Read an Excerpt
Violet DeWitt held the envelope marked “To Be Opened by My Daughter Upon My Death” and ran her fingers along the edges.
“Well?” the solicitor asked, clearly curious. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
But Violet only eyed the calligraphic writing in her father’s hand, reminiscent of medieval illuminations. She studied the ornate wax seal. It was such an unnecessary thing on a modern envelope. So very much something her father would do.
She carefully placed the envelope in her lap and gave the man across the desk from her a polite smile. “No, I’m not.”
The man’s broad forehead wrinkled, and he looked disappointed. “But it’s your father’s last wish, Ms. DeWitt. Don’t you want to honor it?”
“I’m fairly certain I know what it says already, Mr. Penning,” Violet said, keeping her voice brisk and cheerful as she tucked the envelope under her hands. “Now, is there anything else involved with my father’s estate that you need me for?”
He cast her another puzzled look before turning to the stack of papers on his desk and flipping through them. She understood the look he was giving her. Most people that the solicitor saw were probably grieving or concerned about money they would inherit; Violet was not interested in anything of the sort. She just wanted to leave.
“Your father was a great man,” Mr. Penning commented as he pulled out another piece of paper and peered at it through his bifocals.
“His work was so very respected. I’ve read three of his books, and even though I’m only an armchair enthusiast, I couldn’t help but be fascinated. What an exciting life the man led. Really, just a great man.”
“So I am told.”
Now, Mr. Penning looked surprised. “Did you not know your father, Ms. DeWitt? I was under the impression—”
“I knew him,” she corrected, wishing the conversation wasn’t heading in this direction. The estate solicitor probably didn’t want to hear about her workaholic father’s long absences, his abandonment of her mother, and Dr. DeWitt’s own callous treatment of Violet. Everyone just assumed that the legendary archaeologist Dr. Phineas DeWitt was as lovable and endearing to his family as he was to the documentary cameras. Not the case, Violet thought to herself. Not the case at all. But she put a patient smile on her face and leaned forward, as if interested in what the paper Mr. Penning was clutching read. “His estate is all handled, right?”
“Oh.” He adjusted his glasses, refocusing back on the paperwork in front of him. “Yes, actually, I believe that envelope is the last item outstanding. Your father, I’m sorry to say, racked up quite a bit of debt prior to his death. It seemed he was privately funding a few personal expeditions and ran up several mortgages on his house, which was taken by the bank three weeks prior to his death.”
Violet made a sympathetic murmur in her throat. She didn’t care about the money or the house, and she hadn’t expected anything. She just wanted to leave.
“Luckily, there was an anonymous third-party donor who has paid off all of your father’s outstanding debts.”
“Very lucky,” Violet agreed, her fist clenching. She had an idea who that donor was, and she hated the jerk. Anonymous, indeed. Now he’d expect her to be grateful and throw herself at him with gratitude. Not in this lifetime.
“I think that’s everything, then.” The solicitor gave her one last expectant look, his gaze sliding to the envelope in her lap. When she made no move to open it, he sighed and handed her a paper to sign. She did, and he stood and extended his hand.
“Thank you, Mr. Penning. Call me if I can be of any further assistance,” she told him, all business. Then she shook his hand and left the law office, the unopened envelope clutched in hand.
When she got out to her car, Violet started the engine, tossed the envelope into the passenger seat, and then paused. She rubbed her forehead, willing the headache behind her eyes to go away. Envelopes were an old favorite of the late Phineas DeWitt. When she was eight, her father had given her an envelope for her birthday. Inside was a clue that, if followed, would lead her to a trail of additional clues. She’d been so excited at the time, and after a series of envelope clues, each one more complex than the last, she arrived at her present.
It was a copy of The Encyclopedia on the Study of Ancient Hieroglyphics. Used. The inscription inside said: To Phineas, thanks for being a great teacher.
Granted, it was an interesting book, but her eight-year-old self had wanted a Barbie.
Phineas paid no attention to Violet’s other birthdays until she turned sixteen. She’d received another envelope in the mail and had been excited despite initial trepidation. At the end of the chase, however, her present had been a copy of a doctoral thesis written by one of her father’s students on Minoan frescoes. He’d tacked a note to it that read: Pay attention, Violet. This is the sort of thing you’ll need to write if you want to work for your father!
Again, not something she’d particularly wanted. But Phineas DeWitt believed in two things—knowledge and adventure. All else was foolishness.
She’d tossed the photocopied thesis into the garbage and tried to forget about her father’s terrible ideas for birthday gifts. When she was eighteen, she fell for it one more time, and was just as disappointed. The end of that envelope chase led to an ugly copper ring that turned her finger green and looked like something out of a tourist shop. That was after a week of frantic searching to find what her father had left her, hoping against hope that he’d remembered what she liked, her fears and hopes and dreams, and that he’d give her a present that showed he really, truly did understand his daughter.
