The only sound in the room was the monotonous ticking of the huge grandfather clock in the corner. There were
no traffic noises, no honking horns or screeching brakes this far back off Riverside Drive. Usually, Lilah Kimball
found the silence comforting. With social worker Felicity Greenlea sitting in a nearby chair, the quiet hung in the air
like a toxic red mist.

  Lilah relaxed her tightly clasped hands. “The girl means nothing to me. Surely you can understand that.”

  The young social worker flushed under Lilah’s regard and swallowed hard. “I understand that you don’t really know
Bethany, but—”

  “I’ve never laid eyes on the girl.” Nor heard of her, Lilah thought. Another oversight, no doubt, like not being
informed of her daughter’s death until three months after the fact. Still, if they thought they could compound their
behavior by attempting to foist a strange girl off on her, they could think again.

  “You are her grandmother, Mrs. Kimball.”

  “By blood only.”

  “By blood and legality,” the young woman said with more force, “and that is relevant, since both of Bethany’s
parents are deceased and you are her closest living relative. You and your son.”

  The silence hummed as Lilah waited for the woman’s next sally. Finally, she could bear it no longer. “Didn’t her
father have any people?”

  “None that we’re aware of and none that Bethany knows about. He was an only child, and his parents died years
ago. There may be a distant cousin somewhere. We’re still investigating. Bethany knew about you, of course.”

  “Why do you say of course?” Lilah asked, her voice sharp.

  “Were you never in your daughter’s home?” When Lilah shook her head, Felicity Greenlea said, “There were
several framed pictures of you there. Bethany knew who you were and where you lived.”

  “It’s been almost three months since the accident. Where was the girl until now?”

  “She’s been staying with a neighbor who only recently told us about you.”

  Lilah raised an eyebrow.

  Felicity looked away, then back. “Until last week, we saw no paperwork on Bethany. We had no idea of your
existence—or hers.” She shifted in her chair. “Once we were aware of the situation, we immediately took steps to
contact you.”

  “I still don’t understand why it took so long.”

  The young woman flushed. “The neighbor Bethany was staying with is one of our case workers in Athens.
Apparently she and Bethany had some kind of arrangement. Barbara, the case worker, put the paperwork on hold.”

  “Was that so bad?”

  “Yes,” Felicity blurted. Then she seemed to compose herself. “What Barbara did was certainly unethical and
possibly illegal. Whatever her motivation, we do have rules in our profession and also a moral obligation to the
people we work with. There will be an investigation, and she will probably be reprimanded or even suspended.”

  Lilah waved her hand in dismissal. “This girl—she was their only child?”

  “Yes.”

  “Was there nothing in Elizabeth’s will about godparents or anything of that sort?”

  “There was no will.”

  A deep sigh escaped before Lilah could contain it. She turned and stared across the room.

  “Mrs. Kimball, I’m only asking you to consider taking Bethany temporarily. As a trial. If the two of you find the
situation intolerable, we’ll make other arrangements. We will continue to investigate her father’s family. There may be
relatives somewhere. On your side, of course, there’s your son. We could approach him if you wish. He and his wife
might be more receptive.”

  “Don’t bother,” Lilah said. “I can tell you right now that his answer will be a resounding no. He and his sister were
never close.”

  “Perhaps I could understand that kind of reaction if his sister was asking him for a loan,” Felicity said, frustration
clear in her voice, “but she’s dead.”

  Lilah’s breath caught in her throat, but she kept her face impassive.

  “We’re talking about a human being here, Mrs. Kimball. A child.”

  “A twelve-year-old young woman.”

  “Who is still very much a child and very much alone. Can you imagine the emotional upheaval she’s been through
in the last several years? According to our records, her father died of adult leukemia after battling the disease for
years. Then for Bethany to lose her mother this suddenly? She’s been through more than anyone her age should
have to experience.”

  Lilah rose and walked to the fireplace, swept clean now in June. She had learned more about her daughter’s life in
the last hour than in the previous fourteen years. She hadn’t realized Elizabeth lived in Athens, Georgia. So close?
Elizabeth and the child—was her name Bethany? —had stayed on in the house after her husband’s death, but the
social worker had made it plain that they had struggled to make ends meet. Lilah couldn’t imagine what Elizabeth’s
life had been like, but it couldn’t have been pleasant. Bitterness surged through her as she looked around the room.
It needn’t have been that way. Elizabeth had been born into wealth and privilege, but had chosen to turn her back on
both it and her family.

  The room was silent except for the rhythmic tick-tick-tick of the grandfather clock. No sounds from the outside
grounds penetrated the room, no movement sounded in the other parts of the house. The air seemed to quiver, then
go still.

  “Mrs. Kimball?”

  Lilah started. She turned to Felicity. “Aren’t there other arrangements you can make?”

  “As I said, we’ll continue to try to locate other relatives, although I’m afraid it may be a long shot.” She hesitated,
her face going through several contortions. Then she said, “We can also look for a permanent arrangement for
Bethany if that’s what you want.”

  “You mean adoption?”

  The social worker winced. “Adoption is certainly an option, although that might take some time.”

  “Is there nowhere she can stay in the meantime?”

  A flush spread up Felicity’s neck and across her face. “Like a foster home?”

  “If the issue is money, I could have my attorney make arrangements.”

  Felicity jumped to her feet, startling Lilah. The flush on her cheeks had gone fuchsia. “I’ll be glad to look into the
foster home option and keep you informed,” she said stiffly. “I had hoped that Bethany could be placed with a family
member. At least temporarily. The girl has been through hell. She is alone in the world and feels it acutely, and I am
afraid that getting shifted around like unclaimed baggage will do her irreparable harm. But never mind.” She hoisted
her handbag to her shoulder and started for the door. “I’m sorry I bothered you, Mrs. Kimball. As I said, I’ll let you
know. As Bethany’s grandmother, you’re legally entitled to that information.”

