Ashley Palmer stepped out of the shower in a robe and walked into her sprawling master suite. It was perched on the fifty-first floor of Malory Towers, the tallest building in Norwich city. The room had designer club chairs and sofas upholstered in cocktail tables; a stylish credenza and tripod floor lamp stood beside an anthracite side table. A side of the room faced east and was made entirely of Saint-Gobain glass. Custom-made rugs covered the floor space. The extravagance did not bring Ashley any delight. Nor did being the wife of Jake Grayson, Chairman, and CEO of Grayson Entertainment, the largest television production company in the state.
An expansive mirror covered the wall near the changing room. Ashley examined herself in the mirror. A natural strawberry blonde, her hair used to be the cause of envy. She went for a jog every morning and worked out in the gym in the evening, without fail. Saturdays were spent doing Bikram Yoga, while she reserved Sundays for Mixed Martial Arts, both under the supervision of personal instructors from the most reputed schools. Her body was taut, sinewy, and slender with a firm bust. But her face. She hated her face. It was hideous.
Ashley used to be beautiful. Something very tragic happened to her three years back. A group of masked men attacked her on the day of her engagement. People found her unconscious on the pavement the next day, the skin of her face peeled, and her body bruised and bleeding. She recovered, but her face did not. Multiple plastic surgeries had only made matters worse. The scars were everywhere- her forehead, her cheeks, her chin, her lips, her nose; even her earlobes were affected.
“Ashley? That ghoul! She’ll scare away children!”
“God knows how the ugly whore seduced Jake.”
Her marriage to Jake was a sham. It was a front for the corporate merger of Grayson Communications and Palmer Industries Inc.- Ashley’s father, Arthur Palmer’s company. They were the hottest couple in town before the tragic incident. After her disfigurement, people assumed Jake would dump her. However, the marriage was followed through because of the merger. After seeing her repulsive face in social gatherings, their acquaintances thought Ashley had married Jake through deceit or trickery. Nobody shied away from assassinating her character. But Ashley had become immune to such derisive opinions.
The brutal attack on her was not the end of it. Her troubles had just begun. On the day of their engagement, Tessa Grayson, Jake’s eighteen-year-old sister, was found dead with her throat slit. The shocking fact was that police forensics found Tessa’s blood on Ashley’s clothes. The evidence also indicated that she was murdered the previous day in the afternoon. Witnesses reported that Tessa was supposed to meet Ashley for lunch at that time. The police grilled the latter for hours, but Ashley had no information to give. She was confused by the events and had no memory of how they came about. The last thing she remembered was being abducted by a few masked men who drugged her and threw her into a van. She woke up next in a hospital with bandages on her face.
The police investigation named her as the chief suspect in the murder of Tessa Grayson. The prosecution argued that Ashley had staged the attack on herself. And that her motive behind killing her sister-in-law was to be the only partner in Grayson Enterprises with Jake. An expensive lawyer hired by her father got the charges dropped for lack of evidence for a conviction. Ashley’s mother had died of cancer when she was young, and Arthur had remarried a woman named Mary. Scarlet, her stepsister, had supported Ashley throughout the nightmare, attending her at the hospital and helping her through the legal procedures.
But Jake had not been the same ever since. He blamed Ashley for his sister’s death and never came to visit her at the hospital. The man who had treated her like a princess earlier had started regarding her as a villain. Their marriage was followed through to keep the merger intact. But Jake had his reasons for agreeing to the wedlock. On their wedding night, Jake had arrived in their bedroom- drunk and disorderly. The look in his eyes had scared the shit out of her.
“Fucking ugly slut, you deserve that shitty face!” he had begun. “Look at you, in your lavish gowns, while my sister lies six feet under!”
“No, Jake, it wasn’t me!”
“Stop lying, bitch! The police believed your deception, but I won’t! You killed my sister, you pig. Now I will make you pay.”
Jake had torn off her clothes. When Ashley had protested, he had manhandled her and pinned her down to the bed with a chain. Then the monster had fucked her until she was sore and half-unconscious. Drained, he had spat on her and left.
The worst honeymoon ever!
Ashley had not reported the incident to anyone because she thought she deserved the punishment.
“Perhaps it is my fault all this happened,” she told herself.
“One day, Jake will see the truth and forgive me.”
Yet, the abuse had continued, and Jake would come to her several times a week and violate her against her will, all the while hurling filthy curses.
Another humiliation she had to suffer was that he always put a paper bag over her head. “I will never get a boner if I see your ugly mug,” he would say bitterly.
Ashley had hired a private detective named Harry Doyle to prove her innocence. Doyle came highly recommended. So far, however, he had not produced any results while he kept asking for more money every month.
Ashley let the bathrobe slip off and examined her naked body. There were visible marks of nail scratches and scars on her back. Some noticeable bite marks on her breasts and cigarette burns on her thighs and buttocks as well. A few wounds were fresh from last night.
Tears filled in her eyes, but she did not cry.
She would never be able to prove her innocence. And Jake would never stop abusing her. There was only one solution to break the vicious cycle.
It was time to end her marriage. She was going to ask Jake for a divorce. And she was going to do it with style.