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Imperfectly Proverbs 31 - Autumn Macarthur

Picnics and Promises -
The last thing geeky Samantha Rose planned was her homemaking blog going viral. Only her sister was ever supposed to see it. After a disastrous picnic, Daniel Novak, the cynical political reporter dispatched to interview her, insists he must reveal the truth. That could ruin everything. Including their budding love.


Daniel Novak stared at his boss. She’d called him to her office for this? “I think I misheard you. You want me to do what?”
Meg shook her head, her stiff salt-and-pepper hair barely moving. “You didn’t mishear, Novak. I’m sending you to Idaho to interview Samantha Rose, the homemaking blogger a mention in our magazine section made an overnight hit.”
Her brisk businesslike voice didn’t shift gear as she repeated her outrageous statement.
“Send one of the junior reporters. This is a piece for the lifestyle pages.” He turned to leave. “Excuse me, I have some real news to chase.”
“It isn’t a suggestion for your next assignment. It’s an order.”
The hint of steel in her tone stopped him at the door. He glanced back at her, eyebrows raised.
Was the editor reputed to be the toughest and smartest in New York losing it? No one knew Meg’s real age, but she’d have to be hitting her seventies. Not that old.
Her fist thudded on the desk. Controlled, but unmistakably a thump. “I still run this paper. I know everyone’s contracts inside out. You’re going, or you’re fired.”
They faced off. The words, Go ahead, hovered unsaid on his lips.
She’d mentored him from his first day as a cocky intern here, made him who he was. Besides, Meg had way too much business savvy to fire one of her best investigative reporters on a whim.
Her lips curved in the merest hint of a smile. “Don’t try calling my bluff, Novak. You know I never make threats I won’t follow through on.”
That much she was right about. In his fifteen years at the paper, he’d never heard her order anything she didn’t make happen. But this was ridiculous.
A homemaking blogger, for crying out loud, when his job was uncovering the city’s hidden crime and deception! Still, he could knock over a simple interview like this in a day. A day’s travel either side, three days tops. If he couldn’t talk Meg out of sending him, he’d have to humor her and go along with it.
But not without putting up a fight first.
“I want a follow-up on Samantha Rose. And I want you to do it.” A perfectly manicured bony finger poked a folder across her wide desk. “Here’s the plane reservation, the rental car, and your booking at a bed and breakfast. The details have been emailed to you.”
He stepped closer to pick up the folder and leafed through the printed pages as she continued speaking.
“Take whatever angle you want. You can add some critical analysis. The power of the press. Why a modern woman wants to devote so much time to homemaking. The impossible images of perfection most lifestyle media portray.” Irony warped those steel tones. “Including our own lifestyle pages, by the way, so don’t be too critical.”
“Forget the story for a minute. There’s something wrong here.” Pausing, he checked the dates again on the bookings. “Your assistant made a mistake. I’m booked into this place for four weeks. Even four days is more than it needs. There’s no reason I can think of not to simply call the woman and do a phone interview.”
“It’s not a mistake.” She eyed him steadily. “That’s what I told her to book. And there’s every reason not to do a phone interview. I want you to go in person.”
“You’re demanding I fly right across the country and lose an entire month doing what’s little more than a filler piece, no matter how you try to dress it up?” Lowering the folder, he stared at her, head shaking, forehead creased.
“When did you last use your vacation time?” The shrewd glance over the top of her glasses said she already knew.
Jaw tight, he placed both hands on her wide desk, leaning over it. “You know I haven’t taken any time off for years. And I don’t need to start.”
“Don’t you? We have a difference of opinion on that.” Meg wasn’t backing down. Not one inch.
Time for a different approach.
Stepping back, dropping his tense shoulders, he forced his body language to become as conciliatory as he could manage. “With the paper facing tough times financially, why spend so much on one story to fill space in the lifestyle section? And why me?”
“Consider it a thirty-fifth birthday gift. I’m paying.” Her harsh features softened, and for a moment, she looked more human than he’d seen her. “I taught you to ask all those whys. Here’s why — you’re burning out, Daniel. I know the signs better than anyone. You need some time off.”
He dragged in a deep, careful breath to relax his tensed muscles. Conciliatory, remember? “No. No way am I burning out. My last few stories were better than ever.”
