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Authors: Carly Phillips

Cross My Heart

BOOK: Cross My Heart
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CARLY PHILLIPS
Cross my Heart

To the Plotmonkeys, Janelle, Julie and Les—you aren't just colleagues, you are my friends, and my sisters.

To Robert Gottlieb, thank you for taking this journey with me and for believing in me every step of the way.

An extra-special thank-you to my editor, Brenda Chin, for pushing me to the limit on this one. Don't ever let up!

As always, this book is dedicated to my family. To my husband, Phil, my daughters, Jackie and Jen, and my doggies, Buddy and Dylan; and to Mom and Dad. You make every day worthwhile. I love you all.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Writing this story was a stretch for me, a huge leap of faith in myself and my writing. Thanks to those who helped me along the way: the Plotmonkeys—Janelle Denison, Julie Leto and Leslie Kelly, the best writers and friends a girl could have. Susan Kearney, whose plotting mind works in ways that astound me, thank you for sharing your insight and for putting up with my questions no matter how silly they might have been. Any factual inaccuracies, such as the New York State statute of limitations on declaring a missing person legally dead, are for story line purposes. It is what writers call the willing suspension of disbelief, and thank goodness for it!

Prologue

T
he sky was jet-black. No stars. No moon. No light to give them away. Tyler Benson led the way to the top of the cliffs with Lilly by his side. Daniel Hunter, their best friend, lagged behind. Lilly held on to Ty's hand, every once in a while giving it a squeeze, showing her fear. Otherwise Ty would think this was just another of their adventures. He knew better.

Soon, he would start the car, slam it into Drive and then jump out before it toppled off the cliff into the murky quarry waters below. Afterward, Lilly Dumont would be reported missing. Her uncle's car would be found at the bottom of the lake. Or it wouldn't be found at all. No body would ever be recovered. Lilly would head for New York, take the new name the three of them had chosen for her and Ty would never see her again.

All so Lilly wouldn't have to leave the safety of Ty's mother's foster home and return to her bastard uncle for more abuse. She was only seventeen. She wouldn't survive a month let alone a year if she returned to her uncle. The man didn't love her, he loved her trust fund, Ty thought.

“Hurry up, Daniel!” Lilly called back to Hunter, breaking the silence. She was probably afraid he'd lose them in the dark.

“It's Hunter,” their friend and foster brother muttered, loud enough for them to hear.

Ty grinned. Once Ty had told him to go by his last name, the kids at school stopped calling him “Danny Boy” and Hunter quit trying to beat the crap out of anyone who got in his face. Hunter and Ty were like real brothers and Ty looked out for his own. Hunter did the same, which was why Hunter stayed back now, so Ty could have these last few minutes alone with Lilly.

The girl they both loved.

Hunter had never said as much, but Ty knew. He wasn't sure Lilly did, though. She was so damn innocent despite her attitude and that was what made Ty care about her so much. They weren't boyfriend and girlfriend but they were
something
.

Too bad they'd never have time to figure out just what that was.

The locket he'd bought her burned a hole in his pocket. He'd got it so she wouldn't forget him. Ever. His stomach cramped and he halted suddenly.

Lilly bumped into him. “What's wrong? Why are you stopping? We aren't there yet.”

Ty swallowed hard. “I just wanted to give you something.” He whispered, even though he knew nobody was around to hear.

Hunter, who understood what Ty had planned, waited somewhere behind them.

Ty shoved his hand into his pocket and pulled out the small gold heart. A hot flush washed over him as he held out his palm. Good thing it was dark and she couldn't see his burning cheeks.

“Here,” he muttered. It wasn't much and that embarrassed him as much as giving the gift.

Lilly accepted the tiny locket. Though it was hard to see, she turned it over in her hand, studying it for so long Ty shifted uncomfortably on his feet while waiting for her reaction.

“It's beautiful,” she finally said, a catch in her voice.

He exhaled his relief. “I…” Ty wasn't a guy of many words and he didn't know what to say now.

“I know.” As always, she stepped in, reading and easing his mind. She clasped the heart in one hand and threw her arms around his neck, holding him tight.

He smelled the sweet scent of shampoo in her hair and he hugged her back, pulling her soft body against his. Too many feelings and sensations rushed through him at the same time.

All the things they'd never do or get to say to each other passed between them in this one final touch.

Ty couldn't think or even speak past the lump in his throat.

Lilly pulled back suddenly and looked down. She messed with the necklace and somehow she managed to hook the heart around her neck despite the lack of light.

“Thank you,” she said softly, meeting his gaze.

He nodded stiffly. “You're welcome.”

Seconds of silence passed, neither one of them wanting to say the words but some one had to. They couldn't risk getting caught.

“We need to get moving,” Hunter said, joining them. “The longer we spend here, the more we risk being seen.”

