Casually—she hoped it was casually—she crossed to him. She could see him clearly now. His eyes were blue, but a deeper, darker blue than hers or her sister's. His hair was a darker blond than the little boy's in the picture she carried. He'd been nearly a towhead at four, and now his hair was a richer blond and very straight.

The mouth, she thought. Wasn't there some resemblance around the mouth and chin?

"Is that what you want to be?" She needed to keep him talking. "An artist?"

"Maybe, but that's mostly for kicks." He took a huge bite of his sandwich, then talked through it. "We're boatbuilders."

His hands were far from clean, she noted, and his face wasn't much better. She imagined such niceties as washing up before meals went by the wayside in a household of males. "Maybe you'll go into design work."

"Seth, this is Dr. Sybill Griffin." Phillip offered Sybill a plastic cup of bubbling water over ice. "She writes books."

"Like stories?"

"Not exactly," she told him. "Like observations. Right now I'm spending some time in the area, observing."

He wiped his mouth with a swipe from the back of his hand. The hand Foolish had enthusiastically licked, before and after, Sybill noted with an inward wince.

"You going to do a book about boats?" he asked her.

"No, about people. People who live in small towns, and right now people who live in small towns by the water. How do you like it—living here, I mean?"

"I like it okay. Living in the city sucks." He picked up the soft drink bottle, glugged again. "People who live there are nuts." He grinned. "Like Phil."

"You're a peasant, Seth. I worry about you."

With a snort, Seth bit into his sandwich again. "I'm going out on the dock. We got some ducks hanging out."

He bounced out, dogs trailing behind him.

"Seth's got very definite opinions," Phillip said dryly. "I guess the world's pretty black and white when you're ten."

"He doesn't care for the urban experience." Nerves, she noted, had been drowned out by sheer curiosity. "Has he spent time with you in Baltimore?"

"No. He lived there for a while with his mother." His tone had darkened, making Sybill raise an eyebrow. "Part of that long story I mentioned."

"I believe I mentioned I'd enjoy hearing it."

"Then have dinner with me tonight, and we'll exchange those life stories."

She looked toward the cargo doors. Seth had gone out through them, very much at home. She needed to spend more time with him. Observing. And, she decided, she needed to hear what the Quinns had to say about the situation. Why not start with Phillip?

"All right. I'd like that."

"I'll pick you up at seven."

She shook her head. He seemed perfectly safe, perfectly fine, but she knew better than to take chances. "No, I'll meet you there. Where's the restaurant?"

"I'll write it down for you. We can start the tour in my office."

it was easy enough, and she had to admit it was interesting. The tour itself didn't take long. Other than the huge work area, there was little to the boatyard—just Phillip's closet-size office, a small bathroom, and a dark, dingy storeroom.

It was obvious even to the untrained eye that the work center of the operation was its heart and soul.

It was Ethan who patiently instructed her on smooth-lap planking, about waterlines and bow shapes. She thought he would have made an excellent teacher, with his clear, simple phrasing and willingness to answer what must have been very basic questions.

She watched, genuinely fascinated, as the men held timber in a box and pumped out steam until the plank bowed into the shape they desired. Cam demonstrated how the ends were rabbeted together to form the smooth joints.

Watching Cam with Seth, she was forced to admit there was a definite bond between them. If she had come across them knowing nothing, she would have assumed they were brothers, or perhaps father and son. It was all in the attitude, she decided.

Then again, they had an audience, she mused, and were likely on their best behavior.

She would see how they acted once they became used to her.

cam let out a long, low whistle when Sybill left the building. He wiggled his eyebrows meaningfully at Phillip. "Very nice, bro. Very nice, indeed."

Phillip flashed a grin, then lifted his bottle of water to his lips. "Can't complain."

"She going to be around long enough to, ah…"

"If there's a God."

Seth laid a plank down by the saw, let out a huff. "Shit, you mean you're going to start poking at her? Is that all you guys think about?"

"Other than pounding on you?" Phillip whipped off Seth's hat and bopped the boy over the head with it. "Sure, what else?"

