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Duet on Fire (New Song Series Book 2)

Duet on Fire (New Song Series Book 2)

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Blast from the Past! Ian Scott, New Song band drummer, was strong, capable, and responsible. He could do anything, except give his wife, Ruby, the baby she wanted. Ruby was sitting in church when she was blindsided by the announcement that her ex-lover, Rory, was the new pastor of her church, and her old nemesis, Sue Ann, was the first lady. To complicate matters, Rory wants her back. Will Ian and Ruby's marriage weather this storm, or is this duet on fire?
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Chapter One

"We have an announcement to make. Pastor Bob James and his family will be leaving us shortly..." A sigh of disappointment swept through the congregation, and then the whispers started. "Why? How come?"
The elder who had announced the unexpected news tried to wait out the whispers, but he just added to the fire as the buzzing rose to a higher decibel than he had anticipated.
"Brothers and Sisters," he said over the microphone, "there are other parts of the vineyard that need Pastor James more than we do."
Ruby looked at Ian and raised an eyebrow. "Did he say anything to you guys in the band?"
Ian shook his head. "No. This is quite shocking to me as well."
Ian looked over at Carson, who was sitting beside Alice. He had his hand around Alice's shoulders, and somehow Ian doubted that Carson was very much surprised at the news. Carson only had one emotion these days, and that was happy. He was in constant honeymoon mode with Alice since she returned a month ago to stay with him and Mia permanently.
"Hey," he scowled at his friend. "What are you grinning about? Isn't Pastor Bob's daughter Mia's best friend?"
Carson looked at him his eyes had that look, that blissfully happy look that was grating on Ian's last nerve, mainly because he envied what Carson had with Alice. His friend had a love that could stand the test of time. He wanted the same for himself and Ruby, but these days it looked like they were not even on the same page.
"Yes, she is," Carson answered him, "but Mia has lots of friends, and they'll still keep in touch. Pastor Bobby is going to Kingston. You all are acting as if he is going to another country."
"Why Kingston, though?" Ian tried to whisper. He could see from the side of his eyes the elder frantically trying to get everybody to stop talking, but he was not going to comply.
In the last nine years since Pastor Keen's accident, the church had rarely seen a good pastor. There was Pastor Duff, who stayed two years, and Pastor Heywood, who had stayed just six months, and now Pastor James, who only stayed a year and a half.
"He is going to take up a position at the main conference office. They had a new opening for a communications director, and he accepted the offer to fill the position."
"Oh yes," Ruby piped in, turning to look at Carson. "I remember him saying that he was being considered for a position at the Conference Office."
"Sister Ruby Scott," The elder at the front, bellowed over the microphone.
Ruby swung around from Carson and subsided in her seat. She was literally the only one in the big congregation that was caught talking. She hung her head and tried not to laugh. She felt as if she was back in prep school and was being reprimanded by the headmaster.
"Okay, now that you are all quiet." The elder cleared his throat. "Pastor Bobby is leaving on such short notice that we would just like to thank him in this forum. He did say that he was not good with goodbyes, but I would like him to say a word to us."
The congregation clapped as Bobby made his way to the front. He had to adjust the height of the microphone to accommodate his six-foot-one stature.
"Brethren, you know I love you, don't you?"
The church clapped. He was in his element, and he knew that this particular church was on the same page with him. Ruby was also clapping vigorously. She would miss Bobby and Tina and would miss Sancia especially. She loved children, and Sancia was an exceptional little girl. Ruby would miss her little quips and her never-ending curiosity. "Sancia is twelve going on fifty," Ruby would often say.
"Well, you will always have a place in our hearts as we take this new step in our journey," Bobby said in his smooth, lilting voice. "Tina and I would like to say that we appreciate you, every one of you, but if we were to begin calling names, we would be here all night. I would like to introduce my replacement to you. He is a young man, a family man. He has one adorable girl with his wife, Sue, but most of all he is passionate about the ministry, and he is a true man of God. Brothers and Sisters. I present to you, Pastor Rory Panton."
Ruby froze. There was no other way to describe the complete inertia that had taken over her body. She could feel Ian's hands to the left of her, clapping, and Carson's shoulders moving as he disengaged his hand from around Alice to clap as well.
