The wedding party stood in the church foyer, waiting for the ceremony to begin

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Marissa had been through so much so fast. It was amazing her only children
lived. Her oldest son survived two years with a broken back when he was three.
He’d died of shock and infection. Her younger son was stillborn, at twelve
months, in their home. A month after his birth, her husband had been killed in
another house fire. In the year after that, her parents had both died in
motorboat accidents.

Her only daughter was only sixteen when Marissa lost
the boy on his wedding day. His father was a year older than Marissa, and had
been present at the ceremony. He’d gone missing soon afterward.

The wedding party stood in the church foyer, waiting for the ceremony to
begin. Marissa was dressed in a strapless wedding gown of white chiffon. Her
hair was styled long and curled, with tiny pearl beads at each side of her
bob. The wedding planner had used her as a model for the wedding dress.

He saw the bride first, as a black-haired figure stepped
from the shadows onto the altar. The white dress, the white veil, the white
jewels – all were white except her eyes, marigold-hued. She was a startling
image of beauty, an alluring figure of a woman of exceptional grace, seductive
and deadly. Her face was long and oval, her eyes a deep blue.

She was smiling. A white lily of beauty on a black background. He saw her
in a moment of self-realization. His daughter had become a beautiful woman with
nothing to prove in her life. His marriage would be all about proving their
loyalty. Her marriage would be an extension of her loyalty to him.

The groom appeared as a small man with a shock of gray
hair, and a thin face. He wore a white, button-down shirt with a tie at his
neck, and dark trousers. His face seemed even thinner than his groom.

Marissa stood in the shadows, holding the hands of her
newly married daughter and her friends, holding the hands of the few men in
the crowd who had been present when they were married.

The song was over. He could hear the people moving toward
the doors, and then the church bells began to ring.

The priest began to speak.

“Marissa, I have brought our marriage certificate and
the ring. I also present a special gift from your father – this bracelet. I
gave it to you before I passed away, so you could give it to Elaine on your
wedding day. It was given to us by our friend from Italy. The Italian family
he had belonged to was a wealthy family in our town. The ring belonged to the
Marcon family, the family whose estate we purchased. I ask that she wear the
ring to our wedding as a sign of our love.”

Marissa stepped into the light: pale skin and black hair
shining in the sunlight. She held out both hands to the priest as she smiled.

“Thanks, Father,” she said, and then she was gone.

Her father watched her walk away, and then he saw the
ring on her finger. The bracelet was made of gold and diamonds, and it
looked stunning on her hand. The men moved away, embarrassed by Marissa’s
wedding. A few men approached her, whispered in her ear, but she ignored them.
She was in her own world. It was going to be a short one.

“Marissa, there’s a party at the wedding venue!”

He had no idea where Elaine was, so he stepped out into the
atrium of the wedding venue. It had been an empty, white church that afternoon
when he bought it two years before. He had no idea how the wedding would
turn out, but he loved his daughter, and he wanted her to grow up happy. He
was a lucky man.

Marissa walked toward a silver Mercedes that had been
parked outside. She was wearing the same wedding dress as the other brides, a
white, strapless gown. Her only jewelry was the ring that Father Branton had
given her. She had on black heels for the walk – her feet were bare. A
couple of women in white robes were waiting for her, and they led her to the
party.

She was escorted to the back of the room, where tables of
candles glowed around them, surrounding the table where Elaine and her guests
were seated. The food was hors d’oeuvres and cocktail hour.

A small band was playing a wedding song when she
arrived. She slipped out of the bridesmaids’ group so that the song would
start with the band.

She walked over to the tables and helped herself to a
bit of the cake, then a dollop of marzipan, then two bites of the chocolate
dessert. She took a sip of champagne and looked around.

As she ate, she looked at the other tables.

The cake on the table was covered in a frosting of pink and
white roses. A dozen white lilies had been arranged onto the cake. At each
place setting, she spotted small bouquets of lilies for the bridesmaids and
herself. She took an empty place for the ring bearer.

She was a beautiful woman. She was no more beautiful than
her husband. They were both handsome, but he had a nice smile, and she had a
cute scar on her face. It was a tiny, circular scar, which had been formed in
a childhood accident. It looked like an insect bite, except it was really
round.

Marissa poured herself a glass of champagne and
slipped it to her feet, then reached for the bracelet.

“Thanks,” she said, “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to
come to the wedding. I’m sorry this is the only time I can be here.”

The music was going faster now. She could hear drums
beating; then horns.

“How did it go, Dad?”

He walked over to her. “All is well. You were very happy,
aren’t you?”

He saw her smile.

“I thought you would be here, in spirit if not in body.”

He picked up the bracelet and looked at it.

“Where did you get this?”

She took a gold band out of her purse and handed it to him.

“My ring. My father gave it to me. He died a while ago. I
wanted to be sure I had it before I let you put it on my finger.”

He looked at her, then at the ring.

“What does it say?”

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