Inner harbor, p.25
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       Inner Harbor, p.25

         Part #3 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts
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  Sybill braced herself. "Seth, I didn't say good-bye to you last night. I shouldn't have left the way I did."

  "It's okay." He shrugged again.

  "I didn't think you remembered me. Or any of the time you stayed with me in New York."

  "I thought I'd made it up." It was too hard to sit in the boat and look so far up. He climbed out, then sat on the dock to dangle his legs. "Sometimes I'd dream about some of it. Like the stuffed dog and stuff."

  "Yours," she murmured.

  "Yeah, that's pretty lame. She didn't talk about you or anything, so I thought I'd just made it up."

  "Sometimes…" She took the risk and sat beside him. "Sometimes it was almost like that for me, too. I still have the dog."

  "You kept it?"

  "It was all I had left of you. You mattered to me. I know it may not seem like that now, but you did. I didn't want you to."

  "Because I was hers?"

  "Partly." She had to be honest, had to give him that, at least. "She was never kind, Seth. Something was twisted in her. It seemed that she could never be happy unless the people closest to her weren't. I didn't want her back in my life. I'd planned to give her a day or two, then arrange to have the two of you moved to a shelter. That way I would fulfill my family obligation and protect my own lifestyle."

  "But you didn't."

  "I made excuses at first. Just one more night. Then I admitted that I was letting her stay because I wanted to keep you there. If I found her a job, helped her get an apartment, worked with her to put her life back together, I could keep you close. I'd never had—you were the…"

  She ordered herself to take one cleansing breath and just say it. "You loved me. You were the first person who ever did. I didn't want to lose that. And when I did, I pulled myself back, right back to where I'd been before you came. I was thinking much more of myself than of you. I'd like to make up for that, a little, by thinking of you now."

  He looked away from her, down at the feet he was kicking back and forth over the water. "Phil said how she called and you told her to kiss ass."

  "Not precisely in those words."

  "But that's what you meant, right?"

  "I guess it was." She nearly smiled. "Yes."

  "You guys got the same mother, right, but, like, different fathers?"

  "Yes, that's right."

  "Do you know who my father was?"

  "I never met him, no."

  "No, I mean do you know who he was? She was always making up different guys and names and shit. And stuff," he corrected. "I just wondered, that's all."

  "I only know his name was Jeremy DeLauter. They weren't married long, and—"

  "Married?" His gaze flew back to hers. "She never got married. She was just BS-ing you."

  "No, I saw the marriage license. She had it with her when she came to New York. She thought I could help her track him down and sue him for child support."

  He considered a moment, absorbing the possibility. "Maybe. It doesn't matter. I figured she just took the name from some guy she lived with sometime. If he got hooked up with her, he must've been a loser."

  "I could arrange for a search. I'm sure we could locate him. It would take some time."

  "I don't want that." There wasn't any panic in his voice, just disinterest. "I was just wondering if you knew him, that's all. I got a family now." He lifted his arm as Foolish nosed into his armpit, and wrapped it around the dog's neck.

  "Yes, you do." Aching a little, she started to rise. She hesitated, her eye drawn toward a flash of white. She saw the heron soar, gliding over the water just at the edge of the trees. Then it was gone, around the bend, leaving barely a ripple on the air.

  A lovely thing, she thought. A lovely spot. A harbor for troubled souls, for young boys who only needed a chance to become men. Perhaps she couldn't thank Ray and Stella Quinn for what they'd done here, but she could show her gratitude by stepping aside now and letting their sons finish the job with Seth.

  "Well, I should go."

  "The art stuff you gave me, it's really great."

  "I'm glad you like it. You have talent."

  "I fooled around some with the charcoal last night."

  She hesitated again. "Oh?"

  "I'm not getting it right." He twisted his head to look up at her. "It's a lot different than a pencil. Maybe you could show me how to do it."

  She stared hard over the water because she knew he wasn't asking. He was offering. Now, it seemed, she was being given a chance, and a choice. "Yes, I could show you."

  "Now?"

  "Yes." She concentrated on keeping her voice even. "I could show you now."

  "Cool."

