PROMISE KEEPER

Chapter One

The State Police did turn over the hard drive to the FBI Computer Forensic Laboratory Examiners in Dallas, but Lila left very early the next morning and flew from her small hometown in Kentucky to San Diego, California, where her sister had called what the FBI said were payphones but the charges were on the phone bill. The city where the supposedly good hacker lived.

She rented a car and contacted the police immediately upon arrival in San Diego, but after leaving the police station without her sister in tow, she used the yellow pages and searched shelter after shelter.

Bone weary and overwhelmed with worry, Lila showed Becky's picture to everyone who would look at it. With no one recognizing Becky at the last shelter, a Christian run facility, Lila sat alone in the silent tiny chapel as tears surged from her eyes to run down her cheeks.

A small white-haired woman tottered down the short aisle and sat next to Lila.

"Hello, dear, I'm Mrs. Ruth McKade but everyone calls me Gram."

Her wrinkled hand patted Lila on the shoulder comfortingly. "The Lord wants me to remind you of a verse in Jeremiah. 'For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome.'"

Lila considered the sweet looking Gram as she brushed the tears quickly out of her eyes. The older woman had a glow about her . . . and a peace. "Hi. I'm Miss Lila Landon."

"This shelter is an outreach from our church. Are you homeless, Lila?"

Lila rubbed one hand over her forehead, rubbing out the tension. Homeless? Well, she couldn't go back to Kentucky without Becky. "No, I just arrived in San Diego early this morning. I guess I'll get a hotel room and rent a car for as long as I can afford it and then find a job."

Gram shut her twinkling blue eyes for a moment or two before opening them and nodding once. "Do you have any experience working with children?"

Lila grinned. "Yeah, about twenty five-and-six-year-olds at a time. I teach kindergarten."

The old woman laughed out loud and clapped her hands together. "There is no such thing as coincidence! Well, it just so happens, I'm looking for someone to help take care of my great-grandchildren, a boy, nine, and a girl, six. We've been looking for a part-time nanny and housekeeper."

When Lila said nothing, sitting stunned, Gram added, "It naturally comes with room, board, and two hundred dollars a week."

This is kinda weird, Lila thought. No such thing as coincidence? What kind of person asks a perfect stranger to come into their home and watch their children? But then again, part-time would be perfect. It would give her time to spend back in the chat room, looking for a clue to her sister's whereabouts in this city.

Lila considered the Bible verse Gram had quoted. Perhaps it was part of some plan, something to give her hope in her final outcome. "Ok. I'll take it, Mrs. McKade. Thank you."

"Call me, Gram, dear. Let me phone my grandson and tell him I've found the right person. Then I'll tell you how to get there as you drive me home."

Lila waited for Gram and then drove them according to Gram's directions. The seven p.m. traffic was a nightmare, all those lanes, all those cars, all racing around at super sonic speeds.

Finally though, traffic thinned a little as she drove out of the city and finally turned on the lane Gram indicated. The sprawling two story brick home had a wide veranda porch. Even in the dark it was impressive, she'd have to admit.

After toting her suitcase and briefcase with her laptop computer, Lila followed her new friend down a foyer, through a large sunken living room, and into a kitchen at the back of the house. She froze as she stared into piercing laser blue eyes from the handsome man sitting at the table studying her intently.

Gram smiled and said, "Lila Landon, this is my grandson. Samson McKade. This is his home, but we all live here."

Maybe it was her lack of sleep, but Lila couldn't suppress her semi-hysterical laugh. So, she finally met a man named Samson. She wasn't about to tell the man in whose home she was invited to stay, whose children she was about to watch, that her given name was Delila, not Lila. She resisted the urge to ask Samson if he wanted a haircut.

Samson held out one large tanned hand to her. When Lila extended hers, he shook it firmly. Probably the most confident handshake she'd ever experienced came along with a smooth deep voice.

"Nice to meet you. We've been praying for someone then Gram recommends you and that's about as good as you get."

"Uncle Samson," piped a little boy, a miniature of Samson, pointing to the open Bible on the table. "Finish the story!"

"Uncle Samson?" Lila wondered.

"John and Sarah McKade, this is Miss Landon," Gram intoned as she pulled up a chair at the large oak kitchen table.

"Hi, John. Hi, Sarah," Lila said with a smile. The beautiful little girl also had midnight black hair. "I'm Lila."

Samson waved one arm toward the seat adjacent to his. "Would you like to join us in our nightly Bible reading?"

