Violet bolted upright in bed, blinking at the bright light coming through the gap in the curtains. She pushed her tousled auburn locks out of her frowning face.
“Richard?” she murmured.
That, however, didn’t sound at all like Richard. It was Victor Romanoff.
“Dear God, he didn’t,” she shrieked, incredulous.
The audacity of that man! He waltzes right into her house at the break of dawn without even allowing her the choice of denying him entrance? She put her head in her hands and groaned as if in pain. How stupid could she be? She forgot to take her keys away from him last night. But then did he really need them? She rarely locked the door. She didn’t remember if she had last night even though he told her to.
“He could have knocked,” she hissed as she tossed the blanket away from her. “So, I could’ve ignored him.”
She stumbled out of bed fuming mad. She threw on her robe over her silky night shirt, tightened the belt and stomped down the stairs ready to blow up at him. And there he was emptying grocery bags and putting everything onto the center island counter as if he owned the place. For a minute she gaped open mouthed.
“What are you doing?” she asked indignantly.
He turned and smiled at her. “Good morning, Violet. Sleep well? Gosh, you look so cute with your hair all a-tumble,” he said with a dazzling smile which totally disarmed her. He turned back to the groceries and continued placing all sorts of things in her pantry and refrigerator. She didn’t recall buying any of those things last night.
Astounded beyond belief, she watched him move about her kitchen as if he’d been here a dozen times. She couldn’t remember Richard looking as comfortable. She wondered fleetingly if it was still her kitchen. Perhaps she was still in bed and dreaming all of this. But, no such luck. Victor was taking over. Pushy Man!
Once finished he came up to her smiling. Her heart stopped. Dear God, she thought, he’s gorgeous! How hadn’t she noticed that last night? Oh, but she had. She merely tried to ignore it. But gosh-darn-it, he was even better by daylight! She ran a nervous hand through her hair.
“Don’t, you’ll mess it!” he said taking her hand away from her hair.
“Mess it?” she repeated.
He chuckled. “I told you already. You look great. You should keep it like that all the time.”
“And walk around with a rat’s nest on my head? Or at least it would be after the kids at the daycare get a hold of it,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“I suppose the babies would get their tiny fists tangled in here,” he said, playfully wrapping a finger around a strand as if testing his theory. “I remember when the boys were just born and they ....” He drifted off gazing fixedly into Violet’s pretty eyes, his fingers still holding the silky hair. He couldn’t help his thoughts flying away with him. How, he wondered, must it feel to have a child with this amazing woman?
“I miss that...babies,” he said in barely a whisper.
His dark eyes hypnotized her. She couldn’t look away. There was a strange feeling in her chest like fluttering butterfly wings. She couldn’t understand it but she understood him. Something had passed between them and for one shining moment they understood each other perfectly.
“Me too,” she said before she could stop herself. She suddenly flushed and stepped back.
The spell broken, he turned away trying not to let her see the mixed disappointment and longing he felt.
“I brought some groceries. I couldn’t invite myself over for breakfast empty handed, now could I? Mama’s still watching, you know,” he said, feigning casual. “Go on and get dressed while I make coffee. It’s the only thing I don’t burn. I’m pretty good at it. You should be proud of me.”
Violet stared at him in wide-eyed wonder. She couldn’t think what to say to this person, this insane man who was systematically invading her life and turning her emotions topsy-turvy. She wanted nothing more than to be permanently rid of him but how to accomplish this evaded her.
“Forgive me but are we on daylight savings time now?” she asked, her annoyance returning.
He, of course, laughed. “Sorry about that. I was up early. I take it you’re not a morning person. I’ll fix that,” he stated confidently.
She narrowed her eyes, rankled. “I’m not broken so don’t go thinking there’s anything to fix!” she snapped. She suddenly wished for that coffee already. She still felt groggy in the head.
“Are you going to make breakfast in your PJ’s?” he asked with a smirk. “I haven’t had a woman make me breakfast in her PJ’s since...” He stopped, cleared his throat and added rather sheepishly, “Well, you don’t need to know that.” He proceeded to the coffee maker.
“I’ll go get dressed,” she said nervously. “You stay here! I don’t care if you think I’ve killed myself falling in the bathroom. You stay here!”
Trying to hide his amusement he continued with the coffee. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll read my paper and drink my coffee like a good boy and wait for you right here. I’ll call the paramedics if I hear you scream. Maybe my ex-wife’s husband will come and save you. Won’t that be a kick in the pants as Fred says? Or I could call Fred. It’s up to you,” he said giving her a devilish smirk. He chuckled after she stormed out of the kitchen all red in the face and looking as if she’d like nothing better than to ring his neck.