But she couldn't move. When Rory walked onto the stage, her breathing was suspended, and she was happy that no one was looking at her because only her mind and nerve endings were active. She was as still as a statue sitting in the pew, but her synapses had gone haywire, and she could feel her fingers and toes ticking involuntarily.
When had Rory become a pastor, and what was he doing in Montego Bay, at the Cedar Hill church? Her church? He was in her past. People in the past were expected to stay in the past. They were not supposed to come out of nowhere and smack you with their presence as casually as this.
"How are you, Cedar Hill Church? From your response to the news that your Pastor Bobby is leaving, I see I have big shoes to fill."
Then he laughed that smooth laugh of his. He didn't have to adjust the microphone; he was almost as tall as Bobby. His nut-brown skin was smooth and glowed under the pulpit lights. His wavy hair was brushed back from his forehead, and it was as thick, plush, and almost blue-black as she remembered.
Her eyes were transfixed on his face. She didn't hear a word he said. His features were as familiar to her as if she had seen them yesterday. His chiseled cheekbones, dark brown chocolate eyes, and proud Roman nose were all familiar.
She swallowed convulsively, and when those chocolate eyes zeroed in on her in the fifth row of the second aisle of benches, she swallowed again.
He faltered in his speech when his eyes connected with hers, but he recovered, and she could see him looking elsewhere after that, his casualness forgotten. He had stood up straighter, and a tick appeared in one of his cheeks.
She finally exhaled after he stepped down from the platform. When his gray suit disappeared behind a potted plant, in the vicinity of the choir loft, her breathing stopped doing that hitching and stopping thing it had been doing since he appeared on the platform.
"He sounds okay," Ian said above her head to Carson.
Carson shrugged. "It is a pity that we didn't get to meet his wife. I like to see the new pastors with their wives and families."
"He did say they were in Manchester preparing to come over," Ian said. He then looked at Ruby. "Ruby, you okay? You have gone quiet. I thought you would have been excited that this new pastor is from your parish."
Ruby nodded. "I am fine." Her voice was working. Thank God for that, as she had anticipated that only a croak would be emitted from her throat.
"They are going to have a little reception for Pastor Bobby in the church hall now and introduce Pastor—what's his name again?" Ian asked Carson.
Rory. The name echoed in Ruby's head.
"Rory," Carson said out loud.
My ex. Ruby added quietly. The guy she hadn't really broken up with. The guy she had walked away from seven years ago without a proper goodbye.


Ruby allowed herself to be coerced into going into the church hall, but she had quickly slipped into the ladies' room that adjoined the hall. She needed some time to get her thoughts together. She didn't particularly want to see Rory face to face in this setting. She hoped he didn't tell anyone that they knew each other. Maybe she didn't have to even speak to him now, or ever. She and Ian didn't need to be friends with all the pastors who came to the church.
She splashed her face with some cold water and patted it dry with a paper towel. She reached into her bag for her small comb and pulled it through her curly cap of hair. She had cut it short some years ago and loved how the look accentuated her face. When Rory saw her a couple of years ago, it was almost at her hips.
Maybe Rory didn't recognize her in church just now. Her hair was different, but who was she kidding? Her features were the same.
She sighed and glanced at her watch. Maybe if she stayed in the bathroom for a couple more minutes, she would be home free. She could edge out to the parking lot and sit in Ian's car until he was ready. She wished she had driven herself over to church this afternoon, but they had lunch with Carson and Alice and then had come back to church together.
She inched out of the restroom stealthily and looked out into the church hall. The church sisters had decorated it for a wedding on Sunday morning, and it was awash with frothy pieces of white and silver bells and lace. Most of the church brethren were crowded in there for sandwiches and drinks and to say goodbye to Bobby.
For once she was grateful that she was just five feet four inches. She was short enough to slip out of the side door unnoticed; from there she could walk around the back of the church and then toward the parking lot.
She glanced around furtively; she needed to know where all the players were located. She spotted Ian. He was talking to Carson and Pastor Bobby; his hands were in his pockets, and he was chuckling at something that was said. She knew when Ian looked that relaxed that he was not planning to leave any time soon. She didn't see Rory, but she was not going to linger and be caught up in a conversation. She saw a church sister heading her way.
She opened the door and walked around to the back of the church. She waved to some young people who were hanging out on the back porch and then she was almost home free on the graveled pathway leading down to the parking lot.
