Recap of Chapter 18: With Matthew and her dad’s help, Penny planned a terrific New Year’s Eve party at the pub. The menu and decorations were nothing short of perfect, and just as she had hoped, when Matthew saw her in the sparkling dress she picked, he couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Little did she know, Chloe, the writer, had news that could ruin the night. That is, if she decided to share it.

Ever since Chloe saw the nasty response online from her article on New Year’s Eve, she pondered what to do about it. She avoided bringing up the issue with Penny that night because she didn’t want to spoil her nice evening, and it was a good thing, too. Dressed to the nines, Penny deftly acted as hostess supreme and managed to grab an enviable midnight kiss from that delicious man who never left her side. Boyfriend, she guessed. He was cute, alright, in that young, fresh-faced way, but, honestly, it was Penny’s dad that Chloe found intriguing. He was a bit older, 60-something, she imagined, and good-looking in a rugged, outdoorsy way. In a different setting, she might not have given him a second glance, but they found themselves at the dessert table both reaching for the last Basque cheesecake bite, and his response was clever. “If you think I’ll let go just because your outfit makes me weak in the knees, you have another think coming.” She laughed, releasing her hold on the dessert. He pretended to run away with his prize, but then came back and offered to share it with her. His laugh was pleasant and contagious, and his blue eyes twinkled at his joke.

Chloe would like to blame her interest on the champagne, but it was more than that. Here she was, a week later, still musing about the lengthy conversation they’d had that night and how much she enjoyed his company. Was he too old for her? At this point in her life, Chloe dated purely for the fun of it. She was childless, divorced, and completely self-sufficient. If she spent time with someone, it was because she wanted to. And spending some alone time with that man sounded very fun. At least until he hopped on a plane and went back to Maine. She’d better act fast, which brought her back to making a date to chat with Penny about the backlash from the article. Getting into that conversation was tricky. She so wanted the article to remain a complete success in Penny’s mind, and hoped this negativity from a few bad players wouldn’t sour it. She’d lost the opportunity to choose whether or not to bring it up when the guy who started the troublesome conversation got traction from his followers. Now it threatened to become an issue and Penny should be warned. Just as she sat at her desk, bouncing her pen in a rhythm against her knee, her mind leaning toward a direct approach, her cell rang. Who should it be? None other than Penny’s dad. “Martin!” Chloe said, truly glad to hear from him. “I was just thinking about you.”

“Really? Aren’t I the lucky guy, then,” he laughed lightly. “So, I enjoyed our conversation the other night and I was hoping you might want to visit over dinner… or breakfast, if you’d rather. I can’t promise half a bite of cheesecake, but I do know where to get a killer breakfast and an Irish coffee that will make you sit up and take notice.”

“That sounds lovely! I assume you are not talking about the Lucky Penny?”

“Not this time. I was thinking of the Bread Lounge. Do you know it?”

“Perfect. I’d love to. In fact, there’s something I wanted to talk with you about, so the sooner the better.” Problem solved. She would approach Martin and he could help her decide how to handle it.

Two days later, at 10 o’clock sharp, Martin and Chloe found themselves once again sitting across from each other, laughing and talking easily, this time overlooking the snow-covered patio of the Bread Lounge. They both had Irish coffees so thick with whipped cream that they got mustaches taking their first sips. Martin swiped at her lip gently with his thumb, those sparkling blue eyes trained on the task. Chloe found his sense of humor and easy manners very pleasant. He was a natural storyteller, painting a wonderful picture of his life on the lake in Maine. He spoke fondly about his cabin and navigating the water in the boat he’d built himself. He talked about how the weather rolls in over the water and the different wildlife he encounters regularly.

Chloe listened, watching him with admiration. Their age difference seemed to become less and less by the minute. “You’re good company,” She said suddenly with a smile. “That is, when you’re not thieving dessert out of my hand.” She gave him an accusatory look—chin jutted out, narrowed eyes.

He reached for her hand across the table. “Ah, I can see I need to make it up to you. You’re not one to let a guy get off easily.”

“Not where dessert is concerned. Speaking of which… ” she took up her fork and reached for the Danish on the plate between them and took a bite. When he picked up his fork to do the same, she batted it away and took another quick bite, making them both laugh.

“Do you always look like you’ve stepped out of a magazine?” he asked, eyeing her appreciatively. Chloe had worn indigo jeans with chestnut colored suede boots, and a white cashmere sweater with a lambskin coat that was hanging over her chair along with a bright purple flowered scarf. Her hair was tousled, falling in flirty waves over one eye. She enjoyed the compliment, feeling very good about life in general, sitting across from this wonderful man. He had worn jeans, too, and a very cozy-looking, bright blue microfleece sweatshirt. His brown barn jacket was hanging on the peg by their table, leather gloves sticking out of the pocket. He wore his silver-streaked hair in long layers that hung over his ears. His goatee was mostly dark with two bright white stripes framing his chin. The blue of his fleece seemed to match his eyes in the morning light. “You’re not so bad yourself,” she said, smiling. She was warm next to the fire with the snow falling outside. The strong drink gave her a light feeling and the sweetness from the Danish lingered in her mouth. All was right with the world in that moment.

Martin was absentmindedly making a circle with his thumb on the back of Chloe’s hand when he remembered. “Oh—that’s right—you had said on the phone that you wanted to talk to me about something. So, what can I help you with?” And Chloe knew their light, fun conversation was over, soon to be replaced with the bad news of Penny’s continuing saga in the press. And she dreaded being the cause of spoiling their time together.