CHANGE OF HEART:
Troy - Kiss Him
Troy gently tugged on a lock of her long blond hair. "I thought you were embracing change?" he challenged in his own way of taunting her, daring her. "But if you're too afraid . . .?"
Sure enough, he might as well as called her a chicken. Goaded into action without logically listing out the wisdom of it, Sheri lifted one hand to test the razor-stubble texture of his shadow-darkened jaw. With a last ditch effort to salvage their familiar relationship, Sheri did what she had always done. She pecked a kiss on his handsome cheek.
He shook one finger at her, shaking his head. "Nothing new about that. Kiss me, Sheri, for real."
"You'll regret it, when it ruins what we have."
"Kissing me will enhance our love, our bond, not ruin it. Try it, a small taste of what we can share when you stop backsliding, a sample of our future."
She sat up a little straighter before leaning toward him, raising her face to his. Focused on his mouth, she slanted her lips over his, brushing as lightly as a flittering butterfly.
Only it was her heartbeat that sprouted wings and fluttered wildly. When the beat pounded, Sheri slanted her mouth over his again and pressed harder. Sliding her arms around his neck, she pulled him closer.
That must have been all the encouragement Troy needed because he wrapped one arm around her back and fitted one hand on the back of her head, holding her in place. Then the tempo altered, an exchange of power, as he took control of the kiss. Gentle, timeless, more expression of affection, love, than mere passion.
From somewhere, over the howling wind and buffeting rain, Sheri heard a throaty groan. Twice. Brain so fogged she could barely form a thought, it took her a while to realize the sound had come from her, a feminine moan. She jerked back, panting, heart pounding like a bass drum leading the parade, staring at the man who caused all the commotion inside her.
Troy heaved unsteady breaths, silver eyes hooded, before he raked a shaky hand over the short raven spikes on his crown. "Whew!" Then he shot her with a streak of white gleaming teeth in a show of purely masculine satisfaction.
Sheri held up one hand to halt anything he might say. Her hand trembled, so she lowered it and her eyes. She had never experienced a kiss, which spoke of so much love without a word uttered. And with Troy! How could this possibly be happening with her best friend?
"Well?" he queried quietly.
"Wow," she whispered, at a loss for words. Oh, pure genius!
He slid one finger under her chin and tipped up her face until she met his eyes. Then he notched one ebony brow in query and waited for her to speak.
"You're my best friend," she stated weakly.
Sheri pointed one finger at him accusingly. "You're male! A potent one at that!" she practically shouted in a when-did-that-happen mixed with a how-dare-you-be-a-man tone.
He actually laughed at her. "Yes, ma'am. And kissing you was so very wonderful. I should have tried that long ago when I became aware of my best friend as female."
Sheri hopped to her feet. "Well, we are not kissing again. Never."
"Don't count on it." Troy stood, too, towering over her, until he lowered his face to her level. "Never is a long time, honey. Don't run from me. Don't you know it brings out every hunting instinct I have to issue chase?"
She rubbed one hand over her forehead, trying to massage out her bewilderment, then down to cover her eyes.
"I love you, Sheri Knight. I'm in love with you. Jesus wants to heal your heart, change it back. Please hurry and get right with God, His plan for your life. I want to marry you."
Sheri uttered a strangled sound of exasperation. He was talking crazy! So she felt his forehead for signs of a raging brain fever. "No temperature," she mumbled before she tossed her hands in the air. "Goodnight, Troy. Maybe you'll have come to your senses my morning. I hope."
Halfway up the stairs, she paused at Troy's quiet questions.
"Didn't you enjoy kissing me? The small sample of our future together as husband and wife?"
She shivered and gulped. Enjoyed it? She'd never experienced anything so magnificent. Never felt so loved.
And it all hinged on her relationship with God, as the Bible warned against believers loving non-believers. Ok, so she wasn't exactly a non-believer, but a backslid Christian. Troy had gifted her with another huge incentive to repent and turn from her season of rebellion.
"Yeah, best kiss of my life. Pretty slick trick, Troy."
As she figured, he laughed confidently. "Think about it. Pray about it. Sweet dreams, Sheri."
