Sea swept, p.23
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       Sea Swept, p.23
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         Part #1 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts

  staring at the road, all but willing Anna to pull into the drive. Now he jammed his hands in his pockets, mortified.

  "Nothing, just walking around."

  "You weren't walking," Seth pointed out.

  "Because I'd stopped. Now I'm walking again. See?"

  Seth rolled his eyes at Cam's back, then caught up with him. "What am I supposed to do?"

  Cam feigned intense interest in the candy-red tulips sunning themselves along the edge of the house. "About what?"

  "Stuff. Ethan's out on the workboat and Phillip's closed up in the office doing computer stuff."

  "So?" He leaned down to tug up a weed—at least he thought it was a weed. Where the hell was she? "Where are those kids you've been hanging with?"

  "They had to go to the store and have lunch with their grandmother." Seth sneered on principle. "I don't have anything to do. It's boring."

  "Well, go… clean your room or something."

  "Come on."

  "Jesus, what am I, your social director? Is the TV broken?"

  "Nothing on Saturday mornings but kid shit."

  "You are a kid," Cam pointed out and heard the sound of an approaching car with vast relief. "Teach that brain-dead dog of yours some tricks."

  "He's not brain-dead." Instantly insulted, Seth turned and whistled for the pup. "Watch." Foolish raced up, carrying what appeared to be a can of beer in his mouth.

  "Yeah, chewing on aluminum. That's brilliant. Look, I don't—" But Cam broke off when Seth snapped a finger, pointed, and Foolish plopped his butt on the ground.

  "He does it on voice command, too," Seth said matter-of-factly as he rubbed Foolish's head in reward. "But I've got him responding to hand signals." He held a hand out, and Foolish gamely lifted a paw.

  "That's pretty good." Pride and surprise mixed in his voice. "How long did it take you to teach him that?"

  "Just a couple hours here and there."

  All three watched as Anna pulled into the drive. Foolish was the first to rush to greet her.

  "He doesn't do real good with Stay yet," Seth confided. "But we haven't worked on it long."

  He didn't do real good with Down, either. The minute Anna stepped out of the car Foolish was leaping and yip-ping, his tongue lashing out joyfully to lick everywhere.

  Cam figured the dog had the right idea. He'd have liked to jump on her and start licking himself. She wore jeans that were faded to a soft, pale blue and a lipstick-red top tucked into the waistband. It was a simple outfit that borrowed from the practical and the siren.

  And made Cam's mouth water.

  "She looks different with her hair down," Seth commented.

  "Yeah." He wanted his hands on it, on her. And that was that.

  She was crouched down, purring at the puppy, who had flopped adoringly on his back to have his belly rubbed. Her head came up, and even with the shaded glasses, Cam could see her eyes widen in awareness, then shift warningly to the child who walked behind him.

  Ignoring the signal, he hauled her to her feet, gave her one good yank that made her stumble over the pup and against him, and closed his mouth over her sputtering protest.

  It was like being swallowed by the sun, was all she could think. The heat was huge and had reached flash point before she could draw the first breath. Need, restless and greedy, pumped out of him and slammed into her at alarming speed. The wild drumming of a woodpecker hunting breakfast echoed through the still air and matched the frantic beat of her heart. All she could do was hold on until he'd devoured enough of what he wanted from her to satisfy him.

  When he eased her back, those clever lips curved—a smug look she was sure she would resent when her head settled back on her shoulders again. "Morning, Anna."

  "Good morning." She cleared her throat, stepped back, and made herself look over at Seth. He appeared to be more bored than shocked, so she worked up a smile for him. "Good morning, Seth."

  "Yeah, hi."

  "Your dog's growing into his feet." Because she needed the distraction, she looked down at Foolish and held out a hand. He planted his rump and lifted a paw, charming her. "Oh, aren't you smart?" She crouched again, shook his paw, tugged his ears. "What else can you do?"

  "We're working on a couple of things." Foolish had just run through his entire repertoire, but Seth didn't want to say so.

  "You make a good team. I've got some groceries in the car," she said casually. "Makings for dinner. Give me a hand?"

  "Yeah, all right." He shot a resentful look at Cam. "I've got nothing else to do."

  "We're going sailing, aren't we?" She said it brightly, amused when she saw Cam's mouth fall open and Seth look at her with sharp, interested eyes.

