Sea swept, p.28
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       Sea Swept, p.28
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         Part #1 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts

  But when she answered his knock and stood there looking so fresh, so gorgeous, he was caught off balance.

  Anna, on the other hand, had prepared for this meeting all week. She knew exactly how she would handle it. "Cam, this is a surprise. You just caught me."

  "Caught you?" he said stupidly.

  "Yes, but I've got a few minutes. Would you like to come in?"

  "Yeah, I—where the hell have you been?"

  She lifted her brows. "Excuse me?"

  "You took off, out of the blue."

  "I wouldn't say that. I arranged leave from work, checked in with my neighbors, had my plants watered while I was gone. I was hardly abducted by aliens, I simply took a few days of personal time. Do you want some coffee?"

  "No." Okay, he thought, she was going to keep playing it cool. He could do that. "I want to talk to you."

  "That's good, because I want to talk to you, too. How's Seth?"

  "He's fine. Really. We got a lot of things ironed out Just today—"

  "What have you done to your arm?"

  Impatient, he glanced down at the raw nicks and scrapes. "Nothing. It's nothing. Listen, Anna—"

  "Why don't you sit down? I'd really like to apologize if I was hard on you last weekend."

  "Apologize?" Well, that was more like it. Willing to be forgiving, he sat on the sofa. "Why don't we just forget it? I've got a lot to tell you."

  "I'd really like to clear this up." Smiling pleasantly, she sat across from him. "I suppose we were both in a difficult position. A great deal of that was my fault. Becoming involved with you was a calculated risk. But I was attracted and didn't weigh the potential problems as carefully as I should have. Obviously something like last weekend's disagreement was bound to happen. And as we both have Seth's interests at heart, and will continue to, I would hate for us to be at odds."

  "Good, then we won't." He reached for her hand, but she evaded his gesture and merely patted his.

  "Now that that's settled, you really have to excuse me. I hate to rush you along, Cam, but I have a date."

  "A what?"

  "A date." She glanced at the watch on her wrist. "Shortly, as it happens, and I have to change."

  Very slowly he got to his feet. "You have a date? Tonight? What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

  "What it generally does." She blinked twice, as if confused, then let her eyes fill with apology. "Oh, I'm sorry. I thought we both understood that we'd ended the… well, the more personal aspect of our relationship. I assumed it was clear that it wasn't working out for either of us."

  It felt as though someone had blown past his guard and rammed an iron fist into his solar plexus. "Look, if you're still pissed off—"

  "Do I look pissed off?" she asked coolly.

  "No." He stared at her, shaking his head while his stomach did a quick pitch and roll. "No, you don't. You're dumping me."

  "Don't be melodramatic. We're simply ending an affair that both of us entered freely and without promises or expectations. It was good while it lasted, really good. I'd hate to spoil that. Now as far as our professional relationship goes, I've told you that I'll do all I can to support your permanent guardianship of Seth. However, I do expect you to be more forthcoming with information from now on. I'll also be happy to consult with you or advise you on any area of that guardianship. You and your brothers are doing a marvelous job with him."

  He waited, certain there would be more. "That's it?"

  "I can't think of anything else—and I am a little pressed for time."

  "You're pressed for time." She'd just stabbed him dead center of the heart, and she was pressed for time. "That's too damn bad, because I'm not finished."

  "I'm sorry if your ego's bruised."

  "Yeah, my ego's bruised. I got a lot of bruises right now. How the hell can you stand there and brush me off after what we had together?"

  "We had great sex. I'm not denying it. We're just not going to have it any longer."

  "Sex?" He grabbed her arms and shook her, and had the small satisfaction of seeing a flash of anger heat through the chill in her eyes. "That's all it was for you?"

  "That's what it was for both of us." It wasn't going the way she'd planned. She'd expected him to be angry and storm out. Or to be relieved that she'd backed away first and walk away whistling. But he wasn't supposed to confront her like this. "Let go of me."

  "The hell I will. I've been half crazy for you to get back. You turned my life upside down, and I'll be damned if you'll just stroll away because you're through with me."

  "We're through with each other. I don't want you anymore, and it's your bad luck I said it first. Now take your hands off me."

