Epilogue: Better Man
Six years later…
It was a whisper of a thrill that first caught her attention.
Ginny sat on a tall stool at the kitchen counter, polishing the silver tea service. She glanced up absentmindedly, looking, with the ingrained habit of mothers always keeping tabs on their young, out the bright open window to see her daughter laughing and chasing butterflies in the garden. Her daughter glowed like sunshine, with golden-russet hair and wide green eyes like her own, and the full lips and indomitable heart of Eric. Every so often, she wondered about him: where he had gone, what he was doing, and whether he was happy. But her business and life as a mother kept her forever moving, and loving, and enjoying. Her heart was at peace. If she was sometimes lonely for adult conversation, her customers supplied wonderful diversions. If occasionally she longed for another warm body at night, she pulled her daughter in closer.
Until the girl turned sideways in the bed and thrashed her in the belly.
But in this moment, she sensed a presence before she heard a sound. Her heart palpitated slightly, nervously, like a wary jackrabbit, before her mind could even register why.
She turned in her stool, and found a man standing in her doorway.
“I apologize,” he said in Romanian. “I saw the door was open. I wasn’t sure if I should ring or just come in.”
She smiled warmly and got up, toweling off her hands as she did. “Come in! Of course!” she replied in kind. She had worked hard to acquire a proper Romanian accent. She fit in well enough most of the time, but a few sounds were still hard for her to get past her tongue. “How may I help you?”
She took in his tall, broad-shouldered build; he was tall for Eastern European. He had salt and pepper dark hair, the few grey hairs only making him look more distinguished. He wore a trim, tailored suit, warm blue eyes, and a confident smile.
“Yes, thank you. I am looking for accommodation. Your place comes highly recommended. I was hoping you might have room?”
“For how many nights?”
“Let’s say four to start.”
“And just yourself, or…?”
“Just me, yes, thank you.”
She flipped through her schedule books and told him about the rooms available and costs. He chose a room and she gave him the paperwork to fill out. She felt a strong tug as she watched the way he gripped his pen and scrawled his name. Andrei. It had a nice weight as she rolled it silently over her tongue. She tried not to notice that he wore no wedding ring.
“Are you here on business, or for pleasure?” she asked.
She didn’t want to pry, but he must have seen the interested look in her face. “I have a business in Bucharest,” he explained. She thrilled over the way he said Bucuresti, in rich accent. “But I hear Sibiu is growing and I am thinking to expand here.”
She nodded and smiled politely. “Yes, Sibiu is lovely, but it is true it is expanding quite quickly. Let me show you to your room.”
They chatted amiably as they walked up the stairs, but Ginny felt light-headed as her heart pounded with the deep thrum of a gong in her chest. Some years ago, she might have brushed it off as mere attraction. But she had learned to listen to herself. She had learned it the hard way. And in the years since, she had become well-practiced. Having a child was like a crash course in fine-tuning your attention to intuition.
They stood close as she gave her usual welcome spiel about the inn’s amenities and Sibiu’s attractions. She breathed in his deep masculine scent. She wanted to close her eyes and breathe him in forever.
He smiled warmly at her. “The delights of Sibiu, as you describe them, do indeed sound inviting. Perhaps I shall find reason to stay longer.”
She blushed under the intensity of his gaze. “Here is your key,” she said. They brushed hands as he took the key from her and lingered over the touch.
“Many thank yous, Rosu.” Red. He’d called her Red.
She gaped, wide-eyed at him.
He looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to be so forward! I must confess, I was distracted by your lovely hair. It is not often I see such a color. But that was wrong of me. Please forgive my indiscretion.”
“No,” she said. “It wasn’t wrong. The astonishing thing is that it is so right.”
And thus it began. She took a leap of faith with him. He loved her slowly, he loved her with heat, and he loved her with strength. He took her daughter in as his own, and when they made a second daughter together, he folded them equally into his arms. And there never was a day she ever regretted having made the jump.