"It's not that cold, Sybill. Come here."

"No, I'm leaving. I have a headache. I—no, don't touch me."

Ignoring her words, he drew her firmly against him, wrapped his arms tight around her and held on. "It's all right, baby."

"No, it's not." She wanted to scream it. Was he blind? Was he stupid? "I shouldn't have come. Your brother hates me. Seth's afraid of me. You—your—I—"

Oh, it hurt. The pressure in her chest was agony, and it was spreading. "Let me go. I don't belong here."

"Yes, you do."

He'd seen it, that connection, when she and Seth had stared at each other. Her eyes such a clear blue, his so brilliant. He'd all but heard the click.

"No one hates you. No one's afraid of you. Let go, will you?" He pressed his mouth to her temple, would have sworn he felt the pain hissing there. "Why won't you let go?"

"I'm not going to cause a scene. If you'd just get my purse,

I'll go."

She was holding herself rigid as marble, but the marble was cracking, he thought, and trembling with the pressure. If she didn't let go she would explode. So he would have to push. "He remembered you. He remembered that you cared."

Through the hideous pressure there was a stab, and the stab pierced her heart. "I can't stand it. I can't bear it." Her hands gripped his shoulders, fingers clenching and unclenching. "She took him away. She took him away. It broke my heart."

She was sobbing now, her arms tight around his neck. "I know. I know it did. That's the way," he murmured, and simply picked her up, sat on the grass, and cradled her against him. "It's about damn time."

He rocked her while tears that were hot and desperate flooded out of her and soaked his shirt. Cold? he thought as the firestorm of grief whipped through her. There was nothing cold in her but the fear of emotional pain.

He didn't tell her to stop, even when the sobs shook her so violently it seemed her bones might snap. He didn't offer promises of comfort or solutions. He knew the value of purging. So he simply stroked and rocked, cradling her while she wept out the pain.

When Anna stepped out on the porch, Phillip shook his head at her, stroking still. He continued to rock her as the door shut again and left them alone.

When she'd cried herself dry, her head felt swollen and hot, her throat and stomach raw. Weak and disoriented, she lay exhausted in his arms. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. You needed that. I don't think I've ever known anyone who needed a crying jag more."

"It doesn't solve anything."

"You know better than that." He rose and, helping her up, pulled her toward his Jeep. "Get in."

"No, I need to—"

"Get in," he repeated with just a hint of impatience. "I'll go get your purse and your jacket." He lifted her into the passenger seat. "But you're not driving." His eyes met her tired, puffy ones. "And you're not going to be alone tonight."

She didn't have the energy to argue. She felt hollowed out and insubstantial. If he took her back to the hotel, she could sleep. She'd take a pill if she had to and escape. She didn't want to think. If she started to think she might feel again. If she felt again, if any part of that flood of feeling came back, she would drown in it.

Because his face looked grim and entirely too determined when he strode out of the house with her things, Sybill accepted her own cowardice and closed her eyes.

He didn't speak, simply climbed in beside her, leaned over to secure her seat belt, then started the car. He let the blessed silence hang throughout the drive. She didn't protest when he came into the lobby with her or when he opened her purse for her key card at her door.

He took her hand again and led her directly to the bedroom. "Get undressed," he ordered. As she stared at him with those swollen, red-rimmed eyes, he added, "I'm not going to jump you, for Christ's sake. What do you take me for?"

He didn't know where the flare of temper had come from. Maybe it was looking at her like this, seeing her so utterly wrecked and defenseless. Turning on his heel, he marched into the bathroom.

Seconds later, she heard the drum of water in the tub. He came out with a glass and aspirin. "Swallow. If you don't take care of yourself, someone else has to."

The water felt like glory on her abused throat, but before she could thank him, he'd pulled the glass out of her hand and set it aside. She swayed a little, and blinked when he tugged her sweater over her head.

"You're going to take a hot bath and relax."

