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It was just past midnight on the longest day of the year for Molly Creighton. Each time this particular anniversary rolled around, it stole another piece of her. Her heart ached, and her soul
well, there were times like this when she thought she no longer had one.
Over the years she'd come to accept the fact that life was unpredictable and sometimes cruel. She'd lost her parents at a very early age, but she'd survived thanks to the love of her grandfather. Jess had been a hard man, but he'd had a soft spot for her, and he'd raised her to believe in herself and to handle just about anything life tossed her way. There had been only one thing that had been too much for her, one loss that she hadn't been able to push aside so that she could get on with the business of living.
Oh, she went through the motions just fine. She ran Jess's, the waterfront bar in Widow's Cove, Maine, that had been her grandfather's. She had a huge circle of acquaintances and a tighter circle of friends, but she didn't have the one thing that really mattered. She didn't have her baby.
She blamed Daniel Devaney for that. Daniel had been the love of her life, though they were about as opposite in personality as any two people could be. Molly had always beenat least until a few years agoa free spirit. She'd embraced life, because she knew all too well how short it could be. Daniel was an uptight stickler for the rules. He was logical and methodical. Maybe that was even what had drawn her to him. She'd enjoyed messing with his head, keeping him thoroughly off-kilter, almost as much as she'd thrilled to his slow, deliberate caresses.
They'd known each other practically forever, though his family lived in a small town a half hour away from Widow's Cove. They'd gone to high school together, where Daniel had been the star football player and she'd been the ultimate party girl, dating a dozen different guys before she'd finally gone out with Daniel. One date had put an end to her days of playing the field. One kiss had sealed their fate.
Even though Daniel had gone away to college and Molly hadn't, they'd been a couple, spending every free moment together. She thought she'd known his heart and his secrets, but she hadn't known the big one, the one that would tear them apart.
Finding herself pregnant four years ago, Molly had been ecstatic and had expected Daniel to be accepting, if not equally enthusiastic. Barely out of college and already established in a career he loved, he had been a do-the-right-thing kind of a guy, and he'd told her a thousand times how much he loved her. While they'd never discussed marriage, she'd believed that's where they were heading. If this pushed things along a little faster, what was the big deal?
But instead of reacting as she'd expected, Daniel had been appalled, not because he didn't love her, not even because they were too young, he'd claimed, but because fatherhood had been the very last thing he'd ever contemplated.
That was when he'd told her about the Devaney secret, the one that had ripped him and his twin brother, Patrick, apart, the one that had caused a rift so deep, Patrick hadn't spoken to their parents in years now.
As Daniel told the story, Connor and Kathleen Devaney had recklessly abandoned their three oldest sons in Boston and moved to Maine, bringing only Patrick and Daniel with them. For years they had raised the two boys as if the twins were their only children. Daniel had learned the truth only a few years earlier, when he was eighteen. He was still reeling from it.
With a father capable of abandoning three of his sons as an example, Daniel told her, how could he even consider becoming a parent himself? Any child would be better off without a Devaney in its life.
"I see too many kids whose lives are a mess because of lousy parents," he'd added to bolster his argument. "I won't do that to my own child."
Molly had tried to reassure him, tried to tell him that he would make a wonderful fatherwasn't he a child advocate for the state, after all?but he'd flatly refused to take any role in their child's life beyond financial assistance. He'd insisted that sheand their babywould thank him someday.
Rather than continue a fight she knew she couldn't win, Molly had let her pride kick in. Convinced she could raise the child on her own and stunned by Daniel's attitude, she had thrown his offer of money back in his face. Her baby would be a Creighton and proud of it.
And maybe it would have turned out that way, if Daniel hadn't broken her heart and her spirit. It was almost as if her body had understood what her heart had tried to deny, that a life without Daniel would be meaningless. The very night they'd tried to hash it all out, she had miscarried and lost her precious baby.
It was Daniel's brother Patrick who'd taken her to the hospital on that terrible spring night four years ago. It was Patrick who'd held her hand and tried awkwardly to comfort her. It was Patrick who dried her tears each year on the anniversary of that devastating loss. He'd been by earlier in the evening to check on her before going home to his wife. If she'd asked tonight, Patrick would have stayed.