"You guys are always getting married," Seth said in disgust and tried to grab his hat.

"I don't want to marry her, I just want to have a nice, civilized dinner with her."

"Then bounce on her," Seth finished.

"Christ. He gets that from you," Phillip accused Cam.

"He came that way." Cam wrapped an arm around Seth's neck. "Didn't you, brat?"

The panic didn't come now, as it used to whenever Seth was touched or held. Instead he wriggled and grinned. "At least I think of something besides girls all the time. You guys are really lame."

"Lame?" Phillip put Seth's hat on his own head to free his hands, then rubbed them together. "Let's toss this runt fish off the dock."

"Can you do that later?" Ethan asked while Seth shouted in wild and delighted objection. "Or do I have to build this damn boat by myself?"

"Later, then." Phillip leaned down until he and Seth were nose to nose. "And you won't know when, you won't know where, you won't know why."

"Man, I'm shaking now."

i saw seth today.

At her laptop, Sybill gnawed her bottom lip, then deleted the first sentence she'd typed.

I made contact with the subject this afternoon.

Better, she decided. More objective. To approach this situation properly, it would be best if she thought of Seth as the subject.

There was no recognition on either side. This is, of course, as expected. He appears to be healthy. He's attractive, slimly built yet sturdy. Gloria was always thin, so I suspect he's inherited her basic body type. He's blond, as she is—or was when I last saw her.

He seemed to be comfortable with me. I'm aware that some children are shy around strangers. That doesn't appear to be the case here.

Though he was not at the boatyard when I arrived, he came in shortly after. He'd been sent to the store for lunch. From the ensuing complaints and conversation, I can assume he is often expected to run errands. This could be construed two ways. One that the Quinns take advantage of having a young boy available and use him accordingly. Or two, that they are instilling a sense of responsibility.

The truth likely resides in the middle.

He has a dog. I believe this to be a usual, even traditional occurrence for a child living in suburban or rural areas.

He also has a talent for drawing. I was somewhat taken by surprise by this. I have some talent for it myself, as does my mother. Gloria, however, never showed any skill or interest in art. This shared interest may be a way to develop a rapport with the boy. It will be necessary to have some time alone with him to assist me in choosing the correct course to take.

The subject is, in my opinion, comfortable with the Quinns. He seems to be content and secure. There is, however, a certain roughness, a mild crudeness in him. Several times during the hour or so I spent with him, I heard him swear. Once or twice he was rather absently corrected, otherwise his language was ignored.

He was not required to wash his hands before eating, nor did any of the Quinns correct him for speaking with his mouth full or for feeding the dogs bits of his lunch. His manners are by no means appalling, but they are far from strictly polite.

He mentioned preferring living here to the city. In fact, he was most disdainful of urban li

fe. I have agreed to have dinner with Phillip Quinn tonight and will urge him to tell me the facts of how Seth came to be with the Quinns.

How those facts agree with, and differ from, the facts

I received from Gloria will help me assimilate the situation.

The next step will be to obtain an invitation to the Quinn house. I'm very interested to see where the boy is living, to see him and the Quinns on this stage. And to meet the women who are now a part of his foster family.

I hesitate to contact Social Services and identify myself until I have completed this personal study.

Sybill sat back, tapping her fingers on the desk as she skimmed over her notes. It was so little, really, she thought. And her own fault. She'd thought she was prepared for that first meeting, but she wasn't.

Seeing him had left her dry-mouthed and sad. The boy was her nephew, her family. Yet they were strangers. And wasn't that nearly as much her fault as it was Gloria's? Had she ever really tried to make a connection, to bring him into her life?

True, she had rarely known where he was, but had she ever gone out of her way to find him, or her sister?

The few times Gloria had contacted her over the years for money, always for money, she had asked about Seth. But hadn't she simply taken Gloria's word that the child was fine? Had she ever demanded to speak with him, to see him?

Hadn't it simply been easier for her to send money over the wire and forget about them again?

Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance