Lila glanced again at the glowing green digits on the microwave clock. Samson was always up and sometimes gone by now. By the time the kids were dressed and fed, she was getting seriously worried and there was no way she was going in his bedroom. "John, would you be so kind as to find out if your Uncle Samson is ill?"
"Me, too?" Sarah asked sweetly.
"Yes, please, right away." Lila followed them upstairs and stood outside Samson's bedroom doorway once the children entered his room. John approached the bed and what appeared to be a sleeping Samson. "I can't tell if he's sick," John whispered loudly. "Can you tell if he's sick?"
Sarah bounded upon the king-sized bed, bouncing over until she lay right in front of him, face to face. "Do you want us to pray for you to get well, Uncle Samson? Lila's real worried."
Lila felt the heat creep up her neck to sizzle her face, glad to be outside the doorway even if she had seen his chest before when swimming in his pool. Pulling her to attention, Samson spoke and he sounded amused . . . or perhaps pleased. "I'm fine, thank you, little miss. And you don't say? Lila's worried, huh?"
"Yeah," John confided. "I think she missed you last night when we had devotionals. Lila read and Gram prayed."
"Is that so?"
Well clearly, this was not starting out to be her day. Kids are kids and they tell it all as they see it. "Come on, Sarah. Come along, John."
In ten minutes though, they were back at the pushed closed, but not shut, door. Lila extended one arm to swing the door open for the children. John had a wobbly hold on the breakfast tray while Sarah carried a full sloshing glass of orange juice. Before they even entered, Lila looked into the room from the hallway and there was a fully dressed Samson. On his knees next to the bed. He turned at the noisy arrival of the kids and laser blue eyes caught and held hers for a long heartbeat. Was he gauging her reaction?
He rose, laughed, and dropped back on the stacked pillows. "Breakfast in bed? Wow. Maybe I should sleep in more often."
Not even another ten minutes passed before Samson joined her and sat down the tray in the kitchen. She had seen this man in the most intimate of moments more than once. He lived what he believed, sold out to Jesus. She wondered if perhaps sharing that secret prayer time could be the most intimate relationship between a man and woman. Deep inside her, she longed for it.
He smiled, that streak of white against tanned freshly shaved skin, and twirled the rose stem between his fingers. "Red, hmmm?"
She knew it was a mistake when she'd clipped the red rose for the breakfast tray vase. "I thought it was pretty."
"The happy face on the pancake was a nice touch, too." He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the kitchen counter. "So is it true? Were you worried about me this morning? Miss me last night?"
No, this was definitely not her day. That wretched trait struck afresh and her face caught fire. "You're interrogating me yet again, Samson, but yes. I was worried and I did miss you leading the devotion time. I missed talking with you afterwards."
"Lila, Lila, Lila. What am I going to do about you? My family has planted seeds, watered them, praying and waiting for them to grow. Don't make me fall in love with you, Lila, not unless you can share my zeal for Christ. Will you leave San Diego after you accomplish your hidden agenda? Is this hopeless before my heart gets helplessly broken?"
He was Samson. She was Delila. Sounded hopeless to her, too, besides the fact that she would find Becky and return home to Kentucky.
"If I were you, Lila, I would sincerely ask for forgiveness. No matter how sweet you are, everyone sins. The Lord will cast your sins as far as the East is from the West, into the sea of forgetfulness. He suffered and died just for you, even if you were the only person on the planet, He would have done it for you. That's how much Jesus loves you. God placed his Seal upon you as a child when He saved you."
Samson stroked the red rose across her cheek before adding, "Then, Lila, I'd start praying for God's will, start praying for Him to tell you what to do about me. That's something God can confirm to you if I am a part of the plan He has for your final outcome. Be still and listen to that gentle guiding voice in your heart, then your thoughts. I'd lay it down at His nail-scarred feet, whatever has you so sad and desperate."
As soon as he stopped his impassioned yet sincere sounding plea, Samson leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Thanks for breakfast in bed."
He pivoted and strode toward the door. "I need to fly or I'll be late for work. I may be working late again. Have a blessed day, Lila Landon. Keep reading the Bible." With that, he breezed out the door.
Gram came in, purse in hand. "I see you have gotten yourself and my great-grandchildren ready." She had a cup of coffee while Lila cooked her some oatmeal. "Really, dear," Gram began, "You are only supposed to work part-time. I can cook, care for the kids, and keep this house."
