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Ties That Bind

Sample Chapter
Copyright ©2002 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author.

Chapter One

The tune wouldn't leave Rebekka Massoni's head. Even over the loud bustle at the airport in Paris, she heard it clearly—just as she had during Louis-Géralde Perrault's missionary farewell the day before. Over and over, the melody repeated itself in her mind.

She tightened her grasp on the worn set of scriptures in her hands, the ones with the pronounced teeth marks. The music in her head grew ever louder, as though she were playing it on the concert grand Steinway back in Utah where she had been working until the past week. But instead of bringing comfort, the as-yet-unnamed tune she had composed for her fiancé, Marc Perrault, chilled her.

Marc smiled at her encouragingly, his brown eyes glinting in the reflection of the overhead lights. He stood a few inches taller than Rebekka, with broad shoulders that tapered to a trim waist. He put his strong arm around her shoulders and she stepped toward him, revelling in his closeness.

She still couldn't believe he loved her, that he had followed her to Utah to beg her to marry him. Of course, she'd said yes. She had loved him for almost twenty years, since she was five and a half and he was fifteen. Finally, he had come to love her as well—as a woman, not only as a friend.

"He's about to leave," Marc said. As always, his dark eyes seemed to beckon her to lose herself in their depths. He smiled, so ruggedly handsome and dear that she longed to hold him. His fingers brushed the scriptures in her hands. "You don't have to give them up, you know."

Rebekka took a deep breath. "I want to." She had never expected to willingly give up the scriptures the Perraults had given her to take on her own mission years before, but this same set had accompanied all the Perrault siblings who had served missions. Even Josette, Marc's twin sister who had served in Portugal, had used them in her personal missionary studies. It was only right that the youngest Perrault brother took them to the Ukraine as well.

Rebekka wasn't exactly unhappy to relinquish the scriptures to Louis-Géralde. After all, she had only loved them because they had been Marc's and had saved him from a vicious dog attack on his mission. Now she had Marc himself, and didn't need them anymore. And the scriptures belonged in the mission field. Their well-loved pages fell open to the right scriptures at all the right times. They also warded off all danger, including Bible bashers and vagrant animals. Yes, with these infamous scriptures, Louis-Géralde would do great work for the Church in the Ukraine.

Of course, the fact that he had studied both Ukrainian and Russian for three years before his stint in the army would also go a long way toward making him a successful missionary in the Ukraine, where both languages were still used prevalently. Louis-Géralde had believed he would be sent to the Ukraine for as long as Rebekka could remember, and though she had doubted his inspiration at times, here he was on his way to the MTC in London. He would stay there for a very brief training session before flying on to the Ukraine Kiev Mission.

Marc's parents embraced their newest missionary with tears in their eyes. Other family members crowded around for support. Louis-Géralde had already been away from his family for a year as he served in the French army, and it was hard for them to let him go again. But the Perrault family would always make sacrifices for their faith—only one of many reasons Rebekka admired them. Could it really be true that she was marrying into such a wonderful family?

Rebekka stepped up to Louis-Géralde. "We want you to take these."

Louis-Géralde grinned, his green-brown eyes opening wide. "Wow! You still have those things? They must be ancient! Thank you so much! I promise I'll take good care of them." He fingered the bite marks reverently before tucking them into the new scripture case Rebekka had purchased before leaving Utah.

"Now we can sleep at night knowing you have those," quipped Marc.

Louis-Géralde hugged Rebekka. "I'm sorry I won't get to see you two hitched." He had wanted to, and both Rebekka and Marc would have loved to have driven immediately to a temple to make their commitment official, but Rebekka's parents were planning an elaborate celebration for their only daughter's wedding. Plans continued to escalate, especially since her brother—their only son—had eloped weeks before with a woman Rebekka's father detested. Not that he was too happy with Rebekka's choice either, since he couldn't enter a Mormon temple to see them wed, but at least he respected Marc as a person. By having a large dinner reception at one of the most prestigious restaurants in Paris, her father would get to show Rebekka off to all his important friends.

