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Reunited on Sugar Maple Road
Author: Debbie Mason


Chapter One



Do not make eye contact,” Emma Scott muttered at herself as Gwen, her coworker at the Highland Falls Police Department, carried on an overly loud conversation with her daughter on the phone two desks away. Em wasn’t the only one avoiding eye contact with Gwen. Half her coworkers were doing the same while the other half were discussing their Saturday night plans as they headed out the door.

“I’m sorry, honey. You know how much I want to be there but I have to work. Please don’t cry. Yes, yes, I know. Okay. I’ll see what I can do.”

Em felt the weight of someone’s stare and sent her nearest coworker and supposed friend a glare.

“Have a heart,” Todd whispered as he got up from behind his desk. He looked like a clean-shaven Keanu Reeves. “The kid’s crying.”

“Me? What about you?”

“Can’t.” He took his jacket off the back of his chair and shrugged into it. “I’ve got a big date tonight.”

“You’re not the only one with plans, you know,” Em said without sharing hers.

“Let me guess. You’re taking Gus for a walk and then you’re going to sit on your couch binge-watching Stranger Things while eating whatever’s left of the fast food you ordered the night before. Am I right?”

“No, you’re not.” It was annoying how well Todd knew her. That was what she got for becoming friends with a coworker. When she’d taken the job with HFPD last fall, she’d vowed to keep everyone at arm’s length. But Todd had blown past her defenses as if they were made of twigs and he was a gale-force wind.

He cocked his head. “Yeah? So where are you going?”

“The Fall Festival.” She wouldn’t be caught dead at the Fall Festival but it was the first thing that came to mind. Probably because Bri, her sister-in-law and best friend, had called an hour ago, trying to convince her to come.

Em didn’t like crowds or making small talk. And while she might be a fan of the woo-woo on TV, she wasn’t a fan of it in real life. Since the Sisterhood had organized the festival, a big helping of woo-woo was all but guaranteed. The group of women who made up the Sisterhood were some of the most influential women in town. Between them, they ran seventy percent of the businesses on Main Street and organized every single seasonal festival. They also considered themselves Highland Falls’ resident matchmakers, and the last thing Em wanted or needed was someone else trying to set her up.

Todd smiled as if his boyfriend had just proposed. “Finally. It’s only taken you six months to take my advice. You’ll see I was right, Em. Getting back out there is the only way for you to—”

That was what she got for moving back to her small hometown. Gossip spread faster than a five-alarm fire in Highland Falls, and everyone had an opinion on how to get over the loss of her fiancé, including her coworkers and the members of the Sisterhood.

Em raised her hand, cutting off Todd. “Don’t you have a date to get to?”

“You’re right, I do.” He moved in for a hug.

She leaned back. She didn’t do hugs.

He sighed and gave her a fist bump instead. “Have fun at the festival.”

“Festival? Are you going to the festival, Em?” Gwen asked, coming to stand in front of her desk.

“Uh, yeah?” She couldn’t say no with Todd still standing there. She frowned at him, wondering why he was making a face.

“You’re a lifesaver. I didn’t want to disappoint my daughter, but I didn’t want to ask you to cover for me again.”

Now she knew why Todd made a face. Gwen was working the festival. “Nope. No way. I’m not taking another shift for you.”

“But why? You’ll be at the festival anyway, and I promise, as soon as my daughter’s swim meet is over, I’ll relieve you.” She pressed her palms together. “Please, Em. This meet is a big deal for her. It’s the last one of the year.”

Em felt bad for the kid but not that bad. Her own mom had never made it to her swim meets, and she’d survived. Besides, it was past time Em put her foot down. She was everyone’s go-to girl for shift changes and it wasn’t fair. Just because she didn’t have kids or a significant other didn’t mean she didn’t have a life. Okay, so maybe she didn’t but that was her choice.

Em reached for her jacket hanging on the back of her chair and stood up. “Sorry, Gwen. I’ve put in my allowed overtime this month. Gabe won’t be happy if I blow his budget,” she said, throwing her boss, the chief of police, under the bus.

“Oh, okay.” Gwen gave her a wobbly smile and brought her phone to her ear. Then she grimaced and held it out to Em. “Would you tell her? Maybe she’ll take it better from you. At least she’ll know I tried.”

Em glanced at Todd, whose lips were pressed together as though he was trying not to laugh. “Fine. I’ll do it. But if you’re not at the festival in two hours to relieve me, I’m—”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Gwen squealed.

Em didn’t step away fast enough and found herself enveloped in a patchouli-scented hug. She didn’t know what was up with her touchy-feely coworkers. She’d never had this problem at her previous job in Nashville. Then again, other than Brad, she hadn’t had a lot of time to get chummy with her colleagues. She’d been a detective on a big-city police force. So far, her most exciting cases in Highland Falls were a runaway bride, a dognapping, and equipment going missing at a summer camp.

Carefully extricating herself so as not to offend Gwen, Em said, “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m the best and you don’t know what you’d do without me.” She’d heard it before. At least twice a week.

Gwen already had her phone pressed to her ear and was heading for the exit doors.

“Two hours, Gwen. I mean it,” Em called after her, texting Bri to let her know there’d been a change of plans. She’d pick up Gus at the festival. When Em was at work, the goldendoodle stayed with her sister-in-law, who was a family therapist and ran her business from home.

Bri responded immediately. Yay! We’ll see you there. Bubbles came and went, and then a second later, I’m proud of you. So is Cal.

Cal was Bri’s husband and Em’s big brother. He hadn’t come out and said it, but lately Em had seen signs that, like everyone else, he thought it was time she moved on from losing Brad.

It had been seventeen months since he’d died, and she still fought to save him in her dreams. And every morning when she woke up without him by her side, it was all she could do to get out of bed. She didn’t know how to move on without him. If she was honest, she didn’t want to.

But day after day, she went through the motions. She walked her dog, kept the house she rented on Sugar Maple Road relatively tidy, and got to work on time. She’d thought that would be enough to satisfy the people who loved her. But apparently as the months went by, their patience with her was wearing thin.

Maybe Gwen had done her a favor. If Em put on a good show at the Fall Festival, everyone would leave her alone.

She frowned at Todd when he brushed her overlong bangs aside. She needed a haircut but couldn’t be bothered. “What are you doing?”

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