Several minutes later and feeling much more in control Violet set about making waffles as her guest- or was that more like pest?- sat at the kitchen table in Richard’s chair looking quite at home. She had the tiniest urge to tell Victor to pick any other chair but she knew she was being ridiculous. It was, after all, just a chair. It wasn’t as if Victor was usurping Richard in any way.
Though, looking at him sipping his coffee, tranquilly reading the New York Times she couldn’t help thinking with foreboding he might just get it into his head to move in. She wouldn’t put it past him but he’d get to do that over her dead body. She’d call in the Marines if he even thought of such a thing. She shook her head as if to clear it of such disturbing thoughts. He surely had better things on his mind.
“Anything interesting in the world today?” she asked brightly. Her heart gave a jolt. She realized with a pang she hadn’t uttered those words since Richard died. It made her feel so strange to be saying that to someone other than Richard. She somehow felt like she was cheating on him.
“Depends on what you consider interesting,” Victor told her with derision. “This company merges with that one, that celebrity doing something with this one and murder, death, kill everywhere. Same old, same old....just bad news.”
“More bad news...More hearts being broken and people being used...” she sang to herself.
“Excuse me?” Victor said putting down the paper to watch her.
“Nothing, just a Jewel song .... Murder, death, kill?” she said frowning slightly. “ Richard used to say that all the time. Where’s that from?”
“The Sylvester Stallone movie Demolition Man. One of my favorites. Sandra Bullock is in that one. I was in love with her for a while,” he stated conspiratorially.
Had she at that moment seen the way Victor was looking at her she would have thought otherwise. “To answer your question, there’s nothing suitable in the paper for our favorite Polly Anna,” he replied.
“What good is being a Polly Anna if I don’t have something to work with?” she said as she brought a large stack of waffles to the table with blueberry syrup.
His eyes widened ecstatically. “Good God, Almighty. How did you know these are my favorites? Tell the truth, Violet, you’ve been spying on me,” he exclaimed happily as he took three waffles and poured half the syrup on top.
“I most certainly have not! I only just met you yesterday!” she snapped. Her words sunk in and she instantly felt like a cheap one-night stand. Her brow furrowed and she fleetingly wondered if one-night stands usually have breakfast together the next morning. She felt her cheeks reddening. What was she thinking? This wasn’t anything like that! She grimaced and tried not to think about such things as she sat down with her own plate.
She glanced at Victor and found him smiling at her. This further disconcerted her. “Why do you smile like that?” she asked nervously.
He shook his head in exasperation. “Violet, why do most people smile? Because they’re happy and boy, am I happy! Homemade waffles. Even Mama never made them this good.” He suddenly looked up to the ceiling and said, “Sorry Mama, but you know I still love you.”
Violet stared at him, astonished. “You are a strange, funny man, Victor Romanoff. Didn’t your wife make you waffles?”
“Yeah, frozen if I was lucky. And that’s ex-wife, thank you,”he said scornfully.
She reluctantly smiled. “Richard always said I spoiled him and the kids by making everything from scratch. I just don’t consider it cooking when you stick something in the microwave. My friends tell me I must be an old soul from the depression era or the old frontier,” she shrugged as he once again chuckled.
“You’re a breath of fresh air, is what you are,” he stated, taking another two waffles and pouring a copious amount of syrup on them.
She stared at him barely able to swallow. That funny fluttering feeling had started in her chest again. This man always said the most extraordinary things.
“So, tell me. Do you get a lunch break? I’d like to take you to lunch,”he said before polishing off his waffle.
He laughed almost choking on his mouthful. “To eat, you silly girl. What else? I want to repay you for this wonderful breakfast,” he said cheerfully.
“I thought breakfast was in exchange for you driving me to work?” she said suspiciously.
“Cornflakes would have sufficed for that. This is homemade waffles. I’ll take you to Paris for this,” he stated adamantly.
She gaped. “You are indeed a strange man, Victor. Or you truly like breakfast,” she relied rolling her eyes at him.
He laughed again. “So, when do you break for lunch? I can come anytime. I make my own hours. It’s good being the boss,” he said contentedly, giving her a little wink.
Dear heaven above, but this man was indeed a force to be reckoned with! She couldn’t let him think she would do his bidding whenever he wanted something . “You seriously think we can leave a bunch of little kids unattended to have lunch? That’s child abuse!” she stated heatedly.
“Having lunch is child abuse?” he said thoughtfully though he couldn’t hide a smirk. “I’m glad you told me. Now I can prepare for an influx of parents suing teachers for daring to eat a sandwich while the kids are on the playground at recess.”
She tried with difficulty not to smile.“Oh, stop! You know what I mean. I can’t just leave,” she insisted.
