Well, the election is finally over. Everyone seems variously shocked, panicked, horrified, elated or some combination. Certainly we’re on uncharted and uncertain ground, waiting to find out what happens next. I’d sure like Emilia’s ability to see the future! …or maybe not.
For now, I’m finding solace in writing about my crime lord. I enjoy thinking about Vadim and Emilia much more than politics.
Well before the foreseen breakfast at 9:00 AM, Emilia strode along the hallway. Outside the windows, a light fog glistened like mother-of-pearl in the morning sunlight.
She would take charge of her own future. Therefore she made her way to the kitchen. The raspberry coffeecake wouldn’t be ready, but she might manage something else.
At the kitchen sink, Flora looked around. “Buenos días, señora.”
“Buenos días, Flora. Would it be a terrible imposition if I were to make myself an egg and perhaps some buttered toast?”
Flora shook her head. “Sorry, señora. I’m setting a place at the table for you this morning.”
Of course. Emilia considered wheedling, but that would only serve to embarrass both of them.
She sighed. “Very well.” Her trade wasn’t coming out quite as she’d expected, but she’d still made a promise. “Do you need another reading?”
Flora wiped her hands on a dishtowel. “For tomorrow morning?”
Emilia took her offered hand, still damp from the dishwater. “Oh! Tomorrow will be easy. Mr. Dragovich is going out early, before seven. He’ll wish only coffee and a bit more of the coffeecake from this morning.”
Her spirits rose. No breakfast with the master tomorrow, then. Perhaps, if she were lucky, she’d not see him at all.
Flora made a thoughtful face, then nodded. “I better make an extra coffeecake then. Gracias, señora!”
She crossed to the pantry and began rummaging within.
Emilia left Flora to her breakfast preparations. In the dining room, a couple of young Mexican maids worked, one dusting, the other arranging flowers in a bowl. Emilia shook her head at the flowers. They somehow seemed a touch the Dragon of Russia wouldn’t appreciate.
She hovered in the foyer, pleating her skirt with one hand and thinking.
She might take another walk. She could think of any number of ruses to avoid being at the table at nine, including working her disappearing trick. A slow smile spread across her face. That might convince Dragovich that her predictions weren’t as valuable as he thought. On the other hand, she had no desire to make him think of his threat to her friends.
The sound of a door opening and closing echoed in the high foyer, then the tap of feet on the tiles. Emilia turned to escape.
“Ms. Dunmoor! You’re just who I wanted to see!”
Emilia stopped. It was Tiff, today wearing tight, faded jeans with holes over thigh and knee, a silk camisole and a short, snug-fitting cardigan sweater. She carried a purse over one shoulder and a large bag that said Indigoz.
Tiff grabbed her arm. “I know it’s super-early, but I thought it’d be okay, because then you could wear what I found yesterday.” Tiff towed her along the gallery toward Emilia’s room. “Since I didn’t really have the chance to shop right, I thought I’d spend a little more time, see what else I could come up with. By the way, Mr. D said I’d done a great job.” She stopped outside the door to Emilia’s room and gave her a quick up-and-down appraisal. “He’s right. That outfit looks awesome on you. I knew it would. Do you like it?”
Emilia was still struggling to get past the idea that ‘Mr. D’ approved of her clothes. “Why…why, yes, I do, very much. Thank you for your thoughtfulness, Tiff.”
Tiff followed Emilia into her room and closed the door behind them. She held out the bag. “Here.”
Emilia pulled out a pair of loose, fawn-colored trousers and wrap blouse in a subtly textured pattern in periwinkle blue.
“It’s not a skirt, but it shouted ‘Ms. Dunmoor’ to me, so I thought I’d take a chance. What d’you think?”
Emilia fingered the trousers’ buttery soft fabric. “It’s lovely.”
Tiff threw herself on the bed, kicked off her shoes and leaned back on her elbows as Emilia began to change.
“Hoo-wah!” Tiff fanned herself when Emilia was down to her underthings. “Those are so ho-ot! Now all we need is to get you a boyfriend to see you in them.”
