"I don't know. I suppose I might."

"I have a copy of the letter found in Raymond Quinn's car when he was killed, and one of the letters sent to us more recently."

She took them out of the file and passed them over the desk into Sybill's hands.

Words and phrases leaped out at her, burned into her mind.

Quinn, I'm tired of playing nickel and dime. You want the kid so bad, then it's time to pay for him… A hundred and fifty grand's a pretty good bargain for a good-looking boy like Seth.

Oh, God, was all Sybill could think. Dear God.

The letter to the Quinns after Ray's death was no better.

Ray and me had an agreement.

If you're set on keeping him… I'm going to need some money…

Sybill willed her hands to remain steady.

"She took this money?"

"Professor Quinn drew out cashier's checks to Gloria DeLauter, twice for ten thousand dollars, once for five." Anna spoke clearly and without emotion. "He brought Seth DeLauter to St. Christopher's late last year. The letter you have is postmarked March tenth. The following day Professor Quinn arranged to cash out his bonds, some stock, and he drew large sums of cash out of his bank account. On March twelfth, he told Ethan he had business in Baltimore. On his return, he was killed in a single-car accident. There were just over forty dollars in his wallet. No other money was found."

"He promised I wouldn't have to go back," Seth said dully. "He was decent. He promised, and she knew he'd pay her."

"She asked for more. From you. From all of you."

"And miscalculated." Phillip leaned back, studying Sybill. Nothing showed, he noted, but her pallor. "She won't bleed us, Dr. Griffin. She can threaten all she wants, but she won't bleed us, and she won't get Seth."

"You also have a copy of the letter I wrote to Gloria DeLauter," Anna stated. "I informed her that Seth was under the protection of Social Services, that an investigation by this office was under way on charges of child abuse. If she comes into the county, she'll be served with a restraining order and a warrant."

"She was furious," Grace spoke up. "She called the house right after she got Anna's letter. She threatened and demanded. She said she wanted money or she'd take Seth. I told her she was wrong." Grace looked over, held Seth's gaze. "He's ours now."

She'd sold her son, was all Sybill could think. It was just as Phillip had said. All of it was just as he'd said. "You have temporary guardianship."

"It'll be permanent shortly," Phillip informed her. "We intend to see to that."

Sybill laid the papers back on Anna's desk. Inside she was cold, brutally cold, but she linked her fingers lightly on top of her purse and spoke evenly to Seth. "Did she hit you?"

"What the hell do you care?"

"Answer the question, Seth," Phillip ordered. "Tell your aunt what life was like with her sister."

"Okay, fine." He bit the words off, but his sneer was wobbly around the edges. "Sure, she knocked me around when she felt like it. If I was lucky, she was too drunk or stoned for it to hurt much. I could usually get away, anyhow." He shrugged as if it didn't matter in the least. "Sometimes she got me by surprise. Maybe she hadn't been able to turn enough tricks to score. So she'd wake me up and pound on me a while. Or she'd cry all over me."

She wanted to turn away from that image, as she'd turned away from the desperate strangers in the waiting area. Instead she kept her gaze steady on Seth's face. "Why didn't you tell anyone, find someone to help you?"

"Like who?" Was she stupid, Seth thought? "The cops? She told me what the cops would do. I'd end up in juvie and some guy would use me like some of her Johns wanted to. They could do whatever they wanted once I was inside. As long as I was out, I could get away."

"She lied to you," Anna said softly while Sybill tried to find words, any words. "The police would have helped."

"She knew?" Sybill managed. "About the men who tried to… touch you?"

"Sure, she thought it was funny. Hell, when she's stoned, she thinks most everything is funny. It's when she's drunk that she gets mean."

Could this monster the boy spoke of so casually be her sister? "How… Do you know why she decided to contact Professor Quinn?"

"No, I don't know anything about it. She got wired up one day, started talking about hitting a gold mine. She took off for a few days."

"She left you alone?" Why that should horrify her, after everything else she'd heard, Sybill couldn't say.

"Hey, I can take care of myself. When she came back, she was flying. Said I was finally going to be of some use. She had some money—real money, because she went out and scored a lot of dope without hooking. She stayed stoned and happy for days. Then Ray came. He said I could come with him. At first I thought he was like the guys she brought home. But he wasn't. I could tell. He looked sad and tired."

