Surrendered Heart. Interwoven Grace
Isabelle had always envisioned Charlie Hamilton as the hero depicted in the romantic tapestry hanging in the Hamilton home. Then Charlie abandoned her to make decisions no one should make alone. Now, six years later, Charlie's back, and despite Isabelle's best efforts, she can't ignore the longing his presence reignites. Charlie wants a second chance, but can Isabelle trust the man he's become? Can she surrender her threadbare heart long enough for God to weave Isabelle's own happily-ever-after tapestry?
Isabelle Crafton’s breath stilled at the sight of the man standing on the other side of the doorway. No. It couldn’t be.
Charlie Hamilton. His name clattered in her head as his gaze held hers. The traitor she’d spent the last six years trying to forget.
Unable to move, unable to wrench her gaze away, she bit her lip to keep from gaping. No longer the gangly soccer star who’d scored the winning goals in high school, broad shoulders now filled his tailored suit, his face square and chiseled, and those eyes… Would she ever forget those eyes? Dark and warm. Once as soothing as sipping hot chocolate on a blistery winter’s day.
“Isabelle, I can’t believe it’s you.”
She blinked and looked away, her heart pounding. Get a grip. After all, his visit presented one redeeming quality. He was holding her cat.
She lifted the feline from Charlie’s arms. “There you are Humphrey, you had me so worried. Bad kitty!” She scolded him the way she’d love to scold Charlie, but held back. Her roommate Kate, was in the apartment and well within earshot. “Charlie, thank you.” She forced her voice to remain calm.
“You look great.” He smiled, brushing cat hair from his jacket.
Likewise. She scrunched Humphrey closer. “You found my cat. I’ve been so worried. I’m not sure if you remember Humphrey, but he’s deaf.”
Charlie nodded. “He was hanging out in the drainage ditch near the parking lot. The woman in the office told me who lost a cat. She offered to return him, but I had to see if it was really you. And here you are.” He opened his arms and stepped closer.
Unexpected emotion clogged Isabelle’s throat. Swallowing hard, she grabbed the knob and pushed the front door halfway shut, blocking his entrance into the apartment. How dare he act like nothing had happened between them? “I must say, you’re the last person I expected to see.” The last person she wanted to see.
For a moment, their eyes clashed. The corners of his lips curved up. “Yes, a nice surprise. It’s been a long time, Isabelle. Too long.” His gaze drifted from her face to the furry bundle in her arms. “I should have recognized Humphrey.”
Too long? A lifetime wouldn’t be long enough. And why would he recognize her cat? He hadn’t been around since Humphrey was a kitten.
Isabelle eased the door within a couple inches of closing. “See you around, Charlie.” Except for a discreet glance through lowered lashes, she kept her gaze averted, cuddling the cat closer to her face.
“Isabelle, wait.” Charlie pushed against the door. “Tell me how you’ve been. What are you doing here in Austin?”
Isabelle froze and peered at him through the space he’d created. She wanted to tell him she’d graduated from college and was doing fine without him. Raking her fingers through Humphrey’s knotted fur, she tried to transform bitter thoughts into a civil response. A beat passed, then another. “Not much to tell. Just working,” she blurted finally after what seemed like eons.
“She teaches second grade at McGee Elementary,” Kate bellowed from behind her. “We came here last year after graduating from East Texas.”
Thanks, Kate. Isabelle sucked in air to hold back a sigh.
A dimple flashed in Charlie’s cheek. “Isabelle, congratulations.”
Her heart gave a little leap despite her efforts to control it.
“The man is trying to make conversation.” Kate breezed up beside her and squeezed her arm.
“I’m sorry. I just don’t have time to chat right…” Isabelle’s words faded in defeat, as Kate swung the door wide open.
“It would be nice to catch up, Isabelle.” Charlie shifted even closer. He sunk his hands into his trouser pockets.
She caught a scent of his cologne, tickling her nose. Something, clean and fresh like…Stop it. Isabelle blinked. What was she doing? She tightened her arms around Humphrey and backed away, doubling the distance between them.
How could she ever forget?
Eighteen…and pregnant. She ground her teeth. Life before Jesus. Shaking her head, she pushed out a weary breath. “Who knows when Humphrey ate last? I better feed him.”
As if on cue, Humphrey let loose a scraggly meow.
“Isabelle, so good to see you.”
Charlie’s gaze narrowed, and she was struck by the unexpected intensity. Perhaps he had regrets. Well…so did she.
“Let’s talk soon.”
She started to answer, to tell him to forget about her, but why bother. Her response would only fuel more conversation. “Again, thanks for finding Humphrey.”
“No problem. I look forward to catching up with you soon.”
She ignored the comment and stalked out the entry and into the kitchen. Maybe, Charlie would pick up on her hint and take a hike himself.
Isabelle set Humphrey on the floor, stretched on tiptoes, and yanked open the cabinet over the stove. She grabbed the plastic container of cat food and poured fish-shaped morsels into a bowl. With whiskers twitching, the cat licked his forepaws and stared up at her. She crouched and set the bowl in front of him. “I’m glad you’re safe.” She pulled a twig from his fur.
