If only it really were.

* * *

“Momma, it’s going to be okay,” Carly soothed, stroking her mother’s face.

Audrey had gotten so agitated Carly had been forced to give her an injection to calm her down to keep her from hurting herself. Something she’d only had to do on one previous occasion.

Carly cried that night, just as she was crying now.

She wasn’t sure what had triggered her mother’s outburst, her attempt to get out of bed that had ended with her falling. Carly had barely managed to keep her from crashing to the floor.

The fall had upset her mother worse. Audrey had scrambled to try to get up, scratching Carly several times in the process.

Which had never happened before.

Yes, her mother had spells where she didn’t know who Carly was, but she had never been aggressive or violent.

“Oh, Momma,” Carly sighed, continuing to stroke her mother’s face. The injected medication had almost instantly kicked in, calming her, making getting her back into her bed almost impossible.

With a lift belt, the lift machine, and a lot of maneuvering, Carly had managed, but felt the price in her back, neck, and shoulders.

Then there were the scratches on her face and arms. Scratches that stung from the salty tears streaking Carly’s face.

Her mother would be mortified if she knew what she’d done. In her right mind, Audrey wouldn’t hurt anyone, much less lash out. The woman who’d flayed at her hadn’t been in her right mind. She’d been lost and desperate.

Carly leaned forward, resting her head against her sleeping mother’s. “Oh, Momma, I’m sorry this is happening to you.”

Then the dam broke and the silent streaks of tears became a torrent onslaught. Sobs racked Carly’s body.

When her tears had dried, she went to the bathroom, cleaned her face, then called her mother’s neurologist. He’d see her later that week.

The previous time this had happened, he’d adjusted medication and that had seemed to help as there hadn’t been another episode until the one that afternoon.

Sighing, Carly stared at her reflection in the mirror. She had bags under her eyes. No wonder. She’d sat up until almost four that morning working on insurance claims. She had to get caught up. She had bills looming over her head and if the neurologist changed her mother’s medications, who knew what that would cost?

Her mother had awakened just before seven and Carly had started her day over.

Actually, she’d started her night over.

Her night’s work, at any rate.

Somehow she’d not processed her claims correctly the night before and none of her work had been saved. Somehow? Exhaustion and distraction would be how.

She had to get her head on straight.

Carly had wanted to throw up and had felt as if she might. Add in that Audrey hadn’t known who Carly was, was convinced she wanted to hurt her and that she needed to escape, all equaled a rough morning.

That her mother had turned violent in her attempts to get away from Carly, that she’d had to turn to medication to calm her mother, struck deep.

A straggling tear slid down Carly’s cheek and she swatted it away.

No matter. There was nothing she could do about any of it at this point except to move forward. To stay on task and make the best of what was left of the day. Her mother was asleep and likely would be for several hours, courtesy of the injected medication.

Carly had a lot of work to get done before Stone arrived.

Her gaze met her own in the mirror, took in the dark circles beneath her red-rimmed eyes. Her face was puffy, probably from her crying bout, but maybe from lack of sleep.

“What are you doing, Carly?” she asked herself, not bothering to answer because her answers would accomplish nothing but more stress.

Plus, if she started asking herself questions and answering them, she might have to make an appointment for herself with her mother’s neurologist, too.

She shouldn’t see Stone that evening. It would take her a big portion of the day to finish the messed-up insurance claims. She needed to get many more than just those done before going to bed tonight. She had bills to pay. Joyce’s wages to pay.

Even as she thought it, she knew that when Stone showed up she would stop what she was doing and would spend a few hours basking in his attention.

After all, she had to eat.

And smile.

The man made her smile and right now that seemed like something only a miracle worker could achieve.

Stone was a miracle worker and impossible to ignore.

She would make this work. Maybe she should tell him about the insurance claims.

Why hadn’t she?

Pride? Not wanting him to know exactly how financially strapped she was? It wasn’t as if he couldn’t look around her home, her life, and tell.

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