"Hey, Mother. Hi, Seth." A pretty young woman with dark hair stepped into the frame, glanced up at the hotel. "Something going on up there? I don't see anything."

"Nothing to see," Mother informed her. "Boy's just standing looking at nothing. How's your mama, Julie?"

"Oh, she's a little under the weather. She's got a sore throat and a little cough."

"Chicken soup, hot tea and honey."

"Grace brought some soup over this morning."

"You see she eats it. Hey, there, Jim."

"Afternoon." A short, stocky man in white rubber boots clumped over, gave Seth a friendly swat on the head. "What you staring at up there, boy?"

"Jeez, can't a guy just stand around?" Seth turned his face to the camera, rolled his eyes for Sybill and made her chuckle.

"Stand here long, gulls'll light on you." Jim winked at him. "Cap'n's in for the day," he added, referring to Ethan. "He gets to the boatyard before you, he's gonna want to know why."

"I'm going, I'm going. Man." Shoulders rounded, head down, Seth stalked back to Sybill. "Nobody's falling for it."

"Because everyone knows you." She switched off the camera, lowered it. "It changes the pattern."

"You figured that would happen?"

"I theorized," she corrected, "that in a closely knit area where the subject was known, the pattern would be that an individual would stop. They would probably look first, then question. There's no risk, no loss of ego when questioning a familiar person, and a young one at that."

He frowned over toward where the trio continued to chat. "So, I still get paid."

"Absolutely, and you'll likely rate a section in my book."

"Cool. I'll take a cookie dough cone. I've got to get to the boatyard before Cam and Ethan hassle me."

"If they're going to be angry with you, I'll explain. It's my fault you're late."

"They won't be pissed or anything. Beside, I'll tell them it was, like, for science, right?" When he flashed that grin she had to resist an unexpected urge to hug him.

"That's exactly right." She risked laying a hand on his shoulder as they started toward Crawford's. She thought she felt him stiffen and casually let her hand drop away. "And we can always call them on my cell phone."

"Yeah? Way cool. Can I do it?"

"Sure, why not?"

twenty minutes later Sybill was at her desk, fingers racing over her keyboard.

Though I spent less than an hour with him, I would conclude that the subject is extremely bright. Phillip informed me that he achieves high grades academically, which is admirable. It was satisfying to discover that he has a questioning mind. His manners are perhaps a bit rough, but not unpleasant. He appears to be considerably more outgoing socially than his mother or I were at his age. In that, I mean he seems quite natural with relative strangers without the polite formality that was stressed in my own upbringing. Part of this may be due to the influence of the Quinns. They are, as I have noted previously, informal, casual people.

I would also conclude from watching both the children and the adults with whom he interacted today, that he is generally well liked in this community and accepted as part of it. Naturally I cannot, at this early stage, conclude whether or not his best interest would be served by remaining here.

It's simply not possible to ignore Gloria's rights, nor have I attempted, as yet, to discover the boy's wishes as concern his mother.

I would prefer that he grow accustomed to me, feel comfortable around me, before he learns of our family connection.

I need more time to…

She broke off as the phone rang and, scanning her hastily typed notes, picked up the receiver.

"Dr. Griffin."

"Hello, Dr. Griffin. Why do I suspect I've interrupted your work?"

She recognized Phillip's voice, the amusement in it, and with a flare of guilt lowered the top of her computer. "Because you're a perceptive man. But I can spare a few minutes. How are things in Baltimore?"

"Busy. How's this? The visual is a handsome young couple, beaming smiles as they carry their laughing toddler to a mid-size sedan. Caption: 'Myerstone Tires. Your family matters to us."

"Manipulative. The consumer is led to believe that if he or she buys another brand, the family doesn't matter to that other company."

"Yeah. It works. Of course, we're hitting the car mags with a different image. Screaming convertible in kick-ass red, long, winding road, sexy blonde at the wheel. 'Myerstone Tires. You can drive there, or you can BE there.'"

"Clever."

"The client likes it, and that takes a load off. How's life in St. Chris?"

"Quiet." She bit her lip. "I ran into Seth a bit ago. Actually, I drafted him to help me with an experiment. It went well."

"Oh, yeah? How much did you have to pay him?"

"An ice cream cone, double scoop."

"You got off cheap. The kid's an operator. How about dinner tomorrow night, a bottle of champagne to celebrate our mutual successes?"

