Our story continues today with a section written by Roseanna M. White, who has a published novel, A Stray Drop of Blood. Check it out on her website.
The noise was somehow comforting. The four children ran about the room, laughing and shouting, while the adults trimmed the tree and sipped at mulled cider. Marguerite noticed that Verity had no trouble fitting in with her three cousins—a talent she envied the girl. For her part, Marguerite was content to stand by the window and let the familiar cacophony of a happy family swell over her.
A mostly happy family, anyway. There was still tension there, but it had been covered by the cheerful music Terrence’s wife played on the piano, by the laughter, and by sheer force of will. Griffin looked stiff, but he laughed with Alicia’s husband, Keyes, and Terrence. The patriarch of the family held court in his favorite wingback chair and seemed to be trying to forcibly to keep his eyes off his newly returned son. The peace may have been makeshift, but it was peace nonetheless.
Marguerite looked out into the gathering twilight. Clouds had gathered and were just starting to let loose a few lonely flakes of snow. Perhaps it had been a mistake to come here tonight. She had thought it would help to be distracted, to be surrounded by friends, but instead she felt a few crucial steps removed from it all.
Alicia moved into her periphery and gave a happy sigh beside her. “It’s going to be a beautiful holiday. And look—snow!”
Marguerite managed a semblance of a smile. “You always did like snow for Christmas.”
But Alicia was never fooled by falsity. She put a gentle hand on Marguerite’s shoulder and squeezed. “The worst will be over after this. It’ll be time to move on.” A mischievous grin possessed her lips. “My brother certainly seems incapable of taking his eyes off you.”
Marguerite very nearly snorted. “Start your matchmaking schemes again, Alicia, and I shall march myself home this instant. Especially if you’ve no better prospect than Griffin.”
Alicia remained silent for a moment, and Marguerite knew a pang of guilt. Her friend had gone many long years without seeing her brother—she surely didn’t want to hear any insults against him just now. And certainly he had changed from the arrogant boy that had tormented her.
Alicia’s smile released her from her conscience. “Darling Maggie, I do believe you are still put out with men at large.”
This time a small snort escaped before she could stop it. And the bitter cynicism she had carefully kept bottled for the last three months followed it out. “And why would that be, I wonder? It could have nothing at all to do with the fact that my sainted father gambled away my dowry, could it? Or the fact that my betrothed, who supposedly adored me, broke off the engagement when he realized it? Certainly my angst has nothing at all to do with the fact that today should have been my wedding day.”
The deep voice that reverberated from behind her nearly sent Marguerite into palpitations. “It seems to me, my lady, that you’re better off without the fool who would make such a mistake.”
She spun around to look up into Griffin’s warm gaze. If she had seen pity there, she would have fled. If she had seen mockery, she would have snarled. But when she saw a soft light of humor in those deep blue depths, colored with a simple and fierce belief in his words, she felt herself smile. Not widely or for long, but it was still the first genuine cheer she had indulged in all day.
She acknowledged his statement with a nod. “That’s what your sister has been telling me for months.” She would have said more, but a noise from outside drew her attention to the window again.
Alicia chuckled. “And I’m right. Better she have a broken engagement than learn after the marriage her groom was less than he seemed.”
“Indeed. This fellow was obviously a fool.”
Marguerite’s fingers tightened on the windowsill as the shadows outside stepped into the light. “That fool was once your dearest friend, Griffin. And it seems he heard about your arrival and decided to welcome you home.”
She paid no heed to any response Griffin might have had. Instead, she spun around and examined the room for some means of escape. Perhaps Fennley didn’t realize she had planned to spend the holiday at Arbonne. Perhaps he simply wanted to greet his long-absent friend. Or perhaps he knew she was here and wanted to seize the opportunity to wave his new wife, even now on his arm, under her nose.
She had no intention of standing there to find out. She was halfway across the room when the perfect excuse presented itself.
“I need the necessary,” Verity whispered to her nurse just as Marguerite was passing by.
She smiled and took the child’s hand before the nurse could reply. “I’ll take you, darling. I’m heading that way myself.”
She had whisked them both out into the back hallway a mere second before she heard the front doors swing open. Now she just had to figure out how to keep herself away until Charles Fennley went right back out them again.