Inner harbor, p.12
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       Inner Harbor, p.12

         Part #3 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts
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  Chapter Nine

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  "she's in hampton." phillip kept his eyes on Seth as he relayed the information. He watched Cam lay a hand on the boy's rigid shoulder, an unspoken sign of protection. "She was picked up by the police—drunk and disorderly, possession."

  "She's in jail." Seth's face was white as bone. "They can keep her in jail."

  "She's there now." How long she would stay there, Phillip thought, was another matter. "She probably has enough money to post bond."

  "You mean she can pay them money and they'll let her go?" Beneath Cam's hand, Seth began to tremble. "No matter what?"

  "I don't know. But for now we know exactly where she is. I'm going down to talk to her."

  "Don't! Don't go there."

  "Seth, we've talked about this." Cam massaged the shaking shoulder as he turned Seth to face him. "The only way we're going to fix this for good is to deal with her."

  "I won't go back." It was said in a whisper, but a furious one. "I'll never go back."

  "You won't go back." Ethan unhitched his tool belt, laid it on the workbench. "You can stay with Grace until Anna gets home." He looked at Phillip and Cam. "We'll go to Hampton."

  "What if the cops say I have to? What if they come while you're gone and—"

  "Seth." Phillip interrupted the rising desperation. He crouched, took Seth's arms firmly. "You have to trust us."

  Seth stared back at him with Ray Quinn's eyes, and those eyes were glazed with tears and terror. For the first time, Phillip looked into them and felt no shadowy resentment, no doubts.

  "You belong with us," he said quietly. "Nothing's going to change that."

  On a long, shuddering breath Seth nodded. He had no choice, could do nothing but hope. And fear.

  "We'll take my car," Phillip stated.

  "grace and anna will calm him down." Cam shifted restlessly in the passenger seat of Phillip's Jeep.

  "It's hell being that scared." From the backseat, Ethan glanced at the speedometer and noted that Phillip was pushing eighty. "Not being able to do anything but wait and see."

  "She's fucked herself," Phillip said flatly. "Getting arrested isn't going to help her custody case, if she tries to make one."

  "She doesn't want the kid."

  Phillip spared a brief glance at Cam. "No, she wants money. She isn't going to bleed any out of us. But we're going to get some answers. We're going to end it."

  She'd lie, Phillip thought. He had no doubt that she would lie and wheedle and maneuver. But she was wrong, dead wrong, if she thought she could get past the three of them to Seth.

  You'll handle what comes next, Ray had said.

  Phillip's hands tightened on the wheel. He kept his eyes on the road. He'd handle it, all right. One way or the other.

  with her head throbbing, her stomach rolling, Sybill walked into the small county police station. Gloria had called her, weeping and desperate, begging her to send money for bail.

  For bail, Sybill thought now, fighting off a shudder.

  Gloria said it was a mistake, she reminded herself, a terrible misunderstanding. Of course, what else could it have been? She'd nearly wired the money. She still wasn't sure what had stopped her, what had pushed her to get into her car and drive.

  To help, of course, she told herself. She only wanted to help.

  "I'm here for Gloria DeLauter," she told the uniformed officer who sat behind a narrow, cluttered counter. "I'd like to see her, if possible."

  "Your name?"

  "Griffin. Dr. Sybill Griffin. I'm her sister. I'll post her bond, but I'd… I'd like to see her."

  "Can I see some ID?"

  "Oh, yes." She fumbled in her purse for her wallet. Her hands were damp and shaky, but the cop simply watched her with cool eyes until she offered identification.

  "Why don't you have a seat?" he suggested, then scraped back his own chair and slipped into an adjoining room.

  Her throat was dry and desperate for water. She wandered the small waiting area with its grouping of hard plastic chairs in industrial beige until she found a water fountain. But the water hit her tortured stomach like frigid balls of lead.

  Had they put her in a cell? Oh, God, had they actually put her sister in a cell? Is that where she would have to see Gloria?

  But under the sorrow, her mind was working coolly, pragmatically. How had Gloria known where to reach her? What was she doing so close to St. Christopher's? Why was she accused of having drugs?

  That was why she hadn't wired the money, she admitted now. She wanted the answers first.

  "Dr. Griffin."

  She jolted, turned to the officer with her eyes wide as a doe's caught in headlights. "Yes. Can I see her now?"