  “Miss Greenlea.”

  Felicity stopped at the door and turned. “Yes?”

  “May I have another moment of your time?” Lilah gestured at the sofa. “Please. Sit down.”

  Felicity looked wary, but she walked back and sat on the edge of the cushion, keeping her purse clutched in her
lap.

  Lilah sat at the other end of the sofa, crossing her ankles and folding her hands in her lap. “Miss Greenlea—” Lilah
paused and then went on. “My daughter and I were estranged. She has not been a part of my life, nor I hers, for
over fourteen years. I don’t feel any emotional attachment to her child. I’m a widow, as I told you. My husband died
just over two years ago. Elizabeth, my daughter, didn’t even see fit to attend his funeral.”

  “Did she know about—”

  A look from Lilah silenced her.

  “So you see, there is—or was—very little family feeling between us. Elizabeth made her own life, as did we. It was
perhaps not the best situation, but it was one we all lived with for quite a long time. And now this.” She looked away.
“I never expected to be put in this position. It’s quite a shock to me, as I’m certain you can imagine. I want to do what
is right, of course—for all concerned,” she added with a glance in the social worker’s direction, “but I’m not at all
certain what that is. I will have to think it through and discuss it with my son. May I call you later in the week with my
decision?”

  It clearly wasn’t what the social worker wanted to hear. Lilah watched the young woman battle her emotions. “All
right, Mrs. Kimball. Please let me know as soon as you come to a decision. I’d like to have arrangements made for
Bethany by the end of the week. She is still staying with the neighbor at this point. Despite what happened, it seemed
that it would create the least disruption in Bethany’s life, and that is my top priority at the moment. But we need to get
her settled as soon as possible.”

  “Does the girl know you’ve come to see me?”

  “No, she doesn’t,” Felicity said, rising. “I didn’t want to tell her until I had spoken with you. Bethany is very confused
right now. I didn’t want to make things any worse for her.”

  Lilah nodded. “That was probably best under the circumstances.” Standing, she took the business card Felicity
held out without glancing at it. “I’ll be in touch before the end of the week.”

  Felicity made her own way out of the room. Lilah heard voices in the hallway, and a moment later, the front door
opened and closed. Lilah watched from the window until long after the social worker had driven away in her ancient
Honda. Why did these people always drive such shabby cars? Was their pay really that bad?

  She didn’t turn when Marabet entered the room, or when she put the tray down on the coffee table. “You’d best get
over here before I drink it all,” Marabet said.

  Lilah looked over her shoulder and shook her head.

  Marabet was Lilah’s housekeeper, but they had been friends since childhood. After high school, they’d lost touch
and didn’t meet again until they were both married, Lilah to Gerome Kimball, and Marabet to some loser who robbed
her blind and abandoned her. Lilah had finally convinced Marabet to come live with her, but Marabet had insisted it
be as a maid. She had said—rightfully—that Gerome Kimball would never tolerate her living there as a friend or
border. While Gerome was alive, Lilah had kept their earlier friendship under wraps. Gerome made Marabet feel
badly enough. God forbid what he might have done and said if he had known her history. Marabet had managed to
get her little digs in as the years passed, but for the most part she stayed out of Gerome Kimball’s way.

  Lilah walked over to the sofa and picked up the coffee Marabet had poured for her. “I suppose you listened,” she
said, sitting down beside her.

  “To every word.” Marabet lounged against the sofa back, stirring her coffee. Her loose silver curls formed a
deceptive halo around her face, and her blue-bird eyes sparkled with humor. She put her feet up on the coffee table
and balanced cup and saucer on her ample stomach.

  “And?”

  “And what?”

  “And what’s your long-winded opinion, which I know I’m going to hear eventually, whether I like it or not?”

  Marabet sipped her coffee. “Not this time, Lilah. I know you’d like someone else to make the decision so you could
blame them if it doesn’t work out, but I’m not the fool who’s going to do it. Ask Charles. He’s a big enough fool to get
in the middle.”

  “I wish you wouldn’t talk about my son that way.”

  “If he weren’t such an arrogant ass, I wouldn’t talk that way.”

  “Marabet.”

  “Oh, all right. He’s your arrogant ass, so I’ll hold my tongue. You were right about one thing, though. He wouldn’t
consider taking the child. No one’s ever accused him of too much Christian charity.”

  “Marabet, please.” Lilah stood and moved across the room. “I can’t imagine what these people are thinking,
suggesting that I take the girl.”

  “They’re probably thinking you’re her grandmother.” Marabet put down her cup and walked over to Lilah. “No
matter how much you want it to, this situation isn’t going to go away. You lost your daughter, and now it looks like you
may have a chance to know her child.”

  Lilah looked at her with raised eyebrows. “You think I should take the girl?”

  “Don’t put this on me,” Marabet said, holding up her hands. “This doesn’t affect me at all, except that it will double
or triple my workload. But don’t give that a thought.”

  Lilah rested her elbows on the mantel, dropping her forehead in her hands. “I just don’t know what to do.”

  “You’ll figure it out, and I’m sure you’ll do the right thing.” Marabet gave her shoulder an affectionate pat. “Since
you told the lady you’d be talking to your son, I imagine you’ll be inviting him to dinner?” When Lilah nodded, she
picked up the tray of coffee things. “What do you want me to serve?”

  “Pork loin?”

  “I kind of had a yen for stuffed chicken breasts.”

  “Then let’s have chicken breasts, by all means,” Lilah said, frowning at the woman’s back, but the twitch at the
corner of her mouth ruined the effect.

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