Violet opened her eyes. The popular Temptations song had finished and now something else was playing, but she didn’t want to listen to it. She rose from her chair and headed to the water, wading in as far as her chest.
The lake water was at a perfect temperature. Not too cold but not too warm that it couldn’t refresh her, either. Drinking in a deep breath, she submerged herself completely, trying to forget the daydream that brought her so much joy and yet so much pain. After a few seconds, she emerged, letting out the breath she’d been holding in and taking in more breaths, cleansing and reviving. Now that she’d gotten completely wet, she swam out several feet into the deeper water and remained there, floating, until she’d had her full. Then she returned to her chair.
In her bag, along with a tube of suntan oil, a bottle of Patio orange soda, and a brush, she’d also stashed her Bible, a notebook and a pen.
Her notebook was her journal. In all her life, Violet Dunne had never kept a journal. With her past, what was worth recording? Particularly when it came to the sordid details of her life on the street?
But shortly after coming to the Lord, she began keeping a diary. So far, she’d filled two of them, and she was about a third of the way through this one. She preferred the steno pad-style notepad, the kind used by secretaries when taking dictation from their bosses.
She couldn’t remember her exact reason for keeping a journal in the first place. No one had told her to do it, though the handful of people she’d told—including Ruth, who’d encouraged her to continuing doing so. Deep down, it seemed that her purpose for doing it, both originally and at the present, was to keep track of her walk with the Lord God. When it became apparent that this was real, not just some emotional phase she was going through, she began recording what now was clearly a journey with her Savior that had brought her out a life that previously had been dark and without hope.
Lord, I don’t blame Suzanne. I was never much of a mother to her. My sister is her real mother. I just gave birth to her. But You know that I’ve never, ever stopped thinking about her. She’s the only thing that was every worth anything in my life, besides You. I know that I’m asking for a lot, and I know I don’t deserve it, because all I really deserve is for her to treat me like a stranger for the rest of my life. But please, Jesus. Please let her forgive me. Please soften her heart so that
“Ahhh, I see that Ruth Gordon has some influence on you, Miss Dunne!”
Even before looking up, she recognized the voice, which had come from only a few feet away. As soon as she saw Dr. Wilkerson—or rather, Buck, as he’d asked her to call him—in the saddle of a beautiful horse, she felt like she’d had the wind knocked right out of her.
“The name is Violet…cowboy,” she said, sharing a carefree laugh with him. “And I wish I could write like that lady. Ruth’s my favorite writer.”
“Is she, Violet?” He said her name as if trying it on. She had to admit, it rolled so pleasingly on his tongue.
“Well, I’m making myself sound like such a studious person.” She laughed again and self-consciously closed her notepad. “It’s not like I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve started to, though. And I’ve read all of Ruth’s. They may be kids’ books, but she’s still my favorite writer.”
“I don’t know about studious, but you’re a pretty intelligent lady, Violet Dunne.”
She watched him dismount from that sleek horse. Since she’d lived in Larkspur Valley, she’d seen plenty of farmers. Henry Gordon, Ruth’s husband, was a farmer. Buck Wilkinson fit the image in her mind of a cowboy to a tee, as just as well as Gary Cooper ever could.
Make that Gary Cooper with a dash of Jimmy Stewart.
Sweet like Jimmy Stewart’s on-screen personality. Same deep, drawling, manly voice, too.
With the exception that, dressed in his jeans, a short-sleeved, checkered western shirt, a cowboy hat and worn boots, he was even better looking and more swoon-worthy than anything even Hollywood could come up with.
“How’s the water?” he asked.
“The water? Oh—it’s perfect.” Crazy her! Was she a schoolgirl now? That was a new one. “Not too hot, not too cold. You should go for a dip.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I didn’t think to bring my swimming trunks.”
He tipped his hat back on his head…cowboy-style. She almost forgot how to blink.
Plus, she suddenly felt self-conscious. He wasn’t leering at her, but he was a man, and a bachelor, to boot. The fact sure hadn’t escaped him that he was standing in front of a woman sitting there, wearing only a swimsuit.
There was a time when she’d had the kind of figure that drew the attention of men, and she would dress that figure with the intention of grabbing that attention. Now that she was older, Violet’s hips and waist weren’t as narrow as they’d once been. She knew there were women her age, in their forties, who still possessed the figure of a woman in her twenties; but she wasn’t one of them. She wasn’t fat or frumpy, but neither was her body as tight as it had once been.
Buck didn’t seem to notice. He was a gentleman, but for the briefest moment she was flattered, when she caught his gaze rake over her appreciatively.
“See, now, I knew you’d be here. I should’ve come prepared,” he told her. “Could’ve raced you to the other end and left you in the dust.”
“Oh, is that so?” She smiled. Violet recognized an attempt at flirtation when she saw one. “Next time, you come prepared. See how dusty you get.”
That comeback won a chuckle from him. “Eh, the lady’s making a threat, so maybe she’s the better swimmer.”
“Well, I don’t have many talents, not much I do well, but I swim like a fish in water.”
“So you’re telling me you’re a mermaid? Then I know not to be fool enough to try and race you.”
“That’s right!” she exclaimed. Then she rose to her feet. “Can I…is it okay if I say hi to Gypsy?”
“’Course. She’d like that. She’s a spoiled little girl. Loves all the attention she can get.”
“Awww. Well, gorgeous women are like that. And this lady is gorgeous.”
Buck watched her for a few moments, standing on the Morgan’s other side while Violet stroked her dark, silky mane and patted her long neck.
“She’s a sweet girl,” she remarked. “How are you enjoying your ride this afternoon?”
“Wonderful. It’s hot out, but wonderful. We’re about done. I don’t want Gypsy getting overheated. Say, uh, Violet…” Hesitantly, he cleared his throat. “You doing anything special tonight?”
Her blood quickened, yet she kept her attention riveted on the mare.
Say no. You’re so out of Dr. Cowboy’s league, sugar plum, it ain’t funny.
“What did you have in mind?” she asked against her better judgment.
“Dinner. Preferably cooked by someone else, like in a restaurant. Something with lots of bread and butter and dessert and conversation we can share.”
This would be a really good time to use the word “no.” Lord, help me say it. Lord, why can’t I say it right now?
“I love bread with butter,” she murmured, stalling.
“I do, too. Almost as much as cheese with crackers.”
“Oh, no, I can make a meal out of cheese and crackers!”
“Now I would’ve thought a mermaid like you would say lobster. Or shrimp. Or some other sea-dwelling creature. So…”
He took a step closer to her. Too close. Enough to make her heart race in a way Violet hadn’t thought possible for such a long time.
“What do you say? Will you have dinner with me, my lovely mermaid?”