Emma Laroux’s life is nearly perfect. She lives in the small town of Ministry, Alabama, where she grew up, surrounded by family and friends, and owns a thriving pageant-coaching business. Emma almost never concerns herself with the town gossip that she’s a has-been former beauty queen, admittedly a gorgeous one.
Television director Matthew Pope wonders what kind of karmic sin he’s committed along the way that takes him from Manhattan and lands him back here in Podunk, Alabama, not two hours from his own home town full of bad blood and disastrous memories, to direct a new Southern cooking show for the network.
Matthew recognizes Emma as the former Miss Alabama he’d rescued from a difficult and desperate situation ten years before. Emma doesn’t recognize Matthew because she’d been drugged at a frat party that night.
Tad Beaumont, the mayor of Ministry, Alabama, is Emma’s ex-boyfriend and a controlling narcissist, and unbeknownst to Emma, has manipulated circumstances, making certain Emma’s dating relationships have never progressed.
Matthew helps Emma realized what’s been missing from her life as they discover a deep connection and budding relationship. A huge sin of omission and Tad’s well-placed lies and manipulations might cost them their future together.
Can Emma forgive and learn to trust Matthew after ten years of keeping men at arm’s length?
Can Matthew overcome his weighty emotional baggage after returning home to face his own demons of the past?
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Susan Sands grew up in a small Northwest Louisiana town, where the seeds for future stories were inspired. Her lifelong love of reading motivated her to finally begin writing as her midlife crisis at age forty—better than a boyfriend or red sports car, according to her husband.
Susan lives with her dentist husband and three nearly-grown children in Johns Creek, GA.
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Emma pulled up behind Matthew’s car and frowned, noticing that his taillight was busted. She got out and pulled the bag of items from the back seat, not giving his car much more thought.
Knocking gently on the door, she figured she would leave the bag on the front step if he didn’t answer. He might be sleeping. But what if he’d gotten light-headed, fallen, and hit his head on the bathtub and was knocked-out cold, lying in a pool of his own blood? The thought, while mildly ridiculous, gave her just enough pause to knock again, this time more loudly.
No answer. She rang the bell. No answer. Now she was concerned. His car was in the drive. He was definitely home. Her heart began to beat in her
ears. She tried the door. Locked. She looked through the leaded glass front door. No movement. Nice house. She knocked again. Emma still had the bag in her arm. So, she carried it with her around the back of the house to the screened in porch. The screen door was open, so she stepped up onto the pretty porch with the comfy furniture. It appeared that Matthew spent time out here. There were pillows, a rug, a throw, a couple books, and a lamp. Nice.
She knocked on the back door. No answer. She didn’t see anyone inside. She bit her lip and tried the door. It opened. “Hello? Matthew?” No answer. She moved inside and let her gaze wander around the room. It was cozy and well decorated for a guy’s place. She noticed the kitchen to the right and headed in that direction. She put her bag on the kitchen counter then headed toward what she knew must be the master bedroom. This house was similar in style to hers.
She called out to him again. Emma was getting worried now. Why didn’t he answer?
As she entered the bedroom, she noticed it the blinds were closed and it was rather dark, but she could see no one was in the bed. Then, she realized the shower was running. Against any kind of decent judgment, she moved toward the bathroom door. She couldn’t help herself; she peeked inside. He wasn’t standing in the shower; he was sitting on the floor. She panicked and rushed towards him before her brain informed her to actually speak his name.
She pulled open the door, certain he was dead before she shrieked, “Matthew, open your damned eyes!” He did. Open his damned eyes. Opened them really wide. “Emma? Why are you in my shower stall?”
She really didn’t have a great answer to that. “Oh, Lord. I thought you were dead.” It was the best she could do.
He did look nearly dead. He smiled weakly. “I’ve been really sick, so I thought I’d sit here for little while. But I’m not dead. So, um, could you hand me a towel? Unless, of course, you prefer a shower?”
Emma then became acutely aware of her position. And his. He was naked. Oh, Lord, was he naked. The most delicious naked she’d ever seen. And now she couldn’t stop staring at his naked. And apparently his naked knew it now. Because it was staring straight up at her, too.
“Emma—a towel? Because I’m a little more inclined to invite you into my shower now.”
She raised her eyes beyond his naked to his eyes, horrified. “Uh, a towel. Sure.” Looking around, she grabbed the closest towel she could find, the one hanging on a hook beside the shower. “I thought you were dead,” she said again, as an explanation.
She was a complete idiot. And now she wanted to jump his sick bones.
Just as quickly as she heard him turn the water off, he all but shoved her out of his way to get to the toilet and throw up. That was enough motivation for Emma to snap out of it and get the hell out of sick, naked Matthew’s bathroom.
While he was getting his clothes on, she did the same things she’d done for Cammie. After everything had been sanitized, she brought in a tray with saltines and ginger ale. She found him lying weakly in his bed wishing for death to take him.
“I’m sorry I invaded your privacy. Cammie asked me to come check on you. She’s sick and wondered if you’d come down with the virus, too. When you didn’t answer, I thought maybe you’d had an accident.”
He opened one eye. “That’s a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?”
She grinned. “Probably. But I’m known for my dramatic flair on occasion. I’m artistic, in case you haven’t heard.” She straightened his bed like she’d done for her sister.
“Are you mothering me?” he asked.
“My mother always said you feel better when your bed isn’t a mess.”
“She’s right. Thanks. Sorry you had to—see that.”
“That’s okay. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.” She swished her hand as if waving his words away.
“Not that. I meant, the throwing up part. I don’t think anyone has seen me bare-assed, hanging over a toilet before. It’s not very manly.”
“I have an aversion to vomit, so I excused myself from the room as soon as I knew what was happening.
Don’t worry, still manly.” She envisioned the other manly part and kept her opinion of that to herself. Holy moly, every bit of him was manly. It was all burned into her brain permanently.
“I’ve brought saltines, Gatorade, chicken broth, and ginger ale. Call me if you need anything. If it’s a twenty-four hour bug, you should be fine in the morning.”
“Emma, thanks again. I appreciate your looking out for me.”
“We really need to find you some friends in town.” She smiled and left the room. Her legs were shaky. She could never look at him the same way again—not without mentally undressing him, knowing what lay beneath. She drew another unsteady breath.
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