His Wounded Heart
Sean Raleigh has fired every nurse and physical therapist within firing radius. He wants to be left alone in his invalid despair. But when his best friend hires the beautiful Jaclyn Dalton, Sean’s curiosity about her selflessness and unwavering faith keeps him from sending her away.
Jaclyn needs this job to stay in Montana, but Sean's icy heart and raging bitterness threaten to drive her away. He believes his immobility is a punishment from some controlling but distant deity, yet she sees him crying out for a compassionate God he doesn't believe in. Jaclyn wants to help Sean recognize the grace that can be his, even if she has to leave him to do it, which draws her into a surprising level of emotional vulnerability—a vulnerability that will be the key to healing Sean’s wounded heart.
Awards & Other Kudos
Sean Raleigh threw his shoe, barely missing the idiot woman’s retreating head. When she popped back into his bedroom to protest, he chucked the other one. Like the first, the second shoe crashed against the wall and thunked onto the floor.
He sat in satisfied silence and waited for the front door to slam. If he’d been aiming for her head, he might have felt remorse. But Sean always hit what he aimed at.
“Carter,” Sean rumbled. When silence greeted him, he yelled again. Still nothing. He stretched out on his bed and groped for his crutches, but Nurse Ratched had propped them against the far wall.
Typical. With the wheelchair overturned halfway across the room, he was stuck.
Carter’s tall frame filled the doorway, blocking the dim light from the hallway. Still dressed in chef’s whites, his best friend’s imperial reserve came across as fatherly, but a smirk softened his severe appearance. He offered defensive hands when Sean took a deep breath, ready to launch. “I know, I heard. You fired her. Just tell me you didn’t throw anything this time.”
“Dude, she tried to make me wear my Sharks.” Sean lanced a sharp look at the closet. “I told her no, but did she listen?”
Carter glanced at the open closet, and his face fell. “I thought I put all your climbing gear away.”
Sean stared at one carefully contoured sole of his old shoes and drew his eyebrows together, a bubble of rage building in his chest. “I asked you not to let these women in the house anymore.”
Carter took a step into the room, then winced and raised a hand, fanning the air. “You need to open a window. It reeks in here.” He walked past the discarded shoes and around the overturned wheelchair. Leaning over the cluttered desk, he pulled open the sliding window, and a crisp mountain breeze drifted in.
His parents’ vacation house wasn’t as comforting as it had been when they’d first offered to let him stay in Montana. In the beginning, it had been nice not to have to get on a plane and fly back east, but some days, he would rather be surrounded by the city.
The Montana air filled Sean’s senses, and the tension in his chest expanded. The clean, fresh scent of pine trees only made him think of being in the mountains, of running free across slopes thickly carpeted with underbrush, brimming with wildlife. And then of the accident. He shuddered. This was why the window stayed closed.
Sean gestured at his immobile legs, each bracketed, ankle to thigh, in locked rehab braces. “I can’t exactly run a marathon, here.”
“But you can probably hobble to the window.” Carter stepped back to the door, avoiding the scattered piles of clothing and assorted garbage. “Or get your nurse to help you out.” He pushed the crutches to the end of the bed, then twisted away with a long, frustrated sigh. “Wait, you can’t. You just fired her.”
“Where are you going?”
Carter flipped on the light and turned his head, revealing the profile of his unsmiling face. “Somebody’s gotta make dinner, Crip, and you just fired the help.”
Sean pulled his left leg off the pillows Nurse Ratched had placed under his calves. The throbbing pain that began just below his knee, spread through his entire leg. Each movement, no matter how tiny, brought a new twinge, and all he could do was push at the pain with gusts of air.
Like a woman in labor. But whatever worked.
Sean scooted himself off the edge of the bed until each heel rested on the ground. The pain stopped for a moment with the pressure of his feet on a solid surface, but began anew as he rocked to an upright position and gripped the crutches.
The nurse had put socks on him, even though he’d insisted he never wore them. When she went looking for better shoes than his ratty sandals, everything spilled out of that closet. His Camelback, his Mad Rock Shark climbing shoes, the walking stick he’d carved last summer, thick loops of rope, his cross-country Moabs. Everything he’d asked Carter to put away before he got back from the hospital now spread over his cluttered floor.
His arms stung from carrying his entire frame, but his legs still couldn’t take any real weight. Well, not without the blinding pain, anyway. As he grunted with each step, the locked braces stilted any quick progress he hoped to make. Getting to his feet had taken so long, he almost forgot what he had been about to do.
Right. Follow Carter, stay angry, stop him from hiring any more idiot nurses. In that order.
