Recap of Chapter 13: Just when Penny felt there would be no escaping her situation, she got the perfect invitation to meet with Matthew. Escapism at its best! So, she scribbled a note to her dad, got herself date-ready, expressed her gratitude to Jesse, and drove to meet him, running toward the first relaxing yet thrilling night she’d had in a long time.
Penny’s eyes fluttered open as the sun was rising. It took a minute to find her bearings in the strange room before she remembered all that took place the night before. She rolled over to see Matthew, sleeping peacefully, one arm across his head. How beautiful he looked, even injured. She lay there watching him with a smile on her face, recalling the thrilling night they shared, before deciding to get up. Very carefully, she edged out of bed and tiptoed across the room completely naked. In the bathroom, she found a robe hanging on a hook and slipped into it. She made her way into the kitchen, her mind set on coffee. Luckily, it was a well-stocked kitchen, so she easily found what she needed. As the percolator chugged, Penny gazed out the window, watching the blue light of dawn creep across the landscape. She felt very relaxed, and it was a welcome sensation. It was in that moment of complete inner peace that she felt Matthew come near and slip his arm around her. He nuzzled her neck.
“I wondered for a second if you woke up, realized who was lying next to you and ran for the hills,” he teased. She giggled, “I was going to but not before coffee. There will be no desperate fleeing before coffee.” She turned and kissed him, warming her hands on his bare chest. He shivered theatrically. “How do you take your coffee, anyway?” she asked. “Cream,” he said, kissing her neck. She pulled two thick mugs from hooks and poured the coffee. “Shall we take these back into the bedroom to enjoy?” “Absolutely,” he agreed, giving her backside a playful pat and she scampered in front of him. He was without crutches, leaning his good hand against the wall for balance. Penny placed the cups on the log end tables and leaped onto the bed, gathering the plush bedding around her. “Isn’t this nice?” she said gleefully. Matthew wasn’t in leaping shape, but he managed. “It’s wonderful,” he said. “You’re wonderful.” He ran a finger across her cheek. “I’m afraid I can enjoy this coffee with you and then I need to get back to my dad, whom I abandoned to romp with you. I’m a bad daughter.”
“That’s very bad news,” Matthew said. “I was hoping to keep you right here for most of the day.” He cupped her breast through the robe. “Don’t even think about it,” she said, removing his hand. “I wasn’t kidding when I said I needed to get back home. We’re kind of in the middle of a family crisis, which is why he came out in the first place. I can’t just leave him on his own.”
Matthew could guess the crisis—it had to do with the fifth-year anniversary of her ex-husband’s unsolved murder. Her dad probably came to help her somehow. Now was as good a time as any. He swallowed hard and then said softly, “Does the crisis have anything to do with that trash reporting about the anniversary of your ex’s murder?”
Horrified, Penny’s blood ran cold. She nearly choked on her coffee. When she recovered, she stared at him. “So, you know.”
He nodded. “And, I want you to know that none of that matters. You were exonerated. You didn’t do it, so why should that bother me? I feel bad for you. What a shit show that must have been!”
Tears gathered in her eyes. She didn’t know what emotions she was feeling exactly—just that she couldn‘t stop the tears from flowing. Matthew gathered her against him. “Oh, don’t cry,” he said. “There’s no need for tears. I want you to know that you’re safe with me. I’m not going to tell anyone. You came here for a fresh start. Why the hell shouldn’t you have one?”
Penny suddenly snapped into action. She pushed away from Matthew’s embrace, wiped at the tears on her face, threw off the robe and began gathering her clothes. She had a need to escape and fast.
“Don’t do that,” Matthew said. “Don’t run off. I meant what I said. You deserve a fresh start.”
“I appreciate that. I do. I just really have to get out of here. I really need to get home.”
Matthew could tell that there would be no convincing her to stay while she was in that state. He rubbed his face, sorry he brought it up. “Can I give you a call later?”
“Sure,” she said, slipping on her shoes. “We’ll talk later.” And she disappeared out the bedroom door. Matthew fell against the bed, defeated.
Penny grabbed her purse and jacket, threw open the door and stepped out into the rising light of the day. Driving home, tears fell unchecked down her cheeks as she navigated the winding road. Her emotions flew everywhere. It wasn’t as if Matthew had reacted badly. In fact, he’d said all the right things. She had no reasonable explanation for her actions. She just knew she had to run, and she acted on instinct.
The restaurant was dark, as she locked the door and tiptoed upstairs to her apartment. Holding her shoes in her hand, she opened the door and pushed it closed very quietly. She jumped and yelped when she heard her dad’s voice. “Well, this looks familiar,” he said, appearing in the kitchen doorway, holding a cup of coffee. “Just like when you were a teenager, sneaking in after curfew,” he chuckled. “Care to shed some light on where you’ve been?”
She rushed to him then, landing in his arms in a burst of tears.