Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Home by Christmas Part 6

Today's installment was written by Lacy J. Williams.

Delightful surprise, indeed.

Marguerite stood stiffly in the front hall, feigning a smile. If she’d known Griffin was going to be here, she would never have accepted Alicia’s invitation to engage in holiday festivities with the family.

His grasp on her hand was firm, and warmth tingled along her skin. “How good to see you, Lady Marguerite.”

“And you. I trust that you had a pleasant journey.”

“Indeed.”

For a moment, she entertained thoughts of slipping out the door and escaping what was sure to be a horrid evening. She certainly had no desire to be scorned on this, the day that should have been the happiest of her life. And scorning her had been Griffin’s favorite childhood occupation, most often when he thought she did not hear.

“Is your father well?”

Was he toying with her? Pretending to be friendly while planning a way to humiliate her?

“Yes. He sends his regrets that he could not attend this evening.” Marguerite purposely kept her reply cool.

Perhaps Griffin did not yet know of her shameful situation. She examined his face for clues, but found only that his blue eyes sparkled and the corner of his mouth quirked just a bit, as if a smile hid close behind.

Unnerved by his intent gaze, Marguerite looked down and caught sight of their still-joined hands. She nearly squirmed at the inappropriateness of such a greeting, but dared not look up into Griffin’s face again to see if he’d noticed.

“Papa!”

A cry rang out in the hallway and Griffin released his hold on Marguerite’s hand, to her relief. He half-turned and swept a pretty, dark-haired girl to his side. Both of her arms came about his waist.

Papa?

“Did you have your chocolate?” The warmth in Griffin’s tone confirmed the relationship.

“Yes, and I saw a little dog. He was red and white and had a little flat face.” She sighed. “He was simply charming.”

Marguerite watched, fascinated, as Griffin’s expression morphed from a mere hint to a full-blown smile. His teeth flashed white against the dark shadow of whiskers along his jaw. He, too, was simply charming.

Alarmed at the direction her thoughts were taking, Marguerite intended to slip away and find Alicia, who seemed to have disappeared while she and Griffin had greeted each other. Too late, she realized that her movement had alerted Griffin.

He straightened and placed his hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Forgive me. Lady Marguerite, allow me to introduce my daughter, Verity.”

The girl curtsied, a shy smile lighting her face.

“I daresay I have never met such a lovely young woman.” Marguerite forced a smile to her trembling lips. She had never imagined that Griffin would return home a married man. “And her mother?”

A cloud passed over Griffin’s face. Gone was the jovial smile from a moment ago, replaced by a mask that showed no emotion. A muscle jumped in his jaw. He opened his mouth, but no words came.

“My mama went to heaven.” Verity spoke clearly, her gaze flicking first to Marguerite, then to her father. “Papa told me so.”

The girl’s earnest statement brought a lump to Marguerite’s throat. She clasped her hands at her waist to stop them from shaking. “My mother is in heaven, too.”

Perhaps, had her mother still been alive, her father would not have made the mistake that now threatened to ruin her.

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