CHANGE OF HEART:

Troy - Kiss Troy and Stake Her Future Claim

"My move, huh?" she whispered, licking her lips again, opening her eyes to stare at his incredibly kissable mouth.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Incentive?" She leaned toward him, now with only a few inches between their mouths. "Commit this to memory, Montgomery."

Then Sheri closed the distance and pressed her lips to his. So many women had drooled over Troy, but she wanted this kiss to leave an indelible mark on his heart until she could stake her permanent claim on him in the future. Sheri slanted her lips over his, slid her arms around his neck and rolled his mouth under her, kissing him with all the pent-up love she possessed.

He groaned, cupped his large gentle hands around her face, and took over control of the kiss. Slower. Timeless. Speaking more eloquently of his love than a thousand-word sonnet.

Her brain ceased functioning, world spinning, heartbeat stampeding, melting, potent chemistry between them about to burst into flames when he all of a sudden pulled away.

Troy dropped back on his side of the blanket, breaths heaving hard like he had run five miles on a hundred degree day. He tapped a hand over his chest and huffed, "Hard on a man's heart, woman."

Unable to think at all, Sheri followed his example by gasping, heart beating rapidly. The glittering stars winked and shimmered against the blue-black velvet background while the rhythmic waves crashed and the warm wind serenaded her.

When her breathing and heart rate neared something closer to normalcy, she attempted to kick start her brain. She'd kissed her best friend, for real, and he'd kissed her back. The best kiss of her life! "Unreal."

"No, very real. Better than I even dared to dream. A shock shot straight through my heart."

Troy rolled up on one elbow again, facing her. "That kiss was an example of God's master plan for us and what we truly feel for each other. And the truth, Sheri, shall set you free."

"Hmm. What we truly feel, huh?" Urged by something unfamiliar, unwilling to resist boldness, she propped up on one elbow to face him too. "Maybe," she whispered, leaning closer, "I should try it again and test that theory."

Troy sat suddenly and held up one hand. He smiled at her, but shook his head. "I don't believe that would be wise at this time."

"Chicken," she taunted him.

"No. Wisdom."

"You didn't enjoy it, Troy?"

"Real funny. You're joking, right?"

"Don't you want me to kiss you again?"

"Oh yes! Way too tempted. And trying to do the right thing, for my brain to win the war with my body. I'm only a man, but God-fearing and Bible-believing. Are you testing my integrity, Sheri?"

She fell back and draped one arm over her eyes, shutting everything out. "I don't know what I'm doing, Troy. I don't understand it. I don't know what prodded me to say that."

"Mixed bag, sweetheart. Love. Desire. God may want us together, but He wants us to marry before consummating the union."

Troy raked one hand down his face. "Satan, however, would indeed like to spoil God's plan by overly tempting us, so we sin and guilt taints our love. Satan wants to sabotage, poison it. Then you'd regret your love for me, regret losing your virginity, running from me and God's plan forever."

She groaned. "I'm so embarrassed."

"Look at me." Troy lifted her arm off her eyes, capturing her in his steely regard. "Never be embarrassed with me. Nothing about sharing our love should ever shame you."

Then he kept hold of her hand, but pointed with the other toward the stars and waves. "Relax. Enjoy."

As she soaked in the masterpiece of God's handiwork, stars and ocean sounds, unwinding and absorbing until overcome with awe, Troy's analytical mind must have been grinding away because he stated, "My incentive plan backfired. Massively. Although I definitely committed your taste to my memory, it only tested my patience further to wait and claim you. Trial by fire."

She chuckled. "Indeed."

But he continued, baritone husky and urgent, "Please hurry, honey. Repent, turn from your season of rebellion. Let Jesus cleanse the fury and unforgiveness from your heart. Don't you ever miss your relationship with God?"

"Yeah. I do. It's like I'm so totally alone anymore, changed into someone I don't know or like much, stumbling around in the cold confusing darkness. Like I'm so lost, weighted down with oppression."

"You're not alone. Jesus sticks closer than a brother. God wants you back, Sheri. He's convicting you. Can't you hear Him calling you? Listen with your heart, honey; you know His voice."

"I used to know it. I used to hear it here," Sheri pointed to her forehead with one hand, "and here," pointing at her heart with the other hand. "Kinda like a really loud and intense thought."