  "Am I going?"

  "Of course." She turned, opened the car door, then handed him a bag. "As soon as we put this stuff away. I hope I'm a quick learner. I know next to nothing about boats."

  Cheered, Seth settled bags on each hip. "Nothing to it. But you should have a hat." With this, he carted his bags toward the house.

  "I was figuring on it being just you and me," Cam told her. And he'd had a nice fantasy going about slipping into some quiet bend of the river and making rocky love to her in the bottom of the boat.

  "Were you?" She took out a small overnight bag, pushed it into his hands. "I'm sure it'll be great fun with the three of us."

  She closed her car door, patted Cam's cheek, then sauntered into the house behind Seth.

  it turned out to be the four of them. Seth insisted on taking Foolish, and with Anna backing him all the way, they outvoted Cam.

  It was tough to stay annoyed when his crew was so damn cheerful. Foolish sat on a bench, wearing an ancient doggie life jacket that had belonged to one of Ray and Stella's numerous dogs, and barked happily at waves and birds.

  Seth, already munching on one of the sandwiches from the cooler, dutifully explained to Anna the mystery of the rigging.

  She looked so damned cute, Cam thought, with one of his old and battered Orioles caps on her head, watching studiously as Seth identified each line.

  He maneuvered through the channels, motoring between markers at an easy speed, working through what the locals called Little Neck River into Tangier Sound and toward the bay.

  There was a light chop, and Cam glanced back to see how Anna would weather it. She was kneeling in the stern, leaning over the rail, but he saw with a grin that it wasn't because of a queasy stomach. Her smile was huge, her finger pointing eagerly as she caught sight of the clumps of trees and spreading marshes of Smith Island.

  He called for Seth to hoist sail.

  It was a moment Anna would never forget. City life hadn't prepared her for the sounds, the motion, the sight of white sails rising, snapping in the wind, then filling with it.

  For a moment the boat seemed to fly, with the wind slapping her cheeks and filling the canvas to bursting. Water churned in their wake and she tasted salt.

  She wanted to watch everything at once, the waves rising from blue-green water, the sea of white canvas above, the stretches and bumps of land. And the man and boy who worked so smoothly, so competently, with barely a word passing between them.

  They sailed past what Seth identified as a crab shanty. It was no more than a fragile shack of beaten and weathered gray wood stilted out of the water and attached to a rickety dock. The orange floats that marked the crab pots dotted the surface. She watched a workboat rocking in the tide as a waterman—a picture in his faded pants, battered cap, and white boots—hauled up a chicken wire cage.

  He paused in his work long enough to touch the brim of his cap in greeting before tossing two snapping crabs into his water tank.

  Life on the water, Anna thought and watched the work-boat putt toward the next float.

  "That's Little Donnie," Seth told her. "Ethan says they call him that even though he's grown up because his father's Big Donnie. Weird."

  Anna laughed. It had looked to her as if Little Donnie was pushing two hundred pounds. "I guess th
at's the way it is when you live in a small community. It must be wonderful to live and work on the water that way."

  Seth lifted a shoulder. "It's okay. But I'd rather just sail."

  When she lifted her face to the wind, she decided he had a point. Just sail—fast and free, with the boat rising and falling, the gulls wheeling overhead. Cam looked so natural at the wheel, she thought, with his long legs planted apart to accommodate the roll of the boat, his hands firm, his dark hair flying. When he turned his head, was it any wonder her heart jumped? When he held out a hand, was it any wonder she rose and walked cautiously over the unfamiliar deck to take it.

  "Want the wheel?"

  Desperately. "Better not," she said, trying to be practical. "I don't know what I'm doing."

  "I do." He tugged her in front of him, put his hands over hers. "That's Pocomoke," he told her, nodding toward a narrow channel. "If you want to slow down, we can head that way, dodge some crab pots."

  The wind slapped playfully at her face. She watched a gull swoop toward the surface of the water, skim it, then rise up calling in that sharp cry that sounded like a laughing scream. The hell with practicalities. "I don't want to slow down."

  She heard him laugh above her ear. "Atta girl."

  "Where are we heading? What are we doing?"

  "Heading south, southwest. Sailing to the luff," he told her. "On the edge of the wind."

  "On the edge? It feels like we're in the middle of it. I didn't know we could go so fast. It's wonderful."