  He released her as if her skin had burned his palms. There'd been a hitch in her voice, a suspicious one. "What makes you think I'd have said it at all?"

  "We don't want the same things. We were going nowhere, and I'm not going to keep heading there, no matter how I feel about you."

  "How do you feel about me?"

  "Tired of you!" she shouted. "Tired of me, tired of us. Sick and tired of telling myself fun and games could be enough. Well, it's not. Not nearly, and I want you out"

  He felt the temper and panic that had gripped him ease back into delight. "You're in love with me, aren't you?"

  He'd never seen a woman go from simmer to boil so fast. And seeing it, he wondered why it had taken him so long to realize he adored her. She whirled, grabbed a lamp, and hurled it.

  He gave her credit for aim and gave thanks that he was light on his feet, as the base whistled by his head before it crashed into the wall.

  "You arrogant, conceited, cold-blooded son of a bitch." She grabbed a vase now, a new one she'd bought on the way home to cheer herself up. She let it fly.

  "Jesus, Anna." It was admiration, pure and simple, that burst through him as he was forced to catch the vase before it smashed into his face. "You must be nuts about me."

  "I despise you." She looked frantically for something else to throw at him and snagged a bowl of fruit off the kitchen counter. The fruit went first. Apples. "Loathe you." Pears. "Hate you." Bananas. "I can't believe I ever let you touch me." Then the bowl. But she was more clever this time, feinted first, then heaved in the direction of his dodge.

  The stoneware caught him just above the ear and had stars spinning in front of his eyes.

  "Okay, game over." He made a dive for her, caught her around the waist. His already abused body suffered from kicks and punches, but he hauled her to the couch and held her down. "Get ahold of yourself before you kill me."

  "I want to kill you," she said between gritted teeth.

  "Believe me, I get the picture."

  "You don't get anything." She bucked under him and sent his system into a tangled mess of lust and laughter. Sensing both, she reared up and bit him, hard.

  "Ouch. Goddamn it. Okay, that's it." He dragged her up and threw her over his shoulder. "You still packed? Tells me she's got a damn date. Like hell she does. Tells me we're finished. What bullshit." He marched her into the bedroom, saw her bag on the bed, and grabbed it

  "What are you doing? Put me down. Put that down."

  "I'm not letting loose of either until we're in Vegas."

  "Vegas? Las Vegas?" She thudded both fists on his back. "I'm not going anywhere with you, much less Vegas."

  "That's exactly where we're going. It's the quickest place to get married, and I'm in a hurry."

  "And how the hell do you expect to get me on a plane when I'm screaming my lungs out? I'll have you in jail in five minutes flat."

  At his wits' end because she was inflicting considerable damage, he dumped her at the front door and held her arms. "We're getting married, and that's the end of it."

  "You can just—" Her body sagged, and her head reeled. "Married?" The word finally pierced her temper. "You don't want to get married."

  "Believe me, I've been rethinking the idea since you beaned me with the fruit bowl. Now, are you going to come a
long reasonably, or do I have to sedate you?"

  "Please let me go."

  "Anna." He lowered his brow to hers. "Don't ask me to do that, because I don't think I can live without you. Take a chance, roll the dice. Come with me."

  "You're angry and you're hurt," she said shakily. "And you think rushing off to Vegas to have some wild, plastic-coated instant marriage is going to fix everything."

  He framed her face, gently now. Tears were shimmering in her eyes, and he knew he'd be on his knees if she let them spill over. "You can't tell me you don't love me. I won't believe you."

  "Oh, I'm in love with you, Cam, but I'll survive it. There are things I need. I had to be honest with myself and admit that. You broke my heart."

  "I know." He pressed his lips to her forehead. "I know I did. I was shortsighted, I was selfish, I was stupid. And damn it, I was scared. Of me, of you, of everything that was going on around me. I messed it up, and now you don't want to give me another chance."

  "It's not a matter of chances. It's a matter of being practical enough to admit that we want different things."

  "I finally figured out today what it is I want. Tell me what you want."

  "I want a home."

  He had one for her, he thought.

  "I want marriage."

  Hadn't he just asked her?

  "I want children."

  "How many?"