Then she shrugged. "That's how it used to work for me, personally, hearing God and the urging of the Holy Spirit. Now it's hard to hear, tough to tell, cause I get hammered with a lot of stuff that cannot possibly be of the Lord."

"You've hardened your heart. God is softening it again, to Him and to me. Be true to yourself; be true to who God created you to be. The Sheri of old was a wonderful woman, remarkably sweet-spirited, brilliant, and respectably talented."

She sat up. "I've been so burdened with blame. Now I've grieved Stevo, let go of the guilt, and I want to break out as if I've been trapped for too long. No peace. I want to be set free."

"Jesus wants to set you free, forgive you. He set His seal upon you as a child when you invited Him into your heart and accepted His salvation. You are marked as His. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, honey, and you know it. Truths you have known and believed since childhood."

"Yes. I'm on the wrong path now. I miss His perfect peace that passes all natural understanding."

"Then move on from this season of rebellion. Repent, right here. Right now. Stop running from God and His plan for your life."

He thumped one fist over his heart. "I've been praying and interceding, as if I could kick open the door for you, but I can't do it for you."

Troy pointed at her. "You're standing right in front of the door leading back to God and you don't even have to knock; it's open. He's waiting with open arms; enter His gate. He won't shove you through, or force His will upon you, but He's swung the door wide to invite you back inside to His family."

She blinked rapidly, wiping the excess moisture from brimming eyes. "My choice. My decision."

"Yes, Sheri."

I ran out God's door into the devil's confusing darkness where I was so hurt and angry, ugliness in my heart, Satan kept telling me I'd locked myself away from Jesus forever. That I'd gone too far from the straight and narrow line of God's will, sinned too much, for God to be able to love me or still want me back."

"More untruths from the foul prince of lies and his pit of hell. Satan has flooded your mind with nothing but negatives. God loves you, Sheri, always, even more than me. And that's an incredible amount, more than the mere mortal mind can comprehend."

Then Troy rested one hand on her forehead and raised his voice. "Get away from her, Satan! I bind you in the Name of Jesus! Sheri Knight is covered by the Blood of the Lamb and belongs to Jesus. And me. Ask Jesus to set you free, sweetheart."

She nodded, wiped away the wet streak of her tears, and cleared her throat. "Now I have to retrace my steps to God's plan for my life. I must walk back through to Him, shut the door behind me, and never look backward."

"Exactly, Sheri. Make up your mind; set your heart that those days of Satan ruling you with lies are over, in the past. History."

Troy stroked one large hand down her hair, soothing her, persuading her. "Sometimes even strong Christians backslide. They may fall into Satan's snare instead of putting on the armor of God and fighting their way through the tough tribulation that tests their faith. Imperfect humans make mistakes, but God never does."

Sheri sniffled once, venturing out verbally on a sturdy limb, testing the taste of truth in her mouth, Biblical facts, speaking faith that applied to each person on earth, but applying it to herself now aloud. "God called me by name when I was in my mother's womb. He picked me and had a plan for my life, blessed me with talents. He chose me, graven by His hand, to serve Him. He sent His Son to suffer and die on the cross for my salvation and eternal life in heaven. Victory in Jesus."

"Yes, amen, Sheri. God chose the real you. May the truth set you free right now in the Name of Jesus!"

Feeling stronger, positively optimistic, she started to believe again. "God loves me and wants only the best for me, nothing bad. Blessings, not curses. He wasn't punishing me with Steve's death. God is faith, hope, and love."

Troy massaged her shoulder. "The greatest of which is love. You have a blood covenant with Jesus. Stand on the promises of God. Happiness, success, prosperity. Love, marriage, children."

Sheri folded her hands together in prayer, bowed her head, and closed her eyes. She shut out everything else from her mind and focused solely on Jesus. The Spirit of God moving even before she spoke, quivering with a slight shake in her hands, she sobbed quietly.

Troy tucked her bowed head against his chest, wrapped his arms around her, joining her in prayer and agreement as she repented, sin by sin.

