If she hadn’t seen him kill, Mia would never have known she was married to a modern Jekyll and Hyde.
The murder had taken place in the storage unit of their Upper West Side apartment building. She had wanted to confirm a dinner date, and with her usual impetuosity had trailed her husband downstairs. He had a bit of a limp from an old injury, so she had caught the sound of his footsteps on the stair when she got off the elevator after a vigorous stint at the gym followed by an equally vigorous afternoon in the best shops.
In the basement, behind some tightly bound boxes, she saw her husband release the garrote around the dead man’s throat and step back. The look on his face had been terrifyingly similar to his expression after they’d had a particularly good bout of sex. Quiet. Sated. Triumphant.
Mia faded back silently, but saw him gesture to his bodyguards as he straightened his clothes. Saw how his handsome face fell back into its usual good-humored, slightly sharp expression.
Back upstairs, Mia retreated to the shower. She steamed and scented herself, tried not to remember the grotesque distortion of the murdered man’s face. Tried to calm her breathing. Swallowed back sobs as she had always done. Schooled her face into its expected contours of contentment and latent sexuality.
Leo had never encouraged her to ask any questions about his business, the one that kept her so lavishly. She didn’t care that he danced the line of illegal. With their background, there was no other way to rake in money. But murder by his own hand….
The thought flitted through her mind that Leo reveled in sensual pleasure more than anyone she had ever known.
Her mind strayed back to her first love, Teddy, who had died in an unsolved mugging eight years earlier. She still carried his photo zipped in the pocket of her designer purse.
By the time she had forced herself out of the shower, Leo had left the apartment. His assistant called Mia to report that Leo had a sudden business trip and would return the next evening. Gratitude for small favors, Mia thought, and said all the right things.
She hadn’t been sure she could do it, but by dinnertime the next day, Mia had buried the waves of fear and revulsion. Growing up in a gutted neighborhood distinguished only by its poverty and ugliness, raised by a single mom scrabbling to hold down any kind of job, self-preservation had been hammered into Mia’s DNA.
But tonight, she allowed herself the forbidden luxury of remembering. Despite their upbringing in the dregs of the city, Teddy had been different. Full of hope, sweetness, and laughter, giving her a glimpse of what “the good life” really meant. He loved her with his heart and soul…and she had loved him the same way. When he died, Mia had felt her own fragile heart had gone still and silent.
Leo had immediately swooped in – sympathetic, kind…rich. So rich. Offering everything the world could provide, including safety. Especially safety. Insisting only that she belong completely to him. Mia realized the shopping and parties amused her, but that was all. She felt no temptation to nibble at the edges of forbidden passions and Leo never wanted more than she had to offer. Yet somehow, in the drift of time, Mia felt each day of heedless luxury held small deaths.
It was nearly dinnertime when Leo came back. Mia was sitting alone in their elegant living room, Teddy’s picture balanced on her knees. Her husband looked tired and irritated, despite his easy smile.
“What’s that?” He lifted the photo from her lap.
Mia fought the desire to snatch it back. “Teddy’s photo. Just thinking about the old days when you both asked me to go to prom.”
Leo laughed. “You picked him.” He turned away, still holding the photo. “I told you then it was a big mistake. He got the prom.” His smile only twisted a little. “I got you.”
Mia swallowed her cry of protest as Leo deliberately ripped the photo in half and dropped the pieces in her lap. “Forget about him,” he said. “You’re my wife and I won you. I always win, Mia. Always.” He moved toward the bar and poured himself a drink.
She stilled an instant, but tucked the torn picture into the pocket of her slacks, and summoned a smile. “This is a great life. I never thought I’d live in a place like this.” She gestured around the penthouse and gazed at Leo under her lashes.
The corners of his lips lifted as she brushed against his arm, then slowly mixed him another drink.
“Hungry?” she purred. “I ordered all your favorites.”
It was a perfect dinner. Mia remained as attentive and charming as she could be. Crystal and silverware gleamed. A single blood red flower accented the table. The food she offered her husband displayed the sensual mix of tastes, aromas, and colors that Leo loved. With care, she’d chosen several expensively luscious wines to complement the meal…reds, whites, liqueurs.
Mia drank lightly, picked at her food, and watched with languorous pleasure as Leo indulged himself. When the room seemed hot, she threw open the doors to the balcony, letting the cool breeze drift through the room. She carried the bottle and glasses to the café table outside.
As they stood, leaning against the railing, looking out over the glittering city, Mia gazed at Leo. “I always wondered who could have killed Teddy,” she murmured. “Everyone loved him.”
“I didn’t.” Leo laughed thickly. “You’re better off with me. I’m a winner.”
“I’ve learned a lot from you,” Mia said. Deliberately she placed her glass on the table.
She knew she would always relish the look on Leo’s face as he went down to a round house kick. The blow and the liquor did the job. Mia hefted him up and over the railing.
And then she began to scream and scream and scream.
The bodyguards, the police, everyone believed the screams honored her husband, keened the terrible accident of his death. There was no mistaking such passion as Mia’s cries tore upwards into the hard universe; finally, she was free to mourn her love.
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