Picnics & Promises: Six Delicious Summer Romances
IMPERFECTLY PROVERBS 31
by Autumn MacArthur
The last thing geeky Samantha Rose planned for was the homemaking blog only her sister was ever supposed to see going viral. After a disastrous picnic, Daniel Novak, the cynical reporter dispatched to interview her, insists he must reveal the truth. But that could ruin everything, including their budding love.
Excerpt from IMPERFECTLY PROVERBS 31:
His knock on the door was answered almost immediately. Definitely the woman he’d seen in the store. No makeup, blonde hair in a soft wispy up-do, and a pink flowered apron over her white T-shirt and slim jeans. Instead of the earlier wary glance, she smiled welcome, though the smile didn’t light up her eyes.
And there, in her oven-mitted hand, was the source of the delicious scent. A tray of chocolate chip cookies. They looked as good as they smelled.
“Ms. Rose? I’m Daniel Novak.”
She swung the door wide, revealing an entry hall with braided rugs on the polished wood floors. “Come in. We have a picnic lunch all prepared. As it’s such a lovely day, we can eat by the lake. But I wanted to bake some cookies for the girls to have later. I’ll just set them cooling before we go.”
“Thank you for agreeing to an interview at such short notice, Ms. Rose.”
“Please call me Sam.”
Nodding acknowledgment, though the boyish name didn’t suit her in the least, he followed her into a spacious old-fashioned kitchen. A huge oak table filled the center of the room. As she wielded a spatula to lift the cookies onto a metal rack, he admired her graceful movements and hoped he’d get one of those cookies, too.
He pulled out his small voice recorder and flicked it on. “Do you agree to me recording the interview?”
For a fleeting moment, apprehension gleamed in her blue eyes. He’d been right to suspect she wanted to hide something. He filed the observation away.
Then she nodded. “Sure. That’s standard procedure, right?”
“It makes sure the final article stays factual, which is in your interest. So, the girls are your nieces, staying with you for the summer, correct?” Easy questions he already knew the answer to first, to warm her up.
After that glimpse of her in the store, he’d done more research, read right through her website, Perfectly Proverbs 31. All the pictures were of food, flowers and plants in the garden, or two little girls, usually wearing matching print dresses.
“Yes. Five-year-old twins, Emily and Rose. I’m minding them while their mom is abroad. I started the blog as a record of these months with them, purely for their mother. I never anticipated it would get as much attention as it has.”
Her voice, low and sweet, fell softly on his ear. He didn’t get the sense she hid anything now.
An irrelevant question tickled his sense of the ridiculous. “Rose Rose?”
Samantha Rose gurgled as she deposited the baking tray in the sink and pulled off her floral mitt. “Thankfully, no. Her name is hard enough for her as it is.”
He raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Rose still has a slight lisp, so she says her name as Wose. The girls have a different last name than me. And no, I won’t disclose it, to maintain their privacy.”
She’d answered a question he had no intention of asking. Memories of the way Dad used pictures of him as a kid in mailouts and promotions for his so-called charity still burned in his gut. “Wise. So where are they now?”
Focus on the interview, Novak. Do not reach out and snatch a warm cookie to comfort those memories. No matter how delicious they smell, or how much you want one.
“Next door with my neighbors. As I said, I never expected the site would go viral, and I don’t intend to expose them to any more publicity than necessary. The picnic is all ready to go.” She rested a hand on the large lidded basket sitting on the table. “There’s a perfect spot on the lakeshore.”
She struggled to lift the basket. “Oops, it’s heavier than I thought since it has everything in it.”
“Let me carry it.” Tucking the voice recorder in his shirt pocket, he took the basket from her and needed to brace himself. No wonder she’d struggled. The thing must weigh thirty pounds. Either her idea of a picnic lunch didn’t involve plastic plates, or she had enough food in here to invite all of Sunset Point.
Or he seriously needed to consider more time in the gym.
Samantha Rose untied her apron and slipped it off, hanging it on a hook behind the door. “I’ll just grab my purse.” She slung a large tote over one shoulder. “I’m ready.”
On the porch, she pulled the front door closed but didn’t lock it.
“No locks?” He couldn’t hide his surprise.
A charming chuckle accompanied the smile she flashed him as she pushed the garden gate open. “I thought the same when I arrived. It seems no one in Sunset Point locks up. I’m told it would be considered downright unneighborly.”
Carrying the basket down the hill without pitching forward limited how much breath he had left to talk. “City girl?”
“Mostly.” She grinned. “We moved around a lot for Dad’s job, but Mom always managed to create a home in the new place within days. She’s a gifted homemaker. Since moving away from home, I’ve continued the family tradition by going where my past jobs took me, most recently Seattle.”
