Inner Harbor, Page 16Nora Roberts
"Decent men don't have adulterous affairs with women half their age, then walk away from a child conceived from that affair." Bitterness coated Phillip's voice as he took another step toward Sybill. "And there's no way you're going to convince us that Ray slept with your sister behind our mother's back, then walked away from his son."
"What?" Without realizing it, Sybill shot a hand out to grip his arm, as much in shock as to keep her balance as she reeled from it. "Of course he didn't. You told me you didn't believe that Gloria and your father…"
"But that's—where did you get the idea that Seth was his son, his son by Gloria?"
"It's easy enough to hear it in town if you keep your ears open." Phillip narrowed his eyes at her face. "It's something your sister planted. She claimed he molested her, then she blackmails him, sells him her son." He looked back at Seth, into Ray Quinn's eyes. "I say it's a lie."
"Of course it's a lie. It's a horrible lie."
Desperate to do at least this one thing right and well, she went to Seth, crouched in front of him. She wanted badly to take his hand, but resisted her impulse when he leaned away from her.
"Ray Quinn wasn't your father, Seth. He was your grandfather. Gloria's his daughter."
His lips trembled, and those deep-blue eyes shimmered. "My grandfather?"
"Yes. I'm sorry she didn't tell you, so sorry you didn't know before he…" She shook her head, straightened. "I didn't realize there was confusion about this. I should have. I only learned about it myself a few weeks ago."
She took her seat again, prepared herself. "I'll tell you everything I know."
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it was easier now, almost like a lecture. Sybill was used to giving lectures on social topics. All she had to do was divorce herself from the subject and relay information in a clear and cohesive manner.
"Professor Quinn had a relationship with Barbara Harrow," she began. She put her back to the window so that she could face all of them as she spoke. "They met at American University in Washington. I don't have a great many of the details, but what I do know indicates that he was teaching there and she was a graduate student. Barbara Harrow is my mother. Gloria's mother."
"My father," Phillip said. "Your mother."
"Yes. Nearly thirty-five years ago. I assume they were attracted to each other, physically at least. My mother…" She cleared her throat. "My mother indicated that she believed he had a great deal of potential, that he would rise up the ranks in academia quickly. Status is an essential requirement to my mother's contentment. However, she found herself disappointed in his… what she saw as his lack of ambition. He was content to teach. Apparently he wasn't particularly interested in the social obligations that are necessary for advancement. And his politics were too liberal for her tastes."
"She wanted a rich, important husband." Cueing in quickly, Phillip raised his eyebrows. "And she discovered he wasn't going to be it."
"That's essentially true," Sybill agreed in a cool, steady voice. "Thirty-five years ago, the country was experiencing unrest, its own internal war between youth and establishment. Colleges were teeming with minds that questioned not only an unpopular war, but the status quo. Professor Quinn, it would seem, had a lot of questions."
"He believed in using the brain," Cam muttered. "And in taking a stand."
"According to my mother, he took stands." Sybill managed a small smile. "Often unpopular with the administration of the university. He and my mother disagreed, strongly, on basic principles and beliefs. At the end of the term, she went home to Boston, disillusioned, angry, and, she was to discover, pregnant."
"Bullshit. Sorry," Cam said shortly when Anna hissed at him. "But it's bullshit. There's no way he would have ignored responsibility for a kid. No way in hell."
"She never told him." Sybill folded her hands as all eyes swung back to her. "She was furious. Perhaps she was frightened as well, but she was furious to find herself pregnant by a man she'd decided was unsuitable. She considered terminating the pregnancy. She'd met my father, and they had clicked."
"He was suitable," Cam concluded.
"I believe they suited each other." Her voice chilled. They were her parents, damn it. She had to be left with something. "My mother was in a difficult and frightening position. She wasn't a child. She was nearly twenty-five, but an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy is a wrenching episode for a woman of any age. In a moment of weakness, or despair, she confessed all of it to my father. And he offered her marriage. He loved her," Sybill said quietly. "He must have loved her very much. They were married quickly and quietly. She never went back to Washington. She never looked back."
"Dad never knew he had a daughter?" Ethan covered Grace's hand with his.
"No, he couldn't have. Gloria was three, nearly four when I was born. I can't say what the relationship between her and my parents was like in those early years. I know that later on, she felt excluded. She was difficult and temperamental, demanding. Certainly she was wild. Certain standards of behavior were expected, and she refused to meet them."