Lila was certain the eighty-five-year-old woman could, since she acted sprightly as someone Lila's age, but Samson had told her about Gram's heart problems. As well mannered as the children were, they needed someone slightly younger to keep up with them. And the house was large and grand; needing someone to stay on top of it to keep it looking as neat as the day she arrived.
Lila grabbed her cars keys when Gram was ready and loaded John and Sarah into her rented sedan. She drove all four of them out and about, no longer overwhelmed by the traffic, exploring some of the cultural highlights of what Lila was discovering was actually a wonderful city. San Diego offered great attractions and activities like historical districts, amusement parks, museums, and tons of beaches lining the coastline, ranging from the family beach, surfer's beach, to private romantic beaches hidden away from the crowds.
Today they were visiting the zoo in beautiful Balboa Park. The fog had burned off and it looked like Lila's day was going to get better.
After taking many pictures of Gram and the kids with the animals in the background, thinking perhaps Gram appeared a little weary from all the walking, Lila drove them home in the early afternoon.
The kids played a cute video game on the television in the family room, so Lila kicked into high gear and dusted the house as fast as she could. Once she had the casserole in the oven, she swept and mopped the kitchen linoleum, folded a load of clothes and washed another before vacuuming.
Yet supper came and went, devotion time also, but no Samson. He had left a message on the answering machine while they were at the zoo. He was working late again. She hated to even think it, but she missed him . . . a lot.
Lila again read scriptures aloud, this time about Jesus, soaking it in as the children and Gram seemed to enjoy the familiar verses. Moments after Gram finished the prayers, Lila tucked in and kissed the children goodnight.
When she arrived back in the kitchen, Samson was sitting there with Gram and he scowled at Lila when she entered the room. Lila hiked one eyebrow and walked off into the laundry room as the dryer buzzed. Folding the children's clothes, she smiled a little hesitantly at Samson as he stormed into the tiny room.
He yanked up clothes, folding fast. He hadn't even said hello and she'd never seen this stormy mood before. Then he snatched the last shirt she was shaking out to fold, right out of her hands. "Gram says you haven't stopped moving all day. We didn't bring you here to work like a slave!"
"Yikes! Guess you had a bad day on the job, huh?"
"Busy. Satisfying. And more frustrating than I remember."
"A regular emotional roller coaster." She grinned. "Have you had supper?" She said Kentucky supper instead of California dinner just to tease him.
"No. I haven't had breakfast, lunch, or dinner."
She waltzed back into the kitchen, saying, "Well, I can remedy that easily enough."
He reached up and covered her hand that was reaching into an upper cabinet for a plate. "No, Lila. I can't. I'm fasting."
"As in not eating and a lot of praying."
"Oh." She really didn't know how to respond.
"Sometimes, a person honors God with fasting and prayer. Like a sacrifice. Sometimes when they desperately need their prayer answered fast. But God has His own time schedule."
He pulled her over to sit at the table. "Listen to me, Lila, before you get me sidetracked. I don't want you slaving away. Recall I am a single man. I can take care of myself. What I don't take care of, a woman comes in and cleans, does laundry, that sort of thing. She was vacationing the last two weeks and didn't come in. You only need to help out part-time with the kids and they turn a room into a disaster zone in a blink, so just pick up after them. Better yet, Miss Kindergarten Teacher, teach them to pick up after themselves like they do for their dad and mom."
While Lila fought the urge to ask about the woman who kept house for him, Samson continued. "My parents and grandfather were killed in a Los Angeles traffic pileup two years ago. I took in Gram after the accident."
"I'm truly sorry about your parents and grandfather, Samson."
He smiled. "They're with Jesus now in Heaven."
Then he raked one hand down his face. "I'm not quite sure how my brother talked me into it, but now I've got his kids for six months until they return. Seriously though, I love my niece and nephew. Before Thomas and Hannah were done explaining the situation they'd be facing in South America while working as missionaries, I do believe I volunteered to keep them."
While studying her fingernails like they were the most fascinating thing she'd ever seen, Lila said very quietly, "You're a good man, Samson McKade."
She stood and walked over to him. She leaned down and whispered, "Handsome, too," and kissed his razor-stubbled cheek. With that, she fled to her bedroom.
After connecting her laptop modem, Lila sat upon the bed in indecision about signing online. There was no newspaper personal ad answer from Becky today and she really wanted to check some of the online worldwide web bulletin boards to see if Becky had answered her there.
