Inner harbor, p.18
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       Inner Harbor, p.18

         Part #3 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts
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  dangling, to take out a cigar. "It's your turn. Looks like he took us in the same order he took us in."

  "Symmetry," Cam decided, dropping down beside Ethan. "He'd have liked the symmetry of it. I talked to him the first time the day I met Anna." He thought back to it, the way he'd seen her cross the back lawn with that knockout face and that ugly suit. "I guess that's a kind of symmetry, too."

  The chill was still dancing, tapping fast now, up and down Phillip's spine. "What do you mean, talked to him'?"

  "Had a conversation." Cam plucked the cigar out of Ethan's mouth and helped himself to a puff. "Of course, I figured I'd cracked." He glanced up, smiled. "You figure you've cracked, Phil?"

  "No. I've just been working too hard."

  "Shit, drawing pictures, coming up with jingles. Big deal."

  "Kiss ass." But with a sigh, he sat on the dock. "Are the two of you trying to tell me you've talked to Dad? The one who died in March? The one we buried a few miles from here?"

  In an easy gesture Cam passed Phillip the cigar. "You trying to tell us you haven't?"

  "I don't believe in that sort of thing."

  "Doesn't much matter what you believe when it happens," Ethan pointed out and took back his cigar. "Last time I saw him was the night I asked Grace to marry me. He had a bag of peanuts."

  "Christ Jesus," Phillip murmured.

  "I could smell them, the same way I can smell this cigar smoke, the water, Cam's leather jacket."

  "When people die, that's it. They don't come back." Phillip paused a moment, waiting until the cigar came back down the line to him. "Did you—touch him?"

  Cam angled his head. "Did you?"

  "He was solid. He couldn't be."

  "It's either that," Ethan pointed out, "or we're all crazy."

  "We barely had time to say good-bye, and no time to understand." Cam let out a breath. His grief had eased and softened. "He bought us each a little more time. That's what I think."

  "He and Mom bought us all time when they made us Quinns." He couldn't think about it, Phillip decided. Not now, at any rate. "It must have ripped him when he found out he had a daughter he'd never known."

  "He'd have wanted to help her, save her," Ethan murmured.

  "He'd have seen it was too late for her. But not for Seth," Cam concluded. "So he'd have done whatever he could do to save Seth."

  "His grandson." Phillip watched an egret soar, then slide silently into the dark. And he was no longer cold. "He'd have seen himself in the eyes, but he would've wanted answers. I've been thinking about that. The logical step would have been for him to try to locate Gloria's mother, have her confirm it."

  "It would have taken time." Cam considered it. "She's married, she's living in Europe, and from what Sybill said, she wasn't interested in contacting him."

  "And he ran out of time," Phillip concluded. "But now we know. And now, we make it stick."

  she hadn't meant to sleep. Sybill indulged in a long, hot shower, then wrapped herself in a robe with the intention of adding to her notes. She ordered herself to drum up the courage to call her mother, to speak her mind and demand a written corroboration of her own notarized statement.

  She did neither. Instead she fell face down on the bed, closed her eyes, and escaped.

  The knocking at the door pulled her out of sleep into groggy. She stumbled out of bed, fumbled for the light switch. With her mind still fuzzy, she walked through the parlor and barely had the presence of mind to check the peephole.

  She let out a self-directed annoyed sigh as she flipped off the locks.

  Phillip took one look at her tousled hair, sleepy eyes, and practical navy terry robe, and smiled. "Well, I did tell you not to dress up."

  "I'm sorry. I fell asleep." Distracted, she pushed at her hair. She hated being mussed, particularly when he looked so fresh and alert. And gorgeous.

  "If you're tired, I'll take a rain check."

  "No, I… if I sleep any more now I'll end up wide awake at three A.M. I hate hotel rooms at three A.M." She stepped back to let him in. "I'll just get dressed."

  "Stay comfortable," he suggested, and used his free hand to cup the nape of her neck and bring her forward for a casual kiss. "I've already seen you naked. And a very appealing sight it was."

  It appeared, she decided, that her dignity was still just out of reach. "I'm not going to claim that was a mistake."

  "Good." He set the wine he carried on her coffee table.

  "But," she said, with what she considered admirable patience, "neither was it wise. We're both sensible people."