"Well, maybe you'll get back in time to see our first son blessed," Marc said as he took his turn embracing his brother. He glanced at Rebekka and winked. "Or maybe our second. You'll be gone two years, and we've got a lot of time to make up for."

Rebekka smiled, but felt embarrassed at the comment. True, she had been waiting a long time for Marc, but she had only recently turned twenty-five and he just ten years older—or almost ten years, since he didn't turn thirty-five until February. For the average French person, he was the perfect age to marry, and she was perhaps a little on the young side. They would have many years left together to raise a family. No need to rush.

Louis-Géralde gave another hug to his parents and headed for the international gate. The family watched him go—sadly, proudly, happily.

Marc turned to her. "I guess that's that." He stared into her eyes as if drinking in her presence. He did that a lot, and though it pleased her, she still had difficultly accepting that he really loved her. She returned his stare, loving him more than she could express. The sweetness of being with him was incredible.

The music in her head was softer now, but she still heard the notes. What did it mean? It's probably because I've been practicing it so much, she told herself. It's nothing. She had composed the tune for Marc before her mission, and had kept it a secret from him all these years, with the intent of playing it for him on their wedding day. Then, that day had been a far-away dream. Finally it would actually happen!

"Hello, Rebekka, Marc! Is anyone there?" asked Josette, Marc's twin sister.

Rebekka started, and dragged her eyes from Marc's.

"We gotta get these guys married fast," said Zack Fields, Josette's husband. In his arms he held the youngest of their four boys.

Josette, six months pregnant with another boy, threw back her long, dark hair and made a smacking noise with her lips. "That's right. They look like a couple of big-eyed cows mooning over each other, if you ask me."

"I didn't ask you," Marc answered good-naturedly. He took Rebekka's hand, caressing it. "Besides, I remember you and Zack doing an awful lot of mooning over each other a few years ago."

"A few?" Josette rolled her eyes. "Our oldest is almost eleven. That means we've been married for twelve years. And that means you're way behind at this family-raising business, dearest twin brother of mine."

"I wasn't ready to get married twelve years ago," Rebekka defended Marc. "I, for one, am certainly glad he waited." The others laughed.

"Well, you've been grown up for quite a while." This came from André, Marc's other younger brother who was married and had two daughters of his own. Like Marc, he had laughing brown eyes and dark hair. He was only a centimeter or two shorter than his brother, but he weighed a good ten kilos more. Strong, but definitely not silent, as Rebekka well knew. He opened his mouth to continue. "Marc was just too dense to see—"

"So are we going out for that brunch or not?" interrupted Marc's mother, Ariana, forever the peacemaker among her noisy brood.

Rebekka had grown accustomed to the teasing in the week since she and Marc had announced their engagement, and even enjoyed some of it, but she was relieved when Ariana spoke.

"Actually, we have to get back to Claire," André said, placing a hand on the shoulders of his young daughters. "She's not feeling well, and since I'm taking the day off, I kind of want to be with her."

His mother's brow drew in concern. "If there's anything I can do . . . Why don't you let us take the girls? We'll bring them back when we're done." The girls and their cousins cheered.

"Thanks, Mom." André gave his daughters a kiss and warned them to obey. Then he winked at Rebekka sympathetically. "Good luck with all those plans." He lowered his voice. "Better you than me. Personally, I think you should've eloped."

Rebekka grinned, sorry to see him go. André was her favorite of all the Perraults, except Marc, of course. Through the years, André had never treated her like a child, as the others had. They hadn't meant to be offensive when they talked down to her, but in her precociousness, Rebekka had been annoyed all the same. Even after earning two bachelor's degrees, one in English and the other in French, and having won many awards for her piano playing and compositions, she had still felt that her age separated her from most of the Perrault siblings.

"Then let's get going." Marc pulled Rebekka toward the exit.

