Inner harbor, p.13
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       Inner Harbor, p.13

         Part #3 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts
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  "We'll get more out of her tomorrow."

  "Bullshit."

  "Phillip's right." As much as he detested it, Ethan accepted the change of plans. "We keep it in official surroundings. We keep our heads. It's better for Seth."

  "Why? So his bitch of a mother and his lying auntie have more time to put their heads together? Christ, when I think Sybill was alone with Seth for a good hour today, I want to—"

  "It's done," Phillip snapped. "He's fine. We're fine." With fury bubbling through his blood, he slammed into the

  Jeep. "And there are five of us. They won't get their hands on Seth."

  "He didn't recognize her," Ethan pointed out. "That's funny, isn't it? He didn't know who Sybill was."

  "Neither did I," Phillip murmured and shoved the Jeep into gear. "But I do now."

  sybill's priority was to get Gloria a hot meal, keep her calm, and question her carefully. The little Italian restaurant was only a few blocks from the police station, and after a hurried glance, Sybill decided it would fill the bill.

  "My nerves are shot to hell." Gloria puffed greedily on a cigarette while Sybill maneuvered into a parking spot. "The nerve of those bastards, coming after me like that. You know what they'd have done if I'd been alone, don't you?"

  Sybill only sighed and stepped out of the car. "You need to eat."

  "Yeah, sure." Gloria sniffed at the decor the minute they stepped inside. It was bright and cheerful, with colorful Italian pottery, thick candles, striped tablecloths, and decorative bottles of herbed vinegars. "I'd rather have a steak than Wop food."

  "Please." Forcing back irritation, she took Gloria's arm and requested a table for two.

  "Smoking section," Gloria added, already pulling out another cigarette as they were led to the noisier bar area. "Gin and tonic, a double."

  Sybill rubbed her temples. "Just mineral water. Thank you."

  "Loosen up," Gloria suggested when the hostess left them alone. "You look like you could use a drink."

  "I'm driving. I don't want one anyway." She shifted away from the smoke Gloria blew toward her face. "We have to talk, seriously."

  "Let me get some lubrication, will you?" Gloria smoked and scanned the men at the bar, toying with which one she'd pick up if she didn't have her deadly dull sister along.

  Christ, Sybill was a bore. Always had been, she mused, drumming her fingers on the table and wanting her goddamn drink. But she was useful, and always had been. If you played her right, laid on plenty of tears, she came through.

  She needed a hammer with the Quinns, and Sybill was the perfect choice. Upstanding, fucking respectable Dr. Griffin. "Gloria, you haven't even asked about Seth?"

  "What about him?"

  "I've seen him several times, spoken with him. I've seen where he's living, where he goes to school. I met some of his friends."

  Gloria clicked into the tone of her sister's voice, adjusted her attitude. "How is he?" She worked up a shaky smile. "Did he ask about me?"

  "He's fine. Really wonderful, actually. He's grown so much since I saw him."

  Ate like a horse, Gloria remembered, and was always growing out of his clothes and shoes. Like she was made of fucking money or something.

  "He didn't know who I was."

  "What do you mean?" Gloria snatched up her drink the minute it was set on the table. "You didn't tell him?"

  "No, I didn't." Sybill glanced up at the waitress. "We need a few more minutes before ordering."

  "So you were poking around incognito." Gloria let out a long, hoarse laugh. "You surprise me, Syb."

  "I thought it best that I observe the situation before changing the dynamics."

  Gloria snorted. "Now that sounds just like you. Man, you don't change. 'Observe the situation before changing the dynamics,' " she repeated in her imitation of a snooty voice. "Christ. The situation is those sons of bitches have my kid. They threatened me, and God knows what they're doing to him. I want some dough to work on getting him back."

  "I sent you money for the lawyer," Sybill reminded her.

  Gloria clinked ice against her teeth as she drank. And the five thousand had come in handy, she thought now. How the hell could she have known how fast the money she'd bled out of Ray would slip away? She had expenses, didn't she? She'd wanted to have some fun for a change. Should have demanded twice as much from him, she decided.

  Well, she'd get it out of those bastards he'd raised.

  "You got the money I wired for your lawyer, didn't you, Gloria?"