Ty nodded. “He's right. We have to go,” he finally said.

“Okay then, let's do this,” Lilly said and the three friends started forward.

A few minutes later, they walked through the underbrush and came out near the cliff. A car was waiting for them just like Ty's friend, the one who worked with him at the gas station, had promised. So was the reality of what they were about to do. He was feeling nauseous and struggled against getting sick.

“Is it really Uncle Mark's?” Lilly asked, rubbing her hand over the dark-blue Lincoln.

Ty nodded. “A buddy of mine knows how to hot-wire cars. He owes me a favor for not turning him in to the cops, so this was no biggie.” Ty had friends in different groups, different places. Pulling this off had been too easy.

“I can't believe we're doing this,” Lilly said.

She stared at him, wide-eyed and afraid. But behind the fear, Ty saw her determination. She was strong and gutsy and he was really proud of her.

“It's not like we have a choice,” Hunter reminded her.

“I know.” She nodded, her dark hair falling over her face before she tucked it behind her ear. “You guys are the best, helping me like this.”

“One for all, all for one,” Hunter said.

Ty shook his head, trying not to laugh and embarrass his friend. Hunter always said the dumbest things, but Ty didn't mind. Besides, he figured Hunter wasn't thinking any clearer than he or Lilly was at the moment.

“We're the three musketeers,” Lilly said, grinning. Just like always, she stepped in to agree with her friend and prevent him from being mortified.

Besides, she was right. So was Hunter. The three of them were alone in this and it would bind them forever. Ty stuffed his hands into his front jeans pockets.

“So tonight Lilly Dumont dies and Lacey Kinkaid is born.” Her voice quivered.

He didn't blame her for being afraid. She was leaving Hawken's Cove, their small upstate New York town. She'd take off for New York City alone with just the summer money Ty made working at the gas station and the petty cash Hunter picked up busing tables at the only restaurant in town.

“Nobody talks about what happened here tonight. Not ever,” Ty reminded them. They couldn't afford for anyone to discover even a part of their plan and piece things together. “Right?” he asked, wanting to hear them say the words. His heart pounded so hard in his chest, he thought it would explode.

“Right,” Hunter agreed.

And Ty knew they'd both protect her secret forever.

“Lilly?” Ty prodded. She had the most to lose if her uncle found out she was alive.

She nodded. “I'll never talk about it.” Her gaze remained locked on his, her fingers toying with the little heart around her neck.

For that split second, they were in their own world. He stared into her brown eyes and suddenly everything was okay. They'd go back to his mom's house and he'd sneak into her bedroom so they could hang out and talk all night. They'd be together.

Instead she broke the spell. “I'll never forget what you guys did for me,” she said to them both.

She hugged Hunter first and Ty waited, clenching and unclenching his fists.

Then she turned to him and pulled him tight. He held her for the last time, closing his eyes and fighting the fullness in his throat.

“Be careful,” he managed to tell her.

She nodded, her hair soft against his cheek. “I'll never forget you, Ty.
Cross my heart,
” she whispered, the words for his ears alone.

One

T
he Hawken's Cove courthouse was a fixture in town, the old stone building the landmark by which everyone gave directions. Make a left at the courthouse and The Tavern Grill was on the right, along with Night Owl's Bar. Make a right at the courthouse and the gas station was on the corner. The ice-cream shop was across from the courthouse.

As a lawyer, Hunter spent his days haunting the courthouse when he was on trial and working in his small office located on the street behind the courthouse when he wasn't. Some might find it odd that Hunter remained in Hawken's Cove after the childhood he'd had, but the good memories outweighed the bad and his closest friend and the only family Hunter knew still lived there.

Hunter never considered moving anywhere else. But to keep his life interesting, he lived in Albany, twenty minutes from work and the closest thing to a real city he was likely to find in upstate New York.

He walked out of the courtroom at 4:00 p.m. and headed straight down the hallowed hallway toward the front doors. He'd won a hard-fought case today. An innocent man who couldn't afford expensive legal counsel had turned to Hunter and he'd done his best. These were the cases Hunter enjoyed. He only represented the rich and obnoxious so that he could afford to take on the pro bono cases he preferred.

After working endless hours for months on end, all he wanted to do was have a stiff drink and not have to use his brain for at least twenty-four hours. But as he passed the clerk's office, his gaze settled on a pair of long legs and vibrant pink high heels. Only one woman wore shoes that bright and in-your-face.

“Molly Gifford,” Hunter said, coming to a halt beside his old law school nemesis. They'd vied for top spot at Albany Law. It still galled him to admit she'd won.

After graduation, they'd parted ways, with Molly leaving for a job in another state. But recently she'd moved to town and for the last month, he'd had the pleasure of checking out those incredible legs on a near daily basis. But her move here had been a surprise because Molly wasn't born or raised in Hawken's Cove. When he'd asked, she'd said something about reconnecting with her mother and not much more.

