Inner harbor, p.27
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       Inner Harbor, p.27

         Part #3 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts
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  contact her for verification of Gloria's paternity, she will despise me. But she will do it.

  I only have to pick up the phone to do for Seth what I failed to do years ago. I can give him a home, a family, and the knowledge that he has nothing to fear.

  "son of a bitch." phillip wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. Blood from a nasty but shallow scrape smeared over his skin. He grinned like an idiot at the hull he and his brothers had just turned. "That's a big bastard."

  "It's a beautiful bastard." Cam rolled his aching shoulders. The turning of the hull meant more than progress. It meant success. Boats by Quinn was doing it again, and they were doing it right.

  "She's got a fine line." Ethan ran a calloused hand over the planking. "A pretty shape to her."

  "When I start thinking a hull looks sexy," Cam decided.

  "I'm going home to my wife. Well, we can score her waterline and get back to work, or we can just admire her for a while."

  "You score her waterline," Phillip suggested. "I'm going up and running the paperwork for the draw. It's time to hit your old racing pal up for some cash. We can use it."

  "You cut the paychecks?" Ethan asked him.

  "Yeah."

  "Yours?"

  "I don't—"

  "Need it," Cam finished. "Cut one anyway, goddamn it. Buy your sexy lady some bauble with it. Blow it on some overpriced wine or lay it on the throw of the dice. But cut your check this week." He studied the hull again. "It means something this week."

  "Maybe it does," Phillip agreed.

  "The insurance company's going to fold their hand," Cam added. "We're going to win there."

  "People are already changing their tune." Ethan rubbed a layer of sawdust off the planking. "The ones who wanted to whistle lies under their breath. We've already won there. You worked the hardest to make sure we did," he said to Phillip.

  "I'm just the detail man. Either one of you tried to have more than a five-minute conversation with a lawyer… well, you'd nod off from boredom, Ethan, and Cam would end up punching him. I won by default."

  "Maybe." Cam grinned at him. "But you skated out of a lot of the real work by talking on the phone, writing letters, zinging off faxes. It just comes down to you being secretary. Without the great legs and ass."

  "Not only is that sexist, but I do have great legs and a terrific ass."

  "Oh, yeah? Let's see 'em." He moved fast, diving and taking Phillip down onto that reputedly terrific ass.

  Foolish scrambled up from his nap by the lumber and raced over to join in.

  "Christ! Are you crazy!" Laughter prevented Phillip from rolling free. "Get off me, you moron."

  "Give me a hand here, Ethan." Cam grinned, swearing as Foolish lapped eagerly at his face. Phillip struggled halfheartedly when Cam sat on him. "Come on," he urged when Ethan merely shook his head. "When's the last time you pantsed somebody?"

  "Been a while." Ethan considered as Phillip began to struggle in earnest. "Maybe the last time was Junior Crawford at his bachelor party."

  "Well, that's ten years ago, anyway." Cam grunted as Phillip nearly succeeded in bucking him off. "Come on, he's put on some muscle the last few months. And he's feisty."

  "Maybe for old time's sake." Getting into the spirit, Ethan evaded a couple of well-aimed kicks and got a firm hold on the waistband of Phillip's jeans.

  "Excuse me," was the best Sybill could manage when she walked in on air blue with curses and the sight of Phillip being held down on the beaten-wood floor while his brothers… well, she couldn't quite tell what they were trying to do.

  "Hey." Cam avoided a fist to the jaw, barely, and grinned hugely at her. "Want to give us a hand? We're just trying to get his pants off. He was bragging about his legs."

  "I…hmmm."

  "Let him up now, Cam. You're embarrassing her."

  "Hell, Ethan, she's seen his legs before." But without Ethan lending his weight, it was either let go or get bloody. It seemed simpler, if less fun, to let go. "We'll finish up later."

  "My brothers forgot they're out of high school." Phillip got to his feet, brushing off his jeans and his dignity. "They were feeling a little rambunctious because we turned the hull."

  "Oh." She shifted her attention to the boat, and her eyes widened. "You've made so much progress."

  "It's got a ways to go yet." Ethan studied it himself, visualizing it complete. "Deck, cabin, bridge, belowdecks. Man wants a damn hotel suite in there."

  "As long as he's paying for it." Phillip crossed to Sybill, ran a hand down her hair. "Sorry I got in too late to see you last night."

