“Only for a little while. I need time to gather my thoughts,” she said softly. “I got an email while you were tossing a log—”
“Okay, caber. Anyway, I’ve been asked to go to Southeast Asia a little earlier than was planned so that the Halls wouldn’t miss their flight out. There was another couple that had volunteered, but the husband has pneumonia.” She tilted her head to one side. “Maybe you’d like to g—?”
“Who are the Halls?”
“I’m replacing them so they can go home to see their family for a couple of weeks. I’m going to watch the house and continue their work.”
None of what she was saying made any sense at all. “Wait.” He held up a hand. “Start at the very beginning.”
“Mission trip. I’m leaving Sunday.”
“But that’s tomorrow,” he all but shouted.
“I’ll be gone for two and a half months instead of sixty days.”
Sixty days, Liam. Six. Zero. His heart twisted in his chest. She really was leaving him. “What about us?”
She lifted her chin. “You’re invited, too.”
He was invited? To do what exactly? Sing praises to a God that had let him down? “Are you mad?”
“I can’t believe this. You’re just going off, without a word of warning?”
“You said that you didn’t care what I did.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Same difference.” She grabbed her purse, opening it and taking out a bottle of water. Twisting off the lid, she gulped the liquid down. “I’d rather discuss this later, when we’re both clearheaded.”
“I’d rather discuss the bloody situation now,” he said through his teeth. “What country in Southeast Asia?”
She told him, softly, as if she was afraid someone would overhear. “You can’t tell people where I’m going. It’s not always safe for Christians.”
Then why in the hell was she going? Why in the hell would she take the risk of getting hurt? She was pregnant for God’s sake.
“Maybe that’s a sign to stay away,” he pointed out.
“You don’t get it, and that’s okay. But this is who I am. This is what I’ve always done. I help people, Liam. I help minister their soul, and I see to their other needs. It’s not one or the other.”
“Save the world for Jesus. Brilliant, Isabella. Fucking brilliant.”
“I’m not trying to save the world. I only want to help the people I can,” she said, her lips trembling. “Just like you married me so you could help yourself.”
“I didn’t marry you to could help myself. I married you so I could—you know damn well why I married you. There are people who count on me, people who need jobs, food, and a roof over their heads.”
“Then why is it okay for you to help those who need it, but not me? Aren’t you the one who’s so open-minded? Aren’t you the one who claims not to care what a woman chooses to do, because that’s her right? What’s the difference between me ending this pregnancy, because I choose to, and going someplace that’s a little dangerous, so I have to be careful about what I say? Can you tell me that? Can you keep saying that what I choose to do doesn’t matter to you? Are you still that man?”
He was that man, but this was her. His wife. His child. Not some stranger. This was killing him inside. His heart, the same one he thought Verity had savaged, had been healed. And the woman standing before him was the one responsible for it. But now, she was ripping it to shreds again.
Swallowing, he could only stand there, alternating between being furious and terrified for her, for their child… for their future. It was all slipping away from him.
Bella continued on, “Or are you just pissed that I want to give people a hope that you don’t believe in? That your tolerance for other viewpoints only extends so far?”
In all the times they’d debated, he’d never been hostile to her worldview. He’d listened and tried to learn from her. And he thought she’d done the same. But she hadn’t. Right now, all she was doing was throwing everything in his face.
“Go,” he said.
She blinked. “Excuse me?”
“I said go. Go on your fucking trip. Save the entire damn world while you’re at it. In fact, to show you how bloody open-minded I am, stay as long as you want. Eighty, ninety… three hundred and sixty-five days, if that pleases you, Your Grace.” He shook his head. “I don’t care anymore.”
“You never did.” She brushed past him, but not before he saw the tears that streamed down her face. “You should have married someone just like you instead of somebody like me.”
“Sorry your God mucked everything up by putting us together.”
She froze, and she didn’t move for what seemed like hours, but he would be damned if he asked her what was wrong.
Finally, she turned around. The look on her face gutted him, but not as much as what she said next. “After Peter left me, I prayed and prayed for a man to come into my life that was worthy of my respect and love. A man who would find me worthy of his love and respect, too. Over the last couple of weeks, I thought I was being shown you were that man. Foolishly, I thought He’d blessed me with you.”
“You thought wrong,” Liam bit out.
“Well, at least we can agree on that,” she said with tearful laugh, and then he watched her go, just like he had before. And just like he had ordered her to do.
Bella had lied.
Not about the email, though. She’d lied about her response, about wanting to go tomorrow.
When the email had appeared in her inbox, she’d felt guilty saying no. She’d felt guilty saying that she was still on her honeymoon with her husband, even though she had taken great pride in typing up that reply.
Then she’d tested Liam. Something her parents had warned her about. It was pure manipulation, they’d said. But had she listened to a couple who had been married for forty years?
Taking a deep breath, she swiped her fingers over her cheeks, and then finished making her way out of the forest that was more like an orchard.
Hardly anyone seemed to be staring at her, and those that did catch her eye had nothing but big, friendly grins.
Besides, they knew who she belonged to; Liam had made it clear enough when he’d carried her off the soccer field.