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Inner Harbor, Page 7

Nora Roberts

  "Are you?"

  He thought of sitting by the water in the moonlight and having a conversation with his dead father. "More than I might have believed. In my case, my parents didn't give me life. They gave me the life. This life. In yours," he considered, "since you're the good daughter, is there a bad daughter?"

  "My sister has always been difficult. Certainly she's been a disappointment to my parents. And the more disappointed they've become in her, the more they expect from me."

  "You're supposed to be perfect."

  "Exactly, and I can't be." Wanted to be, tried to be, couldn't be. Which, of course, equaled failure. How could it be otherwise? she mused.

  "Perfect is boring," Phillip commented. "And intimidating. Why try to be either? So what happened?" he asked when she only frowned.

  "It's nothing, really. My mother is angry with me just now. If I give in and do what she wants… well, I can't. I just can't."

  "So you feel guilty and sad and sorry."

  "And afraid that nothing will ever be the same between us again."

  "As bad as that?"

  "It could be," Sybill murmured. "I'm grateful for all the opportunities they gave me, the structure, the education. We traveled quite a bit, so I saw a great deal of the world, of different cultures, while I was still a child. It's been invaluable in my work."

  Opportunities, Phillip thought. Structure, education, and travel. Nowhere had she listed love, affection, fun. He wondered if she realized she'd described a school more than a family. "Where did you grow up?"

  "Urn. Here and there. New York, Boston, Chicago, Paris, Milan, London. My father lectured and held consultations. He's a psychiatrist. They live in Paris now. It was always my mother's favorite city."

  "Long-distance guilt."

  It made her laugh. "Yes." She sat back as their salads were served. Oddly enough, she did feel a little better. It seemed slightly less deceptive to have told him something about herself. "And you grew up here."

  "I came here when I was thirteen, when the Quinns became my parents."


  "It's part of that long story." He lifted his wineglass, studying her over its rim. Normally if he brought up that period of his life with a woman, what he told was a carefully edited version. Not a lie, but a less-than-detailed account of his life before the Quinns.

  Oddly enough, he was tempted to tell Sybill the whole, the ugly and unvarnished truth. He hesitated, then settled on something between the two.

  "I grew up in Baltimore, on the rough side. I got into trouble, pretty serious trouble. By the time I was thirteen, I was headed for worse. The Quinns gave me a chance to change that. They took me in, brought me to St. Chris. Became my family."

  "They adopted you." She'd had that much information, from researching everything she could find on Raymond Quinn. But it didn't give her the why.

  "Yeah. They already had Cam and Ethan, and they made room for one more. I didn't make it easy for them initially, but they stuck with me. I never knew either of them to back off from a problem."

  He thought of his father, broken and dying in a hospital bed. Even then Ray's concerns had been for his sons, for Seth. For family.

  "When I first saw you," Sybill began, "the three of you, I knew you were brothers. No real physical resemblance, but something less tangible. I'd say you're an example of how environment can offset heredity."

  "More an example of what two generous and determined people can do for three lost boys."

  She sipped her wine to soothe her throat before she spoke. "And Seth."

  "Lost boy number four. We're trying to do for him what my parents would have done, what our father asked us to do. My mother died several years ago. It left the four of us floundering some. She was an incredible woman. We couldn't have appreciated her enough when we had her."

  "I think you did." And moved by the sound of his voice, she smiled at him. "I'm sure she felt very loved."

  "I hope so. After we lost her, Cam took off for Europe. Racing—boats, cars, whatever. He did pretty well at it. Ethan stayed. Bought his own house, but he's locked into the Bay. I moved back to Baltimore. Once an urbanite," he added with a quick smile.

  "The Inner Harbor, Camden Yards."

  "Exactly. I came down here off and on. Holidays, the occasional weekend. But it's not the same."

  Curious, she tilted her head. "Would you want it to be?" She remembered her secret thrill when she'd gone off to college. To be on her own, not to have every movement and word weighed and judged. Freedom.

