"Well, well, well," Charleston's smiled widened, his cruel eyes fairly crackled with evil delight. "Look who's finally home. My long-absent, incredibly rich wife. Hello, Sweetheart." The sarcasm dripped off his tongue, whipping Katrina's senses. Then one thought flashed across her mind, startled her, and stilled her tongue. ‘If Charleston's out here, then who’s in the house?’ Wordlessly, she looked up at him, trying to right her mind's equilibrium.
Charleston's fingers bit cruelly into her upper arms, the pain sharpening her wits and clearing her senses. Katrina knew her survival lay in playing for time until Gavin could help her. How he would find her, how he could help her, she had no idea. For all the times she questioned whether Gavin was working with her husband or not, standing next to him now, feeling the evil emanating from him, she knew deep inside that Gavin would never align himself with Charleston. Not even questioning how she knew this, the knowledge gave her courage now.
She also realized one other fact. She must not anger Charleston to the point of his losing his volatile temper. And that, she knew, would be quite a trick.
Well, Sweetheart, cat got your tongue?" Charleston's words cut across her thoughts, and the vicious shake he gave her almost dislodged her feet from solid ground.
"Ch-Charleston." The pain in her arms from his iron grip crept into her voice, giving it a small waver. Mentally she cursed herself for it, but Charleston's evil laugh rang out, and his next words gave birth to a plan.
"That's better," he laughed. "That's the cowardly little slut we both know, Katrina!" He laughed again, and for a moment, all the nightmares of the past six years crowded in on her, nearly robbing her of consciousness. Her knees wobbled slightly, and he felt the tremor of her body. Charleston began walking forward, toward the back of Katrina's house, making her walk backwards. Once more, she nearly lost her balance, and he laughed at her clumsiness, calling her several of the names she had forgotten he used for her. Anger rose in her.
When they reached the back steps, Charleston looked up, and saw the back door leaning wide. Anger crossed his features, distorting his face as he looked down at her. He was horribly ugly, almost grotesque in his hatred and anger.
He nearly leapt up the stairs, dragging Katrina with him. She stumbled and fell as he pushed her backwards up the stairs.
Charleston shifted his grip to her hair and pulled her the rest of the way into the kitchen, where he threw her contemptuously onto the floor.
"You've been inside the house already, haven't you?" he spat at her, turning on the kitchen light from the switch just inside the door.
Keeping her eyes wide, Katrina bit her lip and nodded. Her anger at him must not show, she told herself. The independence she had gained by making it on her own these past six years had to remain hidden. She must appear to be the spineless blob he had been used to…no strength, no courage, and no anger, just fear.
"Why?" he bit out, kicking her, the toe of his boot sinking deep into the soft flesh on her buttock.
"I…I…came to…get some…clothes." Katrina prayed desperately he would believe her. If he found out she came after the bank book, she was sunk. He'd beat her until he got it from her, and once he got it, he'd kill her.
"Then why did you run away?" He kicked her again.
“Please Charleston, don’t hurt me any more.” A few teardrops spilled out of the corners of her eyes, the kitchen light catching on them as they chased each other down her cheeks, splattering on the kitchen floor.
"Well, slut, answer me, then. If you were in the house, why did you run out?"
"I thought…I heard y—…a noise," she hastily amended her answer, keeping her eyes lowered so he couldn’t see the lie in them.
"So?" he bellowed.
"So…I thought y—…thought someone…was here…so I ran." Her voice was weak and quavery, fear making her breath come in little gasps.
Realization dawned in Charleston's eyes. "Came back for your clothes be damned! You came back for your money!" He reached down and grabbed her arm hard, pulling her to her feet. Katrina knew there would be bruises on her arms, but she also knew if she didn't play this just right, the bruises wouldn't matter. She'd be too dead to care.
"Please, Charleston, you're hurting me."
"You want me to stop hurting you?" His voice growled at her, grating against her ears, lacerating her already frayed nerves. Not trusting herself to speak, Katrina nodded her head, heedless of the tears which continued to course down her cheeks.
"Then stop your blubbering, you dirty slut, and give me my money!"
"What money, Charleston? I don't have any money."
"MY MONEY!" he roared, gripping her even tighter before he threw her across the kitchen. She collided with the refrigerator and heard a sharp crack echo through the room as she slid to the floor. Pain blazed through Katrina’s arm, and she realized the crack she’d heard was the sound of her arm breaking. A string of curses rained over her head.
"Get up!" he snarled, kicking at her leg with his foot.
Katrina made herself rise, and grasp the edge of the table to keep her steady and upright. She heard the back door crash shut behind her. With an involuntary jerk, she put both hands up to protect herself, and immediately wished she hadn't. Pain burned through her arm, causing a momentary haze to her brain and a swirling sensation to the kitchen.
With a deep breath, Katrina steadied herself somewhat while she used her good arm to carefully hold, then cradle her broken arm to her body. She saw the bone hadn't come through the skin, at least not yet. And, depending how carefully she managed things, perhaps it wouldn't.
She looked at Charleston, and saw that he had aged greatly in this last six years. The signs of his drinking and debauchery had marred his once-appealing face. Puffiness around the eyes, lines in his cheeks, and jowls coming on the brink of flabbiness attested to the lack of care he had given himself. Looking at him, Katrina was amazed she had ever thought him good-looking.
He hadn't shaved in several days, and some of the stubble festooned his face with gray and white streaks, adding years and a certain harsh coldness to his generally shabby countenance. Despite this seedy look, however, Katrina had felt the strength in his grip and knew he was just as deadly a threat to her as an angry lion on a rampage. She shuddered at his nearness.
Her reflections had taken but a moment, and he came towards her, anger blazing in his eyes. "Where's your phone, you ugly hag!" He snarled the demand as he leaned towards her, giving her the impression he was poised to strike her.
“What’s going on here?” Gavin’s mild question came from the door.
Charleston whirled to face Gavin, a vicious expression on his face.
Katrina slowly released her breath in an inaudible sigh of relief. Gavin was here. He would save her. Her ordeal was at an end.