What happened between them in the hours that followed was – if not exactly magical – at the very least unexpected. And yet a part of Rose felt as if this was right where they'd been headed all along.
He’d taken her to his bed, made love to her in a way that was at times frenzied, and at other times painstakingly slow. Up until then, he’d been forced to rely on his words to tease her; but with her body now at his disposal, his fingers, his lips – every inch of him – had joined in the fun. They’d said little to each other as they moved, speaking only in whispered moans, falling asleep in each other’s arms only to wake a few hours later and begin the climb all over again.
When Rose awoke at seven the next morning, she found herself alone and naked in Viktor's bed. She was wrapped in a sheet, the mattress still warm and damp from the night’s activities.
The door to the adjoining bath slid open and she turned to find Viktor standing in the doorway. He was naked too, his skin damp from the shower.
“Did I vake you?”
Rose shook her head, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She was getting her first proper look at her new lover, illuminated by the sunlight that poured in through the sheer curtains draped across the window. Even unclothed, his body looked dense, even with the hint of softness around the middle. She could see now that the tattoo on his forearm continued up his bicep and over his shoulder, snaking its way around to his back. His skin was a rich, even tan, the hair on his chest flecked with the same gray as the hair on his head. Rose realized it was the first time she’d ever seen a man of his age naked before, and she wasn’t disappointed.
He seemed to sense her scrutiny, but it only made him smile. He wasn't shy with her; he'd proven that last night. Whatever insecurities he may have, his sexual prowess wasn't one of them.
She stayed where she was, watching as he dressed in his usual uniform of dark trousers and matching shirt. When he was done, he ran his fingers through his wet hair, making it stand on end for a moment before falling back into place.
“The bathroom is all yours,” he said, moving for the door. He seemed to reconsider then, turning back around and crossing to the bed, where Rose lay still buried beneath the covers. He leaned down, capturing her lips in his. The kiss was slow and deep, and she was tempted to reach out and draw him down on top of her. But she was too slow; he’d already released her. “Take all the time you need,” he said, and he was gone.
If it had been anyone else, Rose might have thought she was being given the brush-off – told to clean herself up and hit the road like a cheap one-night stand. But she knew that wasn’t what he meant. She’d seen it in his eyes last night, felt it in kiss. He wasn't rejecting her; he was giving her space, time to process what had happened. He already knew her well enough to know it was only a matter of time before the doubt and the guilt set in. He was giving her the chance to decide how she felt with no pressure or input from him. When she was ready to talk, he'd be waiting.
Rose threw aside the covers and shuffled off to the bath. Ten minutes later, she was dressed in the same clothes she’d worn the day before, her wet hair hanging loose around her shoulders.
“Good morning,” Krum said as she entered the kitchen. There were two mugs of coffee resting on the counter and he slid one over to her.
“Thanks,” she said, taking a sip. The coffee was strong and bitter, nothing like the kind she kept at home – the cheap stuff that came in a can. It tasted like it had been ground fresh that morning.
Krum picked up his mug, taking a seat at the table, and Rose followed suit. “I’d cook you breakfast,” he said, “but I’m afraid my talents don’t extend much past the bedroom.”
“That’s all right,” she said, taking another sip of her coffee. “I’ve got to head into work anyway.”
“It’s just for today. I haven’t been in for ages. If I don’t show my face soon, people might start talking – think you’ve kidnapped me or something.”
“Or something,” he said with just a hint of a smile. He picked up her hand, lacing his fingers through hers. “And you’re...all right?”
She knew what he meant, and she gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. “I’m not as fragile as I look, Viktor. It will take more than what happened last night to take me down.”
“Is that so?” he said, looking amused. “I’ll be sure to remember that for next time.”
Next time. She liked the sound of that.
“I should go finish getting ready,” she said, and he nodded, letting her go but not before stealing another kiss.