  "That's all right. I know you've been busy with work and the lawyer." She shifted her purse from hand to hand. "Actually I have something that may help. With the lawyer, with both situations. Well…"

  She reached into her purse and took out a manila envelope. "It's a statement from my mother. Two copies, both notarized. I had her overnight them. I didn't want to say anything until they'd arrived, and I'd read them to see… I think they'll be useful."

  "What's the deal?" Cam demanded as Phillip quickly skimmed the neatly typed two-page statement.

  "It confirms that Gloria was Dad's biological daughter. That he was unaware of it and that he attempted to contact Barbara Griffin several times during a period from last December to this March. There's a letter from Dad written to her in January, telling her about Seth, his agreement with Gloria to take custody."

  "I read your father's letter," Sybill told him. "Perhaps I shouldn't have, but I did. If he was angry with my mother, it didn't show in the words. He just wanted her to tell him if it was true. He was going to help Seth anyway, but he wanted to be able to give him his birthright. A man who worried that much about a child would hardly have taken his own life. He had too much to give, and was too ready to give it. I'm so sorry."

  "'He just needs a chance, and a choice,' " Ethan read when Phillip passed the letters to him, then cleared his throat. " 'I couldn't give one to Gloria, if she's mine, and she won't take it now. But I'll see that Seth has both. Whether he's mine by blood or not, he's mine nonetheless now.' It sounds like him. Seth should read this."

  "Why did she agree to this now, Sybill?" Phillip asked her.

  "I convinced her that it was best for all concerned."

  "No." He caught her chin in his hand, lifted her face to his. "There's more. I know there is."

  "I promised her that her name, and the details, would be kept as private as possible." She made a restless little movement, then let out a breath. "And I threatened to write a book telling the entire story if she didn't do this."

  "You blackmailed her," Phillip said with stunned admiration.

  "I gave her a choice. She chose this one."

  "It was hard for you."

  "It was necessary."

  Now he put both of his hands on her face, gently. "It was hard, and brave, and brilliant."

  "Logical," she began, then shut her eyes. "And yes, hard. She and my father are very angry. They may not forgive me. They're capable of not forgiving."

  "They don't deserve you."

  "The point is Seth deserves you, so…" She trailed off as he closed his mouth over hers.

  "Okay, move aside." Cam elbowed Phillip away and took Sybill by the shoulders. "You did good," he said, then kissed her with a firmness that made her blink.

  "Oh," was all she managed.

  "Your turn," Cam stated, then gave her a gentle nudge toward Ethan.

  "My parents would have been proud of you." He kissed her in turn, then patted her shoulders when her eyes filled.

  "Oh, no, don't let her do that." Instantly, Cam took her arm and pulled her back to Phillip. "No crying in here, no crying allowed in the boatyard."

  "Cam gets jittery when women cry."

  "I'm not crying."

  "They always say that," Cam muttered, "but they never mean it. Outside. Anybody who cries has to do it outside. It's a new rule."

  Chuckling, Phillip pulled
Sybill toward the door. "Come on. I want a minute alone with you anyway."

  "I'm not crying. I just never expected your brothers to… it's not usual for me to be—" She stopped herself. "It's very nice to be shown you're appreciated and liked."

  "I appreciate you." He drew her close. "I like you."

  "And it's very nice." She indulged in the luxury of both. "I've already spoken with your attorney and with Anna. I didn't want to fax the papers from the hotel as I did give my word the contents would be kept private. But both of them agree that this last document should move everything along. Anna believes that your petition for permanent guardianship will go through as early as next week."

  "That soon?"

  "There's nothing in the way of it. You and your brothers are Professor Quinn's legal sons. Seth is his grandchild. His mother agreed, in writing, to transfer custody. Reneging on that might stall the decree, but no one believes at this point that it would change it. Seth is eleven, and at his age his desires would be taken into account. Anna's going to push for a hearing early next week."

  "It seems strange, it all coming together like this. All at once."

  "Yes." She looked up as a flock of geese swept overhead. Seasons change, she thought. "I thought I would walk down to the school. I'd like to talk to him, tell him some of this myself."

  "I think that's a good idea. You timed it well."

  "I'm good at schedules."

  "How about scheduling a family meal tonight at the Quinns, to celebrate?"

  "Yes, all right. I'll walk him back here."

  "Great. Hold on a minute." He went back inside, returning moments later with a very energetic Foolish on a red leash. "He could use a walk, too."

