"And aren't we bright-eyed and chipper this morning?"

He caught the tone, slanted her a cautious look. He'd wanted to take it slow, give her some time to recover before they discussed anything. But it appeared that she was recovering rapidly.

"You had a little more to drink than I did," he began.

"You got me drunk. It was deliberate. You charmed your way in here and started pouring champagne into me."

"I hardly held your nose and poured it down your throat."

"You used an apology as an excuse." Her hands began to shake, so she slammed the coffee onto the table. "You must have known I'd be angry with you, and you thought you'd just ease your way into my bed with Dom Perignon."

"The sex was your idea," he reminded her, insulted. "I wanted to talk to you. And the fact is, I got more out of you after you were buzzed than I ever would have otherwise. So I loosened you up." And damn if he was going to feel guilty over it. "And you let me in."

"Loosened me up," she whispered, getting slowly to her feet.

"I wanted to know who you are. I have a right to know."

"You—you did plan it. You planned to come in here, to charm me into drinking just a little too much so you could pry into my personal life."

"I care about you." He moved toward her, but she slapped his hand away.

"Don't. I'm not stupid enough to fall for that again."

"I do care about you. And now I know more, and understand more about you. What's wrong with that, Sybill?"

"You tricked me."

"Maybe I did." He took her arms, keeping a firm grip when she tried to pull back. "Just hold on. You had a privileged, structured childhood. I didn't. You had advantages, servants, culture. I didn't. Do you think less of me because until I was twelve I ran the streets?"

"No. But this has nothing to do with that."

"No one loved me either," he continued. "Not until I was twelve. So I know what it's like on both sides. Do you expect me to think less of you because you survived the cold?"

"I'm not going to discuss it."

"That's not going to work anymore. Here's emotion for you, Sybill." He brought his mouth down on hers, dragging her into the kiss, into the swirl. "Maybe I don't know what to do about it yet either. But it's there. You've seen my scars. They're right out there. Now I've seen yours."

He was doing it again, making her weaken and want. She could rest her head on his shoulder, have his arms come around to hold her. She only had to ask. And couldn't.

"There's no need to feel sorry for me."

"Oh, baby." Gently this time, he touched his lips to hers. "Yes, there is. And I admire what you managed to become despite it all."

"I was drinking too much," she said quickly. "I made my parents sound cold and unfeeling."

"Did either of them ever tell you they loved you?"

She opened her mouth, then sighed. "We simply weren't a demonstrative family. Not every family is like yours. Not every family shows their feelings and touches and…" She trailed off, hearing the trace of panicked defense in her own voice. For what, she wondered wearily. For whom?

"No, neither of them ever said that to me. Or to Gloria, as far as I know. And any decent therapist would conclude that their children reacted to this restrictive, overly formal, and demanding atmosphere by choosing different extremes. Gloria chose wild behavior as a bid for attention. I conformed in a bid for approval. She equated sex with affection and power and fantasized about being desired and forced by men in authority, including her legal and her biological fathers. I avoided intimacy in sex out of fear of failure and selected a field of study where I could safely observe behavior without risk of emotional involvement. Is that clear enough?"

"The operative word, I'd say, is 'chose.' She chose to hurt, you chose not to be hurt."

"That's accurate."

"But you haven't been able to keep it up. You risked being hurt with Seth. And you're risking being hurt with me." He touched her cheek. "I don't want to hurt you, Sybill."

It was very likely too late to prevent that, she thought, but she gave in enough to rest her head on his shoulder. She didn't have to ask for his arms to come around her. "Let's just see what happens next," she decided.

Chapter Twenty

Contents - Prev

Fear, Sybill wrote, is a common human emotion. And being human, it is as complex and difficult to analyze as love and hate, greed, passion. Emotions, and their causes and effects, are not my particular field of study. Behavior is both learned and instinctive and very often contains no true emotional root. Behavior is much more simple, if no more basic, than emotion.

I'm afraid.

