Inner harbor, p.8
Inner Harbor, p.8Part #3 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts
She laughed and started walking again. "I think a sail's enough for one day. I've got some work I want to finish up tonight. I enjoyed dinner."
"So did I. I'll walk you to your hotel."
"There's no need. It's just around the corner."
She didn't argue. She had no intention of allowing him to walk her to her door, or to talk his way into her suite. All in all, she felt she was handling him, and a difficult, confusing situation, very well. An early night, she mused, would give her time to sort out her thoughts and feelings before she saw him again the next day.
And since the boat was docked at his home, the odds were good that she would see Seth again, too.
"I'll come down in the morning," she began as she stopped a few feet from the lobby entrance. "Ten or so?"
"Is there anything I should bring? Besides Dramamine?"
He shot her a grin. "I'll take care of it. Sleep well."
She prepared herself for the easy and expected good-night kiss. His lips were soft, undemanding. Pleased with both of them, she relaxed, started to back away.
Then his hand cupped the back of her neck firmly, his head changed angles, and for one staggering moment, the kiss went hot and wild and threatening. The hand she'd laid on his shoulder curled into a fist, gripping his jacket, hanging on for balance as her feet all but swept out from under her. Her mind went blank as her pulse leapt to roar in her spinning head.
Someone moaned, low and deep and long.
It lasted only seconds, but it was as shocking and burning as a brand. He saw the stunned arousal in her eyes when they opened and stared into his. And he felt that basic need claw to a new level inside him.
Not a cool, controlled, and distant response this time, he decided. One layer down, he mused, and skimmed his thumb along her jawline.
"I'll see you in the morning."
"Yes—good night." She recovered quickly and sent him a smile before turning. But she pressed an unsteady hand to her jittery stomach as she slipped into the lobby.
She'd miscalculated that one, she admitted, fighting to take slow, even breaths as she walked to the elevator. He wasn't as smooth, polished, and harmless as he appeared on the surface.
There was something much more primitive and much more dangerous inside that attractive package than she'd realized.
And whatever it was, she found it entirely too compelling for her own good.
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it was like riding a bike. Or sex, Phillip mused as he tacked, threading through the light traffic on the Bay toward an available slip on the waterfront. It had been a while since he'd done any solo sailing, but he hadn't forgotten how. If anything, he'd forgotten how much he enjoyed being out on the water on a breezy Sunday morning, with the sun warm and the water blue and the wicked screams of gulls echoing on the air.
He was going to have to start finding time for simple pleasures again. Since this was the first full day he'd taken off in more than two months, he intended to make the most of it.
He certainly intended to make the most of a few golden hours on the Bay with the intriguing Dr. Griffin.
He looked over at the hotel, idly trying to calculate which window might be hers. From what she'd told him, he knew it faced the water, giving her a view of the life that pulsed there and enough distance for her research.
Then he saw her, standing on a tiny balcony, her glossy, mink-colored hair sleeked back and haloed in the sunlight, her face aloof and unreadable from so far away.
Not so aloof close up, he thought, replaying their last sizzle of a kiss in his mind. No, there'd been nothing aloof in that long, throaty moan, nothing distant in that quick, hard tremble her body had made against his. That instinctive, involuntary signal of blood calling to blood.
Her eyes, that water-clear blue, hadn't been cool; nor had they been intriguingly remote when he'd lifted his mouth from hers and looked into them. Instead, they'd been just a little clouded, just a little confused. And all the more intriguing.
He hadn't quite been able to get her taste out of his system, not on the drive home, not through the night, not now, seeing her again. And knowing she stood and watched him.
What, he wondered, do you observe, Dr. Griffin? And what do you intend to do about it?
Phillip flashed her a quick smile, snapped her a salute to let her know he'd seen her. Then he shifted his attention away from her and maneuvered into dock.
His brows lifted in surprise as he saw Seth standing on dock waiting to secure the lines. "What're you doing here?"
