Ignoring his raised fists, each representing a choice, Sheri slid her hand across the table to rest on his Bible. "This. I choose church. Familiar territory. Pals and prayer partners."
His silver eyes slitted, giving nothing away, and he nodded. "Your relationship with God, first." He nodded once more and smiled pleasantly. "Yes, as it should be. As it must be before you can walk in Jesus' plan for your life."
Lightening flashed. Thunder boomed. Sheri jerked and then shivered. The wind howled as rain again slashed at the windows.
Troy scooted his chair closer to hers before resting one large hand over hers on the Bible. "With God on your team, Sheri, there's nothing to ever fear."
She frowned. "I wouldn't say we're enemies, but I wouldn't go so far as to say I am on God's team anymore."
"Which is but one reason why He gave you me. You're safe with me. I'll get you to church."
Sheri hitched her thumb toward the wind rattled window. "And how are we getting to church if it's still doing this in the morning?"
"Think positive. The Sheri of old always thought of the positive slant to every situation. Always accomplished everything she set her mind to, or her heart on."
Uh-oh. He had that purely masculine smile aimed at her again. So Sheri hopped to her feet. "Goodnight, Troy."
He rose to his feet swiftly, too, and held up one hand to halt her retreat. "Listen for a moment. As we were taught in church, as the Sheri of old was a firm believer, your life will follow your tongue. Kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy, positive or negative."
He tapped one finger against his forehead, adding, "Your thoughts and your mental images must be positive, high self-esteem. And the words that come out of your mouth are a by-product of your beliefs. What comes out of your mouth, your tongue, is the true indicator of what's in your heart."
"Yeah, yeah," she grumbled, knowing how much she had changed in that area of speaking faith, too, when she changed everything about herself. What came out of her mouth came out of her heart, a real sign if Jesus lived in her heart. Just as if He ruled her mind with positive thoughts, faith, when she belonged to God, He would pour out His blessings upon her. What she spoke, her tongue, would indeed direct her path. She sighed deeply.
Troy took another step toward her. "Ask Jesus to help you forgive, get rid of the negative, heal your heart. Steve's death was not your fault. It was not the trucker's fault. Nor God's. You are not alone in this world."
Ambling closer toward her, he persuaded, "Hand over complete control of your life to Jesus again. Faith is believing, speaking, what you cannot always, at first, see with other than the eyes of your heart. You do deserve happiness, blessings, and love."
Sheri swerved around him, torn, desperate to escape the truth of his words; yet desperate to believe them, also. She considered Steve's death a punishment, a reason to rebel against God, to self-destruct. Oh yes, Troy knew her much too well. "Goodnight," she tossed back over her shoulder at him, relieved that, for now, he would drop it.
At the top of the second floor, she heard Troy's confident deep drawl float up the steps. "Jesus loves you, Sheri. And so do I."
She wanted to growl. She knew what he was doing. She had heard Troy praying. The Lord was softening her hardened heart. Softening it toward God. Softening it toward Troy.
Sheri awoke several times before dawn by the howling of the storm. Finally, she rolled out of bed and dressed for church, both excited and nervous about accepting God's gifts of faith, hope and love.
As if he had never left her alone in the house, Troy was sitting at the same seat in the kitchen. "Good morning, green-eyed Goldilocks." He casually flicked her long blond hair and scowled at the green-tinted contacts concealing her tell-all blue eyes.
She rolled her eyes so sharply, her extended-wear contacts that she now wore day and night, no matter the activity, nearly popped out. Sheri chose to ignore his remark. "Good morning, Troy. How are we getting to church?"
"Helicopter. The wind is dying down, so we'll be safe enough." Troy scooted the box of donuts her way. "Hungry?"
"No thanks." What she really wanted was a cigarette. She grabbed a cup of coffee, nervously fidgeting with the handle.
Each time she glanced at Troy, his eyes were shut and his lips moved almost indefinably. She knew that look. He was praying.
Sheri no sooner finished her coffee, rinsed out her mug, than the distinct roar of helicopter blades reached her ears.
