“That’s not me,” Violet said, staring at her reflection in the mirror.
Kimberly giggled. “I assure you it is. You have marvelous bone structure and with just a little bit of makeup we brought it out,” she said, spinning Violet's chair away from the mirror.
“Victor won’t recognize me,” she mumbled.
Again Kimberly laughed. “You do make me laugh, Ms. Bennett. Mr. Romanoff will absolutely recognize you and, no doubt, fall deeper in love with you. That’s never a bad thing!”
But in this case it was—at least Violet thought so. She followed Kimberly out into the lobby perhaps not quite as shy as when she first entered, but still a bit apprehensive. She saw Victor first as he sat with a fine bone china tea cup in his hand.
He was talking to an elderly woman--possibly an old friend of his mother—but when he spotted her he froze and without another thought for the other woman, he set aside his cup, rose from his comfortable wing-back chair and went to her.
“Happy birthday, me,” he said, taking her newly manicured hands and kissing each before he lightly kissed her glossy peach colored lips. “Didn’t think it was possible for you to be more beautiful. I better keep you away from dearly John Yearly for sure now.”
She laughed. “It’s not too much?”
He shook his head. “Not at all.”
“Mr. Romanoff? We have everything ready for you,” Mona said, placing four large, sunflower-splashed cloth shopping bags featuring their logo and full to bursting with their signature bath and body products.
“Thank you, Mona,” Victor said taking the bags from her. He then turned to Violet. “Ready to go?”
“What is all that?” Violet asked.
“Take home products,” he said.
“Victor, there is no way you bought that much for your mother,” she said, sternly.
“Relax, my love, only this one is for you,” he said handing her the biggest bag. “These are for a few of my favorite females.”
She gaped at him and although curious as a cat and dying to ask who these favorite females might be, she decided it was none of her business.
Knowing perfectly well what she was thinking, he grinned and said, “This one’s for Ella, my receptionist, this one for Laurie because she couldn't be here with you and this one for Cathy as a special thank you for taking good care of my favorite family.”
“You are sweet, Victor,” Violet said.
“I think I forgot to wish you a happy birthday.”
He laughed. “Did you enjoy your day at the spa?”
“Then you just did.”
She smiled at him for a moment, then she went on tiptoe ready to kiss him, but before she managed it, someone shouted his name and they both turned to see a beautiful and obviously pregnant woman rushing toward him.
This immaculately dressed woman had deep-set dark eyes and black hair in a pixie haircut which reminded Violet of Velma in the musical Chicago.
The blood drained from Victor's face. “Denise,” he muttered.
“My goodness, Victor,” she said, smiling at him. “I thought you fell off the face of the Earth.”
He shook his head. “I'm rarely in the city anymore. Living out in the country now."
"Really? That is surprising," Denise said. "You look amazing. You haven't changed at all."
"Wonderful to see you, Denise. How have you been?” he asked, a tad stiffly.
“Well,” she said, patting her protruding abdomen. “I married Laurence and we're expecting our first child.”
“Laurence Wentworth ?” Victor said, visibly surprised.
“Yes,” she said, a sad expression on her face. “When one scheme of happiness is vanquished another takes its place…if you let it. Laurence always wanted to marry me, you know.”
They looked at each other for a minute in an awkward silence.
“I’m happy for you, Denise,” Victor genuinely said, his anxiety magically passing. “Congratulations, on both your marriage and the baby. I know you’ll be an excellent mother.”
“Thank you,” she said, staring intently at him. She stepped closer to him and took his hand. “And you, Victor? Have you found your happiness? Are you over Catherine yet? I so wish that for you.”
He smiled and only then realized Violet had vanished from his side. He quickly scanned the lobby and found her attempting to melt into the wallpaper behind a large Dumbcane Plant.
He raised his hand beckoning her forward. “Violet?” he said. Slowly and shyly she approached. “Denise, I want you to meet Violet Bennett, my fiancé,” he said, kissing Violet on her blushing cheek.
“Victor,” Violet chastised.
“I know, my love. I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone before I bought the ring, but Denise is an old friend. I’m sure she’ll keep it to herself,” he lied.
Victor knew perfectly well Denise would do no such thing and that was precisely what he wanted. What he hadn’t wanted nor expected was to see the hurt look on her face, which confirmed she might still be in love with him.
Denise smiled bravely, however, and held her hand out to Violet. “How lovely,” she said. “I know Victor is a wonderful man and will make you very happy.” She then looked at Victor and added, “I wish you every happiness. I'd love to chat some, but I really must be going. I’m meeting Mother for a late luncheon. It was very good meeting you, Violet, and seeing you again, Victor.” She kissed him on the cheek and swiftly left.
Five hundred cats couldn’t have as much curiosity as Violet currently held in, but no, she would not ask. Instead she slipped her hand in his and smiled as if nothing happened.
"We should go," she said, and they also walked out of the spa.
“Violet…” Victor said, once they reached the crowded sidewalk outside.
“So, where are we going now?” she interrupted him, on purpose.
“Violet, let me explain. Denise was…”
“Are you hungry?” Violet said quickly. “Jocelyn told me I had to try a Sabrett and a knish, whatever those are.”
“Violet, will you listen to me?” he said, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk so people jostled them on either side.
“Rather not, thanks,” she replied, walking ahead of him and falling in with the crowd.
“Violet!” he shouted, grabbing her arm and pulling her out of the stream of people. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? This isn’t Catalpa Valley. You do not leave my side. Do you understand?”
She gaped. “Is it truly that bad?”
“Not if you’re careful. Not if you know what to look for to protect yourself, but you, Violet, are woefully naïve. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it can get you in trouble in the big bad city. Please, just stay with me, okay? I don’t want anything happening to you," he said, pausing for a split second before adding, "Richard would never forgive me if it did.”
“Damn right!” Richard snarled.
“Okay,” she said, holding his hand again. “Where to now?”
“May I tell you about Denise first?”
She shook her head. “I don’t have to know. It’s none…”
“It is your business. I want it to be your business,” he earnestly said.
“But why? We’re not really engaged, Victor, so I don’t. Why did you tell her we were?”
“Because I wanted her to know I was not still pinning over my ex-wife.”
Violet searched his face. “But are you?”
“No, not at all. I haven’t been for quite some time. Not much after the divorce was final. You know how long ago that was.”
“Eleven years or something?”
“Longer than that actually, but everyone assumes because I haven't re-married that it is precisely the case. I did use it as the excuse for not…marrying Denise.”
Violet’s eyes widened. “So,” she said, “You were in love with her?”
He shook his head. “Not with Denise. With you.”
Violet’s mouth fell open and curiosity may have just killed those five hundred cats.