She was too stupefied to argue as he continued to undress her like a doll. When he laid her clothes aside, she shivered a little but didn't speak. She only stared at him when he picked her up, carried her into the bathroom and deposited her in the tub.

The water was high, and a great deal hotter than she considered healthy. Before she could get her mind around the words to mention it, he flicked off the stream.

"Sit back, shut your eyes. Do it!" he said with such unexpected force that she obeyed. She kept them closed even when she heard the door click shut behind him.

She stayed there for twenty minutes, nearly nodding off twice. Only the vague fear of drowning kept her from sinking into sleep. And the niggling idea that he would come back in, pull her out, and dry her off himself was what made her climb shakily out of the tub.

Then again, maybe he'd gone. Maybe he'd finally gotten disgusted with her outburst and left her alone. Who could blame him?

But he was standing by the terrace doors in her bedroom when she stepped out, looking out at her view of the Bay. "Thank you." She knew it was awkward, for both of them, and struggled to make the effort when he turned and stared at her. "I'm sorry—"

"You apologize again, Sybill, you're going to piss me off." He walked toward her as he spoke, laid his hands on her shoulders. He cocked his eyebrows when she jumped. "Better," he decided, running his fingers over her shoulders and neck, "but not perfect. Lie down."

He sighed, pulled her toward the bed. "I'm not after sex. I do have some small level of restraint, and I can call on it when I'm faced with an emotionally and physically exhausted woman. On your stomach. Come on."

She slid onto the bed and couldn't quite muffle the moan when his fingers began to knead along her shoulder blades.

"You're a psychologist," he reminded her. "What happens to someone who represses their feelings on a regular basis?"

"Physically or emotionally?"

He laughed a little, straddled her, then got seriously down to work. "I'll tell you what happens, doc. They get headaches, heartburn, stomach pains. If and when the dam breaks, it all floods out so hard and so fast that they make themselves sick."

He tugged the robe off her shoulders and used the heels of his hands to press the muscles.

"You're angry with me."

"No, I'm not, Sybill. Not with you. Tell me about when Seth stayed with you."

"It was a long time ago."

"He was four," Phillip prompted and concentrated on the muscles that had just tensed. "You were in New York. Same place you have now?"

"Yes. Central Park West. It's a quiet neighborhood. Safe."

Exclusive, Phillip thought. No trendy East Village for Dr. Griffin. "Couple of bedrooms?"

"Yes. I use the second as my office."

He could almost see it. Tidy, organized, attractive. "I guess that's where Seth slept."

"No, Gloria took that room. We put Seth on the living room sofa. He was just a little boy."

"They just showed up on your doorstep one day."

"More or less. I hadn't seen her in years. I knew about Seth. She'd called me when the man she'd married left her. I sent her money off and on. I didn't want her to come. I never said she couldn't, but I didn't want her to come. She's so… disruptive, so difficult."

"But she did come."

"Yes. I came back from a lecture one afternoon and she was waiting outside the building. She was furious because the doorman wouldn't let her in, wouldn't let her go up to my apartment. Seth was crying, and she was scre

aming. It was just…" She sighed. "Typical, I suppose."

"But you let her in."

"I couldn't just send her away. All she had was this little boy and a backpack. She begged me to let them stay for a while. She said she'd been hitchhiking. That she was broke. She started crying, and Seth just crawled onto the couch and fell asleep. He must have been exhausted."

"How long did they stay?"

"A few weeks." Her mind began to drift between then and now, sliding back and forth in time. "I was going to help her get a job, but she said she needed to rest first. She said she'd been sick. Then she said a truck driver in Oklahoma had raped her. I knew she was lying, but…"

"She was your sister."

"No, no." She said it wearily. "If I'd been honest, I would have admitted that that had stopped mattering years before. But Seth was… He hardly spoke. I didn't know anything about children, but I got a book and it indicated he should have been much more verbal."

Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance
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