Sea swept, p.9
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       Sea Swept, p.9
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         Part #1 of Chesapeake Bay Saga series by Nora Roberts

  "It changed you." She knew that single moments, both simple and dramatic, could alter courses forever.

  "It started to. A boat on the water, and people who were giving me a chance. It wasn't much more complicated than that. It doesn't have to be that much more complicated here. We'll have the kid swing the hammer, put some sweat and effort into building a boat. If it's going to be a Quinn operation, that includes him."

  Her smile came quickly, fully, and to his surprise, she patted him on the cheek. "That last part said it all. It's a gamble. I'm not sure if it's the time or the place for one, but… it should be interesting to watch."

  "Is that what you're going to do?" He eased forward, nudging her back against the counter. "Watch me?"

  "I don't intend to take my eyes off you—on a professional level—until I'm assured that you and your brothers provide Seth with the proper home and guardianship."

  "Fair enough." He moved in just a little closer, just a fraction till two well-toned bodies brushed. "And how about on a personal level?"

  She weakened enough to let her gaze skim down, linger. His mouth was definitely tempting—dangerous and very close. "Keeping my eyes on you on a personal level isn't a hardship. A mistake, maybe—but not a hardship."

  "I always figure if you're going to make a mistake…" He put his hands on the counter, caging her. "Make it a big one. What do you say, Anna?'' He dipped his head a little lower, hovered.

  She tried to think, to consider the consequences. But there were times when needs, desire, and lust simply overpowered logic. "Hell," she muttered and, cupping her hand at the back of his neck, dragged his mouth down on hers.

  It was exactly as she wanted. Hungry and fierce and mindless. His mouth was hot, and it was hard, and it was almost heathen as he crushed down to devour hers. She gave in to it, gave all to it, a moment's madness where body ruled mind and blood roared over reason.

  And the thrill snapped through her like a whip, sharp, painful, and with a quick, shocking burn.

  "Christ." His breath was gone, his mind was reeling. Reflexively, his hands dug into the counter before he jerked them away and filled them with her.

  Whatever he'd expected, whatever he'd imagined didn't come close to the volcano that had so suddenly erupted in his arms. He dragged a hand through her hair, the wild, curling mass of it, fisted it there, then plundered as if his life depended on it.

  "Can't," she managed, but her arms wound around him, banded around him until it seemed his heart wasn't merely thundering against hers but inside hers. Her moan was a rumble of desperate, delirious pleasure that sounded in her throat exactly where his teeth nipped, then scraped, then dug greedily into flesh.

  The counter bit into her back, her fingers bit into his hips as she dragged him closer. Oh, God, she wanted contact, friction, more. She found his mouth with hers again, plunged blindly into the next kiss.

  Just one more, she promised herself, meeting, matching his reckless demand.

  Her scent seduced his senses. Her name was a murmur on his lips, a whisper in his mind. Her body was a glorious banquet melded to his. No woman had ever filled him so quickly, so completely, so utterly to the exclusion of all else.

  "Let me." It was a plea, and he'd never in his life begged for a woman. "For God's sake, Anna, let me have you." His hands ran up her legs, those endless thighs. "Now."

  She wanted. It would be so easy to take, and be taken. But easy, she knew, was rarely right.

  "No. Not now." Regret smothered her even as she lifted her hands to frame his face. For a moment longer, her mouth stayed on his. "Not yet. Not like this."

  Her eyes were dark, clouded. He knew enough of a woman's pleasures and his own skills to believe he could make them go blind. "It's perfect like this."

  "The timing's wrong, the circumstances. Wait." Someone had to move, she decided. To break that contact. She sidestepped, let out a shaky breath. She closed her eyes, lifted a hand to hold him off. "Well," she managed after another moment, "that was insane."

  He took the hand she'd raised, brought it to his lips and nipped his teeth into her forefinger. "Who needs sanity?"

  "I do." She nearly managed a genuine smile as she tugged her hand free. "Not that I don't regret that deeply at this moment, but I do need it. Wow." She drew in another long breath, pushed her hands up through her hair. "Cameron. You're every bit as potent as I expected."

  "I haven't even started."

  The smile widened. "I bet. I just bet." She eased back a little more, picked up her rapidly cooling coffee. "I don't know as that episode's going to make either one of us sleep easier tonight, but it was bound to happen." She angled her head when his eyes narrowed. "What?''

