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Hunter nodded. “I agree. All I’m saying is that she’s always going to be that way. She’ll keep showing up and throwing you for a loop unless you set the ground rules for her now.”

“She is who she is. She isn’t going to change and neither am I. I took a huge step today, confronting her. I don’t know what else you want from me.”

He placed his hand over hers. “Nothing,” he said, knowing his words were a lie. He wanted everything from Molly, but the only way things could work between them was if she could get her life in order and so far, he wasn’t getting through to her. Like her mother, Molly only dealt with what she wanted to at the moment. Not that he thought she’d appreciate him pointing that out.

But she had to step up and control her relationship with her mother. Otherwise her fear of losing her family and of not being accepted would continue to rule her life. As well as his.

As much as he loved her, Hunter had no choice but to take a self-protective step back. Not that he’d call a halt to their relationship. Just the opposite—he wanted her to know exactly what it felt like to be with him. Really with him. He’d give her time together without him pressuring her at all. He didn’t plan to be another complication in a life currently filled with them.

His goal, because Hunter was a man who always had an endgame, was to make Molly so aware of what it felt like to be a couple, that she’d know the emptiness she’d feel if she let him go. Because he was afraid she might do just that if he failed to get her father off.

***

JESSIE AND SETH stood in the hall, eavesdropping on Molly and Hunter. They hadn’t intended to, but when they’d passed Molly’s open door on the way to hang with Ollie in the study, they’d heard Molly and the lawyer talking about her dad’s case. So how could she and Seth not listen to what the so-called adults had to say?

When the subject changed to Molly and her mother, Seth pulled on Jessie’s hand and they made their way to the study. Jessie would have liked to hear what else her half sister had to say about her mother, but Seth didn’t give her a choice.

They walked into the study.

“Hi, Ollie,” Jessie said.

The bird flapped his wings.

Jessie grinned. “Are you bored?” she asked him, then glanced at Seth, who stared out the window to the street. He’d been fidgety all day but that wasn’t much different than the way he’d been since his father died.

She didn’t blame him for not being himself. She couldn’t imagine how he got through every day. All Jessie could do was keep bringing up subjects that weren’t upsetting to distract him.

Today she had the perfect thing to talk about. “Boy, Molly’s mother is a bitch, isn’t she?” Jessie whispered in case anyone was in the hall.

Seth shrugged without turning around.

“Bitch is back,” Ollie said.

“Grandma taught him Elton John songs.” Jessie laughed.

Seth didn’t.

“You don’t seem to be yourself today.” Jessie bit down on the inside of her cheek. “I know this is a stupid question, but is something wrong? Beyond the obvious. Do you know what I mean?” Her face flushed with heat as she asked him what had to be the most ridiculous question ever.

His father had been murdered. Of course something was wrong.

Jessie walked up behind him and touched his shoulder. “I’m a dope—”

“Can I talk to you?” he asked at the same time, turning around. His eyes were wide and filled with fear.

Jessie’s stomach flipped a little as she wondered what was bothering him. “You can always talk to me.” She plopped herself onto the couch and patted the seat beside her.

Seth shook his head. “I can’t sit. I can’t sleep. I can’t go on like this.”

Her stomach didn’t flip, it rolled. “You’re scaring me,” she said. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh my God. Oh my God.” His restlessness turned into jittery nerves. He ran his hand across the top of his short hair over and over again. “Did you hear the lawyer? He said Frank’s case isn’t a slam dunk.”

Jessie nodded. “I also heard him say that he wouldn’t give up and Molly said she trusts him.”

“And that’s good enough for you? Since when do you put stock in anything she says?” Seth asked, shocked.

Jessie’s stomach hurt like it did when she was confused. “I don’t know.” She plucked at the cotton material of the yellow sweater. Molly’s yellow sweater. She’d worn it two days in a row. “Maybe I didn’t give her a chance when she first came here and maybe she’s not as bad as I thought.”

After all, Molly seemed to understand her at least a little, and she wasn’t holding her bratty behavior against her like a friend might do. And she had let Jessie wear her sweater despite her snooping and her threats.

Seth paced in front of her. “Hunter said he didn’t want to give Molly false hope or make promises. He isn’t sure he can get your father off and that scares me.”

“Me, too, but I try not to think about it.”

Seth curled his hands into tight fists. “I can’t not think about it. I live with it every day.”

“We have to believe in justice,” Jessie said, trying to act like Molly would. Trying to say something to calm Seth down.

“Too many things could go wrong. Your dad could go to jail and it would be my fault.”

His words made no sense. “I don’t understand. “Your fault how? You didn’t—”

Seth whirled on her suddenly. “Yes, I did! I did it. I killed my father and I was going to tell, I was, but I was so scared. And then Molly’s friend came and everyone seemed to trust the guy and thought he’d get Frank off. But now even he doesn’t think so.”

Jessie’s entire body grew cold. She barely heard the last sentence of what Seth had said. “You killed your father?”

His head bobbed up and down. “It was an accident. He hit my mom again. He cheated your father and destroyed his business, and my mom yelled at him that I wouldn’t be able to go to college and he’d ruined our lives. He hit her. I took his gun just to scare him. I wanted to be a man. For my mom’s sake.” Tears filled his eyes and he wiped them with his sleeve.

Jessie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Nausea filled her and she was chilled to the bone. “What happened?” she asked.

“I took the spare key to the office and walked there. My dad had been drinking and he was a nasty drunk. So when I showed up with the gun, he made fun of me. Said I didn’t have the balls to use the weapon. He was right.”

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