  "Speak for yourself, doc. I stop feeling sensible every time I get a whiff of you. What is that you wear?"

  She leaned back when he leaned in to sniff at her. "Phillip."

  "Sybill." And he laughed. "How about if I attempt to be civilized and not cart you off to bed until you're a little more awake?"

  "I appreciate your restraint," she said tightly.

  "And so you should. Hungry?"

  "What is this almost pathological need of yours to feed me?"

  "You're the analyst," he told her with a shrug. "I've got the wine. You got some glasses?"

  She might have sighed, but it wouldn't have been constructive. She did want to talk to him, to put their relationship on an even footing again. To ask his advice. And, she hoped, to enlist his help in persuading Seth to accept her friendship.

  She took the two short, thick glasses the hotel provided, lifting her eyebrow when Phillip sneered at them. He had a damn sexy sneer.

  "They're an insult to this very delightful wine," he said, as he opened the bottle with the stainless-steel corkscrew he'd brought with him. "But if they're the best you can offer we'll just have to make do."

  "I forgot to pack my Waterford."

  "Next time." He poured the pretty straw-colored wine into the glasses, handed her one. "To beginnings, middles, and endings. We seem to be at all three."

  "Which means?"

  "The charade's ended, the teamwork is established, and we've just become lovers. I'm happy with all three aspects of our very interesting relationship."

  "Teamwork?" She picked the aspect that didn't shame her or make her nervous.

  "Seth's a Quinn. With your help we'll make that legal and permanent, and soon."

  She stared down into her wine. "It's important to you that he have your name."

  "His grandfather's name," Phillip corrected. "And it can't be nearly as important to me as it is to Seth."

  "Yes, you're right. I saw his face when I told him. He looked almost awed. Professor Quinn must have been an extraordinary man."

  "My parents were special. They had the kind of marriage you rarely see. A true partnership, based on trust, respect, love, passion. It hasn't been easy wondering if my father broke that trust."

  "You were afraid that he had cheated on your mother with Gloria, fathered a child with her." Sybill sat down. "It was hideous of her to plant that seed."

  "It was also hell living with the seeds in me that I couldn't quite stomp out. Resentment for Seth. Was he my father's son?

  His true son, while I was just one of the substitutes? I knew better," he added as he sat beside her. "In my heart. But it's one of those mind games that nag at you at three A.M."

  If nothing else, she realized, she'd eased his mind on that one point. But it wasn't enough. "I'm going to ask my mother to corroborate my statement in writing. I don't know that she will. I doubt that she will," Sybill admitted. "But I'll ask, I'll try."

  "Teamwork, see." He took her hand in his, nuzzling it, which had her turning her head to study him warily.

  "Your jaw's bruised."

  "Yeah." He grimaced, wiggled it. "Cam still has a damn sneaky left."

  "He hit you?"

  The absolute shock in her voice made him laugh. Obviously the good doctor didn't come from a world where fists flew. "I was going to hit him first, but he beat me to it. Which means I owe him one. I'd have paid him back then and there, but Et
han got me in a choke hold."

  "Oh, God." Swamped with distress, she got to her feet. "This was about us. About what happened today on the boat. It should never have happened. I knew it would cause trouble between you and your family."

  "Yes," he said evenly, "it was about us. And we worked it out. Sybill, my brothers and I have been pounding on each other as long as we've been brothers. It's a Quinn family tradition. Like my father's waffle recipe."

  Distress continued to ripple through her. But confusion ran with it. Fists and waffles? she wondered, pulling a hand through her disordered hair. "You fight with them, physically?"

  "Sure."

  To try to compute it, she pressed her fingers to her temples. It didn't help a bit. "Why?"

  He considered, smiled. "Because they're there?" he suggested.

  "And your parents allowed this type of violent behavior."

  "My mother was a pediatrician. She always stitched us up." He leaned forward to pour himself more wine. "I think I'd better explain the whole picture. You know that Cam, Ethan, and I are adopted."

  "Yes. I did some research before I came…" She trailed off, glanced back at her laptop. "Well, you know that already."

  "Yeah. And you know some of the facts, but not the meaning. You asked me about my scars. It doesn't start there," he mused. "Not really. Cam was the first. Ray caught him trying to steal my mother's car one morning."