  "No, but there were times, are times, I miss the way it was. Don't you ever think back to some perfect summer? You're sixteen, your driver's license is shiny and new in your wallet, and the world is all yours."

  She laughed, but shook her head. She hadn't had a driver's license at sixteen. They'd been living in London that year, as she recalled. There had been a uniformed driver to take her where she'd been allowed to go, unless she managed to slip out and ride the Tube. That had been her small rebellion.

  "Sixteen-year-old boys," she said, while their salad plates were removed, their entrees served, "are more emotionally attached to their cars than sixteen-year-old girls are."

  "It's easier for that boy to get himself a girl if he has wheels."

  "I doubt you had any trouble in that area, with or without a car."

  "It's tough to neck in the backseat until you've got one."

  "True enough. And now you're back here, and so are your brothers."

  "Yeah. My father had Seth through complicated and not entirely clear circumstances. Seth's mother… well, you'll hear talk if you stay in the area for any length of time."

  "Oh?" Sybill cut into her fish, hoping that she could swallow it.

  "My father taught English lit at the university, the Eastern Shore campus of Maryland. A little less than a year ago a woman came to see him. It was a private meeting, so we don't have the details, but from all accounts it wasn't pleasant. She went to the dean and accused my father of sexual harassment."

  Sybill's fork clattered onto her plate. As casually as she could, she lifted it again. "That must have been very difficult for him, for all of you."

  "Difficult isn't quite the word for it. She claimed to have been a student here years back and said that at that time he had demanded sex for grades, intimidated her, had an affair with her."

  No, she couldn't swallow, Sybill realized, gripping her fork until her fingers ached. "She had an affair with your father?"

  "No, she said she did. My mother would still have been alive," he said half to himself. "In any case, there was no record of her ever attending the university. My father taught on that campus for more than twenty-five years, without a whisper of improper behavior. She took a shot at destroying his reputation. And it left a smear."

  Of course there'd be no truth to it, Sybill thought wearily. It was Gloria's usual pattern. Accuse, damage, run. But she herself still had a part to play. "Why? Why would she do that?"


  "I don't understand."

  "My father gave her money, a great deal of it. For Seth. She's Seth's mother."

  "You're saying that she… she traded her son for money?" Not even Gloria could do something so appalling, she told herself. Surely, not even Gloria. "That's difficult to believe."

  "Not all mothers are maternal." He jerked a shoulder. "He had a check for several thousand made out to Gloria DeLauter—that's her name—and he went away for a few days, then came back with Seth."

  Saying nothing, she picked up her water glass, cooled her throat. He came and got Seth, Gloria had sobbed to her. They've got Seth. You have to help me.

  "A few months later," Phillip continued, "he drew almost all his savings out into a cashier's check. He was on his way back from Baltimore when he had an accident. He didn't make it."

  "I'm so sorry." She murmured the words, recognizing their inadequacy.

  "He hung on until Cam got in from Europe. He asked the three of us to
keep Seth, to look out for him. We're doing everything we can to keep that promise. I can't say it wasn't rough for a while," he added, smiling a little now. "But it's never been dull. Moving back here, starting the boat business, not such a bad deal. Cam got a wife out of it," he added with a grin. "Anna is Seth's caseworker."

  "Really? They couldn't have known each other very long."

  "I guess when it hits, it hits. Time doesn't factor in."

  She'd always believed it did, vitally. To be successful, marriage took planning and dedication and a strong, solid knowledge of one's partner, an assurance of compatibility, an assessment of personal goals.

  Then again, that portion of the Quinn dynamics wasn't her concern.

  "That's quite a story." How much was true? she wondered, sick at heart. How much was slanted? Was she supposed to believe that her sister had sold her own son?

  Somewhere in the middle, she decided. The real truth could generally be found somewhere between two opposing stories.

  Phillip didn't know, she was sure of that now. He had no clue what Gloria had been to Raymond Quinn. When that single fact was added to the mix, how did it change everything else?

  "At this point it's working out. The kid's happy. Another couple of months and the permanent guardianship should be wrapped. And this big brother stuff has its advantages. Gives me somebody to boss around."