  Gloria took another deep drink. "Yeah, well, lawyers suck you dry, don't they? Hey!" She called out, signaling to the waitress and pointing at her empty glass. "Hit me again, will you?"

  "If you drink like that and you don't eat, you're going to be sick again."

  Like hell, Gloria sneered as she snatched up her menu. She didn't intend to stick her finger down her throat again. Once was more than enough. "Hey, they got steak Florentine. I can handle that. Remember when the old man took us off to Italy that summer? All those hot-looking dudes on motorbikes. Holy God, I had a hell of a time with that guy, what was his name. Carlo or Leo or whatever. I snuck him into the bedroom. You were too shy to stay and watch, so you slept in the parlor while we did the deed half the night."

  She snatched up her fresh glass, lifted it in toast. "God bless the Italians."

  "I'll have the linguini with pesto and the insalada mista."

  "Give me the steak, bloody." Gloria held out the menu without looking at the waitress. "Skip the rabbit food. Been a while, hasn't it, Syb? What, four, five years?"

  "Six," Sybill corrected. "It's been just over six since I came home to find you and Seth gone, along with a number of my personal possessions."

  "Yeah, sorry about that. I was messed up. It's tough raising a kid on your own. Money's always tight."

  "You never told me very much about his father."

  "What's to tell? Old news." She shrugged it off and rattled the ice in her glass.

  "All right, then, let's deal with current events. I need to know everything that happened. I need to understand it in order to help you and to know how to handle our meeting with the Quinns tomorrow."

  The gin and tonic thudded onto the table. "What meeting?"

  "We're going in to Social Services tomorrow morning to air out the problems, discuss the situation, and try to reach a solution."

  "The hell I am. The only thing they want is to fuck me over."

  "Keep your voice down," Sybill ordered sharply. "And listen to me. If you want to straighten yourself out, if you want your son back, this has to be done calmly and legally. Gloria, you need help, and I'm willing to help you. From what I can see, you're not in any shape to take Seth back right now."

  "Whose side are you on?"

  "His." It came out of her mouth before she realized that it was the absolute truth. "I'm on his side, and I hope that puts me on yours. We need to resolve what happened today."

  "I told you I was set up."

  "Fine. It still needs to be resolved. The courts aren't going to be very sympathetic to a woman who's facing charges of possession."

  "Great, why don't you get on the witness stand and tell them how worthless I am? That's what you think anyway. That's what all of you always thought."

  "Please, stop it." Lowering her voice to a murmur, Sybill leaned over the table. "I'm doing everything I know how to do. If you want to prove to me you want to make this work, you have to cooperate. You have to give something back, Gloria."

  "Nothing's ever been free with you."

  "We're not talking about me. I'll pay your legal fees, I'll talk to Social Services, I'll work to make the Quinns understand your needs and your rights. I want you to agree to rehab."

  "For what?"

  "You drink too much."

  She sneered, deliberately gulping down more gin. "I've had a rough day."

  "You had drugs in your possession."

  "I said they weren't fucking mine."

  "You've said
that before," Sybill said, coolly now. "You get counseling, you get therapy, you get rehab. I'll arrange it, I'll foot the bill. I'll help you find a job, a place to stay."

  "As long as it's your way." Gloria tossed back the rest of her drink. ' Therapy. You and the old man used that to solve everything."

  "Those are the conditions."

  "So you're running the show. Jesus, order me another drink. I've gotta piss." She swung her purse over her shoulder and strode past the bar.

  Sybill sat back and closed her eyes. She wasn't going to order Gloria another drink, not when her sister's words were already beginning to slur. That would be another bitter little battle, she imagined.

  The aspirin she'd taken had failed miserably. Pain was drumming at both temples in a sick and consistent rhythm. Across her forehead was a squeezing band of iron. She wanted nothing quite so much as to stretch out on a soft bed in a dark room and sink into oblivion.

  He despised her now. It made her ache with regret and shame to remember the contempt she'd seen in Phillip's eyes. Maybe she deserved it. At that moment she simply couldn't think clearly enough to be sure. But she was sorry for it.

  More than that, she was furious with herself for letting him and his opinion of her come to matter so much in such a short time. She'd known him for only a matter of days and had never, never intended to allow his emotions or hers to become entangled.