It sounded so cold, Sybill thought now. So unyielding. "In any case, she left home when she was still a teenager. Later, I discovered that both of my parents, and myself, sent her money, independently of each other. She would contact one of us and plead, demand, threaten, whichever worked. I wasn't aware of any of this until Gloria called me last month, about Seth."
Sybill paused a moment until she could compose her thoughts. "Before I came here, I flew to Paris to see my parents. I felt they needed to know. Seth was their grandchild, and as far as I knew, he'd been taken away from Gloria and was living with strangers. When I told my mother what had happened, and she refused to become involved, to offer any assistance, I was stunned and angry. We argued." Sybill let out a short laugh. "She was surprised enough by that, I think, to tell me what I've just told you."
"Gloria had to know," Phillip pointed out. "She had to know Ray Quinn was her father or she'd never have come here."
"Yes, she knew. A couple of years ago, she went to my mother when my parents were staying in D.C. for a few months. I can assume it was an ugly scene. From what my mother told me, Gloria demanded a large sum of money or she'd go to the press, to the police, to whoever would listen and accuse my father of sexual abuse, my mother of collusion in it. None of that is true," Sybill said wearily. "Gloria always equated sex with power, and acceptance. She routinely accused men, particularly men in positions of authority, of molesting her.
"In this instance, my mother gave her several thousand dollars and the story I've just told you. She promised Gloria that it was the last penny she would ever see from her, the last word she would ever speak to her. My mother rarely, very rarely, goes back on a promise of any kind. Gloria would have known that."
"So she hit on Ray Quinn instead," Phillip concluded.
"I don't know when she decided to find him. It may have stewed in her mind for a time. Now she would consider this the reason she was never loved, never wanted, never accepted as she felt she deserved to be. I imagine she blamed your father for that. Someone else is always to blame when Gloria has difficulties."
"So she found him." Phillip rose from his chair to pace. "And, true to form, demanded money, made accusations, threatened. Only this time she used her own son as the hammer."
"Apparently. I'm sorry. I should have realized you weren't aware of all the facts. I suppose I assumed your father had told you more of it."
"He didn't have time." Cam's voice was cold and bitter.
"He told me he was waiting for some information," Ethan remembered. "That he'd explain everything once he found out."
"He must have tried contacting your mother." Phillip pinned Sybill with a look. "He would have wanted to speak with her, to know."
"I can't tell you that. I simply don't know."
"I know," Phillip said shortly. "He would have done what he felt was right. For Seth first,
because he's a child. But he would have wanted to help Gloria. To do that, he needed to talk to her mother, find out what had happened. It would have mattered to him."
"I can only tell you what I know or what's been told to me." Sybill lifted her hands, let them fall. "My family has behaved badly." It was weak, she knew. "All of us," she said to Seth. "I apologize for myself, and for them. I don't expect you to…" What? she wondered, and let it go. "I'll do anything I can to help."
"I want people to know." Seth's eyes swam when he lifted them to her face. "I want people to know he was my grandfather. They're saying things about him, and it's wrong. I want people to know I'm a Quinn."
Sybill could only nod. If this was all he asked of her, she would make certain she gave it. Drawing a breath, she looked at Anna. "What can I do?"
"You've made a good start already." Anna glanced at her watch. She had other cases and another appointment scheduled in ten minutes. "Are you willing to make the information you've given us official, and public?"
"I have an idea how to start that ball rolling."
The embarrassment factor couldn't be weighed, Sybill reminded herself. She could and would live with the whispers and the speculative looks that were bound to come her way once she followed through on Anna's suggestion.
she'd typed up her statement herself, spending two hours in her room choosing the right words and phrasing. The information had to be clear, the details of her mother's actions, of Gloria's, even her own.
When it was proofed and printed out, she didn't hesitate. She took the pages down to the front desk, and calmly requested that they be faxed to Anna's office.
"I'll need the originals back," she told the clerk. "And I expect a reply by return fax."
"I'll take care of this for you." The young, fresh-faced clerk smiled professionally before she slipped into the office behind the desk.
Sybill closed her eyes briefly. No turning back now, she reminded herself. She folded her hands, composed her features, and waited.
It didn't take long. And there was no mistaking from the wide eyes of the clerk that at least part of the transmission had been scanned. "Do you want to wait for the reply, Dr. Griffin?"
"Yes, thank you." Sybill held out a hand for the papers, nearly smiling as the clerk jolted, then quickly passed them across the desk.