Think about it? She wondered after she lay in bed. That's all she could do. Troy. Was she falling in love with her best friend?
The tropical storm increased in power. Trumpeting blasts of wind and the pounding patter of rain combined like an orchestra out of control, mirroring the storm raging inside her. The howl carried on the wind matched the lonely call of her heart, as it throbbed painfully, pounding against her ribs on up to her head as thoughts of Troy assailed her.
So what if he was the best kisser she'd ever known. He was her best friend, right? What happened to their safe platonic relationship?
She tossed and turned, sleeping restlessly, until finally she gave up. How much were her own thoughts or desires and how much of it was Jesus whispering into her heart, Holy Spirit convicting her, she didn't know. After walking over to the mirror, her reflection showed an exhausted green-eyed blond, complete with dark circles under her eyes to testify to a long, hard, night. "Ugh."
Right then, Sheri concluded that she needed to attend church services. Although God had given her free will to choose, He was trying to call her back to Him, calling her back to His plan for her life. And Sheri wanted to know His plan. She wanted to know if it included Troy as her future husband. Distressed at how much she hoped it were true, she dressed and applied make-up in an attempt to hide her rough night.
When she walked into the kitchen for a cup of morning coffee, Troy was sitting in the same chair as the night before, Bible open before him, as if he hadn't left her alone in the house during the storm.
He waited until she sat at the kitchen table and sipped her coffee before he grunted. "You look awful."
"Oh, thanks so much, Troy." He, naturally, looked his usual gorgeous self. "No wonder I enjoy being around you; you're obviously great for my ego." Although she could always depend upon his honesty; telling the truth was but one trademark of his integrity.
He ignored her sarcasm, honing in on the problem. "Couldn't sleep, huh?"
"Not much," she admitted.
Sheri paused. All her life, she shared this relationship with Troy, the freedom to tell him everything from rambling ideas to her deepest secrets. Surely one real kiss shouldn't take away that trust and freedom? "Thinking," she finally replied.
"Thinking about what?"
She snorted and arched one brow. He truly appeared clueless and waiting for her to tell him. No signs of male smugness. "Thinking about you and that kiss."
Ah, sure, now he grinned and masculine satisfaction practically radiated from him. "And," he asked, "your logical mind concluded what?"
"I'm not so sure my left-brained logical side was in charge."
"Is that so?"
After another sip of coffee, Sheri took a cleansing breath through her nose and blew it out her mouth. "I want to go to the mainland today. I want to go to church."
Smiling at his excitement, she slid her hand to cover his. "Yeah, handsome." Sheri inclined her head toward the kitchen window. "It's too windy for a helicopter. The Johnsons have your boat. So, how do we get there through this storm?"
Troy shook his head then closed his eyes for a moment or two. He was thinking, praying, as he often shut his eyes to draw upon the source of Infinite Intelligence, awaiting God to direct his decisions.
She knew him so well. For a few heartbeats, she envied him. His complete commitment to Christ. His faith. His ability to trust in and rely upon the still small voice from within as God guided Troy.
Sheri used to have all those things, too, and was unprepared for the ache of longing to have them again. She shut her eyes and listened, but her heart had hardened during her season of rebellion. All she could hear for certain was the raging tropical storm winds and rain outdoors.
Sheri opened her eyes and sighed. "Maybe we should just tune in the radio, or turn on the television to a Christian broadcast."
Troy opened his eyes, too. "We could, but I thought you wanted to attend church on the mainland?"
She shrugged. "I thought I did too."
He smiled, slowly. "Then get ready to get wet. You'll need to bring along a change of dry clothes."
Pulled by his magnetic charm, she responded to his smile with one of her own. "Swimming, are we?"
Troy grabbed her hand, pulling her to stand, and pressed a tender kiss upon her forehead. "Come with me."
Sheri followed him a short distance away, through the kitchen pantry, and stopped at what appeared to be a closed closet door. But when Troy entered, and flipped on the lights, she gasped. What she had supposed was just another closet to store canned goods, and had therefore not interested her enough to investigate so far, was instead a very large room. A very large high-tech room!