The family met at a nearby restaurant, where all the children reminded Rebekka of Utah— there always seemed to be more children than adults in Utah. Marc's twin, Josette, had four sons, his brother André had two daughters, and Marie-Thérèse, their adopted sister, had one of each. Eight children, Rebekka mused. Of course in Utah all eight might have come from one family.

The talk didn't revolve for long around the new missionary, Louis-Géralde. No one to tease anymore since he's gone, Rebekka thought. The next topic at hand was, of course, The Wedding. Rebekka and Marc had set the date for the end of October—only one month away, much to her mother's dismay at the short planning period. To Rebekka, a month seemed more like an eternity.

"Imagine all those years of you two knowing each other and then suddenly falling in love in Utah," Josette said, taking a drink of her milk. She had her youngest son cradled somewhat awkwardly in her lap, making Rebekka wonder if being pregnant was as uncomfortable as it looked. "I mean," Josette continued, "I know you had a crush on him when you were little, but I thought you had grown out of that a long time ago." The statement was more of a question, which Rebekka wasn't going to answer.

"Well, a lot of people in this family fell in love in Utah," replied Zack, giving his wife a loving wink. His blonde hair and bright blue eyes contrasted with Josette's darker features. All of their four boys resembled Josette, though with slightly lighter hair. "We did. And so did Mathieu and Marie-Thérèse."

Marie-Thérèse's smile brought life to her narrow face, which was framed by light brown hair that she constantly tucked behind her ears. "Yes," she said dreamily, taking her husband's hand. "It seems like only yesterday Mathieu and I were there, falling in love." Her daughter Larissa giggled, echoed by the other children. As the oldest of the cousins at twelve and a half, Larissa was nearly worshiped by the others, but lately she had developed an attitude her parents—and all the other adults—found difficult to understand.

Rebekka and Marc shared a glance. They hadn't "fallen in love" so much as he had finally recognized his true feelings and come after her. In fact, their relationship had nothing to do with Utah, but she didn't like explaining it all, especially the part where she had given up on Marc and nearly married another man. Of all the Perrault clan, only Marc's parents and his brother André had any idea of the real situation between the couple.

At least it was finally happening! Rebekka had waited a very long time for Marc to come around, and she was so excited she found it difficult to focus on the conversation.

"The flowers are all set," Rebekka's mother, Danielle, was saying in response to a question. "They should cover the entire reception center. But I tell you, we had to practically pay double to get them to promise to have them done by then. Four weeks is not a lot of time." Her voice was velvet soft. She had gray eyes, high cheekbones and perfectly sculptured eyebrows. Her long, dark auburn hair showed only a few streaks of gray. People often said Rebekka resembled her mother except for the strong chin which so obviously came from her father, but Rebekka discredited their comments. Danielle was more than beautiful; she was stunning. I could never look like that, Rebekka mused.

As if sensing her thoughts, Marc reached out and tickled her arm lightly with his fingertips. His touch burned into her flesh, and she felt warm all over. Her depressing thoughts vanished immediately. Marc thought she was beautiful and that was enough.

"Don't you think next spring would be soon enough to get married, Rebekka?" her mother asked. "It's not too late to change the wedding date."

"Hey, I'm not getting any younger," Marc protested.

"Well, thirty-four is a good age for men to marry," Danielle replied. "Although, I admit it is rather late for Church members. But since you've already waited this long, what's a few more months?"

Marc's mother laughed aloud, obviously recalling private memories. "What is it, Ariana?" Danielle asked her.

Ariana's smile grew wider. "Even four weeks was a long time when I wanted to marry Jean-Marc." As she spoke, her husband cast her a gaze so full of love that it was almost tangible, and Rebekka felt goose bumps on her arms. Though he was shorter than Marc, Jean-Marc looked a lot like his son, and Rebekka could imagine what Marc would be like in twenty or thirty years. He would be as lean as Jean-Marc, with gray peppering the black hair and deep laugh lines on his face. And hopefully, Rebekka would have aged with at least some of her mother's gracefulness. The nearly ten years between them would be evident, of course, but there was nothing to be done about that. What would it matter if she spent a few years alone at the end of her life? They had eternity, didn't they?