Leaning against Troy for emotional support and spiritual leadership, she asked Jesus to cleanse her heart of all unforgiveness, anger, and hurt. She asked the Lord to forgive her, to take her back once and for all. She blew out a deep shuddering breath and it was as if all the bitterness burst out of her on her exhale, carried away forever in the wind.

Sheri didn't know how long she or Troy prayed, but Jesus joined their midst and settled a blanket of pure peace around them. God brought Sheri back to Him, surrounding them with His hedge of protection, gathering them together, and enfolding them within His protective feathered wings.

After Jesus was in complete control of her life again, after He threw her sins into a sea of forgetfulness as far as the east is from the west, Sheri started to sing, to worship Him with praise. Troy's baritone joined her, so familiar, so right, until she bubbled with the joy of the Lord.

When she stopped weeping and started laughing, it must have been contagious because Troy caught it, too. "I'm so happy, Troy."

He swiftly ran his thumbs under his eyes, rubbing away tears, and nodded. "Me, too, sweetheart. To God be the glory. He is so worthy to be praised. Thank You, Jesus!"

"Yes, thank You, Jesus!"

Troy hopped to his feet, holding one hand out to her and grabbing one end of the blanket. "Come on. Let's go home."

While she folded the blanket, he extracted his cell phone from his pocket and called the pilot. After disconnecting, he cocked one elbow to escort her.

She still couldn't stop smiling, and neither, it seemed, could Troy. They sang praises until reaching the awaiting helicopter.

Once they lifted off the ground, flying toward the island, Sheri had another belly-deep laughter attack. Good like God's medicine for her heart, mind, and soul.

"I love that sound." Troy turned in the seat, placing one arm on each side of her shoulders, and captured her with a very slow male smile. "Ok, beautiful. As a big believer in the reward system, you definitely deserve a big reward. Let's try again."

He nodded toward the pilot. "With a witness, I'll be more careful and controlled like being in public. I promise you're safe with me, Sheri love. I want to kiss you again. Love not lust."

"More incentive, Montgomery? The last was most effective."

He laughed. "With God's help and to His glory."

She lifted one brow. "Ah, the Johnsons will have returned to your island. You wouldn't dare kiss me in front of them."

His mouth lowered toward hers. "Try me."

"Aren't you worried we might spontaneously combust this time?"

"This time, I want to stake my claim on you. You're back in your rightful relationship with Jesus. You belong to me, Sheri."

Sheri held up one hand in front of her, stopping his forward approach. "Not quite yet, Troy. Although I repented, there are consequences to my season of rebellion. Certain wrongs God would have me right first, in His order, before I can claim you."

Troy leaned his forehead against hers and groaned. "Oops. Didn't mean to utter it out loud."

She grinned. "Patience never has been your greatest virtue."

"I'm much better at it."

Sheri laughed. "Sure you are."

"Really, I am. God has used you greatly to test me and help me grow in the area of patience. I'll prove it to you."

The helicopter landed with a soft bump, so Sheri waved her hand toward the door. "Here we are. Back on your island."

Troy escorted her, both bending low until clearing the rotating helicopter blades.

"Ok, Miss Knight, get ready."

"Ready for what?" she asked hesitantly.

"More truth. Proof of my patience and quite possibly a shock or two for you."

"Humph. I know you, Troy, the real you, everything about you. You can't shock me, but by all means fire away."

He slipped one arm around her shoulders. "Do you know when I bought this island? Why I didn't immediately tell my best friend?"

Sheri frowned. "No. I don't know when. Sometime while I was in college and you zipped to the top of your field as a polished professional. I don't even know another man with his own private island. The why? Probably so you'd have a romantic get-away for all your southern belles."

He tightened his arm around her shoulders as if trying to keep her on her feet. "You are the first and only woman to come here."

"Nope. Sorry. Mrs. Johnson was here first," she teased him.

"Grr. Fine. You are the first and only woman with whom I am in love. I waited a long time to bring you, share all this with you. Two years ago, after God revealed His plan for my life, which included you as my wife, I bought this island on faith for our future together. And any future children we will produce.

"Two years ago!"

He smiled smugly. "See, God has improved upon my patience."

"Troy, were you only obeying God's plan to act on faith, or did your feelings for me change so long ago?"

