MOLLY GIFFORD PACKED the last of her suitcases and boxes into the trunk and slammed it shut tight. Another door closing, she thought. Her life here in Hawken’s Cove was over. Finished. Time to move on. She spared a last glance at the house she’d lived in for the last year, a year she’d spent grasping for that elusive thing called family that was always just out of reach.
She should have known better. Shouldn’t have gotten her hopes up that this time would be different. That her mother would marry, settle down and make a family that included Molly instead of excluding her. And at the ripe old age of twenty-seven, Molly should be way past caring. But she wasn’t. She was still the kid shuffled from boarding school to boarding school, the quality of which depended on the size of her mother’s current husband’s checkbook. Her real father wasn’t good for more than a couple of cards a year, her birthday and the punch-in-the-gut Christmas card with the photo of his family.
Just a week ago, her mother had broken her engagement, then dumped her suddenly broke, scandal-ridden fiancé and taken off for Europe with barely a goodbye to her daughter. Molly finally got it. She was on her own and always would be. So she was leaving in search of herself and a life that didn’t include unrequited hopes and expectations weighing her down.
“Molly? Molly, wait.” The voice of her landlady, make that ex-landlady, Anna Marie Costanza, called for Molly’s attention.
“Don’t worry, I was going to say goodbye,” Molly assured the older woman and headed up the driveway to meet her.
“Well, of course you were.” Anna Marie’s faith in Molly was unwavering.
Molly smiled and watched Anna Marie make her way down the porch steps. She would miss her nosy neighbor.
Anna Marie walked up beside Molly. “You don’t have to go. You could stay here and face your fears.”
Pearls of wisdom, but she couldn’t heed them. She looked into the older woman’s face. “Here’s the thing. My fears will follow me wherever I go.”
“Then why leave?” She reached out a hand and touched Molly’s shoulder. “I know for a fact I’m not the only one who wants you to stay.”
“Listening in on my talk with Hunter earlier?” Molly’s stomach lurched at the reminder of a man she’d been trying not to think about as she spent the last few hours packing up her old life.
Anna Marie shook her head and thin gray strands fell from their binding. “This is one time I can say emphatically not. I’ve learned my lesson about eavesdropping and passing on information that isn’t mine. It’s just obvious how much that man wants you around.”
Molly opened her mouth, then closed it again. She swallowed over the lump in her throat. “I can’t stay.” But she’d thought about it.
She still did, especially when she remembered the hope in Hunter’s eyes when he’d asked her to stay with him in his hometown of Hawken’s Cove, New York, and the pleading edge in his voice when he’d offered to go with her wherever she needed to run in order to escape the pain.
I never had family, either. I understand what you’re going through. Why not work through it together? Hunter had swallowed his pride and handed her his heart.
He tempted her and her heart had begged her to change her mind but she couldn’t. Because she didn’t know who she was or what she wanted out of life, she’d rejected him. She opened and closed her fingers in useless frustration. She was a woman without ties, without real friends, without an anchor. She needed time to figure it all out. Yet her throat swelled with longing and emotion just the same.
“He loves you,” Anna Marie said.
Molly inclined her head. She swallowed hard, the pain growing with each passing minute because she loved Hunter, too. Enough to know she wasn’t whole enough to offer her sometimes friend, sometimes nemesis, not yet lover, anything worthwhile.
“I made my decision,” Molly said, the words feeling thick and uncomfortable, nearly lodging in her throat.
The other woman nodded. “I already know you won’t change your mind. You’re like me that way. But I had to have my say anyway.” She treated Molly to a sage smile.
“I know and I appreciate it.”
“Here. Today’s mail came and seeing as how you don’t have a forwarding address yet, I wanted to make sure you had everything before you took off.” She handed Molly a large envelope.
Molly turned it over and looked at the return address. Napa Valley, California. Her errant father had surfaced on a day other than her birthday or Christmas? That was odd.
“I’ve got to get back inside. I’m working on an ad to place in the paper to rent your apartment.” Anna Marie spoke matter-of-factly but her words only added to the knot in Molly’s stomach.
“You were a wonderful landlady, neighbor and friend.” Molly enfolded the other woman in a hug. “Thanks for everything.”
“You keep in touch, Molly Gifford. I hope you find what you’re looking for in this world.” With a final wave, Anna Marie headed back for the house.
Molly reached for the car keys in her jacket pocket, accidentally dropping the envelope Anna Marie had given her. She scooped it back up. The paper burned her hands. The urge to drive far away from the memories here warred with curiosity over what was inside. Curiosity won and she tore open the sealed binding, pulling out a card and a separate, folded sheet of paper.
She scanned the beautifully printed, pink baby announcement. Her father’s other daughter, Jennifer, had had a baby. Molly’s dad was a grandfather. Molly didn’t know her half sister at all and the news would normally barely register on her radar except as another arrow in her heart. The accompanying note changed everything.
She scanned the attached page, reading and rereading as if the words would change on the next viewing. They didn’t.
She grew dizzy fast and realized she’d stopped taking in air. Forcing herself to breathe deeply and evenly, she leaned against the outside of the car and read the note once more.
As you can see I’m a grandpa. It’s the most amazing thing. More so than becoming a parent even. And this new phase in my life has caused me to reevaluate some decisions I made when I was young. I understand biological ties and family so much more now and I owe you this information. What you do with it is up to you.
We both know your mother is a woman with an agenda. Always was. She married me and passed her pregnancy off as mine, but I soon learned that you were the product of her affair with a man she’d known before coming to California. His name is Frank Addams. General Frank Addams, which explains why your mother chose a vineyard owner with family money to name as her baby’s father rather than a man planning an army career. Since I knew you’d never want for anything, I kept her secret, but I now realize the fact that you had food and shelter couldn’t possibly replace family.