Inner harbor, p.4
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       Inner Harbor, p.4

         Part #3 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts
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  connection. It would be better for all parties if no one knew. Otherwise, they could very well attempt, and possibly succeed in blocking her from Seth altogether. He'd been with them for months now. She couldn't be sure what he'd been told, what spin they might have put on the circumstances.

  She needed to observe, to study, to consider, and to judge. Then she would act. She would not be pressured, she ordered herself. She would not be made to feel guilty or responsible. She would take her time.

  After their meeting that afternoon, she thought it would be ridiculously simple to get to know the Quinns. All she had to do was wander into that big brick building and show an interest in the process of creating a wooden sailboat.

  Phillip Quinn would be her entree. He'd displayed all the typical behavioral patterns of early-stage attraction. It wouldn't be a hardship to take advantage of that. Since he only spent a few days a week in St. Chris, there was little danger of taking a casual flirtation into serious territory.

  Wrangling an invitation to his home here wouldn't present a problem. She needed to see where and how Seth was living, who was in charge of his welfare.

  Was he happy?

  Gloria had said they'd stolen her son. That they'd used their influence and their money to snatch him away.

  But Gloria was a liar. Sybill squeezed her eyes shut, struggling to be calm, to be objective, not to be hurt. Yes, Gloria was a liar, she thought again. A user. But she was also Seth's mother.

  Going to the desk, Sybill opened her Filofax and slid the photograph out. A little boy with straw-colored hair and bright blue eyes smiled out at her. She'd taken the picture herself, the first and only time she'd seen Seth.

  He must have been four, she thought now. Phillip had said he was ten now, and Sybill remembered it had been six years since Gloria showed up on her doorstep in New York with her son in tow.

  She'd been desperate, of course. Broke, furious, weepy, begging. There'd been no choice but to take her in, not with the child staring up with those huge, haunted eyes. Sybill hadn't known anything about children. She'd never been around them. Perhaps that was why she'd fallen for Seth so quickly and so hard.

  And when she'd come home three weeks later and found them gone, along with all the cash in the house, her jewelry, and her prized collection of Daum china, she'd been devastated.

  She should have expected it, she told herself now. It had been classic Gloria behavior. But she'd believed, had needed to believe, that they could finally connect. That the child would make a difference. That she could help.

  Well, this time, she thought as she tucked the photo away again, she would be more careful, less emotional. She knew that Gloria was telling at least part of the truth this time. Whatever she did from this point on would depend on her own judgment.

  She would begin to judge when she saw her nephew again.

  Sitting, she turned on her laptop and began to write her initial notes.

  The Quinn brothers appear to have an easy, male-pattern relationship. From my single observation I would suspect they work together well. It will take additional study to determine what function each provides in this business partnership, and in their familial relations.

  Both Cameron and Ethan Quinn are newly married. It will be necessary to meet their wives to understand the dynamics of this family. Logically one of them will represent the mother figure. Since Cameron's wife, Anna Spinelli Quinn, has a full-time career, one would suspect that Grace Monroe Quinn fulfills this function. However, it's a mistake to generalize such matters and this will require personal observations.

  I found it telling that the business sign the Quinns hung this afternoon contained Seth's name, but as a Quinn. I can't say if this disposal of his legal name is for their benefit or his.

  The boy must certainly be aware that the Quinns are filing for custody. I can't say as yet whether he has received any of the letters Gloria has written him. Perhaps the Quinns have disposed of them. Though I sympathize with her plight and her desperation to get her child back, it's best that she remain unaware that I've come here. Once I've documented my findings, I'll contact her. If there is a legal battle in the future, it's best to approach the matter with facts rather than raw emotion.

  Hopefully the lawyer Gloria has engaged will contact the Quinns through the proper legal channels shortly.

  For myself, I hope to see Seth tomorrow and gain some insight into the situation. It would be helpful to determine how much he knows about his parentage. As I have only recently become fully informed, I've not yet completely assimilated all the facts and their repercussions.

  We will soon see if small towns are indeed a hotbed of information on their inhabitants. I intend to learn all I can learn about Professor Raymond Quinn before I'm done.

  Chapter Three

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  the typical venue for socializing, information gathering, and mating rituals, small town or big city, Sybill observed, was the local bar.

  Whether it was decorated with brass and ferns or peanut shells and tin ashtrays, whether the music was whiny country or heart-reeling rock, it was the traditional spot for gathering and exchanging information.

