He'd rather take that brother's fist in the face any day than a hot verbal slap from his wife.

"You want to fool around with her, it's your business. She's a pleasure to look at. I'd say she's got a wide cold streak in her, though."

"You don't know her."

"And you do?" Cam lifted a hand when Phillip's eyes flashed. "Just trying to get a handle on it. It's going to matter to Seth."

"I know she's willing to do what she can so he's where he needs to be. Reading between the lines, I'd say she grew up in a repressive, restrictive atmosphere."

"A rich one."

"Yeah." Phillip strode to a pile of planks. "Yeah, private schools, chauffeurs, country clubs, servants."

"It's a little tough to feel sorry for her."

"I don't think she's looking for sympathy." He hefted a plank. "You said you wanted to get a handle on her. I'm telling you she had advantages. I don't know if she had any affection."

Cam shrugged and, deciding they'd get more accomplished working together, took the other end of the plank to fit it into place on the hull. "She doesn't strike me as deprived. She strikes me as cold."

"Restrained. Cautious." He remembered the way she reached out to him the night before. Still, it had been the first time she'd done so, the only time. He clamped down on the frustration of not being sure that Cam wasn't right. "Are you and Ethan the only ones entitled to a relationship with a woman that satisfies your hormones and your brain?"

"No." Cam lapped the ends. Deliberately he relaxed his shoulders. There was something in Phillip's voice that gave away that frustration, and something else. "No, we're not. I'll talk to Seth about her."

"I'll talk to him myself."

"All right."

"He matters to me, too."

"I know he does."

"He didn't." Phillip pulled out his hammer to nail the laps. "Not as much as he did to you. Not enough. It's different now."

"I know that, too." For the next few minutes they worked in tandem, without words. "You stood up for him anyway," Cam added when the plank was in place. "Even when he didn't matter enough."

"I did it for Dad."

"We all did it for Dad. Now we're doing it for Seth."

by noon, the skeleton of the hull had taken on the flesh of wood. The smooth-lap construction was labor-intensive, tedious and exacting. But it was their trademark, a choice that offered extreme structural strength and required great skill by the boatbuilder.

No one would argue that Cam was the most skilled of the three of them in woodworking. But Phillip thought he was holding his own.

Yeah, he thought, standing back to scan the exterior planking or skin of the hull. He was holding his own.

"You pick up any lunch?" Cam asked before he poured water from a jug into his mouth.

"No."

"Shit. I bet Grace packed Ethan one of those monster lunches of hers. Fried chicken, or thick slabs of honey-baked ham."

"You got a wife," Phillip pointed out.

Cam snorted, rolled his eyes. "Oh, yeah. I can just see me talking Anna into packing me a lunch every day. She'd smack me with her briefcase as she marched out the door to work. There are two of us," he considered. "We can take Ethan, especially if we catch him by surprise when he comes in."

"Let's go the easier route." Phillip dug into his pocket, pulled out a quarter. "Heads or tails?"

"Heads. Loser gets it, and buys it."

Phillip flipped the coin, caught it and slapped it onto the back of his hand. The eagle's beak seemed to sneer at him. "Damn it. What do you want?"

"Meatball sub, large chips, and six gallons of coffee."

"Fine, clog your arteries."

"Last I checked they don't stock any tofu at Crawford's. Don't know how you eat that crap. You're going to die anyway. Might as well go with a meatball sub."

"You go your way, I'll go mine." He reached in his pocket again for Cam's paycheck. "Here, don't spend it all in one place."

"Now I can retire to that little grass shack on Maui. You got Ethan's?"

"What there is of it."

"Yours?"

"I don't need it."

Cam narrowed his eyes as Phillip pulled on his jacket. "That's not the way it works."

"I'm in charge of the books, I say how it works."

"You put in your time, you take your share."

"I don't need it," Phillip said, with heat this time. "When I do, I'll take it." He stalked out, leaving Cam fuming.

"Stubborn son of a bitch," Cam muttered. "How am I supposed to rag on him when he pulls crap like that?"

He bitched plenty, Cam mused. He nagged his brothers to distraction over the pettiest detail. Then he handled the details, he thought as he capped the water jug. He'd back you into a corner, then he'd go to the wall for you.

It was enough to drive you nuts.

