“Love, Alabama” by Susan Sands
Blurb: Emma Laroux’s a fallen Southern beauty queen whose past is barely whispered about in her small town. But the secrets and lies surrounding her scandal still haunt her, and something about Matthew Pope may hold the answers…if only she could put her finger on it.
Matthew Pope wonders what awful karmic thing he’s done to land him in Podunk, Alabama. But when he sees Emma Laroux again after all this time, he knows he’s still the only one who holds the key to unlocking the truth of her past…
Will a shared moment in time ten years ago threaten the best thing that’s ever happened to them – each other?
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 a 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.
**About the author: Susan Sands grew up in a tiny Southern town in Northwest Louisiana near the Texas border. She graduated from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, during the filming of Steel Magnolias on her campus. There’s no more Southern, small town claim to fame than that.
Her characters and setting are pulled from those very Southern, small towns and open spaces, where the air is clean and the words are often spoken with more syllables than necessary, y’all.
Her lifelong love of reading and the realization that her children were growing up and would eventually move on spurred her to try her hand at writing. Susan’s two novels, Again, Alabama, and Love, Alabama, are currently available both in digital format and in print from all online retailers.
Susan lives with her dentist husband and three nearly grown children in Johns Creek, GA. She is a member of the Georgia Romance Writers and the Romance Writers of America.
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