  "I'll need to take your purse. I'll give you a receipt."

  "All right."

  She handed it over to him, signed the log where he indicated, accepted the receipt for her belongings.

  "This way."

  He gestured toward a side door, then opened it into a narrow corridor. On the left was a small room furnished only with a single table and a few chairs. Gloria sat at one, her right wrist cuffed to a bolt.

  Sybill's first thought was that they'd made a mistake. This wasn't her sister. They'd brought the wrong woman into the room. This one looked far too old, far too hard, with her bony body, the shoulders like points of wings, the contrast of breasts pressing against a tiny, snug sweater so hard that the nipples stood out in arrogant relief.

  Her frizzed mass of straw-colored hair had a dark streak shooting up the center, deep lines dug in around her mouth, and the calculation in her eyes was as sharp as those shoulders.

  Then those eyes filled, that mouth trembled.

  "Syb." Her voice cracked as she held out an imploring hand. "Thank God you've come."

  "Gloria." She stepped forward quickly, took that shaking hand in her own. "What happened?"

  "I don't know. I don't understand any of it. I'm so scared." She laid her head on the table and began to weep in loud, racking sobs.

  "Please." Instinctively Sybill sat and draped her arm around her sister as she looked over at the cop. "Can we be alone?"

  "I'll be right outside." He looked back at Gloria. If he thought what a change this was from the screaming, cursing woman who'd been pulled in a few hours ago, his face revealed nothing.

  He stepped out, shut the door, and left them alone.

  "Let me get you some water."

  Sybill rose, hurried over to the water jug in the corner, and filled a thin triangle of paper. She cupped her hands around her sister's, holding it steady.

  "Did you pay the bail? Why can't we just go? I don't want to stay here."

  "I'll take care of it. Tell me what happened."

  "I said I don't know. I was with this guy. I was lonely." She sniffed, accepting the tissue that Sybill passed her. "We were just talking for a while. We were going to go out to lunch, then the cops came up. He ran away and they grabbed me. It all happened so fast."

  She buried her face in her hands. "They found drugs in my purse. He must have put them there. I just wanted someone to talk to."

  "All right. I'm sure we'll straighten it all out." Sybill wanted to believe, to accept, and she hated herself because she couldn't. Not quite. "What was his name?"

  "John. John Barlow. He seemed so sweet, Sybill. So understanding. I was feeling really low. Because of Seth." She lowered her hands and her eyes were tragic. "I miss my little boy so much."

  "Were you coming to St. Christopher's?"

  Gloria lowered her gaze. "I thought, if I just had a chance to see him."

  "Is that what the lawyer suggested?"

  "The—oh…" The hesitation was brief, but it set off warning bells in Sybill's head. "No, but lawyers don't understand. They just keep asking for money."

  "What's your lawyer's name? I'll call him. He may be able to help straighten this out."

  "He's not from around here. Look, Sybill, I just want to get out of h
ere. You can't believe how horrible it is. That cop out there?" She nodded toward the door. "He put his hands on me."

  Sybill's stomach began to pitch again. "What do you mean?"

  "You know what I mean." The first hint of annoyance sliced through. "He felt me up, and he said he'd be back later for more. He's going to rape me."

  Sybill shut her eyes, pressed her fingers to them. When they were teenagers, Gloria had accused more than a dozen boys and men of molesting her, including her high school counselor and principal. Even their own father.

  "Gloria, don't do this. I said I would help you."

  "I'm telling you that bastard put his hands all over me. As soon as I'm out of here, I'm filing charges." She crumpled the paper cup, heaved it. "I don't give a damn if you believe me or not. I know what happened."

  "All right, but let's deal with now. How did you know where to find me?"

  "What?" A dark rage had been sliding over her brain, and she had to struggle to remember her role. "What do you mean?"

  "I didn't tell you where I was going, where I would be. I said I would contact you. How did you know to call me at the hotel in St. Christopher's?"

  It had been a mistake, which Gloria had realized shortly after making the call. But she'd been drunk and furious. And damn it, she didn't have the cash on her to make bail. What she had left was safely tucked away. Until the Quinns added to it.

  She wasn't thinking when she called Sybill, but she'd had time to think since. The way to play sister Sybill, she knew, was to tug on the guilt and responsibility strings.