As for Daniel, he and Molly hadn't exchanged a civil word since that awful night. She doubted they ever would. She blamed him almost as much as she blamed herself.
Unfortunately, that didn't mean she'd stopped loving him. Not a day went by that she didn't think about him and what they'd lostnot just a child, but an entire future. Seeing Patrick, who looked exactly like his twin, was a constant reminder. Not that she needed one. Daniel was so much a part of her, she could have conjured him up entirely on her own.
She sighed heavily and took one last cursory swipe at the bar with her polishing cloth.
Suddenly a faint noise in one of the booths caught her attention. Widow's Cove wasn't exactly a haven for criminals, but Molly instinctively picked up the nearest bottle as a weapon and slipped through the shadows in the direction of the noise.
She had the bottle over her head and was ready to strike, when a petite, dark-haired girl, no more than thirteen or fourteen, emerged from the booth, alarm in her eyes and her mouth running a mile a minute with a tumble of excuses for being in Jess's past closing.
Molly's heart was still slamming against the wall of her chest as she lowered the bottle and tried to make sense of what the girl was saying. The rush of words was all but incoherent.
"Whoa," Molly said quietly, reaching out, only to have the girl draw back skittishly as if she feared she was still in danger of being hit.
Molly set the bottle on the table, then held out her empty hands. "Look, it's okay. Nobody here is going to hurt you."
The girl stared back at her, silent now that the immediate threat was over.
"I'm Molly. What's your name?"
"I've never seen you around here before," Molly continued as if the girl had responded. "Where are you from?"
Still, the only response was that wide-eyed, solemn stare.
"Not talking now? Well, that's okay, too. It's a pleasant change after spending an entire evening with a bunch of rowdy men who can't shut up, yet have very little to say."
The girl's mouth twitched slightly, as if she were fighting a smile. Molly grinned, sensing that she'd found a kindred spirit.
"I see you know exactly what I mean," she continued. "Are you hungry? The grill's shut down, but I could fix you a sandwich. There's ham and cheese, tuna salad or my personal favorite, peanut butter and pickles."
"Yuck," the girl said, her face scrunched up in a look of pure disgust.
The reaction made her seem even younger than Molly had originally guessed.
Laughing, Molly said, "I thought that might get a response from you. So, no peanut butter and pickles. You are going to have to tell me what you do want, though."
The girl's shoulders finally relaxed. "Ham and cheese, please."
"A soda, if that's okay."
So, she'd been taught some manners, and from the look of her clothes, she'd been well provided for. They were wrinkled, but she was wearing the latest teen fashions, low-riding designer jeans and a cropped shirt that revealed an inch of pale skin at her waist. Her sneakers were a brand that cost an arm and a leg.
"I have money to pay for the food," the girl said as she followed Molly into the kitchen.
"This one's on the house," Molly told her as she made the thick sandwich and found a can of soda in the huge, well-stocked refrigerator.
The girl took the sandwich and drink, then regarded Molly uncertainly. "Aren't you going to have anything? You didn't eat all night."
Molly regarded her with surprise. "How do you know that?"
"I was kinda watching you," she admitted shyly.
"I thought maybe if I could pick up on what goes on around here, you'd think about giving me a job."
"How old are you?"
"Eighteen," the girl said brazenly.
Molly frowned. "I don't think so. How about fourteen?"
"Close enough," she responded a little too eagerly.
"Which means you're only thirteen," Molly concluded, sighing heavily. Not that fourteen would have been much better, but thirteen definitely meant trouble.
"But I look eighteen," the girl insisted. "No one would have to know."
"I'd know," Molly said. "I try really hard not to break the law by hiring minors to work in the bar."
"Couldn't I at least bus tables or help you clean up after the bar closes? I could mop the floors and wash dishes. No one would even have to see me, and that wouldn't break any laws, would it?"
