This Heart of Mine (Chicago Stars #5)(17)

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

"Hey, Miz Molly. We've missed you." Dan gave her his customary rib-crushing bear hug.

As she hugged him back, she thought how lucky she was to have them both. "It's only been two weeks since New Year's."

"And two weeks since you've been home. Phoebe gets cranky." He tossed his jacket over the back of the couch.

As Molly took Phoebe's coat, she smiled. Dan still considered their house Molly's real home. He didn't understand how she felt about her condo. "Dan, do you remember the first time we met? I tried to convince you Phoebe was beating me."

"Hard to forget something like that. I still remember what you told me. You said she wasn't entirely evil, just mildly twisted."

Phoebe laughed. "The good old days."

Molly gazed fondly at her sister. "I was such a little prig, it's a wonder you didn't beat me."

"Somerville girls had to find their own ways to survive."

One of us still does, Molly thought.

Roo adored Phoebe and pounced into her lap the moment she sat. "I'm so glad I got to see the illustrations for Daphne Takes a Tumble before you sent them off. The expression on Benny's face when his mountain bike slips in the rain puddle is priceless. Any ideas for a new book?"

She hesitated. "Still in the thinking stages."

"Hannah was delirious when Daphne bandaged Benny's paw. I don't think she expected Daphne to forgive him."

"Daphne is a very forgiving rabbit. Although she did use a pink lace ribbon for his bandage."

Phoebe laughed. "Benny needs to be more in touch with his feminine side. It's a wonderful book, Moll. You always manage to stick in one of life's important lessons and still be funny. I'm so glad you're writing."

"It's exactly what I always wanted to do. I just didn't know it."

"Speaking of that… Dan, did you remember—" Phoebe broke off as she realized Dan wasn't there. "He must have gone to the bathroom."

"I haven't cleaned in there for a couple of days. I hope it's not too—" Molly sucked in her breath and whirled around.

But it was too late. Dan was walking back in with the two empty boxes he'd seen in the wastebasket. The pregnancy test kits looked like loaded grenades in his big hands.

Molly bit her lip. She hadn't wanted to tell them yet. They were still dealing with the loss of the AFC Championship, and they didn't need another disappointment.

Phoebe couldn't see what her husband was holding until he dropped one of the boxes into her lap. She slowly picked it up. Her hand traveled to her cheek. "Molly?"

"I know you're twenty-seven years old," Dan said, "and we both try to respect your privacy, but I've got to ask about this."

He looked so upset that Molly couldn't bear it. He loved being a father, and he was going to have a harder time accepting this than Phoebe would.

Molly took the boxes and set them aside. "Why don't you sit down?"

He slowly folded his big body onto the couch next to his wife. Phoebe's hand instinctively crept into his. The two of them together against the world. Sometimes watching the love they had for each other made Molly feel lonely to the bottom of her soul.

She took the chair across from them and managed a shaky smile. "There's no easy way to tell you this. I'm going to have a baby."

Dan flinched, and Phoebe leaned against him.

"I know it's a shock, and I'm sorry for that. But I'm not sorry about the baby."

"Tell me there's going to be a wedding first."

Dan's lips had barely moved, and she was once again reminded of exactly how unbending he could be. If she didn't hold her ground now, he'd never give her any peace. "No wedding. And no daddy. That's not going to change, so you need to make peace with it."

Phoebe looked even more distressed. "I—I didn't know you were seeing anyone special. You usually tell me."

Molly couldn't let her probe too deeply. "I share a lot with you, Phoeb, but not everything."

A muscle had started to tic in Dan's jaw, definitely a bad sign. "Who is he?"

"I'm not going to tell you," she said quietly. "This was my doing, not his. I don't want him in my life."

"You damn well wanted him in your life long enough to get pregnant!"

"Dan, don't." Phoebe had never been intimidated by Dan's hot temper, and she looked far more concerned about Molly. "Don't make a decision too quickly, Moll. How far along are you?"

"Only six weeks. And I'm not going to change my mind. There'll be just the baby and me. And both of you, I hope."

Dan shot up and began to pace. "You have no idea what you're getting yourself into."

She could have pointed out that thousands of single women had babies every year and that he was a bit old-fashioned in his outlook, but she knew him too well to waste her breath. Instead, she concentrated on practicalities.

"I can't stop either of you from worrying, but you need to remember that I'm better equipped than most single women to have a child. I'm nearly thirty, I love children, and I'm emotionally stable." For the first time in her life she felt as if that might be true.

"You're also broke most of the time." Dan's lips were tight.

"Daphne sales are going up slowly."

"Very slowly," he said.

"And I can do more freelancing. I won't even have to pay for child care because I work at home."

He regarded her stubbornly. "Children need a father."

She rose and walked to him. "They need a good man in their life, and I hope you'll be there for this baby because you're the best there is."

That got to him, and he hugged her. "We just want you to be happy."

"I know. That's why I love you both so much."

"I just want her to be happy," Dan repeated to Phoebe as the two of them drove home that night after a strained dinner.

"We both do. But she's an independent woman, and she's made up her mind." Her brow knit with worry. "I suppose all we can do now is support her."

"It happened sometime around the beginning of December." Dan's eyes narrowed. "I promise you one thing, Phoebe. I'm going to find the son of a bitch who did this to her, and then I'm going to take his head off."