"That's good." Amused, Cam propped his chin on his hand. More than looks and brains, he thought. There was warmth and humor in there, too. Once you tickled it out of her.

Seth was toast.

"And I thought it was just pushing posies," he added.

"Oh, it's a great deal more than that. When a man comes in, frantic because he just remembered his wedding anniversary, it's my job not to simply put the right flowers into his hands, but to remain discreet."

"Like a priest," Cam put in and made her laugh.

"Not so far from that. You'd be amazed at the confessions I hear. It's all in a day's work."

"You love it," Anna murmured.

"I do. I really do. I love the business itself, and I love being part of something. In Washington…" She caught herself, a bit amazed at how easily she'd rambled. "Things were different," she said at length. "This is what I was looking for."

HE FOLLOWED her home, where they sat on her porch steps in the warm summer night, watching fireflies dance in the dark.

"You had a good time?"

"I had a wonderful time. The dinner, getting to know your family a little better. The sail."

"Good." He brought her hand to his lips. "Because Anna's going to pass the word, and you'll be expected to repeat the performance at Grace's, and at Sybill's."

"Oh." She hadn't thought of that. "I'll need to reciprocate. I'll need to have everyone over for…"

She'd have to have it catered, of course. And she'd have to determine how best to keep a number of teenagers entertained.

"I'm out of my league," she admitted. "The kind of dinner party I'm used to hosting isn't what's called for here."

"You want to have everyone over?" The idea delighted him. "We'll get a grill and cook out. We'll toss on some steaks and corn on the cob. Keep it simple."

We, she thought. Somehow they'd slid from individuals into we. She wasn't quite sure how she felt about it.

"I've been meaning to ask you something." He leaned back on the step so he could study her profile. "What's it like to grow up filthy rich?"

That eyebrow winged, the way he loved. "We preferred the term 'lavishly wealthy' to 'filthy rich.' And obviously, it has its points."

"I bet. We sort of established why the lavishly wealthy society chick is running a flower shop on the waterfront, but how come she doesn't have household help, or a staff of employees?"

"I have Mr. G, who's worked out perfectly. He's flexible, dependable, and he knows and loves flowers. And I plan on hiring someone else, to work part-time in the shop. I needed to make certain there'd be enough business to justify it first. I'm going to start looking very soon."

"But you do the books."

"I like doing the books."

"And the ordering, and the inventory, whatever."

"I like—"

"Yeah, got that. Don't get defensive." It amused him when her shoulders stiffened. "You like manning the rudder. Nothing wrong with that."

"Speaking of rudders, I like the sloop design. I like it very much. I'm going to contact Phillip and have him draw up the contract."

"Good, but you're evading the subject. How come you don't have a housekeeper?"

"If this is a plug for Grace's service, Aubrey's already nagging me about it. I'm going to talk to her."

"It wasn't, but that's a good idea." He ran his fingers down her leg, an unconscious gesture of intimacy. "Spread the wealth, and free up your time. A twofer."

"You're awfully interested in wealth all of a sudden."

"In you," he corrected. "Sybill's the only person I know, really know, who came from money. And I get the drift that her family's pretty small potatoes compared to yours. Your mother comes down to see you, driven by a uniformed chauffeur. Snazzy stuff. You don't even have somebody coming in to scrub the john. So I ask myself how come that is. Does she like scrubbing Johns?"

"It was a childhood dream of mine," she said dryly.

"Anytime you want to fulfill the dream in the studio bathroom, feel free."

"That's very generous of you."

"Well, I love you. I do what I can."

She nearly sighed. He loved her. And he wanted to understand her. "Money," she began, "great amounts of money solve a lot of problems. And create others. But one way or the other, rich or poor, if you stub your toe, your toe hurts. It can also insulate you, so that you don't meet or develop friendships with people outside that charmed circle. You gain a great deal, you miss a great deal. Certainly you miss a great deal when your parents feel so strongly about shielding you from a variety of things out of that circle."

