Recap of Chapter 15: After realizing that even Matthew knew about her troubled past, Penny and her dad decided to brainstorm the best ways to get ahead of the inevitable rumors. Turned out, Matthew had the same idea. And so, after a lot of coaching and rehearsing, Penny turned to the local lifestyles magazine, Colorado Serenity, pitched her story, and agreed to meet with a writer, hoping beyond hope that it was the right move.

Penny was nervous—sweaty and fidgety. In an effort to keep the whole sordid business away from the Lucky Penny, she arranged to meet with the Serenity writer at EverBean. But once she arrived, there didn’t seem to be any quiet, out of the way tables for privacy. Oh well, she thought, the whole purpose behind the interview was to tell all, have it written up, and announce it to the entire community, complete with glossy photos. She had created a folder on her tablet with more shots than they needed, but what the heck—it was better to have more than not enough. The writer was late, which allowed Penny’s anxiety to multiply. Matthew and her dad wanted to tag along, but Penny wanted the story to come from her. She was now rethinking saying no. Protective, they argued, but she stood firm. Plus, what would the writer think about three people weighing in on her story?

As she was waffling in her decision, the writer bustled in and made a beeline for Penny’s table. She apologized for being late, dropped her stuff on the chair opposite and, grabbing her wallet out of an oversized bag, declared she’d die without a soy chai, and rushed to the counter. Smiling to herself, Penny studied her while she ordered. She was 40-something with a chic haircut, short and layered in tawny colors like the mane of a lion. She was slender and tall. Her clothes were casual but of good quality, and her leather ballet-style shoes were a daring shade of turquoise that matched the wool coat slung over the back of her chair. Penny straightened her sweater, suddenly self-conscious. She’d worn a black cashmere ribbed turtleneck and chestnut-colored jeans. The writer’s movements were confident and friendly as she added a chocolate croissant to the order and paid. When she turned back, she smiled and said conspiratorially, “I couldn’t resist getting us a little something to share. I hope you don’t mind.” Penny decided she was likable—the type of woman she could call a friend. And then she asked the question that became the focus of the next hour. “So, what exactly happened five years ago?” followed rapidly by the question that made her blood run cold. “More to the point, who were you back then and how is it that you came to live here in our little town?”

“Penny had rehearsed what she would say in this interview and what was better left out.”

Penny had rehearsed what she would say in this interview and what was better left out. She thought she could control the angle, but the writer instantly had her off balance. So, she started with the last question, explaining that she had come to town to reinvent herself after all that nasty business five years ago. She admitted that she had been naïve to think the past would stay in the past and that it was better to address rumors before they became urban legend. She thanked the writer for the opportunity to tell her side of the story, and then spared no detail in the telling about the heart-stopping arrest; the months of court, the town shunning, and finally her well-deserved exoneration. “Suddenly, I was free. Not out on bail with the threat of a guilty verdict, but actually free. The feeling I had is indescribable.” She took another forkful of the croissant and sipped her latte. “I looked around at my life and I just knew that despite my exoneration, people would never look me in the eye again. I spent all this time and energy proving that I was innocent, but it wouldn’t matter—not to the people I saw every day. And it wasn’t as if I had led a quiet existence. I was a chef in a busy restaurant, for god’s sake. There was nothing left to do but start over. So, I plucked out the names I liked out of the names I used before—Esmeralda Penelope Rodriguez Pazzano became Penny Pazzano. I bought a failing bar, packed up my stuff and my cat, and here I am.”

During the interview, the writer changed positions several times. Now she was curled up in her chair, peering across the table over her knees, assessing Penny through narrowed eyes. She was recording the interview, but occasionally took notes in a leather-bound notebook. She bounced the pen on her knee. “You know what I’m thinking?” Penny shook her head. “I’m thinking you’re a badass. You’ve been through all this… well, shit… no other way to put it, frankly. You were cheated on, repeatedly, and managed to hold your head up in the aftermath of that; your piece-of-crap ex winds up murdered and they accuse you? So, you’re arrested, thrown in jail, and go for months on end defending yourself. And then when it’s all over, you realize that unless you completely start anew, it will never be over. So, you pack up your entire life, change your name, and you wind up here. Then, five years later, the story goes viral, so you are forced to defend yourself again.” She shook her head. “Unbelievable!”

For a moment, Penny panicked. “You don’t believe me? I swear it’s all true.”

“Oh, I believe you. I’m stunned! You went through all that and now you’re spilling your guts to me—a perfect stranger—in hopes that I will tell your story in such a way that your new start won’t be completely ruined.”

“That about sums it up,” Penny said, hopeful that the story would accomplish what she wanted.

“Okay. So, this is the part where we go our separate ways.” She began packing up her belongings. “You go back to running your pub and I will go write a 1200-word article that, hopefully, paints your story in just the right light. It comes out around the middle of the month, complete with photos—thank you for that—and your new life is redeemed.”

“That simple, huh?”

“That’s the plan.” She reached out her hand. “It has been a pleasure to meet you, Penny. I wish you all the luck here in your new life.” She placed one hand over the other. “I truly mean it.”

Penny stood, ready to go. “Oh—one more thing. Would you mind if I could see an advance copy of the article?” She bit her lip nervously.

“Actually, I do mind.” She shrugged into her coat. “You’ve trusted me with your story, and I’m afraid you’re going to have to trust me to write it.” She touched her arm. “I won’t let you down, Penny. You really can trust me.”