Maria yawned and opened her eyes. Sunlight was streaming in through the bedroom window, casting its warmth onto the bed. Maria rolled over and put her arms around her husband, Jeff. She smiled as she ran her fingers through his light blonde hair. Jeff was the best thing in her life. They had been married for a year now, and Maria still lit up whenever he came into the room. As she gazed at him, Jeff opened his eyes. They were a striking light blue, unlike anything Maria had ever seen before.

"Hey babe," Jeff whispered. He reached over and gave her a kiss.

In the three years Maria had known him, Jeff had always been sweet to her. He was funny, smart, and romantic. He did have a bad temper sometimes, but it usually wasn't a problem .

"Hey," Maria replied. She giggled and gave him a kiss back.

Jeff pulled her closer and started kissing her all over. "I love you baby. I love you more than anything on this earth."

"I love you too," Maria said, laughing. When Jeff finally let her go, she sat up. "You're off work today, right?"

"Uh huh. I thought we could do something together."

"Great. I'll go make breakfast," she offered. "And then we can decide what we're doing."

She got out of the bed and put some jeans on. Then she walked into the bathroom and grabbed a brush, quickly running it through her hair. Jeff came up behind her. "Let me," he said, taking the brush. He gently began to brush Maria's hair, letting his fingers run through it at the same time. "You have the most beautiful hair," he whispered.

Maria's hair was long and dark. It hung down to the middle of her back in big, soft waves. She had always taken extra care to keep it healthy and shiny, and she felt it was her best feature. After Jeff finished brushing it, he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.

Maria went into the kitchen to make breakfast. She grabbed some eggs and made them just the way Jeff liked them. "It's ready!" she called.

After a few minutes, Jeff came into the kitchen. For some reason he didn't look happy. "What is this?" he asked, slamming a paper down on the kitchen table. Maria glanced at it and saw that it was the credit card bill. She looked back up at Jeff.

"You spent $80 at Macy's!" he yelled. "What did you need to spend that much money for?"

"Jeff, it's not a lot. I hardly ever go shopping."

Jeff glared at her. "I think you spend way too much."

Maria was taken aback. "I don't buy a lot of things! Why are you getting so worked up?"

"Just shut up, Maria. The next time you go anywhere, you better call me and ask me what you can buy. Understand?" he asked firmly.

"But Jeff, you just bought a new car. I don't see why -"

"This isn't about me Maria, it's about you! Don't try to turn things around."

Maria bit her lip and looked away. In the past couple of months, she and Jeff had fought about money at least once a week. She was getting tired of him yelling at her for every penny she spent, especially when he always spent at least twice as much as her. Sometimes she didn't think he was being fair.

"I spent the money on that dress I wore when we went out last week," she said quietly. "You told me I looked beautiful. But if you want, I can take it back."

Jeff seemed to soften at her words. He sighed and came over to her, reaching out and brushing her hair from her face. "I'm sorry babe. And I don't want you to take the dress back."

Maria nodded, still a bit upset. "Your eggs are getting cold," she told him.

Later that night, Maria was getting ready to go out to dinner with Jeff. She went into her closet to find something to wear. When she spotted the dress she had bought last week, she felt guilty. Maybe Jeff is right. Maybe I shouldn't have bought the dress, at least not one that expensive. But she had liked it, and so had Jeff. However, she brushed past it and looked for something else to wear. She didn't have much to choose from, because she really didn't go shopping very often. She finally decided on a different pair of jeans and a nice shirt. She went into the bathroom and put on a little bit of mascara. Jeff came in, and when he saw what she was wearing, he stared at her, an angry look on his face.

"Why aren't you wearing the dress you bought? If you're going to spend that much, you should at least wear it more often," he snapped.

Maria turned around. "Jeff, I thought we had worked this out. You told me it was okay about the dress."

"It's not."

"I don't see why you get so upset about money. I don't spend much at all," she protested.

"Yes you do."

"Jeff, why do we have to fight about this?"

