Home > Marrying Up

Marrying Up
Author: Abby Knox

Chapter One





Who in the world appears for jury duty and comes home in love?

My boss, Sam Evans, that's who.

I worry that the old man has finally lost his marbles.

"This is it, Smitty. She's the one."

All the doubt I might have had stampedes out of my mind when I hear him say it. Sam's voice is sober, his intentions as clear as the blue sky after a prairie gullywasher. He means it. He's in love and he's bringing her home to the ranch with him.

Just in case it's not clear that he's a completely new man compared to the one I knew just over a week ago, he gives the other ranch hands and me five days off so he and Wren can have the whole place to themselves.

I'm not much for vacations but I'll do anything Sam asks me to do. In a most non-Smitty turn of events, I find myself reserving a high rise condo in the city. A part of me feels a little bit motivated to meet someone, and going by pure numbers, I like my chances of meeting a fun single woman close to my age in the city, much more than my chances of doing so while staying put in the sticks.

With my beat up canvas duffel bag stowed in the bed, I steer my rickety Ford pickup out of the country, across the river, and into the congested downtown area. I get a little excited seeing the skyscrapers looming above me.

I don't much care for city driving but I'm surprised at how easily I find the building where I'm staying. The condo's owner has provided such specific directions for parking and how to get inside, that I am kicking myself for not taking some time to explore downtown before now.

When I arrive in the condo, the unexpected feeling of home washes over me. From our brief chats through the rental app, I had assumed this place would have city slicker written all over it. It is indeed slick, full of hip furniture like I've only seen in magazines at the grocery store checkout. But it's also full of cozy touches that make me feel like I belong here: bright colors, cool art on the walls, lots of antique furniture that's been cared for. Oddly, I see no family photos anywhere.

This place doesn't just exceed my expectations, it's like I almost feel a connection to whoever lives here. I can see and feel her sweetness everywhere I look, and I haven't even laid eyes on the lady.

I know where I need to go first. In the bathroom, the condo owner, Ally, has left a stack of magazines that I know she picked because of my answers to her online survey about my preferences. I don't think any of this is what normal vacation rental owners do.

The bathroom shelf is full of fancy homemade soaps and shampoo bars that I find myself picking up to examine and smell, a thing that would never occur to me to do on a normal day. Soap is soap; I'm strictly an Ivory or Irish Spring kind of guy. But this "sandalwood and bacon" stuff is not too bad. I find a little handwritten note there, as well, in penmanship that looks nice enough to be calligraphy: "Feel free to use all the products you find. I tried to match them to what I thought your personal preferences would be. Enjoy!"

Lord Almighty, this lady thinks of everything.

On the kitchen counter, she's left a basket full of brochures, along with another handwritten note. "Welcome! Here are the menus of all my favorite local spots, plus some info on area museums, theaters, and parks. If you want a steak, I highly recommend Roy's. If you want something more adventurous, try Coriander."

She's done too much, but I sure do appreciate it.

I text her through the app to let her know I'm settled in and to thank her for all the thoughtful details. And, I don't know if it's the city water but I'm not feeling quite myself, so I add, "You should do vacation rentals for a living. You're good at this."

Minutes later, while I'm back in the bathroom, cleaning myself up using some of the manly hair products she's left for me and trying to work out the hat hair before I go to dinner, she replies and tells me she's a wedding coordinator. It all makes sense. Writing back, I tell her my boss might require a wedding coordinator pretty soon, and then I stuff my phone in my jacket pocket and head out for dinner and a walk around the city.

Seeing the buildings, hearing the traffic, and watching groups of pretty women gather for after-work drinks, I can't help but feel refreshed already.

At Coriander, I eat a curious type of dish that I'm pretty sure has been served to me on a bed of moss. It's good, but I find myself wishing I had a dinner companion to discuss the moss situation, specifically her. I feel like she wouldn't talk down to me and my raised-on-home-cooking palate.

Even though I've never met her, she's already the nicest part of my trip so far.



Chapter Two





I don't like to call any bride I work with a bridezilla, but holy shiitake mushrooms.

I've just stepped out of the wedding venue to grab a huge, overpriced black coffee because I'm going to need it to make it through this Friday night wedding. While I am out, I check my email and see that my renter arrived at the condo with no issues.

He sent me a very polite email through the rental app, which is more than I can say for most of the people who rent my condo. I keep the place immaculate because I mainly use it as a home office when I first meet with clients. I spend so little time there on weekends because I'm working weddings all over the city, so I'll usually spend weekend nights in hotels near the wedding locations or at my Pops and Grams' house.

I may not love Taffy, the bride I'm working with tonight, but as soon as Taffy's check clears, I'll be able to put a down payment on a second property. I'm thinking of a picturesque spot in the country where I can stay on weekends while I work on weddings in more rural settings. It makes sense because half of my weddings these days are held at a vineyard or somewhere out in the rural areas. With as much driving as I do and the late nights I work, I do need multiple places to crash.

Creating memorable dream weddings has always been my passion. But what makes me memorable are the personal touches I put on everything I do, which is true for weddings and renting out my condo. Case in point: as I sip my coffee and scroll through my rental profile, I see that Mr. Smith has already left a review.

I smile like a dope, letting myself feel good about having at least one satisfied client tonight. His post reads, "Place is immaculate. Owner is very thorough with directions and advice for things to do in the area. Her sweet notes made me feel welcome, and the place feels even better than home."

Mr. Smith's praise has me feeling a little giddy, and before I can tuck my phone away I get an alert for another email from him, telling me his boss, the ranch owner, might be getting married soon. I forward him my contact card and let him know he can text me at that number directly if he has any questions.

I had hoped the bride would maintain her calm while I stepped out. It took me literally five minutes to run across the street from her venue here at the Windsor Hotel, but she's in full meltdown mode when I return.

"I told that woman to wear black. It was on the invitation," Taffy wails at me, her arms gesturing wildly, her teary eyes threatening to ruin her makeup. "Everyone is supposed to be wearing black floor-length gowns or black suits. If she's not in black, it ruins the photos. You might as well go ahead and send the photographer home because I don't want a single moment of what she's done to me on my day preserved forever!"

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