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She giggled. “Goodbye, Victor.”

“Until next time.”

Chapter Twenty

Shannon hugged Lori when she walked into her house later that day. “Thank you for coming.”

Lori handed her a bottle of wine. “I can’t do it empty-handed.”

Shannon graciously took the bottle and closed the door behind her. “I’m not sure if that’s good upbringing or a guilty curse,” she said.

“Both.”

She led Lori through the foyer and out the back door to the patio. “It’s such a beautiful day. I hope you don’t mind if we sit out here.”

Lori dropped her purse on the kitchen counter before following her. “I’ve been in this house five times since you moved in, and each time you entertain outside.”

“I like it out here. It’s the place I feel most comfortable.”

“Is there a reason for that? You mentioned something about selling last year.”

Shannon looked around at her midcentury modern home, made a little warmer by the darker wood tones than were normally seen in the style. “I picked this home two months after Paul executed the contract for divorce. Somewhere I thought maybe he’d realize he didn’t want to split, and he and I would spend time here together. This home is more his style than mine.”

“I should have guessed.”

Shannon crossed to her outdoor kitchen and found a corkscrew. She’d already set up glasses and a cheese plate for them to soak up the wine.

“When I think of all the pining I have done over that man. What a waste.”

“Some breakups are harder than others.”

The cork lost its hold on the bottle with a pop.

Shannon filled their glasses and lifted hers for a toast. “To positive change.”

Lori eyed her with speculation. “Since we’re drinking wine, I have to assume that means you’re not talking about pregnancy changes.”

Shannon sipped the cabernet and took a seat. Lori followed. “No. Nothing like that. I’m closing my business.”

Lori stopped midsip. “What? Where did this come from?”

“I don’t know. A combination of things, I think.”

“I thought you loved photography.”

“I do. Just not what I’m doing. It’s like this house . . . wedding photography is a compromise. I didn’t realize how much of my life has been a sellout until I watched Corrie run away on her wedding day.”

“Avery told me all about that.”

“It was quite the show. You hear about those things happening, but to see it go down . . . crazy. I noticed how upset everyone became when they realized she’d ditched the dress and ran off, and I thought . . . that is exactly why I never confronted anyone in my personal life. I was too concerned for everyone else’s feelings and needs. But you know what I witnessed after Corrie left?”

“Other than the groom getting hammered?”

Shannon smiled at the memory. “Other than Victor singing in the bar, yeah. I realized that everyone who had come to the wedding had a moment of shock, and then they went on with their lives. I’m sure Corrie’s parents are giving the girl hell, but they have to go back to living their lives eventually. Like with my sister completely shedding the things she was told she needed and gallivanting around other countries, living on pennies . . . my parents were upset about it, still complain on occasion, but it doesn’t rule them.”

“You’ve given this some thought.”

“I have. I’ve reflected more in the past month than I have in years. My only rebellion was marrying Paul. And when that ended, I faded away. Literally. I fell into commercial photography because it was a respectable job. It didn’t hurt that my name and status as Paul’s ex-wife landed me contracts that paid top dollar. I guess I knew on some level I was using his name, but I didn’t care.”

“But you care now?”

“Not about using the name. Not really. But I don’t want to just be Paul Wentworth’s ex-wife. I can hide in my studio and book a wedding a month to keep myself from being bored, but where is that leading me?”

“What about having a child?”

Shannon closed her eyes, still saw what she thought her baby would look like. “I still want that. But if I have a baby to fill a void, what happens when that child grows up and has a life of its own? I’ll be right back here, or worse, I’ll put my needs on my kid and make them hate me for it.”

“I think you’re too observant to allow that to happen.”

Shannon sipped her wine. “Maybe. Maybe not. I need to find something external, something other than a relationship or a child to help find meaning in this life.” She placed her free hand on Lori’s. “I know I have you and the others, but what I really need is to rely on me.”

