Unforgiving book title

Unforgiving
April 1, 2015

- Mitchell family series
- Last installment
- Follows Humbled

Synopsis

Chapter Excerpts

Reading Guide

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Synopsis

What's the story about?

Sins of the past have left a lingering stench in the Mitchell family. Amidst a tumultuous rollercoaster ride through financial ruin, professional humiliation, personal failure, and marital discord, Joel, the youngest son who was once considered the most eligible bachelor, has finally come to terms with his shortcomings and self-centered decisions. After much soul searching spurred by his estranged wife's troubled pregnancy, he decides to honor their marriage being motivated by a sincere desire to do the right thing. Tired of fighting and left with no other options, Joel reaches out to the most unlikely person, his stepmother and long-time nemesis, Madeline Mitchell. Harmony seems impossible for the Mitchell clan with each step towards truce and reconciliation resulting in two steps backward shrouded in conflict. A fresh battle ensues as Don and his mother Madeline are both willing to back their candidates all the way to the boardroom, neither willing to cave. Tamara, the only remaining heir to the Mitchell fortune, gets wind of what she considers to be her mother and brother's betrayal and concocts her own way to get the upper hand. Tamara panics when her plan backfires and is ready to bolt from town defeated when an unexpected event puts her in danger. She's forced to ask for help from any Mitchell available, even her less favorite person, Joel.

#1 Essence bestselling author Patricia Haley takes family drama to yet another captivating level as one man tries to right the wrongs of his past in this compelling series based on popular biblical kings King David and Solomon.

Ravaged by one professional battle after the other, it appears hearts are finally in the right place, but based on the Mitchell family history, how long will that last?

Unforgiving shoves years of conflict and bitterness to the edge when everyone is forced to set aside their issues and come together in order to save DMI, the Mitchell legacy, and the life of a disturbed family member. They painfully figured out that forgiveness is the only path to restoration and those who choose another route are bound to face unavoidable consequences.


Chapter Excerpt

Chapter 1

How much drama and failure could one family handle before crumbling? It was a valid question for Don Mitchell, the man currently at the helm of the renowned DMI family business. He leaned against the windowsill as his back unintentionally blocked the illuminating sunshine attempting to burst into his office. He felt the warmth and yearned to soak it in fully, but the clutches of DMI wouldn't allow him or any other Mitchell to absorb the light fully. Plagued with tragedy, bad decisions, and an unwillingness to forgive hurts of the past, the people he loved the most were perpetually wading in a pit of despair. He folded his arms, trying to let God's grace purge him of the rising unrest in his spirit. For the first time in a long while he was confused about how to proceed.

He wrestled with his thoughts for the better part of an hour before accepting his reality. He turned to face the window, and the sunlight rushed in, bringing clarity along for the ride. Suddenly, his confusion dissipated, as if it had never existed. The answer was simple. It was time to leave DMI and Detroit. There was no question. God had called him to Detroit to help bring reconciliation to the Mitchell family. Everything hadn't turned out as he'd hoped, but then that wasn't his problem. God had called him to play a role in the process, not to be the ultimate fixer. That was God's job alone, and Don was at peace. His season at DMI had passed. He was done, and his next step was to break the news to his mother.

Don went down the hallway several doors to reach her office and found Madeline Mitchell staring into a laptop on her desk. "Mother, we need to talk." Don plopped into a chair directly in front of her.

She peered over the reading glasses perched on the tip of her nose and said, "Why do you look so serious? What's wrong now?"

Such a question in their family was sufficient to stir a hornet's nest. There was no point in rattling off a litany of wrongs, including the constant power struggle within the family. Don's mother was painfully aware of each battle, especially since she'd had ample instigation in most. Regardless, he wasn't there to rehash and toss around blame. The truth was that, there was plenty to go around with not a single person deserving to be exonerated.

"I'm ready to go back to South Africa."

She took her glasses off and bit her lip. "So you're serious about leaving? You're really going to walk out of DMI and give up your CEO position?"

"Yep," Don said. "But this shouldn't be a surprise. I've told you this several times over the past couple of weeks."

