Odette Peterson has a clear understanding of where the Lord wants her, and that's in the African missionary field. When she meets veteran missionary, Xavier Sand, she embraces their budding relationship. He's everything she's wanted in a man: Christian, kind, and a man who's dedicated his life to ministry. But when he insists she put aside her evangelization efforts and join him in Japan, she finds she must let Xavier go. Xavier cannot understand why Odette stubbornly clings to the idea that God wants her in Africa. Missionary, yes, but she can do missionary work anywhere. After all, he does. Despite all his efforts to convince her to change her conviction, she refuses and Xavier finds himself floundering for significance in his life. Across three continents, and with others vying for their hearts, Odette and Xavier must learn to trust that God knows what's best for their futures...even if that means they will never be together.
Poor deluded soul, which of the sheik’s wives is she? Second? Third?
Xavier Sand tried not to stare. A desert-bronzed American woman, late twenties, milk chocolate eyes―spoke in hushed tones to a fortyish man in a blue turban.
That’s strange. He wears the veil, not her.
It loosely covered the lower half of his face as if to keep wind-borne sand from entering his nose or mouth. But the present storm pelted the airport windows with water and drenched the tarmac beyond. Shafts of lightning split the gray Chicago sky and reminded the waiting passengers that it’d be a long time before flights resumed.
Xavier slouched in the seat and continued to track the woman’s movements with his peripheral vision. Clearly she belonged to this desert nomad―her whole deferential manner attested to it―the way she examined his boarding pass, asked questions at the check-in counter, and reported back. Not to mention her ankle-length dress and long black scarf.
What snared her? His wealth? Power? Certainly not his looks.
The man’s cheeks, nose, and brows looked clumpy like a camel’s. Strange, he doesn’t seem too suave or commanding―nothing to mesmerize an impressionable female―more like bewildered. Has he never flown before?
The woman glanced Xavier’s way and smiled shyly with a trace of dimples. Xavier averted his gaze, embarrassed that he’d been caught staring.
What’s come over me?
No girl had captured his curiosity since Tamiko. He banished the painful memory and looked down at his watch: 4:43 PM. Two hours since O’Hare had grounded all planes. Sighing, he pulled the paperback Zero Times Infinity from his backpack and opened it to the receipt he’d inserted.
Halfway into reading the marked page, his eyes strayed again to the scarf-draped woman. This time her eyes widened, her mouth opened, and she rose from her seat. Now I’ve done it.
He spoke first. “Forgive my rudeness, I didn’t mean to stare.”
She shook her head, chocolate-sundae earrings bobbing. “I’m the one who was staring, trying to remember where I saw your picture. You’re a missionary, aren’t you?”
“Xavier Sand, that’s it. You work in Japan, like your namesake centuries ago.”
“Right, but―” Xavier cast a nervous glance at her husband, who seemed preoccupied with brushing off his long indigo robes, not paying the straying wife any attention.
“I’m Odette Peterson.”
“Peterson?” Xavier stared at her, puzzled. Is she clinging to her maiden name as the only remnant of her former life?
“I know, you’ve never heard of me. Nobody has. I’ve just finished my first term and now have to raise an even bigger budget. I envy you well-known veterans.”
“Wait.” A ray of comprehension broke through his foggy confusion. “You’re a missionary, too?” And landed a husband your first term?
Xavier could hardly disapprove, having fallen in love with a Japanese national and done everything in his power to convince her to marry him. But I was already familiar with the culture, or thought I was. Does she have any idea what she’s gotten into?
She nodded and motioned her husband forward. “Pastor Isa, I’d like you to meet a fellow missionary, Xavier Sand. Xavier, this is Pastor Isa Abakkada, one of the first graduates of Sahara Crossroads Bible School.”
Pastor Isa smiled, showing crooked teeth, and clenched Xavier’s hand. “Good afternoon. I…what-you-say…lighted to meet you.”
“Likewise. Is this your first trip to America?”
“Amereek, yes, blessed country.” Pastor Isa swept his robe-draped arm toward the drenched tarmac. “Very much water and grass and trees.”
Xavier could see where black threads repaired tears in the pastor’s robe. His right hand sported a bulky silver ring, but nothing else hinted at any wealth. Poor girl. How can she adapt to such poverty? Or is her missionary income what attracted him?
Xavier realized his mind had strayed. “I’m sorry, would you repeat the question.”
Pastor Isa turned to Odette and spoke in French. Odette interpreted, “Pastor Isa wants to know if you’ll be speaking at the big mission convention in San Francisco.”
“I’m afraid not. I wasn’t invited. My itinerary takes me into the valley―Lodi, Modesto, Sacramento.”
