While Violet thoroughly enjoyed her time with Garret—he was such a wealth of knowledge and he seemed thoroughly impressed by hers as well!—within an hour she had started to feel guilty about being away from Victor. He did bring her to the Weston Botanical gardens, after all, to keep him from being bored. And here she had pretty much abandoned him! She felt horrible.
“As you can see it takes several months to get the mums to…” Garret explained showing her what they were already working on in early spring in preparation for the autumn displays.
“Garret, forgive me, but I really should get back to Victor,” she anxiously interrupted him.
“Who?” Garret asked, pushing his glasses up his nose while turning away from the metal frame pyramid on which thousands of mums were being held in place.
“Victor… Victor Romanoff. The man who introduced us,” she said smiling indulgently. The poor man knew every single detail about horticulture and every inch of Weston, but he obviously struggled to do half as much with people. It was all he could do to remember the names of those who funded his baby, the gardens at Weston.
“Ah, yes…yes, we should go then. Pity, I wanted to show you the poinsettias for the Christmas displays, but another time, surely,” he said allowing her to exit ahead of him through the “Employees only” door from the off-limits green houses.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you showing me all of these wonders! I’d give anything to be able to follow you around for just one day. I’d learn so much from you,” she gushed.
“Well, we could use a few more volunteers to help with the spring planting. They help put together the seasonal flower borders. I’m sure you’d be good at that. You at least know an aster from a zinnia!” he chuckled. “Where did you say you worked? I’ve never heard of the Mio Caro. Is it a very large nursery? Is it near here? We might be willing to work with them and use their services for plants if…”
“Oh, no! Mio Caro is not a plant nursery. It’s a daycare center…for children,” she said, just barely able to resist a giggle.
“Indeed,” he said somewhat bewildered. “Children, you say? How odd!”
“This guy obviously doesn’t understand why anyone would want to nurture kids when there are plants to fondle,” Richard grumbled.
Heidi giggled and poked him playfully in the side. “It does take all kinds, Richard,” she said.
Violet noticed how uncomfortable Garret became with each step further into the fray of party-goers. She managed to keep him from jumping out of his skin merely by distracting him with questions about this plant or another until she was fortunate enough to spot Victor.
“Oh, there he is,” she said, waving happily at him.
“Who?” Garret asked as he plucked a pair of clippers out of a pocket and snipped a broken twig off a Scotch Broom.
“Victor Romanoff,” she said smiling brightly. Victor beamed when he spotted her. He spoke briefly to the man beside him then headed in her direction accompanied by the rotund man. He was very nearly Victor’s considerable height, but his bulk made him appear even larger.
“There you are, Sweetheart,” Victor said, brushing a kiss on Violet’s cheek and making her heart skip a beat.
“I wish I never told him to do that,” Richard huffed. “He’s deliberately taking every opportunity to kiss her.”
“Oh, hush. There’s no harm in it,” Heidi insisted.
“Says you,” he mumbled.
“I thought you said you were going to stop haunting her and instead become a help to her, a spirit guide instead of a ghost, remember?” Heidi snapped.
“Yeah, I am! Victor’s gonna ruin everything if he pushes her too soon. She’s not ready for all that,” Richard insisted.
Heidi gave him a stern look. “Richard, your jealousy knows no bounds, does it?”
“It’s got nothing to do with that. I’m serious, Heidi. Violet’s not gonna jump into bed with him just like that,” he said snapping his fingers.
“And how many times do I have to tell you Victor does not only want a roll in the hay! He loves her and wants to marry her. He’s in this for the long haul. He would do anything for her,” Heidi huffed.
“I know that. But he’s doing it all wrong! It has to be subtle and he’s being anything but subtle tonight.” Richard countered.
“I’m sorry we took so long, Victor, but Garret was showing me so many amazing behind the scenes stuff it was just too…”
“Too wonderful to pass up the opportunity. I know, my love. Don’t worry. We both know how much you love flowers and now Garret does too. You’ve found a plant lover after your own heart, haven’t you, Garret?” Victor said, snaking a possessive arm around Violet’s waist.
Heidi frowned at Violet whose face wore an expression of unease and bewilderment as she stared up at Victor. She was stiff in stance too, as if afraid or nervous of Victor's proximity.“Perhaps you’re right. You must tell him, Richard, before he does something he’ll regret,” she whispered anxiously.
“I have? Who’s that?” Garret said, slipping the clippers back into his pocket.
The rotund man shook his head, exasperated. “Garret, my good man, your lovely companion, of course,” he said, smiling at Violet as if she were a favorite niece.
“My lovely what?” Garret asked, totally bemused.