"But I didn't take you seriously."

"Maybe that's the problem. No one takes me seriously when it comes to wanting something for me."

Madeline reared back and pushed her palms against the edge of the desk. "That's not true. Nobody forced you stay here." That was debatable. For months he'd mentioned stepping down, and his mother had consistently implored him to think about what would happen to DMI if he left. "Doesn't matter. It's time for me to move on."

"Then I guess we have to appoint a replacement," she said, pulling herself closer to the desk and resting her elbows on top, with fingers clasped. "You're putting me in a tough spot, because there's no one better qualified than you to run our company. No one. You've been a savior for DMI. While you were away, that half-brother of yours practically drove us into bankruptcy, and our reputation was dumped in the toilet. After the debacle with Joel as the head, you helped us get both our finances and our image back on track."

Flattery was nice, but Don wasn't swayed. The only thing worse than not hearing God was ignoring His instruction once he had heard from Him. Don knew God had released him from DMI, and the others had to accept it too. They'd either reconcile or kill each other in the process. Either way, he wasn't staying around to find out which one they chose.

"You're talking about me being great for DMI. What about you?" he asked Madeline.

"What about me?" she asked as her eyebrows shrugged.

"You started this company with Dad. Why don't you take over as CEO?"

"Are you out of your mind? I'm sixty-six years old. I have served my time in hell and on the mountaintop. Don't get me wrong. I love DMI and what your father and I have built here. You know this is my fifth child, but it has never been my desire to be at the helm—never. I enjoy standing behind the leader and moving stuff out of the way so that person can run this place with a strong hand," she said shaking her tight fist in the air. "That's what I do, and I've done it well." Her shoulders relaxed. "Just like you, it's time for me to press on toward the next chapter in my life."

Don wasn't sure exactly what that meant, given that she hadn't shown interest in anything outside of her children and DMI. "I guess that leaves Tamara." Don knew his mother would always put him and his sister ahead of Joel, the lone son resulting from his father's past marital indiscretion.

Madeline's heart wept as she longed to have her estranged daughter run the family business, but she was too much of a businesswoman to squander their success by letting emotions rule her decisions. Madeline rested her forehead against her interlocked fingers and closed her eyelids. "We know she's not ready. Let's face it. She's doing well as a junior-level assistant, but that's miles from your corner office on executive row."

"I agree, but you know she might not understand," Don replied.

"Who knows? But we can't worry about her reaction right now. We have to move forward before you leave me high and dry."

"Never that." Don chuckled. "Then if it's not you and it's not Tamara, my replacement has to be Abigail. She's already the executive vice president. It's not much of a stretch to make her the new CEO." Madeline was eager to interrupt, but Don didn't give her a chance. "Let me finish."

She nodded for him to proceed.

"Abigail has been loyal to this family. She worked as an assistant for Dad, an executive under Joel, and as a right hand for me. She's put up with a lot of hurt from Joel and from me too. She's been in the trenches with us, and most importantly, I trust her. She deserves this shot."

Madeline was itching to jump in with a rebuttal. "I don't question her loyalty. I can also appreciate her disappointment about not landing a Mitchell man, but what did Abigail expect? You might not act like brothers, but you do share a bloodline. Falling in love with two brothers is taboo and destined not to end well. She can only blame herself for the fallout and her wounded feelings. She shouldn't be upset about both you and Joel having chosen other women, leaving her out in the cold." Madeline shut her eyelids as her head bobbed from side to side. "I get how awful that might be for her. I really feel badly for her too, but I'm not about to give her the golden key because I feel sorry for her. Maybe you and Joel feel like you owe her something, but I don't."

"Come on, Mother. You can't mean that."

"Humph. You think I don't? Abigail has done a great job and has been compensated handsomely. As an executive vice president, she's making over four hundred thousand, plus a very generous twenty-five percent annual bonus and plenty of other benefits and perks."

"This isn't about money."

"You're right. It's about family, legacy, and birthright." Madeline gently glided the palm of her hand across the top of her head, pressing down any loose hairs. "This company was built to stay in the family. That is nonnegotiable for me, which is why there's only one choice." She cleared her throat. "I know you think I'm crazy, but Joel is my choice."