"Because you have a problem."

"No I don't!" Maria said, beginning to feel frustrated. "You spend at least twice as much as me."

"Drop it Maria."

"Jeff, I won't drop it until we work this out. Just listen -"

"I said shut up!" he roared. With one swift motion, he slapped Maria across the face. The force of the blow knocked her to the ground. Maria put her hand to her cheek, tears welling in her eyes. Jeff had never hit her before. Never. All of a sudden, she was scared. She remained on the floor, beginning to cry. She felt Jeff pick her up from the floor and put his arms tightly around her. "Baby, I am so sorry," he whispered. "I didn't mean to hit you." He held her away from him, looking at her face. He reached out and gently touched her cheek, which was still stinging from the blow. "Maria, this won't ever happen again, I swear," he said.

Maria pulled out of his grasp and walked into their bedroom. She just wanted to lie down. Jeff followed her. "I'm sorry. I love you Maria."

When she didn't say anything, Jeff sat next to her on the bed. "Do you still want to go out?"

Maria shook her head.

"Okay. I'm sorry honey." He kissed her forehead, but Maria didn't respond.

Once he had left, she pulled the covers over herself and began to cry. She couldn't believe what had just happened. Jeff was always so sweet. She never thought that he would hurt anyone, let alone her. Although, he has always had a temper, she thought. But I never knew it would turn out like this. Maria knew that she shouldn't take this lightly. She knew that once Jeff had hit her, he would most likely do it again. That's what she had always heard anyway. But in her heart, she wanted to believe that he was sorry. She loved him.

The next morning when Maria woke up, she remembered last night. Maybe it was just a bad dream. She looked beside her and saw Jeff sleeping peacefully. She got up and went into the bathroom, but to her dismay, she found it wasn't a dream. Her cheek was bruised. Maria put her hands over her face and began to cry.

Since Jeff had to go to work, she managed to avoid him for most of the day. Maria found that as the time neared for him to be home, she grew more and more anxious.

Jeff finally did come home, and when he walked in the door, he had a red rose in his hand. He presented it to Maria, and then looked sadly at her cheek. "I hope that you know I'm sorry babe."

Maria just nodded. "Thanks for the rose."

Jeff leaned down and kissed her on the lips. "I love you." Then he smiled. "Did you make anything for dinner?"

"No. I didn't know what you wanted."

"Well then, how about we go out to eat? We never ended up going last night."

Maria shook her head. "I don't feel like it."

Jeff looked annoyed. "Then what are we doing about dinner?"

"I don't know."

"I think we should go out. Go put on that dress you bought."

"Jeff, I really don't want to."

"If you cover up the bruise, you'll be fine. Now go get dressed."

Maria shook her head.

"Go get dressed," Jeff said again, beginning to look and sound angry.

"I don't want to."

"You didn't have dinner ready, so we're going out, and that's final." He placed his hand firmly on her shoulder. "Go put your dress on."

"Jeff, I said no. Just go by yourself."

"I will not go by myself!" he yelled. "What is your damn problem anyway Maria?"

"You hurt me," she said in a tiny voice.

"And you're going to hold that against me? It was one little mistake. I said it would never happen again."

"How do you know that?" she asked. "You get so mad all the time."

"I do not."

"Yes you do. Jeff, I think that maybe we should go talk to someone."

"Are you saying I have a problem?"

Maria avoided his eyes. "I -"

"I do not have a problem!" he yelled. "You're the one with the problem!"

"Jeff -"

"Shut up! I don't want to hear any of this nonsense. We're going out to eat. Now for the last time, go get ready."

"I'm not going."

Jeff stared at her, and Maria could see that he was getting angrier by the second. He reached behind her and grabbed her hair. "You're coming with me whether you like it or not!"

Maria tried to escape his grasp. "Let go!"

Jeff tightened his grip around her hair, the hair that he had told her he loved so much, and he began to drag her toward their bedroom.

