Authors: Cassandra Black
From This Day Forward
Stone Cottage Books
Copyright © 2014 by Cassandra Black
Manufactured in the United States
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From This Day Forward
is part of the
“Happily Ever After
” line of romance novels. The first book in this group of love stories is being written to celebrate the beauty of love, respect, trust, and marriage between souls perhaps destined to be together forever.
The Wedding Vows
Take you …
To be my wife/husband,
To have and to hold,
From This Day Forward
For better, for worse,
For richer, for poorer,
In sickness and in health,
To love and to cherish,
From this day forward,
Until death do us part…
Friendship becomes passion,
Passion becomes love, and, maybe,
Love becomes forever…
Loretta thought back to the days when she felt pretty; she remembered a younger “her,” when she felt light-hearted and free. But life, household duties, being a single mother, and working her fingers to the bone for over two decades at a job that had been less than fulfilling, had taken its toll on her mind and her body …but not on her spirit, and not on her soul.
She was glad she’d made the move to California -- because it was for
. It didn’t have anything to do with anybody else
And, finally, she’d given herself permission to let that be okay.
She loved Bordeaux Valley, a little enclave of Napa County, filled with wine vineyards, a beautiful coastline, majestic mountains, and her childhood friend, Velma Jones.
Nope, she didn’t have one regret about picking up and leaving Detroit to start a new life. And meeting Alonzo Thornton, the handsome Italian vineyard owner --who had the unique ability to make her blush every time he glanced in her direction --had been a wonderful surprise.
But she and the intriguing man get off on the wrong foot when they meet in Baggage Claim in the tiny village airport near San Francisco.
Will preconceived notions keep Alonzo and Loretta from exploring the depths of a fiery mutual attraction?
Or will unbridled passion, stoked by being at similar points in life, be enough to move them in the direction of each other -- and maybe in the direction of forever?
Loretta Devon looked at the wedding picture on her desk. It was taken well over twenty years ago. She was barely twenty-five when she married Clarence. He had been the love of her life, but God had taken him away from her -- too soon.
The machinery accident at the steel plant where he’d worked since he was barely a man could not be foreseen. And after Clarence passed, her life changed forever.
Loretta settled into being a single mother, raising her son and daughter to the best of her ability without their father.
All and all, she was pleased at the job she’d done raising her children. Now, Brianna and Terrell were grown …and gone.
She wished they’d keep in touch more, but part of her understood. She’d raised them to be independent, and they had their own lives to attend to.
But she too often found herself lonely.
Early one weekday morning, Loretta glanced up at the surroundings in her small, windowless office. As an employee at Patterson’s, a cafeteria-style restaurant chain, for almost two decades, she had made store manager almost a decade prior, but she’d met the glass ceiling when she tried to climb higher up the management ranks. But still, she had settled into the job and managed to remain content. The salary was decent, considering she worked in a working class suburb of Detroit, and steady jobs were hard to come by. Loretta knew she was blessed, and for that, she was more than grateful.
Her salary had made it possible to put food on the table over the years, keep up with the rent payments on their small home, and to pay some of her children’s tuition at the local college. It wasn’t a four-year college like she’d hoped, but at least they had a start in their education, unlike she’d had.
Loretta grew up in a poor household, and she had gone straight from high school to work. With Brianna and Terrell, at least they wouldn’t graduate with student loan debt. Good grades, scholarships, and Loretta’s contribution was her gift to them for a head-start in life -- a start she hoped they’d use to get off on the right track in their adult lives.
It hadn’t been easy, but she’d done it, and she knew Clarence would be pleased. But at forty-six years old, something was missing. There was a void, a gaping hole -- one that struggle could no longer distract her from, and one that contentment could no longer fill.
There had to be more to life than this
, she often thought.
Loretta pulled out the letter she’d received almost three weeks prior. Her uncle had left her almost ninety-thousand dollars. She couldn’t believe it when she got the call. Barely able to remember her Uncle Charleston, she was just a girl when her mother had taken her to meet him in Savannah, Georgia. But, sure enough, she was named as one of the beneficiaries on his Mutual of Omaha life insurance policy.
That was a lot of money --
money that could change her life.
Loretta pulled out the folder containing the check stub and looked at it again in disbelief.
After fingering the copy of the deposit slip she’d used to tuck the money safely away until she figured out what to do, she opened the weathered, brown envelope containing the coveted vacation photos.
Several years ago, when the children were barely teenagers, she’d taken them on a cross-country trip to California. They visited her girlfriend Velma, who owned a business in the Napa Valley area.
Loretta hadn’t known such beauty existed in the United States until that visit.
As she glanced at the old photos of the rolling valleys, picturesque mountains, and vast Pacific, the memories of clean air and sheer relaxation filled her senses. She exhaled and smiled thinking about the week she and the kids had spent at Velma’s condo not too far from the ocean.
Velma had been trying to get her to move out West for years, but Loretta had resisted. After all, her
was Detroit, and she didn’t know how to live anywhere else. Besides, she knew she couldn’t even begin to think about affording a move back then.
But now, with the money, she was seriously considering a new start. Loretta had been pondering it since she’d deposited the check.
She’d also been thinking about a new career. After all this time, just maybe she could open that little eatery she’d always dreamed about.
Turning to her computer, she typed in Expedia.com. The flight to San Francisco was five hours from Detroit. She’d have to change planes and board one of those tiny commuter planes to get from the larger city to Bordeaux Valley.
Butterflies started creeping into her stomach as she thought about her perceived hurdles: the children, their rental home, her job, car, clothing, furniture, and the rest of her things.
