Inner Harbor, Page 20Nora Roberts
Seth picked up his pencil to doodle on his blotter. Just shapes, circles, triangles, squares. "Maybe she'll change her mind."
"No, she won't"
"People do, all the time." He'd waited for weeks, ready to run if the Quinns had changed theirs. When they hadn't, he'd started to believe. But he was always ready to run.
"Some people keep their promises, no matter what. Ray did."
"She's not Ray. She came here to spy on me."
"She came to see if you were all right."
"Well, I am. So she can go."
"It's harder to stay," Phillip said quietly. "It takes more guts to stay. People are already talking about her. You know what that's like, when people look at you out of the corners of their eyes and whisper."
"Yeah. They're just jerks."
"Maybe, but it still stings."
He knew it did, but he gripped his pencil more tightly, added pressure to his doodling. "You've just got a case on her."
"I might. She sure is a looker. But if I do have a case on her, that doesn't change the basic facts. Kid, you haven't had that many people give a good damn about you in your life."
He waited until Seth's eyes slid over to his, held. "It took me a while, maybe too long, to give a good damn myself. I did what Ray asked me to, because I loved him."
"But you didn't want to do it."
"No, I didn't want to do it. It was a pain in the ass. You were a pain in the ass. But that started to change, little by little. I still didn't want to do it, it was still a pain in the ass, but somewhere along the way I was doing it for you as much as for Ray."
"You thought maybe I was his kid, and that pissed you off."
So much, Phillip thought, for adults believing they kept their secrets and sins from children. "Yeah. That was one little angle I couldn't get rid of until yesterday. I couldn't accept the idea that he might have cheated on my mother, or that you might be his son."
"But you put my name on the sign anyway."
Phillip stared a moment, then let out a half laugh. Sometimes, he realized, you do what's right without really thinking about it, and it makes a difference. "It belonged there, just like you belong here. And Sybill already gave a good damn about you, and now we know why. When somebody cares, it's just plain stupid to push them away."
"You think I should see her and talk to her and stuff." He'd thought about it himself. "I don't know what to say."
"You saw her and talked to her before you knew. You could try it that way."
"You know how Grace and Anna are all wired up about this birthday dinner of yours next week?"
"Yeah." He lowered his head a little more so the huge grin didn't show. He couldn't believe it, not really. A birthday dinner and he got to pick the food, then like a party with pals the next day. Not that he was going to call it a party, because that was really lame when you were turning eleven.
"What do you think of asking her if she'd like to come over for that? The family dinner deal."
The grin vanished. "I don't know. I guess. She probably wouldn't want to come anyway."
"Why don't I ask her? You could cop another present out of it."
"Yeah?" A smile came back, sly and slow. "She'd have to make it a good one, too."
"That's the spirit."
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the ninety-minute appointment with the Baltimore lawyer had left Sybill jittery and exhausted. She thought she'd been prepared for it; after all, she'd had two and a half days to get ready, since she'd called first thing Monday morning and had been squeezed into his schedule on Wednesday afternoon.
At least it was over, she told herself. Or this first stage of it was over. It had been more difficult than she'd imagined to tell a perfect stranger, professional or not, the secrets and flaws of her family. And herself.
Now she had to cope with a cold, chilly rain, Baltimore traffic, and her own less-than-stellar driving skills. Because she wanted to put the traffic and the driving off as long as possible, she left her car in the parking garage and faced the rain as a pedestrian.
Fall had already pushed summer back a big step in the city, she noted, shivering as she scooted across the street at the crosswalk. The trees were starting to turn, little blushes of red and gold edging the leaves. The temperature had plummeted with the wet weather, and the wind lashed out, tugging at her umbrella as she approached the harbor.
She might have preferred a dry day, so she could have wandered, explored, appreciated the nicely rehabbed old buildings, the tidy waterfront, the historic boats moored there. But it had its appeal, even in a hard, frigid rain.
The water was stone-gray and choppy, its edges blurring into the sky so that it wasn't possible to tell where either ended. Most of the visitors and tourists had taken shelter indoors. Any who went by, went by in a hurry.