"Are you, ah, enjoying your stay?"
Can't wait to pass on what you read, can you? Sybill thought. Typical, and totally expected human behavior. "It's been an interesting experience so far."
"Well, excuse me a moment." The clerk dashed into the back room again.
Sybill was just releasing a sigh when her shoulders tensed. She knew Phillip was behind her before she turned to face him. "I sent the fax to Anna," she said stiffly. "I'm waiting for her reply. If she finds it satisfactory, I'll have time to go to the bank before it closes and have the document notarized. I gave my word."
"I'm not here as a guard dog, Sybill. I thought you could use a little moral support."
She all but sniffed. "I'm perfectly fine."
"No, you're not." To prove it to both of them, he rested a hand on the rigid cords in her neck. "But you put on a hell of a show."
"I prefer to do this alone."
"Well, you can't always get what you want. As the song says." He glanced over with an easy smile, his hand still on Sybill's nape, as the clerk hurried out with an envelope. "Hi, there, Karen. How's it going?"
The clerk blushed clear to the hairline, her eyes darting from his face to Sybill's. "Fine. Um… here's your fax, Dr. Griffin."
"Thank you." Without flinching Sybill took the envelope and tucked it into her bag. "You'll bill my account for the service."
"Yes, of course."
"See you around, Karen." Smoothly, Phillip slid his hand from Sybill's neck to the small of her back to guide her across the lobby.
"She'll have told her six best friends by her next break," Sybill murmured.
"At the very least. The wonders of small towns. The Quinns will be the hot topic of discussion over a number of dinner tables tonight. By breakfast, the gossip mill will be in full swing."
"That amuses you," Sybill said tightly. "It reassures me, Dr. Griffin. Traditions are meant to reassure. I spoke to our lawyer," he continued as they crossed the waterfront. Gulls swooped, dogging a workboat on its way to dock. "The notarized statement will help, but he'd like to take your deposition, early next week if you can manage it."
"I'll make an appointment." In front of the bank she stopped and turned toward him. He'd changed into casual clothes, and the wind off the water ruffled his hair. His eyes were concealed behind shaded lenses, but she wasn't certain she cared to see the expression in them. "It might look less as if I'm under house arrest if I go in alone."
He merely lifted his hands, palms out, and stepped back. She was a tough nut, he decided when she strode into the bank. But he had a feeling that, once cracked, there was something soft, even delectable inside.
He was surprised that someone as intelligent, as highly trained in the human condition as she was couldn't see her own distress, couldn't or wouldn't admit that there had been something lacking in her own upbringing that forced her to build walls.
He'd nearly been fooled, he mused, into believing she was cold and distant and untouched by the messier emotions. He couldn't be sure what it was that insisted he believe differently. Maybe it was nothing more than wishful thinking, but he was determined to find out for himself. And soon.
He knew that making her family secrets accessible and so informally public would be humiliating for her, and perhaps painful. But she'd agreed without condition and was following through without hesitation.
Standards, he thought. Integrity. She had them. And he believed that she had heart as well.
Sybill offered a thin smile as she came back out. "Well, that's the first time I've seen a notary's eyes nearly pop out of her head. I think that should—"
The rest of her babbling statement was lost as his mouth rushed to cover hers. She lifted a hand to his shoulder, but her fingers only curled into the soft material of his sweater.
"You looked like you needed it," he murmured, and skimmed a hand over her cheek.
"Hell, Sybill, we've already got them talking. Why not add to the mystery?"
Her emotions were rocking, making it difficult for her to hold on to any threads of composure. "I've no intention of standing here making a spectacle of myself. So if you'll—"
"Fine. Let's go somewhere else. I've got the boat."
"The boat? I can't go out on the boat. I'm not dressed for it. I have work." I need to think, she told herself, but he was already pulling her to the dock.
"A sail will do you good. You're starting on another headache. The fresh air should help."
"I don't have a headache." Only the nasty, simmering threat of one. "And I don't want to—" She nearly yelped, so stunned was she when he simply plucked her off her feet and set her down on the deck.
"Consider yourself shanghaied, doc." Quickly, competently, he freed the lines and leaped aboard. "I have a feeling you haven't had nearly enough of that kind of treatment in your short, sheltered life."
"You don't know anything about my life, or what I've had. If you start that engine, I'm going to—" She broke off, grinding her teeth as the motor putted to life. "Phillip, I want to go back to my hotel. Now."