  "Good. Hold on a minute."

  To her shock, he stepped back and called to Seth to help him make some adjustments to the sails. As her hands white-knuckled on the wheel, she heard them laughing. She heard the creak of the masts, the shiver of the canvas as it turned. If anything, she thought the boat picked up speed. She tried to relax. After all, there was nothing but water ahead of them.

  She could see to the right—starboard, she corrected herself—a small motorboat cruising out of one of the many rivers and channels. Too far away, she judged, for any traffic jams or accidents.

  Just as she had herself convinced she could do the job without incident, the boat tilted. She muffled a scream and nearly whipped the wheel in the opposite direction of the tilt, but Cam's hands closed over hers again and held it steady.

  "We're going over!"

  "Nan. We're heeled in nicely. More speed."

  Her heart stayed in her throat. "You left me at the wheel."

  "Sails needed trimming. The kid knows how to work the sheets. Ethan's taught him a lot, and he catches on quick. He's a damn good sailor."

  "But you left me at the wheel," she repeated.

  "You did fine." He brushed an absent kiss on the top of her head. "That's Tangier Island up ahead. We'll go around it, then head north. There's some quiet spots on the Little Choptank. We'll hit there about lunchtime."

  They didn't appear to be capsizing, she thought with a steadying breath. And since she hadn't run them aground, she relaxed enough to lean back against him.

  She planted her feet apart, as Cam did, and let her body balance with the motion of the boat. Her newest ambition was to have a little sloop, skiff, whatever it was called, when she finally got that house on the water.

  She would have the Quinn brothers build it for her, she decided, dreaming. "If I had a boat, I'd do this every chance I got."

  "We'll have to teach you the basics. Before long we'll have you trapezing."

  "What? Swinging from the mast in a spangled leotard?"

  The image had its appeal. "Not quite. You use a rig—a trapeze—and you hang out over the water."

  "For fun?"

  "Well, I like it," he said with a laugh. "It's for speed, balancing power."

  "Hanging out over the water," she mused, glancing to port. "I might like it too."

  he let her work the jib, under Seth's watchful eye. She liked the feel of the line in her hand and knowing she was in charge—more or less—of the billowing white sheet. They rounded the little sandy spit of Tangier Island, and she was treated to the quick maneuvering of tacking, jibbing, the teamwork necessary to maintain speed while changing course.

  Cam had stripped down to denim cutoffs, and his skin gleamed with sun and sweat and water. If her hands ached a little from the unfamiliar work, she didn't complain. Instead she got a foolish thrill when Cam told her she was a pretty good crew.

  They had lunch on Hudson Creek off the Little Chop-tank River, near a broken-down wharf with only the birds and the lap of water for company. The sun was bright in a clear blue sky, and the temperature had soared into the eighties to give a hint of the summer that was still weeks away.

  To the accompaniment of music on the radio, they took a cooling swim. Foolish paddled joyfully while Seth dived beneath the mirrorlike surface and swam like a wild dolphin.

  "He's having the time of his life," Anna murmured. A layer of the sulky, defiant, angry boy she'd first interviewed was being washed away. She wondered if he knew it.

  "Then I guess I can't be too annoyed that you insisted on his coming along."

  She smiled. She'd bundled her hair on top of her head in a vain attempt to keep it dry. With the way Seth and the puppy were splashing, nothing was dry. "You don't really mind. And you'd never have had that smooth of a sail without him on board."

  "True enough, but there's something to be said for a rough sail." He parted the water in front of him, then slid his arms around her.

  Anna gripped his shoulders in automatic defense. "No dunking."

  "Would I do anything that predictable?" His eyes were smoky with laughter. "Especially when this is more fun." He tilted his head and kissed her.

  Their lips were wet and slippery, and Anna's pulse thrummed at the sensation of his mouth sliding over hers, then capturing, then taking. The cool water seemed to grow warmer as their legs tangled. She was weightless, sighing as she floated into the kiss.

  Then she was underwater.

  She surfaced sputtering, shaking wet hair out of her eyes. The first thing she heard was Seth's laughter. The first thing she saw was Cam's grin.

  "It was irresistible," he claimed, then swallowed water himself as she flipped onto her stomach and kicked it into his face.

