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Pedigreed, Lucas Campbell decides to move his entire life, including his veterinary practice, from San Diego to Monterrey. They reside in the same state, but the cities are worlds and lifestyles apart. And to top it all off, Chloe's no stranger to cleaning up dog poop! She runs "Our Gang" ranch, a sanctuary for abandoned and rescued pit bulls. Lucas likes cleaning cages, feeding puppies and cuddling and cooing with adorable animals alongside Chloe. But is he just biding his time before his family expects him to fall in line and marry "the right girl," or will Lucas and Chloe's mutual love for their furry, four-legged friends be enough to keep him in Monterrey for good? In a good way.

And a silent scream in the back of my throat. With that comforting thought—and if by comforting, I mean abject terror—I turned out my light. Looking back, I wish I could tell you there was one particular thing that tipped the scales and made me run away from my wedding.

But all I know was that from the moment I set my feet on the floor that morning, I knew something was off. And not just my stomach, although that had been burbling and gurgling since 3 A. I ate oatmeal practically every morning of my life. But today when I shuffled into the kitchen, I saw something I had never seen there before. Like, with the sugar and the fat. I looked around to make sure that, yes, I was still in my own house. My oatmeal bowl was set out, place mat and utensils laid with care, as it was every day.

Slow cooker was plugged in, with my preportioned amount piping hot and ready for eating. The small pitcher of nonfat milk sat by my place setting, holding exactly a half cup of gray, watery, not-so-much milk.

Donuts were where I went off the rails. Taking one more look around to make sure no one was there to witness this culinary mortal sin, I walked over toward the platter.

And regarded the donuts, piled high and arranged with attention toward making a beautifully delicious display. I was a slim girl; genetics plus a Southern California lifestyle had made me so. Long blond hair. Tall; not so much curves as there were hills and valleys; strong from running, tennis, Pilates, yoga, you name it.

But again: never in my life had I seen a donut in my own home. And then in my hand. And then in my mouth.

And then. Somewhere around the third donut, my mother walked in with my wedding planner, Terrance. Her quiet meant danger. It was every man for himself. Or herself. Normal, chastised Chloe would have nodded, put down the donut in an apologetic fashion, and exited the room quietly, knowing that this indiscretion would be mentally catalogued and trotted out sometime in the future, typically when I least expected it.

And for whatever reason, I decided to draw a line in the sand—with my big, luscious donut. It was a heady mix. Swallowing, I calmly licked my fingertips, never taking my eyes off my mother. True to form, she remained cool. Terrance shot a stifled grin my way, snagged a cinnamon twist of his own, and went where he was told. I was alone with my mother. What must our wedding planner think? My mother sighed and looked at the counter. And as she did, I realized it was the single most reliable expression she had on her face when it came to me.

I loved my mother, but it sure was hard to like her sometimes. Good posture is the calling card of good breeding, after all. If I could manage to lift my giant elephant legs off the floor. Mothers of the bride getting in screaming matches with the mothers of the groom. Grooms getting drunk at the reception and falling into the wedding cake. Once I even saw a father of the bride trying to make out with a groomsman. I had someone curling my hair, someone painting my nails, someone applying my makeup, and someone touching up my pedicure.

In the background, happy music played and happy bridesmaids danced while sipping mimosas. The entire house was Happy Wedding Central, bursting with feminine giggles. Yet I, the one the frivolity was revolving around, was ready to burst into tears. No one was noticing my dark mood except my wedding planner. Which I was pretty sure were stacked.

He alone had listened to what I wanted for my wedding, and even though I eventually gave in to what my mother wanted, he had fought for me all along.

And now he saw that the tears that were building in my eyes were not, in fact, due to the false lashes recently applied, as I had tried to spin it. As each hour passed, that ball of awful was getting bigger and bigger, and it was starting to affect the rest of my body. There was a ringing in my ears. My fingers and toes felt buzzy.

My tongue felt thick. And my eyes kept filling with tears. My pulse was racing, my hands were clammy, and words were thundering up my throat, literally begging to get out.

Scary words. Like no. And stop. And seriously stop this. But it was just wedding nerves, right?

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Not so phantom now. They were blocks of foot ice. But normal, right? Please breathe. Terrance took one more look at me and told the glam squad to scram. Bridesmaids whooshed out in a wave of orange juice and champagne, my curls were quickly pinned to my head, and then I was all alone. I put my head into my hands and just sobbed. As you do on your wedding day, right? Oh, so wrong. This felt wrong, all of this, just felt so very wrong. I was beyond nerves; I was into panic. Panic that needed space to move and give voice to what was raging inside.

Have you ever had those moments when words just seem to hang in the air? I could literally hear them echoing back to me in the stark silence. I lifted my head to see peep-toe pumps, one of them now tapping furiously against the dark teak wooden floor.