Not so much. Phineas DeWitt gave presents, but in the end, it was still all about him. Just like everything else with her father’s games, she knew that her initial excitement would lead to inevitable disappointment. The envelopes and the challenge were to mask the fact that Phineas put no thought or effort into her presents . . . just like he’d put no thought or effort into being her father.
And she knew what—and who—this last envelope game would lead to without even having to look.
Oh, Father. I know what you’re up to. This is just one more little game, and I’ve no intention of playing this time. Nothing you say or do can make me want to talk to Jonathan Lyons ever again.
Violet didn’t think she was a hard, unforgiving type. She was nice, darn it, and understanding. But when a guy gave you pretty words, got you pregnant, and abandoned you? That wasn’t so easy to forgive, or forget, no matter what her father wanted.
Some things you just couldn’t let go.
“This is her classroom,” Principal Esparza said to Jonathan Lyons, gesturing at the door ahead. “You’re sure Ms. DeWitt is expecting you? She didn’t indicate to me that she was anticipating a visitor, and this is a closed campus.” The principal sounded disapproving, but she hadn’t kicked him out. It was amazing what you could do if you showed up in an expensive suit with your personal bodyguard. Of course, being famous—or infamous—in the right circles certainly helped.
“She’s expecting me,” Jonathan said, adjusting the front of his suit jacket. “Perhaps she simply forgot to notify you. Violet is an old family friend of the Lyonses.”
“Well,” Ms. Esparza said with a happy smile. “I’m a big fan of your cars, though I certainly can’t afford one!” She gave a girlish giggle at odds with her advanced age.
He gave her his best rakish grin, adopting the part of the flirty playboy billionaire. “Shall I have one sent to you?”
“Oh, no.” Esparza giggled again, and tucked a gray-streaked lock of hair into her bun. “It’s against school policy. But you’re sweet to offer.” She moved forward and knocked on the cheerfully lettered Fifth Grade Social Studies door.
Jonathan swallowed the knot in his throat and shifted on his feet. It was pathetic to be nervous. He’d rappelled off of cliffs in Nepal, snorkeled with sharks, been in God knew how many cave-ins, and once ended up on a ship attacked by Somali pirates. He’d never been nervous in all those situations. Adrenaline-fueled? Absolutely. Nervous? Hell no.
But standing outside of a fifth-grade classroom, waiting for a woman that he hadn’t seen in ten years? His palms were sweating.
What would Violet look like? His memories of her were of certain things instead of the entire package. He remembered a short girl, no higher than his shoulder, with long, dark braids streaked with wild pink, a wicked smile, a lean figure, and a tramp stamp that said Carpe Diem across her lower back. He remembered the scent of her skin, the way she made soft little gasping cries when she came, and the tight suction of her mouth on his dick.
Just thinking about her brought a wealth of memories and regrets surging back to the forefront. There wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t regret that last night, the last hour, the last minute they’d spent together.
She’d wanted to get married. Wanted their little summer fling in Greece to turn into something real. She’d insisted on returning to the States and settling down. And Jonathan had been nineteen, taking a semester off of college, and was dazzled by the dynamic Dr. Phineas DeWitt, who seemed daily on the verge of yet another important archaeological discovery. They’d both been participating in DeWitt’s latest dig for the summer, and it was the most exciting thing Jonathan had ever done. Growing up, Jonathan was the younger son of a businessman in desperate need of a miracle. Jonathan had watched, year after year, as his father poured every hour of his time and every dollar in his wallet into making Lyons Motors a viable company, all without success. Jonathan hadn’t been jealous of his father’s obsession with his car business; it simply was something that one had to shrug and ignore.
In Dr. DeWitt, however, he’d found a mentor and a father figure who cared what Jonathan thought. Suddenly, he was important, and it was intoxicating.
But Violet had a quick and decisive change of heart. She didn’t want a life of archaeological digs and adventure. She wanted home and a family, in that order. No more adventure, no more college, all at the age of nineteen. And she’d suggested that last night together that he give it all up and settle down with her.
Jonathan had laughed in her face, being a young asshole full of himself.
She’d slapped him, burst into tears, and stormed out of his life.
That was the night he’d lost her, and it didn’t take long before he regretted his cruelty. Greece without Violet at his side just wasn’t the same. In fact, nothing was the same. He began to miss her with the same intensity with which he’d loved the archaeological expedition, and confessed to Professor DeWitt, whom he viewed as a mentor and friend, of his longing. He was thinking about going after Violet. Apologizing. Trying again.
But her father told him it was a mistake. According to him, Violet had been stateside for all of a week before she’d shacked up with an ex-boyfriend. And he’d handed Jonathan a stack of field notes to bury his sorrow. Devastated, Jonathan threw himself into work.
