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“Better.”

She dropped her hand to Penny’s stomach. “You must be so happy about the baby.”

“I am.”

“I’ll get there someday. You’re right. This hurts so much and I don’t know how I’m going to survive it. But I will survive and I’ll go on and one day I’ll have everything I want.”

“Yes, you will. And when that happens, I’m going to be standing right next to you saying ‘I told you so.’”

THE NEXT WEEK PASSED in relative quiet. Penny figured they’d all earned the break.

The restaurant did well, Lindsey was released from the hospital, and while Dani was still emotionally devastated, she was making forward progress. Even the rats were gone, thanks to a very efficient Al.

Penny sat at her desk playing with different combinations for specials for the following week. The Alaskan fishing season was well underway, giving her access to some wonderful seafood. She was already receiving produce from the WallaWalla area and parts of Oregon. When the Walla Walla onions made their appearance, she had some great ideas in mind.

“Maybe a special tasting dinner,” she murmured. “One that features whatever is fresh and special.”

She made a note. That was something she would discuss with Cal later. Right now she needed to be brilliant.

“Salmon?” She loved salmon. It was about her favorite fish. But maybe something else. Something…

“Am I interrupting?”

Penny glanced up and saw Gloria standing in the doorway to her office. Great. The rats might be gone, but now there was a snake in the kitchen.

She wanted to tell the older woman to get her ass out, but technically, she did own The Waterfront and was Penny’s boss’s boss.

“I’m working on specials for next week,” Penny said. “I’ll be putting in my fish order fairly soon.”

“Ah, how interesting. I don’t suppose there’s any chanceyou’ll be taking the fish and chips off the menu.”

Penny forced herself to smile. “It’s our best seller.”

“How unfortunate. I always thought the people of Seattle had better taste than that.”

Penny ground her teeth together. “Did you stop by just to insult me, Gloria, or is there another reason?”

Gloria moved into her office and took a seat. “Insult you? I most certainly did not. Really, Penny, what a thing to say. I was saying that I didn’t like the fish and chips and wished they weren’t on the menu. How is that an insult?” She sighed. “You’re the executive chef. I suppose it’s reasonable for you to have a sense of ownership where the menu is concerned. That’s quite commendable.”

Penny frowned. Gloria sounded so reasonable, yet she was sure there was plenty more to come.

But before she could ask Gloria why she’d stopped by, the other woman glanced at her stomach and said, “You’re showing, dear. When is the baby due?”

“September.”

“A lovely time of year. I was told you don’t know who the father is. Is that true?”

“I had in vitro fertilization using a sperm donor, if that’s what you mean.”

“Uh-huh. So you know nothing about the man.”

“I have general information on him and his medical history.”

“But not his character.” She leaned forward. “It’s very much like buying those unmarked cans at the grocery store. It’s so very easy to get a bad batch of peas or carrots and not know until you’ve already brought them home.”

“Thanks for the warning.”

“I did want to warn you, dear,” Gloria continued. “I know you have your heart set on Cal, but it’s not going to happen. He’s never forgiven you for walking out on him. He’s not interested in you or your bastard. I know. He told me.”

Penny didn’t care that this woman was in charge or that she was elderly. She stood and pointed to the door. “Get out.”

Gloria rose. “He won’t marry you, if that’s what you’re hoping. You may think he’s changed, but who really does? In truth, he gave up Lindsey and he gave you up once already. Why would he keep you now?”

“If you don’t leave, I’m going to call for the guys in the kitchen to haul you out,” Penny said, trying not to give in to the anger rising inside of her.

“We both know you won’t do that,” Gloria told her. “My words may sound cruel, but I’m telling you this for your own good. Cal’s contract with the restaurant is only for four months. He’s leaving.”

She spoke so triumphantly that Penny didn’t feel bad about bursting her bubble.

“You love to get in between people and mess around. I think it’s your idea of a good time. But here’s the thing. I already know Cal’s leaving. He told me the first day he tried to hire me.”

Gloria smiled. “Of course he did. Did he also mention that his little coffee company is expanding? They’re going to be opening stores back east. A complete waste of Cal’s talent if you ask me, but there we are. He’s heading the team. As soon as his job here is finished, he’s moving to New York. Did he happen to mention that?”

Penny didn’t want to believe her. It couldn’t be true. Cal moving? He hadn’t said a word.

“You’re a cold, calculating lying bitch,” she told Gloria. “I don’t know why you find such pleasure in hurting people, but you do. Dani only ever wanted to make you proud of her, but you couldn’t accept that. You had to run her off.”

Gloria sniffed. “Dani is hardly my granddaughter. We’re no blood relation at all.”

“Funny how worried you are that Dani’s not a Buchanan when you’re not one yourself. If I remember my history correctly, you married into this family. You were a poor nobody. What? A hotel chambermaid?”

Gloria stiffened.

Penny allowed herself a slight smile. “Oh, yeah. I did my research on you years ago. I know all about your affair with Ian Buchanan and how when that ended, you married his son. Tell me, Gloria. Were you still banging Daddy when you walked down the aisle with the son?”

“You slut,” Gloria hissed.

“You should know.”

“I’ll destroy you.”

“You can try. I’m up to the fight. But before you waste your effort on that, let me share one thing with you. You’re an old woman. You’ll be dead soon. But first you’re going to be alone because you’ve driven anyone interested in loving you away. Now get the hell out of my kitchen.”

CHAPTER NINETEEN

PENNY SAT IN HER OFFICE long after Gloria had left. She had to wait for the shaking to stop before she could catch her breath. That hadn’t just happened, she told herself, even though she knew it had. No one could imagine an encounter like that. At least not on purpose.

“A nightmare,” she murmured. “That woman is a nightmare.”