The corners of her mouth turned down. “Were they? They were scoops, sure. I know beyond doubt everything you write is one-hundred-percent accurate and factual. But there’s something missing. It’s always been missing from your stories. The human element. Any sense of caring for something greater than the facts.”
“There is nothing greater than the facts. Getting to the truth and seeing justice done is all that matters.” Outrage rocked him, echoing in his voice. How could Meg, of all people, say differently? “That’s what good investigative journalism is all about. You taught me that, too. About the same time you taught me who, why, where, what, how.”
“Did I?” Regret further drooped her lips as she shook her head. “In that case, I owe you an apology. I don’t like what I’m seeing in you. You’re so tuned into dishonesty and deceit, it’s all you can see in people.”
Before he could reply, she held up a hand. “I know about your father and the effect that had on you. But not everyone is crooked.”
The old pain of discovering Dad’s hypocrisy clenched his gut. He stiffened. “Aren’t they? In my experience, once you scratch beneath their nice shiny surfaces, most people are.”
Meg huffed. “You don’t think the fact that you’ve spent all your adult life investigating crime and fraud has anything to do with that? And this is exactly why I’m giving you a month off. You need to reset your internal lie detector by spending time with normal, honest people. Tell me, who do you trust? Anyone?” Her quirked eyebrow told him she didn’t expect the list would be long.
It wasn’t. Despite the way it played right into her argument, he couldn’t and wouldn’t lie.
“You. That’s it.” He shrugged, focused on her desk. “After the way you mentored me, I can’t imagine you’d stab me in the back. Though this” — he waved the papers — “sure looks like it.”
Meg rolled her eyes. “Come on, Novak. You know me better than that. If I ever decide to stab you in the back, you’ll know. There won’t be any ‘looks like’ about it. Besides, the city’s fraudsters and conmen aren’t going to disappear if you take four weeks off.” She dismissed his concerns with an airy wave of the hand. Easy to say when it wasn’t her career on the line. “And yes, I did mentor you. You’re the closest thing to a son I have.”
Slowly, he nodded. She had him now. He’d never known his mother, and though no one could call Meg motherly, he did respect and admire her.
Smiling wryly, he spread his hands. “I know. If anyone else but you had suggested this, I’d already have challenged them to go ahead and fire me, and be back at my desk. It’s the craziest suggestion I’ve ever heard, but I’m still here listening.”
“So keep listening, kid.” Genuine affection warmed her face. “I’m not sure I want to see you turn out like me. Hard-boiled and cynical. Living for nothing but the next scoop, on an endless search for truth and justice.”
“Dedication to the truth made you the best there is.” He’d never heard her speak such heresy, contradicting the journalistic code she taught.
“The best in a very dirty game. Are you sure that’s what you want?” She gazed at the copy of today’s newspaper on her desk, brow furrowed, lips pensive. “A long time ago, I hit a fork in the road. I had to choose — marriage or my job. I’ve loved this newspaper, and I’m not saying I made the wrong choice. For the last forty years, I’ve been convinced I made the right one. But lately, I’ve been wondering. What if I’d chosen marriage instead…?” The choices she hadn’t made clouded her gray eyes.
He regarded her steadily. She was losing it. “What ifs are for fiction writers, not journalists. This is the life I want. I’m not pining for anything different.”
Meg lifted one hand to the chest of her man-styled gray suit. “That’s what worries me. You’ve made the decision without ever considering an alternative. I’m giving you the chance at a fork in the road now. You have a week to tidy up loose ends here. Then I want you on your flight to Spokane. Take time out. Start the book you want to write. Think about what you really need from your life. And email me the story on Samantha Rose. Make it a good one.”
In other words, discussion over. And he’d been well and truly steamrollered. Arms flexing, he stalked from her office. A boss who’d lost her edge. She’d be ordering him to write about unicorns and fairy dust, next.
And a month in a hick lakeside town with nothing to do but write a fluff piece on some homemaking blogger.
Probably his worst nightmare.

My review:
Wow. Kind of sums it up in one word. I read this without being able to put it down. Loved it. The interaction between the heroine and the children is amazing. Also the hero and the children. Must also try the pie, but probably with apples.


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