Tiff laughed. “You should see you, looking all shocked in your bra and panties. It totally doesn’t work.”
Emilia couldn’t help laughing too. “Tiff, please, I beg you. Don’t take it upon yourself to find me a boyfriend. It would be a disaster.”
Tiff only grinned, which was not encouraging.
Emilia quickly slipped on the clothes, determined to banish her awkwardness. Servants had helped her dress since she could remember, and had frequently commented on her appearance. Although not, perhaps, in such terms.
Tiff sat up and clapped her hands once. “Yes!”
Emilia turned to look in the mirror. The trousers draped loosely below the waistband and snugged close around her ankles. With the wrap top, the outfit gave her an Oriental air.
She smoothed the trousers. Oddly enough, she didn’t feel the least bit inappropriate wearing them.
“Yes, indeed. Thank you, Tiff. I must say you have very good taste.”
“You bet I do. That’s why Mr. D gave me the job.”
Emilia thought of the interest in his eyes when she’d opened the door to him yesterday and her pleasure vanished. She began to take off the top. She’d wear her old things. If Dragovich didn’t like it, well, that was a pity.
“Whoa, wait,” Tiff said. “What just happened? I thought you liked it.”
“It’s much too nice for everyday wear, Tiff.”
Tiff scowled. “No, it’s not. That outfit is perfect for anything. Well, anything except jogging or rock climbing or something like that. So what’s the problem?”
“Nothing at all. I suppose I’m still a bit tired.”
Tiff snorted. “You’re not tired. You’re down. You know it, and I know it, so there’s no point in pretending it’s something else.”
Emilia gave her a look. This was not a topic she wished to discuss with one of Dragovich’s employees.
“I know Mr. D,” Tiff said. “He bulldozed you, didn’t he?”
“Bulldozed? I don’t know what you mean.” Although she had a fairly good idea.
“I’m not dumb,” Tiff said. “You show up here with no bags or purse or anything except what you have on. Now I’m supposed to get you everything you need to stay a while. So…” She shrugged. “Bulldozed.”
Emilia stiffened. “Were you…bulldozed?”
“Oh my god.” Tiff laughed. “Don’t look that way. Mr. D got me out of trouble. Actually, I was just about to get in trouble and he got me out before I did. I didn’t appreciate it much then. I cussed him real good.”
Emilia raised her brows at that. Although if anyone could curse Dragovich and get away with it, she supposed it would be Tiff.
“Once I settled down, he offered me a job.” Tiff shrugged again. “Been with him, oh, I guess it must be close to a year now. When he needs stuff done, I’m the girl to do it. He says I’m his go-to girl.”
Emilia wondered exactly what sort of ‘stuff’ Tiff did. Besides shopping. “And…” Emilia wet her lips. “You’re happy working for him?”
“Do I look unhappy? I got a car, a super-cute little apartment all my own, a credit card. Nobody fools with me. What’s to make me unhappy? Look, I know Mr. D can come on pretty strong, and I can see how that would put somebody like you off. But it’s just how he does things, I mean, he’s got to, being him.”
Emilia opened her mouth to point out that was a circular argument, and explain that while Tiff might’ve been in trouble, she hadn’t been. At least not before Dragovich decided to carry her off.
Tiff bounced off the bed first. “Listen, I gotta go.” She bounded to the door then turned, her hand on the knob. “You better wear that outfit, or else I’ll be mad. And don’t let Mr. D scare you. He’s not so hard to get along with. Really.”
She waggled her fingers goodbye and slipped out the door.
Emilia folded her arms. “I’m sure he’s perfectly lovely,” she muttered, “as long as he gets what he wants.”
She glanced at the bedside clock. Which read 9:09. Of course it did.
And when she came to the small dining room, of course Dragovich sat at the cozy table, a place set to his right. A glass there already held juice and something—tea, she assumed—steamed in a cup.
He gave her the same up-and-down appraisal Tiff had, but considerably more slowly. Ignoring the heat rising to her face, Emilia crossed to the table. He stood and pulled out her chair.
“Tiffany has outdone herself this morning.” That soft, rich voice of his caressed her.