Expertly, Seth looped the bow line over the post. "Playing errand boy again." There was a hint of disgust in the tone, but Seth had to work to put it there. "They sent me down from the boatyard. Donuts."
"Yeah?" Phillip stepped nimbly onto the dock. "Artery doggers."
"Real people don't eat tree bark for breakfast," Seth sneered. "Just you."
"And I'll still be strong and good-looking when you're a wheezing old man."
"Maybe, but I'll have more fun."
Phillip tugged Seth's ball cap off, batted him lightly with it. "Depends, pal, on your definition of fun."
"I guess yours is poking at city girls."
"That's one of them. Another is hounding you over your homework. You finish Johnny Tremaine for your book report?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Seth rolled his eyes. "Man, don't you ever take a day off?"
"What, when my life is devoted to you?" He grinned at Seth's snort. "So, what'd you think of it?"
"It was okay." Then he jerked a shoulder, a purely Quinn movement. "It was pretty good."
"We'll put together some notes for your oral report later tonight."
"Sunday night's my favorite night of the week," Seth said. "It means you'll be gone for four days."
"Come on, you know you miss me."
"You count the hours until I come home."
Seth barely suppressed a giggle. "Like hell." Then he did giggle as Phillip snagged him around the waist for a tussle.
Sybill heard the bright, happy sound as she walked toward them. She saw the wide grin on Seth's face. Her heart did a long, slow roll in her chest. What was she doing here? she asked herself. What did she hope to accomplish?
And how could she walk away until she found out?
Distracted by her voice, Phillip glanced over, dropping his guard just long enough for Seth's elbow to slip through and into his gut. He grunted, wrapped an arm around Seth's neck, and leaned down. "I'll have to beat you up later," he said in a stage whisper. "When there aren't any witnesses."
"You wish." Flushed with pleasure, Seth settled his cap securely on his head and feigned disinterest. "Some of us gotta work today."
"And some of us don't."
"I thought you were going with us," Sybill said to Seth. "Would you like to?"
"I'm just a slave around here." Seth looked longingly at the boat, then shrugged. "We got a hull to build. Besides, Pretty Boy here will probably capsize her."
"Smart-ass." Phillip made a grab, but Seth danced laughingly out of reach.
"Hope she can swim!" he called out, then raced away. When Phillip looked back at Sybill, she was gnawing her bottom lip. "I'm not going to capsize her."
"Well…" Sybill glanced toward the boat. It seemed awfully small and fragile. "I can swim, so I suppose it's all right."
"Christ, kid comes along and completely smears my rep. I've been sailing longer than the brat's been alive."
"Don't be angry with him."
"Please, don't be angry with him. I'm sure he was just joking with you. He didn't mean to be disrespectful."
Phillip just stared at her. She'd actually gone pale, and her hand was nervously twisting the thin gold chain she wore around her neck. There was active and acute distress in her voice. "Sybill, I'm not
"Oh." She wasn't certain whether to be embarrassed or relieved. "I guess that shows I didn't have any brothers."
"It would have been their job to make your life a living hell." He leaned down, touched her lips lightly with his. "It's traditional."
He stepped onto the boat, held out a hand. After the briefest of hesitations, she let him take hers. "Welcome aboard."
The deck rocked under her feet. She did her best to ignore it. "Thank you. Do I have an assignment?"
"For now, sit, relax, and enjoy."
"I should be able to manage that."
At least she hoped so. She sat on one of the padded benches, gripping it tightly as he stepped out again to release the lines. It would be fine, she assured herself. It would be fun.
Hadn't she watched him sail into port, or dock, or whatever you would call it? He'd seemed very competent. Even a bit cocky, she decided, the way he'd scanned the hotel until he saw her standing out on her balcony.
There had been something foolishly romantic about that, she thought now. The way he had sailed across the sun-splashed water, searching for her, finding her. Then the quick smile and wave. If her pulse had bumped a little, it was an understandable and human response.