A few weeks later, Dr. DeWitt had told a moping, despondent Jonathan that Violet had married and it was time to move on. Did Jonathan want to accompany him to an unearthing of a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings?
He did. He had. And he’d sunk himself into adventuring, archaeology, extreme sports—whatever it took to distract himself from the fact that he’d fucked up and lost Violet. When his father died and his older brother declared he didn’t want the family albatross of Lyons Motors, Jonathan had taken over, determined to make a success of things. Ten years later, with hard work, ingenuity, and help from the Brotherhood—the secret society of businessmen he was part of—he’d turned it into a billion-dollar company. Between work and his excursions around the world, Jonathan kept a hectic, jet-setting lifestyle.
It never quite succeeded in distracting him from what he’d lost, though. Ten years later, he was still mooning over Violet DeWitt and how different things would have been if he’d settled down with her after all.
Footsteps clicked on the linoleum flooring of the school, bringing him back to the present. An endless moment later, the classroom door opened. Jonathan lifted his head.
There she was, standing next to the heavy wooden classroom door, a faint, disappointed frown on her face, as if she’d expected to see him but had hoped otherwise.
Just like that, his palms began to sweat again.
She was different than he remembered. That was to be expected—he wasn’t the skinny nineteen-year-old boy with questionable skin and a lack of chest hair anymore. If anything, though, Violet had grown more beautiful than the last time he’d seen her . . . and more sedate. Gone was the wild, devilish look he’d loved so much, and the waist-length, streaked braids. This Violet was still tiny, but her lean figure had softened to lush curves, outlined by a demure black skirt and cream-colored blouse with a bow at the neck and long, billowing sleeves. She had plain black kitten heels on, no jewelry, and the long hair he remembered was cut into an asymmetrical black bob that was tucked behind one small ear and swung at her chin.
This was his wild Violet? It looked like her . . . and yet, not. Married life suited her, that was clear. She was as gorgeous as when he’d last seen her, and the thought of another man in her life made him ache inside. It should have been him at her side, but he’d been a selfish ass.
“Jonathan,” she said in a flat, polite voice. “What a lovely surprise.” Her voice indicated that it was neither a surprise nor lovely.
“Just a reminder, Ms. DeWitt, that visitors need to be checked in to the office in the future,” Principal Esparza said, casting another friendly smile in Jonathan’s direction.
“Of course. My apologies,” Violet said, ever so polite. “Won’t you come in, Jonathan?” She gestured at the classroom.
He gave a nod to his security guard, who turned to stand at the doorway in an alert pose. Not that Jonathan was expecting trouble at Neptune Middle School, of course, but he had found out a long time ago that looking important got you as many places—and sometimes more—than greasing palms did.
Violet’s little heels clacked as she returned to sit at her oversized desk at the front of the room. He noticed she didn’t offer him a seat, and eyed the rickety student desks lined up in neat rows. Her classroom was colorful and bold, pictures of exotic locations and maps of the world covering the walls, along with charts and flags. Despite the surroundings, the school was old and dark, the wood paneling warped with age, and he was pretty sure the tiles in the ceiling were going to fall down due to water damage. “Nice place. Where are your students?”
“It’s three thirty,” she said in that too-smooth, too-controlled voice. “Class is over. This is detention.”
He turned to look over at her, grinning in what he hoped was his best flirty smile that had never failed to melt her in the past. “Guess I’ve been naughty.”
Violet clasped her hands on her desk. “Mr. Lyons, I think we both know why you’re here.”
“Mr. Lyons,” she echoed, her even gaze almost daring him to contradict her. She stared him down for a moment longer, then reached into her desk drawer and pulled out an envelope and held it out to him.
He approached, taking the familiar envelope from her, noting that the seal on the back was still intact. “You didn’t open it?”
“I’m quite familiar with my father’s little games. I don’t need to open it to know I’m not going to play along. This is all a ploy of his for some purpose I haven’t yet figured out, nor do I care to.”
Jonathan wondered at her icy demeanor. Violet was being downright chilly to him, and he hadn’t done a thing. “You still holding a grudge from the past?”
Her eyes narrowed.
That would be a yes. “Look, Violet. I was a kid, you were a kid. We were young. We did stupid things, made stupid mistakes. Can’t we get past that and work together?”
“Work together? On what?”
He pulled his own envelope out of an inner pocket in his Fioravanti suit jacket and held it out to her.
She simply gazed at him, arching an eyebrow.
All right, he was going to have to do this the hard way. He flicked the envelope open, pulled out the paper inside, and read it to her. The first line was the middle school’s address. The second line said: “My daughter Violet holds the key.” He looked over at her to see her reaction to the cryptic statement.
