“No!” Jessie waved her hands frantically in the air. “You can’t tell him. You can’t tell anybody.” She grabbed on to Molly’s arm and squeezed her tightly. “Promise me?”

Molly couldn’t make such a promise without betraying everything she believed in. But she had promised Jessie she wouldn’t reveal her secret without permission. Molly bit down on her bottom lip. What would her father do? Molly wondered.

The general, if he knew the truth, would no doubt take the blame if it meant protecting Seth. As honest as Frank was, he’d put his family first. That was his code of ethics. In her heart, Molly understood it.

But everything inside her shouted for her to run screaming the truth to everyone in the house. Justice demanded it. Honesty demanded it.

Hunter would demand it, Molly thought.

Her gaze fell to Jessie’s hand, still gripping Molly’s arm. Slowly, she raised her stare, focusing on Jessie’s tear-stained face. The face of the young girl who’d finally turned to Molly with the ultimate trust and faith.

Loyalty to someone in her family or honesty and trust in Hunter. Once again, Molly was faced with the most difficult decision of her life, except that this time she knew what she had to do. And doing it would probably destroy the family that meant everything to her and the life she’d worked so hard to build.

“You won’t tell?” Jessie asked.

Molly sighed. “I won’t tell,” she said, meeting her sister’s gaze and lying to her face.

***

HUNTER RUBBED a hand across his eyes and let out a yawn. He was exhausted but he knew the worst wasn’t over yet. He stretched out in the chair by the desk in his borrowed office/bedroom and made a list of things to do, starting with requesting a postponement on the hearing. Nobody in this house was up to dealing with the general’s life-or-death situation while Seth was missing. He picked up the phone and called his office, telling them to get the papers together ASAP.

“This family can’t catch a break,” he muttered after he hung up.

“Breaks are for sissies,” Ollie squawked.

Hunter jerked toward the birdcage in the corner. “I forgot you were even here.”

“Live here, live here,” the macaw said.

A knock sounded on the door and Molly stepped inside. One look at her pale face and Hunter knew something was wrong. “What is it?” he asked.

She gripped the door handle behind her, leaning against the wall for support. “I’m going to be sick.”

He rose and walked to her. Clasping her hand, he led her to the couch. “Talk to me.”

She drew in a shaky breath. “If I do, I’m going to betray Jessie’s confidence and destroy not only what little progress we’ve made in our relationship but probably any hope for any future relations, forget any sisterly bond.”

Hunter exhaled hard. Just the fact that Molly was revealing that she had something to tell was progress. Last time she’d just remained silent, choosing not to trust him at all. But he couldn’t indulge his emotional elation at the moment. Instead he focused on the situation.

He squeezed Molly’s hand. “What happens if you keep her secret?”

“Complete devastation.” She hung her head and her soft hair fell forward, covering her face. “God, what a mess.”

“I can’t tell you what to do but I’m glad you came right to me instead of keeping it all bottled up inside.” He brushed her hair back from her face. “Where is Seth?” he asked, certain that was the information she possessed.

She treated him to a slight smile that warmed him straight to his toes.

“I don’t know where Seth is.”

He remained silent, hoping she’d tell him on her own.

“Seth killed Paul Markham. Jessie said it was an accident, but when the hearing got moved up, he panicked and must have run away.” Her words came out in a rush, as if she’d change her mind if she said it slowly.

Hunter didn’t need time to process the news. He took it in all at once. “Jesus. The kid killed his own father?”

Molly nodded, her expression a mixture of sadness, concern and devastation over what she had to view as her betrayal of Jessie’s trust.

He tightened his grip on her hand. “You had no choice but to tell me.”

“Tell that to Jessie.”

“Don’t bother. I heard it myself,” Jessie said from the doorway.

Molly shook her head. Her dejected, stricken look said everything she must be feeling. “Jessie, I had no choice.”

“But I did. I had a choice and I confided in you. I’m an idiot for trusting you,” Jessie said. “You’re such a liar.”

“Hey, that’s uncalled for.” Hunter stepped up to Molly’s defense. “This is a complicated situation—”

“Don’t bother defending me. Jessie has every right to be hurt and angry.” Molly rose to her feet.

Hunter wished he could take away her pain, but he knew she had no choice but to face Jessie’s hurt and anger, and deal with it. With a sharp incline of his head, he resigned himself to staying silent. For now.

“So that whole story about you regretting not telling Hunter something was bull, right? You just wanted to get me to tell you my secrets.” Jessie folded her arms over her chest and glared at Molly.

“No, that story was true. Every last word. You had to tell me the truth. You couldn’t possibly mean to let Dad go to jail for a murder he didn’t commit,” Molly said softly.

The teenager shook her head. “But Seth can’t go to jail, either.” Her voice breaking, she lowered herself to the floor, her back against the wall.

Hunter decided this was his time to step in. “He won’t. Not if I have anything to do with it, but in order for me to protect him, I need to know where he is. I have to hear the story from him and decide how to proceed.”

He stepped closer to Jessie and knelt down beside her. “You’re too young to carry such a huge secret. You know it. That’s why you confided in Molly, because you had to tell someone you trusted. And she couldn’t keep such a huge secret to herself either because she loves you and Seth and your father. Can you understand what I’m saying without being insulted?” he asked.

Jessie nodded without meeting his gaze. “That doesn’t mean I’m not still upset.”

Hunter tried not to laugh, understanding the kid’s need to have the last word over her sister. “Now do you think you can tell me where Seth went?”

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