  "Most women, especially in your position, would make excuses."

  "For what?" She lifted a shoulder and promised herself her system would level again eventually. "That was as much my doing as yours. I wondered what it might be like to get my hands on you from the first time I saw you."

  Cam decided he might never be the same again. "I think I'm crazy about you."

  "No, you're not." She laughed and handed him his coffee. "You're intrigued, you're attracted, you've got a good healthy case of lust, but those are entirely different matters. And you don't even know me."

  "I want to." He let out a short laugh. "And that's a big surprise to me. I don't usually care one way or the other."

  "I'm flattered. I'm not sure if that's a tribute to your charm or my own stupidity, but I'm flattered. But—"

  "Damn, I knew that was coming."

  "But," she repeated and set her cup in the sink. "Seth is my priority. He has to be." The warmth that was both compassion and understanding came into her eyes, and it touched something in him that was buried under that healthy lust. "And he should be yours. I hope I'm around if and when that happens."

  "I'm doing everything I can think of."

  "I know you are. And you're doing more than most would." She touched his arm briefly, then moved away. "I have a feeling you've got more inside you yet. But…"

  "There it is again."

  "You'd better go now."

  He wanted to stay, even if it was just to stand there and talk to her, to be. "I haven't finished my coffee."

  "It's cold. And it's getting late." She glanced toward the window where raindrops ran like tears. "And the rain makes me wonder about things I shouldn't be wondering about."

  He winced. "I don't suppose you said that to make me suffer."

  "Sure I did." She laughed again and moved to the door, opened it wide to make her point. "If I'm going to, why shouldn't you?"

  "Oh, I like you, Anna Spinelli. You're a woman after my own heart."

  "You're not interested in a woman going for your heart," she said as he crossed the room. "You want one who's after your body."

  "See, we're getting to know each other already."

  "Good night." She didn't evade when he pulled her in for another kiss as he walked out the door. Evading would have been a pretense, and she wasn't one to delude herself.

  So she met the kiss with teasing heat and honest enthusiasm. Then she shut the door in his face.

  And then she leaned back against it weakly.

  Potent? That wasn't the half of it. Her pulse was likely to stay on overdrive for hours. Maybe days.

  She wished she didn't feel so damn happy about it.

  Chapter Seven

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  cam was scowling at a basket full of pink socks and Jockey shorts when the phone rang. He knew damn well the socks and underwear had been white—or close to it—when he'd dumped them in the machine. Now they were Easter-egg pink.

  Maybe they just looked that way because they were wet.

  He pulled them out to stuff them in the dryer, saw the red sock hiding among the pink. And bared his teeth.

  Phillip, he vowed, was a dead man.

  "Fuck it." He dumped them inside, slapped the dryer on what he hoped was broil and went to answer the phon

  He remembered, just in time, to turn down the little portable TV tucked in the corner of the counter. It wasn't as if he was actually watching it, it certainly wasn't that he was paying any attention at all to the passion and betrayals of the late-morning soap opera.

  He'd just switched it on for the noise.

  "Quinn. What?"

  "Hey, Cam. Took some doing to track you down, hoss. Tod Bardette here."

  Cam reached into an open bag of Oreos on the counter and took out a handful. "How's it going, Tod?"

  "Well, I have to tell you it's going pretty damn good. I've been spending some time anchored off the Great Barrier Reef."

  "Nice spot," Cam muttered over a cookie. Then his brows shot up as an impossibly gorgeous woman tumbled into bed with a ridiculously handsome man on the tiny screen across the kitchen.

  Maybe there was something to this daytime TV after all.

  "It'll do. Heard you kicked ass in the Med a few weeks ago."

  A few weeks? Cam thought while he munched on a second cookie. Surely it had been a few years ago that he'd flown across the finish line in his hydrofoil. Blue water, speed, cheering crowds, and money to burn.

  Now he was lucky if he found enough milk in the fridge to wash down a stale Oreo.

  "Yeah, that's what I heard too."

  Tod gave a rich chuckle. "Well, the offer to buy that toy from you still holds. But I got another proposition coming at you."

  Tod Bardette always had another proposition coming at you. He was the rich son of a rich father from East Texas who used the world as his playground. And he was boat happy. He raced them, sponsored races, bought and sold them. And collected wives, trophies, and his share of the purse with smooth regularity.