Rose left him, disappearing back into the bathroom, doing what she could with her hair, smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt – hoping like hell she didn’t look like a girl who’d just spent the night with her legs in the air. The last thing she needed was for people at work to find out about her and Krum. It wasn’t like she was going to get fired for it – there was no law against sleeping with someone you just also happen to be writing a book about. But it looked bad. Really bad. No, she thought. Best to keep this one to ourselves.
She reemerged a few minutes later, looking as presentable as she was going to get. “Well, I guess I’m off—” But she stopped, pausing mid-stride.
There was a stranger standing just inside the front door. He was tall, though not as tall as Krum, who was standing beside him, looking as if he’d like to be anywhere else at that moment. The man looked to be in his fifties, with thinning brown hair and thick-framed glasses, dressed in the sort of no-nonsense suit and tie that seemed a hallmark for all the under-paid government officials of the world. He’d been in the middle of saying something to Krum but had gone quiet, both men turning to face her as she entered the room.
“It seems I’ve interrupted something,” the man said, looking first at Krum and then back over at Rose. It wasn’t an apology; he didn’t sound the least bit sorry for the intrusion. In fact, if Rose had to guess, she’d say the man looked almost amused.
“I can wait in the other room,” Rose said, not liking the way the man was looking at her – like he’d just caught her standing there in nothing but her underwear.
She made to turn round but Krum put up a hand. “It’s fine, Rose. Our guest vas just leaving.”
The man stayed where he was for a long moment, eyes locked on Rose. At long last, he looked away, turning his attention back to Krum. “Very well, Mr. Krum. We’re done for now, anyway. But I’ll be back soon...to see how you're getting on.”
Krum had already yanked open the front door, practically pushing the man out into the hall. “I look forward to it.”
As he turned to go, Rose realized something. She’d seen this man before. It was a few weeks ago, the day she’d first come to see Krum. She was in the stairwell; the man had been heading down while she’d been on her way up. She hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but as this was the only flat on the fourth floor, the man had to have been coming from Krum’s place.
“Who was that?” Rose asked as soon as the man was gone. Krum had slammed the door shut, locking it behind him.
“It’s no one.”
“I saw him before. Do you know—”
“I said it’s no one.” And there was a finality in this tone that warned Rose not to press the issue.
“All right,” she said, grabbing her purse up off the counter and slinging it over her shoulder. She didn’t believe him but she had no interest in spoiling their perfectly good night together by getting into a row. “I guess I’ll be going then.”
She was staring at Krum, waiting for some sort of response, but his eyes seemed suddenly distant, like a black cloud had fallen over him. Rose felt an uneasy weight settle in her stomach. But as quick as the cloud had appeared, it was gone again; he was back, shaking off whatever he’d been thinking on. He reached out his hands, grabbing her by the shit collar and gently pulling her into him.
“This is nice,” she said, liking the way her body seemed to fit so perfectly in his. He nuzzled her hair with his nose, mumbling something unintelligible that she took to mean he agreed. “Shall I come back later then? We can work more on the book...amoung other things."
She regretted it almost as soon as she'd said it. Krum’s body went still, and Rose could have sworn she felt him retreat from her just ever so slightly. “No,” he said. “Not today. I have things I need to do. Later, maybe.”
The weight in her stomach seemed to grow. Was it possible she’d read him wrong? That he was, in fact, trying to brush her off now that he’d had his way with her? She hated herself for even thinking it – for being one of those girls who got insecure and paranoid at the first smell of rejection – but she couldn’t help herself. Sex changes things. There’s no way around it.
As if sensing her doubt, he released her body, taking her face in his hands. “I’m not sorry, Rose. I hope you aren’t either.”
“I’m not,” she said. And she wasn’t. At least not yet. But that didn’t stop the fear from creeping in and settling heavy in her chest. She’d thought last night was the start of something. Now she wasn’t so sure.
He gave her another soft kiss on the lips before letting her go. “Have a good day,” he said.