"You can't be serious."

"He's gutsy, and I like that," Madeline said.

"You mean more like reckless."

"I told you last month he'd come to me and apologized for his actions in the past. As much as I'd like to discount his little visit, I can't. I'm a pretty good judge of character, and I'm telling you he was sincere."

Don wanted to be impartial and felt like he was. He could easily have reverted to nursing his childhood wounds of rejection, which were due to playing second fiddle to his father's second family, with baby boy Joel seemingly getting the best Dave Mitchell had to offer. He could allow the hurt to justify his vote against Joel at this critical point in the DMI succession plan. Yet he didn't have a need for revenge. It wasn't in his heart. His lack of support for Joel was based purely on merit and a gut feeling. Don wasn't as easily convinced of Joel's turn from the dark side as his mother appeared to be. It was true that Don championed reconciliation and forgiveness in the family, but he operated with wisdom too. Joel had made devastating business decisions, like bargaining away two divisions, secretly signing on a ton of debt, and merging DMI with an Eastern religion–oriented company that had conflicting priorities and beliefs. Forgiveness was great and necessary, but it didn't mean that consequences were instantly wiped away. Clearly, some situations were irreversible. Don was sure of it. Joel had created several such situations, making it difficult for Don to see him as a viable candidate for the helm of DMI.

"Let's face it. He has the experience and the pedigree. Besides, we can't overlook the fact that he led DMI through the highest growth spurt we've ever had when he took over four years ago," Madeline added.

"Abigail was here during the growth spurt too."

"But she wasn't the leader. Joel was." Madeline stared at Don. "I like Abigail. You know I do. I appreciate her intellect and her loyalty, but if my children aren't in the lead role, I'm going with the next best candidate, and that's Joel. It's not even a close race between the two of them. He's a Mitchell, and she isn't. It's that simple."

"I'm blown away that you trust him this much, with everything that happened on his watch."

"I haven't forgotten, but as you've told me too many times, everyone deserves another chance. In Joel's case, it's the third, fourth, or fifth," she said while laughing.

"True, but still I'm going with Abigail."

"Then, my son, we'll have to agree to disagree."

"So what are we going to do?" Don asked with his gaze locked with his mother's.

"Take it to a vote with the board of directors."

"You sure you want to go there? Because I have two votes," Don uttered.

"Whose?"

"Mine and, most likely, Tamara's. You know how she believes in empowering women. I'm sure her vote will go to Abigail."

"I don't want to burst your bubble, but Tamara votes only for herself," Madeline said.

"You're probably right, but I'm not worried. I'll get my votes."

"You can best believe, I'll get mine. I'll go as far as getting his mother on my side, if absolutely necessary."

"What can Sherry do? She doesn't have a vote on the board," Don stated.

"True, but never underestimate the power of a mother. If I've taught you anything over the years, you should know that much." Silence fell over the office. Then Madeline extended a hand to Don. "May the best person win."

Don stood and leaned across the desk to shake his mother's hand, imagining the many things that could go wrong. The surge of solace he was claiming at that moment rested on the notion that God had a plan for him and the other Mitchells. He had to; otherwise going to battle against Madeline Mitchell was suicide. "Who's going to tell Tamara that we're not recommending her?"

"Hmm. Now, that's a good question," Madeline responded. "For now it can wait, because I'm going to call Joel and get his candidacy rolling. You might want to do the same with Abigail."

Don agreed and headed for the door.

"Hang on. This might be a bumpy ride," she added.

"Isn't the saying 'What doesn't kill us makes us stronger'?"

Madeline grinned in response. Don left, realizing that Armageddon had been launched in the Mitchell dynasty. Whether they'd survive or fall was a big question, and only time would tell what the answer to that question was.

Chapter 2

Joel entered the master bedroom, where his wife, Zarah, was lounging in a chair situated not too far from the bed. "Can I get you anything?" he asked.

"No, not for me. I am good," she said, sipping a cup of tea with milk.