Molly shifted her focus from the court clerk she'd been speaking to and settled her brown eyes on him. “Hunter,” she said, a welcoming smile on her lips. “I hear congratulations are in order.”

Hunter wasn't surprised she'd already heard, but still, he was pleased. Hell, if she hadn't congratulated him he'd have told her himself. He wasn't much for modesty, not when it came to looking good in front of a woman.

“Word travels fast around here.”

“A win's always a cause for gossip. I hope you're going to celebrate,” she said.

The one thing he'd always admired about Molly had been her willingness to acknowledge another person's success. “I could be persuaded.” Meeting her gaze, he leaned against the filing counter. “Join me for a drink?”

“Can't.” She shook her head. Her blond hair fell in soft waves around her pretty face and the old familiar attraction kicked into gear inside him.

He wasn't shocked at her answer. He'd ask, she'd decline. Even back in law school they played this old game. He knew his reasons for not pushing her harder. Molly was a
nice
girl and it had been a lot easier for Hunter to avoid anything serious with the not-so-nice ones. The ones who didn't expect much more than sex and fun.

Still, he couldn't resist the pull that caused him to keep asking Molly out anyway and now that fate had thrown them together again, he'd hoped she'd give him—give them—a chance. Because he'd finally figured out that he'd grown up enough to want to take one with her.

“What's your excuse this time? You have to give your dog a bath?” he asked her.

She grinned. “Nothing nearly as exciting. My mother's fiancé has a legal issue he wants me to explore. Which reminds me.” She glanced at her watch. “I'm going to be late meeting him if I don't hurry. Maybe another time?” she asked and rushed to the door, leaving a whiff of intoxicating perfume in her wake.

He groaned, knowing he'd be tossing and turning tonight and not just because of her sensual scent.
Maybe another time?
were words Molly had never used with him before. In the past, no had always been a definite no until he'd asked the next time. His heart pounded harder at the possibility she'd opened up to him.

He turned to the court clerk who sat behind her desk eagerly listening in on the exchange. “So, is Molly's mother marrying someone local?” he asked, knowing Anna Marie was the woman with all the answers.

Anna Marie Costanza had been the clerk for longer than anyone who practiced law could remember. She came from a family who held important posts in town. One of her brothers was the mayor, another the town supervisor, yet a third a partner at the prestigious Albany law firm of Dunne and Dunne. They were connected and could provide assistance and answers to most questions anybody needed answered.

As for Anna Marie, she provided the main source of courthouse gossip but she also ran a tight ship. She and her brothers also owned one of the oldest boardinghouses in town. Anna Marie lived there herself, acting as the superintendent in charge of all things, and lucky for Hunter, Molly rented one of the units. Between the older woman's day job and her occupation as landlord, he'd bet she knew every last detail that was available about each local resident. Especially Molly.

“Yes sirree. Her mother's marrying a longtime resident of our fair town.” Anna Marie leaned forward. “Aren't you curious as to who the lucky guy is?” she asked, obviously eager to impart the information.

“I was getting there,” Hunter said, laughing.

“Her fiancé's Marc Dumont. I found out when Molly's mother filed for a marriage license.” Anna Marie met Hunter's gaze and nodded slowly, giving him time to absorb the implications of her news.

As he did, Hunter's smile faded. Memories of a time when he was young and not as cocky as he liked to appear now kicked in hard and fast. He clenched his hands into tight fists, the old anger he worked hard to control, rising to the surface. He fought it down.

It wasn't Anna Marie's fault she remembered his connection to Dumont. There wasn't anyone who'd lived in their hometown who didn't know the story of how Lilly had disappeared, presumably running her car off a cliff and into the quarry below. Her body had never been recovered.

There also wasn't anyone who didn't know that Marc Dumont blamed her best friends, Hunter and Ty, for his niece's “death.” He'd tried, without success, to make the stolen car charges stick. But he
had
convinced the state to split the friends apart, taking Hunter away from Flo Benson's foster home.

Hunter had spent the year prior to turning eighteen in a state-run juvenile facility for troubled teens. His anger and resentment resurfaced and his attitude had gotten him into enough fights that he'd nearly ended up in jail. Instead he'd been forced to attend a Scared Straight program in a real lockup and the reality had turned him around fast, just as the program intended. He'd done so by using Lilly as motivation.

He'd hear her voice telling him that she wanted better for him than jail. But he still blamed Dumont for his stint in juvie just as he credited Lilly, Ty and Flo's influence for his turnaround.

Hearing Dumont's name still set Hunter's nerves on edge. “What's the old bastard after now, that he needs Molly's help?” he asked Anna Marie.

She pursed her lips. “Tsk, tsk. You know I can't be passing along privileged information.”

