Love’s Deadly Masquerade’s Cover Reveal and Preview

Love's Deadly Masquerade
Love’s Deadly Masquerade

Readers! The moment you’ve been waiting for has now arrived! I know it has been a couple of years since I put out a book and many of you have been patiently waiting as well as checking in from time to time wondering when I was going to drop the next banger. Well guys, here it is! Love’s Deadly Masquerade will be releasing on March 1, 2016. But right now, I am doing an early bird special! Pre-order Love’s Deadly Masquerade on Amazon and get it for .99cents! That discount price will only be available until the day it goes live on Kindle which is when it will be available at it’s actual price $5.99.

So what is Love’s Masquerade all about? Well, many of us have been in love probably more than once. I know I have. But the person we were in love with was not 100% who they were, but instead who they pretended to be, a masquerade. Now for some of us, the real person behind the facade was not too bad of a person, just not exactly who we fell in love with. But for others, the person behind the facade was a complete nightmare. And that is exactly what the main character Vanessa experiences in this book.


Vanessa is a young, optimistic, well rounded but shy college co-ed who dreams of getting her degree in criminal law, a desire that came about after her father was senselessly killed coming home from work one evening. Her sweet, kind, soft spoken nature is the complete opposite of her best friend Arianna. The two attend La-Salle University and share an off-campus apartment in the Olney section of Philadelphia.

Arianna is loud, outspoken, sassy and feisty with a sharp tongue, smart mouth and does not hold back when it comes to voicing her opinion or putting someone in their place. Vanessa is more like a sister than a best-friend and will not hesitate to throw hands (or pull knives) with anyone that she believes will cause harm to her or Vanessa.

Eric is every woman’s dream: tall, dark and handsome with a deep, sexy voice like silk, dreamy, dark-brown, sensuous eyes that makes your soul dance when you look into them. On the surface, he is smooth, charismatic, loving, passionate and an intense lover. But behind closed doors, only Vanessa knows the monster behind the mask, who is nothing at all like the man she fell deeply in love with.

Love’s Deadly Masquerade tells the breath-taking and heart wrenching story of a young woman deeply in love with a man who’s sinister behavior has an under-lining, dark purpose. Meeting by a twist of fate inside of Saks Fifth Avenue in King of Prussia’s Mall, Eric wastes no time sweeping the young college co-ed Vanessa off of her feet. Vanessa has never known love outside of the love her father had for her before he was killed. Her inexperience turns her into a fool for love, making excuses for the abuse Eric subjects to, eventually blaming herself for why her relationship with him has taken a violent turn. Starting as occasional slaps in the face, the assaults grow more and more intense physically, sexually, and mentally until Vanessa not only fears for her life, but like many women, loses self-respect for herself as her self-esteem reaches an all time low and she loses faith in God while feeling as though the ill-treatment that she is experiencing is what she deserves.  With the help of neighbors who hear the abuse that she suffers at the hands of Eric from next door, she makes an escape and seeks the help of an underground network for abused and battered women. Soon after, she learns that her fairy-tale introduction to Eric was a disguise for something much darker and sinister. Reality sets in that once you deal with Eric, the only out is a deadly one. No one is safe once they’ve made contact with Vanessa and Eric won’t stop until the blood trail ends with hers. Love’s Deadly Masquerade shines a light on domestic violence fueled by possessiveness and past demons. It’s a story that every woman needs to read

Are you ready for a preview? Hold onto your e-book readers and don’t forget to breathe because this one is sure to knock you off of your feet and take your breath away!


The ceiling fan oscillated from high above, blowing a cool breeze meekly about. While the room’s temperature should have felt like a cool, autumn’s day, to Vanessa it felt hot as hell, like the middle of summer.

“Bitch, you must have lost your fucking mind having a man in my house while I’m not here.” Eric barked from the bathroom as he ran the sink water. “I swear, you never learn. You’d think by now you’d be tired of me going upside your muthafucking head. But you must like it. Yeah, I think you like this shit.” He soaked Vanessa’s wash cloth in the cool water before partially wringing it out. He then checked his appearance in the bathroom mirror before heading back to their bedroom.

The mere sight of him caused Vanessa to back pedal on the floor towards the corner, positive he was coming to deliver more blows that still had her feeling dizzy. Her ribs ached as well as her back from the rapid kidney punches he gave to her after she tried, to no avail, guarding herself against his assault. She was afraid to look up at him, afraid to speak and even more-so, afraid to breathe, worried that he may have fractured her ribs. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

“Why was that nigga in my house, V-Dot? Huh?” Eric asked as he walked over to her slowly.

Vanessa shook her head getting ready to make her plea for him to spare her anymore punches. “Please Eric, I swear. He was just an insurance salesman doing door to door sales,” she whimpered in a hoarse voice.

“So the fuck what!” Eric bellowed. “You should’ve left that nigga outside. But you brought him in my house!”

“It was raining out, I was just…” Vanessa was cut off by Eric’s strong hand going around her neck.

“I don’t give a fuck if the Bloods and the Crypts were having an all-out gun battle out this muthafucka. You think I worked my ass off all these years to get everything I have just for you to bring some bum-ass nigga in here to take my shit?” Eric spoke through clenched teeth while getting all the way in Vanessa’s face.

“Please…” Vanessa managed to squeal, feeling a bit of darkness begin to take over. “Oh my God, this is it. He’s really going to kill me this time.” Vanessa thought to herself. She didn’t bother fighting him back, knowing that would only make things ten times worse. Eric stared at her a moment longer before shoving her into the wall and standing up. Vanessa let out a dry, ragged cough, trying desperately to get in air to breathe. She wanted to scream, but she knew better with that as well. There was no screaming in his house. No way would she ever raise her voice louder than his.

Eric picked up her dampened wash cloth and threw it at her, hitting her in the face with it. “Clean yourself up and clean up this damn room,” he said calmly before casually walking out of their bedroom as though nothing happened.

Vanessa placed the cold rag on her face and began to sob. For the life of her, she couldn’t understand what she had done in her life that was so horrible that karma was dishing out this kind of wrath on her. At twenty-two years old, she had suffered and endured more than most women who were twice her age.

“Why me?” she asked herself before coughing again. She spat in the wash cloth and wasn’t surprised when she saw the red spots of blood.

Vanessa thought back to when she first met Eric two years before while she was in her junior year of college. She was with her best friend Arianna shopping in the King of Prussia Mall when they crossed paths with him inside of Saks Fifth Avenue. Though Vanessa was immediately attracted to him, she was sure that he was going to go for Arianna instead.

Eric appeared alluring to Vanessa, standing over six feet tall and having a medium, muscular build. He had a honey brown complexion almost looking as though the sun has placed golden, glowing kisses on his skin. His deep, chocolate brown eyes almost took her breath away when they initially made eye contact, and the dimples in his smile nearly made her melt inside.

She noticed that he was coming over to her and Arianna and she pretended to be smitten by a faded pair of 7 of all Mankind jeans.

“How are you ladies doing?” Eric asked in a deep, friendly voice filled with sex appeal.

Arianna hadn’t noticed him until he came over to them and gave him the once over before smiling. “We’re good. How are you?” she asked with a seductive grin, ready to shift into a flirtatious mode.

“I’m good also,” Eric replied. He mostly ignored Arianna as he stared intently at Vanessa. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Vanessa,” she said with a blush as she looked away from him.

Eric studied her as he made small conversation with her, immediately seeing that she was younger than him and quite shy. He watched her as she tentatively picked up different pairs of jeans, checked the price and then placed them back on the rack. He could tell she wanted to shop, but her pockets were holding her back.

