Taming McGruff(9)

By: Laurie LeClair


“I’m sure it does.”

“What, you don’t even know for certain?” Turning, she walked toward him, keeping the beam of light low. But she could see him leaning against the doorframe with his arms folded. “You don’t care what your house is like?”

“I didn’t say that.”

She waved a hand to encompass not just this room, but all the rooms he’d shown her on the first floor already. “No, but it shows.”

“Why does that bother you?”

His question pulled her up short. Why did it? “A home reflects the heart of a person,” she said softly.

“My heart is dark and empty.”

A wave of empathy crashed through her. She cared. “Who hurt you?”

Griff stiffened. For a long time, he didn’t answer. The storm turned to thunder and lightning a few minutes ago. Now a flash of lightening lit up the room and revealed his stony expression. “A long time ago…both my parents died. One when I was a baby, the other when I was a child, brought on by a series of misfortunes.”

Even this little piece of information seemed a lot coming from someone like Griffin. “How sad. I’m sorry. Where did you go? Who took you in?”

“First an elderly aunt.” She could sense his movement, a shrug. “When she died, foster care.”

She didn’t have to be a genius to understand the outcome. “Not good.”

“An understatement.”

Tears stung the backs of her eyes. “I don’t know how you survived it all.” Swallowing hard, she said, “At least I had a parent, not a very good one, but my mother kept us after my father left her before I was even born. She tried. Francie, my older sister, took care of me for the most part. Then, when I was five, Charles King came into our lives. It was like a fairy tale. He was a very good man. I’m grateful I had him, even for such a short time.”

“He gave you hope.” Griff understood.

“Yes. I knew there was something better than what I had gone through. Life wasn’t just about the bills not being paid and threats of eviction, or no food to eat at night, or even shabby clothes to wear to school and be made fun of day after day.” She stopped, her memories haunting her. “I said more than I should have.”

“It explains some things.” His odd statement puzzled her, but she let it drop.

“You survived yours, by all accounts. You showed them. You’re a gazillionaire, right? You can do anything you want, go anywhere you like, most likely have any woman you desire.”

His chuckle came out choked. “Really? You make it sound much more exciting than it really is.”

“Life is what you make it, Griff.” She went to him, stood on tip-toes and gently kissed him on his cheek. Before he could react, she scrambled away to explore some more. The feel of him lingered and her lips tingled.



***



Griffin lounged in his bedroom doorway. He didn’t dare step inside the room while she looked around. And she thought he was lethal.

Her innocent questions had turned to a much more serious conversation. Her revelations about her earlier life stunned him.

Nowhere in any file or report had he uncovered the former life of Mrs. Agnes King. It was as if she’d erased that part of herself. Now, he could see why. The stain of her first husband leaving her pregnant and with a toddler along with living in poverty conditions soon after would have been a great deal to overcome, most likely impossible, in the wealthy society she so desperately clung to all these years.

But now he stared at the part that poked at him, stirred his emotions enough to melt another piece of his sheltered, guarded heart. Priscilla King surprised him. With her sunny disposition and caring gestures, he would never have guessed at the dark moments in her past.

Life is what you make it.

Thankfully, she’d overcome it. For that he would always be grateful.

At least one of them had thrived.

“Just a bed? Really, Griff, you need some serious help here.” She poked her head into the bathroom. “Nice,” she murmured. But when she made her way to his closet, he halted her.

“Off-limits.”

She swung the light to focus on the half-opened door. “What, in there? Secrets? Come on, you can’t have much, if the looks of the rest of the house is any indication. Or, wait maybe you’re a clothes-horse and you’re embarrassed by that fact. You know, my friend, Rico, would like to see. He’s a clothes-horse to the max.”

Griff frowned. “Who’s this Rico you keep mentioning?” Is he that important to you?

“He works at King’s. He’s the wedding consultant. He took over for my sister, Francine, who is now a wedding dress buyer for the store since she and Marcus married. And she trains more employees for the wedding boutique.”

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