He almost got her to smile just then. Oh, happy day! “Then I’ll bring lunch to you. What would you like?” he asked unperturbed.
Panic seized her. Did this man not understand No when he heard it? She could only imagine the reaction from everyone at the daycare center if a tall, handsome, elegantly dressed man such as Victor brought food to her. She’d never hear the end of it. They would start asking questions. And worse, they would disregard her answers to come up with their own sordid conclusions. She did not need that at all. She would have to lie to Victor. Only thing was she hated lying.
She swallowed hard and braced herself. “I don’t usually have lunch,” she replied quietly as if saying the lie too loudly would make it somehow worse.
He lifted an eyebrow and watched her fiddle with her food. Violet was the worst liar he’d ever met and he’d known quite a few. Sweet, innocent and infinitely scrupulous people were usually horrible liars. Violet was all those things but he wasn’t about to let her get away with it.
He got the reaction he wanted. It shook her just to imagine it but she quickly recovered.
Her eyes narrowed. “Since when do lawyers dispense medical advice?” she said in a snippy voice. How dare this man! She didn’t need him or anyone telling her how to take care of herself.
“I was pre-med before I switched to law,” he replied in his usual calm voice. “I’ll bring you a nice salad. Would you like that?”
“No! I’ll have a yogurt or buy a sandwich at the deli. Don’t come! We’ll be very busy today,” she told him sternly.
He hid his smile behind his coffee cup. She was just too funny! “What’s the adult to child ratio?” he casually asked.
She glared at him flabbergasted. “Why? Do you have a child you’re putting into child care?” she asked, thoroughly annoyed. “We’re the best day care center around for miles. You can ask anyone.”
“Of course, it’s the best. You work there,” he stated simply. Having finished his breakfast he sat back savoring his coffee. He looked at her with pleasure and a secret smile. She was taken aback by his statement, he could tell. He knew what was running through her head, too. How in the world would he know whether or not she was a good child care provider? He answered before she could form the question.
“Nurturing is in your blood,” he said.
She gaped at him dumbfounded. After a minute of silence she said, albeit casually, “We try to keep it no more than six to one but I told you we have one girl on vacation and another home sick with the flu and thank heaven she had sense enough to stay away or we’d have fifty sick kids to look after. When one kid gets sick they all get sick. Somehow the parents never notice when their little darlings have the sniffles and then they blame it on us,” she said with derision.
“How do you and the other care-givers keep healthy?” he asked.
She frowned but couldn’t find anything in his expression to suggest he was being anything more than curious. “Obsessive hand washing and systematic disinfecting of toys, tables, blankets, everything. It seems to work well.”
He smiled serenely. “I doubt there is very much you do that doesn’t work well. We should get going,” he added, abruptly standing up.
He put out a hand and stopped her. He took the plates out of her hands and walked to the sink saying, “I’ll do the dishes.” He then went back to Violet, took her chin in his hand, tilted her head back scrutinizing her face. “What do you need makeup for? Looking for a new husband?” he asked, looking rather serious, more so than she had ever seen him.
Her anger flared instantly. “Oh, that’s right because women only use makeup to catch a man! And there’s no possibility that we might just want to look good for ourselves?” She bristled at the very notion. Another husband, indeed!
“That’s my point. You already look prettier than most so if you’re trying to look better you’re either looking to nab a guy or a job as a super-model. So, which one is it?”he asked, a curious expression on his face.
She stared at him completely aghast. She’d never met a man who could so easily stun her into silence. She abruptly pushed his hands away from her face while she searched for words strong enough for this newest offense. Only problem was he had not offended her. He had in fact given her a compliment, the same compliment Richard had given her all her life. She couldn’t remember the number of times Richard had taken the makeup right out of her hands and dragged her away so she wouldn’t put any on. Her eyes glazed over remembering him.
“What if I want to take you to a sad movie and you start crying like you always do? Your mascara will run and you’ll look like a raccoon. I didn’t marry no raccoon!” Richard had said more times than she could recall.
Richard’s words came back to her so plainly he might have been standing right beside her. She watched Victor slowly roll up his sleeves then turn and fill up the sink with sudsy water. He had broad shoulders and a muscular back. She could imagine what Jolene would say upon seeing his backside. “Yummy!”
A reluctant giggle escaped her just as Victor turned around and smiled at her. Such a smile, warm enough to melt an iceberg. She felt that strange fluttering feeling in her chest again. Feeling warmth creeping into her cheeks she took the syrup from the table and placed it in the fridge.
“Leave that. I’ll get it. Go get pretty. I’m certain the daddies at the daycare center will appreciate it,” he said smirking.
She gave Victor one parting glance then silently left the kitchen deciding she would put on a minimum amount of makeup.