Home > Vengeful (Villains #2)

Vengeful (Villains #2)
Author: V.E. Schwab

SIX WEEKS AGO

THE MERIT SUBURBS

THE night Marcella died, she made her husband’s favorite dinner.

Not because it was a special occasion, but because it wasn’t—spontaneity, people insisted, was the secret to love. Marcella didn’t know if she believed all that, but she was willing to try her hand at a home-cooked meal. Nothing too fancy—a good steak, edges seared with black pepper, slow-baked sweet potatoes, a bottle of merlot.

But six o’clock came and went, and Marcus wasn’t home.

Marcella put the food in the oven to keep it warm, then checked her lipstick in the hall mirror. She freed her long black hair from its loose bun, then put it up again, teasing a few strands out before smoothing her A-line dress. People called her a natural beauty, but nature only went so far. The truth was, Marcella spent two hours in the gym six days a week, trimming and toning and stretching every lean muscle on her willowy five-foot-ten frame, and she never left her bedroom without her makeup expertly applied. It wasn’t easy, but neither was being married to Marcus Andover Riggins—better known as Marc the Shark, Tony Hutch’s right-hand man.

It wasn’t easy—but it was worth it.

Her mother liked to say she’d gone fishing and somehow bagged a great white. But what her mother didn’t understand was that Marcella had baited her hook with her prize in mind. And she’d caught exactly what she’d wanted.

Her cherry red heels clicked across the wood floor before being swallowed by the silk rug as she finished setting the table and lit each of the twenty-four tapers in the pair of iron candelabras that framed the door.

Marcus hated them, but for once Marcella didn’t care. She loved the candelabras, with their long stems and branching limbs—they looked like the kind of thing you’d find in a French chateau. They made the home feel luxurious. Made new money feel old.

She checked the time—seven, now—but resisted the urge to call. The fastest way to kill a flame was to smother it. Besides, if Marcus had business, then business always came first.

Marcella poured herself a glass of wine and leaned back against the counter, imagining his strong hands closing around someone’s throat. A head forced underwater, a jaw cracking sideways. Once he’d come home with blood on his hands and she’d fucked him right there on the marble island, the metal shaft of his gun still in its holster, the steel hard against her ribs.

People thought Marcella loved her husband in spite of his work. The truth was, she loved him because of it.

But as seven became eight, and eight neared nine, Marcella’s arousal slowly turned to annoyance, and when the front door finally swung open, that annoyance hardened to anger.

“Sorry, darling.”

His voice always shifted when he’d been drinking, slowing to a lazy drawl. It was his only tell. He never stumbled or swayed, his hands never shook. No, Marcus Riggins was made of stronger stuff—but he wasn’t without his flaws.

“It’s fine,” said Marcella, hating the edge in her own voice. She turned toward the kitchen, but Marcus caught her wrist, pulling her hard enough that she lost her balance. His arms folded around her, and she looked up into his face.

Sure, her husband’s waist had widened a little, while hers had narrowed, that beautiful swimmer’s body bloating a fraction with each passing year, but his summer brown hair hadn’t thinned, and his eyes were still the rugged blue of slate or dark water. Marcus had always been good-looking, though she wasn’t sure how much of that was his tailored suits or the way he moved through the world, as if expecting it get out of his way. It usually did.

“You’re gorgeous,” he whispered, and Marcella could feel the press of him, hungry against her hip. But Marcella wasn’t in the mood.

She reached up, nails dragging down his stubbled cheek. “You hungry, sweetheart?”

“Always,” he growled against her neck.

“Good,” said Marcella, stepping away and smoothing her skirt. “Dinner’s ready.”

* * *

A bead of red wine slid like sweat down the side of the raised glass, tracing its way toward the white tablecloth. Marcella had filled it too full, her hand made clumsy by her worsening mood. Marcus didn’t seem to notice the stain. He didn’t seem to notice anything.

“To my beautiful wife.”

Marcus never prayed before meals, but he always made a toast, had since the night they met. It didn’t matter if he had an audience of twenty or if they ate alone. She’d found it endearing on their first date, but these days the gesture felt hollow, rehearsed. Designed to charm instead of being genuinely charming. But he never failed to say the words, and perhaps that was a kind of love. Or perhaps Marcus was simply a creature of habit.

