Suddenly, Amy felt very alone in that big old house. She had grown accustomed to seeing Malcolm about the house, cleaning or cooking. She’d found comfort in talking to her round belly, hoping the baby inside could hear her. Now they were both gone.

Oh well, it’s his own fault! Amy tried to tell herself. He should have given me a girl! He was warned of what would happen if he got three strikes! Three chances is very fair, I think. After all, he’s just a man. Nothing special. Nothing important. Just useful to have around to fix things and clean for free. Men have dominated us women for far too long. It’s time we gave them a taste of their own medicine!

Amy kept telling herself this over and over again, sometimes managing to believe it, but every time she walked into her late husband’s old room, the memories would haunt her. What had it been like, living in this dingy, windowless cell day after day, only being let out to cook, clean or conceive children? What had been his last thoughts as he laid in that rusty prison cot at night before going to sleep?

Those nagging guilty thoughts were what finally drove Amy to get rid of that cell cot and replace it with a very beautiful, antique bed imported from China. She couldn’t look at the old bed any longer, knowing someone who had loved her at one time once slept there. Hmph! The next one had better appreciate my generosity! That bed is a fine luxury, she sniffed haughtily to herself.

Yes, Amy was on the hunt again for her next victim. Malcolm’s death and losing Tim may have shaken her, but these selfish, domineering men must pay! She was going to take them all down, one by one. Revenge is very, very sweet, she thought to herself with a twisted smile.

She met a young handsome man at the park one afternoon who introduced himself as Demarcus Fraser. Amy vaguely recognized him as one of the police officers who had investigated Malcolm’s death. Demarcus felt so sorry for this poor grieving widow who had lost both her husband and son in such a short period of time and quickly felt himself growing fond of her. Amy, of course, played up her feminine charm and flattered Demarcus until all he could see was her.

Perfect. He’ll do nicely, Amy thought as she gave him a breathtaking kiss fit to make a heart pump faster and hands roam in places they normally wouldn’t. That was enough to hook Demarcus into Amy’s deadly web and she seized the opportunity to spin him in her cocoon and trap him for good.

She proposed and he accepted with absolute delight.

Just like with Malcolm, Amy wasted no time in laying down the law as soon as he moved in. Β Just like Malcolm, Demarcus’ face quickly went from starry-eyed newlywed to horrified prisoner. Unlike last time, Amy felt an uncomfortable pang in her chest when she saw the shock and fear reflected in her second husband’s eyes, but quickly brushed it aside. Oh stop acting like a silly little air-headed twit! she scolded herself. He’s nothing more than property! Why bother feeling sorry for something that has no real feelings in the first place?

Still, her former rules for Malcolm seemed a bit harsh in retrospect. Amy decided to give this husband a slightly easier time than her last, giving him more time to get her pregnant, and decreasing the consequences of giving her a boy to one strike. Ugh, I am way too nice for my own good, Amy thought to herself with disgust.

Demarcus quickly became Malcolm’s replacement, cleaning, cooking, doing the grocery shopping and bailing his wife out of prison every week. As a former police officer, Demarcus felt so torn. His wife was a criminal and instead of keeping her in prison where she belonged, he was bailing her out so she could commit more crimes! This wasn’t the fairy tale marriage he had dreamed of when he accepted her proposal.

Sometimes, he thought about running away and reporting her to the authorities, getting his old job back and putting her behind bars for good, but something stopped him. It wasn’t his fear of her, though he did fear for his life in this house. It was those sudden moments where she let her guard down and became vulnerable herself.

Like the night he had walked by her bedroom door and heard her crying. Alarmed, he opened her door to see what was wrong. She was tossing and turning in her sleep, tears streaking her face. “Tim! Tim, I can’t find you! Where are you? Malcolm! Malcolm, where’s Tim?” she kept whimpering.

He had gently woken her up and held her until she calmed down. She whispered an embarrassed thank you to him just as she drifted off to sleep again. “It’s okay to miss them, Amy,” Demarcus quietly assured her before going back to his own prison cell to sleep, though admittedly, he liked his bed. He’d always wondered why his room had nothing nice in it except for that bed, but had never worked up the courage to ask Amy.

Demarcus thought he might be going insane from being Amy’s slave, because he found himself in love with Amy, despite the fact that she forced him to sleep, shower, watch TV and sleep in that horrid, dark room, and despite the fact that he couldn’t leave the house anymore, and despite the fact that he had to cook and clean all day. Despite all of it, Demarcus knew there was a small flame of goodness inside his wife… somewhere. It didn’t glimmer very often, but on rare occasions, he saw a small flicker of something that might be kindness.

Amy continued to have nightmares. Mostly, they were about losing her son and her first husband, but sometimes, he heard her muttering about her father in her sleep. That confused him, but it wasn’t his place to pry where he wasn’t wanted, even if Amy was his wife.

As the weeks passed, Demarcus started worrying more and more about Amy. On top of having nightmares, she’d been feeling sick a lot lately. She was often sore and tired and she threw up almost everything she ate. Demarcus begged her to go to the doctor. He didn’t want to lose her.

“What happened?” Demarcus asked her when she came home from the hospital. “Are you okay?” Amy gave him one of her rare smiles that made his heart melt. It was the smile that kept him hanging onto the hope that his wife had some good inside her.

“Everything’s fine. Better than fine, in fact. I’m pregnant,” she told him. Demarcus’ face split into a wide smile and he bounded forward to pick his wife up and spin her around. He was going to be a dad! He was going to have a family! Maybe the new baby would soften Amy’s harsh exterior and their marriage would obtain some sense of normalcy. Maybe having a family again would bring out that tiny bit of good inside Amy.

He was more hopeful for that than ever when to his shock and delight, Amy laughed and hugged him tight as he spun her around. He rarely saw her laugh. When she did, it was usually dripping with sarcasm. The only time she had ever held him that way was when they made love. He beamed and took Amy’s face in his hands, looking into her wide blue eyes. “I know you’ve gone through some hard times, but things are going to be better from now on. I promise,” he told her, kissing her forehead.

He thought he saw a glimmer of… guilt in her eyes for just a moment, before she scowled and pushed him away. “Please, Demarcus. Don’t make me vomit with your fairy tale talk! Yes, I’m pleased that we’re having a baby, but I’m no fool! Don’t patronize me with tales of happily ever after like I’m some air-headed school girl!” she snapped, stalking away from him.

“Amy!” Demarcus called after his wife, but she had already disappeared up the stairs. He sighed and slumped down in the nearest chair, looking dejected. There’s some good in her! I’ve seen it. I know it’s inside her somewhere, but why does she insist on masking it with this monster? Why does she hate men so much? he thought miserably to himself.

“One strike!” Amy shrieked down the stairs furiously. Demarcus frowned for a moment, wondering what she meant, then jumped out of his seat with a pained grimace as though it had shocked him. In his moment of sadness, he had forgotten the rules he was chained by in this house.

Dammit, he thought. I feel like a scolded puppy, not a husband…