Authors: Alice Clayton
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Women, #Humorous, #General
Collecting my overnight bag, I headed for the master bedroom (shades of green and pink with palm tree wallpaper, very Beverly Hills Hotel) and took a quick shower in the bathroom (shades of aqua and mint with golden mirrors, very Liberace in the Desert), and fell into the low platform bed (shades of I’m exhausted, so I have no idea what color it actually is).
I lay there feeling my muscles begin to relax, and listened to the house settling around me. There was a strong wind blowing tonight, whistling through the trees outside the window and scuttling leaves across the patio. It was a lonely sound, but I didn’t
lonely. I was alone in a strange bed in a semistrange house in a semistrange town, but there was still that hum of electricity running under my skin that I’d felt ever since my dad suggested coming up here.
As I rolled over on my pillow, my thoughts were suddenly filled with images of blue eyes. I smiled to myself in the dark and imagined what it might be like to date again. It was way too soon right now, but one day it’d be an option.
And there’s that word again: option. The world was full of possibilities, and meeting handsome men in restaurants was just one.
I allowed one more moment of dreamy over the blue-eyes guy in the mirror, and then hummed myself to sleep. Sinatra, of course.
The next morning I woke up to not one, not two, not even three, but four texts from my mother. Which proves how much she didn’t want to actually speak to me, since texting was something she hated to do. And was terrible at—she never really grasped the concept as a medium of communication. Case in point . . .
Your father tells ME YOU HAVE GONE TO MONTEREY. HOW VERY grownup of youDON’T YOU THINK PART OF BEING A GROWNUP MIGHT BE NOT LETTING
YOUR PARENTS GIVE YOU ROOMand bonobo??????%
FROM: YOUR MOTHER
She had large thumbs. Pretty sure
meant room and board, but I can’t swear to that. But she did have a point, and as soon as I had some breakfast, I intended to begin addressing her concerns. The
I wasn’t even going to dignify. This house was way too cool to not enjoy. So stick that in your tea cozy. But the
? That I should, and would take care of on my own.
I had some money squirreled away from my days on the pageant circuit, although it wasn’t much. Even when you’re winning, which I did the last few years, it was mostly scholarship money, not a ton of cash payouts. But I’d saved what I could, and would be able to get by for a while. I knew what my mother was saying:
don’t take your father’s money. Funny, she had zero problem with that when it came to her alimony checks . . .
And my father would happily fork it over to keep me happy, but that wasn’t the point. I’d felt funny about jumping from my parents’ payroll over to my husband’s. And it wasn’t as if I hadn’t tried to get a job over the years; I had. But my mother wanted me to focus on school, and then pageants, and then I was engaged. My year as Miss Golden State had taken place my senior year of college, and then once I graduated I was still volunteering extensively for the therapy dog charity. And once the wedding planning began, that became all consuming. I’d attempted to broach the subject several times to Charles about working once I was married, but it wasn’t something he was too keen on. So my résumé, other than countless titles and work for my charitable organizations, was thin at best.
I’d been thinking more and more about the conversation I’d had with Lou Fiorello the other day.
“We’re finally ready to open a second Our Gang location, and we’re starting to scout possible sites. We know we want to go north, somewhere like Santa Cruz, Salinas, maybe even as far north as San Jose.”
“That’s so great!” I said. “I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to have a location up there. Same business model as the one you have now?”
“Yeah yeah, pretty much the same,” Lou said. “Part rescue, part shelter, part rehab, and of course, the adoption center. That’s the whole point: getting these guys a good home.”
“Sounds amazing. If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.”
“Well, why do you think I emailed you, princess?”
“To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure,” I said.
“I thought maybe we could persuade you to come join us, get your hands dirty a bit.”
“You want me? To work with you?”
“Hell, yes. You love dogs, you’re great with the pits, and they need all the good PR they can get. Having a Miss America running a shelter for rescued and abandoned pit bulls? How great will that look on the six o’clock news?”
