Sea swept, p.17
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       Sea Swept, p.17
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         Part #1 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts

  "You know what they say about a watched pot," he began and started around the counter after her. It was the sketch on the refrigerator that distracted him from his half-formed plan to wrestle her to the kitchen floor. "Hey, that looks just like Foolish."

  "It is Foolish. Seth drew it."

  "Get out!" He hooked a thumb in his pocket as he took a closer study. "Really? It's damn good, isn't it? I didn't know the kid could draw."

  "You would, if you spent more time with him."

  "I spend time with him every day," Cam muttered. "He doesn't tell me dick." Cam didn't know where the vague annoyance had come from, but he didn't care for it. "How'd you get this out of him?"

  "I asked," she said simply, and slid linguini into the boiling water.

  Cam shifted on his feet. "Look, I'm doing the best I can with the kid."

  "I didn't say you weren't. I just think you'll do better—with a little more practice and a little more effort."

  She pushed her hair back. She hadn't meant to get into this. Her relationship with Cam was supposed to have two separate compartments, without their contents getting mixed up together. "You're doing a good job. I mean that. But you've got a long way to go, Cam, in gaining his trust, his affection. Giving your own. He's an obligation you're fulfilling, and that's admirable. But he's also a young boy. He needs love. You have feelings for him. I've seen them." She smiled over at him. "You just don't know what to do with them yet."

  Cam scowled at the sketch. "So now I'm supposed to talk to him about drawing dogs?"

  Anna sighed, then turned to frame Cam's face in her hands. "Just talk to him. You're a good man with a good heart. The rest will come."

  Annoyed again, he gripped her wrists. He couldn't have said why the quiet understanding in her voice, the amused compassion in her eyes made him nervous. "I'm not a good man." His grip tightened just enough to make her eyes narrow. "I'm selfish, impatient. I go for the thrills because that's what suits me. Paying your debts doesn't have anything to do with having a good heart. I'm a son of a bitch, and I like it that way."

  She merely arched a brow. "It's always wise to know yourself."

  He felt a little flutter of panic in his throat and ignored it. "I'll probably hurt you before we're done."

  Anna tilted her head. "Maybe I'll hurt you first. Willing to risk it?"

  He didn't know whether to laugh or swear and ended up pulling her into his arms for a smoldering kiss. "Let's eat in bed."

  "That was the plan," she told him.

  the pasta was cold by the time they got to it, but that didn't stop them from eating ravenously.

  They sat cross-legged on her bed, knees bumping, and ate in the glow of the half dozen candles she'd lighted.

  Cam shoveled in linguini and closed his eyes in pure sensory pleasure. "Goddamn, this is good."

  Anna wound pasta expertly around her fork and bit. "You should taste my lasagna."

  "I'm counting on it." Relaxed and lazy, he broke a piece of the crusty bread she'd put into a wicker basket and handed half to her.

  Her bedroom, he'd noted, was different from the rest of the apartment. Here she hadn't gone for the practical, for the streamlined. The bed itself was a wide pool covered in soft rose sheets and a slick satin duvet in rich bronze. The headboard was a romantic arch of wrought iron, curvy and frivolous and plumped now with a dozen fat, colorful pillows.

  The dresser he pegged as an antique, a heavy old piece of mahogany refinished to a rosy gleam. It was covered with pretty little bottles and bowls and a silver-backed brush. The mirror over it was a long oval.

  There was a mahogany lady's vanity with a skirted stool and glinting brass handles. For some reason he'd always found that particular type of furniture incredibly sexy.

  A copper urn was filled with tall, fussy flowers, the walls were crowded with art, and the windows framed in the same rich bronze as the spread.

  This, he thought idly, was Anna's room. The rest of the apartment was still Miz Spinelli's. The practical and the sensual. Both suited her.

  He reached over the side of the bed to the floor, where he'd put the bottle of wine. He topped off her glass.

  "Trying to get me drunk?"

  He flashed a grin at her. Her hair was tangled, the robe loose enough to have one shoulder curving free. Her big dark eyes seemed to laugh at both of them. "Don't have to—but it might be interesting anyway."

  She smiled, shrugged and drank. "Why don't you tell me about your day?"

  "Today?" He gave a mock shudder. "Nightmare time."

  "Really." She twirled more pasta, fed it to him. "Details."

