She whispered,“You need to get ready to go. Victor will be here soon.”
Stunned, Violet stared, eyes wide and the blanket she was about to tuck around Missy still in her hands. “What do you mean?”
“You’re going into Treadwell to go get a new car, remember? Sorry your old one is beyond repair but you get to spend time with Mr. Wonderful. Life has its compensations, don’t it?” Diane said with a gleeful grin. “Heather just adores him.”
“He...he told you to let me go early?” she asked, utterly indignant.
“No, he didn’t tell me. He asked very politely. He’s such a gentleman and he did buy us lunch. You know what a sucker I am for a man who brings me food. I could deny him nothing! Go get ready. He’ll be here any minute and that’s one guy I would never keep waiting,” she said urgently. She then placed both her hands over her heart and sighed dramatically.
Oh, brother! Violet rolled her eyes fleetingly wondering if everyone fell under Victor’s spell or merely every female within a thirty mile radius. Well, she was not going to be one of them. Instead of getting ready to go she placed the blanket on Missy, then gathered some toys and put them away. It was as she tried to coax a very tired little boy into surrendering to a nap when Victor poked his head in and smiled at her. As soon as their eyes met that funny feeling caught in her chest again.
He walked straight to them and went down to her eye level but instead of addressing her he spoke to the little boy who wore a cowboy hat and held a toy horse.
“Hey, cowboy, what’s your name?” Victor asked.
“Calvin,” he said sleepily as he sat on Violet’s lap, his eyes barely able to stay open.
“You know what? I’ll bet you’d like riding that horse on the open range, playing with Indians and roping cattle. Wouldn’t that be fun?” he told the sleepy boy as he took him from Violet. He continued to talk to Calvin about horses, campfires, chuck wagons and Indian feather headdresses as he placed him on a cot and tucked a blanket around him. Before long Calvin drifted off to sleep surely to dream about all those wonderful things. Victor gently brushed his lips on the little cowboy’s forehead, removed his hat laying it beside him. With a wistful expression on his face, he then straightened up still gazing down at the tiny boy.
Something powerful seized Violet and tears sprung to her eyes. She knew that Calvin’s mother was raising him alone. His father wanted nothing to do with him. Victor was probably his first taste of what it was like to have a daddy. She wondered how Victor could even entertain thoughts that he had been a horrible father. He couldn’t have been, not after what she just witnessed.
Victor turned to Violet and frowned. “What’s wrong, Violet? You look so sad,” Victor asked apprehensively.
“You’re completely wrong, you know. You are a great father, Victor, or you could’ve been if you hadn’t been working so much,” she said in a vehement whisper.
Astonished, he merely stared at her for several seconds at a complete loss for words. “Thank you,” he said at long last. He then gestured her toward the door.
“We should be going. Freddy told me you were worried about money, but I promise I won’t let you buy something unsuitable and I won’t let you get cheated. Okay?”
She felt distinctly abused. Betrayal by her own brother! Freddy had ratted her out. Where was the loyalty? Just as she opened her mouth to say this she felt a tug on her skirt.
“Where ya going, Violet?” Heather asked, grabbing hold of Victor’s hand and smiling up at him.
Victor promptly scooped her up, tossed her high into the air until her infectious giggle filled the room. He then rubbed noses with her.
“You have a really nice boyfriend, Violet,” Heather said as she hugged Victor tightly around the neck. He couldn’t help but smile broadly.
Violet could feel her cheeks redden.“No, Heather, Victor is not my boyfriend,” she said quickly.
“Would you like to be my mommy’s boyfriend?” Heather asked him, all innocence.
He laughed and kissed her cheek. “How about we wait until you’re old enough to be my girlfriend?”
She giggled and nodded. “Okay.”
“Oh, Heather, you are a sweetheart. Thanks for teaching me those songs earlier today. Now all I need is the grand kids and I’ll be all set. I have to take Violet to buy a new car today but she’ll be back tomorrow,” he explained.
“Will you come back too?” she asked hopefully. “I can teach you more songs.”
Violet, horrified at the very idea, quickly said, “No, Heather, he can’t. He’s very busy at work. Today was just a special day.”
Victor grinning devilishly whispered in Heather’s ear so Violet couldn’t hear. “Maybe we can have other special days.” She giggled and nodded again. After she kissed his cheek he put her down and she skipped happily away.
“What did you tell her?” Violet asked suspiciously.