“Miss Golden State,” I corrected as I doodled on the legal pad. “So what are you asking me, exactly?”
“We’ve already got the startup money for the new location. We just need to find it, staff it, and train the team that’ll be working there. Interested?”
Goodness yes, but there was something that was a bit off
here . . .
“Lou, you knew I was supposed to be getting married this weekend, right?”
“Yet you’re offering me a job that would move me out of San Diego, right?”
“Well, now, how’s that gonna work out?”
“I got that pretty invitation you sent me stuck up on my bulletin board. The wedding date was yesterday, right?”
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“Well, I’m not calling you from my honeymoon, if that gives you any clue.” I grimaced.
“I had a feeling,” he said, and I rolled my eyes.
“Would have been nice if you’d told me,” I replied, and he chuckled.
“Well now, that was something you had to figure out for yourself. Sounds like you did.”
“Humpf,” was my reply.
“Listen, I gotta get going, making a run to Torrance to check out a fighting ring we heard about. You think about what I said. If you’re interested, let’s talk soon, okay?”
“Okay, Lou. Thanks for thinking of me.”
“You kidding? I’ve already got fliers designed in my mind: you in your tiara and sash, surrounded by forty pit bulls. It’ll be a hoot,” he cackled, and I grinned into the phone.
“I don’t like the idea of you daydreaming about me in my tiara, Lou,” I teased, and he gave a whoop of laughter as he hung up the phone.
I’d thought about that conversation a lot over the last few days. And while driving up to Monterey, I couldn’t help but think that it was situated right between two of the towns he was considering.
I fired off a quick email to him now, while I was thinking about it, then got ready to head out and grab some breakfast and hit up a grocery store. And then maybe take a dip in that gorgeous pool. By the time I got my hair brushed and tucked into a neat bun, dressed in a simple sundress with a jeans jacket, and added the barest hint of makeup, there was already a reply waiting for me from Lou.
So you’re spending some time in Monterey, huh? Beautiful town, probably a great place to get some space, am I right?
I’d love to have Our Gang in a town like that. Land can be pretty pricey there but it’s worth looking into. Sounds like you’re warming up to the idea? There’s a vet there that I’ve worked with for years, Dr. Campbell. He’s got his own clinic set up in town there, Campbell Veterinary Hospital. He volunteers his time down here when he can and does a lot of work with cities all over California, fighting those breed specific laws that get put
on the books without merit. I’ll tell him you’re in town, so stop by and see him anytime. He’d be a great person to talk to, get another perspective on what we want to set up. Also a great person to partner up with, especially since he might have some ideas about space around town we can look into.
Our Gang in Monterey? I like where your head’s at . . .
Options, options everywhere. I grabbed my keys and headed out to my car. With a clean breeze blowing in off the sea that I could taste even up here in the hills, today was looking like a great day. Especially if I could find some killer donuts.
urns out the killer donuts are located at Red’s Donuts, and as my mouth can tell you, they are delightful. Especially the kind with the maple frosting. I may have had three. Which may be closer to four. Okay, truth time. Four and a half—but that’s all.
Stopping after I could practically see the food baby I was creating, I headed for the grocery store I’d passed the night before. I thought I’d leave the GPS off and try to navigate on my own, which wound up getting me lost within three turns. Twenty minutes later, I pulled over into a parking lot to turn my GPS back on to lead me to the grocery store. As I tried to remember the name of the store, I looked around, hoping to get my bearings.
And there, right in front of me, was a building with a sign that said Campbell Veterinary Hospital.
Lou had said he’d email this Dr. Campbell, but who knows when that would actually happen? I’d probably have to make an appointment, though; it’d be rude to just pop in . . .
Fudge it, I was going in. I checked my face, reapplied my lip gloss, and headed inside. The parking lot I was in must have been on the side, because as I rounded the corner I realized the building was enormous. Giant windows, big friendly pictures of dogs and cats, and special parking slots for “Pet Emergencies.”
