KERRI'S WAR (Volume 3 of The King Trilogy)

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Chapter 38

Naples, Florida. Monday, December 31, 2001. 4:30 P.M.

As if prescribed by some supernatural mystical force, wishing to countenance the marriage of Christine Ann Stewart to Steve William Monteith, the weather was perfect, no clouds, no humidity, a gentle breeze from the north. The temperature hovered near seventy-five.

The wedding planner, Naples’ finest and most expensive, had done a sensational job. She admitted that she had an extraordinary site to begin with, but still, setting it up to accommodate two hundred and sixty guests was a challenge. The center-piece of the transformation, a very large gazebo, complete with Gothic columns, was erected in the back yard, just short of the berm separating the manicured lawn from the beach. Elegant white wooden chairs with arm rests and thick cushions had been strategically placed in such a way that each guest would have a view of the gazebo and the beautiful blue Gulf beyond. Tall, stately California Fan Palm trees, planted years earlier, provided shade to most of the viewing area. A quintet, consisting of guitarist, cellist, harpist, pianist and female soloist, played to the delight of the congregation.

“Nice job,” Jamie Stewart said to Nicky DeAngelo, the wedding planner. “I’d use you again, but I’m out of daughters.” He handed her a check and smiled. “This is a down payment. Now I want you to get your people over to the Ritz-Carlton and take this show over the top. Will you do that for me?”

“I’m on my way,” Nicky replied.

Jamie, dressed in the finest tuxedo money could buy, turned to his daughter, resplendent in her full length, white Casablanca designed wedding dress, “Last chance, Christine. You can pull the plug on this deal right now. I won’t bat an eyelash. It’s a big move in your life, sweetheart. Once you’ve made it, reversing it is difficult.”

Christine shook her head and hugged her father. “Let’s do it. I’ll never reverse it,” she vowed.

Jamie smiled, reached for her hand, then signaled to the doorman.

The French doors were opened and the wedding procession began. As father and daughter traversed the huge stone porch, descended the steps, then walked slowly in the direction of the gazebo, the quintet played Joe Cocker’s ‘You Are So Beautiful.’ Steve, dressed in a rented tuxedo, turned and smiled as he watched the approach of his beautiful bride to be. He was nervous, but happy. He was about to marry the woman who was carrying his child.

Jaime released Christine’s hand when she was at Steve’s side. The entire wedding party hushed when the justice of the peace raised his arms skyward. A tall thin man with thick dark eyebrows and a shock of white hair, he wore a black suit, white tie. “Who giveth this woman in marriage?” he asked, his loud baritone voice shattering the silence.

“We do!” the entire wedding party shouted, totally obscuring Jamie’s response and igniting gales of laughter from the guests. Jamie kissed his daughter’s cheek, then took his seat in the front row of the bride’s section. He was flanked by Vicky Anschutz, and Carol, his first wife and Christine’s mother.

The music stopped and the justice began, “Christine and Stephen, today you celebrate one of life’s greatest moments and give recognition to the worth and beauty of love, as you join together in vows of marriage.” He faced Steve. “Stephen, do you take Christine to be your wife, to love, honor, cherish and protect her, forsaking all others and holding only unto her?”

“I do.”

“Christine, do you take Stephen to be your husband, to love, honor, cherish and protect him, forsaking all others and holding only unto him?”

“I do.”

The justice nodded to Steve, prompting him to state his vows.

Steve accepted a gold ring from Tom MacDonald, his best man, then faced his bride to be. “Christine, I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and health, and promise to love you ’till death do us part.” He placed the ring on Christine’s finger.

Christine accepted a gold ring from Dana Snyder, her maid of honor, then faced her husband to be. “Steve, I take you to be my husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and health, and promise to love you ’till death do us part.” She placed the ring on his finger.

The justice then held both of their hands together and said, “Just as two very different threads, woven in opposite directions can form a beautiful tapestry, so too can your lives merge together to form a beautiful marriage. To make your marriage succeed will take love. It should be the core of your marriage. It is the reason you are here. But it will also take trust, to know in your hearts you want the best for each other, to learn and grow together, even when this is not easy. It will take faith, to be willing to face your tomorrows, never really knowing what they will bring. And it will take commitment, to hold true to the journey you have pledged to share.

Christine and Stephen, in so much as you have agreed to live together in matrimony, and by your vows have promised your love for each other, I now, by the power vested in me by the State of Florida, declare you Husband and Wife.”

He released their hands and smiled at Steve. “Go ahead. Kiss your bride.”

Cheers and whistles erupted as Steve embraced Christine and gave her a long and passionate kiss, and the quintet played Etta James’ ‘At Last.’

Monty Kaplan jabbed his elbow into Michael Monteith’s ribs. “Who’s the fox in the third row? She’s sitting behind your mother. She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I think I’m in love.”

Michael recognized her immediately. “You’ve seen her on television. Her name is Kerri King. She’s the president of that company that was almost completely wiped out in The World Trade Center. I think the company’s name is Iacardi.”

“What a goddess!” Kaplan said, continuing his shameless stare at Kerri, who was stunning in her full length black skirt and white silk blouse.

While the entire wedding party retired to the house for the signing of official wedding documents, Jamie stood and proceeded to the middle of the gazebo. He took the microphone from the soloist, and faced the audience with a big smile. “I just lost my daughter, but I’m just getting started,” he said, drawing more laughter. “I want to thank all of you for taking the time to share with me the happiest day of my life. I also want to remind you that the people at the Ritz-Carlton are expecting us in thirty minutes. They’re going to serve us drinks and feed us. I’ll warn you that you’ll be subjected to a number of boring speeches, so be prepared. If you survive them, however, you’re invited right back here, to enjoy the climax of this incredible day. I’m going to treat you to the biggest, baddest New Years Eve party you’ve ever experienced.”

Kerri, oblivious to Kaplan’s stare and barely listening to Jamie Stewart’s speech, was struggling to understand why Steve had behaved as he did. After making such an overt move in her direction, he had failed to contact her again, and married Christine. She wondered if it was something she said or did, but whatever it was, he had dumped her. It seemed odd to her that a man she had categorized as kind and considerate would have done so without making any attempt to communicate with her. She had mistakenly believed that their budding relationship deserved more than that.

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