Even at this distance, Isabelle could hear the conversation in the entry. She glanced at her watch and sighed when Kate burst into a hearty laugh. Didn’t Charlie have somewhere to be?
“I can’t believe you’re in graduate school with Mark.” Kate’s voice lifted.
Isabelle rolled her eyes. Perfect.
“Yeah, he’s in my study group this semester. Nice guy.”
“I think so, too.” Kate giggled. “This is such a busy semester for him, with our wedding and all. I can’t wait until he’s finished.”
“I’m right there with you. School can’t end soon enough for me either.” A pleasant chuckle trailed Charlie’s words.
“So, you graduate in May, also?”
Grad school. Lucky Charlie. No hiccups in his life. No change of course. Unlike hers, whose life made a U-turn when she got pregnant and spun further out of control when she’d lost the baby. Their baby. Isabelle shook her head. Why Charlie? Why couldn’t you have— She flinched. History, she reminded herself. One she wanted to forget.
The kitchen started to feel stuffy. She pushed to her feet and slid open the window above the sink. Fresh air blew against her face. Who cares when Charlie graduates anyway? Their life together ended years ago. She pinched dead leaves off the potted ivy meandering across the windowsill.
A moment passed, then another. She inched toward the doorway. She cocked her head and gnawed on an already too short fingernail, reassuring herself Charlie no longer meant anything to her.
“I’ve been working at my gir―, uh, friend’s father’s marketing company in San Marcos. After graduation, I’ll be a director there.”
Isabelle slapped her hands over her ears. She braced herself against the counter before her wobbly knees gave out. Of course, he had a girlfriend. After six years, people moved on.
Well, most people.
Even as the thought crossed her mind, she shook her head. The last thing she wanted was Charlie to be privy to how boring her life had become. Not that her boredom had anything to do with missing him. Straightening, she lifted her chin. She’d just been busy, that’s all.
Still, why, out of the hundreds of people in their apartment complex, did he have to be the one to find her cat? She picked up the cat food container and shoved it back into the cabinet. Humphrey crunched his meal on the floor next to her. Snagging a deep breath, she grabbed a dishcloth and ran circles across the already spotless counter. Then she jerked open the refrigerator door and yanked old take-out containers from the shelves. If she had to be stuck in the kitchen, she might as well get something done.
Charlie’s tone rose above the trilling grind of the garbage disposal. “Tell Isabelle good-bye for me. I’ll catch up with her soon. Oh…and make sure she lets Sadie in the office know to take the sign down now that Humphrey’s home safe.”
That did it. Isabelle thumped her hands on the counter and opened her mouth to shout a retort, but no words came—only tears. Charlie hadn’t changed. Still trying to take care of things. Why wouldn’t she tell Sadie? Who did he think put the sign up in the first place? She clenched her left fist, nails digging into her palm. Six years ago she’d asked for his advice, and he had nothing of value for her. In fact, he had nothing to say about the matter at all.
Squaring her shoulders, she wiped hot tears and resisted the rush of illogical nostalgia parading through her. No, she wouldn’t look back. Instead, she slammed her eyes shut and prayed—for God’s grace.
Question 1: The book is about Trust. Has past hurts ever impacted your ability to trust?
Question 2: When Isabelle and Charlie reconnected six years had passed. Why was it hard for Isabelle to see Charlie as the new man he was? Do you have a situation to compare; running into someone after years apart?
Question 3: Charlie never stopped loving Isabelle, but struggled with making the right decision when he found out she was pregnant. Do you think fear and immaturity played a greater role, or pressure from his mother? Have there been times when you've made a poor decision because of peer or family pressure?
Question 4: The way Isabelle reacted toward Charlie confused him. He was willing to forgive, why wasn't she? Wise counsel from his an unlikely source, his secretary, Brenda, helped him persevere. Are there people in your life that bless you with wisdom?
Question 5: As a Christian, Isabelle knew God had forgiven her, yet had a hard time forgiving herself and Charlie. What happened when she was able to forgive? How do you cope with hurt and the ability to forgive?
Question 6: Fear of more rejection and loss made it hard for Isabelle to move forward in life. Who in the story did she feel rejected by and what losses did she suffer? How do you deal with fear? Has it kept you from accomplishing something?
Question 7: Isabelle came from a humble beginning, without social connections or wealth. Charlie's mother deemed that she wasn't good enough for her son. Have you ever allowed someone's opinion to define who your were? Aren't you glad God sees us for who we are and not how we appear to the world?
Question 8: Aunt Myra tried to protect Isabelle from more hurt by sheltering her from Charlie. Have you ever thought you knew what was best for someone? Has anyone ever made a decision they thought was best for you, only to find out they were wrong?
Question 9: Isabelle's mother and father made poor choices. Isabelle wanted to prove to others and herself that she wouldn't turn out like them. But, when she found herself eighteen and pregnant, like her mother, who do you think was more disappointed, Isabelle or her aunt? How hard is it never to let yourself or anyone else down? How do you think Isabelle felt? How do you handle disappointment?
Question 10: Erica was a beautiful woman. She offered Charlie status, wealth and power. Once he became a Christian none of that mattered. When you became a Christian, were there areas of your life that no longer seemed attractive?