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Book Seven in the Moments in Maplesville Series 

It’s been a decade since Aubrey Laurent left Maplesville shrouded in scandal. Intent on taking the music industry by storm, she moved to Los Angeles to chase her dreams of becoming a pop star. But life has thrown nothing but sour notes her way. Now Aubrey has no choice but to return to her hometown and face the people who scorned her. And the ex-boyfriend whose heart she broke. 

After spending the last two years taking care of his dying father, Sam Stewart is ready to start living for himself. But just when he prepares to take the first step forward—and possibly away from Maplesville—his past comes tumbling back to upend his plans. 

The last thing Sam wants is to reconnect with the woman who crushed his heart, but as he and Aubrey work together on a community project, they discover that the heat that once burned between them is still there. And it’s hotter than ever. 

     Reaching into the bed of his Ford F-150, Sam Stewart lifted the section of fencing he’d fashioned out of driftwood that he’d picked up from the banks of the Pearl River, and carried it inside the auditorium at Maplesville High School. The place was abuzz with activity now that preparations for this summer’s community theater production had been kicked into high gear. Sam would rather sit through two straight hours of back-to-back root canals than sit through a musical, but he’d volunteered to help build the set for this year’s production.
     It’s what his dad would have wanted.
     The local arts council had come to rely on Charlie Stewart’s yearly donation of both time and materials, which he’d given readily, without fail, since the theater’s inception eight years ago. His dad considered his work with the community theater a thank you to the people of Maplesville for patronizing his cabinet-making business for over three decades.
     Sam wasn’t a carpenter by trade, but he’d worked alongside his dad for years in the workshop behind his parents’ home. Now that his dad was no longer here, Sam had taken it upon himself to continue Charlie’s legacy of giving back.
     He spotted the theater director, Taylor Mitchell, standing center stage, surrounded by a group of teens, her hands moving enthusiastically about as she described something to the group. Some of the teens Sam recognized, but there were a few non-locals. The community theater wasn’t limited to those strictly from Maplesville. Ever since Taylor had moved here and taken over the summer productions, they had become so elaborate that they attracted theater hopefuls from around the region.
     “Sam!” Taylor waved at him and pointed to the left side of the stage. “You can put it there. I’ll be over in a minute.”
     By the time he’d leaned the fencing against the wall, Taylor was at his side. She entwined her arm with his and gave Sam a kiss on the cheek.
     “This looks perfect,” she said.
     “Uh, thanks.” Sam said. He hoped his smile didn’t look as uneasy as it felt as he delicately extricated himself from Taylor’s hold.
     This was why, for just a moment, he’d considered backing out on his offer to help with the set. He’d known working with Taylor would be a problem. Too much history there.
     Although, in the grand scheme of things, there actually wasn’t much history between them. He and Taylor had only dated for a few months about a year ago—if one could call him showing up at her place whenever he needed to get laid dating. Some might consider him a bastard for being so callous, but he felt zero guilt about his time with Taylor. He’d been upfront with her from the very beginning. Sam recoiled at the idea of an intense relationship on a good day. Back then, he hadn’t been in the right headspace for even a casual one, but Taylor insisted she was okay with that.
     When it became apparent that she wanted more, Sam tried to break it off. He might be callous, but he wasn’t in the business of breaking hearts. But Taylor had been persistent. And when she’d continued to let him inside for those late-night booty calls, Sam hadn’t turned down the invitation.
     Okay, so maybe he was a bastard.
     He took a couple of steps to the right, creating some distance between himself and Taylor. He lifted a spiral-bound memo pad from his back pocket and pulled the carpenter’s pencil from behind his ear.
     “I got the sketches you emailed, but I’ll need a rundown of the entire set so I can get started.” 
     “Well, as you know, we’re doing Porgy and Bess—a musical version, not operatic.”
     Sam shrugged. He didn’t know shit-all difference between a musical and an opera.
     “Does it affect how the set will be built?” he asked.
     “Oh, not at all,” she said. “So, Porgy and Bess takes place in this fictional fishing town called Catfish Row. It’s set in the 1920s. Most of our production will take place in the center of the town.” She wiggled both hands toward the wall behind the stage. “Students from Maplesville High’s Gifted and Talented Program are painting a backdrop that will cover this entire wall, but we still need several 3D props. The fencing—which is terrific, by the way—and the facade of a small house, including a porch. Oh, and a wooden pier. But it needs to look really distressed.”