She felt alone and insignificant standing in the rain, looking at the water, wondering what the hell to do next.
With a sigh, she turned and studied the shops. She was going to a birthday party on Friday, she reminded herself. It was time she bought her nephew a present.
it took her more than an hour, comparing, selecting, rejecting art supplies. Her focus was so narrowed, she didn't note the bright glee in the clerk's eyes as she began to pile up her choices. It had been more than six years since she'd bought Seth a gift, she thought. She was going to make up for that.
It had to be just the right pencils, the perfect collection of chalks. She examined watercolor brushes as if the wrong choice would mean the end of the world as she knew it. She tested the weight and thickness of drawing paper for twenty minutes, then agonized over a case for all the supplies.
In the end, she decided simplicity was the answer. A young boy would likely feel more comfortable with a plain walnut case. It would be durable, too. If he took care, it was something he would have for years.
And maybe, after enough of those years passed, he could look at it and think of her kindly.
"Your nephew's going to be thrilled," the clerk informed her, giddy as she rang up the purchases. "These are quality supplies."
"He's very talented." Distracted, Sybill began to nibble on her thumbnail, a habit she'd broken years before. "You'll pack everything carefully and box it?"
"Of course. Janice! Would you come over and give me a hand? Are you from the area?" she asked Sybill.
"No, no, I'm not. A friend recommended your store."
"We very much appreciate it. Janice, we need to pack and box these supplies."
"Do you gift-wrap?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, we don't. But there's a stationery store in this center. They have a lovely selection of gift wrap and ribbon and cards."
Oh, God, was all Sybill could think. What kind of paper did one choose for an eleven-year-old boy? Ribbon? Did boys want ribbons and bows?
"That comes to five hundred eighty-three dollars and sixty-nine cents." The clerk beamed at her. "How would you like to pay for that?"
"Five—" Sybill caught herself. Obviously, she decided, she'd lost her mind. Nearly six hundred dollars for a child's birthday? Oh, yes, she'd absolutely gone insane. "Do you take Visa?" she asked weakly.
"Absolutely." Still beaming, the clerk held out her hand for the gold card.
"I wonder if you could tell me…" She blew out a breath as she took out her Filofax and flipped to the Q's in the address book. "How to get to this address."
"Sure, it's practically around the corner."
It would be, Sybill thought. If Phillip had lived several blocks away, she might have resisted.
it was a mistake she warned herself as she struggled back into the rain, fighting with two enormous shopping bags and an uncooperative umbrella. She had no business just dropping in on him.
He might not even be home. It was seven o'clock. He was probably out to dinner. She would be better off going back to her car and driving back to the Shore. The traffic was lighter now, if the rain
At least she should call first. But damn it, her cell phone was in her purse, and she only had two hands. It was dark and it was raining and she probably wouldn't find his building anyway. If she didn't locate it within five minutes, she would turn around and go back to the parking garage.
She found the tall, sleekly elegant building within three and despite a case of nerves, stepped gratefully into the warm, dry lobby.
It was quiet and classy, with ornamental trees in copper pots, polished wood, a few deep-cushioned chairs in neutral tones. The familiar elegance would have relieved her if she hadn't felt like a wet rat invading a luxury liner.
She had to be crazy coming here like this. Hadn't she told herself when she'd set out for Baltimore that day that she wouldn't do this? She hadn't told him about the appointment because she hadn't wanted him to know she would be in Baltimore. He'd only try to persuade her to spend time with him.
For heaven's sake, she'd just seen him on Sunday. There was no sensible reason for this desperate urge to see him now. She would go back to St. Christopher's right now, because she had made a terrible mistake.
She cursed herself as she walked to the elevator, stepped inside, and pushed the button for the sixteenth floor.
What was wrong with her? Why was she doing this?
Oh, God, what if he was home but he wasn't alone? The sheer mortification of that possibility struck her like a blow to the stomach. They'd never said anything about exclusivity. He had a perfect right to see other women. For all she knew, he had a platoon of women. Which only proved she'd lost all common sense by becoming involved with him in the first place.