Violet rolled her eyes.
“Well? What do you think?”
“I think my late father missed his calling as a dramatic actor,” Violet said. “If there’s a key to be found, it’s probably in my envelope. You can have it.” She nudged it toward him and took a stack of papers off the corner of her desk and pulled them in front of her. Then, she picked up a red pen and began to grade, as if he wasn’t there.
Jonathan stared at her for what seemed like forever. She truly wasn’t curious? She didn’t want to know? “Aren’t you the slightest bit interested in what your father was hiding?”
“No.” She didn’t look up, just kept on grading.
“Would you be surprised to hear that upon his death, not only were all his journals missing, but there was rumor that he’d stolen something important from his latest dig?”
“I would not be surprised,” Violet said, still not looking up. She scribbled a note in red on a test, flipped it over, and went on to the next one. “If it could create drama and tension for my father, he’d do it.”
“That was my dig,” Jonathan said. “Your father stole from me.”
She ignored him.
“Don’t you care?”
At that, Violet looked up and gave him another cool look. “Should I care? I’m told that upon my father’s death, an anonymous third party settled all of his debts and that they were not to be a concern of mine. I was also told to be thankful.” Her mouth puckered on the last part, as if she’d bit down on a lemon. “I consider this one of those handled debts.”
So she knew he’d taken care of things and wasn’t pleased. It didn’t deter him. “I want those journals. More than that, I want the stele he stole from my dig. It’s irreplaceable.”
She looked back down at her test again, and nudged the envelope with her other hand, easing it toward him a bit more.
“Goddamn it, Violet. Talk to me, here.”
“I am talking,” she said in that same even voice.
“I want to work together on this. I need those journals and what he stole.”
“I told you. You’re free to take my envelope.”
Irritated, he snatched it off her desk and tore it open. There was nothing but a symbol inside, one completely unfamiliar to him. “I don’t know what this means.”
“That’s really not my problem.” She smiled faintly at him and pointed at the door, as if to suggest he should leave.
It was clear that she was done with him, just as it was clear to Jonathan that if he was going to get anywhere, he’d need Violet’s help. Violet would have access to information about the late Dr. DeWitt that he wouldn’t. Memories. Insider knowledge.
“I’ll pay you a million dollars if you’ll assist me with this.”
She looked up from her paperwork, her eyes going wide with surprise. “You’re serious?”
“I’m a billionaire now, or didn’t you hear? I took over Lyons Motors.”
“Hooray for you.” Her face was impassive.
“So. One million dollars for you to agree to be my employee until we figure out whatever this means.” He waved the letter in the air.
Violet thumped her pen on the papers, as if thinking. Then, she shook her head. “No.”
“You’re a schoolteacher. I’m sure you need the money.”
“I am a schoolteacher,” she agreed. “And it’s the middle of the school year. I can’t leave. That would put the school district under terrible distress.”
“It’s an adventure,” he cajoled, remembering how her eyes used to light up at the thought of something like that. His Violet used to love a thrill as much as he did.
This time, the gaze she turned to him was steely. “No, Jonathan.”
“Why?” He clenched his fist around the paper, dangerously close to losing his temper and storming out of the room.
“I don’t happen to care about my father’s little ploy to get the two of us together again.”
He inhaled sharply. So she thought her father was deliberately throwing her at him? No wonder she thought he was the worst kind of scum, here to hit on a married woman. “Look, Violet, while it’s great to see you—”
“I’m afraid I don’t share the sentiment—”
“—I’m not here to fuck with your marriage,” he continued, his heart aching. He wasn’t sure what he’d hoped for from her. Maybe a bit of affection? Wistfulness over old memories? Wishing over what once might have been between the two of them? It was clear that whatever had been was dead and buried, and Violet didn’t want anything to do with him. She was married, anyhow. No sense in mooning after a happily married woman. “I just want an old friend to help me with something important to me, all right?”
She looked up and tilted her head, frowning slightly, and tucked a lock of black hair behind her ear in a motion that brought back a wealth of memories. He remembered that thoughtful expression, and desire and longing came flooding back through him.
Ten years, and he was still insanely in love with Violet DeWitt, ice princess act and all. No wonder she wanted to scare him off.
“What did you say?”
He toyed with the front of his suit jacket, thankful that it was buttoned up so it would hide any hint of the erection he’d just gotten at that small gesture of hers. “I said, I’m not here to mess up your life, all right?”
She got to her feet, smoothed her skirt, and then came around to his side. She extended her hand. “Let me see that letter.”
Finally, he was getting somewhere. Eager, Jonathan held both of them out to her.
Violet skimmed the letters, and then cast him another puzzled look.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Where did you get that I was married?”
Now it was his turn to be confused. “Excuse me?”
“I said, I’m not married. Wherever did you get that idea?”