  "Shopping. Shoes. Hideous." When she laughed, he felt the smile split his face. God, she had a great laugh. "I made Ethan and Phillip go with me. No way I was facing that alone. We had to practically handcuff the kid to get him to go. You'd think I was fitting him for a straitjacket instead of new high-tops."

  "Too many men don't appreciate the joys, challenges, and nuances of shopping."

  "Next time, you go. Anyway, I had my eye on this building on the waterfront. We checked it out before we headed to the mall. It'll do the job."

  "What job?"

  "The business. Boat building."

  Anna set her fork down. "You're serious about that."

  "Dead serious. The place'll do. It needs some work, but the rent's in line—especially since we're strong-arming the landlord into paying for most of the basic repairs."

  "You want to build boats."

  "It'll get me out of the house, keep me off the streets." When she didn't smile back, he shrugged his shoulder. "Yeah, I think I could get into it. For now, anyway. We'll do this one for the client Ethan's already got lined up, see how it goes from there."

  "I take it you signed a lease."

  "That's right. Why putz around?"

  "Some might say caution, consideration, details."

  "I leave the caution and consideration to Ethan, the details to Phillip. If it doesn't work, all we've lost is a few bucks and a little time."

  Odd how that prickly temper suited him, she mused. It went so well with those dark, damn-it-all looks. "And if it does work," she added. "Have you thought of that?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "If it works, you'll have taken on another commitment. It's getting to be a habit." She laughed now, at the expression of annoyance and surprise on his face. "It's going to be fun to ask you how you feel about all this in six months or so." She leaned forward and kissed him lightly. "How about some dessert?"

  The nagging worry the word "commitment" had brought on faded back as her lips rubbed over his. "Whatcha got?"

  "Cannoli," she told him as she set their plates on the floor.

  "Sounds good."

  "Or—" Watching him, she unbelted her robe, let it slide off her shoulders. "Me."

  "Sounds better," he said and let her pull him to her.

  it was just after three when Seth heard the car pull into the drive. He'd been asleep but having dreams. Bad ones, where he was back in one of those smelly rooms where the walls were stained and thinner than his drawing paper, and every sound carried through them.

  Sex noises—grunts and groans and creaking mattresses—his mother's nasty laugh when she was coked up. It made him sweat, having those dreams. Sometimes she would come in to where he was trying to find comfort and sleep on the musty sofa. If her mood was good, she would laugh and give him smothering hugs, waking him out of a fitful sleep into the smells and sounds of the world she'd dragged him into.

  If her mood was bad, she would curse and slap and often end up sitting on the floor crying wildly.

  Either way made for one more miserable night.

  But worse, hundreds of times worse, was when one of the men she'd taken to bed slipped out, crept across the cramped room, and touched him.

  It hadn't happened often, and waking up screaming and swinging drove them off. But the fear lived inside him like a red-hot demon. He'd learned to sleep on the floor behind th
e sofa whenever she had a man around.

  But this time Seth hadn't waked from nightmare to worse. He fought his way out of the sweaty dream and found himself on clean sheets, with a snoring puppy curled beside him.

  He cried a little, because he was alone and there was no one to see. Then he snuggled closer to Foolish, comforted by the soft fur and steady heartbeat. The sound of the car coming in stopped him from drifting back to sleep.

  His first thought was cops! They'd come to get him, to haul him away. Then he told himself, even as his heart jumped up to pound in his throat, that he was being a baby. Still, he crept out of bed, padded silently to the window to look.

  He had a hiding place picked out if one was needed.

  It was the 'Vette. Seth told himself he'd have recognized the sound of its engine if he hadn't been half asleep. He saw Cam get out, heard the soft, cheerful whistling.

  Been out poking at some woman, Seth decided with a sneer. Grown-ups were so predictable. When he remembered that Cam was supposed to have dinner with the social worker that night, his eyes went wide, his jaw dropped.

  Man, oh, man, he thought. Cam was bouncing on Miss Spinelli. That was so… weird. So weird, he realized he didn't know how he felt about it. One thing for sure, he realized as Cam whistled his way to the door—Cam felt just fine and dandy about it.

  When he heard the front door close, he snuck to his own bedroom door. He wanted to get a quick peek, but at the sound of feet coming up the stairs he dived back into bed. Just in case.

  The puppy whimpered, began to stir, and Seth slammed his eyes shut as the door opened.