"You sure? Because I have to run out for a little while. Madeline called and wants me to stop by the office." She hadn't given details, but in his desperate desire to get back into DMI, Joel was answering whenever Madeline beckoned. If she wanted to see him in the office, then he was going with no questions asked. But Zarah had become his priority too, at least until the baby was born.

Admittedly, he hadn't always shown a willingness to hang around home. Only a few months ago he'd been desperate to end his marriage. Zarah did not feel the same way, and he vividly recalled asking for a divorce as gently as he could. Joel had encouraged her to go back home to India, while he had planned on sitting the separation out with a close friend in Chicago. A few weeks into the separation, they found out Zarah was pregnant. Joel was making strides in the marriage, but he couldn't block out what he perceived as devastating news on that fateful day when she made the announcement about the baby. The unexpected pregnancy had left him confused and grasping for answers. On the one hand, he felt guilty for wanting a divorce. On the other, he felt trapped. Nothing felt right about their relationship. He didn't want to be heartless, but diving back into a loveless marriage wasn't the answer, not even for the unborn child. That was his immediate reaction to the crushing news. After Zarah suffered a near miscarriage about a month ago, he was forced to do some deep soul-searching. His compassion and his sense of obligation kicked in, rendering him unable to leave Zarah in the midst of her high-risk pregnancy.

He stroked her forehead and let tranquility fill the bedroom. He would make sure she was comfortable before he headed out of the house. "If you'd like, I can get your assistant to come and spend a few hours with you. I won't be gone longer than that."

"No, please go. I will be fine. And I am not alone. The housekeeper and the cook are both here. I will call them if I need help."

Joel bent down on his knees in front of her. "Okay, if you're sure." He gently laid his palm across her slightly bulging belly and peered into her eyes. "Call me if you need anything, and I mean anything."

"I will," she said, laying her hand on top of his.

Joel didn't pull his hand away. He'd come a long way toward earnestly supporting the mother of his unborn child. Maybe it was crisis affection, the kind of emotion that came about when two people suffered a traumatic situation and bonded. He didn't really know, and he wasn't going to get caught up in overthinking his decision. His devotion to Zarah was too fragile to withstand intense introspection.

"I'll see you later," he told her.

Five minutes after Joel left, Zarah rang up her sister-in-law. They hadn't spoken since Zarah's hospitalization last month, and she was eager to talk with her friend.

Tamara answered after several rings.

"I'm so glad to reach you," Zarah told her.

"I've been worried sick about you," Tamara said, and her concern gave Zarah strength.

"I'm much better, and the baby is keeping well."

"Thank goodness. Where is that husband of yours? Is he taking care of you like he should, or did he run back to Chicago already to be with his so-called friend?"

Zarah ignored the comment about Joel being with another woman during his random trips to Chicago. He was still her husband, and she'd taken their vows seriously from the moment they were married. She could have told Tamara that it was engrained in her culture for the woman to honor her marriage no matter how difficult it became, and that she would hold fast to that behalf. Zarah couldn't utter that statement, however, because it wasn't her reason for wanting to be with Joel. In truth, her adoration for Joel extended beyond tradition and culture. He was in her soul, and she loved him unconditionally. She intended to be the only one for him, and as far as she was concerned, no other woman existed in his past or present.

"He's been very good to me. Joel will be gone for a few hours. Can you come over for a visit?"

"I'm on my way."

Zarah adored her sister-in-law and had clung to her during those trying months when Joel didn't seem to care. Being in the States, and away from her family in India, had made the situation especially devastating for Zarah. Tamara had been a lifesaver. She'd helped Zarah in the past, but Joel was her future. She longed to have them both in her life, although it didn't seem possible most of the time.

Roughly thirty minutes passed before Tamara arrived at the house and was ushered into the master bedroom upstairs by the housekeeper. Zarah's continence lit up as they embraced. Tamara took a seat in the chair near Zarah's with only a small coffee table separating them. Sitting on the edge of her seat, Tamara reached for Zarah's hand and sandwiched it.

"You look good. Are you and the baby seriously okay?"

