The next few days proved to be grueling for Jonathan as he struggled to work, take care of his family, and all the while hoping that his wife was still out there, alive and well with their baby who would be eight this year.

At church, his friends watched as the normally cheerful tall man leave the service immediately after the pastor had given the benediction. Tampa smiled apologetically at Tierra, one of the young women in the Singles’ ministry who had her eyes on John since he came back to Houston. The sandy-haired slender beauty frowned with concern as John muttered his farewell and ushered his three children out of the church.

“A lot on his mind lately,” Tampa said quietly watching as her brother-in-law sped out of the parking lot.

Later that night, John helped Tyler with math homework while Alison and Ethan prepared for school the next morning, chatting together as they lay their clothes on their bed for their father’s ritual inspection.

Caught up in the moment, they jumped at the sound of the doorbell. John yelled for the kids to start taking their baths as he rushed to the door. Opening the door slowly, he sighed inwardly as the sandy-haired beauty stood on the other side of the door.

“Tierra…”

Tierra smiled as she fingered the leather strap of her handbag, “Hi Jonathan…” she crooned softly. “Didn’t see you tonight at the service.”

He forced a smile, “The kids and I were busy this afternoon—homework and all.” John frowned at his agitation. Why did this woman make him feel perturbed and uneasy?

She cleared her throat and shuffled her feet as if waiting for him to say something to break the silence.

John then realized his manners and opened the door wider, “Sorry,” he muttered, inwardly scolding himself. “The place’s a bit messy…”

As she stepped over the threshold and stared at the children’s disarray, she smiled slightly. “It’s understandable, Jonathan…” She then turned to him with her violet eyes probing into his very empty soul. Without thinking, she lifted her hand and touched his arm, “Are you okay? You’ve been acting a little… distant.” She raised a perfectly curved brow at him. “What seems to be the matter, darling?”

He stiffened at her endearment and shrugged her hand off. “Nothing,” he murmured as he moved to remove the children’s homework and Ethan’s toys. He could feel her stare bore into his back.

She boldly placed her hand on his broad shoulders, “John dear… This might not be a good time for you, but we must discuss the future. About me and you. It’s time.”

He frowned at her slighted words and paused at his work. Straightening, he shuddered in distaste as her hand slid provocatively down his back. “What are you talking about, Tierra?”

She pursed her lips in evident frustration. “Oh come on, Jonathan… I have been trying to discuss our future together, but the children and the loss of your dead—”

“My dead WIFE?” He snapped in annoyance, disregarding her sudden rigidity. “We never discussed and are not going to discuss any future together, Tierra.” He turned back to the table and agitatedly gathered the papers, “Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to put my kids to bed before midnight.”

As he moved towards the kitchen to place the papers on the counter, Tierra’s trembling hand suddenly gripped his arm. Looking down at her, John swallowed the painful lump in his throat as unmistakable tears formed in the young woman’s almond-shaped eyes.

“I-I just don’t want to see you hurt again, Jonathan…” She squeezed his hand when he made no move to remove his arm from her loose grip. “I—know I’ve been kind of assertive, b-but I care for you, Jonathan… Please don’t turn me away.” Her thin red lips quivered.

He cocked his head to study her and then nodded, “I’m sorry… I just hate when people assume that she’s—she’s… dead.” It now hurt even more to admit it now that he’d begun to believe the possibility that she might be alive. He didn’t want to hurt Tierra though. They had indeed tried dating once but he stopped it because he wanted to get close to the children, and dear Tierra had been very tolerant. What if he told her of the latest news about his wife?

Tierra smiled receptively and, on a whim, reached for him. Graciously, he embraced her and closed his eyes, feeling tears threatening. “I understand…” Then slowly, she reached for his face. As if hypnotized by her violet eyes, he stood still as she dragged his head down and placed his lips on hers.

At first, he closed his eyes almost reveling in the moment, and then all of a sudden, he saw his wife’s grim brown eyes staring at him in the midst of the darkness. As Tierra sighed softly, wrapping her arms around his neck, John snapped his eyes open and pushed her away irately. “P-please stop it, Tierra…” His breath came out raggedly. Oh forgive me Lord… Forgive me, Hannah.

Tierra frowned at him, her breath also uneven. “Wha-what’s wrong?”

He groaned and dug his hands into his hair. “I’m sorry Tierra… I can’t do this with you. I think Hannah might still be alive.”

Tierra’s jaw dropped as she stared at the man who she had secretly longed for ever since the former Hannah Burton had announced her engagement in a service nine years earlier.

“Daddy?” a whimper came from the stairs and both adults turned their attention to the stairs were three children stood in the shadow, faces pressed against the banister with their eyes glued on their father. Jonathan swallowed at the hardened lump in his throat.

<<Part 2 || Part 4>>

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