Sea swept, p.5

Sea Swept, page 5

 part  #1 of  Chesapeake Bay Saga Series

 




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  "What if we all lived here? What if my brothers moved in?'' What a damn mess, Cam thought, but he kept going. "What if I got a…" Now he had to take a deep swallow of beer, knowing the word would stick in his throat. "A job," he managed.

  She stared at him. "You'd be willing to change your life so dramatically?"

  "Ray and Stella Quinn changed my life."

  Her face softened, making Cam blink in surprise as her generous mouth curved in a smile, as her eyes seemed to go darker and deeper. When her hand reached out, closed lightly over his, he stared down at it, surprised by a quick jolt of what was surely pure lust.

  "When I was driving here, I was wishing I could have met them. I thought they must have been remarkable people. Now I'm sure of it." Then she drew back. "I'll need to speak with Seth, and with your brothers. What time does Seth get home from school?"

  "What time?" Cam glanced at the kitchen clock without a clue. "It's sort of… flexible."

  "You'll want to do better than that if this gets as far as a formal home study. I'll go by the school and see him. Your brother Ethan." She rose. "Would I find him at home?"

  "Not at this time of day. He'll be bringing in his catch before five."

  She glanced at her watch, gauged her time. "All right, and I'll contact your other brother in Baltimore." From her briefcase she took a neat leather notebook. "Now, can you give me names and addresses of some neighbors. People who know you and Seth and who would stand for your character. The good side of your character, that is."

  "I could probably come up with a few."

  "That's a start. I'll do some research here, Mr. Quinn. If it's in Seth's best interest to remain in your home, under your care, I'll do everything I can to help you." She angled her head. "If I reach the opinion that it's in his best interest to be taken out of your home, and out of your care, then I'll fight you tooth and nail to make that happen."

  Cam rose as well. "Then I guess we understand each other."

  "Not by a long shot. But you've got to start somewhere."

  the minute she was out of the house, Cam was on the phone. By the time he'd been passed through a secretary and an assistant and reached Phillip, his temper had spilled over.

  "There was a goddamn social worker here."

  "I told you to expect that."

  "No, you didn't."

  "Yes, I did. You don't listen. I've got a friend of mine—a lawyer—working on the guardianship. Seth's mother took a hike; as far as we can tell, she's not in Baltimore."

  "I don't give a damn where the mother is. The social worker was making noises about taking Seth."

  "The lawyer's putting through a temporary guardianship. It takes time, Cam."

  "We may not have tune." He shut his eyes, tried to think past the anger. "Or maybe I bought us some. Who owns the house now?"

  "We do. Dad left it—well, everything—to the three of us."

  "Fine, good. Because you're about to change locations. You're going to need to pack up those designer suits of yours, pal, and get your butt down here. We're going to be living together again."

  "Like hell."

  "And I've got to get a goddamn job. I'm going to expect you by seven tonight. Bring dinner. I'm sick to death of cooking."

  It gave him some satisfaction to hang up on Phillip's vigorous cursing.

  anna found seth sullen and smart-mouthed and snotty. And liked him immediately. The principal had given her permission to take him out of class and use a corner of the empty cafeteria as a makeshift office.

  "It would be easier if you'd tell me what you think and feel, and what you want."

  "Why should you give a damn?"

  "They pay me to."

  Seth shrugged and continued to draw patterns on the table with his finger. "I think you should mind your own business, I feel bored, and I want you to go away."

  "Well, that's enough about me," Anna said and had the pleasure of seeing Seth struggle to suppress a smile. "Let's talk about you. Are you happy living with Mr. Quinn?"

  "It's a cool house."

  "Yes, I liked it. What about Mr. Quinn?"

  "He thinks he knows everything. Thinks he's a BFD because he's been all over the world. He sure as hell can't cook, let me tell you."

  She left her pen on the table and folded her hands over her notebook. He was much too thin, she thought. "Do you go hungry?"

  "He ends up going to get pizza or burgers. Pitiful. I mean what's it take to work a microwave?"

  "Maybe you should do the cooking."

  "Like he'd ask me. The other night he blows up the potatoes. Forgets to poke holes in them, you know, and bam!" Seth forgot to sneer, laughing out loud instead. "What a mess! He swore a streak then, man, oh, man."

  "So the kitchen isn't his area of expertise." But, Anna decided, he was trying.