  She needed to think. She had to put emotion aside and think. But she had to get through the evening first. "How does he feel about that?"

  "It's a perfect setup. He can bitch to Cam or Ethan about me, to me about Cam or Ethan. He knows how to play it. Seth's incredibly smart. They did placement tests when my father enrolled him in school here. He's practically off the charts. His final report card for last year? Straight A's."

  "Really?" She found herself smiling. "You're proud of him."

  "Sure. And me. I'm the one who got roped into being homework monitor. Until recently I'd forgotten how much I hate fractions. Now that I've told you my long story, why don't you tell me what you think of St. Chris?"

  "I'm just getting my bearings."

  "Does that mean you'll be staying a while yet?"

  "Yes. A while."

  "You can't really judge a water town unless you spend some time on the water. Why don't you go sailing with me tomorrow?"

  "Don't you have to get back to Baltimore?"


  She hesitated, then reminded herself that this was exactly why she was here. If she was to find that real truth, she couldn't back away now. "I'd like that. I can't guarantee what kind of sailor I'll be."

  "We'll find out. I'll pick you up. Ten, ten-thirty?"

  "That'll be fine. All of you sail, I imagine."

  "Right down to the dogs." He laughed at the expression on her face. "We won't bring them along."

  "I'm not afraid of them. I'm just not used to them."

  "You never had a puppy."





  She laughed, shook her head. "No. We moved around quite a bit. Once I had a schoolmate in Boston whose dog had puppies. They were darling." Odd, she thought, to have remembered that now. She'd wanted one of those pups desperately.

  It had been impossible, of course. Antique fourniture, important guests, social obligations. Out of the question, her mother had said. And that had been the end of it.

  "Now I move around quite a bit. It's not practical."

  "Where do you like best?" he asked her.

  "I'm flexible. Wherever I end up tends to suit me, until I'm somewhere else."

  "So right now it's St. Chris."

  "Apparently. It's interesting." She gazed out the window, where the rising moon glittered light onto the water. "The pace is slow, but it's not stagnant. The mood varies, as the weather varies. After only a few days, I'm able to separate the natives from the tourists. And the watermen from everyone else."


  "How?" Distracted, she looked back at him.

  "How can you tell one from the other?"

  "Just basic observation. I can look out of my window onto the waterfront. The tourists are couples, more likely families, occasionally a single. They stroll, or they shop. They rent a boat. They interact with each other, the ones in their group. They're out of their milieu. Most will have camera, map, maybe binoculars. Most of the natives have a purpose for being there. A job, an errand. They might stop and say hello to a neighbor. You can see them easing back on their way as they end the conversation."

  "Why are you watching from the window?"

  "I don't understand the question."

  "Why aren't you down on the waterfront?"

  "I have been. But you usually get a purer study when you, the observer, aren't part of the scene."

  "I'd think you'd get more varied and more personal input if you were." He glanced up as the waiter arrived to top off their wine and offer them dessert.

  "Just coffee," Sybill decided. "Decaf."

  "The same." Phillip leaned forward. "In your book, the section on isolation as a survival technique, the example you used of having someone lying on the sidewalk. How people would look away, walk around. Some might hesitate before hurrying past."

  "Noninvolvement. Disassociation."

  "Exactly. But one person would eventually stop, try to help. Once one person broke the isolation, others would begin to stop, too."

  "Once the isolation is breached, it becomes easier, even necessary for others to join. It's the first step that's the most difficult. I conducted that study in New York and London and Budapest, all with similar results. It follows the urban survival technique of avoiding eye contact on the street, of blocking the homeless out of our line of sight."

  "What makes that first person who stops to help different from everyone else?"

  "Their survival instincts aren't as well honed as their compassion. Or their impulse button is more easily pushed."

  "Yeah, that. And they're involved. They're not just walking through, not just there. They're involved."

  "And you think that because I observe, I'm not."

  "I don't know. But I think that observing from a distance isn't nearly as rewarding as experiencing up close."

  "Observing's what I do, and I find it rewarding."

