CHANGE OF HEART:
Clay - React By Kissing Him
"And?" Sheri mocked him as she studied him now, not the stars.
She rolled to her feet and walked over to where he stood leaning against a massive tree trunk. "So, Clay, you think it's funny, no? Then you ought to find this hilarious." Tipping up on her toes, she slid her hands over broad shoulders to test the curly golden locks under his hat.
His voice came out a shade deeper, a notch rougher. "Do you know what you're doing, honey? Are you still a virgin, or did you change that about yourself, too?"
Instead of answering him, she slanted her lips over his. Pressing harder and harder against him, trying to gain every ounce of his attention, Sheri kissed him with the pent-up passion of first love. The kiss was gentle, sweet, and then timeless.
Although his arms had reached around her as if of their own volition, pulling her once more into the comforting haven of being loved, Sheri jerked her mouth away from his. Gasping for breath, she lifted one hand over her pounding heart and the other over tingling lips.
She took one giant step back from him, but he took one of his regular long strides toward her, slowly following her backward retreat.
"So," he purred. "You are still a virgin."
"Don't be afraid to love me, Sheri. Don't be afraid of the strong emotions, passions. Before you belong to me, you must belong again to the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul. Then you are the woman who God promised me as wife, God's will, a union honoring Jesus, promised blessings."
She sat on the blanket before her wobbly legs gave out. Then she dropped back to soak in the awesome greatness of God who created the masterpiece of glittering diamonds on blue-black velvet.
Clay stretched back beside her, sliding one arm around her shoulders, tucking her closer to his side as he began to tell stories about Stevo. Stories she knew by heart, stories she'd never heard before. When she felt his stories breaking through the protective barrier around her heart, Sheri tried to scoot away. His arm tightened around her, holding her in place as if he knew her defenses were shattering to dust.
Then it hit her, as his smooth baritone washed over her, waves of grief. Grief she had not allowed before. Scalding tears poured out her eyes until she quietly sobbed against his shoulder.
He rocked her slightly, stroking her hair, as he prayed for her aloud.
Finally Sheri hiccupped, sniffled hard, and sat up.
Clay sat beside her, lifting the end of his t-shirt to her face, wiping away her tears. "Did you forgive God?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"And Stevo for leaving you alone?"
Sheri lifted her eyes to his. How did he know? "Yeah."
"It'll still hurt, Sheri, but it will lessen everyday. You had to grieve to heal, as a first step to changing back to the Sheri you once were. A God fearing, prayer warrior, true believer."
Then he grinned. "First you quit smoking, then you grieved. I wonder, Sheri, how long before you forgive the truck driver, repent, and completely belong to God again?"
Without a word, although each of his words had been planted directly in her heart, she sped away to bed and an emotionally exhausted slumber.
Since she had gone to sleep so early, she was up cooking breakfast before dawn.
While Clay, his mom, and the ranch hands ate, Sheri attacked the house, mopping, vacuuming, dusting, and changing the sheets. She finished in time to have lunch prepared by noon.
After Clay said the blessing over the meal, the doorbell rang. Sheri rose to her feet. "I'll get it."
As soon as she opened the front door, she knew the gorgeous blond was Clay's beauty queen date, an hour early.
"I'm Betsy." She looked around Sheri at the indoors. "I've come for Clay."
Sheri frowned. "I don't doubt that. I'm Clay's housekeeper, Sheri."
Betsy pointed at her suitcase. "Please get that."
"Ok." Whoa! What all did Betsy have in the heavy bag? "How long are you planning to stay, Betsy?"
The beauty queen smiled what had to be her brilliant practiced smile of victory. "However long it takes."
Clay sauntered into the foyer before taking the heavy bag out of Sheri's hand. "Hi, I'm Clay Dillenger. You must be Betsy Austin. If you'll follow me, I'll show you to your room."
Once on the stairs, Clay turned toward Sheri and mouthed, Stick close.
