Clay - Accept Potential Bride Dating

Clay snickered again before reiterating his question. "And? Which do you choose?"

"I'm going to accept it, that you are about to start dating bride material."

Disappointment? Is that what that look was?

Done cleaning up the kitchen, she bid goodnight to the three ranch hands, his mom, and Clay. Instead of disappearing inside her bedroom, she stepped out the glass sliding door. Walking barefoot in the green grass, she tilted her head back to take in the stars.

Clay walked silently toward her, but her female radar bleeped, sounding his approach. Draped over one arm, he held a quilt. Then he shook it and spread it out. "So one thing stays the same. Sheri loves to be in awe of God's power, taking in the universe as a whole."

Clay walked silently toward her, but her female radar bleeped, sounding his approach. Draped over one arm, he held a quilt. Then he shook it and spread it out. "So one thing stays the same. Sheri loves to be in awe of God's power, taking in the universe as a whole."

"Thank you kindly, cowboy." She grinned up into his handsome face before falling back on the blanket to observe the night sky. "You can't see the stars from New York City."

"That should be illegal," he stated solemnly.

"Not much choice but accept it. A price to pay for living there."

He dropped to his haunches beside her, looking at the stars. "Speaking of accepting something, you were quick to accept that I'm dating women hand chosen by Mom to select a bride."

Despite the darkness, she could make out the golden glow of his eyes aimed toward her.

"Sheri, maybe I was hoping you'd stand and fight for me. Is it Troy? Are you hung up on him?"

She laughed. "He's my best bud, cowboy. And I'm immune to his charms. That's as silly as asking you if you were hung up on your best bud, Stevo."

"When did you stop loving me, Sheri?"

Never, she wanted to growl. "I'll always love you, Clay; as you said, we're family."

"I meant the love a female gives a male?"

She sat up quickly and wrapped her arms around her updrawn knees. "Are you trying to embarrass me about my teenage crush on you? You were my hero, does that inflate your ego? You were my first young love, puppy love."

He sat beside her, sliding one brawny arm around her shoulders. "Sheri, not counting Steve and Troy, how many other men have you loved?"

None. Sounded pathetic. "Why?"

"How many?"

"I dated a lot, a hundred or so different Yankees."

"How many of them did you love?" When her only answer was silence, he murmured, "How many did you make love with?"

She dropped back on the blanket again and stared at the twinkling lights against blue-black velvet. "None." She focused on one particular star before quietly stating, "I'm a virgin. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

He bent his arm and propped up his handsome head on one fist. "At least you didn't change everything about yourself during your season of rebelliousness."

She shifted her eyes to Clay as he leaned his face over hers. One of his long fingers tipped up the cowboy hat high on his forehead. Even in the dark, she could see the golden rims growing and almost glowing around the kind brown eyes.

"Once upon a time," his deep drawl whispered huskily, "there was a little girl who followed me around like a pest. Yet I had to admire her; she could do anything she set her heart on."

"Then one day, I became very aware of her. Even as she budded into a woman, she silently extended her sweet and kind heart to me. But her brother warned me to keep my distance from her; that she was too young, to wait until she grew up. And now she has."

Unsure how to answer she held her silence.

Clay continued. "That's why Stevo didn't want me to come along to visit you in New York City. In return, you had promised to come home for the summer after graduating. Steve would have told you over spring break how I felt about you. And that I, no we, had his blessings and approval."

She licked her suddenly dry lips and his eyes followed the path of her tongue.

"Are you certain you wish to accept that Mom is doing her best to marry me off?" Lower and lower he dropped his head, until almost right against her lips. "I'll believe it if you can tell me you don't feel anything for me."

Then strong warm lips slanted across hers, brushing lightly, outlining her lips with his tongue.

Trembling from the pure adrenaline pumping through her body, she shut her eyes and let him kiss her.

"Kiss me back, Sheri. Stevo gave us his blessings."

Spinning in a world of pleasure from his kiss, she turned her head to the side. Heaving in unsteady breaths, guards around her heart down, Steve's death hit her hard. She'd never see him again on this world; never hear his voice. When Clay had crumbled her defenses, wave after wave of grief washed over her.

Although she rolled on her side, Clay pulled her face against his chest and her grief-stricken tears broke free.

She didn't know how long she sobbed, wetting his t-shirt with her tears. During it all, Clay stroked one large hand down from her crown to her back, rocking her a little with the other, soothing softly with his southern drawl, praying quietly for her the whole time. Finally, she hiccupped and pulled back.

