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About the author:
Theresa Paolo lives on Long Island, NY with her fiancé and their fish. She is the author of NA and Adult contemporary romances. Her debut novel (NEVER) AGAIN, released in Fall 2013 with Berkley (Penguin) and the companion novel (ONCE) AGAIN released Summer 2014. Mad About Matt, the first book in her new Red Maple Falls series, released March 2017.
She loves to write heartfelt romances with a dash of fun and a side of spice. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, brewery hopping, daydreaming, wasting time on Pinterest, or can be found chatting away on Twitter and Facebook. She also writes YA romance under Tessa Marie.
What inspired you to write your book?
This book was inspired by my love of New Hampshire, small town vibes, and second chance romances.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Growing up the oldest of six, Matt Hayes knew a thing or two about all the places teens went in Red Maple Falls to break the law. It might have been seventeen years since he graduated high school, but other than the clothing and hairstyles, not much else had changed. So, when he slowed his patrol car to a stop on the outskirts of the old barn on Chestnut, he already knew the source of Ms. Wilkinson’s noise complaint.
With a population of nine-hundred-and-twenty-two, there wasn’t much of a crime rate in Red Maple Falls. Every now and again there would be a domestic dispute up at the old Wheeler cabin or old man Simpson driving his tractor drunk down Main Street in no more than his underwear, but nothing ever life threatening or earth shattering. Nothing like the big city cops who dealt with armed robberies and gun-wielding criminals on a daily basis.
It was small town life and Matt wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. He loved knowing the address of every person in town. Loved that his entire family was close by—with the exception of his baby sister, who was currently chasing her dreams in New York City and his younger brother, who was backpacking across Europe. He even loved that his best friend from childhood was the local fire chief. Matt was what the locals called a “lifer.” He was born in Red Maple Falls, and he would die there… and he would do so with not a single regret.
He grabbed his flashlight and headed toward the abandoned barn. Music and chatter echoed through the night like a guiding path that brought him directly to the main doors. The padlock he placed on it a few weeks ago was lying broken on the ground.
It’s not that he was too old to know there wasn’t much for a teen to do in Red Maple Falls on a Saturday night, but this barn wasn’t exactly the safest place to hang out in. The beams were rotted, the foundation cracked, and it was full of rusting farm equipment that would cause more than a scratch and a need for a tetanus shot.
He stepped through the door and held up his flashlight, not expecting a frenzied panic to ensue. The word sheriff was whispered like a swear word from both directions as the sound of swift movements and clanking bottles joined the mix.
“Freeze!” he called out to the shadows dodging into the darker corners of the barn.
He mentally shook his head. Kids. Did they really think they’d be able to hide, and he would just leave? It was his job not only to protect the town of Red Maple Falls, but also its citizens.
“If you come out right now, I won’t personally escort each one of you home to your parents,” he said, knowing that threat would work for most of the town’s young adults.
Slowly, and not without a few heated whispers, the shadows materialized. Shelly Grist was first to step forward. Her usual fair skin was brightened red as she cast her eyes to the ground. She fidgeted with her hands and shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other.
Carrie Fleming was next, followed by Greg Atman who both stood next to Shelly in the same awkward stance. Al Ruiz and Henry Lutz joined them shortly after. Jake Johns stepped out last, his shoulders set back with way too much attitude for a kid his age.
Everyone in town knew Jake’s story, and Matt felt sorry for him even if he knew that would be the last thing Jake Johns would ever want from anyone. He was a tough kid, smart too, but he was slowly self-destructing, and there was little anyone could do to help.
Once all the kids were lined up in front of him, Matt urged them to get out of the barn. The structure had stood for a hundred years, but he wasn’t taking any chances. There was a reason for the no trespassing signs.
He flashed his light on those very signs. “Can you read that?” he asked the group.
The girls and Al nodded, Greg gave a quick yep, and Henry shrugged.
“Are you insinuating we can’t read?” Jake asked with his usual tough guy tone.
“Jake, stop.” Carrie grabbed his hand and tried to pull him back with the rest of the kids. There was a sparkle in his eyes when he looked at her, but he quickly shook his hand free from her grip and stood on his own.
Matt had seen that sparkle many times before in the eyes of his two brothers and also the poor saps who dated his sisters. Jake Johns, Red Maple Falls rising bad boy, had it bad for sweet Carrie Fleming. It was information Matt could use to his advantage.
“I’d listen to the lady,” Matt said, locking his gaze with Jake’s. “You might not care about having the Sheriff escort you home, but I’d wager to say she does.” Matt glanced over to Carrie. “Am I right?”
