She spotted Phillip's Jeep in the pothole-filled parking lot beside the boatyard. An aging pickup truck kept it company. The doors and several of the windows of the building were wide open. Through them came the buzz of saws and the Southern rock beat of John Fogerty.
Okay, Sybill, she thought and took a deep breath as she carefully swallowed the last of her cone. Now or never.
She stepped inside and found herself momentarily distracted by the look of the place. It was huge, and dusty and bright as a spotlighted stage. The Quinns were hard at work, with Ethan and Cam fitting a long, bent plank into place on what she assumed was a hull in progress. Phillip stood at a big, dangerous-looking power saw, running lumber through it.
She didn't see Seth.
For a moment she simply watched and wondered if she should slip back out again. If her nephew wasn't there, it would be more sensible to postpone the visit until she was sure he was.
He might be away for the day with friends. Did he have any friends? Or he could be home. Did he consider it his home?
Before she could decide, the saw switched off, leaving only John Fogerty crooning about a brown-eyed, handsome man. Phillip stepped back, pushed up his safety goggles, turned. And saw her.
His smile of welcome came so quickly, so sincerely, that she had to clamp down on a hard tug of guilt. "I'm interrupting." She raised her voice to compete with the music.
"Thank God." Dusting his hands on his jeans, Phillip started toward her. "I've been stuck with looking at these guys all day. You're a big improvement."
"I decided to play tourist." She jiggled the shopping bag she carried. "And I thought I'd take you up on the offer of a tour."
"I was hoping you would."
"So…" Deliberately, she shifted her gaze to the hull. It was safer, she decided, than looking into those tawny eyes for any length of time. "That's a boat?"
"It's a hull. Or will be." He took her hand, drew her forward. "It's going to be a sport's fisher."
"One of those fancy boats men like to go out on to act manly, fish for marlin, and drink beer."
"Hey, Sybill." Cam shot her a grin. "Want a job?"
She looked at the tools, the sharp edges, the heavy lumber. "I don't think so." It was easy to smile back, to look over at Ethan. "It looks like the three of you know what you're doing."
"We know what we're doing." Cam wiggled his thumb between himself and Ethan. "We keep Phillip around for entertainment."
"I'm not appreciated around here."
She laughed and began to circle the hull. She could understand the basic shape but not the process. "I assume this is upside down."
"Good eye." Phillip only grinned when she cocked an eyebrow. "After she's planked, we'll turn her and start on the decking."
"Are your parents boatbuilders?"
"No, my mother was a doctor, my father a college professor. But we grew up around boats."
She heard it in his voice, the affection, the not-quite-settled grief. And hated herself. She'd intended to ask him more about his parents in some detail, but couldn't. "I've never been on a boat."
"I imagine there are several million people in the world who haven't."
"Maybe. I've enjoyed watching the boats from my hotel window." As she studied it, the hull became a puzzle she needed to solve. "How do you know where to begin to build this? I assume you work from a design, blueprints or schematics or whatever you call it."
"Ethan's been doing the bulk of the design work. Cam fiddles with it. Seth draws it up."
"Seth." Her fingers tightened on the strap of her purse. Props, she thought again. "Didn't you say he was in middle school?"
"That's right. The kid's got a real talent for drawing. Check these out."
Now she heard pride and it flustered her. Struggling for composure, she followed him to a far wall, where drawings of boats were roughly framed in raw wood. They were good—very, very good. Clever sketches done with pencil and care and talent.
"He… A young boy drew these?"
"Yes. Pretty great, huh? This is the one we just finished." He tapped a hand on the glass. "And this one's what we're working on now."
"He's very talented," she murmured around the lump in her throat. "He has excellent perspective."
"Do you draw?"
"A little, now and then. Just a hobby." She had to turn away to settle herself. "It relaxes me, and it helps in my work." Determined to smile again, she tossed her hair over her shoulder and aimed a bright, easy one at Phillip. "So, where's the artist today?"
