The Wedding Ranch Excerpt
By the time summer was in full swing, Mister was as tall and gangly as a teenager, and according to the vet he still had a lot of growing to do. Craig had kept his promise, taking Mister to puppy class and on through intermediate training. Mister had more certificates than Lorri and Craig combined, and despite his size Lorri felt that she could handle him.
Lorri had never enjoyed exercise, but she’d grown to love the time she spent walking Mister through their large neighborhood. Her friends had even commissioned a bedazzled pooper scooper from Etsy as a gag gift for her birthday, but the joke was on them, because she carried it proudly.
She was in the best shape of her life, both physically and mentally, and she knew she had Mister to thank. He was a lot of work, but with no kids she didn’t mind one bit. Craig had definitely gotten Valentine’s Day right this year.
She’d had a long week putting in extra hours to wrap up a project rebranding one of the oldest and most profitable accounts with her company, Brand Creative. The client, a sausage company, was now in its one hundredth year, and the great-great-great-grandson who just stepped into the CEO role wanted a fresh look. It had taken rounds and rounds of redrafting to appease him, but this project had allowed her to get creative, even painting an original scene for the client, and she liked that.
When she got home, Mister met her at the door as he did every night. There was no rambunctious jumping, but rather a very respectable greeting followed by him calmly sitting at her feet to get his head rubbed. Well, he looked calm, but his nub of a tail wiggled like a caffeinated guinea pig with a mind of its own.
“How’s my good boy?” She put her things down, and gave him a loving pat. He lifted his chin, pressing it into the palm of her hand. “I missed you too.”
She looked up and saw Craig sitting on the couch. “Hey, how was your day?” He looked as worn out as she felt.
“Not great. Lorri, I’ve got something to tell you.” He stood, shifting his weight.
“Are you okay?” She walked into the living room. Craig’s eyes darted to his suitcase sitting next to the door. “Ah, another unexpected business trip? That’s okay. I can—”
“Not exactly.” His face pulled to the left. “I’m leaving.”
The word echoed. Not leaving on a business trip. Just leaving. Her stomach dropped as if it had been kicked from the top of a skyscraper. “Leaving?” She almost choked on the word.
“I met someone.” He rushed to add, “I wasn’t looking. I meant it when I said I was going to make it right. This just happened. I’m sorry.”
“You’re leaving?” How could he? She’d forgiven him. Opened her heart again.
“You know things had been…”
“Off.” She filled in the blank. Yes, I know. “You said that when you said we were going to be okay.”
“I want to be with her. It’s not like the others.”
“The others.” She wondered how many there had been, but was afraid he might tell her if she asked. “The ‘it’ll never happen again’ others?”
“They meant nothing. Tiffany is different. I feel alive again with them.”
“She has the most precious two-year-old. She calls me ‘Popster.’ I swear it melts my heart.”
The shine in his eyes was undeniable. It pierced her heart. In the past she’d suspected something was going on. In her gut, she’d known. She’d even asked. He’d lied straight to her face and never blinked. How many had there been? And why did it take her by surprise this time?
“I love her.”
Which only means you don’t love me. Probably never did. Jealousy filled her. “But we’ve been through so much together.” He’d been there for her when her family struggled through her brother Jeff’s addiction and all the problems that went along with it. The arrests, rehab, the stealing and lying, and then when he’d died. “It was supposed to be forever.”
“You were there for me too,” he said.
She’d worked two jobs so he could go to college and made the mortgage when his sales jobs weren’t going so well. She’d been there every step of the way when he had that lung cancer scare five years ago. It had been terrifying. Thank goodness doctors were able to remove it and he’d been cancer-free ever since.
“I never meant to hurt you, Lorri.”
“You’re not.” She was strangely calm. There were no tears, and once she pushed aside the bitterness of being beaten to the punch, she knew the marriage was over. She was happy because of Mister’s companionship, not because of Craig. Nothing had changed. “There won’t be another chance this time. Ever. You understand that, right?”
“When did you meet her?”
“A year ago. Nothing happened then, I swear.”
Why would I believe you now?
“Where did you meet? It doesn’t even make sense. When did you have time?”
“It’s Tiffany York. You met her.” He paused, but she didn’t place the name. “She’s the instructor at the dog training facility.”
Tiffany? Young, blond, owned a Yorkie that she carried around in her purse.
There it was. He’d planned it all along. He’d used her, and used Mister too, working his way to be with another woman all along.
“You knew her before you bought Mister.” The pieces were falling together.
“What does it matter?”
“It doesn’t.” She couldn’t believe she’d opened her heart to him only to have this happen. Tiffany?
“I’ll have my attorney draw up something. I guess we could sell the house and split the profit, unless you would prefer to buy me out,” he said.
“We’ll sell. I’ll have it on the market next week.” Better now than later. She didn’t want to look at anything that reminded her of him. She might not have even stayed the night tonight if it weren’t for having Mister to deal with. Wasn’t likely a hotel would allow a dog that big, even a pet-friendly one.
“Okay.” He stood, pushing his hands deep in his pockets. “I really am sorry. We had some great years.”
More bad times than good for her, but they’d had them together.
He grabbed the handle on his suitcase. “We can figure out who gets what later. I’ll call before I come over.”
“Good idea.” She’d change the locks just in case.
When the door closed, she walked over and sat on the couch.
“So that’s that.” She looked around the room. Their wedding picture sat on the mantel. That had been nothing more than Craig’s first great illusion—like David Copperfield making that jumbo jet disappear. He’d promised her the wedding of her dreams, but when it came down to it, the wedding had been handled like a business lunch. He talked her into a quick ceremony at the courthouse one Wednesday afternoon with two strangers as witnesses. No white dress. No guests. The short version even, because he’d had to get back to a meeting. Her parents had never forgiven her for that.