“You should get those jeans. Not too many ladies have the right look to pull those off, but I think they would be perfect on you.”

“You think so?” Arianna replied with a slight grin as she looked at her friend, not at all pleased that Eric seemed more interested in Vanessa than in her. “She needs to put some meat on her bones with her little boney ass,” she chuckled at her one woman comedy show. Vanessa shook her head and rolled her eyes, slightly blowing off Arianna’s comment as she prepared to put the jeans back on the rack.

“Not at all,” Eric replied. “Petite, slender women make the best models and I can definitely see you ripping the run-way in a pair of these.”

Vanessa blushed. “I wasn’t going to get them anyway. I was just checking them out real quick.”

Eric picked the jeans up that she had just placed back on the rack and looked at the size. “How about I get them for you?” he offered with a charming smile.

Arianna eyes bulged knowing that the jeans her best friend was just looking at had to be over $200. Envy boiled inside of her but she clenched her teeth to hold back on another snide remark, not wanting to appear jealous of the offer. Instead she told herself the guy was just bullshitting, expecting Vanessa to turn him down so he could put them back without embarrassing himself.

“Oh no, you don’t have to do that,” Vanessa said quickly.

“Oh, I know I don’t have to. But I want to. How about this?” Eric said quickly. “You letting me take you out to dinner can be your way of saying thank you for buying these jeans for you.”

Arianna was now standing behind Eric and looked at Vanessa wide eyed. She quietly stomped her feet and mouthed dramatically, “Bitch, you better say yes! I swear to God, if you say no, I’ma punch you in the throat. Tell the man yes!”

Vanessa peered at Arianna and then smiled nervously at Eric unsure of what she should say. Eric sensed Arianna’s influence behind him and turned to her. She quickly rubbed her hand across her neck as though she was doing and saying nothing and gave him a friendly smile. When he turned his attention back to Vanessa, Arianna gave her an evil eye and mouthed again, “You better take them damn jeans!”

“You’re really serious?” Vanessa looked at him suspiciously.

“I’m really serious. I want to get to know you better and though this is one of my favorite stores, this isn’t exactly my idea of a first date, you know what I mean?”

Vanessa took a deep breath and thought to herself, “Screw it, how often will something like this happen to me?” “Okay…” she replied hesitantly. She retrieved the jeans from the rack and was about to place them over her arm when Eric stopped her.

“I’ll carry those for you,” he said with another charismatic smile that almost made her heart stop.

“Thank you,” Vanessa said shyly as she smiled as well.

“You’re going to need a shirt to go with that as well as a pair of shoes…”

Before Vanessa knew it, Eric was paying for her a Dolce & Gabbana blouse along with a Chanel hand bag and a pair of Chanel low heel stilettos. Vanessa thought she was in a dream by the way he helped her try the shoe on and didn’t seem the least bit impatient as she made up her mind about what she wanted. Arianna tagged along enviously feeling like the third wheel, not understanding for the life of her what Eric saw in Vanessa that he did not see in her.

Though they were best friends, Arianna always felt a need to compete with Vanessa. They were equally beautiful young ladies who had both grown up in the “Brickyard” section of Germantown. “Cradle to the Grave” is how they always said they would be, meeting when they were in the second grade. They were enemies at first, getting into a small fist fight in the school yard of Kelly’s elementary school over a double-dutch game. They would later become the best of friends after Arianna saw a few girls from Morton Homes trying to jump Vanessa one day and she jumped a fence to intervene. Ever since then, they were thick as thieves and inseparable.

Arianna was a “red-boned” female mixed with Italian and Black. Her great-grandfather was a full blooded Italian who shunned his daughter when she got pregnant by a “Black Mooly”. Practically her entire family disowned her in her Chicago home-town. When she was asked for her hand in marriage, Inga quickly accepted and moved with Barry to Philadelphia. Tragically during the race riots near Girard College in the late 1960’s Barry was killed while Inga was pregnant with Arianna’s mother, Josephine. “Josie” wasn’t exactly mother material. She was more attracted to running the streets and bar hopping than raising Arianna, so Inga took care of her and raised her as though she were her own. And while Arianna was indeed intelligent, she used her strikingly beautiful appearance to get most of what she wanted in life. She stood at 5’8 and had a soft, creamy complexion like a cup of coffee that had been heavily diluted with milk. Her hair was naturally thick and curly, but she kept it bone straight and wore it just past her shoulder blades. She was curvy and slightly bow-legged with dimples and dark seductive eyes. In her mind, any man who was not attracted to her was either dumb as hell, or gay.

Vanessa on the other hand, was shorter than Arianna and petite. She was barely 5’6 but had an athletic body from playing sports all through grade school and even in college. She played badminton, volley ball and ran track. She was the color of a coconut shell with smooth skin and dark shoulder length hair. And though she was twenty years old, Arianna often joked that if she were to put on a school uniform and pull her hair back into a pony-tail, she could pass for a high-school freshman.

Arianna sat on a bench and began playing with her cell phone while pretending not to be jealous of the mini shopping spree Vanessa was getting from Eric. “I hope his card declines,” she thought to herself as an evil grin crept across her face. But when Vanessa and Eric were walking over to her carrying shopping bags while grinning and giggling like the pair had been dating for months, she knew that wasn’t the case.

“So what time can I pick you up tonight?” Eric asked Vanessa as they slowly walked through King of Prussia.

“I guess 8 o’ clock sounds good.”

“Alright, I’ll make dinner reservations for us and I’ll see you at 8pm.” They exchanged phone numbers and then Vanessa texted him her address. “Would you ladies like a ride home?”

“No thanks,” Arianna said quickly. “We have some other stops to make, right Vanna?”

Vanessa cut her eyes at her best friend. She hated when Arianna called her that and Arianna knew it. “Yes, we have a few more stops to make. Call me later when you are on your way.”

Eric smiled and gave her a warm embrace. Vanessa thought she was going to melt when she smelled his Izzy Miyake cologne. Arianna rolled her eyes again and looked at her non-existent watch on her wrist to drive the point home that she had run out of patience.

Eric parted ways with Vanessa and she walked away with Arianna with a bit of a bounce in her step.

“You are such a cocky bitch,” Arianna said with a smirk.

“And you are a hater,” Vanessa smiled.

“I can’t believe he bought all that for you and didn’t know you from Adam. You better watch it, that fucking credit card is probably stolen,” Arianna said.

“Ugh, you are such a hater, shut up!”

“You think I’m joking. What man does that? Just walks up to a strange girl that he doesn’t know shit about and spends over a stack on her in Saks? This ain’t Pretty Woman and you are not Julia Roberts.”

“Hay-ter,” Vanessa said again in a sing song manner.

“Yeah, whatever. Watch he tries to fuck you in the ass tonight,” Arianna said before laughing loudly.

Vanessa burst out laughing with her. “You are a horrible, HORRIBLE person, girl. Just horrible! You wouldn’t be saying that if he had bought this stuff for you.”

“Nah, but you probably would.”

“No I wouldn’t because unlike you, I’m not a hater,” Vanessa replied as she continued to smile.

“Yeah well, you better take your mace with you because ol’ boy definitely finna steal your virginity tonight.” The two of them laughed together as they took the escalator down to the food court. “You’re laughing like I’m joking. But you gon’ learn tonight. You gon’ learn about that long dick,” Arianna mimicked Kevin Hart.

“Alright, alright, alriiiiight!” They both said at the same time before leaning into each other and laughing. They went over to Chick-Fil-A to grab something to eat before heading home.