And then there was Lennie.
Everything combined equaled her life in Detroit -- the only one she’d ever known.
Going over the pros and cons list in her mind -- something she’d done umpteen times over the past few weeks -- she fastidiously checked things off again, item by item.
The children. Regrettably, Brianna and Terrell didn’t come home that often. So if she moved, when they did visit,
would be wherever she was.
Their home. The house was a rental. The landlord was a nice man and she’d hate to leave after over two decades, but she knew he could rent it out easily. Besides, that’s what being a tenant was, so she shouldn’t have to worry about the other side of it. So she finally let that go in her mind.
Her car. The old Chevy that she called Cat was a jalopy, and Loretta knew she had been long overdue for a new vehicle. She smiled as the picture of her cruising about the valley in an SUV entered her mind.
Her things. Her things could be shipped easily via UPS. Loretta thought about all of her clothes. She figured she could donate most of them, because if she did make the move, it would be the perfect opportunity to get on the road to getting in shape. Though she felt like she still looked okay, she knew darn well she was at least thirty-five pounds overweight. And the little pains in her chest, which had been getting worse lately, told her it was time to lose the weight and get healthy again, or she’d wind up with full-blown diabetes, or worse.
She then thought about Lennie. Lord, what would she do about Lennie? What would she tell him?
Leonard Nelson was a nice man, but Loretta knew she had no designs on him -- other than as what they’d been to each other for years. She’d been sleeping with him off and on for almost fifteen years, but their close encounters were more from habit than anything else. And the last couple of years, she’d only allowed petting; they had not had actual intercourse in a long time because she’d found out she couldn’t trust that he was not sleeping around. Thinking about catching him in lies about sleeping with different neighborhood women over the years -- some who were suspected to be hookers -- made her lose respect for him a long time ago. And when she lost respect, and trust, her sex drive for him also began to wane.
Loretta thought about Lennie asking her over and over again to let him move in with her.
“Let’s take this to the next level, ‘Retta,” he’d say. “Let me move in here with you, so we can get serious, act like husband and wife.”
What would she tell Lennie?
She decided she would tell him she was moving. Period. That’s all he deserved to know.
Her job. Her role at Patterson’s was just that, a job. Not a career, not her business, and not a future. It was an hour’s work for an hour’s pay. And she knew with the inheritance, she’d be just fine until she got settled out West.
That finally settled it; there was nothing holding her in Detroit. She was moving to California!
Loretta smiled and picked up the phone to call her friend Velma. After a little small talk, she told her the news.
“Yes, I’m going to finally take you up on your offer. I’m moving out to Cali!”
There was a pause. “Well it’s about damn time!” Velma said.
The women talked some more about the details of the move.
“I’m so excited I can just about pop!” Loretta said, her voice shaking as she heard herself speaking out loud about a long-time dream deferred.
“I’m so happy for you, Loretta. So when should I expect you?”
“Middle of May,” she said, giggling like a teenager as she spoke.
“Your room will be ready,” Velma said.
“No, no, Velma. Now you know I love you dearly, but you also know I believe the only time two grown people should be living together--“
“I know, I know,” her friend interrupted. “Is when they’re sleeping together. Don’t worry. I’ll help you find a place sooner rather than later, but it won’t hurt for you to crash here until you get your bearings. We’ll figure it out. You just get your butt on the plane before you change your mind.”
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” Loretta responded, hardly able to believe it herself and glad she had a friend like Velma to help her learn the area and get settled.
Loretta had known Velma Jones almost all of her life. They’d grown up in the same neighborhood and had been best friends throughout school. After graduating from high school, Velma moved to California to go to college.
Growing up, the other kids always teased Velma, because she was a little different. She always wore thick, black-rimmed eye glasses and her hair in a natural style, parted down the middle with two big plats dangling from the side of her head. Though book-smart, Velma was seen in the neighborhood as being “a little touched,” as the old people used to say. But in the end, she’d had the last laugh, because Velma had won several academic scholarships, graduated at the top of her class, and gone on to attend medical school. Choosing not to become a physician, she’d instead built a successful mortuary practice in one of the wealthiest enclaves of Napa County, California.
Loretta looked forward to reconnecting with her friend. Though their lives had taken completely different paths, they’d kept in touch throughout the years and had maintained that special connection they’d shared growing up.
After Loretta hung up the phone with Velma, the very next call she made that morning was to her district manager. She did what she’d wanted to do for years -- give notice to her job.
“You’re leaving us Loretta? Are you ill?”
“No Mr. Thomas, I’m not sick, but I am tired,” she said into the phone.
“Well take some time off,” her boss, who was as nice as pie, yet prejudice and condescending without even realizing it, said. Loretta had been passed over on more than one occasion for district management positions
Old fashion, and from a generation where women weren’t supposed to scale the corporate ladder, he’d bypassed submitting her name to his superiors on more than one occasion, when he knew darn well she could run circles around all of them, including him, when it came to management.
There was a silence on the other end of the phone. Loretta realized she might have been brusque.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Thomas,” she said to her boss. “It’s just, well, I’m moving to California -- to open my own restaurant,” she heard herself say.
“Oh--” the man said on the other end of the phone.
“Who’s helping you?” he asked, as if she couldn’t possibly do it by herself.
Her eyes involuntarily rolled in her head. “No one, I’m starting my own business.”
“Well it’s not going to be easy, you know.”
“I know,” Loretta said. “But I’m going to give it my best shot.”
“Well, we can’t hold your job for you; you know that,” he said in that ignorant tone he often took with her.