The wicked humor on Cam's face drained, leaving it naked and vulnerable. "Mom? You dreamed about Mom?"

"I know it's weird. I never even met her."

"What was she…" It was strange how grief could hide inside you. Like a virus, laying low for months, even years, only to spring out and leave you weak and helpless again. "What were you doing?"

"Sitting on the dock in back of the house. It was summer. Hot, sweaty, close. I was fishing, just a pole and a line and some of

Anna's Brie."

"You'd better've been dreaming," Cam managed. "Or you're a dead man."

"See, that's the thing. The line's in the water, but I knew I'd copped the cheese for bait. And I could smell roses, feel the heat of the sun. Then Foolish plops down next to me. I know he's gone—I mean in the dream I know—so I'm pretty damn surprised to see him. Next thing I know Stella's sitting on the dock beside me."

"How did she look?"

It didn't seem like an odd question while they were gliding along on quiet water in the dimming light. It seemed perfectly rational. "She looked terrific. She had on this old khaki hat, no brim. The kind you just yank down over your head, and her hair was falling all out of it."

"Jesus." Cam remembered the old hat, and the way she'd stuffed her unmanageable hair under it. Did they have a picture of her in that ugly cap? He couldn't recall. "I don't want to mess you up with this." Cam only shook his head. "What happened in the dream?"

"Not a whole lot. We just sat there and talked. About you guys, and Ray and…"

"What?"

"How they figured it was time she got to play Grandma, since she'd missed out on that before. It wasn't what we said so much as how real it seemed. Even when I woke up sitting on the side of the bed, it seemed real. I don't know how to explain it."

"No, I get you." Hadn't he had a number of conversations with his father, after Ray had died? And hadn't his brothers both had similar experiences?

But it had been so long now. Longer yet since they'd lost their mother. And none of them had ever had that wrenching chance to talk to her again. Even in dreams.

"I always wanted to meet her," Seth continued. "It feels like I have."

"How long ago was this?"

"Last week, I guess. And before you start, I didn't say anything at the time because I figured you might freak. You gotta admit, it's a little spooky."

You ain't seen nothing yet, Cam thought. But that was one of the aspects of being a Quinn Seth would have to find out on his own.

"If you dream about her again, ask her if she remembers the zucchini bread."

"The what?"

"Just ask her," Cam said as they drifted home.

WHEN THEY GOT HOME, dinner was cooking. And Dan McLean was standing by the stove, holding a beer and leaning in for Anna to feed him a spoonful of red sauce.

"What the hell's he doing here?" Cam demanded, and fixed a scowl on his face because Dan would expect it.

"Mooching. That's terrific, Miz Q. Nobody makes it like you. It makes having to see his face again easier," he added, and nodded toward Seth.

"Weren't you mooching here two weeks ago?" Cam asked him. "Nah. I mooched at Ethan's two weeks ago. I like to spread myself around."

"More of you to spread around than there was last time I saw you." Seth hooked his thumbs in his pockets and took a long look at his childhood friend. Dan had filled out in a way that indicated solid gym time.

"Can't men just say, 'Hi, it's good to see you again'?" Anna wondered.

"Hi," Seth echoed. "It's good to see you again."

They moved together in the one-armed hold that constitutes a male hug.

Cam sniffed at the simmering pots. "Christ, I'm tearing up.

This is so touching."

"Why don't you set the table," Anna suggested to Cam. "Before you make a sentimental fool of yourself."

"Let the moocher set it. He knows where everything is. I've got to go dethrone and execute our youngest child."

"Make sure you do it within twenty minutes. We're eating in twenty-one."

"I'll set the table, Miz Q."

"No, get out of my kitchen. Take your beer and manly ways outside. I don't know why I couldn't have had just one girl. I don't know why that was too much to ask."

"Next time this one comes over to eat our food, make him put on a dress," Cam called over his shoulder as he headed for the den and his son's date with destiny.

"Cam loves me like a brother," Dan said and, at home, opened the refrigerator to get Seth a beer. "Let us go and sit outside like men, scratching and telling sexual lies."