Marc squeezed her hand and Rebekka smiled at him. He looked more tired than usual, and she wondered if he could still be suffering from jet lag. She, on the other hand felt vitally alive, if a little preoccupied with the idea of marrying him.

"I love you," he mouthed, lifting his glass of water for a sip. Under cover of the glass, he added, "Let's get out of here."

She threw him a kiss with a teasing smile, causing him to nearly choke on his drink. In an elaborate gesture, he glanced at his watch. "Look at the time! I have to meet with some clients this afternoon."

"What?" Josette looked suspiciously at him. "I don't remember André saying anything about—"

"He's with Claire, remember?" said Marc. "And since our illustrious third partner, my soon-to-be brother-in-law, Raoul, is still out of town on his honeymoon, I'd better be there." He smiled at Rebekka. "And don't you need to check in at the American Embassy to talk to somebody about your old job? I can drop you off."

"That's right," Rebekka said, arising.

"But you haven't finished your food," her mother protested.

Marc's father gave them an indulgent smile. "I think I lost five kilos in the month before Ariana and I got married." Ariana gave a low chuckle and put her hand in his.

"Whatever you decide for the wedding is fine with us," Marc added. "Rebekka and I don't really care as long as we get married." He glanced at her to confirm, and she nodded quickly. How many times in the past week had she wished they had married in Utah before flying home?

"Well, the Swiss temple is the obvious choice," said Danielle. "It's close enough for many of the ward and stake members to attend, if they want. I thought we could hire a bus and . . ."

Rebekka stopped listening to her mother's voice. She'd heard it all before, and at the moment, she just wanted to be alone with Marc. Yes, for years she'd dreamed of the perfect wedding with him, but she had been waiting for so long that even one more minute was simply torture.

They kissed Marc's two grandmothers, one grandfather, Marc's parents, her mother, and then waved at Marc's siblings and the children before escaping outside to the cobblestone sidewalk. Even this late in the morning the streets were teeming with cars and people.

They walked hurriedly down the street together before Marc stopped. "Wait, not so fast. I'm already out of breath. And my heart's pounding." He took her in his arms. "Of course, that's probably because of you. Oh, it's been so long since I held you." He kissed her firmly, his lips warm against hers.

"We should have eloped," she murmured. "The temple was right there."

He groaned. "I know what you mean, but you were right making us wait. Your mother needs this wedding."

"But we could be married now," she said with a sigh. Instead, she was staying at her parents', trying to fill the gap left by her older brother, and wondering when her father would quit making not-so-subtle complaints about her upcoming marriage in a place he couldn't enter. Yes, she could get married civilly in front of all his friends and business associates, but she didn't want to. Being sealed to Marc in the temple of God meant everything to her, and it wasn't as if they lacked the means to travel to the temple, as had been the case with others in her ward. She was not going to let her father's desire to give her away ruin her eternal plans with Marc.

"Just tell me, and we'll get back on that plane," Marc said. His grin vanished and she knew he was serious. "We could be married in Utah tomorrow."

She smiled. "No, let's stay. I—I guess I just wanted to hear it from you." She lifted her lips for another kiss, uncaring of the spectacle they might be making. This was Paris, the city of love; the natives were accustomed to romance in the street.

"Rebekka, I would marry you at any time and place," he whispered huskily. A frown creased his face. "I've been such a fool for taking so long to recognize how good we are together."

"There's no looking back now." Rebekka took his hand and they began walking aimlessly.

"We may not have much time."

She stopped abruptly. "What do you mean?"

"Nothing. It's just . . . I'm so much older than you are and—"

"Only ten years. That's not much—"

"—men tend to die much earlier than wo—"

"—nowadays. We'll manage."

He pulled her close. "I love you so much, Rebekka." His breath was warm against her ear. "So much that it almost hurts."

