sitting at this table for decoration. You'll stand up. Quinn men don't fall for a woman unless she's got a spine."

She kept her eyes on his. "Is that a compliment?"

He grinned at her. "That was two compliments."

She eased back, nodded. "All right. So you handle it your way. The Quinn way," she added. "But I think it might be helpful to find out if, considering her lifestyle and habits, she has any outstanding warrants. A call to my grandfather ought to get us that information before tomorrow night. It wouldn't hurt for her to realize we play hard, too."

"I like her," Cam said to Seth.

"Me too." But Seth took Dru's hand. "I don't want to drag your family into this."

"Not wanting to drag yours into it or me into it is why we're sitting here at four in the morning." She took the platter of eggs Aubrey passed, scooped some onto her plate. "Your bright idea was to get drunk and dump me. How'd that work out for you?"

He took the platter, tried a smile. "Better than expected."

"No thanks to you. I wouldn't advise you going down that path again. Pass the salt."

While his family looked on, he reached over, took her face in his hands and kissed her. Hard and long. "Dru," he said. "I love you."

"Good. I love you, too." She took his wrist, squeezed lightly. "Now pass the salt."

HE DIDN'T THINK he would sleep, but he dropped off like a stone for four hours. When he woke in his old room, disoriented and soft-brained, his first clear thought was that she wasn't beside him.

He stumbled out of the room and downstairs to find Cam alone in the kitchen. "Where's Dru?"

"She went into work, about an hour ago. Borrowed your car."

"She went in? Jesus." Seth rubbed his hands over his face, tried to get his brain to engage after too much whiskey, too much coffee, too little sleep. "Why didn't she just close for the day? She couldn't have gotten very much sleep."

"She looked like she handled it a lot better than you did, pal."

"Yeah, well, she didn't down half a bottle of Jameson first."

"You play, you pay."

"Yeah." He opened a cupboard to search for the kitchen aspirin. "Tell me."

Cam poured a glass of water, handed it to Seth. "Down those, then let's take a walk."

"I need to clean up, get into town. Maybe I can give Dru a hand in the shop. Something."

"She'll hold for a few minutes." Cam opened the kitchen door. "Let's take it outside."

"If you're planning on kicking my ass, it won't take much this morning."

"Thought about it. But I think it's been kicked enough for now."

"Look, I know I fucked up—"

"Just shut up." Cam gave Seth a shove out the door. "I've got some things to say."

He headed for the dock, as Seth had expected. The sun was strong and hot. It was barely nine in the morning, and already the air had a mean, threatening weight that promised to gain more muscle before it was done.

"You pissed me off," Cam began. "I'm mostly over it. But I want something made clear—and I'm speaking for Ethan and Phil. Get that?"

"Yeah, I get it."

"We didn't give up a goddamn thing for you. Shut up, Seth." he snapped out when Seth opened his mouth. "Just shut the hell up and listen." He let out a breath. "Ha. Looks like I'm still pissed off after all. Grace has some points, and I'm not going to argue about them. But none of us gave up jack."

"You wanted to race—"

"And I raced," Cam snapped out. "I told you to shut up. Now shut the fuck up until I'm done. You were ten years old, and we did what we were supposed to do. Nobody wants a fucking obligation from you, nobody wants payment from you, and it's a goddamn insult for you to think otherwise."

"It's not like that."

Cam stepped closer. "Do you want me to tie your tongue in a knot or are you going to shut up?"

Because he felt ten again, Seth shrugged.

"Things changed for you the way they were supposed to change. Things changed for us, too. Ever stop to think that if I hadn't been stuck with some smart-assed, skinny, pain-in-the-ass kid I might not have met Anna? I might have had to live my whole life without her—and without Kevin and Jake. Phil and Sybill, same deal. They found each other because you were in the middle. I figure Ethan and Grace might be getting around to dating just about now, almost twenty years after the fact, if you being part of things hadn't nudged them along."

He waited a beat. "So, how much do we owe you for our wives and children? For pulling us back home, for giving us a reason to start the business?"

"I'm sorry."

