Sea swept, p.27

Sea Swept, page 27

 part  #1 of  Chesapeake Bay Saga Series

 



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  I've got a good brain, too, and I say she's not here just to eat your manicotti."

  "Are we having manicotti for dinner?" Anna beamed, knowing it wouldn't distract them for long. They'd seen her through the worst, stuck by her when she'd done her best to hurt them, and herself. And they knew her.

  "I started the sauce the minute you called to say you were coming. Al, don't nag the girl."

  "I'm not nagging, I'm asking."

  Theresa rolled her eyes. "If you have such a good brain in that big head of yours, you'd know it's a boy that sent her running home. Is he Italian?" Theresa demanded, fixing Anna with those bright bird eyes.

  And she had to laugh. God, it was good to be home. "I have no idea, but he loves my red sauce."

  "Then he's got good taste. Why don't you bring him home, let us get a look at him?"

  "Because we're having some problems, and I need to work them out."

  "Work them out?" Theresa waved a hand. "How do you work them out when you're here and he's not? Is he good-looking?"

  "Gorgeous."

  "Does he have work?" Al wanted to know.

  "He's starting his own business—with his brothers."

  "Good, he knows family." Theresa nodded, pleased. "You bring him next time, we'll see for ourselves."

  "All right," she said because it was easier to agree than to explain. "I'm going to go unpack."

  "He's hurt her heart," Theresa murmured when Anna left the room.

  Al reached over and patted her hand. "It's a strong heart."

  anna took her time, hanging her clothes in the closet, folding them into the drawers of the old dresser she'd used as a child. The room was so much the same. The wallpaper had faded a bit. She remembered that her grandfather had hung it himself, to brighten the room when she'd come to live with them.

  And she'd hated the pretty roses on the wall because they looked so fresh and alive, and everything inside her was dead.

  But the roses were still there, a little older but still there. As were her grandparents. She sat on the bed, hearing the familiar creak of springs.

  The familiar, the comforting, the secure.

  That, she admitted, was what she wanted. Home, children, routine—with the surprises that family always provided thrown in. To some, she supposed, it would have sounded ordinary. At one time, she had told herself the same thing.

  But she knew better now. Home, marriage, family. There was nothing ordinary there. The three elements formed a unit that was unique and precious.

  She wanted, needed that, for herself.

  Maybe she had been playing games after all. Maybe she hadn't been completely honest. Not with Cam, and not with herself. She hadn't tried to trap him into her dreams, but underneath it all, hadn't she begun to hope he'd share them? She'd maintained a front of casual, no-strings sex, but her heart had been reckless enough to yearn for more.

  Maybe she deserved to have it broken.

  The hell she did, she thought, springing up. She'd been making it enough, she'd accepted the limitations of their relationship. And still, he hadn't trusted her. That she wouldn't tolerate.

  Damned if she'd take the blame for this, she decided, and stalking to the streaked mirror over her dresser, she began to freshen her makeup.

  She would have what she wanted one day. A strong man who loved her, respected her, and trusted her. She would have a man who saw her as a partner, not as the enemy. She'd have that home in the country near the water, and children of her own, and a goddamn stupid dog if she wanted. She would have it all.

  It just wouldn't be with Cameron Quinn.

  If anything, she should thank him for opening her eyes, not only to the flaws in their so-called relationship but to her own needs and desires.

  She would rather choke.

  Chapter Twenty

  Contents - Prev

  a week could be a long time, Cam discovered. Particularly when you had a great deal stuck in your craw that you couldn't spit out.

  It helped that he'd been able to pick fights with both Phillip and Ethan. But it wasn't quite the same as having a showdown with Anna.

  It helped, too, that beginning work on the hull of the boat took so much of his time and concentration. He couldn't afford to think about her when he was planking.

  He thought of her anyway.

  He'd had a few bad moments imagining her running around on some Caribbean beach—in that little bikini—and having some overmuscled, overtanned type rubbing sunscreen on her back and buying her mai tais.