  When the footsteps came slowly, quietly toward the bed, his heart began to pound in his chest. What would he do? he thought in a sick panic. God, what could he do? Foolish's tail began to thump on the bed as Seth cringed and waited for the worst.

  "Guess you think this is a pretty good deal, lazing around half the day, getting your belly filled, having a nice soft bed at night," Cam murmured.

  His voice was slightly slurred from lack of sleep, but to Seth it sounded like drugs or liquor. He struggled to keep his breathing slow and steady while his heartbeat pounded like a jackhammer against his ribs, in his head.

  "Yeah, you fell into roses, didn't you? And didn't have to do a thing to earn it. Goofy-looking dog." Seth nearly blinked, realizing Cam was speaking to Foolish and not him. "It'll be his problem, won't it, when you're grown and take up more of the bed than he does."

  Cautious, Seth slitted his eyes open just enough so he could see through his lashes. He saw Cam's hand come down, give Foolish a quick, careless stroke. Then the tangled sheets and blanket came up, smoothed over his shoulders. That same hand gave Seth's head a quick and careless stroke.

  When the door closed again, Seth waited thirty full seconds before daring to open his eyes. He looked straight into Foolish's face. The pup seemed to be grinning at him as though they'd gotten away with something. Grinning back, Seth draped an arm around the pup's pudgy body.

  "I guess it is a pretty good deal, huh, boy?" he whispered.

  In agreement, Foolish licked Seth's face, then yawning hugely, settled down to sleep again.

  This time, when Seth dropped off to sleep, there were no sweaty dreams to haunt him.

  Chapter Thirteen

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  "you're awfully damn happy these days."

  Cam acknowledged Phillip's pithy comment with a shrug and kept on whistling while he worked. They were making decent progress on what Cam jokingly thought of as their shipyard. It was hard, sweaty, filthy work.

  And every time Cam compared it to laundry detail, he praised God.

  Though what windows weren't broken were open wide, the air still carried a vague chemical scent. At Phillip's insistence they'd bought a batch of insect bombs and blasted the place with killing fog. When it cleared, the death toll was heavy. It took nearly a half a day just to clear out the corpses.

  Replacement windows were slated to be delivered that day. Claremont had bitched bitterly about the expense—despite the deal he got on them because his brother-in-law managed the lumber company in Cambridge and had sold them to him at cost. He'd been only slightly mollified that the Quinns would rip out the old windows and install the new ones, saving him from hiring laborers.

  If the fact that the improvements to the building would spike the potential resale value pleased him, he kept that small delight to himself.

  They'd pried or punched out rotted boards and hauled them outside to a steadily growing pile of discards. The metal banister of the stairs leading up to the overhead loft was rusted through, so they yanked it out. Claremont was able to finesse the proper permits, so they were tossing up a couple of walls to close in what would be a bathroom.

  Because Cam considered this kind of work a hobby, one he enjoyed, and he came home most nights to a clean house and had a pretty woman willing to tango with him whenever time and circumstances permitted, he figured he had a right to be happy.

  Hell, the kid had even been doing his homework—most of the time. He had turned in the much-despised essay and was halfway through his probation without incident.

  Cam figured his luck had been running hot and strong for the past couple of weeks.

  As far as Phillip was concerned, it had been the worst two weeks of his life. He had barely spent any time in his apartment, had lost his favorite pair of Magli loafers to the gnawing puppy teeth of Foolish, hadn't seen the inside of a single four-star restaurant, and hadn't so much as sniffed a woman.

  Unless he counted Mrs. Wilson at the supermarket, and he damn well didn't.

  Instead, he was handling and juggling and bouncing details that no one else so much as thought about, getting blisters on his hands swinging a hammer, and spending his evenings wondering what had happened to life as he'd known it.

  The fact that he knew Cam was getting regular sex fried the hell out of him.

  When the board he lifted gifted him with a fat splinter in the thumb, he swore ripely. "Why the hell didn't we hire carpenters?"

  "Because, as keeper of our magic funds, you pointed out it's cheaper this way. And Claremont gave us the first month's rent free if we did it ourselves." Cam took the board himself, placed it, and began to hammer in the next stud. "You said it was a good deal."

  Gritting his teeth, he yanked out the splinter, sucked on his aching thumb. "I was insane at the time."