Later on that night, Vanessa nervously got dressed for her first date with Eric. She obsessed over how she should wear her hair, her accessories; hoop earrings or diamond studs, lip-gloss or lip-stick. Arianna sighed and shook her head before propping herself up on her pillows.

“You need to get a damn grip girl, shit. It’s not that deep!”

“It is that deep. I’m not like you, going out on dates with different guys every other day,” Vanessa replied as she checked herself out in the mirror.

“Well maybe if you did, you wouldn’t be tripping.”

Vanessa turned around. “How do I look?”

Arianna looked her over. “Your outfit is cute but honestly, you look like a kid playing dress up in her big sister’s cool wardrobe. Take that pony-tail out of your hair and put some make-up on.”

“I don’t like make-up,” Vanessa frowned.

“Well, you’re going to like it tonight. You’re rocking a Chanel bag and Chanel shoes. Bitch, if you don’t at least put some eye-liner on and some mascara and make your lips look kissable,” Arianna suggested as she pushed her friend down in the chair.

“He liked me without make-up, though!” Vanessa whined.

“Vanna baby, I love you to death. But trust me when I tell you, he may have been attracted to you in Saks today, but he also dropped over a stack on one outfit to take you out. He wants to show off his lady not his little sister. Now hold still so I don’t poke you in the eye with this pencil.” They both giggled before Arianna started fixing Vanessa’s face. She quickly undid her ponytail and ran her fingers through hair before parting it on the side and re-styling it.

“Hot-damn, girl! Eric is gonna be on that ass tonight!” Arianna grinned as she admired her handy work.

Vanessa smiled as she looked at herself in the mirror. She hadn’t been done up like this since her senior prom.

They heard a knock at the door and Vanessa jumped up. “Oh my God, that’s him. I’m nervous.”

“Girl, have a seat in here while I get the door. You want to wow him when you make your grand entrance,” Arianna said before leaving the room so she could answer their door. The two of them shared an apartment in a duplex near La Salle University where they went to school. It was their way of being adults and not having to stay in their parents’ homes while completing their education. It was more of a benefit for Arianna than Vanessa since it kept her from having to deal with the unbearably strict rules her grandmother set for her in hopes that it would keep her from traveling down the same path as her mother, Josie.

“Hey Eric!” Arianna said with a smile after opening the door for him. She gave him the once over just as she had done at Saks Fifth Avenue earlier and thought to herself that he looked good enough to eat. He was wearing a pair of faded blue jeans with a pair of Prada sneakers, a white Polo shirt and a blazer. He even smelled better than he did earlier.

“How are you…?” he winced not remembering her name.

“Arianna…” she replied with a frown. “I’ma let you slide on that one, home-boy. Just don’t let it happen again,” she joked in a flirty manner. She called for Vanessa to come out of the room for her date.

Eric smiled at her but turned his attention to Vanessa. His smile widened as he gave her the once over. “You look beautiful.”

“Thank you,” Vanessa blushed. He took her by the hand tenderly and kissed her on the cheek making her blush some more.

“What time should I expect you?” Arianna asked.

Vanessa looked at Eric and then looked at Arianna. “Um, I don’t know. Are we just doing dinner tonight?” she asked Eric.

“Whatever you want to do afterwards is fine with me as long as I get to spend as much time with you as the night allows me to.”

Vanessa blushed again. “You don’t have to wait up, I’m a big girl,” she said to Arianna.

“Yeah, uh huh. Okay,” Arianna replied as she walked them to the door. She watched from the window and her mouth damn near hit the floor when she saw Eric open the car door to what she estimated to be a 2012 Infiniti. Vanessa sat inside and he closed her door before jogging around to the other side and getting in. Arianna watched the car until it disappeared down the street.

“He’s probably a drug dealer. Yup, that nigga’s a trap king,” she smirked before closing the blinds and going to pop some popcorn for her mini marathon of Law & Order SVU.

Though Vanessa was nervous, she hit it off very well with Eric during their drive to Chima’s Brazilian Steakhouse for their dinner date. Eric made her feel at ease as they both talked of their child-hoods. While he didn’t look it, Eric was 25 years old and worked as a partner with one of the top Financial Brokerage Firms in the Tri-State area. He had no children, had never been married and for the last five years, he had been more focused on establishing a career and a good life than starting a family and settling down. He told Vanessa that he dated off and on but hadn’t met a young lady he could see himself with for a long time.

Vanessa thought that he was too good to be true. Most of the guys that she knew who were his age had done at least one bid in jail, were barely making above minimum wage at a mediocre job with hardly any aspirations for anything better than the next get rich quick scheme; a party promotor or an “up & coming” rap star from Philly with a mix-tape always coming soon but never arriving. And then there were the DJ’s hustling at hole in the wall bars and clubs or alley-way block parties, guys with multiple children by multiple women who still lived at home with their mothers; back bedroom or basement dwellers who only left home when their chick of the moment let them stay with them. Because of the same scenarios she constantly ran into, she gave up on dating and focused more on school, hoping to enroll into law school after she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in criminology.

Eric was impressed with her aspirations as well as they sat in Chima’s talking some more while waiting for their dinner. At first, Vanessa was afraid to order after she had seen the prices. Not wanting to over step her boundaries, she asked him to recommend a dish stating that she had never been to the restaurant before. Eric ordered the Picanha-top sirloin for Vanessa and a salmon steak for himself with a bottle of Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon- 2010 wine and two salads.

“I’m only twenty,” Vanessa whispered to him after the waiter poured both of them a glass and walked away.

“It’s okay, I won’t tell if you won’t tell,” Eric smiled. “You’ve never had wine before?”

“I’ve never drank, smoked, nothing,” Vanessa said bashfully.

“Well, first things first: sip, don’t gulp. But when you sip it, don’t swallow it right away. Close your eyes and let the flavor dance around your mouth for a moment. Let it play a sweet melody on your tongue almost as though it’s singing to your taste buds,” Eric said softly. He watched her intently. “Now swallow it.”

Vanessa did as he said and then slowly opened her eyes. Looking into his eyes, she felt hot, and aroused. She felt his seduction wash over her body and felt as though she was getting to know him intimately without having him touch her physically.

“Was it good?” he asked her in the same soft voice, snapping her out of her trance.

“Yes,” she replied trying hard not to bite down on her lip and trying even harder not to stare at his.

Eric sat back and smiled as though he read her thoughts and could sense what she was feeling. He took a sip from his glass and then swirled it slightly before sitting it down and looking back at her. “When do you turn 21?” he asked.

“In June. My friends want to throw me a big party, but nah. I’m just not into that.”

“Well, how about I take you to one of my favorite vineyards and we can go wine tasting together. You’ll love it. That’s normally around the time that I grab a few bottles for the winter and the fall anyway, so if things work out for us, we can make it a date.”

Vanessa smiled. She was liking Eric more and more even though she had just met him. “Maybe we can.”

They ate their dinner and desert continuing their conversation, sharing stories, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company as they got to know one another. After Eric paid the bill, he drove them over to Warm Daddy’s where they listened to the live band and had a few more drinks. Eric then noticed that it was almost 1am and decided to bring the evening to a close.

He pulled up in front of her residence and got out of the car so he could open her door. He walked her to the front door and she turned to face him.

“I had a wonderful time tonight. I honestly can’t think of any other time I went out on a date and had this much fun with a guy who genuinely seemed interested in me and was such a gentleman. Thank you,” Vanessa said with a smile.

“You don’t have to thank me, Vanessa. That’s what a man is supposed to do, and if a man isn’t doing those things for you, he isn’t a man.”