They sat on the steps. Each took a pull from his beer. "Aub says you're digging in this time. Got yourself a studio over the florist."

"That's right. Aub says? My information is your little brother's after her."

"When he gets the chance. I see more of her than I see of Will. They've got him doing so many double shifts at the hospital he calls out'stat!' and other sexy medical terms in his sleep."

"You guys still bunking together?"

"Yeah, for now. Mostly I've got the apartment to myself. He lives and breathes the hospital. Will McLean, M.D. Ain't that some shit?"

"He really got off dissecting frogs in biology. You wimped out."

Even from this distance, the thought made Dan grimace. "It was, and continues to be, a disgusting rite of passage. No frog's ever caused me harm. Now that you're back, it screws my plans to visit you in Italy, have the two of us sit at some sidewalk cafe—"

"Trattoria."

"Whatever, and ogle sexy women. Figured we'd catch a lot of action, with you being all artistic and me being so damn handsome."

"What happened to that teacher you were seeing? Shelly?"

"Shelby. Yeah, well, that's another thing that put my little fantasy in the dust." Dan dug in his pocket, pulled out a jeweler's box and flipped the top with his thumb.

"Holy hell, McLean," Seth managed as he blinked at the diamond ring.

"Got big plans tomorrow night. Dinner, candlelight, music, get down on one knee. The whole package." Dan blew out a shaky breath. "I'm scared shitless."

"You're getting married?"

"Man, I hope so, because I love her to pieces. You think she'll go for this?"

"How do I know?"

"You're the artist," Dan said and shoved the ring under Seth's nose. "How's it look to you?"

It looked like a fancy gold band with a diamond in the center. But friendship demanded more than that. "It looks great. Elegant, classic."

"Yeah, yeah." Obviously pleased, Dan studied it again. "That's her, man. That's Shelby. Okay." Breathing out, he put the box back in his pocket. "Okay then. She really wants to meet you. She's into that art crap. That's how I hit on her the first time. Aubrey dragged me to this art show at the university because Will was tied up. And there's Shelby standing in front of this painting that looked like maybe a chimp had done. I mean, what is with that shit that's just streaks and splatters of paint? It's a scam, if you ask me."

"I'm sure Pollock died in shame."

"Yeah, right, whatever. Anyhow, I went up to her and pulled that 'what does it say to you?' kind of line. And you know what she says?"

Enjoying seeing his friend so besotted, Seth leaned back against the step. "What did she say?"

"She said the five-year-olds in her kindergarten class do better work with fingerpaints. Man oh man, it was love. So that's when I pulled out the big guns and told her I had this friend who was an artist, but he painted real pictures. Then I drop your name and she nearly fainted. I guess that's when it really hit me you'd become a BFD."

"You still have that sketch I did of you and Will hanging over your toilet?"

"It's in a place of honor. So, how about you meet Shelby and me some night next week? For a drink, maybe something to eat."

"I can do that, but she may fall for me and leave you brokenhearted."

"Yeah, that'll happen. But just in case, she's got this friend—"

"No." The horror of it had Seth throwing up a blocking hand. "No fix-ups. You'll just have to take your chances on your girl falling under the spell of my fatal charm."

AFTER THE MEAL, and the noise, Seth let Dan drag him off for a night at Shiney's. It turned into a marathon of reminiscence and bad music.

They'd left the porch and living room lamp on for him, so he made it all the way upstairs before he tripped over the dog sprawled across the bathroom doorway.

He cursed under his breath, limped off to his room and stripped down to the skin where he stood. His ears were still ringing from the last horrendous set when he flopped facedown on the bed.

It was good to be home, was his last thought, and he fell dreamlessly into sleep.

"MOM?" In the office of the boatyard, Phillip sat heavily in his chair. "He dreamed about Mom?"

"Maybe it was a dream, maybe it wasn't."

Ethan rubbed his chin. "He said she was wearing that old cap?"


Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance
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