  "Oh, well, I…"

  "He knows the way. All you have to do is hold on to this end." Amused, Phillip stuck the leash in her hand, then watched her eyes go wide as Foolish made his dash. "Tell him to heel," Phillip shouted as Sybill trotted after the dog. "He won't, but it'll sound like you know what you're doing."

  "This is not funny." She muttered it as she jogged awkwardly after Foolish. "Slow down. Heel! God."

  He not only slowed, but stopped, burying his nose in a hedge with such determination she was terrified he would race through it and take her with him. But he only lifted his leg and looked immensely pleased with himself.

  By her count, he lifted his leg eight times before they turned the corner down from the school and she caught sight of the buses. "What kind of a bladder do you have?" she demanded, looking hopefully for Seth while she struggled to cling to the leash and prevent Foolish from rocketing toward the crowd of children pouring out of the building. "No. Sit. Stay. You might bite someone."

  Foolish slanted her a look that seemed to say, Please, get serious. But he sat, smacking her heels rhythmically with his tail. "He'll be along in a minute," she began, then let out a yelp as Foolish leaped up and raced forward. He'd spotted Seth first and was running on love.

  "No, no, no, no," Sybill panted uselessly just as Seth caught sight of them. He let out a yelp himself, of pure joy, and dashed toward the dog as if they'd been cruelly separated for years.

  "Hey! Hi!" Seth laughed as Foolish made one adoring leap and bathed his face. "How's it going, boy? Good dog. You're a good dog." Belatedly, he looked over at Sybill. "Hey."

  "Hey, yourself. Here." She shoved the leash into his hand. "Not that he pays any attention to it."

  "We've kind of had trouble with leash training."

  "No kidding." But she managed a smile now to include Seth and Danny and Will when they hurried up behind him. "I thought I'd walk back to the boatyard with you. I wanted to talk to you."

  "Sure, that's cool."

  She stepped determinedly out of Foolish's path, then quickly back again as a bright-red sports car screamed up to the curb and stopped with a wild squeal of brakes. Before she could snarl at the driver that he was in a school zone, she saw Gloria in the passenger seat.

  Sybill's movement was fast and instinctive. She put Seth protectively behind her.

  "Well, well, well," Gloria drawled and eyed them both out of the window.

  "Go get your brothers," Sybill ordered Seth. "Go right now."

  But he couldn't move. He could only stand and stare while the fear settled in his stomach like balls of ice. "I won't go with her. I won't go. I won't."

  "No, you won't." She took his hand firmly in hers. "Danny, Will, run to the boatyard right now. Tell the Quinns we need them. Hurry. Go straight there."

  She heard the smack of running sneakers on the sidewalk but didn't look. She kept her eyes trained on her sister as Gloria slipped out of the car.

  "Hey, kid. Miss me?"

  "What do you want, Gloria?"

  "Everything I can get." She fisted a hand on the hip of her lipstick-red jeans and winked at Seth. "Wanna go for a ride, kiddo? We can do some catching up."

  "I'm not going anywhere with you." He wished he had run. He had a place in the woods, a place he'd picked out and fixed up. A hiding place. But it was too far away. Then he felt Sybill's hand, warm and strong on his. "I'm not ever going with you again."

  "You'll do what the hell I tell you." Fury flashed in her eyes as she started forward. For the first time in his life, Foolish bared his teeth and growled a vicious threat. "Call off that fucking dog."

  "No," Sybill said it simply, quietly, and felt a surge of love for Foolish. "I'd keep my distance, Gloria. He'll bite." She scanned the car, the leather-jacketed man behind its wheel, beating a rhythm on the dash to the blasting radio. "It looks like you landed on your feet."

  "Yeah, Pete's okay. We're heading out to California. He's got connections. I need cash."

  "You're not going to get it here."

  Gloria pulled out a cigarette, smiling at Sybill as she lit it. "Look, I don't want the kid, but I'm going to take him unless I get a stake. The Quinns'll pay to get him back. Everybody's happy, no harm done. If you mess with me on this, Syb, I'm going to tell Pete to get out of the car."

  Foolish shifted from growling to snarling. Sharp canine teeth bared. Sybill raised a brow. "Go ahead. Tell him."

  "I want what's due me, goddamn it."

  "You've had more than your due all your life."

