He’d sleep with her again, that much she knew. But no matter how good it was between them, no matter that she’d fall more and more in love with him each time, she wouldn’t delude herself into thinking he’d offer her his heart ever again. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t try to convince him otherwise.

Because, she knew now, she was in love with him. Maybe she always had been, but the depth of that love was finally clear to her.

And if Hunter woke up feeling just a little of what she felt, he’d run far and fast. Today’s birthday party had shown her why his walls were so high and how much damage she’d done. If Molly had held out hope of convincing Hunter she’d changed, that she was ready for everything he had to give if only he’d offer it to her again, his reaction to the party told her how difficult her mission would be.

His past had seen to that. Her rejection had merely compounded his long-held beliefs. His parents had abandoned him, but not before convincing their child that he wasn’t worthy of love. What his parents hadn’t destroyed inside him, foster care had. The celebrations for others, the exclusion from family events, the lack of love and affection, had all bruised Hunter’s heart worse than she’d ever realized.

Her eyes filled with tears, not for herself and all she’d thrown away, but for Hunter and how much he needed the love she could give him. Love he’d never accept or believe she’d give for the long haul. And she had nobody but herself to blame for that.

With regret, Molly lifted Hunter’s arm off her and rolled away from his touch. He groaned, turned to his other side and curled into a ball with his pillow in his arms. Warmth rippled through her. Still watching him, she unhooked the straps on her sandals and slipped off her heels, not wanting to make noise in the hall this late at night.

He muttered something in his sleep. She leaned over and brushed a kiss against his back, still smiling. She was determined to keep smiling, not dwell on the past, but she couldn’t help thinking about how for one brief moment he’d tossed his fears aside and opened his heart to her. And she’d stomped on it.

Somehow, someway, she needed to get around his walls, or else she feared his body was the only thing he’d ever make available to her again. When she wanted so much more.


MOLLY NEEDED the carbs in a bagel like she needed a hole in the head, considering she hadn’t had time to work out lately, but Edna had bought fresh ones and she couldn’t resist. A little cream cheese, the commander’s hazelnut coffee and she was ready to start the day.

She sat down at the table in the quiet kitchen, enjoying the peace, knowing from the creaking noises of movement upstairs that it wouldn’t last long. She took a sip of the delicious brew and let the liquid warm her as it went down. Of course, she didn’t need the heat. Hunter had generated enough inside her to last for a long, long while. Just not enough for the rest of her life; she wondered just how to tackle what had to be her one of her biggest personal challenges.

“So what’s going on between you and the hunk?” Jessie’s voice broke the silence.

“Ooh, I’d like to know that, too.” Edna walked into the room in her long bathrobe and Ollie on her shoulder.

“Spill the beans,” the macaw said.

“Yeah, spill,” Jessie said, laughing at the bird.

Molly glanced at her half sister who embodied another of Molly’s personal challenges. It seemed her life was full of them. She reminded herself she wanted to reach out to the teen and not alienate her further.

So instead of snapping back that her private life was none of Jessie’s business, Molly leaned forward in her seat and smiled. “Hunter’s getting along great. Thanks for caring,” Molly deliberately misinterpreted Jessie’s question and motives.

“I don’t—” The teen snapped her mouth shut. “I mean, I never said I—” She shook her head, let out a growl of frustration and eyed Molly’s breakfast instead. “Where are the bagels?”

“Right there, beside the fridge in the sealed bag. Why don’t you take both and join me.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” the commander said, laughing.

But Jessie, who had to catch the school bus, glanced at the clock on the microwave.

“You have time,” Molly assured her. “Besides, I won’t bite, snap or bitch at you. I promise.”

Obviously stunned into silence, Jessie made her breakfast, choosing margarine instead of cream cheese and OJ instead of coffee.

They didn’t have to like the same foods in order to get along, Molly mused. “So how was the party last night?”

Jessie flopped into the seat farthest from Molly, taking a bite of her bagel, chewing and swallowing before finally answering. “Actually, it wasn’t too bad. At least not for me. Seth had a bad time.” She downed a good amount of orange juice. “But the girls are starting to mellow out a little. Sarah even said she was sorry she’d been such a bitch and asked how Dad was doing.”

Molly paused, her mug halfway to her lips. Would wonders never cease? Jessie had answered her civilly and revealed something about her personal life. Molly tread carefully so as not to cause her to clam up again. “That’s good. I’m sure it hasn’t been easy for you.”

The teen shrugged. “I can handle it.” Her tone was defensive.

“I never said you couldn’t. I just know how mean kids can be. At least you’ve known your friends for a long time. There’s a bond there that you can each fall back on. When I was your age, I rarely stayed in the same place for more than a year or two, three max. So each time my mother did something stupid or embarrassing, the fallout was worse because I was usually already the outsider.”

Molly felt her grandmother’s compassionate gaze on her, while Jessie was uncharacteristically quiet.

Trying not to squirm, Molly wrapped her hands around her warm mug. “I’m sure that was more information than you wanted to know,” she said, forcing a laugh and privately waiting for Jessie’s nasty retort.

“Wow. That must have sucked big-time.”

Molly raised an eyebrow. Commiseration and not sarcasm? “Yeah, it sucked. And I didn’t have a strong family to fall back on like you do. I also didn’t have a best friend like Seth.” The memories of her emotionally deprived teenage years sent a chill racing through her, one not even the warm coffee could cure.

“What about your mother?” Jessie asked through a mouthful of bagel.

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