"Jeff, you're hurting me!" Maria cried. She was terrified, and she wanted to get away from him. Jeff pulled harder on her hair and yanked, causing Maria to fall down. Bending over, he grabbed her hair with both hands and started dragging her across the floor. When he reached the bedroom, he picked her up and threw her on the bed.

"Don't ever say no to me again! Do you hear me?" he shouted. He stood there for a second, and then he turned and strode quickly out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Maria lay on the bed and whimpered. Shaking, she pulled the covers over herself for the second night in a row and began to cry.

This was not the Jeff she knew. The sweet man she married would never have hurt her. But this man was different. She had seen it in his eyes before when he got mad, but it had never escalated into violence. I need to get away, Maria thought. I can't live with him if he hurts me.

The next morning when she woke up, Maria saw that Jeff wasn't in the bed beside her. She got up and cautiously walked out of the bedroom. She found him lying on the couch covered with a blanket. It was only a few minutes before he would be getting up for work, so Maria started cooking him breakfast. She didn't want to do anything to make him mad for fear that he would hit her again.

When he did wake up, he didn't say a word to her. He just ate his breakfast and left. After he had gone, Maria sunk into a chair, trying not to cry. Her head was sore from when Jeff had dragged her by her hair, and she could still see the bruise on her cheek.

Greg Landon was sitting at his desk, trying to finish some paperwork. He was reviewing one of his client's case information statements when his concentration was broken by a soft knock on the door. He sighed and looked up. "Come in."

His door opened, and a scared looking young woman stepped slowly into the room. She was very beautiful, with long, dark, wavy hair and a shapely figure. Her eyes were stunning, but Greg could tell she had been crying.

"Can I help you?" he asked.

"The secretary sent me here," the woman said, speaking softly. "She told me you specialize in divorces."

"Well, you're in the right place. I'm Greg Landon," he said, standing up and offering her his hand.

She took it. "Maria Carlsson."

Then she sat down in the chair in front of his desk. She was looking around anxiously, as if she didn't want to be here.

Greg began pulling forms from his desk. "You need a divorce?"

The woman nodded.

He wrote in her name and filled out the date. "Husband's name?" he asked.

"Jeff Carlsson."

"How long have you been married?"

"A little over a year."

"Can you give me the exact date?"

She told him, and then he put his pen down.

"Now, what are the grounds for the divorce? Is it fault or no fault?"

The woman looked lost. "I – I'm not sure."

She has no clue, Greg thought. Probably didn't even do any research before she came.

He sighed. "Well Mrs. Carlsson, if you file on irreconcilable differences, which is no fault, your husband must agree to the divorce and there will be a 60 day waiting period before the court will grant the divorce."

The woman looked down. "I don't think he'll agree to it."

"Mrs. Carlsson, why do you want a divorce?"

She looked up at him, and he saw fear in her eyes. "He hurt me," she said, her voice trembling. She started to cry, and Greg shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"Mrs. Carlsson -"

"He hit me the night before last," she sobbed. "He's never hit me before. And last night he – he dragged me through the house by my hair."

Greg was stunned. He didn't know what to say or do. He was only 27, and he hadn't started his law career but a couple years ago. He had handled quite a few divorces by now, but nothing with circumstances like this.

The woman began to cry harder, her whole body shaking with sobs. "I'm scared," she whimpered. "I need someone to help me."

She looked so fragile, and Greg couldn't ever imagine how anyone would want to hurt her. It was upsetting him to see her cry, and he wanted to comfort her, but he didn't think that it would be professional.

"Mrs. Carlsson," he said softly.

She looked up, and as he glanced at her face, he could see a bruise on one of her cheeks. He hadn't noticed it before.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I -" he faltered, not knowing what he could say to her. A tear rolled down her cheek, and before he could stop himself, he reached out and brushed it away. She hardly seemed to notice; she just kept crying. "I don't know who to trust," she confessed. "I love Jeff, and he's the one that's been by my side for the past year. But this was all so sudden, and now I'm scared of him and I don't know what to do," she said, breaking down.

