Inner harbor, p.17
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       Inner Harbor, p.17

         Part #3 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts
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  He dropped the sails, secured the boat. "You're scared."

  "You're arrogant. And you don't worry me."

  "Now you're lying." While the boat swayed gently underfoot, he stepped forward and took the sunglasses from her. "I worry you, quite a bit. You keep thinking you have me pegged, then I don't follow the script. I imagine most of the men you've let hover around your life have been fairly predictable. Easier for you."

  "Is this your definition of a distraction?" she countered. "It fits my definition of a confrontation."

  "You're right." He pulled his own sunglasses off, tossed them aside. "We'll analyze later."

  He moved quickly. She knew he was capable of lightning motion but hadn't expected him to snap from cynic to lover in the blink of an eye. His mouth was hot, hungry, and hard on hers. His hands gripped her arms, pressing her against him so that as the heat and the need poured out, she couldn't tell if it came from him or from herself.

  He'd spoken no less than the truth when he told her she was in his system. Whether she was poison or salvation didn't seem to matter. She was in there and he couldn't stop the flow.

  He jerked her back so that their lips parted, but their faces remained close. His eyes were as gold and powerful as the flare of the sun. "You tell me you don't want me, you don't want this. Tell me and mean it, and it stops here."

  "I—"

  "No." Impatient, suffering, he shook her until her gaze lifted to his again. "No, you look at me and say it."

  She'd already lied, and the lies weighed on her like lead. She couldn't bear another. "This will only complicate things, make them more difficult."

  Unmistakable triumph flashed into those tawny eyes. "Damn right it will," he muttered. "Just now, I don't give a damn. Kiss me back," he demanded. "And mean it."

  She couldn't stop herself. This kind of raw, wicked need was new to her, and left her defenseless. Her mouth met his, just as hungry now, just as desperate. And the low, primal moan that escaped was an echo to the beat of desire between her legs.

  She stopped thinking. Found herself swamped and spinning with sensations, emotions, yearnings. The kiss roughened, teetered toward pain as his teeth scraped and nipped. She clutched at his hair, gasping for air, shaking with shock as that skillful mouth streaked down her throat and sent wild chills over her skin.

  For the first time in her life, she surrendered utterly to the physical. And craved the taking.

  He pulled at her jacket, tugging the soft silk off her shoulders and tossing it heedlessly aside. He wanted flesh, the feel of it under his hands, the taste of it in his mouth. He yanked the slim ivory shell over her head and filled his hands with her trembling lace-covered breasts.

  Her skin was warmer than the silk, and somehow smoother. With one impatient flick he opened her bra, then dragged it aside. And satisfied his need to taste.

  The sun blinded her. Even with her eyes tightly shut, the strength of it pounded on her lids. She couldn't see, only feel.

  That busy, almost brutal mouth devoured her, those rough and demanding hands doing as they pleased. The whimper in her throat was a scream in her head.

  Now, now, now!

  Fumbling, she dragged at his sweater, finding the muscle and scars and flesh beneath as he yanked her skirt down her hips. Her stockings ended with thin bands of stretchy lace high on her thighs. Another time he might have appreciated the mix of practicality and femininity. But now he was driven to possess, and he thrilled darkly at her stunned gasp when he ripped aside the thin triangle blocking him from her. Before she could draw the next breath, he plunged his fingers into her and shot her violently over the edge.

  She cried out, shocked, staggered at that vicious slap of heat. It sliced through her without warning, sending her flying, flailing.

  "Oh, God. Phillip." When her head dropped weakly on his shoulder, her body going from spring-taut to limp, he swept her off her feet and pressed her down on one of the narrow benches.

  The blood was pounding in his head. His loins screamed for release. His heart hammered like a dull axe against his ribs.

  His breath was ragged, his vision focused on her face like a laser as he freed himself. His fingers dug into her hips as he lifted and opened them. And he plunged. Hard and deep so that his long, long groan melted into hers.

  She closed around him, a tight, hot glove. Moved under him, a trembling, eager woman. Breathed his name, a breathless, aching sigh.

  He drove into her again, again, strong, steady strokes that she rose to meet. Her hair escaped its pins, flowed like rich mink. He buried his face in it, lost in her scent, in her heat, in the sheer, shimmering glory of a woman aroused beyond reason.

  Her nails dug into his back, her cry muffled against his shoulder as she came. Her muscles clamped around him, owned him, destroyed him.