Vanessa blushed and looked away from him for a moment. Before she realized it, Eric leaned in and kissed her softly. She hesitated momentarily, but then kissed him back. He pulled away before giving her another peck on the lips and then brushed her hair behind her ear.

“I’ll call you when I get in, okay.”

Vanessa nodded unable to speak, feeling like her breath had been taken away.

Eric waited for her to go inside before getting into his car and driving away.

Vanessa floated to the bedroom that she and Arianna shared and plopped down on her bed grinning from ear to ear. She replayed the night over in her head mainly focusing on their kiss as she continued to smile. She was snapped out of her daydream by Arianna’s groggy voice.

“GTD or naw?” Arianna asked in a husky voice.

“GTD?” Vanessa asked confused.

Arianna clicked the lamp on by her dresser. “Got the drawls, dawg!” She burst out laughing, imitating Tommy from the T.V show “Martin” and Vanessa laughed with her.

“You’re so goofy! No he didn’t get the drawls, girl shut up!” Vanessa went into the bathroom and changed into her night clothes before crawling into bed and dishing the details of her date with Eric.

That night, Vanessa was positive she had found the man she was looking for; charismatic, smart, funny, and ambitious, good looking, kind and gentle. She was positive Eric was the man of her dreams. Little did she know he would turn out to be nothing more than a hellish nightmare from which she could not escape…

Eric had gone out for the night like he would normally does after him and Vanessa gets into a physical altercation. Once before, Vanessa had tried to leave him and because of that, he put locks on the door that could only be unlocked from the inside as well as the outside with a key. And of course, he was the only one who had the key. So Vanessa literally was a prisoner in her own home. As punishment once, Eric locked her in the house with only one bottle of water and a half of a can of plain Pringles. He also took her cell phone so she couldn’t call anyone and disconnected the internet so she couldn’t get on any of her social media pages, send emails or anything. For two days she practically starved as she tried to ration out the chips, choosing to sleep off the hunger so she didn’t suffer too much.

On the eve of the second day, Eric came home as though nothing had happened, with her favorite Beef with Garlic Sauce Chinese food, a shrimp roll and a mango Nantucket. He purposely opened the food to let the aroma fill the air, teasing her senses and awakening her hunger even more. But before he allowed her to eat, he demanded she performed oral sex on him.

Eric forced his throbbing member in and out of her mouth with such vigor, becoming more and more aggressive each time she gagged and sounded as though she would vomit on him. Seeing her eyes getting teary and hearing the gagging noises she made turned him on even more. Without warning, he ejaculated in her mouth and on her face. He then laid her on her back and pushed her knees to her chest before entering her hard and deeply. She clawed the sheets, grimacing against his strong thrusts knowing better than to scratch his back because that would result in a hard slap to the face or him possibly choking her as he fucked her harder and deeper. He seemed to enjoy seeing her face covered in his cum and that made him pound her even harder. Not being able to take the look on his face any longer, she closed her eyes trying hard to separate herself from that experience.

After he ejaculated the second time, Eric flung her legs off of him as though she was just a whore whom he had picked up off the street, and walked out of the room not saying a word. Vanessa never felt so degraded and humiliated. It wasn’t until almost two hours later that the sexual escapade came to an end. But by then, her food was already cold. Vanessa had lost her appetite and just wanted to take a shower.

Vanessa laid in the bed as that memory danced around in her head. Her constant thoughts and questions of “why” were endless and always resulted in no answers. She stopped believing she was a good person and began to tell herself this is what she deserved. The best way she knew to comfort herself was to tell herself that it could always be worst. She could be dead. “But is death really worse than what’s happening now?” a voice said inside of her head. She ignored it and rolled over in the bed before closing her eyes and thinking back to when times were happier between her and Eric…

They had been dating for six months and Vanessa couldn’t be happier. And though she had spent nights at his place, they still had not had sex. Eric was well aware that she was a virgin and did not pressure her into being with him intimately. Sometimes Vanessa thought that he was tempting her with the coconut oil body massages he would give to her, the way he would walk around his house with no shirt on looking as though he had just stepped out of a Melanin Adonis God Catalogue. But at night when they would go to bed, he would only wrap his arms around her and sleep. While Vanessa had never experienced sex, she was indeed feeling sexually frustrated.

“Why don’t you just tell him you want to fuck for goodness sakes?! Sheesh!” Arianna asked one day when they were in their apartment.

“Oh my God, Ari! Do you have to put it that way?” Vanessa shook her head as she folded her clothes.

“I’m just saying! This man got you all horny and shit, damn near leaving a trail of pussy juice behind you as you move about, complaining about the lack of dick action you’re getting. Say something! Shit, closed mouths don’t get fed, and closed legs don’t get fucked.”

Vanessa shook her head at her friend. “You’re a whole mess.”

“Yeah well, at least my coochie ain’t dying from dick deprivation,” they both laughed at her comment. “Aw shit, what if he has a little dick and he’s scared you might laugh at him.” Arianna roared with laughter. “I bet that’s it! He’s a little midget, limp-dick, leprechaun mofo!”

“Nah, that’s not it. I felt it up against me when we were sleep and it definitely wasn’t little,” Vanessa replied with a mischievous grin.

“Oooh, girl! How big was it, could you tell? Was it on some Idris Elba shit from the movie “Takers” when he got out the bed and you could see that big Black Mandingo Warrior dick behind his drawls! That print was like POW!”

“God help this girl,” Vanessa chuckled. “I’m not telling you! All I’ma say is he definitely ain’t small.”

“Then he’s probably a two pump chump… shit, you better hope his ass ain’t gay.”

“Here you go! He’s definitely not gay.”

“Shit, you don’t know. Niggas hide that shit too well these days. And it don’t even be the obvious fagalicious fairies you gotta worry about. Those the ones who are cool with me because they accept their gayness, they ain’t trying to hide it. It be those fine niggas with the deep-ass Barry White voices, talking about just cause they let a bitch eat they ass or stick a finger up they ass, that don’t mean they’re gay, knowing muthafucking well they’re a jail sentence away from getting butt-fucked like Bubba’s bitch. You better watch that nigga,” Arianna warned.

“If you don’t shut up, Arianna I swear on my life, I’ma punch you in the throat. Eric is not gay.” Vanessa rolled her eyes starting to become annoyed.

“Alright, if you say so. But if his dick ain’t little and he’s not a two-pump chump or gay, you got another problem.”

“And what’s that, Ms. Know-It-All?” Vanessa retorted.

“He might be fucking somebody else. And this ain’t me on some hating shit either, Vanna. I’m dead up. When a nigga ain’t worried about getting pussy from the chick he’s with, it’s because he’s getting pussy from somewhere else. Don’t believe me if you want to. All jokes aside, that’s some real shit. Any nigga on the street will tell you that. All that I’ll wait for you shit, it’s no rush, or whenever you’re ready, is a bunch of bullshit. One thing a nigga not gonna go without is some pussy. He might go without food, a haircut, hell a nigga will even go without washing his fucking drawls. But he for damn sure ain’t gonna go without getting any pussy from somewhere. So remember this, if I ain’t teach you nothing, I taught you this; what you won’t do, there’s twenty thousand bitches lined up waiting to do that and more. Eric is young, fine as hell, has his own place, his own car, don’t have a bunch of ratchet kids by a bunch of different ratchet-ass baby-moms running around. He has good credit, never been to jail and got money. What bitch wouldn’t be throwing the pussy his way?” Arianna looked at Vanessa with the screw face as though she should know better.

“Does that include you?” Vanessa asked her best friend seriously.

