“Something smells del…”
I freeze. My gaze drifts around the room and my mouth slowly gapes. A black and silver balloon arch is positioned near the far wall. The tables are topped with vases full of white roses. A large banner withCongratulationshangs above the bar. Familiar faces smile back at me from every corner of the room.
My brothers. Jenna. Mia. Hugh and my work colleagues, excluding Maisie. Other people I know from around town. In fact, more than half the town is here.
I arch an eyebrow at Emily. “What’s going on?”
She tucks an arm around my waist and propels me forward. “This, my sweet friend, is in honor of you.”
“What? Why?” My gaze flits around, confused.
“Because we want to celebrate your nomination for the Scripps Howard Award in Excellence in Human Interest Storytelling,”
“What?” My vocabulary seems very limited right now. I didn’t even know I was nominated. When did that happen?
Hugh steps forward and I grin, admiring neatly styled hair and his suit and button-up shirt. It’s a change from the disheveled look he channels in the office. “Looking very dashing, Hugh,” I say.
“Well, only the best for one of the best.”
My cheeks flame and I duck my head.
“It seems your story on Clarissa McArthur has impressed many people.” He rattles off a list of national publications, sending my head into a spin. “I’m so proud of you, Pen.” He ambles over and flings a solid arm around my shoulders and squeezes tight.
“I’m… I’m so honored. I …”
My gaze drifts around the room once more. And that’s when I see her. The subject of my successful story. Clarissa McArthur, looking as regal as ever, sitting at a table by the window and… my breath hitches.
Standing behind his grandmother, looking so deliciously handsome in a navy jacket and trousers, with a white button-up shirt, is Linc.
His eyes crinkle in the corners and his smile widens as our gazes lock. My heart settles in my chest at the sight of him and for a moment, there’s just the two of us. He does this to me. He is a reassuring presence whenever I feel out of my depth. And right now, I’m sinking with all this attention.
“Your nomination is well-deserved, Penny,” Hugh says, interrupting my moment with Linc. “You’re a gifted writer, and I am so proud to have you on my team.”
“Thank you, Hugh. I’m blessed to have such a wonderful boss as yourself.” I turn to address my friends and family in the room. “And thank you all for coming tonight. This is such a huge surprise, but I am so grateful for every single one of you.”
Applause fills the room and soon, waiters appear carrying trays of canapes and glasses of wine. I take that as my cue to make my way over to the table by the window.
“Hello, Clarissa.” I lean down and place a kiss on her cheek. She is striking, and her emerald dress brings out the green in her eyes. This woman is all class, and it is my dream to be like her when I grow up.
“Hello, dear. Congratulations.”
“Thank you. But I couldn’t have written that story without you. Thank you for living such an illustrious life.”
“Well, that’s what life is for.”
“That’s very true,” I say, stepping aside as a glass of wine is placed in front of her.
Linc slips an arm around my waist. “You look stunning,” he murmurs against my ear.
“This old thing?” I hold out the skirt of my royal blue A-line dress and laugh with the memory of Emily hurrying me up to get ready. “I was more than happy to wear my pajamas tonight.”
“I’m sure you’d look great in those, but I’m glad you wore this.”
“You scrub up well yourself.” I make no attempt to hide my blatant appraisal before I press up on my toes. “For a romance author,” I whisper into his ear.
He huffs out a laugh and shakes his head.