The blood began to roar in Jonathan’s ears. He watched, entranced, as she pushed a lock of hair behind her other ear. It made both of her ears stick out—which he remembered that she hated—but he found adorable. His Violet.
He’d given up on her so long ago because she’d married someone only days after she’d left his bed, and he’d regretted it ever since.
“You—” He coughed, irritated at how hoarse his voice was. He felt like all the blood had rushed to his face . . . well, that and one other extremity. Clearing his throat, he tried again. “You called off the wedding?”
Again, she gave him a curious look. “What wedding?”
“Your father said that when you left . . . you married someone else. Right away.”
She raised both eyebrows at him, as if to say really? “And you believed him? Jonathan, your family was funding all of his digs at the time. He’d have told you cows flew on the moon if it was what it took to keep you at his side.”
Well, goddamn it all. He’d known that Phineas was a sly old dog, but he’d had no idea he’d been taken for a ride on something so important. “You’re . . . not married?”
“I don’t see why it’s any of your business—” She yelped as he grabbed her hand in his. It was just as soft as he remembered, her nails bitten short. It was a habit she’d never been able to break. There was no ring on any finger.
He’d been lied to.
He should have been furious. Filled with anger and hate and loathing that ten years had been wasted, ten years that had kept them apart.
But Jonathan didn’t see any of that. All he saw was Violet—his Violet—standing so close to him that he could reach out and touch her again for the first time in so long that his entire being ached. Violet, with her hand in his. Never mind that she was trying to draw it out of his grasp.
His Violet was here, in front of him, and she’d never married. He’d be damned if he’d let opportunity slip through his fingers again.
Grabbing her shoulders, Jonathan turned her toward him fully, leaned down, and pressed his mouth firmly to hers. He kissed her with all the fierce passion of ten long, lonely years. She wasn’t responding, but that was okay. He had enough need and love for both of them. She’d come around. He’d show her just how much he missed her. He’d never let her go again. He—
Violet’s knee went between his legs, and connected with his groin.
By the time Violet left work, went to the grocery store, went to the gym, got home, and cleaned her tiny condo, she was still pissed. In fact, she was furious.
How dare Jonathan Lyons stroll back into her life just because her father died? How dare he think that she would drop everything—her life, her career—to help him out on some wild-goose chase that her father had bestowed like some sort of archaeological version of Willy Wonka?
How dare Jonathan think that he could just grab her and kiss her? Simply because she wasn’t married?
A lack of a wedding ring didn’t mean she was up for grabs; it didn’t mean she didn’t hate him with every fiber of her being. Fuming, Violet threw her groceries in the fridge, and then cussed when her carton of milk tipped over and spilled all over her carton of freshly washed spinach. Damn it! Swearing a blue streak, Violet grabbed paper towels and cleaned her fridge, and when she went to wash her hands, she noticed they were still shaking.
She was still trembling with fury, hours later, her nails bitten down to the quick.
She didn’t want to deal with this. Any of this. Her life was nice and compartmentalized. If it wasn’t exciting, it was safe and secure and there were no surprises. Violet didn’t like surprises. They always ended up being disappointments.
So she took a shower, changed into flannel pajamas, read a mystery novel in bed, and went to sleep. Or tried to, anyhow. Her entire body was a locked mass of angry nerves, and she stared up at the ceiling, just brimming with frustration.
Jonathan Lyons had kissed her.
He’d waltzed back into her life like he hadn’t abandoned her ten years ago, when she’d needed him the most. Still selfish after all these years. Some people never changed. She thought of the look on his face as she’d kneed him in the balls. It hadn’t even been satisfying, really. She’d been so damn angry, and he’d looked so shocked and utterly surprised.
Like he couldn’t believe that his Violet would harm him.
And that just made her crazier with anger. Like she was the unreasonable one. Twitching with frustration, Violet threw back the covers and stormed across the bedroom and into the living room. Her messy condo was tiny, but she didn’t require a lot. She just needed a work area and a bed. Heading to her shelves full of books, she went to the section where she kept personal photo albums. Her mother’s albums filled up most of the shelf, but there was one tiny album she pulled from the end and blew the dust off of.
The cover was decorated with a Greek key design, and she’d written AKROTIRI 2004 on it in bold, stylized letters. Returning to her bedroom, she curled up in the blankets and began to flip through the photos.
Her first—and only—trip to assist her errant father. Her mother had been against it, but Violet had been so excited to go, so very dazzled at the thought of spending the summer with her intelligent, famous father that she’d looked forward to it for what felt like forever. People joked that her dad was something like Jacques Cousteau for archaeology. She supposed that would be apt, if Jacques had neglected his family for two decades and driven his wife to drinking.