  "Her car? Steal her car?"

  "Right out of the driveway. He was twelve. He'd run away from home and was planning on going to Mexico."

  "At twelve he was stealing cars with plans to go to Mexico."

  "That's right. The first of the Quinn bad boys." He lifted his glass to toast his absent sibling. "He'd been beaten, again, by his drunk father, and he'd figured it was time to run or die."

  "Oh." She braced a hand on the arm of the sofa as she lowered herself again.

  "He passed out, and my father carried him inside. My mother treated him."

  "They didn't call the police?"

  "No. Cam was terrified, and my mother recognized the signs of continual physical abuse. They made inquiries, arrangements, worked with the system and circumvented it. And they gave him a home."

  "They just made him their son?"

  "My mother said once that we were all hers already. We just hadn't found each other before. Then there was Ethan. His mother was a hooker in Baltimore, a junkie. She relieved boredom by knocking him around. And then she got the bright idea that she could supplement her income by selling her eight-year-old son to perverts."

  Sybill clutched her glass in both hands and rocked. She said nothing, could say nothing.

  "He had a few years of that. One night one of her customers finished with Ethan, and with her, and got violent. Since his target was her and not her kid, she objected. Stabbed him. She ran, and when the cops got there they took Ethan to the hospital. My mother was doing guest rounds."

  "They took him, too," Sybill murmured.

  "Yeah, that's the long and short of it."

  She raised her glass, sipped slowly, watched him over the rim. She didn't know the world he was describing. Logically, she knew it existed, but it had never touched hers. Until now. "And you?"

  "My mother worked the Block in Baltimore. Strip joints, turned tricks on the side. A little bait and switch now and then, some short cons." He shrugged. "My father was long gone. He did some time in Jessup for armed robbery, and when he got out he didn't look us up."

  "Did she… did she beat you?"

  "Now and then, until I got big enough, strong enough, that she worried I might hit back." His smile was thin and sharp. "She was right to worry. We didn't care for each other much. But if I wanted a roof over my head, and I did, I needed her, and I had to pull my weight. I picked pockets, lifted locks. I was pretty good at it. Hell," he said with a faint stir of pride, "I was damn good at it. Still, I stuck with small shit. The kind you turn into easy cash or drugs. If things were really tight, I sold myself."

  He saw her eyes widen in shock, flick away from his.

  "Survival's not always pretty," he said shortly. "Most of the time I had my freedom. I was tough, and I was mean, and I was smart. Maybe I got picked up once in a while and rattled through the system, but I always popped out again. Another few years of that life, and I'd have been in Jessup—or the morgue. Another few years of that life," he continued, watching her face, "and Seth would have gone the same way."

  Struggling to absorb it, she stared into her wine. "You see your situations as similar, but—"

  "I recognized Gloria yesterday," he interrupted. "A pretty woman gone brittle. Hard and sharp at the eyes, bitter at the mouth. She and my mother would have recognized each other, too."

  What could she say, how could she argue when she'd seen the same thing, felt the same? "I didn't recognize her," she said quickly. "For a moment I thought there was a mistake."

  "She recognized you. And she played the angles, pushed the buttons. She'd know how." He paused a moment. "She'd know exactly how. So do I."

  She looked at him then, noted he was studying her coolly. "Is that what you're doing? Pushing buttons, playing angles?"

  Maybe it was, he thought. They would both have to figure that out before much longer. "Right now I'm answering your question. Do you want the rest?"

  "Yes." She didn't hesitate, for she'd discovered she very much wanted to hear it all.

  "When I was thirteen, I thought I had it handled. I figured I was just fine. Until I found myself face down in the gutter, bleeding to death. Drive-by shooting. Wrong place, wrong time."

  "Shot?" Her gaze whipped back to his. "You were shot."

  "In the chest. Probably should have killed me. One of the doctors who made sure I didn't die knew Stella Quinn. She and Ray came to see me in the hospital. I figured them for weirdos, do-gooders, your basic assholes. But I played along with them. My mother was done with me, and I was going to end up solid in the system. I thought I'd use them until I was steady on my feet again. Then I'd take what I needed and cut out."