Hunter laughed at the mock offense in the older woman's voice. He and Anna Marie shared a love of information any way they had to get it. “Have any court papers been officially filed by Mr. Dumont?” he asked.

Anna Marie grinned. “Well, no.”

“Then what's privileged about a little courtroom gossip?” Hunter had a sudden, urgent need to know more about what Dumont would need a lawyer for at this point in his life, why he would involve Molly and who the bastard was using now.

“Good point. You are as fast thinking on your feet as they say. Are you sure you're too young for me?” she asked, playfully nudging him in the arm.

“I think you're too young for me. I'm afraid your energy would wear me out,” he said, laughing. Though he didn't know her exact age, he'd bet she was in her midsixties and though she didn't keep up with the trends, she was spry in spirit.

She smacked the counter and chuckled.

“Come on, now spill what you know.” He could see from the light in her eyes, she was dying to share her secrets.

“Well since you asked so nicely…I heard Molly talking on the phone earlier. Marc Dumont's getting ready to claim his niece's trust fund as his own.”

“What?” Hunter asked, certain he'd heard wrong.

“Since it's been nearly ten years, he plans to go to court and have her declared legally dead. You know, seeing as how no body was ever found after her car went into Dead Man's Drift,” Anna Marie said, mentioning the unofficial name the townspeople had given to the cliff and water below after Lillian Dumont's
death.

Nausea washed over him at the thought. Not a day went by when Hunter didn't think of Lilly, that fateful night and his role in her disappearance. He'd always missed her, her laughter, her friendship. It helped that Hunter hadn't heard Dumont's name in years. The man was a subject Hunter tried to avoid and until today, it'd been easy. Dumont had remained under Hunter's radar for years, secluded in Lilly's old home and not causing any trouble. Now in the span of five minutes, Hunter discovered the man was going to marry Molly's mother and attempt to legally bury his niece so he get could his hands on the millions still held in trust for her.

His timing couldn't be worse. Just when Molly seemed to be softening toward the idea of dating Hunter, Dumont once again became an obstacle.

The bastard hadn't changed. He'd merely been in hiding, waiting for a time when the three friends believed their pasts were behind them, to resurface. The man had changed their lives once before. Hunter had a hunch none of them would survive this confrontation unscathed, either.

 

T
YLER
B
ENSON WASN'T
a morning person. He'd rather work the late shift at Night Owl's than clock in on a nine-to-five day job. It helped that Ty rented the apartment above the bar from his friend Rufus, who also owned the establishment and appreciated Ty helping him out now and then. When he wasn't tending bar as a favor to his friend, Ty ran a P.I. business out of his apartment, as well as the bar and a small office across from the courthouse. The locals found Ty wherever he happened to be and he appreciated the flexibility and spontaneity of his life. Most of all he liked knowing he earned his own way at no one else's expense.

He made a decent enough living that he could pick and choose the cases he wanted to work, passing the easier ones on to Derek, a guy who'd gotten his P.I. license but was new to town and needed Ty's name to bolster his business reputation. Ty figured he was better off having Derek as an employee than competition in the small town, so the situation worked for them both. In fact, the business was growing fast and they needed to hire an administrative assistant and another P.I.

Ty poured a Bud from the tap and handed it to the guy who'd been keeping a running tab. He glanced at his watch. Only 7:00 p.m. but with October baseball in full swing—Yankees versus Red Sox—this place would be hopping within half an hour. Right now though, time was dragging by and he stifled a yawn behind his hand.

“In about five minutes you're going to wish life was as boring as you're obviously finding it now.” Hunter, Ty's oldest friend, slid onto a stool across from him.

Ty grinned. “Somehow I doubt hearing about your day in court is going to get my juices flowing.” He laughed and reached for the ingredients of a refined martini his friend had come to prefer over the beer of days past.

The other man shook his head. “Jack Daniel's. Neat.”

Ty raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Something big must be going on if you're giving up your polished drink for harder liquor. And here I was just about to say congratulations on winning your case but if you were celebrating, you wouldn't be ordering whiskey.”

Hunter's expression was clouded. Obviously, he was miles away, his thoughts definitely not on his big win today.

Ty figured he'd know what was bothering his friend soon enough. When Hunter had a problem to deal with, he usually mulled it over for too long before spilling his guts.

“Do you remember when I came to live with you and your mom as a foster kid?” Hunter asked.

The subject took Ty by surprise. “Yeah, I remember. But that was a long time ago and a lot has changed. You looked different then for one thing. Hell, you
were
different.”

At sixteen, Daniel Hunter had come into the Benson home with a chip on his shoulder and an unwillingness to let anyone in. He'd already decided nobody in the world would care about him anyway. He'd been wrong on both counts. Hunter had spent almost a year with Tyler and his mother, becoming like family to them both.

BOOK: Cross My Heart
11.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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