  Chapter Nineteen

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  so, he'd been a little hard on her, Phillip told himself. Maybe he felt that she should have told him immediately that Gloria had contacted her. Party or no party, she could have taken him aside and filled him in. But he shouldn't have jumped all over her and then walked out.

  Still, in his own defense, he'd felt raw and annoyed and unsettled. He'd spent the first part of the night worried about her, and the second part worried about himself. Was he supposed to be happy that she'd wormed her way through his defenses? Was he supposed to jump for joy that in a matter of weeks she'd managed to drill a hole in the highly polished shield he'd maintained so expertly for over thirty years?

  He didn't think so.

  But he was willing to admit that he hadn't behaved well. He was even willing to offer a peace token in the form of vintage champagne and long-stemmed roses.

  He'd packed the basket himself. Two bottles of Dom, well chilled, two crystal flutes—he wasn't about to insult that brilliant French monk with hotel glasses—the beluga he'd craftily hidden, for just such an occasion, inside an empty carton of plain low-fat yogurt, knowing that no one in his family would touch it.

  He'd made the toast points himself and had selected both the blush-pink roses and the vase with care.

  He thought she might be a tad resistant to the visit. It never hurt to pave the way with champagne and flowers. And since he intended to do a little worming himself, they couldn't hurt. He was going to loosen her up, he decided, talk to her, and more, get her talking. He wasn't leaving until he had a much clearer view on just who Sybill Griffin was.

  He rapped cheerfully on her door. That was going to be his approach—casual cheer. He shot a quick, charming smile at the peephole when he heard footsteps, saw the vague, telltale shadow.

  And he stood as those footsteps receded.

  Okay. Maybe more than a tad resistant, he concluded, and knocked again. "Come on, Sybill. I know you're there. I want to talk to you."

  Silence, he discovered, didn't have to be empty. It could be crowded with ice.

  Okay, fine, he thought, scowling at the door. She wanted to do it the hard way.

  He set the basket beside the door, then marched back down the hall to the fire stairs and started down. For what he had in mind it was wiser not to be seen leaving the lobby.

  "Ticked her off good, didn't you?" Ray commented as he jogged down the steps beside his son.

  "Christ almighty." Phillip glared into his father's face. "Next time why don't you just shoot me in the head? It'd be less embarrassing than to die of a heart attack at my age."

  "Your heart's strong enough. So, she's not speaking to you."

  "She'll talk to me," Phillip said grimly.

  "Bribing with bubbly?" Ray jerked a thumb behind him.

  "It works."

  "The flowers are a good touch. I could usually get around your mother with flowers. Quicker if I groveled."

  "I'm not groveling." On that he was firm. "It was just as much her fault."

  "It's never just as much their fault," Ray said with a wink. "The sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll get makeup sex."

  "Jesus, Dad." He could only rub a hand over his face. "I'm not going to talk to you about sex."

  "Why not? Wouldn't be the first t
ime." He sighed as they came to the ground level. "Seems to me your mother and I talked to you plenty, and talked to you straight, about sex. Gave you your first condoms, too."

  "That was then," Phillip muttered. "I've got the hang of it now."

  Ray let out a rippling, delighted laugh. "I bet you do. But then again, sex isn't the prime motive here. It's always a motive," he added. "We're men, we can't help it. Lady up there, she's got you worried, though, because it's not just about sex. It's about love."

  "I'm not in love with her. Exactly. I'm just… involved."

  "Love always was a tough one for you." Ray stepped out into the windy night, zipped up the frayed sideline jacket he wore over his jeans. "When it came to females, that is. Anytime things started to head toward serious, you'd start moving fast and loose in the opposite direction." He grinned at Phillip. "Looks to me like you're moving straight ahead this time."

  "She's Seth's aunt." Annoyance pricked at the back of his neck as he walked around the building. "If she's going to be part of his life, our lives, I need to understand her."

  "Seth's part of it. But you slapped her back this morning because you were scared."

  Phillip planted his feet, legs spread, rolled his shoulders as he studied Ray's face. "Number one, I can't believe I'm standing here arguing with you. Number two, it occurs to me that you were a hell of a lot better at letting me run my own life when you were alive than you are as a dead man."