"Yes, we are both good," Zarah said, nodding. "I am to stay in bed mostly, but I'm good. For my baby, I will do anything."

"Thank goodness," Tamara said, letting Zarah's hand go and easing back in the chair. "You had me worried. I didn't know if you or the baby was going to survive. You had me scared," she said, grabbing Zarah's hand again and then quickly releasing it. "So what's going on with that husband of yours?"

"He's been wonderful."

"He better be or else."

"I don't want to speak badly about my husband. He's done well by me. I'm happy, and this is going to work for us. I know it in my heart."

Tamara flailed her hands in the air. "Fine. If you want to stay committed to a guy like him, I'm still going to be your friend. I don't understand what you see in him, but that's your call. I'll leave it alone."

Zarah was relieved.

"Since you're happy and in love, are you giving up on running your father's company?" Tamara asked.

"I don't know. I haven't the energy to think about business."

Tamara didn't want to push too much, but she'd worked too hard over the past couple of months at getting Zarah to crawl from Joel's shadow and take control of her professional destiny. Zarah had groveled for Joel's affection and attention repeatedly without success. "We've made huge progress with getting your name out there as a legitimate businesswoman. Nobody, especially Joel, thought you'd be interested in running your father's multimillion-dollar company. You've stunned a lot of people. After you have the baby and take a maternity leave, we can get back to work."

"I'm not sure what I'll do once the baby is here. Being a mother is most important."

Tamara wasn't about to let her efforts be lost. Zarah had to take her rightful place running the small empire she'd inherited as part of her father's massive estate. She owned half of Harmonious Energy, and DMI had the rest. She also owned the West Coast division of DMI, because Joel had willingly given it to Zarah's father as part of the DMI and Harmonious Energy merger. Tamara laughed, thinking about the irony of it all. A piece of the empire Joel had squandered away in a greedy business deal was being handed over to Tamara without his knowledge. The real kicker was that the wife he'd acquired in the exact same deal was the person who was actually partnering with Tamara behind his back.

The notion of beating Joel at his own game of deceit and trickery was electrifying. That was why Zarah couldn't slip back into the role of a docile wife who let her opportunistic husband run her life. Tamara needed Zarah to continue gaining strength and notoriety in the corporate arena. Her livelihood depended on it. She was so close to getting Zarah to sell her the West Coast division that nothing was going to derail Tamara's plan.

Unfortunately, there was a list of contenders who wanted the division, and on that list were Joel, Don, and her mother. She couldn't let them win, not this time. Yet Zarah's risky pregnancy was a factor Tamara couldn't ignore. She didn't feel right pressing for a professional favor at this very second, but her chance would come. Soon she'd seal the deal with Zarah and close this chapter of unrest.

Tamara could taste the freedom as she salivated over the gravity of her idea. Buying the division was her single best opportunity to distance herself from the Mitchell family. The two thousand miles between Detroit and Southern California were about the right amount of distance to keep her sane. A mile less and her family was bound to drive her crazy.

"There's no need to rush toward an answer right now. You need to rest and have a healthy baby, and then let's figure out where to go from there. Who knows? By then Joel might return to his old ways," Tamara said, snapping her fingers in the air while sneering. "Because I highly doubt that the new and improved Joel is going to stay in Detroit long enough to keep up this family-man role. Where is he, anyway?" Tamara asked, leaning forward.

"He went to the office to see your mother."

"For what? You know those two don't get along," Tamara said.

"I'm not sure, but he seemed very pleased to get her call."

The two ladies chatted for another ten minutes or so. Tamara was distracted the entire time. What could Madeline want with Joel? Tamara's curiosity got the best of her.

"I better go. Joel will be back any minute, and it's best that I'm gone."

"Yes, you are right, but one day I hope we can all sit together and have a cup of tea."