“You too...” But he was already gone, leaving Rose to see herself out.
She arrived at her office a few minutes later, settling in behind her desk, inwardly sighing at the prospect of spending the day drudging through all the paperwork that had piled up in her absence. The sheer fact that she could still fit into her office suggested that Heart had finally managed to bring on some extra help. She should have been happy about the new hire; there was no way she could meet her deadline while still keeping up with her normal day-to-day responsibilities. But something about it felt wrong. The idea that she’d been replaced – even temporarily – bothered Rose. She couldn’t help but feel like she was being kicked to the curb...again.
It was just after noon when a sharp rap on the door pulled her attention away from the rejection letter she’d been in the middle of writing. She looked up to find a familiar face standing in the doorway.
“Peter!” Rose cried, nearly jumping out of her seat at the sight of him. “What in the world are you doing here?”
No offense to the man, but Peter Brooks was about the last person on planet earth Rose wanted to see at that moment. He was Viktor’s son. The child – even if only by a marriage that had long since been dissolved – of the man she’d just spent the night with. Even as she thought about it, she could smell the scent of Krum’s soap rising from her skin. She positively reeked of the man. She was sure Brooks could smell it on her. Step-son or not, the thought of him knowing what happened, the things she’d let Krum do to her... It was mortifying.
He was looking down at her, a curious expression on his face. “Is this a bad time?”
She did her best to wipe the guilt of her face. “No, no. Of course not. Come in.”
Brooks stepped inside. There was still no place to sit, so he settled for hovering near the wall, hands shoved into the pockets of his trousers.
“So, what’s going on?” Rose asked, working hard to keep tone casual.
“Well, I was just off talking with Heart, and I figured I might as well pop in and give you the good news while I’m here.”
“About Krum’s case.”
Of course. How could she have forgotten? Krum was still in the middle of a major legal battle, one that could land him in Azkaban for years if things didn’t go his way. Great, she thought. Not only had she slept with a man she was supposed to be working with on a million-dollar book deal, but her new lover just also happened to be facing serious prison time. Rose was feeling stupider and stupider by the second.
“W-- What news?” she asked with the faintest quiver in her voice.
But Brooks seemed not to notice. “It looks like we may have worked out a plea deal, and a really solid one at that.”
“That’s great. Would it keep Krum out of prison?”
“Well, not completely, no. But he’d only be looking at three to six months, and that’s certainly a hell of a lot better than the three to six years he could be facing if this goes to trial.”
“Do you think Krum will go for it?” Already Rose was skeptical. She had a hard time imagining Krum agreeing to something that meant automatic prison time, even if it was a reduced sentence.
Brooks shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. You’ve spent more time with him lately than I have. What do you think?”
Rose adverted her eyes, taking a sudden interest in the ink blotter on her desk. “I really don’t know him all that well.” This was actually the truth, or at least a version of the truth. She might 'know' him in the biblical sense, but his mind was still very much a mystery to her.
“No matter. I guess I’ll find out for myself soon enough.”
“Well, thanks for stopping by to let me know...” Rose said, eager to get Brooks out of her office.
“Actually, that’s not the only reason I dropped by. There’s something else I need to discuss with you.”
Rose felt her mouth go dry. “Oh, really?”
“Heart told me about the his plan to get Krum’s book out by Christmas. That’s soon.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Well,” he said, “that got me thinking. You’ve got a lot of ground to cover in just a few months. And I’m just guessing here, but I bet Krum’s not being quite as, shall we say forthcoming, as you might have hoped.” Rose gave a noncommittal shrug, which Brooks seemed to take as confirmation. “I figured as much. Anyway, I’d love to help you, but to be honest, I don’t know as much about the man as I should. We had some good times when I was a kid, and he’d pop by for important events – birthdays, graduations, that sort of thing – if he was sober enough to remember what day it was. But I don’t really know him, at least not enough to give you the kind of information you need. But,” he said, finally getting to the point, “I do know someone who does.”
