Violet worked on various assignments the next day. She got an Instant Message from Jake at eight in the morning, right after they took his dad into surgery.
'Are you okay?' she asked.
'No. Am I allowed to call you?'
'Sure, but I don't know who might hear me. Call my cell. I'll go outside.'
'No. Go to that conference room. The lock number is 0-9-4-6. Go inside and I'll call you in six minutes.'
She wrote down the number, grabbed some paper and a pen, and headed for the conference room. After unlocking the door, she entered and closed it behind her. As soon as she sat down, the phone rang and she answered it. "Hello?"
"Violet, that office is going to be used. Go to my office."
"Where is it?"
"Fifth floor. As soon as you get off the elevator, tell Gwen, my secretary, who you are. She'll take you to my office and we can talk there."
She ended the call and just as she opened the door, Lanny and his group walked inside. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Jake told me to come in here. I'm just leaving." She ran off as he laughed and took the elevator to the fifth floor. She checked in with Gwen, who took her to Jake's huge office. It was impressive, but the most intriguing part were the pictures he'd framed and put on his walls. They were all of her and the dogs.
The phone rang and she answered it. "Hello?"
"Violet. It's Jake. We've heard nothing, so keep me occupied, if you will."
"If you had the chance to move with the dogs, where would you live?"
She chuckled. "In my house."
"Hmmm…would you ever consider moving?"
"I live alone. Why would I move? I have a mortgage to pay."
"What if you didn't live alone? Where would you like to live?"
She shook her head. "I'm alone and I can't change that. So what did they say about your dad when they took him back?"
"Not much. Mom, Ray, and Sandy are all here with me. Ray and Sandy are my brother and sister."
They talked for a few more hours, and he showed her how to bring up her work on his computer. They worked on it together, laughing and having a great time. It was then she realized he wasn't a boyfriend, but a true friend, someone she didn't want to lose.
His dad came out of surgery after noon, and was doing well. Jake had to go, and she'd miss him, but she went back to her cubicle and got to work. Afterwards, she spent the night alone with her dogs, but worried about Jake. The next day, she went to work and heard nothing. Maybe he was a fair-weather friend.
Finally, it was Thanksgiving. After she put the dogs out and her parents opened their door, Violet made a few desserts and a side dish for the meal at four o'clock. Alone again for Thanksgiving. But it was all for the best, because it'd be easier to find another job if she didn't feel guilty about the job with Jake.
While she was baking, the phone rang. She grabbed it and put it to her ear, working on a pumpkin pie. "Hello?"
"It's Jake. I'm sorry I didn't call you yesterday, at least. I spent just about every minute in the ICU. Dad had a little relapse, but he was better last night. I wanted to call you, but they wouldn't allow any cell phones. Dad took six hours to tell me what he wanted me to do with the business. I didn't get to sleep until after midnight on Tuesday and got up around four, because Mom wanted to get to the hospital. I spent all day there, too." He yawned. "I'm really tired."
"I'm so sorry. Go to bed."
"I'm up, now. I just wanted to talk to you to see if you're okay."
"I'm fine. I'm making a pumpkin pie right now. I wish you were here to taste it. It's a new recipe and I hope it's good."
"I wish I were there, too. I'm going back to bed, but I'll see you soon."
"Yep. Just one more week of work."
He was quiet for a moment. "We'll miss you." But he didn't seem very upset about her leaving. They ended the call and she kept baking.
By three o'clock, she had the car loaded up with various dishes and drove over to her parent's house. She wasn't about to walk through the backyard with the puppies outside, or they'd trip her. She drove around the block and parked on the street. Once she loaded up her hands with bags and dishes, she went to the door. While juggling the items, she pressed the doorbell.
The door opened and her dad welcomed her. "Let me take those things. The dogs are outside playing with Katie and Tony." Those were her niece and nephew, Ben's kids. "Ben's watching them."