Tamara didn't see that happening. As far as she was concerned, Joel was the enemy. Being the son conceived by his father's mistress wasn't why she felt disdain toward Joel. Her contempt rested squarely on his actions. He represented everything she hated: he was a man who used his power to manipulate and control any woman weak and naive enough to care about him. There were many Joels in the world. She gritted her teeth, hating each one, including her older brother, Andre. She still hadn't gotten over the fact that he had raped her in their family's house when she was seventeen. She hadn't gotten over her last boyfriend, Remo, either. Tamara despised how his abuse and his controlling ways had her moving from city to city. She didn't like having to live with the constant fear of him finding her. There was no place for men like Joel, Andre, and Remo in her world.

Tamara knew Zarah would be waiting a long time for a family get-together with her and Joel. Hell might not have to freeze over completely, but there would at least have to be some frost there before she would even flirt with the idea.

Chapter 3

Joel's mind was cluttered as he flew through the DMI lobby, past the guards and a few well-wishers. Normally, he would have taken time to acknowledge the guards and the other employees sending greetings his way. Today was different. When Madeline called, his anticipation had nearly overflowed. He got on the elevator and couldn't wait for it to reach the sixth-floor. Executive row had been his home as CEO for over three years. He craved being in the midst of intense decision making and power. The corporate allure was like an addiction that had him groveling to the single individual who'd worked tirelessly to make his childhood and much of his adulthood miserable. Madeline had pulled every trick over the years to knock him down. She'd succeeded and failed in equal proportion, but today none of that mattered. He was praying for a fresh start, a chance to redeem himself for the mistakes he'd made at the company. Madeline was his saving grace. He'd soon see just how much grace she was willing to extend to her husband's other son. `

"She's expecting me. Can I go in?" he asked Madeline's administrative assistant, whose desk was situated off the main aisle.

"Let me check," she told him and dialed Madeline's office.

Joel's enthusiasm was slightly diminished by having to wait for someone's approval to move freely within the company that he had run not too long ago. He set his pride aside and focused on staying positive. He silently meditated and prayed for God's favor.

A few seconds later the assistant waved him on. "You can go in. She's waiting for you."

Joel reached the doorway and paused. He was either crossing into a den of despair or a galaxy of good news. It was too hard to read Madeline's countenance for an immediate answer. He'd have to put on his armor and go behind enemy lines to find out his fate at DMI. Joel took one step, followed by another, until he was standing at arm's length from her desk.

She stared at him, causing Joel to become uncomfortable. "Well, don't just stand there. Have a seat," she offered. Joel accepted the offer, still not getting a hint of Madeline's mood. Snapping at him was commonplace. So he didn't attach any significance to her small barks. "What's going on? Why did you want to meet with me?"

She took her reading glasses off and set them on the desk without shifting her gaze from him. He felt increasingly more uneasy.

"Your little visit here last month has been needling me since you left."

Oh, boy, Joel thought. Here it comes. How had he let this happen? He knew Madeline better than most did, even better than her daughter. He was smart enough not to get caught in her trap. Yet he'd allowed her to lure him into a false sense of hope, into thinking there was a possibility she'd help him resume leadership at DMI. How could he be so silly? He'd let Madeline have a good laugh, and then he'd slink away from shame.

"You must have been out of your mind to ask if I'd let you back into this company, the one your father and I built, with the expectation that my children would run this place."

Joel wasn't willing to hear any more. He'd heard her soliloquy enough to gag. He was desperate for an executive opportunity, but he had a smidgen of pride, and it prevented him from groveling with regret. Madeline could laugh at someone else's expense. So he stood and prepared to tell her goodbye.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm not going to sit here and be the butt of your joke. I'm sorry I asked for your help. I'm out of here."

"Sit your behind down," she said, raising her voice. "See, that's one of your problems. You make rash decisions without getting the full picture."

Joel didn't sit. There weren't nearly enough hours in the day to list his problems, and he definitely didn't want Madeline crafting the list. They'd be there for several days at least. He was ready to go.

"I said sit down."

Joel acquiesced and reclaimed his seat. He might as well sit and finish the meeting since he was there. Zarah would be okay for another hour or so until he and Madeline finished.

"I gave serious consideration to your request, and believe it or not, I'm willing to back your bid to be reinstated as CEO."

"What?" Joel said, leaping to his feet. "You have to be kidding." He'd asked Madeline for help with very little hope that she'd agree. Joy overtook Joel. Before he could harness his elation, Joel had zipped around the desk and hugged Madeline for the first time in his life.