Arianna stared at Vanessa for a moment before smiling. “I’ll tell it to you like this, if you wasn’t my home-girl and I didn’t love you like a sister, I would have fucked that nigga months ago and had a toothbrush, a drawer and closet space in his house. I’d have the keys to his car, know when he gets paid and what percentage is going to be mine.” And with those words, Arianna went into the kitchen to get her a bowl of ice-cream.

Vanessa thought on Arianna’s words. She began to wonder if what she said was true. What if Eric wasn’t worried about having sex with her because he was getting taken care of by someone else? What if holding onto her virginity left her inexperienced and unable to satisfy her man, which would ultimately cause him to look for sexual satisfaction from another woman. She was falling in love with Eric and didn’t want to lose him over sex. She sat down on the bed and began to devise a plan to seduce him for her 21st birthday that was coming up in a week.

The night of her birthday, she pretended she had a serious craving for some cookie dough ice-cream and begged Eric to get her a half-gallon from the market. While he was gone, she quickly showered again and put on the sexy lingerie that she purchased from Victoria’s Secret earlier that day. It was a black, lacey bodysuit that accentuated her cleavage and was see-through in the midsection as well as in the crotch area. She made sure the day before she got herself a Brazilian bikini wax and waxed her legs as well. She was just placing the bow on her tummy when she heard Eric’s car pull up in the drive-way. She hurried to put the six inch heels on and ran into the kitchen almost stumbling and falling twice. She posted up on the kitchen counter in a sexy pose and waited for Eric to come into the kitchen. Vanessa could hear that he was talking on the phone and began to get nervous as he got closer to the kitchen. When Eric saw her, he stopped in mid-sentence.

“Yo, I’m going to have to call you back…” he said as he peered at Vanessa. He disconnected the call and sat the phone and the bag on the kitchen table before looking Vanessa over, immediately becoming erect as he gazed at her body.

“Damn baby, is it my birthday or yours?” he asked as he walked over to her.

Vanessa giggled nervously. “Mine,” she replied as Eric kissed her neck. “But I don’t mind sharing.” They kissed each other but Eric pulled away from her.

“Are you sure about this? I don’t want to rush you into anything.”

Vanessa nodded. “I’m sure.”

Eric kissed her again before picking her up and carrying her to his bedroom. Vanessa thought she would be terrified but she felt completely safe with him at that moment and wanted to be with him intimately more than anything in the world. She watched Eric as he undressed like a wide-eyed toddler seeing an amusement park for the first time. The only thing she could think of was how absolutely amazing his body was. She marveled over every inch of him feeling like she would lose her breath. She wanted to take in every second, every minute; memorize every detail, scent and taste so she could play it again and again in her mind and never forget.

Eric was gentle and passionate with her so much so that Vanessa thought she would cry. She had never felt such ecstasy before in her life. When it was over, she clung to him shaking as they looked at each other. If she had not been sure before that night, she was absolutely positive at that moment that she was in love with him and there was no doubting it.

Eric kissed her again as he looked in her eyes. “I love you, V-Dot.” He laid next to her, pulling her close as he wrapped his arms around her.

“I love you, too,” Vanessa replied as she snuggled close to him before falling asleep.

Vanessa wiped her eyes as she reminisced on the night her and Eric first made love. And as usual, she couldn’t help but to wonder how someone who had been so tender, loving and kind to her, could turn into such a monster. She slowly got up and winced before grabbing her side. She took a slow, deep breath, praying that her ribs weren’t fractured again. The excuses of falling down the steps were getting tired and she had already used that excuse twice at Einstein Hospital, Chestnut Hill Hospital, Abington Memorial Hospital and Temple University. They were eventually going to either figure she was very clumsy or was lying her ass off.

After a moment or so, Vanessa slowly made her way downstairs to the kitchen and put the tea kettle on the stove to make herself some chamomile tea. She sat down at the counter and laid her head down, closing her eyes. She felt weak physically and mentally, though she was positive that was not always the case with her. Vanessa could recall conversations that she had in her high-school classes with other students about domestic violence and the stand that she took on it. She believed a woman who stayed with a man who beat her was dumb as hell and no amount of fear in this world would cause her to stay in a situation that was harmful to her. And now look at the irony. She couldn’t help but wonder if God was punishing her or making her see first-hand that her viewpoint on domestic violence was incorrect. Fear can be overpowering, and sometimes no amount of strength can get a woman to see the light when she is in this kind of trouble. It’s easy to say what you’ll do in a situation when you’re not actually in that situation. And now Vanessa found herself in this situation and didn’t know what to do to get herself out of it.

That passing thought made her reflect on the day that Eric hit her for the first time.

The brokerage firm that he worked for was having a Black Tie party and Eric wanted to take her with him so she could meet some of his partners and friends. He convinced her to wear a black Diane Von Furstenburg dress that was form fitting and low-cut in the back. The dress was long with a slight flare at the bottom. She wore a pair of open toe, strappy four inch heels, and carried a clutch handbag. Eric walked into the gala like a proud man with his beautiful woman on his arm. But they hardly spent any of the evening together. Eric was mostly with his partners talking business and left Vanessa alone for primarily the entire night. After feeling stupid while standing in a corner watching everyone mingle, and losing sight of which way Eric went, she went over to the bar and ordered herself a glass of champagne. She was sipping it and casually bopping her head to an old P. Diddy song playing when a gentleman sat down next to her and ordered himself a drink as well. Vanessa vaguely paid him any mind as she wished Eric would come back from wherever he was so they could either dance together or go home.

“How are you doing?” the man asked her in a friendly voice.

“Oh, hello,” Vanessa smiled. “I’m doing pretty good tonight, and yourself?”

“I’m well, thank you. Nice party. Could have done better with the DJ, though,” the friendly man chuckled.

Vanessa swallowed her drink back almost choking on it as she tried to suppress her giggle.

“I’m Antoine, by the way,” the friendly man said as he extended his hand to shake hers.

“Vanessa,” she replied with a smile and shaking his hand.

“So Vanessa, are you with one of the firms here?”

“Oh, no. I’m just a guest. I’m here with my boyfriend, but he seems to have disappeared on me. I guess he’s drumming up some more business so I’m not too upset.”

“Ahh… the beautiful ones are always taken. What a shame,” Antoine said before drinking from his wine glass. “Well, shame on him for leaving a pretty lady alone in a room where the wolves could descend at any moment.”

Vanessa chuckled. “I’m a big girl, I can take care of myself.”

Antoine smiled. “I don’t doubt that for one second.” He finished his drink and extended his hand to be shaken again. When Vanessa went to shake it, he brought it up to his lips and kissed it briefly. “It was a pleasure meeting you Ms. Vanessa. Enjoy the rest of the party.”

“The pleasure’s all mine,” Vanessa smiled. She was still smiling as Antoine walked away. She checked him out a little longer before turning back to the bar to finish her drink. She never saw Eric approaching from the direction Antoine was headed in.

“See something you liked?” Eric asked from behind her.

Vanessa turned towards him and smiled. “Hey, babe.” She stood up to kiss him on the cheek but the look in his eyes made her feel as though something was wrong. “Did everything go okay with your co-workers?”

“Everything was fine. Are you ready to go?” Eric asked flatly.

“Yes, sure if you’re ready, I’m ready.” Vanessa stood up and Eric sat a twenty on the bar for the bartender. He instructed him to keep the change and he and Vanessa waited for the valet to bring his car around.

The silence felt awkward to Vanessa so she cleared her throat. “Is everything okay?” she asked.

“I don’t know, you tell me,” Eric replied as he looked at her.