Violet flipped through the photos, thinking of that summer. Here was a picture of herself and her father near the excavation, pointing at a portion of a wall and smiling. Both of their faces were browned from the summer, and her hair was in two long, dark braids streaked with wild color. She was wearing a hideous pair of sunglasses and a tank top. Behind her in the picture, his hand at her waist, was Jonathan Lyons.
God, she’d been so in love with him. So incredibly stupid, but in love. As soon as she’d gotten to Santorini to spend the time with her father, she’d discovered that he’d invited a whole host of his students to his summer expedition as well. She’d been hurt, initially, having thought that she’d be special in her father’s eyes, but her hurt soon turned to interest when she met Jonathan Lyons. Lyons Motors was famous—or infamous—for a line of cars that was rapidly becoming a joke, and he wasn’t interested in the family business at all. Thin, a little geeky, and utterly enthusiastic about everything in the world, she’d thought Jonathan was cute.
There was something so incredibly exuberant and earnest about Jonathan that she’d loved. Whereas every move her father made seemed to be completely calculated, Jonathan appeared to live in the moment, and she adored that. His excitement for the dig was unquestionable. He’d been the first on site every morning and the last to leave. If something needed to be researched, Jonathan threw himself headlong into it.
He was a hundred percent intensity, bundled into an attractive nineteen-year-old college boy.
He’d been irresistible to her.
By the end of the first week, they were spending a lot of time together. By the second week, he’d kissed her and she’d flung him down on her bed and they’d screwed like rabbits. By the time a month had passed, she was in love.
By the time the second month had passed? She was pregnant with his baby.
It wasn’t that they weren’t careful. They were. They used condoms every time, but even condoms aren’t infallible, and they’d been full of youth and enthusiasm, and sometimes he stroked in her a few times before putting on a condom, just because it felt so damn good for both of them. Jonathan had approached sex with the same intensity that he approached life—he was voracious and insatiable.
She had to admit, staring down at his photo, that he’d pretty much ruined her for other men. No other sexual experience had even come close.
At nineteen, she hadn’t even been upset that she’d become pregnant. She was utterly in love with Jonathan, and mentally linking their last names together and picking out names for the baby. If it was a boy, she’d call it Theseus DeWitt-Lyons, and a girl would be Ariadne DeWitt-Lyons, based on the myths of the labyrinth of Crete. She’d dreamed of marrying Jonathan and returning stateside to finish her college education and raise her family. It was clear that her father looked at her not as a daughter but as just another student on his dig, and she craved a family—a real family. She’d never had a functioning family, and the dream of a happy home was an intoxicating one. Instead of fantasizing about archaeological finds, Violet’s head was filled with nurseries and starter homes. A husband and a wife and a child that was doted on and adored by both parents.
That was her new dream, and she couldn’t wait to get started with Jonathan.
But she didn’t want Jonathan to marry her just for the baby. She wanted him to marry her because he loved her and because he wanted to marry her. That was part of the fantasy, after all. She’d seen what it was like, firsthand, when parents married for the baby instead of for love. His family had money, and she wanted it to be his idea for them to get married, not hers, or it’d seem like she was simply digging for his fortune. In reality, Violet didn’t give two craps about whatever car empire the Lyons family had. Her perfect life involved a homey cottage somewhere, family dinners with both children and husband, and kissing her spouse as he went off to work for the day. Some women dreamed of careers; Violet dreamed of a nuclear, close-knit family. It was all she’d ever wanted after a childhood of her mother’s depression and miserable hidden drinking binges, and her father’s long absences. She just wanted to be surrounded by love.
She’d been such a naive idiot back then.
Irritated, Violet flipped to the next photo in her book. Another of Jonathan, their cheeks pressed together as they stood on the Santorini beach. She remembered that night. That was the night before everything changed. They’d had a weekend furlough, and they’d decided to spend it together. They’d enjoyed a romantic dinner and spent the night at a hotel in Fira, and in bed, Violet had confessed her hopes to him. That she wanted nothing more than to start a family.
“It’s not a bad idea . . . for the future,” Jonathan had told her absently, playing with her long hair.
That hadn’t been what nineteen-year-old-and-pregnant Violet had wanted to hear. She’d turned to him in bed. “What are you going to do after we leave this dig? What happens to us?”
“What do you mean?” he’d asked.
She hadn’t been happy that she had to spell it out. “When we leave here, what are your plans?”
He’d shrugged. “Go back to classes. Start the next semester. Wait for Dr. DeWitt’s next invite.”
That . . . hadn’t been what she’d wanted to hear. “And what about me?”
He’d given her that heartbreaking smile. “In a few years, maybe we’ll both be working at the same university.”
In a few years? A few years? At nineteen, a few years seemed like a lifetime. “But . . . I want us to be together.”
“I want that, too.” He’d looked sad.
