A few weeks earlier
When I look at myself in the mirror, I almost scream.
My face looks like a nightmare of blossoming purple bruises, mixed with other bruises that are fading to yellow. It is painful to gaze upon. Russell watches me putting the final touches on my cheekbone, and he seems impressed.
“You’re a magician, Wendy,” he tells me. “It looks real.”
I spent hours practicing. I watched several YouTube videos, and now I am one of the world’s experts on creating realistic-looking bruises. It truly does look like somebody gave me a substantial beating.
I hope Millie appreciates the work that went into this masterpiece.
For the most part, Millie seems to be truly buying into our little act. And aside from that, she is an excellent cook and housekeeper. She’s even managed to find me some cucamelons—my favorite. It’s a shame what’s going to happen to her.
But there’s no other way.
“It’s almost perfect,” I say as I put away my canvas of makeup. “It’s just missing one thing.”
Russell raises an eyebrow. He has been playing the role of Douglas to perfection since Millie arrived. It’s incredible—when you combine Russell’s looks and personality with Douglas’s wealth and power, you truly have the ideal man. “Really? Looks pretty perfect to me.”
I inspect my face in the mirror one more time. Perfect isn’t good enough. It has to be better than perfect. If Millie suspects for one second that this is makeup, it’s game over. It has to be impeccable.
“You have to punch me,” I say.
Russell throws back his head and lets out a laugh. “Right. Sounds good.”
“I mean it. I need you to split my lip. It needs to look real.”
The smile slides off Russell’s face as he realizes I am 100 percent serious. “What?”
“She can’t suspect this is makeup,” I tell him. “And I can’t fake a split lip with the supplies I’ve got. You need to punch me.”
Russell shoots me a horrified look as he backs away from me. “I’m not punching you in the face.”
“You don’t have to feel bad about it. I’m telling you to do it.”
“I’ve never hit a woman in my life.” He looks slightly ill. It makes me wonder if he has the guts to go through with this plan. He’s going to have to do a lot worse than punch me in the face before this is over. “I’m not going to hit you, Wendy.”
“You have to.”
“I won’t. I can’t.”
I am so frustrated, I could scream. Does he think this is a joke? I have a small amount of savings that I tucked away for a rainy day in my own personal account, plus some money I made selling jewelry and clothing. But I’ve been using that to live on and to pay Millie’s—extremely generous, I might add—salary. I have now also spent a chunk of it purchasing a dress that the police will eventually suspect Douglas gave Millie, as well as an expensive engraved bracelet. And of course, I packed the closet with cleaning supplies that I purchased under the guise of having terrible allergies, but really bought so that the doorman wouldn’t catch Millie lugging around bottles of floor cleaner and furniture polish.
In any case, the money isn’t going to last much longer. I need to wrap this up—soon.
I need him to punch me.
“You’re pathetic,” I spit at him. “I can’t believe you won’t do this little thing for me. We have a chance to strike it rich, and here you are, screwing it up.”
I sneer at him. “No wonder you’re in your forties and you’re nothing but a furniture salesman. Pathetic.”
“Enough, Wendy,” Russell says through his teeth.
His right hand balls into a fist. He is sensitive about his career. I know he is. He always dreamed of being a successful businessman, and managing a floundering antique furniture store is very far from that dream. I could help him do so much more—I could turn him into the man he wants to be. The man he deserves to be.
He just needs to hit me.
“You’re such a loser,” I go on. “What are you going to do when the store goes belly up? Get a job at McDonald’s, salting French fries?”
“Enough! Stop it!”
“You want me to stop? Then hit me!”
Before I even know what’s happening, a burst of pain explodes on the left side of my face. I gasp and stumble backward, catching myself on the towel rack. For a second, I am seeing stars.
“Wendy!” Russell’s anguished cry breaks me out of my haze. “Jesus Christ, I’m so sorry!”
He looks like he’s about to burst into tears, but he doesn’t feel as bad as my face feels. God, he hit me really hard. I wasn’t sure he had it in him. I touch my face and I realize there’s blood streaming out of my nose.
“You’re bleeding,” he gasps.
He grabbed me some paper towels, and I do my best to staunch the flow of blood out of my nose. After a couple of minutes, it seems to stop. Well, mostly.
When I look up at Russell, his powerful eyebrows are bunched together. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry.”
The bathroom is a disaster. My blood has dripped all over the floor. And there is a bloody handprint on the edge of the bathroom sink, from where I was gripping it when I was desperately trying to get my nose to stop bleeding.
Oh my God, it’s perfect.