But Clay beat her to it, lifting the bottom of his t-shirt to wipe her face dry. "Thank You, Jesus, for finally letting her grieve," was all he said.

Exhausted, yet feeling better inside her heart, Sheri bid Clay a goodnight and then fell into bed and a deep slumber.

The next morning, after baking cinnamon rolls for breakfast, Sheri dusted and vacuumed the house. She no sooner mopped and waxed the kitchen floor, than Clay called her to the den. She hadn't seen him even once this morning.

"I didn't bring you here to work like a slave." He was scowling.

"Did a certain cowboy wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?" she teased him. Yet, he didn't so much as smile. Then it hit her. "You're nervous about your date with the beauty queen."

"I want you to stick close when she gets here."

"Need a chaperone?"

"It's not funny, Sheri. These women are under the impression I'm searching for a wife."

Before she could reply, his mom cleared her throat to gain their attention. "Betsy just pulled into the drive."

Sheri glanced at her watch, closer to noon than one. The beauty queen must be anxious to meet Clay. Yet, no one moved until the doorbell sounded. Sheri hoped she smiled; she wanted to shriek her jealous outrage. "I'll get it," she managed without betraying her emotions.

Swinging open the front door, Sheri spied a tall, blond, blue-eyed, gorgeous woman in a formfitting yet not revealing sequenced red dress.

"I'm Betsy and I'm here for Clay," she demanded regally.

"I bet you are," Sheri muttered. "He's in the den. I'll show you the way."

Betsy cleared her throat before pointing at her one large suitcase.

"Of course. I'll get your luggage." The huge suitcase seemed to nearly weigh a ton. How long was this beauty queen planning to stay?

At that instant, Clay rounded the corner and scowled at Sheri. He snatched the big bag out of her hand.

"Howdy, Betsy. I'm Clay." He nodded toward Sheri. "That's Sheri." Holding out his arm, so Betsy hooked hers through his, he added, "Let me show you to your room."

Mashing her molars so tightly together that her jaw ached, Sheri stomped back into the kitchen. Obviously the woman was planning to stay the entire weekend. This was only Friday afternoon. However would Sheri survive a whole weekend watching another woman practically drool on Clay?

Although she did her best to ignore Betsy, the tinkling of laughter coming from the living room, she knew the role she was supposed to be playing and walked into the living room.

Clay shot her with an irritated glance, so she faced Betsy. "Could I get you something to drink? Iced tea? Lemonade? Soda?"

"How about champagne to celebrate?"

Celebrate what? Was the woman ready to toast to future nuptials? Before she could comment, Clay beat her to it.

"I don't drink alcohol in any form. No drugs. No snuff, chew, or smoking. And expect the same from my wife." He wasn't looking at Betsy while he said it. No, Clay was staring right into her eyes.

Betsy cleared her throat eloquently. "All right, Clay. I could live by that."

Although Betsy seemingly didn't acknowledge Sheri's presence, Sheri took slow tiny steps back to the kitchen. Clay halted her retreat by crooking his finger toward her, bidding her to come back to him. After she did, she tried to smile despite her heart aching in steady throbs. Quietly, she asked, "Decide what you wanted, Clay?"

"Yes, ma'am." He held her captive with his golden gaze.

Sheri swallowed hard. "What?" she squeaked.

Betsy rushed to interrupt them. "Ice tea for me. Clay?"

"Tea's fine."

Sheri fled, but returned only too soon with their drinks. After handing one to each person, and setting two coasters on the coffee table, she straightened and smiled. "Betsy, how do you like your steak cooked?" Rare, she-wolf?

"Rare thank you, uh-Sheri, was it?" Then she continued as if dismissing Sheri into thin air. "In a nutshell, Clay, what are you looking for in marriage, a wife?"

Sheri wanted to be anywhere but in the living room, listening.

Clay stood and sauntered to stand about a foot away from Sheri. His smooth baritone coated her like the honey drawl that dripped from his tongue. "My wife must share my beliefs about Jesus, God's will. Our marriage will be man and woman in love forever with God at their center."

She'd cook his steak medium and hope he liked it. Anything to escape this soul deep discussion Betsy started, but Clay kept staring at Sheri when he answered.

Betsy frowned, first at Sheri, then at Clay. Finally she asked, "Do you have a woman in mind for that position, Clay?"

