rash decision to move their daughter across the country far from Gray.

Only a few years later, a year into college, Twyla had met Dominic and her hell began. But even when Dominic is finally dead and her escape from his terror should be certain, she realizes her happiness isn’t meant to be because her husband never really let her go, even in death. Dominic’s vengeful ghost followed her home to Bloodmoon Cove with Gray and he’s determined to reunite them in death and the afterlife so she never again forgets who she belongs to.

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GENRE: Gothic Paranormal Romance     ISBN: 978-1-925574-16-6    ASIN: B07CRMRLJT     Word Count: 72, 186

 

Chapter 1

 

Twyla Kotter froze in the act of washing dishes as the song started, low and menacing. “Reunited and it feels so good…” Swallowing the dryness in her throat, she closed her eyes, grateful only that she was alone in the kitchen of the Mission.

The Great Commission Mission house was a halfway house of sorts–a Christian place for women who had nowhere to go, nowhere to turn, nothing left to lose. They gave clothes, meals, a bed, and even educational programs and job training when they could.

Her feet feeling leaden, she forced herself over to her jacket she’d taken off when she’d gotten here, missing breakfast. Lunch had come, a simple, healthy meal and her stomach had been a raging chasm, screaming at the tormenting scents and she’d forced herself not to wolf everything in reach. But, dear God, had she wanted to.

I just needed today…one day to be away from there, away from the chains… It hadn’t mattered to her that she didn’t feel well for so many reasons, least of them a cold she’d been fighting: sore throat, fever, chills, extreme fatigue. Anything that got her out of the apartment was welcome.

She didn’t have the energy for anger or tears as she pulled her cell phone out of her coat pocket and looked at the call screen.

Dominic. This song is the one he chose, implying he counts the minutes until we’re reunited, the one that tells me I better pick up fast whenever I hear it.

Once upon a time, when she’d believed there was hope, she’d longed to see her cousin John’s phone number displayed on the screen. Unthinkably, even her parents’. Gray’s. Above all, Gray’s.

But now her salvation had become the very thing that kept her where she was at all times, kept her firmly under Dominic’s ruthless thumbs. They don’t call because I asked them not to. No one can save me. I can’t save me. I’ll never escape.

Her eyes burned but the tears wouldn’t come as she lifted the phone to her ear, fully aware of how many times it’d rung before she picked up, how she would suffer for that. “Yes?” she said simply, anticipating the fury in the voice on the other end.

For a long minute, there was nothing. An emotion flared inside her she didn’t recognize, gone as soon as Dominic spoke in a strange, gasping-choking voice, barely understandable. “Mace…”

Twyla tensed at the name of his switch.

“Walked out…scene…”

Comprehension flooded her, yet her feet remained consciously rooted to the floor. Mace had come over and he and Dominic had engaged in one of their daily suspension/strangulation sessions, switching between dominate and submissive roles. If Mace was busy, Dominic would put himself in the harness. But he wouldn’t have let her leave today if he’d known Mace wouldn’t be available. She would have had to be his spotter. He would have called and told her to come home so he could use the suspension harness. Mace had been there. And Dominic was saying Mace had walked out during their scene before Dominic got off.

Dominic bled out a strangled word. “Red.”

His safeword, the one that meant he wanted to stop immediately. Twyla understood what was happening. Slowly, she drew the phone away from her ear, looking at it, seeing the connection was still open. He’s strangling. He’s done this to himself before, in the past, and he never had any need for a spotter all those times. So what went wrong?

Shivering, Twyla found herself pressing the button to disconnect the call. He’ll be timing me–how long it takes me to get home after he issued his command. Even now, even if something is wrong there, he’ll be doing that. And he’ll make sure I pay for any additional seconds.

Twyla volunteered at the Mission–she’d never been paid, never been allowed to take any money from them, and her job didn’t carry any responsibility. Dominic had made certain of that when he allowed her to go and volunteer. His idea of a little joke no one understood but them. The irony that she was volunteering at a place women came to because they needed help was something he found hilarious.

Without conscious thought, Twyla pulled on her winter jacket, tucking the scarf she always wore inside it after she buttoned up, then slipped into her hat and gloves. She moved toward the closest exit, not bothering to tell anyone she was leaving. The afternoon was bitterly cold, but she barely felt the winter scouring her sensitive skin the way she had on the walk here.

Something’s wrong. He must be in trouble. He would never call me otherwise. Not if he and Mace were in a session. Why would Mace leave?

