“I finally got a letter from him!” I shout over the din of barking dogs.
Daniel turns toward me, but keeps one hand firmly on the mongrel he’s washing so it won’t squirm. His gaze is piercing; it always feels like his dark green eyes can see inside my heart.
“A letter from Lance?” he asks, a frown marring his brow.
“Who else, silly!” I hate it when Daniel feigns ignorance where Lance is concerned. “After all this time he’s finally written back!”
Daniel puts down the flea shampoo and says, “I never said Lance had forgotten you, Ramona. I said he was ignoring you.” He hefts the soapy dog back into the tub. “Oh, no you don’t!” he admonishes the mutt.
“Whatever. But you did say he wouldn’t write back.” My itchy, swollen belly bumps against him. My face burns, but he smiles and pats my tummy leaving a sudsy place on my blouse. “I’ll be in the billing office.”
The look on Daniel’s face sends regret through me. I shouldn’t be so flippant. Daniel is a talented, hard working business partner. Without him, Paws Grooming Kennel wouldn’t be the success that it is now.
After reading Lance’s hurriedly scrawled letter, I’m not sure what to think. The news that I am expecting has stunned him, and he will be in town soon to discuss my situation after he sees his son and touches base with his ex-wife.
My situation? Touching base with his ex-wife! I love Lance, and I’m pregnant with our child! Doesn’t that mean anything to him? Other than his ten-year-old son, what possible reason could Lance have for contacting his ex-wife? I find it hard to believe that Lance and Sheila are on speaking terms again, especially after all the cruel tricks she played on him during their marriage.
I met Lance at the shelter where I donate animal supplies. A stray Husky had wandered onto the construction site where he worked. He showed up at the shelter and dropped off the dog, but we started talking, and he asked me out. We saw each other for the three months he worked here in town. When the construction crew finished the current project, they were sent to Charleston, West Virginia to build a hotel. I received a five-minute phone call two days after Lance left. Since then, it has taken five months to finally get a reply from him. Could it be that he believes I got pregnant just to trap him into marrying me?
Daniel finds me crying at my desk.
“What’s wrong? Are you all right?” He holds me and talks to me until I calm down. I don’t know what I’d do without Daniel.
A week passes, and then two more creep by. As I grow into my last month of pregnancy, I feel a lot like a mother elephant. Daniel says it’s natural to feel the way I do, and it is my first baby. Maybe so, but I would feel much better if the baby’s father would let me know he cares. Why doesn’t Lance come see me like he promised? He hasn’t called, emailed or written since the last disturbing letter.
Daniel offers me a lop-sided grin and leads a St. Bernard to the kennel. My heart flip-flops, and I wonder why he doesn’t have a girlfriend. He’s tall, broad shouldered, and has curly auburn hair and dark green eyes. Any woman would love to be his girlfriend or wife. I often see many interested stares directed his way, but Daniel never seems to notice.
The front entrance chime announces a customer. I waddle to the service desk and find Lance standing there. He’s so gorgeous with his chocolate brown hair and deep blue eyes. An expensive suede coat encases his wide shoulders and muscled arms.
“Do we have another dog to board, Ramona?” Daniel calls from the back room.
For some reason, I sense a different implication in Daniel’s seemingly innocent question. “It’s for me, Daniel,” I answer over my shoulder.
“You look healthy, Ramona,” Lance says politely, an uncomfortable expression crossing his face.
“Can you stay a while?” I ask, but he shakes his dark head.
“I just dropped by to say I’m sorry about everything, and to let you know that Sheila and I have worked out our differences. We have decided to get married again. My son needs us.”
“No!” I whisper, feeling my strength drain. At that moment, the baby decides to kick, almost as if protesting its father’s words too.
“What about our baby, Lance?” I cry. “This child needs you too! I need you.”
His cool blue gaze bores into me. “You said you couldn’t get pregnant.”
“Do you think that I did this on purpose? My doctor insisted that the operation I had when I was sixteen had scarred me too badly to conceive and carry a baby. He was just as shocked as I.” The tears in my voice embarrass me.
His silence is my answer.
“So you keep saying.” He turns to leave. “I’m sorry.”
Lance quietly shuts the door. I feel strange as I turn and walk into the billing office, brushing past Daniel. I lower myself into a chair and resume stuffing boarding bills into envelopes.
“Ramona? Are you okay?” He stands next to me and places his big hands over my busy ones.
“Yes,” I say. “I’m not dumb, Daniel. I wasn’t fooling myself about Lance. I was ignoring the truth just like he ignored me. Now I can’t do that any more.”
I shrug and squeeze his hands, hands that give so much love and kindness to our furry boarders. I realize that Lance’s family suffers continuously because of his selfishness. Maybe Lance spared my little one a lot of heartache by walking away.
“You’re not alone, Ramona. I’ll stand by you,” Daniel says softly.
Daniel parks the car and hurries to my side, helping me out. He opens the back door and gently lifts my new daughter, Laura, from her car seat. He turns slowly, placing her in my arms. Inside, he ushers us to the billing office where he surprises me with a small corner nursery.
“Oh, Daniel! This is wonderful!”
“I’m glad you like it,” he says happily. “I’m sure she’ll sleep through the kennel noise since you worked here through your entire pregnancy.” His expression sobers. “Anyway, you were so worried about Lance the whole time that you didn’t buy much for the baby other than the bare necessities, so I hope you don’t mind me taking the liberty to get some things ready for her.”
“No, not at all. I realize that I was selfish too. I should have thought only of Laura.” I lay my daughter in the bassinet and turn, looking up into Daniel’s warm green eyes. “I should have thought more of your feelings as well. You’ve always been here for me.”
“Hey, you were suffering a major case of puppy love.”
I laugh. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
“Ramona, we can be partners in more than just the business.”
His serious gaze sends a thrill through me. “What do you mean?”
“We can raise Laura together.” He places a finger on my lips before I can respond. “Wait here. I have something for you.”
He disappears down the hall. The dogs start barking when he enters the kennel, and he returns with a fat, fuzzy puppy wearing a big pink bow tied around its neck.
“This is for you. Her name is Promise. Someone left her here one night while you were in the hospital. I thought you might like her.”
“Why Promise?” I ask.
“Because I promise never to leave you, never to hurt you, and to always protect you.”
Tears flood my eyes.
“Look,” he says, pushing the puppy into my arms.
I discover a beautiful diamond ring tied to the puppy’s pink bow.
“Yes!” I say before he can even pop the question.
“Are you sure it’s not puppy love?” Daniel asks, chuckling softly.
“I’m sure it’s true love!” I say, and step into his arms.