She pushed away from him. "Stop. Get off me. This is an office."

Joel didn't mind if Madeline resisted. The deed had been done. They'd connected for the first time in his twenty-seven years. "This is amazing. When do I start?"

"Not today. You should know this has to be approved by the board."

"Right. So when is the next board of directors meeting? The sooner I get reinstated, the faster we can get moving toward record sales again. Boy, I can't wait to get started," he said, pacing the office as his excitement percolated. Joel recounted his many mistakes, but each quickly washed away as the air of redemption had him soaring emotionally.

"Whoa. Slow down, roadrunner. We have a ton of work to do in preparation for the board meeting. Have you forgotten about your small reputation issue?"

Joel reclaimed his seat as Madeline began slowly stifling the air beneath his wings of hope. "How can I forget? You won't let me."

Madeline began twiddling a pen on her desk. "Don't get snippety with me. You're the one who caused the mess around here. You made your bed, and then you had to sleep on it." Madeline stopped with the pen and interlocked her fingers with them resting on her lap. "The bottom line is that you have work to do, but I'm willing to help you."

He was ready to bolt, but the idea of having Madeline's support was too compelling and kept Joel glued to the chair. "I'll take it. You know I'm thrilled and equally grateful, but I'm curious too. What made you want to help me?"

Madeline seemed to ponder his question before responding. "It's simple. You're the best person for the job. Don is stepping down soon and I have no desire for the CEO role, so that leaves only one capable Mitchell—you."

"I'm flattered, but what about Tamara? You've made it clear that your children come first at DMI. My mother and I are a distant second."

"You might be a distant second, but your mother is not even in the race when it comes to who will own and lead DMI one day."

Joel could have defended his mother's honor against Madeline, but it would be a waste. Madeline's views about his mother stealing Dave Mitchell wouldn't go away if he stood up to her. Their troubles had started long before he was born, and he was pretty sure they would exist until one or both women were dead. "I'm honored that you're choosing me."

"Well, it's only fair that you know everything. You're not the only candidate," she said, pushing against the desk. "Don is recommending Abigail."

"I thought she was resigning from her executive vice president position here to start her own business," Joel replied.

"She is, if we leave her alone."

"I didn't realize we'd be going up against Abigail."

Joel was torn. He and Abigail had fought on many fronts. They'd worked tirelessly, hand in hand, to take DMI to new financial heights, and they'd accomplished their goal. They'd had a few professional squabbles, but the source of her bitterness toward him was purely personal. She was ready to act on feelings for him that he couldn't reciprocate. Early in their professional partnership, Joel had made it clear to Abigail that God and DMI were the most important entities in his life. Admittedly, God had fallen a few notches back when Joel overdosed on power and notoriety, but his commitment to DMI never faltered. Everything and everybody, especially relationships, came second. Abigail didn't accept rejection well, and his getting married, even if it was for business purposes a few months later, was the shove that sent her over the edge. Joel took no pride in hurting his friend. He wanted to make amends, but Abigail wasn't willing. Perhaps in time, he thought.

"If you want the job, you'll have to beat her for it. Can you do that?"

"I do want the job, and yes, I'm willing to run against Abigail and win with your help."

"So be it," Madeline said, then stood and extended her hand for him to shake. As soon as he took her hand, her grip tightened. "You better not stab me in the back," she warned him, with a piercing gaze that would make a lesser person shiver.

"I have no intentions of crossing you, Madeline. That would generate a fight which I'm not planning to take on. Abigail is big enough."

Madeline squeezed his hand tighter and then let it go. "I hope so, because I'm giving you fair warning. If you cross me, Mr. Joel Mitchell, you'll suffer my wrath."

"There's no need to threaten me. I get your message and clearly understand the ramifications. You'll see. I'm totally committed."

"You better be, because DMI is my baby." She came around the desk with her arms crossed. "And you know I don't allow anyone to mess with mine and get away with it. Just ask your mother."