He reached into his shirt pocket, pulling out a scrap of paper and passing it over to her. Rose looked down. It was another address. If Brooks thought she was heading off to another godforsaken back-alley pub, he was out of his mind.
“It’s for my mother,” he said, pointing down at the paper. “It’s the address of her summer home. She’ll be there for another couple of weeks before heading south for the winter. The woman’s like a bird – migrating to warmer climates at the first hint of Autumn. Anyway, I’ve told her all about you and she’s anxious for the two of you to get together and talk.”
“Your mother?" Rose was confused. What business could she possibly have to discuss with Brooks’ mother?
“The one and only. Trust me, if anyone in the world knows Krum, it’s her. They’ve stayed in touch all these years. I mean, they aren’t all buddy-buddy or anything like that, but I bet she could tell you just about anything you’d want to know about Krum. Give you another perspective on the man.”
Rose had to admit it was an interesting proposition. Brooks had told her at their first meeting that he was just a kid when his mother married Krum. Peter had to be in his mid-thirties by now, which meant that his mother must have known Krum going on three decades. And it wasn’t like she was getting a whole lot from Viktor at the moment; it was too early to know if last night would change any of that. Whatever this thing was that was going on between them, Rose still had a book to write and a deadline to meet. If Krum wasn’t going to help her, maybe it was time to look elsewhere for answers.
“Well, what do you say?” Brooks asked.
Rose thought about for another moment before saying, “Sure, why not? I guess it can’t hurt to meet with her, hear what she has to say.”
Books flashed her a grin, clearly pleased that she was taking to his suggestion. “Great. She’s around all afternoon. Stop by whenever you finish up here.”
Rose blinked. “What, you mean today?”
“Sure. I mean, unless you already have plans...”
No. Rose definitely didn’t have any plans. Krum had made that more than clear this morning.
“All right,” she said, looking down at the address again. “I guess today’s as good a day as any.”
And just like that, Rose found herself agreeing to a meeting with the first Mrs. Viktor Krum.
If Rose thought Krum’s flat was lavish, it was nothing compared to what was waiting for her at the home of Peter’s mother. The address Brooks had given her took Rose all the way to Hoddington, a small village about eighty kilometers outside of London. The house – though it looked more like a hotel than any house Rose had ever been in – was, in every sense of the word, a grand country estate. It was a three-story brick structure, with six white chimneystacks that rose up into the sky like Corinthian columns, and at least a dozen windows on every floor. As she drew close, Rose noticed that none of them were covered. There was no need. The house was set so far off the main road, there was no chance whatsoever of a nosey neighbors just happening by, peering in for a closer look.
Rose wound her way up the gravel drive, stopping once she reached the front door. She’d barely finished knocking when the heavy door swung inward, bringing Rose face-to-face with Mrs. Brooks. Or at least she assumed it was Mrs. Brooks. She was a no-nonsense-looking woman who Rose guessed to be in her early sixties. She was plain, wearing no make-up, her stringy black hair knotted in a bun at the base of her neck. Her outfit that day consisted of a dark blue dress that fell just past the knee and a pair of very sensible-looking shoes.
“Mrs. Brooks?” Rose asked.
“Not hardly,” the woman said, her tone a perfect match with her stern expression. “I’m Mrs. Baker, the housekeep. You must be Ms. Weasley. Peter said you’d be dropping by. Mrs. McKenna is expecting you.”
But the woman had already turned around, leaving Rose to follow her inside. “Mrs. Lidia Brooks-McKenna,” the housekeeper called over her shoulder. “She’s the lady of the house. I assumed you knew.” There was a hint of something distasteful in the way she addressed Rose, as if Rose were less of a guest and more like an annoying fly at a picnic.
