Clay no sooner hung up the phone than he turned to her. "So, now will you agree to be my date Sunday after church, at the fellowship picnic?"
Sheri shut her eyes and tipped her lips in a lopsided grin. "You can count on me attending church services with you. The congregation used to see the four of us together at church, but to be your date for the social . . . well, frankly, Clay, they might think-"
"We're more than friends?" he finished for her.
Sheri bit her lip, looked up into his golden gaze, and nodded once.
He nodded once, too. "We are. Don't worry about what people think. Only God can judge. I pray it won't be long before you're walking down that same aisle at church, in front of all our friends, to marry me."
"Oh, Clay," she breathed as she broke eye contact. If only that were true. But Clay loved the Sheri of old, a woman as devout a Christian as he. And that couldn't be a fact until she forgave the trucker, so Jesus could forgive her in turn. Then she would have given Him complete control over every aspect of her life.
After a hard exhale, Sheri hitched her thumb toward the door. "To Dallas I go. May I borrow your truck?"
Clay shot her a radiant smile, a straight gleaming streak of white with twin dimples carving into handsome sun-bronzed cheeks. "Scary thought. I've seen you drive."
He hooked his index finger, bidding her to follow him. Clay ambled behind his desk where he slid open a drawer and pulled out his address book. Pointing to a listing, he handed it to her. "Reynolds, Marvin."
Sure enough, Clay had the address and phone number for Marvin Reynolds, the trucker who had been involved in the accident that caused her brother's death. She tilted her head to one side and studied Clay. "Were you this sure I'd forgive him?"
"Yes." He rubbed one knuckle across her cheekbone. "I've prayed for it every day. I thought you might like to call first and make certain he's home and not on the road before you drive all the way to Dallas."
After Sheri dialed the number, Marvin Reynolds' wife explained her husband was running errands and due back in an hour. Sheri also discovered, however, in a little over two hours, Marvin was planning to leave in his rig with a load.
Well she would never be able to drive to Dallas in such a short time. Yet, Sheri did not feel urged to speak with Marvin Reynolds over the phone. Somehow, she knew God wanted her face-to-face with the trucker.
She glanced at Clay who was obviously listening and holding his arms out to his sides, pantomiming flying. She thanked Mrs. Reynolds for the information and hung up.
Sheri sighed dramatically and raised the back of her hand to rest over her brow. "Ok, you win. You can drive your precious truck to the airfield, if I get to fly us into Dallas."
He jangled the truck keys and winked at her. "That's my gal."
She grabbed her purse and joined him in the truck. Sheri was certain Clay had considered if she were busy flying, she would be too busy to wrap up her mind with twitters over confronting the man who sideswiped and killed her brother.
As if confirming her thought, Clay uttered, "I'll pray, hard, the whole time," and started his truck.
Sheri prayed, too, but it seemed like they reached the airfield and Clay's little plane in a flash. From then on, her mind went on autopilot, with first a safety check, before controlling the rudder pedals as she steered the plane to take off into the wind, then further occupied with navigating, figuring airspeed, and dead reckoning to the Dallas airfield.
Every time she glanced at Clay, she grinned. She knew he was praying. Hard. Whether it were about her upcoming meeting with Reynolds or her rusty flying abilities, she wasn't sure.
Finally, she laughed. "You better pray, cowboy, cause as soon as I get right with God, I'm gonna lasso you."
His golden brown eyes widened; then he tilted his head back and laughed. "Bold as ever. But I've all ready lassoed you, Sheri sweetheart. Just waiting on God to give me the go ahead to reel you in and bind you to me."
He slid one large gentle hand to her nape, under her bleached-blond hair, grinned at the window and returned to praying. His hold tightened, squeezing his confidence into her, as she landed at Dallas.
Clay rented a sport utility vehicle and drove her to the truck driver's small home in an outskirting neighborhood by Dallas.
This time, Sheri prayed hard the whole time, asking Jesus for the right words, to totally cleanse any unforgiveness from her heart, to cleanse her sins, to please heal and change her heart.
She completely leaned upon, trusted in, God, as she exited the vehicle and approached the door.
Not until Clay slipped his hand over hers, intertwining their fingers, did she realize he was even waiting beside her for the door to swing open in response to her knock. In the next instant, the door creaked open to a reveal an obviously bone-weary, wrinkled, graying man.
The slumped-shouldered driver grunted. "I'm not buying."
Clay squeezed her fingers, silently sending her his support, as he said, "We're not selling, Mr. Reynolds."
Marvin Reynolds squinted, studying Sheri, as she held out one hand. "I'm Sheri Knight. And he's Clay Dillenger."
"Knight?" Reynolds frowned and stared off in the distance for a heartbeat or two before his bloodshot eyes widened. "Kin of Steve Knight?"
Sheri nodded and smiled gently. "His sister."
Ignoring the trembling of his hand as it shook hers, she continued. "As odd as it might seem, since Steve's death was in no way your fault, an accident, God wants me to tell you that I forgive you, Mr. Reynolds. I don't blame you for Steve's death anymore and I'm sorry I ever did."
"His death has haunted me," Reynolds whispered.
She shook her head. "It's not your fault. I don't blame you and neither does God."
Then the trucker swung the door open wide and invited them inside.
Before Clay settled beside her, he drawled, "Steve's in a better place now. With Jesus in heaven."
Clay sank onto the couch next to Sheri before he added, "No, sir; we didn't come to sell you anything, but for Sheri to purchase her freedom. You can be set free, too, with the freely given great gift of God in your heart."