  "You're telling me. He's better off when he's going around hammering things or fiddling with that cool-ass car. Did you see that 'Vette? Cam said it was his mom's and she had it for like ever. Drives like a rocket, too. Ray kept it in the garage. Guess he didn't want to get it out."

  "Do you miss him? Ray?"

  The shoulder shrugged again, and Seth's gaze dropped. "He was cool. But he was old and when you get old you die. That's the way it is."

  "What about Ethan and Phillip?"

  "They're okay. I like going out on the boats. If I didn't have school, I could work for Ethan. He said I pulled my weight."

  "Do you want to stay with them, Seth?"

  "I got no place to go, do I?"

  "There's always a choice, and I'm here to help you find the one that works best for you. If you know where your mother is—"

  "I don't know." His voice rose, his head snapped up. His eyes darkened to nearly navy against a pale face. "And I don't want to know. You try to send me back there, you'll never find me."

  "Did she hurt you?" Anna waited a beat, then nodded when he only stared at her. "All right, we'll leave that alone for now. There are couples and families who are willing and able to take children into their home, to care for them, to give them a good life."

  "They don't want me, do they?" The tears wanted to come. He'd be damned if he'd let them. Instead his eyes went hot and burning dry. "He said I could stay, but it was a lie. Just another fucking lie."

  "No." She grabbed Seth's hand before he could leap up. "No, they do want you. As a matter of fact, Mr. Quinn—Cameron—was very angry with me for suggesting you should go into another home. I'm only trying to find out what you want. And I think you just told me. If living with the Quinns is what you want, and what's best for you, I want to help you to get that."

  "Ray said I could stay. He said I'd never have to go back. He promised."

  "If I can, I'll try to help him keep that promise."

  Chapter Four

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  since there seemed to be nothing cold to drink in the house but beer, carbonated soft drinks, and some suspicious-looking milk, Ethan put the kettle on to boil. He'd brew up some tea, ice it, and enjoy a tall glass out on the porch while evening moseyed in.

  He was in hour fourteen of his day and ready to relax.

  Which wasn't going to be easy, he decided while he hunted up tea bags and overheard Cam and Seth holding some new pissing match in the living room. He figured they must enjoy sniping at each other or they wouldn't spend so much time at it.

  For himself, he wanted a quiet hour, a decent meal, then one of the two cigars he allowed himself per day. The way things sounded, he didn't think the quiet hour was going to make the agenda.

  As he dumped tea bags in the boiling water, he heard feet stomping up the stairs, followed by the bullet-sharp sound of a slamming door.

  "The kid's driving me bat-shit," Cam complained as he stalked into the kitchen. "You can't say boo to him without him squaring up for a fight."

  "Mm-hmm."

  "Argumentative, smart-mouthed, troublemaker." Feeling grossly put upon, Cam snagged a beer from the fridge. "Must be
like looking in a mirror."

  "Like hell."

  "Don't know what I was thinking of. You're such a peaceable soul." Moving at his own relaxed pace, Ethan bent down to search out an old glass pitcher. "Let's see, you were just about fourteen when I came along. First thing you did was pick a fight so you'd have the excuse to bloody my nose."

  For the first time in hours, Cam felt a grin spread. "That was just a welcome-to-the-family tap. Besides, you gave me a hell of a black eye as a thank-you."

  "There was that. Kid's too smart to try to punch you," Ethan continued and began to dump generous scoops of sugar into the pitcher. "So he razzes you instead. He sure as hell's got your attention, doesn't he?"

  It was irritating because it was true. "You got him pegged so neatly, why don't you take him on?"

  "Because I'm on the water every morning at dawn. Kid like that needs supervision." That, Ethan thought, was his story and he'd stick to it through all the tortures of hell. "Of the three of us, you're the only one not working."

  "I'm going to have to fix that," Cam muttered. "Oh, yeah?'' With a mild snort, Ethan finished making the tea. "That'll be the day."

  "The day's coming up fast. Social worker was here today."

  Ethan grunted, let the implications turn over in his mind.

  "What'd she want?"

  "To check us out. She's going to be talking to you, too. And Phillip. Already talked to Seth—which is what I was trying to diplomatically ask him about when he started foaming at the mouth again."

  Cam frowned now, thinking more of Anna Spinelli of the great legs and tidy briefcase than of Seth. "If we don't pass, she's going to work on pulling him."

  "He isn't going anywhere."

