Inner harbor, p.19
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       Inner Harbor, p.19

         Part #3 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts
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  He'd rather take that brother's fist in the face any day than a hot verbal slap from his wife.

  "You want to fool around with her, it's your business. She's a pleasure to look at. I'd say she's got a wide cold streak in her, though."

  "You don't know her."

  "And you do?" Cam lifted a hand when Phillip's eyes flashed. "Just trying to get a handle on it. It's going to matter to Seth."

  "I know she's willing to do what she can so he's where he needs to be. Reading between the lines, I'd say she grew up in a repressive, restrictive atmosphere."

  "A rich one."

  "Yeah." Phillip strode to a pile of planks. "Yeah, private schools, chauffeurs, country clubs, servants."

  "It's a little tough to feel sorry for her."

  "I don't think she's looking for sympathy." He hefted a plank. "You said you wanted to get a handle on her. I'm telling you she had advantages. I don't know if she had any affection."

  Cam shrugged and, deciding they'd get more accomplished working together, took the other end of the plank to fit it into place on the hull. "She doesn't strike me as deprived. She strikes me as cold."

  "Restrained. Cautious." He remembered the way she reached out to him the night before. Still, it had been the first time she'd done so, the only time. He clamped down on the frustration of not being sure that Cam wasn't right. "Are you and Ethan the only ones entitled to a relationship with a woman that satisfies your hormones and your brain?"

  "No." Cam lapped the ends. Deliberately he relaxed his shoulders. There was something in Phillip's voice that gave away that frustration, and something else. "No, we're not. I'll talk to Seth about her."

  "I'll talk to him myself."

  "All right."

  "He matters to me, too."

  "I know he does."

  "He didn't." Phillip pulled out his hammer to nail the laps. "Not as much as he did to you. Not enough. It's different now."

  "I know that, too." For the next few minutes they worked in tandem, without words. "You stood up for him anyway," Cam added when the plank was in place. "Even when he didn't matter enough."

  "I did it for Dad."

  "We all did it for Dad. Now we're doing it for Seth."

  by noon, the skeleton of the hull had taken on the flesh of wood. The smooth-lap construction was labor-intensive, tedious and exacting. But it was their trademark, a choice that offered extreme structural strength and required great skill by the boatbuilder.

  No one would argue that Cam was the most skilled of the three of them in woodworking. But Phillip thought he was holding his own.

  Yeah, he thought, standing back to scan the exterior planking or skin of the hull. He was holding his own.

  "You pick up any lunch?" Cam asked before he poured water from a jug into his mouth.

  "No."

  "Shit. I bet Grace packed Ethan one of those monster lunches of hers. Fried chicken, or thick slabs of honey-baked ham."

  "You got a wife," Phillip pointed out.

  Cam snorted, rolled his eyes. "Oh, yeah. I can just see me talking Anna into packing me a lunch every day. She'd smack me with her briefcase as she marched out the door to work. There are two of us," he considered. "We can take Ethan, especially if we catch him by surprise when he comes in."

  "Let's go the easier route." Phillip dug into his pocket, pulled out a quarter. "Heads or tails?"

  "Heads. Loser gets it, and buys it."

  Phillip flipped the coin, caught it and slapped it onto the back of his hand. The eagle's beak seemed to sneer at him. "Damn it. What do you want?"

  "Meatball sub, large chips, and six gallons of coffee."

  "Fine, clog your arteries."

  "Last I checked they don't stock any tofu at Crawford's. Don't know how you eat that crap. You're going to die anyway. Might as well go with a meatball sub."

  "You go your way, I'll go mine." He reached in his pocket again for Cam's paycheck. "Here, don't spend it all in one place."

  "Now I can retire to that little grass shack on Maui. You got Ethan's?"

  "What there is of it."

  "Yours?"

  "I don't need it."

  Cam narrowed his eyes as Phillip pulled on his jacket. "That's not the way it works."

  "I'm in charge of the books, I say how it works."

  "You put in your time, you take your share."

  "I don't need it," Phillip said, with heat this time. "When I do, I'll take it." He stalked out, leaving Cam fuming.

  "Stubborn son of a bitch," Cam muttered. "How am I supposed to rag on him when he pulls crap like that?"

