Sea swept, p.26
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       Sea Swept, p.26

         Part #1 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts
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  unlocked. Well, this is going to be quite a place."

  He was a Harry Homemaker at heart, and the sight of all those spanking-new power tools stirred the juices. "Got yourself some top-grade equipment here."

  "You want a boat, come back tomorrow and we'll talk."

  "I get seasick," Mackensie confessed with a quick grimace. "Can't even stand on a dock without getting queasy."

  "That's tough. Go away."

  "But I sure do admire the looks of boats. Can't say I ever gave much thought to what went into building them.

  That's some band saw over there. Must've set you back some."

  This time Cam did turn, the fury in his eyes as dangerous as a cocked gun. "It's my business how I spend my money."

  Baffled by the exchange, Anna laid a hand on Cam's arm. She wasn't surprised that he was being rude—she'd seen him be rude before—but the snap and hiss of his anger over what appeared to be no more than a nuisance puzzled her.

  If this is the way he intends to treat potential clients, she thought, he might as well close the doors now.

  Before she could think of the proper calming words, Cam shook her off. "What the hell do you want now?"

  "Just a couple of questions." He nodded politely to Anna. "Ma'am. Larry Mackensie, claim investigator for True Life Insurance."

  In the dark, Anna automatically accepted the hand he held out. "Mr. Mackensie. I'm Anna Spinelli."

  Mackensie did a quick flip through his mental file. It took only a moment for him to tag her as Seth DeLauter's caseworker. As she had come on the scene after the death of the insured, he'd had no need to contact her, but she was in his records. And the cozy little scene he'd walked in on told him she was pretty tight with at least one of the Quinns. He wasn't sure if or how that little bit of information would apply, but he would just make a note of it.

  "Pleased to meet you."

  "If you two have business to discuss," Anna began, "I'll just wait outside."

  "I don't have anything to discuss with him, now or later. Go file your report, Mackensie. We're done."

  "Just about. I figured you'd like to know I'll be heading back to the home office. Got a lot of mixed results on my interviews, Mr. Quinn. Not much of what you'd call hard facts, though." He glanced toward the band saw again, wished fleetingly he could afford one like it. "There's the letter that was found in your father's car—that goes to state of mind. Single-car accident, driver a physically fit man, no traces of alcohol or drugs." He lifted his shoulders. "Then there's the fact that the insured increased his policy and added a beneficiary shortly before the accident. The company looks hard at that kind of thing."

  "You go ahead and look." Cam's voice had lowered, like the warning growl of an attack dog. "But not here. Not in my place."

  "Just letting you know how things stand. Starting a new business," Mackensie said conversationally, "takes a good chunk of capital. You been planning this for long?"

  Cam sprang quickly, had Mackensie by the lapels and up on the toes of his shiny, lace-up shoes. "You son of a bitch."

  "Cam, stop it!" The order was quick and sharp, and Anna punctuated it by stepping forward and shoving a hand on each man's chest. She thought it was like moving between a wolf and a bull, but she held her ground. "Mr. Mackensie, I think you'd better go now."

  "On my way." His voice was steady enough, despite the cold sweat that had pooled at the base of his neck and was even now dripping down his spine. "It's just details, Mr. Quinn. The company pays me to gather the details."

  But it didn't pay him, he reminded himself as he walked outside where he could gulp in air, to be beaten to a pulp by a furious beneficiary.

  "Bastard, fucking bastard." Cam desperately wanted to hit something, anything, but there was too much empty air. "Does he really think my father plowed into a telephone pole so I could start building boats? I should have decked him. Goddamn it. First they say he did it because he couldn't face the scandal, now it's because he wanted us to have a pile of money. The hell with their dead money. They didn't know him. They don't know any of us."

  Anna let him rant, let him prowl around the building looking for something to damage. Her heart was frozen in her chest. Suicide was suspected, she thought numbly. An investigation was in place.

  And Cam had known, must have known all along.

  "That was a claim investigator from the company who holds your father's life insurance policy?"

  "That was a fucking moron." Cam whirled, more oaths stinging his tongue. Then he saw her face—set and entirely too cool. "It's nothing. Just a hassle. Let's get out of here."

  "It's suspected that your father committed suicide."

  "He didn't kill himself."