Bible reading? Guess these people were religious. Actually, it was fairly late according to the time zone from which she'd flown. After her weeks of nearly sleepless nights so she could spend time on the Internet, and the long and emotionally exhausting day today, all she wanted to do was go to sleep. "If you wouldn't mind terribly, it's past eleven o'clock back home and I'm bushed."

She thought it might have been disappointment that flashed briefly in his eyes. Then those laser blue orbs were studying her intently again. "I recognize a southern drawl. Where are you from?"

"Kentucky," she replied. "I just flew in today."

"By all means then let me show you to your room."

Samson rose from the table, picked up her suitcase, and led her upstairs to the fourth door on the right. After swinging open the door to the cozy bedroom, he sat her suitcase on the bed. "Maybe you'll join us tomorrow night."

Lila studied him. He was handsome, stood maybe an inch over six feet tall, solid. Shiny black hair gleamed in a short spiked cut and blue eyes stared at her with a kindness, a gentleness. "Guess y'all are religious, huh?" she asked quietly.

He spoke slowly, as if he chose his words carefully. "Being religious and being a Christian can be two very different things. No, I wouldn't say I was religious, but I have handed over complete control of my life to Jesus Christ. Are you a Christian, Lila?"

"A very long time ago, Samson. I think God's given up on me."

This time she was sure he looked disappointed. He must have wanted a Christian woman to take over care of the children and the house.

"Are you John and Sarah's uncle? They resemble you."

"Yes, my brother, Thomas, and his wife, Hannah, are off in the wilds of South America as missionaries for six months. I spend a lot of time at work and they're a bit much for an eighty-five-year-old great-grandmother. Gram, she acts twenty-five, but takes on way too much. She has heart problems. That's where you come in, Lila."

She nodded but couldn't suppress the yawn so powerful it threatened to suck dust bunnies from under the bed.

He laughed, a deep rumbling sound. "Sleep off your jet lag, Miss Landon," and he exited, shutting the door.

Lila quickly unpacked her suitcase, slipped on her gown, and fell into an exhausted slumber.

Yet, when the bedside clock read three-o-clock in the morning, she awoke with much more sleep than she had been accustomed to lately. It was six a.m. at home. After flipping on the light, she dressed in slacks and a shirt, scanned the room for a phone jack, and plugged in the modem of her computer. After signing on and then logging into the chat room, she searched for one name.

Before she even found it, he must have found her because a private message scrolled up her screen in the chat.

PromiseKeeper: Did you contact the police?

AvengingAngel: Yes. I insisted as you suggested. Sometime during the middle of last night the FBI took it from the state police to be analyzed in Dallas.

PromiseKeeper: I thought you weren't coming back in here, Angel?

AvengingAngel: I haven't found my sister yet. Or paid back the people who freaked her out so totally.

PromiseKeeper: Ah, so that's why you chose that nickname. Vengeance is God's, Angel. Do you not comprehend your life will become a nightmare if you toy with the people in here?

AvengingAngel: I remember you interrogating me the first day I came in about why I chose the nickname I did. Like it offended you. How many nicknames do you log in with into this chat room?

PromiseKeeper: You're getting into hot water again. You can't trust anyone online, Angel. A person can pretend to be any age, any gender, any occupation, any location. Anything at all.

AvengingAngel: Does that mean I can't trust you either, PromiseKeeper? Will you lie to me?

PromiseKeeper: You can trust me when you see this nickname. Will you tell me lies, Angel, or will you tell me about yourself?

AvengingAngel: I thought we had an unspoken agreement not to ask anything too personal. You've been so proper before. I'm not into cybersex. NEVER.

PromiseKeeper: You're funny. I figured out you were a nice single woman when we first met. Either a little naive, or looking for danger. And angry.

AvengingAngel: Are you married?

PromiseKeeper: No.

AvengingAngel: Well you usually make me laugh. Or leave me soul searching. I think it's your nickname. It's an oxymoron, about like good hacker.

PromiseKeeper: I do keep my promises, Angel.

AvengingAngel: Hmm. All I know is I think about you sometimes. The things you say about God to me here online. I don't think I like thinking about you at all.

PromiseKeeper: I think about you when I pray for you, Angel. Will you tell me your real first name to use when I pray?

AvengingAngel: Not just yet, I think. My sister gave out information and her picture. Her life was ruined. Will you give me your e-mail address, PromiseKeeper? How about phone number? I'm making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice.