  Her tears dried up, and she shoved at him. "It isn't a joke."

  "I'm not joking. I was thinking two with an option for three." His mouth quirked at the look of blank-eyed shock on her face. "There, now you're getting scared because you're beginning to realize I'm serious."

  "You—you're going back to Rome, or wherever, as soon as you can."

  "We can go to Rome, or wherever, on our honeymoon. We're not taking the kid. I draw the line there. I might like to get in a couple of races from time to time. Just to keep my hand in. But basically I'm in the boat building business. Of course, it might go belly-up. Then you'd be stuck with a househusband who really hates housework."

  She wanted to press her fingers to her temples, but he still had her by the arms. "I can't think."

  "Good. Just listen. You cut a hole in me when you left, Anna. I wouldn't admit it, but it was there. Big and empty."

  He rested his brow on hers for a moment. "You know what I did today? I worked on building a boat. And it felt good. I came home, the only home I've ever had, and it felt right. Had a family meeting and decided that we'd take on the insurance company and do what's right for our father. By the way, I've been talking to him."

  She couldn't stop staring at him, even though her head was reeling. "What? Who?"

  "My father. Had some conversations with him—three of them—since he died. He looks good."

  Her breath was clogged right at the base of her throat. "Cam."

  "Yeah, yeah," he said with a quick grin. "I need counseling. We can talk about that later—didn't mean to get off the track. I was telling you what I did today, right?"

  Very slowly she nodded. "Yes."

  "Okay, after the meeting, Phil made some smart remark, so I punched him, and we beat on each other for a bit. That felt good too. Then I talked to Seth about the things I should have talked to him about before, and I listened to him the way I should have listened before, then we just sat for a while. That felt good, Anna, and it felt right."

  Her lips curved. "I'm glad."

  "There's more. I knew when I was sitting there that that was where I wanted to be, needed to be. Only one thing was missing, and that was you. So I came to find you and take you back." He pressed his lips gently to her forehead. "To take you home, Anna."

  "I think I want to sit down."

  "No, I want your knees weak when I tell you I love you. Are you ready?"

  "Oh, God."

  "I've been real careful never to tell a woman I loved her—except my mother. I didn't tell her often enough.

  Take a chance on me, Anna, and I'll tell you as often as you can stand hearing it."

  She hitched in a breath. "I'm not getting married in Vegas."

  "Spoilsport." He watched her lips bow up before he closed his over them. And the taste of her soothed every ache in his body and soul. "God, I missed you. Don't go away again."

  "It brought you to your senses." She wrapped her arms tight around him. And it felt good, she thought giddily. It felt right. "Oh, Cam, I want to hear it, right now."

  "I love you. It feels so damn perfect loving you. I can't believe I wasted so much time."

  "Less than three months," she reminded him.

  "Too much time. But we'll make it up."

  "I want you to take me home," she murmured. "After."

  He eased back, cocked his head. "After what?" Then he made her laugh by lifting her into his arms.

  He picked his way through the wreckage, kicked a very sad-looking banana out of the way. "You know, I can't figure out why I used to think marriage would be boring."

  "Ours won't be." She kissed his bruised head. It was still bleeding a little. "Promise."

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  Nora Roberts's trilogy continues with a captivating new novel about the lives and loves of three brothers…

  Months after their father's death, Ethan Quinn and his brothers were settled into the family home on Chesapeake Bay. But something kept Ethan from working through his grief: People were talking about the late Mighty Quinn—and his young son Seth. To honor the memory of the greatest man he ever knew, Ethan must clear his father's name once and for all…

  "got us some nice peelers here, Cap'n." Jim Bodine culled crabs from the pot, tossing the marketable catch in the tank. He didn't mind the snapping claws—and had the scars on his thick hands to prove it. He wore the traditional gloves of his profession, but as any waterman could tell you, they wore out quick. And if there was a hole in them, by God, a crab would find it

  He worked steadily, his legs braced apart for balance on the rocking boat, his dark eyes squinting in a face weathered with age and sun and living. He might have been taken for fifty or eighty, and Jim didn't much care which end you stuck him in.

  He always called Ethan "Cap'n," and rarely said more than one declarative sentence at a time.

