Sea swept, p.15
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       Sea Swept, p.15
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         Part #1 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts

  on me, I got through."

  Carefully, she laid the jacket back over the arm of the sofa. "It could have been different. I could have stayed just one more failed statistic in the system. But I didn't."

  He thought it was amazing that she had turned a horror into such strength. She was amazing for choosing work that would have to remind her daily of what had ripped her life apart. "And you decided to pay it back. To go into the kind of work that had turned you around."

  "I knew I could help. And yes, I owed a debt, the same way you feel you owe one. I survived," she said, looking him dead in the eyes again, "but survival isn't enough. It wasn't enough for me, or for you. And it won't be enough for Seth."

  "One thing at a time," he murmured. "I want to know if they caught the bastards."

  "No." She'd long ago learned to accept and to live with that. "It was weeks before I was coherent enough to make a statement. They never caught them. The system doesn't always work, but I've learned, and I believe, it does its best."

  "I've never thought so, and this doesn't change my mind." He started to reach out, hesitated, then tucked his hand into his pocket. "I'm sorry I hurt you. That I said things that made you remember."

  "It's always there," she told him. "You cope and you put it aside for long periods of time. It comes back now and again, because it never really goes away."

  "Did you have counseling?"

  "Eventually, yes. I—" She broke off, sighed. "All right, I'm not saying counseling works miracles, Cam. I'm telling you it can be helpful, it can be healing. I needed it, and when I was finally ready to use that help, I was better."

  "Let's do this." He did touch her now, just laid a hand over hers on the counter. "We'll leave it as an option. Let's see how things go… all around."

  "See how things go." She sighed, too tired to argue. Her head ached, and her body felt hollowed out and fragile. "I agree with that, but I'll still recommend counseling in my report."

  "Don't forget the shoes," he said dryly and was vastly relieved when she laughed.

  "I won't have to mention them, because I know you'll have him at the store by the weekend."

  "We could call it a compromise. I seem to be getting better at them lately."

  "Then you must have been incredibly obstinate before."

  "I think the word my parents used was 'bullheaded.'"

  "It's comforting to be understood." She looked down at the hand covering hers. "If you asked to stay, I couldn't say no."

  "I want to stay. I want you. But I can't ask tonight. Bad timing all around."

  She understood how some men felt about a woman who'd been sexually attacked. Her stomach seized into hard knots. But it was best to know. "Is it because I was raped?''

  He wouldn't let it be. He refused to allow what had happened to her affect what would happen between them. "It's because you couldn't say no tonight and tomorrow you might be sorry you didn't."

  Surprised, she looked up at him again. "You're never quite what I expect you to be."

  He wasn't quite what he expected either, not lately. "This thing here. Whatever it is, isn't quite what I expected it to be. How about a Saturday night date?"

  "I have a date Saturday." Her lips curved slowly. The knots in her stomach had loosened. She hadn't even been aware of it. "But I'll break it."

  "Seven o'clock." He leaned across the counter, kissed her, lingered over it, kissed her again. "I'm going to want to finish this."

  "So am I."

  "Well." He heaved a sigh and started for the door while he was sure he could. "That's going to make the drive home easier."

  He paused, turned around to look at her. "You said you survived, Anna, but you didn't. You triumphed. Everything about you is a testament to courage and strength." When she stared at him, obviously stunned, he smiled a little. "You didn't get either from a social worker or a counselor. They just helped you figure out how to use it. I figure you got it from your mother. She must have been a hell of a woman."

  "She was," Anna murmured, near tears again.

  "So are you." Cam closed the door quietly behind him.

  He decided he would take his time driving home. He had a lot to think about.

  Chapter Eleven

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  pretty saturday mornings in the spring were not meant to be spent indoors or on crowded streets. To Ethan they were meant to be spent on the water. The idea of shopping—actually shopping—was very close to terrifying.

  "Don't see why we all have to do this."

  Because he'd gotten to the Jeep first, Cam rode in front. He turned his head to spare Ethan a glance. "Because we're all in this. The old Claremont barn's for rent, right? We need a place if we're going to build boats. We have to make the deal."

  "Insanity," was all Phillip had to say as he turned down Market Street in St. Chris.

  "Can't go into business if you don't have a place of business," Cam returned. He found that single fact inarguably logical. "So we take a look at it, make the deal with Claremont, and get started."