She glanced around. Satellite phone. Computer with satellite connection also, complete with online capabilities, fax, scanner, and video conferencing. State-of-the-art. Everything a polished professional would need to run his successful security software empire from this island.
Precisely what she expected from an executive in charge. His island get-away, yet, if he chose, capable to interact as if he were still in Atlanta.
Sheri growled and squeezed his hand none too gently before pointing toward one corner of his desk. "That's my laptop!"
"That must make this room the twilight zone."
Troy returned her squeeze, only much more gently, before his innocent boyish grin flashed her way. "Yeah, that's what I call it."
She humphed him. "I couldn't imagine you doing without."
He nodded, speaking softly, seriously, "You know me only too well, better than anyone else on earth."
But even before she could squirm under his intensity, as if Troy feared she would run from the truth again, he picked up his satellite telephone and had placed a call. Within moments, he disconnected. From the one-sided conversation she heard, Sheri understood that someone was coming to pick them up.
Raising one brow in question, she smirked. "Let me guess. We're traveling by submarine?"
His short bark of laughter accompanied his shaking head. "No, sorry. Didn't think of that. I'm sure it would be a much less turbulent ride during this storm."
She frowned, suddenly frightened. Just because she decided she wanted to attend church, Troy and the sea captain were to risk their lives? "Troy, maybe we shouldn't-"
"Easy, sweetheart." He placed his index finger over her lips, silencing her. "It's ok. Satan would love to burden you with more needless guilt and stop you from returning to God."
After he removed his finger, Troy intertwined their fingers, bowed his head and shut his eyes. "Jesus, we ask You to place Your hedge of protection around us and thank You for keeping us safe."
"Amen," she agreed.
He pointed his finger toward the doorway. "Out. Now. Before you are overly tempted by the lifeline of technology."
When her laughter greeted his teasing yet imperious tone, he escorted her from the room. "I'd highly suggest bringing along a set of dry clothing. You get yours and I'll get mine. Then I'll wrap them, and us, in slickers."
Back downstairs with her change of clothes tucked up under her arm, before Troy returned from the guesthouse, Sheri re-entered Troy's office. She checked her watch and nodded once. Texas was an hour behind, too early yet for church services there, so she picked up the phone and punched in her brother's old number.
"Swinging D. G'mornin' and God bless ya," answered a deep drawl.
"Sheri! Howdy. I was just praying for you. Again."
She swallowed convulsively. "Thanks."
"You're most welcome. How are ya doin'?"
"How are you doing? With the mother-approved, potential bride, match-making dates?"
He grunted. "I'm surviving them. How are ya surviving the private island rehab with Troy? Speaking of Troy, . . . where is he? And is he taking extra special care of ya?"
"He's still Troy, my best bud, always with a protective eye my way."
Clay paused for a few heartbeats. "I think Troy has more than a protective eye your way, even if you claim to be non-susceptible to his charms."
"Yes, well, maybe I am after all." She glanced toward the doorway as the gorgeous good-hearted man in question cleared his throat. He did not appear one iota pleased.
"He's listening now, huh?"
"You in love with Troy, Sheri?"
"Maybe," she whispered before speaking normally. "Since Troy's kept the phone a big secret, I haven't been able to check on how your dates were going, or apologize for how I've acted toward you since Stevo's death. I-uh also wanted you to know, I'm going to attend church at the mainland today."
"Thank You, Jesus," Clay praised. Within a few seconds though, he asked, "Aren't you in the middle of a tropical storm?"
"Yes. Would you keep us in prayer for the next little while?"
"Yeah," Clay answered. "God already laid you on my heart, although I didn't understand why at the time."
Sheri chanced another glance at Troy. His glare could have frozen fire. "Thanks, Clay. Please give your dates a real chance. Gotta go for now. Goodbye."
"Bye, Sheri. Tell Troy I said hi," he added with a chuckle.
After hanging up, Sheri turned to Troy with a tentative smile. "Clay said to tell you hi."
"It certainly didn't take you long to call him, after you discovered the whereabouts of the phone," he remarked in a much more quiet, deeper, baritone than his usual speaking voice.
Uh-oh. Troy was livid! All the signs were there, pointing out his anger. Arms crossed over his chest, although he managed to lean against the doorway with ankles crossed, too, as if nonchalantly. Silver eyes appeared a cross between molten steel and dark gray storm clouds.