She picked up her phone and dialed Pam. “You’re not going to believe what just happened.”
“Craig just left me for another woman.” The words sounded alien spoken out loud.
“Oh, Lorri. I’m sorry. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I am. I didn’t even see it coming, Pam. How is that?”
“Well, now you can finally start over. Pull out all those wish lists and get started.”
“I’m putting the house on the market. Remember the farmhouse-chic neighborhood down in Dalton Mill that I showed you awhile back?”
“I do. Those houses were charming.”
“I’m driving down tomorrow to take a look. The sooner I can get out of here the better,” she said.
“You don’t really want to move, do you?”
“I’m sure half the people in this neighborhood already knew what was going on. He really made me look like a fool.”
“No. Lorri, stop it. He’s a self-centered jerk. That’s what everyone knows.”
“Why don’t you come with me tomorrow? Do you and Bobby have plans?”
“He’ll be golfing. Count me in.”
“It’s only an hour drive. I’ll see if they still have the model homes open, or if anything is for sale down there. Want to plan on leaving around ten?”
“I’ll meet you at your house,” Pam said. “I’m sorry it worked out this way, but at least there won’t be any more wondering.”
“Yeah, and I forgive him. I had a happy six months, ever since Craig brought Mister home. It seemed like he was trying to make things work. It was a relief to feel that way. Maybe that’s why I’m so calm. Or maybe I’ll fall apart tomorrow. It could happen. Just warning you.”
“That’s fine,” Pam assured her. “I’ll be there and we’ll get through it.”
* * *
The next morning, Lorri and Pam drove down to Dalton Mill. “I am still shocked. Every time it replays in my mind, I just shake my head.”
“You are remarkably calm. Are you really as at peace with this as you seem?”
“I think I am.” She looked over toward Pam. “I guess that year of second-guessing kind of prepared me for this. And Mister took me off that roller coaster and let me get some life balance. At first, I felt so betrayed. Especially after giving him another chance, but then I realized that what had been making me so happy wasn’t Craig. It was Mister and the changes that I’d made in my life since Valentine’s Day.”
“You have found a better balance in your life between work, play, and family.”
It was an easy drive right down I-95. They took the exit and drove down a long road with open fields on either side.
“It’s not all that far,” Pam said.
“Far enough to put the past behind me for a fresh start.” She leaned forward, looking at the GPS to get her bearings. “It should be up here to the right.”
“Look. A farmers market. That would be nice if it’s close by.”
There were more cars and people in that one spot than they’d seen since exiting the highway. Just past it a large sign read MILL CREEK HIGHLANDS.
“This is it.” Pam pointed to the sign. The entrance was wide, with extravagant landscaping in the middle making for a grand welcome. “It looks more upscale than I’d expected with it being five-acre lots and all.”
Lorri turned the car into the neighborhood. “I love the fancy streetlights.” The black poles stretched all the way down the street on both sides. Perfectly edged sidewalks made for a park-like setting.
“This is everything I dreamed of,” Lorri said as they slowly drove through the subdivision. The houses sat back off the road, but from here she noticed at least one yard with a horse and small barn in the back.
Pam raised a brow. “Five acres is a lot of grass to mow.”
“Mister would love all that space to run. I could have a garden, too.”
A few new homes were still under construction in the back.
Pam said, “Let’s look at the model home.”
Lorri didn’t hesitate to turn around. Slowing to a stop in front of the model, she glanced over at Pam. “It’s really cute, isn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘cute.’ It’s beautiful.”
“And the neighborhood is surprisingly affordably priced.”
“Yeah, I wonder if that’s just because we’re out in the middle of nowhere, or they shortcut things on the inside?”
“Good point. We’ll know in a minute.” Lorri parked her car in the driveway of the model. “Here goes nothing.”
As they opened the door a young woman greeted them. “Hi. Welcome to Dalton Mill.” She handed them a brochure. “We only have a couple of lots left here, but we’re also starting a project about thirty miles from here with the same concept. Also, breaking news: this model is going on the market tomorrow.” She pressed a finger to her lips. “You’re the first to hear.”
Pam leaned in as they walked away from the lady. “How about that? Fate, perhaps?”
Lorri shrugged, but she’d been thinking the same thing.
They walked through the model home and neither one of them said much until they walked upstairs to the second level. Expansive windows ushered light into the space.
Lorri stood and turned around. “This would be perfect for a studio.”
“You could paint again,” Pam said with a nod. “You were so good. You should definitely make that a priority.”
“It’s been so long I’m not sure where to start, but I did an original piece of art on my last work assignment, and it has me itching to paint again.” She walked back downstairs. “This being for sale now couldn’t be more perfect timing.”
Pam agreed. “There’s plenty of room for Mister to run, and if there’s decent internet connectivity you could work from home, right?”
Lorri walked to the far end of the living room. “There’s great light in this room too. I could set up my desk right here to work from home.” The agent was seated at the desk already there and smiled.
“It’s a wonderful spot to work with the sun coming through the French doors,” the agent said. “I expect this model will go fast. With all the upgrades it’s a really good deal.” She handed them a sheet of paper with the breakdown of the price that the property was being listed for.
“I love this house. It has such a great vibe.” Lorri turned to Pam. “It’s perfect for a new beginning. I’ve been tucking money away for a year just in case. It’s all still sitting there.” She folded her hands under her chin and closed her eyes. She didn’t want to make a rash decision, but this felt so right.
“You can do whatever you want,” Pam said.
Copyright © 2022 by Nancy Naigle