I'm alone in this hotel, a grown woman, educated, intelligent, sensible, and capable. Yet I'm afraid to pick up the phone on the desk and call my own mother.

A few days ago, I wouldn't have termed it fear, but reluctance, perhaps avoidance. A few days ago I would have argued, and argued well, that contact with her over the issue of Seth would only cause disruption in the order of things and produce no constructive results. Therefore, contact would be useless.

A few days ago, I could have rationalized that my feelings for Seth stemmed from a sense of moral and familial obligation.

A few days ago, I could, and did, refuse to acknowledge my envy of the Quinns with their noisy and unstructured and undisciplined interactive behavi

or. I would have admitted that their behavior and their unorthodox relationship were interesting, but never would I have admitted that I had a yearning to somehow slip into that pattern and become part of it.

Of course, I can't. I accept that.

A few days ago, I attempted to refute the depth and the meaning of my feelings for Phillip. Love, I told myself, does not come so quickly or so intensely. This is attraction, desire, even lust, but not love. It's easier to refute than to face. I'm afraid of love, of what it demands, what it asks, what it takes. And I'm more afraid, much more, of not being loved in return.

Still, I can accept this. I understand perfectly the limitations of my relationship with Phillip. We are both adults who have made our own patterns and our own choices. He has his needs and his life, as I do mine. I can be grateful that our paths crossed. I've learned a great deal in the short time I've known him. A great deal I've learned has been about myself.

I don't believe I'll be quite the same as I was.

I don't want to be. But in order to change, truly, to grow, there are actions that must be taken.

It helps to write this out, even though the order and sense are faulty.

Phillip called just now from Baltimore. I thought he sounded tired, yet excited. He had a meeting with his attorney about his father's life insurance claim. For months now, the insurance company has refused to settle. They instigated an investigation into Professor Quinn's death and held off paying the claim over the suspicion of suicide. Financially, of course, it put a strain on the Quinns with Seth to provide for and a new business to run, but they have doggedly pursued legal action over this issue.

I don't think I realized until today how vital it is to them to win this battle. Not for the money, as I originally assumed, but to clear any shadow on their father's name. I don't believe suicide is always an act of cowardice. I once considered it myself. Had the proper note written, the necessary pills in my hand. But I was only sixteen and understandably foolish. Naturally I tore the letter up, disposed of the pills, and put the matter aside.

Suicide would have been rude. Inconvenient for my family.

Doesn't that sound bitter? I had no idea I'd harbored all this anger.

But the Quinns, I've learned, considered the taking of one's own life selfish, cowardly. They have refused all along to accept or to allow others to believe that this man they love so much was capable of such a singular selfish act. Now, it appears, they will win this battle.

The insurance company has offered to settle. Phillip believes my deposition may have swayed them toward this response. He may be right. Of course, the Quinns are, perhaps genetically, ill-suited to settlements. All or nothing, is precisely how Phillip put it to me. He believes, as does his attorney, that they will have all very shortly.

I'm happy for them. Though I never had the privilege of meeting Raymond and Stella Quinn, I feel I know them through my association with their family. Professor Quinn deserves to rest in peace. Just as Seth deserves to take the Quinn name and to have the security of a family who will love and care for him.

I can do something to ensure that all of that happens. I will have to make this call. I will have to take a stand. Oh, my hands shake just at the possibility. I'm such a coward. No, Seth would call me a wimp. That's somehow worse.

She terrifies me. There it is in black and white. My own mother terrifies me. She never raised a hand to me, rarely raised her voice, yet she shoved me into a mold of her own making. I barely struggled.

My father? He was too busy being important to notice.

Oh, yes, I see a great deal of anger here.

I can call her, I can use the very status that she insisted I achieve to gain what I want from her. I'm a respected scientist, in some small way a public figure. If I tell her I'll use that, if I make her believe I will, unless she provides a written statement to the Quinns' attorney, detailing the circumstances of Gloria's birth, admitting that Professor Quinn attempted several times to

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