Chapter Seventeen - The Angel and The Beast

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"I hold a beast, an angel, and a madman in me." - Dylan Thomas

It was as if a giant clock had been reset, winding backward in steady retreat from any forward progress it had made. If the last two weeks tidied things up in Tarlton's soul and put it back into something like order, then the next two hours threw everything into a disorder that was comparably worse than before.

With a start, Tarleton rose up from his seat on the cool grass beside Grace, his expression cold and indifferent as he obligingly extended his hand to help her up.

"I do believe we should return. It's getting late."

Grace could only manage to nod her head in reply, frightened as she was by so sudden and drastic a change in his tone. The fervently passionate voice he had used not moments ago was now replaced with something as stiff and crisp as an autumn leaf. It held within it every indication of a wounded heart and of an affection fading into bitterness and pain. He was relapsing right before her very eyes.

"Come." His voice rose slightly in annoyance as Grace, in her shock and growing awareness of what was happening to the man she had tried so hard to bring to life, could not seem to will her feet forward. Her heart sunk as the sun behind her swiftly sank into a consuming darkness she was not yet ready to accept.

"We're leaving." His voice was now sharp and threatening. When he saw that Grace still wouldn't obey him, Tarleton, consumed by rage, suddenly seized her arm. In a state of bitter heartbreak, Tarleton was powerless to the evil impulses that prodded him as a dastardly plan formed in his thoughts.

He tightened his grip on her arm as he practically dragged her along with him back towards the house.

"What are you doing?" Grace cried out in shock. "Let go of me!" She vainly attempted to yank her arm free of his iron grip.

"Is this because I did not reciprocate your deep regard for me?" Tarleton did not answer her.

"Is it?" Grace cried out with everything she had in her, but her demand for answers seemed to fall on deaf ears.

After dragging her along with him for a few minutes without a single word, Tarleton, upon hearing the feverish insistence in Grace's tone eventually gave into providing her with an answer.

"It is because I have been a fool, a bloody fool thinking that love was the answer, that love alone could truly set me free. I allowed myself to be led on by your kind words and soft eyes until the only reason I could feel myself beginning to heal at all was because I had so foolishly allowed myself to fall in love with you! The sliver of hope that you might just love me in return kept me going as I navigated the dark paths of my soul back towards the light. As soon as you rejected me, my heart and thus my very soul shattered painfully. I have vowed to myself never to love again, as the pain is far too great and reward so infrequently promised. It has done me more harm than good, as I can now quite clearly see, so I shall do myself a favor and strip myself of all love, feeling and remorse - everything and anything which has ever caused me pain. So, as it seems that my role as friend and aspiring lover to you has so abruptly ending, my role as ruthless captor and astounding military commander shall abruptly begin again."

"This is not you, Ban! This is not the man I have come to know these past few weeks. I cannot be in love with you and you know it! It is not my fault that before I found myself here I was already engaged to be married, yet you make it sound as though I was the one who lead you astray as if I had purposely led you on to something for which I never intended. It was you and you alone who choose to fall in love with me. Why should I now be punished for something you brought upon yourself?"

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