The machine clicked off, leaving him alone in his office. A place and a state of mind he’d be in for eternity without the money. The sad part was, Marc no longer wanted or needed the money for himself. Along with getting rid of alcohol, he’d learned to get rid of the greed and jealousy that drove him for much of his life. If only the others in his universe felt the same.

LACEY HELD IT TOGETHER while the paramedics did a needless exam, and she was grateful when they let her go without so much as giving her oxygen. Hunter took off for his office, promising to check in on them later. The fire department allowed Lacey and Ty to go back into the apartment to collect their things, but as they’d predicted, everything smelled like smoke.

There wasn’t anything salvageable to take with them and she was shaken by the fact that they had to leave everything behind. Lacey was forced to remind herself that all of her things were still safely at home.

But where was home, she wondered now. Where did she want home to be? Here with Ty? In the one place she had people she loved and cared deeply about? Where her only family member wanted her dead?

Or in New York where she’d established herself and the business she loved? But what she was beginning to realize was that she kept herself detached from everyone and everything in her life.

Only when she’d come back to Hawken’s Cove, did Lacey begin to feel.  She felt both the good

—like making love with Ty and renewing friendships and making new ones—as well as the bad

—the fear of her uncle and the loss of her parents. But at least she felt alive, no matter how beside herself she happened to be at the moment.

She managed to hold herself together while she and Ty did a quick run through Target to pick up a few spare outfits and necessities. And she kept her composure while they drove in silence to Ty’s mother’s house where they were going to stay until his place had been aired out and cleaned, top to bottom.

By the time they drove up to the curb and parked, Lacey was hanging on by a thread. Still shaken up from nearly being killed and the realization that her uncle actually wanted her dead,  she was exhausted and near tears.

So when Flo Benson opened her front door and stepped out to greet them, Lacey jumped out of the car leaving Ty behind, and ran up the front lawn, throwing herself into the other woman’s open arms.

An hour later, they’d showered—separately, darn it, and Flo had fed them both, much as she’d done when they were young, Lacey thought.

She finished the last of her chicken soup and rose to help clear the plates.

“Uh-uh,” Flo said. “Let me fuss over you. It’s been way too long since I had the chance.” Ty’s mother began her cleaning, using the same efficient manner she’d always had.

She looked well, too, despite having had heart surgery a few years ago, as Ty had told her during a cookies-and-milk session late one night.

Lacey glanced at Ty. He met her gaze, his lips curving into a sexy grin. “I told you she missed you.” He inclined his head toward his busy mother.

“Yeah. I missed you, too,” she said softly, speaking of Flo, but also of Ty and this place.

Lacey glanced around, focusing for the first time. The appliances were different, a modern-looking stainless steel. They used to be a disgusting yellow, but she recalled the old room fondly despite the putrid color.

She had to admit she liked the new look and it made the kitchen appear more spacious and homey. “The house looks good,” she said to Flo.

While showering, Lilly had noticed the bathroom had been refinished, as well. Flo hadn’t had much money when Lacey had lived here, but either her circumstances had changed or Ty helped his mother, which wouldn’t surprise Lacey. He was a good man.

“Thank you, honey.” Flo caught Ty’s gaze, then smiled at Lacey.

Over coffee, they made small talk, nobody bringing up the dreaded subject of Lacey’s disappearance all those years ago. She knew someday they’d have to talk about it, but for today she was happy to just be here.

The rest of the day seemed to pass in a blur and when it came time to settle in for the evening, Flo insisted Lacey take Ty’s old bedroom. He didn’t argue and Lacey knew better than to fight with the two of them. She’d never win. She unpacked the few items she’d picked up at the store and joined Flo and Ty again in the family room for some television, but exhaustion swept over her much earlier than usual.

She stretched her hands over her head and yawned aloud, covering her mouth in the nick of time.

“Excuse me,” she said, stifling a laugh. “I am wiped out.”

“It’s no wonder considering what you’ve been through today,” Ty said.

Lacey knew he was talking about more than just the fire itself. Neither of them had brought up the issue of her uncle. Although they’d have to talk about it soon, she needed a clear head first so she could focus and make decisions. “I’m going to turn in,” she said, rising from the couch.

Ty’s gaze followed her movements. All evening, they’d acted like old friends, neither touching the other, neither letting on to his mother that they’d been intimate last night and Lacey wanted to be again. She wasn’t hiding their relationship out of a sense of shame or regret, but only because Ty seemed to want to keep his private life private.

But she ached to feel his arms around her and to know he cared. That he wasn’t filled with regrets of any kind.

“If you need extra towels or blankets or anything, just let me know,” Flo said.

Lacey smiled. “I will.” She turned and headed to Ty’s old room, her thoughts jumbled and in turmoil.

Thoughts about Ty, her life and her future.

FLO BENSON WATCHED the beautiful young woman disappear down her back hall and she listened for the sound of the bedroom door shutting before she turned to her son.

“So what are you going to do to make sure you don’t lose her again?” Flo asked.

Ty raised his eyebrows. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Now that we’ve reconnected, Lilly will always be in my life,” he said, a diplomatic nonanswer if she’d ever heard one.

Flo picked up the television remote and shut off her favorite show. “I am not talking about friends keeping in touch with friends and you damn well know it. You’ve been in love with that girl since the day she moved in here. Now I’m asking you what you’re going to do about it?”

Ty rose from his seat and stretched. “What I’m not going to do is discuss my love life with my mother.”