The housekeeper led Rose into the main hall. The inside of the house proved even grander than the outside. Off to her right, Rose could see an old-fashioned reception room, complete with a stone fireplace big enough for her entire family to fit inside, which was really saying something. Hanging above the mantel was a very old-looking tapestry, like the kind that lined the halls of Hogwarts. On the other side of the entryway was the formal living room. It too had an oversized fireplace, which Rose guessed was original to the home. There were no tapestries there, but Rose did spot about half-a-dozen deer antlers lined up like trophies along one wall. The whole effect made Rose feel like she’d stepped back in time by about a hundred years. Any moment now, Jeeves the butler would come and ask to take her coat, bringing her a snifter full of cognac before ushering her off to the parlor.
“Margaret, was that the door I heard?”
Rose turned around. A second woman had just entered the hall. She looked to be in fifties, handsomely dressed, her designer clothes perfectly pressed, her hair cut short in a style that flattered her long, pointed face. She was petite, about a head shorter than Rose, and very slim. Her smile was warm, her jewelry expensive. Everything about the woman seemed to ooze confidence and class. This, Rose knew, had to be Brooks’ mother.
“And you must be Rose,” she said, reaching out a hand, which Rose accepted. The woman’s palm was cool and smooth, her grip strong.
“Yes,” Rose said. “It’s very nice to meet you, Mrs...” But she paused, not sure how to address the woman. What had the housekeep called her again?
“Oh, none of that ‘Mrs’ business around here,” the woman said. “Call me Liddy, please. This house may be stuffy but I most certainly am not. It’s first names only around here. I insist. Now,” she said, shifting gears, looking down at her watch. “It’s nearly two. I take it you’ve eaten lunch?” Rose nodded. “Good.” She turned her attention to the housekeeper. “Margaret, give us an hour and then bring in the tea. That should give Rose and I a chance to settle in. And tell Robert to whip up some more of those biscuits he made last week. They were absolutely to die for.”
The housekeeper nodded. “Very good, ma’am.”
“Come now,” Liddy said, looping her arm through Rose’s as if the two were old friends. “We have some serious business to discuss.”
Liddy led Rose down the hall and towards the back of the house, stopping once they’d reached a small door at the end of a long corridor. The door led to a small study – every wall covered from floor to ceiling in beautiful rosewood bookcases. Where as the rest of the house felt stuffy and cold, this room warm and inviting, as if begging Rose to curl up in front of the fire and get lost in a good book.
Rose must have looked impressed. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” Liddy asked, smiling at Rose. “It was Walter’s – that was my late husband’s name. Walter Reginald McKenna. The man did love his stories.”
Rose stepped forward, admiring one of nearby shelves. The spines of the books were perfectly aligned, looking almost unbroken, many of them bound in leather, with gold designs inlaid across the covers. Rose didn’t recognize most of the titles. Some, she was pretty sure, weren’t even in English.
At the end of one of the rows of books sat a small collection of family photographs. Rose stopped, examining them with interest. There was one of Peter standing beside a pretty young woman Rose guessed was his wife. There was several shots of Liddy posing with a much older gentleman with thinning grey hair and hollow cheeks – the dearly departed Mr. McKenna, perhaps. Rose was just about to ask Liddy about it when she spotted a familiar face in a photograph near the back. The picture was small, set into a polished silver frame. There were four people, all well dressed and smiling for the camera. The couple on the right was Liddy and the man Rose guessed to be her husband. But the other couple...
“Is that Heart?” Rose asked, picking up the photograph and spinning around to face Liddy, who was now perched on one of the nearby settees.
Liddy reached out and took the photo. “What, you mean Joseph? Yes, that’s him,” she said, tapping one of her long painted fingernails against the glass. “And that’s Cynthia beside him. You know, I can’t for the life of me remember when this was taken. Peter’s wedding, maybe? Or was it when we took that trip to Paris? That’s the worst thing about getting old, Rose. All the days start to bleed together.”