PromiseKeeper: And then what? Learn to hack and attack them back? Send a virus? Threats? It's illegal.

AvengingAngel: To paraphrase you, 'You think I would tell you if I were?' I hope you aren't one of the enemies, PromiseKeeper. God help me, I'm starting to trust you.

With that she exited the chat room, signed offline, and laid back down fully dressed on the made bed.

The next thing she knew, a very noisy whisper penetrated her haze of sleep. "Don't you think she can wake up now, John?

A much softer whisper said, "Sssh! Uncle Samson said not to wake her!"

Lila opened her eyes and stretched.

"Now look what you've done!" John exclaimed. "You woke her."

"Good morning, John. Good morning, Sarah."

The children dashed from the room, slamming the door behind them.

Lila glanced at her watch. Ten! Oh my, she'd really overslept. While she was running the brush through her dark auburn hair, which was really quite an ordeal with hair as long as hers, hair to her thighs, the handle of her door clinked like someone was trying to open it.

"Here, let me get that," Samson said perhaps a little anxiously as he knocked two quick raps then swung open the door.

Sarah came in holding a large glass of orange juice while John carried a tray with a plate of bacon and pancakes on it.

"You sweethearts!" Lila exclaimed.

Sarah stuck out her bottom lip. "It's supposed to be breakfast in bed."

Lila glanced at Samson just outside her doorway. His lips twitched, so she walked over to the bed, pulled her hair to one side to sit, and leaned back on the pillows. "I've never had breakfast in bed before." John placed the tray on her lap and Sarah handed her the orange juice. It came complete with a yellow rose bud in a vase. "Thank you kindly."

"Come on, kids," Samson insisted. "Let her eat in peace while it's still warm."

After she had eaten breakfast, Lila carried the tray downstairs to the kitchen where Samson was drinking coffee. "Sorry I slept so late. Where are the children?" she asked.

"Changing clothes to swim." He hitched his thumb in the direction of the glass sliding door where she could see the kidney shaped pool. Further beyond that, the ocean waves pounded the sandy beach.

Samson yawned. "So what do you do in Kentucky, Lila?"

"I'm a kindergarten teacher."

"Have you moved to San Diego?"

"No. I'm looking for someone." She didn't mean to sound so cold, but it worked as far as stopping him from questioning her any more. She didn't want some morally righteous man knowing her minor sister had run away to some strange man. "What kind of job do you have?"

He paused for a few heartbeats, then sounded nearly as reluctant as she had sounded cold, "Security." Samson yawned again. "Gram is at one of her women's prayer meetings and I'm going to crash now that you're awake."

When she hiked one eyebrow at him going to bed during the daytime, he added, "I worked nights last night. Actually, I've been filling in for someone at night for the last month. Monday, I return to my regular day shift."

"Sweet dreams, Samson." He disappeared upstairs while she quickly washed her dishes.

Although the children were adorably sweet as they swam, Lila couldn't help but wonder about Becky. Where could she be? Where should Lila look? The sheer magnitude of the city boggled her brain. Was Becky wandering the San Diego streets? Or was she with some man, a stranger? A hacker and God only knew what else.

Her worries pounded her in relentless waves, but she had a good first day with the children.

Once Gram returned, they ate the lunch Lila cooked, and then the kids played upstairs in their rooms, so Lila looked over the clean house. She was supposed to be taking over for Gram, taking over the housework. Feeling almost like she was invading his privacy, Lila washed and dried a load of Samson's clothes she found in the laundry room hamper. She heard his voice in the background talking to the kids. So, he was awake now?

Lila carried the large armload of folded clothes upstairs to his room. She wasn't sure if she was supposed to put them away, or just leave them on his bed. Certain she couldn't bring herself to snoop through the man's drawers or closets to find the right location for clothes, she decided to leave them on the bed.

Only, when she nudged the door open with her toe, Samson was in his bedroom. His back was turned toward her and he didn't notice her in the doorway. He was kneeling beside his bed, hands folded on the mattress in front of him beside the open Bible. He was praying!

Heat blazed her face to invade such a private moment. She rushed from the doorway, still picturing the large man kneeling beside the bed and praying softly. Humbling himself before God. She'd never known anyone who actually prayed outside of church, someone with strong enough convictions to kneel and pray. The image of him had burned into her memory, wondering about his claim to have given Jesus Christ complete control over his life.

Lila fled back downstairs where she left the folded clothes in the laundry room.

PROMISE KEEPER Chapter Two