“I appreciate everything,” Frank said.

“Just doing my job, sir.”

“How’s Molly holding up? Not the brave front she’s putting on for me, but how is she really doing?” he asked, his voice full of concern.

Hunter appreciated the older man’s feeling for his daughter. In the general, Molly had found everything she was looking for in a parent and Hunter couldn’t be happier for her. “She’s strong. She’ll come through this fine,” Hunter assured the other man.

“It isn’t fair, you know. Something this awful happens and it’s the people I love who are taking the brunt of it.”

Hunter nodded. He’d heard something similar from many of the people he’d represented over the years. But this time, Hunter felt more of a connection to the parties and more invested in the outcome. And he couldn’t watch what went on around him with a dispassionate eye. Instead, he often found himself preoccupied with their feelings, and wishing he had the tight family unit Molly had discovered here.

He didn’t, of course. And though Molly thought he hadn’t made peace with his past, he had at least accepted it for what it was. The past. Unfortunately that did not mean he didn’t experience pangs of regret and longing, and when he saw Molly so settled in her life, his own needs resurfaced and were harder to tamp down.

“Cigar?” the general asked, pulling two stogies out of his shirt pocket.

Hunter raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t it a little early?”

Frank let loose with a laugh. “In this house, I take my smokes where and when I can get them since my mother insists on a smoke-free environment for the damn bird.”

Hunter winced, feeling the other man’s pain. “Your home isn’t your castle.”

“You catch on fast.” He extended the cigar and Hunter accepted it.

“It’s hard living with a houseful of women, huh?”

“If you know what’s good for you, you won’t answer that.”

Both men turned to see Edna standing behind the screen door with the above-mentioned bird on her shoulder.

“Sometimes I don’t know if she looks more like Baretta or someone from Pirates of the Caribbean. ”

Neither was a complimentary description, Hunter thought.

“I’m still your mother, so be nice. Hunter, can I get you a cup of coffee?” the commander asked.

“No, thank you. I already had one.”

“Then how about one for the road? Molly’s pouring hers now and it’s a long ride to Atlantic City. Especially with Molly behind the wheel.”

Hunter hadn’t thought about how they’d get there, but he realized his bike wouldn’t be comfortable for them both on such a long trip. “I’m sure she’ll let me drive her car.”

“Don’t be so certain. The girl’s my granddaughter and like me, she likes to be in control.”

That sounded like Molly, all right. “I think coffee for the road sounds great,” he told the commander, then immediately turned back to the general. “And hopefully when we return, we’ll have good news.”

“Amen,” the general said.

For the first time in a long time, Hunter was actually looking forward to being with Molly. Even knowing that they weren’t in it for the long haul didn’t dim his sudden enthusiasm for their overnight trip to Atlantic City.

***

MOLLY HAD NEVER been to Atlantic City and she was excited by the idea. Small suitcase in hand, she met Hunter at the car. “I’m ready and on time.”

“I can see that. I also saw Jessie run by me in a bright yellow sweater earlier.” His eyes lit with approval.

“I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and pretend she really didn’t mean to blackmail me,” Molly said, laughing. “She’s warming toward me. I couldn’t see any point in saying no.”

He took her suitcase from her and walked around to the trunk. “But you gave her a lecture about not walking in without knocking, snooping and blackmail first?”

“You know it.”

“Keys?”

She pulled her key ring from her bag, then hit a button on the remote and the trunk popped open wide. Hunter tossed her suitcase in, followed by his duffel and slammed the trunk closed.

“I’ll drive.” He held out his hand.

Normally Molly preferred to drive and would have loved to navigate their way to the Jersey shore, but the medication she’d taken for her headache last night still weighed her down. Her muscles ached and she knew she’d be fighting to stay awake during the trip.

With a shrug, she tossed Hunter the keys.

He caught them midair. “Thanks.” He sounded surprised.

“Why so shocked?”

They settled into the car before he finally answered. “Your grandmother mentioned your need to be in control. She said you’d never let me drive.”

“And you believed her?”

He turned the key and started the ignition. “Let’s just say, knowing you the way I do, I had no reason to doubt her. But I figured I’d give it a shot.”

“I don’t mind you being in control, at least for a little while. Besides, it’s a new car and it has GPS.” She pointed to the map on the dashboard. “In case you get lost.”

Hunter rolled his eyes. “I think I can handle it. It’s a straightforward ride.” He swung an arm over the back of her seat and backed out of the driveway.

Molly fell asleep almost before they left the neighborhood. She woke up after an hour and a half, when Hunter pulled in to a rest stop to buy coffee. She used the restroom, bought a snack, ate and fell back to sleep again, only to wake as they pulled up to a large, grandiose hotel.

A valet immediately opened her door. “Are you staying overnight or just for the day?”

Molly opened her mouth, then closed it again. She didn’t know if this was the place where they were chasing down leads or the place where they’d stay. The decision to come here, once made, hadn’t been discussed in detail.

“We’re checking in,” Hunter said as he came around to her side. He accepted the ticket stub from the valet and she followed him inside to the front desk.

“This isn’t Paul’s motel, is it?” she asked.

“Nope. This is our hotel, at least for the night. I thought since we’re here, we might as well enjoy the trip.” They stepped up to the long front desk and Hunter smoothly handed the man behind the counter his license and credit card.

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