"At first, I merely realized I was missing you entirely more than I should while you were in college, more than I should miss even my best friend, more like a man misses a woman. In fact, I was fairly alarmed, kinda fought against it as if it were a spiritual attack. I prayed God would change my feelings back, fix it, so it wouldn't ruin the rare bond we did have."

She shivered. "Eerily familiar sounding. When total denial didn't work, I went into a full-fledged red alert. Highly agitating revelation for you, I'd imagine. It was for me."

He chuckled and nodded. "But then I saw you more than two years ago in Texas, over Christmas, and the truth shot me straight through the heart. Bulls-eye! My best friend was more than female; she was a gorgeous woman. And I didn't just love you; I was in love with you. I hadn't misunderstood God or His plan for my life. Then I accepted it totally without reservations."

Sheri lifted a shaky hand to her forehead, trying to absorb what he said matter-of-factly. As his best friend, she hurt for him, what he had to have gone through and the burden that came along with it. Worse yet, he had been alone except for God, not even able to confide in his best friend.

"Im sorry, Troy. That had to be hard for you. One of your main characteristics is the charming trait to see what you want, shoot like a speeding bullet toward your goal, and succeed. It had to be tough not to tell your best friend about your island."

"Yep, the virtue of patience was a struggle for me. I wanted to make it happen right then, but God has His own timetable. Now with God's help, I'm finally about to succeed and claim you."

He lowered his mouth by her ear. "And it's not my island. I bought it for you and I. Our island."

She swallowed, unable to speak, and leaned a little more against Troy for support, as her legs seemed to grow more rubbery by the second.

He laughed. "Speechless, Sheri? Hmm. Note this day on my calendar. While you're temporarily without words, I'll toss more truth your way."

Troy held her a bit more securely like he anticipated her shock to yet another of his revelations. "Sheri, I didn't want you to work for me, but with me. I want you as a full-partner in our successful security software firm. I want you as a full-partner in every aspect of my life."

Sheri released her hold on him and slid to her seat on the dock. "I need to sit down."

"So I see."

Troy squatted, chuckling, and pressed a quick kiss on the crown of her head. "Easy, sweetheart. Although there is much more to tell you, since you are obviously on sensory overload from too much input at one time, I guess it'll wait until the morning."

"What time is it?"

"Late. Time to sleep. You've had a big day. Tired?"

She snorted. "More like wired. Bubbly and excited about getting right with God. Grateful."

Sheri accepted his hand up then while smoothing her pink skirt, caught a huge whiff of his persuasive masculine scent. "And a wee bit on the pole-axed side what with all you've revealed."

Troy towered over her, but bent at the waist to place his nose in the hair by her ear. She didn't realize her reaction to him was so apparent, but it must have been because he mocked her by inhaling deeply. "Mmm. Does that mean I get a goodnight kiss?"

"Not unless you have a handy-dandy phone stashed somewhere. Your cell phone is as useless here as mine with no towers to pick up a signal. There are still those wrongs to right, Troy, consequences to deal with because of my season of rebellion."

He winked at her and led her toward the castle-like stone house. "So you want still more truths, huh? You asked for it. Remember now, honey, strife is from Satan and won't do either of us any good. You used to be big on the wisdom from Proverbs. Please don't blow a fuse and utter angry words you don't really mean."

"What are you talking about, silly man? I quit smoking and returned to God, so why are you acting like you're about to infuriate me once more?"

He winced visibly, then opened the side entrance leading to the kitchen, and ushered her indoors. But after shutting the door behind him, he leaned back against it and shut his eyes. His lips moved slightly in silent prayer.

When Troy opened his eyes, he shot her a hesitant smile. "Recall how we like to look for the bright side, the positive aspect, in every situation?"

"Uh-huh."

"Keep that in mind."

She tapped one foot, studying the oh-so handsome man, her best friend, prayer partner, and true love; searching for signs of why the most confident male she knew was behaving uncharacteristically unsure and treading carefully instead of plowing ahead. "Fine."

He blew out a big exhale, hands cocked on hips, shaking his head. "Uh-oh. Fine? Rarely a good thing coming from you."

That's ridiculous."

"Fine is usually one of your defense mechanisms. It's easy. It's quick. It's positive. But fine rarely means fine when you say it."

