Sea swept, p.13

Sea Swept, page 13

 part  #1 of  Chesapeake Bay Saga Series

 



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  "What's right?" he tossed back.

  She put a hand over the one still clamped to her arm and squeezed lightly. "Rough day?''

  "Yes. No. Hell." Giving up, he let her go and leaned back on the hood of her car. It was a testimony to her compassion that she was able to stifle a wince. She'd just had it washed and waxed. "There was this thing at school this morning."

  "Thing?"

  "You'll probably get some official report or something about it, so I want to give you our side personally."

  "Uh-oh, sides. Well, let's hear it."

  So he told her, found himself heating up again when he got to the point where he'd seen the bruises on Seth's arm, and ended up pushing himself off the car and stalking around it as he finished the story of how it had been resolved.

  "You did very well," Anna murmured, nearly laughing when he stopped and stared at her suspiciously. "Of course hitting the other boy wasn't the answer, but—"

  "I think it was a damn good answer."

  "I realize that, and we'll just let it go for now. My point is, you did the responsible and the supportive thing. You went down, you listened, you convinced Seth to tell you the truth, and then you stood up for him. I doubt he was expecting you to."

  "Why shouldn't I—why wouldn't I? He was right."

  "Believe me, not everyone goes to bat for their children."

  "He's not my kid. He's my brother."

  "Not everyone goes to bat for his brother," she corrected. "The three of you going in this morning was exactly right, and again unfortunately more than everyone would do. It's a corner turned for all of you, and I suspect you understand that. Is that what's upset you?"

  "No, that's piddly. Other things, doesn't matter." He could hardly tell her about the investigation into his father's death or the village gossip over it at this precarious point. Nor did he think it would count in their favor if he confessed he was feeling trapped and dreaming of escape.

  "How's Seth taking it?"

  "He's cool with it." Cam shrugged a shoulder. "We went sailing yesterday, did some fishing. Blew off the day."

  She smiled again, and this time her heart was in it. "I'd hoped I'd be around to see it happening. You're starting to fall for him."

  "What are you talking about?"

  "You're starting to care about him. Personally. He's beginning to be more than an obligation, a promise to be kept. He matters to you."

  "I said I'd take care of him. That's what I'm doing."

  "He matters to you," she repeated. "That's what's worrying you, Cam. What happens if you start caring too much. And how do you stop it from happening."

  He looked at her, the way the sun dropped down in the sky at her back, the way her eyes stayed warm and dark on his. Maybe he was worrying, he admitted, and not just about his shifting feelings for Seth. "I finish what I start,

  Anna. And I don't walk away from my family. Looks like the kid qualifies there. But I'm a selfish son of a bitch. Ask anybody."

  "Some things I prefer to find out for myself. Now am I getting a crab dinner or not?"

  "Ethan ought to have the pot going by now." He moved forward as if to lead her inside. Then, judging the moment when she relaxed, he yanked her into his arms and caught her up in a hot, heart-hammering kiss.

  "See, that was for me," he murmured when they were both breathless and quivering. "Want it, take it. I warned you I was selfish."

  Anna eased back, calmly adjusted her now rumpled jacket, ran a hand over her hair to assure herself it was in place. "Sorry, but I'm afraid I enjoyed that every bit as much as you did. So it doesn't qualify as a selfish act."

  He laughed even as his pulse scrambled. "Let me try it again. I can pull it off this time."

  "I'll take a rain check. I want my dinner." With that, she sauntered up the steps, knocked briefly, and slipped into the house.

  Cam just stood where he was, grinning. This was a woman, he thought, who was going to make this episode of his life a memorable one.

  By the time Cam made his way inside and to the kitchen, Anna was already chatting with Phillip and accepting a glass of wine.

  "You drink beer with crabs," Cam told her and got one out of the fridge for himself.

  "I don't seem to be eating any at the moment. And Phillip assures me this is a very nice wine." She sipped, considered, and smiled. "He's absolutely right."

  "It's one of my favorite whites." Since she'd approved, Phillip topped off her glass. "Smooth, buttery, and not overpowering."

  "Phil's a wine snob." Cam twisted off the top and lifted the bottle of Harp to his lips. "But we let him live here anyway."

  "And how is that working out?" She wondered if they realized how male the house seemed. Tidy as a pin, yes, but without even a whiff of female. "It must be odd adjusting to the three of you in the same household again."