  A casual physical attraction, a few mutually enjoyable hours in each other's company. That was all it was supposed to be. How had it become more?

  But she knew when he'd held her, when he'd sent her blood swimming with those long, intimate kisses, she'd wanted more. Now she, who had never considered herself particularly sexy or overly emotional, was a frustrated, pitiful wreck because one man had jiggled a lock he was no longer interested in opening.

  There was nothing to be done about it, she reminded herself. Certainly, considering the circumstances, she and Phillip Quinn had never been meant to develop a personal relationship of any kind. If they managed to have one now, it would be because of the child. They would both be adult, coldly polite, and—in the end, she hoped—reasonable.

  For Seth's sake.

  She opened her eyes as the waitress served her salad and hated the pity she saw on a stranger's face.

  "Can I get you anything else? More water?"

  "No. I'm fine, thank you. You could take that," she added, indicating Gloria's empty glass.

  Her stomach rebelled at the thought of food, but she ordered herself to pick up her fork. For five minutes she toyed with the salad, poking at it while her gaze drifted regularly toward the rear of the restaurant.

  She must be ill again, Sybill thought wearily. Now she would have to go back, hold Gloria's head, listen to her whining, and mop up the mess. One more pattern.

  Battling both resentment and the shame that trickled from it, she rose and walked back to the ladies' room.

  "Gloria, are you all right?" There was no one at the sinks and no answer from any of the stalls. Resigned, Sybill began to nudge doors open. "Gloria?"

  In the last stall she saw her own wallet lying open on the closed lid of the toilet. Stunned, she snatched it up, flipped through it. Her various identifications were there, and her credit cards.

  But all her cash was gone, along with her sister.

  Chapter Ten

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  with her mind jumbled with pain, her hands unsteady, and her system begging to shut down for the night, Sybill keyed open her hotel door. If she could just get to her migraine medication, to a dark room, to oblivion, she would find a way to deal with tomorrow.

  She would find a way to face the Quinns, alone, with the shameful sting of failure.

  They would believe she'd helped Gloria run away. How could she blame them? She was already a liar and a sneak in their eyes. In Seth's.

  And, she admitted, in her own.

  With slow deliberation, she turned the bolt, fixed the safety lock, then leaned back against the door until she could will her legs to move again.

  When the light switched on, she stifled a yelp and covered her eyes in defense.

  "You're right about the view," Phillip said from her terrace doors. "It's spectacular."

  She lowered her hand, forced her mind to engage. He'd removed his jacket and tie, she noted, but otherwise he looked just as he had when he'd confronted her at the police station. Polished, urbane, and bitterly angry.

  "How did you get in?"

  His smile was cold, turning his eyes a hard, chilly gold. The color of an icy winter sun. "You disappoint me, Sybill. I'd have thought your research on your subject would have included the fact that one of my formative skills was breaking and entering."

  She stayed where she was, supported by the door. "You were a thief?"

  "Among other things. But enough about me." He stepped forward to settle on the arm of the sofa, like a casual friend making himself comfortable for a chatty visit. "You fascinate me. Your notes are incredibly revealing, even to a layman."

  "You read my notes?" Her gaze swung toward the desk and her laptop. She couldn't quite find outrage through the prickly blanket of pain enveloping her head, but she knew it must be there. "You had no right to come in here, uninvited. To break into my computer and read my work."

  So calm, Phillip thought, and rose to help himself to a beer from her mini bar. What kind of woman was she? "As far as I'm concerned, Sybill, all bets are off. You lied to me, you used me. You had it all worked out, didn't you? When you waltzed into the boatyard last week, your agenda was set."

  He couldn't stay calm. The longer she stood, staring at him with no expression on her face, the higher his temper spiked. "Infiltrate the enemy camp." He slammed the beer onto the table. The crack of glass on wood split through her head like an axe. "Observe and report, pass information to your sister. And if being with me helped you slide more smoothly behind the lines, you were willing to make the sacrifice. Would you have slept with me?"

  "No." She pressed a hand to her head and nearly gave in to the need to slip to the floor and curl into a ball. "I never meant for things…"

  "I think you're lying." He crossed to her, taking her arms and drawing her up to her toes. "I think you'd have done anything. Just one more object lesson, right? And with the added benefit of helping your bitch of a sister bleed us for more money. Seth doesn't mean any more to you than he does to her. Just a means to an end for both of you."