“Violet, this is Walter Bettencort. He’s the director of Weston Botanical,” Victor said, wisely ignoring the absent-minded Garret whose attention drifted to a nearby cluster of calla lilies where he bent over to snip off a spent flower.
“Ms. Bennett, Victor has told me so much about you, I feel I almost know you,” Walter said, grasping her hand with both of his beefy ones.
“Uh, you do?” she said, her eyes wide as she searched Victor’s face for some clue. Victor, to her astonishment was squeezing her to him as if he owned her. And why in heaven’s name was he calling her sweetheart and my love again? Was Silvia near by? She glanced around her and sure enough, Silvia was staring daggers at her from across the way. That explained that!
“Yes, he has,” Walter spoke heartily. “You have quite a thing for plants for one thing and you obviously know how to handle Mr. Plant guy over there. That’s two points in your favor. Garret, leave those plants alone and come join us. This concerns you.”
“Two points?” she mumbled, utterly confused.
“Yes?” Garret said coming back to them as he slipped the clippers once again into his pocket.
“Garret, what say you about the abilities of this fine young lady?” Walter said, placing his arm around the squirrelly man.
“Abilities?” he repeated, pushing his glasses up his nose.
“Horticulturally speaking of course,” Walter said, before whispering to the other two. “It’s the only thing he relates to, after all.”
“Oh, Ms. Bennett has a wide knowledge of plants. Far better than I’ve encountered in a very long time. She has a thirst for knowledge and a keen understanding as well of the subtle differences in cultivars,” Garret said, suddenly showing interest. “I think she would greatly benefit both herself and the garden by volunteering. We’ll be planting the spring beds next week and…”
“Come now, Garret, I was thinking a bit more than just having her plant a few annuals,” Walter said with a jovial laugh.
“There are perennials, too,” Garret said defensively.
Walter rolled his eyes. “Yes, of course, but what I’m saying is I think Ms. Bennett would make a wonderful assistant for you.”
“Assistant?” Violet gasped, looking from Walter’s indulgent face to Garret’s bemused one and finally to Victor’s beaming one.
“Assistant?” Garret repeated, his interest now profound. “Oh, that would be good.”
“Yes, I believe you would benefit from having someone personable and knowledgeable to intervene between you and the people you should be talking to, Garret,” Walter said in a grumpy sort of voice. “And that would leave you to deal with the plants, which you can relate to…probably because they don’t talk back.”
“That would be greatly appreciated,” Garret said, looking relieved.
“Yes, I thought so. Plus, we need someone to take over the children’s outdoor garden. Agnes Mills was our director for that project, but she won’t be able to continue in that position. She suffered a stroke over the holidays and though she has recovered rather well she has chosen to retire and spend more time with her children and grand kids.”
“Oh, what a shame for Weston, but I would do the same. Family should come first,” Violet said.
“Well, she was a wonderful member of our staff for over twenty-two years and will be sorely missed, but I do believe you would more than fill her shoes,” Walter said. “And since you have great skills with kids, you, Ms. Bennett, make the perfect candidate for the position.”
“How do you know…” she started to say before she was interrupted.
“Well, Ms. Bennett, I must confess,” Walter said, looking slightly sheepish. “I had heard of you before Victor. I believe you may know my granddaughter who speaks rather highly of her favorite person at Mio Caro Bambino. Emma?”
Violet blinked stupidly for a few seconds. “Emma Schwartz is your granddaughter?”
“Indeed she is. Apple of my eye,” he said proudly. “What do you say, Ms. Bennett?”
“Oh, Emma is a darling. I adore her,” Violet said, thinking of the little girl with freckles across her chubby cheeks and eyes the same pale blue as her grandfather.
Walter and Victor laughed. “No, I mean about the job offer. Will you join our family at Weston?”
She blinked a few more times. “You mean you’re serious?” she squeaked.
“We’re in need of someone exactly like you, Ms. Bennett. I couldn’t find someone more perfect if given a month to look. Actually, I’ve had three months with no luck, but with schools scheduling their spring field trips in a few weeks, we’re now a tad desperate. Please, Ms. Bennett, say you will consider it. Emma won’t like me stealing you away from Mio Caro, but she can always come here to see you.”
She gaped, her eyes as large as the hydrangea blooms beside them. “Really?” she said.
“Violet, darling, Walter is going to think you’re daft if you keep asking that. He’s not a man to foolishly hand out job offers without need. He’s too busy for that,” Victor said. “I think it’s the perfect career for you, combining the two things you love most in the whole wide world, gardens and children. Seems like a no-brainer to me.”
Violet suddenly went into hysterical giggles which swiftly turned to tears welling in her eyes.
Victor turned to Walter and smiled. “I think that’s a yes.”