There was a drizzle. She could feel a little water as it hit her on various parts of her body. Ian's black Toyota Tundra pickup was parked under one of the lights beside a dark colored SUV. She unarmed the vehicle and was just about to climb up into it when the SUV's window beside her was wound down.
"Ruby Hyacinth Lloyd?"
Ruby spun around. It was him. He was looking at her, a small smile on his face that didn't reach his eyes. All her sneaking around had been in vain. She should have just stayed in the church hall with Ian.
"Hi," she said in a fake bright voice. Inwardly she cringed at how gauche she sounded.
"Hi," he drawled. She could feel his eyes boring into hers. Then there was silence. Did he expect her to say something? She was running from this confrontation. She proceeded to climb into the vehicle.
She closed the door and irrationally locked it. What did she expect him to do? He was her new church pastor. Why was she acting like he was going to attack her? And why did he have to call out her full name like that? Her old name.
So they had a history—quite a few years of it, in fact. People had relationships that ended all the time, but they managed to move on. They met up, they acted civilly, but here she was in her husband's vehicle, acting like a teenager, cowering behind the closed door. Her feelings of agitation were all in her head, she realized.
She glanced through the window. He still had his down. It seemed as if he was on his phone. He was scribbling something down on a piece of paper. He hung up the cell phone and exited the vehicle. She admired how sophisticated he looked in his suit. When they were together, he had not worn suits; they had hardly gone to church back in those days.
She squeezed her eyes shut, suppressing the memories. Life had gone on. She opened her eyes slowly and concentrated on the fancy black street lamps that the church had strategically placed in the parking lot. Bugs were circling the light, and she looked at them. She could pretend that he was not right there beside her, just two steps from her car. She could pretend that she hadn't left their relationship under a cloud and that both of them didn't have unfinished business. But then he knocked on the car glass. Two taps.
She was sure that they were not very loud, but unfortunately for her, she was in a hyper-aware state, and she involuntarily jumped. She took a deep breath and reluctantly pressed the button on her window, and it wound down, and there she was with him, face to face—well almost. He was so tall she had to crane her neck to look up into his too-perfect face. The church sisters at Cedar Hill would have a field day with him. Any church he went to would be an issue. He looked like some Indian male model, fresh off the catwalk in some major city. He had gotten better looking with age.
She could smell his perfume. It was so familiar, Boss no. 6. She loved the scent so much that she had started buying it for Ian shortly after they started dating. It triggered something in her. Maybe it was the raw emotional need she had had with this man in front of her that she had been trying to re-ignite with Ian, or maybe she just loved the scent. That sounded like a better reason. She reminded herself that she had been married for almost five years.
"I saw your mom the other day," he said softly. "We had a nice chat." His eyes roved over her as if he was doing some mental calculation. She felt almost naked when he dragged his eyes back to her face.
Ruby nodded. What else was she supposed to do? She had an irrational urge to squirm in her seat.
"She told me you were here in Montego Bay and that you were married. I wondered for years where you had gone off to and what you were doing." He cleared his throat. "It's nice to see you. You look the same...well, prettier. I like your hair like that."
"Thanks." She cleared her throat. "I don't know what to say. This is a surprise, seeing you here." Her stupid voice trembled a little.
Rory nodded. "I would say. The last time we saw each other we had a very ugly quarrel. I always wanted to say I am sorry."
Ruby swallowed. "It has been so many years. I am sorry too, about everything."
Rory nodded. " would think time would lessen the potency of some things, like emotions, wouldn't you? Instead, some things lay dormant and..." He stopped speaking as if he changed his mind about continuing the line of discussion.
Ruby breathed a sigh of relief. She was in no mood to go memory hopping with her ex.
"They introduced you as being married?" Ruby asked curiously.
"Yes," Rory said, "I got married shortly after entering the ministry, five years ago, to Sue-Ann Gayle."
Ruby's eyes widened. "Sue-Ann? Of all the people?" She clamped her mouth shut. This was in the past. She didn't care who he married. But Sue-Ann though?
He nodded jerkily. "Sue loves me without reserve." He said it in an accusatory tone as he looked at her.
Are you happy? She wanted to ask, but she resisted the urge to ask because she didn't want him to ask about her marriage. She wasn't happy, not right now.