  He slid closer and kept his eyes on hers, ignoring the waiter who tidily served their coffee. "But you're a scientist. You experiment. Why don't you give experiencing a try? With me."

  She looked down, watched his fingertip toy with hers. And felt the slow heat of response creep into her blood. "That's a very novel, if roundabout, way of suggesting that I sleep with you."

  "Actually, that wasn't what I meant—though if the answer's yes, I'm all for it." He flashed her a grin as she shifted her gaze warily to his. "I was going to suggest that we take a walk on the waterfront when we've finished our coffee. But if you'd rather sleep with me, we can be in your hotel room in, oh, five minutes flat."

  She didn't evade when his head lowered to hers, when his lips slid lazily into a lovely fit over hers. The taste of him was cool, with an underlying promise of heat. If she wanted it. And she did. It surprised her how much, just at that one moment, she wanted the flash and burn—the demand that would override the tension inside her, the worry, the doubts.

  But she'd had a lifetime of training against self-indulgence, and now she laid a hand lightly on his chest to end the kiss, and the temptation.

  "I think a walk would be pleasant."

  "Then we'll walk."

  he wanted more. phillip told himself he should have known that a few tastes of her would stir up the need. But he hadn't expected that need to be quite so sharp, quite so edgy. Maybe part of it was sheer ego, he mused as he took her hand to walk with her along the quiet waterfront. Her response had been so cool and controlled. It made him wonder what it would be like to peel that intellect away, layer by layer, and find the woman beneath. To work his way down to pure emotion an
d instinct.

  He nearly laughed at himself. Ego, indeed. For all he knew, that formal, slightly distant response was precisely all that Dr. Sybill Griffin intended to give him.

  If so, that made her a challenge he was going to have a very difficult time resisting.

  "I see why Shiney's is a popular spot." She slanted him a smiling look. "It's barely nine-thirty and the shops are closed, the boats are moored. A few people strolling along, but for the most part everything here is tucked in for the night."

  "It's a little livelier during the summer. Not much, but a little. It's cooling off. Are you warm enough?"

  "Mmm. Plenty. It's a lovely breeze." She stopped to look out at the swaying masts of boats. "Do you keep your boat here?"

  "No, we have a dock at home. That's Ethan's skipjack."


  "It's the only skipjack in St. Chris. There are only a couple of dozen left on the Bay. There." he gestured. "The single mast."

  To her untrained eye, one sailboat looked very much the same as the next. Size varied, of course, and gloss, but essentially they were all boats. "What's a skipjack?"

  "It evolved from the flat-bottomed bay-crabbing skiffs." He drew her closer as he spoke. "They were enlarged, designed with a V-shaped hull. Had to be easily and inexpensively built."

  "So they go out crabbing in them."

  "No, mostly the watermen use motor-powered workboats for crabbing. The skipjack is for oysters. Back in the early 1800s they passed a law in Maryland that allowed only sail-powered vessels to dredge for oysters."


  "Exactly. The skipjack came out of that, and it still survives. But there aren't many of them. There aren't many oysters either."

  "Does your brother still use it?"

  "Yeah. It's miserable, cold, hard, frustrating work."

  "You sound like the voice of experience."

  "I've put in some time on her." He stopped near the bow and slipped an arm around Sybill's waist. "Sailing out in February, with that wind cutting through you, bouncing on the high chop of a winter storm… all in all, I'd rather be in Baltimore."

  She chuckled, studying the boat. It looked ancient and rough, like something out of an earlier time. "Without having set foot on it, I'm going to agree with you. So why were you bouncing on the high chop of a winter storm instead of in Baltimore?"

  "Beats the hell out of me."

  "I take it this isn't the boat you invited me out on tomorrow."

  "No. That one's a tidy little pleasure sloop. Do you swim?"

  She arched an eyebrow. "Is that a statement on your sailing abilities?"

  "No, it's a suggestion. The water's cool, but not so cold you couldn't take a dip if you like."

  "I didn't bring a bathing suit with me."

  "And your point is?"