Greg couldn't take it anymore. He hated seeing anyone cry. He got up and came around from behind his desk. Dragging the other chair over next to hers, he gently took her hands in his. "I'll do whatever it takes to help you. Can you tell me more about the situation?"

She nodded her head and sniffled. Greg grabbed a tissue from his desk and handed it to her.

"Thank you," she said. She dabbed at her eyes and then continued. "I met Jeff about three years ago. He was 25 and I was 23. He was so sweet and he had a good job. He always treated me right and he never hurt me. We got married about a year ago, and everything was great. But he has this temper, and sometimes he gets angry about stuff. We've been arguing about money for a couple of months, and it keeps getting worse. He started yelling at me, and then he hit me." She paused, trying not to cry. "He knocked me down and it really scared me. But then he told me he was sorry and he would never do it again. He even brought me a rose when he came home yesterday. But then he wanted to go out to dinner and I didn't want to. He started yelling at me again, and that's when he grabbed my hair and started dragging me around. I told him he was hurting me, but he didn't seem like he cared at all. He just threw me down on the bed and left me there."

Greg put his hand on her arm. "Mrs. Carlsson, there is a grounds for divorce for cruel and inhuman treatment. If he's caused you physical pain and made you feel as though your life is in danger, then we can file on fault grounds."

She nodded, a pained look on her face. Greg could tell she was deeply upset.

"Normally I would tell you to go home and think this over, but your circumstances are different. I'm going to start filling out some papers, but I need you to fill out a few things too. Can you do that?"

"Yes."

He got up and went back behind his desk. After finding the correct forms, he handed them to her and then got to work. Once he had finished, something came to mind, and he looked up at her. "Mrs. Carlsson, I don't know if it's safe for you to go home. Is there somewhere else you can go?"

"No. But I'll be okay." Even as she spoke these words, she looked uncertain.

Greg was concerned for her. He took one of his cards from his desk. "If you need anything, anything at all, I want you to call me, okay?"

"Okay." She looked up at him and somehow managed to smile. "Thank you." Her smile was beautiful, and it caught Greg off guard.

"You're welcome," he finally said. He saw her out, and then went back to his desk.

As Maria drove home, she wondered how she was going to break the news to Jeff. She was afraid of what he might do. In all her life, she had never had to deal with anything like this. She never thought she would be getting a divorce, and she never thought it would be because her husband was abusive towards her. How did my life turn out like this? Why did this happen to me? She couldn't understand it. But when she thought back to the past couple of months, she realized the signs had been there all along. She had just been too blind to see them.

Once she got home, she waited for Jeff. She found that she was pacing the kitchen, so she decided to make dinner for him. It would be better to have him in a good mood when she told him, although she didn't think that would really help. She knew she needed to be strong, but that didn't stop her from startling when Jeff came through the door. "Hey Jeff," she said quietly.

"Is that dinner I smell?" he asked.

Maria nodded.

Jeff came toward her and hugged her, and then gave her a kiss. "Thanks babe."

He sat down to eat his dinner, and Maria joined him. She took a couple bites, but she spent most of the time pushing the food around her plate.

When Jeff finished eating, she took both of their plates and put them in the sink, and then turned back around to face Jeff. He was standing in the middle of the kitchen, just looking at her.

Maria gathered her courage, and then she spoke. "There's something I need to talk to you about."

"Yes?"

"Jeff, I want a divorce."

He stared at her, his blue eyes unblinking. "A divorce?"

"Yes," Maria said timidly.

"I can't believe this," Jeff snapped. "What the hell for?"

Maria took a deep breath. "Jeff, I don't feel safe with you anymore. I can't be with someone who hurts me."

"I told you that I didn't mean that!" Jeff said, raising his voice. Then he caught himself and closed his eyes, trying to regain his composure. When he spoke again, his voice was much softer. "Maria, honey, I think that we just need to talk this out. You're overreacting."