Pastor Isa smiled again. “I pray God for you. You pray for me. He bless us both.”
His infectious camaraderie made Xavier feel ashamed of his competitive thoughts. “Thank you. I will.”
“And we pray much-much for Mademoiselle Odette. She needs miracle.”
Mademoiselle? Xavier cast a questioning look at Odette, whose dimples hinted at a secret joke.
Odette could guess what Xavier was thinking. Due to her Tuareg garb, people assumed she was married to Pastor Isa. She hastened to clue him in. “As a favor to the national church, I’m assisting the pastor until he arrives safely in the hands of the conference host. Then I’ll continue my journey home.”
Xavier’s forest-green eyes widened but didn’t waver. “And where might that be?”
Unnerved by his intense gaze, she looked down at her sandals. “Davis, not far from the campus. My dad’s a physics professor.”
“I leave you peace.” Pastor Isa withdrew.
Xavier continued, “You mean you’re just now arriving home? Your parents haven’t seen you for four years? What an awful time for your flight to be delayed.”
“Actually, it’s only been three years. We had a week together after language school.”
“Did they cry and cling and beg you not to go overseas?”
She raised her gaze to his, to make sure he was teasing, and noticed a lock of chestnut hair falling over his forehead.Handsomer than his photo. “No, they were quite happy to be rid of me―the last baby bird to leave the nest.”
“I’ll bet.” He glanced at his backpack.
She took that as her cue to escape his disquieting presence. “I’ll let you get back to your book.”
“No, it’ll wait. Do you suppose Pastor Isa would watch our belongings while we stole off for a cup of coffee?”
Lightning flashed as she hesitated. Careful. Remember, a man’s attentions nearly derailed your last itineration.
“We’ve plenty of time, I assure you.” A rumble of thunder accompanied his voice.
One cup can’t hurt. “Sure, I’ll ask.” She returned to Pastor Isa, explained the situation, and motioned Xavier to come.
With a boyish smile, Xavier brought his backpack and thanked Pastor Isa. Then he took her arm and piloted her toward the coffee shop. “So, where are you stationed―Kuwait? Egypt? I’m not familiar with Middle-Eastern missions.”
“Mali, West Africa―south of Timbuktu.”
“And your earrings are made of camel bone?”
Odette marveled at how much male attention her hand-crafted baubles attracted. To show them to best advantage she lowered her scarf onto her shoulders and shook her head. “Nope.”
“Ivory and ebony?”
“Glass. Bead making is my hobby.”
He stopped behind a businessman at the counter. “Really? What do the local artisans think? Doesn’t that interfere with their commerce?”
“I don’t sell them in the marketplace. I give them away as prizes to ladies who come to my Bible study.”
“Clever.” Xavier moved forward. “What will you have…mocha…latté… cappuccino…fermented ox blood?”
“Yuck, you’re thinking of animists on the other side of the continent. People in my region are Muslim. I’ll have the mocha.”
He ordered two. “They don’t drink blood?”
“Nor alcohol. Not if they obey the Koran.”
“So, if you’re evangelizing the Muslims, how do you approach the men?”
“I don’t. I conduct classes for women―nutrition, sanitation, maternity―plus a Bible study in my home.”
“You’re a nurse?”
He paid for their coffee, handed her hers, and scanned the crowded room.
She followed him to a corner, no chairs or tables vacant. “What about you?”
He winked. “I thought you read all about me. Or did you just stare at the photo?”
“I…” She could feel herself blushing. “I want to hear it from you.”
“Of course, forgive me for teasing. I develop websites and media productions for churches, Bible colleges, and Christian schools. With high tech and big bucks I try to do what your glass beads do―entice people to explore God’s word.”
She took a careful sip. “You’ve picked a challenging field.”
“Computer graphics and animation? It’s been my passion since childhood.”
“I mean Japan―the people are so high tech and forward thinking―what can America or any other nation impress them with?”
Xavier chuckled. “You’re right, but only one percent of the population has any clue the Creator exists. My job is to use their media to present His message.”
“Sounds like you love your work.”
He pointed. “Better grab that chair before―”
She did, a second person left, and he grabbed the chair opposite. They sighed simultaneously and laughed into each other’s eyes. A fresh gust of wind hit the window like a burst of applause. Odette felt dangerously alone with him in spite of the crowd.
Seeking relief, she glanced out the window for some sign the storm would soon let up and Xavier would be seated on the plane―rows away. Instead, her weary eyes imagined X’s and O’s in the pattern of droplets on the window pane, as if fate were playing a game of tic-tac-toe to capture her heart.