Bonus Material: Deleted Scenes from A Worthy Pursuit
In my original draft of this manuscript, Chapter 30 ended with Charlotte fleeing Stone and all the feelings he stirred in her. However, after editorial feedback, I decided that having her run to her room slowed the pacing down too much for the story. Therefore, I cut out the following scenes and simply had Stone stop her from fleeing him so they could address the issue of Lily and move forward with their plans.
Authors never enjoy cutting scenes they believe have value, and this one hurt. Charlotte experienced significant spiritual growth in this section, and the end of the chapter had some fun lines from Dan and Stone that I hated to erase permanently. So I decided to squirrel them away in a secret file and share them with you as bonus material.
Her breaths coming in short, harsh rasps, Charlotte darted up the stairs to her room. She closed the door and pressed her forehead against the cool, wooden surface, waiting for the security of the barrier to calm her heart. But the pounding in her chest wouldn't ease. It drummed harder and harder. Persistent. Unrelenting. Tenacious.
She groaned. How could he love her? He knew how broken she was. Admitted it. Yet vowed to pursue her anyway. And even in the face of such a vow, she feared trusting him. Feared placing her happiness in his keeping. She'd seen what could happen when love turned sour.
But it didn't always turn sour. Lily's mother and father had loved each other deeply until death tore them apart. Rebekah had told her once that she wouldn't have traded the years she'd had with her husband for anything, not even to protect herself from the pain of losing him. The joy of sharing her life with a man who loved her and whom she loved in return was too precious a gift to relinquish. Besides, every time she looked at her daughter, she saw her beloved gaze back at her, encouraging her to go on, to live for them both.
Charlotte swiveled her body around until her back rested against the door. Raising a trembling hand to her lips, she ran her fingers across the soft flesh that Stone had kissed. She might be able to bear losing him to death, knowing that he didn't leave her voluntarily, but to another woman? It would destroy her.
She couldn't risk it. Could she?
Stone's words echoed in her ears. I love you, Lottie. I want to make you my wife. I'll pursue you until a parson either joins us or speaks words over my grave.
The warmth of his promise clashed with her icy fear. Why couldn't she just glory in his revelation? It had been beautiful. Romantic. Every woman's dream. And he'd meant every word. The truth had glowed from his eyes. Why couldn't she just accept the gift he offered without worrying that he might someday change his mind? That he'd grow tired of her after a few years, trade her in for someone younger, fresher, less . . . broken?
Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith.
The quiet voice tugged on her soul, drew her gaze to the nightstand and the small leather volume perched on the corner. Her pocket Bible. Slowly, she pushed away from the door and crossed the room. Her fingers brushed over the cover, then picked up the book. Clasping it tightly, she moved around the bed to the chair by the window where she'd watched for Stone's return. Charlotte lowered herself to the wooden seat and clasped the end of the red ribbon that dangled from between the pages.
Matthew 8. Where Jesus calmed the storm. She'd read those very words earlier today as she sought comfort from God's Word. Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Charlotte closed her eyes, and pictured herself in the boat, tossed to and fro among waves cresting taller than a house, waves that made seasoned fisherman fear for their lives.
Why do you focus on the storm, when I am with you? I will never leave you nor forsake you. Yet you don't look to me. You look to the storm. You feed the tempest with your worry and fear, making it larger than it truly is. Look to me, and the storm will lose its power. No storm is so big that I am not bigger. See? I will show you. The Teacher stepped away from the huddled disciples and moved to the bow of the boat. Then he raised his hands and commanded the waves. Peace. Be still. The squall obeyed. Instantly. Towering walls of water sank back into the sea, leaving a surface so glassy smooth, not even a ripple disturbed it.
Then the Teacher looked directly at her. I can do the same for you, Charlotte, his eyes seemed to say. If you but look to me, I can heal your brokenness. Behold, I make all things new.
Charlotte opened her eyes, moisture blurring her vision of the window before her. Her brokenness went deeper than she'd realized. For it wasn't just Stone she struggled to trust, it was the Lord. What was it the three Hebrew men said when threatened with the furnace of fire? Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us. But even if he does not, we will not worship the golden image which thou hast set up. Such faith! Even if the worst were to happen, they would still believe, still trust God to watch over them. Could she find the strength to say the same? Even if the worst happened—if she let Stone fully into her life only to have him walk away from her sometime in the future—would she still trust the Lord to take care of her, to bind her wounds, to find new ways to bring joy into her life?