Reaching level ground on Main Street made hauling the picnic basket far easier. She turned right, away from the store.
“Right here. I’m glad we could get a table.” She grinned and pointed to the only unoccupied table among the heavy timber picnic settings scattered along the grassy lake bank. “I’m told that mention in the newspaper has doubled visitors to Sunset Point, despite how out-of-the-way it is. Would you put that on the bench?”
Relieved, he hefted the basket and deposited it where she asked, then clasped his hands together and stretched out his arms and shoulders. Time to get back to the interview. “You can take all summer off to mind your nieces? Great employer.”
Again, she flashed him a bright genuine smile as she opened the basket lid and lifted out a blue-checked tablecloth. “My employer is me. Since I quit my last job and started working for myself, my office can be wherever there’s an internet connection. This summer, I’m working evenings, once the twins are in bed.”
Deftly, she shook the tablecloth open, laid it over the table, and clipped weights shaped like dragonflies to each corner. “To stop the breeze blowing it away,” she explained, answering his unspoken question.
“What can I do to help?”
“Nothing. It’s all done. I only need to lay it all out.” The three thick glass dishes with plastic lids, a set of proper cutlery, cloth napkins, and two Mason jars containing what looked like apple juice explained why the basket weighed so much. “I’ll leave the pie in the basket for now.”
She peeled back the lids to reveal the first two dishes contained a mix of salads, nicely presented on a bed of lettuce, while the third held bread rolls.
“Looks good.” He meant it.
“The vegetables are organic, fresh from the backyard. My neighbor, and her granddaughter who owns the house, had it all planted up before I arrived. You already know Maddie, of course. She and her husband run the store and live behind it, as well as doing the bed and breakfast there.” Frowning at the table, she repositioned a few items. “There, that looks right. I’ll just take a few photos before we eat.”
“Why not let me take the pictures, and then you’ll be in them, too?” Unusually, Meg hadn’t insisted he bring a photographer to the interview, instead suggesting he ask permission to use images from the blog.
He wanted at least one of the evasive Ms. Rose.
Samantha Rose’s cheeks pinked. “No, none of me. I hate having my photo taken. I won’t bother with photos today. It’s a habit I’ve gotten into. If something looks nice, I photograph it, in case I can use it in a website. I’m a web designer and using my own images means I produce unique pages for my clients.”
A plausible enough reason, but her breathy tone and the slightly hunted look in her blue eyes suggested she had other reasons to keep herself out of the photos.
His newshound instinct kicked all the way in. Not that he’d let his suspicions show.
Raising a hand, he stood back. With a month here, he’d get the photos he wanted some other time. “Take as long as you need. I can wait to eat. Breakfast this morning was twice what I’d have at home.”
Her musical chuckle sounded again. “Maddie enjoys looking after her guests. I loved the welcome they gave me — two days’ worth of home-cooked meals, to tide me over till we’d settled in.”
He nodded and let her get on with her photos. Food was one thing, but after a few days, all the sweetness and light from his hosts would become cloying.
The shots she took weren’t just snapshots. Not with the way she carefully framed and adjusted things. Then she smiled. “There, done! Now we can sit.”
Once they were both seated, she spread her napkin in her lap then gazed at him expectantly. What did she want?
“Will you give thanks, or shall I?” she asked when the silence stretched uncomfortably long.
Give thanks? He hadn’t done that for years and had no idea what he’d say to God if he did. “Uh, how about we each give thanks silently?”
She quirked her lips to one side and raised an eyebrow. “Okay.”
Instead of praying, he watched her bow her head. Another Christian. He’d figured that already from her blog, with its scattering of Bible verses and mentions of God. If Meg sent him here in the hope he’d regain his lost faith and magically turn into some happy-clappy seeing the best in everyone, she’d be disappointed.
Years of exposure to the seedy underbelly of human nature taught him to be cynical.
Not to mention, his father. People who called themselves Christians could be the worst hypocrites of all, as if playing the God card gave a get-out-of-jail-free pass.
Even Samantha Rose, sweet as she seemed, hid a secret she didn’t want discovered. Somehow, somewhere, she’d lied to the public. His earlier suspicions hardened into certainty.
He was here to uncover her lie. And then, let everyone know.
About Autumn MacArthur:
Autumn Macarthur is a USA Today bestselling author of clean Christian inspirational romances with a strong touch of faith. If you love happy-ever-afters, sweet romance, and Hallmark movies, chances are you’ll enjoy her stories!
Originally from Sydney, Australia, she now lives in a small town not far from London, England, with her husband (aka The Cat Magnet), and way too many rescue cats for their tiny house! You can visit her at her website http://faithhopeandheartwarming.com, on Facebook as Autumn Macarthur, and on Twitter as @autumnmacarthur. She’d love to hear from you!