Recap of Chapter 4: Plagued by bad dreams, Penny tries to distract herself from the bad memories of her past by implementing a new winter menu suggested by her dad. Every comfort food-inspired suggestion was a hit and she phoned to give him a chance to gloat. Then the restaurant got busy. Penny was caught completely off guard when the most handsome man she’d ever seen strolled in through the door.
It was quiet in the restaurant except for the Christmas music Penny had streaming. It was the perfect amount of festiveness for her to add a little merry to the space. She had so far strung small twinkle lights across the old beams on the ceiling and wrapped the posts. She was now on a stepladder hanging garland over the door. She quickly discovered that someone before her had the same idea, as solid hooks were placed exactly where she needed them. She climbed down, wiping the dust from her hands. She was quite satisfied with the outcome. It was just what she hoped it would be: classy and friendly Christmas decorations that made people feel welcome and put them in a festive mood. Now to decide just where to place the mistletoe. Maybe over the bar. Patrons were more likely to kiss after a few drinks. And Jesse would certainly put it to good use.
As she searched for the right place, Penny secretly wished she had it all in place yesterday when that guy showed up. She hadn’t realized that a human could be so handsome. She shook her head as the scene replayed in her mind. She had made a first-class fool out of herself. There was no doubt about it. One look at that beautiful human and she came completely undone. Her mouth literally fell open and she dropped the entire stack of menus on the floor where they scattered. She instantly scrambled to gather them, the heat rising in her face. She was sure of the red blotches on her cheeks and that it had traveled to her neck too. She would be a sight. And there he was right, alongside her, witnessing her embarrassment while helping her pick up the menus from the floor. “Here,” he said in a perfect voice. “Let me help you.”
Time slowed, and it seemed the party he arrived with fell away into a blur, leaving the room with just the two of them, like a scene from a romantic movie. They stood simultaneously and he smiled as he handed the menus to her. Penny swore she saw the sun twinkle off his beautiful front teeth. Ridiculous. Self-consciously, she led the way through the room, praying she wouldn’t trip and land on her face. She sighed with relief when she managed to get everyone safely to the table—menus handed out and napkin rolls at every place. As she reached the spot to turn into the kitchen, she stole a look over her shoulder at Most Handsome Customer. He was leaning back in his chair to watch her walk away. Busted, he smiled and gave her a sweet look and a shrug.
Penny reached into her pocket and pulled out the napkin he had tucked into her hand yesterday. It said simply, Matt R. and a phone number. What to do about that? She wondered. Of course she would phone him. Or maybe she wouldn’t. She bit her lip. He obviously knew where to find her. He could reach her by phoning the Lucky Penny. She hadn’t been that undone by the mere sight of a man since Antonio. And she knew all too well how that turned out. Maybe getting involved with anyone who had that kind of power over her was not a good idea. She sighed, rolled the napkin into a ball and tossed it into the bar trash can.
She went back to the problem of where to place the mistletoe, and decided on the spot directly over where Jesse most often leaned over to flirt with tipsy customers. At least someone should have some fun. She pulled at the red ribbon loops that drew attention to its presence. Satisfied with her decorating, she collapsed the step stool and wrestled it into the storeroom.
Her cellphone rang and she smiled, seeing that it was her dad. “Hey, Dad,” she answered, picturing him standing on the deck outside with a cup of coffee in his hand, surveying the lake. She heard a loon in the distance and smiled, knowing she was right. She could picture him like he was standing right next to her—his red buffalo plaid flannel shirt with the rip at the top left pocket where he kept his pipe and matches; loose-fitting jeans and gray pull-on wellies. He was in his element there on the lake in Maine. “I saw a moose,” she said, excitedly. “It wasn’t exactly in the wild, but I did see one crossing the street in a neighborhood by the lake.”
“Bull or cow?” he asked. “Um… cow,” she said. “No antlers.” He grunted approval. The conversation steered into upcoming Christmas plans and whether she might convince him to hop on a plane and spend the holiday with her. He was non-committal, as usual, and she was not surprised. Penny suspected he might have a little romance going with the lady who ran the general store and bait shop in town, but had never gotten so much as a hint that it was true. “Will you be hanging out with the bachelors then at the bar or did Maggie invite you over to her place?” she asked, hoping this time she’d get a straight answer. “Oh, I don’t know yet what I’ll do. Maybe just hang out here—just good ol’ Barney and me.” As if on cue, Barney the Golden Retriever barked. She heard in his voice that her dad threw a stick on a long throw.
“Give him a pat from me,” she said. “Love you, Dad. You know, if you change your mind, I will always have a spot for you and Barney. I think the locals would love to get to know you. And you could help me with all those recipes you suggested that are doing so incredibly well here at the Lucky Penny.” He laughed and said it didn’t sound like much of a vacation since she’d be putting him to work in the restaurant—and they said their goodbyes. Penny knew how lucky she was to have a great relationship with her dad. How she loved that man and hoped he knew it.
She opened her laptop to check for reservations, reviews and messages. She gasped, staring at the screen. There was a message in the Lucky Penny inbox from one Matt R.