"Spit it out, Montgomery. Whatever has you acting so weird."

"Ok. On the bright side, we are not nearly as stranded and remote as you believe. I have a very high-tech office, state-of-the-art, all the modern technological gadgets any executive might need to run his firm from this island as if he were in Atlanta."

"A phone? You have a phone here?"

"For starters."

"Great! I just happen to need to make a few calls as soon as possible."

She glanced at the glowing digital numbers on the microwave clock. "Hmm. It is late, but Texas is one hour behind us."

Sheri smiled at him. "See, I'm not in the least aggravated. Please hurry. Time's a wastin', dude. Lead the way."

Although she had investigated his home and found no high-tech office, no computer, no phone, instead of taking her to the stone guesthouse, Troy strolled into the walk-in kitchen pantry and approached a closet on the far wall.

Sheri frowned. Mrs. Johnson did most of the cooking and the closet Sheri assumed held more canned goods had held no interest for her. She never had even opened the door for a glimpse. "I know better than to logically assume anything," she grumbled as Troy threw open the door and flicked on the lights.

Not a tiny closet, but a large high-tech office. In a few heartbeats, she scanned the satellite telephone, computer with satellite connection, web camera for video conferencing and fax machine. There was much more, but her search skidded to a screeching halt at one corner of his desk. She pointed and humphed. "That is my laptop!"

"Welcome to the twilight zone as I like to refer to it, honey." He waved one arm around. "I thought you might be overly tempted by all this technology if you knew of its existence. Thought it might hinder your private rehab and soul-searching."

"I knew it! I knew you couldn't live without all this, Troy Montgomery."

"Yes, well, remember the positive aspects, Sheri. We can run the firm from here. We have the technological capabilities."

He checked his watch before quickly handing her the phone. "Growing later in Texas by the second. Go for it."

"I'm calling Clay."

He nodded. "Yes. I've always known that would be your first call when you discovered the phone."

"Do you have a problem with that, Troy?"

He raised his hands in the air as if surrendering. "Don't shoot. I'm unarmed."

When she didn't so much as grin, or match wits, but instead reiterated her question, Troy sighed. "No, Sheri. No problem with that at all. Not anymore. No more jealousy. Clay is my lifelong friend as well as yours, like family."

That took the sting out of his surprise, his secret hidden office tucked away in a closet connected to the walk-in kitchen pantry. His honesty steamed the starch out of her temper for not finding it first herself. And he was correct. If she had known about it, she'd have chained-smoked while working nonstop as a way to keep running, keep up the barriers, keep everyone out.

"I do love you, Troy," she whispered then dialed her brother's old phone number.

"Swinging D. God bless ya," came Clay's baritone drawl after three rings.

"Hey there-"

But his voice continued and she groaned. "I'm not here to take your call right now. I'm out on a date with a lovely Texan lady, but if you still want me to call ya back much later, ya know what to do after the beep."

Then Clay's recorded voice paused, chuckled, and lowered his volume to an almost taunting whisper. "And if this is," he mocked in a falsetto, "I'm immune to Troy's charm and he's just my best bud," Clay laughed in his own deep tone again. "Then, Sheri, be sure to leave your wedding date, cause I plan to walk ya down the aisle. I've known ya since birth and we're as much family as if we shared the same blood. I'm not Stevo, but he'd want me to step into his big brother shoes. Tell Troy howdy, by the way, and a big congratulations! His faithful patience paid off."

Sheri glanced at Troy while awaiting the beep and her blazing face grew hotter yet. "Answering machine. Clay says howdy."

Finally the series of beeps ended, so she said, "Thanks so much for that public announcement, cowboy. I do, however, appreciate the sentiments. Hope your date is going great! And, Clay, I apologize for how I've acted toward you since Steve's death; forgive me. I know it hurt you to lose your best friend and you miss him, too."

After a short pause, she speeded up to fit her whole message in the allotted time. "I quit smoking. Repented today. Thanks for all your prayers."

Again she glanced at Troy, but spoke on Clay's answering machine tape, "As for the aisle thingy, I'll let you know about the date. He has to ask first. Bye."

When she disconnected, Troy cupped her burning face and notched one brow in question. She snorted. "You do not want to call Clay and hear that tape. Trust me. He's taken over for Stevo and razzing me like his kid sister."