Now he was getting himself twisted up over a woman none of them knew they could trust if things got sticky. He, for one was going to keep a close eye on Sybill Griffin.

And not just for Seth's sake. Phillip might have the brains, but he was just as stupid as the next guy when it came to a pretty face.

"and young karen lawson who's been working down at the hotel since she hooked up with the McKinney boy last year saw it written down, in black and white. She called her mama, and as Bitty Lawson's a good friend of mine and my longtime bridge partner—though she'll trump your ace if you don't watch her—she called me right up and let me know."

Nancy Claremont was in her element, and that element was gossip. As her husband owned a sizable chunk of St. Chris, meaning she did as well, and part of that chunk was the old barn those Quinn boys—a wild bunch if you asked her—rented for their boatyard—though God knew what else went on in there—she knew it was not only her right but her duty to pass on the succulent tidbit that had come her way the previous afternoon.

Of course, she'd used the most convenient method first. The telephone. But you didn't get the pleasure of face-to-face reaction over the phone. So she'd brought herself out, dressed in her brand-new pumpkin-colored pantsuit, fresh out of the J. C. Penney catalog.

There was no point in being the most well-off woman in St. Christopher's if you didn't flaunt it a bit. And the best place to flaunt, and to spread gossip, was Crawford's.

Second-best was the Stylerite Beauty Salon over on Market, and that, as she'd made an appointment for a cut, color, and curl, was her next stop.

Mother Crawford, a fixture in St. Chris for all of her sixty-two years, sat behind the counter in her smeared butcher apron, her tongue tucked firmly in her cheek.

She'd already heard the news—not much got by Mother, and nothing got by her for long—but she disposed herself to hear Nancy out.

"To think that child is Ray Quinn's grandson! And that writer lady with her snooty airs is the sister of that nasty girl who said all those terrible things. That boy's her nephew. Her own kin, but did she say one word about it? No, sir, she did not! Just hoity-toitying around, going off sailing with Phillip Quinn, and a lot more than sailing, if you ask me. The way young people carry on today without a snap of their fingers for morals."

She snapped her own, inches from Mother's face, and her eyes glittered with malicious delight.

Since Mother sensed that Nancy was about to veer off the subject at hand, she shrugged her wide shoulders. "Seems to me," she began, knowing the scatter of people in the store had their ears bent her way, "that there are a lot of people around this town who ought to be hanging their heads after what was being passed around about Ray. Whispering about him behind his back when he was living, and over his grave when he passed on, about him cheating on Stella, God rest her, and having truck with that DeLauter woman. Well, it wasn't true, was it?"

Her sharp eyes scanned the store, and indeed, a few heads did lower. Satisfied, she beamed her gaze hard into Nancy's glittering eyes. "Seems to me you were willing enough to believe bad about a good man like Ray Quinn."

Sinc

erely insulted, Nancy puffed out her chest. "Why, I never believed a word of it, Mother." Discussing such matters, she thought to herself, wasn't the same as believing them. "Truth is, a blind man couldn't have missed the way that boy's got Ray's eyes. Had to be a blood relation. Why, I said to Silas just the other day, I said, 'Silas, I wonder if that boy could be a cousin or something to Ray?'"

She'd said no such thing, of course. But she might have, if she'd thought of it.

"Never thought about him being Ray's grandson, though. Why, to think Ray had a daughter all these years."

Which, of course, proved he'd done something wrong in the first place, didn't it? She'd always suspected that Ray Quinn had been wild in his youth. Maybe even a hippie. And everyone knew what that meant.

Smoking marijuana, and having orgies and running around naked.

But that wasn't something she intended to bring up to Mother. That little morsel could wait until she was shampooed and tucked into the styling chair at the salon.

"And that she turned out wilder than those boys he and Stella brought home," she rattled on. "That girl over to the hotel must be just as—"

She broke off when the door jingled. Hoping for a fresh ear, she was thrilled to see Phillip Quinn walk in. Better than an addition to her audience, it was one of the actors on the very interesting stage.

Phillip only had to open the door to know what subject was under discussion. Or had been, until he stepped inside. Silence fell with a clang, and eyes darted toward him, then guiltily away.

Except for Nancy Claremont's and Mother's.


Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance
Source: www.StudyNovels.com