Lori sat back, crossed her legs. “You called to ask my advice, but it sounds like you’ve already made up your mind.”

Shannon set her wine down and unfolded from her chair. “About closing the business, yeah. I didn’t call you about that.” She stepped through the open door leading inside and brought out a stack of photographs she’d taken over the past week. “I wanted your opinion on these.”

She handed them to Lori.

Slowly, Lori looked over each individual picture without saying a word. At one point she put her glass of wine down and peered closer.

Her silence had Shannon wondering if maybe she was premature in closing her business. Maybe her dream was born from a childish desire and not talent.

After what felt like an hour, Lori finally flipped through the last image and lifted her gaze to Shannon. “Let me start by saying I don’t know a thing about photography.”

She felt her heart sink.

“Stop that!” Lori scolded her. “I don’t have a professional foot in this platform, but I know what I like. Holy shit, Shannon. Why are you sitting on this talent?” She thumbed through the pictures and isolated one. It was of a homeless woman, but not as you would expect to see her, full of despair and pain . . . no, Shannon had captured this woman as she sat beside her dog. The love in her eyes and happiness she had for the animal were palpable.

Shannon had offered to buy the woman a meal as she pet her dog. She seemed surprised that Shannon was even talking to her. They shared a few minutes. Shannon asked if she could take the woman’s picture and promised to return with a copy. Only the woman wasn’t in the same spot when Shannon returned a few days later.

“I forgot I had it,” Shannon told Lori. “I’ve been so busy feigning a happy life I misplaced the things that made me smile.”

Lori set the photographs aside, picked up her wine, and lifted the glass in the air. “To closing one door and opening another.”

Shannon could drink to that.

Lori cleared her throat. “Does any of this have to do with Victor?”

“Avery told you.” Shannon wasn’t shocked.

“Guilty.”

She waved Lori’s concern away. “I suppose me flirting with any man is newsworthy.”

“Ah, yeah!”

“I’m not sure what Avery said. Most of it’s probably true.” Her friends didn’t embellish like so many others did.

“He was the groom?”

“Yeah, that part is true. But to be clear, I thought he was an absolute jerk until after Corrie ran off. I’m still not completely sure he’s able to be anything but self-centered.”

“Avery implied that he was dialed into you like a bear to honey.”

Shannon took a bigger sip of wine. “Which could be because he had just been dumped. That’s why I’m waiting another two months to meet with the man. If there is still a spark, I’ll go out with him. If not, no harm, no foul.”

“How very calculated of you.”

“Isn’t that how I am? I think everything through. I usually mess up the outcome, but I do try and consider all the possibilities before making any decisions.”

Lori smirked. “Two months is a long time.”

“Sixty-two days, actually.”

She laughed. “Not that anyone is counting.” Lori paused. “So does this mean you’ve put the baby daddy thing on hold completely?”

Shannon cut off a piece of cheese and nibbled as she spoke. “It might be a little awkward to go on a first date pregnant with another man’s child.”

“To say the least.”

“It’s only a couple of months. Besides, I don’t feel as settled as I did before going to Mexico. I have two more weddings booked, and I’m closing my doors. I’ve already contacted a couple of colleagues to send referrals. I should sell this house, truly cut my ties to anything that reminds me of my other life.”

“Not your new friends, I hope.”

“Goodness, no. You guys can’t get rid of me that easy. You’re the ones who have kept me fueled. I need experience walking in these new shoes.”

Lori regarded her feet. “What shoes are those?”

“The ones that close the doors on what everyone else thinks I should be and start living for myself again. My aunt Joan, on my mother’s side . . . she pulled me aside the Christmas after Paul and I split. She said to me, ‘Shannon, wait until you’re fifty. You won’t give a crap about what anyone else thinks about you. Wear the red hat and dare people to look.’ She’d been referring to the magazines that jumped on the divorce, but I heard her message. I don’t want to wait until I’m fifty.”

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