  He bitched plenty, Cam mused. He nagged his brothers to distraction over the pettiest detail. Then he handled the details, he thought as he capped the water jug. He'd back you into a corner, then he'd go to the wall for you.

  It was enough to drive you nuts.

  Now he was getting himself twisted up over a woman none of them knew they could trust if things got sticky. He, for one was going to keep a close eye on Sybill Griffin.

  And not just for Seth's sake. Phillip might have the brains, but he was just as stupid as the next guy when it came to a pretty face.

  "and young karen lawson who's been working down at the hotel since she hooked up with the McKinney boy last year saw it written down, in black and white. She called her mama, and as Bitty Lawson's a good friend of mine and my longtime bridge partner—though she'll trump your ace if you don't watch her—she called me right up and let me know."

  Nancy Claremont was in her element, and that element was gossip. As her husband owned a sizable chunk of St. Chris, meaning she did as well, and part of that chunk was the old barn those Quinn boys—a wild bunch if you asked her—rented for their boatyard—though God knew what else went on in there—she knew it was not only her right but her duty to pass on the succulent tidbit that had come her way the previous afternoon.

  Of course, she'd used the most convenient method first. The telephone. But you didn't get the pleasure of face-to-face reaction over the phone. So she'd brought herself out, dressed in her brand-new pumpkin-colored pantsuit, fresh out of the J. C. Penney catalog.

  There was no point in being the most well-off woman in St. Christopher's if you didn't flaunt it a bit. And the best place to flaunt, and to spread gossip, was Crawford's.

  Second-best was the Stylerite Beauty Salon over on Market, and that, as she'd made an appointment for a cut, color, and curl, was her next stop.

  Mother Crawford, a fixture in St. Chris for all of her sixty-two years, sat behind the counter in her smeared butcher apron, her tongue tucked firmly in her cheek.

  She'd already heard the news—not much got by Mother, and nothing got by her for long—but she disposed herself to hear Nancy out.

  "To think that child is Ray Quinn's grandson! And that writer lady with her snooty airs is the sister of that nasty girl who said all those terrible things. That boy's her nephew. Her own kin, but did she say one word about it? No, sir, she did not! Just hoity-toitying around, going off sailing with Phillip Quinn, and a lot more than sailing, if you ask me. The way young people carry on today without a snap of their fingers for morals."

  She snapped her own, inches from Mother's face, and her eyes glittered with malicious delight.

  Since Mother sensed that Nancy was about to veer off the subject at hand, she shrugged her wide shoulders. "Seems to me," she began, knowing the scatter of people in the store had their ears bent her way, "that there are a lot of people around this town who ought to be hanging their heads after what was being passed around about Ray. Whispering about him behind his back when he was living, and over his grave when he passed on, about him cheating on Stella, God rest her, and having truck with that DeLauter woman. Well, it wasn't true, was it?"

  Her sharp eyes scanned the store, and indeed, a few heads did lower. Satisfied, she beamed her gaze hard into Nancy's glittering eyes. "Seems to me you were willing enough to believe bad about a good man like Ray Quinn."

  Sinc
erely insulted, Nancy puffed out her chest. "Why, I never believed a word of it, Mother." Discussing such matters, she thought to herself, wasn't the same as believing them. "Truth is, a blind man couldn't have missed the way that boy's got Ray's eyes. Had to be a blood relation. Why, I said to Silas just the other day, I said, 'Silas, I wonder if that boy could be a cousin or something to Ray?'"

  She'd said no such thing, of course. But she might have, if she'd thought of it.

  "Never thought about him being Ray's grandson, though. Why, to think Ray had a daughter all these years."

  Which, of course, proved he'd done something wrong in the first place, didn't it? She'd always suspected that Ray Quinn had been wild in his youth. Maybe even a hippie. And everyone knew what that meant.

  Smoking marijuana, and having orgies and running around naked.

  But that wasn't something she intended to bring up to Mother. That little morsel could wait until she was shampooed and tucked into the styling chair at the salon.

  "And that she turned out wilder than those boys he and Stella brought home," she rattled on. "That girl over to the hotel must be just as—"

  She broke off when the door jingled. Hoping for a fresh ear, she was thrilled to see Phillip Quinn walk in. Better than an addition to her audience, it was one of the actors on the very interesting stage.

  Phillip only had to open the door to know what subject was under discussion. Or had been, until he stepped inside. Silence fell with a clang, and eyes darted toward him, then guiltily away.

