The Husband School

By: Kristine Rolofson

Turning bachelors into Casanovas, one cowboy at a time

Meg Ripley may run the local diner, but she has never been one to get involved in the small-town craziness of Willing, Montana. Now suddenly she’s entangled in it? In addition to harboring a pregnant runaway, she’s been enlisted to transform scruffy bachelor cowboys into husband material for a reality dating show. Including her ex-boyfriend, and the only man she’s ever allowed herself to love, Owen McGregor.

Owen is still devastatingly handsome, and the passion between them hasn’t faded with time. Unfortunately, neither have the issues that drove them apart. But that doesn’t mean Meg is ready to turn him into the perfect man for someone else! Because despite their past, Meg suspects that Owen is still the one.

“It’s not your imagination.”

She let her cheek rest on his chest for the tiniest second, just the blink of an eye, really, before the last notes of the old Willie Nelson song faded to an end. “I’m glad we’re friends again, Owen.”

Gently released, she stepped out of his arms.

“Friends,” he repeated, as if he’d never heard the word before. He kept hold of her hand as they waited for the next song to begin. It was silly to carry a grudge, Meg realized. They could be friends now. Older and wiser, she had no reason to fall in love again.

And no desire to. Her hand felt so warm and small inside of his.

No desire at all.


ON A TYPICAL Monday, Owen MacGregor would have never set foot in Meg Ripley’s restaurant. He would have done what he always did, which was drive up to the Java Hut, order a tall black coffee from dour Esther Grinnell and drive the final eighty miles home. But on this bleak October morning, when the sky looked as if it was about to unleash a wild storm on his corner of Montana, Esther’s coffee shack was inexplicably shuttered and Owen needed food. Boo nuzzled his collar and Owen reached up and scratched the dog’s chin.

“You hungry, too?” That was a dumb question, since the little mutt was always ready to eat. When he wasn’t sleeping. Or sprawled on the couch watching television. Owen had found the skinny stray hanging around the barn weeks ago. He’d brought him inside, fed him and named him. Content with his new living arrangements, Boo now had little use for the outdoor life.

Owen hesitated at the flashing red light at the intersection of Highway 10 and Main. Two blocks to the right, at the north edge of town, was a hot breakfast with his name on it, along with bacon for the dog gazing out the window and wagging his tail. Boo was looking for McDonald’s, his favorite place in the world, and expected a treat whenever he rode along in the truck. But Owen hadn’t had an appetite two hours ago after his weekly trip to Hopewell Living Center, and had sped past the cluster of Great Fall’s fast food restaurants next to the highway. It had taken some time for his mood to lift and his hunger to set in.

And now the thought of breakfast was strong enough to make him consider stepping into the Dirty Shame Café. Oh, the sign in front of the building read Willing Café, but folks born and bred in the area knew the place as “The Shame” and probably would always call it by its original name. He’d heard Meg had changed the name on the menus, but he also knew she couldn’t fight history.

Boo whined and wagged and licked his ear, but Owen didn’t smile. He rarely smiled these days.... His own fault. He’d spent most of his adult life in an office, dealing with politicians and lawyers. He had a gift for dealing with difficult people, and he’d turned a law degree into one of the top environmental firms in the country.

And yet he rarely felt any degree of happiness.

Owen turned the steering wheel and stepped on the gas. The world wasn’t going to come to an end if he walked into Meg Ripley’s restaurant and ordered a couple of fried eggs.

With luck, she wouldn’t be there.

With luck, she’d ignore him.

With luck, he’d be able to ignore her.

Owen didn’t imagine his luck, meager as it was this morning, would hold. For one thing, he assumed Meg would be working. He also assumed she still lived in one of the original cabins adjacent to the restaurant. And ignore him? Well, that was the best he could hope for.

She was thirty-two, unfortunately young enough to remember their disastrous summer together, unlike his irate mother, who this morning had demanded he apologize for sitting on her cat even though she hadn’t owned a cat in two decades, and he’d made the mistake when he was nine. His mother’s memory had become increasingly faulty, her confusion more apparent this past year. He hadn’t told her about his temporary move to the ranch; she assumed he was still working in DC and so far it hadn’t occurred to her to question his weekly Sunday visits, though on the rare times she mentioned his work, he’d told her he’d taken some time off. She hadn’t seemed to understand, which was just as well. Explaining he’d used the settlement of the ranch property as an excuse to leave an increasingly boring career would not have been easy. His mother had no love for the Triple M.

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