But even as her mind formed the question, she knew. Dominic and Mace fought a lot, but lately more often. About her. Because Mace couldn’t understand why Dominic kept her around at all. She wanted nothing to do with their sick, perverted lifestyle. She would rather die. Dominic knew that. He didn’t give her much of anything, but he knew she would kill herself if he made her participate in any of those repulsive sessions. Dominic believed he loved her, and maybe that was the sickest, most perverted part of their marriage.

The few blocks she lived from the Mission took under five minutes to traverse, and Twyla found herself in the apartment building lobby almost as a shock. She instinctively headed for the elevator because Dominic would be counting the seconds, but something stopped her before she got inside the open car. No conscious thought about what she was doing came–she wouldn’t let it.

She diverted to the stairs and took them slowly, carefully, quietly. Their neighbor was a nosy Nelly though essentially a sweet older woman. If Twyla made any noise, Abigail would hear and be compelled to find out what was going on outside in the hall.

Suspecting the door of Dominic’s apartment would be unlocked, Twyla soundlessly moved to it in the dark hall and slipped inside, closing the door behind her softly. As usual, the apartment was kept stiflingly hot, and her coat instantly felt too heavy. Sweat popped out against her back, beneath her clothes.

Her gaze knew exactly where to turn, and her husband was there, hanging in the doorway between the living room and bedrooms. The doorway had been specially made so it was taller than most doorways with a bar high up, leather straps and slips on a harness that held his weight. The stool that had also been designed to exactly the right height to allow him to strangle without hanging himself was tipped, almost out of his reach.

He was precariously perched on the edge of it, not moving, barely allowing himself to breathe because the slightest shift would cause it to fall back and roll out of his reach. He was almost fully naked in the harness with the phone belt clip. Even now, he was painfully aroused, and Twyla’s eyes met his startlingly emerald ones across the rooms separating them.

I hate him. Hate him more than I’ve ever hated anyone or anything. What was it about him that I found so mesmerizing when we met? I never knew what it was that drew me to him. He was so different, so persuasive. He wove the spell that ensnared me and led me into this hell that I’ll never escape–

Without a single word, he was pleading with her. Sweat poured down his blotchy face, the rivulets tracing paths down his hairy, puffy body. Her disgust moved into her throat, pressing hard and making her want to gag. Everything he stood for repulsed her. She could see the desperation growing in his eyes with anger lurking behind it, a threat she could translate into exactly what he would do when she rescued him.

If…

Her feet wouldn’t have moved even if she’d felt compelled to go forward. Hatred and terror and abhorrence welled inside her with the force of a tsunami. She saw his expression shift from pleading to disbelief, and she realized he’d expected her to run to help him. Maybe out of fear, he’d fully anticipated she would save him from his own stupidity.

You expect me to help you, love you enough to do that. But you haven’t done anything to deserve that. You stare at me like I’m staring at you now, letting my torment continue, drawing it out so you can get off. I can’t help myself. All those times you inflicted your horror on me, you enjoyed every sadistic minute.

Her breathing shallow, Twyla stared at his increasing panic, hating him more with the seconds that passed in slow motion. He can’t help himself. If I don’t help him, he won’t be able to help himself. He’ll hang there. Strangle. Suffocate. And I’ll be…

She swallowed at the dawning word: a key in a lock, the release from captivity…

Free. I can be free. If he’s gone, I’m free.

Abruptly, she realized that, if he somehow survived this without her helping him, he would punish her, so much worse than ever before, even worse than the times she’d tried to run away and get help. The threat of pain was enough to get her gulping and gasping for the air she’d forgotten to draw in.

But if I don’t help and he dies, it’s over. My hell is finally over. Three years ago, this man somehow convinced me he was my soul-mate. As soon as I was bound to him, he showed his true colors and confessed every dark, dirty secret in his closet, atrocities that have ruled his life for as long as he can remember. He gave himself over to the evil he made a token resistance to for a short time. Maybe his hell will be over, too…

The fury in his eyes promised the worst punishment he could ever inflict on her if she didn’t comply with his “red” demand. With her heart thumping wildly in her chest, Twyla pushed herself forward, on a mission now, to end the barbarity. For a second, relief entered his expression at her approach. He was watching her without blinking, and his suspicion followed his brief alleviation when he’d believed she would help him.