She took the things inside, and placed them in front of Dave and Emma, who were sitting at the table talking to Ben's wife, Stacey. Ashley and her little baby boy, Andy, were also at the table, along with her husband, Greg. Since Ronnie and Rick were still on their honeymoon, this was the entire crowd, and Violet was alone, yet again this year.
"Where's John?" Stacey asked.
"Not a good thing to talk about," Dave whispered. "History, but it's a long story."
"I'm sorry," Stacey said. "But you always have us."
Every year, just like clockwork. Violet sighed.
The doorbell rang and Violet's dad, William, jumped to his feet. "Our special guest." He chuckled and ran to the door.
"Special guest?" Dave asked.
No one knew, and Denise, Violet's mom, had gone outside with Ben and the kids.
"Welcome," William said. "I'm so glad to see you."
No answer. Violet turned to see if her father had gone nuts, talking to no one. But she couldn't see the front door, but heard whispering.
"Ready?" her dad whispered.
Violet glanced at the rest of her family and they seemed as interested and confused as Violet was.
She turned back and watched her dad enter the room. "We have a special guest and I want you to all welcome him. You all know him." He motioned into the hidden hallway and someone walked into the room. It was Jake.
Violet's face heated up and she got to her feet. "You're in Texas. What are you doing here? I just talked to you."
"You did?" Dave asked. "You made up?"
"Sort of," Jake said. "And for the rest of you, my name's really Jake Oakwood. I own the greeting card business where Violet works. I mean, worked. She quit because I wasn't allowed to tell the truth until we got the goods on the guy who worked next to her."
"Did you get rid of him?" Dave asked.
"Yes," Jake said. "With Violet's help." He glanced toward William and then back at Violet. "Your dad heard the whole story from his brother-in-law, Gene, and invited me here today. So I had to get back after Dad's surgery, and flew in overnight. That's another reason you didn't hear from me last night."
She stepped closer, wanting to give him a hug. "You've been through a lot." But she knew her place. She didn't want to lead him on.
"As have you." Jake glanced toward William and then turned toward Violet. "I want everyone to hear this. Violet, I've fallen in love with you. I want to be your friend…um…more than your friend."
William nudged Jake. "Just ask her, will you?"
Jake chuckled. "I'm gettin' there."
Denise, Ben, and the kids all ran inside with the dogs. "They're tired," Denise said, and looked up. "Jake! I'm so glad you made it. Did I miss it?"
"He's working up to it," William said. "Hurry up. I'm not getting any younger here."
Jake chuckled. "Well, Violet, I love you and I want to know if you'll still date me. I really missed you."
She couldn't stop herself. She took a few steps and gave him a hug. "I'd love to. I missed you, too, more than I thought possible."
He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead. "Then I have a question for you." He backed away and got on one knee while the dogs jumped up on his other knee and licked his face. He pulled a small box from his pocket and opened it to show a yellow golden ring with a huge solitaire diamond on the top. "Marry me? No more lies or half-truths. My dad wants to see me married, and talked to me for four hours straight about my married life after the six hours about the business. Will you marry me, Violet Renee Black, and make me the happiest man alive?"
Violet stood still, stunned. "Marriage? But I have four dogs—"
"I'd adopt them. They're great." He petted two of them as the other two ran off to get a drink.
"Say yes," Dave said. "You know you want to."
Violet chuckled and covered her mouth. She thought about it for a moment, realizing that Jake was the most wonderful man alive. "Yes. I'd love to. You're really special to me, and I love you, too."
Everyone clapped. Jake got to his feet and gave Violet a big kiss, which made her warm from her lips to her toes. When he backed away, her heart beat fast and she felt giddy. He rested his head on hers. "After dinner, I want to show you our new house. I bought it the day I met you, just for us, and my house is up for sale. It even has a dog door and lots of land."
"But my parents keep the dogs—"
"It's next door to this place. Both lots will be put together and our kids and dogs will have grandparents to bug all the time."
And so began their lives together. Violet kept her job, but moved up to work with Jake to keep the business afloat. His parents retired in town, and his brother and sister moved closer, so Violet had more family around her than ever, never feeling alone again.