"That good, huh?"

Sheri sighed and tossed up her hands in the air. "No, that bad. I was certain God wanted me to make these calls immediately, right the wrongs, change back into the old me, before I could move forward on His path and His plan for my future."

She rubbed her eyes. "Now what? Wait till morning, I guess, when Clay is home so I can see if he has the truck driver's name and phone number."

Silver eyes narrowed on her face. "God is not wrong. His timing is not off. You didn't misunderstand. You only asked the wrong man for help."

He dug out his wallet and pulled a piece of paper free.

When she accepted it, unfolded it, she sighed as she read the truck driver's name, Marvin Reynolds, his address in Dallas and his phone number. "I'm sorry, Troy. You had it all along. I never figured this. You never tried to cram it down my throat or force me to call and forgive him."

Troy leaned over and pressed his lips to her forehead. "I may believe in the reward system, giving you extra incentives, not even above trying to influence you into agreeing, but it'll never be about outright force. In the end, everything is your choice. Your decision, Sheri love."

She swallowed hard. Sheri knew Troy meant more than her decision to get right with God, get back on His path and follow His plan for her life. It was also her free will choice to change everything back about herself, into the real Sheri Knight; her choice to love Troy; her decision to marry him.

"Thank you, Troy Montgomery. Again. For everything. For being you."

He handed her the satellite phone once more and grinned. "You are most welcome. Now, please hurry, so you can get on with God's plan for your life."

Raking one large hand over the ebony spikes at his crown, he chuckled. "Patience, still not my best virtue. But God's plan for your life includes me and I'm anxious for my reward. So close now, I'm ever so ready to claim you as mine."

Sheri reread the piece of paper and punched in the truck driver's phone number. Before it started ringing, Troy rested his palm on her shoulder and quietly began to pray.

"Hello," answered a weary yet gruff male voice.

"Hello, Marvin Reynolds?"

"Telemarketers legally can't call this late. It's well after nine here! I'm not interested in whatever you're selling and I ought to report you!" He slammed down the phone.

"Oh, no, Troy. He hung up on me."

"Do you feel like you've fulfilled God's requirements to right the wrongs from your season of rebellion?"

"Not at all."

"You're not giving up, are you? The Sheri Knight I know would just get right back up and keep trying until she succeeded."

"Yeah, she would. He sounded really angry though."

"Want me to call?"

Sheri bit her lip, considering it. "Thanks, but no thanks. That would be the easy way out."

She cocked her head to one side. "It's past nine Dallas time. Kinda rude to call that late. Think I should wait until morning?"

"He might be back on the road by then, driving his semi."

Grinning, she cupped his handsome face. "Does it hurt to be right all the time?"

"I'm only human. I'm not right all the time." He grabbed her hand in his. "How about we pray before you try to call him again?"

She nodded, but whispered, "He'll probably think I'm nuts. Calling all these months after Steve's death? He most likely does not want or need my forgiveness, but I'm certain God wants me to give him my forgiveness and apology anyway."

"We don't always understand God's reasons or timetable, but He is never wrong. Jesus isn't demanding; He's asking you to obey Him, to humble yourself and submit to His lead. He definitely doesn't intend to humiliate you."

Sheri squeezed Troy's hand before they prayed. Although she said, "Amen," Troy continued to pray as she dialed.

After five rings, the truck driver's gruff voice barked, "Hello!"

She didn't waste time, or her opportunity once her proverbial foot was in the door. "Hello, Mr. Reynolds. I know it's late, but this is Sheri Knight. Steve Knight's little sister."

"No wonder I had such a strong urge to shut off the TV and answer my phone. Steve Knight's death has haunted me all these months now. Have you finally called to tell me off? To give me a piece of your mind?"

Her throat constricted for a second. "I called to give you a piece of my heart. I called because God wants me tell you I forgive you. I know you don't need my forgiveness, but I apologize it took me so long to give it you. Steve wouldn't want his death to haunt you."

Marvin Reynolds paused for so long, Sheri wondered if she had lost the connection. Then he sniffled once and cleared his throat twice. "I'm the one who's sorry. He was so young."

