Chapter 1: In the Dead of Night
Startled by the ice-cold touch on her cheek, her eyes fluttered, her long, thick lashes flitting, fanning her cheeks. Her clouded mind fought between sleeping and awakening, slowly taking in her surroundings.
The vast room was cloaked in semi-darkness, exactly the way she wanted it. Craved for it, in fact. There was something comforting about the iron gray hue mantled over exquisite furnitures, their silhouette providing texture to the gold edges of the wallpaper’s geometric design.
Comforting. . . sheltering, masking the turmoil of her soul.
She inhaled sharply, though, when her vision was able to make out the shadow looming over her. A huge, ominous black figure contrasting with the gray of her world crouched beside her. Panic started to creep up her throat.
But then, her nostrils caught the scent of sandalwood and musk, and in an instant, her fear and dread evaporated.
She groped for the lamp switch, turning it on without haste. And smiled with relief as she came face to face with her husband of five years. Of course, she shouldn’t have been afraid. He had always loved watching her sleep.
“You look like a sleeping angel, a sleeping beauty, my darling,” he had said many times. As an insomniac, she makes his sleepless nights bearable, he’d told her, as he counted the seconds and watched them turn to minutes, then to hours of frustrating, exasperating wait for the elusive sleep to come.
In the last six months, however, driven by his incurable affliction, he had taken to going out at night. He’d told her sometimes he took a walk in the park, made the chauffeur drive him around town, had some drinks in a bar. Lately, he’d been doing a little bit of gambling at the casino and late-night talks with some business partners and friends from members of the billionaires’ circle—a small, intimate group of moneyed men he’d known since his youth. Anything, just so when he came home to her, he’d be exhausted and fall asleep beside her in no time.
She didn’t mind. She was confident of his faithfulness to her and to their marriage. She knew he had lived a colorful, promiscuous life in the past. But when he married her, he had told her he’d found his home, his nest, with her. No amount of temptation will make him break their marriage vows, he had sworn.
Now she cupped his cheek with her palm, finding it wet. Frowning, she raised herself up with her elbows from the silken king-size mattress of their huge four-poster bed, her long, dark brown hair tumbling down her back.
Peering at the handsome, lined face of her billionaire husband, his thick white hair glinting in the dark, she saw tears streaming out of his red, bloodshot eyes. She gasped at the sight and opened her lips, but he overtook the questions coming out of her mouth.
“My dear, I’m sorry. I am so, so, sorry. . .,” he sobbed horrendously as he kissed her knuckles, his cries heart-wrenching as they were puzzling.
“What’s the matter? Are you. . . are you okay? Are you hurt?” she asked, anxious of his ambiguous words.
“It’s my fault. I should never have. . . Oh, my dear, I’m sorry. I am truly sorry!” He wailed loudly like a little child, oblivious to her queries and to the panic slowly building up again inside her.
“Whatever it is, let’s talk about it. There’s nothing we can’t overcome, as long as we’re together,” she tried to pacify him by her soothing words even as she dreaded to think what might have happened. Her heart broke at the sight of his anguished face, a complete contrariety to the self-assured, strong man she knew him to be.
He shook his head slowly, his despair unabated. “My darling, I’m afraid, this time, there is nothing we can do. I have gone through a lot in my life but this. . . this misfortune is unlike any other.”
“What do you mean?” Fear clutched at her heart. Her eyes widened, and she felt very near to fainting at his alarming words.
He stared into her eyes and clasped both her hands eagerly. “Can you forgive me for what I have done? Please, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to. I love you so much. I love you! You are the light of my life, and the past five years have been the happiest for me. You have brought me so much joy than anyone else in this world, my darling.”
“Of course, I’ll forgive you. What is it? Please, tell me,” she implored him.
Suddenly, he released her hands and clutched at his chest, wincing in terrible pain. He staggered a few steps backward, before falling with a thud to the carpeted floor of their bedroom, his face writhing in agony.
Swiftly she got out of bed, punching the emergency button located on the nightstand. She hurried to his side, her heart thumping fast. Somewhere in the vast mansion, servants were being awakened by the bell she rang, a call for help devised for times like this.
She cradled his head in her lap and cooed softly, “We’ll take you to the hospital, my darling, please hold on. I will take care of you.”
His glazed, tearful eyes focused for but a moment to hers, as he whispered laboriously in between gasps of decreasing air, “But. . . who will take care of you . . . now? Oh, my dear, please. . . forgive. . . me.”
Then he closed his eyes, never to open them again forever.