This time Clay swung toward Betsy, taking her hand in his. "I'm truly sorry, Betsy, but my mother placed that ad as she was the one who interviewed you. If she would have asked me, I'd have told her my heart belongs to a dark brown-haired woman with the prettiest blue eyes you've ever seen."

Betsy bit her lip before whispering, "I could color my blond hair to brown?"

Clay brought her hand up to his mouth and kissed her knuckles. "You are beautiful just the way you are."

Sheri shut her eyes to the almost desperation in Betsy's voice. "You are probably the most kind Christian man who I've ever met. Successful. Handsome. Is it a waste of my time to even try with you?"

"You are welcome to stay the weekend at the Swinging D, to visit with Sheri and I. God has told me His will, His plan for my life. The identity of my future wife."

Betsy narrowed blue eyes on Sheri before sighing deeply. "I see. Well in that case, I think I'll be leaving now."

"As you wish." Clay nodded before fetching her suitcase from the upstairs bedroom to load in her car.

Betsy had no sooner driven away, than Sheri fisted her hands on her hips and faced a returning Clay. "Way to go! Run her off, why don't you? You didn't even give her a chance."

Very slowly, Clay sauntered toward her, closing the gap. "The woman I'm after is running. But I'll get her even if I have to rope her and take her to church with me."

She retreated until backed against the wall. Her heart thudded unsteadily; her breaths followed along.

"Do you forgive God yet for Steve's death?"

"Yeah," she whispered.

"Do you forgive yourself?"

She shrugged. "Kinda"

"Ready to tell the truck driver who sideswiped Steve that you forgive him?"

She snorted.

"The choice must be given in free will." Clay braced his arms on either side of her, trapping her between the wall and his chest. "But I'm not above trying to influence you."

He lowered his head and buried his face in her hair, beside her ear. "If you'll only get right with God again, Sheri, then you are the woman who God promised me as my wife."

She shivered as he breathed deeply in her ear.

"It's worth the fight to win back your love again."

Her chest heaved like she had run five miles after smoking a pack of cigarettes. "Clay," she whispered unsteadily. She wanted to kiss him, waiting, as his mouth lowered to hers. All she would have to do to kiss him was tip up on her toes, meet him halfway.

As the seconds stretched out, neither one of them moving, Clay uttered a low groan, pushed back away from her, and dropped his arms from caging her in.

She fled before either of them could speak.

He didn't try to kiss her again for a week. Instead, he would either prick her anger on purpose when she craved a cigarette, or as likely to grab her hand and pray for her.

She attended the Bible reading and prayer in the kitchen every night before the ranch hands, his mom, and Clay went to bed. Then she'd lay in bed thinking, God working on her heart, softening it to Him, softening it to Clay, calling her to repent and give Him complete control of her life for good.

One week blurred into two, and still Clay did not try to kiss her. That weekend though, another of his mother-approved dates was scheduled to visit. The rodeo cowgirl.

At dawn, Sheri yawned and poured a cup of coffee from the freshly brewed pot.

She was covering one hand over her mouth, smothering another award winning yawn, when Clay stepped into the room. His golden hair had been cut shorter yesterday so now the golden locks didn't curl at his nape under his hat. "Good morning, Clay." She inhaled his masculine freshly shaved scent, filling her lungs with his smell.

The smile he shot her, straight white teeth gleaming in a deeply tanned face, dimple winking at her from his cheek, was confidently male. He walked right next to her side, leaned over, and mocked her, inhaling her scent deeply. "Mmm, darlin'. Good mornin'."

"Ready for another blind date?"

"That depends. Are you ready to watch me date another woman in front of your face?"

"No problem, cowboy. Your mom's on a cruise; I'll camp out in the guesthouse at night. Date away."

"So says your logical brain. How about your heart?" He wrapped his arms around her, leaning her back over one arm as his golden head swooped down to brush his lips over hers. Against her lips, he whispered, "How about your mouth?"

She moaned softly.

"You know what you have to do, Sheri, to make me yours and for me to make you mine."

"Get right with God. Hand Jesus complete control of my life for good."

"Yes." His lips hovered above hers. "Free will. Your choice. Maybe a little influence by me, but ultimately your decision."

What should she do? Give in and kiss him, repent, asking Jesus to take complete control of her life? Or with forgiveness seek out the truck driver who crashed into Steve before kissing Clay? Kiss, which would cement them in a triangle with God? Or forgive and get right with God first?

Kiss him now and become a couple first?

Forgive and get right with God first?

Jesus knows your every thought.

Kiss?                    Forgive?

Jesus loves you know matter who you are or what you do.