  Except for Nancy Claremont's and Mother's.

  "Why, Phillip Quinn, I don't know as I've seen you since your family picnic on the Fourth of July." Nancy fluttered at him. Wild or not, he was a handsome man. Nancy considered flirting one of the best ways to loosen a man's tongue. "That was a fine day."

  "Yes, it was." He walked up to the counter, knowing that stares were being bulleted at his back. "I need a couple of subs, Mother Crawford. A meatball and a turkey."

  "We'll fix you up, Phil. Junior!" She shouted over at her son, who jolted at her tone despite being thirty-six and the father of three.

  "Yes 'um."

  "You going to ring up these people or just scratch your butt the rest of the afternoon?"

  He colored, muttered under his breath, and turned his attention back to the cash register.

  "You working down to the boatyard today, Phillip?"

  "That's right, Mrs. Claremont."

  He busied himself choosing a bag of chips for Cam, then wandered back to the dairy case to decide on yogurt for himself.

  "That young boy usually comes in to pick up lunch, doesn't he?"

  Phillip reached in, took out a carton at random. "He's in school today. It's Friday."

  "'Course it is." Nancy laughed, playfully patting the side of her head. "Don't know where my mind is. Fine-looking young boy. Ray musta been right proud."

  "I don't doubt it."

  "We've been hearing that he's got some blood relations close by."

  "There's never been anything wrong with your hearing, Mrs. Claremont, that I recall. I'll need a couple of large coffees to go, Mother."

  "We'll fix you up there, too. Nancy, you got more than enough news to blow around for the day. You keep trying to squeeze more out of this boy, you're going to miss your hair appointment."

  "I don't know what you could be meaning." Nancy sniffed, shot Mother a furious look, then fluffed at her hair. "But I have to be going. The husband and I are going to the Kiwanis dinner-dance tonight, and I need to look my best."

  She flounced out, making a beeline for the beauty shop.

  Inside, Mother narrowed her eyes. "The rest of you got business, Junior'll ring you up. But this ain't no lounge. You want to stand around and gawk, go stand outside."

  Phillip disguised a chuckle as a cough when several people decided they had business elsewhere.

  "That Nancy Claremont's got less sense than a peahen," Mother proclaimed. "Bad enough she dresses herself up like a pumpkin from head to foot, but she don't even know how to be subtle."

  Mother turned back to Phillip and grinned. "Now, I won't say I don't have as much got-to-know as the next, but by God, if you can't try to jiggle a little information out of a body without being so blessed obvious, you're not just rude, you're stupid with it. Can't abide bad manners or a soft brain."

  Phillip leaned on the counter. "You know, Mother, I've been thinking maybe I'd change my name to Jean-Claude, then move to the wine country of France, the Loire valley, and buy myself a vineyard."

  She tucked her tongue in her cheek again, eyes bright. She'd heard this tale, or one of its variations, for years. "Do tell."

  "I'd watch my grapes ripen in the sun. I'd eat bread that was hot and fresh, and cheese that wasn't. It would be a fine, satisfying life. But I've got just one problem."

  "What's that?"

  "It won't be any good unless you come with me." He grabbed her hand, kissing it lavishly while she roared with laughter.

  "Boy, you are a caution. Always were." She gasped for breath, wiped her eyes. Then she sighed. "Nancy, she's a fool, but she's not mean, not deep down. Ray and Stella, they were just people to her. They were a lot more than that to me."

  "I know that, Mother."

  "People got something new to talk about, they're going to gum it to death."

  "I know that, too." He nodded. "So did Sybill."

  Mother's eyebrows lifted and fell as she realized the implication. "The girl's got guts. Good for her. Seth, he can be proud he's got blood kin that brave. And he can be proud a man like Ray was his granddaddy." She paused to put the finishing touches on the subs. "I think Ray and Stella would've liked that girl."

  "Do you?" Phillip murmured.

  "Yep. I like her." Mother grinned again as she quickly wrapped the subs in white paper. "She's not hoity-toity like Nancy wants to think. Girl's just shy."

  Phillip had reached over for the subs, and now his mouth fell open. "Shy? Sybill?"

  "Sure is. Tries hard not to be, but it costs her some. Now you get that meatball back to your brother before it gets cold."