She couldn't possibly drop in on him like this, unannounced, uninvited, unexpected. Everything she'd been taught about manners, protocol, acceptable social behavior ordered her to stab the down button and leave. Every ounce of pride demanded that she turn around before she was humiliated.
She had no idea what it was that overcame all of that and pushed her out of the elevator and to the door of 1605.
Don't do this, don't do this, don't do this. The order screamed in her head even as she watched her finger depress the buzzer beside his door.
Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God, what have I done? What will I say? How can I explain?
Please don't be home, was her last desperate thought seconds before the door opened.
"Sybill?" His eyes widened in surprise, his lips curved.
Lord help her, she began to babble. "I'm so sorry. I should have called. I don't mean to—I shouldn't have… I had to come into the city, and I was just…"
"Here, let me have those. You buy out the store?" He was pulling the wet bags out of her icy hands. "You're freezing. Come inside."
"I should have called. I was—"
"Don't be silly." He dumped the bags and began to peel her out of her dripping raincoat. "You should have let me know you were coming into Baltimore today. When did you get in?"
"I—about two-thirty. I had an appointment. I was just—it's raining," she blurted out, hating herself. "I'm not used to driving in traffic. Not really used to driving at all, actually, and I was a little nervous about it."
She rambled on, while he studied her, his brows lifted. Her cheeks were flushed, but he didn't think it was from the cold. Her voice was skittish, and that was new. And interesting. She couldn't seem to figure out what to do with her hands.
Though the raincoat had protected her neat slate-gray suit, her shoes were soaked and her hair was dewed with rain.
"You're wired up, aren't you?" he murmured. He put his hands on her arms, rubbed up and down to warm them. "Relax."
"I should have called," she said for the third time. "It was rude, presumptuous—"
"No, it wasn't. A little risky, maybe. If you'd gotten here twenty minutes earlier, I wouldn't have been home yet." He drew her a little closer. "Sybill, relax."
"Okay." She closed her eyes.
Amusement flickered into his own as he watched her take slow deep breaths.
"Does that breathing stuff really work?" he asked with a chuckle.
The irritation in her voice was barely noticeable, but it was there. "Studies have proven that the flow of oxygen and mental focus relieves stress."
"I bet. I've done studies of my own. Let's try it my way." He brought his mouth to hers, rubbed gently, persuasively until hers softened, yielded, warmed. His tongue danced lightly over hers, teasing out a sigh. "Yeah, that works for me," he murmured, brushing his cheek over her damp hair. "Works just fine for me. How about you?"
"Oral stimulation is also a proven remedy for stress."
He chuckled. "I'm in danger of becoming crazy about you. How about some wine?"
She didn't care to analyze his definition of crazy just then. "I wouldn't mind one glass. I shouldn't, really. I'm driving."
Not tonight you're not, he thought, but only smiled. "Sit down. I'll be right back."
She went back to the concentrated breathing as he slipped into another room. After her nerves settled a bit, she studied the apartment.
A conversation pit in deep forest-green dominated the living area. In its center was a square coffee table. Riding over it was a large sailboat in what she recognized as Murano glass. A pair of green iron candlesticks held fat white candles.
At the far side of the room there was a small bar with a pair of black leather stools. Behind it was a vintage poster for Nuits-St.-Georges Burgundy, depicting an eighteenth-century French calvary officer sitting on a cask with a glass, a pipe, and a very satisfied smile.
The walls were white and splashed here and there with art. A framed print of a stylish poster for Tattinger champagne, with a elegant woman, surely that was Grace Kelly, in a sleek black evening gown behind a slim flute of bubbling wine, hung over a round glass table with curved steel legs. There was a Joan Miro print, an elegant reproduction of Alphonse Mucha's Automne.
Lamps were both sparely modern and elegantly Deco. The carpet was thick and pale gray, the uncurtained window wide and wet with rain.
She thought the room displayed masculine, eclectic, and witty taste. She was admiring a brown leather footstool in the shape of a barnyard pig when he returned with two glasses.
"I like your pig."