She put her arms on her desk and rested her head on them. It was fine, she told herself. She was fine. Gloria could scream and yell and tell all the lies she wanted, but Penny refused to believe them. There was no way that old bitch was going to drive a wedge between her and Cal.

Of course she knew he was only working at the restaurant for four months. He’d told her that from the beginning. He wasn’t the man he had been three years ago. He didn’t keep secrets anymore. She knew about Lindsey and Dani and why he’d tried to keep her out of the family business. Honestly, after Gloria’s last visit, his motivation seemed more noble than ever.

But he hadn’t mentioned anything about expanding The Daily Grind back east.

“No,” she said as she sat up. “No, no, no. I won’t let her get away with this.”

Cal wasn’t leaving. He would have told her. They’d become friends. They were lovers. Their lives were entwined in a way they hadn’t been since they were married. She mattered to him. She had to because she was totally in love with him.

“Everything is fine,” she said aloud. But the words didn’t sound right and she didn’t believe them.

Hating herself for letting Gloria get to her, she found an old phone book in her bottom desk draw and looked up the corporate headquarters for The Daily Grind. After a receptionist answered, she asked for someone in charge of their corporate expansion.

CAL SAT in his office at The Daily Grind and considered his life. After tallying up the wins and losses, he knew he’d come up short of even, which meant he needed a new game plan.

Dani was furious at him, and rightfully so. He should have told her a long time ago. He should have known she was tough enough to hear the truth and that however it hurt her, better that she hear it from someone who loved her rather than from Gloria whose agenda was her own twisted secret. Dani would survive, but the timing sucked, coming on the heels of Hugh’s shitty behavior.

He should have listened to Penny.

Shaking his head, he turned to his computer, but instead of the screen, he saw Penny’s smiling face. So much had happened so quickly, he thought. So much had changed. After the divorce he’d assumed she was out of his life forever. He’d resisted taking the job at The Waterfront because he didn’t want to deal with Gloria. But she’d guilted him into it and because of that, he and Penny were…

Were what? Back together? He wouldn’t go that far, but they mattered to each other. Once again he’d fallen for her smile, her brain, her talent. She was funny and beautiful and fearless.

She was strong. Having a baby on her own. He never would have guessed that one, even knowing how much she wanted children. She would be a great mom.

He stood and walked to the window. His side of the building looked toward Lake Union. As he stared out on the cloudy sky, he thought about her growing bigger with her baby. About her giving birth…by herself.

No, not by herself. Naomi would be there. And Dani. Reid. Would he? Would he want to be in the room with her, holding her hand, telling her to breathe?

The question immobilized him. What did he want with Penny?

Instantly Lindsey came to mind, but for once he didn’t think about all he’d lost by giving her up. Instead he thought about her life. How much her parents loved her. How much she was their world. They didn’t care that they hadn’t created her themselves.

It could be like that, he thought. For him and Penny’s baby. Loving a child wasn’t about biology. It was about the heart.

Seventeen years ago, he’d made the only choice that made sense. Now, with hindsight, he knew it was the right choice. He’d allowed guilt and anger to blind him to that. He’d punished himself by refusing to be happy.

He swore under his breath. That blindness had cost him his marriage, he realized.

How long had he been holding his heart in check so he didn’t get hurt? All his life? Maybe since his parents had died. Maybe since Gloria had started running his world with her twisted rules and cruel threats.

“Damn,” he muttered. “Get some therapy and move on, guy.”

He would move on, but not by himself. He loved Penny and he’d learned enough to make things work with her, if she would give him a chance.

Talk about an uphill battle, he thought grimly. If she knew he hadn’t wanted children before, children who were his, why would she believe he was willing to accept someone else’s baby?

He would convince her, he told himself. He would make her understand what was in his heart. He would tell her he’d finally learned what it meant to love someone. To love her.

He walked back to his desk and started to shut down his computer. Before it had finished, his assistant buzzed him.

“Yes,” he said.

“There’s someone to see you. Penny Jackson.”

Penny? “Send her in.”

He’d hoped to have a little time to figure out what he was going to say, but maybe it would be better to simply tell her now. The sooner he started convincing her, the sooner they could begin their life together.

The door opened. He stepped toward her, then stopped when he saw the fury in her eyes.

“You snake,” she said, her voice low and angry. “You lying, scummy, slithery snake. I consider myself a reasonable person. I’m willing to overlook a lot. I give second chances, but you are disgusting.”

He crossed to her and reached for her shoulders. She quickly stepped back.

“Don’t you dare touch me. Don’t ever touch me again.”

Cold panic slipped through him. “What the hell happened?”

She glared at him. “I defended you. I can’t believe it, but I did. Gloria came by for one of her emotional hit-and-runs. I defended you and all the time it was true.”

He opened his mouth to ask what she was talking about when he suddenly knew. He groaned.

“You’re leaving,” she said. “In less than a month you’re packing it all up and leaving Seattle. I understand everyone is very excited about The Daily Grind expanding back east. Too bad I don’t have stock in the damn company.”

“Penny, no.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t try to tell me it’s not true, Cal. I’ve already spoken to someone at your company. He was very friendly and explained the whole damn plan.”

Tears filled her eyes. She brushed them away with her hand. “I believed you,” she said. “I trusted you.”

“I’m sorry,” he said as sincerely as he knew how. “I should have told you.”

“Oh, right, but it just slipped your mind.”

“Yes,” he yelled. “I forgot! With all the crap going on lately, is that so much of a surprise? When I first hired you I told you I was the GM for four months. I didn’t think you cared what I did after that. Later, when we got involved, I planned to tell you but it wasn’t foremost on my mind. I didn’t keep this from you deliberately. It just happened. Besides, I’ve been talking to my partners. I’ve been rethinking my plans. It might be better if I stayed here.”

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