He settled down on the couch, where she’d been sitting by herself just moments before, without letting her go. There was a movie on the television, but neither of them paid any attention to it as Jay reclined, stretching out and drawing her down into the circle of his arms. They spent the rest of the night like that, cradled together, their bodies fitting each other perfectly, as they kissed and whispered and laughed quietly in the darkness.
At some point Violet was aware that she was drifting into sleep, as her thoughts turned dreamlike, becoming disjointed and fuzzy and hard to hold on to. She didn’t fight it; she enjoyed the lazy, drifting feeling, along with the warmth created by the cocoon of Jay’s body wrapped protectively around her.
It was the safest she’d felt in days…maybe weeks….
And for the first time since she’d been chased by the man in the woods, her dreams were free from monsters.
THE DAY OF THE DANCE WAS LIKE A DREAM.
Violet woke up alone. She realized that Jay must have left sometime during the night, and she’d stayed where she was, curled up contentedly on the couch, basking in the warmth he’d left behind.
As she stretched and finally forced her nebulous thoughts to clear, she remembered Jay’s new car. She was thrilled for him all over again as she easily recaptured his image in her mind’s eye, that childlike enthusiasm on his face as he showed off his new toy. She smiled to herself at the memory of it. She couldn’t wait to ride in it, with Jay behind the wheel.
She couldn’t wait to go to the dance.
She spent a lot of the day fielding text messages from her friends…and forcing herself not to call Jay, allowing the expectancy to build to a crescendo, the suspense filling her senses as intoxicatingly as any narcotic. She was giddy by the time she was slipping into her dress.
Her mom made several appearances, camera in hand, to take pictures of her getting ready. It seemed to be exactly what they needed as a family, something to take their mind off all the tragic and frightening events of the past weeks. Even her father, who still had reservations about her going, couldn’t stop telling her how beautiful she looked when her mom dragged him in to see Violet all dressed up.
Her dress was simple enough: a soft, flowing, black jersey fabric with a narrow Empire waist and a halter top that created a V-shaped neckline. The crisscrossing straps in back held up a scoop of fabric that ended in a soft wave, exposing a generous length of nearly bare skin from her shoulders to below her midback. It clung to Violet’s body in all the right places, and the hem all but covered her strappy sandals, for which Violet was now grateful, knowing that it would also cover the ugly, unavoidable ankle brace she would be forced to wear.
The effect was not only elegant but dramatic.
Violet felt like a princess.
Not like one of Lissie’s band of nauseatingly counterfeit princesses, but like a real one. From a fairy tale.
A really, really sexy fairy tale.
Her mom helped Violet to pin back her hair, leaving wisps of strategic curls to fall loose, framing her delicate porcelain face perfectly. And for the first time, probably ever, Violet was grateful not to have the same stick-straight hair that all the other girls had. Her eyes were striking, with smoky charcoal liner and a luscious coat of lash-lengthening mascara that outlined the flecked emerald green of her irises. The color in her cheeks had little to do with the makeup she wore, since she was flushed with excitement.
Her dad poked his head in just as her mom was crouching down to help her fasten the tiny buckle of her shoe, the final touch.
He whistled approvingly. “I’m starting to have second thoughts again. I’m not sure I should be letting you out of the house like this.” He smiled, but his eyes were tearing up a little, and Violet knew that he was comparing her to the little girl she once was.
Her own eyes started to burn, and she fanned her hands in front of them. “Stop it, Dad! You’re gonna make me cry too.”
Greg Ambrose took a cleansing breath and composed himself before announcing, “Jay’s downstairs waiting.”
With her father on one side, and the handrail on the other, Violet descended the stairs as if she were floating. Jay stood at the bottom, watching her, frozen in place like a statue.
His black suit looked as if it had been tailored just for him. His jacket fell across his strong shoulders in a perfect line, tapering at his narrow waist. The crisp white linen shirt beneath stood out in contrast against the dark, finely woven wool. He smiled appreciatively as he watched her approach, and Violet felt her breath catch in her throat at the striking image of flawlessness that he presented.
“You…are so beautiful,” he whispered fervently as he strode toward her, taking her dad’s place at her arm.
She smiled sheepishly up at him. “So are you.”
Her mom insisted on taking no fewer than a hundred pictures of the two of them, both alone and together, until Violet felt like her eyes had been permanently damaged by the blinding flash. Finally her father called off her mom, dragging her away into the kitchen so that Violet and Jay could have a moment alone together.
“I meant it,” he said. “You look amazing.”
She shook her head, not sure what to say, a little embarrassed by the compliment.
“I got you something,” he said to her as he reached inside his jacket. “I hope you don’t mind, it’s not a corsage.”
Violet couldn’t have cared less about having flowers to pin on her dress, but she was curious about what he had brought for her. She watched as he dragged out the moment longer than he needed to, taking his time to reveal his surprise.