The waiter no sooner delivered the hot plates of food, than Gram smiled toward Lila. "Lila, would you like to say grace?"
Lila hadn't said grace since she was a small child when she was first saved. No. No, she didn't want to say grace. Samson always said grace. All she knew were rhyming children's prayers. "I'm quite certain I'd botch it."
She glanced at Samson as he studied her intently. Was that a glimmer of hope in his blue eyes? She sighed, bowed her head, and closed her eyes. "God is good. God is great. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen."
Gram acted like it was the most profound prayer she had ever heard when she intoned, "Amen!"
"Kindergarten teacher did you say?" Samson grinned and took a bite of his steak.
Lila didn't need a mirror to know she was blushing, heat radiated off her blazing face. It had felt downright good to thank God, even if it was childlike. She liked this family and seriously suspected they were rubbing off on her.
She drank deeply from her tea as Samson asked, "So what do you know about chat rooms, Lila?"
She swallowed the tea down her windpipe after it nearly squirted out of her nose. She coughed, choking, eyes watering.
Samson rose and patted her on the back, stopping short of lifting her hands above her head like last time. When she could breathe normally again, he scooted back to the table in his chair. "Do you choke often?"
"No," she assured him.
He continued on. "When John was chatting, it seemed to really upset you. So I repeat, what do you know about chat rooms?"
Gram reached over and patted Samson's hand gently. "Don't bring your work home with you, dear. Let Lila eat before her food gets cold."
The rest of the delicious meal was savored with antidotes by Gram about Samson and his brother as children. Then Samson related tales about Sarah and John.
Caught up in the stories and the laughter along with it, Lila smiled and said, "One time, my sister and I," . . . she sobered immediately. Her heart pounded painfully, a deep throbbing ache. "Never mind." Oh, Becky, where are you?
Those piercing blue eyes were intense, expectant, but when she said nothing more, he grabbed the check.
Lila yanked it out of his fingers. "I'm afraid I can't let you buy my supper."
He held out one large hand, palm up, waiting patiently for the bill. "I insist. And we call it dinner here," he teased her.
"No," Lila stated. "Thank you kindly anyway."
Samson raked one hand over the ebony spikes of his hair as he waited with the other hand out. He shut his eyes.
Lila grinned. "Don't tell me. You're praying again?"
"Yes." With that, he pulled out his wallet and tossed the money on the table. "Let's go." He helped Gram up and escorted her arm in arm out of the restaurant.
Lila growled, but followed. He was a gentleman. A good Christian man at that. No doubt about it.
And it wasn't like a date. Gram made it a trio. He left Lila little choice in the matter at any rate. She supposed she could allow him to buy her supper just this once.
At home, Lila listened to Samson read from the Bible and add commentary probably expressly for her, backing it up with more scriptures. The prodigal son, welcomed back with open arms and a celebration into his father's fold. God was waiting, whispering into her heart, calling her to come back to Him. Even as a child, if you accepted Jesus into your heart, God's seal was upon you. You only needed to repent, then trust fully, lean on the Lord.
Gram rose and stretched after Samson prayed. "Goodnight."
Lila fidgeted with the mug between her fingers. Was God after her soul or something? Did she need to rely upon, trust Jesus, to find Becky? She glanced up at Samson to find him studying her.
"'Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down, but an encouraging word makes it glad.' That's in Proverbs and it's truth. Tell me what's wrong and I'll help you, Lila."
When she gnawed her upper teeth over her bottom lip, debating, he persisted, "You mentioned a sister. Did she die?"
Lila scooted her chair back in a rush and stood. She felt the tears, her worst fear prodding her, and looked straight into his eyes. "I hope not. I've prayed not." Before she started crying in front of him again, Lila fled, uttering, "Goodnight, Samson."
But at midnight, Lila still hadn't dressed for bed, still in her modest dress. Confident Gram and Samson slept, she tiptoed downstairs into the family room. After using her calling card to leave the phone number for Agent Falcon, Lila hooked her laptop modem into the phone jack by the other computer. The McKade computer hooked directly online by cable. She sat them side by side and signed onto the chat room with her laptop.
Bummer. No PromiseKeeper. She sighed and clicked open her ink pen, resting it against the notebook on her lap. More notes, or if she were lucky again, she'd make floppy disk copies of private messages with the dozen or so hackers who ruled the room.
Well they all used several computers at one time, didn't they? Why couldn't she make another alias and come into the chat room, using two nicknames, playing the part of two people, surfing with two computers but as only one person? Brilliant. Her hacking book was paying off.
For the first time, Lila signed online on the McKade computer and tried to log onto the chat room . . . except the computer refused to access that site. A warning popped up on the screen, then a little box requesting the access code.
"It requires a password." Samson stood with fisted hands on hips. "What are you doing, Lila?"
He moved closer to her laptop computer, so quick as a flash, she clicked on the X at the top of the screen to close the web page, but his deep voice practically growled, "A chat room." It wasn't a question, more like a low controlled demand. He pointed toward his computer where the little box still waited for the password. "You use two computers to chat?"
She shut her laptop with a click and disconnected the modem. "Multitasking?" she suggested. It was the truth after all.
Yet, the laser blue eyes seemed to glint something other than disappointment. Curiosity? And anger? Then they closed and he raked one hand down his face. He was praying again, she was sure.
"'A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.' Help me out here, Lila. I thought you had some strong convictions against chatting in chat rooms." Then he snatched the blue floppy disk from the desk and held it toward her. "Sending out something, Lila? Your picture? A virus?"
Lila grabbed the disk and shut her notebook, stuffing everything back into her briefcase. "You're interrogating me again, Samson. For your information, it's children who need close monitoring online in chat rooms. Believe me, I know that now."
