Home > Reunited on Sugar Maple Road(2)

Reunited on Sugar Maple Road(2)
Author: Debbie Mason

“Rubbing ‘sucker’ off your forehead.”

“Hey, you were the one who told me to have a heart.” She batted his hand away and moved toward the exit.

“That was before I knew you were doing something fun for a change, and now you have to work.” He held the door open. “Face it, Em. Under that hard-ass persona, you’re a marshmallow.”

Her, a marshmallow? She rolled her eyes and headed for her squad car. The black Camaro was a sweet ride and ranked as one of her favorite things about her job at HFPD. “Enjoy your night.”

“Will do, and you know, just because you’re on duty doesn’t mean you can’t have fun at the festival. I hear HFFD volunteers are in charge of the bonfires.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Firefighters are hot.”

One particular volunteer firefighter came to mind, Josh Callahan, her brother’s best friend. He might be hot but he was also a regular pain in her butt. “Was that supposed to be a pun?”

“You’re hopeless.”

They got into their cars and drove off in opposite directions. Em wished her drive was longer. The Village Green was less than two blocks from the station. When she arrived at the gravel lot beside the green space, she decided she didn’t want to get boxed in and parked alongside the curb.

In the distance, the sun looked like a ball of fire disappearing behind the mountains. She’d worn an HFPD T-shirt to work and zipped up her jacket as she got out of the car. It was late September, and while the days were still warm, there was a distinct chill in the air when the sun went down. She beeped the lock with the key fob and headed for the Village Green, taking a shortcut up a steep incline to avoid the people streaming onto the grounds from the parking lot.

Flickering flames from the bonfires lit up the grounds under the twilight sky. The fires’ crackles and pops mingled with the sound of chatter and laughter and the distant whine of bagpipes coming from the stage at the far end of the green space.

Up ahead to her left, a line of colorful tents were lit up with fairy lights. The smells of cotton candy, candy apples, and corn dogs coming from a nearby food truck wafted past her nose, and her stomach grumbled. She was about to head that way when she got a look at the purple-and-white-striped tent beside the food truck.

Inside the tent, behind a wooden table, sat Bri’s sister Ellie and their grandmother—a Betty White look-alike and a founding member of the Sisterhood. Ellie and Granny MacLeod were dressed like the fortune tellers they were pretending to be.

Supposedly, Ellie had inherited her psychic gifts from their grandmother. But Em didn’t buy that they had psychic abilities, no matter how many stories she’d been told to the contrary. Going by the line outside their tent, she was in the minority.

“Let the woo-woo times begin,” she muttered.


She turned to see Bri waving her over to where she sat around a bonfire with a group of teens, including Cal’s stepdaughter, Izzy. Izzy was seventeen going on thirty with long, curly black hair. She was one of Em’s favorite humans.

Bri smiled, patting the rock beside her. The firelight cast her best friend’s hair and face in a golden glow. Em’s sister-in-law and brother could pass for Barbie and Ken.

Em looked over the Village Green and demurred. “I’d better not. I’m on duty.”

Bri’s shoulders drooped, and Em was pretty sure she heard her sigh. Reminding herself of her goal for the night—to convince everyone she was moving on from her loss—Em said, “I guess I could sit for a minute.” She took a seat, acknowledging Izzy’s wave hello with one of her own. “Where’s Gus?”

“He’s with Cal and—” Bri broke off and waved. “Over here.”

Em bowed her head when she saw who Bri was waving at. Her brother, Cal, and his best friend Josh. Heads turned as the two men weaved their way through the crowd, people calling their names in greeting. Cal and Josh were over six feet and stood out in the crowd. Cal with his head of golden hair was a perfect foil to his dark-haired best friend.

Em’s brother was a renowned surgeon who headed up the trauma team at Highland Falls General. Josh, a former star athlete, taught gym at the local high school and coached the varsity football team. With Josh at the helm, the team was on a three-season winning streak, which probably accounted for his popularity in town. Apparently, from the people offering congratulations as they walked by, his team had won their game the night before.

Although she imagined the flirty smiles and finger-waves from three twentysomething women didn’t have anything to do with his coaching abilities. Josh was obnoxiously good-looking with his jet-black hair, sky-blue eyes, muscled physique, and tattoo sleeves. But what annoyed Em even more than his head-turning gorgeous face and body was his perpetual good mood. She didn’t trust anyone that happy or easygoing.

“Freckles,” Josh said with a grin, tugging on her ponytail before sitting on the rock beside her.

She wanted to push him off the rock. Her brother and Josh had been best friends since grade school, and he treated Em like his baby sister. “I’m not twelve, you know,” she said.

“Sorry. Officer Freckles.”

Em was about to elbow him when Gus, her sixty-pound goldendoodle, shoved his curly, apricot-colored head between them, greeting her the way he always did, with a hug. “Yeah, yeah, I missed you too.” She patted him and then gently pushed him off her.

Even Gus’s doggy hugs made her uncomfortable. She was a reluctant doggy mom, or at least a reluctant Gus mom. She’d inherited the goldendoodle from her fiancé. They’d tolerated each other for Brad’s sake when he was alive. Cal and Bri had offered to take Gus when Em moved out of their place last year, but he was all she had left of Brad. And while she might not be enamored of his doggy hugs or kisses, he was good company.

Cal ruffled Em’s hair. “Glad you decided to come.”

“I had no—” Em caught herself and forced a smile. “You know me, nothing could keep me away from the Fall Festival.”

She waited for either her brother or Josh to call her out on the obvious lie, but Cal was helping Bri to her feet, and Josh was listening to whatever the kids were saying with a frown on his face.

“We’re getting something to eat. You guys want anything?” her brother asked, including his stepdaughter in the question.

He knew better than to ask Josh, who considered his body a temple, Em thought with an eye roll. “Corn dog, thanks,” she said, and Izzy asked for a candy apple.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Josh said sotto voce as Bri and Cal walked away holding hands, Gus loping after them.

“I like corn dogs. What’s the big deal?”

“I know you like corn dogs. You eat like half the guys on my team but that’s not what I was talking about.” Josh leaned into her, and she suppressed a shiver of awareness. She always got a tiny jolt when he got this close. He smelled like Brad. She’d thought about suggesting he change his cologne but then she’d have to tell him why.

“I was talking about the kids. Haven’t you been listening to them?”


“I suggest you do. You’re about to get a lot busier at HFPD thanks to this book they’re talking about.”

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