She handed the photograph back to Rose, who returned it to its place on the shelf. “I’m sorry,” Roes said, still not understanding. “But how do you know Joseph Heart?”
Liddy laughed, a light tinkling sound that reminded Rose of the little bells that her mother used to hang on the Christmas tree when she was a child. “Oh, Joe and I have known each other for years. I was the one who introduced him to Cynthia.”
“His wife, you mean? Mrs. Heart?”
Liddy nodded. “Of course, though I don’t tend to call her that. That would be a rather formal way of addressing one’s own sister.”
“Sister? You mean Heart is your—”
“Brother-in-law. Yes, that’s right. Has been for many decades now.”
Well, this was a twist Rose hadn’t seen coming. “And that would make Peter his...nephew?”
She nodded again. “They’ve always been close. The two never had children of their own, so I guess you could say Peter was a bit like an adopted son to them. But come,” Liddy said, patting the cushion beside her. “We have other things to discuss.”
Rose obliged, still mulling it all over as she took the seat next to Liddy, removing her notebook and quill from her bag. A whole lot of unanswered questions were suddenly falling into place. No wonder Heart had been so intent on this book deal. Krum was, in a very roundabout sort of way, a part of his extended family. Maybe Peter had come to Heart for help, looking for a way to make some fast money for his down-and-out former stepfather. Or maybe it had been Liddy’s idea. Perhaps she’d told her sister about Krum’s situation, and she in turn had passed the news along to her husband. Rose wondered if that was why Heart and his wife had been fighting last month. She couldn’t imagine Heart being excited about the idea, no matter who had mentioned it to him first. He knew better than to mix business and family. But it would be hard to stick to his guns if his wife, sister-in-law and nephew were all pressuring him to get involved. Rose wondered just how much of this Krum was aware of.
“So, where do we start?” Liddy asked, interrupting Rose’s musings.
“Well,” Rose said, looking down at the notes in her lap. “I suppose we should start at the beginning. How did you and Viktor first meet?”
Liddy turned out to be a much easier interview than Rose had expected, especially after spending the past two weeks trying to drag information out of Krum. The woman was completely open with Rose, almost a little too open, answering all of Rose’s questions in as much detail as she could remember. Rose had to resort to using shorthand just to keep up.
They started with the couple’s first meeting, which had been at the home of a mutual friend.
“Viktor was rather well known by them,” Liddy said. “And I have to admit, I was star-struck. I wasn’t always this rich.” She gestured towards the line of windows that looked out onto the stables. “This is all Walter’s, or at least it was until he died three years ago. Now it’s mine, and one day it will be Peter’s. But I didn’t come from money. I was just a poor little shop girl when I met Viktor. I can’t say I hated the idea of being with a man who could provide for me financially. I suppose that’s part of what drew me to Walter too. But you mustn’t think of me as some old ninny, out to nab herself a rich husband. I loved my husbands – all of them.”
Rose made a noncommittal noise. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe the woman. The look in her eyes when she mentioned Viktor and her late husband suggested she still cared deeply for both of them. Still, it was rather telling that the woman only seemed to fall in love with men who just happened to have very deep pockets.
By the time tea arrived an hour later, they’d already moved on to another topic. Liddy told Rose what she knew of Krum’s family – which was admittedly not much. Apparently Krum hadn’t been any more interested in discussing his childhood with Liddy than he had been with Rose. Next, they discussed Peter and how fond of him Krum had been.
“He never wanted children of his own,” Liddy said, “but he was a wonderful father to Peter.”
Rose had a hard time visualizing Krum as a father figure. He seemed too rough around the edges, and dare she say it, too selfish to pay attention to the needs of a small child. Liddy, however, seemed convinced of Krum’s affection for Peter.
“I wouldn’t say the two are close now, but back then...” She paused, seeming to remember it like it was yesterday. “Well, let’s just say Peter really looked up to him and Viktor would have done anything for him.”