  Then he'd told himself that she'd gone off somewhere to lick her imaginary wounds and was probably in some hotel room, drapes drawn, sniffing into a hankie.

  But that image didn't make him feel any better.

  When he got home from a full Saturday at the boatyard, he was ready for a beer. Maybe two. He and Ethan headed straight for the refrigerator and had already popped tops when Phillip came in.

  "Seth isn't with you?"

  "Over at Danny's." Cam guzzled from the bottle to wash the sawdust out of his throat. "Sandy's dropping him off later."

  "Good." Phillip got a beer for himself. "Sit down."

  "What?"

  "I got a letter from the insurance company this morning." Phillip pulled out a chair. "The gist is, they're stalling. They used a bunch of legal terms, cited clauses, but the upshot is they're casting doubt on cause of death and are continuing to investigate."

  "Fuck that. Cheapscate bastards just don't want to shell out." Annoyed, Cam kicked out a chair—and wished with all his heart it had been Mackensie.

  "I talked to our lawyer," Phil continued, grimacing. "He may start rethinking our friendship if I keep calling him on weekends. He says we have some choices. We can sit tight, let the insurance company continue its investigation, or we can file suit against them for nonpayment of claim."

  "Let them keep their fucking money, I don't want it anyway."

  "No." Ethan spoke quietly in the echo of Cam's outburst. He continued to brood into his beer, shaking his head. "It's not right. Dad paid the premiums, year after year. He added to the policy for Seth. It's not right that they don't pay. And if they don't pay, it's going to go down somewhere that he killed himself. That's not right either. They've been doing all the pushing up to now," he added and raised his somber eyes. "Let's push back."

  "If it ends up going to court," Phillip warned him, "it could get messy."

  "So we turn away from a fight because it could get messy?" For the first time, amusement flickered over Ethan's face. "Well, fuck that."

  "Cam?"

  Cam sipped again. "I've been wanting a good fight for a while. I guess this is it."

  "Then we're agreed. We'll have the papers drawn up next week, and we'll go after their asses." Revved and ready, Phillip lifted his bottle. "Here's to a good fight."

  "Here's to winning," Cam corrected.

  "I'm for that. It's going to cost us some," Phillip added. "Filing fees, legal fees. Most of the capital we've pooled is sunk into the business." He blew out a breath. "I guess we need another pool."

  With less regret than he'd expected, Cam thought of his beloved Porsche waiting patiently for him in Nice. Just a car, he told himself. Just a damn car. "I can get my hands on some fresh cash. It'll take a couple of days."

  "I can sell my house." Ethan shrugged his shoulders. "I've had some people asking about it, and it's just sitting there."

  "No." The thought of it twisted in Cam's gut. "You're not selling your house. Rent it out. We'll get through this."

  "I've got some stocks." Phillip sighed and waved goodbye to a chunk of his growing portfolio. "I'll tell my broker to cash them in. We'll open a joint account next week—the Quinn Legal Defense Fund."

  The three of them managed weak smiles.

  "The kid ought to know," Ethan said after a moment. "If we're going to take this to the wall, he ought to know what's going on."

  Cam looked up in time to see both of his brothers' eyes focus on him. "Oh, com
e on. Why does it have to be me?"

  "You're the oldest." Phillip grinned at him. "Besides, it'll take your mind off Anna."

  "I'm not brooding about her—or any woman."

  "Been edgy and broody all week," Ethan mumbled. "Making me nuts."

  "Who asked you? We had a little disagreement, that's all. I'm giving her time to simmer down."

  "Seems to me she'd simmered down to frozen the last time I saw her." Phillip examined his beer. "That was a week ago."

  "It's my business how I handle a woman."

  "Sure is. But let me know when you're done with her, will you? She's—"

  Phillip broke off when Cam all but leaped over the table and grabbed him by the throat. Beer bottles flew and shattered on the floor.

  Resigned, Ethan raked his hand through his hair, scattering drops of spilled beer. Cam and Phillip were on the floor, pounding hell out of each other. He got himself a fresh beer before filling a pitcher with cold water.