  "Well, we haven't killed each other." Cam bared his teeth in a smile at his brother. "Yet."

  With a laugh she walked to the window. "And where is Seth?"

  "He's with Ethan," Phillip told her. "They're doing the crabs around at the pit."

  "The pit?"

  "Around the side." Cam took her hand and tugged her toward the door. "Mom wouldn't let us cook crab in the house. She might have been a doctor, but she could be squeamish. Didn't like to watch." He drew her off the porch and down the steps as he spoke. "Dad had this brick pit around the side of the house. Fell down my first summer. He didn't know much about laying bricks. But we rebuilt it."

  When they stepped around the corner, she saw Ethan and Seth standing by a huge kettle over an open fire in a lopsided brick-sided pit. Smoke billowed, and from a big steel barrel on the ground came the scraping and clattering of claws.

  Anna looked from barrel to kettle and back again. "You know what, I think I can be a bit squeamish myself."

  She stepped back, turned to the view of the water. She didn't even mind that Cam laughed at her, especially when she heard Seth's voice raised in desperate excitement.

  "Are you dumping them in now? Oh, man, shit, that is so gross."

  "I told him to watch his mouth tonight, but he doesn't know you're here yet."

  She only shook her head. "He sounds very normal." She winced a little when she heard a clatter and Seth's wild exclamation of delight and disgust. "And I'd think what's happening around the corner is just barbaric enough to thrill him." Her hand lifted quickly, protectively, to her hair when she felt a tug.

  "I like it down." Cam tossed the pin he'd pulled out aside.

  "I want it up," she said mildly and began to walk toward the water.

  "I bet we're going to knock heads about all kinds of things." He sipped his beer and sent her a sidelong look as they walked. "Ought to keep it all interesting."

  "I doubt either of us will be bored. Seth comes first, Cam. I mean that." She paused, listened to the musical lap of water against the hull of the boats, the sloping shoreline. Topping one of the markers was a huge nest. Buoys bobbed in the tide.

  "I can help him, and it's unlikely we'll always agree on what's right for him. It'll be essential to keep that issue completely separate when we end up in bed."

  He was grateful he hadn't taken another sip from the bottle. No doubt in his mind he'd have choked on it. "I can do that."

  She lifted her head as an egret soared by, and wondered if the nest belonged to her. "When I'm certain I can, we'll use my bed. My apartment's more private than your house."

  He rubbed a hand over his stomach in a futile attempt to calm himself. "Lady, you're right up front, aren't you?"

  "What's the point in being otherwise? We're grownups, unattached." She shot him a look—a flick of the lashes, an arch of a brow. "But if you're the type who'd prefer me to pretend reluctance until seduction, sorry."

  "No, I'm all right with it this way." If he didn't overheat and explode in the meantime. "No games, no pretenses, no promises… Where the hell do you come from?" he finished, fascinated.

  "Pittsburgh," she said
easily and started back toward the house.

  "That's not what I meant."

  "I know. But if you intend to sleep with me, you should have some interest in the basic facts. No games, no pretenses, no promises. That's fine. But I don't have sex with strangers."

  He put a hand on her arm before she wandered too close to the house. He wanted another moment alone. "Okay, what are the basic facts?''

  "I'm twenty-eight, single, of Italian descent. My mother… died when I was twelve and I was raised primarily by my grandparents."

  "In Pittsburgh."

  "That's right. They're wonderful—old-fashioned, energetic, loving. I can make a terrific red sauce from scratch—the recipe's been passed down in my family for generations. I moved to D.C. right after college, worked there and did some graduate studies. But Washington didn't suit me."

  "Too political?"

  "Yes, and too urban. I was looking for something a little different, so I ended up down here."

  Cam glanced around the quiet yard, the quiet water. "It's different from D.C., all right."

  "I like it. I also like horror novels, sappy movies, and any kind of music except jazz. I read magazines from back to front and don't know why, and though I'm comfortable with all sorts of people, I don't particularly like large social functions."

  She stopped, considered. They would see, she decided, how much more he'd want to find out. "I think that's enough for now, and my glass is nearly empty."

  "You're nothing like my first impression of you."

  "No? I think you're exactly like mine of you."

  "Do you speak Italian?"

  "Fluently."

  He leaned forward and murmured a highly charged and sexually explicit suggestion in her ear. Some women might have slapped his face, others might have giggled, some certainly would have blushed. Anna merely made a humming sound in her throat.