"Hardly anybody ever says no to you, do they?" He said it cheerfully as he gave her a firm nudge onto the port bench. "Just sit back and enjoy the ride."
Since she didn't intend to leap overboard and swim back to shore in a silk suit and Italian shoes, she folded her arms. It was his way of paying her back, she supposed, by taking away her freedom of choice, asserting his will and his physical dominance.
She turned her head to stare out over the light chop. She wasn't afraid of him, not physically. He had a tougher side than she'd or
iginally thought, but he wouldn't hurt her. And because he cared for Seth, deeply, she'd come to believe, he needed her cooperation.
She refused to be thrilled when he hoisted the sails. The sound of the canvas opening itself to the wind, the sight of the sun beating against the rippling white, the sudden and smooth angling of the boat, meant nothing to her, she insisted.
She would simply tolerate this little game of his, give him no reaction. Undoubtedly, he would grow weary of her silence and inattention and take her back.
"Here." He tossed something, making her jump. She looked down and saw the sunglasses that had landed neatly in her lap. "Sun's fierce today, even if the temperature's cooling. Indian summer's around the corner."
He smiled to himself when she said nothing, only slid the sunglasses primly on her nose and continued to stare in the opposite direction.
"We need a good hard frost first," he continued conversationally. "When the leaves start to turn, the shoreline near the house is a picture. Golds and scarlets. You get that deep blue sky behind them, and the water mirror-bright, that spice of fall on the air, and you could start to believe there's no place else on the planet you'd ever want to be."
She kept her mouth firmly shut, tightened the fold of her arms across her breasts.
Phillip merely tucked his tongue in his cheek. "Even a couple of avowed urbanites like you and I can appreciate a fine fall day in the country. Seth's birthday's coming up."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw her head jerk around, her mouth tremble open. She shut it again, but this time when she turned away, her shoulders where hunched defensively.
Oh, she felt all right, Phillip mused. There were plenty of messy emotions stewing inside that cool package of hers.
"We thought we'd throw him a party, have some of his pals over to raise hell. You already know Grace bakes a hell of a chocolate cake. We've got his present taken care of. But just the other day I saw these art supplies in this shop in Baltimore. Not a kid's setup, a real one. Chalk, pencils, charcoal, brashes, watercolors, paper, palettes. It's a specialty shop a few blocks from my office. Somebody who knew something about art could breeze in there and pick out just the right things."
He'd intended to do so himself, but he saw now that his instincts to tell her about it had been true. She was facing him now, and though the sun flashed off her sunglasses, he could see from the angle of her head that he had her full attention.
"He wouldn't want anything from me."
"You're not giving him enough credit. Maybe you're not giving yourself enough either."
He trimmed the sails, caught the wind, and saw the instant she recognized the curve of trees along the shore. She got unsteadily to her feet. "Phillip, however you may feel about me right now, it can't help the situation for you to push me at Seth again so soon."
"I'm not taking you home." He scanned the yard as they passed. "Seth's at the boatyard with Cam and Ethan, in any case. You need a distraction, Sybill, not a confrontation. And for the record, I don't know how I feel about you at the moment."
"I've told you everything I know."
"Yeah, I think you've given me the facts. You haven't told me how you feel, how those facts affect you personally, emotionally."
"It isn't the issue."
"I'm making it an issue. We're tangled up here, Sybill, whether we like it or not. Seth's your nephew, and he's mine. My father and your mother had an affair. And we're about to."
"No," she said definitely, "we're not."
He turned his head long enough to shoot her a glittering look. "You know better than that. You're in my system, and I know when a woman's got me in hers."
"And we're both old enough to control our more basic urges."
He stared at her another moment, then laughed. "Hell we are. And it's not the sex that worries you. It's the intimacy."
He was hitting all the targets. It didn't anger her nearly as much as it frightened her. "You don't know me."
"I'm beginning to," he said quietly. "And I'm someone else who finishes what I start. I'm coming about." His voice was mild now. "Watch the boom."
She stepped out of the way, sat. She recognized the little cove where they had shared wine and pate. Only a week ago, she thought dully. Now so much had changed. Everything had changed.
She couldn't be here with him, couldn't risk it. The idea of handling him now was absurd. Still, she could do nothing but try.
Coolly, she eyed him. Casually, she smoothed her hand over the sophisticated twist the wind had disordered. Caustically, she smiled. "What, no wine this time? No music, no neat gourmet lunch?"