"No, I'm not."

"I love you," he said, continuing to speak softly. "You know that, right?"

"No, you don't. If you loved me, you wouldn't have ever hurt me."

"Damn it Maria!" he yelled.

Maria cringed and shrunk back away from him.

The anger faded from Jeff's face, and he came toward her and wrapped his arms around her in a hug. "I'm sorry baby. I'm so sorry."

Maria started to cry. She was scared, but at the same time she didn't want to leave Jeff's arms.

Jeff held her close and stroked her hair. "It's alright honey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it." He waited until she stopped crying, and then he reached down and planted a kiss on her lips. "You're upset. Why don't you go to bed?" he suggested.

Maria nodded, still sniffling. With his arm around her, Jeff walked her into their bedroom. He slid into the bed next to her, and then he held her close until she fell asleep.

Greg tossed and turned in his bed, but he couldn't get Maria Carlsson out of his mind. The poor woman had been so upset, and she seemed so lost. He couldn't see how a man would feel the need to hurt her.

He rolled over and shut his eyes, but all he could picture was Maria's tearful expression. He was worried about her. She'll be fine, he told himself. She'll be back in your office tomorrow. But as much as he told himself that, he still couldn't help but feel uneasy.

The next morning, Greg found himself pacing his office. Maria Carlsson was supposed to be here in five minutes. He checked his watch, and then anxiously looked outside. I should have called her. I should have made sure she was alright. He sat down at his desk and pulled out her files, checking over them one by one. When he heard his door open, his head snapped up. He saw it was Maria, and he sighed with relief.

"You're here," he said. He got up and walked over to her. "You're alright? He didn't hurt you, did he?"

She shook her head. "I told him I wanted a divorce. He got mad, but he didn't hurt me. I think he saw how much he was scaring me."

"That's good."

Maria nodded, but he saw some hesitation.

"Is something wrong?"

Maria sat down in a chair, a troubled look on her face. "Can people change?" she asked.

"Last night he – he held me and he said he was sorry. I do love him, and maybe he won't hurt me again."

Greg sat down next to her. "Mrs. Carlsson, I don't really know you, and I don't know Jeff. All I know is what you've told me. But I think that if Jeff hurt you and scared you, you shouldn't just overlook that. That's not what love is about."

After he had spoken, he closed his eyes in frustration. This isn't how I should be talking to a client. Besides, who am I to talk about love?

"I'm sorry," he apologized.

"No, it's okay," Maria said slowly.

"What I mean is -" he said, "if you're having doubts, you can always serve the papers but have a trial separation. I just think you should see how things go."

"Alright," Maria said, nodding. "What do I have to do?"

Greg got up and picked up some of her paperwork from his desk. "I need you to sign in all these places I have marked, and then I can send the papers to the sheriff's office so they can serve your husband with the divorce."

Maria took the papers, and then sat down. She looked at them reluctantly for a few minutes, but then she quietly signed them. "Is that it?" she asked.

"That's it for now. Your husband will get the papers before the day is over."

Maria sighed. "He's never going to sign these."

Greg sat next to her. "If we have to, we'll prove that he's hurt you, and then it won't matter if he doesn't sign the papers. You won't be stuck with him." He took them from her, and then he paused. "Mrs. Carlsson, if he really is violent, then you should find somewhere else to stay tonight. I could help you find a hotel."

She shook her head. "I'll be fine."

Greg sighed. He didn't think that was the best idea, but there wasn't anything he could do about it. I just don't want her to get hurt, he thought.

After Maria had signed the papers, she left the office. She decided to go get something to eat for lunch. She wanted to kill some time, and she didn't want to be home when Jeff got the divorce papers.

She stayed out for as long as she could, and then she headed home. When she walked into the house, Jeff was already there. He was sitting at the kitchen table with some papers in front of him. He looked up at Maria, and she thought it seemed as though he had been crying.

"The sheriff was over here about an hour ago. He served me the divorce papers," Jeff said.

