Molly wasn’t about to chide her for her manners now. “If I wasn’t at some expensive boarding school while she was off somewhere unable to be reached, then she was living at home doing the things she enjoyed—which was whatever cost the most money. Either way, same difference. She was never there for me in any way that mattered, and she usually screwed up any decent marriage she had by sleeping with someone. There’d be a scandal, the kids at school would get wind of it, and I’d be there dangling in the wind until she remembered she had to come get me because her husband wouldn’t pay the school tuition any longer.”
Jessie’s mouth hung open wide.
At least she’d finished her bagel, Molly thought, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. She didn’t want to ruin the moment between them.
Neither, it seemed, did the commander, who chose to remain silent and let the truce play out.
“What about your father? Or whoever you thought was your father? Was he a good guy?” Jessie asked, her curiosity about Molly’s past apparent.
“I always thought he was a cold, uncaring man. I’d get an occasional holiday card from him, but not much more. And since he never paid for my school or much else, I assumed it was because my mother had done something to make him hate us and that was that. It was only last year that I realized he had no obligation to me, legal or otherwise. He knew all along he wasn’t my biological father. And he claims he thought my mother’s marriages to rich men meant I was taken care of all those years.”
Molly’s throat ached as it usually did when discussing her childhood, but for once she really didn’t mind. Though she was surprised that sharing her past with Jessie came so easily, she was also glad. When Jessie wasn’t being a teenage brat, she was merely a wounded young girl. That Molly could relate to. She wanted to help her half sister and get to know her better.
“When things with my friends are bad, I always know I have my family.” Jessie looked at her through her big eyes. “I guess I’m luckier than I realized.”
Molly smiled. “That doesn’t mean you haven’t had your share of rough breaks. Losing your mom was an awful thing that shouldn’t happen to any kid.”
Jessie bobbed her head up and down, agreeing with Molly for once. “But Grandma came to live with us right away and Dad was always around. I can’t imagine what it was like for you.”
The commander silently sipped her coffee, her warm gaze darting between both granddaughters. Molly could only imagine how happy Edna was to have them talking civilly for once.
Molly glanced at Jessie and tipped her head to one side. “Don’t start feeling sorry for me or I’ll have to take your temperature and see what’s wrong with you this morning.” She grinned and silently implored Jessie to laugh, to reach out in a way that would mean she acknowledged they’d just taken a huge step forward in their relationship.
“Get over yourself,” Jessie said. And then she started to laugh hard, at Molly and at herself and her brattiness during the past months.
At least that’s what Molly chose to assume and nobody was going to tell her otherwise. Not when she and Jessie were sharing a laugh together.
“Did I miss something funny?” The general walked into the room, causing the chuckles to come to a halt. “Come on now, what are my girls laughing at?”
Molly prayed her father’s words, lumping Molly and Jessie together as his girls didn’t cause the teenager to remember she hated Molly for intruding on her home.
“You didn’t miss a thing.” Jessie rose from her seat, scooping up her half-eaten bagel and juice glass. “It was just…girl stuff. I have to go or I’ll miss the bus.” She threw out the garbage, and rinsed her glass and put it in the dishwasher. “Bye all.” She ran out of the kitchen without looking back.
Molly exhaled a long stream of air and met her father’s surprised gaze.
“Well,” he said, obviously at a loss.
She blinked at the doorway the tornado had blown through. “Well.”
“I guess what they say is true. You do live to see everything,” the commander said.
Still stunned as well, Molly could only nod. Later she’d mull over this morning’s conversation and even savor the warm fuzzy moments between herself and Jessie. For now, though, she had other things to think about.
Like whether or not to ask her father about being with Sonya last night. “How was your meeting?” she asked instead.
“It was okay. John Perlman was honored for his work for the association.” His answer was vague, his gaze never meeting hers.
She pursed her lips, about to call him on his lie when she heard footsteps.
“Morning, everyone.” Hunter’s deep voice set off instant recall inside Molly.
Every moment of being with him last night came flooding back in living color and detail. His scent, his touch, his gorgeous naked body, she thought, just as he strode into the room.
“Morning.” Molly lifted her mug and pretended to drink her now-cold coffee.
“Morning,” the general said. “I hope you’re sleeping well on that couch. Never used it myself so I don’t know if it’s comfortable.”
Hunter poured his coffee and joined them at the table. “I had an excellent night.”
He spoke to the general, but Molly had no doubt his words were meant for her alone.
“Can I get you something for breakfast?” the commander asked their houseguest. “Bagels, pancakes or eggs.”
Molly rolled her eyes at how solicitous her grandmother was being. “Your choice,” she said to Hunter.
“Condom definitely,” the parrot said.
“What did he just say?” Molly’s father asked.
“Repeat that,” Edna said to her bird.
Ever the trained parrot, Ollie complied. “Condom definitely.”
The commander blinked.
The general laughed through narrowed eyes.
Molly, who remembered that exact exchange between herself and Hunter last night, felt her face flame.
And poor Hunter turned to the refrigerator and began rummaging for food.
Before anyone could recover, Jessie ran back into the room without warning. “Forgot my lunch.” She opened the fridge and grabbed a brown paper bag. “Thanks again for picking up me and Seth last night, Commander. I appreciate it.” She kissed the commander’s cheek and then she was gone.
Molly wondered if her father knew Sonya had run into them at the pizza place and told them she was bringing home dinner for her son. A son who they now had public confirmation was at a party with Jessie. From Frank’s bland expression, he had no idea. Then again he was a military man. Keeping secrets had been part of his job.