And he seemed to have found it, or maybe he was just so damn tired that he was ready to grasp at intellectual straws…either way, the words made more sense than the chaotic state of his emotions. In his musings over man’s pursuit of happiness, the sinner-turned-saint remarked upon how such journeys began with one’s earliest pleasant memories, childhood experiences which that same person would likely interpret as his first taste of joy.

All have the concept of happiness, and all would answer yes if asked whether they want it—which could not happen if happiness, and not merely the word for it, were not remembered.

And because he could not remember being happy until her, could only remember being happy when he was with her, was it not possible it was the feelings she evoked that he missed and not her?

The answer, as it tended to be for life’s greatest questions, persisted in eluding and taunting him, a diaphanous outline of truth that refused to solidify all the while skirting the edges of his mind.

It revealed itself only when it was already too fucking late (or as Christians would insist, all in God’s time), the validation he sought making itself clear when they met each other at a French restaurant downtown.

He was with someone else, and so was she.

But it was not the same.


Diana knew she was not on a date.

She only wished she could let the others understand this, too.

The others being students who also went to Helder Meer and happened to be at the same French restaurant downtown where Magnolia’s British half-brother was treating her dinner at. All of them had gawked at Ryder, whose black hair lent an exotic slant to his patrician looks, before glancing at Diana with either confusion or envy.

Some, Diana noticed, looked at her with both, plus a little bit of resentment, too.

She was used to such reactions (just one of the many hazards of being Damen’s little sister), and she would normally be indifferent. Tonight, however, exasperated her. Did nobody notice the fact he was wearing a clergy’s shirt, with the initials of his church even monogrammed on his breast pocket?

He was a deacon, for heaven’s sake. Did they really think her that desperate, to make her moves on a man of the cloth?

Having also noticed the dirty looks coming from the female patrons at the table next to them, Magnolia’s sibling could only grimace in apology, saying, “I am sorry for this, child.”

Since Ryder was only a couple years older, the gravely spoken words were exactly what Diana needed to hear. She burst into laughter, tension easing from her form as his levity helped her see the humor in things.

“Maybe I should play it up,” Diana joked under her breath, “just to make things worth their while.”

“By all means.” Ryder was genuinely supportive. While even he recognized how melancholy made her looks rather unearthly in its beauty, he would rather see her a little uglier and happier.

Which, of course, led the concerned deacon to the question of…

“What’s wrong?”

Diana bit back a smile at Ryder’s frankness. “You’re supposed to start the conversation with something about the weather. You’re British, remember?”

“I also have a red-eye flight to catch,” he reminded her. “So if we could just pretend we’ve done our customary thirty-minute bush-beating…” He raised a brow. “Well?”

Diana tried not to squirm under the deacon’s piercing stare. “It’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing,” he retorted, “if Magnolia insisted that I force you to submit to Confession.”

“She what?” Diana didn’t know whether to feel aghast, amused, or offended.

“Aren’t you glad I took you out for dinner instead?”

“To wine and dine the truth out of me?”

“Figuratively speaking,” Ryder admitted without a qualm, “since neither of us drinks.”

Still nothing from the other side, but he wasn’t surprised. Even without Diana volunteering much information about herself, moving in the same circles meant Ryder was privy to more information than what was written about her in the tabloids.

Most of the paps described her as the mousy and bullied daughter of Esther Leventis, but Ryder had seen for himself she was a lot more than that. Her heart was chaste, in the way fewer and fewer people were able to keep theirs past puberty, and if there were anything he might do to keep it that way…

“Magnolia’s seriously worried about you,” Ryder said quietly.

Diana suddenly straightened, her face paling as she said jerkily, “It’s him.”

“I see.” Guy trouble wasn’t good, but it could’ve been a lot worse.

Diana shook her head. “No, I mean it’s him. He’s here.” She nodded in the direction of the restaurant’s main doors, and when Ryder followed her gaze, he immediately noticed the just-arrived couple being assisted by the maître d’.

The woman was a bombshell, Diana thought numbly, but more like a sophisticated version of Marilyn Monroe…or Paris Hilton with breast implants. Either way, she looked extremely good next to the professor, who looked his usual strikingly handsome self.

Tags: Marian Tee Romance
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