  "I know you." She offered a watery smile. "I knew that when I told you what happened with Seth, you'd help. I tried your apartment in New York." Which she had, more than a week ago. "And when your answering service said you were out of town, I explained how I was your sister and there was an emergency. They gave me the number of the hotel."

  "I see." It was plausible, Sybill decided, even logical. "I'll take care of the bail, Gloria, but there are conditions."

  "Yeah." She gave a short laugh. "That sounds familiar."

  "I need the name of your lawyer so I can contact him. I want to be brought up to date on the status of this situation with Seth. I want you to talk to me. We'll have dinner and you can explain to me about the Quinns. You can explain to me why they claim Ray Quinn gave you money for Seth."

  "The bastards are liars."

  "I've met them," she said calmly. "And their wives. I've seen Seth. It's very difficult for me to equate what you told me with what I've seen."

  "You can't put everything all neat and tidy into reports. Christ, you're just like the old man." She started to get up, snarled at the jerk of the cuff on her wrist. "The two eminent Dr. Griffins."

  "This has nothing to do with my father," Sybill said quietly. "And everything, I suspect, to do with yours."

  "Fuck this." Gloria twisted her lips into a vicious smile.

  "And fuck you. The perfect daughter, the perfect student, the perfect goddamn robot. Just pay the fucking bail. I got money put by. You'll get it back. I'll get my kid back without your help, sister dear. My kid. You want to take the word of a bunch of strangers over your own flesh and blood, you go right ahead. You always hated me anyway."

  "I don't hate you, Gloria. I never have." But she could, she realized, as the ache began in her head and heart. She was afraid she very easily could. "And I'm not taking anyone's word over yours. I'm just trying to understand."

  Deliberately Gloria turned her face away so Sybill wouldn't see her smile of satisfaction. She'd found the right button to push after all, she decided. "I need to get out of here. I need to get cleaned up." She made certain her voice broke. "I can't talk about this anymore. I'm so tired."

  "I'll go deal with the paperwork. I'm sure it won't take long."

  As she rose, Gloria grabbed her hand again, pressed it to her cheek. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I said those things to you. I didn't mean them. I'm just upset and confused. I feel so alone."

  "It's all right." Sybill pulled her hand free and walked to the door on legs that felt as brittle as glass.

  Outside, she downed two aspirin and chased them with antacids as she waited for the bail to be processed. Physically, she thought, Gloria had changed. The once astonishingly pretty girl had hardened, toughened like dried leather. But emotionally, Sybill feared, she was exactly the same unhappy, manipulative, and disturbed child that had taken dark joy in disrupting their home.

  She would insist that Gloria agree to therapy, she decided. And if drug abuse was part of the problem, she would see to it that Gloria went into rehab. Certainly the woman she'd just spoken with wasn't capable of taking custody of a young boy. She would explore the possibilities of what was best for him until Gloria was back on track.

  She would need to see a lawyer, of course. First thing in the morning she would find a lawyer and discuss Gloria's rights and Seth's welfare.

  She would have to face the Quinns.

  The thought of that had her stomach clutching again. A confrontation was inevitable, unavoidable. Nothing left her feeling more miserable and vulnerable than angry words and hateful emotions.

  But she would be prepared. She would take the time to think through what had to be said, anticipate their questions and demands so she would have the proper responses. She would, above all, remain calm and objective.

  When she saw Phillip walk into the building, her mind went blank. Every ounce of color drained out of her face. She stood frozen when his gaze whipped to hers, when it narrowed and hardened.

  "What are you doing here, Sybill?"

  "I…" It wasn't panic that spurted through her but embarrassment. Shame. "I had business."

  "Really?" He stepped closer, while his brothers stood back in speculative silence. He saw it in her face—guilt and more than a little fear. "What kind of business would that be?" When she didn't answer, he angled his head. "What's Gloria DeLauter to you, Dr. Griffin?"

  She ordered herself to keep her gaze steady, her voice even. "She's my sister."

  His fury was ice cold and deadly. He balled his hands into his pockets to keep from using them in a way that was unforgivable. "That's cozy, isn't it? You bitch," he said softly, but she flinched as if he had struck her. "You used me to get to Seth."

  She shook her head, but she couldn't voice the denial. It was true, wasn't it? She had used him, had used all of them. "I only wanted to see him. He's my sister's son. I had to know he was being cared for."