  "Licenses, taxes, materials. Orders, for God's sake," Phillip began. "Tools, advertising, phone lines, fax lines, bookkeeping."

  "So take care of it." Cam shrugged carelessly. "Soon as we sign the lease and get the kid his shoes, you can do whatever conies next."

  "I can do it?" Phillip complained at the same time Seth muttered he didn't need any damn shoes.

  "Ethan got our first order, I found out about the building. You take care of the paperwork. And you're getting the damn shoes," he told Seth.

  "I don't know how come you're the boss of everybody."

  Cam could only manage a short, grim laugh. "Me either."

  The Claremont building wasn't really a barn, but it was as big as one. In the mid-1700s it had been a tobacco warehouse. After the Revolutionary War, the British ships no longer sailed to St. Chris carrying their wide variety of goods. Businesses that had boomed went bankrupt.

  The revival in the late 1800s grew directly from the bay. With improved methods of canning and packing the national market for oysters opened up and St. Chris once again prospered. And the old tobacco warehouse was refitted as a packinghouse.

  Then the oyster beds played out, and the building became a glorified storage shed. Over the last fifty years it had been empty as often as it was filled.

  From the outside it was unpretentious. Sun- and weather-faded brick, thumb-size holes in the mortar. A sagging old roof that was desperately in need of reshingling. What windows it could boast were small and stingy. Most were broken, all were filthy.

  "Oh, yeah, this looks promising." Already disgusted, Phillip parked in the pitted lot at the side of the building.

  "We need space," Cam reminded him. "It doesn't have to be pretty."

  "Good thing, because this doesn't come close to pretty."

  A bit more interested now, Ethan climbed out. He walked up to the closest window, used the bandanna from his back pocket to rub off most of the grime so he could peer through. "It's a good space. Got cargo doors at the back, a dock. Needs a little work."

  "A little?" Phillip stared in over Ethan's shoulder. "Floor's rotting out. It's got to be infested with vermin. Probably termites and rodents."

  "Probably be a good idea to mention that to Claremont," Ethan decided. "Keep the rent down." Hearing the tinkle of glass breaking, he saw that Cam had just put his elbow through an already cracked window. "Guess we're going inside."

  "Breaking and entering." Phillip only shook his head. "That's a good start."

  Cam flipped the pathetic lock on the window and shoved it up. "It was already broken. Give me a minute." He boosted himself inside, disappeared.

  "Cool," Seth decided, and before a word could be spoken he climbed inside too.

  "Nice example we're setting for him." Phillip ran a hand over his face and wished fervently he'd never given up smoking.

  "Well, think of it this way. You could have picked the locks. But you didn't."
>
  "Right. Listen, Ethan, we've got to think about this. There's no reason why you can't—we can't—build that first boat at your place. Once we start renting buildings, filing for tax numbers, we're committed."

  "What's the worst that can happen? We waste some time and some money. I figure I've got enough of both." He heard the mix of Cam's and Seth's laughter echoing inside. "And maybe we'll have some fun while we're at it."

  He started around to the front door, knowing Phillip would grumble but follow.

  "I saw a rat," Seth said in pure delight when Cam shoved the front door open. "It was awesome."

  "Rats." Phillip studied the dim space grimly before stepping inside. "Lovely."

  "We'll have to get us a couple of she-cats," Ethan decided. "They're meaner than toms."

  He looked up, scanning the high ceiling. Water damage showed clearly in the open rafters. There was a loft, but the steps leading up to it were broken. Rot, and very likely rats, had eaten at the scarred wood floor.

  It would require a great deal of cleaning out and repair, but the space was generous. He began to allow himself to dream.

  The smell of wood under the saw, the tang of tongue oil, the slap of hammer on nail, the glint of brass, the squeak of rigging. He could already see the way the sun would slant in through new, clean windows onto the skeleton of a sloop.

  "Throw up some walls, I guess, for an office," Cam was saying. Seth dashed here and there, exploring and exclaiming. "We'll have to draw up plans or something."

  "This place is a heap," Phillip pointed out.

  "Yeah, so it'll come cheap. We put a couple thousand into fixing it up—"

  "Better to have it bulldozed and start over."

  "Phil, try to control that wild optimism." Cam turned to Ethan. "What do you think?''

  "It'll do."