  His work boots crunched over broken glass, which he kicked out of the way in hopes that he wouldn't have to run anybody to the hospital for stitches. With malice toward neither, he emptied the pitcher on both his brothers.

  It got their attention.

  Phillip's lip was split, Cam's ribs throbbed, and both of them were bleeding from rolling around on broken glass. Drenched and panting, they eyed each other warily. Gingerly, Phillip wiped a knuckle over his bloody lip.

  "Sorry. Bad joke. I didn't know things were serious between you."

  "I never said they were serious."

  Phillip laughed, then winced as his lip wept. "Brother, did you ever. I guess I never figured you'd be the first of us to fall in love with a woman."

  The stomach that Phillip's fists had abused jittered wildly. "Who said I'm in love with her?"

  "You didn't punch me in the face because you're in like." He looked down at his pleated slacks. "Shit. Do you know how hard it is to get bloodstains out of a cotton blend?" He rose, held out a hand to Cam. "She's a terrific lady," he said as he hauled Cam to his feet. "Hope you work it out."

  "I don't have to work out anything," Cam said desperately. "You're way off here."

  "If you say so. I'm going to get cleaned up."

  He headed out, limping only a little.

  "I ain't mopping the damn floor," Ethan stated, "because your glands got in an uproar."

  "He started it," Cam muttered, not caring how ridiculous it sounded.

  "No, I figure you did, with whatever you did to piss Anna off." Ethan opened the broom closet, took out a mop, and tossed it to Cam. "Now I guess you got to clean it up."

  He slipped out the back door.

  "The two of you think you know so goddamn much." Furious, he kicked a chair over on his way to fetch a bucket. "I ought to know what's going on in my own life. Insanity, that's what. I should be in Australia, propping for the race of my life, that's where I should be."

  He dragged the mop through water, beer, glass, and blood, muttering to himself. "Australia's just where I'd be if I had any sense left. Damn woman's complicating things. Better off just cutting loose there."

  He kicked over another chair because it felt good, then shook shards of glass from the mop into the bucket.

  "Who had a fight?" Seth wanted to know.

  Cam turned and narrowed his eyes at the boy standing in the doorway. "I kicked Phillip's ass."

  "What for?"

  "Because I wanted to."

  With a nod, Seth walked around the puddle and got a Pepsi out of the fridge. "If you kicked his ass, how come you're bleeding?"

  "Maybe I like to bleed." He finished mopping up while the boy stood watching him. "What's your problem?" Cam demanded.

  "I got no problem."

  Cam shoved the bucket aside with his foot. The least Phillip could do was empty it somewhere. He went to the sink and bad-temperedly picked glass out of his arm. Then he got out the whiskey, righted a chair, and sat down with the bottle and a glass.

  He saw Seth's eyes slide over the bottle and away. Deliberately Cam poured two fingers of Johnnie Walker into a glass. "Not everybody who drinks gets drunk," he said. "Not everybody who gets drunk—as I may decide to do—knocks kids around."

  "Don't know why anybody drinks that shit anyway."

  Cam knocked back the whiskey. "Because we're weak, and stupid, and it feels good at the time."

  "Are you going to Australia?"

  Cam poured another shot. "Doesn't look like it"

  "I don't care if you go. I don't care where the hell you go." The underlying fury in the boy's voice surprised them both. Flushing, Seth turned and raced out the door.

  Well, hell, Cam thought and shoved the whiskey aside. He pushed away from the table and hit the door as Seth streaked across the yard to the woods.

  "Hold it!" When that didn't slow the boy down, Cam put some mean into it. "Goddamn it, I said hold it!"

  This time Seth skidded to a halt. When he turned around, they stared at each other across the expanse of grass, temper and nerves vibrating from them in all but visible waves.

  "Get your butt back over here. Now."

  He came, fists clenched, chin jutting out. They both knew he had nowhere to run. "I don't need you."

  "Oh, the hell you don't. I ought to kick your ass for being stupid. Everybody says you've got some genius brain in there, but if you ask me you're dumb as dirt. Now sit down. There," he added, jabbing a finger at the steps. "And if you don't do what I tell you when I tell you, I might just kick your ass after all."

