"You're good. Thanks, Marsha," he added when she set his beer in front of him.

"Y'all just holler if you need anything." Marsha winked. "Holler loud. This band's breaking sound records tonight."

Which gave him an excuse to edge his chair closer and lean in. Her scent was subtle, he noted. A man had to get very close to catch its message. "Tell me, Dr. Griffin, what's a renowned urbanite doing in an unapologetically rural water town like St. Chris?"

"Research. Behavioral patterns and traditions," she said, lifting her glass in a half toast. "Of small towns and rural communities."

"Quite a change of pace for you."

"Sociology and cultural interest aren't, and shouldn't be, limited to cities."

"Taking notes?"

"A few. The local tavern," she began, more comfortable now. "The regulars. The trio at the bar, obsessed with the ritual of male-dominated sports to the exclusion of the noise and activities around them. They could be home, kicked back in their Barcaloungers, but they prefer the bonding experience of passive participation in the event. In this way they have companionship, partners with whom to share the interest, who will either argue or agree. It doesn't matter which. It's the pattern that matters."

He found he enjoyed the way her voice took on a lecturing tone that brought out brisk Yankee. "The O's are in a hot pennant race, and you're deep in Orioles' territory. Maybe it's the game."

"The game is the vehicle. The pattern would remain fairly constant whether the vehicle was football or basketball." She shrugged. "The typical male gains more enjoyment from sports if he has at least one like-minded male companion with him. You have only to observe commercials aimed primarily at the male consumer. Beer, for instance," she said, tapping a finger on his glass. "It's quite often sold by showcasing a group of attractive men sharing some common experience. A man then buys that brand of beer because he's been programmed to believe that it will enhance his standing with his peer group."

Because he was grinning, she lifted her eyebrows. "You disagree?"

"Not at all. I'm in advertising, and that pretty much hit the nail."

"Advertising?" She ignored the little tug of guilt at the pretense. "I wouldn't think there would be much call for that here."

"I work in Baltimore. I'm back here on weekends for a while. A family thing. Long story."

"I'd like to hear it."

"Later." There was something, he thought, about those nearly translucent blue eyes framed by long, inky lashes that made it nearly impossible to look anywhere else. "Tell me what else you see."

"Well…" It was a fine skill, she decided. A masterwork. The way he could look at a woman as if she were the most vital thing in the world at that one moment. It made her heart bump pleasantly. "You see the other waitress?"

Phillip glanced over, watched the frivolous bow on the back of the woman's skirt swivel as she walked to the bar. "Hard to miss her."

"Yes. She fulfills certain primitive and typical male-fantasy requirements. But I'm referring to personality, not physicality."

"Okay." Phillip ran his tongue around his teeth. "What do you see?"

"She's efficient, but she's already calculating the time until closing. She knows how to size up the better tippers and play to them. She all but ignores the table of college students there. They won't add much to her bill. You'd see the same survival techniques from an experienced and cynical waitress in a New York bar."

"Linda Brewster," Phillip supplied. "Recently divorced, on the prowl for a new, improved husband. Her family owns the pizza place, so she's been waitressing off and on for years. Doesn't care for it. Do you want to dance?"

"What?" Then that's not Grace either, she thought and struggled to tune back in. "I'm sorry?"

"The band's slowed it down if they haven't turned it down. Would you like to dance?"

"All right." She let him take her hand to lead her through the tables to the dance floor, where they shoehorned themselves into the crowd.

"I think this is supposed to be a version of 'Angie,' " Phillip murmured.

"If Mick and the boys heard what they're doing to it, they'd shoot the entire band on sight."

"You like the Stones?"

"What's not to like?" Since they could do no more than sway, she tilted her head back to look at him. It wasn't a hardship to find his face so close to hers, or to be forced to press her body firmly to his. "Down-and-dirty rock and roll, no frills, no fuss. All sex."

"You like sex?"

She had to laugh. "What's not to like? And though I appreciate the thought, I do

n't intend to have any tonight."

"There's always tomorrow."

"There certainly is." She considered kissing him, letting him kiss her. As an experiment that would certainly include an aspect of enjoyment. Instead, she turned her head so cheeks brushed. He was entirely too attractive for an impulsive and uncalculated risk.

Better safe, she reminded herself, than stupid.

"Why don't I take you to dinner tomorrow?" Skillfully, he slid a hand up her spine, back down to her waist. "There's a nice place right in town. Terrific view of the Bay, best seafood on the Shore. We can have a conversation in normal tones, and you can tell me the story of your life."

His lips had brushed her ear, sending a shocking ripple of reaction down to her toes. She should have known, she thought, that anyone who looked like he did would be damn good at sexual maneuvers.

"I'll think about it," she murmured and, deciding to give as good as she got, skimmed her fingertips over the back of his neck. "And let you know."

When the song ended, and the next picked up on a blast of sound and speed, she eased away. "I have to go."

"What?" He leaned down so she could shout in his ear.

"I have to go. Thanks for the dance."

"I'll walk you out."

Back at the table, he pulled out some bills while she gathered her things. The first step outside into the cool and quiet air made her laugh. "Well, that was an experience. Thank you for adding to it."

"I wouldn't have missed it. It's not very late," he added, taking her hand.

"Late enough." She pulled out the keys to her car.

"Come by the boatyard tomorrow. I'll show you around."

"I might just do that. Good night, Phillip."

"Sybill." He didn't bother to resist, simply brought her hand to his lips. Over their joined fingers, his eyes locked with hers. "I'm glad you picked St. Chris."

"So am I."

She slipped into her car, relieved that she had to concentrate on the task of switching on the lights, releasing the brake, starting the engine. Driving wasn't second nature to a woman who had depended on public transportation or private car services most of her life.

She focused on reversing, on putting the car in drive to make the turn onto the road. And she firmly ignored the faint echo of pressure on her knuckles where his lips had touched.

But she didn't quite resist glancing in the rearview mirror and taking one last look at him before she drove away.

Phillip decided that going back into Shiney's would be absurdly anticlimactic. He thought about her as he drove home, the way her eyebrows arched when she made a point or enjoyed a comment. That subtle and intimate scent she wore that told a man that if he'd gotten close enough to catch a whiff, maybe, just maybe, he'd have a chance to get closer.

He told himself she was the perfect woman for him to invest some time in getting closer to. She was beautiful; she was smart; she was cultured and sophisticated.

And just sexy enough to make his hormones stand at attention.

He liked women, and missed having time for conversations with them. Not that he didn't enjoy talking with Anna and Grace. But let's face it, it wasn't quite the same as talking with a woman when you could also fantasize about taking her to bed.

And he'd been missing that particular area of male-female relationships just lately. He rarely had time to do more than stumble into his apartment after a ten- or twelve-hour workday. His once interesting and varied social calendar had taken some large hits since Seth had come to the family.

The week was dedicated to his accounts and consultations with the lawyer. The fight with the insurance company on payment of his father's death benefits was coming to a head.

The resolution of permanent guardianship of Seth would be decided within ninety days. The responsibility of dealing with the mountain of paperwork and phone calls that sprang from those actions was his. Details were his strong point.

Weekends were consumed by household duties, the business, and whatever had


Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance
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