  Cam had always felt Tod's luck had run hot since conception. Since it never hurt to listen—and the bedroom scene had just been displaced by a commercial featuring a giant toilet brush, he switched off the set.

  "I'm always ready to hear one."

  "I'm setting up a crew for La Coupe Internationale."

  "The One-Ton Cup?" Cam felt his juices begin to flow, and he lost all interest in cookies and milk. The international race was a giant in the sailing world. Five legs, he thought, the final one an ocean race of three hundred grueling miles.

  "You got it. You know the Aussies took the cup last year, so it's being held down here in Australia. I want to whip their butts, and I've got a honey of a boat. She's fast, hoss. With the right crew she'll bring the cup back to the U S of A. I need a skipper. I want the best. I want you. How soon can you get Down Under?"

  Give me five minutes. That's what he wanted to say. He could have a bag packed in one, hop a plane and be on his way. For men who raced, it was one of life's golden opportunities. Even as he opened his mouth, his gaze landed on the rocker outside the kitchen window.

  So he closed his eyes, listened resentfully to the hum of the pink socks drying in the utility room behind him.

  "I have to pass, Tod. I can't get away now."

  "Lookie here, I'm willing to give you some time to put your affairs—pun intended," he said with a snorting laugh, "in order. Take a couple weeks. If you've got another offer, I'll beat it."

  "I can't do it. I've got—" Laundry to do? A kid to raise? Damn if he was going to humiliate himself with that piece of information. "My brothers and I started a business," he said on impulse. "I've got a commitment here."

  "A business." This time Tod's laugh was long and delighted. "You? Don't pull my leg so hard, it hurts."

  Now Cam's eyes narrowed. He didn't doubt Tod Bardette of East Texas would be joined by others of his friends and acquaintances in laughing at the idea of Cameron Quinn, businessman.

  "We're building boats," he said between his teeth. "Here on the Eastern Shore. Wooden boats. Custom jobs," he added, determined to play it to the hilt. "One of a kinds. In six months, you'll be paying me top dollar to design and build you a boat by Quinn. Since we're old friends, I'll try to squeeze you in."

  "Boats." The interest in Tod's voice picked up. "Well now, you know how to sail them, guess maybe you'd know how to build them."

  "There's no maybe about it."

  "That's an interesting enterprise, but come on, Cam, you're not a businessman. You're not going to stay stuck on some pretty little bay in Maryland eating crabs and nailing planks. You know I'll make this race worth your while. Money, fame and fortune." And he chuckled. "After we win, you can go back and put a couple of little sloops together."

  He could handle it, Cam promised himself. He could handle the insults, the frustration of not being able to pack and go as he chose. What he wouldn't do was give Bardette the satisfaction of knowing he was ruffled. "You're going to have to find another skipper. But if you want to buy a boat, give me a call."

  "If you actually get one finished, give me a call." A sigh came through the receiver. "You're missing the chance of a lifetime here. You change your mind in the next couple hours, get in touch. But I need to nail down my crew this week. Talk to you."

  And Cam was listening to a dial tone.

  He didn't hurl the receiver through the window. He wanted to, considered it, then figured he'd be the one sweeping up the glass, so what would be the point?

  So he hung up the phone, with careful deliberation. He even took a deep breath. And if whatever he'd put in the washing machine hadn't chosen that moment to spin out of balance and send the machine hopping, he wouldn't have slammed his fist into the wall.

  "I thought for a minute there you were going to pull it off."

  He whirled, and saw his father sitting at the kitchen table, chuckling. "Oh, God, this caps it."

  "Why don't you get some ice for your knuckles?"

  "It's all right." Cam glanced down at them. A couple of scrapes. And the sharp pain was a good hold on reality. "I thought about this, Dad. Really thought about it. I just don't believe you're here."

  Ray continued to smile. "You're here, Cam. That's what matters. It was tough turning down a race like that. I'm grateful to you. I'm proud of you."

  "Bardette said he had a honey of a boat. With his money behind it…" Cam pressed his hands on the counter and stared out the window toward the quiet water. "I could win that bastard. I captained a crew to second in the Little America's Cup five years ago, and I took the Chicago-Mackinac last year."

  "You're a fine sailor, Cam."

  "Yeah." He curled his fingers into fists. "What the hell am I doing here? If this keeps up I'm going to get hooked on soap operas. I'll start thinking Lilac and Lance are not only real people but close personal friends. I'll start obsessing that my whites aren't white enough. I'll clip coupons and collect recipes and go the rest of the way out of my fucking mind."