  He was as limp as she, wrecked, struggling to fill his burning lungs with air. Beneath him, her body continued to quake, the aftershock of hard, satisfying sex.

  When his vision cleared, he could see the three pieces of her pretty businesswoman's suit scattered along the deck. And one black high heel. It made him grin even as he shifted just enough to nip lightly at her shoulder.

  "I usually try for more finesse," he said. Slyly, he skimmed a hand down to toy with the thin lace at the top of her stocking, experimenting with textures. "Oh, you're full of surprises, Dr. Griffin."

  She was floating, somewhere just above reality. She couldn't seem to open her eyes, to move her hand. "What?"

  At the dreamy, distant sound of her voice, he lifted his head to study her face. Her cheeks were flushed, her mouth swollen, her hair a tumbling mass. "As an objective observation, I have to conclude you've never been ravished before."

  There was amusement in his tone, and just enough male arrogance to snap her back to earth. She opened her eyes now, and saw the sleepy smile of victory in his. "You're heavy," she said shortly.

  "Okay." he shifted, sat up, but pulled her up and around until she straddled his lap. "You're still wearing your stockings, and one of your shoes." He grinned and began to knead the muscles of her tight little butt. "Christ, that's sexy."

  "Stop it." The heat was pouring back, a combination of embarrassment and fresh desire. "Let me up."

  "I haven't finished with you yet." He dipped his head, circled his tongue lazily around her nipple. "You're still soft and warm. Tasty," he added, flicking his tongue over her stiffened nipple, sucking lightly until her breathing thickened yet again. "I want more. So do you."

  Her body arched back, beautifully fluid as he trailed his mouth up to the hammering pulse in her neck. Oh, yes, yes, she wanted more.

  "But this time," he promised, "it'll take a little longer." On a yielding moan, she lowered her mouth to his. "I guess there's time."

  the sun was angled low when he shifted her yet again. Her body felt golden and bruised, energized and exhausted. She'd had no idea she could claim such a sexual appetite, and now that she did, she hadn't a clue what she would do about it.

  "We have to discuss…" She frowned at herself, draped an arm over her body. She was half naked and damp from him. And more confused than she'd ever been in her life. "We—this—can't continue."

  "Not right this minute," he agreed. "Even I have my limitations."

  "I didn't mean… This was just a diversion, as you said. Something we both apparently needed on a physical level. And now—"

  "Shut up, Sybill." He said it mildly, but she caught the edge of annoyance. "It was a hell of a lot more than a diversion, and we'll discuss it to pieces later."

  He scooped the hair out of his eyes, studied her. She was just beginning to feel awkward, he realized, uneasy with being naked, and with the situation. So he smiled. "Right now, we're a mess. So there's only one thing to do before we get dressed and head in."

  "What?"

  Still smiling, he pulled off her shoe, then scooped her up into his arms. "Just this," he said, and tossed her over the side.

  She managed
one scream before she hit. What surfaced was a furious woman with tangles of wet hair in her eyes. "You son of a bitch! You idiot!"

  "I knew it." He stepped onto the gunwale and laughed like a loon. "I just knew you'd be gorgeous when you're angry."

  He dived in to join her.

  Chapter Thirteen

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  no one had ever treated her the way Phillip Quinn had treated her. Sybill couldn't decide what she thought of that, much less what to do about it.

  He'd been rough, careless, demanding. He had, in his own words, ravished her—and more than once. Though she couldn't claim to have put up even what could remotely be termed a struggle, it had been a long way from a civilized seduction.

  Never in her life had she slept with a man she'd known for such a short time. To do so was reckless, potentially dangerous, and certainly irresponsible. Even factoring in the overwhelming and unprecedented chemistry between them, it was foolish behavior.

  Worse than foolish, she admitted, because she very much wanted to be reckless, with him, again.

  She would have to consider the matter carefully, as soon as she could get her mind off her body and the incredible pleasure it had experienced under those fast, take-charge hands.

  Now he was sailing her back to the waterfront at St. Christopher's, completely at ease with himself, and with her. She never would have guessed he'd just spent more than an hour engaged in wild, frantic sex.

  If she hadn't been a party to it.

  There was no doubt in her mind that what they'd done would further complicate an already horribly complicated situation. Both of them would have to be coldly sensible now, and carefully practical. She did her best to tidy her damp, tangled hair as the wind whipped at it.

