Here's my contribution to the story. Hope you like it!
Griffin’s eyes locked on little Verity. Her bottom lip quivered, her expression filled with confusion and pain. Torn between wanting to unleash a righteous torrent on his father and his desire to go to his precious daughter, scoop her in his arms, and get far away from his former home, he stood mute, inwardly condemning his own indecision.
Alicia knelt beside their mother.
Marguerite pressed the smelling salts into her hand and stood. With purpose in her movements, she strode toward Verity and leaned down. Her voice was so cheerful it seemed to jar the silent tension in the room. “I do believe I smell gingerbread! My favorite treat. Will you come to the kitchen with me and sneak some? Hmm?” She took Verity’s hand and they hurried away. But before they rounded the corner, Griffin could hear them both giggling.
His breath rushed out of his chest in gratitude. Yes, he’d give several years of his life right now to take back every unkind thing he’d ever said and done to Lady Marguerite.
The guests stared. His father glared. Alicia looked up at him, tears streaming down her cheeks.
He faced his father and clenched his hands into fists. Though he would have preferred not to do it publicly, it was time to address his father’s cruel words.
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Father.” He thanked God he was able to force a cool tone of voice. “Because Verity is the dearest person in this world to me now. She may not remember her mother, but I do, and I will thank you not to disparage her—ever again.”
“Is this the way you treat your family? To stay away all these years, then show up unannounced and bring this—this—trouble upon us? This embarrassing—” The older man clamped his teeth together, halting his tirade. A tiny muscle in his jaw convulsed, and he abruptly turned and stalked out of the room.
He stared after his father, a strange mix of emotions ached his heart, until a faint moan called his attention back to his mother. Her eyes fluttered open.
“Griffin. My boy.”
Dropping to his knees beside her, he helped her into a sitting position.
With doleful gray eyes, she whispered, “She is truly your child?”
“Yes, Mother. Forgive me for staying away so long, for not telling you . . . anything. But please. Verity is an innocent child. Her mother was a Christian woman. You mustn’t say such things, speak ill of her for being—”
“Move back,” his father ordered, as he strode back into the room, the maid in his shadow. He gently lifted the frail woman, cradling her in his arms. He carried her to the staircase and disappeared with her upstairs. Alicia held up her skirt as she followed after them.
Griffin glanced around at the guests, but each one quickly averted his or her gaze, glancing at the floor, at the ceiling, or at each other. They fidgeted with their punch glasses and shuffled their feet.
His eyes alighted on the perfectly formed fir tree in the center of the bay windows, bedecked with bright candles, glass balls, and dainty doll ornaments, all hung with gaily colored ribbons. A large silver star at the tip-top winked, mocking him. Mocking his family’s hypocrisy. Mocking his hope of a warm welcome.