“Yes,” she said softly and Jake’s eyes dropped to the ground. His shoulders slumped forward as he let out a loud exhale as if the realization that he would let her down weighed heavily on him.
Matt sympathized with the kid. Once upon a time, he knew what it was like to love a girl who was out of his league. If Jake was lucky, he’d make a run for it before he got in too deep and his heart was broken beyond repair.
“We weren’t doing anything wrong,” Jake stated.
“Never said you were, but this building is condemned for a reason. Trust me, I know there’s not a lot of places to go around here, but I don’t want to see any of you getting hurt. So please do me a favor, and stay out of the old barn.”
He received a collective nod, even Jake who stepped back to stand next to Carrie. Matt scanned his flashlight across the property and toward his police cruiser. “I don’t see any cars so is it safe to say you walked here?”
“Yes, sir,” Carrie answered. “We cut through the woods from my house.”
“Then head on back.” He motioned his flashlight toward the large expanse of trees lining the property. The teens hesitated for a moment then began to move. “And another thing,” Matt called out. “If I catch any of you drinking and driving, I won’t be so nice. You got that?”
The group nodded.
“Good. You can go now.”
They hurried off toward the trees. Born and raised in these parts, the woods were as much a part of you as your own family, so Matt wasn’t too concerned about them disappearing into the darkness.
He waited a few minutes to make sure they didn’t double back before he got into his cruiser and pulled away, making a mental note to replace the lock. With no streetlights in the area, Matt depended on his headlights and own knowledge of the area. He was about to turn onto the dirt road that would bring him back to civilization when a call came over his radio.
“What’s going on, Martha?” Martha, his secretary and dispatcher, had been doing this job for twenty plus years and liked to remind him of such every time he questioned her. She was set in her ways and refused to change what wasn’t broken. It was a topic of contempt between them when Sheriff Green retired and Matt took over. But as much of a pain in the ass as Martha was, she was efficient and loved her job as much as he did.
“The alarm down at Sweet Dreams Bakery is going off.”
Matt’s heart skipped a beat. Sweet Dreams Bakery was owned and operated by the only girl who ever gave him that sparkle Jake Johns was sporting earlier. Shay Michaels, a petite little thing with long brown hair—he wanted nothing more than to wrap his fingers in—and big hazel eyes that could burn right through to his soul was the star in many of his dreams.
Ever since that day, twenty-one years ago, when he laid eyes on her as she stepped out of her grandparent’s car onto Main Street with those tiny jean shorts, he was a goner. She lived in New York, but visited her grandparents every summer. Matt looked forward to that first week in July every year until she stopped coming, and then he dreaded the memories that time of year churned up.
Shay was a city girl at heart, and Matt knew that. He also knew that Red Maple Falls would never be enough for a girl like her who lived amongst sky scrapers and crowded sidewalks. It took him a while to realize Shay Michaels needed someone who could promise her the world and all he could promise was a simple life in a small town he would never leave.
Seventeen years ago, he let her go, and nobody was more shocked than he after all those years of being MIA, Shay came back to Red Maple Falls to stay. Her return was a mystery and the town gossip for weeks. Though, just as the girl he remembered would, she took it in stride. Her smiles only grew when she suspected someone was talking about her.
A few short months later, she opened Sweet Dreams Bakery and was an instant success, selling everyone on her upbeat personality and her now famous maple bacon cupcake—a cupcake that won top billing at the annual Town Festival, beating out Terry, of the Happy Apple, and her famous apple tart.
He’d avoided the tiny section of Main Street as best he could. He had nothing left to say to Shay Michaels. There’d been occasions when they bumped into each other—small town and all, it was kind of impossible not to, especially when she was good friends with his sister.
With all those years between them, he was surprised she even remembered him. The boy from Red Maple Falls she made believe was her future before she stomped on his heart and turned him bitter.
It didn’t matter she was the last person he wanted to see. She was a citizen of the town now, and her business was a part of the community. He had no choice but to push aside their past and make sure everything was all right.
He took a deep breath, clearing his head and getting back into the right mind set.
“Did you call Shay?” Matt asked a moment later. When building alarms went off in Red Maple Falls, nine times out of ten it was an accident and nothing to be concerned about.
“I did. It wasn’t her.”
While break-ins were rare, it did happen on occasion, which meant he needed to approach this as if it were a viable situation, just in case.
“She’s on her way there now.”
Matt’s heart kicked into overdrive, his hands tightening on the steering wheel. “What do you mean she’s on her way?”
