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It didn’t work. "I can’t understand why you would waste six months working here when you could start your career and be closer to Oliver and me."

The argument ceased while the waiter placed the drinks on the table, but as soon as he stepped away Allison said, "You make me want to bang my head against a wall, Charlotte. How about I put you on the defensive and question your every decision?"

It was a great plan without a follow-through. She couldn’t think of anything to ask, and while Charlotte dug through her purse looking for only God knew what, Allison whispered to Liam, "Could you put her on the defensive for me?"

He shook his head and tried not to laugh. He was fascinated by the way the sisters argued with each other. Their squabble was intense but never mean or angry, the way only two siblings who loved each other could fight. They were so comfortable with each other, there was no hint of hurt feelings. Despite their bickering, their deep affection and unbreakable bond were apparent. Oliver hurried back to the table, apologized profusely for having to take the call, and sat.

"Liam, you work for a computer company or the government?" Oliver asked, trying to understand his relationship to Allison.

Before Liam could answer, Charlotte blurted, "Maybe Oliver and I should look over the contract."

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Allison let out a frustrated sigh. "Will you please let it go, you maniac?"

Liam did laugh then. So did Oliver. "Liam works for the FBI," Allison said. "Want to discuss that, Charlotte, or do you want to continue to obsess about the contract?"

Charlotte put her hands up. "Okay, I’ll stop nagging you."

Allison couldn’t have been happier. She reached for her drink and saw that it was empty. She held the glass up. "Did I . . . ?"

Liam nodded. "You didn’t swallow the ice this time," he said cheerfully.

Oliver stopped his wife from continuing to grill Liam when he said, "Sweetheart, why don’t you share your news with Allison now before dinner? That way she can think about it, and if she has any questions, there’s still time to discuss it."

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Charlotte nodded. "I guess I should probably fill Liam in, since he’s here and he’s apparently Allison’s boyfriend . . . which I might add, she didn’t tell us about. . . ."

"Oh my God, will you stop?" Allison demanded. She glanced over at Liam, who offered no denial. Instead he sat calmly smiling at her sister without comment, and she wondered what was going through his head. Probably wondering if lunacy ran in her family, she thought.

Ignoring Allison, Charlotte turned to Liam and said, "Our father took out a five-hundred-thousand-dollar life insurance policy, and Allison and I were the beneficiaries. When he and our mother died, our aunt Jane and uncle Russell found out about the money and crawled out of the woodwork like roaches and petitioned the court to become our guardians. The judge agreed but with stipulations."

"What stipulations?" Allison asked

"Once a year they were required to list the expenses and the money they spent on us."

"They only sent in one report," Oliver interjected.

"And it was bogus," Charlotte added.

"How so?" Allison asked.

"They had a huge expense listed for tuition at Vuillard Academy. It’s the most expensive school in Boston," Oliver explained.

"We didn’t go to Vuillard Academy," Charlotte told Liam.

"They must have asked around and found the highest tuition," Oliver said.

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"And no one checked? No one looked. . . ." Allison stopped. It was silly to get upset about something that was far in the past, she thought. Why waste the energy? "That happened years ago. You can’t do anything about it now. Besides, the money’s all gone."

"We know that," Charlotte said. "But Oliver still wanted to look into it."

"I can’t believe no one noticed they weren’t sending in reports," Allison said.

"Slipped through the cracks," Oliver said. "I talked to a sympathetic clerk who found the file. That in itself is remarkable, and when he showed it to me, I told him neither of you went to Vuillard Academy. I hope you don’t mind, Allison, but I also told him a little of what your life was like living with those people. I said that-"

Allison interrupted. In a rush, she blurted, "You don’t need to tell me what you said." She didn’t want Liam to hear any of the horror from her childhood. He already knew quite enough. She thought about apologizing to him for making him sit through this, then changed her mind. He could always have gotten up and left. 

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