WASHINGTON (AP) _ Romance novelist Nancy Richards-Akers' husband had threatened to kill her several times, according to e-mails she sent her friends in the months before she was shot to death.

``(I) told my husband I wanted a divorce. He threatened to kill me, broke my nose, and I was basically a hostage in my own house until early (last) June,'' Richards-Akers, 45 at the time of her death Saturday, wrote to a friend in January. ``I had to get myself away so my children would not see me killed before their eyes.''

The e-mail, passed along to a reporter by a fellow novelist on condition of anonymity, was the most graphic of nearly a dozen messages to friends and colleagues that were sent by Richards-Akers and provided Monday and Tuesday to The Associated Press.

They shed light on the events that culminated in the romance novelist's slaying Saturday night, apparently by her estranged husband, in one of Washington's most posh neighborhoods. Her husband, Jeremy Akers, 57, a lawyer and former Marine, fatally shot himself a few hours later as police officers approached him near the Vietnam Memorial on the National Mall.

Richards-Akers was the third romance author killed by a husband in three years, according to the Romance Writers of America. California authors Pamela Macaluso and Ann Wassall were shot to death by their husbands in 1997 and 1996, respectively, the group said in a statement today. The husbands killed themselves.

The Akers' deaths have made orphans of their three children, Finny, Jeb and Isabel, who all knew of the brutality, according to Richards-Akers' letters. At the time of her death, the novelist was living with a male friend, and Akers with the children in the home the couple had shared for 16 years. She moved out after Akers punched her in the nose in front of Jeb and Isabel. He also told Finny to prepare to raise his two siblings alone, the novelist wrote.

Some friends refused to house her because they feared her husband, Richards-Akers wrote. It was well known that he collected guns.

The deaths came days before the first court date of divorce proceedings that Akers had resisted, according to the e-mails. When she asked for a divorce, ``he threatened to kill me,'' Richards-Akers wrote. She said she moved out and into the apartment for the children's sake.

``If I had not left, they might have witnessed my death,'' she wrote in a Jan. 18 note to the fellow romance novelist who demanded anonymity but who confirmed the document's authenticity.

The novelist's e-mails paint a picture of a darkly abusive relationship far from the world of chivalry and daydreams that fill her books.

On Feb. 2, Richards-Akers wrote: ``He is a violent, possessive, terrorist control-freak, and although I am out of the immediate path of his wrath he has spared nothing in his efforts to punish me financially and emotionally.''

Richards-Akers had found love in recent months in her world of writers.

On March 16, Richards-Akers sounded upbeat in an e-mail to fellow author Kay Bailey, who goes by the pen name ``Karen Kay.'' In another written that day, she described ``Jim,'' as ``a truly sweet and generous man who is becoming an important part of my life.''

Four days later, Richards-Akers revealed that she and ``Jim,'' who writes poetry for children, had made plans for the future.

``We have talked about getting married,'' she wrote to Bailey.

Richards-Akers was prominent in the cyberworld of romance novelists and their fans who wrote daily on a Web site devoted to ``Avon Ladies'' who had contracted with Avon Books.

She wrote 16 historical romance novels, including ``Devil's Wager'' and ``Miss Wickham's Betrothal.'' Her latest was ``So Wild a Kiss,'' a book for which she had high hopes but which had disappointing sales. Her 1997 book, ``Wild Irish Skies,'' was named one of the top 10 romance novels of that year by The Washington Post.

Richards-Akers was working on a new book, tentatively titled, ``Lady of the Tower,'' at the time of her death.

She turned to romance writing after being disillusioned by jobs in the political world, which she described on her Web site as ``a tragic waste for a chronic daydreamer.''