Troy grabbed his Bible in one hand and cocked an elbow toward her. "Our ride is here. Ready to attend church?"
She huffed out a cleansing breath, then hooked her elbow through his, ready as she was going to get today.
As if Troy could hear her thoughts, he stayed right by her side on the ride over, held her hand lightly, silently giving her his support. He didn't turn loose of her hand once they exited the helicopter on the mainland, nor did he release her as they approached the coastal church.
Her heart thudded as they walked up the stairs and into the church foyer, convicted, certain her live was about to change if only she would allow it. God had given her free will to decide, but without doubt He was calling her to come back to Him.
Troy must attend this church regularly when he stayed on his island, because person after person greeted him familiarly and welcomed her with the genuine warmness of Christian love. After Troy escorted her into the sanctuary, into a pew about halfway to the front, his grip on her hand tightened.
Sheri glanced up at him, her best friend, the one person in the world she could truly count on, and squeezed his hand back. Her heart thumped against her ribs, as thoughts skidded through her head, thoughts to get up and run out of church.
She must have appeared a little panicky because Troy leaned over in his seat and whispered near her ear. "Just an attack. Satan does not want you handing over complete control of your life, your heart, to God again. The devil does not want you back on Jesus' team as a mighty prayer warrior, back on God's path and His plan for your life."
"Obviously." The urge to run out of church increased, as well as agonizing memories of Steve's death and how angry she should be with God. Sheri squeezed Troy's hand a little tighter and quietly stated, "I'm getting hammered."
"You know what to do. Bind those thoughts, that attack, bind Satan in the Name of Jesus and tell the devil to get away from you. You belong to the family of God."
Even as she did as he said in her mind, her thoughts, Troy said the words aloud. The attack ceased instantly, a few heartbeats before the morning service opened.
The choir led the congregation in songs and Sheri closed her eyes, blocked out everything else but worshiping God, and sang praises from her heart. Troy's deep baritone joined her voice and it felt wonderfully familiar, wonderfully right.
The preacher opened the service by saying how it was no coincidence that each person was there this morning, how God knew where each person would be at that moment, had planned for each of them to attend church that morning.
And sure enough, as if God had given the minister the message just for her, Sheri listened to truths she had known deep in her heart. God's love; the greatest gift of all, sacrificing His son. Repent; forgive and be forgiven.
The minister explained trials and tribulations occurred in each person's life at some time or another. During your darkest hours when your faith was tested, you either still believed in or blamed God. Walk in God's plan for your life, His blessings as you serve Him.
At some point in the service, tears must have started leaking out of her eyes as God spoke to her heart, yet she didn't realize it until Troy draped his handkerchief over her hand. In her seat, in the pew, she made her decision and fully opened her heart and mind to Jesus.
Sheri repented for her season of rebellion, repented her unforgiveness as she asked Jesus to please help cleanse her heart and take over complete control of every aspect of her life. At that instant, she exhaled deeply, and as if the bitterness blew out her mouth, Sheri forgave God, forgave Steve, forgave the truck driver. As the perfect peace of God settled upon her, she let go of the last of it and forgave herself.
She wiped her eyes as the service closed and the congregation mingled, fellowshipping. Bubbling with the joy of the Lord, Sheri couldn't stop smiling. Not even when Troy eventually escorted her out of the church into the warm breezy sunshine.
When she glanced up at him, Troy couldn't seem to stop smiling either, as if he knew what she had done during the service, as if God had blessed him by answering his prayers.
Troy led her off through the grass to a shaded picnic table.
She sat beside him and stared out at the sandy beach before them, soaking in the majestic view and soothing sounds, in awe of the grandeur of God as the ocean waves rolled in a magnificent, peaceful, rhythm. Sheri wondered, what was God's perfect plan for her life?
Finally, Troy stood and stepped directly in front of her. "Tell me," his southern baritone smoothed.
"No more unforgiveness. No more season of rebellion. I asked Jesus to take total control of every aspect of my life, once and for all."
A straight streak of white teeth gleamed against his handsome face as he fisted one hand and raised it over his head like proclaiming victory. "Thank You, Jesus!"