“But you’ve stayed in touch with Krum all these years?”
“Off and on. Not so much at first. I’d like to think we ended things amiably, but a divorce is hell on both sides and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar.”
“And why did the marriage end?” Rose wasn’t sure the woman would answer her. It was an incredibly personal question, but she’d been very forthcoming thus far, and Rose figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.
Liddy sighed. “Who ever really knows with these sorts of things? We were young, too young perhaps. I loved him, and he loved me, but that’s not always enough. Once the real world creeps in, you either face it together or you go your separate ways.” There was a pause, and Rose thought that was the end of it, but Liddy continued, her voice softer now. “Viktor is... like a flame. He burns bright and hot – drawing you in, filling the darkness. And then suddenly, it’s gone...the warmth, the heat. And you’re left in the black, cold and alone.”
The woman’s eyes grew distant for a moment, as if she were recalling the exact second when the light had gone out on her and Krum. Rose too was remembering: remembering the scalding heat, the flesh on fire, the warmth that brought her to life. It was exactly how she’d felt last night, wrapped in Viktor’s arms.
“But,” Liddy said, returning them both back to the present. “We grew up, learned we were better off as friends. Though I will say, there was a time when I had no contact with him at all. None of us did. He fell into a dark place, Rose. It was a hard time for all of us, him most of all.”
“You mean the drugs?”
Liddy nodded. “And the alcohol, and the reckless behavior. I shut him out. Maybe that was wrong. I don’t know. But when you care about someone, watching them self-destruct is just too painful to bear. I wasn’t strong enough to handle it. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.
“So you don’t really know all the details then? Of what he got up to?”
“No, I don’t,” she said, her words pointed. “And I don’t care to ever know. You’ll have to talk to Gigi about that. She was there for the worst of it, until she couldn’t stand it any more either.”
“Gigi McFey. Viktor’s second wife. Hasn’t he mentioned her?”
Rose’s mouth fell open. “Gigi? As in short for Regina? Viktor was married to Regina McFey? The author Regina McFey?”
“That’s right,” Liddy said as if she’d just made the connection. “She’s an author too. Writes romance novels or something of the sort. Do you know her?”
Know her? She was the reason Rose had a job. Her stories were why Heart had brought Rose on at Fletcher and Sons in the first place. In a way, Regina McFey was the reason Rose was writing Krum’s book.
“Not personally, no,” Rose said, keeping the rest of her thoughts to herself.
“Well, all the better for you. I’ve only met her a few times myself, but she’s a right bitch, if you'll pardon the language. At least that's the way Viktor tells it. Though I suppose after what he put her through...” Liddy let her words trail off, leaving Rose to draw her own conclusions.
There was a knock at the study door. They both turned and a moment later, Mrs. Baker stuck her head inside. “I’m sorry to interrupt but Mr. Langley’s just arrived. Shall I tell him to come back tomorrow?”
Liddy looked down at her watch. “Can that be right? Four o’clock already?” She turned to Rose. “I’m afraid we’ll have to cut this short. We’re off to Saint Tropez in a few weeks. Bertram will be tending the house while I’m gone and I’ve promised to show him around.”
“That’s fine,” Rose said, gathering up her notes and stuffing them into her bag. “You’ve been a great help.”
Liddy smiled. “It was a pleasure. I haven’t had this captive of an audience since Walter died. Come, let me walk you out.”
She took Rose by the arm and led her back toward the front door. Rose was just about to make her goodbyes when the woman put a hand on her shoulder. “Please, Rose,” she said, her expression solemn. “Whatever I’ve said today, I want you to know, I think Viktor is a good man. Deep down, I really believe that.”
“Sure,” Rose said. “I understand.”
Liddy studied Rose’s face for a long moment, her hand still gripping Rose’s shoulder. “I hope you do. And I hope you’ll remember that once it’s all over.”
“All over? I don’t know what you mean.”