  Conversation, she decided, to bridge the gap between sex and sensibility.

  "How did you get the scars?"

  "Which ones?" He tossed the question over his shoulder, but he thought he knew. Most women wanted to know.

  "On your chest. They look surgical."

  "Mmm. Long story." This time he threw a smile back with the look. "I'll bore you with it tonight."

  "Tonight?"

  Oh, he just loved it when her brows buckled together, forming that little concentration line between them. "We have a date, remember?"

  "But I… hmmm."

  "I confuse the hell out of you, don't I?"

  Annoyed, she slapped at the hair that insisted on blowing over her eyes. "And you enjoy that?"

  "Darling, I can't begin to tell you how much. You keep trying to slip me into one of your slots, Sybill, and I'll keep sliding back out again. You figured on a fairly safe, one-dimensional urban professional who likes his wine aged and his women cultured. But that's only part of the picture."

  As he entered the harbor, he dropped the sails, switched to motor. "First glance at you, I have to figure well-bred, well-educated, career-oriented city woman who likes her wine white and her men at a safe distance. But that's only part of the picture, too."

  He cut the engine, let the boat bump gently at dock. Gave her hair a friendly tug before he climbed out to secure the lines. "I think we'll both be well entertained while we uncover the rest of the canvas."

  "A continuation of a physical relationship is—"

  "Inevitable," he finished, and offered her a hand. "Let's not waste time or energy pretending otherwise. We can call it basic chemistry for now." He tugged her to him the minute her feet hit the dock, and proved his point with one, long fiery kiss. "It works for me."

  "Your family won't approve."

  "Family approval's important to you."

  "Of course."

  "I don't discount it either. Normally, this wouldn't be any of their business. In this case, it is." It bothered him, more than a little. "But it's my family, and my concern, not yours."

  "This may sound hypocritical at this point, but I don't want to do anything else that will hurt or disturb Seth."

  "Neither do I. But I'm not going to let a ten-year-old take charge of my personal life. Relax, Sybill." He skimmed his fingers over her jaw. "This isn't the Montagues and the Capulets."

  "I'm hardly thinking of you as Romeo," she said, so dryly that he laughed and kissed her again.

  "You might, darling, if I put my mind to it. But for now, let's just be who we are. You're tired." He rubbed his thumb gently under her eye. "You've got thin skin, Sybill, the shadows show. Go take a nap. We can make do with room service later."

  "With—"

  "I'll bring the wine," he said cheerfully and leaped back into the boat. "I've got a bottle of Chateau Olivier I've been wanting to sample," he shouted over the motor. "No need to dress up," he added with a wicked grin as he maneuvered the boat away from the dock and out of earshot.

  She wasn't sure what she would have shouted at him if she'd lost what was left of her control. Instead she stood on the dock in her wrinkled but elegant silk suit, her hair a damp mess and her dignity as shaky as her heart.

  cam recognized the signs. A fast sail on a breezy afternoon might relax a man, loosen his muscles, clear his head. But he only knew one thing that put that lazy, satisfied gleam in a man's eyes.

  He recognized that gleam in his brother's eyes when Phillip slid up to the dock to toss him the lines. You son of a bitch, was his first thought.

  He caught the stern line, yanked it taut. "You son of a bitch."

  Phillip only lifted his eyebrows. He'd been expecting that reaction, though not quite so quickly. He'd already ordered himself to hold on to his temper, to explain his position. "Always a friendly welcome at the Quinns'."

  "I figured you were past the stage where you thought with your dick."

  Not quite as calm as he'd planned to be, Phillip stepped off the boat and stood facing his brother. He recognized the signs, too. Cam was spoiling for a fight. "Actually, I tend to let my dick think for itself. Though we often agree."

  "You're either crazy or stupid, or you just don't give a damn. A kid's life is in the balance here, his peace of mind, his trust."

  "Nothing's going to happen to Seth. I'm doing everything I can to make sure of that."

  "Oh, I get it. You fucked her for his sake."

  Phillip's hands shot out, and before the bright fury fully registered he had them gripped on Cam's jacket. Now their faces were close, and both were warrior hard. "You were tearing up the sheets with Anna last spring. How much were you thinking about Seth when you had her under you?"

  Cam's fist rammed up, under Phillip's guard. The blow rocked his head back but didn't loosen his hold. Instinct blanked out reason as he shoved Cam back and prepared to tear in.