“I told her I’d send you over, but she said it’s her shop and if someone had the… the um… balls to break into her shop, she was going to make them sorry.”
The girl might only stand at an inch or two over five feet, but she packed a lot of punch in that tiny, tight body of hers. He’d almost feel bad for the intruder if she got there before he did.
Wait. What if it was an intruder? A trained criminal who would take no prisoners, and she’s storming in there like Joan of Arc ready to fight a war? A rush of panic shot through him, causing his hands to tighten even more on the steering wheel.
“Son of a bitch,” Matt mumbled under his breath as he slammed his foot on the gas and headed toward Sweet Dreams Bakery.
In Red Maple Falls time, Main Street was only five minutes away, but in real time it was a good twelve minutes from where he was. Shay lived roughly ten minutes away and already had a head start.
Matt flipped his lights on and flew down the road, kicking up dirt and rocks in his wake. It was a quarter to ten and most businesses on Main closed at seven. If Shay got to the bakery before him, there’d be no one to help her if she needed it.
Violating too many traffic laws, he made it to the bakery in nine minutes. The street was empty except for Shay’s bright red Mini Cooper, and he pulled his cruiser right beside it.
He flung his door open and, with his hand on his gun ready to hurt anyone if they hurt Shay, he ran to the front entrance. The door was unlocked so he let himself in, immediately wishing he wore sunglasses for the sensory overload caused by the pink and white everything.
Unable to focus, he squinted against the brightness, taking in the flipped chair to his right. He retrieved his gun and moved quietly toward the register. The shelves were covered in flour, chocolate chips scattered across the counter, and pans knocked from their perch lay haphazardly across the floor.
A slight sniffle caught his attention, and he rounded the counter to the kitchen to find Shay sitting in a mess of flour and a path of destroyed cupcakes, her head hanging in defeat.
“Shay, are you okay?” he asked, squatting down to her level, but on alert in case the culprit was still lurking. “You aren’t hurt, are you?” He rested his hand on her, but she stayed quiet. “Dammit, Shay, answer me.”
She blinked up, tears glistening in those beautiful hazel eyes, and suddenly, all those years between them didn’t exist. God, he wanted to take her in his arms and protect her, and find a way to make the tears his own so he could bear the pain for her.
Her hands fell limply to her sides as she let out a loud puff of peppermint breath.
A tear escaped her lid and slid down her cheek. This time he couldn’t help himself. He reached out, swiping a finger across the wet streak. “Don’t cry.”
She inhaled deeply and straightened her shoulders. “I’m good,” she said, getting to her feet as if she flipped a switch. She wiped her hands against her thighs, leaving white streaks of flour across black leggings. The material was practically molded to her skin, highlighting every perfect curve.
He shook his head, reminding himself he had a job to do, and that job was not checking out Shay Michaels.
“Did you see the person who did this?” he asked.
She shook her head then glanced around to the disaster that was her kitchen. “No. I checked the register. They didn’t take any money.”
Did they take anything?”
“They just destroyed the place and left?”
“Appears that way.”
“Do you have surveillance cameras?”
She cocked her eyebrow and her hip. “What do you think?”
His eyes lingered on the soft curves of her lips long after she stopped speaking. He had a lot of thoughts running through his head, like how they were the softest lips he’d ever kissed. How she was the single most beautiful woman he had ever seen. How he still couldn’t believe after all those years of not seeing her, knowing where she was in the world, she was right there in front of him that very second.
All the animosity he felt toward what they once had vanished as he looked into her sad eyes. He cleared his throat, bringing him back to reality and warning himself to keep it professional. “I can see if they left any fingerprints on the door.”
“What’s the point? They didn’t steal anything. Just made a mess and ruined all the cupcakes I made for Tommy Kramer’s sixth birthday party tomorrow.”
The point? Nobody destroyed a bakery for no reason, especially if they didn’t steal anything. In his line of work, he learned that there was motive behind everything. Somebody broke into Shay’s shop tonight, and the question was, not only who, but why?
Retaliation was at the top of his guesses. Someone who felt Shay had wronged them and wanted to hurt her in the best way they knew how. The little bakery on Main was Shay’s life, according to his sister, and if someone wanted to find a way to unnerve her this place was an easy target. “Do you have any enemies?”
Her eyes widened. “I get along with everybody here. Why would you even ask that?”
“If they didn’t steal anything then it would appear that whoever did this was trying to send a message. Maybe you don’t have any enemies here, but what about in New York?”
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