Shimmering rays of hope traverse the Tucson horizon where hundreds of thousands will soon awaken to greet the new day. In a few moments, daylight edges its way underneath the coffee-colored curtains of the modestly-furnished hotel room where a beautiful but shattered woman is lying in bed, tissue in hand. Moments pass. The determined rays of light begin to banish some of the darkness in the room. The brightness of this new day's advance seems a striking contrast to the despair evident in Danielle's amber eyes. Her eyelashes are glistening with tears she fights to hold back. Her life seems like a nightmare, and she isn’t sure her plan to escape the hell she's living in will work, but she has to try.
Her husband Kent booked a room with a King size bed, thinking she’d have no recourse but to sleep next to him or to be on the hard floor. She tried to protect herself by putting pillows between the two of them, but in response, he threatened not to sign the divorce papers unless she did as she was told, and removed them.
For now, she is thankful to have a few minutes reprieve from his presence. She isn't sure when he will get back, but she knows she has to pull herself together.
Thinking back to the previous night, she knows she 'd almost made a huge mistake. She'd made an excuse to go to the bathroom while he was watching TV and fully intended to dissolve a few of her pills in the now-empty bottle of Jack Daniels which now is back on the nightstand. She imagined him drinking the mixture of whiskey and benzos and how it would likely have slowed down his respiration until it finally just stopped. Maybe her misery could then have been over. But then she came back to her senses, remembering she had to think of Chelsea, their daughter, not herself. She knows she must stay strong just a little longer.
Moreover, Kent had yelled at her to come out before she could manage to do it, anyway. Kent loved to drink when they were together, but it made him more dangerous and crueler than ever unless he had enough to pass out. So, after fighting off his advances, she’d managed to talk him into consuming enough of the untainted whiskey to fall into a deep sleep. She drank some of it along with him and pretended to fall asleep early to avoid any further conversation or contact. It was fortunate she was successful at fooling him or else she would have had more trouble than she’d bargained for.
For years, Kent had inspired only fear in her. She’d had no other option but to meet with him there to sign divorce papers because he would not agree to meet anywhere else. She was somewhat surprised that he'd actually brought the papers with him, as promised. She wondered what else he might be up to. After all, he'd seemed smug as soon as he walked in the door. The look of contempt in his eyes was evident when she first met his gaze. The catch, of course, was that she would have to sleep with him just once more for old times sake. But so far, she had kept herself from having to fulfill the bargain.
At that exact moment, her soon to be ex is getting a cup of coffee and looking over the continental breakfast downstairs, grumbling under his breath about the pitiful accommodations and lack of decent breakfast selections. Usually, he would carry on a charming conversation with some of the other guests, especially the female ones, before returning. This time, he decides to get back as soon as possible. He wants one more chance to taunt her before signing the papers, and to make sure he gets what he came for.
Danielle is hoping she will have more time to herself but doubts Kent will allow that. Her nerves are so messed up her eyelid is twitching and her insides are shaking like a leaf. Purely out of habit, she reaches for the full bottle of benzos on the nightstand and almost takes one, but instead puts the bottle back down, resisting the urge. She must stay sober, at least until this one task is finished. She will push down the painful feelings just a little longer until she completes her task. Brushing away tears with the back of her hand, she tries to think of her daughter’s beautiful smile and that comforts her.
Quickly, Danielle shoves the pills in the top drawer and resolves to have everything else in order when her husband gets back. He will be angry if the bed covers are dragging the floor and his side of the bed is unmade when he returns. His temper takes a violent turn now and then, especially when he has a hangover. She makes the bed very quickly, showers, and gets dressed. For her daughter’s sake, she must keep a stiff upper lip for a little while longer. Soon, Kent will finally give her what he kept promising, a divorce. She will also demand that he stop blackballing her efforts around town to get a full-time job at one of the law firms so that she can support their daughter. This time he will heed her requests or pay the price.
For weeks, he’d claimed divorce was against his Catholic faith, but she knew the real reason he wouldn’t sign. If she was free of him, there would no longer be any guarantee that she wouldn't tell the things he'd done to her. After doing a little digging, though, she'd discovered a secret that chilled her to the bone. Such a terrible thing that it had made all of her fears of Kent much worse. She realized afterwards that she and her daughter would never be safe until they could get away from him altogether.
She looks at the divorce papers laying on the hotel desk with sadness, figuring that it is still unlikely he will actually sign them. She knows Kent always has taken whatever he wanted, no exceptions, and that he always has something up his sleeve he can use against his victims. A cunning backup plan for any situation. He knows well who to manipulate and how so that he can get exactly what he wants. He uses people’s desires, needs, and addictions against them, and he never gets involved with anyone unless he has some kind of leverage he can later use to keep their allegiance. He has some of the local police force and the judges in his pocket.