  Ethan altered course toward the next pot, his right hand nudging the steering stick most watermen used rather than a wheel. At the same time, he nudged the throttle and gear levels with his left hand. There were constant small adjustments to be made with every foot of progress up the line of traps.

  The Chesapeake Bay could be generous when she chose, but she liked to be tricky and make you work for it.

  Ethan knew the Bay as well as he knew himself. Often he thought he knew it better—the fickle moods and movements of the continent's largest estuary. For two hundred miles it flowed from north to south, yet it measured only four miles across where it brushed by Annapolis and thirty at the mouth of the Potomac River. St. Christopher sat snug on Maryland's southeastern shore, depending on its generosity, cursing its caprices.

  Ethan's waters—his home waters—were edged with marshland, strung with flatland rivers with sharp shoulders that shimmered through thickets of gum and oak.

  It was a world of tidal creeks and sudden shallows where wild celery and widgeongrass rooted.

  It had become his world—with its changing seasons, sudden storms and always, always, the sounds and scents of the water.

  Timing it, Ethan grabbed his gaffing pole and, in a practiced motion as smooth as a dance, hooked the pot line and drew it into the pot puller.

  In seconds, the pot rose out of the water, streaming with weeds and pieces of old bait, and crowded with crabs.

  He saw the bright-red pinchers of the full-grown females, or sooks, and the scowling eyes of Jimmies.

  "Right smart bunch of crabs," was all Jim had to say as he went to work, heaving the pot onboard as if it weighed ounces rather than pounds.

  The water was rough
today, and Ethan could smell a storm coming in. He worked the controls with his knees when he needed his hands for other work, and he eyed the clouds beginning to boil together in the far western sky.

  Time enough, he judged, to move down the line of traps in the gut of the Bay and see how many more crabs had crawled into the pots. He knew Jim was hurting some for cash—and he needed all he could come by himself in order to keep afloat the fledgling boat building business he and his brothers had started.

  Time enough, he thought again, as Jim rebaited a pot with thawing fish parts and tossed it overboard. In leapfrog fashion, Ethan gaffed the next buoy.

  Ethan's sleek Chesapeake Bay retriever, Simon, stood with his front paws on the gunwhale, tongue lolling. Like his master, he was rarely happier than when out on the water.

  The men worked in tandem, and in near silence, communicating with grunts, shrugs and the occasional oath. The work was a comfort, since the crabs were plentiful. There were years when they weren't, years when it seemed the winter had killed them off or that the waters would never warm enough to tempt them to swim.

  In those years, the waterman suffered—unless he had another source of income. Ethan intended to have one building boats.

  The first boat by Quinn was nearly finished. And a little beauty it was, Ethan thought. Cameron had another client on the line—some rich guy from Cam's racing days—so they would start another before long. Ethan never doubted that his brother would reel the money in.

  They'd do it, he told himself, however doubtful and full of complaints Philip was.

  He glanced up at the sun and the clouds sailing slowly, steadily eastward, and gauged the time.

  "We'll take them in, Jim."

  They'd been eight hours on the water, a short day, but Jim didn't complain. He knew it wasn't so much the oncoming storm that had Ethan piloting the boat back up the gut. "Boy's home from school by now," he said.

  "Yeah." And though Seth was self-sufficient enough to stay home alone for a time in the afternoon, Ethan didn't like to dare fate. A boy of ten, with Seth's temperament, was a magnet for trouble.

  When Cam returned from Europe in a couple weeks, they'd juggle Seth between them. But for now the boy was Ethan's responsibility.

  The water in the Bay kicked, turning gunmetal-gray now to mirror the sky, but neither the men nor the dog worried about the rocky ride as the boat crept up the steep fronts of the waves then slid back down in the troughs. Simon stood at the bow now, head lifted, the wind blowing his ears back, grinning his doggie grin. Ethan had built the workboat himself, and knew she would do. As confident as the dog, Jim moved to the protection of the awning, and cupped his hands to light a cigarette.

  The waterfront of St. Chris was alive with tourists. The early days of June lured them out of the city, tempted them to drive from the suburbs of D.C. and Baltimore. He imagined they thought of the little town of St. Christopher's as
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