“Of course you don’t,” Liddy said with a knowing smile. “None of us – not me, not Gigi, not the hundreds of other woman that have passed through that man’s life. None of us know anything until it’s too late. Just keep this in mind,” she said, patting Rose’s arm. “He means what he says, but he’ll break your heart. He doesn’t know any other way.” Without waiting for a reply, Liddy reached around her, opening the front door. “It was very nice to meet you, Rose Weasley.”
“Yeah,” Rose mumbled, too stunned by the woman’s words to proffer a proper reply. But just as she was about to leave, something occurred to her. Rose turned around. “Just one last question. Krum mentioned something. He said the place he’s staying in – that it’s from an old friend. Is he talking about you?”
Liddy laughed, though the light didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I’m as old a friend as Viktor’s got. And by the looks of you, darling, they are only getting younger.”
By the time Rose returned to her flat, her head was reeling.
From the business with Heart and McFey to Liddy’s warnings about Krum being a serial heartbreaker, the meeting with Brooks’ mother had left Rose with far more questions than answers. And now that she was alone with her thoughts again, she felt her mind returning over and over to the events of the previous night. Had it been a mistake? What effect would it have on her ability to work with Krum going forward? Did he care at all for her. Or as Liddy had put it, was she just another one of the hundreds of women who had passed though his life, not knowing what hit her until it was too late?
Rose collapsed on her bed, lying there for a long time, watching as the room around her grew dark, shadows playing across the walls.
It was nearing ten o’clock, Rose having just drifted off to sleep still fully dressed, when she heard a soft tapping at her door. Rose woke with a start. Angry at the interruption, she vowed that if it was Mrs. Larson from downstairs, she was finally going to give the old bat a piece of her mind.
Not bothering to look through the security hole, Rose yanked open the door, but the person waiting on the other side was most definitely not Mrs. Larson.
Viktor Krum was standing in the hall, shoulder propped up against the doorframe. Rose felt her heart give a loud thud in her chest at the sight of him. She didn’t know yet if that meant she was happy to see him or not.
She must have been staring at him for a long time because he finally said, “Vell, aren’t you going to invite me in?”
She ignored the question. “What are you doing here? And how do you know where I live?”
Krum smiled. “I told you, Rose, I know all your secrets. Oh,” he added, “I almost forgot.” He reached into the back pocket of his jeans. “Here,” he said, handing her a tiny package wrapped in brown paper, a red bow tied around the middle. “Open it,” he said when she failed to move.
Rose untied the bow and slowly peeled back the wrapping. Inside was an unopened pack of cigarettes. She looked up at Krum and then back down at the package. “Thanks, but in case you haven’t noticed, I don’t smoke.”
Krum gave her another smile. “Neither do I...at least not anymore.”
“Is that so? And why this sudden change of heart?” Krum said nothing, continuing to look down at her. “What, are you saying your giving it up...because of me?”
“Unless you’d prefer I kept at it...” He reached for the box but she snatched it away, tossing it into the rubbish bin set just inside the door. “See,” he told her. “I knew you’d like it. Besides, I don’t want you to think I’ve been lying to you.”
“And why would I think you’ve been lying to me?”
“Because I told you once before that smoking was my only vice. And vell...let’s just say, I recently got a taste of something a bit more refined, and I’ve decided that maybe it’s about time for an upgrade.”
Rose looked at him, seeing the same lust in his eyes she’d seen the night before, and God help her if it didn’t make her weak in the knees. Even with Liddy’s warning still ringing in her ear, she felt something deep inside her start to stir again, her body revving like an engine stuck at the starting gate. There was no question what he came there for, and in that moment, with that smoldering look on his face, the smell of his cologne, the hint of a pout on his perfect lips... Rose couldn’t have turned him down even if she wanted to, and she really didn’t want to.
“Would you like to come in?” she asked, stepping aside and holding the door open for him.
Krum smiled. “I thought you’d never ask.”
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