“What’s do you mean?”

“Who was the dude at the bar?”

“Oh, Antoine? He was just a guy that was buying a drink and he asked if I was enjoying the party. I told him I was here with my boyfriend and was having a pretty good time. He cracked a joke about how they could have hired a better DJ and when he finished his drink, he told me to enjoy the party and left,” Vanessa explained wondering why Eric would let that bother him.

Eric laughed sarcastically as the valet handed him the keys to his Infiniti. “Antoine. You on a first name basis with these niggas now?”

“Eric, why are you getting bent out of shape over a friendly guy who was buying a drink near me and was just being cordial.”

“I ain’t bent out of shape over no nigga being cordial. That nigga wasn’t being cordial. He kissing your hand and you smiling at him, checking the nigga out while he’s damn near across the fucking room. I’m not bent out of shape, try fucking annoyed,” Eric snapped.

“First off, you need to stop cursing at me, Eric. I’m not talking to you like that so don’t talk to me like that,” Vanessa replied becoming upset.

“What? I’ll talk to you any fucking way I want. Fuck wrong with you.”

“Whatever, Eric. I don’t know what your problem is tonight but like I said, don’t talk to me like that. Getting mad over a guy kissing my hand is so petty. It’s not even that deep.”

“I’m petty? I’m being petty, now? You’re calling me petty? I leave you alone for five minutes and you in the party acting like a hoe.”

“Acting like a what?!” Vanessa repeated looking at Eric as though he had lost his mind. When Eric stopped at a light, she opened the car door to get out. Eric snatched her by her arm and pulled her back to her seat. “Get off of me!” Vanessa yelled at him as she yanked away.

“Close the damn door, where the hell do you think you’re going and I’m talking to you? Close the fucking door, NOW!”

The look on Eric’s face slightly frightened Vanessa. The light turned from red to green and the cars behind them began to honk. Vanessa slammed the car door shut and folded her arms across her chest.

“I know you better not slam my fucking door again,” Eric practically growled. He continued to snap at her about Antoine from the party for the duration of the ride home. When he parked in the driveway, Vanessa got out of the car and slammed the door again. She marched over to the front door and used her key to unlock it. No sooner than she made it to the living room, Eric snatched her by her arm and spun her around before slapping her in her face. Vanessa cried out and stumbled back in her heels almost falling. She put a hand to her face feeling the sting from his slap and looked at him with tears in her eyes. When she got over the shock of him slapping her, she cocked her fist back and swung back at him but Eric blocked it.

“Bitch!” Eric barked. He punched Vanessa in her face, knocking her to the floor. Before Vanessa had a chance to brace herself, he was on top of her. “Bitch, I will break your fucking neck in here, swinging on me like you’re tough!” Vanessa struggled to fight back, screaming for him to get off of her, but that only infuriated him some more. He put his hand around her throat and squeezed. Her legs kicked beneath him trying desperately to kick him in the groin.

“Oh bitch, I see you have to learn the hard-way,” Eric said as he snatched Vanessa by her hair and dragged her from the living room to the stairs. Her arms and legs flared as she screamed and begged for him to stop, but her cries fell on deaf ears. As Eric tried to drag her up the stairs, she clung to the banister. He used his fist to beat on her knuckles to make her let go. He then yanked her away, and dragged her up the stairs. He stopped momentarily between steps to slap her in the face again. When they got to the bedroom, Vanessa tried to scramble to her feet but Eric punched her in her back and in her ribs, knocking the wind out of her. He then grabbed her by the neck again, lifting her in the air and throwing her to the floor.

“You better not ever fucking disrespect me like that again! Ever! You hear me!” he yelled before kicking her like a dog.

Vanessa curled up in a ball with her arms covering her head and her face to protect herself from any other punches or slaps he may have delivered. She cried and sobbed as she peeked from behind her arms to see where he was.

“Shut the fuck up,” Eric said calmly before walking out of the room. Vanessa listened for his footsteps and heard him when he walked down to the kitchen. She laid on the floor a little longer, struggling to catch her breath while wondering what the hell had just happened. Who was the monster impersonating the man she slept with almost every night and had loved more than anything in the world? When she felt like she could move, she sat up slowly and placed her hands to her head as she felt dizzy and nauseous. She crawled hurriedly to the bathroom and lift the toilet seat up, vomiting everything she ate and drank that evening. She rest her head against the cold porcelain bowl and began to sob. Vanessa stopped when she thought she heard Eric coming back upstairs. She quickly shut the bathroom door and locked it.

“V-dot, open the door,” Eric said as he twisted the door knob. His voice sounded much calmer than it did five minutes before.

“No!” Vanessa said back as she choked on her sobs.

“Vanessa, please. Let me in. I just want to talk, babe.”

“Talk? With what, your fists? I think you’ve said enough.”

Eric placed his hand on the door and leaned on it. “I’m sorry, babe. I don’t know what came over me. Just please, let me in so I can make sure you’re okay. Let me make this right, please. I never meant to hurt you, I swear. I’ll never put my hands on you again, I promise. Please, open the door so we can fix this. Please, Vanessa. I love you.”

Vanessa closed her eyes and listened to him. Though she loved him, she was terrified of him at that moment. She began to think that maybe she did gawk at Antoine as he walked away a little longer than she should have. She knew she wouldn’t have appreciated it if she caught Eric kissing another woman’s hand and then gazing at her body as she walked away. “But he still shouldn’t have hit me,” she thought to herself. She then thought that maybe she should hear him out. “If you listen to the bullshit he’s about to spew when you open that door, you are a fool. Once a beater, always a beater! Trust me.” a little voice said in her head. She silenced it as she slowly unlocked the door and opened it. She was shocked to see Eric with tears cascading down his face.

He looked at her and winced. “Aw damn baby… I…” he shook his head unable to find the words. “I can’t believe I did this to you. I swear, I’ve never done anything like this before. I swear, I’ve never, ever hit a woman before. My mother raised me better than this. I have sisters and would break a muthafucka up if I ever heard they had done something like this to them.” He reached his hand out to her face to wipe her tears away and Vanessa flinched and moved away from his hand.

“How could you do this to me, Eric? I didn’t do anything! I thought you loved me,” Vanessa cried.

“Vanessa, I do love you. I guess I was more stressed over the party tonight than anything else. Not with you or Antoine, just some things that happened with the discussion I was having with some of the guys we were trying to do business with. Some of the senior partners were spitting my ideas like they were their own and was shutting me outta things. I took it out on you. I shouldn’t have done that.” Eric hung his head in shame and put his hands to his face. “I fucked up, babe. I fucked up bad and if you wanna leave, I guess I don’t have a choice but to respect that and let you go…”

Vanessa stared at him for a moment, her heart aching. The better part of her knew she should run and never look back. But too much of her loved him. Vanessa loved him hard. He was her first love and the only man she had ever loved or been in love with. She understood that no relationship is perfect and felt that they could get through this with a little counseling and maybe even praying together.

She reached for his hand and held onto it. Eric grabbed it and fell to his knees in front of her. He buried his face in her abdomen and cried like a baby.

“I promise we’ll fix this. I love you more than anything, Vanessa. I’ve never loved a woman the way I love you. You mean everything to me and I swear I’ll never fuck up like that again. I promise you.”

Vanessa was speechless as she stroked the back of his head. She promised herself at that moment that if he was willing to work with her, she was willing to forgive him and try to fix their relationship so they could be stronger together.