He had voiced her thoughts exactly. "I love you too."

They strolled together toward the Seine River, a comfortable silence hanging between them. Rebekka realized that the last time they had come to this cobbled walkway, they had only been friends. Her heart had been full with his presence, but he hadn't taken her hand or declared his love as her thoughts had silently begged him to do. There had been couples lounging on stone benches or leaning against the wall, kissing or talking intimately, and Rebekka had envied them.

Marc released her hand and encircled her with his arms. "Want to stop a minute?" He motioned his chin toward a vacant bench.

They hadn't walked long and Rebekka was about to refuse, but noticed how haggard and pale his face looked. "Is something wrong?" she asked, arching a brow. "I've noticed your eyes blinking sometimes, like you're about to go to sleep."

He rubbed a hand over his face and up through his hair. "Yes, I am tired—and that seems to be affecting my vision a little. Actually, I'm exhausted now that I think about it. I couldn't sleep well last night." He chuckled in self-deprecation, pulling her onto the bench next to him. "I can't seem to get enough sleep at all these days. I'm guess I'm too busy thinking about you."

She leaned her head on his shoulder. "It could be the time difference. You've had to change time zones twice in two weeks." He was rubbing her arms, sending tingles into her flesh.

"Maybe." His voice was noncommital.

That worried her. She remembered something he had written in an e-mail to her in Utah—something related to his transplanted kidney. His red blood cell count was lower than normal, but apparently the nephrologist hadn't been too concerned. Yet had Marc ever returned for the recommended checkup? She didn't know. Recently he had seemed so healthy—except perhaps for the unnatural tiredness he was experiencing—that she had forgotten the incident.

Before she could question him further he said, "I really don't have a meeting today. Must be the first time I ever lied about something like that."

"You weren't fooling anyone except my mother. Didn't you see that look your parents exchanged? They understood."

"I wonder how much I've missed seeing all these years." Marc's voice became suddenly forlorn.

Rebekka leaned closer to him, searching his eyes with her own. "We've been through this before. I thought we agreed not to look back. We've been friends all these years, that's important too. And now we're getting married."

He held her tightly, fiercely. "I'm going to make you the best husband, Rebekka. I promise."

They clung together silently, watching the water in the river, the occasional passing boat. A group of teens wandered by followed by an old lady in black, her large shoulder-bag filled with groceries.

"My mother used to bring us here a lot when we were children." Marc's voice had returned to normal.

"I remember your telling me that she used to come here with her brother all the time. And then with you and Josette and André when you were little. That's why you love it so much."

"Perhaps." He was quiet for a moment and then said, "But what I remember most of all was when you and I used to come here roller blading. Do you remember?"

"Oh yes." She felt his gaze on her face, but she kept her eyes on the water. "I do." So many memories—most of them wonderful.

Marc slid off the stone bench and knelt in front of her. "I know I asked you to marry me at the airport in Salt Lake, but I wanted to do it again here, where we have so many memories." His eyes locked onto hers and she said nothing, sensing his desire to continue without interruption.

"Will you marry me, Rebekka?" Out of his pocket he pulled a plush blue box that held a thick band with five large, channel-set diamonds.

Rebekka felt her eyes widen. "You bought it?" They had looked at rings the week before, and she had favored this one, but had been embarrassed at the cost.

"You liked it best. And we can afford it." He removed the ring from its cradle. "Well?"

Tears slipped from the corners of her eyes. "Of course I'll marry you, Marc. I love you. I've loved you since I was five."

Marc eased the ring onto her finger and then cupped her face with his hands, wiping away her tears with his thumbs. "I believe I'm the luckiest man in the world." He pulled his face to hers and kissed her tenderly and then with increasing emotion.

At last they separated reluctantly, staring deeply in each other's eyes as several heartbeats passed between them. Rebekka could still feel the imprint of his hands on her face, of his lips on her mouth. "This is going to be the longest month of my life," she murmured.