  Shiney's Pub in St. Christopher's certainly fit the bill. The decor here was dark wood, cheap chrome, and faded posters of boats. The music was loud, she decided, unable to fully identify the style booming out of the towering amps flanking the small stage where four young men pounded away at guitars and drums with more enthusiasm than talent.

  A trio of men at the bar kept their eyes glued to the baseball game on the small-screen TV bracketed to the wall behind the bar. They seemed content to watch the silent ballet of pitcher and batter while they nursed brown bottles of beer and ate fistfuls of pretzels.

  The dance floor was jammed. There were only four couples, but the limited space caused several incidents of elbow rapping and hip bumping. No one seemed to mind.

  The waitresses were decked out in foolish male-fantasy outfits—short black skirts, tiny, tight V-neck blouses, fishnet stockings, and stiletto heels.

  Sybill felt instant sympathy.

  She tucked herself into a wobbly table as far away from the amps as humanly possible. The smoke and noise didn't bother her, nor did the sticky floor or the jittery table. Her choice of seating afforded her the clearest view of the occupants.

  She'd been desperate to escape her hotel room for a couple of hours. Now she was set to sit back, enjoy a glass of wine, and observe the natives.

  The waitress who approached was a petite brunette with an enviable bustline and a cheery smile. "Hi. What can I get you?"

  "A glass of Chardonnay and a side of ice."

  "Coming right up." She set a black plastic bowl filled with pretzels on the table and picked her way back to the bar, taking orders as she went.

  Sybill wondered if she'd just had her first encounter with Ethan's wife. Her information was that Grace Quinn worked at this bar. But there had been no wedding ring on the little brunette's finger, and Sybill assumed that a new bride would certainly wear one.

  The other waitress? That one looked dangerous, she decided. Blond, built, and brooding. She was certainly attractive, in an obvious way. Still, nothing about her shouted newlywed either, particularly the way she leaned over an appreciative customer's table to give him the full benefit of her cleavage.

  Sybill frowned and nibbled on a pretzel. If that was Grace Quinn, she would definitely be scratched from mother-figure status.

  Something happened in the ball game, Sybill assumed, as the three men began to shout, cheering on someone named Eddie.

  Out of habit she took out her notebook and began to record observations. The backslapping and arm punching of male companions. The body language of the females, leaning in for intimacy. The hair flipping, the eye shifting, hand gesturing. And of course, the mating ritual of the contemporary couple through the dance.

  That was how Phillip saw her when he came in. She was smiling to herself, her gaze ro
aming, her hand scribbling. She looked, he thought, very cool, very remote. She might have been behind a thin sheet of one-way glass.

  She'd pulled her hair back so that it lay in a sleek tail on her neck and left her face unframed. Gold drops studded with single colored stones swung at her ears. He watched her put her pen down to shrug out of a suede jacket of pale yellow.

  He had driven in on impulse, giving in to restlessness. Now he blessed that vaguely dissatisfied mood that had dogged him all evening. She was, he decided, exactly what he'd been looking for.

  "Sybill, right?" He saw the quick surprise flicker in her eyes when she glanced up. And he saw that those eyes were as clear and pure as lake water.

  "That's right." Recovering, she closed her notebook and smiled. "Phillip, of Boats by Quinn."

  "You here alone?"

  "Yes… unless you'd like to sit down and have a drink."

  "I'd love to." He pulled out a chair, nodding toward her notebook. "Did I interrupt you?"

  "Not really." She shifted her smile to the waitress when her wine was served.

  "Hey, Phil, want a draft?"

  "Marsha, you read my mind."

  Marsha, Sybill thought. That eliminated the perky brunette. "It's unusual music."

  "The music here consistently sucks." He flashed a smile, quick, charming, and amused. "It's a tradition."

  "Here's to tradition, then." She lifted her glass, sipped, then with a little hmmm began transferring ice into the wine.

  "How would you rate the wine?"

  "Well, it's basic, elemental, primitive." She sipped again, smiled winningly. "It sucks."

  "That's also a proud Shiney's tradition. He's got Sam Adams on draft. It's a better bet."

  "I'll remember that." Lips curved, she tilted her head. "Since you know the local traditions, I take it you've lived here for some time."

  "Yeah." His eyes narrowed as he studied her, as something pushed at the edges of his memory. "I know you."