  "You don't scare me," Seth said, but he sat.

  "I scare you white, and that gives me the hammer." Cam sat as well, watched the puppy come crawling toward them on his belly. And I scare little dogs too, he thought in disgust. "I'm not going anywhere," he began.

  "I said I don't care."

  "Fine, but I'm telling you anyway. I figured I would, once everything settled down. I told myself I would. I guess I needed to. Never figured on coming back here to stay."

  "Then why don't you go?"

  Cam gave him a halfhearted boot on the top of his head with the heel of one hand. "Why don't you shut up until I say what I have to say?"

  The painless smack and impatient order were more comforting to Seth than a thousand promises.

  "I've been coming to the fact that I've been running long enough. I liked what I was doing while I was doing it, but I guess I'm pretty well finished with it. It looks like I've got a place here, and a business here, maybe a woman here," he murmured, thinking of Anna.

  "So you're staying to work and poke at a girl."

  "Those are damn good reasons for hanging in one place. Then there's you." Cam leaned back on the upper steps, bracing with his elbows. "I can't say I cared much for you when I first came back. There's that crappy attitude of yours, and you're ugly, but you kind of grow on a guy."

  Immensely cheered, Seth snickered. "You're uglier."

  "I'm bigger, I'm entitled. So I guess I'll hang around to see if you get any prettier as time goes on."

  "I didn't really want you to go," Seth said under his breath after a long moment. It was the closest he could get to speaking his heart.

  "I know." Cam sighed. "Now that we've got that settled, we've got this other thing. Nothing to worry about, it's just some legal bullshit. Phil and the lawyer'll handle most of it, but there might be some talk. You shouldn't pay any attention to it if you hear it."

  "What kind of talk?"'

  "Some people—some idiots—think Dad aimed for that pole. Killed himself."

  "Yeah, and now this asshole from the insurance company's asking questions."

  Cam hissed out a breath. He knew he should probably tell the kid not to call adults assholes, but there were bigger issues here. "You knew that?"

  "Sure, it goes around. He talked to Danny and Will's mother. Danny said she gave him an earful. She didn't like some guy coming around asking questions about Ray. That butthead Chuck up at the Dairy Queen told the detective
guy that Ray was screwing around with his students, then had a crisis of conscience and killed himself."

  "Crisis of conscience." Jesus, where did the kid come up with this stuff? "Chuck Kimball? He always was a butthead. Word is he got caught cheating on a lit exam and got booted out of college. And it seems to me Phillip beat the crap out of him once. Can't remember why, though."

  "He's got a face like a carp."

  Cam laughed. "Yeah, I guess he does. Dad—Ray—never touched a student, Seth."

  "He was square with me." And that counted for everything. "My mother…"

  "Go ahead," Cam prompted.

  "She told me he was my father. But another time she said this other guy was, and once when she was really loaded she said my old man was some guy named Keith Richards."

  Cam couldn't help it, the laugh just popped out. "Jesus, now she's hitting on the Stones?"

  "Who?"

  "I'll see to your music education later."

  "I don't know if Ray was my father." Seth looked up. "She's a liar, so I don't go with anything she said, but he took me. I know he gave her money, a lot of it. I don't know if he'd have told me if he was. He said there were things we had to talk about, but he had stuff to work out first. I know you don't want him to be."

  It couldn't matter, Cam realized. Not anymore. "Do you want him to be?"

  "He was decent," the boy said so simply that Cam draped an arm around his shoulders. And Seth leaned against him.

  "Yeah, he was."

  everything had changed. Everything was different. And he was desperate to tell her. Cam knew his life had turned on its axis yet again. And somehow he'd ended up exactly where he needed to be.

  The only thing missing was Anna.

  He took a chance and drove to her apartment. It was Saturday night, he thought. She was due back at work on Monday. She was a practical woman and would want to take Sunday to catch up, sort her laundry, answer her mail. Whatever.

  If she wasn't home, he was going to by God sit on her doorstep until she got there.

 
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