  "It'll do what?" Phillip threw up his hands. "Fall down around our ears?" At that moment a spider—which Phillip estimated to be about the size of a Chihuahua—crawled over the toe of his shoe. "Get me a gun," he muttered.

  Cam only laughed and slapped him on the back. "Let's go see Claremont."

  stuart claremont was a little man with hard eyes and a dissatisfied mouth. The little chunks of St. Christopher that he owned were most often left to fall into disrepair. If his tenants complained loudly enough, he occasionally, and grudgingly, tinkered with plumbing or heat or patched a roof.

  But he believed in saving his pennies for a rainy day. In Claremont's mind, it never rained quite hard enough to part with a cent.

  Still, his house on Oyster Shell Lane was a showplace. As anyone in St. Chris could tell you, his wife, Nancy, could nag the ears off a turnip. And she ruled that roost.

  The wall-to-wall carpet was thick and soft, the walls prettily papered. Fussy curtains were ruthlessly coordinated with fussy upholstery. Magazines lay in military lines over a gleaming cherry wood coffee table that matched gleaming cherry wood end tables that matched gleaming cherry wood occasional tables.

  Nothing was out of place in the Claremont house. Each room looked like a picture from a magazine. Like the picture, Cam mused, and not at all like life.

  "So, you're interested in the barn." With a stretched-out grin that hid his teeth, Claremont ushered them all into his den. It was decorated in English baronial style. The dark paneling was accented with hunting prints. There were deep-cushioned leather chairs in a port wine shade, a desk with brass fittings, and a brick fireplace converted to gas.

  The big-screen television seemed both out of place and typical.

  "Mildly," Phillip told him. It had been agreed on the drive over that Phillip would handle the negotiations. "We've just started to look around for space."

  "Terrific old place." Claremont sat down behind his desk and gestured them to chairs. "Lots of history."

  "I'm sure, but we're not interested in history in this case. There seems to be a lot of rot."

  "A bit." Claremont waved that away with one short-fingered hand. "You live round here, what can you expect? You boys thinking of starting some business or other?"

  "We're considering it. We're in the talking-about-it stages."

  "Uh-huh." Claremont didn't think so, or the three of them wouldn't be sitting on the other side of his desk. As he considered just how much rent he could pry out of them for what he considered an irritating weight around his neck, he looked at Seth. "Well, we'll talk about it, then. Maybe the boy here wants to go outside."

  "No, he doesn't," Cam said without a smile. "We're all talking about it."

  "If that's the way you want it." So, Claremont thought, that's the way it was. He could hardly wait to tell Nancy. Why, he'd had a good, close-up look at the kid now, and a half-blind idiot could see Ray Quinn in those eyes. Saint Ray, he thought sourly. It looked like the mighty had fallen, yes sir. And he was going to enjoy letting people know what was what.

  "I'm looking for a five-year lease," he told Phillip, correctly judging who would be handling the business end.

  "We're looking for one year at this point, with an option for seven. Of course, we'd expect certain repairs to be completed before we took occupancy."

  "Repairs." Claremont leaned back in his chair. "Hah. That place is solid as a rock."

  "And we'd require termite inspection and treatment. Regular maintenance would, of course, be our responsibility."

  "Ain't no damn bugs in that place."

  "Well, then." Phillip smiled easily. "You'd only have to arrange for the inspection. What are you asking for in rent?"

  Because he was annoyed, and because he'd always despised Ray Quinn, Claremont bumped up his figure. "Two thousand a month."

  "Two—" Before Cam could choke out his pithy opinion, Phillip rose.

  "No point in wasting your time, then. We appreciate you seeing us."

  "Hold it, hold it." Claremont chuckled, fought off the little tug of panic at having a deal slip through his grasping fingers so quickly. "Didn't say that wasn't negotiable. After all, I knew your daddy…" He aimed that tight-lipped smile directly at Seth. "Knew him more than twenty-five years. I wouldn't feel right if I didn't give his… boys a little break."

  "Fine." Phillip settled down again, resisted rubbing his hands together. He forgot all his objections to the overall plan in his delight in the art of the deal. "Let's negotiate."

  "what the hell have I done?" Thirty minutes later, Phillip sat in his Jeep, methodically rapping his head against the steering wheel.

  "A damn good job, I'd say." Ethan patted him on the shoulder. He'd reached the Jeep ahead of Cam this time and had taken winner's point in the front seat. "Cut his opening price in half, got him to agree to paying for most of the repairs if we do them ourselves, and confused him enough to have him go for the what-was-it—rent control clause if we take the seven-year option."

