This Heart of Mine (Chicago Stars #5)(4)


by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

"Phoebe, I know you like Kevin, but this time he's gone too far." His Alabama drawl always grew broader when he was upset, and now he was dripping molasses.

"That's what you said last time," Phoebe replied. "And you like him, too."

"I don't understand it! Playing for the Stars is the most important thing in his life. Why is he working so hard to screw that up?"

Phoebe smiled sweetly. "You could probably answer that better than either one of us, since you were a pretty big screwup until I came along."

"You must have me confused with someone else."

Phoebe laughed, and Dan's glower gave way to the intimate smile Molly had witnessed a thousand times and envied just as many. Then his smile faded. "If I didn't know him better, I'd think the devil was chasing him."

"Devils," Molly interjected. "All with foreign accents and big breasts."

"It goes along with being a football player, which is something I don't ever want you to forget."

She didn't want to hear any more about Kevin, so she gave Dan a quick peck on the cheek. "Hannah's waiting. I'll have her back late tomorrow afternoon."

"Don't let her see the morning papers."

"I won't." Hannah brooded when the newspapers weren't kind to the Stars, and Kevin's fine was sure to be controversial.

Molly waved her good-byes, collected Hannah, kissed the sibs, and set off for home. The East-West Tollway was already backing up with rush-hour traffic, and Molly knew it would be well over an hour before she got to Evanston, the old North Shore town that was both the location of her alma mater and her current home.

"Slytherin!" she called out to the jerk who cut her off.

"Dirty, rotten Slytherin!" Hannah echoed.

Molly smiled to herself. The Slytherins were the bad kids in the Harry Potter books, and Molly had turned the word into a useful G-rated curse. She'd been amused when Phoebe, then Dan, had started to use it. As Hannah began to chatter about her day, Molly found herself thinking back to her conversation with Phoebe and those years right after she'd finally come into her inheritance.

Bert's will had left Phoebe the Chicago Stars. What remained of his estate after a series of bad investments had gone to Molly. Since Molly was a minor, Phoebe had tended the money until it had grown into fifteen million dollars. Finally, with the emancipation of being twenty-one, along with her brand-new degree in journalism, Molly had taken control of her inheritance and started living the high life in a luxury apartment on Chicago's Gold Coast.

The place was sterile and her neighbors much older, but she was slow to realize she'd made a mistake. Instead, she'd indulged herself in the designer clothes she adored and bought presents for her friends as well as an expensive car for herself. But after a year she'd finally admitted that the life of the idle rich wasn't for her. She was used to working hard, whether in school or at the summer jobs Dan had insisted she take, so she'd accepted a position at a newspaper.

The work kept her busy, but it wasn't creative enough to be fulfilling, and she began to feel as if she were playing at life instead of living it. Finally she decided to quit so she could work on the epic romantic saga she'd always fantasized about writing. Instead, she found herself tinkering with the stories she made up for the Calebow children, tales of a spunky little bunny who wore the latest fashions, lived in a cottage at the edge of Nightingale Woods, and couldn't stay out of trouble.

She'd begun putting the stories on paper, then illustrating them with the funny drawings she'd done all her life but never taken seriously. Using pen and ink, then filling in the sketches with bright acrylic colors, she watched Daphne and her friends come alive.

She'd been elated when Birdcage Press, a small Chicago publisher, bought her first book, Daphne Says Hello, even though the advance money barely covered her postage. Still, she'd finally found her niche. But her vast wealth made her work seem more like a hobby than a vocation, and she continued feeling dissatisfied. Her restlessness grew. She hated her apartment, her wardrobe, her hair… A jazzy little crew cut didn't help.

She needed to pull a fire alarm.

Since those days were behind her, she'd found herself seated in her attorney's office telling him she wanted all of her money put into a foundation that would help disadvantaged children. He'd been flabbergasted, but she'd felt completely satisfied for the first time since she'd turned twenty-one. Phoebe had been given the opportunity to prove herself when she'd inherited the Stars, but Molly had never had that chance. Now she would. When she signed the papers, she felt feather-light and free.

"I love it here." Hannah sighed as Molly unlocked the door of her tiny second-floor loft a few minutes' walk from downtown Evanston. Molly gave her own sigh of pleasure. Even though she hadn't been gone long, she always loved the moment when she walked inside her own home.

All the Calebow children regarded Aunt Molly's loft as the coolest place on earth. The building had been constructed in 1910 for a Studebaker dealer, then used as an office building and eventually a warehouse before being renovated a few years ago. Her condo had floor-to-ceiling industrial windows, exposed ductwork, and old brick walls that held some of her drawings and paintings. Her unit was both the smallest in the building and the cheapest, but the fourteen-foot ceilings gave it a spacious feeling. Every month when she made her mortgage payment, she kissed the envelope before she slipped it into the mailbox. A silly ritual, but she did it just the same.

Most people assumed that Molly still had a stake in the Stars, and only a few of her very closest friends knew she was no longer a wealthy heiress. She supplemented her small income from the Daphne books by writing articles freelance for a teen magazine called Chik. There wasn't much left at the end of the month for her favorite luxuries—great clothes and hardback books, but she didn't mind. She bargain-shopped and used the library.

Life was good. She might never have a Great Love Story like Phoebe's, but at least she was blessed with a wonderful imagination and an active fantasy life. She had no complaints and certainly no reason to be afraid that her old restlessness might be rearing its unpredictable head. Her new hairstyle was nothing more than a fashion statement.

Hannah threw off her coat and crouched down to greet Roo, Molly's small gray poodle, who'd scampered to the door to greet them. Both Roo and the Calebows' poodle, Kanga, were the offspring of Phoebe's beloved Pooh.