Molly reached for her hand. “It’s going to be okay. I wanted you to see how different things are now. Come meet my mother.”

Lacey glanced back at Ty who shrugged and together they followed Molly through the foyer and into the large living room. She might as well have stepped into a dream because instead of the austere atmosphere she remembered when she’d lived here with her uncle, there were people laughing and the same man who’d abused her now sat at the baby grand playing the piano and smiling.

She blinked twice but the sight remained. Maybe he had changed.

“Lacey Kinkaid, I’d like you to meet my mother, Francie. Mom, this is Marc’s niece,” Molly said, pointedly.

A pretty brunette dressed in what looked like a Chanel suit, grasped Lacey’s hand. “It is such a pleasure to meet you. We’re so glad you could come.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too. I wish you nothing but happiness,” Lacey said, feeling awkward.

“Thank you.”

“And this is Tyler Benson. He’s Hunter’s best friend. I told you about Hunter,” Molly said.

Ty tipped his head toward the older woman. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

“Lilly, you came!” Uncle Marc came up beside his fiancée.

Thankfully he was smart enough to keep a respectful distance from Lacey, no kiss on the cheek or attempted hug. “If you could be big enough to invite me, I decided I should come. I hope you and Francie will be very happy,” Lacey said stiffly.

She felt Molly’s eyes on them, watching the interaction.

“Thank you, dear,” Francie answered for him. “I’ve got to go see where the champagne is.

They’re supposed to be walking around with a choice of Dom or Crystal.” Molly’s mother headed through the French doors, presumably to find the catering staff.

“Dom or Crystal. She does enjoy spending,” Uncle Marc said wryly.

“She always has,” Molly murmured.

“Then I hope you can afford her.” Nobody could mistake Ty’s point. He wouldn’t be supporting his soon-to-be wife with Lacey’s money.

“I passed my Series Seven stockbroker exam and I’ve been doing well with Smith and Jones,”

Marc said of a company in town.

“Well, we wish you luck,” Lacey said, not knowing what else to say.

The older man nodded. “I appreciate that. Please mingle. Meet your relatives. They were all stunned to hear of your return.”

“I’ll do that.” She turned, eager to get away from her uncle as soon as possible.

“Let’s get a drink first,” Ty suggested. Taking her off guard, he slipped his hand into hers and led her toward the bar.

“Does he know the whole story about what we did and where I’ve been?” she whispered to Ty.

He shrugged. “I don’t know how much Hunter told Molly, but I don’t think he does. And I don’t think it matters, either. It’s not like he’s entitled to answers.”

Lacey smiled. “Now that I agree with.”

Ty ordered from the bartender and soon handed her a glass of white wine.

She took a long sip of the dry liquid but the tension remained. “It’s even harder being here than I thought it would be.”

Ty wrapped his hand around her waist, his embrace secure. But there was nothing safe about how he made her feel because along with the comfort came a tingling sense of arousal and desire. A deep, all-consuming need that only he could fulfill.

“Breathe in deep and relax. And try to remember that you’re not a teenager in this house anymore and you sure as hell aren’t alone.” He whispered the words into her ear, his voice deep and husky.

Without thinking, she leaned against his shoulder. “It’s a good thing I’m older and wiser because I really am overwhelmed.” No matter how much she tried to tell herself otherwise. “Your being here means everything to me.”

“Have I ever let you down?”

She shook her head. Ty always came to her rescue. He loved playing the role of her savior. It didn’t matter if it was as big a thing as rescuing her from returning to her uncle or someone in school giving her a hard time. Ty had always been there.

“Lilly!”

She turned to see a tall, balding man stride toward her. His features were an eerie mix of her father and her uncle Marc, making it easy to see the men were related. But so many years had passed, she had to be sure. “Uncle Robert?” she asked.

“You remember me?” he asked, walking up and taking her hands in his.

She nodded. “A little. But the family resemblance made it easier.” She shifted toward Ty. “This is my father’s other brother,” Lacey explained. “And this is Tyler Benson, an old friend,” she said, the word friend a pale description of what Ty was to her.

“A pleasure,” Uncle Robert said.

“Likewise.” Ty studied the man as they shook hands.

“Where’s Aunt Vivian?” Lacey wouldn’t recognize her but she did remember he’d been married.

“I take it you haven’t heard.” The other man’s eyes glazed over and Lacey realized she’d touched a sad subject. “She had a stroke a few years ago and she requires constant care. She’s in a facility back home.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No need. It’s part of life,” her uncle said.

Obviously he’d had years to come to terms with his wife’s situation.

A few seconds of awkward silence followed.

“Lilly and I were just about to get some fresh air.” Ty broke the tension and nudged her forward with his hand.

“It was nice seeing you,” Lacey said to her uncle. She shot a grateful glance at Ty. She’d been uncomfortable with her uncle who was virtually a stranger.

So were the rest of the guests who must be friends of her uncle and his fiancée because Lacey knew no one. She and Ty stepped outside onto the terrace, which thanks to the nice autumn weather, had been opened for the party.

“My mother used to play bridge with friends out here,” Lacey said. She inhaled, forcing cool, fresh air into her lungs and immediately felt more centered. “I don’t know what I was thinking, coming here.”

Ty leaned against the railing. “You needed to see the house, the people. Gain some closure. It’s understandable if you ask me.”

She inclined her head. “I’m going to go to the bathroom. When I get back, would you mind if we left?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

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