Because he didn’t have a choice, Ethan thought, still fighting fury. Liz had controlled the situation, done whatever she wanted. Well, that was about to change. He would make sure of it.

“You’ll be here?” he asked, not putting it past her to leave town. What was different was this time he would follow, chasing her to the ends of the earth, if necessary. She’d already stolen too much from him.

“I’ll be here,” she said. “I swear.”

He gave a hollow laugh. “Because your word means something?”

She dug in her jeans front pocket and pulled out her car keys. “Want to hang on to these? Will that make you feel better?”

It might, but it wasn’t necessary. “I have your license number. If you try to sneak away, I’ll have you hauled back for kidnapping.”

An empty threat. If she was telling the truth-if he really wasn’t on Tyler’s birth certificate-then his rights were probably limited. But if she pushed him, he would do everything in his power to make it happen. Tyler was his son- and Ethan took care of what was his.

A voice in the back of his head whispered if he’d been as willing to claim Liz, none of this would have happened. He would have known about Tyler from the beginning.

A fact that might be true, he told himself, but didn’t erase what she’d done.

“Ethan, please.” She gazed into his eyes. “We have to work together. Make this right for Tyler.”

“I agree, but don’t expect me to ever understand or forgive you, Liz. You played God with my life and my son’s life. I hope there’s a special place in hell for you.”

She flinched as if he’d hit her. He didn’t care. Instead he walked toward the sidewalk, stopping when he reached the gate. “I’ll be back tomorrow at six. Don’t make things worse than they are.”

And then he was gone.

LIZ REACHED FOR HER COFFEE. She usually tried to limit herself to one or two cups a day, but after a sleepless night, she had a feeling she was going to exceed her limit before noon.

She’d been an idiot. She accepted that. What she really didn’t like was the reality that she’d been thoughtless and cruel-characteristics she would have claimed weren’t a part of who she was.

Ethan’s parting shot-that she’d played God with both him and her son-had been a direct hit. One she’d been unable to forget. Guilt was powerful. Despite the fact that she’d come back to tell him everything five years ago, he’d still lost the first six years of Tyler’s life.

The time couldn’t be made up, as he’d said more than once. And she regretted that. But now everything was worse. Apparently Rayanne hadn’t told Ethan about Liz coming to town at all. There hadn’t been a second rejection, this time of both her and her son. Not that it mattered. Ethan obviously didn’t believe her. Still, she would call Peggy and have the letter sent overnight. An easy solution to only part of the problem. If only she could explain away the first six years as easily.

She heard footsteps on the stairs and got the milk out of the refrigerator. She’d already put a couple boxes of cereal on the table, along with bowls and spoons.

Melissa entered the kitchen first, her jeans and T-shirt clean from the loads of laundry Liz had finished the evening before, her hair shiny and bouncy. She moved to the table.

“Good morning,” Liz said, forcing herself to smile. Her trouble with Ethan had nothing to do with the girls.

“Hi.” Melissa moved to the table but didn’t sit down. “You’re still here.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

Melissa shrugged as she pulled out a chair. “You didn’t sleep upstairs. In my dad’s room.”

The thought of sleeping in the same bed as her brother and her mother before him had totally creeped her out. Which wasn’t the point. Obviously Melissa had gotten up to check on her.

“Sometimes I like to work at night,” she detailed, which was true but not the reason she’d chosen the sofa in the living room over the bed in the master bedroom. “Being downstairs seemed easier.”

“I thought you’d left.”

Melissa didn’t look at her as she spoke.

Liz crossed to her and put her hand on the teenager’s shoulders. “I’m not abandoning you or Abby. I know it’s going to take a while for you to believe me, but you can trust me.”


“I mean it,” Liz declared firmly. “We’re going to figure this out together. You don’t have a cell phone, do you?”

Melissa shook her head.

“We’ll get you one after school and program my number in. Then you can always get me. Would that help?”

Melissa brightened. “I’d be able to call my friends, right?”


“And text?”

Liz smiled. “As long as you promise to stop before your thumbs fall off.”

“I can do that.” The teen pulled a box of breakfast cereal toward her.

“Then we have a deal.”

Abby burst into the room and ran over to Liz, then hugged her. “Do I have to go to school?”

“Yes. You have, what? Three days left? You’ll survive.”

Abby grinned. “I knew you’d say that.”

“But you thought you’d ask anyway?”


The girl sat across from her sister and reached for the cereal.

It didn’t take either of them long to eat breakfast. After they put their bowls in the sink, Liz reached for her purse. “We didn’t get anything for lunch, so do you mind buying?”

The sisters looked at each other, then laughed.

“We can buy lunch,” Melissa agreed happily. “That would be, like, totally great.”

Liz wondered how long they’d been going without lunch. Couldn’t they have gone into a free lunch program? Of course that would have meant someone knowing there was a problem in the first place.

She handed them each ten dollars, then walked them out to the gate. They waved and promised to be home right after school.

“We can bake cookies before dinner,” she yelled after them.

When they’d turned the corner, she headed back into the house and made a note of the cell phone errand and started a second grocery list that included ingredients for chocolate chip cookies. Once that was done, she called Peggy to have her overnight Ethan’s letter, along with some notes she’d left behind.

When she hung up, there was plenty of thunking from upstairs, telling her Tyler was up and making his way to the shower. She paced nervously until he came downstairs and she was forced to act normal, then she chatted with him through his breakfast.

“I thought we’d make cookies later,” she told him, as he finished up his cereal. “When your cousins get home from school.”

He grinned. “Sweet.”

“Is that about the cookies, or the fact that they still have school and you don’t?”

He laughed. “Both.”

He got up and carried his bowl to the sink. After rinsing it, he looked for a dishwasher, then frowned when he didn’t find one.

“What am I supposed to do with it?” he asked.

“Stack it in the sink,” she instructed, thinking if this were a made-for-TV moment, she would be smoking and looking for her morning shot of Jack Daniels. “We’re going to be washing dishes the old-fashioned way. By hand.”

He looked confused, as if the concept was impossible to imagine. Liz agreed with him, but wasn’t willing to buy one for the few weeks they would be in town. At least there was a microwave. A true necessity, she thought. Popcorn was required for movie night.

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