  He swore viciously when Ethan clamped an arm around his throat from behind.

  "Cool off," Ethan ordered on more of a sigh than a snarl. "Both of you—or I'll toss you in until you do." He tightened his hold on Phillip's windpipe just enough to show he meant it and scowled at Cam. "Get ahold of yourself, damn it. Seth's had a rough day. You want to add to it?"

  "No, I don't want to add to it," Cam said bitterly. "This one doesn't give a good damn, but I do."

  "My relationship with Sybill and my concern for Seth are two separate matters."

  "Like hell."

  "Let go of me, Ethan." Because Phillip's tone was cool and deliberate, Ethan released him. "You know, Cam, I don't remember you being so interested in my sex life since we both had our sights set on Jenny Malone."

  "We're not in high school anymore, pal."

  "No, we're not. And you're not my keeper. Either of you," he added, shifting so that he could look at both of them. He would explain himself because it mattered. Because they mattered. "I've got feelings for her, and I'm going to take the time to figure out what they are. I've made a lot of changes in my life over the last few months, and I've gone along with what the two of you wanted. But goddamn it, I'm entitled to a personal life."

  "I wouldn't argue with that, Phil." Ethan glanced toward the house, hoping Seth was busy with his
homework or his drawings and not spying out the window. "I don't know how Seth's going to feel about this part of your personal life."

  "There's something none of you are taking into consideration. Sybill is Seth's aunt."

  "That's exactly what I am taking into consideration," Cam shot back. "She's Gloria's sister, and she came in here on a lie."

  "She came in here believing a lie." It was an important distinction, Phillip thought. A vital distinction. "Did you read the statement she faxed to Anna?"

  Cam hissed between his teeth, hooked his thumbs in his pockets. "Yeah, I saw it."

  "What do you think it cost her to put that down in black and white, to know everybody in town would be talking about it, about her, within twenty-four hours?" Phillip waited a beat, noting that the muscle in Cam's jaw relaxed, fractionally. "How much more do you want her to pay?"

  "I'm not thinking about her. I'm thinking about Seth."

  "And she's the best defense we've got against Gloria DeLauter."

  "You think she'll stand up to it?" Ethan wondered. "When push comes to shove?"

  "Yeah, I do. He needs his family, all his family. That's what Dad would want. He told me…" Catching himself, Phillip frowned out over the dark water.

  Cam pursed his lips, exchanged a look with Ethan, and nearly smiled. "Been feeling a little odd lately, Phillip?"

  "I'm fine."

  "Maybe you're stressed out some." Since he'd only gotten in one punch, Cam felt entitled to enjoy himself. "I thought I saw you talking to yourself a couple of times."

  "I don't talk to myself."

  "Maybe you think you're talking to somebody who isn't there." He did smile now, widely and wickedly. "Stress is a killer. Eats at the mind."

  Ethan didn't quite swallow a chuckle, and Phillip glared at him. "You got something to say about the state of my mental health?"

  "Well…" Ethan scratched at his chin, "you've been looking a little tense lately."

  "For Christ's sake, I'm entitled to look a little tense." He threw out his arms as if to encompass the world that too often weighed on his shoulders. "I put in ten, twelve hours a day in Baltimore, then come down here and sweat like a goddamn galley slave in the boatyard. That's when I'm not frying my brains over the books and the bills or playing housewife at the grocery store or making sure Seth doesn't slide out of his homework."

  "Always was bitchy," Cam mumbled.

  "You want bitchy?" Phillip took one threatening step forward, but this time Cam grinned and spread his hands.

  "Ethan'll just toss you off the dock. Me, I don't feel like a swim just now."

  "First few times with me, I thought I was dreaming."

  Confused, unsure if he wanted to punch Cam or just sit down for a while, Phillip looked back at Ethan. "What the hell are you talking about?"

  "I thought we were discussing your mental health." Ethan's tone was mild, conversational now. "It was good to see him. Hard to know you'd have to let him go again, but it was worth it."

  A chill danced up Phillip's spine, and he put his suddenly unsteady hands safely in his pockets. "Maybe we should be talking about your mental health."

  "We figured when it was your turn, you'd head for the therapist's couch." Cam grinned again. "Or Aruba."

  "I don't know what you're talking about."

  "Yes, you do." Ethan spoke calmly, then settled down on the dock, legs
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