“That she’s my favorite teacher,” he lied.
She didn’t believe that for a minute, but followed him out of the playroom and allowed him to help her on with her coat. With a tentative hand at the small of her back he guiding her out the door and to his car. All her co-workers waved them off gazing adoringly at him. Violet rolled her eyes wondering about their sanity. No one, in her humble opinion anyway, should ever drool that much over any man.
“You’d think they’d never seen a man before,” she mumbled derisively.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you,” Victor said as he helped her into the car.
“I said I think they’ve formed the newest chapter of the Victor Romanoff fan club,” she told him shaking her head in disgust.
“My mama was the president, you know,” he said as he pulled out into the street.
“Of course she was. Every good mother is the president of her kid’s fan club!” she stated in no uncertain terms. “That’s common knowledge.”
“Spoken like a true mother and president of two fan clubs,” he retorted, suppressing a chuckle.
“Yes, I am,” she replied proudly.
“Where are your kids now?” he asked curiously.
“Sophie’s at the University of Miami studying marine biology and...”
“Miami? Ronnie wanted to go there, but his mother had other plans,” Victor said with a rueful twist of his mouth.
“Where did he end up going then?” Violet asked.
“Wharton business school in Philadelphia. I don’t think he likes it,” he replied, frowning.
“That’s funny. Sophie said something about a school in Pennsylvania, too. I wonder if it’s the same one or one near your boy’s school. You said they knew each other, didn’t you?”
“What I said is Ronnie used to have a crush on Sophie, but I’m thinking he’s well over it. By the sound of it, anyway,” Victor replied, again frowning.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s got a new girl every few days.”
“Isn’t that normal for college boys? You don’t want him to get too serious too soon, do you? That’s my constant worry about Sophie,”she said anxiously.
“I can’t help but worry about Ronnie, Violet. I expect my example put him and his brother off love, soured them, you know? I don’t want that for them,” he said earnestly. “If he goes through girls like they’re nothing... well, that’s no good.”
“I guess, but they can make fatal mistakes if they get involved too early in life.”
“Fatal? How do you mean?”he asked, an ominous thrill running through him at these words.
“Maybe that’s not the right word but... Sophie’s boyfriend scares me. I don’t like him very much,”she said, shaking her head.
“Why? He got tattoos and long hair?”
“I wish it was just that. Tattoos can be covered up or removed and I’m okay with long hair, within reason,” she said shrugging. “But Antoine...he’s....well, he’s polite and seems nice, at least when I’m around but...oh, I don’t really know what it is about him. He’s just so...so possessive.”
“Possessive?” Victor muttered. “Like jealous and manipulative?”
She stared at his profile, eyes wide. “Exactly! How did you know?”
“I heard Ronnie talking about someone named Antoine from high school. Probably the same one. He called him all sorts of things... things I wouldn’t repeat to you.”
“Oh, my,” she said.
He reached over and grabbed her hand squeezing it gently. “Hey, it’s just kids talking smack. I told you Ronnie had a crush on Sophie. It was just jealously, no doubt. Sophie’s a smart girl. She wouldn’t allow a guy to...”
“How do you know she’s a smart girl?”
“Ronnie said she was top of the class and would’ve been valedictorian if ....”
“If Richard hadn’t died,” Violet finished for him. “She was devastated. She refused to go to graduation. She just didn’t care anymore, about anything. Neither did I.”
He squeezed her hand again. “I’m sorry, Violet. It must have been so rough for all of you. Wish I could have helped somehow.”
For a few seconds she looked down on their joined hands, but slowly extracted her hand out from under his big, warm one. It felt nice, a bit too nice perhaps. It made shivers run up her arm and that funny feeling started up in her chest again. How she wished it would stop! She searched frantically for something neutral to talk about.
“Kenny lives in Sleepy Hollow now with his wife.”
“Your son’s already married?” he said incredulously. “You don’t seem very concerned about him getting serious too soon.”
“It’s different with him and Janice. They’d been dating since eighth grade and were clearly meant for each other. They married right out of high school,”she said happily.
“Not as good as you and Richard,” Victor said with a rueful smirk.
“What do you mean?”she asked obviously confused.
“You said you met in kindergarten. I’d say that was a much longer romance.”
“Silly man! That’s not when we started dating,” she said. “Anyway, Kenny’s a very successful carpenter. He did my whole kitchen a few years back when he first started out. He also built the corner hutch I have in the dining room. I’m sure you didn’t notice it but I love it. That was my birthday present,” she said happily.
