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He rose, his mood darkening. “Self-respect is overrated,” he muttered, and put on his robe. Then he paused, turned, and smiled at me. “As long as I have your respect, I’m fine.”

“Do I have yours?”

“It comes hand in hand with my love,” he said, pasted a kiss on my lips, and started out. “My parents are coming tomorrow. I’d better get some rest. My mother loves to ask questions, so be prepared. She’s a question machine.”

“Ethan!” I cried out before he reached the door. I felt a small panic fluttering under my heart.

“What?”

“What do they know? I mean, about my past . . .”

“Nothing,” he said. He smiled again. “Relax. You have no past. You have only a future with me. Sleep tight,” he said, and left.

“That,” Cassie said, “is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard and something that causes me real concern. You have no past? You? You’re a Heaven-stone. We are the past. We have the heritage. Does he think a few wedding vows will change any of that?”

“He was only trying to make me feel better.”

“That’s like telling the passengers on the Titanic they’re in for a refreshing swim. Christmas trees.”

I turned my back on her.

She’s just jealous, I thought. I hoped.

Can’t she ever be wrong?

She had the final word before I brought down the shades on the windows of my mind and curled into the darkness to sleep.

“I may have made some unintentional mistakes, Semantha, but I’ve never been wrong about people.

“Never.”

Games

ETHAN’S MOTHER WAS nowhere near the busybody he had suggested she was. Perhaps she was intimidated by the sight and size of Heaven-stone and the grounds workers she saw on arrival. Lucille had designed some major landscape changes, especially bordering the gate and driveway.

Daddy liked Ethan’s father. Although he had no wealthy client who came close to us, he knew how to behave around someone like Daddy. They were both on the same page when it came to business interests, the government, and taxes and at times sounded like echo chambers. No mention was made of Ethan’s father’s relatively recent heart problems. I thought he looked rather healthy and robust. I asked him how he was feeling, and he simply said, “Wonderful.”

When I mentioned it to Ethan, he smiled and nodded. “My mother hates hearing or talking about it,” he warned.

Lucille was cordial to both of Ethan’s parents, but I saw how she almost immediately climbed back onto her high horse and spoke as if she resided in the clouds. Ethan’s mother clearly was afraid to interrupt her, offer an opinion, or ask her a question. She spent most of her time nodding and heaping compliments.

All of Ethan’s other relatives and friends were staying at the Glory, where we held the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner. Everyone was impressed with the hotel and the arrangements. Although the rehearsal dinner w

as Ethan’s parents’ event, Lucille was on top of it, and Ethan’s mother was not eager to challenge or even offer a counteropinion about anything.

On the morning of my wedding day, Daddy did something he hadn’t done for some time. He came to my bedroom before I had risen. When I heard the knock, I assumed it was Ethan. As soon as Daddy entered, I sat up quickly. He smiled and sat on my bed to take my hand.

“I’m more excited about your wedding than I was about mine and Lucille’s, even though it was an affair few will ever forget and we had a lot of big shots. When I first heard you were going with someone at school, I admit I was very nervous, but you selected a fine young man. I wanted you to know I couldn’t be happier for you, Semantha.”

He leaned over to kiss my cheek and then patted my hand and stood. For a long moment, he stared at the picture of me and my mother.

“She would have been quite pleased,” he said. “We’ll both be thinking about her when you take your vows.”

He sounded so sad I nearly burst into tears. I saw Cassie sitting by my desk, her head down. Daddy clapped his hands, the way he often did when he was going to make a definite decision.

“But we won’t be sad for even a moment today. Today is a happy, happy day. I’m proud of you.”

He nodded and headed out.

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