God nudged her heart and Sheri knew in that second she couldn't kiss Clay yet. No matter how badly she wanted to. Not until she had forgiven the trucker face-to-face. Not until she gave God total control of her life for good this time. Not until she changed everything about herself, back to the real Sheri before Steve's death.
Clay wanted a woman as devoted as he was to serving the Lord. A woman who would pray with him daily, edify their spirits by reading the Bible together. A Christian woman in thought, word, deed, like him, to marry and raise children according to Bible teachings.
His lips still hovered over hers as she leaned back over one of his brawny arms. She tried to smile at him before breaking free from his embrace, but he groaned. "That is the saddest smile I've ever seen."
He pulled her upright and stepped back from her. "So your heart says to go ahead and date away, hmm?"
"No," she rushed. "Would you wish to be an observer if I were to invite a man, potential husband material, over for a date?"
"Not at all," he bit out curtly.
This time, her smile felt less forced. "Me neither, Clay. In fact, today I don't intend to stick around and watch you with another woman. I have something to do I should have done months ago."
"May I borrow your truck to drive into Dallas?"
"To forgive the truck driver who sideswiped Steve?" He seemed to be holding his breath, waiting for her answer.
"Praise Jesus! I've been praying for that for months." He smiled at her. "I'll cancel my date and ride along with you."
"By all means, please, cancel your date." She laughed, but then shook her head. "But I need to go to Dallas alone."
He shot her a lopsided grin and the dimple winked at her from his tanned face. "Sorry, ma'am. I can't leave you alone for that many hours, facing a stressful encounter. You might break down and smoke without me along."
"I've made it two weeks without smoking."
"Ah, but it takes three weeks to break the habit." He said it like that was the end of the discussion and he was coming along.
"Sorry, cowboy, but you have a hot date with a mother-approved hopeful bride." With that, she grabbed his truck keys and jangled them from her index finger. "Thanks for letting me borrow your truck. I'll take as good of care of it as if it were my very own."
Hurt flashed for a heartbeat in his brown eyes before he slowly drawled, "You forget. I've seen you drive."
She tossed the keys at him, unable to bear the pain that darkened his golden brown eyes. "Better hurry, then, and cancel your date. We've a full day ahead of us."
While she finished last minute touch-ups to her appearance, Clay called and canceled his date with the rodeo cowgirl. Vastly pleased, Sheri joined him in the den. "Ready to go?"
He slid open a side desk drawer and withdrew a piece of paper before handing it to her. "Before you go all the way to Dallas, you better call and make sure he's not on the road."
She nodded, heart picking up speed, as she punched the numbers into the phone. Hadn't she felt God nudge her in this direction only a short time ago? As if she were again following God's will, she discovered the driver was delivering to the department store in the nearest town. If she hurried, she could confront him within a half hour.
After she hung up, she explained to Clay and they rushed out to his truck. Over the Christian radio station, she could occasionally hear Clay's soft words as he prayed. Sheri didn't look over at him, but shut her eyes and prayed silently too.
In what seemed like no time at all, Clay drove behind the department store and parked beside the lone semi-trailer in the docks.
She exhaled deeply, then exited, planning to simply knock on the truck driver's door.
Yet, no one answered her knock. At that second, a weary-looking man, cup of coffee in hand, ambled from the other side of the trailer.
Sheri stepped forward and extended her hand. "Hello. I'm Sheri Knight."
He shook her hand. "The name's Marvin Reynolds."
"This may seem a bit odd to you, Mr. Reynolds, but I feel compelled by God to tell you that I totally forgive you for any part of my brother Steve's death. I apologize for not telling you sooner."
His jaw hung slack for nearly a minute. "Steve Knight? I'm the one who should apologize to you. His death has haunted me for three months now."
"No. I'm the one who needs to tell you, I'm so sorry. It was an accident, Mr. Reynolds, plain and simple. Steve's in heaven now with the rest of our family. God doesn't blame you and neither do I. Neither should you."
Clay stepped forward and witnessed to the man until he didn't seem to look so weary anymore. Clay invited the driver to attend church services with them, even invited him to the Swinging D for the Sunday afternoon Christian fellowship social his mother had planned.
Reynolds agreed to attend the festivities at the Swinging D, and would consider coming to church services beforehand.
Ah yes, the fellowship party. Sheri sighed and shut her eyes. After his mom had called caters to bring out lunch, for a party with other church members at the Swinging D, Sheri figured it was to add weight to Clay's date with the rodeo cowgirl. For them to be seen as a couple by all of his Christian friends.
She snapped out of the stare zone when Mr. Reynolds bid them good afternoon and his thanks.
Clay swung his arm around her shoulders and sauntered toward his truck. "Thank you, Jesus," he praised enthusiastically, "for softening Marvin Reynolds' heart, for healing his heart by cleansing away his guilt over Steve's death."
Clay squeezed her tightly to his side. "God is convicting him. Marvin Reynolds will soon ask Jesus to live in his heart. Feel better, honey?"
She knew she was grinning like an idiot, but she couldn't seem to stop. "Like God lifted a heavy weight off my chest."
After they both climbed into the truck, Clay glanced at her and asked, "Home?"
She shook her head. "Sorry, but I have another mission. Would you take me by the beauty shop your mom uses?"