  "That's what I said." He dragged his hand through his hair again, which for some reason reminded him he'd meant to get a haircut. In Rome. Seth wasn't the only one not going anywhere. "But, bro, we're about to make some serious adjustments around here."

  "Things are fine as they are." Ethan filled a glass with ice and poured tea over it so that it crackled.

  "Easy for you to say." Cam stepped out on the porch, let the screen door slap shut behind him. He walked to the rail, watched Ethan's sleek Chesapeake Bay retriever, Simon, play tag and tumble with the fat puppy. Upstairs, Seth had obviously decided to seek revenge by turning his radio up to earsplitting. Screaming headbanger rock blasted through the windows.

  Cam's jaw twitched. He'd be damned if he'd tell the kid to turn it down. Too clichéd, too terrifyingly adult a response. He sipped his beer, struggled to loosen the knots in his shoulders, and concentrated on the way the lowering sun tossed white diamonds onto the water.

  The wind was coming up so that the marsh grass waved like a field of Kansas wheat. The drake of a pair of ducks that had set up house where the water bent at the edge of the trees flew by quacking.

  Lucy, I'm home, was all Cam could think, and it nearly made him smile again.

  Under the roar of music he heard the gentle rhythmic creak of the rocker. Beer fountained from the lip of the bottle when he whirled. Ethan stopped rocking and stared at him.

  "What?" he demanded. "Christ, Cam, you look like you've seen a ghost."

  "Nothing." Cam swiped a hand over his face, then carefully lowered himself to the porch so he could lean back against the post. "Nothing," he repeated, but set the beer aside. "I'm a little edgy."

  "Usually are if you stay in one place more than a week."

  "Don't climb up my back, Ethan."

  "Just a comment." And because Cam looked exhausted and pale, Ethan reached in the breast pocket of his shirt, took out two cigars. It wouldn't hurt to change his smoke-after-dinner routine. "Cigar?"

  Cam sighed. "Yeah, why not?" Rather than move, he let Ethan light the first and pass it to him. Leaning back again, he blew a few lazy smoke rings. When the music shut off abruptly, he felt he'd achieved a small personal victory.

  For the next ten minutes, there wasn't a sound but the lap of water, the call of birds, and the talk of the breeze. The sun dropped lower, turning the western sky into a soft, rosy haze that bled into the water and blurred the horizon. Shadows deepened.

  It was like Ethan, Cam mused, to ask no questions. To sit in silence and wait. To understand the need for quiet. He'd nearly forgotten that admirable trait of his brother's. And maybe, Cam admitted, he'd nearly forgotten how much he loved the brother Ray and Stella had given him.

  But even remembering, he wasn't sure what to do about it.

  "See you fixed the steps," Ethan commented when he judged Cam was relaxing again.

  "Yeah. The place could use a coat of paint, too."

  "We'll have to get to that."

  They were going to have to get to a lot of things, Cam thought. But the quiet creak of the rocker kept taking his mind back to that afternoon. "Have you ever had a dream while you were wide awake?" He could ask because it was Ethan, and Ethan would think and consider.

  After setting the nearly empty glass on the porch beside the rocker, Ethan studied his cigar. "Well… I guess I have. The mind likes to wander when you let it."

  It could have been that, Cam told himself. His mind had wandered—maybe even gotten lost for a bit. That could have been why he'd thought he saw his father rocking on the porch. The conversation? Wishful thinking, he decided. That was all.

  "Remember how Dad used to bring his fiddle out here? Hot summer nights he'd sit where you're sitting and play for hours. He had such big hands."

  "He could sure make that fiddle sing."

  "You picked it up pretty well."

  Ethan shrugged, puffed lazily on his cigar. "Some."

  "You ought to take it. He'd have wanted you to have it."

  Ethan shifted his quiet eyes, locked them on Cam's. Neither spoke for a moment, nor had to. "I guess I will, but not right yet. I'm not ready."

  "Yeah." Cam blew out smoke again.

  "You still got the guitar they gave you that Christmas?''

  "I left it here. Didn't want it banging around with me." Cam looked at his fingers, flexed them as though he were about to lay them on the strings. "Guess I haven't played in more than a year."

  "Maybe we should try Seth on some instrument. Mom used to swear playing a tune pumped out the aggression." He turned his head as the dogs began to bark and race around the side of the house. "Expecting somebody?"

  "Phillip."

  Ethan's brows lifted. "Thought he wasn't coming down till Friday."