Twyla stopped in front of him, just out of his reach, and tentatively extended her arm, closing her fingers around the phone held in his slick hand. As soon as she had it, she backed far out of his reach. Instantly, Dominic began fighting and thrashing. The stool he was perched so precariously on shifted and rolled away, not far…but too far. Without it, he plunged in the harness.

As he flailed, his hands floundered to close on her, on anything: a scrap of her clothing or hair, anything. But his vile play-toy had been designed for just this purpose. Without a spotter, he had no way of saving himself. There was nothing to grab onto.

His gaze as his full weight pulled him down but not far enough to reach the floor was stunned that she was allowing this, that she wasn’t doing everything in her power to rescue him. He was choking and thrashing, gasping as his ejaculation spewed from him violently, and she backed far into the kitchen, unable to look away from his eyes, unable to feel anything but relief as life drained from him so brutally.

With her thin winter gloves still on, she turned away, trying not to listen as silence descended. She lifted the phone and typed in the password quickly. She’d seen him do it a million times. She pressed the button to view his recent calls and saw the one he’d made to her at the very top. Swallowing almost like she was a fish out of water, she selected it, deleted it then set the phone on the kitchen counter.

Without looking at him now, she walked decisively to the door of the apartment, slipping out as silently as she’d come in. She again took the stairs on cat’s feet. This time, she took the back way out of the building, through the laundry facilities, and she returned to the Mission quickly. On the way, she took out her own phone, located Dominic’s phone call just a few minutes before and deleted that as well.

She entered through the same exit she’d left, took off her jacket and set it where she had earlier, then reentered the kitchen. She didn’t know whether anyone had seen that she’d left, but she didn’t think so. Somehow, she finished the dishes because it was something to do, something that kept her busy, her mind and body focused. But, as the water left the sink through the pipes, the room temperature seemed to plummet and she began trembling uncontrollably.

He would have died. If I wasn’t an option, wasn’t his first contact, he would have died anyway. There was little if any chance he could have righted the stool. It was out of reach when I got there and the slightest movement on his part would have sent it beyond retrieval. And that’s what happened. So, if I was here doing dishes the whole time…he would have died. He would have died, and it’s not my fault.

I had to! I had to! I had to! Because I would rather die than live the way he’s forced me to for the last three years.

Three years. Not a long time. But it feels like a hundred. I can’t remember a time when this wasn’t what my life has become distilled down to. Three years with Dominic. Three years in a black pit where he’s held me captive, controlling my every movement, punishing me for anything, everything, nothing. I never, ever thought I’d get free, stopped believing I could save myself. This was the only way…

Standing paralyzed in front of the sink, her hands dripping water on the floor and shaking uncontrollably, she allowed the thought she hadn’t let come into her mind before emerge.

He’ll survive. Monsters like Dominic always survive. And he won’t kill me. Somehow that’s so much worse than if he was furious to kill me this time in his rage. I would rather die than endure what he’s going to do to me now.

Her head was whirling, a merry-go-round flying out of control. She could see the shock in Dominic’s unearthly green eyes, the horror of realizing she intended to let him die, she might even assist his death along. She could see him aroused, see his culmination…spewing as he died and simultaneous took the greatest pleasure of his life.

I hate you, you twisted freak. Die. Please die, Dominic. Let this horror end once and for all.

Unable to control the reflex in her gut, she doubled over, gagging and shocking her when puke burst out of her. Her legs collapsed, her mind going too fast to process anything other than that she didn’t want to go home. Ever again.

 

 

Charlotte, another volunteer at the Mission, was sitting next to the bed Twyla was laying in when she came to. The woman’s kind eyes reached for her even before her hand did to squeeze her arm. “How are you doing, sweetie?”

“What happened?” she managed, her throat feeling like acid had passed through it recently. She cringed as she forced herself to sit up. Hot and cold warred inside her, and she shivered even as fire flared in her face.

“Darcy wondered if you were well enough to volunteer today when you came in this morning. We found you collapsed near the kitchen sink in a pool of your own sick. We got you cleaned up and into a bed–”

“I’m sorry–” she murmured.

“We thought about calling your husband…”

Darcy ran the Mission, and she’d expressed her concern the moment Twyla walked through the door, no doubt resembling the corpse she felt like. She’d insisted she was recovering from a cold, felt much better, was fine to work. She wasn’t sure why Darcy let her, but she hadn’t said no. She’d given her the tasks of stripping the beds used the night before, laundry, and, after lunch, dishes.

