Her mother’s voice rose on each sentence, fury filling each word as her fists clenched at her side, her face flushing a delicate, rosy hue.
Once, Lilly would have been desperate to appease her mother. There had been a time when she had known nothing but fear of her mother’s rages. Not because she would hit her, or even punish her, but because with it came the censorious silences, the lack of an allowance, the car keys taken, friends turned away at the door.
How childish each of those punishments seemed now. If only she had no more to worry about than lack of an allowance.
“I’m sorry, Mother, I can understand how that investigator’s report could affect the family,” she stated, resignation filling her.
Her mother would never let her live that report down. It would never matter what the truth eventually turned out to be; the fact that there was the slightest hint of impropriety attached to her name was enough to ensure Angelica never forgot that her daughter had been accused of such a thing. Or that that accusation could become public knowledge.
“I very much doubt you gave your family a moment’s thought during the years you were away,” Angelica charged. “Had you cared even a bit, then you would have at least let us know you were still alive.”
Pain filled Angelica’s voice then.
“Perhaps I was trying to protect you, Mother.” Lilly couldn’t imagine any other reason. “Have you considered that? Someone killed Father and obviously tried to kill me.”
“Which only tells me you were somehow involved in his asinine little games,” Angelica threw back furiously. “Were you, Lilly? Is that what nearly got you killed? Please, God, tell me your father hadn’t drawn you into that paranoid probe he launched into Harrington’s?”
“Mother,” Lilly said wearily, not wanting to get into this with her. She had been outraged when her father suspected his own share holders of stealing from the company. The shareholders had been friends.
“Actually,” Desmond breathed out roughly. “We suspect your father had developed a bit of dementia perhaps. I mean, to think that someone within Harrington’s or perhaps a shareholder, was still embezzling funds from the companies. He refused to accept that whoever had stolen the money had gotten away, or that they were no longer trifling with the accounts.”
Lilly stared back at her uncle as she fought to hold in her shock. There was no way anyone could have believed her father had been ill.
“Father wasn’t ill,” she finally stated, the feeling of betrayal that filled her centering on her uncle. “Is this how you convinced Mother to marry you? By spreading such lies about Father?”
“Lilly!” Angelica gasped. “How dare you say such a thing.”
Lilly shook her head as Desmond’s lips thinned, his gaze narrowing on her angrily.
“Evidently, Father was dealing with much more than I knew before his death,” she informed them both tightly. “How could you have believed for even a moment that Father was ill?”
Angelica stared back at her for long moments, her breasts rising and falling quickly as tension thickened further in the air.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Angelica finally whispered. “You didn’t see him as he truly was, Lilly. You saw your father, and as a child, you excuse inconsistencies.”
Lilly lifted her hand to halt the coming tirade.
“I refuse to discuss this supposed illness,” she snapped. “You and I both know there was nothing wrong with Father other than a family that obviously refused to believe in him. And I well understand how he felt if you were so bold as to question his sanity to his face. My God, Mother, simply because we dare to oppose you or because we create a few waves doesn’t mean we’re in any way mentally deficient.”
“No, but when you throw away a title, wealth, and a stable home for the life you lived for six years, then there is no doubt in my mind that you were mentally unbalanced,” her mother shot back loudly. “Did you read that file, Lilly? Did it even connect in that selfish little brain of yours what you did to us for six years? You deprived me of my daughter. You deprived yourself of your family. For what reason? At least give me that. Why would you do such a thing?” She was yelling by the time she finished. Her mother’s voice and expression were filled with such tormented fury that Lilly had to fight the tears that filled her eyes.
“I don’t know,” she whispered painfully. “If I knew, Mother, then I would tell you.”
But would she?
Even as the words came out of her mouth, Lilly had a feeling she wouldn’t tell her mother the truth. Whatever had driven her away from her family would have had to be a threat to them as well.
“That’s all well and good.” Desmond’s shoulders tightened as he once again crossed his arms over his chest. “That doesn’t change the fact that your actions now are unacceptable, Lilly. You have gone irrevocably wild since connecting with Travis Caine again. This association must end immediately.”
Lilly blinked back at him. She had the most insane urge to laugh in both their faces.
“I’m no longer sixteen, Uncle Desmond,” she told him calmly. “Travis is a connection to the memories I’ve lost and whatever drove me from my family. Ending that association is not an action I’m willing to take at this time.”
She had a feeling it wouldn’t be an action she was willing to take at any time, but wisely refrained from making mention of that fact.
“I warned you she would refuse to listen to reason,” Angelica said. “Caine has somehow managed to bewitch her.”