However, it scared her a little when PromiseKeeper said he was tracking her down. He was persistent about getting her out of the chat room. All of the hackers had talked to her, the ultimate in multitasking, talk to a dozen people, each using three or four aliases, trying to keep track of who was whom and what they were saying. They worked as a group, worked as a tag team. If even one turned on you, they all did.
Yet she trusted PromiseKeeper, didn't she? She had no clue what he looked like or what his name was, but he was a nice guy for the last six weeks. Or was he? She didn't know where he lived. Was he the good hacker who talked Becky into coming to San Diego?
No. He had insisted she call the FBI.
He was a hacker though, one in an elite club. After what happened to Becky, Lila used a hacker book and had her laptop computer armed to the teeth with Internet security programs. But still someone had tried to hack into her computer. A warning had popped up on her screen. She left soon after and it was PromiseKeeper who had said he could tell her everything about her.
She laughed a little, unsure if whoever was trying had managed to break through her defenses or not. She didn't have any viruses or programs installed or copied. If she weren't careful, she'd become a target like Becky who could be found anywhere, stalked even at school if she logged online under different names. Oh they used different names each time too, but they let her know who they were.
At home, Lila had even seen Becky logged online while listening to music on the CD-Rom of the computer when the hackers changed the track and song, even ejected the CD. She'd seen so many names as Becky started freaking out; she'd watched an instant message pop up just as Becky sent an e-mail of complaint to the Internet domain security. The hackers had told Becky no and snagged it out of the thin air of cyber space. Then the calls started.
But Lila had never used her real name, except to register with and pay for the big online provider whom she could connect with anywhere. She had used Delila then. For everything else she followed her hacker book and registered all her e-mail addresses to different nicknames, time zones, states or countries. She used the same nickname every time though with the hackers from the beginning. She planned to find Becky, or find whoever had her, and some how, in some way, make those hackers pay.
Originally, the Kentucky State Police wanted proof of threats, so Lila now had copies of e-mails, private message conversations, dozens upon dozens of aliases, e-mail addresses and phone numbers from around the globe on computer floppy disks as well as in her notebook. No threats though.
All the aliases behind the few geniuses were head games with malicious masterminds. Yet today one of them wanted to teach her. And one of them wanted her out of that chat room. Why was it, she had to like that one? Why did she think about him and his soul searching words? Why did she trust him?
She'd seen what happened to Becky; what if the hackers turned on her, stalked her, found her and called her? Would she too start checking every electrical appliance for web cameras if they were able to about tell her every move, what she wore, and then brag about broadcasting it on their secret site?
She exhaled hard before logging online. Although she was not quite brave enough to venture back into the chat room this time, Lila checked the bulletin boards sites where she had posted for Becky. After an hour of what ended up being a waste of time, no clue from Becky, she went to bed.
Lila lay there and wanted to pray. She wanted to ask for forgiveness and to pray for God's will about Samson. She wanted to pray about her attraction to PromiseKeeper. Despite the yearning to do so, she knew she couldn't.
Even though she accepted Jesus as a child, God wouldn't approve of her playing the part of avenging angel. She wasn't sure how far she'd go to find Becky. Warring with her desire to turn to God was her desire for justice to be handed out to the elite group of hackers.
She kneeled, closed her eyes in the darkness, and whispered, "If You are listening, if You care about me, please forgive me, Jesus, and help me find Becky. Protect her. Protect me. Help me to do Your will, not mine, because I don't know what I'm going to have to do to find her. Please show me Your plan for me."
Lila paused before adding, "Don't give up on me yet, God. As much as I want to make those hackers pay, I want with You what the McKade family has. It's real. All or nothing. I can't give you that yet." She blew out a slow exhale. "One last thing, in case You can hear a sinner like me, please don't let me fall in love with Samson or PromiseKeeper. In Jesus' Name I pray. Amen."
That was her first real prayer on her knees. Nothing as simple yet eloquent or moving as Samson's. Or even the children. Not even wise old Gram. Lila only hoped God listened to her pathetic sinner's prayer.
She'd never had anyone she could really count on; she'd been let down so many times in her life after her dad then mom succumbed to cancer. Lila had done her best since the night she graduated high school, working to pay the day to day bills, working to pay for five years of college, and working to raise Becky who was only ten at the time . . . nearly eight years ago. And Lila had no doubts that she'd failed miserably. She hadn't watched Becky closely enough on the computer at first and now Becky had runaway to a cyber genius.