He made such a picture, after all. The faded jeans, the crisp T-shirt tucked into them as blindingly white as the sails, that gilded hair, and the warmly tanned, sleekly muscled arms. What woman wouldn't feel a bump at the prospect of spending a few hours alone with a man who looked like Phillip Quinn?
And kissed like Phillip Quinn.
Though she had promised herself she wouldn't dwell on that particular talent of his. He'd shown her just a little too much of that skill the night before.
Now with the sails lowered, he motored gently away from the dock. She found some security in the low rumble of the engine. Not that different from a car, really, she supposed. This vehicle just happened to drive over water.
Nor were they really alone. Her hands relaxed their death grip on the bench as she watched other boats skim and glide. She saw a boy who was surely no older than Seth, tucked into a tiny boat with a triangular red sail. If it was an activity considered safe for children, surely she could handle it.
She turned her head, smiled absently at Phillip. "What did you say?"
He moved gracefully over the deck, working the lines. Then suddenly the sails rose, snapped in the wind, filled with it. Her heartbeat skipped and scrambled, and her fingers tightened once more on the bench.
No, she'd been wrong, she saw that now. This was nothing at all like a car. It was primitive and beautiful and thrilling. The boat no longer seemed small, or fragile, but powerful, just a little dangerous. And breathtaking.
Very much like the man who captained her.
"It's lovely from down here." Though she kept her hands firmly locked on the bench, she smiled over at Phillip. "They always look pretty when I watch from the window. But it's lovely to see the sails from below."
"You're sitting," Phillip commented as he took the wheel. "And you're enjoying, but I don't think you're relaxing."
"Not yet. I might get there." She turned her face to the wind. It tugged and teased at her hair, trying to free it from the band. "Where are we going?"
"Nowhere in particular."
Her smile warmed and widened. "I rarely have a chance to go there."
She hadn't smiled at him just that way before, Phillip thought. Without thinking, without weighing. He doubted she realized how that easy smile transformed her coolly beautiful face into something softer, more approachable. Wanting to touch her, he held out a hand.
"Come on up here, check out the view."
Her smile faded. "Stand up?"
"Yeah. There's no chop today. It's a smooth ride."
"Stand up," she repeated, giving each word separate weight. "And walk over there. On the boat."
"Two steps." He couldn't stop the grin. "You don't want to just be a bystander, do you?"
"Actually, yes." Her eyes widened when he stepped away from the wheel. "No, don't." She stifled a scream when he laughed and snagged her hand. Before she could dig in, he'd pulled her to her feet. Off balance, she fell against him and held on in terror and defense.
"Couldn't have planned that one better," he murmured and holding her, stepped back to the wheel. "I like getting close enough to smell you. A man has to get almost right here…" He turned his head, nuzzled his lips on her throat.
"Stop." Thrills and fears raced through her. "Pay attention."
"Oh, believe me"—his teeth caught and nipped her earlobe—"I am."
"To the boat. Pay attention to the boat."
"Oh, yeah." But he kept one arm snug around her waist. "Look out over the bow, to port. The left," he explained. "That little swash there goes back into the marsh. You'll see herons and wild turkey."
"Sometimes you have to go in to find them. But you can catch sight of them now and then, the herons standing like a sculpture in the high grass or rising up from it, the turkeys bobbling their way out of the trees."
She wanted to see, she discovered. She hoped she would see.
"In another month, we'll have geese flying over. From their view this area wouldn't look much different from the Everglades."
Her heart was still jumping, but she inhaled slowly, exhaled deliberately. "Why?"
"The marshland. It's too far from the beaches for the developers to be very interested. It's largely undisturbed. Just one of the Bay's assets, one of the factors that makes it an estuary. A finer one for watermen than the fjords of Norway."
She inhaled again, exhaled. "Why?"
"The shallows, for one thing. A good estuary needs shallows so the sun can nourish aquatic plants, plankton. And the marshlands, for another. They add the tidal creeks, the coves. There." He brushed a kiss over the crown on her head. "Now you're relaxing."
With some surprise, she realized she wasn't simply relaxing. She'd already gotten there. "So, you were appealing to the scientist."
"Took your mind off your nerves."
"Yes, it did." Odd, she thought, that he would know so quickly which switch to throw. "I don't think I have my sea legs yet, but it is a pretty view. Still so green." She watched the passing of big, leafy trees, the deep pockets of shadows in the marsh. They sailed by markers topped with huge, scruffy nests. "What birds build those?"
"Osprey. Now they're experts at those disassociation techniques. You can sail right by one when it's sitting on its nest, and it'll look right through you."
"Survival instinct," she murmured. She'd like to see that, too. An osprey roosting on that rough circular nest, ignoring the humans.
"See those orange buoys? Crab pots. The workboat putting down that gut? He's going to check his pots, rebait. Over there, to starboard." He nudged her head to the right. "The little outboard. Looks to me like they're hoping to catch some rockfish for Sunday dinner."
"It's a busy place," she commented. "I didn't realize there was so much going on."
"On and under the water."
He adjusted the sails and, heeling in, skimmed around a thick line of trees leaning out from shore. As they cleared the trees, a narrow dock came into view. Behind it was a sloping lawn, flower beds just starting to lose their summer brilliance. The house was simple, white with blue trim. A rocker sat on the wide covered porch, and bronze-toned mums speared out of an old crockery tub.
Sybill could hear the light, drifting notes of music floating through the open windows. Chopin, she realized after a moment.
"It's charming." She angled her head, shifting slightly to keep the house in view. "All it needs is a dog, a couple of kids tossing a ball, and a tire swing."
"We were too old for tire swings, but we always had the dog. That's our ho
"Yours?" She strained, wanting to see more. Where Seth lived, she thought, struck by dozens of conflicting emotions.
"We spent plenty of time tossing balls, or each other, in the backyard. We'll come back later and you can meet the rest of the family."
She closed her eyes and squashed the guilt. "I'd like that."
he had a place in mind. The quiet cove with its lapping water and dappled shade was a perfect spot for a romantic picnic. He dropped anchor where the eelgrass gleamed wetly, and the sky canopied in unbroken autumnal blue overhead.
"Obviously my research on this area was lacking."
"Oh?" Phillip opened a large cooler and retrieved a bottle of wine.
"It's full of surprises."
"Pleasant ones, I hope."
"Very pleasant ones." She smiled, raising a brow at the label on the wine he opened. "Very pleasant."
"You struck me as a woman who'd appreciate a fine dry Sancerre."
"You're very astute."
"Indeed I am." From a wicker hamper he took two wineglasses and poured. "To pleasant surprises," he said and tapped his glass to hers.
"Are there more?"
He took her hand, kissed her fingers. "We've barely started." Setting his glass aside, he unfolded a white cloth and spread it on the deck. "Your table's ready."
"Ah." Enjoying herself, she sat, shaded her eyes against the sun, and smiled up at him. "What's today's special?"
"Some rather nice pate to stir the appetite." To demonstrate, he opened a small container and a box of stoned wheat crackers. He spread one for her and held it to her lips.
"Mmm." She nodded after the first bite. "Very nice."
"To be followed by crab salad a la Quinn."
"Sounds intriguing. And did you make it with your own two hands?"
"I did." He grinned at her. "I'm a hell of a cook."
"The man cooks, has excellent taste in wine, appreciates ambience, and wears his Levi's very well." She bit into the pate again, relaxed now, the ground familiar and easily negotiated. "You appear to be quite a catch, Mr. Quinn."
"I am indeed, Dr. Griffin."
She laughed into her wine. "And how often have you brought some lucky woman to this spot for crab salad a la Quinn?"
Inner Harbor by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on53 votes