Val left the upstairs guest room silently and made her way down the stairs. Her first guest had arrived a good deal earlier than she’d planned, but she wanted Maribelle where she could keep a sharp eye on her. When Matt had said Maribelle was showing early signs of a heart attack, Val and the others had been shocked. He’d kept her at the hospital for a week to observe her and when he’d released her, Val took her straight to the bed and breakfast and settled her in one of the new rooms.
Maribelle’s three children, all with families of their own and miles away, called daily to check on her so Val was busy giving reports on top of the care she gave Maribelle, hosting Thanksgiving for her entire family when they flew in and trying to finish up the last touches on the house.
Maribelle was doing much better, thank goodness, but when Matt had said he was still concerned, Val invited her to stay with her longer . . . to keep Val company, she said.
Now, several weeks later, with Maribelle napping, Val decided to check her email.
She sat back and stared at the computer monitor.
“There it is,” she said outloud and felt Dexter’s wet nose pawing her hand. She looked down at the dog and rubbed his head. “My first booking, Dexter.”
She sighed. It made her a little sad to think of how much time and effort she’d put into the house. Now she would be selling it just as things were getting started.
Not that she and Matt had talked yet. There’d been no chance. They’d had time together, but always with others around. But he’d sensed a change in her, she knew it.
She continued to rub Dexter’s head as she looked at the screen. She’d thought so much about it, about leaving all of this behind but spending her life with Matt, that it didn’t hurt her as badly as she thought it would when that first booking came in.
She heard the front door open. She stood and made her way to the hall.
As usual, when she saw Matt her heart melted.
He was grinning and had a Christmas gift bag in his hand.
“Hey there, got a minute?”
She had to laugh at the man who asked this question. “Sure. What’s up?”
“Your first Christmas present.”
“First?” she asked suspiciously.
He glanced around. “Where’s Maribelle?”
He nodded, dropped the bag and stepped closer. “Good.” He took her in his arms and she lifted her lips for his kiss. He paused, just short of her mouth and stared down at her. “Val, I am so in love with you. I have so much I want to tell you.” He kissed her then and she melted into him.
Then he pulled away and picked up the bag. “But first open this.”
She smiled at his child-like enthusiasm for her gift. “Let’s go in my office.”
Once she was seated on her sofa with him beside her, she lifted the tissue paper out and then slowly drew out the green sweater-set and matching strappy sandals she’d seen in Mandy’s shop so long ago.
“What is this?”
“They’re for you.”
“I didn’t think they were for you.”
He chuckled. “They’re for you to wear.”
She lifted a brow. “Didn’t you just come in from the outside? It’s forty degrees out there.”
“I was hoping you would wear them sometime in the spring, or on a cruise, like maybe for a honeymoon.”
She froze and held his gaze. He grasped both of her hands in his. “Val, will you marry me? I can’t promise you every second, but I can promise I’ll try.” He kissed her hands one by one. “I can’t imagine any life without you. I know it’s not what you wanted . . .”
He froze and stared at her. “You’re going to say no?”
She smiled. “Being with you is what I want, Matt. We’ll make it work, I understand that now. But we have so much to do and so much to plan.” She shook her head. “Scratch that. No planning. We’ll see what happens.”
“So you’re saying yes?” He tilted his head, clearly perplexed.
He growled then, a sound she’d never heard him make, and he enveloped her in his arms and kissed her until she was senseless. He pulled away and sighed. “Okay, time for Christmas present number two.”
He smiled. “Maribelle is okay to go home. I just got lab reports in and she’s fine.”
Val read the look in Matt’s eyes and smiled. “Oh. That is good news.”
“So I had an idea when we could have the wedding.”
“You’re full of surprises today, aren’t you?”
“New Year’s Eve. Right here. Then we kick everyone out and have this house to ourselves.”
“But when will we move?”
Matt frowned. “Move? Are we moving?”
Val felt her certainty shift and suddenly had a vision of Maxine smacking on red lipstick as she told her life wasn’t always so predictable.
“To Austin. Didn’t you get a job there?”
Matt rubbed a hand across his jaw. “Val, honey, you’re losing me. I work here in Bluebonnet Creek.”
“But you went to Austin and interviewed. You got a job there, right?”
“No. I hired a doctor there to come here and work for me. Is that what you’re talking about?”
Val wondered if Maxine would laugh when she told her this crazy story. She was pretty sure Cassie would.
“You hired someone to work for you,” Val repeated.
“Yeah. Remember when I told you I had hiring to do? I haven’t finished, but eventually I’m hoping to have things set up where my role will be somewhat administrative and yet I can still see to my regular patients.”
“Oh.” Val frowned. “I think I need to have a chat with the Violets.”
Matt chuckled. “Did they mislead you about Austin? Val, don’t you know that the Violets are always up to something?”
“Yeah, I know that. But I don’t always see it coming.”
“Lucky for me, their plan worked.” He pulled her back into his arms.
New Years’s Eve
Matt and Val stood on the porch of the bed and breakfast and waved to their last wedding guest, Cassie. After a picture-perfect wedding in the completed house, she’d scooted everyone out by eleven p.m., whispered to Val that champagne was chilling in the honeymoon suite and then drifted a way with a smile.
“We need to get her married off, you know,” Matt said as Cassie climbed into her car. “Or she’ll be over here all the time.”
“She already is and she happens to be my best friend so get over it.”
Matt chuckled and they turned together to go inside.
In the foyer, Val turned off the lamps and then found herself in Matt’s arms. He held her and they rocked gently as the faint strains from the music they’d had playing in the kitchen drifted to them.
“This is where it all started, you know,” he said softly into her hair.
“I thought you were drunk but you were more handsome than I’d remembered.”
“I thought you were more beautiful than ever and my high school crush hit me hard all over again.”
She smiled against his shoulder. “And now here we are. You’ve started a new hospital which will be ready by the end of next year and I have a completed bed and breakfast with my first paying guests arriving January second.”
“And we both leave it all behind in two weeks to go on our honeymoon.”
“And it will be wonderful, even if you get called back the very next day.”
He hugged her tightly. “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you, Val. Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year, Matt. I love you.”
He kissed her and then tugged her hand to lead her upstairs.
“Wait, I left some food from the reception out in the kitchen,” she said.
“Leave it, we’ll be hungry later.”
She laughed, they kissed again and then they made their way upstairs just as the clock began to chime midnight.
The back door opened soundlessly and five women tip-toed in and made their way to the pot of soup on the stove.
“Ssh, they’ll hear us,” Liza hissed even as Dexter came in, tail wagging in greeting.
“Those two aren’t going to hear anything for a long while,” Maxine assured them as she lifted the lid.
Doris sat down at the table and helped herself to cheese and crackers. “All the same, let’s have our snack and go. Those lovebirds need time alone.”
Agnes grabbed a bottle of wine. “Besides, we have some planning to do, girls.”
They all looked at one another, nodded and then spoke in unison. “Cassie’s turn.”
Read Cassie’s story in The Violet Society: Death and the Neighborhood Watch and Nick Allegasi’s story in The Violet Society: Murder and Merlot.