Best-Laid Plans (Chapter Seven, page 1 of 1)


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The apartment was lonely without Brandon, even with Julia and Rachel there. Julia rarely had much to say about anything lately. She kept mostly to her room. They had stored Brandon’s things, and Rachel had moved into his room. It was ridiculous to live in a 3-bedroom apartment and only use two bedrooms.
Between finals and her job at the hospital, Adrienne rarely had time to think about it much, though. She managed to make two 1-day trips to the ranch and Brandon came down to watch her graduate. He went back to the ranch that night, saying that he had cattle to take care of.
Timing was with her and she was able to take all the state exams shortly after graduating. After weeks of tense waiting to see if she passed, she finally reached her goal. She was now a Registered Nurse. The next goal was completing her training in pediatrics. She delved into her work, wishing that Brandon could be there.
Occasionally it crossed her mind that Rachel was right. So far, she hadn’t found a way to broach the subject with Brandon. The wedding was set for June fifteenth, but it was looking as though they might have to put it off a while. Brandon still wasn't sure when he would be able to leave the ranch.
On her next visit to the ranch, Adrienne arrived to find Mrs. Marsh busy cooking lunch. She smiled warmly when Adrienne walked in.
"Brandon is out at the north pasture, he'll be in any time for lunch. I swear. I don't know what I'd do without him."
Adrienne hesitated. She felt deceitful pumping Mrs. Marsh for information about Brandon’s plans, but it was the perfect opportunity. She drew a deep breath.
"Have you had any luck finding a ranch hand?"
Mrs. Marsh stopped chopping the lettuce and stared at her. "Ranch hand? Why? There isn't enough work for two people, and Brandon loves the ranch."
It was Adrienne’s turn to stare. Apparently Mrs. Marsh had no idea of Brandon's plans for his future. This was obviously something Brandon needed to set straight with her.
Through the kitchen window, she saw Brandon ride up and dismount. He beat the dirt off his clothes with his hat and then unsaddled the horse. Removing the bridle, he released the horse in the corral. Then he headed for the house.
He looked like a rancher in his faded denim jeans and plaid shirt. There was no denying the contented expression on his face. He smiled his delight when he saw Adrienne, and smothered her in a hug.
"God, you look good to me. It seems like years since I saw you last."
She returned his hug with less enthusiasm. It wasn't her fault they hadn't seen much of each other lately. She forced a smile.
"Yeah, who'd ever know we were engaged?"
He pulled back and gazed down at her inquisitively. "Trouble in paradise?"
She shrugged one shoulder. "Paradise? What's that?"
"Uh oh." He glanced at Mrs. Marsh. "Can you hold lunch for a little bit? Adrienne and I need to talk."
Mrs. Marsh glanced doubtfully at Adrienne. "Sure. Go ahead."
Brandon led her outside and they walked casually toward the barn. He glanced down at her apprehensively.
"What's up?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. You tell me. Your mother seems to be under the impression that you want to stay here - permanently."
He stopped and gazed off at the distant hills. "I thought you liked it here."
She was beginning to get a bad feeling. "What does that have to do with it?"
He chanced a glance at her and grimaced. "I thought maybe we could get married and live here. I mean, I could still have my business in town. Then, when we have kids, Mom could watch them."
She stared at him, blood pumping angrily in her throat. "You figured. Did it ever occur to you to ask what I thought about this? What about my plans?"
He colored up. "There's a hospital in Bartlesville. Country kids need a good nurse as much as a city kid, you know."
She took a step backward and met his gaze angrily. "I can't believe you're doing this to me. You're the one who pushed this relationship. You're the one who . . ."
"Just a minute," he growled. "If I pushed you into a relationship you didn't want. I apologize. If you want out, just say so. Don't start acting like it was all my idea. You sure seemed like a willing participant for a while there. What's the matter? Some fancy intern catch your eye?" His eyes were full of fire.
She stomped her foot. "Don't you start that infidelity stuff on me. You know what I mean. You know how important my career is to me. I thought I was marrying a man who had chosen a lifestyle compatible with mine. You told me you were tired of trying to scratch out a living from this ranch."
His eyes narrowed. "So now I'm not compatible? Everything has to go according to your plans, doesn’t it? Well, life doesn't work that way. Sometimes things happen that change our direction. Things we neither like nor want. I'm not going to push Mom into selling the ranch she and Dad worked so hard to build. Maybe sometime she'll feel comfortable with having a hired hand around - or maybe she'll get married again. Until then, she needs me here. Don't make me choose between you and my mother, Adrienne. Especially when it isn't necessary. You like this ranch, you said so. You even said you were impressed with the hospital in Bartlesville. The only problem is that it all doesn't fit into your preconceived plans." He lowered his voice and spoke tersely. "And now you're trying to tell me that I don't fit into them either. You don't want a husband, Adrienne, you want a live-in career pal." He turned on one heel and stalked toward the house. Suddenly he stopped and swung around. "Congratulations, Adrienne. All your plans worked out. After all, I wasn't in them to begin with."
She stared at him. He made her sound so cold and calculating - so mechanical. Was it sour grapes? His plans hadn't worked out, so now he was bitter because hers did? He was the one who had been deceptive. She had made her intentions clear from the beginning. What right did he have to complain? And didn't wedding vows say something about forsaking all others? But they weren't married - and maybe it was a good thing."
"You forgot one thing," she said, twisting at the engagement ring.
"What?" he spit out.
"This." she said, slinging the ring in the dust at his feet. "I'm not forcing you to make a choice between me and your mother. You already made that choice - only you weren't considerate enough to inform me. You let your mother tell me."
She spun around and headed for her car, tears welling up in her eyes. It was over. He didn't want her, and to be truthful, she wasn't sure she wanted him either - not right now, anyway. She'd get over him. All she had to do was set her mind to it.

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