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Johnny Houston was a gambler. He'd always said it would take an act of Congress to make him quit. He'd been wrong. It was an act of God.
An itinerant breeze lifted the heavy blonde hair from Diamond's neck. She shifted her weight from one hip to the other and squinted against the sun's glare.
The minister was sweating. Diamond resisted the urge to smile. It wasn't a time for levity, although Johnny would have been the first to laugh. It had taken death to get Johnny Houston before a preacher.
Tears suddenly rushed to her eyes, blurring her vision. She blinked and looked down at the grass beneath her feet, trying to ignore the deep hole just to her right. It was as close to a pauper's grave as Cradle Creek could manage and was about to become the final resting place of her father, John Jacob Houston.
Queen's gaze was fixed. Her chin jutted in stubborn defiance, daring the reluctant minister to say one derogatory word about her father or his life-style. She'd hated it and resented him for it. But if anyone was going to pass judgment on Johnny Houston, it would be her or God. At twenty-nine, and as the eldest daughter, it would be her right.
She saw Di's tears. They were as familiar to her as Di's wide, generous mouth and surprising beauty. No matter how many times in their lives Johnny had gambled away every cent they had, Diamond was the one quickest to forgive. It was Queen's opinion that Di had too much compassion for her own good.
Lucky stared blindly at the deep, shady hole on the side of thehill and tried to envision her fun-loving father beneath six feet of Tennessee dirt...forever. She shuddered and swallowed a sob. It was unthinkable.
The minister began to repeat the Lord's Prayer. Lucky 's fingers twitched. And then each of her sisters reached out to her. Their palms touched. Fingers intertwined. But she didn't look up. She didn't have to. As always, her sisters were beside her.
They stood, three abreast at the foot of their father's empty grave, bound by the touch of their hands and the bonds of birth. Marked by a man they'd called father and the life that he'd led.
Brother Joseph Chatham breathed a quiet sigh of relief as his sermon came to an end. From the moment he'd stepped onto the hillside until now, he'd felt the fire from three pairs of sharp green eyes. He knew that Cradle Creek had not been kind to Johnny Houston's girls. But fate had. In all his years of ministering he'd never seen three more striking women. He flushed with guilt as he realized that he'd been thinking covetous thoughts about a family in mourning.
At the minister's nod, the gravediggers began to slowly lower the plain pine casket into the ground.
Queen gritted her teeth and stared, refusing to show weakness or emotion. Lucky closed her eyes as a single tear finally slid down her face. But it was Diamond who broke the silence of the moment. She stepped forward, lifted her face to the sun, took a long deep breath, and began to sing.
It had been good to go home, even if only for overnight, and regardless of the fact that Tommy Thomas, his manager, had thrown a fit the size of Dallas Stadium when Jesse had announced his intentions. The familiarity of family and high school football, not to mention hunting and fishing, had slowly taken a backseat in his life. It was something he missed and had decided last week to reclaim. When his dream of success had become reality, ordinary had disappeared from his vocabulary.
Jesse Eagle of Rocky Flat, Kentucky, was one of the hottest, if not the hottest, country singers in the nation. His career had been five years in the making, but the fast track he was on showed no signs of slowing down.
He geared down as a sharp curve on the narrow mountain road appeared, and grimaced as his tired muscles pulled across his shoulders. It was an unwelcome reminder of how long he'd been driving. He tried to stretch his long legs beneath the dash of the sports car, but his knee hit the steering column.
The car was a culmination of several childhood fantasies, but Jesse's tall, lanky build would have been better suited to an eighteen-wheeler than the interior of a Maserati.
A warning light came on, reminding him that fuel was running low. He looked up in time to read the small green sign at the side of the road. He was less than three miles from someplace called Cradle Creek, Tennessee.
"If I'm lucky," he muttered, "they'll have a gas station. If I'm real lucky, they'll even have a cafe."
He looked in the rearview mirror and then laughed at himself. It was the first time in almost three years that he'd had a chance to be alone, and here he was talking to his reflection.
Cradle Creek was larger than he'd expected. Signs of a worked-out mine at the edge of town and another farther off the road suggested coal, as did the telltale smoke columns rising into the atmosphere. Obviously when the first had played out, they'd simply moved the mining farther up the mountain.
Sunshine glared across the hood of his car and into his eyes as he entered the outskirts of town. He slowed to accommodate a gaggle of half-dressed, half-grown boys carrying fishing poles. As one of the braver ones flipped him off and then laughed, Jesse honked playfully in return. In his youth, he would have done the same. This low-slung car said money, and in...
Diamond. Copyright © by Sharon Sala. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.