If she were truly honest with herself, she had to acknowledge that he had done so for her mother. Mama had been brokenhearted at Papa's defection, yet she found a way to go on, to pour herself into her music, her career. The times they had been together in more recent years, Charlotte had sensed her contentment. Oh, there'd been scars too, and sore places that Charlotte had quickly learned to avoid prodding, but the evidence of past hurt did not keep her mother from finding joy in a soaring aria, or the glistening white of an unexpected snowfall, or in late night chats with her daughter where they compared snobby schoolgirls with European opera divas. How many nights had they laughed until their sides hurt? Charlotte's lips curved at the memory.
Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?
"There's no reason to be afraid, is there?" Charlotte whispered. "Not if you are with me. Yet I can't seem to set the fear aside. It clings to me like a leech, sucking me dry. It's been with me so long, I don't know how to rid myself of it. Help me, Lord. Strengthen my faith. Give me the courage to trust you more fully. To trust the people you've placed in my life. To trust Stone."
Charlotte remained at the window until the ache in her chest gradually eased. Then she inhaled a long breath and pushed to her feet. She couldn't linger. Lily wouldn't understand her disappearance. It was time to celebrate, not hide away. Besides, there was still the matter of Stone's plan to wade through. Now that her initial panic had subsided, that important detail found its way back into her memory. Along with the knowledge that she owed Stone a rather significant apology. She'd fled without a single word after he bared his soul to her, too wrapped up in her own swarming emotions to even consider his. He deserved better, and it was past time she gave it to him.
Stone leaned back in his chair at the table and surreptitiously observed Charlotte slip from place to place, collecting the dirty dinner dishes. She moved with a natural grace and elegance that was a pleasure to watch. He couldn't seem to look anywhere else, even though the object of his study was doing everything in her power not to look at him in return. Maybe that was why he didn't glance away. He wanted her to feel his gaze on her, to feel the attraction pulling between them, to know he'd been serious about his promise to pursue her.
He'd frightened her this afternoon, but he didn't regret speaking his feelings. It'd been time. Sure, the disappointment had stabbed sharp and deep when she'd bolted, but her reaction hadn't surprised him. Charlotte had a lot of years of hurt to get past before her heart would be willing to trust a man's love again. So he'd give her time to get used to the idea. And give himself time to prove worthy of that trust. He'd be fulfilling that promise he made her, and not with a funeral.
Charlotte worked her way around the table to where he sat and leaned across him to reach his plate. He breathed in her scent, content to watch her. Especially when she straightened and finally met his gaze. Her arms stacked high with plates, she cleared her throat as a delightful blush rose her cheeks.
Her tongue darted out to moisten her lips. "Would you . . . care to take a walk with me after Miss Hawkins and I clean up the kitchen?" Her gaze dropped to somewhere in the vicinity of his chin. "I missed our strolls while you were gone."
Stone's pulse ratcheted up a gear or two, but he waited for her eyes to meet his again before answering. When her lashes lifted enough for him to see the blue-green depths beneath, he straightened in his seat. "I would like that very much."
Her shy smile wound its way around his heart and squeezed. The corners of his mouth twitched in response. She'd come to him. That had to mean something. Exactly what, he'd have to wait to find out. Shifting her grip on the plates, Charlotte turned away and called for Lily to follow her into the kitchen to help dry.
"She need you to explain the plan to her again?" Dan waggled his eyebrows at Stone in a purely masculine fashion.
Stone threw his napkin at Dan's face, thankful that the boys had already scampered off to play chess in the front room. "My explanation methods are no concern of yours."
Dan laughed as he ducked and snatched the floating cloth out of the air. "Well, I can't argue with your results. She seems much more amenable to the idea than you predicted."
"That's because I haven't actually explained the plan to her yet."
Dan's eyes widened. "You haven't actually . . ." A guffaw chopped his sentence in half. A loud, raucous, he-had-to-grab-his-middle-to-keep-from-busting-a-gut guffaw. "Oh, that's rich," he said between hoots while he used Stone's napkin to wipe at the tears forming at the edges of his eyes.
Stone glared at him, not that it had any effect. Dan was too far gone. With a sigh, Stone pushed to his feet and headed for the back porch. He could use a little air.
"Hey, Stone," Dan called before he could make his escape. "Maybe you should try using words this time."
"Yeah?" Stone stopped and slowly turned around to face his partner. "Well, remember we gotta tell Marietta, too. Want me to explain the plan to her? I'd be happy to."
That wiped the grin off his face.
"Try it and you're a dead man."
Stone held Dan's gaze, both men knowing that Stone would never touch Marietta Hawkins. After a long minute, Dan blew out a breath and grabbed at the hair on top of his head. "Things were a lot easier when we could just shoot our way outta trouble."
"Ain't that the truth." Stone shook his head in commiseration then made his way to the porch.