"Surely." He grinned before rubbing a few strands of her blond hair between his fingers.
Once they entered the salon, learned there was an opening after lunch, Clay drove them through a fast food drive-in. They ate their lunch at the park, sitting at a shaded picnic table.
Clay would always prefer the outdoors. He started teasing her about how she used to race him on horseback, galloping top speed into the wind, over his ranch land. Yes, she longed for that, too, as he would always prefer horseback riding over driving or flying. Successful rancher, he would always be pure Christian cowboy at heart.
At the appointed time, Sheri walked into the beauty salon. To her dismay, Clay sat down, watched, listened, and waited. After the beautician dyed her hair brown, and Sheri stared at the color in the mirror, she knew something wasn't quite right.
Clay must have agreed because he walked over to them. "Not quite the right color. Dark brown, yes, but when the sun would catch her hair, it would glow mahogany."
The beautician nodded and after adding a slightly different color to Sheri's hair, asked Clay if it was the right shade.
He fisted his hands on his hips and laughed his joy. "Yes. Perfect."
She could virtually witness his pleasure, so after she paid the stylist Sheri disappeared into the bathroom.
Sheri plucked out her green contacts and flicked them into the trashcan. A familiar sight stared back at her from the mirror. Big blue expressive eyes, the color of the deepest ocean. Long dark brown hair shimmered red highlights. After a quick exhale, she joined Clay.
He didn't speak, but his eyes spouted volumes.
At the truck door, before he opened it for her, Clay whispered, "Welcome back, Sheri love." Then he quickly brushed his lips across her cheekbone and opened her door.
When they returned home, they saddled horses and raced across his ranch in some good old-fashioned fun.
But God nudged her heart again that night during the Bible reading and prayer.
After the three ranch hands took their leave, Sheri reached across the table and caught Clay's hand in hers.
Very quietly, she prayed; she repented for her season of rebellion and unforgiveness. She asked to return to her former Christian walk with the Lord. Leaning on, trusting fully in Jesus, she handed Him total control of her life once and for all, forever.
Bubbling with the joy of the Lord, she led Clay into the den and his computer. Waving her hand toward the chair, she stated, "Come see what I've done for you."
Clay sat and moved the computer mouse for the screen saver to vanish from the monitor.
She pointed to the tiny graphic art icon, the same as the Swinging D brand. "Click on the Swinging D." After he did, she continued. "Recall that paperwork was your least favorite part of running your ranch? Well, I wrote a program, specific to every need of the Swinging D. Now you simply have to input the current pertinent numbers and the program figures every last detail automatically."
"No more straining your brain. No more time-consuming paperwork. The answers are all but a click away."
She bumped into him again. Silly man, you didn't even have a firewall. What were you thinking?"
He played with his new toy, grinning like a little boy. "I don't know how you do it. An artist who mastered logic, right and left-brained. Thank you kindly, ma'am."
"Do you think you could find a job that would allow you to work from home? From here?"
She shrugged. "Don't know for sure. Have to talk to Troy about that." Sheri nudged Clay aside, signed online, and sent Troy an e-mail telling him to call her.
Clay caught her hand in his. "I want you to be able to tell me everything and anything like you do Troy. I want to be the one most intimate with you, your best friend, your husband. And I want you to be my wife."
Then he prayed aloud that God would open the doors for her, point her toward His will, His plan for her life. To make it plain, confirm, that Clay was the man who God had chosen to be her husband.
She no sooner added her amen to his, than the phone rang. Clay picked it up, but frowned slightly and handed it her way. "It's Troy."
After reporting to Troy about repenting, then talking about working for him via long distance, using everything from phone, fax, to video conferencing and e-mail, Troy agreed.
He teased her, saying he wasn't about to lose such a brilliant computer scientist for his successful security software company, renowned for hiring only Christians who bordered on computer geniuses. Troy asked her about Clay, teasing her that he would soon be walking the bride down the aisle.
When she hung up, Sheri laughed out loud and clapped her hands together once. She arched one brow toward Clay. "Guess what, handsome? Troy still wants to hire me, even knowing I will be working out of the office. Say instead at the Swinging D, for example."
Clay stood, towering over her, before he grabbed her hand. "You always were bold in your honesty."
He tugged on her hand, leading her out onto the front porch. After she sat in one of the rocking chairs, he dropped to one knee in front of her.
Sheri's heart kicked into overdrive.
"Sheri Knight, I love you. God approves of our union and will bless us as long as we include Him in our marriage. Would you honor me by consenting to be my wife?"
She smiled, eyes watering, before she leaned forward and brushed her lips over his. "Yes, Clay. I love you and I'd love to be your wife. Thank you for helping me back to the family of God."
This time, Clay kissed her thoroughly. Timelessly. When he drew back, he breathed unevenly.
His southern drawl sounded a notch deeper, a shade rougher. "After we attend church services Sunday morning, I'll announce our engagement during the fellowship here at the Swinging D. How does July fourth sound for our wedding?"
Sheri laughed. "Wow. We'd have fireworks to celebrate every year. Sounds like a date to me."
Steve had approved. Troy approved. Most importantly, God smiled upon them with approval.
"Thank You, Jesus," he sighed.
"Yes, thank You, Lord God!"
Happily ever after!
May God bless you and yours abundantly!