“Oh, Victor, you poor man! I’m so sorry to keep you waiting so long. I just didn’t want to be an embarrassment to you,” Violet said rushing down the steps.
She stopped abruptly two steps up from the bottom where Victor stood staring at her. She expected him to be angry or even annoyed, but he was none of those things. His expression was nothing short of rapturous. Violet remembered all too well that look on Richard’s face whenever she got dolled up, as he called it. It warmed her from head to toe.
“Do I look all right?” she asked needlessly.
He chuckled. “All right? No, I wouldn’t say that. Beyond beautiful, most definitely,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it without once taking his eyes off hers.
She flushed happily. “Thank you.”
“Doesn’t seem fair, does it?” Victor said wistfully, helping her down the stairs.
“That Richard isn’t here to see his lovely wife and my mother isn’t here to enjoy her favorite event of the year,” he said.
“Oh, Victor,” she said sympathetically. “You miss your mother as much as I miss Richard.”
He chuckled. “I don’t know about that. She’s been gone far longer than your Richard,” he replied. “I suppose I’m used to it or should be.”
“I don’t think time has anything to do with it. I miss him just as much now as I did on the day he died and I know you feel the same about your mom,” she insisted.
He stared at her and nodded. “Very true. Never bought that out of sight out of mind stuff, but it does make me wonder if they might be together, Richard and my mother and that they’re watching over us,” he said.
“Like angels standing by. That’s one of my favorite songs,” Violet said, her eyes glowing. “Such a lovely thought! Do you really think they might be?”
He shrugged. “I’d like to think so. Would keep us from getting too lonesome for them, wouldn’t it?” he said.
“That’s all very nice, but don’t you think you should give her the jewelry in your pocket and get going?” Richard impatiently hissed in his ear.
“Oh, I almost forgot. I have something for you,” Victor said, pulling the velvet box out of his pocket.
Violet gasped. “You didn’t!”
“I did,” he retorted, opening the box and showing her the jewels. “I thought they’d go with the gown.”
“Omigosh…you’re trying to get rid of me,” Violet said, gazing at the dazzling emeralds and diamonds.
“I’m what?” he asked, stunned.
“Obviously you spent a fortune on these and if I wear them I’m bound to be kidnapped!” she said excitedly. She grinned as Victor laughed. She took the earrings out of the box and putting them on added, “Of course, that’s not going to stop me from wearing them.”
“Thatta girl!” he said. He waited for her to finish with the other ear then handed her the box. “Hold this.” He took the necklace out and went behind her putting it around her neck and fastening it. He then turned her toward the mirror on the wall. “What do you think?”
“Oh, Victor! They’re lovely,” she said.
“I thought so, too,” he said, taking the bracelet and fastening it on her delicate wrist. “And now I think we are ready to go.”
“I’ll need my coat,” she said reaching for her old red wool coat.
“Actually, it’s rather warm tonight for a coat. I think a pashmina will do,” Victor said, pulling a length of emerald green velvet out of the closet.
“A what? Oh, where’d it come from? ”
“Pashmina ...I brought it just for the occasion,” he said draping the soft fabric over her shoulders.
“It’s wonderful! I love it!” she said excitedly. “But it’s a shawl.”
He chuckled. “You sound like Marty.”
“Is that your ex-wife?” Violet asked.
“No, I told you about Marty. She’s my mother-in-law…ex-mother-in-law. I keep forgetting to just call her my boys’ grandmother,” he said opening the door and leading her outside. “She may be at Weston tonight. She usually is for anything charitable and formal. I’d love you to meet her. You’d get a kick out of Marty. She’s a super sweet lady. Very different from her daughter. I suppose she might be there too.”
Violet frowned as she entered the car and Victor closed the door. Why in the world should she meet Victor’s former mother-in-law? She also didn’t much care for seeing Victor’s former wife. She didn’t quite understand why, but the prospect made her unaccountably nervous.
“So, tell me what to do,” Victor said starting the car and heading out.
“Um, about what?”
“I promised you dinner, but if we do that we’ll be rather late.”
“We shouldn’t be late for a charity event. That's bad manners. I’m not hungry, but you may die if you don’t eat,” Violet said earnestly.
“Violet, you’re so funny. I doubt I’ll die missing dinner. There will be endless hors-doeuvres, of course. I think we can make do with that, if it’s okay with you,” he said.