“I love you too, baby. But this can’t ever happen again, Eric. I mean it. If it does, I’m gone. Do you understand me?” Vanessa said sternly,

“It won’t happen again. I swear. It won’t.” Eric stood up and kissed her gently. He then sat her down on the toilet and left the bathroom before returning with her bathrobe and a towel. He turned the tub water on and poured some melon scented bubble bath in the water, running her a hot bubble bath. He then undressed her gently and helped her step into the bathtub. He took his time washing her body, squirting the hot, bubbly water down her back and over her chest, soothing her. Afterwards, he helped her from the tub and gently dried her off before placing her robe on her and carrying her to their bedroom.

They made love that night as they did on her birthday just two months before. And he held her in his arms like he had held her the very first time and Vanessa began to relax, foolishly believing that things were going to be like they were before that dreadful evening.

The tea kettle began whistling and Vanessa got up from the counter. As she was fixing herself a mug of hot tea, she heard Eric pulling into the drive-way. If her ribs weren’t so sore, she would have ran back upstairs and got in the bed, pretending to be asleep. Instead, she continued fixing her tea, already knowing what to expect when he came in the door: an apology, possibly some flowers and then the script would flip to how if she had not disrespected him the way that she did, things would not have taken an ugly turn. “How long are you going to let this go on? What is it going to take? A punch that does more than leave a bruise? A kick that does more than leave your ribs sore?” Vanessa shook her head to silence the voice inside of it just as Eric came inside.

He walked over to her quietly and kissed her on the cheek without saying anything as though nothing happened earlier. She kept her mouth closed as well not wanting to say anything that would set him off and cause him to unleash another ass whipping on her. She glanced up and noticed that there were no flowers or apologetic gifts. She stirred the honey and sugar in her mug and then blew softly on it before taking a sip.

Eric looked through some papers and then sat a stack of mail on the counter before heading over to the stairs. “Are you coming to bed?” he asked.

“As soon as I finish this tea, I’ll be right up,” Vanessa replied softly. And without responding, Eric went upstairs without her.

Vanessa sighed and sipped her tea. She wished she had someone she could call and talk to. Because she was an only child, she had no sisters she could cry to and no brothers to protect her. And with the connections that Eric had within the police department and in other places, calling the cops was out of the question. The only person she had in her corner since she was a little girl was Arianna and they barely talked to each other because Eric kept her on such a tight leash. He claimed Arianna ran the streets too much and was an educated hoe. But Vanessa knew what the problem really was. Arianna wasn’t afraid of Eric and made a damn good point to let him know if she said the word, she’d blow his fucking head off and not think twice about it. She had tried to get Vanessa to leave Eric and did not hold her tongue when it came to speaking on her disdain for him.

Vanessa sipped from her mug once more as she thought back on the big blow up between her, Eric and Arianna. It was after the first time he beat her…

Vanessa had spent so much time at Eric’s house that it was almost as though she didn’t have a place with Arianna anymore. She still paid her half of the rent, not wanting to leave Arianna hanging, but it had gone from her living at the apartment and spending the night at Eric’s, to her living at Eric’s and spending the night at the apartment.

The fall semester wasn’t going to be starting for a couple of more weeks so she wasn’t sure if Arianna was home or if she had company, so she text her phone: “hey chica, you busy?” Moments later, her phone was ringing.

“Ting-a-ling-a-ling, school bell ring, LSU seniors up in this thing!” Arianna sang into the phone to the tune of Shabba Ranks reggae hit “Ting-a-ling-a-ling”. She burst into a loud laughter. “Heyyy sis!”

Vanessa smiled as she grabbed her purse and her keys. Hey, sis. What are you doing?”

“Nothing girl, just watching that episode of Grey’s Anatomy when dude had the bomb in his chest. You gotta love Burke. He hit that floor mad quick when ol’ girl snatched her hand out of that guy’s chest.” Arianna laughed again.

“Yeah, that was always my favorite episode, too. Hey, is it okay if I hang out over there today?” Vanessa asked.

“Oh, I guess you and Eric got tired of fucking like rabbits and now you want to adopt me,” Arianna said sarcastically. “This is still your home, baby-girl. I’m not going anywhere, today. Come hang out. We can gossip about these little mid-west White girls moving into the La-Salle dorms plotting on some big black cock. You better watch your man, girl!”

Vanessa chuckled lightly. “Okay, I’m on my way.” She disconnected the call and left a note for Eric letting him know where she was in case he got in before she got back. She threw her sunglasses on to hide the bruises on her face planning to stop at Rite-Aid and grab some foundation to cover up the bruise near her eye and on her cheek. She knew if Arianna saw her bruises, she would be ready to draw blood and Vanessa could not handle that drama today.

She dabbed the make-up on while sitting on the back of the bus trying to be discreet while grateful that it wasn’t crowded. She didn’t have a clue on how to wear make-up but tried her best to make sure the bruises were covered well.

She was shocked to see Arianna waiting in the doorway for her as she walked up the street. “Hey chica!” she said with a huge smile on her face.

Arianna looked at Vanessa crossly wondering why she would be wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day. “Hey boo, what’s up with the shades?”

Vanessa touched them tentatively. “Oh, Eric bought them for me and I couldn’t wait to wear them so… sun or no sun, I was wearing these bad boys today,” she laughed nervously.

Arianna chuckled with her suspiciously. She knew something was up and hoped it wasn’t what she thought it was. She opened her arms to hug her best friend and was more than slightly mythed when Vanessa winced and cringed after she squeezed her. Arianna backed away and looked her bestie over. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just called myself working out with Eric yesterday at the gym and I’m feeling it today, that’s all,” Vanessa lied.

Arianna knew she was lying and she was now positive that there was something more going on. “Take the glasses off, Vanna.”

“You know I hate when you call me that,” Vanessa replied, refusing to take the glasses off.

“Never mind that shit. Take off the glasses,” Arianna said more sternly. “Take them off, now.”

Vanessa was moving too slow with taking the shades off so Arianna snatched them off of her face. Her mouth hung open and she gasped. “Vanna… seriously?! SERIOUSLY!”

“Ari, it’s not that deep, really I’m fine,” Vanessa said as she reached for her sunglasses.

“The hell you are?! What the hell kind of work-out were y’all doing yesterday? Because judging by that black eye and your sore ribs, I’m going to guess boxing and you were the punching bag! Did Eric do this to you?”

“I’m fine,” Vanessa replied, avoiding the question.

“You are not fine!” Arianna snatched her friend by the arm and pulled her into their apartment and slammed the door behind them. “Why the fuck is he putting his hands on you? Don’t he know I will put two in him with no fucking regards as to where they bury him?!”

“It was an accident, Arianna. He didn’t mean it.”

“Oh!” Arianna said sarcastically. “Forgive me for thinking the worst! Tell me more about how you tripped and your face hit his fist!”

“Arianna, please. I didn’t come over here for this. I don’t want to talk about it. We had a misunderstanding last night but we’re going to work it out. Everything will be fine.”

“Everything will be fine when you leave that woman beating bastard where he is and get as far away from him as possible. Tell me you didn’t fall for the bullshit apology routine.”

Vanessa sat down in a chair and covered her face as the tears slid out of her eyes. She was confused and an emotional wreck. She came to her best friend with the hopes that Arianna would take her mind off of what happened the night before, not to be badgered and ridiculed for something she felt as though she had no control over.

“Vanessa, you’re like a sister to me. Cradle to the grave, sis. Cradle to the grave! There is no way I can sit by while you let this happen. You’re better than this! You deserve better than this. And just because he has a few dollars and showers you with fancy shit and fucks like a porn star, that does not give him the right to beat on you! His wallet ain’t made of gold and neither is his dick!” Arianna preached angrily.