Marcella lifted her own glass.

“To my elegant husband,” she answered automatically.

The rim was halfway to her lips when she noticed the smudge on Marcus’s cuff. At first she thought it was only blood, but it was too bright, too pink.

It was lipstick.

Every conversation she’d had with the other wives came rushing back.

His eyes start to wander yet?

Keeping his stick wet?

All men are rotten.

Marcus was busy cutting into his steak, and rambling on about insurance, but Marcella had stopped listening. Behind her eyes, her husband traced his thumb across a pair of stained lips, parting them around his knuckle.

Her fingers tightened on the wineglass. Heat was flushing her skin even as a cold weight settled in her stomach. “What a fucking cliché,” she said.

He didn’t stop chewing. “Excuse me?”

“Your sleeve.”

His gaze drifted languidly down toward the bloom of pink. He didn’t even have the decency to look surprised. “Must be yours,” he said, as if she’d ever worn that shade, ever owned anything so tacky and twee—

“Who is she?”

“Honestly, Marce—”

“Who is she?” demanded Marcella, gritting her perfect teeth.

Marcus finally stopped eating, and leaned back in his chair, blue eyes hanging on her. “Nobody.”

“Oh, so you’re fucking a ghost?”

He rolled his eyes, clearly tired of the subject, which was ironic, considering he usually relished any topic that revolved around him. “Marcella, envy really doesn’t suit you.”

“Twelve years, Marcus. Twelve. And now you can’t keep it in your pants?”

Surprise flickered across his face, and the truth hit her like a blow—of course this wasn’t his first time cheating. This was only the first time he’d been caught.

“How long?” she asked icily.

“Let it go, Marce.”

Let it go—as if his cheating were like the wineglass in her hand, something she’d just happened to pick up, could just as easily set down.

It wasn’t the betrayal itself—she could forgive a lot, in the interest of this life she’d made—but it was the look in the other women’s eyes that Marcella had always taken for envy, it was the stoic warnings of the first wives, the twitch at the corner of a smile, the realization that they all knew, had known, for god knows how long, and she—hadn’t.

Let it go.

Marcella set the wineglass down. And picked up the steak knife. And as she did, her husband had the nerve to scoff. As if she wouldn’t know what to do with it. As if she hadn’t listened to all his stories, hadn’t begged for details. As if he didn’t go on and on about his job when he was drunk. As if she hadn’t practiced with a pillow. A bag of flour. A steak.

Marcus raised a single brow. “What do you plan to do now?” he asked, voice dripping with condescension.

How silly she must look to him, with her perfectly manicured nails gripping the monogrammed hilt of the blade.

“Dollface,” he crooned, and the word made Marcella seethe.

Dollface. Baby. Darling. Was that how he really thought of her, after all this time? As helpless, brittle, weak, something ornamental, a glass figurine designed to shimmer and shine and look pretty on a shelf?

When she didn’t let go, his gaze darkened.

“Don’t you turn that knife on me unless you plan to use it . . .”

Perhaps she was glass.

But glass is only brittle until it breaks.

Then it’s sharp.

“Marcella—”

She lunged, and had the thrill of seeing her husband’s eyes widen a fraction in surprise, the bourbon spilling as he jerked backward. But Marcella’s knife had barely skimmed his silk tie before Marcus’s hand cracked across her mouth. Blood poured across her tongue, and Marcella’s eyes blurred with tears as she tumbled back into the oak table, rattling the china plates.

She still had the knife, but Marcus had his hand wrapped around her wrist, pinning it to the table so hard the bones began to grind together.

He’d been rough with her before, but that had always been in the heat of the moment, signaled by some unspoken pact, and she’d always been the one to signal it.

This was different.

Marcus was two hundred pounds of brute strength, a man who’d made his living breaking things. And people. He clucked his tongue now, as if she were being ridiculous. Blowing things out of proportion. As if she’d made him do this. Made him fuck another woman. Made him ruin all that she’d worked so hard to build.

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