She should have protested, really. She should have been strong, needs-no-one Violet and ordered her own damn breakfast. Instead, she shivered at the table and clutched her envelope with the poem in it while Jonathan ordered her food and a hot drink.
Let me take care of you, he’d insisted. Violet wasn’t good at letting others take control. It was hard to trust people enough to leave your own well-being in their hands, and Violet was used to just fending for herself. She’d done so as a child, especially when her mother was in one of her depressive spells, and she’d done so as an adult when she’d found herself abandoned and pregnant.
But when Jonathan returned with two hot cups of coffee and two delicious, fresh muffins, she was . . . grateful for him. She didn’t even mind when he stroked his fingers over her cheek, brushing a lock of wet hair off of her face.
“Your lips are blue,” he told her in that fierce, disapproving voice. “Drink.”
She nodded and raised the coffee to her lips. It was scalding hot and utterly delicious. After a few more sips, she gave him a hesitant smile. “Thank you.”
He simply placed a muffin in front of her. “Eat, too. You’re fragile.”
Her? Fragile? That was flattering. Her mouth twisted in a wry expression, and Violet broke off a corner of the muffin and popped it into her mouth. Lemon poppyseed. Her favorite. How did he remember all these things about her?
She nodded, still chewing.
An expression of relief crossed his face and he relaxed in his chair, his posture easing. She hadn’t realized how tense he was. “Are you okay?” she asked, putting a teasing note in her voice.
“I just don’t like to see you upset.”
Violet wanted to protest that she wasn’t upset. Not really. She was just fine. But it’d be a lie. She was upset. “I just feel . . .”
“Manipulated?” he guessed.
She nodded and toyed with her muffin. “Messages for each of us to ensure we’d have to work together, and now sending us back to Santorini . . .” Her voice trailed off as memories swept over her. It wasn’t a time she’d wanted to remember. Back then she’d been so happy . . . so stupid.
“I don’t like to see you this miserable, Violet,” Jonathan said. “Whether or not you believe it, your peace of mind is of the utmost importance to me.”
She didn’t answer. She simply sipped her coffee and thought.
“Do you want to go home, Violet?” Jonathan’s voice was full of tension, his face unreadable. His hand clenched on the table, as if anticipating her response.
Did she? A few days ago, she would have said yes and had her bags packed before Jonathan could take his next breath. But that was before this morning, when he’d watched her with such stark, blatant need as she’d stripped off her stocking. And that was before they’d vowed friendship.
And that was before he’d drank himself into a stupor upon hearing that there had been a baby.
So now Violet didn’t know what to think. All she knew was that she felt vulnerable and confused about Jonathan. Her world had been so much easier when she’d hated him.
But it was hard to hate a man who quoted love poetry when he was drunk.
Violet wrapped her hands around the warm cardboard of her cup. “Do you want me to stay, Jonathan?”
“I can honestly say I’ve wanted nothing more in my life.”
A pleased warmth flushed her cheeks, and she nodded, then set down her coffee cup. “Then I’ll stay.”
His hand—clenched into a fist for so long—flexed, and then impulsively, he reached out and took one of her hands in his. “Thank you.”
She could have sworn his thumb grazed over the back of her hand in a caress before he pulled away again.
Two hours later, they were back at the airport and in the tiny jet once more. Violet had changed into a pair of yoga pants and a long-sleeved tunic to be comfortable for the flight. Her hair was wavy from air-drying but she just tucked it behind her ears and ignored it. For some reason, she never felt ugly around Jonathan. It was impossible to, considering he looked at her as if she were a slice of his favorite cheesecake.
She wasn’t surprised, either, when she picked a window seat and Jonathan selected the seat right next to hers. It didn’t matter that the rest of the cabin was empty. Flight time felt like private time with Jonathan, and maybe she was a little crazy herself, but she was starting to crave those interludes alone with him.
She stared out the plane window with longing as they left the teeming streets of London behind. “Someday, I’d love to explore that city.”
Jonathan froze next to her. “Do you want to turn around?”
“What?” She glanced over at him, but he was serious. Violet laughed and shook her head. “No, no. We need to head out to Santorini. I was just saying. I’ve never been to London.”
“You should have said something,” Jonathan told her. “I would have stayed for you.”
Funny how the way he worded that made her entire body tingle. “This is your trip, Jonathan, not mine. I’m just your hired assistant, remember?”
“You are never just anything, Violet.”
She shifted in her seat, feeling a little uncomfortable with her own reaction to his words. She shouldn’t be thrilled at him saying that. She shouldn’t. “So,” she said lightly. “Looks like it’s just you and me and the next six hours in the plane.”
“Are you tired? Do you want to sleep?”
“A little tired,” she admitted. Even though it was the middle of the day, she was suppressing yawns. Travel took a lot out of a person, and in addition to that, Violet felt as if she’d been on an emotional roller coaster for the last week.
“Use my arm as a pillow if you need to,” he told her, pulling out his tablet computer.