Technically, it wouldn't, but Molly knew better than to take on an obvious runaway, not without having some facts. And something told her this child was so anxious to make herself indispensable that she'd eagerly attempt all sorts of things that would break every rule in the book.
"Here's the deal. You tell me your name and your story. Then we'll talk about a job."
"Can't talk with my mouth full," the girl said, taking a bite of the sandwich to emphasize the point.
Molly shook her head, amused by the delaying tactic.
The girl gobbled down the rest of the sandwich, then looked longingly toward the fixings that were still on the counter. Molly made her a second sandwich, then held it just out of reach.
"Your mouth's not full now, and I'm waiting," she prodded.
The teen studied Molly's face and apparently concluded that her patience was at an end. "Okay, my name's Kendra," she said at last.
"No last name?"
She shook her head, a touch of defiance in her eyes. "Just Kendra."
"Where'd you run away from, Kendra?"
Molly grinned. "Nice try. Now give me some specifics."
The girl sighed. "Portland."
"Do you have family in Portland that's likely to be going crazy looking for you?"
She shrugged. "I suppose." Though she attempted to achieve a look of complete boredom, there was an unmistakable trace of dismay in her eyes.
"Then call them," Molly said flatly. "If you want to stay here, that's not negotiable. They need to know you're safe."
Huge tears welled up in Kendra's eyes. "I can't," she said, then added with more belligerence, "I won't."
The ferocity of her response triggered all sorts of alarm bells. "Did someone at home hurt you?"
Kendra's eyes widened as Molly's meaning sank in. "Not the way you mean. No way," she said.
She sounded so genuinely horrified that Molly couldn't help feeling relieved. "Then what happened?" she asked, trying to think of other reasons a child this age might take off. Only one immediately came to mind. "You're not pregnant, are you?"
The girl regarded her indignantly. "I'm a kid. Are you crazy?"
Well, that was another relief, Molly thought. "Then what did make you leave home? Experience tells me that almost anything can be worked out, if everyone sits down and talks about it."
Rather than giving Molly a direct answer, Kendra sent her a considering look. "Did you sit down and talk to whoever hurt you?"
Molly blinked at the question. "What are you talking about?"
"You were crying before, after you locked up. That's why I didn't speak to you sooner. People don't cry unless somebody's hurt them. Did you talk it out?"
Molly thought of Daniel's refusal to talk, his refusal to even take her point of view into account. And after the miscarriage, she'd been the one who'd fallen silent. He'd made one overture, one attempt at an apologyprobably at Patrick's insistencebut she'd told him to stay the hell out of her life and slammed the door on him. So, no, she hadn't followed her own advice and talked it out. What was there to say?
"You didn't, did you?" Kendra prodded. "So why should I have to? Just because I'm a kid?"
"You have a point," Molly admitted, impressed by the girl's quick grasp of things. "But letting you stick around here and giving you a job could get me into a whole lot of trouble. You're a minor in the eyes of the law, even if you think you're old enough to be on your own."
Kendra gave her another one of those too-grown-up looks. "What's the alternative? You don't give me a job and I keep running," she said simply. "Do you honestly want that on your conscience? The next place I stop, the people might not be so nice."
Well, hell, Molly thought. She definitely did not want that on her conscience. "One week, max," she said very firmly. "And you open up to me. I'll try to help you figure out the best thing to do."
"If that means calling my parents, it's not going to happen," Kendra said stubbornly.
Molly was equally determined to see that it did, but she merely said, "We'll see."
Now that her immediate fate was settled, Kendra gave her a hopeful look. "I don't suppose you have any of that apple pie left, do you? I could smell it when you brought it to those guys in the booth next to me. It smelled awesome."
"Yes, there's pie left." Her cook always baked enough for at least two days, because it was a customer favorite.
"And ice cream? I'm pretty sure there was ice cream on their pie."
Molly chuckled. "Yes, there's ice cream. When was the last time you ate?" she asked as she cut a slice of pie and set it in front of Kendra, then added a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.
"A trucker bought me a couple of doughnuts this morning," Kendra said as she dug into the dessert.
"Please tell me you were not hitching rides," Molly said.