For his first wife, Beth, her wish to be a model was her undoing. For his second, Nicole, it had been her desire to hold public office. But for Danielle, it was only her wish to be loved and to have a family. At first, he had showered her with gifts and promised to always cherish her. He seemed like something out of a fairy tale, a handsome prince ready and able to make all her dreams come true. But that had all been a tragic illusion. Soon, his princely mask came off, and not much longer after that, the violence began.
She curses herself for allowing him into her life. But the truth is there's no benefit in crying over spilled milk. She can only hope someday the pain he’s caused her will go away, and that today’s plan will turn out as well as she hopes.
Three quick, sharp raps at the door jolt her back to full awareness. Dread grips her heart as she braces herself, not knowing what to expect his mood to be like when she opens the door. But Kent doesn't wait for her to answer. He opens the lock with the spare key in his pocket and brings in the coffee and donuts. She is surprised when he doesn't go into a rage because she didn’t make it to the door before he had to open it himself.
“Miss me?” he says with a sarcastic grin on his face and a tone to match.
She knows better than to answer that honestly.
“Yes,” she answers softly, trying to sound convincing.
“You’d better have,” he says, sitting the food down on the other nightstand.
He strides toward her, pulls her to him, then tries to kiss her on the lips, making her stomach lurch.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she says, hoping it's a good enough excuse to stall him for a while. She pulls away and he lets go of her waist.
“Ok, but don’t be too long,” he says, grabbing at her arm unsuccessfully as she walks away, “I’ll be waiting right here on the bed when you get back.”
Minutes pass while she waits for her friend, Cally, to text her. She remains on the toilet trying to regain her composure. Finally, the text she is hoping for comes through. She cam now guarantee that Kent will sign the papers without any complaint.
When she returns to the room, she ignores his suggestive comments, and creeps over to the small desk to grab the divorce decree, afterwards insisting that he sign it.
“I came here as you asked. You’ve had a chance to look the papers over since you were served. You said that everything looks as it should. So, please, Kent, just sign the papers.” Her jaw is set with determination and her voice sounds more confident than it has in years.
Kent seems resolute, unyielding. He stares at her through eyes of cold steel.
“I’m not ready to end our companionship yet. Come sit on the bed," he insists.
“Don’t make me do something we’ll both regret.” His tone sounds menacing and cruel.
“There’s something you need to see first before you say no, Kent,” she replies coolly.
She urges him to look inside the desk drawer. She feels so sure that once he sees what is inside, he will be willing to set her free.
Opening the drawer, Kent finds the deed to the house Danielle's parents left her, signed, and ready for him to assume ownership of, as well as all of the pictures of the bruises he left on her each time she’d taken pictures of them. She’d always kept proof in case she needed it, but she felt if she gave up this leverage, he would finally let her go. Perhaps, if she wasn’t a threat and there was no evidence of his crimes he would see her as of no further use to him. And the deed to her property would make him feel he'd "won."
But instead of accepting her offer, he mocks her weakness. After quite a few demeaning words comes a new fit of rage.
“Do you really think I will ever let you go?” he sneers. “I could kill you right now. But I'll make this simple so you can understand. I'm going to take these pictures with me tonight and burn them, but I won’t sign these papers unless you do what we agreed on when I asked you to come here.”
But Danielle is determined to stand her ground this time.
“No, Kent. I will never be with you again in that way.”
“Ok then, I’m leaving.” He replies nonchalantly. You’ll change your mind when I take our daughter with me. You’ll never see Chelsea again.”
But Kent is surprised when this time Danielle doesn't beg or plead. This is new to him. He wonders for a moment, wondering where she obtained this newfound courage.
Instead of her normal aquiescence, Danielle quietly replies:
“I’ll see you in court, then.”
Kent doesn't know what to say. So, he does the only thing he know to do.
“You’ll be sorry you ever crossed me, Danielle.”
But Danielle doesn’t break in any way. She knows that's exactly what he is hoping she'll do. She won't give him the satisfaction of that this time.
Kent leaves the hotel room, slamming the door, rattling its hinges.
After she's certain Kent is gone from the building, Danielle calls Cally back to let her know that Kent has left and to thank her for taking the evidence of Kent’s other crimes to the FBI division in Phoenix. Inside the folder, there are locations where Kent had buried the two previous wives he’d murdered and other items of evidence of his various criminal activities, including blackmail and extortion.
Danielle smiles with relief as she checks out of the hotel room, knowing that once the FBI sees the evidence and finally excavates his first two wives' bodies, Kent will be getting exactly what he deserves. She will begin her new life, knowing she and her little girl can start over and never have to deal with Kent again. He will be behind bars for many years, and they likely will throw away the key.