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“Good.” He sounded relieved. “This visitor you mentioned. Is it anyone I know about?” he asked, obviously fishing for something before she left.

They both knew there wasn’t anybody she’d ever mentioned by name. “No. I never told you about—him.” She shut her eyes, hoping he wouldn’t ask for more of an explanation.

She’d never told Alex about Ty because her feelings for him were too close to her heart. Too personal to share with anyone, especially another man.

“A him you’ve never mentioned.” Alex’s voice dropped lower, taking on an angry tone she’d never heard before. “Is he anyone I need to worry about?” he bit out.

“No.” Lilly shook her suddenly pounding head. “Nobody you need to concern yourself with.

He’s just an old friend.” She knew in her heart that last statement was a bald-faced lie.

She  was worried about Ty and her renewed feelings. But how could she say that to Alex over the phone and then take off on him?

Lacey glanced up and saw Ty waiting in the doorway. Nausea swept through her as she realized what he’d overheard. In one day, her life had become overwhelmingly complicated.

He held up a hand and she covered the phone.

“The car’s illegally parked out front,” he reminded her.

She nodded. “I’ll be off in a sec.”

Ty turned and walked out, leaving her with his dark, hurt expression in her mind.

“Lacey?” Alex called for her attention, his irritation clear.

“Yes. I’m here.”

“When you come home, we’ll go to Nick’s,” he said of his favorite Italian restaurant. “And then maybe we’ll check out Peaches,” he said of his sister’s dessert place in the Village.

“That sounds…..nice.” A bland word, she thought but it described how she was feeling—in direct contrast to the anticipation she felt about climbing into Ty’s car and heading on an adventure with him by her side.

Oh God.

“Alex?”

“What, babe?”

She didn’t want to leave him with the wrong impression and yet she didn’t know what the right one would be. “When I get home, we’ll talk. About a lot of things.”

It was the best she could offer. For now.

Four

W hile Ty loaded her last-minute things into the trunk, Lacey sat Digger in the back seat for the car ride to Hawken’s Cove. Knowing her pooch, the dog would pace the long seat nervously but after a while, she’d settle in and lie down for the rest of the trip. After sitting in the passenger seat and buckling herself in, Lacey steeled herself, not knowing what Ty’s mood was now.

They hadn’t spoken on the walk down from her apartment and her stomach churned with nervous jitters. Behind them, Digger paced the backseat, just as Lacey had thought.

Ty started the engine, then buckled his seat belt. “Are you sure you have everything?” he asked.

She nodded.

“So you’re ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” she said, her voice quivering.

He reached out and placed his hand on her thigh, surprising her with his touch. She’d thought he’d keep his distance.

“You can do this,” he said in an obvious attempt to reassure her.

His palm was big and warm and his heat seeped through the denim of her jeans, branding her skin with his touch. His effect on her was immediate and electric. She swallowed hard, unable to deny the fiery sensations shooting straight between her thighs. She crossed her legs, which only served to increase the fullness which had settled there.

Needing an escape, she closed her eyes and he took the hint, removing his hand and shifting the car into gear.

Next thing Lacey knew, she woke up and glanced at the clock. Two hours had passed since they’d left the city. She’d shut her eyes in an attempt to escape her feelings and she’d fallen fast asleep.

She looked out the window at the lush green landscape rushing by. No more big buildings, no more hustle and bustle.

She shifted in her seat uncomfortably. “I need to make a pit stop next time there’s a place,” she said to Ty.

Ty lowered the radio which had been playing Top 40 and glanced her way. “She speaks.”

Heat rose to her cheeks. “I can’t believe I slept and you had no company the whole ride up here.”

“Don’t worry. I let Digger here climb in front and she kept me company.” He winked and turned his gaze back to the road.

He’d obviously put her earlier phone conversation behind them and she was glad.

They had some time until the next rest stop, so she bent her knees beneath her and shifted toward him. “So tell me a little more about your life after I left,” she said.

One hand on the wheel, he glanced over. He remained silent for so long she was afraid he wouldn’t answer.

Finally, he said, “Your uncle went on a rampage.”

She winced, pulling her knees tighter against her chest.

“He couldn’t find you, which meant he couldn’t get his hands on your money—not that he said as much. He just ranted and raved to Mom about how she’d obviously been neglecting the children in her care if his niece had been able to run away and get herself killed.”

Lacey let out a sigh. “Then what?” She was almost afraid to ask.

Ty’s knuckles turned white against the wheel. “He pulled some strings and had Hunter taken out of our house.” Ty flipped on the blinker. “There’s a rest stop coming up in half a mile. I’ll pull over so you can go.”

“Thanks. Digger will need it, too.”

Silence followed and she knew Ty was avoiding finishing his story. “What happened next?” She needed to know.

“Hunter was sent to a state-run group home.”

Lacey’s eyes filled with tears and guilt clogged her throat. She’d been so caught up in her own survival, she hadn’t thought about her uncle’s reaction to her disappearance. Even later, when she had, she’d never considered that there was anything he could do to the people she’d loved and left behind.

And she had loved Hunter, as a best friend and as a brother. He’d been so vulnerable back then, though he tried to hide it. And he’d emulated Ty, needing that guidance to keep him from acting on his emotions and not common sense.

“How bad was it?” she whispered.

Ty shrugged. “You know how Hunter was. Without one of us there to temper him, he ended up in one fight after another. It took a mentor program with inmates at the local correctional facility to set him straight.”

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