No, he wasn’t getting it. She’d clutched at his arm. “I want us to be together when we leave here. I want us to start a family. Together.” She’d emphasized the last two words, hoping he’d realize what she was asking for and jump in with enthusiasm.
Start a family with you, Violet? God, I want nothing more. Let’s do it!
I’d love to have babies with you, Violet.
I never want to leave your side, Violet.
Instead, he’d just furrowed his brow at her as if she were saying ridiculous things. “Start a family? Now?”
He’d laughed. Laughed! And rattled off a million things he had going on. He needed to return to Dartmouth. He’d told Dr. DeWitt he wanted to go on his next dig, no questions asked. Then he had family members waiting for him to take an apprenticeship with his brother, the heir. It would be years before Jonathan could settle down and even think about family, and he was too young to consider it.
Every word had broken Violet’s heart a bit more. Betrayed, she’d slapped his face and ran. She’d stormed out of their room and left him in Fira and returned to the dig. Then, she’d cried herself to sleep that night because she’d wanted the white picket fence and Prince Charming had other plans.
He’d tried calling her the next day, over and over again. Tried seeing her, but she avoided him. Instead, she poured all of her heartache into a letter. She hadn’t wanted to tell him about the baby and use it as a tool to force him to her side, but she had no choice. She still remembered the last paragraph of the letter, down to the way it’d looked on paper.
If you love me, Jonathan, please come home with me. I want us to raise our baby together. If you care at all about being a father, please come with me. Please, please. I love you so much.
She’d more or less begged him to pick her, and he hadn’t even bothered to respond. A sour taste filled Violet’s mouth as she stared at the picture, and she slammed the photo album shut and tossed it across the room.
Fairy tales were bullshit. Prince Charming had ignored her letter. She’d gone home, cried for two weeks, and lost the baby a month later. Which made her cry harder.
And then she’d picked herself up, returned to college, and vowed that her happiness would never be contingent on anyone else’s plans ever again.
In her mind’s eye, she kept picturing Jonathan’s look of pleasure earlier that day. You called off the wedding? You’re not married?
Violet thumped her fist into her pillow angrily, then flopped down on the bed, determined to sleep at some point that night. Jonathan had been shocked to hear that she wasn’t married. So the saintly Dr. DeWitt had lied to his favorite protégé? Gee, there was a shock. Her father would have sold the shirt off his dead mother’s back if it meant getting funding for a project. Violet had known that all her life. How could Jonathan not have realized that?
Briefly, she wondered if he’d ever gotten her letter.
It didn’t matter in the end. Playing the baby card had been the only chip she’d had, and she’d lost that bargaining chip a month later. Jonathan wouldn’t have stayed at her side regardless. Not when he had other plans.
She supposed things worked out for the best, after all. If Jonathan hadn’t turned her down, she might have ended up in a miserable marriage to the bastard, and he would have been trapped in a marriage because of a baby he didn’t want. She’d seen his true selfishness.
Yep, life always worked out the way it was supposed to, she told herself as she settled down into bed again.
But she still had trouble sleeping that night.
The next morning, Violet woke up five minutes before her alarm was scheduled to go off, bleary-eyed and miserable. She stared at her phone, buzzing on her bedside with a text, and picked it up.
Staff mtg @ 7 am in cafeteria. MANDATORY. Be there!
Groaning, Violet fell back in the pillows. Who the hell scheduled an impromptu staff meeting at seven in the morning? It was going to be an especially miserable day considering she’d only gotten about two hours of sleep. Ugh. Hauling herself out of bed, Violet took a quick shower and began to get ready for work.
Forty minutes later, she pulled into the school parking lot with an extra-large coffee in hand and a throbbing headache. The parking lot was already full, which meant all of the staff was in for this early meeting. Oh, goody. Hurrying inside the school, she noticed there was a Lyons convertible parked in the fire lane in the front.
Surely that was coincidence, wasn’t it? Lots of rich guys drove Lyons. Owning one of the flashy roadsters had turned into a status symbol a few years ago when they’d been featured in one of those high-octane car movies. After that, Lyons Motors had turned from joke to success. Not that she followed how his company was doing. At any rate, there were Lyons cars all over the roads. It didn’t mean that asshole was still here, did it?
Eyes narrowed, Violet clenched her coffee in hand and headed to the cafeteria for the staff meeting.
Despite the early hour, the tables had been unfolded and teachers filled the seats. Esparza’s portable little podium was at the front of the room, and behind her, a row of seats was filled.
Jonathan sat in one of the seats.
Violet’s hand clenched violently, and her coffee spewed out of the paper cup, slopping all over her hand, her white sleeve, and the floor.
With a hiss, she dropped the cup and shook her hand to expel the stinging hot coffee, even as her friend Kirsten raced up with a stack of paper towels. “You okay?”
