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Emmie stood in the middle of Moon Beach Cooperative attempting to hold back tears

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Emmie stood in the middle of Moon Beach Cooperative attempting to hold back tears. Shelly and Mel had outdone themselves. Melody had worked closely with Emmie regarding how she wanted to show her work. They'd both agreed simple was best – fancy framing or displays would only distract from the intricacy of the pieces Emmie had selected to showcase. They decided to suspend some from the walls with binder clips, sans frames. Others were scattered over a low table in the center of the room with a sign inviting people to pick them up and leaf through them. Next to the table on a narrow stand was an empty sketchbook and a cup holding an assortment of pens and charcoals. Another sign asked people to fill the sketchbook with their own drawings and doodles. She hoped to add to it herself in order to create a collaborative work with the other residents of the town.

In addition to Melody's curation, Shelly had prepared quite a spread for the opening celebration. The art cooperative had three rooms: the gallery space, the store where Emmie had bought her supplies, and a meeting and classroom space, where Trisha's Tuesday night group usually gathered. It was in this room that Shelly had set up a table with wine, fruit, cheese, and meat platters, each item perfectly arranged. Emmie was so hyped up, she could no longer tell if it was nerves or excitement causing a charge of electricity to wind its way along the length of her arms.

Trisha and Dan arrived with the kids, followed by Ava and her family. The clock kept ticking and soon the doors opened to the public. She thought for sure no one else would come, but it turned out Emmie had more supporters than she could have imagined. Mrs. Fielding and several other customers from Iola's arrived and made a point to ooh and ah over the entire display. Iola herself came with her boyfriend, Jim. Just as the gallery and reception room were beginning to feel comfortably full, someone tapped on Emmie's shoulder. In a crazy instant, she flashed back to her floating bed sex dream and she turned, expecting it to be Ryker.

Sam peered back at her.

"Oh wow, Sam. I can't believe you made it!"

He glanced around the room. "This is great – good turn out too. See, I told you you didn't have anything to worry about."

Trisha eyed them from the other side of the gallery where she was speaking to the Iola's head cook, Delton. Emmie gave her a smile and turned her attention back to Sam. "It still feels weird. To do something public like this, I mean."

"Like I said, be cautious. But don't become paranoid over it. That's my job. Let me do the worrying, all right?"

Emmie laughed. "I'll try. I really do appreciate you being here."

Before she could say anything else, her friends descended upon them, Shelly and Ava, in particular, attempting to dominate Sam's attentions. "He's cute!" Ava mouthed to her at one point. Emmie turned beet red and shrugged her shoulders. That may very well be, but Emmie didn't see him like that. He was a friend – an older brother-type person in her life. There was no room in her heart or her head for her to contemplate Sam in any other light.

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