  Phillip stepped back, hands on his hips above his tool belt, and surveyed the area. It was filthy. Dirt, sawdust, piles of refuse, stacks of lumber, sheets of plastic. This was not his life, he thought again, as the sound of Cam's hammer thudded in time with the gritty rock beat of Bob Seger that pumped out of the radio.

  "I must have been insane. This place is a dump."

  "Yep."

  "Setting up this idiotic business is going to devour our capital."

  "No doubt about it."

  "We'll go under in six months."

  "Could be."

  Phillip scowled and reached down for the jug of iced tea. "You don't give a good damn."

  "If it bombs, it bombs." Cam tucked his hammer back in his belt, took out his measuring tape. "We're no worse off. But if it makes it, if it just bumps along for a while, we'll have what we need."

  "Which is?"

  Cam picked up the next board, eyeballed it along its length, then set it over the sawhorses. "A business—which Ethan can run after the dust settles. He gets himself a couple of part-timers—off-season watermen—he builds three or four boats a year to keep it afloat."

  He paused long enough to mark the board, run the saw. Dust flew and the noise was awesome. Cam set the power saw aside, hefted the board into place. "I'll give him a hand now and then, you'll keep track of the money end. But it ought to give us room to move some. I can get in a few races a year, you can get back to bilking the consumer with jazzy ads." He pulled out his hammer. "Everybody's happy."

  Phillip cocked his head, scratched his chin. "Yo
u've been thinking."

  "That's right."

  "When do you figure this slide back to normality's going to happen?''

  Cam swiped at the sweat on his forehead with the back of his hand. ' The faster we get this place up and running, the faster we get the first boat done."

  "Which explains why you've been busting your ass, and mine. Then what?''

  "I've got enough contacts to line up a second job, even a third." He thought of Tod Bardette—the bastard—even now priming a crew for the One-Ton Cup. Yeah, he could finesse Bardette into a boat by Quinn. And there were others, plenty of others, who would pay and pay well. "I figure my main contribution to this enterprise is contacts. Six months," he said. "We can handle six months."

  "I'm going back to work Monday," Phillip told him, braced for a fight. "I've got to. I'm flexing time so I'll only be in Baltimore Monday through Thursday. It's the best I can do."

  Cam considered. "Okay. I don't have a problem with that. But you'll be busting ass on weekends."

  For six months, Phillip thought. More or less. Then he hissed out a breath. "One factor you haven't worked into your plan. Seth."

  "What about him? He'll be here. He's got a place to live. I'm going to use the house as a base."

  "And when you're off breaking records and female hearts in Monte Carlo?"

  Cam scowled and rapped the hammer harder than necessary on the head of the nail. "He doesn't want to be in my damn pocket all the time. You guys'll be around when I'm not. The kid's going to be taken care of."

  "And if the mother comes back? They haven't been able to find her. Nothing. I'd feel better if we knew where she is and what she's up to."

  "I'm not thinking about her. She's out of the picture."

  Has to be, Cam insisted, remembering the look of pasty-faced terror on Seth's face. "She's not going to mess with us."

  "I'd like to know where she is," Phillip said again. "And what the hell she was to Dad."

  cam put it out of his mind. His way of handling loose ends was to knot them up together and forget about them. The immediate problem, as he saw it, was getting the building in shape, ordering equipment, tools, supplies. If the business was a means to an end, it had to begin.

  Every day he worked on the building was one day closer to escape. Every dollar he poured into supplies and equipment was an investment in the future. His future.

  He was keeping his promise, he told himself. His way.

  With the sun beating down on his back and a faded blue bandanna tied around his head, he ripped broken shingles off the roof. Ethan and Phillip were working behind him, replacing shingles. Seth appeared to be having a fine time winging the discarded ones from roof to ground, and a satisfying pile was forming below.

  It was a cool place to be as far as Seth was concerned. Up on the roof with the sun beating down and the occasional gull flying by. You could see just about everything from up here. The town, with its straight streets and square yards. The old trees popping up out of the grass. The flowers were okay, too. From up here they were just blobs and dots of color. Someone was mowing, and the sound carried up to him like a distant hum.

  He could see the waterfront, with the boats at dock or cruising along the water. A couple of kids were sailing a little skiff with blue sails, and because he envied them, he looked away toward the docks.

  There were people, shopping or strolling or eating lunch at one of the
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