  Ray only smiled. "Well, I've got what you might call a broader point of view now. I want you happy, Phil. I'm not going to move on until I'm sure the people who matter to me are happy. I'm ready to move on," he said quietly. "To be with your mother."

  "Have you—did you… How is she?"

  "She's waiting for me." The glow slipped over Ray's face and into his eyes. "And she's never been what you could call the waiting type."

  "I miss her, so much."

  "I know. So do I. She'd be flattered, and annoyed, too, that under it all you've never been willing to settle for less than the kind of woman she was."

  Staggered, because it was true, and a secret that he'd kept carefully locked up, Phillip stared. "It's not that, not altogether that."

  "Part of that, then." Ray nodded. "You have to find your own, Phil. And make your own. You're getting there. You did a fine job with Seth today. So did she," he said, glancing up at the light shining through Sybill's bedroom window. "You make a fine team, even when you're pulling in different directions. That's because you both care, more than you might understand."

  "Did you know he was your grandson?"

  "No. Not at first." He sighed now. "When Gloria found me she hit me with all of it at once. I never knew about her, and there she was, shouting, swearing, accusing, demanding. Couldn't calm her down or make sense of it. Next thing I knew she'd gone to the dean with that story about how I'd molested her. She's a troubled young woman."

  "She's a bitch."

  Ray only moved his shoulders. "If I'd known about her sooner… well, that's done. I couldn't save Gloria, but I could save Seth. One look at him and I knew. So I paid her. Maybe that was wrong, but the boy needed me. It took me weeks to track down Barbara. All I wanted from her was confirmation. I wrote to her, three times. Even called Paris, but she wouldn't speak to me. I was still working on that when I had the accident. Stupid," he admitted. "I let Gloria upset me. I was angry with her, myself, everything, worried about Seth, about how the three of you would take it when I explained it all. Driving too fast, not paying attention. Well."

  "We would have stood with you."

  "I know that. I let myself forget it, and that was stupid, too. Stella was gone, the three of you had your own lives, and I let myself brood, and forget. You're standing with Seth now, and that's more important."

  "We're nearly there. With Sybill adding her voice, the permanent guardianship's a given."

  "She's adding more than her voice, and she'll add more yet. She's stronger than she gives herself credit for. Than anyone gives her credit for."

  In a swift change of mood, Ray clucked his tongue, shook his head. "I guess you're going up there."

  "That's the plan."

  "Never quite lost that unfortunate skill. Maybe this time that's a good thing. That girl could use some surprises in her life." Ray winked again. "Watch your step."

  "You're not going to come up, are you?"

  "No." Ray slapped Phillip's shoulder and let out a hearty laugh. "Some things a father just doesn't need to see."

  "Good. But since you're here, make it easier for me. Give me a boost up to that first balcony."

  "Sure. They can't arrest me, can they?"

  Ray cupped his hands, giving Phillip's foot a helpful push, then stood back to watch him make the climb. He watched, and he smiled. "I'm going to miss you," he said quietly and faded into shadows.

  in the parlor, sybill concentrated fiercely on her work. She didn't give a damn if it had been petty, unreasonable behavior to ignore Phillip's knock. She'd had enough emotional upheaval for one weekend. And besides, he'd given up quickly enough, hadn't he? She listened to the wind rattle against her windows, set her teeth, and pounded the keyboard.

  The import of internal news appears to outweigh that of the external. While television, newspapers, and other information sources are as readily available in the small community as they are in large urban areas, the actions and involvements of one's neighbors take precedent when the population is limited.

  Information is passed on, with varying degrees of accuracy, through word of mouth. Gossip is an accepted form of communication. The network is admirably quick and efficient.