“I did notice it. I’m impressed. I thought it was rather unique. Amazing and more so that your own son did it. Your kitchen looks great, too. Perhaps I can get him to do mine. I’m planning on building a house next summer if I can find a nice bit of land. That was your birthday present? That’s really nice. When’s your birthday?” he asked casually.
She looked at him suspiciously and didn’t reply.
“Mine’s in August and I like chocolate,” he added when she said nothing.
“Excuse me?” she asked baffled. What bizarre twists his mind takes at times.
“For my birthday, you can bake me a chocolate cake. August second. You should write it down so you don’t forget. I remember about your Old Timer’s Disease,” he said with a smirk.
Her jaw dropped. The audacity of this man was daunting. She barely knew the man and he expected her to bake him a cake for his birthday? Of course, August was several months away and by that time they might actually become friendly. At least friendly enough that she might consider baking him a cake. She was planning on baking him cookies after all. But it still rankled that he just assumed she would bake him a birthday cake!
“So when’s your birthday, Violet? I can’t bake you a cake and believe me you wouldn’t want me to, but I can take you to a great restaurant or we can invite all your friends and family to my house for a nice party. Would you like that?” he asked excitedly.
She stared at him, simply astounded. Could there be a more pushy man anywhere in the world? She doubted it.
“Violet? Are you okay?” he asked looking concerned.
“So, when do you think you’ll start dating again?” she asked, pointedly changing the subject.
Taken aback for a second, Victor raised a quizzical eyebrow. “I said I wouldn’t until I think I can do better than the first time around. Why do you ask?” he said smiling hopefully. Could it be possible she had reconsidered? Was she willing to date him? Dear God in Heaven, please, let it be so!
“What does that mean the first time around? The first time you married or the first time you dated after the divorce?” she asked suspiciously.
“Well, both really. I made such a mess at marriage I’m not sure I can do better yet. Dating was a complete disaster so I can’t do that well either, that’s obvious, at least to me. And come to think of it, you can’t get married until you do some serious dating so I’m out of luck!” he said laughing at himself. “How about you?”
“What about me?” she asked, sounding defensive now.
“When will you start dating?” he asked. His tone was casual, but his heart thudded hard and fast against his ribs. “How long is the proper time for dating again after your spouse dies? There doesn’t seem to be a mourning period after divorce, though I think there should be. It is sort of a death, death of a marriage. Not the same thing, I know but...What do you think, Violet?”
She didn’t like the direction this conversation was going but she only had herself to blame for it. She had started it after all.
“I have no idea about divorce, but I’m not forgetting Richard nearly as rapidly as everyone else has. Everyone expects me to forget all about him. Move on, they tell me. I’ve known him for almost my entire life. There’s no way I’m getting over his death any time soon,” she stated vehemently. She blinked furiously keeping the tears at bay. The wound was still so fresh to her. Why couldn’t anyone understand that?
“I suppose we’ll both just stay as we are then, not dating. Safer that way,” he said hiding his misery. “So, let’s talk cars. I’m thinking a nice...”
Switching the topic to cars had the desired effect. He saw her almost instantly relax and the sadness seeped out of her like a nearly visible presence.
“Have you thought about what kind of car you would like? Fred insists on all-wheel drive because he doesn’t want you sliding off the road like you did a few weeks ago. I can’t blame him. If you were my sister I wouldn’t let you out of my sight after something like that. All wheel drive will limit the options substantially, however and....”
Violet folded her arms over her chest, once again rankled. “Is that disloyal brother of mine going to reveal all my secrets?” she hissed waspishly.
“Was it a secret? He probably didn’t think of it that way. He surely only told me and it’s not like I’m telling anyone. Me and secrets are best buds,” Victor replied in his usual and maddeningly calm voice.
Violet didn’t like this man knowing anything about her. It made her feel naked. It seemed her traitorous brother was doing all he could to make Victor her new protector. Over her dead body!
Did Freddy actually think he could pawn her off on some stranger? Then a most disquieting thought struck her. Was Freddy feeling overburdened with her? Was he sick of her coming to him with every little problem from a dripping faucet to her sliding off the road and into a snow bank?
She suddenly felt sixteen years old again, scared to death with only Freddy to protect her from her father’s wrath. Would she ever get over that?