“You didn’t call Dominic?” Twyla asked, her tone frantic despite that she had no energy whatsoever. She helplessly felt tears burn her eyes.

“No.”

Her relief brought the flood of tears she tried hopelessly to brush away before they could fall.

Charlotte’s expression grew tighter with worry. “You should go home, Twyla. You’re not well.”

She shook her head, a motion that had her collapsing back on the bed once more. Though she could barely hear herself, she said in a whisper, “Please…I’m fine. I don’t need to go home.”

“Hon, you can’t work in this condition.”

“I…” She intended to sit up, insist she could, she would, but Charlotte stood and gently covered her with the blanket. She turned to the nightstand, where ibuprofen and water were waiting. She poured out the pills, helping Twyla rise just enough to swallow them. “Sleep. Take the time you need to rest and recover.”

Though she wanted nothing more than to sleep and forget, as soon as Charlotte left the room filled with beds–empty because it was the middle of the day–tears poured out of her like molten lava.

I killed him. I administered the final death blow when I took away the phone, didn’t help him. And, if he survives, he’ll kill me… No, he won’t kill me. He’ll do everything short of kill me. He’ll punish me–so much worse. Chain me up even longer than he already does. Starve me. Dehydrate me. Abuse himself sexually so I can watch him when I’m an inch from disgusted insanity. Threaten to let his sick friends take a turn with me. And, when I can’t take it another second, he’ll unlock the shackles. Tenderly wash me and the bed of my filth, pee, excrement. Then he’ll feed me. Make me drink. We’ll dance to that damn song that’s a sick joke. He’ll rape me, force me to have sex with him against my will. I’ll wish for death the way I have a thousand times before…

She cried until there was nothing left inside her and the only escape from her torture was sleep. Her own hunger woke her. She felt hollow with the ravishment. She’d eaten little at lunch–whenever that was. She couldn’t show the other workers and the women who came here to escape how hungry she was. If they knew she was starved and dehydrated…

When she came to once more, it was dark and there were other sounds in the room. Snoring. Rustling as bodies turned over in the beds. Soft weeping. Dominic’s eyes, his shock, his hope, his disbelief, filled her vision. She lifted her hands to her head, felt how hot she was, but her entire body was trembling as more tears pushed ruthlessly to the surface. Twyla dug her hands into her eyes, wishing she could blind herself so she wouldn’t have to see. Make herself lose her memory so she wouldn’t have to remember anything, any part of the last three years.

Her stomach ached from hunger. Even before the tears abated, she couldn’t stop herself from stumbling from the bed, moving out of the communal bedroom. The shelter was quiet, and she moved through the dimly lit halls wearing someone else’s baggy clothes, driven by the need to quell the raging in her belly. Even as guilt overshadowed her along with the knowledge of how tight the food budget was here, she had to eat. Just a sandwich.

But the peanut butter smeared over a slice of bread, swallowed down by cold milk, couldn’t begin to satisfy her. She was so starved, once food passed her lips, she was out of control. She shoveled whatever she could find inside her mouth, barely chewing, more and more.

The pain refused to subside in her frenzy, but she came to and found herself with what little was left. Food that didn’t belong to her filled her to bursting. The fridge door, cupboards and panty stood open, ransacked and diminished so she was in horror at what she’d done almost unconsciously.

Before she was aware what she was doing, she flew to the bathroom and she only just opened the toilet seat before she was on her knees before it, expelling the frantic binge in massive heaves. When the convulsions finally stopped, she barely got herself to move an inch away before she lay down and pressed her feverish head against the cold floor. Her mind drifted, maybe slept, and the stench of puke woke her like a smelling salt. The window let in light that told her it would soon be morning.

I have to clean up. Clean up the mess I made. But…how can I explain…?

Cringing in humiliation, she forced herself up. She cleaned the bathroom, though the scent of the strong lemon cleaner made her nauseous again. The glimpse of herself in the mirror made her groan out loud. She resembled little more than a corpse. Her lips were dry. The clothes she wore were ugly and baggy. Her hair was greasy, the darkness under her eyes like black smudges.

Though the supplies there were for the women the Mission was helping, Twyla used one of the disposable toothbrushes and paste, a comb, and then she went to the kitchen. Though she had no idea what to say to defend herself, she cleaned up the mess she’d made, closing all the doors and drawers, ashamed that she was hungry despite her gorging.