Sheri humphed and raced into the kitchen to clean up after lunch. She heard them come downstairs, heard the musical laughter of the beauty queen on full southern-belle-debutante-charm-alert.
Despite mashing her molars, her feet moved forward as if propelled by a mind of their own, until she stood in the living room with them. Clay sat on one side of the couch, Betsy the other, facing each other. Sheri grinned and sat on the middle cushion between them.
Clay chuckled, but Betsy continued as if Sheri were invisible. "What precisely are you looking for in a wife, in marriage?"
"A loving union of man and woman. God at their center."
"Me, too!" Betsy almost squealed.
Sheri sprung to her feet, fleeing into the kitchen for three glasses of iced tea. After placing them on coasters upon the coffee table, Sheri sat between them again.
This time, Sheri turned toward Betsy. "His mom set all this up, the ad, the interviews, the dates. Unfortunately, she forgot to find out if he's taken already. He is."
"Is that true, Clay?"
"Yeah, my mom set all this up without consulting me."
"So are you taken or not?"
Sheri gritted her teeth. "He is."
Clay squeezed Betsy's hand lightly. "I know God's will, His plan for my life, the woman who He has promised me." He paused. "A blue-eyed brunette, non-smoker, a woman as devoted to serving God as I am."
Sheri read the meaning in Betsy's narrowed eyes on her; at least Sheri couldn't have him either, not a blue-eyed brunette either. She decided to dye her hair in Dallas.
Betsy exhaled hard. "Well, in that case, I guess I'll be going. Is there any chance for me, Clay, if I stay? If I dye my hair brown?"
Sheri stood, leaving the desperate question hanging, and sped upstairs to retrieve Betsy's heavy suitcase.
Clay frowned at her, when he met up with her at the bottom of the stairs. "Give me that!" He jerked it out of her hand and escorted Betsy to her sporty car. He brushed a quick kiss across her cheek before pivoting to return indoors.
He shook his head slowly. "I knew you'd come through for me, Sheri, but I didn't expect that. Our date didn't even last an hour."
She smirked. "That's the breaks, cowboy."
"Taken, am I?" He slowly followed her backward retreat until Sheri bumped into the wall behind her.
Clay braced his arms on the wall on each side of her, caging her between the wall and him, still with several feet between them. The golden rims glowed until the brown around his pupil was only a small circle. "I want to kiss you, Sheri, and I want you to kiss me back again."
Yet, he made not another move her way. He was clearly leaving it to her choice. As the seconds stretched into minutes, he didn't so much as shift his weight. Finally, with his eyes boring into hers, demanding, asking, he whispered, "Tell me, Sheri."
She clamped her mouth shut to the, I love you, welling up from her heart.
Sheri ducked under his arm and fled to the computer. After logging online, she sent Troy an e-mail, sending an SOS to her best bud.
She spent the rest of the day avoiding Clay, studying his business files, sketching out a computer program specifically written for the Swinging D needs.
He didn't try to kiss her again for a week. Sometimes he pricked her temper, but just as often he prayed with her when she craved nicotine.
One week blurred into two while Sheri attended their nightly Bible reading and prayer meetings. She repented sin by sin nightly while alone in her bed, heart thoroughly convicted to return to Christ.
Before his mom left for a cruise, she had arranged a church social at the ranch for Sunday afternoon. A southern country-social including a catered lunch, horse back riding, good clean fun and fellowship. Sheri expected it was to introduce the rodeo cowgirl to the members of Clay's church.
That's why Sheri decided to stay in the guest cabin that weekend. Her heart refused to witness Clay introducing his date to his church congregation at the afternoon fellowship. To do so, go public before his friends at the Sunday service and social, would add weight to the date, making it a more serious relationship.
