Hunter blinked, obviously surprised. “I see.” He paused, then cool as can be, he said, “I don’t have the time right now but I could recommend a colleague who’d be happy to take the case.”
Inside, she winced. Outside, she somehow remained composed. Two seconds ago she’d been willing to climb into her car, drive away and find some other solution to her problem. Now she shook her head, desperation making her temples pound. “I don’t want someone else. I want the best.” She looked into his golden eyes. “I want you.”
She flushed hot as she realized the double meaning in her words but refused to take them back. Seeing him again had made her realize she needed him, too, whether he liked it or not.
He scowled at her. His angry expression masked the thoughts running through his head, beyond the walls he’d erected to keep her out. “I’m not licensed in California. Isn’t that where your father lives?”
“That was the man I thought was my father. My real father is retired army general Frank Addams. He lives in Connecticut and I know you’re licensed there as well as New York.” Maybe, she thought, if she eliminated obstacle by obstacle, he’d have no choice but to represent her innocent father.
“Ah. Apparently a lot’s happened since you left, but then that was the point, wasn’t it?”
She gave him that one and inclined her head, squinting against the glare of the sun. “It looks like your life’s been pretty full, as well.”
Molly figured the brunette wearing his shirt kept him plenty busy.
“For all I knew, you fell off the face of the earth. Did you expect me to sit around and twiddle my thumbs until you decided to return? If you decided to return?” He folded his arms across his chest and propped a shoulder against the still-open car door, his barriers physical, emotional and miles high.
His anger hurt as much as a slap in the face. Her palms grew sweaty and she wiped her hands against her thighs. But he was correct. She had no right to utter a word of criticism or complaint. She’d left and stayed away.
He wouldn’t care that she’d written to him and kept the letters in a box beneath her bed. The fact that she’d never mailed them would only be further proof of her rejection. Only she could understand the scars left by her childhood, scars that had just begun to heal thanks to the love of a father who’d never willingly have left her to a coldhearted mother if he’d known the truth.
Obviously her healing came too late to fix them, though. It was a risk she’d had to take, but God how it sliced through her like a knife to know she’d well and truly lost Hunter for good.
She swallowed hard. “I didn’t think you’d want to hear from me. But Lacey knew where I was.” Hunter’s best friend was a woman Molly had met during her time in his hometown. Born Lilly Dumont, she’d changed her name to Lacey and eventually married her childhood sweetheart and Hunter’s other best friend, Tyler Benson. The three had a bond that no one could break.
At one time Molly might have been jealous, but she understood now that they were the only family Hunter had, and Molly liked and respected them for it. “Didn’t Lacey tell you where I was?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I told her not to mention your name.”
“Don’t sugarcoat your feelings.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.”
A sudden chill took hold and she couldn’t blame the March air. Molly did her best not to shiver or show weakness in front of Hunter. He wanted to hurt her and she needed to remain strong. At least until she’d convinced him he had no choice but to come on board with her.
She dug her nails into her palms, wishing she could end this conversation and put herself out of her misery. But she had to give hiring him one more shot.
Finding it hard to face him, she glanced down first and realized he’d run after her in bare feet. His urgency to reach her before she took off said something. Didn’t it? She chose to take heart from the little things. “Whatever you think of me, don’t take it out on my father. He needs you.”
Hunter narrowed his gaze. “I don’t think—”
“Don’t think,” she said, pleading with him now. “Pretend this is any other pro bono case. The general is a person in need, Hunter. The kind you like best. Please help him. Help me.”
He paused for what seemed like forever, his icy stare never leaving hers. Molly searched for a hint of the warm, compassionate, caring man she’d known, but he was nowhere to be found. She thought back to his messy apartment and once again was struck by the difference in his appearance. He’d changed, outwardly not for the better, and she was afraid to consider what role her leaving had played in his transformation.
Then again maybe she was giving herself too much credit. She needed answers from him, not just about whether he’d help her father, but about himself.
“Hunter?” Reaching out, she placed her hand on his bare arm. The spring air around them was warm; his body was even hotter, singeing her fingertips where she touched.
He jerked his arm back as if she’d pinched him. “I’ll think about it,” he said in a roughened tone of voice that didn’t invite further conversation.
She didn’t know whether or not to believe him but she had no choice. “That’s all I can ask,” she said softly and before he could change his mind, she turned and slid into her car.
Their gazes met and held for a long while until finally he slammed the door shut. Neither one of them had discussed how he’d reach her, she thought, her stomach in knots, her hopes for saving her father plummeting.
Molly held back tears as she put the car in drive and hit the gas, refusing to look into the rearview mirror. She didn’t want to see him watching her leave nor did she want to find out he hadn’t stuck around to see it.
Her throat burned painfully. What had happened to the lighthearted guy she knew? The playful sparring partner she’d met during their years at Albany law school. Back then he’d ask her out often and she’d routinely say no. Not because she hadn’t been interested. Only a blind woman wouldn’t be attracted to his rugged good looks and deliberate polish, but Molly had had her eye on a goal and she had no room for distractions, no matter how sexy.
Yet there always had been so much more to Hunter than what he allowed the world to see. Molly had always looked deeper. From the beginning, she’d been drawn in more by what he kept from the world than by his physical appeal. She admired his intellect and the way he’d volunteer in class, coming up with a unique and somewhat controversial answer that still made sense. Like her, he had few friends, preferring to walk the halls and library alone. Perhaps because she could relate, she’d sensed a man with high walls, similar to her own. Walls she might have tried to breach had she not been so focused on graduating at the top of her class.