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 f**k 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?”