  She held up a hand. She had to keep the hurt buried for now and lead with the practical. "You've spoken with Mackensie before. And I assume you—your lawyer at any rate—has been in contact with the insurance company about this matter for some time."

  "Phillip's handling it."

  "You knew, but you didn't tell me."

  "It has nothing to do with you."

  No, she realized, it wasn't possible to keep all the hurt buried. "I see." That was personal, she reminded herself. She would deal with that later. "And as to how it affects Seth?"

  Fury sprang up again, clawed at his throat. "He doesn't know anything about it."

  "If you actually believe that, you're deluding yourself. Gossip runs thick in small towns, close communities. And young boys hear a great deal."

  It was the caseworker now, Cam thought with rising resentment. She might as well be carrying her briefcase and wearing one of her dumpy suits. "Gossip's all it is. It doesn't matter."

  "On the contrary, gossip can be very damaging. You'd be wiser to be open with him, to be honest. Though that seems to be difficult for you."

  "Don't twist this around on me, Anna. It's goddamn insurance. It's nothing."

  "It's your father," she corrected. "His reputation. I don't imagine there's much that means more to you." She drew a deep breath. "But as you said, it's nothing to do with me on a personal level. I think we're finished here."

  "Wait a minute." He stepped in front of her, blocking her exit. He had the sinking feeling that if she walked, she meant to walk a lot farther than his car.

  "Why? So you can explain? It's family business? I'm not family. You're absolutely right." It amazed her that her voice was so calm, so detached, so utterly reasonable when she was boiling inside. "And I imagine you felt it best to hold the matter back from Seth's caseworker. Much wiser to show her only the positive angles, lock up any negatives."

  "My father didn't kill himself. I don't have to defend him to you, or anyone."

  "No, you don't. And I'd never ask you to." She stepped around him and started for the door. He caught her before she reached it, but she'd expected that and turned calmly. "There's no point in arguing, Cam, when essentially we agree."

  "There's no point in you being pissed off," he shot back. "We're handling the insurance company. We're handling the gossip about Seth being his love child, for Christ's sake."

  "What?" Stunned, she pressed a hand to her head. "There's speculation that Seth is your father's illegitimate son?''

  "It's nothing but bull and small minds," Cam replied.

  "My God, have you considered, even for a moment, what it could do to Seth to hear that kind of talk? Have you considered, even for a moment, that this was something I needed to know in order to evaluate, in order to help Seth properly?"

  His thumbs went into his pockets. "Yeah, I considered it—and I didn't tell you. Because we're handling it. We're talking about my father here."

  "We're also talking about a minor child in your care."

  "He is in my care," Cam said evenly. "And that's the point. I'm doing what I thought was best all around. I didn't tell you about the insurance thing or about the gossip because they're both lies."

  "Perhaps they are, but by not telling me, you lied."

  "I wa
sn't going to go around feeding anybody this crap that the kid was my father's bastard."

  She nodded slowly. "Well, take it from some other man's bastard, it doesn't make Seth less of a person."

  "I didn't mean it like that," he began and reached out for her. But she stepped away. "Don't do that." He exploded with it and grabbed her arms. "Don't back off from me. For Christ's sake, Anna, my life has turned inside out in the past couple of months, and I don't know how long it's going to be before I can turn it back around. I've got the kid to worry about, the business, you. Mackensie's coming around, people are speculating about my father's morals over the fresh fruit at the supermarket, Seth's bitch of a mother's down in Norfolk—"

  "Wait." She didn't move away this time, she yanked away. "Seth's mother has contacted you?"

  "No. No." Jesus, his brain was on fire. "We hired a detective to track her down. Phillip figured we'd be better off knowing where she is, what she's up to."

  "I see." Her heart broke in two halves, one for the woman, one for the professional. Both sides bled. "And she's in Norfolk, but you didn't bother to tell me that either."

  "No, I didn't tell you." He'd backed himself into this corner, Cam realized. And there was no way out. "We only know she was there a couple of days ago."

  "Social Services would expect to be notified of this information."

  He kept his eyes on hers, nodded slowly. "I guess they just were. My mistake."

  There was a line between them now, she realized, very thick and very darkly drawn. "Obviously you don't think very much of me—or of yourself, for that matter. Let me explain something to you. However I may be feeling about you on a personal level at this moment, it's my professional opinion that you and your brothers are the right guardians for Seth."