  "The place is a dump. We're going to pay twelve thousand dollars a year—not including utilities and maintenance—for a pit."

  "Yeah, but now it's our pit." Pleased, Cam stretched out his legs—or tried. "Pull that seat up some, Ethan, I'm jammed back here."

  "Nope. Maybe you should drop me back by the place. I can start figuring things, and I can get a lift home later."

  "We're going shopping," Cam reminded him.

  "I don't need any damn shoes," Seth said again, but in reflex rather than annoyance.

  "You're getting damn shoes, and you're getting a damn haircut while we're at it, and we're all going to the damn mall."

  "I'd rather get hit with a brick than go to the mall on a Saturday." Ethan hunched down in his seat, pulled the brim of his cap low over his eyes. He couldn't bear to think about it.

  "When you start working in that death trap," Phillip told him, "you'll likely be hit with a ton of them."

  "If I have to get a haircut, everybody's getting one."

  Cam glanced briefly at Seth's mutinous face. "You think this is a democracy? Shit. Grab some reality, kid. You're ten."

  "You could use one." Phillip met Ca
m's eyes in the rearview mirror as he drove north out of St. Chris. "Your hair's longer than his."

  "Shut up, Phil. Ethan, goddamn it, pull your seat up."

  "I hate the mall." In defiance, Ethan stretched his own legs out and tipped the back of his seat down a notch. "It's full of people. Pete the barber's still got his place on Market Street."

  "Yeah, and everybody who walks out of it looks like Beaver Cleaver." Frustrated, Cam gave the back of Ethan's seat a solid kick.

  "Keep your feet off my upholstery," Phillip warned. "Or you'll walk to the damn mall."

  "Tell him to give me some room."

  "If I have to get shoes, I get to pick them out. You don't have any say in it."

  "If I'm paying for the shoes, you'll wear what I tell you and like it."

  "I'll buy the stinking shoes myself. I got twenty dollars."

  Cam snorted out a laugh. "Try to get a grip on that reality again, pal. You can't buy decent socks for twenty these days."

  "You can if you don't have to have some fancy designer label on them," Ethan tossed in. "This ain't Paris."

  "You haven't bought decent shoes in ten years," Cam threw back. "And if you don't pull up that frigging seat, I'm going to—"

  "Cut it out!" Phillip exploded. "Cut it out right now or I swear I'm going to pull over and knock your heads together. Oh, my God." He took one hand off the wheel to drag it down his face. "I sound like Mom. Forget it. Just forget it. Kill each other. I'll dump the bodies in the mall parking lot and drive to Mexico. I'll learn how to weave mats and sell them on the beach at Cozumel. It'll be quiet, it'll be peaceful. I'll change my name to Raoul, and no one will know I was ever related to a bunch of fools."

  Seth scratched his belly and turned to Cam. "Does he always talk like that?"

  "Yeah, mostly. Sometimes he's going to be Pierre and live in a garret in Paris, but it's the same thing."

  "Weird," was Seth's only comment. He pulled a piece of bubble gum out of his pocket, unwrapped it, and popped it into his mouth. Getting new shoes was turning into an adventure.

  it would have stopped at shoes if Cam hadn't noticed that the seat of Seth's jeans was nearly worn through. Not that he thought that was a big deal, he assured himself. But it was probably best, since they were there anyway, to pick up a couple of pairs of jeans.

  He had no doubt that if Seth hadn't bitched so much about trying on jeans, he himself wouldn't have felt compelled to push on to shirts, to shorts, to a windbreaker. And somehow they'd ended up with three ball caps, an Orioles sweatshirt, and a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee.

  When he tried to think back to exactly where he'd taken that first wrong turn, it all became a blur of clothes racks, complaining voices, and cash registers churning.

  The dogs greeted them with wild and desperate enthusiasm the minute they pulled into the drive. This would have been endearing but for the fact that the pair of them reeked of dead fish.

  With much cursing and shoving and threats, the humans escaped into the house, shutting the dogs with their hurt feelings outside. The phone was ringing.

  "Somebody get that," Cam pleaded. "Seth, take this junk upstairs, then go give those stinking dogs a bath."

  "Both of them?" The thought thrilled him, but he thought it best to complain. "How come I have to do it?"

 
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