Twelve Hours...

When he walked into the kitchen, Mary turned and her eyes widened in joy.

"How?" she began.

"I worked it out with Braxton."

"Really?" she asked, eyebrows raised under her auburn bangs.

"Really. He understands completely."

"And he approves?"

"You ask too many questions. Forget about Braxton. Let's have dinner together for once. You haven't eaten yet, have you?"

"No. I was about to. I was going to make up your plate first."

"Then let's sit and enjoy your marvelous filo."

They sat at their oak dining table, a gift from her parents. He'd really never taken much notice of it before, but now he drank it in. The skirt was ornately carved, the round top richly polished. It was a masterwork of human skill, not a piece of mass-produced flotsam. He'd taken too little time in his life to appreciate such things.

The chicken filo was perfect. The pastry was light and delicate, and the chicken within was exquisite. Mary served it with fresh asparagus, and they had large glasses of white wine, the finest bottle from their cellar.

"I believe you've bested the Kiln's chicken."

"Well, it took me a dozen tries, and I know I'll sound all full of myself, but yes, I did finally master this dish."

He toasted her, and she said: "I have to ask you something, Anton. Please tell me the truth."

Dear God, had she heard somehow?

"Of course," he replied, his entire body tensing.

"I was coming home from the corner dairy this morning and I saw the Wright's in the yard with their boy, Devon. They love him so; you can see it so plainly. And I can't give you that, Anton, not ever."

"It's no fault of yours, Mary."

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