"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."

"Became?"

"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?"

"Money."

"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?"

"Monday."


Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance
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