His voice had changed, she noted, softened. So, she thought, he grieves, too. Then she saw the ripe disgust come into his eyes.

"She came on to him," Seth said shortly, "and he got real upset. He didn't yell or anything, but he got real hard in the eyes. He made her leave. He had money with him, and he said if she wanted it, to leave. So she took it and went. He told me he ha

d a house by the water, and a dog, and that I could live there if I wanted. And no one would mess with me."

"You went with him."

"He was old," Seth said with a shrug. "I figured I could get away from him if he tried anything. But you could trust Ray. He was decent. He said I'd never have to go back to the way things were. And I won't. No matter what, I won't go back. And I don't trust you." His eyes were adult again, his voice controlled and derisive. "Because you lied, you pretended to be decent. All you were doing was spying on us."

"You're right." She thought it the hardest thing she'd ever done, or would ever have to do, to meet those scornful eyes in a child's face and admit her own sins. "You have no reason to trust me. I didn't help you. I could have, all those years ago when she brought you to New York. I didn't want to see. It was easier not to. And when I came home one day and both of you were gone, I didn't do anything about that, either. I told myself it wasn't my concern, that you weren't my responsibility. That wasn't just wrong, it was cowardly."

He didn't want to believe her, didn't want to hear the regret and the apology in her voice. He balled his hands into fists on his knees. "It doesn't have anything to do with you now, either."

"She's my sister. I can't change that." Because it hurt to see the contempt in his eyes, she turned back to Anna. "What can I do to help? Can I make a statement to you? Talk to your lawyer? I'm a licensed psychologist, and Gloria's sister. I would assume that my opinion might carry some weight toward the guardianship."

"I'm sure it would," Anna murmured. "It won't be easy for you."

"I have no feelings for her. I'm not proud to say that, but it's the simple truth. I feel nothing toward her whatsoever, and the sense of responsibility I thought I should feel to her is over. As much as he may wish it otherwise, I'm Seth's aunt. I intend to help."

She rose and scanned the faces in the room while her stomach pitched and rolled. "I'm terribly sorry, for all of this. I realize an apology is useless. I have no excuse for what I did. Reasons, but no excuses. It's perfectly clear that Seth is where he belongs, where he's happy. If you'll give me a moment to gather my thoughts, I'll give you a statement."

She walked out, without hurry, and continued to the outside, where she could find air.

"Well, she went about it wrong, but she seems level right now." Cam got up, paced off some of his energy in the crowded office. "She sure doesn't shake easily."

"I wonder," Anna murmured. She, too, was a trained observer, and instinct told her there was a great deal more going on under that placid surface than any of them might guess. "Having her on our side will, without question, help. It might be best if you left the two of us alone so I can talk with her. Phillip, you'll want to call the lawyer, explain the situation, and see if he wants to depose her."

"Yeah, I'll take care of it." He frowned thoughtfully at the fingers drumming on his knee. "She had a picture of Seth in her Filofax."

"What?" Anna blinked at him.

"I went through her things before she got back to the hotel last night." He smiled a little, then shrugged as his sister-in-law closed her eyes. "Seemed like the thing to do at the time. She's got this snapshot of Seth when he was little, tucked in her Filofax."

"So what?" Seth demanded.

"So, it was the only picture I found anywhere. It's interesting." He lifted his hands, dropped them again. "On another path, it could be that Sybill knows something about Gloria's connection to Dad. Since we can't question Gloria, we ought to ask her."

"Seems to me," Ethan said slowly, "that whatever she knows would've come from Gloria. Be tough to believe it. I think she'd tell us what she knows," he continued, "but what she knows might not be fact."

"We don't know fact or fiction," Phillip pointed out, "until we ask her."

"Ask me what?" Steadier, determined now to finish it out, Sybill stepped back into the room and closed the door quietly at her back.

"The reason Gloria hit on our father." Phillip rose so their eyes were level. "The reason she knew he would pay to protect Seth."

"Seth said he was a decent man." Sybill's gaze roamed the faces of the men. "I think you're proof of that."

Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance
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