Violet had never seen a more beautiful sight and it wasn’t just the million orchids on display all over the place. The people were dressed in stunning apparel and most of them sparkled with untold fortunes in jewels.
“Makes me look like a poor relation in comparison,” Violet muttered behind her glass of champagne.
“No way! You’re gorgeous and everyone here knows it,” Richard told her as a man passing by gave Violet an appreciative look. He glared at the guy despite the fact he couldn’t be seen and said, “Move on, buddy. She’s taken.”
Violet, having been looking at the flowers in front of her, didn’t see the man nor the other few leering at her.
“How do they do it?” she mumbled stepping closer to what appeared to be a thousand orchid plants formed into a huge ball.
“Never mind that. Where’s Victor?” Richard irritably asked looking around.
“He’s being bored to death by Julian Rothchild. Oh, but he loathes that man,” Heidi said sympathetically. “Violet dear, you must rescue him.”
Violet tore her eyes away from the flowers and spotted Victor nodding to a bombastic man whose voice was as loud as his belly was large. Violet could tell even from this considerable distance that Victor’s eyes were glazing over. But that was until he caught her eye and his face suddenly seemed to glow. She smiled and read his thoughts –something along the lines of “Help me, Violet!” -- quite as clearly as she could hear the stout man speaking over the rumble of the crowd.
She giggled and turned in their direction just as a very tall, thin woman stepped in her way.
“Lovely,” the woman said, unenthusiastically looking at the orchid display.
“Oh, yes! Extraordinary. I was trying to see how this was done. I think they must have mesh to hold the roots together and…”
“You came with Victor Romanoff, didn’t you?” the woman interrupted, her voice somehow accusing.
“Uh…yes,” Violet replied, her eyes wide with wonder.
The woman then gave Violet a thorough looking over up and down. “Christian Dior,” she said.
“Hello, Christian. I’m Violet Bennett,” she replied.
The woman raised an indolent eyebrow and smiled coldly. “The gown,” she muttered through clenched teeth.
Violet then looked at the woman’s dress. It was made of a slinky silver fabric and was as sparkly as the hundreds of diamonds she wore around her long ivory-colored throat and down onto her chest--her unnaturally well-endowed and barely concealed chest which was annoyingly at eye level. Violet never wished she was taller more than at that precise moment. To have those huge globes right in her face was beyond embarrassing. The woman, she noticed, was thin as a rail as well and Violet fleetingly wondered how she managed to stay upright.
“Does she not have any idea how ridiculous she looks?” Richard asked, unable to remove his eyes from the woman’s ill-proportioned body.
“Sadly, no,” Heidi answered, staring daggers at the woman.
“For Pete’s sake! She makes Barbie dolls look totally normal,” he shouted.
“Yes, we all know that body came from a surgeon, but that’s hardly our concern, Richard. We must get Violet away from this cougar or she’ll be eaten alive, almost literally!”
Richard scoffed. “Violet can take her. A stiff breeze and Barbie’ll topple over and lay there like an upturned turtle unable to move. I’d actually like to see that!” He suddenly laughed raucously until Heidi poked him hard in the ribs. “Hey!”
“I’m serious,” she snapped. “This is Silvia, a vicious, back-stabbing woman, and she’s had her claws out for my Victor since she was ten years old.”
“Betcha she didn’t have those headlights then. That’s why he didn’t notice her.”
“My Victor has better taste than that!” Heidi angrily retorted.
“Obviously. He wants my Violet,” he said.
“Go get Victor. Hurry! There’s no telling what Silvia’s capable of doing to our sweet little Violet,” Heidi earnestly said, shoving Richard away toward Victor.
“Um…it’s a very pretty gown, Christian,” Violet said, forcing a smile.
“My name is Silvia,” she said, scornfully.
“Okay...oh, Silvia Middleton? I just met your mom and dad. Nice people,” Violet said.
“I’m so glad you approve of them,” Silvia sarcastically countered.
Without anything to say to that, Violet turned back to the orchid display and attempted to read a small plague which bore the botanical name of the plant. “Dor-it-a-en-op-sis. Ooh, that’s a mouthful. Don’t know if I’ll ever remember that,” Violet muttered.
“Where did Victor find you?” Silvia asked, incredulous.
“We met at a supermarket, but he was friends with my brother first,” Violet replied while trying to read more about this particular plant.
“Indeed,” Silvia said her mouth twisting ruefully. “He didn’t mention you at my Christmas party. So you couldn’t have been with him then or he would have brought you, surely.”
“Huh?” Violet said distractedly. “I didn’t know Victor at Christmas.”
“Really, then how long have you two been…”
“Violet, my love, you must try this,” Victor said suddenly appearing with a plate full of appetizers, one of which he held in his hand and promptly stuffed into Violet’s gaping mouth. “Isn’t it yummy?”
Her mouth being full she could do nothing more than nod and stare up at him, aghast. My love? Since when did he ever call her that? That question, however, was not to be asked nor answered directly.
“Hello, Victor,” Silvia purred, smiling brightly at him.