She turned to look at him now. "That's not 'poor little rich girl' talk. It's just fact. I had a privileged upbringing. I never wanted for a single material thing, and will never have to. I had an exceptional education, was allowed to travel extensively. And if I'd stayed in that charmed circle, I think I'd have died by inches."

She shook her head. "There's that drama again."

"I don't think it's dramatic. There are all kinds of hunger. If you don't get fed, you starve."

"Then I guess we could say I needed a different menu. In the Washington house, my mother runs a staff of sixteen. It's a beautiful home, perfectly presented. This is the first place I've had alone. When I moved to my own place in Georgetown, they—despite my telling them I didn't want or need live-in help—hired a housekeeper for me as a housewarming gift. So, I was stuck."

"You could have refused."

Dru only shook her head. "Not as easy as you think, and it would have created more conflict when I'd just gone through the battle of moving out on my own. In any case, it wasn't the housekeeper's fault. She was a perfectly nice, absolutely efficient and completely pleasant woman. But I didn't want her there. I kept her because my parents were frantic enough at the idea of me no longer living at home, and kept on me about how worried they were about me, how much better they felt knowing I had someone reliable living with me. And I was just tired of the hammering."

"Nobody pushes buttons better than family."

"Not in my experience," she agreed. "It seems ridiculous to complain about having someone who'll cook, clean, run errands and so on. But you give up your privacy in exchange for the convenience and leisure. You are never, never alone. And no matter how pleasant, how loyal, how discreet a household staff may be, they know things about you. They know when you've had an argument with your parents, or your lover. They know what you eat, or don't eat. When you sleep, or don't sleep. They know if you've had sex, or haven't had s

ex. Every mood, every move, and if they're with you long enough, every thought you have is shared with them.

"I won't have that here." She let out a breath. "Besides, I like taking care of myself. Seeing to my own details. I like knowing I'm good at it. But I'm not sure how good I'll be at putting together a dinner party for the Quinn horde."

"If it makes you feel any better, Anna was a maniac for the hour before you got there tonight."

"Really?" The idea warmed her. "It does make me feel better. She always seems so completely in charge."

"She is. She scares us boneless."

"You worship her. Every one of you. It's fascinating. This is very new territory for me, Seth."

"For me, too."

"No." She turned her head. "It's not. Family gatherings, whether they're casual or traditional, impromptu or planned, are very old territory for you. You don't need a map. You're very lucky to have them."

"I know it." He thought of where he'd come from. He thought of Gloria. "I know it."

"Yes, it shows. You're all so full of each other. They made room for me because you asked them to. You care for me, so they'll care for me. It won't be like that with my family. If and when you meet them, you'll be very carefully questioned, studied, analyzed and judged."

"So, they're looking out for you."

"No, not so much for me as themselves. The family name—names," she corrected. "The position. Discreet inquiries will be made as to your financial stability, to ensure you're not after my money. While my mother will be, initially, thrilled that I'm involved with someone with your panache in art circles—"

"Panache. You do use those cool words."

"It's shallow."

"Oh, give her a break." He ruffled her hair as he might have a ten-year-old boy's. "I'm not going to be insulted because someone's impressed with my reputation as an artist."

"You may be insulted when your background is quietly and thoroughly investigated, when the credit line on Boats by Quinn is checked."

The idea of the background check had his blood chilling. "Well, for Christ's sake."

"You need to know. This is standard operating procedure in my family. Jonah passed with high marks, and his political connections were a bonus. Which is why no one was particularly pleased with me for calling off the wedding. I'm sorry. I know I'm spoiling the mood of the evening, but I realized with the way things seem to be moving between us you needed to know this sooner rather than later."

"Okay. Tell me this sooner rather than later." He took her hand, toyed with her fingers. "If they don't like what they find, do things stop moving between us?"

Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance
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