“That’s a really nice bathrobe,” Victor said, by way of getting things back to normal.
Violet turned and stared at him—or through him. “What?”
“It’s the perfect color for you. Makes your eyes shimmer,” he said, pouring out another cup of coffee for her.
“Shimmer,” she repeated absently, pacing about the room in an agitated fashion.
“Violet, come sit and have breakfast with me.”
He lifted the cup to show her and she came to the table. She sat and sighed before taking the cup in both hands.
“Thank you,” she said, sipping at it.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked. “It takes some getting used to, sleeping through sirens and everything, especially when you’re used to the quiet of Catalpa Valley.”
“No, I didn’t, but it’s not that quiet in the country. I can sleep through twittering birds, braying donkeys, gaggling geese—wait, do geese gaggle?”
Victor laughed and shrugged. “I wouldn’t know.”
“Anyway…even farm equipment doesn’t bother me much, but sirens put me on edge. I can’t help wondering if someone’s hurt and will they be okay or if someone just got robbed or… oh, imagination takes over then I worry and I can’t sleep when I’m worried,” she said, taking the croissant Victor offered her.
She then laughed and added, “I remember Jocelyn when she first came to Catalpa from…oh some big city in Mississippi…don’t remember which…is Montgomery in Mississippi?”
She frowned. “Baton Rouge?”
He shook his head and tried not to laugh. “Louisiana.”
“Oh, then I give up!”
“Jackson perhaps?” Victor volunteered.
“Hmm, maybe, but anyway, she said she couldn’t sleep because the roosters up north didn’t know they were only supposed to crow at dawn.”
Victor laughed and watched her spread strawberry preserves on the croissant and take a delicate bite.
“Mmm, that is the best croissant I’ve ever had,” she gushed.
“That’s exactly what my mother used to say.”
“Did she really?”
He nodded. “Listen, what do you say we do the tourist thing before we go home? The Statue of Liberty, Staten Island Ferry, Empire State Building, that sort of stuff.”
He smiled as he watched her lick her fingers seemingly not listening. “You’re sure the cutest little concubine a man could have.”
When he got no reaction to that, he knew her mind was elsewhere, so he merely watched her eat. Eventually she caught him staring at her.
“What? Why do you smile like that?” she asked, suddenly self-conscious.
“Because you make me happy without even trying,” he said leaning forward and kissing her cheek. “Imagine if you actually tried.”
She didn’t know what to say to that. “Um…aren’t you going to eat anything?”
“I don’t like breakfast much.”
She almost choked on her food. “What in the world are you talking about? You love breakfast! I recall you begging me to make it for you on several occasions. With twenty-four hours of meeting me, in fact.”
He chuckled. “I’d eat mud pies if you made them yourself and offered them to me.”
“I’m assuming you mean Mississippi mud-pies. I could make one of those any time you like.”
“No, I mean real mud out of your garden, rocks and twigs and a couple of worms stuck here and there for extra texture.”
She gaped at him. “You are a strange, funny man, Victor Romanoff.”
“I recall someone saying that a few times, so it must be true” he retorted, standing up.
“Where are you going?”
“I thought I’d shower and get dressed. I hear it’s going to rain substantially later on, but I should be able to show you the best of the city before then.”
“I thought you did that yesterday,” she said, staring with longing at the plate of croissants.
“Go ahead. Have another. They’ll only go to waste,” he said shoving the plate toward her.
“That’s why you should have one. Come and taste it. It’s super yummy!”
He shook his head and started away.
Violet stood up pouting and walked toward him, croissant in hand. “You have to try this…oh!” she said tripping on her bathrobe.
Victor caught her before she fell flat on her face and laughed. “I guess I can’t take my concubine anywhere,” he said, glancing down at her now opened robe where softly enticing, lace-covered flesh suddenly appeared. “You better go get dressed before I take a bite out of you. I can only be a saint so long, you know.”
With that said, he went through his door, giving her one final once-over before shutting it, leaving Violet to wonder what he meant.
It was as she turned to her own room that she caught sight of her reflection. She gasped and grabbed her robe belatedly covering what Victor obviously had already seen.
“Concubine indeed…a slutty one, too,” she whined, rushing to her room.
Hours later, they were looking down on a hazy city from the top of the Empire State building.
“My mother used to love it up here. She used to say romance began and ended here,” Victor said.
“Began and ended?” Violet said, making a face. “What does that mean?”
“She was talking about her favorite films. An Affair to Remember started here, or was supposed to, and Sleepless in Seattle ended here,” he replied.