Maria went over and sat across from him. She glanced at the papers and saw that they were indeed divorce papers. Jeff reached over and took her hand.

"Maria, I don't know why you're doing this to me," Jeff said, his baby blue eyes welling up with tears. "Babe, can't you see how much this is hurting me?"

Maria felt tears come to her eyes and she looked away. She didn't want to be doing this. She wished that things could be like how they were before Jeff hit her.

"I'm sorry," she said, crying. "I'm sorry, Jeff."

He got up and came around the table, embracing her in his arms. He was crying too, and for a while he and Maria just clung to each other.

Maria breathed in deeply, taking in the scent of her husband. What am I doing, she asked herself. This is my husband. I promised I would be with him until death do us part. I can't just leave him. She loved Jeff more than she had ever loved anyone. She didn't know what she would do without him.

The whole thing was tearing her up inside. She couldn't accept the fact that Jeff had hurt her. In her heart, she believed he was a good person. Maybe he can change. Maybe if we go see someone it would help. But then she remembered that she had suggested that before, and Jeff just got angry.

"Maria?" he said softly, breaking the silence. "Don't you remember how it used to be?"

She nodded. "Yes Jeff, I do."

He sighed and began to stroke her hair. "I wish you weren't doing this. I love you Maria."

"I love you too."

When Greg got home that night, he sat down to work on some documents. He was trying to keep his mind off Maria Carlsson, but it was impossible. He had worried about her the rest of the day and the entire time on his commute home.

After an hour, he set down the paper he was working on and reached for the phone. He had to know if she was okay. He dialed the number she had given him and waited as it rang. A man picked up, and Greg presumed that it was Jeff. He asked for Maria, and in a minute she came on the phone.

"Hello?" she said softly.

"Mrs. Carlsson, this is Greg Landon. I was calling to ask if your husband received the divorce papers. Did he?"

"Yes."

"I also wanted to ask how you were. Is everything alright?"

"Yes, it is."

"Okay. If you need anything, just remember to call me."

"I will."

"I'll see you tomorrow. Bye Mrs. Carlsson."

"Bye."

Greg hung up the phone, relieved that she seemed okay. She hadn't said much, and he wondered if that was because of her husband.

"Who was that?" Jeff asked her.

Maria avoided his eyes. "It was the lawyer I went to."

Jeff's eyes narrowed. He didn't say anything, but Maria felt uneasy.

"Why don't you just come to bed?" he finally asked her, changing the subject. "I've missed you."

Maria followed him into the bedroom. Once they were settled in, Jeff held her, but his embrace was too tight. Maria squirmed, trying to catch her breath. "Jeff, can you let go a little?"

He complied, but it made Maria realize that he wasn't as gentle as she thought he was.

The next morning, Maria made breakfast for Jeff. Once he was finished eating, she broached the subject of the divorce papers.

"Are you going to sign those?" she asked, cautious in the way she spoke.

Jeff stopped what he was doing. "Maria, I told you that I didn't want this to happen. I don't know why you're doing this anyway."

She sighed. "Well, we at least need to have a trial separation. I can't live my life wondering if you're going to hurt me or love me."

"So this is all my fault? You're putting this all on me?"

"Jeff, I didn't say that -"

"I don't think you know how good you have it. You won't have anything without me," he warned. "I'm not letting you go."

"Jeff -"

"You're mine, Maria. When you married me and signed that marriage license, you agreed that you would be with me for the rest of our lives together. You're not going to go back on your word."

"I wouldn't have to if you wouldn't hurt me!" she said in frustration.

Jeff's face hardened. "Do you want to know what it's like to really be hurt Maria?" he threatened in a low voice.

Maria took a step back from him.

"I want you to go to that lawyer and tell him it's over. There's not going to be a divorce."

"I won't do that," Maria said, her voice trembling.

Jeff stepped forward, his face contorted with rage. Maria saw his fist come up, but she didn't have time to move out of the way.