     Sam nodded. “I know where I can get some old but sturdy lumber.”
     One of his best friends, Dale Chauvin, had just started work on the home where his girlfriend, Nyree, grew up over in St. Pierre, a couple of towns over. He and Nyree’s brothers were adding a bathroom. He’d get Dale to bring him the clapboard siding that they’d removed from the house.
     Sam thought about the lumber that had been sitting in his dad’s old workshop for well over a year, but the air in his lungs evaporated just at the thought of entering that building. He wasn’t ready.
     “So, do you think you’ll have all this done by opening night?” Taylor asked. Before he could answer, she slapped his chest and said, “I’m just teasing. I know you can handle it.” She stepped up onto her tiptoes and gave him another peck on the cheek. “You’re amazing, Sam. Thanks so much for taking this on.”
     Sam fought to hide his grimace. He would have to put an end to Taylor’s flirting before she got the wrong idea.
     As they made their way around the stage, Sam took inventory of everything he would need to build over the next month. The summer musical was scheduled to run for an entire week at the end of July, but Taylor wanted at least one week of full dress rehearsals before opening night.
     He knew he could count on his two best friends, Ian and Dale, to help with the set building if he got into a bind, but for the most part Sam was on his own. It was a good thing he didn’t have to punch a clock in his day job. As a software developer and database specialist, he did most of his work from his home office. He could build the props during the day, and catch up on his various work projects at night. He would be exhausted by the time he was done, but it felt good knowing he’d continue this tradition his dad had started years ago.
     Sam had just sat on the edge of the stage to finish up the list of materials he would need when the doors at the front of the auditorium opened and she walked in.
     Aubrey Laurent.
     All the air rushed out of his lungs. Even though he’d been preparing himself for this moment ever since he heard that she’d returned to Maplesville two weeks ago, it still felt as if he’d been clubbed in the chest with a two-by-four.
     What else had he expected after seeing her face for the first time in a decade?
     No, that wasn’t true. He’d seen her face a few times over the years—not that he’d searched for it. But in a town as small as Maplesville, it was hard to avoid news when one of its own did something on a national scale. Even when that person left town shrouded in scandal.
     There had been a watch party at the high school when she made her national debut a few years ago, singing backup for a rising R&B star on the Grammy Awards. He didn’t attend. He also forbade Ian and Dale to talk about it in his presence. Truth be told, Sam could have gone the rest of his life without ever seeing Aubrey’s face again.
     Her niece, Felicity, who attended the Intro to Coding class Sam taught every other Saturday morning at the local library, led Aubrey down the center aisle. They were heading straight for him. He wanted to move, but he was rooted where he sat.
     Halfway down the aisle, Aubrey’s eyes connected with his, and she stopped.
     It was as if time hit a brick wall.
     Sam didn’t know how many seconds passed as they continued to stare at each other. The chatter surrounding him ceased as all of his focus zeroed in on Aubrey.
     The moment she resumed her trek toward the stage, Sam pushed himself up and went in search of Taylor. He found her exactly where he’d hoped she wouldn’t be, near the piano. That was naturally where Aubrey was headed. If there was anything music-related, Aubrey would find her way to it.
     “Hey, Taylor,” Sam called. “I need to get going.” He held up the notepad. “I think I have enough info here to get started, but if I need to clarify anything else I’ll give you a call.”
     “No problem, Sam,” Taylor said with a smile as bright as the midday sun.
     He could sense Aubrey’s approach. His skin started to tingle, as if a million stickpins were poking at his flesh.
     Sam caught her straight, dark brown hair from the corner of his eye and something in his brain snapped. That’s the only way he could describe what happened. He’d obviously lost his mind, because without thinking, he took Taylor by the wrist, pulled her to him, and kissed her dead on the mouth. A full-on, opened-mouth kiss, complete with tongue.
     “I’ll call you later,” he said loud enough for anyone within a ten-foot radius to hear. Taylor stared at him with wide-eyed amazement, and Sam immediately felt like the person that the scum of the earth looked down on.
     He released Taylor, then turned and walked right past Aubrey, not bothering to acknowledge her. But he didn’t miss the look on her face as he walked by.
     Surprise. Resentment.
     Yeah, there was no doubt about it. He was definitely a bastard.

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 Chapter One

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