by Mariah Talbot
A blur of brown was all the warning James Parker had before a sickening thud came from his right front tire. Stomach twisting, he screeched to a stop and rushed from the car to find his worse fears realized. A small dog lay in the road, whimpering.
The pooch didn’t have a collar on, so rather than wasting time trying to discover where he might have come from, James decided he’d better get him right to a vet. If he could find one. He hadn’t seen many houses since he took the “short cut” his college roommate had told him about, but surely he couldn’t be that far from Jacob’s Corner.
The dog licked at his hand as James gently picked him up. Maybe he knew James was trying to help. Laying the dog in the front seat, James whispered to the animal. He kept one hand on the dog’s head as he drove on, hoping the touch would keep him calm.
James finally made it into town and, with relief, spotted a small frame house with the sign “Jacobs Corner Veterinary Clinic.” He left the dog in the car, with the window cracked, and opened the front door.
“Hello,” he called out after seeing the front room empty. He hoped this was the right place. The room looked more like a home than a vet’s office. Prints of various animals dotted the walls, though, and baskets of balls and other toys were in the corners. Through a door in the far wall, a voice called out with great urgency, “Take off your shoes, take off your shoes!”
Puzzled, James slipped off his tennis shoes and placed them by the front door. Again, he called out, “Hello?”
A short blonde woman came into the living room from the open door. She glanced at his feet and her lips quirked.
“Uh... feel free to put your shoes back on,” she said, her blue eyes dancing with laughter. “I’m afraid you’ve been made a victim by a very naughty parrot I’m treating. Can I help you with something?”
James put on his shoes and said, “I’m afraid I hit a dog about three miles out of town. I have him in the car. Would you take a look at him?”
Without another word, the woman pushed past him and went to his car. James followed. His gaze lingered on the jean-clad view and he forced himself to look away. He was on his way to his best friend’s wedding. He did not need to be getting ideas about a strange woman.
“Carry him into the office for me,” she said, after a quick look at the dog. “He doesn’t seem to be seriously hurt, but I need to check him more closely.”
James laid the dog on the table in the back room she indicated. Glancing at his watch, he swore under his breath. “I’m going to be late for an important appointment if I don’t leave now. Tell me how much this is and I’ll write you a check.”
“I won’t know until I finish. It looks like he must be a stray, though. I don’t recognize him and I know most of the dogs around here. What road did you say you were on?”
“I didn’t, but it was a dirt road just off to the left as you leave town.”
She sighed. “He was probably just dumped, poor thing. We’ve had others dropped off there before. People from the city think, because we’re in a rural area, we can handle all their unwanted dogs. Are you going to keep him once he’s well enough?”
“Me?” James took a step back in surprise. “I live in an apartment in the big bad city. What would I do with a dog?”
She flushed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be insulting, but it just makes me mad. There will be no charge.”
With one last look at the woman, her blonde hair hanging close to the russet brown of the dog, James left and drove toward Jonathan’s house. He arrived with about three minutes to spare.
Jonathan stood on the porch. “Finally! Gloria would skin me alive if we were late to the rehearsal.”
James opened his mouth to try to explain why he was late, but Jonathan cut him off. “No time for that. You’ll be escorting Gloria’s cousin tonight and tomorrow. Gloria said since Marian is her maid of honor it was your job as best man to take care of her. I don’t know all this wedding stuff...I’ll just be glad when it’s all over.”
“Shouldn’t I change?” James asked, indicating his blue jeans.
“Not as late as we are already. I’m telling you, Gloria has been transformed into a crazy woman. I’m not sure which will be worse...you showing up in jeans but on time or you being late.”
They arrived at the church to find Gloria in tears. As Jonathan apologized for James’ unkempt appearance, she hiccupped. “It doesn’t matter. Marian isn’t here and won’t be here for at least half an hour. She had an emergency.” A fresh batch of tears started and she wailed, “I wish we had eloped.”
“I tried to suggest that—” Jonathan’s words were met with another loud outburst.
“Why don’t I go back to your place to shower and change?” James suggested. “Maybe it’ll help?”
Twenty minutes later, James met Johnathan back in front of the church. Just as he greeted his friend, a pickup truck pulled up the curb, and the blonde vet from earlier stepped out.
“Well, hello,” James said, walking over to her. He couldn’t believe his luck in seeing her again, but how had she known where to find him? “How’s the pooch?”
“Hello, there. He’s going to be fine. Just a broken leg. He was a very lucky pup.” She glanced down at her jeans and sighed. “Gloria is going to shoot me.”
James laughed and then realized the woman wasn’t there to find him. “You must be Marian.” He stuck out his hand. “Hi. I’m James, the best man.”
He enfolded her smaller hand in his. He found he didn’t want to let it go, but when Jonathan walked up beside them, he reluctantly did.
“I see you two have introduced yourselves,” he said.
“Actually, we met earlier. I hit a dog out on your short cut and brought it in. Marian is taking care of it.”
“Ah, so you’re the reason for her emergency. Don’t tell Gloria.” Jonathan grinned. “And you did good bringing the animal to Marian. She’s the best vet in town.”
Marian rolled her eyes. “Don’t listen to him. I’m the only vet in town. And, now, I better go find Gloria and calm her down.” She walked away, and James’ gaze followed her slim body until she entered the church.
Marian fought the compulsion to glance back over her shoulder as she walked away from the men. What was it about James that intrigued her so? He was such a contradiction. His gentleness carrying the dog in was so different from his brusque dismissal of future ownership. When he showed up at the office in jeans and chambray shirt, she’d taken him for a farm hand, but dressed in his suit he looked more like a successful businessman. Why hadn’t she listened more closely when Gloria had talked about Jonathan’s best friend?
She laughed lightly. Probably because she’s expected him to be just like Jonathan. A nice boy, but not the sharpest tool in the shed.
The rehearsal went off without any more hitches. Marian glanced up more than once to catch James’ gaze on her and her face heated. She wished she’d taken the time to put on something a little more feminine, but Gloria was lucky she was there at all.
Marian sighed. If she ever got married, an “if” that seemed further away every year, she was going to elope and face the consequences later. As the saying went, it was easier to ask forgiveness than permission.
As James and Marian came together at the end of the rehearsal, right behind Jonathan and Gloria’s stand-in, he whispered to her, “I wish I was as comfortable as you look.” His voice took on a bad James Cagney accent and he added, “Wanna blow this joint?”
Marian giggled and Gloria, from her seat on the front pew, shot her a stern look, which only made the giggles worse. She took the arm he offered, and bit her lip trying to stop the laughter. “Behave yourself,” she whispered back. “Gloria has dreamed all her life of the perfect wedding and she’s about to flip over the edge as it is.”
Sitting together at the rehearsal dinner, James kept Marian in stitches with his tales from life in the city.
Wiping her eyes after his last story, she said, “If things are so bad there, why don’t you just move?”
“Well, Jonathan has been after me to move out here and go into business with him. Up until now, I’ve not really given it much thought.”
Marian looked into his eyes. Was there the slightest emphasis on “until now”? James’ hand reached out and grabbed hers.
“Do you think,” he asked, “you might help me look for a place that has a yard big enough for a dog to run?”
About the Author: Mariah Talbot is the pseudonym for authors Marianne Arkins and Judy Thomas who, during a moment of insanity, decided to write together. You've been warned.