  "Your accent's mediocre, but your imagination is exceptional." She gave his arm a light pat. "Be sure to ask me again—some other time."

  "Damn right I will," Cam muttered, and watched her smile in an easy, open manner at Seth as he came barreling around the corner of the house.

  "Hello, Seth."

  He skidded to a halt. That wary and distant look came into his eyes. His shoulders hunched. "Yeah, hi. Ethan says we can eat anytime."

  "Good, I'm starved." Though she knew he was braced against her, she kept walking toward him. "I hear you went sailing yesterday."

  Seth's gaze slid by her, locked accusingly on Cam's. "Yeah. So?"

  "I've never been." She said it quickly, sensing that Cam's indrawn breath was the signal for a sharp reminder of manners. "Cam offered to let me tag along with you sometime."

  "It's his boat." Then catching the dark scowl on Cam's face, Seth shrugged. "Sure, that'd be cool. I'm supposed to go get a ton of newspaper to spread on the porch. That's the way you eat crabs."

  "Right." Before he could dash off, she bent down and whispered in his ear. "Good thing for us Cam didn't cook them."

  That got a snicker out of him and a quick, fleeting grin before he turned and ran inside.

  Chapter Ten

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  she wasn't so bad. for a social worker. Seth came to this thoughtful conclusion about Anna after he'd retreated to his room, ostensibly to work on his anti-violence essay. He was drawing pictures instead, quick little sketches of faces. He had a stupid week to write the stupid thing, didn't he? Wouldn't take more than a couple of hours once he got down to doing it. Which was a raw deal all around, but better than letting fat-faced Robert get him suspended.

  He could still close his eyes and bring up the image of all three of the Quinns standing in the principal's office. All three of them standing beside him and facing down the all-powerful Moorefield. It was so… cool, he decided and began to doodle the moment in his notebook.

  There… there was Phillip in his fancy suit with his hair just right and his kind of narrow face. He looked like one of the magazine ads, Seth thought, the ones that sold stuff only rich guys could buy.

  Next he sketched in Ethan, all serious-faced, Seth mused, his hair a little shaggy even though Seth remembered how he'd combed it just before they'd gone into the school. He looked exactly like what he was. The kind of guy who made his living and lived his life outdoors.

  And there was Cam, rough and tough with that light of mean in his eyes. Thumbs hooked in the front pockets of his jeans. Yeah, that was it, Seth decided. He most always stood like that when he was ticked off. Even in the rough sketch he came across as someone who'd done most everything and planned to do a whole lot more.

  Last he sketched in himself, trying to see what others would see. His shoulders were too thin and bony, he thought with some disappointment. But they wouldn't always be. His face was too thin for his eyes, but it would fill out too. One day he'd be taller, and stronger, and he wouldn't look like such a puny kid.

  But he'd kept his head up, hadn't he? He hadn't been afraid of anything. And he didn't look like he'd just wandered into the picture. He looked—almost—like he belonged there.

  Mess with one Quinn, mess with them all. That's what Cam had said—and he must have meant it. But he wasn't a Quinn, Seth thought, frowning as he held up the sketch to study details. Or maybe he was, he just didn't know. It hadn't mattered to him if Ray Quinn had been his father like some people said. All that had mattered was that he was away from her.

  It hadn't mattered who his father was. Still didn't, he assured himself. He just didn't give a rat's ass. All he wanted was to stay here, right here.

  Nobody had used the back of their hand or their fists on him for months now. Nobody got blitzed out on drugs and laid around so long and so still he thought they were dead. Secretly hoped they were. No flabby guys with sweaty hands tried to grope him.

  He wasn't even going to think about that.

  Eating crabs had been pretty cool, too. Good and messy, he remembered with a grin. You got to eat them with your hands. The social worker didn't act all prim and girly about it either. She just took off her jacket and rolled up her sleeves. It didn't seem like she was watching to see if he burped or scratched his butt or anything.

  She'd laughed a lot, he remembered. He wasn't used to women laughing a lot when they weren't coked up. And that was a different kind of laughing, Seth knew. Miss Spinelli's wasn't wild and hard and desperate. It was low and, well, smooth, he supposed.

  Nobody'd told him he couldn't have more, either. Man, he'd bet he ate a hundred of those ugly suckers. He didn't even mind eating the salad, though he pretended he did.

  He hadn't had that gnawing, sick feeling in his stomach that was desperate hunger for a long time now, so long he might have forgotten the sensation. But he hadn't forgotten. He hadn't forgotten anything.