Swallowing her guilt, she went back to bed, creeping into a silent room filled with deeply sleeping women. She wouldn’t tell anyone she’d stolen the food, thrown it back up in the toilet. Maybe they’d realize it was her and confront her, but if they didn’t… What will they do to feed the women tomorrow? I ate it all. There’s nothing left for anyone else.

When she woke, sunlight filled the bedroom and it was again empty. The shelter was buzzing around her with those awake and going about their days. She smelled soup and fresh bread and her head and stomach hurt.

Darcy was in the kitchen, washing dishes from lunch, and miserable disgrace almost had Twyla turning tail and running for the nearest exit. But Darcy shifted and saw her and she froze like a deer in the headlights. Surprising her, her boss smiled. “How are you feeling, hon? Better, I hope?”

Twyla couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, and Darcy didn’t seem to notice anything was wrong. She dried her hands and came to her, still smiling. “You look out of it even now, but I expect you must be hungry.” Without another word, Darcy got her a generous bowl of the soup, thick slices of bread, and a glass of milk. She brought the feast into the dining room on a tray and Twyla followed, sitting when the other woman indicated her place. Settling across from her, Darcy urged her to get something in her stomach. Twyla’s face burned with her shame. Did Darcy know she’d gutted the kitchen with her eating bender? Had she had to somehow find the money to get food for the rest of the week? Why wasn’t she calling her on any of it?

“You don’t look well, Twyla. But this isn’t just a cold.”

Terror clutched her with the hot spoonful of soup still in her mouth. She swallowed, burning her throat, as she withdrew the spoon. “I…I’m too weak to go home.”

“Twyla, you’ve been taking care of these poor women who come through the Mission all these years. Selflessly. You can stay here. Take care of yourself. Let us take care of you for once.”

She’s not going to call me on this. Any of it. Even if she suspects. Why? Does she know? Does she realize the irony of me volunteering at a place for unfortunate women when I am an unfortunate woman? Maybe the most unfortunate of all?

Twyla closed her eyes at the laughter she heard. Dominic. Dead. Go away!

Unbelievably, the comparatively small meal, the first she’d kept down in so long, made her full and when Darcy urged her to go back to bed, she did. But her eyes wouldn’t close as she lay shivering, her mind filled with reality.

When she’d met Dominic, she’d never believed she could love again. Gray Mecham had been her first love, her last, her only she’d been convinced beyond a shadow of doubt. He’d been saying all that nonsense, being so damn understanding about how they had separate lives–almost two-thousand miles apart–and that he knew she needed her own career, to finish college. His encouragement was nothing like anything he’d said to her before. Gray loved her, missed her, would never get over her. He wanted them to be together, the sooner the better.

Where had the “encouragement” come from? She hadn’t wanted it. Not from him. Was he trying to tell her he wasn’t a part of her life anymore–beyond friendship–and never would be again because he’d moved on? Moved past their forbidden love? Maybe found someone else, the way she’d half-heartedly been encouraging him to since her parents moved her out of the Bloodmoon Cove/Grimoire, Wisconsin area she and Gray had been born in.

A thirteen-year-old girl who’d been madly in love with her sixteen-year-old, sexy, secret boyfriend. No one was supposed to know that they weren’t just best friends who’d grown up as neighbors who couldn’t have had more disparate upbringings.

For as long as she could remember, her parents had been members of the church of some radio cult preacher. Their religion ruled their lives, and Twyla had been forced to participate against her will–with the methodical praying, Bible studies with her dad leading or the cult leader on the radio, acts of repentance. They could force her to be present for these things, to physically have to listen, but couldn’t force her to believe or feel any of it. More often than not, she was stubborn, hid in the house to avoid them, or closed her mouth tight so she didn’t have to say words she didn’t mean.

Surprisingly, they’d stopped short of locking her up. She’d been free to roam the neighborhood or spend the day with her cousin John at the park his family owned in the shadow of the mountain, so long as she came home for their religious duties. That was the only thing she did religiously because she needed the time away from them.

Every day of her life, after her ‘divine chores’ were completed, she’d gone to either to the park or Gray’s house, where his parents did believe in God, occasionally went to the evangelic church in town with John’s parents. Faith was about relationship and freewill for all of them, not religion.

Her rebellion against her parents’ prison had started early. By the time she was eleven, she’d been openly defying them, refusing to participate in any way, and somehow her stubbornness won because Gray’s father had intervened the first time they’d tried to lock her in her room and not let her out until she did what they believed she should.