Her heartbeat picked up speed. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Mr. Reynolds. Steve's death was an accident. It wasn't your fault. No one is to blame."

The trucker cried openly now over the phone. "I wish I could believe that."

"It's true; I promise you. Steve never would have blamed you. No one blames you. Not me. Not God. It's not your fault."

"That's nearly the same thing your big brother said. After they cut him free from the wreckage, even though he was hurt real bad and bleeding all over the place, he asked to talk to me before he let the ambulance take him to the emergency room."

After another loud sniffle, the trucker continued. "Your big brother took my hand in his and told me it wasn't my fault. That he didn't blame me. That now was just his time to join Jesus in heaven."

It sounded so much like something Steve would have done, Sheri stopped fighting against the tears threatening to spill. "Steve has joined Jesus and the rest of our family in heaven where there is no pain or sorrow. He's in a perfect place now."

Marvin Reynolds sobbed. "Steve also said to know Jesus loves me."

"Jesus does love you, Marvin. He loves you so much, He suffered and died on the cross to save your soul and give you eternal life in heaven with Him."

She understood now why God had wanted her to call the truck driver who accidentally sideswiped her brother. Sheri could not stop crying now either, barely able to talk. "Jesus loves you so much, Marvin Reynolds, if you ask Him, invite Him, He'd love to live in your heart too."

The trucker didn't accept right away. Nor did he decline. The silence over the line broke only by the sounds of their weeping.

While she waited, Sheri prayed silently for wisdom, guidance, and for the Holy Spirit to give her the right words, until she understood exactly what she was to do and say now. She glanced at Troy. He had not stopped praying since before she dialed.

"Mr. Reynolds, I feel like God would have me give the phone to my best friend so he can talk to you. He's wise. God truly guides him. His name is Troy Montgomery and he was Steve's lifelong friend. Would you please listen to him?"

"Ok."

As soon as Sheri handed the phone to Troy, she rested one hand over his chest, shut her eyes, and prayed as hard as she could. She didn't know how long Troy talked with the trucker, but she didn't stop until Troy led Marvin Reynolds in the sinner's prayer.

When Troy finally hung up, she whooped. "Victory in Jesus! To God be the glory!"

Troy hollered, "Amen and amen!" Then he wrapped his arms around her, lifted her feet off the ground, and swung her in circles while hugging her. "The angels are rejoicing right now, Sheri love."

"Thank you, Troy. I felt like God wanted me to give you the phone. Kinda like a tag team."

"Precisely!" Troy hugged her once more before letting her feet touch the floor. "We are a team. A winning team, you and me and God. He is so worthy to be praised!"

She sucked in an unsteady breath as the truth stabbed her like a sudden sharp sword. Troy. Her true love.

God had given her a precious treasure in Troy, all her life, bonded first as best friends, then also prayer partners, but now meant to share more in their future. God, in His infinite wisdom, planned for them to be united before Him as one, a holy union.

Troy had stilled also, extremely intense as if sensing the serious nature of her insight. He seemed to be holding his breath; waiting patiently at that.

"I love you, Troy." Sheri closed her eyes. She so wanted to claim him now, but she had a few more things to do first, like change back into the real her to move forward with Troy in the future. And she would, first thing in the morning. "Soon, you'll belong to me and I will claim you as mine."

Before he could so much as blink, she pivoted and rushed through the doorway. "Goodnight, Troy. Thank you. Sweet dreams."

His quiet baritone reached her ears though. Firm, more than confident, pure faith. "Very soon."

Sheri thought sleep might elude her, so wound up for the soon to begin, but Jesus wrapped His feathered wings and peace around her as if pleased and welcoming her back. She fell into a deep and restful slumber uttering a prayer.

When she blinked awake from a sweet dream she couldn't quite recall, joy already percolated through her like a jolt of morning coffee. The alarm clock beside the bed confirmed the predawn hour.

In a flash, she hopped from the bed and rushed into the connecting bathroom. Digging through the cabinet, praying the whole time, she found the box of hair color that Troy had vowed was just her exact shade and purchased before bringing her to the island.

Quickly, she read the directions and headed into the shower.