  "Then where the hell have you been for the last ten years?"

  She opened her mouth, but swallowed the excuses and explanations as Gloria was led out.

  "Let's get the hell out of here. You buy me a drink, Syb." Gloria hitched a cherry-red shoulder bag over her arm, aimed an invitational smile at Phillip. "We'll talk all you want. Hi, there, handsome." She shifted her weight, put a fist on her hip, and let the smile spread to the other men. "How's it going?"

  Under other circumstances the contrasts between the women might have been laughable. Sybill stood pale and quiet, her glossy brown hair brushed smoothly back, her mouth unpainted, her eyes shadowed. She exuded simple elegance in a tailored gray blazer and slacks and a white silk blouse, while Gloria offered sharp bones and overblown curves poured into black jeans and a snug T-shirt that plunged between her breasts.

  She'd taken the time to repair her makeup, and her lips were as slickly red as her handbag, her eyes darkly lined. She looked, Phillip decided, like precisely what she was: an aging whore looking for an angle.

  She fished a cigarette out of a crumpled pack in her bag, then wiggled it between her fingers. "Got a light, big guy?"

  "Gloria, this is Phillip Quinn." The formal introduction echoed hollowly in her ears. "His brothers, Cameron and Ethan."

  "Well, well, well." Gloria's smile went sharp and ugly. "Ray Quinn's wicked trio. What the hell do you want?"

  "Answers," Phillip said shortly. "Let's take this outside."

  "I got nothing to say to y
ou. You make one move I don't like, I'll start screaming." She jabbed with the unlit cigarette. "There's a houseful of cops in here. We'll see how you like spending some time in a cage."

  "Gloria." Sybill put a restraining hand on her arm. "The only way to straighten this out is to discuss it rationally."

  "They don't look like they want a rational discussion to me. They want to hurt me." She shifted tacks skillfully, throwing her arms around Sybill, clinging to her. "I'm afraid of them. Sybill, please help me."

  "I'm trying to. Gloria, no one's going to hurt you. We'll find a place where we can all sit down and talk this through. I'll be right there with you."

  "I'm going to be sick." She yanked back, wrapped her arms around her stomach, and dashed into the bathroom.

  "Quite a performance," Phillip decided.

  "She's upset." Sybill linked her hands together, twisted her fingers. "She's not in any shape to deal with this tonight."

  He shifted his gaze back to Sybill's, and it was ripe with derision. "Do you want me to believe you bought that? Either you're incredibly gullible, or you think I am."

  "She spent most of the afternoon in jail," Sybill snapped back. "Anyone would be upset. Can't we discuss all of this tomorrow? It's waited this long, surely it can wait one more day."

  "We're here now," Cam put in. "We'll deal with it now. Are you going to go in there and bring her out, or am I?"

  "Is that how you plan to resolve this? By bullying her. And me?"

  "You don't want to get me started on how I plan to resolve this," Cam began, and shrugged off Ethan's calming hand. "After what she put Seth through, there's nothing we can do to her that she hasn't earned."

  Sybill glanced uncomfortably behind her at the uniformed officer manning the desk. "I don't think any of us want to cause a scene in a police station."

  "Fine." Phillip took her arm. "Let's just step outside and cause one."

  She held her ground, partly out of fear, partly common sense. "We'll meet tomorrow, at whatever time is convenient for you. I'll bring her to my hotel."

  "You keep her out of St. Chris."

  Sybill winced when Phillip's fingers tightened on her arm. "All right. Where do you suggest?"

  "I'll tell you what I suggest," Cam began, but Phillip held up a hand.

  "Princess Anne. You bring her into Anna's office at Social Services. Nine o'clock. That keeps everything official, doesn't it? Everything aboveboard."

  "Yes." Relief trickled through her. "I can agree to that. I'll bring her. You have my word."

  "I wouldn't give you two cents for your word, Sybill." Phillip leaned in slightly. "But if you don't bring her, we'll find her. Meanwhile, if either of you tries to get within a mile of Seth, you'll both be spending time in a cell." He dropped her arm and stepped back.

  "We'll be there at nine," she said, resisting the urge to rub her aching arm. Then she turned and went into the bathroom to get her sister.

  "Why the hell did you agree to that?" Cam demanded as he stalked outside behind Phillip. "We've got her, here and now."

 
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