The threat of the local sheriff taking her away for them had done miraculous things in allowing her to have a life and a mind of her own. Gray had been at the very center of her new life and freedom.

Their feelings for each other weren’t ones they’d spoken to anyone else for fear that they’d be kept apart if anyone found out. Until her parents ruined her life with that move across the country to Arizona, her whole life boiled down to the minutes she and Gray spent alone together. Cut off from Gray almost completely, she’d wanted to die. She’d seen no light on the horizon.

And then Dominic had come. Her worst-than-ever rebellion against her parents had conjured him up like their worst nightmare. Ten years older than her, he’d had a mysterious aura around him unlike anyone else she’d ever met. Gray had been an open book, literally, one that she could read transparently just by looking at him.

It’d taken her a long time to admit that fear of Dominic had been a factor in that intrigue, as well as tormenting her mom and dad. She’d thought she’d needed that in her desperate struggle to break away from their hold. She’d never known what Dominic would do, say, how he would turn things around in a way that left her gasping. His unpredictability and her own need to escape the conventions she’d known, being trapped in her parents’ ruthless religion, had been the start of his psychological hold on her. Her terror grew along with her need for him. When she refused something he suggested out of instinctive horror, he would disappear for days, convincing her it was over and she would never see him again. Even as she’d been relieved, she’d become addicted to the trance he’d put her in.

Maybe reacting to the perceived punishment of her parents’ ruining her life by forcing that move away from Gray, punishing them in turn for the lifetime she’d suffered at their hands based on their religion, had brought about the very situation that’d enthralled her so she couldn’t break away.

She hadn’t allowed herself to consider what was growing inside the darkest corners of her mind. Dominic was damaged. Badly damaged. Sexually damaged. But she hadn’t realized the full extent of that until it was too late. At the same time, Gray was moving away from her, encouraging her to live her life without him, without constraint.

She believed she was in love with Dominic, not subjugated by him. But she’d been a virgin on their wedding night (the ceremony taking a few minutes at the courthouse), regardless of his attempts to get her to participate in sexual acts that horrified her prior to that. That first night of their marriage was the most humiliating of her life up to that point. Because of her experiences with Gray as a very young girl, she’d believed lovemaking would be the most amazing experience she’d ever have. Instead, Dominic had wanted pain, wanted only to inflict the same.

Nothing about the acts they attempted were about love, and, when he’d abruptly decided they had to move to Portland, Oregon, where he’d grown up, she hadn’t been able to refuse him despite that she’d wanted to finish college, wanted to be a park ranger like she and her cousin John had grown up dreaming they would be. Dominic had fled their wedding night and she’d been scared he wouldn’t come back, blamed herself for their sexual dissatisfaction.

I’ve thought a lot about what the catalyst was all these years since. What it was that broke Dominic from the promises he’d made to himself to escape the horror his parents conditioned him to endure all his life.

As soon as they reached Portland, he admitted everything to her. The sexual abuse at his parents’ hands, the hands of their “community dungeon” of BDSM participants who’d come to the secret lair behind the tavern they’d owned. They’d tortured and abused him and each other. He’d fallen into a steady switch with a man named Mace. But he’d broken free, run and ended up in Arizona. He met up with Mace again right after our wedding. That’s what must have been the catalyst that turned him away from his vows to escape.

He’d told her he wanted to break free but he couldn’t, realized he didn’t want to stay away, and he wanted her to share it with him.

I wouldn’t. I refused. I knew what it was like. I spent my life in a prison, too, one that I wanted to break free of at all cost. I understood what he’d been through. I sympathized with him. But ultimately I wanted to walk away, threatened I would, tried and failed. He wouldn’t let me go, wouldn’t let anyone help me. I traded one prison for another. And that’s when it all started as he gave himself fully to the deviations that ruled his life previously. My only leverage was my threat to kill myself if he forced me to participate. He kept his promise about that, but nothing else.

Twyla had learned to exist in the prison he’d built for her. She’d learned the extent he’d go to if she reached out. She’d pushed everyone who mattered to her out of her life to protect them.

I accepted I would die sooner or later, preferably sooner. He would kill me, either accidentally or on purpose. I assumed his torture and need to inflict pain to gain pleasure would go too far. I never considered the alternative. Not until our eyes met and I saw he couldn’t save himself from his own stupidity. He needed me. I had the leverage. For the first time, it was under my control, my choice. To live again. To be free…even if it means I’m the monster now…