  "I'm surprised at you, thinking of tending a home in those terms." Ray's voice was sharp now, with disappointment around the edges. "Making a home, caring for family is important work. The most important work there is."

  "It's not my work."

  "It seems it is now. I'm sorry for that."

  Cam turned back. If you were going to have a conversation with a hallucination, you might as well look at it. "For what? For dying on me?"

  "Well, that was pretty inconvenient all around."

  He would have laughed, the comment and the ironic tone were so typically Ray Quinn. But he had to get out what was nibbling at his mind. "Some people are saying you aimed for the pole."

  Ray's smile faded, and his eyes turned sober and sad. "Do you believe that?"

  "No." Cam let out a breath. "No, I don't believe that."

  "Life's a gift. It doesn't always fit comfortably, but it's precious. I wouldn't have hurt you and your brothers by throwing mine away."

  "I know that," Cam murmured. "It helps to hear you say it, but I know that."

  "Maybe I could have stopped things. Maybe I could have done things differently." He sighed and turned the gold wedding band around and around on his finger. "But I didn't. It's up to you now, you and Ethan and Phillip. There
was a reason the three of you came to me and Stella. A reason the three of you came together. I always believed that. Now I know it."

  "And what about the kid?"

  "Seth's place is here. He needs you. He's in trouble right now, and he needs you to remember what it was like to be where he is."

  "What do you mean, he's in trouble?"

  Ray smiled a little. "Answer the phone," he suggested seconds before it rang.

  And then he was gone.

  "I've got to start getting more sleep," Cam decided, then yanked the receiver off the hook. "Yeah, yeah."

  "Hello? Mr. Quinn?"

  "Right. This is Cameron Quinn."

  "Mr. Quinn, this is Abigail Moorefield, vice principal of St. Christopher Middle School."

  Cam felt his stomach sink to his toes. "Uh-huh."

  "I'm afraid there's been some trouble here. I have Seth DeLauter in my office."

  "What kind of trouble?"

  "Seth was in a fight with another student. He's being suspended. Mr. Quinn, I'd appreciate it if you could come to my office so matters can be explained to you and you can take Seth home."

  "Great. Wonderful." At his wits' end, Cam dragged a hand through his hair. "On my way."

  The school hadn't changed much, Cam noted, since he'd done time there. The first morning he'd passed through those heavy front doors, Stella Quinn had all but dragged him.

  He was nearly eighteen years older now, and no more enthusiastic.

  The floors were faded linoleum, the light bright from wide windows. And the smell was of contraband candy and kid sweat.

  Cam jammed his hands in his pockets and headed for the administration offices. He knew the way. After all he'd beaten a path to those offices countless times during his stay at St. Chris Middle.

  It wasn't the same old eagle-eyed secretary manning the desk in the outer room. This one was younger, perkier, and beamed smiles all over him. "May I help you?" she asked in a bouncing voice.

  "I'm here to post bail for Seth DeLauter."

  She blinked at that, and her smile turned puzzled. "I beg your pardon?"

  "Cameron Quinn to see the VP."

  "Oh, you mean Mrs. Moorefield. Yes, she's expecting you. Second door down the little hallway there. On the right." Her phone rang and she plucked it up. "Good morning," she sang, "St. Christopher's Middle School. This is Kathy speaking."

  Cam decided he preferred the battle-ax who had guarded the offices in his day to this terminally pert newcomer. Even as he started toward the door, his back went up, his jaw set—and his palms went damp.

  Some things, he supposed, never changed.

  Mrs. Moorefield was sitting behind her desk, calmly entering data into a computer. Cam thought her fingers moved efficiently. And the movement suited her. She was neat and trim, probably early fifties. Her hair was short and sleek and light brown, her face composed and quietly attractive.

  Her gold wedding band caught the light as her fingers moved over the keys. The only other jewelry she wore were simple gold shells at her ears.

  Across the room, Seth was slumped in a chair, staring up at the ceiling. Trying to look bored, Cam assumed, but coming off as sulky. Kid needed a haircut, he realized and wondered who was supposed to deal with that. He was wearing jeans frayed to strings at the cuffs, a jersey two sizes too big, and incredibly dirty high-tops.

  It looked perfectly normal to Cam.

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