  "Okay, so—"

  "I will have to take this information I've just learned into consideration," she continued. "It will have to be documented."

  "All that's going to do is screw things up for the kid." He hated the fact that his stomach clenched at the thought. Hated the idea that he might see that look of white-faced fear on Seth's face again. "I'm not going to let some sick gossip mess things up for him."

  "Well, on that we can agree." She'd gotten her wish on one level, Anna realized. She'd been around to see how much Seth would come to matter to him. Just long enough, she thought hollowly.

  "It's my professional opinion that Seth is well cared for both physically and emotionally." Her voice was brisk now, professional. "He's happy and is beginning to feel secure. Added to that is the fact that he loves you, and you love him, though neither one of you may fully realize it. I still believe counseling would benefit all of you, and that, too, will go into my report and recommendation when the court rules on permanent guardianship. As I told you from the beginning, my concern—my primary concern—is the best welfare of the child."

  She was solidly behind them, Cam realized. And would have been no matter what he'd told her. Or hadn't told her. Guilt struck him a sharp, backhanded blow.

  "I was never less than honest with you," she said before he could speak.

  "Damn it, Anna—"

  "I'm not through," she said coolly. "I have no doubt that you'll see Seth is well settled, and that this new business is secure before—as you put it—you turn your life back around. Which I assume means picking up your racing career in Europe. You'll have to find a way to juggle your needs, but that's not my concern. But there may come a time when the guardianship is contested, if indeed Seth's mother makes her way back here. At that time, the case file will be reevaluated. If he remains happy and well cared for under your guardianship, I'll do whatever I can to see to it that he remains with you. I'm on his side, which appears to put me on yours. That's all."

  Shame layered onto guilt, with a sprinkling of relief between. "Anna, I know how much you've done. I'm grateful."

  She shook her head when he lifted a hand. "I'm not feeling very friendly toward you at the moment. I don't want to be touched."

  "Fine. I won't touch you. Let's find somewhere to sit down and talk the rest of this out."

  "I thought we just had."

  "Now you're being stubborn."

  "No, now I'm being realistic. You slept with me, but you didn't trust me. The fact that I was honest with you and you weren't with me is my problem. The fact that I went to bed with a man who saw me as an enjoyment on one hand and an obstacle on the other is my mistake."

  "That's not the way it was." His temper began to rise again, pumped by a slick panic. "That's not the way it is."

  "It's the way I see it. Now I need to take some time and see how I feel about that. I'd appreciate it if you'd drive me back to my car."

  She turned and walked away.

  he preferred fire to ice, but he couldn't break through the frigid shield she'd wrapped around her temper. It scared him, a sensation that he didn't appreciate. She was perfectly polite, even friendly, to Seth and Phillip when she returned to the house to gather her things.

  She was perfectly polite to Cam—so polite that he imagined he would feel the chill of it for days.

  He told himself it didn't matter. She'd get over it. She was just in a snit because he hadn't bared his soul, shared all the intimate details of his life with her. It was a woman thing.

  After all, women had invented the cold shoulder just to make men feel like slugs.

  He would give her a couple of days, he decided. Let her stew. Let her come to her senses. Then he would take her flowers.

  "She's ticked off at you," Seth commented as Cam stood by the front door staring out.

  "What do you know?"

  "She's ticked off," Seth repeated, entertaining himself with his sketchbook while sitting cross-legged on the front porch. "She didn't let you kiss her good-bye, and you're all the time locking lips."

  "Shut up."

  "What'd you do?"

  "I didn't do anything." Cam kicked the door open and stomped out. "She's just being female."

  "You did something." Seth eyed him owlishly. "She's not a jerk."

  "She'll get over it." Cam dropped down into the rocker. He wasn't going to worry about it. He never worried about women.

  he lost his appetite. How was he supposed to eat fried fish without remembering how he and Anna had sat on the dock that morning?

  He couldn't sleep. How was he supposed to sleep in his own bed without remembering how they'd made love on those same sheets?

  He couldn't concentrate on work. How was he supposed to detail diagonals without remembering how she'd beamed at him when he showed her the lofting platform?

  By mid-morning, he gave up and drove to Princess

  Anne. But he didn't take her flowers. Now he was ticked off.