It irked Joel, but he had to let the comment go. There was no way he was going to derail this one-shot deal of teaming up with Madeline. She had plenty of clout on the board of directors. "Let's get started," he said without hesitation.

"I'll have my assistant set up some planning sessions with you."

"Great . . . ," he replied.

"By the way, I heard about your wife and baby. How's she doing?"

"Pretty good, considering she almost had a miscarriage. Thanks for asking."

"Do you think home life will become a distraction for you after the baby is born?"

"Absolutely not," he firmly stated, enunciating each syllable. Joel headed for the door. "I'll see you soon." Before crossing the threshold, he turned to her and said, "Thank you, and I sincerely mean it. You've single-handedly changed my life."

"Backing you is either the smartest or the dumbest thing I've ever done. Which it is remains to be seen."

"Wait and see for yourself," he stated and walked out.

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Reading Guide

Now that you have read Unforgiving, consider the following discussion questions.

  1. Although he didn't love her, Joel initially decided to stay with Zarah because she was pregnant. Do you think that was the right decision? Why or why not?
  2. Joel has established quite a track record, one lined with an abundance of successes and failures. He seems to be serious about restoring his relationship with God and turning away from his pursuit of power and fame. Do you believe his commitment to change is sincere?
  3. At times, members of the Mitchell family are out of control. Based only on Unforgiving, which Mitchell would benefit the most from psychological therapy? Tamara, Madeline, Zarah, Sherry, or Joel?
  4. Is Joel and Sheba's relationship finally over, or will he find a way to maintain their "unconventional friendship"? If you believe they're truly platonic friends, is it okay for them to stay in contact? Throughout the series, did you ever think that Joel and Sheba's relationship would get serious? Why or why not?
  5. Who do you think will get married (in the church) first? Don or Joel? Why?
  6. Is it realistic for Joel to believe that Zarah's love for him is so strong that she will truly be able to walk away from her religion and accept Christianity? How long will her conversion last?
  7. Although intent on getting Joel appointed as CEO, Madeline actually had five options for filling the CEO position: herself, Abigail, Joel, Tamara, and outside candidates. Who was your choice to replace Don and why?
  8. Who's your favorite character and why? (Note: base your answer on any title in the series.)
  9. As the Mitchell family drama series winds down (or so we think), what do you believe is going to happen to each character? You probably have your own list of scenarios to ponder. If not, here are some questions to consider. Do you see Don actually getting married? Will the hold that the Mitchells have on Abigail draw her back to DMI? Will the company fall apart again under Joel's watch, and will Don be forced to come back yet again? Will Joel get involved with Uncle Frank's shady dealings when financial decisions don't go his way at DMI?
  10. It's quite a feat to have the Mitchell clan on a twenty-hour flight together. Do you think they will still be thrilled and happy when they arrive in South Africa, or will old wounds cause someone to act out on the plane and plunge the trip into disaster?
  11. Will Madeline or Sherry remarry? If so, to what kind of guy(s)?
  12. Let's say the Mitchell family drama series is being made into a movie, and you are the casting director. Who would you select to play Madeline, Sherry, Don, Joel, Abigail, Zarah, and Tamara?
  13. At the core of the Mitchell family's discord is an unwillingness to forgive. Regardless of how much money, power, and influence they possess, it doesn't help them fix their family issues. Don understands the freedom that comes from forgiveness early in the series. It looks like others have finally come around too. How about you? Is there anyone you are estranged from or have been unwilling to forgive? Forgiveness doesn't mean that you endorse their betrayal, hurtfulness, or violation. Forgiveness means that you are no longer willing to let that infraction provoke a negative reaction from you. Forgiveness is liberating, and it's the best gift you can give to yourself, as well as to someone else.
Note: The Mitchell family drama is loosely based on the story of a mighty biblical warrior, King David, who had God's unprecedented favor and a profound purpose. However, King David was also plagued with family problems, personal failures, and sinful mistakes. Because he was able to forgive those who had wronged him and to go the extra step of forgetting (letting go of) the pain, the anguish, and the bitterness associated with mistakes of the past, he was at peace regardless of what was going on around him.

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