Today's episode is contributed by D'Ann Mateer. To read more about D'Ann, please go to her website.
Candles lit each window of Arbonne, shouting their welcome of winter-weary travelers in this season of goodwill. Griffin clung to their ancient meaning of hospitality as he made his way toward the front door with Verity beside him, Disha following close behind.
Emory entered first, then quickly called them inside, out of the cold. An unfamiliar butler took their wraps, obviously perturbed at Emory’s “take-charge” attitude.
“Put them in the drawing room and stoke up the fire, Jones. I’ll see the master.”
With a smirk of disdain, Jones did as he was told.
Memories assaulted Griffin at his first step into the drawing room. Here he had cut all ties with his family. From here he had stormed into the world beyond Arbonne, determined never to return.
But he’d been a different man then. A boy, really. The years in India had changed him. Love had changed him. Now he stood in the place of his greatest shame and wondered if it would all come right again.
Verity inched toward the blazing fire. Griffin slid a chair close, then pulled her into his lap. She snuggled into him, her head resting on his chest, beneath his chin.
“Don’t be afraid, Verity,” he said. “God is with us. Remember that.” He felt her nod.
Silent moments passed. Footsteps sounded in the hall. Verity raised her head. The footsteps faded. Verity looked into Griffin’s face, her small hand, now warm, cupped his cheek.
“I’m not afraid, Father. You’re here with me, too.” She smiled, slow and sweet.
Griffin’s chest tightened and the familiar ache crawled up his throat. He missed Lila, even after more than five years, especially as Verity’s face grew more like her mother’s every day.
Footsteps echoed through the hall once more. Faster, this time. His heart thudded against his chest. Was this the moment? The door burst open. His father filled the doorway. Griffin set Verity on her feet as he stood.
“So you’ve returned.” The deep voice betrayed little hint of emotion.
Griffin stepped forward, shielding Verity with his body as he noticed Disha retreat into the shadowed corner of the room. “I’m home, Father. I pray I am still welcome here.”
With a grunt, his father moved toward him. Griffin backed away, toward the chair he had occupied earlier, leaving Verity suddenly exposed. His father stopped.
“Who is that?”
Griffin slipped an arm around Verity’s trembling shoulders and pulled her close. He lifted his chin. He would not be ashamed. “This is my daughter. Verity.” Griffin stared straight into his father’s eyes, daring him to criticize in front of the child.
Their eyes held, locked together in the same battle of wills that had marked their tumultuous relationship. Until his father’s gaze skittered away, toward the fire. He picked up the poker and stabbed at the crumbling log. Griffin relaxed a tiny bit. At least Father wouldn’t make a scene—for the moment.
But how long the words would remain at bay, Griffin couldn’t be sure.