The dim hallway stretched before him, but the light from the kitchen spilled along the end of the amber carpet. He could see the lip where the carpet met the kitchen’s wooden floor. That extra inch of clearance would have been inconsequential to him two months ago. Might as well have been Mount Everest today. He paused in front of it, trying to rotate his right hip high enough to clear the edge with the heavy weight of his leg.
“Do you want chicken or pork?” Carter yelled, not turning around from his stance in front of the open refrigerator, less than ten feet away.
Sean didn’t answer, turning from his friend back to the carpet. He made a mental note to have a tiny ramp put in. There were people who did that stuff, right? If a guy could carve personalized ice sculptures or bake cakes shaped like Fenway, there had to be someone who could build ramps for crippled invalids.
Sean swore out loud when one of his toes caught on the edge of the lip, and a moment of blinding pain caught him by surprise. Before he knew what had happened, Carter had him by the shoulders. Sean shook off his hands and tottered on unstable legs, the muscles in his stomach tensing as his body swayed on his crutches.
Carter arched an eyebrow, the beginnings of a scowl covering his features. “You’re only supposed to use those to get into your wheelchair.”
“Don’t coddle me, man. I can do this.”
“You can’t.” Carter pulled one of the chairs away from the kitchen table. “Sit. And ask for help next time.”
“I got out of bed myself. I don’t need you nursemaid-ing me. I just kicked some old lady out of my house for that.”
Sighing, Carter sank into the chair across from Sean. “That was the third one in a week.”
“You’re not my dad.” Seeing the wrinkled concern on Carter’s forehead sent a pang of guilt through him, so he tried to soften his voice. “That’s why I asked you to move in here. I don’t need parenting. I just wanted a little help.”
“It’s been almost two weeks, now. And you need more help than just laundry and cleaning.” Carter pulled at his short dark hair, sad frustration creasing his face. “I’m your friend, not your maid. I have a job, remember? You can’t keep sending these women away. They’re here to help you.”
Sean tried adjusting his legs to find comfort, but there was none to be had. “I don’t need their help.”
Carter shook his head. “You need someone’s help.” He stood from his chair and walked back to the refrigerator.
Sean pretended he didn’t hear that, even though it stung. Briefly, the memory of throwing his shoes flashed in his head. The woman had gaped at him when he fired her, like he didn’t have the authority or something. Forget that. She’d protested, and his anger boiled. He didn’t need a nurse.
Carter pulled one of the containers from the shelf of the fridge and flicked a button on the stove. After several tiny clicks, a flame burst underneath the waiting skillet. He stood for a moment in silence, then his head jerked, as though he’d remembered something. “I meant to tell you, I got a call from Jaclyn this morning, from my church.”
Sean rolled his eyes.
Would Carter never give it a rest? Sean wouldn’t be caught dead going to church. Or hanging out with some religious girl. That was the last thing he needed. Someone thought he would be a great project to take on. Jesus-y people always wanted to fix him, although he didn’t need fixing.
Carter walked to the refrigerator again, dropping the plastic container in the sink as he passed it. “She’s coming up this weekend.”
“Coming for what?” Sean raised his eyebrows. “Is there something going on between you two?”
“Not that. She’s just here for the summer. I’m gonna show her around.”
“Can’t fault a guy for hoping, dude. You need a girlfriend.”
Carter laughed, pushing the air through his nose. “I don’t have time for a girlfriend.”
The words hung between them like a rotten stench. Sean knew what he meant. He didn’t have time now. Because all his time was spent here.
Carter sighed and turned back to the pork, picking up the wooden spoon. His big frame, so straight and proud before, slumped over. He just stood over the crackling pan.
“I can’t keep this up, Sean. I have a job. And you need rehab. Your doctor said it would only take a few months, and you’d be good—”
“Don’t say it.” Sean’s voice was sterner than he meant it to be, and he wanted to apologize. Instead, he hauled himself to his feet, leaned on his crutches, and started to hobble away. I’ll never be good as new.
Sean moved across the smooth wood of the kitchen floor, progressing toward his bedroom. The scars throbbed under his braces.
If I can just get back to my bed, I’ll be fine.
Even he didn’t really believe that. He wasn’t fooling anyone.
Maggie.firstname.lastname@example.org (Saturday, 05 January 2013) Rating: 5 Fantastic! I read this in one sitting, only taking a break to get a snack. A compelling...
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I must admit that initially I wasn’t too fond of Sean, the shoe-throwing jerk who refused to do physical therapy or hang onto a nurse. But as the...