  "Let's just call this a family emergency." Cam tapped out the stub of the cigar before he rose. "I hope to Christ he brought some decent food and none of that fancy pea pod crap he likes to eat."

  Phillip strode into the kitchen balancing a large bag on top of a jumbo bucket of chicken and shooting out waves of irritation. He dumped the food on the table, skimmed a hand through his hair, and scowled at his brothers.

  "I'm here," he snapped as they came through the back door. "What's the damn problem?"

  "We're hungry," Cam said easily, and peeling the top from the bucket, he grabbed a drumstick. "You got dirt on your 'I'm an executive' pants there, Phil."

  ''Goddamn it." Furious now, Phillip brushed impatiently at the pawprints on his slacks. "When are you going to teach that idiot dog not to jump on people?"

  "You cart around fried chicken, dog's going to see if he can get a piece. Makes him smart if you ask me." Unoffended, Ethan went to a cupboard for plates.

  "You get fries?" Cam poked in the bag, snagged one. "Cold. Somebody better nuke these. If I do it they'll blow up or disintegrate."

  "I'll do it. Get something to dish up that coleslaw."

  Phillip took a breath, then one more. The drive down from Baltimore was long, and the traffic had been ugly. "When you two girls have finished playing house, maybe you'll tell me why I broke a date with a very hot-looking CPA—the third date by the way, which was dinner at her place with the definite possibility of sex afterward—and instead just spent a couple hours in miserable traffic to deliv
er a fucking bucket of chicken to a couple of boobs."

  "First off, I'm tired of cooking." Cam heaped coleslaw on his plate and took a biscuit. "And even more tired of tossing out what I've cooked because even the pup—who drinks out of the toilet with regularity—won't touch it. But that's only the surface."

  He took another hefty bite of chicken as he walked to the doorway and shouted for Seth. "The kid needs to be here. We're all in this."

  "Fine. Great." Phillip dropped into a chair, tugged at his tie.

  "No use sulking because your accountant isn't going to be running your figures tonight, pal." Ethan offered him a friendly smile and a plate.

  "Tax season's heating up." With a sigh, Phillip scooped out slaw. "I'll be lucky to get a warm look from her until after April fifteenth. And I was so close."

  "None of us is likely to be getting much action for the next little while." Cam jerked a head as Seth's feet pounded down the stairs. "The patter of little feet plays hell with the sex life."

  Cam tucked away the urge for another beer and settled on iced tea as Seth stepped into the kitchen. The boy scanned the room, his nose twitching at the scent of spicy chicken, but he didn't dive into the bucket as he would have liked to.

  "What's the deal?" he demanded and tucked his hands in his pockets while his stomach yearned.

  "Family meeting," Cam announced. "With food. Sit." He took a chair himself as Ethan put the freshly buzzed fries on the table. "Sit," Cam repeated when Seth stayed where he was. "If you're not hungry you can just listen."

  "I could eat." Seth sauntered over to the table, slid into a chair. "It's got to be better than the crud you've been trying to pass off as food."

  "You know," Ethan said in his mild drawl before Cam could snarl, "seems to me I'd be grateful if somebody tried to put together a hot meal for me from time to time. Even if it was crud." With his eyes on Seth, Ethan tipped down the bucket, contemplated his choices. "Especially if that somebody was doing the best he could."

  Because it was Ethan, Seth flushed, squirmed, then shrugged as he plucked out a fat breast. "Nobody asked him to cook."

  "All the more reason. Might work better if you took turns."

  "He doesn't think I can do anything." Seth sneered over at Cam. "So I don't."

  "You know, it's tempting to toss this little fish back into the pond." Cam dumped salt on his fries and struggled to hold onto a simmering temper. "I could be in Aruba this time tomorrow."

  "So go." Seth's eyes flashed up, full of anger and defiance. "Go wherever the hell you want as long as it's out of my face. I don't need you."

  "Smart-mouthed little brat. I've had it." Cam had a long reach and used it now to shoot a hand across the table and pluck Seth out of his chair. Even as Phillip opened his mouth to protest, Ethan shook his head.

  "You think I've enjoyed spending the last two weeks baby-sitting some snot-nosed monster with a piss-poor attitude? I've put my life on hold to deal with you."

  "Big deal." Seth had turned sheet-white and was ready for the blow he was sure would come. But he wouldn't back down. "All you do is run around collecting trophies and screwing women. Go back where you came from and keep doing it. I

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