Troy pushed off from the doorway and strode her way. At first, he said nothing. Instead, he snatched her dry clothes from under her arm and rolled them inside a slicker. His jaw muscles pumped and jumped as if he were gritting his molars. When he had finished with his task, he tossed two wrapped bundles into a chair and turned his full attention on her.
Although he gently tipped up her face until their eyes locked, like he was searching her soul, his furious whisper demanded the truth. "Are you over Clay?"
Sheri rolled her eyes, trying to lighten his intensity with teasing. "Jealous?"
"Yes," he said succinctly. "I am. It's a sin that leaves a wretched taste in my mouth."
"Clay was my brother's best friend. I've known him forever."
Troy nodded curtly. "But you were also hung up on him for years, Sheri. In love with him."
She tossed her hands in the air. "How many times do I have to tell you? What I felt for Clay was a serious crush, puppy love, and I outgrew it!"
Releasing her uplifted face, Troy rubbed one hand over the nape of his neck. "I'm a Christian, honey, but as you know, that still makes me human. An imperfect man. Neither a saint, nor platonic in my feelings for you."
He raked one hand down his handsome features before taking her hand in his. "I'm in love with you. And I don't share."
A boat horn blasted, announcing the arrival of their ride.
Sheri pulled to free her hand from his, but Troy held fast. "Time to go." As if to punctuate her words, the boat horn blared twice more. "Let go."
Instead, Troy pulled her toward him and lowered his face to her level. "No. I won't let you go. You belong to me, Sheri."
She huffed out an irritated breath. In her own low tone of warning, she announced, "I don't belong to you, Troy. Until I repent and forgive, turn from my season of rebellion, I don't even belong to God."
"Oh, but you do belong to God. His Seal was stamped upon when you invited Jesus to live in your heart. He's calling you back to Him. And as soon as you hand Him complete control of your life again, for good, He has promised me that I can claim you as His choice for my wife. Never doubt it, Sheri. For all our lives, through all our bonds tying us together, you belong to me."
Before she could process it or sputter an angry reply, Troy slapped his palm against his forehead.
Then he laughed and pulled her into a quick hug. "I finally get it. First Satan attacks your vulnerable spot and then mine. The devil really wants to stop you from repenting. He'll use any weapon, even trying to stir up strife, hasty unwise words, between us. If you foam with anger, your attitude toward Christ, toward turning your heart from unforgiveness and rebellion, won't likely happen. Even if you do go to church today."
He was right. Sheri felt much less like attending church. Much less inclined to take on a tropical storm just to reach the mainland. Unsure if her fury was reasonable for the situation, struggling for composure, she blew out a deep breath from her mouth.
Troy slung a slicker around her head and shoulders. "Come on, sweetheart. Before Captain James Connery blows more than his horn."
When her feet remained planted, Troy added, "I'm sorry I got jealous. I'm sorry I made you mad. Don't run from God or me now, Sheri. Let Jesus heal your heart, change you back."
While he wrapped a yellow slicker around his body, she debated in her heart. They had been attacked by the devil. Troy loved her and she very probably was in love with him. Should she accept it? Or should she hold to her anger?
She needed to decide if fighting the storm to attend church was a waste of all their time and efforts. In her heart, in this moment, she had to choose which path of life-altering change she would follow.
Should she attend church, heart open, ready to repent, ready to accept God's plan for her life, ready to accept Troy as more than her best friend?
Or should she allow Troy's words to stew and brew in a heart steeped in unforgiveness, walls up and shutting everyone out, unwilling to so much as grieve her brother yet, angry at God and the rest of the world?
A long loud blare reminded her of the waiting boat. Procrastination over. Time to go. Time to decide.
Acceptance would free her only after facing her pain. Anger would keep her from God, but safe from shattering her protective barriers and from facing her unbearable pain.
Which path of life altering change should she follow? Accept God's plan for her life and attend church with Troy? Hold on to her anger, unwilling to accept Troy or God's plan?
Torn, heart as turbulent as the stormy waves.
Does Sheri brave the storm?