The heat in her face seemed to spread all through her. She took her seat as calmly as she could manage.
“Yes, she’s quite thoughtful. But I’d be grateful if you could tell her she no longer has to buy clothes for me.”
Dragovich took his own seat and waved a hand. “She has the bit in her teeth now. I’m helpless to stop her.”
“I doubt that, Mr. Dragovich.”
“Ah.” He picked up his fork. His plate was already piled with sausage, four fried eggs and hash browns. At least a quarter of Flora’s coffeecake covered a smaller plate. “First you call me a beast. Now you say I’m a tyrant.”
“I said nothing of the sort, as you know.” ‘Beast’ and ‘tyrant’ were the least of what she wished to call him.
He sat back in his chair. “So severe. Do you never laugh, Emilia?”
She cut herself a bit of the coffeecake. “I laughed not five minutes ago, when Tiff told me you’re not hard to get along with.”
He did laugh. “Did she? She was as angry as you are when she came here. I never heard such a vocabulary. Shocking!”
“You make a habit of kidnapping women, then?”
“Mmm.” He waggled a hand. “Now and then. When the situation warrants.”
She shouldn’t be appalled. Really, she shouldn’t, considering everything.
“I suppose it must make everything easy for you, never having to consider the wishes of others.”
He shook his head. “First beastly, then tyrannical, now arrogant. I’m crushed that you hold such a low opinion of me.”
“Send me home, and my opinion will never be inflicted upon you again.”
“Oh, but it would. I couldn’t bear to know you were out in the world thinking ill of me. Before I can ever be easy again, I must mend my reputation with you.” His eyes glinted with that ever-present laughter.
She lowered her fork, exasperated.
“There,” he said. “I’ve overwhelmed you. Please, think nothing of it.”
“I assure you, sir, I do think nothing of it.”
He gave her a smile, enjoying every moment, apparently. She took a sip of tea to gain a little space to recover herself.
“Eat,” he said. “You don’t eat enough to keep a bird alive.”
She smiled sweetly and made a helpless gesture. “I fear the company distresses me.”
“Really? I find the company…stimulating.”
Thankfully, he set to his breakfast then. He ate like…like… Emilia didn’t know what. Certainly George had never eaten like that, not even after coming in from a long day out in the field. Dragovich was a larger man than George had been, but she saw no hint of fat. Where did he put all that food?
She sipped tea and juice and nibbled her coffeecake—for Flora’s sake. Certainly not for Dragovich’s.
“It occurs to me,” he said between forkfuls of hash browns, “that predicting my breakfast isn’t a good trial of your skills. I’m far too apt to make your prediction come true to please you.” He bestowed a gleaming smile on her.
“Tomorrow, you’ll have only coffee and cake before seven.” She matched his smile. “Without me.”
“Ah, so you’ll have displeased me then.”
I certainly hope so, she began to say, then caught herself. Did she truly wish to displease this man? Would she?
She let her gift graze him. As the first time, he seemed a wild, deep, turbulent river. She pushed free, letting herself skim the airy branches of his future.
“You’re displeased,” she said, “but not by me. One will challenge you.”
His bantering air vanished. “Who? How?”
She shook her head. “He resents you. Tests you, believing it makes him strong.”
Dragovich touched her, two fingers laid across her wrist. “Tell me who.”
“You don’t need me to tell you. You’ll see for yourself. He meddles with something you value highly, something you will not bear to be meddled with.”
“What is this thing?”
“Something that gives you strength. Something that brings you higher. Something that makes you greater.”
Another image came, cloudy and uncertain: a man sprawled on pavement, car lights shining across him.
Emilia pulled out of her seeing.
Dragovich looped her wrist with a thumb and two fingers, muttering a few words in Russian. “You can tell me what time I’ll eat breakfast, yet now you speak in riddles.”
She frowned. “I see possible futures. I don’t read minds. I don’t know what you value.” She pulled free of his grasp. “Although if you insist on continuing to consult my gift, I’ll know a great deal more of you than either of us wishes.”
“Indeed.” He leaned back in his chair. “Then I’ll simply have to make sure I keep you safe and close, won’t I?”