The next Friday morning, Sheri toted a load of clean clothes upstairs to Clay's bedroom. She pushed the door open with one hand. There was Clay, on his knees beside the bed, open Bible on the mattress before him, praying softly with his eyes shut. She spun away without disturbing him, his image burned into her brain, into her heart. Yes, she wanted to share with Clay that intimate relationship with the Lord.
Sheri snagged the ringing phone in the kitchen. "Swinging D." She no sooner broke into a relieved grin upon hearing her best bud's voice, than Clay walked into the kitchen.
"Who is it?" he asked quietly.
"Troy. No, I was talking to Clay." That's the problem. She could hardly talk openly to her best friend about her feelings for Clay with Clay standing there, larger than life, listening. "So where have you been?"
"A special woman pulled me away from work for a few days."
She laughed. "I should have guessed. Listen, Troy, can I call you back later? I really can't talk right this second."
Troy snorted. "Clay's standing right beside you?"
"Yes. Talk to you later."
"Chicken," Troy taunted her.
"Bye, Troy," she rushed, ignoring his challenge before hanging up.
Clay crossed his arms over his chest. "Why can't you tell me everything like you do Troy? I want you to. Sorry to say, but it makes me jealous."
"Jealousy is a sin, you know," she reminded him quietly.
"Yes. Speaking of jealousy, are you going to chase off my rodeo cowgirl date in less than an hour?"
"Actually, I'm going into Dallas today. You're on your own, cowboy."
He slid one knuckle under her chin to tip her eyes to his. "To forgive the trucker?"
"Uh-huh. Then I thought I'd stay in the guesthouse, since your mom left for a cruise." She cleared her throat. "I-um was wondering if I could attend church with you Sunday morning?"
A wide smile broke across his handsome tanned face, pitting the dimple. "Thank You, Jesus. It would be my utmost pleasure to escort you to church Sunday. How about I come along to Dallas with you?"
Despite him oozing southern gentleman charm, essence of cowboy, Sheri gritted her teeth. "You can't come along. You've got a hot date."
"Without my personal bouncer as chaperone? My Knightess in shiny armor?" He tilted his head back and laughed. "I'm coming with you even if I have to bring the rodeo queen along."
Very quietly, Sheri asked, "Would you want to see me with another man?"
His laughing countenance clouded over like a storm and scowled at her. "Not at all."
She reached for his hand. "Neither do I. I don't want to be a third wheel to your date."
"You know what you have to do, honey, for me to be able to claim you. Forgive. Repent. Hand God total control of your life again. You can't change me, so you'll have to change everything back about yourself, Sheri. Be the Sheri I'm in love with again."
She gasped, glancing up to see his heart exposed in his golden brown gaze.
"Tell me what you wanted to tell Troy."
She squeezed her eyes tightly together.
"Tell me, sweetheart."
She stared at her tennis shoes like they were the most fascinating thing she'd ever seen while she spoke in little more than a whisper. "It's a full-fledged red alert. The embers from the torch I carried for you have burst into a blaze. I still love you."
Clay stroked one knuckle over her closest cheekbone. "So besides attending church services with me on Sunday, will you agree to be my date to the Sunday social? A real date, Sheri. A real kiss afterwards."
"What about your rodeo cowgirl date?"
He smiled before walking into the den and opening the drawer with the six women's pictures and letters. He pulled out one and punched numbers into the phone.
After following him, Sheri did as Clay had done to her. She listened to the one-sided conversation.
"Hello, Rhonda? This is Clay Dillenger. Sorry it's so last minute, but I have to break the date my mom set up." He paused, obviously listening, before adding, "She did it all without my knowledge, just as I explained when I called you two weekends ago. If Mom would have consulted me, I'd have told her I'm already in love, obeying God's will concerning my future wife."
Her knees gave way when he said that and Sheri dropped back in the chair.
"May God bless you too, Rhonda. God's got a plan for your life, including your future husband. Bye."
Should Sheri attend only church with him? Or should she also agree to be his date to the church fellowship at his ranch?
How much will Sheri unlock her heart?