  "You're next," she warned Seth, who was so stunned at the idea of an adult playing with him that she caught him easily and wrestled him under.

  He struggled, spat out water, swallowed more when he laughed. "Hey, I didn't do anything."

  "You laughed. Besides, as I see it, you guys work as a team. It was probably your idea."

  "No way." He wiggled free, then got the bright idea to dive and pull her under the surface by the ankle.

  It was a pitched battle, and when they were exhausted, they agreed to call it a draw. It was only then that they noticed Cam was no longer in the water but sitting comfortably on the side of the boat eating a sandwich.

  "What are you doing up there?" Anna called out while she pushed her sopping-wet hair back.

  "Watching the show." He washed the ham and cheese down with Pepsi. "A couple of goons."

  "Goons?" She slid her eyes toward Seth, and in tacit agreement the foes became a unit. "I only see one goon around here, how about you?"

  "Just one," he agreed as they swam slowly toward the boat.

  Any idiot could have seen what they had in mind. Cam nearly lifted his legs out of reach, then he decided what the hell and let them pull him back into the water with an impressive splash.

  It would be hours before it occurred to Seth that Anna and Cam had both had their hands on him. And he hadn't been scared at all.

  after the boat was docked, the sails dropped, the decks swabbed, Anna rolled up her metaphorical sleeves and got to work in the kitchen. It was her mission to give the Quinn men a meal they wouldn't soon forget. She might have been a novice sailor, but here she was an expert.

  "It smells like glory," Phillip told her when he wandered in.

  "It'll taste better." She built the
layers of her lasagna with an artist's flair. "Old family recipe."

  "They're the best," he agreed. "We've got my father's secret waffle batter recipe. I'll have to whip you up some in the morning."

  "I'd like that." She glanced up to smile at him and noted what she thought was worry in his eyes. "Everything all right?"

  "Sure. Just some leftover tangles from work." It had nothing to do with work, but with the latest report from the private investigator he'd hired. Seth's mother had been spotted in Norfolk—and that was entirely too close. "Need any help in here?"

  "Everything's under control." She finished off her casserole with a thin layer of mozzarella before popping it in the oven. "You might want to try the wine."

  Absently Phillip picked up the bottle breathing on the counter. And instantly his interest was piqued. "Nebbiolo, the best of the Italian reds."

  "I think so, and I can promise my lasagna's a match for it."

  Phillip grinned as he poured two glasses. His eyes were a golden brown that for some reason made Anna think of archangels. "Anna, my love, why don't you toss Cam over and run away with me?"

  "Because I'd hunt you both down and kill you," Cam stated as he stepped into the kitchen. "Back off from my woman, bro, before I hurt you." Though it was said lightly, Cam wasn't entirely sure he was joking. And he wasn't entirely pleased to feel the hot little spurt of jealousy.

  He wasn't the jealous type.

  "He doesn't know a Barolo from a Chianti," Phillip told her as he got down another glass. "You're better off with me."

  "Goodness," she said in a passable imitation of their below-the-Mason-Dixon-line drawl, "I just love being fought over by strong men. And here comes one more," she added as Ethan stepped through the back door. "You want to duel for me too, Ethan?"

  He blinked and scratched his head. Women confused him, but he was pretty sure there was a joke coming on. "Did you make whatever's cooking in there?"

  "With my own little hands," she assured him.

  "I'll go get my gun."

  When she laughed, he shot her a quick smile, then ducked out of the room to shower off the day's work.

  "Jesus, Ethan nearly flirted with a woman." Amazed, Phillip lifted his glass in a toast. "We're going to have to keep you around, Anna."

  "If someone will set the table while I put the salad together, I might hang around long enough to let you sample my cannoli."

  Cam and Phillip eyed each other. "Whose turn is it?" Cam demanded.

  "Not mine. It must be yours."

  "No way. I did it yesterday." They studied each other another moment, then both turned to the door and yelled for Seth.

  Anna only shook her head. Younger brothers, she supposed, were meant to be abused in such matters.

  She knew the meal was a success when Seth gobbled up a third helping. He'd lost that alley-cat boniness, she noted. And the pallor. Perhaps his eyes were still occasionally wary, peeking out under his lashes as if searching for the blow that he'd learned too young to expect. But more often, Anna thought, there was humor in his eyes. He was a bright boy who was discovering how to be amused
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