  "No, that's not—I can't think." The pain was excruciating. If he hadn't been holding her up, she would have gone to her knees and begged. "I—we'll discuss it tomorrow. I'm not well."

  "You and Gloria have that in common too. I'm not falling for it, Sybill."

  Her breath began to hitch, her vision to blur. "I'm sorry. I can't stand it. I have to sit down. Please, I have to sit down."

  He focused in, past his fury. Her cheeks were dead pale, her eyes glassy, her breath coming fast and uneven. If she was faking illness, he decided, Hollywood had missed a major star.

  Muttering an oath, he pulled her to the sofa. She all but melted onto the cushions.

  Too ill to be embarrassed, she closed her eyes. "My briefcase. My pills are in my briefcase."

  He picked up the soft black leather case beside the desk, riffled through it and found the prescription bottle. "Imitrex?" He looked over at her. She had her head back, her eyes closed, and her hands fisted in her lap as if she could center the pain there and squeeze it to death. "Major migraine drugs."

  "Yes. I get them now and again." She had to focus, she ordered herself, had to relax. But nothing she did eased her past the vicious pain. "I should have had them with me. If I'd had them with me it wouldn't have gone this far."

  "Here." He handed her a pill and water he'd taken from the mini bar.

  "Thank you." She nearly bobbled the water in her rush. "It takes a while, but it's better than the injection." She closed her eyes again and prayed he would just leave her alone.

/>   "Have you eaten?"

  "What? No. I'll be all right."

  She looked fragile, terrifyingly so. Part of him thought she deserved to hurt, was tempted to leave her with her misery. But he picked up the phone and asked for room service.

  "I don't want anything."

  "Just be quiet." He ordered up soup and tea, then began to prowl the room.

  How could he have misjudged her so completely? Pegging people quickly and accurately was one of his most finely honed skills. He'd seen an intelligent, interesting woman. A classy one, with humor and taste. But beneath the glossy surface, she was a liar, a cheat, and an opportunist.

  He nearly laughed. He'd just described the boy he'd worked half his life to bury.

  "In your notes you say you haven't seen Seth since he was about four. Why did you come here now?"

  "I thought I could help."

  "Who?"

  The hope that the pain would begin to recede gave her the strength to open her eyes. "I don't know. I thought I could help him, and Gloria."

  "You help one, you hurt the other. I read your notes, Sybill. Are you going to try to tell me you care about him? 'The subject appears healthy.' He's not a fucking subject, he's a child."

  "It's necessary to be objective."

  "It's necessary to be human."

  It was a dart, sharp enough to strike her heart and make it ache as well. "I'm not very good with emotions. Reactions and behavioral patterns are more my forte than feelings. I'd hoped to be able to keep a certain distance from the situation, to analyze it, to determine what was best for all involved. I haven't been doing a good job of it."

  "Why didn't you do anything before?" he demanded.

  "Why didn't you do anything to analyze the situation when Seth was with your sister?"

  "I didn't know where they were." Then she let out a breath and shook her head. It was no time for excuses, and the man staring at her with those cold eyes wouldn't accept them in any case. "I never seriously tried to find out. I sent her money now and again if she contacted me and asked for it. My connection with Gloria was usually unproductive and unpleasant."

  "For Christ's sake, Sybill, we're talking about a little boy here, not your views on sibling rivalry."

  "I was afraid to get attached," she snapped out. "The one time I did, she took him away. He was her child, not mine. There was nothing I could do about it. I asked her to let me help, but she wouldn't. She's been raising him all alone. My parents have disinherited her. My mother won't even acknowledge that she has a grandson. I know Gloria has problems, but it can't be easy for her."

  He simply stared at her. "Are you serious?"

  "She's had no one to depend on," Sybill began, then closed her eyes again as a knock sounded on the door. "I'm sorry, but I don't think I can eat."

  "Yes, you can."

  Phillip opened the door for the room service waiter, directed him to set the tray on the table in front of the sofa. He dispatched him quickly, with cash and a generous tip.

  "Try the soup," he ordered. "You need something in your system or the medication's going to end up making you nauseous. My mother was a doctor,
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