  Who was this boy he described to her? And how was she to reconcile him with the man beside her? "You were going to rob them?"

  "It's what I did. What I was. But they…" How to explain it? he wondered. The miracle of them. "They just wore that away. Until I fell in love with them. Until I'd have done anything, been anything, to make them proud of me. It wasn't the paramedics or the surgical team that saved my life. It was Ray and Stella Quinn."

  "How old were you when they took you in?"

  "Thirteen. But I wasn't a kid like Seth. I wasn't a victim like Cam and Ethan. I made my choices."

  "You're wrong." For the first time, she reached out and, taking his face in her hands, she kissed him gently.

  He lifted his hands to her wrists, had to concentrate on not squeezing her skin the way that soft kiss had squeezed his heart. "That's not the reaction I expected."

  It wasn't the one she'd expected to have. But she found herself feeling pity for the boy he described to her and admiration for the man he'd made himself into. "What reaction do you usually get?"

  "I've never told anyone outside the family." He managed a smile. "Bad for the image."

  Touched, she rested her forehead against his. "You're right. It could have been Seth," she murmured. "What happened to you, it could have been Seth. Your father saved him from that. You and your family saved him, while mine's done nothing. And worse than nothing."

  "You're doing something."

  "I hope it's enough." When his mouth came to hers, she let herself slide into comfort.

  Chapter Fourteen

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  phillip unlocked the boatyard at seven A.M. The very fact that his brothers hadn't given him grief about not working the day before, or about taking a full Sunday off the previous week, had his guilt quota at peak.

  He expected he had a good hour, maybe a little more before Cam showed up to continue work on the hull of the sport's fisher
. Ethan would put in a morning of crabbing, taking advantage of the fall season, before heading in to work that afternoon.

  So he would have the place to himself, and the quiet and solitude to deal with the paperwork he'd neglected the week before.

  Quiet didn't mean silence. His first act when entering his cramped office was to hit the lights. The next was to switch on the radio. Ten minutes later, he was nose-deep in accounts and very much at home.

  Well, they owed just about everybody, he concluded. Rent, utilities, insurance premiums, the lumberyard, and the ever popular MasterCard.

  The government had demanded its share in the middle of September, and the bite had been just a little nasty. The next tax nibble wasn't far enough away to let him relax.

  He juggled figures, toyed with them, stroked them, and decided red wasn't such a bad color. They'd made a tidy profit on their first job, the bulk of which had been poured back into the business. Once they turned the hull, they would get another draw from their current client. That would keep their heads above water.

  But they weren't going to see a lot of the color black for a time yet.

  Dutifully, he cut checks, updated the spreadsheet, reconciled figures, and tried not to mourn the fact that two and two stubbornly insisted on making four.

  He heard the heavy door below open, then slam.

  "Hiding up there again?" Cam called out.

  "Yeah, having a real party."

  "Some of us have real work to do."

  Phillip looked at the figures dancing over his computer screen and laughed shortly. It wasn't real work to Cam, he knew, unless you had a tool in your hand.

  "Best I can do," he muttered and shut the computer down. He stacked the outgoing bills on the corner of the desk, tucked the paychecks in his back pocket, then headed down.

  Cam was strapping on a tool belt. He wore a ball cap backward to keep his hair out of his eyes, and it flowed beneath the down-sloped bill. Phillip watched him slide the wedding band off his finger and tuck it carefully into his front pocket.

  Just as he would take it out after work, Phillip mused, and slip it back in place. Rings could catch on tools and cost a man a finger. But neither of his brothers left theirs at home. He wondered if there was some symbolism, or comfort, in having that statement of marriage on them, one way or the other, at all times.

  Then he wondered why he was wondering and nudged the question, and the idea of it, aside.

  Since Cam had reached the work area first, the radio wasn't tuned to the lazy blues Phillip would have chosen, but to loud, kiss-my-ass rock. Cam eyed him coolly as Phillip tugged on a tool belt of his own.

  "Didn't expect to see you in so bright and early this morning. Figured you had a late night."

  "Don't go there again."

  "Just a comment." Anna had already chewed him out when he complained to her about Phillip's involvement with Sybill. He should be ashamed, he shouldn't interfere, he should have some compassion for his brother's feelings.

 
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