“Silvia, I didn’t see you there. I saw your parents before. They’re looking well,” Victor said, only glancing her way long enough to be polite. He then smiled down at Violet and added. “You should try this one. It’s even better.”
“Victor, please. I can feed myself,” Violet said, stopping him from shoving another into her mouth. She had only just swallowed the other one after all.
“I know, Sweetheart, but you’ll love it... as much as I love you,” he said seductively. He then whispered in her ear, “Play along, Violet, I beg of you.”
Her eyes as wide as they would go, she hesitated a moment before she nodded and allowed Victor to bring the tiny bit of food to her lips.
“If you really want Silvia off your back, you should kiss Violet,” Richard mumbled. “Just a tiny peck, should do it.”
Victor liked that idea very much. He bent down and dropped a kiss on her dewy lips and then another and yet another.
“What the hell, dude! I said one little kiss!” Richard snarled.
Victor reluctantly pulled back, smiled and held the morsel of food to her lips again.
“Victor…” Violet mumbled, gaping at him.
“Yes, my love,” he said.
Blushing Violet glanced at Silvia, who wore an expression of one who had just swallowed a very bitter pill. Violet quickly looked away and almost bit Victor’s finger in her haste to have something to do to take away the feel of those sensual lips on her own. She then grabbed another one off the plate and downed the rest of her champagne. She’d need a few of those, too, she thought, looking at her empty glass. A good buzz might make her forget that kiss.
Just then a rather attentive waiter replaced her empty glass for a full one and whisked away before she could thank him.
“How convenient,” she muttered, before taking a sip.
“It was very nice seeing you again, Silvia, but you’ll have to excuse us. I have several people I need to introduce to Violet,” Victor said merrily, his arm snaking possessively around Violet and leading her away.
When they were outside of the stony-faced Silvia’s hearing he quietly rambled, “Thank God you were here, Violet. I can’t thank you enough. You just saved me big time. Once that woman gets her claws into a man…well, you don’t want to know! I swear, you’re the best friend I ever had.”
“Charlie isn’t going to like that!” Heidi reminded him.
“Well, that’s except for Charlie, but he’s more like a brother really,” Victor said, grinning and giving Violet little squeeze. “Really, Violet, I owe you. I’m buying you one of every orchid they have and building you a greenhouse to keep them all in.”
Violet stopped suddenly and glared at him. “You will not! I have zero knowledge about orchids. I’ll end up killing them all,” she shrieked.
“Well, then,” he replied, laughing at her. “It’s a good thing you’re about to meet Mr. Orchid himself. He’ll tell you all you can stand to know about the pretty little plants and anything else at Weston.”
With that he took her across the little stone bridge which spanned the babbling brook between the north and south sides of the wide conservatory. They stopped next to a small and rather nervous looking fellow who appeared to be trying to hide himself behind a large camellia bush.
“Mr. Johansen, I wonder if you remember me?” Victor said.
The man spun around, startled. “Yes, yes, of course I do,” he replied, fidgeting with his bow tie and pushing his glasses up his nose.
“I have someone here who is dying to ask you about your marvelous orchid displays. Violet Bennett this is Garret Johansen, a master gardener if ever there was one,” Victor said.
“Oh, I’m so pleased to meet you, Mr. Johansen,” Violet said. “Did you really design all the exhibits here?”
“Yes, yes, I…I’m the one,” he said, smiling nervously. “Do you know Orchids?”
“None personally,” she replied. Then realizing what an odd thing she said she giggled. “I mean, I don’t have any at home. They can’t survive in my garden in Catalpa Valley after all.”
“Ah,” he said, visibly brightening. “So, you garden? You know a bit then, about horticulture?”
“Very little,” she replied, modestly.
“Nonsense, Violet,” Victor interjected. “You have a lovely garden, the envy of the neighborhood if not the whole of Catalpa Valley.”
“Victor, don’t exaggerate,” she mumbled, her cheeks turning bright pink.
“Mr. Johansen, you should hear her when she walks around the conservatory. She knows each and every plant by name. I can’t wait for the weather to truly warm up so she can see the gardens outside. I could use the lesson. I know Violet will know every tree, shrub and perennial out there,” Victor said adamantly nodding. “I tell you, she’s good.”
“That so?” he said, smiling at Violet. “May I give you a tour of the conservatory, Ms. Bennett? I can show you the behind-the-scenes work involved if you’re interested and I’m quite willing to answer any questions you may have.”
“Oh, that would be fantastic, Mr. Johansen!” she said excitedly.
“Garret, please,” he replied.
Violet's eyes brightened but then she glanced at Victor who smiled indulgently. “Would it be all right, Victor?” she asked.
“Of course. That’s why I brought you here. Go on, have fun. I have a few people I need to speak with. I’ll catch up with you in a bit.”
He watched with a satisfied grin as the two walked off already animated in their discussion of every plant they came to.
“Aren’t you afraid he’ll steal her away from you?” Richard asked. “They have tons in common you know, a crazy love of plants."
“No, can’t say I’m too worried,” Victor answered. “I see good things coming from this little meeting.”
Richard scratched his head and wondered what exactly that meant.