Violet rolled her eyes. “If you knew there would be hors-doeuvres why did you bother asking? Of course that’ll be all right, Silly man!”
“Violet’s nothing if not low-maintenance,” Richard said, smirking as he sat back comfortably in the backseat.
“So low-maintenance it’s not even funny,” Victor mumbled.
“Me?” Violet said giggling. “Richard used to say that all the time. I’m like a house with aluminum siding.”
Victor laughed. “I would never compare you to a house! But it is true. Any other person would be whining if I didn’t take them to dinner first.”
“Who needs food when there’s flowers to be met?” she said completely serious.
“Indeed,” he muttered, utterly delighted.
Violet’s first reaction upon entering the Weston Botanical Garden’s intricately worked wrought iron gates was that they had taken a wrong turn along the way and found themselves far removed from Catalpa Valley and closer to Hollywood. As Victor pulled up to the conservatory entrance, two red-jacketed young men approached opening the doors for them. Victor handed the keys to one and the other helped Violet out of the car and onto the red carpet. Yes, there was actually a red carpet and a row of photographers snapping away!
“Victor,” she squeaked, her heart frantically beating as the relatively subdued paparazzi’s cameras continually flashed at them. “You didn’t say anything about this.”
“Didn’t I?” he said innocently, taking her hand.
“No, you didn’t! I… I’m not ready for this,” Violet said nervously smiling around at all the people gawking at them.
“You are. Just think of the flowers, all those orchids, daisies and dandelions…”
“Dandelions?” she shrieked.
He laughed. “Okay, maybe not dandelions, but now you’ll be looking for evidence of one and not worrying about all these people, won’t you?”
She giggled, albeit nervously and stepped away from the car and closer to Victor.
“Yes, you better stay close to me. Wouldn’t want you kidnapped!” he said, tucking her slightly shaking hand around his arm. He then led the way down the red carpet stopping occasionally to greet an old acquaintance and introduce Violet.
“I will never remember all these names,” she mumbled as they entered the grand ballroom where a throng of overdressed people stood talking in hushed voices.
“I’m pretty sure State Representative Woods will remember you though,” he said trying to suppress a grin and failing miserably. “I almost died when you said, “Oh, you’re the one with the private jet who tells the little people to ride their bikes to work. I didn’t vote for you.” Precious, Violet, positively precious!”
She blushed. “I’m sorry, Victor. Will that get you in trouble?”
“How could that get me in trouble? I don't fly in his private jet and don’t be sorry. That pompous ass needed a good letting down and who better to give it to him than you? You’re a tower of virtue,” he said.
“You’re teasing me,” she said biting her lip.
“I’m not. It’s…”
“Victor, my boy! So good to see you.”
Victor turned around already knowing who this was and braced himself. He forced a smile and grabbed the older man’s hand. “Wentworth, how are you? And Carla, lovely as ever,” he said kissing the cheek of the stately woman beside him.
“Victor, where have you been all season?” Carla said reproachfully. “New York has been dreadfully dull without you.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I spend most of my time in Catalpa Valley now,” he said.
“Whatever for?” Wentworth said, incredulous.
“I love the peace,” Victor retorted, his expression growing stony.
“Peace? Surely you jest!” Carla huffed. “There’s nothing here.”
“I wouldn’t say that. I keep busy,” he said, putting his arm around Violet’s waist and drawing her forward. “I’d like you to meet Violet Bennett. Violet, this is Wentworth and Carla Middleton. They are friends of the family.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Violet said meekly. She couldn’t help noticing that these two people looked at her much like a speck of dust.
“Silvia’s here, Victor. She’d love to see you,” Carla said, ignoring Violet completely.
“Yes, she told us she last saw you at a Christmas party and that she invited you to our place in the Hamptons. You must come this summer,” Wentworth insisted. “We can play a course or two.”
“We’ll see. I have various projects lined up for summer,” Victor replied coolly. “If you’ll excuse us. I told Violet I’d introduce her to the horticulturist in charge of the orchid displays.” Without another word he practically dragged Violet away.
“Um, I don’t remember you saying that,” Violet said, as he whisked her away to the other side of the conservatory.
“Talk about pompous ass,” Victor snarled under his breath.
“The orchid guy?” Violet said, stunned.
Victor laughed. “Violet, you’re adorable.”