  Her heart bounded hard into her throat. Taking her time, she picked up her glass again. Her hand remained steady, her voice even and easy. "I don't think so."

  "No, I do. I know that face. It didn't click before, when you were wearing sunglasses. Something about…" He reached out, put a hand under her chin and angled her head again. "That look right there."

  His fingertips were just a bit rough, his touch very confident and firm. The gesture itself warned her that this was a man used to touching women. And she was a woman unused to being touched.

  In defense, Sybill arched an eyebrow. "A woman with a cynical bent would suspect that's a line, and not a very original one."

  "I don't use lines," he murmured, concentrating on her face. "Except originals. I'm good with images, and I've seen that one. Clear, intelligent eyes, slightly amused smile. Sybill…" His gaze skimmed over her face, then his lips curved slowly. "Griffin. Doctor Sybill Griffin. Familiar Strangers."

  She let out the breath that had clogged in her lungs. Her success was still very new, and having her face recognized continued to surprise her. And, in this case, relieve her. There was no connection between Dr. Griffin and Seth DeLauter.

  "You are good," she said lightly. "So, did you read the book or just look at my picture on the dust jacket?"

  "I read it. Fascinating stuff. In fact, I liked it enough to go out and buy your first one. Haven't read it yet though."

  "I'm flattered."

  "You're good. Thanks, Marsha," he added when she set his beer in front of him.

  "Y'all just holler if you need anything." Marsha winked. "Holler loud. This band's breaking sound records tonight."

  Which gave him an excuse to edge his chair closer and lean in. Her scent was subtle, he noted. A man had to get very close to catch its message. "Tell me, Dr. Griffin, what's a renowned urbanite doing in an unapologetically rural water town like St. Chris?"

  "Research. Behavioral patterns and traditions," she said, lifting her glass in a half toast. "Of small towns and rural communities."

  "Quite a change of pace for you."

  "Sociology and cultural interest aren't, and shouldn't be, limited to cities."

  "Taking notes?"

  "A few. The local tavern," she began, more comfortable now. "The regulars. The trio at the bar, obsessed with the ritual of male-dominated sports to the exclusion of the noise and activities around them. They could be home, kicked back in their Barcaloungers, but they prefer the bonding experience of passive participation in the event. In this way they have companionship, partners with whom to share the interest, who will either argue or agree. It doesn't matter which. It's the pattern that matters."

  He found he enjoyed the way her voice took on a lecturing tone that brought out brisk Yankee. "The O's are in a hot pennant race, and you're deep in Orioles' territory. Maybe it's the game."

  "The game is the vehicle. The pattern would remain fairly constant whether the vehicle was football or basketball." She shrugged. "The typical male gains more enjoyment from sports if he has at least one like-minded male companion with him. You have only to observe commercials aimed primarily at the male consumer. Beer, for instance," she said, tapping a finger on his glass. "It's quite often sold by showcasing a group of attractive men sharing some common experience. A man then buys that brand of beer because he's been programmed to believe that it will enhance his standing with his peer group."

  Because he was grinning, she lifted her eyebrows. "You disagree?"

  "Not at all. I'm in advertising, and that pretty much hit the nail."

  "Advertising?" She ignored the little tug of guilt at the pretense. "I wouldn't think there would be much call for that here."

  "I work in Baltimore. I'm back here on weekends for a while. A family thing. Long story."

  "I'd like to hear it."

  "Later." There was something, he thought, about those nearly translucent blue eyes framed by long, inky lashes that made it nearly impossible to look anywhere else. "Tell me what else you see."

  "Well…" It was a fine skill, she decided. A masterwork. The way he could look at a woman as if she were the most vital thing in the world at that one moment. It made her heart bump pleasantly. "You see the other waitress?"

  Phillip glanced over, watched the frivolous bow on the back of the woman's skirt swivel as she walked to the bar. "Hard to miss her."

  "Yes. She fulfills certain primitive and typical male-fantasy requirements. But I'm referring to personality, not physicality."

  "Okay." Phillip ran his tongue around his teeth. "What do you see?"

  "She's efficient, but she's already calculating the time until closing. She knows how to size up the better tippers and play to them. She all but ignores the table of college students there. They won't add much to her bill. You'd see the same survival techniques from an experienced and cynical waitress in a New York bar."

