contact her for verification of Gloria's paternity, she will despise me. But she will do it.

I only have to pick up the phone to do for Seth what I failed to do years ago. I can give him a home, a family, and the knowledge that he has nothing to fear.

"son of a bitch." phillip wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. Blood from a nasty but shallow scrape smeared over his skin. He grinned like an idiot at the hull he and his brothers had just turned. "That's a big bastard."

"It's a beautiful bastard." Cam rolled his aching shoulders. The turning of the hull meant more than progress. It meant success. Boats by Quinn was doing it again, and they were doing it right.

"She's got a fine line." Ethan ran a calloused hand over the planking. "A pretty shape to her."

"When I start thinking a hull looks sexy," Cam decided.

"I'm going home to my wife. Well, we can score her waterline and get back to work, or we can just admire her for a while."

"You score her waterline," Phillip suggested. "I'm going up and running the paperwork for the draw. It's time to hit your old racing pal up for some cash. We can use it."

"You cut the paychecks?" Ethan asked him.

"Yeah."

"Yours?"

"I don't—"

"Need it," Cam finished. "Cut one anyway, goddamn it. Buy your sexy lady some bauble with it. Blow it on some overpriced wine or lay it on the throw of the dice. But cut your check this week." He studied the hull again. "It means something this week."

"Maybe it does," Phillip agreed.

"The insurance company's going to fold their hand," Cam added. "We're going to win there."

"People are already changing their tune." Ethan rubbed a layer of sawdust off the planking. "The ones who wanted to whistle lies under their breath. We've already won there. You worked the hardest to make sure we did," he said to Phillip.

"I'm just the detail man. Either one of you tried to have more than a five-minute conversation with a lawyer… well, you'd nod off from boredom, Ethan, and Cam would end up punching him. I won by default."

"Maybe." Cam grinned at him. "But you skated out of a lot of the real work by talking on the phone, writing letters, zinging off faxes. It just comes down to you being secretary. Without the great legs and ass."

"Not only is that sexist, but I do have great legs and a terrific ass."

"Oh, yeah? Let's see 'em." He moved fast, diving and taking Phillip down onto that reputedly terrific ass.

Foolish scrambled up from his nap by the lumber and raced over to join in.

"Christ! Are you crazy!" Laughter prevented Phillip from rolling free. "Get off me, you moron."

"Give me a hand here, Ethan." Cam grinned, swearing as Foolish lapped eagerly at his face. Phillip struggled halfheartedly when Cam sat on him. "Come on," he urged when Ethan merely shook his head. "When's the last time you pantsed somebody?"

"Been a while." Ethan considered as Phillip began to struggle in earnest. "Maybe the last time was Junior Crawford at his bachelor party."

"Well, that's ten years ago, anyway." Cam grunted as Phillip nearly succeeded in bucking him off. "Come on, he's put on some muscle the last few months. And he's feisty."

"Maybe for old time's sake." Getting into the spirit, Ethan evaded a couple of well-aimed kicks and got a firm hold on the waistband of Phillip's jeans.

"Excuse me," was the best Sybill could manage when she walked in on air blue with curses and the sight of Phillip being held down on the beaten-wood floor while his brothers… well, she couldn't quite tell what they were trying to do.

"Hey." Cam avoided a fist to the jaw, barely, and grinned hugely at her. "Want to give us a hand? We're just trying to get his pants off. He was bragging about his legs."

"I…hmmm."

"Let him up now, Cam. You're embarrassing her."

"Hell, Ethan, she's seen his legs before." But without Ethan lending his weight, it was either let go or get bloody. It seemed simpler, if less fun, to let go. "We'll finish up later."

"My brothers forgot they're out of high school." Phillip got to his feet, brushing off his jeans and his dignity. "They were feeling a little rambunctious because we turned the hull."

"Oh." She shifted her attention to the boat, and her eyes widened. "You've made so much progress."

"It's got a ways to go yet." Ethan studied it himself, visualizing it complete. "Deck, cabin, bridge, belowdecks. Man wants a damn hotel suite in there."

