Hugh cleared his throat, his eyes on the papers before him.
“What complaint against me?” Rhodri demanded.
Sara kept her eyes on his father’s face.
“Come on, Hugh, you are not a fool. I’d heard rumours, even up at the Snowdon View, but I hoped it was idle gossip. Besides, I’d promised Owain I would not interfere, whatever happened. But I cannot let this go on.”
“That family have always been troublemakers,” Rhodri said, frowning. “They’ve always stirred up feelings against us, defying us at every turn.”
Her eyes left his father’s face at last to meet his.
“By that you mean Merlyn doesn’t blush and flutter and show due deference to you, and fall at your feet.”
“Of course not!” Rhodri spluttered, feeling his face flame. “Why should I have any interest in a fisherman’s daughter?”
A strange smile came over Sara’s face.
“That is your grandfather speaking.” She turned her eyes back to Hugh. “Unless it’s your father, as well?”
“You can’t fight the world,” Hugh muttered. “That’s how things are.”
There was a moment’s silence.
“As you say, Hugh,” Sara said at last. “But there’s no need to drag the Griffiths family into this, nor deprive them of their home and now their business!”
Hugh began to look uncomfortable.
“The houses were rotting. They should have been condemned years ago. And every business must face competition. Rhodri was only doing his duty as a landlord and a businessman.”
“But he made it impossible for them to rent anywhere in Conwy. There’s no point in denying it,” she added, as Hugh began to speak. “You know as well as I that the townspeople think highly of Owain Griffiths. It could only be fear of the consequences that would have prevented a home being found.
“And now they have left. Out of sight, out of mind – isn’t that what they say? If you sit back and allow Rhodri to put them out of business, then you will have banished them from Conwy for ever.”
Hugh turned to Rhodri.
“Is the Griffiths business truly in danger?”
“Of course not.”
Rhodri met his father’s eyes. There was a steel within the grey that he had not seen before.
“I have done everything according to the law,” he added, flustered. “Mrs Appleford is a stranger. She can know nothing of the matter.”
He discovered Sara’s clear blue eyes examining him closely.
“You look very like your mother, you know,” Sara said abruptly. “She was a sweet girl. I should have hated her, but I didn’t. I was very sorry when I heard that she had died.”
“You knew my mother?”
“Not well. She was the child of an earl, and I was the ferryman’s daughter the Griffiths family took in after my father was drowned. Your mother was destined from birth to marry your father. All I had were my dreams.”
Hugh reached to take her hand.
“I had a dream once. But your grandfather soon put a stop to that.” Sara shook her hand free. “But that’s in the past. And that is where it should remain.”
She stood up.
“Your father was right in one thing, Hugh. I never should have returned to within a hundred miles of Conwy. Maybe, after all these years, I had to see the place again. I had to know that I was truly free of you. I think you have just answered that question for me.”
She turned back towards the door.
“A hotel in Windsor is offering me a post. It seems to me I should take it. Perhaps then you will leave the Griffiths family to live in peace.”
She paused in front of Rhodri.
“Heaven knows where all this bitterness comes from, young man. I met you once as a child, you know. Your mother loved you very dearly and had such hopes for you. You insult her memory by this vindictiveness towards a family over whom you have such power, and none of whom have never done you any harm. Not even the harm of daring to fall in love with you.”