He broke off as two dogs raced into the building. Sybill took an instinctive step back as the smaller of the two made a beeline in her direction. She made some strangled sound of distress just as Phillip jabbed out a finger and issued a sharp command.
"Hold it, you idiot. No jumping. No jumping," he repeated, but Foolish's forward motion proved too much for all of them. He was already up, already had his paws planted just under Sybill's breasts. She staggered a bit, seeing only big, sharp teeth bared in what she took for fierceness rather than a sloppy doggie grin.
"Nice dog," she managed in a stutter. "Good dog."
"Stupid dog," Phillip corrected and hauled Foolish down by the collar. "No manners. Sit. Sorry," he said to Sybill when the dog obligingly plopped down and offered his paw. "He's Foolish."
"Well, he's enthusiastic."
"No, Foolish is his name—and his personality. He'll stay like that until you shake his paw."
"Oh. Hmm." Gingerly she took the paw with two fingers.
"He won't bite." Phillip angled his head, noting there was a good deal more distress than irritation in her eyes. "Sorry—are you afraid of dogs?"
"I… maybe a little—of large, strange dogs."
"He's strange, all right. The other one's Simon, and he's consi
derably more polite." Phillip scratched Simon's ears as the dog sat calmly studying Sybill. "He's Ethan's. The idiot belongs to Seth."
"I see." Seth had a dog, was all she could think as Foolish offered his paw yet again, eyeing her with what appeared abject adoration. "I don't know very much about dogs, I'm afraid."
"These are Chesapeake Bay retrievers—or Foolish mostly is. We're not sure what else he is. Seth, call off your dog before he slobbers all over the lady's shoes."
Sybill lifted her head quickly and saw the boy just inside the doorway. The sun was streaming at his back, and it cast his face into shadows. She saw only a tall, slightly built boy carrying a large brown bag and wearing a black-and-orange ball cap.
"He doesn't slobber much. Hey, Foolish!"
Instantly, both dogs scrambled to their feet and raced across the room. Seth waded through them, carrying the bag to a makeshift table fashioned from a sheet of plywood laid over two sawhorses.
"I don't know why I have to always go up for lunch and stuff," he complained.
"Because we're bigger than you," Cam told him and dived into the bag. "You get me the cold-cut sub loaded?"
"Where's my change?"
Seth pulled a liter of Pepsi out of the bag, cracked the top and guzzled straight from the bottle. Then he grinned. "What change?"
"Look, you little thief, I've got at least two bucks coming back."
"Don't know what you're talking about. You must've forgotten to add on the carrying charges again."
Cam made a grab for him, and Seth danced agilely away, hooting with laughter.
"Brotherly love," Phillip said easily. "That's why I make sure I only give the kid the right change. You never see a nickel back otherwise. Want some lunch?"
"No, I…" She couldn't take her eyes off Seth, knew she had to. He was talking with Ethan now, making wide, exaggerated gestures with his free hand while his dog took quick, playful leaps at his fingers. "I had something already. But you go ahead."
"A drink, then. Did you get my water, kid?"
"Yeah, fancy water. Waste of money. Man, Crawford's was packed."
Crawford's. With a sensation she couldn't quite define, Sybill realized they might have been in the store at the same time. Might have walked right by each other. She would have passed him on the street without a clue.
Seth glanced from Phillip to Sybill, studied her with mild interest. "You buying a boat?"
"No." He didn't recognize her, she thought. Of course he wouldn't. He'd been hardly more than a baby the only time they'd seen each other. There was no stunned familial awareness in his eyes, any more than there would have been in hers. But she knew. "I'm just looking around."
"That's cool." He went back to the bag and pulled out his own sandwich.
"Ah…" Talk to him, she ordered herself. Say something. Anything. "Phillip was just showing me your drawings. They're wonderful."
"They're okay." He jerked a shoulder, but she thought she saw a faint flush of pleasure on his cheeks. "I could do better, but they're always rushing me."