"As long as he's paying for it." Phillip crossed to Sybill, ran a hand down her hair. "Sorry I got in too late to see you last night."

"That's all right. I know you've been busy with work and the lawyer." She shifted her purse from hand to hand. "Actually I have something that may help. With the lawyer, with both situations. Well…"

She reached into her purse and took out a manila envelope. "It's a statement from my mother. Two copies, both notarized. I had her overnight them. I didn't want to say anything until they'd arrived, and I'd read them to see… I think they'll be useful."

"What's the deal?" Cam demanded as Phillip quickly skimmed the neatly typed two-page statement.

"It confirms that Gloria was Dad's biological daughter. That he was unaware of it and that he attempted to contact Barbara Griffin several times during a period from last December to this March. There's a letter from Dad written to her in January, telling her about Seth, his agreement with Gloria to take custody."

"I read your father's letter," Sybill told him. "Perhaps I shouldn't have, but I did. If he was angry with my mother, it didn't show in the words. He just wanted her to tell him if it was true. He was going to help Seth anyway, but he wanted to be able to give him his birthright. A man who worried that much about a child would hardly have taken his own life. He had too much to give, and was too ready to give it. I'm so sorry."

"'He just needs a chance, and a choice,' " Ethan read when Phillip passed the letters to him, then cleared his throat. " 'I couldn't give one to Gloria, if she's mine, and she won't take it now. But I'll see that Seth has both. Whether he's mine by blood or not, he's mine nonetheless now.' It sounds like him. Seth should read this."

"Why did she agree to this now, Sybill?" Phillip asked her.

"I convinced her that it was best for all concerned."

"No." He caught her chin in his hand, lifted her face to his. "There's more. I know there is."

"I promised her that her name, and the details, would be kept as private as possible." She made a restless little movement, then let out a breath. "And I threatened to write a book telling the entire story if she didn't do this."

"You blackmailed her," Phillip said with stunned admiration.

"I gave her a choice. She chose this one."

"It was hard for you."

"It was necessary."

Now he put both of his hands on her face, gently. "It was hard, and brave, and brilliant."

"Logical," she began, then shut her eyes. "And yes, hard. She and my father are very angry. They may not forgive me. They're capable of not forgiving."

"They don't deserve you."

"The point is Seth deserves you, so…" She trailed off as he closed his mouth over hers.

"Okay, move aside." Cam elbowed Phillip away and took Sybill by the shoulders. "You did good," he said, then kissed her with a firmness that made her blink.

"Oh," was all she managed.

"Your turn," Cam stated, then gave her a gentle nudge toward Ethan.

"My parents would have been proud of you." He kissed her in turn, then patted her shoulders when her eyes filled.

"Oh, no, don't let her do that." Instantly, Cam took her arm and pulled her back to Phillip. "No crying in here, no crying allowed in the boatyard."

"Cam gets jittery when women cry."

"I'm not crying."

"They always say that," Cam muttered, "but they never mean it. Outside. Anybody who cries has to do it outside. It's a new rule."

Chuckling, Phillip pulled

Sybill toward the door. "Come on. I want a minute alone with you anyway."

"I'm not crying. I just never expected your brothers to… it's not usual for me to be—" She stopped herself. "It's very nice to be shown you're appreciated and liked."

"I appreciate you." He drew her close. "I like you."

"And it's very nice." She indulged in the luxury of both. "I've already spoken with your attorney and with Anna. I didn't want to fax the papers from the hotel as I did give my word the contents would be kept private. But both of them agree that this last document should move everything along. Anna believes that your petition for permanent guardianship will go through as early as next week."

"That soon?"

"There's nothing in the way of it. You and your brothers are Professor Quinn's legal sons. Seth is his grandchild. His mother agreed, in writing, to transfer custody. Reneging on that might stall the decree, but no one believes at this point that it would change it. Seth is eleven, and at his age his desires would be taken into account. Anna's going to push for a hearing early next week."

"It seems strange, it all coming together like this. All at once."


Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance
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