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~ Chapter Twenty-Four ~
Arianna’s head twisted to the side, her mouth open in a gasp. Temporary custody? Why? Turning toward her mother, who wouldn’t look her in the eye, she demanded, “Why mother?”
Shaking her head, she didn’t answer.
Arianna looked at her father. “Why dad?” Tears of grief fell from her already scratchy eyes. “How could you do this to me?”
He shrugged, not looking the least bit sorry. “I tried talking sense to you, but you ignored me. How could you go off with some man you don’t even know, especially after what you’ve been through? I would think you would’ve learned your lesson after that— I mean…”
Arianna’s mother interrupted, “That’s enough, Lenwood. Hasn’t she been through enough? Isn’t anything ever enough for you? She’s your daughter, for Pete’s sake.”
“Shush Esmeralda. Let me take care of this.”
Justin stood up, straightening his shirt. Knowing he was being rude, but the anger within him unable to be contained at the man’s audacity, he yelled, “That’s enough, sir. You will not speak to my wife in such a manner.”
Lenwood Rathburne shook his head, stunned, and returned, “Your wife?”
The tall, skinny lawyer pulled the papers from Lenwood’s loosened grasp and ripped them in half.
Lenwood turned to him. “Now just wait a minute.” He grabbed the papers and tried to stick them back together.
If the situation hadn’t been so dire Justin would’ve laughed at the man’s idiocy. He stepped in between father and daughter. “There’s no minute to wait.”
The baby had wakened and his weak cries twisted the strings of love even tighter around Justin’s heart. He looked up at Arianna’s father. “Now look what you’ve done. If you can’t be more responsible than this I’m afraid you won’t be allowed contact with my wife, or our child.”
Arianna turned surprised eyes toward him and he smiled.
Esmeralda Rathburne gasped.
Justin raised both hands in supplication. “No worries, Mrs. Rathburne. You’ve not done anything yet. The same wouldn’t go for you unless you decided to harass Arianna, too.”
The older version of Arianna burst into tears. I won’t. I’m just so glad she’s home after all these years. I don’t understand what’s gotten into Lenwood.” She sniffled and threw the man in question a dirty look.
With the break in conversation, the lawyer took the opportunity to speak. “I’m afraid the temporary custody papers aren’t any good, sir. They were only drawn up with the understanding your daughter wasn’t physically or emotionally able to care for a child. With her being married, you’d have to take her husband to court and prove him unfit as well.”
Lenwood Rathburne rushed Justin. Grabbing his shirt he shoved him against the wall and stuck his wrinkled face in his. “I don’t know what your game is pal, but you won’t win. You’ll be very sorry if you don’t turn around right now and walk out that door.”
Spittle found its way through the older man’s clenched teeth and landed on Justin’s face. He wiped the spit away with his hand, his eyes never wavering. “I’m not walking away from my wife, or my child. I don’t know what kind of man you think I am, but it’s obvious you’re way off base. I care about your daughter. In fact, I love her. I stick by those I love.” His mom’s face popped in his head at that moment, but he shrugged it away. He loved his mom, they just didn’t see eye to eye on everything.
Lenwood let go of his shirt and Justin stood up, straightening it.
“I’m sure your little ‘mock marriage’ isn’t legal, so I’ll have it annulled.”
The lawyer shook his head. “Again sir, she’s married. Even if she’s incompetent, he doesn’t seem to be. In any case, you’d have to take him to court to find out.” Voice heavy with emotion, he continued, “Land sakes, Lennie, she’s your only child.”
“Shut-up Marcus. You don’t have the right to give your opinion just because we’re brothers.”
The situation became too much for Justin and he began to laugh. The little group stared at him.
“I’m sorry. This is all so bizarre.”
Esmeralda Rathburne shook her head in agreement.
“It is,” Mary Jo said, patting him on the shoulder. “We’ll get through it, though. The main thing is Arianna’s health and safety. And the baby’s.”
“Yep, you got that right.” He looked around, trying to locate an officer. Oddly, they’d all disappeared when the argument broke out. Apparently there was more than money in Lenwood Rathburne’s pockets. When he spotted a policewoman trying to squeeze out of sight through a half-closed door, he motioned her toward him. “Miss, could you come here please?”
The cop nodded, her reluctance plain. Arriving behind the desk, she asked, “What can I do for you?”
Justin gave a long stare then demanded. “I want the paper work required to take our child home.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, sir.”
Justin shook his head, sure now they’d been bamboozled by dirty, money-hungry nurses from the hospital, and now by these cops. “Just get the papers, lady. I want to take my family home.” My family. He smiled, not able to recall anything sounding quite so appealing.
Arianna put a hand over Justin's and smiled. “Yes, home.”