  "Linda Brewster," Phillip supplied. "Recently divorced, on the prowl for a new, improved husband. Her family owns the pizza place, so she's been waitressing off and on for years. Doesn't care for it. Do you want to dance?"

  "What?" Then that's not Grace either, she thought and struggled to tune back in. "I'm sorry?"

  "The band's slowed it down if they haven't turned it down. Would you like to dance?"

  "All right." She let him take her hand to lead her through the tables to the dance floor, where they shoehorned themselves into the crowd.

  "I think this is supposed to be a version of 'Angie,' " Phillip murmured.

  "If Mick and the boys heard what they're doing to it, they'd shoot the entire band on sight."

  "You like the Stones?"

  "What's not to like?" Since they could do no more than sway, she tilted her head back to look at him. It wasn't a hardship to find his face so close to hers, or to be forced to press her body firmly to his. "Down-and-dirty rock and roll, no frills, no fuss. All sex."

  "You like sex?"

  She had to laugh. "What's not to like? And though I appreciate the thought, I do
n't intend to have any tonight."

  "There's always tomorrow."

  "There certainly is." She considered kissing him, letting him kiss her. As an experiment that would certainly include an aspect of enjoyment. Instead, she turned her head so cheeks brushed. He was entirely too attractive for an impulsive and uncalculated risk.

  Better safe, she reminded herself, than stupid.

  "Why don't I take you to dinner tomorrow?" Skillfully, he slid a hand up her spine, back down to her waist. "There's a nice place right in town. Terrific view of the Bay, best seafood on the Shore. We can have a conversation in normal tones, and you can tell me the story of your life."

  His lips had brushed her ear, sending a shocking ripple of reaction down to her toes. She should have known, she thought, that anyone who looked like he did would be damn good at sexual maneuvers.

  "I'll think about it," she murmured and, deciding to give as good as she got, skimmed her fingertips over the back of his neck. "And let you know."

  When the song ended, and the next picked up on a blast of sound and speed, she eased away. "I have to go."

  "What?" He leaned down so she could shout in his ear.

  "I have to go. Thanks for the dance."

  "I'll walk you out."

  Back at the table, he pulled out some bills while she gathered her things. The first step outside into the cool and quiet air made her laugh. "Well, that was an experience. Thank you for adding to it."

  "I wouldn't have missed it. It's not very late," he added, taking her hand.

  "Late enough." She pulled out the keys to her car.

  "Come by the boatyard tomorrow. I'll show you around."

  "I might just do that. Good night, Phillip."

  "Sybill." He didn't bother to resist, simply brought her hand to his lips. Over their joined fingers, his eyes locked with hers. "I'm glad you picked St. Chris."

  "So am I."

  She slipped into her car, relieved that she had to concentrate on the task of switching on the lights, releasing the brake, starting the engine. Driving wasn't second nature to a woman who had depended on public transportation or private car services most of her life.

  She focused on reversing, on putting the car in drive to make the turn onto the road. And she firmly ignored the faint echo of pressure on her knuckles where his lips had touched.

  But she didn't quite resist glancing in the rearview mirror and taking one last look at him before she drove away.

  Phillip decided that going back into Shiney's would be absurdly anticlimactic. He thought about her as he drove home, the way her eyebrows arched when she made a point or enjoyed a comment. That subtle and intimate scent she wore that told a man that if he'd gotten close enough to catch a whiff, maybe, just maybe, he'd have a chance to get closer.

  He told himself she was the perfect woman for him to invest some time in getting closer to. She was beautiful; she was smart; she was cultured and sophisticated.

  And just sexy enough to make his hormones stand at attention.

  He liked women, and missed having time for conversations with them. Not that he didn't enjoy talking with Anna and Grace. But let's face it, it wasn't quite the same as talking with a woman when you could also fantasize about taking her to bed.

  And he'd been missing that particular area of male-female relationships just lately. He rarely had time to do more than stumble into his apartment after a ten- or twelve-hour workday. His once interesting and varied social calendar had taken some large hits since Seth had come to the family.

  The week was dedicated to his accounts and consultations with the lawyer. The fight with the insurance company on payment of his father's death benefits was coming to a head.

  The resolution of permanent guardianship of Seth would be decided within ninety days. The responsibility of dealing with the mountain of paperwork and phone calls that sprang from those actions was his. Details were his strong point.

  Weekends were consumed by household duties, the business, and whatever had
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