|b||A Last Touch of Grace by T.C. Mill|
Matthew O’Dallan was separated from his childhood sweetheart Iphigenia Haworth when his parents promised him to the Church. Years later, Iphigenia finds her way to his parish. Their old bond hasn’t weakened—in fact, maturity has made it in some ways stronger than ever, adding lust to their longtime affection. She remembers the old promises they made each other, and before God, she is ready to keep them. And although he knows that it’s a sin, Matthew can’t help but find in her temptation the chance for a last touch of grace.
“You should go, Iphigenia.” If he truly wanted to hurt her, he should call her Miss Haworth. He knew that but he held back from saying it, at least for now. Not until he had to.
“I kept my promise. Do you not want to keep yours?” Her tongue darted across her lips, and the brightness in her eyes—so keen they were almost predatory—dimmed.
“I was a child,” Matthew said. “How could I mean it?”
“Did you mean it when your parents sold you?”
“They didn’t—But anyway, it was a long time ago.”
“Nine years,” she said, “five months, twelve days.” Her mouth twisted into something that wasn’t a smile. “I kept a diary.”
“Even I didn’t keep track of the number of days.”
“Well. That’s a difference between us.”
Matthew tried closing his eyes, but even when he wasn’t looking at her he could hear her voice. Its warmth. Her father’s gravelly, aristocratic drawl sweetened by a constant promise of laughter. Even now, he thought she might be ready to laugh—at herself, at him, at the ridiculous architecture of this church if nothing else.
“Maybe I am wrong,” Iphigenia said. “And if so, I’m sorry to trouble you. I don’t think I’m wrong, but I truly don’t want to—to make things worse for you. If I’m opening a wound that’s healed, tell me. If it’s not still raw and bleeding, then I know I ought to let it be.” A deep breath from her, while everything else around him was still silence. “Say it hurts you less than it hurts me, and I’ll go, Mattie.”
Behind his eyelids, wetness stung. He laughed at it. “Nobody’s called me by that name in a long time.”
When he knew tears wouldn’t drip, he looked at her. While speaking, Iphigenia had lowered her head, and now she raised it again to meet his eyes. He could never say who moved first. One of them took a step forward, then the other. They came close enough to whisper.
“It hurts,” he said. “Of course it does. But animals lash out in pain, Genie. Human beings have a choice.”
Standing between him and the door, she took a small step aside. Not far, but enough to give him a clear line of escape if he desired it. “I won’t steal a man away from God.”
“But you won’t let God steal him from you, either?”