Eight words determined my fate.
“We really have to stop meeting like this.”
I tilted my head as she slid in beside me. I didn’t dare risk looking directly at her, so I settled on her shoes—hell-fire red with a skinny heel at least six inches high. Stilettos in church seemed a little over the top, but judging from her posture, she wasn’t seeking anyone’s approval.
“Shhh,” I whispered, placing a finger over my lips.
“Of course.” She gave a casual laugh as if our conversation wasn’t about to get us both struck down.
In front of me, scattered heads bowed like dominos in prayer. Dipping my chin, I watched them under the protective brim of my blue hat. Such a bold fashion statement wasn’t my usual style, but I couldn’t risk being recognized. The gossip train traveled faster than the speed of light amongst Houston’s tightly woven circles. Phones would buzz before I turned the ignition on my car.
The guilty were always the first to announce someone else's sins. Every one of them spent the last four years turning a blind eye. Now, it was too late for forgiveness.
Instinct made me pull away, forcing a much-needed distance between us. The space lifted the pressure on my chest, and I took a breath for the first time since she sat down. Unfortunately, one was all I got as she pulled out a black clutch and placed it next to me.
“Are you sure about this?” I whispered.
“Why would I lie?”
“The same reason everyone does. Greed. Money. Power.”
She gave a slight nod. “All good reasons, but this is a hard limit for the most corrupt of hearts.”
“Well, I suppose morality does grow in the most barren of fields.”
“Watch it.” Her casual tone thickened. “Stone throwing isn’t the smartest move for a woman who’s already broken two of the ten commandments.”
Five, but who’s counting.
I sucked in a deep breath. “Thanks.”
“Who are you trying to hide from—them or yourself?”
The hairs prickled on the back of my neck. She intended to prove a point, and it worked.
“Don’t forget your purse when you leave.” Her full lips parted, flashing a brilliant smile that had kissed both the devil and an angel. “I’m out of this now. It’s all on you. I’m washing my hands.”
I swallowed hard. “I’ve changed my mind. I can’t do this.”
Out of patience, she grabbed my arm. “You can’t puddle jump morality, Leighton. You’re either all in or all out. Ever heard of an eye for an eye?”
“Ever heard of eternal damnation?”
Her wink was deadlier than her smile. “Signed that contract a long time ago.”
She left before I could say another word. It was just as well. Carrying on a conversation while trying not to vomit wasn’t the easiest task. I’d learned long ago that truth and justification made deadly lovers.
Hugging the clutch to my chest, I stood with its imprint burning into my skin. Every step I took felt like my feet were encased in concrete, and just as my fingers touched the brass handle on the wooden door, I paused. A heavy weight settled on my shoulders, as if God, Himself tried one last time to hold me back, warning me that once outside, His protection would be lost to my own twisted need for revenge.
An eye for an eye.
As soon as the thought filled my head, the pressure released, and my feet moved on their own. Once the doors closed behind me, my heart beat again for the first time since stepping inside the sanctuary. At that moment, I knew the darkness had claimed me.
Destiny was an intriguing concept. I’d always condemned the acts of those around me, standing on the side of the righteous and winged. However, maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe the ones I loved suffered because I’d refused to look in the mirror and accept the truth.
I’d spent my life running from monsters when I was one of them all along.