This Heart of Mine (Chicago Stars #5)(3)


by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

"Oh, Molly… not again." The consternation in her sister's eyes made Molly wish she'd worn a hat.

"Relax, will you? Nothing's going to happen."

"How can I relax? Every time you do something drastic to your hair, we have another incident."

"I outgrew incidents a long-time ago." Molly sniffed. "This was purely cosmetic."

"I don't believe you. You're getting ready to do something crazy again, aren't you?"

"I am not!" If she said it frequently enough, maybe she'd convince herself.

"Only ten years old," Phoebe muttered to herself. "The brightest and best-behaved student at the boarding school. Then, out of nowhere, you hack off your bangs and plant a stink bomb in the dining hall."

"Nothing more than a gifted child's chemistry experiment."

"Thirteen years old. Quiet. Studious. Not a single misstep since the stink-bomb incident. Until you started combing grape Jell-O powder through your hair. Then presto change-o! You pack up Bert's college trophies, call a garbage company, and have them hauled away."

"You liked that one when I told you about it. Admit it."

But Phoebe was on a roll, and she wasn't admitting anything. "Four years go by. Four years of model behavior and high scholastic achievement. Dan and I have taken you into our home, into our hearts. You're a senior, on your way to being valedictorian. You have a stable home, people who love you… You're vice-president of the Student Council, so why should I worry when you put blue and orange stripes in your hair?"

"They were the school colors," Molly said weakly.

"I get the call from the police telling me that my sister—my studious, brainy, Citizen of the Month sister!—deliberately set off a fire alarm during fifth-period lunch! No more little mischief for our Molly! Oh, no… She's gone straight to a class-two felony!"

It had been the most miserable thing Molly had ever done. She'd betrayed the people who loved her, and even after a year of court supervision and many hours of community service, she hadn't been able to explain why. That understanding had come later, during her sophomore year at Northwestern.

It had been in the spring, right before finals. Molly had found herself restless and unable to concentrate. Instead of studying, she read stacks of romance novels, drew, or stared at her hair in the mirror and yearned for something pre-Raphaelite. Even using up her allowance on hair extensions hadn't made the restlessness go away. Then one day she'd walked out of the college bookstore and discovered a calculator that she hadn't paid for tucked in her purse.

Wiser than she'd been in high school, she'd rushed back inside to return it and headed for Northwestern's counseling office.

Phoebe interrupted Molly's thoughts by jumping to her feet. "And the last time…"

Molly winced, even though she'd known this was where Phoebe would end up.

"… the last time you did something this drastic to your hair—that awful crew cut two years ago…"

"It was trendy, not awful."

Phoebe set her teeth. "The last time you did something this drastic, you gave away fifteen million dollars!"

"Yes, well… Getting the crew cut was purely coincidental."

"Ha!"

For the fifteen millionth time, Molly explained why she'd done it. "Bert's money was strangling me. I needed to make a final break from the past so I could be my own person."

"A poor person!"

Molly smiled. Although Phoebe would never admit it, she understood exactly why Molly had given up her inheritance. "Look on the bright side. Hardly anybody knows I gave away my money. They just think that I'm eccentric for driving a used Beetle and living in a place the size of a closet."

"You adore that place."

Molly didn't even try to deny it. Her loft was her most precious possession, and she loved knowing she earned the money that paid her mortgage each month. Only someone who'd grown up without a home that was truly her own could understand what it meant to her.

She decided to change the subject before Phoebe could start in on her again. "The munchkins told me Dan hit Mr. Shallow with a ten-thousand-dollar fine."

"I wish you wouldn't call him that. Kevin's not shallow, he's just—"

"Interest-impaired?"

"Honestly, Molly, I don't know why you dislike him so much. The two of you couldn't have exchanged even a dozen words over the years."

"By design. I avoid people who speak only Gridiron."

"If you knew him better, you'd adore him as much as I do."

"Isn't it fascinating that he mainly dates women with limited English? But I guess it prevents a silly thing like conversation from interfering with sex."

Phoebe laughed in spite of herself.

Although Molly shared almost everything with her sister, she hadn't shared her own infatuation with the Stars' quarterback. Not only would it be humiliating, but Phoebe would confide in Dan, who'd go ballistic. Her brother-in-law was more than a little protective where Molly was concerned, and unless an athlete was happily married or gay, he didn't want Molly anywhere near him.

At that moment the subject of her thoughts burst into the room. Dan Calebow was big, blond, and handsome. Age had treated him kindly, and in the twelve years since Molly had known him, the added lines in that virile face had only given him character. His was the kind of presence that filled a room by reflecting the perfect self-confidence of someone who knew what he stood for.

Dan had been head coach when Phoebe had inherited the Stars. Unfortunately, she hadn't known anything about football, and he'd immediately declared war. Their early battles had been so fierce that Ron McDermitt had once suspended Dan for insulting her, but it wasn't long before their anger turned into something else entirely.

Molly considered Phoebe and Dan's love story the stuff of legend, and she'd long ago decided that if she couldn't have what her sister and brother-in-law had together, she didn't want anything. Only a Great Love Story would satisfy Molly, and that was as likely as Dan rescinding Kevin's fine.

Her brother-in-law automatically wrapped an arm around Molly's shoulders. When Dan was with his family, he always had an arm around someone. A pang shot through her heart. Over the years she'd dated a lot of decent guys and even tried to convince herself she was in love with one or two of them, but she'd fallen out of love the moment she realized they couldn't come close to filling the giant shadow cast by her brother-in-law. She was beginning to suspect no one ever would.