“Who uses oil to make eggs? You’re supposed to use butter or margarine on the pan,” Lilly said.
“An ignorant bachelor uses oil,” Ty muttered.
Tom scratched his head. “So you didn’t turn on the stove.”
“No.” The hair on the back of Ty’s back prickled, giving him chills. “I never turned it on.”
“I had to ask, even if I have known you forever. I’m guessing you didn’t jimmy your own lock, either.”
“Someone jimmied the lock? You mean someone broke in?” Ty asked, anger and fear fueling his raised voice.
“Ty—” Lilly put a calming hand on his arm.
The chief nodded. “There’s evidence that someone broke in.”
“Fingerprints?” Ty asked, his thoughts immediately going to Lilly’s uncle.
The chief shook his head. “Don’t know yet.”
“Is anything missing?” Ty asked.
“Nothing obvious but you’ll have to let me know.”
Ty nodded. His gut told him nothing would be missing. Whoever had jimmied the lock wanted something and it wasn’t anything he could carry out with him, Ty thought, glancing at Lilly.
As soon as the cops and firemen left, he’d call Derek but Ty knew Dumont hadn’t been around here at all. If he had, Derek wouldn’t have been far behind. He’d never have let the man get near Ty’s apartment door.
“Why didn’t the smoke alarm go off and wake me?” Lilly asked.
“That was one of the first things we checked. It was disconnected. So one of two things happened. Either you made another stupid bachelor move and pulled the batteries out last time it went off while you were cooking, or whoever broke in disconnected it. So which is it?” Tom raised an eyebrow in question.
“It wasn’t me,” Ty said through gritted teeth.
“I had a hunch you’d say that.” Tom smiled grimly. “The police’ll do their jobs once we finish ours. Right now I need to go talk to some of the other tenants. Don’t go too far and let us know where we can reach you,” he said to them. “Lilly, you make sure you stop by the ambulance and let the paramedics check you out,” he said before walking away. “I’ll be in touch.”
Ty inclined his head, waiting for the other man to leave so he could talk to Hunter and Lilly.
“Lilly, did you hear anyone inside the apartment?”
She shook her head. “I never even heard you leave. I told the chief the truth. I had a hard time falling asleep and once I did, next thing I remember was Digger barking and licking my face. I woke up coughing, I saw the smoke and ran.” She hugged her knees against her chest, obviously still shaken.
So was he. When he’d seen the fire engines and the smoke, his heart nearly stopped when he realized Lilly might still be inside. The sun shone in the sky yet he still didn’t feel its heat or warmth.
“It was Uncle Marc, wasn’t it?” Lilly asked softly, petting Digger who lay still in her lap.
“It’s possible,” Hunter said.
On that note, Ty raised a finger indicating they should wait. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Derek. A quick conversation with the other man confirmed Ty’s hunch. Dumont hadn’t left his house all night. Thanks to Derek’s binoculars and his position on the road, he could see the older man in the kitchen as he and Ty spoke.
“Thanks.” Ty flipped his phone closed and glanced at his friends. “I’ve had Derek tailing your uncle since the day he showed up at my apartment to see you. He had an alibi for the incident at the mall and he was also home all last night and this morning.” Ty shook his head in frustration.
“He could have hired someone, but we’re not finding any proof. He’s not being sloppy.”
“But he isn’t succeeding at hurting her, either,” Hunter said.
“No he’s just scaring the living daylights out of me,” Ty said.
Lilly trembled and Ty pulled her tight against him. “Hang in there,” he whispered into her hair.
“I need you to think back to that night at the mall. When the car nearly ran you and Molly down.
Could the car have been aiming directly for you?”
She lifted her head. “Yes. I mean, it was coming for us. I dove into Molly to get us out of the way. But I thought it was a prank. A kid driving recklessly. Something.”
Anything other than the truth. That her uncle hadn’t changed after all. Only this time, he didn’t just want her trust fund. He wanted her dead in order to claim it.
MARC WAS THIRSTY and water wouldn’t quench his need. Neither would soda, juice, coffee or anything else so bland. He needed a good, stiff drink but he fought the desire threatening to engulf him and drag him under.
Nobody told him sobriety would get harder as the years passed. Nobody ever mentioned he’d never forget the taste of alcohol, any kind of alcohol or that he could crave it in his sleep. And the worst part was, nobody understood. Just when his life had begun to turn a corner, everything around him was suddenly closing in.
He stood in his private office and stared at the answering machine, glaring at the offending piece of equipment. He hit the Play button to hear the messages one more time.
“We need to talk and it has to be soon. Don’t defy me on this or else.” Paul Dunne, the trustee and manager of Lilly’s money in the years since Marc’s brother died, issued a directive in his pompous voice.
The tone clearly said, “I’m in charge and you’re not.” Paul’s arrogance and control over the purse strings had sent Marc to the bottle more than once back in the days when Lilly had lived here. Now Marc merely gripped the glass filled with tonic water tighter in his hand.
“Hi, it’s Robert,” his brother said. “Vivian’s taken a turn for the worse. She needs round-the-clock care even in that hospital. I can’t take another mortgage on my house. I need the money.
You said we’d have it but that was before Lilly showed up alive. Now I’m desperate. My practice is dwindling and I can’t afford the malpractice insurance it takes to keep it going anyway—” A loud beep cut off Robert midsentence.
A large lump settled in Marc’s throat. He knew how his brother felt. He knew desperation. The next message filled him with it.
“Marc, darling, it’s Francie. I’m in New York City . I took a trip there to look for wedding gowns. There’s one that is just exquisite. You said I could have anything my heart desires, regardless of the cost. I do hope that hasn’t changed.” She pointedly paused, the silence giving him chills. “Call you later, love.”