He didn’t need to tell her twice. For some reason, she craved being able to touch him. Maybe it was because she’d grown up so starved for love as a child, ignored by both parents, that she’d gone the opposite direction in her relationships.
Violet freely admitted she was a clinger. She liked to touch, she loved public displays of affection, and she adored any sort of physical contact when she could trust a person. Unfortunately her relationships had been few and far between. But now that Jonathan and she were friends again, he felt safe to cuddle with.
And she did love a good cuddle.
Violet wrapped her arms around his biceps and rested her chin against his shoulder, peering over as he began to pull up a search engine. “What are you looking at?”
“I thought I’d research your poem. See who the author was. Maybe there’s a connection there we’re supposed to pick up, like the Marlow Bridge.”
“Mmm. Good idea.”
He looked over at her, surprised. “Why, thank you, Violet.”
Why was he so surprised and pleased by her compliment? She wasn’t that mean, was she? Her fingers stroked his arm idly. “Jeez, I must be really rough to be around if you’re thrilled about me saying ‘Good idea.’”
“Not at all. I just . . . I thought you hated me.” His expressive face was grave, his eyes soulfully dark.
“Oh, Jonathan,” she said softly, and patted his arm. His rather nicely muscled arm. “I don’t hate you. Not anymore.”
“I didn’t know about the baby.” He stared ahead, as if unable to look at her. His voice was grave, wounded. “If I’d have known, nothing on earth would have stopped me from coming to your side. I swear.”
But I left you a note, she wanted to protest, but kept those bitter words silent. Jonathan had been firmly in her father’s clutches, and who knew better than she how much of a manipulator the old man had been? So she only squeezed his arm. “I believe you.”
Strangely enough, she did. For the first time in what felt like forever, she was able to think of the lost baby and her abandonment without resentment, just a pang of sadness. The frustration and grief in Jonathan’s face actually made her ache for the pain he was going through. At least she’d had ten years to adjust to it. It was fresh to him, and it seemed childish to throw this in his face now.
So she distracted him. Deliberately brushing her breast against his arm, she leaned over and gave him a curious look. “My poem?”
His eyes took on a glazed look, and then he seemed to give himself a mental shake. “Of course.” His fingers danced over the tablet, and she watched him type a few of the phrases in. “Ah. Here we go. Lord Tennyson. The poem is called ‘Idylls of the King; Song from the Marriage of Geraint.’” He read on for a moment more and made a disgusted sound in his throat. “Apparently it’s a poem about one of King Arthur’s knights and his marriage was torn apart by lies. Well, damn. Your father is a bastard.”
Violet couldn’t help it; she giggled. He looked so very disgruntled.
At her laugh, Jonathan gave her a sour look, his entire body tense with anger. “Do you think that’s the message your father is intending for us to take away from this?”
“I certainly hope not,” Violet said, her mouth still twitching with amusement. “Do you see yourself as one of Arthur’s knights?”
His shoulders relaxed a bit and she gave his arm a placating rub. “I suppose that’s a stretch, yeah. What is the message here, then?”
“I don’t know,” Violet admitted. “Is it something to do with Lord Tennyson himself?”
He tapped on the tablet for a bit longer, reading, and eventually shook his head. “The man had a colorful life, but I don’t see a connection to Santorini.” He looked over at her. “I feel like my clue pertains to us. I’m just not sure how we tie in with the poem unless it’s in an insulting way.”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it past my father to throw in a few barbs from beyond the grave,” Violet said. “Don’t worry about it too much, really. I’m sure something will be glaringly obvious to us once we get to Santorini. And you figured out the bridge, so I’m sure you’ll puzzle out this next part.”
He nodded absently and rubbed his chin, still staring down at the information on his tablet. A line of worry creased his brow.
For some reason, she didn’t like seeing that worry there. “Since we’re on the subject of poetry, do you know more?”
“More poetry?” he asked her, distracted. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t recall you being a poetry buff when I knew you before,” she teased. “If I remember correctly, I was the one with the English minor.”
His mouth crooked in a half-smile as he put the tablet away and leaned back in his chair, focusing his attention on Violet. “I had a change of heart about the English language after we parted. I ended up minoring in English Poetry, actually. Major in business. It’s a weird combination.”
“I’ll say.” She was fascinated, though. Business and . . . poetry? Had she influenced that? Did he take up his love of poetry because he’d wanted to be closer to her? Violet’s heart squeezed. “Can you recite me something?”
“No, the starting lineup of the New York Yankees.” She rolled her eyes. “Of course, poetry.”
A smile flashed across his face. He rubbed his chin, thinking, and then turned to her, eyes gleaming. “How about some more Shelley?”
She shrugged. “That’s fine. Hit me with it.”
“You don’t ‘hit’ people with poetry. You astound them with your eruditeness and your learning.” He wagged his eyebrows at her.
Violet laughed and shook her head. “Just hit me with it already!”
He made a great show of clearing his throat, and Violet couldn’t stop laughing. Then, grinning at her, he began to softly recite.