December 01, 2003 12:00 PM

We still haven’t decided on curtains for the dining room,” says 21-year-old LeAnn Rimes, showing off the brand-new French provincial-style Nashville mansion she shares with Dean Sheremet, her husband of 21 months, and their seven dogs. “We agree on linen, just not whether we want patterned or nonpatterned.”

“I’m for nonpatterned,” says Sheremet, 22, an affable dancer turned actor and writer.

“It’s not really a pattern.”

“Yours has color in it though.”

“Just brown and green.”

Sheremet, smiling, has the last word: “That’s all I’m saying.”

This mild exchange is as close as the newlyweds come, they say, to marital strife. In fact, after well-publicized feuds with her record label and her father, most aspects of Rimes’s life have changed from a stormy ride to smooth sailing. In addition to her marriage, her majority and her new manor, she has a new record, LeAnn Rimes Greatest Hits (To Be Continued), which features 11 Top 10 hits. “It’s a little freaky to know I’ve been in the business that long,” says the Grammy-winning country singer, who was discovered at 12. Unlike other former child stars, she says, “there’s gonna be no E! True Hollywood Story about me. They wouldn’t have a lot to say.” Partly that’s because, she says with a laugh, “it’s all been said, God knows.”

Certainly there’s less time for turmoil now that she’s focused on navigating the unknown territory of shared domesticity. “It’s great to have somebody clean up after me,” she says, joking. For his part, Sheremet is surprised that his wife is as down-to-earth as she is. “She’s not a diva,” he says. “She cleans. She cooks. She picks up dog poop. I’ve got her domesticated now.”

Rimes does remain a bit kitchen-challenged, so Michigan-raised Sheremet mostly handles the stove, whipping up her favorite dish, grilled chicken stuffed with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. Organizing is more to her liking. “I’m a little neurotic that way,” she says. “One day when I have time, I’ll really enjoy doing things around the house.”

The newlyweds are also learning to cooperate about money matters. Sheremet bought his bride a large, cushion-cut, pink diamond ring for her 21st birthday in August. “It was kind of a surprise,” says Rimes. He explains, “I had to tell her about it before she saw the checking account balance!”

The pair met at a party in early 2001, began dating after he appeared as her backup dancer at an awards show that May and got engaged seven months later. Since then they’ve coauthored a children’s book, Jag, and are cowriting songs. (He leaves the singing to her. “I can carry a tune,” he says, “but if s like playing basketball in front of Michael Jordan.”) “The biggest luxury for me is when Dean and I can be out of the public eye,” says Rimes. “Thank God he’s not famous. He had a normal high school experience, so he brings a different perspective.”

The price Rimes paid for her precociousness was dear. Raised in Garland, Texas, by her dad, Wilbur, 51, a salesman turned music producer, and mom Belinda, 51, who now runs Rimes’s fan clubs, she began singing at 18 months and won her first talent contest at 6. Signed by Curb Records at 12, she grew up on the road. “I’ve always had a tender place in my heart for LeAnn,” says fellow country artist Wynonna Judd. “It’s a hard thing to walk the line between your personal happiness and what’s expected of you.”

Rimes’s early career was what she calls “a mom-and-pop operation.” But her parents divorced in 1997, and in 2000 Rimes, then 18, and her mother sued to break her contract with Curb Records. (She ended up re-signing with them a year later.) They also filed suit against her father, claiming that he’d bilked her out of $7 million in earnings. The suit was settled last year on undisclosed terms, and Rimes made peace with her dad. In fact, one of the main reasons the couple moved to Nashville—along with getting out of the LA celebrity glare—was to be closer to her parents. “We hang out as a family,” she says. “We go to dinner, normal stuff.”

What’s normal for Rimes, of course, includes a monthlong U.S. tour promoting Greatest Hits. In January she will temporarily tear herself away from her husband to head back to the studio and work on a new album. “I’m really blessed to be able to open up my mouth and do what I do,” she says. “Deep down inside, I’m happy with me.”


Kelly Williams and Beverly Keel in Nashville

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