"I'm not going anywhere."


He would turn stubborn on her. "A few minutes ago you couldn't wait to get out of here. . . ."

"No, that's not true," he argued.

"Okay. Why do you want to stay?"

He looked sheepish. "I'm curious."

She slipped into her jeans and was buttoning her blouse when she returned to the living room. Liam put his hands on hers. "I'll do that."

"I've got it.

He smiled. "No, you don't."

She looked down and only then realized the buttons weren't lined up. Feeling foolish, she stood there and let Liam fix them. When he was finished, she tried to step back.

He followed, tilted her chin up, and kissed her. "Take a deep breath," he suggested.

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"You're hyperventilating."

"I'm angry."

The relatives from hell were banging on her door. She did as Liam suggested, but a deep breath didn't help at all. She was still tense and livid.

Liam beat her to the door and opened it. Russell Trent came barreling in first. The smell of alcohol swirled around him like a rancid cloud. His wife, Jane, followed. Her shoulders were hunched and her deep-set eyes studied Liam suspiciously before turning to Allison.

"We didn't know you had company," Jane said.

"This is my friend," Allison said. Not wasting any time, she added, "You shouldn't have come here."

Jane tried to soften her expression, but the smile that curled her lips didn't reach her eyes. "We just wanted to see how you're doing. You know we worry about you."

Allison thought she was trying to act timid, which was laughable.

"May we sit down?" Jane asked.

Russell was already sprawled on her sofa, so the question didn't merit an answer.

"Why are you here?" Allison demanded. "I've already told you you're getting nothing more from me."

Jane glanced at Liam, who was standing by the door and watching her like a hawk. She hesitated before answering Allison, as though she was carefully measuring her words before speaking. "We received a summons of a sort just a few days ago, and we were shocked. Really shocked. It all happened so long ago." 

"What happened so long ago?"

"Your dear parents died." Jane shook her head and pulled a tissue from her purse, trying her best to act sincere. "We still mourn them."

Allison thought her performance was nauseating. "No, you don't mourn them. My father didn't like either one of you, and for good reason."

Uncle Russell pushed himself upright. "No, no, that's not true. They loved us."

Allison wasn't going to argue. "You still haven't explained why you're here."

"We received a summons that says they want an account of every dollar we spent on you and Charlotte. That's simply impossible," Jane huffed. "Who saves every little receipt for all those years?"

"And you spent a lot of money on us, did you?" Allison asked, doing her best to hold her temper under control.

"Of course," Jane insisted. "It cost a lot of money to feed and clothe and educate you two girls."

"Five hundred thousand?" Allison asked.

Jane was taken aback. "What?"

"Did you and Uncle Russell spend all of the insurance money on Charlotte and me?"

"Of course we did," Jane countered.

"Stop," Allison demanded in a near shout. "Just stop. You didn't spend any of that money on us. We know where it all went. You purchased your house and the land around it. You paid off your bills. You-"

"All right," Jane cried out. "We were wrong, and we're very sorry."

"You were horrible to us. You know that, don't you? You kept threatening that you would put me in foster care without my sister if I acted up. And we had to work to pay for anything we wanted, even school. Remember? And God help me if I was ungrateful. Those terror tactics started when I was four years old."

Seeing her approach wasn't succeeding, Jane decided to double down. There was a sigh and a contrite lowering of her eyes when she said, "We realize now how insensitive we were. We really are ashamed of our behavior, and we're so very sorry."

It was the most insincere apology Allison had ever heard. "What is it you want?" she asked, her voice flat and emotionless. "Or did you come here just to apologize?"

"Actually . . . ," Jane began. She looked at her husband.

Russell teetered when he stood. "We want you to go to court with us and testify on our behalf," he said.

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