For the next half hour, Sheri and Clay witnessed to both Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds.
Sheri ended up teary-eyed, but radiating peace as the trucker and his wife invited Jesus into their hearts.
They hugged and said their goodbyes for then.
Once she was alone with Clay, sitting beside him in the vehicle, he hitched one golden brow her way and wiggled it. "Come here, baby." His kiss was sweet, gentle, fleeting so swiftly as if it were but a figment of her dreams.
As he started driving, Sheri gave into the little persistent urging in her heart, or her mind, she wasn't certain. "Would you mind taking me to the mall?"
His grunt was affirmative as he appeared to accept a fate nearly worse than death, the dreaded shopping excursion.
She just grinned until he parked outside the mall. "Wanna come along, handsome?"
His "Sure" sounded more like he'd rather be roasting alive, bailing hay in the scalding summer sun. But his smile shined sincerely as she stopped at the first shop, a beauty salon.
As if she had indeed obeyed God's urging, a stylist took Sheri as a walk-in appointment. Sheri wasn't sure what to think of Clay sitting up front, staring back at her during the whole process; any more than she knew what to tell the stylist as they studied the reflection of her hair died dark brown in the mirror. Something just wasn't quite right.
Obviously Clay agreed because he ambled toward her and shook his head. "Uh-huh. Dark, but Sheri has mahogany strands too that flash more red than brown in the sunshine or moonbeams."
The stylist shot Clay a grin before adding another color over Sheri's dark brown tresses.
"Oh yeah." Satisfaction seemed to shimmer off Clay as the beautician finished drying Sheri's hair.
After paying the woman, Sheri didn't even bother to hide her smirk.
She left Clay's side, entered the restroom, faced a mirror, plucked out her green contacts, and flicked them into the trash. A brown-haired, blue-eyed familiar face stared back at her, the real Sheri of old. "Gotcha cowboy."
Back in her right place in her relationship with God, she felt His green light on her heart's desire, a lifetime with Clay.
His mouth dropped open when she rejoined him.
In return, he wrapped his arms around her, pulled her in a quick hard hug and whispered hoarsely, "Welcome back, Sheri love." Just as fast, he released her and raised a rusty deep drawl, "Thank You, Jesus!"
The joy of the Lord surrounded them, laughing and rejoicing, playing and having fun flying home.
Once on the ground again, Sheri still floated high, still encompassed in God's perfect peace, happy and in love.
Clay soared as obviously, all throughout the afternoon and evening after they dined out, as if he knew victory was in hand.
His eyes said what his mouth didn't, until late that night when he joined her on a blanket to study the stars. "I love you, Sheri Knight. Would you be so kind as to consent to becoming my wife, sharing my life?"
Sheri stopped staring at the awesomeness of God's handiwork and sat up next to Clay. Yet before she could answer him, he laid one finger over her lips to silence her.
"Think it over tonight." His golden brown gaze bathed her in the tenderness surely shining from his soul. "I'm playing for keeps. As in forever."
She exhaled and stared into his eyes as he lifted his finger from her lips. Then he slid his mouth over hers and staked his claim. Gentle and sweet, yet fierce and possessive, until she couldn't think, couldn't answer, couldn't do anything but breathe hard after he raised his head.
"Pray about it, Sheri. I have. God has confirmed you are the woman who He has chosen for me. Think about it, honey. A winning team, you and me and God."
With that, Clay rolled to his feet. "Sweet dreams."
After Sheri returned to her room, she kneeled beside the bed and prayed until there was no doubt in her heart or her head that God had chosen Clay to be her life-mate. Then she laid down to sleep and sweet dreams.
In the morning, Sheri dressed, picked out her outfit for church the next day, and then joined Clay on the front porch.
Handsome rugged rancher, he stopped rocking the porch swing so she could sit beside him. "G'mornin', ma'am."
"Morning." Sheri grinned. "I've thought about it."
For a second, he seemed to hold his breath. "And?"
"I'll be your date for the church social tomorrow afternoon."
She elbowed him. "Don't you want to be my date anymore?"
He grabbed her hand and rested it over his heart. "I want you to marry me, Sheri."
"I thought about that, too."
"I meant I'll be your date for the fellowship tomorrow afternoon and every church function for the rest of my life. I love you, silly man. Yes, I'd be honored to be your wife. Oh yes, be my husband, Clay. You and me with God at our center, guiding us."
A gleaming streak of straight white teeth flashed as he raised one fist in victory. "Thank You, Jesus! When would you like to have our wedding?"
"Ah, July Fourth. Fireworks for every anniversary."
Then he kissed her, as he never had before, as if she were his, before pulling her to her feet. "A victorious team forever."
Head swimming, she smiled. "We'd better be calling the church."
He picked up his Bible and escorted her into his house. "Sunday school doesn't start till tomorrow." Clay grinned, dimples carving into his handsome tanned cheeks, and he elbowed her lightly in the ribs to tease her.
"I know, cowboy." She wrinkled her nose.
"What else would you be wanting to ask our pastor?" he asked, dark eyes sparkling.
"We're moving fast and need to reserve the church for that day. And ask our minister to marry us. I can't wait to get there tomorrow and announce our engagement. I can't wait to start our life together."
"Amen," he uttered. "The sooner the better. I love you, Sheri."
"I love you, too, Clay. And thank You ever so much, Jesus," she praised.
Happily ever after!