This Heart of Mine (Chicago Stars #5)


by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Chapter 1

Daphne the Bunny was admiring her sparkly violet nail polish when Benny the Badger zoomed past on his red mountain bike and knocked her off her paws.

"Oh, you pesky badger!" she exclaimed. "Somebody needs to squeeze the air out of your tires."

Daphne Takes a Tumble

The day Kevin Tucker nearly killed her, Molly Somerville swore off unrequited love forever.

She was dodging the icy places in the Chicago Stars headquarters parking lot when Kevin came roaring out of nowhere in his brand-new $140,000 fire-engine-red Ferrari 355 Spider. With tires shrieking and engine snarling, the low-slung car sprang around the corner, spewing slush. As the rear end flew toward her, she flung herself backward, hit the bumper of her brother-in-law's Lexus, lost her footing, and fell in a cloud of angry exhaust.

Kevin Tucker didn't even slow.

Molly gazed at the fading taillights, gritted her teeth, and picked herself up. Dirty snow and muck clung to one leg of her excruciatingly expensive Comme des Garçons pants, her Prada tote was a mess, and her Italian boots had a scratch. "Oh, you pesky quarterback," she muttered under her breath. "Somebody needs to castrate you."

He hadn't even seen her, let alone noticed that he'd nearly killed her! Of course, that was nothing new. Kevin Tucker had spent his entire career with the Chicago Stars football team not noticing her.

Daphne dusted off her fluffy white cottontail, rubbed the dirt from her shimmery blue pumps, and decided to buy herself the fastest pair of Rollerblades in the whole world. So fast she could catch up with Benny and his mountain bike…

Molly spent a few moments contemplating chasing Kevin in the chartreuse Volkswagen Beetle she'd bought used after she'd sold her Mercedes, but even her fertile imagination couldn't conjure up a satisfactory conclusion to that scene. As she headed toward the front entrance of Stars headquarters, she shook her head in self-disgust. The man was reckless and shallow, and he only cared about football. Enough was enough. She was finished with unrequited love.

Not that it was really love. Instead, she had a pathetic crush on the jerk, which might be excusable if she were sixteen, but was ludicrous for a twenty-seven-year-old woman with a near-genius IQ.

Some genius.

A blast of warm air hit her as she entered the lobby through a set of glass doors emblazoned with the team logo, consisting of three interlocking gold stars in a sky blue oval. She no longer spent much time at the Chicago Stars headquarters as she'd done when she was still in high school. Even then she'd felt like a stranger. As a dyed-in-the-wool romantic, she preferred reading a really good novel or losing herself in a museum to watching contact sports. Of course she was a dedicated Stars fan, but her loyalty was more a product of family background than natural inclination. Sweat, blood, and the violent clashing of shoulder pads were as foreign to her nature as… well… Kevin Tucker.

"Aunt Molly!"

"We've been waiting for you!"

"You'll never ever guess what happened!"

She smiled as her beautiful eleven-year-old nieces came flying into the lobby, blond hair streaming behind them.

Tess and Julie looked like miniature versions of their mother, Molly's older sister, Phoebe. The girls were identical twins, but Tess was enveloped in jeans and a baggy Stars sweatshirt, while Julie wore black capris and a pink sweater. Both were athletic but Julie loved ballet, and Tess triumphed at team sports. Their sunny, optimistic natures made the Calebow twins popular with their classmates but a trial to their parents, since it never occurred to either girl to turn down a challenge.

The twins screeched to a stop. Whatever they'd been about to tell Molly vanished as they stared at her hair.

"Omigod, it's red!"

"Really red!"

"That's so cool! Why didn't you tell us?"

"It was sort of an impulse," Molly replied.

"I'm gonna dye my hair just like it!" Julie announced.

"Not your best idea," Molly said quickly. "Now, what were you going to tell me?"

"Dad is like so mad," Tess declared, eyes wide.

Julie's eyes grew even larger. "Him and Uncle Ron have been fighting with Kevin again."

Molly's ears perked up, even though she'd turned her back forever on unrequited love. "What did he do? Other than nearly run me over."

"He did?"

"Never mind. Tell me."

Julie took a gulp of air. "He went skydiving in Denver the day before the Broncos game."

"Oh, boy…" Molly's heart sank.

"Dad just found out about it, and he fined him ten thousand dollars!"

"Wow." As far as Molly knew, this was the first time Kevin had ever been fined.

The quarterback's uncharacteristic recklessness had started just before training camp in July, when an amateur motorcycle dirt track racing event had left him with a sprained wrist. It was unlike him to do anything that could jeopardize his performance on the field, so everyone had been sympathetic, especially Dan, who considered Kevin the consummate professional.

Dan's attitude had begun to shift, however, after word reached him that during the regular season Kevin had gone paragliding in Monument Valley. Not long after, the quarterback bought the high-performance Ferrari Spider that had knocked Molly over in the parking lot. Then last month the Sun-Times reported that Kevin had left Chicago after the Monday postgame meetings to fly out to Idaho for a day of heli-skiing in a secluded back bowl at Sun Valley. Since Kevin hadn't been injured, Dan had only given him a warning. But the recent skydiving incident had obviously pushed her brother-in-law over the edge.

"Dad yells all the time, but I never heard him yell at Kevin until today," Tess reported. "And Kevin yelled back. He said he knew what he was doing and he wasn't hurt and Dad should stay out of his private business."

Molly winced. "I'll bet your dad didn't like that."

"He really yelled then," Julie said. "Uncle Ron tried to calm them down, but Coach came in, and then he started yelling, too."

Molly knew that her sister Phoebe had an aversion to yelling. "What did your mom do?"

"She went to her office and turned up Alanis Morissette."

Probably a good thing.

They were interrupted by the pounding of sneakers as her five-year-old nephew, Andrew, came flying around the corner, much like Kevin's Ferrari. "Aunt Molly! Guess what?" He hurled himself against her knees. "Everybody yelled, and my ears hurt."