  "Bullshit! It was you who got everything. The perfect daughter. I hate your fucking guts. I've hated you all my life." She grabbed Sybill by the front of her jacket and all but spit in her face. "I wish you were dead."

  "I know that. Now take your hands off me."

  "You think you can make me?" With a laugh, Gloria shoved Sybill back a step. "You never had the guts before, did you? You'll take it, and you'll take it, and you'll give me what I want, just like always. Shut that dog up!" she shouted at Seth as Foolish strained at the leash and snapped wildly. "Shut him up and get in the goddamn car before I—"

  Sybill didn't see her own hand come up, didn't realize the order had gone from her brain to her arm. But she felt her muscles tighten, her rage erupt, and then Gloria was sprawled on the ground gaping at her.

  "You get in the goddamn car," she said evenly, not even looking at the Jeep that screeched up to the curb. Not blinking when Foolish dragged himself and Seth closer and growled low in his throat at the woman on the ground. "You go to California, or you go to hell, but you stay away from this boy, and you stay away from me. Keep out of this," she snapped at Phillip as he and his brothers burst out of the Jeep.

  "Get in the car and go, Gloria, or I'll pay you back right now for everything you ever did to Seth. Everything you ever did to me. Get up and go, or when the cops get here to take you in for jumping bail, when we add charges of child abuse and extortion, there won't be much left of you to put in a cell."

  When Gloria didn't move, Sybill reached down and, with a strength born of fury, hauled her to her feet. "Get in the car and go, and don't ever try to get near this boy again. You won't get through me, Gloria. I swear to you."

  "I don't want the damn kid. I just want some money."

  "Cu
t your losses. I'm not going to bother holding that dog or the Quinns back after another thirty seconds. Want to take all of us on?"

  "Gloria, are you coming or not?" The driver flicked his cigarette out the car window. "I don't have all day to hang around this bumfuck town."

  "Yeah, I'm coming." She tossed her head. "You're welcome to him. All he ever did was slow me down and get in my way. I'm going to score big in L.A. I don't need anything from you."

  "Good," Sybill murmured as Gloria climbed back in the car. "Because you'll never get anything from me again."

  "You knocked her down." Seth wasn't shaking, nor was he pale now. As the sports car shrieked away, the look he sent Sybill was filled with gratitude, and with awe. "You knocked her down."

  "I guess I did. Are you all right?"

  "She never even looked at me, really. Foolish was going to bite her."

  "He's a wonderful dog." When he leaped on her now, she pressed her face into the warmth of his neck. "He's a fabulous dog."

  "But you knocked her down. Sybill knocked her right on her butt," he shouted as Phillip and his brothers walked over.

  "So I saw." Phillip put a hand to her cheek. "Nice going, champ. How do you feel?"

  "I feel… fine," she realized. No cramping, no chills, no sick headache. "I feel just fine." Then she blinked as Seth threw his arms around her.

  "You were great. She's never coming back. You scared the shit out of her."

  The bubbly little laugh that rose into her throat caught her by surprise. Leaning down, she buried her face in Seth's hair. "Everything's just the way it's supposed to be now."

  "Let's go home." Phillip slid his arm around her shoulders. "Let's all go home."

  "he's going to be telling that story for days," Phillip decided. "Weeks."

  "He's already embellishing on it." Amazingly serene, Sybill walked with Phillip by the water's edge while the heroic Foolish romped in the yard behind them with Simon. "The way he tells it now, I beat Gloria to a pulp and Foolish lapped up the blood."

  "You don't sound all that displeased by it."

  "I never knocked anyone down before in my life. Never stood my ground that way. I wish I could say I did it all for Seth, but I think part of it was for me, too. She won't come back, Phillip. She lost. She is lost."

  "I don't think Seth will ever be afraid of her again."

  "He's home. This is a good place." She turned in a circle to take in the trim house, the woods going deep with twilight, the last sparkle of the sun on the water. "I'll miss it when I'm back in New York."

  "New York? You're not going for a while yet."

  "Actually, I'm planning on going back right after the hearing next week." It was something she'd made up her mind on. She needed to resume her own life. Staying longer would accomplish nothing but adding to the emotional mess.

  "Wait. Why?"

  "I have work."

  "You're working here." Where did the panic come from? he wondered. Who pushed the button?

  "I have meetings with my publisher that I've put off. I need to get back. I can't live in a hotel forever, and Seth's settled now."

 
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