“Just peachy,” Violet told her, squatting in her heels and skirt to clean up her mess. “What’s going on? What’s with the meeting?”
“Something about funding,” Kirsten murmured, helping Violet mop up the coffee. “You know the school district’s been in the red for a while.”
Oh, no. If it wasn’t for the presence of that swanky car at the curb, Violet would have thought this was a layoff of some kind or an announcement of more programs being cut. But the fact that Jonathan—Daddy Warbucks himself—was sitting at the front of the room in one of his expensive suits?
It gave her a bad feeling. A real bad feeling.
She sat down at the back of the room, noticing that Jonathan’s intense blue-eyed gaze was fixed in her direction. Goddamn it. He’d probably seen her spill her coffee everywhere. She wanted to seem cool and unaffected by his presence. Too late for that. Fine then. He wanted to eyeball her from afar? Violet leaned in close to the coach seated next to her. “Know what this is about?”
Coach Trammel shook his head. He was good looking, but he already had a boyfriend, and was a longtime friend of Violet’s. “Not a clue. You?”
“Nothing,” she said, making sure to smile and laugh in his direction. When she looked back over at Jonathan, his face was stark with anger and possessiveness. Good. Let me know how it feels, Johnny-boy. You gave up your claim ten years ago.
“Is everyone here?” Esparza called into the microphone, then beamed at the assembled teachers. “This won’t take long, but I wanted to get all the teachers together to go over the good news.”
Oh, no. Oh, no no no.
Esparza clasped her hands together, practically dancing with excitement from behind the tiny podium. “As you all know, Neptune School District has had issues with funding over the last few years. You are all aware that the repairs on the gymnasium cost quite a pretty penny, and we’ve been worried that we’d have to cut back on student enrichment programs in order to keep everyone employed, and that also means outdated textbooks for another year or two.” Her smile grew brilliant. “But, I’m happy to announce that Mr. Jonathan Lyons of Lyons Motors has taken an interest in the Neptune School District and has made an extremely generous offer to pull us into the black and even allow us to purchase iPads for students in need.”
There were several gasps out of the audience, and some of the teachers clapped with excitement. Neptune was one of the poorer school districts in their area, with a lot of low-income families, and it was no secret that they were struggling. Heck, Violet’s own paycheck reflected that they were struggling. She hadn’t had a raise since she’d started there three years ago. But it was what it was.
“We’ll be meeting with the school board over the next few days to determine the best way to allocate funds, but I just wanted you all to know how very excited we are about this.” Esparza clapped so enthusiastically that for a moment, she looked like an eager seal waiting for a fish. “And in addition, we’re putting forth a motion to have the school renamed the Jonathan Lyons Middle School.”
Violet thought she might throw up in her mouth. The last thing she wanted was Jonathan’s name everywhere she turned for the rest of her career. God, she’d have to switch school districts just to get away from reminders of him.
She looked over at Jonathan.
Still staring at her. Violet’s eyes narrowed as the audience began to talk and excitedly clap again. Something wasn’t adding up. Why was Jonathan taking such an interest in her school?
Her school, the day after she turned him down and told him there was no way she could accompany him?
No no no no.
The meeting ended with that. Violet surged to her feet as the rest of the staff did, hoping to blend in with the crowd.
“Ms. DeWitt,” Principal Esparza called over the crackling microphone. “Could you please remain for a few minutes? I need to talk to you.”
Violet practically snarled with anger. She could just guess what this was about.
Jonathan watched as Violet more or less stomped to Principal Esparza’s side. Her arms were crossed over her breasts and he noticed that one of the pale white sleeves of her blouse was now stained with coffee. Her breasts were heaving magnificently over her arms, though, and he had to force himself not to stare at them like a schoolboy.
Instead, he thought of the way she’d leaned into the man she’d sat next to and smiled at him. Laughed at him. Was that her boyfriend? An ex-lover? A current lover? Jonathan’s hand clenched at his side and a surge of jealousy roared through him. He wanted to be the only one who got her damn smiles.
Not that she was smiling right now. She looked as if she wanted to shank him, actually. He grinned archly, knowing she was going to hate what came next. His Violet hated not being in control of things.
And she would be his again.
“Principal,” Violet said in a crisp, almost cold voice. She refused to look over at Jonathan. “What can I do for you?”
“Well, it’s a bit unorthodox,” Esparza said, her voice becoming a little overly soothing and motherly. “But I hope you’ll hear me out and listen without making judgment, of course.”
“Let me guess,” Violet said flatly. “He’s handing out money in exchange for me traveling with him for the next few weeks.”
Jonathan bit back a smile at Violet’s astute observation, and at the way Esparza spluttered, clearly surprised that Violet had already figured things out. But his Violet had always been sharp.