“Will you just drop it, Arianna!? Damn, that’s why I didn’t want to say anything to you because you always go off on some ghetto, Shakespearean monologue, and I can’t deal with that right now. So please, just drop it. I just want to hang out today like we used to, watch re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy or Law & Order SVU, eat popcorn, pizza and ice-cream and gossip about the new White girls moving in on campus. Can we just do that, please?” Vanessa asked her best friend with tears in her eyes.

Arianna thought Vanessa was being stupid. But if she didn’t want the stress of talking about whatever happened between her and Eric the night before, she would grant her that pass. But eventually they would talk. Arianna would see to that.

“You’re terrible at putting on make-up,” Arianna said flatly with a half-smile.

Vanessa smile with her. “I know…”

Arianna cleaned up Vanessa’s face and gave her a heating pad to put on her side to ease the pain from the bruises on her ribs. They sat together talking and laughing as though nothing had happened. Vanessa’s phone went off quite a few times with phone calls and text messages from Eric but she ignored them. Even though the night before she said she would forgive Eric and they could work on fixing whatever had been broken so their relationship could last, hearing what Arianna said brought her back to her senses. She decided that she would leave Eric. She didn’t want to be one of those weak women who constantly went back to her abuser. One time was enough.

Vanessa had fallen asleep but was awakened by the sound of Arianna’s very loud and angry voice.

“Hell no, you can NOT come into my damn apartment. Now you better get your ass out of here before I call the cops on you!” Vanessa heard Arianna saying. She knew that it was Eric and jumped from her bed with her heart racing. She was afraid to leave her bedroom but she didn’t want the argument between Eric and Arianna to escalate nor did she want the nosey neighbors to start peeking out of their doors.

She swallowed past the knot of fear in her throat and took a deep breath before going into the living room.

“Vanessa, what happened babe? I thought you said we were going to work things out last night?” Eric asked, sounding sad and confused.

Vanessa opened her mouth to speak but didn’t know what to say. She looked at Arianna, who was staring at her as if she would go upside her head if she even thought about bringing Eric into their apartment, and then she looked at Eric who looked heartbroken. He looked as though he was under a lot of stress and just needed someone in his corner to reassure him things would be okay. She was his woman and it was her job to be in his corner and have his back.

Vanessa sighed and shook her head. “It’s okay, Arianna. Let him in.”

“What!? Are you fucking…? SERIOUSLY!” Arianna stopped talking abruptly and laughed sarcastically before opening the door wider for Eric to come in.

Eric walked over to Vanessa and held her hands. “When I got home and you weren’t there, babe I was so worried. I was scared in fact, because I thought that you changed your mind and decided to leave me after all.”

Vanessa shook her head. “I thought about it and what happened last night was…” she paused as she tried to find the words to say. “I can’t even find the words to describe what happened last night. But I can’t do this again. I can’t let what you did to me slide like it’s okay because it’s not.”

“It’s not okay, V-Dot. I understand, I fucked up last night. I messed up, but I promise you, it won’t happen again.”

“Oh nigga, please. You heard what she said so get your woman-beating ass the fuck up out of here before I call the cops,” Arianna snapped as she snatched open the front door.

“Ari…” Vanessa started.

“Look shorty, I never had a problem with you before, but if you keep talking to me like I’m one of these nut-ass niggas on the street, you about to have a problem with me today,” Eric said with base in his voice as he glare at Arianna.

“Yeah you talk real tough when you up against a female. Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not fucking Vanessa. You put your fucking hands on me, nigga…”

Eric advanced towards Arianna and Vanessa tried to grab his arm to stop him as her heart raced, but he yanked away from her. Before Vanessa or Eric had a chance to react, Arianna had a knife at his throat. Vanessa screamed.

“Arianna, no!” Vanessa cried out.

“Now what, bitch. Take one more muthafucking step and I will cut a second smile across your throat, nigga. Try me!” Arianna said through clenched teeth. They stared daggers at each other for what seemed like an eternity to Vanessa.

“Arianna, please…” she begged. “He’s not going to do anything.”

“Oh I know damn well his punk-ass ain’t going to do anything except walk out of this bitch or he’ll be carried out of this bitch if he tries something,” Arianna replied never taking her eyes off of Eric. She saw the way he glanced from the knife back to her eyes as though he was contemplating who was faster. An evil grin crept across her face.

“We’re going to leave, Arianna. Just please put the knife down,” Vanessa pleaded.

“You are not leaving with him, Vanna.”

“Ari, it’s okay. We’re just going to go somewhere and talk. I’ll be okay. He’s not going to hurt me.”

“He already has,” Arianna grimaced. She held the knife to his neck a little longer before stepping away quickly. Eric straightened out his shirt and walked over to the front door. It was so tempting for Arianna to stab him in the back but she managed to restrain herself.

As Vanessa was about to walk past her to leave out behind Eric, Arianna stopped her. “Vanna, listen to me. If you leave with him, he’s going to sweet talk you, wine and dine you, offer to give you the moon and the stars but never act on his promises. And as soon as you get comfortable, he’s going to beat you again. Trust me, honey. Don’t leave with him.”

“We’re just going to talk, Arianna. That’s all.”

“What is there to talk about?” Arianna asked hysterically. Vanessa huffed and folded her arms across her chest, shaking her head. Arianna threw her hands in the air out of frustration and waved her towards the door. “Fine, do what you want. But I’ma tell you something; when he whips your ass again- and he will- don’t come crying to me because I don’t want to hear it. It’s one thing for him to beat your ass by surprise. It’s another for him to beat your ass because you went back and let him.”

“Whatever,” Vanessa said as she marched past Arianna. She slammed the door and left with Eric.

The night that Vanessa was reminiscing over, she made the second biggest mistake of her life, which was choosing a man over her best friend. The first biggest mistake was going home with Eric and allowing him to convince her to stay. Arianna’s words never rang truer at that moment. He did exactly what she said he was going to do; he wined her, dined her, and gave her the world. But as soon as she got comfortable and thought their relationship was moving in the right direction, the beatings started. At first it was once every few months. Then it turned into every few weeks. Now it was routine for her to get slapped in the mouth or popped upside of her head like an insolent child being scolded by a parent. She walked around as though she was stepping on glass, knowing that the smallest misstep could grant her an ass whipping that would leave her as she was at that very moment, sore and feeling defeated.

Vanessa drank back the rest of her tea and washed the mug out, dried it and put it away. She turned out all of the lights and made her way upstairs slowly, grimacing against the pain in her back and ribs from his punches and kicks. She wished she had the courage to leave. But where would she go? He knew who all of her friends were and where all of her friends lived. And he had threatened her numerous times that if she even thought about skipping out on him, he would see to it that her body was never found. The only thing she could think to do was to try to co-exist with him as peacefully as possible to warn off anymore beatings. “Or you could always kill his ass,” the voice in her head said. This time the voice was so loud and clear that she stumbled as she made her way down the hall. She shook her head to clear it and made her way into the bedroom, hoping Eric was asleep.

She slipped her robe off and hung it on the back of the chair before easing into the bed with him praying that he was asleep and didn’t force himself on her again. She was just getting comfortable when he punched her in her back.

“Watch your damn feet,” he grumbled in a sleepy voice.

Vanessa put her hand to her mouth to muffle her cries knowing that if she disturbed his sleep anymore, he would surely beat her again. She hugged her pillow close to her face and scooted to the edge of the bed. Tears fell into her pillow and she closed her eyes praying for an escape… praying for death…

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Love's Deadly Masquerade