Recap of Chapter 12: There was so much on her mind that Penny turned her back on her responsibilities and ducked into her apartment to wallow, leaving Jesse to handle the restaurant. It seemed that her carefully planned new beginning would fall apart, leaving her the subject of gossip and judgment.

Matthew was stunned by the information he’d learned with a simple internet search. So Penny was a murder suspect in the case of her ex-husband’s death. But she was ultimately exonerated. How horrible would that be—knowing you were innocent and yet being charged with murder? She’s been through a lot. He suddenly felt the need to connect with her—to help her understand that it didn’t scare him off. He picked up the phone and dialed.

Penny was wallowing in her misery when the phone rang. She checked the screen to see it was Matthew. She sat up straight. Poor, broken Matthew whom she hadn’t even talked with. She wiped the tears from her face and instinctively straightened her hair. “Well, hello there,” she said, willing the stress from her voice. “Hello, yourself,” he said, happy to hear the sound of her voice.

“His limp was pronounced and he held his injured arm close to his body.”

“I heard you were in a car accident,” she said. “Are you okay?”

“I’ve been better,” he said, and then explained a little of what he’d been through.

“Oh my God!” she exclaimed, “I had no idea. To be honest, I thought you had just

lost interest.”

“Well, you would be wrong. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I have a strong need to see you now.”


“Right now.” The sexy invitation was very clear in his voice.

“Uh… let me think,” she began, wondering how she could pull off a date with her dad visiting.

“Don’t think,” he said, “just say yes.”

Sighing, Penny explained, “It’s just that my dad is visiting, and I don’t really have any privacy at the moment.”

“Then come here. Leave a note, get in the car and come see me. I’m staying at the place where I’m doing work. You know where it is.”

Penny bit her lower lip. It would be so great to see Matthew, to fall into his arms. She struggled with feelings of guilt over leaving her dad on his own tonight. She winced. “I’ll do it,” she decided. “Just give me a minute to put myself together.”

Suddenly energized, Penny found herself peering into the bathroom mirror, questioning what she needed to do to make herself date-worthy. She had already applied her usual light makeup before starting the day, but she felt grubby after all that scrubbing. A change of clothes was in order. She settled on a black shirt with lacy sleeves that showed off just the right amount of cleavage, soft blue jeans, and black sandals. She applied a little lavender oil on her neck and wrists, shook her hair out, and dashed into the kitchen to find notepaper and a pen. She scrawled out a note: Something came up, Dad. I’m going out for the evening. Hope you understand. Don’t wait up. Love you.

She grabbed her purse and a lightweight leather jacket, and scooted out the door. Jesse saw her coming down the stairs. Catching his eye, she remembered that if she left, he couldn’t call her to help him.

She rushed to the bar where he was pouring wine in glasses on a tray. She leaned over to whisper, “I’m gonna get out of here for a while, Jesse. Will you be okay?” Jesse took in her shirt, dancing eyes, and lavender scent. What a transformation! “Matthew?” he asked. She nodded. “Good,” he said.

“Take care of my dad when he comes back, will ya?”

“How is he at bartending?” Jesse teased.

“Yes! Put him to work!” she said. She flashed a dazzling smile and ducked out the door.

Twenty minutes later, Penny knocked at the big wooden door of the property where Matthew was working and staying. It was a grand house, and he looked right at home in the foyer, holding a glass of red wine. “There she is,” he said, opening his arms to her. He remembered to put down his glass to have both hands free. Penny stepped into his arms, letting her purse slide off her shoulder onto the floor. His embrace was warm and comforting, his scent a subtle combination of woodsmoke and sandalwood. When he stepped back, she realized he was limping from the cast on his leg. And he winced when he pulled his arm back. “Oh,” she said, “I almost forgot that you were hurt.”

“I’m getting better every day,” he said. “Let me get you a glass of wine.” He moved toward the kitchen, giving her a chance to get a good look at how his body had been broken. His limp was pronounced and he held his injured arm close to his body. Halfway to the kitchen, he grabbed a set of crutches that were leaning against the wall. He was safer on crutches—better balanced. He deftly pulled a wine glass from the rack and poured. Penny covered her eyes. “I feel like I should be the one pouring for you.”

“It’s good for me to learn to do things in my gimped state. Besides, I don’t get to ditch these things for another six weeks.”

They settled in the living room on the loveseat across from the fireplace, the warm fire burning softly in the room. She sipped the Argentinean malbec and sighed. She began to relax into the soft cushion of the leather couch—a feeling she hadn’t felt since her dad broke the bad news. She nodded in the direction of an area in the corner that was masked off with heavy plastic. “Is that your current project?”

“Actually, healing is my current project. Luckily, the owners have extended their trip for another six months and added to their project list. I plan to do the design part and ordering in the next couple weeks and then come up with some way to work around my gimpy state. I’ll hire some help for sure—and I have a couple guys lined up for that.”

Matthew eyed Penny, taking in the tantalizing neckline of her shirt and the hug of her jeans, the way her red toenails peeked out of her sandals. “You look beautiful,” he said, leaning in. Penny smiled, “You don’t look so bad yourself. Especially in light of what you’ve been through.” She traced the fading bruises on his face, careful to steer clear of the healing cuts. She leaned in to kiss his forehead; then his cheekbone, his chin. He sat very still, feeling her soft kisses, very aware of how close she was to his lips, how her breasts brushed against him. She paused then, looking into his eyes. Matthew slid his good hand around the back of Penny’s head, his fingers lacing into her thick hair. He gazed into her eyes, their breath mingling before pulling her to him, their lips touching. It was a gentle kiss, followed by a deepening that left her sinking into an abyss. The warmth and feel of him made her aware of every part of her body, every part where he touched her burning hotly. His hand cradling the back of her head, the eager way he kissed her, the tentative exploration of his tongue, all made her dizzy with wanting. She was suddenly eager to rip off his clothes and jump him, wondering if he felt the same way. She realized that she might be acting rashly, but it had been a very long time since she was so strongly attracted to anyone. It took everything she had to pull away. When she did, his expression was one of being consumed by passion. Yep, he felt the same way.

Foreheads touching, she whispered, “Is this going where I think it’s going?”

He answered, “If you’re asking if I want to rip your clothes off and take you, then yes.” He buried his head in her neck, kissing the hollows. She sighed in pure pleasure. “And what then?”

“Then we lay in each other’s arms, glowing from the experience,” he said, trailing kisses down the other side of her neck. He stopped at her chin, giving it a playful nibble. “Sounds like a fabulous idea,” she said, sitting up and pulling her shirt over her head and tossing it aside. He took in the sight of her black bra with lacy inlays that perfectly framed her breasts, threw his head back and shouted, “Thank you, God!” which left Penny giggling. Giggling, that is, until he covered her mouth with his, replacing her laughter with a passion that consumed them both.