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Daphne the Bunny was admiring her sparkly violet nail polish when Benny the Badger zoomed past on his red mountain bike and knocked her off her paws.
"Oh, you pesky badger!" she exclaimed. "Somebody needs to squeeze the air out of your tires."
-- from Daphne Takes a Tumble
The day Kevin Tucker nearly killed her, Molly Somerville swore off unrequited love forever.
She was dodging the icy places in the Chicago Stars headquarters parking lot when Kevin came roaring out of nowhere in his brand new one hundred and forty thousand dollar fire-engine red Ferrari 355 Spider. With tires shrieking and engine snarling, the low-slung car sprang around the corner, spewing slush. As the rear end flew toward her, she flung herself backward, hit the bumper of her brother-in-law's Lexus, lost her footing, and fell in a cloud of angry exhaust.
Kevin Tucker didn't even slow.
Molly gazed at the fading taillights, gritted her teeth, and picked herself up. Dirty snow and muck clung to one leg of her excruciatingly expensive Comme des Garçon pants, her Prada tote was a mess, and her Italian boots had a scratch. "Oh, you pesky quarterback," she muttered under her breath. "Somebody needs to castrate you."
He hadn't even seen her, let alone noticed that he'd nearly killed her! Of course, that was nothing new. Kevin Tucker had spent his entire career with the Chicago Stars football team not noticing her.
Daphne dusted off her fluffy white cottontail, rubbed the dirt from her shimmery blue pumps, and decided to buy herself the fastest pair of rollerblades in the whole world. So fast she could catch up with Benny and his mountain bike…
Molly spent a few moments contemplating chasing Kevin in the chartreuse Volkswagen Beetle she'd bought used after she'd sold her Mercedes sports coupe, but even her fertile imagination couldn't conjure up a satisfactory conclusion to that scene. As she headed toward the front entrance of Stars headquarters, she shook her head in self-disgust. The man was reckless, shallow, and he only cared about football. Enough was enough. She was finished with unrequited love.
Not that it was really love. Instead, she had a pathetic crush on the jerk, which might be excusable if she were sixteen, but was ludicrous for a twenty-seven year old woman with a near genius I.Q.
A blast of warm air hit her as she entered the lobby through a set of glass doors emblazoned with the team logo consisting of three interlocking gold stars in a sky blue oval. She no longer spent much time at the Chicago Stars headquarters as she'd done when she was still in high school. Even then, she'd felt like a stranger. As a dyed-in-the-wool romantic, she preferred ready a really good novel or losing herself in a museum to contact sports. Of course she was a dedicated Stars fan, but her loyalty was more a product of family background than natural inclination. Sweat, blood, and the violent clashing of shoulder pads were as foreign to her nature as…well…Kevin Tucker.
"We've been waiting for you!"
"You'll never ever guess what happened!"
She smiled as her beautiful eleven-year-old nieces came flying into the lobby, blond hair streaming behind them.
Tess and Julie looked like miniature versions of their mother, Molly's older sister Phoebe. The girls were identical twins, but Tess was enveloped in jeans and a baggy Stars sweatshirt, while Julie wore black capris and a pink sweater.
The twins screeched to a stop. Whatever they'd been about to tell Molly vanished as they stared at her hair.
"Oh my god, it's red."
"That's so cool! Why didn't you tell us?"
"It was sort of an impulse," Molly replied.
"I'm gonna dye my hair just like it!" Julie announced.
"Not your best idea," Molly said quickly. "Now what were you going to tell me?"
"Dad is like so mad," Tess declared, eyes wide.
Julie's eyes grew even larger. "Him and Uncle Ron have been fighting with Kevin again."
Molly's ears perked up, even though she'd turned her back forever on unrequited love.
"What did he do? Other than nearly run me over."
"Never mind. Tell me."
Julie took a gulp of air. "He went skydiving in Denver the day before the Broncos game."
"Oh, boy…" Molly's heart sank.
"Dad just found out about it, and he fined him ten thousand dollars!"
"Wow." As far as Molly knew, this was the first time Kevin had ever been fined for his recklessness.
"Dad yells all the time, but I never heard him yell at Kevin until today," Tess reported. "And Kevin yelled back. He said he knew what he was doing and he wasn't hurt and Dad should stay out of his private business."
Molly winced. "I'll bet your dad didn't like that."
"He really yelled then," Julie said. "Uncle Ron tried to calm them down, but Coach came in, and then he started yelling, too."
They were interrupted by the pounding of sneakers as her five year old nephew Andrew came flying around the corner, much like Kevin's Ferrari. "Aunt Molly! Guess what?" He hurled himself against her knees. "Everybody yelled and my ears hurt."
Since Andrew was blessed not only with his father's good looks, but also Dan Calebow's booming voice, Molly sincerely doubted that. Still, she stroked his head. "I'm sorry."
He looked up at her with stricken eyes. "And Kevin was soooo mad at Daddy and Uncle Ron and Coach that he said the eff word."
"He shouldn't have done that."
"Oh, dear." Molly resisted a smile. Spending so much time inside the headquarters of a National Football League team office made it inevitable that the Calebow children heard more than their share of obscenities, but the family rules were clear. Inappropriate language in the Calebow household meant heavy fines, although not as heavy as Kevin's ten thousand dollars.
She couldn't understand it. One of the things she most hated about her crush'her ex-crush'on Kevin was the fact that her crush was on Kevin, the most shallow man on earth. Football was all that mattered to him. Football and an endless parade of blank-faced international models. Where did he find them? NoPersonality.com?
"Hi, Aunt Molly."
Unlike her siblings, eight year old Hannah walked toward Molly instead of running. Although Molly loved all four children equally, her heart held a special place for this vulnerable middle child who didn't share either her siblings athletic prowess nor their bottomless self-confidence. Instead, she was a dreamy romantic, a too-sensitive, overly imaginative bookworm with a talent for drawing just like her aunt.
"I like your hair."
Hannah took a nibble from her bottom lip. "Did they tell you about the fight Kevin and Dad had?"
She looked upset, and Molly had a pretty good idea why. Kevin showed up at the Calebow house from time to time, and, like her foolish aunt, the eight-year-old had a crush on him. But unlike Molly, Hannah's love was pure. This Heart of Mine. Copyright © by Susan Phillips. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.