She hadn't been happy for quite some time, and she wondered what was wrong with her. Maybe it was the fact that she and Ian had not managed to have any children yet. She desperately wanted children. Some women her age would find her stance ridiculous. She had an interesting career and a handsome and sexy husband who loved her, but here she was, just twenty-eight years old and feeling empty. She figured she was old-fashioned in that regard, but there was a restlessness inside of her that wouldn't go away.
"The ministry seems like an unexpected choice for you after doing business in college?" Ruby asked, looking at Rory again.
"I know." Rory grinned. "But I love it. I was in a bad place when you left..." He paused, searching for the right words. "When one is in a bad place one tends to seek God more." He shrugged. "I feel called to do this ministry."
"Good for you," Ruby said. "I wouldn't have guessed, though, not in a million years, that you'd be here as my pastor." She laughed uncomfortably. Then she cleared her throat. "Cedar Hill is a great church."
"Yes, I can sense that." Rory drummed his fingers on the side of the vehicle. When he had seen her today in the congregation, he had been surprised, and then that aching emptiness that always dogged him when he thought of her had crept up on him. Now, as he stared at her, he couldn't believe that she was right in front of him. His pint-sized Ruby, with the complexion of golden honey, slightly slanted eyes that she had inherited from her Asian grandmother and plump, kissable lips that could be soft and pliant or hard and unyielding at the drop of a hat.
He was a swirling mass of emotions. He wanted to shake her. How dare her move on with her life without him? It had taken him a considerable effort to move on with his, and even now, he was married to a woman he couldn't love as much as he had once loved her, no matter how hard he tried. And she was married now, too.
Did she love her husband? Were they happy together? How long had she been married, anyway? Did she rush to be in a relationship with her husband very soon after him?
She was staring ahead now, no longer looking at him, and he felt a strong urge to know what she was thinking. Was she as indifferent to him as she seemed? Couldn't she remember what they had meant to each other?
He exhaled and stood back from the car. This was going to be an issue, being at Cedar Hill with her here. This was going to interfere with his ministry. He dragged his eyes from Ruby's profile and looked around to the end of the car. He heard talking and laughing and then he saw Pastor Bobby and a tall, masculine dark guy with a neatly trimmed beard and mustache coming around the corner, the guy had removed his jacket, hooked a finger into it, and flung it over his shoulder. He could see that he was muscular.
"Oh, there you are," Bobby said. "Ian and I were looking around. I was looking for you, and he was looking for his wife, Ruby."
Rory almost winced. This was Ruby's husband, this hulk of a man that looked like he could break bricks with his bare hands. He pasted on a smile and held out his hand to Ian. They were the same height. Ruby always did have a thing for guys who were much taller than she was.
Ian shook his outstretched hand. His grip was firm, and his hand felt calloused.
"You and Ruby are from the same parish. Do you know her?" Ian asked. He had a deep voice and a confident handshake.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do know her," Rory said, nodding. He was almost sure that he knew Ruby much better than Ian did. He was in her life through the turbulent teen years, the confused early adult years. He liked to believe that he knew Ruby better than Ruby knew herself. They had been through so much together—shared so much.
"I was just saying hello to her," he responded to Ian, who was giving him a far too speculative look for comfort.
Ruby pushed her head through the window. "I am here." She waved to Ian.
Ian nodded and was about to stride toward the driver's side of the car. "Well, nice to meet you, Pastor... er... Panton."
Bobby chipped in before Rory could go, "Ian is a drummer in the New Song band."
"Oh, you don't say," Rory said politely. "You guys are famous. I have seen you perform on television for national programs."
"Yes, they are famous," Bobby said, "but humble too. You will want to get acquainted with all of them while you are here. They are great guys."
Ian stepped away. "See you tomorrow evening at the official send-away at your home, Bobby."
"Goodnight," Bobby said smiling, patting Ian on the back.
Ian walked around to the driver's side of the car and glanced at Ruby. She had on one of her impenetrable expressions.
Her lips were red and wet as if she was biting them. He wanted to ask what was wrong, but he already knew the answer. She would say she was doing just fine, and that would frustrate him. He would then pick a fight to find out what her true feelings were. He didn't have the energy for a fight right now.
"You didn't say that you knew Pastor Panton?" he asked Ruby instead.
"I do." She nodded and considered telling him just how well, but she changed her mind. They had enough problems as it was. Why should she add to them?