Marc grinned and moved as though he were trying to get to his feet. Abruptly he tensed, bringing his hands to his chest. His breathing came more rapidly. "Rebekka, . . . I'm feeling . . . odd. Like I'm going to throw up. My heart's . . . racing. And I'm having trouble seeing again."

A few seconds passed before she realized he wasn't joking. Cold fear swept through her heart. The song she had composed for him began again in her mind. With a strength she didn't know she possessed, she helped him onto the bench, pushing him flat. "Breathe slowly," she ordered, keeping her voice steady, though inside she was thoroughly panicked.

What was wrong? A heart attack? Maybe. More likely it was something else, something related to the kidney transplant he had received so many years ago. Every two years his transplanted kidney had been tested, and every test had shown that it had been working perfectly.

Except that something was not completely right the last time he went to the doctor, she remembered. The doctor's warning hadn't been severe, though; Marc would never have let it go if it had been. They both knew too well that the day would come when the donated kidney would stop cleaning adequate toxins from his blood.

She tried to remember the details she had read about kidney failure. Sometimes there was a slow decline, others were more rapid. The toxins in the blood would build up, causing tiredness. Blood pressure would rise, causing—what? Rapid pulse? A heart attack? Did it also do something to the vision? Why don't I know these things? her mind screamed. She loved Marc so much and yet she was ignorant to all but the basics of the care he needed—or even his daily medications. One thing she did know: many people died from the numerous complications that were possible with the loss of kidney function. And the failure didn't have to be complete to cause death.

"Marc," she asked. "Quickly, tell me. Could these signs be related to kidney failure—or some degree of it?"

"I—" He paused, and when he spoke again his voice was a moan. "Yes. I guess. I don't know. There's a huge list of what can go wrong. I've had some . . . symptoms, but I thought it was because of . . . us. I didn't stop to think it might be related to my kidney."

Of course not. They'd had other things on their minds. And obviously the discomfort hadn't been severe enough to cause him concern—until today.

His labored breathing was growing worse, as was his pallor. Realizing she had no time to spare, Rebekka reached for her purse, searching for her cell phone. Whom should she call? An ambulance. That's what she needed. Better to overreact than to lose him. She dialed the numbers and when her call was answered, she quickly explained her location and Marc's symptoms. "He's a kidney transplant recipient," she added. "It could be kidney failure."

"Our people are on their way," assured a calm voice that Rebekka couldn't identify as male or female.

"I thought it would be longer than this," Marc said in a rush. "In Utah I had the feeling our time together wouldn't be long, but I thought that was because—"

"You're going to be just fine. You aren't getting out of marrying me so easily. Now shut up and breathe."

A grin appeared on his pale face. "That's one of the things I love about you, Rebekka. You don't mince words."

Rebekka held his hand as they waited for the ambulance, keeping a close eye on his breathing and his pulse, which was far too rapid. For once she wished she had majored in nursing instead of languages.

"I'm feeling better," he said after a short time, lifting his head. "I think I just need to take a nap. Help me up."

"No." She put a hand on his chest and pushed him back to the bench. "You stay right there. And keep your eyes closed."

She could hear the ambulance now, and felt relief as men with a stretcher pushed through the growing group of onlookers and surrounded Marc. The relief didn't last long.

"Blood pressure two-sixty over one-forty," someone said.

"Is that bad?" Rebekka asked, already knowing from the grave looks around her that it must be.

No one answered her question.

"Well?" Marc demanded.

"A little high," a man told Marc as he inserted an IV. "Lie still and try not to worry. We'll take good care of you."

They whisked him through the crowd, and Rebekka followed. One of the ambulance personnel dropped back to walk with her.

"Two-sixty over one-forty is an extremely dangerous level," he said in a low voice. "But we don't want him to worry. That could make it worse. He could have a very serious stroke at any minute."

Rebekka stumbled and would have fallen but for the man's quick support on her elbow. Had she come this far just to lose Marc now?

She began to pray.

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