"Speaking of operators."

"I've been thinking about you all week."

"Three days," she corrected and, picking up a pencil, began to doodle on her pad.

"And nights. With this account settled, I can get out a little earlier tomorrow. Why don't I pick you up at seven?"

"I'm not sure where we're going, Phillip."

"Neither am I. Do you need to be?" She understood that neither of them was speaking of restaurants. "It's less confusing that way."

"Then we'll talk about it, and maybe we'll get past the confusion. Seven o'clock."

She glanced down, noticed that she'd unconsciously sketched his face on her notepad. A bad sign, she thought. A very dangerous sign. "All right." It was best to face complications head-on. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Do me a favor?"

"If I can."

"Think of me tonight."

She doubted she had any choice in the matter. " 'Bye."

in his office fourteen stories above the streets of Baltimore, Phillip pushed back from his slick black desk, ignored the beep on his computer that signaled an interoffice e-mail and turned toward his wide window.

He loved his view of the city, the renovated buildings, the glimpses of the harbor, the hustle of cars and people below. But just now he didn't see any of it.

He literally couldn't get Sybill out of his mind. It was a new experience for him, this continual tug on his thoughts and concentration. It wasn't as if she was interfering with his routine, he reflected. He could work, eat, brainstorm, do his presentations as skillfully as he had before he'd met her.

But she was simply there, he decided. A tickle at the back of his mind through the day, that inched forward to the front when his energies weren't otherwise occupied.

He wasn't quite sure if he enjoyed having a woman demand so much of his attention, particularly a woman who was doing very little to encourage him.

Maybe he considered that light sheen of formality, that cautious distance she tried to maintain, a challenge. He thought he could live with that. It was just another of the entertaining and varied games men and women played.

But he worried that something was happening on a level he'd never explored. And if he was any judge, she was just

as unsettled by it as he.

"It's just like you," Ray said from behind him.

"Oh, Jesus." Phillip didn't spin around, didn't goggle. He simply shut his eyes.

"Pretty fancy office you got here. Been a while since I got in." Ray prowled the room casually, pursing his lips at a black-framed canvas splashed with reds and blues. "Not bad," he decided. "Brain stimulator. I'd guess that's why you put it in your office, get the juices going."

"I refuse to believe that my dead father is standing in my office critiquing art."

"Well, that wasn't what I wanted to talk about anyway." But he paused by a metal sculpture in the corner. "But I like this piece, too. You always had high-class taste. Art, food, women." He grinned cheerfully as Phillip turned. "The woman you've got on your mind now, for instance. Very high-class."

"I need to take some time off."

"I'd agree with you there. You've been up to and over your head for months. She's an interesting woman, Phillip. There's more to her than you see, or than she knows. I hope when the times comes you'll listen to her, really listen to her."

"What are you talking about?" He held up a hand, palm out. "Why am I asking you what you're talking about when you're not here?"

"I'm hoping that the pair of you will stop analyzing the steps and stages and accept what is." Ray shrugged, slipped his hands into the pockets of his Orioles fielder's jacket. "But you have to go your own way. It's going to be hard. There's not much time left before it gets a lot harder. You'll stand between Seth and what hurts him. I know that. I want to tell you that you can trust her. When it's down to the sticking point, Phillip, you trust yourself, and you trust her."

A new chill skidded down his spine. "What does Sybill have to do with Seth?"

"It's not for me to tell you that." He smiled again, but his eyes didn't match the curve of his lips. "You haven't talked to your brothers about me. You need to. You need to stop feeling you have to control all the buttons. You're good at it, God knows, but give a little."

He drew in a deep breath, turned a slow circle. "Christ, your mother would've gotten a kick out of this place. You've done a hell of a job with your life so far." Now his eyes smiled. "I'm proud of you. I know you'll handle what comes next."

"You did a hell of a job with my life," Phillip murmured. "You and Mom."

"Damn right we did." Ray winked. "Keep it up." When the phone rang, Ray sighed. "Everything that happens needs to happen. It's what you do about it that makes the difference. Answer the phone, Phillip, and remember Seth needs you."

Then there was nothing but the ringing of the phone and an empty office. With his gaze locked on where his father had been, Phillip reached for the phone.

"Phillip Quinn."

As he listened, his eyes hardened. He grabbed a pen, and began to take notes on the detective's report on the most recent movements of Gloria DeLauter.


Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance
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