  Disattending—the pretense of not hearing a private conversation in a public place—is not as prevalent in the small community as in the large city. However, in transient areas such as hotels, disattending is still a consistent and acceptable behavioral pattern. I would conclude that the reason for this is the regular comings and goings of outsiders in this type of area. Overt attention is paid, however, in other areas such as

  Her fingers froze, her mouth dropped open, as she watched Phillip slide her terrace door open and step inside. "What—"

  "The locks on these things are pathetic," he said. He walked to the front door, opened it, and picked up the basket and vase of flowers he'd left there. "I figured I could risk these. We don't get a lot of thievery around here. You might want to add that to your notes." He set the vase of roses on her desk.

  "You climbed up the building?" She could only stare at him, amazed.

  "The wind's a bitch, too." He opened the basket, took out the first bottle. "I could use a drink. How about you?"

  "You climbed up the building?"

  "We've already established that." He opened the wine with an expert and muffled pop.

  "You can't…" She gestured wildly. "Just break in here, open champagne."

  "I just did." He poured two glasses and discovered it didn't do his ego any harm to have her gaping at him. "I'm sorry about this morning, Sybill." Smiling, he offered her a glass of champagne. "I was feeling pretty rough, and I took it out on you."

  "So you apologize by breaking into my room."

  "I didn't break anything. Besides, you weren't going to open the door, and the flowers wanted to be in here. So did I. Truce?" he said and waited.

  He'd climbed up the building. She still couldn't get over it. No one had ever committed such a bold and foolish act for her. She stared at him, into those golden angel eyes, and felt herself softening. "I have work."

  He grinned because he saw the yielding. "I have beluga."

  She tapped her fingers on the wrist rest of her keyboard. "Flowers, champagne, caviar. Do you usually come so well equipped when you break and enter?"

  "Only when I want to apologize and throw myself on the mercy of a beautiful woman. Got any mercy to spare, Sybill?"

  "I suppose I might. I wasn't keeping Gloria's phone call from you, Phillip."

  "I know you weren't. Believe me, if I hadn'
t figured that out myself, Cam would have beaten it into my head this morning."

  "Cam." She blinked in shock. "He doesn't like me."

  "You're wrong. He was worried about you. Can I persuade you to take a break from work?"

  "All right." She saved her file, shut down the machine. "I'm glad we're not angry with each other. It only complicates things. I saw Seth this afternoon."

  "So I hear."

  She accepted the wine, sipped. "Did you and your brothers clean up the house?"

  He gave her a pained and pitiful look. "I don't want to talk about it. I'm going to have nightmares as it is." He took her hand, drew her over to the sofa. "Let's talk about something less frightening. Seth showed me the charcoal sketch of his boat that you helped him with."

  "He's really good. He catches on so quickly. Really listens, pays attention. He's got a fine eye for detail and perspective."

  "I saw the one you did of the house, too." Casually, Phillip leaned forward for the bottle and topped off her wine. "You're really good, too. I'm surprised you didn't pursue art as a profession."

  "I had lessons as a girl. Art, music, dance. I took a few courses in college." Desperately relieved that they were no longer at odds, she settled back and enjoyed her wine. "It wasn't anything serious. I'd always known I'd go into psychology."

  "Always?"

  "More or less. The arts aren't for people like me."

  "Why?"

  The question confused her, put her on guard. "It wasn't practical. Did you say you had beluga in there?"

  There, he thought, the first step back. He'd simply have to go around her. "Mmm-hmm." He took out the container and the toast points, refilled her glass. "What instrument do you play?"

  "Piano."

  "Yeah? Me, too." He shot her an easy smile. "We'll have to work up a duet. My parents loved music. All of us play something."

  "It's important that a child learn to appreciate music."

  "Sure, it's fun." He spread a toast point, offered it. "Sometimes the five of us would kill a Saturday night playing together."

  "You all played together? That was nice. I always hated playing in front of anyone. It's so easy to make a mistake."

  "So what if you did? Nobody's going to cut off your fingers for hitting a sour note."

  "My mother would be mortified, and that would be worse than—" She caught herself, frowned into her wine, started to set it aside. He moved smoothly, adding more to her glass.

  "My mother really loved to play the piano. That's why I picked it up at first. I wanted to share something with her specifically. I was so in love with her. We all were, but for me she was everything strong and right and kind about women. I wanted her to be proud of me. Whenever I saw that she was, whenever she
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