Before she could respond, a distinctly male voice cleared behind them. Sheri whipped her head around to see the minister, Pastor Shaw, standing there smiling at them.
Pastor Shaw nodded toward Troy's hand lifted in praise. "Now that's what I like to see after giving a sermon."
Troy grinned, that innocent boyish smile. "Sheri stopped backsliding. She's gotten right with God once and for all."
The minister regarded her and then laughed out loud. "Well praise the Lord!"
Joyous, yet slightly embarrassed at all the attention, Sheri murmured a heartfelt, "Amen."
Troy sat beside her once more as the minister took the bench seat across from them.
Pastor Shaw obviously mistook them for more than best friends as he stated, "You may want the preacher from your home church in Atlanta to do it, but I would be pleased to offer my pre-marital counseling. I like to meet with couples a half dozen times, at least, before they marry. Do you plan to have the wedding here or in Atlanta?"
Heat zoomed up her neck to set her face on fire as Sheri stammered, "I-he-we-"
Troy's smile increased wattage as he covered her hand with his and interjected, "We haven't decided yet."
"Hmm," the preacher said thoughtfully. "Until you do," he turned searching blue eyes on Sheri, "Mrs. Johnson, the housekeeper for Troy's island home, mentioned you just graduated with your masters in computer science. She said you were having computer withdraws."
Pastor Shaw cleared his throat again and then smiled. "To save time, and eventually money, I've been wanting a computer program written for the church. Not exactly your specialty like security software, but more like all aspects of the church organized into a program. I'd be more than willing to give you more details if you are interested in taking the job. If Troy doesn't object, that is."
She sat in stunned silence for a heartbeat or two. A job at the church? Away from Troy and his island?
Troy found his voice before she did. "She works with me."
Pastor Shaw waved his hand in the air. "Yes, Mrs. Johnson said you had been lifelong best friends and you were offering Sheri a partnership in your firm. Although the church budget would only allow me to pay one of you, you certainly could work as a team. I understood you were vacationing, but Sheri missed the challenge of working, chomping at the bit to get back to a computer."
Sheri swallowed before looking at Troy. He didn't seem pleased. If it weren't such a ridiculous notion, she'd think he appeared almost panicky. Why? For her to leave his island, leave him? She'd always been able to say anything to him, think aloud, but did she dare voice her question?
She smiled toward Pastor Shaw, about to tell him she'd consider the idea, when Troy squeezed her hand and regained her attention.
Silver eyes studied her intently as Troy quietly drawled, "Your choice, Sheri. Even if I did want to keep you stranded with me this summer."
Pastor Shaw laughed. "Is that all? Well, it might take much longer to commute by boat, but she could travel back and forth."
Sheri brushed her hair back over her shoulder. "Thank you for offering the job, Pastor Shaw. I'll think about it and let you know."
"Great," the minister stated, rising to his feet. "Have a nice day, you two. Hope to see you at the barbeque later."
No sooner had the preacher walked off, than Troy cupped her face, tipping her head, until she stared into his molten silver orbs. "Sheri, I love you. I always have and I always will, but for quite some time now, I've wanted you as more than my best friend. I'm in love with you. God has to confirm His plan for your life, to you personally, but He's told me His plan for mine."
He stroked her cheek, adding, "Now that you are in your rightful place in your relationship with God, you are the woman who He promised me as more than just my best friend and prayer partner. As His choice for my wife, to share my life."
"You're my best friend, Troy. Don't spoil that rare gift."
"No, honey. It won't spoil it. It'll increase the value of the rare treasure we've been given by God. The best of blessings. Set your heart on me, to not only love me but to be in love with me. Be my chosen life-mate, united as one before God. A winning team, you and me with God at our center."
Sheri exhaled deeply, uttering a silent prayer for God to show her His chosen path. She wasn't immune to Troy anymore. She had loved him all her life, but was she now indeed in love with him, too?
Which should she choose? To be a couple with Troy, as in man and woman in love? Or to preserve the rare gift of intimacy they had already, and take the job at the church?
Rhythmic rolls of the waves in the background.
As if even the ocean urged her for an answer.