Recap of Chapter 14: A night with Matthew was just what she needed. A spontaneous date turned into a night of unbridled passion. She suspected they would be good together, but the experience left her relaxed and happy. In the morning, determined to get back to her dad, Penny alluded to the fact that there was a family drama, which prompted Matthew to come clean about what he knew about Penny’s past. Shocked, Penny had to get away, and quickly. Upset, she fled the scene, falling into her dad’s open arms the minute she got home.

Penny’s dad was taken aback at her reaction. He held her in his arms and patiently waited for her sobs to subside before asking, “So, what’s going on, my Lucky girl?”

She pulled back, wiping her face with the back of her hand. “It’s just so unfair, the whole rotten story!” she spat out. “I was with Matthew last night. It was wonderful—truly—but then this morning, as I was telling him that I needed to get home to spend time with you, that’s when he came out with it.”

Her dad was watching her, leaning against the counter with Barney at his feet. He sipped his coffee. “What did he say?”

“That’s the thing, Dad. He was completely supportive. He said he knew I hadn’t done anything and that I deserved a fresh start. He also said he wouldn’t spread around my secret.”

Watching his daughter’s agitated movements, he waited for her to expand on the story. A supportive statement couldn’t be the reason why she fell apart the minute she came through the door.

“He let me know he knew and suddenly I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I was mortified that he knew. I swear a cold chill went up my spine. I threw on my clothes and beat feet. I flew out of there, barely looking back.” She covered her face with her hands. “You should have seen his face, Dad. He looked so miserable. Why did he have to say anything?”

“If you want to know what I think, I’d be happy to share.”

“I do, Dad. I want to know what you think. Don’t pull any punches—just tell me.”

“It’s pretty simple, really. He brought it up because he wants to show his support. He wants you to know that he’s on your side. He cares about you, kiddo.”

Penny took a deep breath. She was silent for several minutes. “You’re right, Dad. You’re right, and I blew it. I blew it on so many levels.” She took a big gulp of her dad’s coffee. “I promised I’d call him later today, but I’m just not ready yet. I need to move and get some fresh air. Dad, wanna take a walk around the lake with me?”

“You bet. Barney will want to go too.” They put on shoes, grabbed their coats, and headed out the door.

“Seriously, Penny, I’ve been working on a plan.”

At the very time that Penny and her dad were trying to vacate bad thoughts from their minds, the Denver news stations and online media outfits had picked up on the anniversary story, and were itching to do a juicy follow-up story. How they put it all together that Penny Pazzano was the former Esme Rodriguez Pazzano wasn’t that difficult, apparently. Reporters began calling the Lucky Penny and leaving messages before hours. Penny noticed her cellphone ringing, but didn’t recognize any of the numbers, so they were ignored.

By the time the little walking group returned to the Lucky Penny, there were several business cards stuffed into the door cracks, all from reporters seeking a story. Penny collected them and showed them to her dad. “Well, there’s no avoiding it now,” he said, heading up the stairs. “Time to make a game plan.”

Across town, Matthew was beside himself. It was obvious that Penny had run away as fast as she could, and it was all because he opened his mouth about something that happened five years ago. Why did he have to say anything? It had only been a couple of hours, but already he was feeling anxious to hear from her. He made a spinach omelet, but only ate a few bites before he became restless. He abandoned his breakfast and went to his laptop to clear emails. Maybe he could lose himself for a little while cruising Facebook. Once online, however, he couldn’t resist looking up the story again. Maybe if he knew more, he would have a better understanding of what she was going through now. The more he read, the more sympathy he gained for her.

Sitting at the little table by the window overlooking the creek, Penny and her dad brainstormed. With second cups of coffee and chocolate croissants, they each scribbled on their own pads of paper, making lists and crossing out the bad ideas. They were formulating a plan to get ahead of whatever stories were being written. If she simply came forward, identified herself, and told her side of the story ahead of any news coverage, it should eliminate or at least help control speculation and rumors. There were a couple news anchors living in town. She’d do well to contact a local for an exclusive on-camera interview. That would take care of the television coverage. But, how could she handle stories in print? She could pitch a feature story in the lifestyles magazine, Colorado Serenity. They’d do a good job telling her side of the story, of that she was certain. And, she could contact someone from one of the cards left on her front door. They could meet at the Lucky Penny for all interviews. There were a lot of ‘what ifs,’ but the plan needed to start somewhere.

Before she knew it, it was 3 pm and she had yet to phone Matthew. “Let’s take a break, Dad,” she announced, getting up from the table. “I need to phone Matthew and stretch my legs.” Her dad declared he was going to go down to the pub and give Jesse a hand and get a late lunch. Penny grabbed her cellphone and stepped out onto the deck. She draped a Pashmina over her shoulders to ward off the chill in the air and dialed. Matthew picked up immediately. He was breathless. “Oh my God, it’s you! Thank God. I have so many ideas about what to do to get ahead of this fifth anniversary bullshit. Seriously, Penny, I’ve been working on a plan.” He was rambling and speaking rapidly—he even acknowledged it himself—but he was also making sense. Listening, Penny smiled. He was in her corner and racing to come to a solution to her problems, or potential problems. She had a team on her side, and they were working on a plan.