  He'd worried some that the social worker would want to pull him back in, but she seemed pretty okay to him. And he saw her sneaking little bits of crab and bread to Foolish, so she couldn't be all bad.

  But he'd have liked her better if she was a waitress or something like Grace.

  When the light knock sounded on his door, Seth slapped the notebook closed on his sketches and quickly opened another, where the first dozen words of his five-hundred-word essay were scrawled.

  "Yeah?"

  Anna poked her head in. "Hi. Can I come in a minute?"

  It was weird being asked, and he wondered if she would just turn around and go if he said no. But he shrugged. "I guess."

  "I have to leave soon," she began, taking a quick survey of the room. A twin bed, inexpertly made, a sturdy dresser and desk, a wall of shelves that held a few books, a portable stereo that looked very new, and a pair of binoculars that didn't. There were white miniblinds at the windows and a pale-green paint on the walls.

  It needed junk, she thought. A boy's junk. Ancient broken toys, posters tacked to the walls. But the puppy snoring in the corner was a very good start.

  "This is nice." She wandered to the window.
"You've got a good view, water and trees. You get to watch the birds. I bought a book on local waterfowl when I moved here from D.C. so I could figure out what was what. It must be nice to see egrets every day."

  "I guess."

  "I like it here. It's hard not to, huh?"

  He shrugged his shoulders, took the cautious route. "It's okay. I got no problems with it."

  She turned, glanced down at his notebook. "The dreaded essay?''

  "I started it." Defensively, he pulled the notebook closer—and knocked the other one to the floor. Before he could snatch it up, Anna crouched to pick it up herself.

  "Oh, look at this!" It had fallen open to a sketch of the puppy, just his face, straight on, and she thought the artist had captured that sweet and silly expression perfectly. "Did you sketch this?"

  "It's no big deal. I'm working on the damn essay, aren't I?"

  She might have sighed over his response, but she was too charmed by the sketch. "It's wonderful. It looks just like him." Her fingers itched to turn the pages, to see who else Seth might have drawn. But she resisted and set the notebook down. "I can't draw a decent stick man."

  "It's nothing. Just fooling around."

  "Well, if you don't want it, maybe I could have it?"

  He thought it might be a trick. After all, she had her jacket back on, was carrying her briefcase. She looked like Social Services again rather than the woman who'd rolled up her sleeves and laughed over steamed crabs. "What for?"

  "I can't have pets in my apartment. Just as well," she added. "It wouldn't be fair to keep one closed in all day while I'm at work, but…" Then she smiled and glanced over at the sleeping puppy. "I really like dogs. When I can afford a house and a yard, I'm going to have a couple of them. But until then, I have to play with other people's pets."

  It seemed odd to him. In Seth's mind adults ruled—often with an iron hand. Did what they wanted when they wanted. "Why don't you just move someplace else?"

  "The place I've got is close to work, the rent's reasonable." She looked toward the window again, to the stretch of land and water. Both were deep with shadows as night moved in. "It has to do until I can manage to get the house and yard." She wandered to the window, drawn to that quiet view. The first star winked to life in the eastern sky. She nearly made a wish. "Somewhere near the water. Like this. Anyway…"

  She turned back and sat on the side of the bed facing him. "I just wanted to come up before I left, see if there's anything you wanted to talk about, or any questions you wanted to ask me."

  "No. Nothing."

  "Okay." She hadn't really expected him to talk to her freely. Yet. "Maybe you'd like to know what I see here, what I think." She took his shoulder jerk as assent. "I see a houseful of guys who are trying to figure out how to live with each other and make it work. Four very different men who are bumping up against each other. And I think they're going to make some mistakes, and most certainly irritate each other and disagree. But I also think they'll work it out—eventually. Because they all want to," she added with an easy smile. "In their own ways they all want the same thing."

  She rose and took a card out of her briefcase. "You can call me whenever you want. I put my home number on the back. I don't see any reason for me to come back—in an official capacity—for a while. But I may come back for a puppy fix. Good luck with the essay."

  When she started for the door, Seth went with impulse and tore the sketch of Foolish out of his notebook. "You can have this if you want."

  "Really?" She took the page, beamed at it. "God, he's cute. Thanks." He jerked back when she bent to kiss his cheek, but she brushed her lips across it lightly, then straightened. She stepped back, ordering herself to keep an
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