Pure frustration had Cam dragging at his own hair. "I don't want you to be sorry, for sweet Christ's sake! I want you to wake up."

"I'm awake. I don't feel much like George Bailey, but I'm awake. It's a Wonderful Life," Seth added. "Grandma—Stella told me I ought to think about it."

"Yeah. She loved old movies. I should've figured if anybody could put a chip in that rock head of yours, it would be Mom."

"I guess I didn't listen to her either. I think she's pissed off at me, too. I should've told you right along."

"You didn't, and that's done. So we start with now. We'll deal with her tonight."

"I'm looking forward to it." Seth turned with a slow smile. "I never thought I'd say it, but I'm looking forward to meeting her tonight. It's been a long time coming. So… you want to kick my ass, or slap me around?"

"Get a grip on yourself. Just wanted to clear the air." Cam slung a friendly arm around Seth's shoulder. Then shoved him into the water. "I don't know why," Cam said when Seth surfaced, "but doing that always makes me feel better."

"Glad I could help," Seth sputtered and let himself sink.

"YOU'RE STAYING HERE. That's the end of it."

"And when did we come to the point where you dictate where I go and what I do? Play it back for me, I must have missed it the first time around."

"I'm not going to argue about this."

"Oh yes," Dru said, almost sweetly, "you are."

"She's not getting near you again. That's number one. The place I'm meeting her is a dive, and you don't belong there. That's two."

"Oh, I see. Now you decide where I belong. That's a tune I've been hearing all my life. I don't care for it."

"Dru." Seth paused, then paced to the back door of the family kitchen, back again. "This is hard enough without me going in there worrying about some asshole hassling you. The place is one step up from a pit."

"I don't know why you think I can't handle assholes. I've been handling you, haven't I?"

"That's real funny, and I'll bust into hilarity over it later. I want this done and over. I want it behind me. Behind us. Please." He changed tacks, laid his hand gently on her shoulder. "Stay here and let me do what I have to do."

It was turmoil in his eyes now rather than temper. And she responded to it. "Well, since you ask so nicely."

His shoulders relaxed as he laid his forehead on hers. "Okay, good. Maybe you should stretch out for a little while. You didn't get much sleep last night."

"Don't push it, Seth."

"Right. I should go."

"You know who you are." She turned her head to brush her lips over his. "And so do I. She doesn't. She never could."

SHE LET HIM GO, and stood on the front porch with the other Quinn women as the two cars drove away.

Anna lowered the hand she'd lifted in a wave. "There go our strong, brave men, off to battle. And we womenfolk stay behind, tucked up safe."

"Put on the aprons," Aubrey mumbled. "Make potato salad for tomorrow's picnic."

Dru glanced around, saw the same look in her companions' eyes she knew was in her own. "I don't think so."

"So." Sybill rolled her shoulders, glanced at her watch. "How much lead time do we give them?"

"Fifteen minutes ought to be about right," Anna decided.

Grace nodded. "We'll take my van."

SETH SAT at the bar, brooding into his untouched beer. He fi

gured the dread in the pit of his stomach was natural. She'd always put it there. The venue, he supposed, was the perfect place for this showdown with her, with his early childhood, with his own ghosts and demons.

He intended to walk out of it when he was finished, and leave all of that misery behind, just another smear on the dirty air.

He needed to feel clean again, complete again. He wondered if Ray would have understood this nasty tug-of-war between fury and grief.

He liked to think so. Just as he liked to think some part of Ray was sitting beside him in the bar.

But when she walked in, there was only the two of them. The drinkers, the pool players, the bartender, even that nebulous connection with the man who'd been his grandfather faded away.

It was just Seth, and his mother.

She relaxed onto a stool, crossed her legs and sent the bartender a wink.

"You look a little rough around the edges," she said to Seth. "Tough night?"

"You look the same. You know, I've been sitting here thinking. You had a pretty good deal growing up."

"Shit." She snagged the gin and tonic the bartender put in front of her. "Lot you know about it."

"Big house, plenty of money, good education."

"Fuck that." She drank deep. "Bunch of jerks and assholes."

Tags: Nora Roberts Chesapeake Bay Saga Romance