“I’ve been up since five. I showered and dressed before you dragged your lazy body out of bed at six-thirty.”

So she’d heard him puttering around out here. “Have you eaten?” he asked.

She shook her head. “You?”

“Not yet.”

“How about you come with me to walk Digger and we’ll pick up something to eat while we’re out?” she suggested.

“Sounds like a plan.”

She hooked Digger on a leash, grabbed a plastic bag from a kitchen drawer, and together they walked down the flights of stairs, onto the front stoop and out to the sidewalk. The sun was just rising over the tall buildings and a chill hovered in the air.

Digger didn’t seem to mind. She took off at a run, tempered by Lilly’s hold on the leash, pausing only when she’d reached a small patch of dirt and a lone tree.

Ty shook his head and laughed.

“What can I say? She’s a creature of habit,” Lilly said. “And this is her favorite spot.”

Once the dog had finished and Ty had taken the bag from Lilly to clean up and throw away, they took a more leisurely walk around the city. Everything was familiar to Lilly and she was familiar to most people they met. The kid at the Starbucks counter knew her by name as did the owner of the newsstand on the corner. Along the way, she pointed out some buildings where she worked and stopped to pet some dogs she knew from walking them during the week.

Ty had the distinct sense she wanted him to see her life, where and how she lived, firsthand.

Now that he had, he knew for certain how well she’d done for herself and how content she was here in her city life.

He paused on the sidewalk. “So what made you decide to go back? What ultimately swayed you?” he asked.

She halted in her tracks beside him. “It’s not a simple one thing.” She bit the bottom of her lip.

“As many reasons as I have not to go with you, I have at least as many reasons to go back.”

“Any chance you’ll share some of them?”

He tipped his head to one side, shielding his eyes from the sun with his hands. He wanted to get inside her head and understand what made her tick.

“You made most of the arguments yourself. I owe it to my parents not to let my uncle steal from them. I owe it to myself to stand up for what’s mine. Most of all, I guess I think facing him will give me closure.”

He nodded. “You never really put that part of your life to rest, have you?”

She shook her head. “I can’t forget that I turned a lot of people’s lives upside-down.”

Some of those people, like his mother, had helped set things in motion, Ty thought. It was such a complicated issue because by taking Lilly in, his mother had ultimately saved her life. It’d also given them blood money, he thought.

He glanced Lilly’s way. Her brows were furrowed in concern, her distress over the upset she’d caused obvious. He needed to reassure her that she’d done the right thing.

“Hey, those people cared about you. They did what they wanted to do. Nobody forced them and you have to admit, it was pretty amazing that we pulled it off.” He grinned, the adventurous thrill of that time coming back to him.

She burst out laughing. “Leave it to you to turn it into an exciting caper.”

He smiled grimly because up until the moment she’d walked out of his life, that’s exactly what it had been. LACEY NERVOUSLY FINGERED the locket she’d hidden beneath her shirt. She’d worn the small piece of jewelry around her neck, only taking it off when she showered for fear of it slipping down the drain and being lost to her forever. She hadn’t been wearing it last night because she’d just taken a long bath, but she’d placed the locket back around her neck this morning. She couldn’t explain her reasons beyond sentimentality, but the one thing Lacey knew, she always felt better once she was wearing it.

Today in particular. As she’d begun to make arrangements to leave town, it was as if the small piece of jewelry gave her the courage to resurrect Lilly.

She needed that courage more than she’d have thought. Lacey had never left the city before.

She’d never left Odd Jobs in someone else’s hands unless she was too sick to work, something that was rare. Her days were defined by Odd Jobs and each client’s needs and schedule. She was about to go on the second biggest adventure of her life.

One she wouldn’t take without first making certain her business was in good hands until she returned. She chose Laura, one of her longtime employees, to be in charge. She provided the other woman with an updated list of clients, the schedule and some tips for dealing with their employees and their various personalities. She made the same list about each of her clients.

Then she’d taken care of the little things a vacation entailed, like asking her neighbor to take in her newspapers and check her mail, while letting her few friends know not to worry if they didn’t hear from her for a brief time.

She’d packed for herself and Ty had thrown a bag of dog food into his car for Digger. All typical things people did before taking a short trip, except nothing about Lacey’s situation could remotely be construed as normal.

Dreading the final phone call she’d have to make, she waited until the last minute to call and give Alex the news. While Ty watched television in the other room, Lacey dialed Alex’s apartment, a phone number she knew by heart.

“ Duncan ,” he said, answering the phone on the first ring.

“It’s me.” She gripped her fingers tight around the receiver.

“Hey, babe. How are you? I didn’t expect to hear from you until tonight,” he said, pleasure warming his voice.

She didn’t usually call him during the day because he was busy and she was rarely in one place for too long.

“I’m fine.” Lacey drew a deep breath that failed to calm her nerves. “Actually, that’s not true. I had a visitor last night. Someone from my hometown and I need to go back for a little while and settle some things. I know it’s last minute but I’m sure you understand.”

“I can’t say that I do because I don’t know a damn thing about your past, but hopefully you’ll fill me in on the details when you get back. Because keeping secrets isn’t good for a relationship and there’s too much I don’t know.” He cleared his throat. “And I can’t help you get past whatever’s keeping you from saying yes if you don’t open up.”

She swallowed hard. “I know. And I’ll tell you everything,” she promised. What better time to share her history than once she’d faced it down?

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