  "why do i have to care about a bunch of queer-os who lived two hundred years ago?" Seth had his history book open, his mouth full of grape

  Bubblicious, and a stubborn look in his eye. After a ten-hour day of manual labor, Phillip wasn't in the mood for one of Seth's periodic snits.

  "The founding fathers of our country were not queer-os."

  Seth snorted and jabbed a finger at the full-page drawing of the Continental Congress. "They're wearing dorky wigs and girly clothes. That says queer-o to me."

  "It was the fashion." He knew the kid was yanking his chain, but he couldn't seem to stop his leg from jerking on cue. "And the use of the word 'queer-o' to describe anyone because of their fashion sense or their lifestyle demonstrates ignorance and intolerance."

  Seth merely smiled. Sometimes he just liked making Phillip grind his teeth the way he was doing now. "A guy wears a curly wig and high heels, he deserves what he gets."

  Phillip sighed. It was another reaction Seth enjoyed. He didn't really mind the history crap. He'd aced the last test, hadn't he? But it was just plain boring to have to pick out one of the queer-os and write some dopey biography.

  "You know what these guys were?" Phillip demanded, then narrowed his eyes in warning when Seth opened his mouth. "Don't say it. I'll tell you what they were. Rebels, troublemakers, and tough guys."

  "Tough guys? Get real."

  "Meeting the way they did, drawing up papers, making speeches? They were giving England, and most especially King George, the finger." He caught a flash of amused interest in Seth's eyes. "It wasn't the tea tax, not really. That was just the platform, the excuse. They weren't going to take any shit from England anymore. That's what it came down to."

  "Making speeches and writing papers isn't like fighting."

  "They were making sure there was something to fight for. You have to give people an alternative
. If you want them to toss out Brand X, you have to give them Brand Y, and make it better, stronger, tastier. What if I told you Bubblicious is a rip-off?" Phillip asked, inspired as he snatched up the giant pack on Seth's desk.

  "I like it okay." To prove it, Seth blew an enormous purple bubble.

  "Yeah, but I'm telling you that it sucks and that the people who make it are creeps. You're not going to just toss it in the trash because I say so, right?"

  "Damn straight."

  "But if I gave you a new choice, if I told you about this Super Bubble Blow—"

  "Super Bubble Blow? Man, you slay me."

  "Shut up. SBB, it's better. It lasts longer, costs less. Chewing it'll make you and your friends, your family, your neighbors happier, stronger. SBB is the gum of the future, of your future. SBB is right!" Phillip added, putting a ring in his voice. "Bubblicious is wrong. With SBB you'll find personal and religious freedom, and no one will ever tell you that you can only have one piece."

  "Cool." Phillip was weird all right, Seth thought with a grin, but he was fun. "Where do I sign up?"

  With a half laugh, Phillip tossed the gum back on the desk. "You get the picture. These guys were the brains and the blood, and it was their job to get the people excited."

  The brains and the blood, Seth thought. He liked it, and figured he could work it into his report. "Okay, maybe I'll pick Patrick Henry. He doesn't look as dorky as some of the other guys."

  "Good. You can access information on him on the computer. When you hit the bibliography of books on him, print it out. The library in Baltimore's bound to have more of a selection than the one at school."

  "Okay."

  "And your composition for English is ready to turn in tomorrow?"

  "Man, you never let up."

  "Let's see what you've got."

  "Jeez." Grumbling all the way, Seth dug into his binder and tugged out the single sheet.

  It was titled "A Dog's Life" and described a typical day through the eyes of Foolish. Phillip felt his lips twitch as the canine narrator told of his delight in chasing rabbits, his irritation with bees, the thrill of hanging out with his good and wise friend Simon.

  Christ, the kid was clever, he mused.

  As Foolish ended his long, demanding day curled up on his bed, which he generously shared with his boy, Phillip handed the page back. "It's great. I guess we now know how you come by your storytelling talent naturally."

  Seth's lashes lowered as he carefully slipped the composition back into place. "Ray was pretty smart and all, being a college professor."

  "He was pretty smart. If he'd known about you, Seth, he'd have done something about it a lot sooner."

  "Yeah, well…" Seth gave that Quinn shoulder jerk.

  "I'm going to talk to the lawyer tomorrow. We may be able to speed things up a little, with Sybill's help."

 
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