She gaped at him, stunned. “How in the world do you know that?” she asked, her eyes as wide as they would go. "You're favorite movie is Rambo."
He grinned. “I have told you my mother was an incurable romantic, haven’t I? She made me watch every chick flick out there.”
She blinked at him and shook her head. “Wish I had known her,” she mumbled.
“I wish she had known you. She might have said, You’ve finally got yourself a nice girl, Victor. There’s hope for you yet,” he said.
Violet went up on her toes and looked over the railing—or tried to. “You really think she would have liked me?”
“Positive,” he replied. “Did you know they turn this top floor into a wedding chapel every February fourteenth?”
“Seriously?” she said, struggling to see properly, but she was too little.
“Here, let me help you,” he said, lifting her up.
“Ooh, that’s much better. Thank you, Victor. You know, I think the city looks better from up here, even in the haze,” she said, putting her fingers through the chain link fence.
“I’ll bet,” he said. “So, that’s six months from now.”
“St. Valentine’s day,” he said.
“Um…okay,” she said, not quite getting where he was going with this.
“Violet,” he said, setting her back on her feet and turning her to face him. “What do you think about St. Valentine’s day?”
“What do I think of it?” she made a face and thought for a moment. “It’s a made up holiday created to get men into trouble by women who equate getting hideously expensive gifts for no reason at all as a test of their love.”
He stared at her, incredulous. “Is that you talking or your ghost husband?”
“Are you making fun of me?” she asked, half indignant, half hurt.
“No, I …I mean what do you think of getting married on St. Valentine’s day?”
She made a funny face. “It’s predictable and unimaginative, to tell the truth. Don’t tell me you and your wife…”
“No, we got married in October among the turning leaves. It was rather pretty. I have pictures to prove it. I was thinking of us.”
“What about us?” she said.
He placed his hands on her shoulders, slid them down her arms and around her waist encircling it and pulling her closer. “Would you like a February wedding up here?”
She stared at him, stunned. “Did you not listen to a dang thing I said this morning? “
“I’m speaking theoretically. You must have dreamed as a little girl about the perfect wedding. Something romantic, like at the cliffs of Dover, in the Italian countryside, in the French Alps…"
“Or in Catalpa Valley,” she interjected, haughtily. “It may not be fancy enough for your wife…”
“Whatever. Point is, I already had my dream wedding to my dream man at my dinky little church where I was baptized, where I taught Sunday school, where I still sing in the choir and that was plenty romantic enough for me.”
“But what if you could pick anywhere to go in the entire world?” he persisted. “Surely you can think of a more romantic place than…”
“I think it’s time to go,” she angrily said, turning on her heel and marching to the elevator.
“Violet!” Victor shouted, after she disappeared into a large group of Japanese tourists.
“Real smooth, bud,” Richard said, his tone gleeful. “Keep it up. She's really warming to you’re pushing in case you couldn’t tell.”
Violet waited for the elevator behind a few tourists, her arms stubbornly folded over her chest. A little girl of Oriental decent—Violet couldn’t tell which, Korean or Japanese—stared at her over her mother’s shoulder. She smiled and Violet did too.
“I should stick with little kids like you. Even if we don’t speak the same language I understand you perfectly,” she mumbled.
The elevator doors opened and everyone moved aside to allow those inside to step out before the waiting people could enter. Just as Violet was about to step inside, two large hands grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her back.
“There isn’t enough room for us. We’ll take the next one,” Victor said.
She spun around and glared at him. “There was plenty of room for me.”
“You were planning on leaving me?” he asked, his tone playful, despite her obvious annoyance.
She pursed her lips. “Thought about it,” she mumbled. “You have to stop that, Victor. I won’t have you harassing me when I just explained to you I can’t do it. I can’t marry you! Get it through your thick head.”
“Well, if she won’t, I will,” a sassy twenty-something spoke up, eying Victor up and down. “We can even go for a test ride first.”
Victor laughed. “Well, um, I’ll keep you in mind the next time she turns me down,” he said.
“Here’s my number,” she said, slipping a card into his pocket and winking before turning away.
Incensed with jealousy, Violet had been about to say something snarky, but then she realized she had pretty much already told Victor to find someone else. To say anything about his taste in women would label her a hypocrite or worse.
“Well, I hope you two will be very happy together,” she said, trying for casual, and failing miserably.
Victor grinned. “We might be, but I’ll never know if you say yes next time I ask.” He then pulled her into his arms, and in spite of her efforts to resist him she melted into him.
“Resistance is futile,” Heidi whispered in her ear.
Violet knew that already.