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


by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

"Hey, stinker, did you miss me?" Molly tossed down her mail to plant a kiss on Roo's soft gray topknot. Roo reciprocated by swiping Molly's chin with his tongue, then crouching down to produce his very best growl.

"Yeah, yeah, we're impressed, aren't we, Hannah?"

Hannah giggled and looked up at Molly. "He still likes to pretend he's a police dog, doesn't he?"

"The baddest dog on the force. Let's not damage his self-esteem by telling him he's a poodle."

Hannah gave Roo an extra squeeze, then abandoned him to head for Molly's workspace, which took up one end of the open living area. "Have you written any more articles? I loved 'Prom-Night Passion.' "

Molly smiled. "Soon."

In keeping with the demands of the marketplace, the articles she freelanced to Chik were almost always published with suggestive titles, although their content was tame. "Prom-Night Passion" stressed the consequences of backseat sex. "From Virgin to Vixen" had been an article on cosmetics, and "Nice Girls Go Wild" followed three fourteen-year-olds on a camping trip.

"Can I see your new drawings?"

Molly hung up their coats. "I don't have any. I'm just getting started with a new idea." Sometimes her books began with idle sketches, other times with text. Today it had been real-life inspiration.

"Tell me! Please!"

They always shared cups of Constant Comment tea before they did anything else, and Molly walked into the tiny kitchen that sat opposite her work area to put water on to boil. Her minuscule sleeping loft was located just above, where it looked out over the living space below. Metal shelves on the downstairs walls overflowed with the books she adored: her beloved set of Jane Austen's novels, tattered copies of the works of Daphne Du Maurier and Anya Seton, all of Mary Stewart's early books, along with Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Danielle Steel.

Narrower shelves held double-deep rows of paperbacks—historical sagas, romance, mysteries, travel guides, and reference books. Her favorite literary writers were also well represented, along with biographies of famous women and some of Oprah's less depressing book club selections, most of which Molly had discovered before Oprah shared them with the world.

She kept the children's books she loved on shelves in the sleeping loft. Her collection included all the Eloise stories and Harry Potter books, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, some Judy Blume, Gertrude Chandler Warner's The Boxcar Children, Anne of Green Gables, a little Sweet Valley High for fun, and the tattered Barbara Cartland books she'd discovered when she was ten. It was the collection of a dedicated bookworm, and all the Calebow children loved curling up on her bed with a whole stack piled around them while they tried to decide which one to read next.

Molly pulled out a pair of china teacups with delicate gold rims and a scatter of purple pansies. "I decided today that I'm calling my new book Daphne Takes a Tumble."

"Tell me!"

"Well… Daphne is walking through Nightingale Woods minding her own business when, out of nowhere, Benny comes racing past on his mountain bike and knocks her off her feet."

Hannah shook her head disapprovingly. "That pesky badger."

"Exactly."

Hannah regarded her cagily. "I think somebody should steal Benny's mountain bike. Then he'd stay out of trouble."

Molly smiled. "Stealing doesn't exist in Nightingale Woods. Didn't we talk about that when you wanted somebody to steal Benny's jet ski?"

"I guess." Her mouth set in the mulish line she'd inherited from her father. "But if there can be mountain bikes and jet skis in Nightingale Woods, I don't see why there can't be stealing, too. And Benny doesn't mean to do bad things. He's just mischievous."

Molly thought of Kevin. "There's a thin line between mischief and stupidity."

"Benny's not stupid!"

Hannah looked stricken, and Molly wished she'd kept her mouth shut. "Of course he's not. He's the smartest badger in Nightingale Woods." She ruffled her niece's hair. "Let's have our tea, and then we'll take Roo for a walk by the lake."

Molly didn't get a chance to look at her mail until later that night, after Hannah had fallen asleep with a tattered copy of The Jennifer Wish. She put her phone bill in a clip, then absentmindedly opened a business-size envelope. She wished she hadn't bothered as she took in the letterhead.

Straight Kids for a Straight America

The radical homosexual agenda has targeted your children! Our most innocent citizens are being lured toward the evils of perversion by obscene books and irresponsible television shows that glorify this deviant and morally repugnant behavior…

Straight Kids for a Straight America, SKIFSA, was a Chicago-based organization whose wild-eyed members had been appearing on all the local talk shows to spew their personal paranoia. If only they'd turn their energies to something constructive, like keeping guns away from kids, and she tossed the letter in the trash.

Late the next afternoon Molly lowered one hand from the steering wheel and ran her fingers through Roo's topknot. Earlier she'd returned Hannah to her parents, and now she was on her way to the Calebows' Door County, Wisconsin, vacation home. It would be late when she got there, but the roads were clear and she didn't mind driving at night.

She'd made the decision to travel north impulsively. Her conversation with Phoebe yesterday had exposed something she'd been doing her best to deny. Her sister was right. Having her hair dyed red was a symptom of a bigger problem. Her old restlessness was back.

True, she wasn't experiencing any compulsion to pull a fire alarm, and giving away her money was no longer an option. But that didn't mean that her subconscious couldn't find some new way to commit mayhem. She had the uneasy sensation she was being drawn back to a place she thought she'd left behind.

She remembered what the counselor had told her all those years ago at Northwestern.

"As a child, you believed you could make your father love you if you did everything you were supposed to. If you got the best grades, minded your manners, followed all the rules, then he'd give you the approval every child needs. But your father was incapable of that kind of love. Eventually something inside you snapped, and you did the worst thing you could think of. Your rebellion was actually healthy. It kept you functioning."