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Cheryl Steele planted her hands on her hips. "Angie, in order to attend your wedding, I have endured the wrath of my director, risked losing the best role of my career and traveled miles out of my way. At this moment, I'm very close to regretting all that effort."
In the small dressing room at the back of an old stone church on the outskirts of Wichita, Kansas, Cheryl's sister ignored her ire. "You will go out to the ranch, won't you? For me?" Angie coaxed again. "It's practically on your way."
"It's fifty miles out of my way." Exasperated by her younger sibling's persistence, Cheryl tried changing the subject. "Your veil isn't straight. Let me fix it."
"My veil is fine. You didn't answer my question."
"Yes, I did. Two dozen times in the past two days. The answer is no! Now, hush." Cheryl adjusted the veil then stepped back and gazed in poignant wonder at the vision in satin and lace before her.
"Well?" Angie demanded.
"You look radiant beautiful . I don't think I can find the right words. Jeff is a lucky man. I hope he knows it."
A mischievous grin curved Angie's lips. "He does. I tell him every chance I get."
Cheryl chuckled. "I bet you do."
Angie's smile faded. "Please say you will go out to the ranch before you leave the state. For me. Consider it a wedding present."
Cheryl sighed. "You don't give up, do you?"
"Not when it's important."
"There's nothing important about a few acres of grass and some rundown buildings in the middle of nowhere."
"It was our home. Our family is there."
"No! It was never a home after Mom died!" Cheryl shouted, then realized she was overreacting. She drew a deep breath and tried for a calmer tone. "I'm sorry. That ranch was the place we were stuck at until Cousin Harriet took us away. She gave us a home, and you are all the family I have left."
Irritated by her sister's persistence, Cheryl turned away and busied herself with the satin ribbons of Angie's bouquet of fragrant yellow roses. "I don't know why you keep harping on the subject."
"Harriet wanted you to go back, Cheryl. It was the last thing she asked of you before she died."
"I know." Cheryl's anger drained away, replaced with an aching sense of loss. She owed everything to Harriet Steele.
The day their mother's cousin had descended like a whirlwind to defy their grandmother and whisk both girls away from the ranch had been like something out of a fairy tale. At first, Cheryl had been terrified their grandmother would come and take them back. But after a month in Philadelphia,
Harriet had called Cheryl and Angie into her study and told them they were to live with her for as long as they liked. She had granted them an opportunity of a lifetimea chance to live where no one knew themwhere no one looked down on them.
And she gave Cheryl an even greater gift the opportunity to study ballet. Harriet had passed away five years ago, a month before Cheryl debuted in her first major role, but Cheryl knew that every step she danced, every triumph she achieved in her career, she owed directly to that staunch, remarkable woman. Knowing that she had failed to honor the woman's last request left a bruised place in her heart.
Cheryl glanced at her sister's troubled face. This was Angie's wedding day. She should be happy today. She deserved that and much more.
"Why is it so important to you?"
"Because I see that you need closure, even if you won't admit it. You're still hiding. You're still afraid, and it isn't healthy."
"I'm not afraid." Somehow, her words didn't carry the conviction she had hoped for.
"Then you'll go?"
"Not even for me?"
With her sister's disappointment so painfully clear, Cheryl found herself wavering. "It's not like Doris would welcome me with open arms. Besides, if she didn't care enough to come to your wedding, why should I make an effort to see her?"
"Grandma Doris is stuck in the past. She can't or won't move on with her life. Seeing you, perhaps gaining your forgiveness, it could help. As for Jake"
"Stop it!" Cheryl's anger came roaring back to life and she cut her sister off with a raised hand. "I don't want to hear another word about those people. Not one word!"
Angie caught Cheryl in an unexpected quick hug. "Oh, Cheryl, where we come from is part of what makes us who we are. Changing your name didn't change that."
"Now you sound like a psychologist."
Drawing back with a little laugh, Angie said, "That's because I'm studying to become one, remember?"
"I thought you were going to treat kids.
I'm twenty-six years old, sis. Four years older than you."
Sadness settled over Angie's features. "You may be older, but in some ways you are still a hurting little girl. I would go back and change things if I could. So much of it was my fault."
Cheryl took her sister's face between her hands. "Don't ever say that. The blame belongs to Dad and Jake and Doris. They were the adults. You were a child."
"You were a child, too."
"I was old enough to know what I was doing. I don't regret anything."
"If that were true, you wouldn't have cut yourself off from Grandma Doris and Jake after Dad died. You can't let unresolved issues from the past ruin your life."
Cheryl looked at Angie in amazement. "Are you kidding? My life isn't ruined. I'm the lead ballerina in a fabulous dance company. What more could I want?"
"But are you happy?"
Was she? She was happy when she danced, but after the lights went down.when she went home to an empty apartment alone Cheryl shook off the troubling thoughts.
"Hey, I'm supposed to be asking you that question. You're the one getting married."
Angie's expression softened. "I'm very happy. I am blessed in more ways than I can count. I am thankful every day. I have even found my true love."
Determined to sidetrack Angie's questions, Cheryl said, "I do wish you and Jeff could come see me dance. It's a wonderful production of Alice in Wonderland, and I love the role of Alice. Our performance tonight is a special one for disadvantaged children. That was one reason I really wanted the role. Most of the cities on our tour have at least one performance especially for children. You know I believe kids everywhere should have a chance to see how beautiful ballet is.
"I wish we could have worked it out, too. But that silly man of mine wants to take me to Hawaii for our honeymoon. Who am I to argue with a romantic like that?"
"All right. If I can't talk you out of marrying the fool, then let's get started so I can get on the road. The forecast is calling for snow. Snow in April! I'd almost forgotten how unpredictable the weather is out here. I'll never understand why you moved back."
"I came back because this is where my roots are. Yours are here, too."
"No, mine have been transplanted to New York, and they're thriving, thank you very much."
Angie studied Cheryl's face for a long second. "I wish I believed that."
"Enough with the analyzing."
"You can't keep avoiding the subject forever."
"I can, and I will. Drop it, Angela. I mean it. I don't have any family except you. That's the way it is."
"What if Jake asked to see you?"
"I'd say, 'Jake who?'"
"He's your brother."
Angie reached out and took hold of Cheryl's hand. "Can't you consider forgiving him?"
"No. He got what he deserved and Eldorado Prison is not on my itineraryso don't even ask."
Angie's shoulders slumped and she nodded in resignation. A knock sounded at the door and she went to open it. One of the ushers stood on the other side.
"Everything's ready," he said. "The guitarist wants to know if he should start playing or if you wanted to see him first."
Angie looked at Cheryl and sighed. She turned back to the usher. "Tell him to start playing, please."
Cheryl didn't understand the sorrow in her sister's voice. "What's the matter, honey?"
Angie held out her hand. "Why is it that the people I love are all so stubborn? Never mind. Let's go get me married."