A repentant heart begs not to be turned away, but unforgiveness fights to have the final say in a young woman’s heart.
Join me for an exciting excerpt from Stephanie Daniels’ upcoming novel, The Uncertainty of Fire.
I push the door open and trudge toward the bed. His gray eyes—usually hard as steel, now like calm waters—meet mine. His hyena-featured face repels me as ever. Smells of leather and vinegar used to staunch the bleeding cause my eyes to water. Instinct compels me to wipe my eyes, but I stop. Tears might help with my ruse. I concentrate on commanding my twitching facial muscles from scowling.
He holds out a trembling hand. No. I’d held his hand once through his pain and his unconsciousness. I’ll not do it again. I pick up the glass of water at his bedside and shove it in his hand pretending to believe that is what he wants. His brow wrinkles in confusion, but struggling, he lifts the glass to his lips. I straighten the coverlet, unwilling to aid him in his task.
He props up on his elbows, the empty glass in his hand poised on the bed. “Whimsy.”
I freeze at his use of my true name, as nettling as leeches on bare skin.
“I didn’t think you’d come. Did Colin convince you? I’m a changed man. I can’t believe God can forgive me for all I done. For what I done to Co–“
He chokes on his words and grunts in pain, then he grips the bandage on his side. His body goes rigid then quakes and seizes. His features twist, then relax.
I thought I’d be happy to see him brought low. To be humbled as he had often humbled me.
“For what I done to you.” Wheezing breaths follow his finished statement.
My pounding heartbeat thuds in my ears. Maybe it will block out his words. But I stand defiant, waiting to say my part and never face him again.
“God’s forgiven me. Colin’s forgiven me,” Mattie rasps.
I cast my gaze downward.
“I can die in peace now. Well, almost. I know I’ve done wrong. And it must be hard to listen to me say this.”
He has something right at least.
“But if you can. Please. Forgive me.”
The pallor of his face pales, as if the effort of his words drains the life from him. I raise my gaze as slowly as a hoisted flag. My fists clench then I shove them behind my back, out of his sight. I can’t risk his thinking I’ve not forgiven him and in one last moment, he reveal it to the Bradshaws. He’ll not ruin another day of my life. I’ll not be thrown back to the streets because of him.
My nod is so small, I’m not sure he sees it. Will I need to say the words? I forgive you. Because I’m sure I can’t. Even if I don’t mean them. But slight color suffuses his face, and his head drops back onto the pillow.
“Thank you. Thank you.” His eyes close and a tear slides down the side of his face.
A battle as mighty as The War of the Rebellion rages inside me. Is Mattie truly a reformed man? Had he really asked God’s forgiveness? Does he genuinely want mine? The brawling liquor-filled boy that invades my dreams doesn’t resemble the still form in the bed. The features are the same. But the hardness in the jaw has relaxed. Not a flutter behind his eyelids. Even the horse flare of the nostrils had ceased.
Should I forget the day he’d made a pyre of my hiding spot at the top of a lumber pile? Should I push aside the memory of his boot thrust into my back or my cheek bruised from his brutal beating? How day after dreary day I’d dreaded how I’d sidestep his aggression?
No. I will not. I cannot. God cannot expect this of me, even if Colin did.
Mattie’s breathing slows. His face flushes as hot as the irons I’ve left on the cook-stove.
I creep from the room, ridding my features of any trace of anger in case Colin waits on the other side of the door. Which of course, he does.
Clicking the door shut behind me, Colin steps close, peering down into my face. “How was he? Did you do it?”
My eyes still damp from the medicinal smells, I glance at Colin and muster my sweetest smile. “Yes.”
Better not to say too much in case my anger spills over. Anger at tending to that man. Anger at Colin and the Bradshaws for requiring this of me. To hold my security and peace of mind ransom so that the brute in that bedroom could die unburdened before his Creator?
I push past Colin, escaping downstairs away from his praise and relief before my face clouds with emotions he’ll read all too well.
I duck into the butler’s pantry, grabbing an unused apron to swab the real tears I’d tamped down. I breathe in, then expel a shuddering breath that causes the silver to sway and tinkle. This heavy iron cauldron in my chest is Mattie’s fault. I’m sure it is. But Mattie is near to death, unable to harm me. And his sorrow, much to my dismay, seems real, unfeigned, genuine, despite my doubts. Why then, did the heaviness continue? Why does my chest burn like I’m unable to breathe? Can it be that Mattie isn’t the only one that carries a burden in need of release?
Thank you to all of the wonderful authors who have joined me so far this month! It has been an absolute joy to share your stories 🙂
Next week, Erica Richardson is joining us for an interview and exciting giveaway of her book, Luna’s Rescue, the first installment of The Cottonwood Chronicles! You won’t want to miss it!
I’ll meet you back here then!