"He caught my eye. Why don't you tell me about what must have been a very interesting day?"
"I didn't even ask if you had plans." She noted he was dressed in a soft black sweatshirt and jeans and wasn't wearing any shoes. But that didn't mean—
"I do now." Taking her hand he led her across to the deep cushioned U-shaped sofa. "You saw the lawyer this afternoon."
"You knew about that."
"He's a friend. He keeps me up to date." And, Phillip admitted to himself, he'd been acutely disappointed when she hadn't called him to let him know she was coming to the city. "How'd it go?"
"Well, I think. He seems confident that the guardianship will go through. I couldn't persuade my mother to make a statement, though."
"She's angry with you."
Sybill took a quick swallow of wine. "Yes, she's angry, and no doubt deeply regrets the momentary lapse that allowed her to tell me what happened between her and your father."
He took her hand. "It's difficult for you. I'm sorry."
She looked down at their linked fingers. How easily he touched, she thought absently. As if it was the most natural thing in the world. "I'm a big girl. Since it's doubtful that this little incident, however newsworthy it is in St. Christopher's, will ripple across the Atlantic to Paris, she'll get over it."
"Life moves on. Once the legalities are dealt with, there won't be any motive for Gloria to make trouble for you and your family. For Seth. She will, I imagine, continue to make trouble for herself, but there's nothing I can do about that. Nothing I want to do about it."
A cold streak, Phillip wondered, or a defense? "Even after the legalities are dealt with, Seth will still be your nephew. None of us would stop you from seeing him, or
being part of his life."
"I'm not a part of his life," she said flatly. "And as he makes his life, it would only be distracting and unconstructive for him to have reminders of his old life. It's a miracle that what Gloria did to him hasn't scarred him more deeply. Whatever sense of security he has, it's due to your father, to you and your family. He doesn't trust me, Phillip, and he has no reason to."
"Trust has to be earned. You have to want to earn it."
She rose, walked to the dark window and looked out on the city lights that wavered behind the rain. "When you came to live with Ray and Stella Quinn, when they were helping you change your life, remake yourself, did you maintain contact with your mother, with your friends in Baltimore?"
"My mother was a part-time whore who resented every breath I took, and my friends were dealers, junkies, and thieves. I didn't want contact with them any more than they wanted it with me."
"Regardless." She turned back to face him. "You understand my point."
"I understand it, but I don't agree with it."
"I imagine Seth does."
He set his glass aside as he rose. "He wants you there on his birthday Friday."
"You want me there," she corrected. "And I very much appreciate you for persuading Seth to allow it."
"Speaking of which," she said quickly. "I found your art store." She gestured toward the bags he'd set by the door.
"That?" He stared at the bags. "All of that?"
Immediately she began to nibble on her thumbnail. "It's too much, isn't it? I knew it. I got caught up. I can take some of it back or just keep it for myself. I don't take enough time to draw anymore."
He'd walked over to examine the bags, the boxes inside. "All of this?" With a laugh, he straightened, shook his head. "He'll love it. He'll go nuts."
"I don't want him to think of it as a bribe, like I'm trying to buy his affection. I don't know what got into me. Once I started, I couldn't seem to stop."
"If I were you, I'd stop questioning my motives for doing something nice, something impulsive, and just a bit over the top." Gently he tugged at her hand. "And stop biting your nails."
"I'm not biting my nails. I never…" Insulted, she looked down at her hand, saw the ragged thumbnail. "Oh, God, I'm biting my nails. I haven't done that since I was fifteen. Where's my nail file?"
Phillip edged closer to her as she grabbed her handbag and took out a small manicure set. "Were you a nervous kid?"
"It was a bad habit, that's all." Smoothly, efficiently, she began to repair the damage.
"A nervous habit, wouldn't you say, Dr. Griffin?"
"Perhaps. But I broke it."
"Not entirely. Nail biting," he murmured, moving toward her. "Migraines."
"Skipping meals," he continued. "Don't bother to tell me you've eaten tonight. I know better. It seems to me that your breathing and concentrating isn't quite doing the job on stress. Let's try my way again."