Wedding at Firehouse Ranch - Suzanne Jenkins

Chapter 1

Fallbrook is an old cowboy town with multiple personalities. On the southern end lies the wealthy golf course community; the north end, a huge military base. Falling in between those two demographics is a rural, sparsely populated mountain community that has the distinction of having only two ways in and two ways out.

When shy guy Paul Saint figured out that he wanted to follow his father, uncle and cousins into the fire service, he knew it wasn’t going to be in the heavily populated San Diego suburbs where they served. He wanted rural, and he wanted isolated, and he wanted to be where no one knew his name. And his mother had a fit.

“Oh, lord, it’s bad enough I have to worry about your father risking his life in the foothills. With you there in no-man’s-land, all they fight are wildfires, Paul. Be a doctor like your uncle John, or a lawyer like Uncle Steve.”

Grinning, he understood her angst. House fires set his teeth on edge. He’d have to fight a structure fire on occasion. But it would be grasslands and wildland fires he’d get the most of in the north end of San Diego County on the county lines of Orange and Riverside.

The year he completed fire academy, as soon as he knew for sure he was hired at Station #20, he moved out of his parents’ palatial house in Rancho Santa Fe and into a cramped efficiency apartment in town with his girlfriend, Bethany.

Bethany was one of those girls, the fashion model slash aspiring actress who raised the rancor of other women, but raised something else in men. Paul loved showing her off at Sunday dinner, and she became a hit among the family, who listened with rapt attention to her stories of the movie moguls and fashion icons with whom she hobnobbed in Hollywood. When all eyes and ears weren’t focused on her, she stared at her phone, not at all interested in anyone else.

The tiny bathroom in their apartment became Bethany’s dressing room. The vanity was her makeup area, and jars of cotton balls and brushes and all her makeup paraphernalia dominated the space. In order to take a shower, Paul had to remove her dresses and ostrich-feather stoles and boxes of shoes. But he did it gladly, knowing his sacrifice was helping in her aim for success.

Two or three times a week, she drove up to LA with her portfolio and a car packed with clothes and went to auditions and did her photo shoots and fashion shows.

Rarely, she’d ask Paul to accompany her to a red-carpet event or to a show in which she was going to perform, and he’d dress up in either a tuxedo she’d bought for him or black tie or a tailored suit. His dark good looks caught the eye of a director here or there, getting Paul bit parts and walk-ons and jobs that required the body and pretty face of a voiceless man. The notoriety made him somewhat a target at the fire station, but he endured the goodhearted teasing, saving the money he made from these gigs because he knew the day would come when the windfall would end, and it ended sooner than later.

It was short lived when the following year an opportunity arose for Bethany: a recurring role in a primetime sitcom. She was going to move to LA and, after a bittersweet goodbye, left Paul in the apartment, alone. But being alone wasn’t that different from living with Bethany, who didn’t have much to say outside of, “How do I look in this dress?”

Then, a miracle, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, a cabin on the corner of sprawling old Red Mountain Ranch up in the Cleveland National Forest became available for rent. In its heyday, the ramshackle place, the cabin at Firehouse Ranch, had been the bunkhouse for Fire Station #20 fifty years before.

The property had a paddock and a four-stall horse barn, and it came with two sweet old mares and a mule. His parents came to visit the Saturday after he moved in, and he thought his mother would have a stroke.

“Paul! How are you going to be gone overnight and have living things to care for?”

“Ma, a local has been caring for the horses for years. The owner pays for it, so it’s all good. I can ride, too.”

“I’m so jealous,” Clare said, relenting. “I miss riding with you boys.”

“Well, you can stay with me and ride if you