He snorted then exhaled hard. "You seem so sweet. I've watched you with the kids and Gram. You're great. It's hard for me to picture you chatting online."
Samson lowered his face closer to hers. "Believe me, I know all about what happens in chat rooms between men and women. Don't guess you'll tell me it was a chat for kindergarten teachers? If it were a Christian chat room, my computer would have accessed it."
She grabbed her briefcase. "I know what I'm doing. It's nothing lewd, silly man."
He stepped in front of her to halt her exit from the room. "Be careful, Lila, or you'll be eaten alive."
She laughed before stepping around him. "I've never met anyone like you. I respect and admire you, Samson. But you do kinda remind me of someone else."
She wasn't about to tell him it was the man she trusted online. PromiseKeeper. "Sweet dreams, Samson."
"I like you, too, Lila Landon," she heard before going upstairs to bed. "May God's will, not mine, be done."
The next morning, Lila packed a large picnic lunch as Samson announced the family was going on an outing. Toting a trailer with a jetski behind his four wheel drive, Samson drove Gram and Lila to pick up the kids. Lila liked the minister and his young wife. They were friendly and funny, but the McKades finally took their leave to drive northeast of downtown San Diego to El Capitan Lake.
Everyone wore cutoff long denim shorts and short sleeve shirts, even Gram. Samson took Sarah and then John for long rides on the jetski, which left them squealing with laughter. They obeyed every rule like not playing near the rocky edge of the water and wearing their life jackets without whining. Obviously this was a regular occurrence for the McKades.
After lunch, Samson cocked one ebony brow. "Your turn, Miss Landon." He stood and extended one large hand to pull her from the picnic blanket.
"I don't know," she began tentatively.
"Can you swim?"
Lila laughed. "Like the proverbial fish. Ever heard of Kentucky Lake?"
Gram patted Lila on the shoulder. "Go on, dear. Have some fun. My grandson won't let anything happen to you."
When she accepted Samson's hand up, he added, "I promise."
"Don't make me any promises." She winced after she said it coldly and added, "Sorry." Lila didn't think she cared at all for the strange look Samson was giving her, intense, probing.
Tall, dark, and handsome, he tilted his head then shot her a lopsided grin. "Now you sort of remind me of someone."
After he climbed onto the jetski, she hesitantly climbed on behind him leaving what little room was left between them.
He laughed, "Better hang on," and zoomed away full throttle.
She grabbed the back of the seat behind her as a reflex.
"Hold on to me, silly woman, before you fall off!"
Lila lightly curved her hands over his sides. Clearly this good Christian man didn't feel her awareness to him as a man. He'd probably be scandalized. Until she'd met him, she'd never known a God fearing, sold out to Christ, person. Again she pictured him on his knees, praying. It had moved her profoundly.
Although she'd never realized it before, she wanted that, wanted to share that with him. She'd never met a man who made her feel like Samson did. She didn't know what to do about the attraction as she hadn't been really attracted to a man before. Except maybe PromiseKeeper, since he invaded her thoughts often, too.
Whew! She no sooner plopped back in her seat, than the bottom dropped out again. Her hair wrapped around them both. Flying across the water, zipping turns, she relaxed and enjoyed some plain old fun. After an hour on the lake, Samson skimmed the watercraft to the shore. Her sides hurt from laughing so hard for so long.
Samson shot her a smile, a streak of white in the handsome tanned face, and her heart thudded like a bass drum in a parade. As he reversed his vehicle to load the jetski on the trailer, Lila realized she was laughing, smiling, and having fun, while Becky was out there somewhere.
What was it Samson had prayed for last night after their clash over the computer? God's will. She prayed for God's will, too.
While playing with Sarah and John, a new thought occurred to her.
She helped load the blanket and picnic supplies into his sports utility vehicle. As soon as Samson turned to her, waiting for her to climb in back with the kids so Gram could ride up front, she frowned down at her damp clothes. Glancing up at him, she asked, "Would you mind terribly taking me by the major newspaper office for a few minutes?"
That ebony brow hitched, but he nodded. "No problem."
Although dreadfully under-dressed upon arrival, Lila walked into the newspaper office and was directed to the advertising department where she paid and posted a large bold note to Becky. It read: Rebecca Faith e-mail me now! Tell me where you are, if you're safe, and I'll come get you. Love you always, Delila.
When they returned home, Lila withdrew into her bedroom and posted similar notes on bulletin boards online, hoping Becky would see one of the ways she was trying to contact her and reply. She knew Becky no longer had the same e-mail address, since the hackers had scared her away from it. Lila didn't know if Becky even signed online now, which was why she had tried the newspaper, too. Maybe none of them would work, but she'd try to have faith. After all, the idea came to her after praying.
For the rest of the day, she played with the children but Samson and Gram spent their time with John and Sarah also.
At one point, Samson turned to her. "You do that all the time, you know?"
"You're always teaching them something, disguising it as a game, praising them. You're great with kids. You'll be a great mother. I suspect a fine wife, too."
Waves of heat radiated from her face.
He leaned closer to her ear, so neither Gram nor the always ear-perked children would overhear him. "I'm attracted to you, Lila. But I can't so much as consider having a relationship with a woman who doesn't share my beliefs. It's between you and God, although I know He's convicting you, if you repent and turn over complete control of your life to Jesus. But won't you please consider joining me and my family at church tomorrow morning?"
Lila didn't hesitate. Coincidence or not that brought her to him and his family; she had felt the tugging on her spirit, the still little voice in her heart calling her to come back to Him, to trust Him fully, lean upon Him. "Yes, I'd like that, Samson."
As for Samson, she'd leave soon with Becky. Delila would.
PROMISE KEEPER Chapter Four