As I went through the automatic door, my nose was immediately met by the smell of disinfectant, butterscotch candies, and good old-fashioned doggie breath. The warm and inviting waiting room was packed with all manner of adults, kids, and dogs and cats. A German shepherd played with a dachshund in the corner, while three cats in a carrier explained to everyone why it was a crime against nature that they’d been brought here.
It was pretty crowded; maybe this wasn’t such a good idea today. I’d call when I got back—
“May I help you?” A voice coated in southern charm pierced through my waffling, and I approached the desk. And saw quite possibly the brightest polyester pantsuit ever created. An almost electrically charged aquamarine blue, it was something Sally O’Malley would kick—and streeetch—and kick to get her hands on. An actual beehive, at least four inches of teased and twirled brunette fluff, was stacked on top of her head, a head that had eyelids full of an iridescent blue eye shadow almost exactly the same shade as the pantsuit. Stripes of what can only be called rouge (I’d blush to call it blush) accented plump cheeks, pointing down to a cherry-red glossy mouth curved in a welcoming smile. And on her ample bosom? A rhinestone-bedazzled name tag proclaiming her to be Marge.
“Hi there, sugar, step right up. I don’t bite,” she cooed.
A disembodied voice from behind a row of filing cabinets shouted, “That’s not true!”
“Shush!” she ordered, then waved me forward. “You pay him no attention, sweetheart. Now, what can I do for you?”
“Well, I don’t have an appointment, but—”
“Or an animal,” she said, looking over the counter to peer down and make sure that I did in fact not have a pet. She couldn’t be more than five feet tall, so it was quite a lot for her to lean, and as she did, I marveled at the beehive. It didn’t move, not even when she was half upside down. She righted herself, then looked at me expectantly, still with the friendliest smile I’d ever seen.
“No, ma’am, no pet. I wanted to see if Dr. Campbell might be available?”
“Which one did you want? What is this about?” she asked.
“My friend Lou mentioned that Dr. Campbell would be a good person to talk to about pit bulls. Or rather, rescuing them. I probably should have called—”
“Wait, Lou. You mean Lou Fiorello?” she asked.
“Yes, Lou Fiorello mentioned that Dr. Campbell would be a good person to speak to about a shelter for rescued pit bulls in the area,” I finished, my pageant training taking over and slowing down my speech so I enunciated each word. My tummy had automatically pulled in as well.
She giggled. “Oh yes. Lou called this morning.” She sighed dreamily and an actual blush began to bloom around the rouge stripes. Interesting. “So you’re Chloe, right?” she asked, and I nodded. “Lou told me he was sending some pretty young thing in here to talk to the doc—something about picking his brains about opening up a gang here in town?”
“Well, kind of, yes. Is he in? It looks really busy; I can come back.”
Marge got a different look in her eye—one that appeared much more like problem solving than dream weaving.
“It’s busy, but I know he’ll be glad to meet you. Why don’t
you come with me, sugar, and we’ll get you all fixed up. Amy, take over the desk for a moment, won’t you?” Marge called.
As a young woman in scrubs took her place, Marge led me through the waiting room and down a corridor filled with exam rooms.
“You just go right on in here to exam room six and I’ll send the doctor in to see you, okay? Here’s some pamphlets about heartworms while you wait; make yourself comfortable,” she cooed, her voice literally dripping Spanish moss and tall lemonade.
Spying a stool in the corner, I took a perch, waiting for Dr. Campbell. And I did in fact do my assigned reading. I was so engrossed that when the door opened, it took me a second to register who had just come in the room.
Blue-eyed guy with the Prince Harry hair.
is gaze was down on his clipboard and medical charts, and he came through the door saying, “Okay Mrs. Winkle, it says here that our pal Stanley swallowed an entire roll of quarters. Has he passed them yet?”