I saw tanned and toned legs, knees that were just beginning to wrinkle, an off-white linen afternoon skirt, a peach silk wraparound blouse, a ruby, an emerald, a diamond, Chanel lipstick Rouge Coco Shine, thank you very much , and wide green eyes accented by more than a touch of irritation. Concern over how I was feeling? Or concern that I might unravel her perfect day? I know which horse I was betting on.

Not today. Not any day. My spine straightened as if a weight had been lifted, and my head was floating on a tiny string twelve inches above my body. My head was now floating a full two feet in the air, light as a feather. And oh boy, now I was smiling? Small, but it was there.

The same could not be said for my mother. Charles Preston Sappington. And she never failed to take the bait. But tonight, she surprised us both by pushing back from the table. Tall and regal and every inch the mother of the bride, she slipped seamlessly into the background, making sure that the waiters were circling and everyone had everything they needed. She was the hostess with the mostest, a job that I supposed I should be doing.

Pleasantries, mingling, restrained and dignified laughter spilling around the room. Fifty of our very very closest friends and family. And this was only the rehearsal. Four hundred four hundred! But my father was required to pay the membership dues every year. My father noticed. She meant well. I reminded myself of this several times in the time it took me to make my way from the corner table to the center of the restaurant, where my intended held his hand out for me.

I pasted on the look of happiness and sincerity that had won me Miss Golden State nearly two years ago. I stole a moment later in the evening, after the coffee had been served and the endless toasts completed how in the world would anyone have anything to say tomorrow if they blew their toast wad at the rehearsal dinner? My mother mingled like a pro, smiling and nodding at each one as they complimented her on what a lovely daughter, what a lovely couple, what a lovely evening.

Smiling and nodding was what she did best.

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Case in point: Have to keep those lawns as green as possible, even when there was a drought, you know. Or my smile and nod when Mrs. Snodgrass went on and on about a racy book that everyone was talking about but no one would admit to reading, when in fact I know every woman there had read it.

I even smiled and nodded when Mr. Peterson lectured us about illegal immigration, when I knew for a fact that his nanny was undocumented. Honestly, I felt like a bobblehead at times. But that pageant training kicked in, and I could smile and nod for hours on end, always looking interested, always looking pleasant, always looking pretty.

Inside my head, I was wondering what would happen if I jumped onto a table and started screaming. What would the reaction be? How quickly would someone usher me off the table, and how quickly would everyone else go back to their coffee?

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I was saved from my mental screaming by my mother, who was making a second pass around the restaurant. Be a good girl and go thank them for coming. Finally, Charles and I found ourselves alone in front of the restaurant. Before Cinderella was packed off into her stretch limo coach, she was to say good night to her handsome prince.

Arms he kept strong, along with every other part of his body, with hours of tennis, racquetball, swimming, jogging, and, of course, golf. Avid golfer. Of course I did. I signed you up. We talked about this before. Working with your pageant platform is one thing; the therapy dog charity was great. Charles Preston Sappington was tall.

My mother, who traded in perfect, had introduced us. He was an attorney. He argued for a living, which is why I never bothered to argue with him. Hard to go toe-to-toe with the toughest litigator in all of Southern California. I know this because he had it on a plaque above his desk.

So I rarely bothered. But for now?

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Just concentrate on getting some sleep tonight so you can be beautiful for me tomorrow. But then after that? And everyone laughed along with me, raising their glasses in our direction. Was the clap a little harder than necessary? Was the threat as affable as my father made it sound? I giggled loudly, earning an eye roll from my mother, who had the most audible eye roll in the room. In any room. And particularly any room my father was in.

He leaned over me, pressing an absentminded kiss onto the top of my head. I kissed the air behind him as he sped off to press some more flesh, and turned to see my mother watching us. Our rehearsal dinner, and he was schmoozing.

That wedding dress barely fits as it is.

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I smiled resignedly, setting down my fork with a clatter that earned me an eyebrow raise. She should enjoy this night! And what was that toast? You know people? Pencil pushers? And she never failed to take the bait.

But tonight, she surprised us both by pushing back from the table. Tall and regal and every inch the mother of the bride, she slipped seamlessly into the background, making sure that the waiters were circling and everyone had everything they needed. She was the hostess with the mostest, a job that I supposed I should be doing. Pleasantries, mingling, restrained and dignified laughter spilling around the room.

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Fifty of our very very closest friends and family. And this was only the rehearsal. Four hundred four hundred! But my father was required to pay the membership dues every year.

My father noticed. She meant well. I reminded myself of this several times in the time it took me to make my way from the corner table to the center of the restaurant, where my intended held his hand out for me. I pasted on the look of happiness and sincerity that had won me Miss Golden State nearly two years ago.

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