Kelly Spinelli, 53, shares her true life story.
Warning: The following story contains references to domestic violence.
Just as I flicked the kettle on, my doorbell rang. The figure on the doorstep grinned at me.
"You must've read my mind," I said.
My friend Nicola stepped in and gave me a hug. We'd only known each other for three months, but had clicked right away. She had the kindest heart and always saw the best in people.
She volunteered for charities and was great fun to be around. I felt like I'd known her for years and our morning cup of tea had become a ritual.
Today, I wanted to get some gossip from her.
She'd met a new man and he'd whisked her off on a romantic weekend break. I was dying to hear all the details.
Her face broke into a smile.
"Oh Kelly, it was amazing," she gushed. "I really think he's the one."
Then she told me his name was Gary Fletcher and my stomach lurched.
I knew him.
I'd met him before I met Nicola and while he came across as sweet and charming, there was something about him that made me feel uneasy. I'd heard he was heavily involved in drugs.
The thought of my friend being mixed up with his sort made my blood run cold. I decided I'd quietly keep my eye on things.
Over the following weeks, Nicola seemed happy with Gary, but I was still worried.
Then one day, she sat down on my sofa and said: "I've got something to tell you."
Before she could finish her sentence, I knew she was pregnant.
"I've found my happily ever after," she told me, her eyes brimming with tears.
I hugged her tightly.
"Nobody deserves happiness more than you do," I said.
I shopped with her for baby clothes and muslins, and watched her bump grow. She was so excited and I knew she'd make an incredible mum.
After she gave birth, Gary moved in with her and the baby. I visited every day to help out where I could and was amazed at how radiant she looked.
She must have been exhausted, but she never showed it.
"We're a real little family now," she said, with Gary's arm over her shoulder as she nursed their baby. They looked so happy I began to think I'd misjudged him.
But then, a few weeks later, I was woken up one night by the sound of hammering on my door.
Nicola was sobbing uncontrollably, clutching her baby to her chest.
Panic surged through me.
"What's he done?" I asked as I made us a cuppa.
"He's going to leave me, I just know it," she wept.
I tried to find out more, but she clearly didn't want to say.
"Has he hit you?" I asked bluntly, and she shook her head.
"He'd never hurt me," she replied.
She wiped her eyes and said, "Promise me something?"
"Anything," I replied.
"Can you find us a place?" she said. "Somewhere you and I can go together with the baby, away from here? The sooner the better."
I promised I would.
Over the next couple of days, I searched for a unit for us to move to. She rang me several times to see how it was going.
Then one morning, I rang her to tell her about a place I'd found and my call went straight to voicemail.
It was unlike her not to answer.
I sent her a message: 'Call me.'
But she didn't.
For two days I heard nothing and felt a tide of panic rising.
Then I logged on to Facebook and my heart almost stopped in my chest.
'RIP Nicola, you will be missed by everybody. A beautiful person inside and out.'
Barely able to breathe, I texted Gary to find out what was going on.
He didn't reply but then a friend called.
"Nicola was found dead," he told me.
Even before I was told I knew that animal had killed her.
Surely enough, he'd been stopped by police carrying a large knife. When officers searched the house, they found her body with a bin liner over the head. It had been stuffed into a cupboard under the
She was only 33.
A cord was tied around her neck, and her hands and feet were bound.
Thankfully, her baby was unharmed.
I felt so angry that the man she loved had done this to her. And heartbroken that I hadn't voiced my fears about him to her.
In time, Fletcher, 35, appeared in court and admitted manslaughter. He told police he believed she was poisoning his food.
The court heard he'd used alcohol and cannabis to cope with episodes of extreme paranoia and depression. In the months leading up to Nicola's death, his symptoms had increased.
He'd been using crack cocaine daily, along with a legal high commonly known as super coke.
Two doctors agreed he had a mental health condition when he'd killed her and therefore diminished responsibility.
He was sentenced to be detained in a psychiatric hospital and will only be released when he no longer presents a threat to the public.
He robbed my best friend of her future and her child of its mother.
The world is a darker place without Nicola in it.
I'm telling my story so her death is not in vain. If you're worried that a loved one is in a violent relationship, speak out before it's too late.
Friendships can be mended but you can never bring someone back to life.