  He strode through the reception area, straight back into her office. Then fumed when he found it empty. Typical, was all he could think. His luck had turned all bad.

  "Mr. Quinn." Marilou stood in the doorway, her hands folded. "Is there something I can do for you?"

  "I'm looking for Anna—Ms. Spinelli."

  "I'm sorry, she's not available."

  "I'll wait."

  "It'll be a long one. She won't be in until next week."

  "Next week?'' His narrowed eyes reminded Marilou of steel sharpened to the killing point. "What do you mean, she won't be in?"

  "Ms. Spinelli is taking the week off." And Marilou figured the reason for it was even now boring holes through her with furious gray eyes. She'd thought the same when Anna had dropped off her report that morning and requested the time. "I'm familiar with the case file, if there's something I can do."

  "No, it's personal. Where did she go?"

  "I can't give you that information, Mr. Quinn, but you're free to leave a message, either a written one or one on her voice mail. Of course, if she checks in, I'll be happy to tell her you'd like to speak with her."

  "Yeah, thanks."

  He couldn't get out fast enough. She was probably in her apartment, he decided as he ho
pped back in his car. Sulking. So he would let her yell at him, get it all out of her system. Then he'd nudge her along to bed so they could put this ridiculous little episode behind them.

  He ignored the nerves dancing in his stomach as he walked down the hall to her apartment. He knocked briskly, then tucked his hands into his pockets. He knocked louder, banged his fist on the door.

  "Damn it, Anna. Open up. This is stupid. I saw your car out front."

  The door behind him creaked open. One of the sisters peered out. The jingling sound of a morning game show filled the hallway. "She not in there, Anna's Young Man."

  "Her car's out front," he said.

  "She took a cab."

  He bit back an oath, pasted on a charming smile, and walked across the hall. "Where to?"

  "To the train station—or maybe it was the airport." She beamed up at him. Really, he was such a handsome boy. "She said she'd be gone for a few days. She promised to call to make sure Sister and I were getting on. Such a sweet girl, thinking of us when she's on vacation."

  "Vacation to…"

  "Did she say?" The woman bit her lip and her eyes unfocused in thought. "I don't think she mentioned it. She was in an awful hurry, but she stopped by just the same so we wouldn't be worried. She's such a considerate girl."

  "Yeah." The sweet, considerate girl had left him high and dry.

  she'd had no business flying to Pittsburgh; the airfare had eaten a large hole in her budget. But she'd wanted to get there. Had needed to get there. The minute she walked into her grandparents' cramped row house, half her burden lifted.

  "Anna Louisa!" Theresa Spinelli was a tiny, slim woman with steel-gray hair ruthlessly waved, a face that fell into dozens of comfortable wrinkles, and a smile as wide as the Mediterranean Sea. Anna had to bend low to be clasped and kissed. "Al, Al, our bambina's home."

  "It's good to be home, Nana."

  Alberto Spinelli hurried to the door. He was a foot taller than his wife's tidy five-three, with a broad chest and a spare tire that pressed cozily against Anna as they embraced. His hair was thin and white, his eyes dark and merry behind his thick glasses.

  He all but carried her into the living room, where they could begin to fuss over her in earnest.

  They spoke rapidly, and in a mix of Italian and English. Food was the first order of business. Theresa always thought her baby was starving. After they'd plied her with minestrone, and fresh bread and an enormous cube of tiramisu, Theresa was almost satisfied that her chick wouldn't perish of malnutrition.

  "Now." Al sat back, puffing to life one of his thick cigars. "You'll tell us why you're here."

  "Do I need a reason to come home?" Struggling to relax fully, Anna stretched out in one of a pair of ancient wing chairs. It had been recovered, she knew, countless times. Just now it was in a gay striped pattern, but the cushion still gave way beneath her butt like butter.

  "You called three days ago. You didn't say you were coming home."

  "It was an impulse. I've been swamped at work, up to my ears. I'm tired and wanted a break. I wanted to come home and eat Nana's cooking for a while."

  It was true enough, if not the whole truth. She didn't think it would be wise to tell her doting grandparents that she'd walked into an affair, eyes wide open, and ended up with her heart broken.

  "You work too hard," Theresa said. "Al, don't I tell you the girl works too hard?"

  "She likes to work hard. She likes to use her brain. It's a good brain. Me,
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