“Lilly already lives with the fact that her parents were killed and her uncle sent her to foster care.

She doesn’t know that you took an ungodly amount of money for the privilege.”

His mother slapped her napkin onto the table. “Tyler Benson, you know good and well I loved Lilly like my own daughter. If she’d landed on my doorstep without a penny to her name, I’d have treated her as well and loved her as much as I love Hunter. And the state only paid me a pittance to care for and feed him.” His mother turned pale as she spoke.

Ty placed a hand on her more fragile one. “Calm down, please. It isn’t good for your heart to get so upset.” She had a heart condition and took medication, but since the heart attack years before, Ty was always nervous.

“I’m okay,” she assured him.

Ironically it was her first heart attack and subsequent surgery during Ty’s junior year in college that had led him to the paper trail regarding Dumont ’s money. He’d been temporarily in charge of her accounts while she was laid up and he’d discovered almost immediately that his mother had a ridiculous amount of money saved for a school nurse.

He’d gone to visit her loaded with questions and she’d revealed the whole sordid tale, grateful to have the secret out in the open. Once the truth had set in, so had Ty’s reality—everything his mother had bought for him, everything she paid for, including college—had been at Lilly’s expense. Not that she’d have been better off with her uncle, Ty understood that. But he hated the fact that he’d lived well, while she’d had to fake her death and run off to New York City . Alone.

“Are you sure you’re not dizzy? Light-headed? Anything like that?” Ty asked, focusing on his mother.

“No, I’m fine,” she said.

“Good.” He tried to believe her and relax. “For the record, I wasn’t trying to say you loved Lilly more because of the money. All I meant was she doesn’t need the additional burden of knowledge right now. That’s all.” He met her gaze.

Flo nodded. His mother still appeared paler than before and Ty decided a subject change was in order. “So tell me a little more about Dr. Sanford and his intentions.”

“Andrew is a widower with no children. He’s nearing retirement and he thinks he’d like to travel.

I might like that, too,” she said, her voice lightening.

Ty breathed a sigh of relief. With the subject change, her coloring returned to normal and she grew excited about Andrew Sanford. He wondered if he needed to meet the man who made his mother so happy.

Ty’s cell phone rang and he unhooked his phone from his belt. “Hello?”

“Hey, Benson, it’s O’Shea.”

“What’s up?” Ty asked Russ O’Shea, a cop he’d met during an investigation, who was now one of his poker pals.

His mother cleared off the table as he spoke.

“There was an incident at The Cove,” he said of the local mall.

Every muscle in Ty’s body stiffened. “What happened?” he immediately asked, knowing in his gut it had something to do with Lilly.

“Lilly Dumont and Molly Gifford had a close call with a car. Some bastard took a joy ride through the parking lot, narrowly missing them. A patrolling security guard showed up as the car skidded out of the lot. The women say they’re fine. They dove out of the way just in time. Since it was Lilly, I thought you’d want to know.”

“Thanks, Russ.” Ty snapped the phone shut and rose from his seat. “Gotta go, Mom.”

“Is everything okay?” she asked, concern in her eyes.

He nodded. “Russ wanted to fill me in on a tip in an ongoing investigation,” he lied. His mother had just started feeling better. He couldn’t burden her with this, especially since O’Shea said Lilly was fine.

Ty needed to see for himself.

His mother relaxed her shoulders. “Well, don’t let me keep you then. I’m happy you came by. I just wish you’d do it more often.”

He grinned. He saw her once a week, but called her much more often. “Sometimes I think mothers were put on this earth to remind their kids of all the things they don’t do,” he said wryly.

“Thanks for the meal. It was delicious as usual.” He kissed his mother on the cheek.

She touched his shoulder. “I love you, Ty. Everything I’ve ever done has been in your best interest.”

“I love you, too, Mom and I’ll bring Lilly by soon. She’s been asking about you, as well.” But until they’d seen Dumont ’s reaction, they’d kept her arrival quiet.

He took off at a slow pace so as not to alarm his mother but as soon as he was in the car, he hit the gas and practically flew home to Lilly.

LONG AFTER Ty left, Flo couldn’t stop reliving the past. She sat in the kitchen nursing a hot cup of tea, thinking about all the things she’d done, right and wrong.

Her son still didn’t understand why she’d taken money from Marc Dumont in exchange for Lilly coming to live with them. He couldn’t fathom why she’d claimed Lilly was a foster child when she wasn’t. But he also hadn’t had to live his life without that extra cash. The money had done more than make life bearable. The little luxuries they had enjoyed, like the new kitchen, had come later. At the time the money had allowed Flo to have health insurance which covered the basics like strep throat, Ty’s broken arm and ear infections. And later on the money had been a blessing when she’d had bypass surgery. Of course, the same money had allowed her to stay home and raise Ty instead of letting him turn into a latchkey child who would have been out at all hours getting into trouble.

Yet agreeing to Dumont ’s proposal hadn’t been an easy decision, at least not until she’d stopped by the Dumont mansion and taken a look at the sad girl with big brown eyes who wandered the grounds lost and alone. Marc Dumont had claimed she was a difficult child who needed to be taught a lesson that his firm hand and guidance hadn’t been able to accomplish. One look at Lilly and Flo knew the old bastard had been lying.

The girl needed love. Flo needed money to raise her son better. As far as she’d been concerned, it was a win-win situation. Dumont suggested she take a real foster child into her home to make Lilly’s move appear legit. The state had been hesitant to give her a child when she’d been working so many hours but they’d finally agreed, and deep down Flo believed it’d been Dumont who’d pulled strings to make it happen.

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