As soon as possible, she finished, blasted her head with a stream of hot air from the blower dryer, then stood in front of the mirror. Sheri inhaled a deep cleansing breath through her nose and exhaled slowly out her mouth before wiping away the steam and pondering her reflection. Hmm, close but still not quite the real her.

She plucked out the green-tinted contacts and flicked them into the trash. When she studied her reflection again, Sheri smiled at the familiar sight of large expressive navy eyes and long mahogany brown hair.

She whispered, "Yeppers. That's me. Ready or not, here I come, Troy."

Of course, it was not quite dawn. Soon might not happen that second. Although Troy was always an early riser, a morning person, it was a wee bit early and somewhat inappropriate to go pound on the guesthouse door. She sighed and strode off toward the beach.

Caught in the awe-inspiring grips of God's greatness, Sheri dug her toes in the soft sand while sea foam lapped at her feet. Listening to the rhythmic and soul soothing sounds of the crashing waves, tasting the salty tang in the warm wind, she watched as the last star winked at her. The sun hinted at rising over the vast blue ocean, tinting the horizon with a purplish-pink splash.

"Sheri?"

She whipped around toward the sound of Troy's voice, so close behind her. So delighted by God's beauty, the night breaking into a new day, she hadn't heard him approach.

He lifted one hand to cup her cheek gently, and then smiled. "I wasn't sure if you were real, or a sweet dream reflected off the sunrise. Dark hair. Dark eyes."

Troy fingered a long strand of her mahogany hair like testing the texture and his memory before rubbing it across his lips. "You're exquisite."

She blinked slowly, wondering if she were the one dreaming now. Yet, if so, in a dream, she surely couldn't smell his scent or feel the powerful and persuasive intensity of his steely stare. Tall sturdy build, ebony hair, and way too handsome, Troy was a good-hearted Christian man most importantly of all.

"Welcome back, Sheri love." He cocked his head as if listening and then nodded. "Got the green light. Praise the Lord!"

He wrapped his arms around her. "Soon is now and I don't have to patiently wait another second." His head descended until his mouth was nearly touching hers. "You belong to me. I claim you as mine in the Name of Jesus and blessings of God!"

He kissed her, slowly and thoroughly staking his claim.

She kissed him back, staking her claim. Then she couldn't think at all, only feel. So much love hummed between them it could be only the rarest of God's gifts, true love, a precious treasure.

When at last Troy pulled back, she rested her ear over the rapid and reassuring thud of his heart. She panted for air while her heart pounded an echo to his.

Finally he caught his breath and tipped up her eyes to meet his. "Sheri Knight, will you please marry me?"

"Uh-huh. Oh yeah."

"Your beautiful blue tell-all eyes are glazed, sweetheart. Your brilliant mind working yet or not?" When she blinked at him, he laughed. "Brain function? Can you think yet?"

"Think? I'm not sure. I think I'm a bit dazed and dizzy. My world is spinning."

"Wait until I really try to rock your world, honey."

She shivered at the masculine promise, pure confidence, in his smooth baritone. As her husband, Troy would be the man to whom she gifted her virginity.

"We'll be happy. A winning team, you and me with God in the center guiding us."

She believed him. Believed God's plan. Believed their love would indeed be blessed.

Troy must have thought the same thing because then he shot her with a slow, very male, smile.

She cleared her throat, managing to squeak, "Where will we have the wedding?"

"Wherever you want."

"How about here on our island?"

His smile increased wattage. "I thought you might like that. In fact, since I've had a few years to consider what might make you happiest, a wedding straight from your childhood dreams, I have a few ideas to run past you."

"Ok. Shoot."

"Picture this. Sunset. Here on the beach by the ocean waves. A holy ceremony to unite us as one in God's eyes. The beauty of the setting sun gives way to twilight and a canopy of stars."

"Wow!"

"Yes, my little nature lover. And if you'll agree to a wedding on the Fourth of July, think how romantic our anniversary will be every year. On the beach, on a blanket, stargazing followed by fireworks. All things you love."

"No wonder I love you wildly, Troy Montgomery. Sounds absolutely perfect. Yes, thank you kindly."

"And thank You, Jesus, for answered prayer!"

"To God be all the honor and glory and praise."

"Amen and amen."

    Happily ever after!

        God has a plan for your life. Smile and have a great and blessed day!