Lucy Hawky had two young children, was approaching 30 and working in the charity sector when she was swept off her feet by a man who seemingly had it all.
On the face of it, he was a successful, financially secure professional, a go-getter with a flash car and his own flat.
Smitten, Lucy invested her emotional and professional trust in him, carving out a new career as a couple in business together.
However, it soon emerged that he was seven years older than he’d led her to believe.
She put the deceit down to a white lie, a silly but inoffensive attempt to impress a younger, attractive, confident woman.
It then transpired, she claims, that the flat she believed to be his own was rented from a social landlord who housed people with mental health issues.
The verbal abuse commenced shortly afterwards.
Lucy claims the man told her no-one liked her, no-one loved her and she was stupid.
She says he complained her cooking wasn’t up to scratch, candles weren’t lit and she hadn’t put enough effort into her appearance when he came home.
She now knows, she says, that he was a Casanova psychopath who saw her as a cash cow and was motivated by money and his own ego.
It ground her down – and made her the target for another man with whom she had an affair, and who would go on to drag her by the hair from a car she’d bought him.
She was working out in the gym when he first approached her, making it abundantly clear he was interested in her.
He flattered her, told her she was beautiful and amazing.
On reflection, Lucy – who has diplomas in mental health and brain development – said: “It is called ‘love bombing’ – when somebody with toxic tendencies sets their sights on someone.
“It’s intoxicating but you ignore the sense of a runaway train, as they just seem perfect for you, mirroring your lifestyle, desires and plans for the future – on purpose.”
Six months later, Lucy – now a mum of three – entered into a physical relationship with him.
“I thought I could trust myself. He had successfully made me feel incredible and special and in control,” she said.
“But after the first sexual encounter, he changed. He started blowing hot and cold. It’s called ‘ghosting’ or ‘discarding’.”
After confessing her affair to her partner, both men ended their relationships with her.
Admitting she was besotted with the man with whom she’d had an affair, he continued to come in and out of her life, making unreasonable demands while struggling with a long-term addiction to alcohol and valium, leaving her feeling used, exhausted and confused.
Her accounts of the on-off, controlling relationship are harrowing.
“I was sucked in, chewed up and spat out of a ‘loving relationship’ that simply ruined my bank balance, career and overall mental health,” said Lucy, 38, who claims she bought her lover a car and paid for them to go on a luxury foreign holiday together.
She herself received a criminal conviction for stalking another woman he’d also been seeing long-term by telephone.
Lucy says she became painfully thin, drank too much and even fantasised about killing him.
“I was mourning him and grieving him. I planned how I was going to kill myself. I checked my life insurance,” said Lucy, who now lives in Glasgow with her kids.
“I knew how ruined I was. Everyone knew. I was all for doing it. But something in me just said, ‘these people do not deserve to win’.”
When she finally mustered the courage to tell him it was over after 18 months, she admits to embarking on a pattern of behaviours that “overstepped several boundaries”.
“I totally degraded myself,” she admits.
“I didn’t care. I could have lost my kids. I had a breakdown. Night terrors, hallucinations. I firmly believe my brain and morality went.
“I still have a semi-addiction to dangerous men with no jobs, tattoos and criminal convictions.
“I thought I was in control by entering relationships in which there was no love – quite cold, but satisfying relationships. Fun, but dark fun. It was not right.
“I have rebuilt my sense of morality. I have done a lot of work on my risk-taking and my own impulsivity. You never truly move on after what you have been through.
“Even if it is a nice guy, you scare them off and they don’t understand.”
She began writing the book, which she describes as a labour of love, three years ago.
As it progressed, she realised the prose was “whingeing”, and she dramatically changed its tone and called on her studies and experience in charity work and enterprise to turn it into more of a training, educational tool, with what she calls ‘red flag’ warnings to “protect other lassies” at risk of falling prey to controlling people.
Lucy hopes it will help not only victims and survivors, but also professionals interested in improving judicial, social care and health systems.
The book is broken into three stages – love bombing, the devaluation and the ultimate discard, and aims to teach women the characteristics of people with narcissistic personality disorder.
“There is still no book like it,” she insists.
“There are lots of memoirs and self-help books. But in this, I talk about my own slide. I want to help other women by being totally authentic and honest.”
Last week, she volunteered to run a workshop for a cancer charity, alerting people living with the illness about Machiavellianism – one of the traits in what is called the Dark Triad of personality traits.
Lucy offers free coaching to victims of such individuals and has almost finished her second book on the same vein, called The Notch.
She is working on developing other practices to spread awareness and understanding of toxic people in relationships, workplaces and friendships.
Dangerous Normal People by LW Hawksby is available to order from Waterstones. A percentage of the profits from the sale of her books is donated to human and animal-focused charities.