Sea Swept, page 8part #1 of Chesapeake Bay Saga Series
"That's not my problem," Cam said with a grin. "That would be yours."
"I have a job. In Baltimore."
"I had a life," Cam said simply, "in Europe."
Phillip paced away, back, away again. Trapped, was all he could think. "I'll do what I can to get things started. This could be a huge mistake, and it's going to cost a lot of money. And you'd both better consider that the social worker might take a dim view of us starting a risky business at this point. I'm not giving up my job. At least that's one steady income."
"I'll talk to her about it," Cam decided on impulse. "See how she reacts. You'll talk to Grace about pitching in around the house?'' he asked Ethan.
"Yeah, I'll go down to the pub and run it by her."
"Fine. That leaves you to deal with Seth tonight." He smiled thinly at Phillip. "Make sure he does his homework."
"Now that that's settled," Cam eased back, "who's cooking dinner?"
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tracking down anna Spinelli was the perfect excuse to escape the post-dinner chaos at home. It meant the dishes were someone else's problem—and that he couldn't be pulled into the homework argument that had just begun to heat up between Phillip and Seth.
In fact, as far as Cam was concerned, a rainy evening drive to Princess Anne was high entertainment. And that was pretty pitiful for a man who'd grown accustomed to jetting from Paris to Rome.
He tried not to think about it.
He'd arranged to have his hydrofoil stored, his clothes packed up and sent. He had yet to have his car shipped over, though. It was just a bit too permanent a commitment. But between the time spent repairing steps and doing laundry, he'd entertained himself by tuning up and tinkering with his mother's prized 'Vette.
It gave him a great deal of pleasure to drive it—so much that he accepted the speeding ticket he collected just outside of Princess Anne without complaint.
The town wasn't the hive of activity it had been during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when tobacco had been king and wealth poured into the area. But it was pretty enough, Cam supposed, with the old homes restored and preserved, the streets clean and quiet. Now that tourism was becoming the newest deity for the Shore, the charm and grace of historic towns were a huge economic draw.
Anna's apartment was less than half a mile from the offices of Social Services. Easy walking distance to work, to the courts. Shopping was convenient. He imagined she'd chosen the old Victorian house for those reasons as well as for the ambience.
The building was tucked behind big trees, their branches now hazed with new leaves. The walkway was cracked but flanked by daffodils that were ready to pop out with sunny yellow. Steps led to a covered veranda. The plaque beside the door stated that the house was on the historic register.
The door itself was unlocked and led Cam into a hallway. The wood floor was a bit worn, but someone had troubled to polish it to a dull gleam. The mail slots on the wall were brass, again polished, and indicated that the building had been converted to four apartments. A. Spinelli occupied 2B.
Cam trooped up the creaking stairs to the second floor. The hallway was more narrow here, the lights dimmer. The only sound he heard was the muffled echo of what sounded like a riotous sitcom from the television of 2A.
He knocked on Anna's door and waited. Then he knocked again, tucked his hands in his pockets, and scowled. He'd expected her to be home. He'd never considered otherwise. It was nearly nine o'clock, a weeknight, and she was a civil servant.
She should have been quietly at home, reading a book or filling out forms and reports. That was how practical career women spent their evenings—though he hoped eventually to show her a more entertaining way to pass the time.
Probably at some women's club meeting, he decided, annoyed with her. He searched the pockets of his black leather bomber jacket for a scrap of paper and was about to disturb 2A in hopes of borrowing something to write on and with when he heard the quick, rhythmic click that an experienced man recognized as a woman's high heels against wood.
He glanced down the hall, pleased that his luck had changed.
He barely noticed that his jaw dropped.
The woman who walked toward him was built like a man's darkest fantasy. And she was generous enough to showcase that killer body in a snug electric-blue dress scooped low at the breasts and cut high on the thighs. It left nothing—and everything to a male's imagination.
The click of heels on wood was courtesy of ice pick heels in the same shocking color, which turned her legs into endless fascination.
Her hair, dewy with rain, curled madly to her shoulders, a thick ebony mane that brought images of gypsies and campfire sex to mind. Her mouth was red and wet, her eyes huge and dark. The scent of her reached him ten seconds before she did and delivered a breathtaking punch straight to the loins.
She said nothing, only narrowed those amazing eyes, cocked one glorious hip, and waited.
"Well." He had to work on getting his breath back. "I guess you've never heard the one about hiding your light under a bushel."
"I've heard it." She was furious to find him on her doorstep, furious that she was without her professional armor. And even more furious that he'd been on her mind throughout the evening a great deal more than her date. "What do you want, Mr. Quinn?"
Now he grinned, fast and sharp as a wolf baring fangs. "That's a loaded question at the moment, Miz Spinelli."
"Don't be ordinary, Quinn. You've avoided that so far."
"I promise you, I don't have a single ordinary thought in my mind." Unable to resist, he reached out to toy with the ends of her hair. "Where ya been, Anna?"
"Look, it's well after business hours, and my personal life isn't—" She broke off, struggled not to curse or moan as the door across the hall opened.
"You're back from your date, Anna."
"Yes, Mrs. Hardelman."
The woman of about seventy was wrapped in a pink chenille robe and peered over the glasses perched on her nose. Heat and canned laughter poured out into the hall. She beamed at Cam, the smile lighting her pleasant face. "Oh, he's much better-looking than the last one."
"Thanks." Cam stepped over and smiled back. "Does she have a lot of them?''
"Oh, they come and they go." Mrs. Hardelman chuckled and fluffed at her thin white hair. "She never keeps them."
Cam leaned companionably on the doorjamb, enjoying the sounds of frustration Anna made behind him. "Guess she hasn't found one worth keeping yet. She sure is pretty."
"And such a nice girl. She picks up things at the market for us if Sister and I aren't feeling up to going out. Always offers to drive us to church on Sunday. And when my Petie died, Anna took care of the burial herself."
Mrs. Hardelman looked over at Anna with such affection and sweetness, Anna could only sigh. "You're missing your show, Mrs. Hardelman."
"Oh, yes." She glanced back into the apartment, where the television blasted. "I do love my comedies. You come back now," she told Cam and gently closed the door.
And because Anna was perfectly aware that her neighbor wouldn't be able to resist peeping through the security hole hoping to catch a romantic good-night kiss, she dug out her keys.
"You might as well come in since you're here."
"Thanks." He crossed the hall, waiting while she unlocked her door. "You buried your neighbor's husband."
"Her parakeet," Anna corrected. "Petie was a bird. She and her sister have both been widows for about twenty years. And all I did was get a shoe box and dig a hole out back next to a rosebush."
He brushed a hand over her hair again as she pushed the door open. "It meant something to her."
"Watch your hands, Quinn," she warned and flicked on the lights.
To indicate that he was willing to oblige, he held them out, then tucked them into his pockets while he studied the room. Soft, deep cushions, bright, bold colors. He decided the choices meant she had a deep-roo
He liked to think that.
The room was spacious, and she'd furnished it sparingly. The sofa was big and plush enough for sleeping, but there was only a wide upholstered chair and two tables to keep it company.
Yet she'd covered the walls with art. Prints, posters, pen-and-ink sketches. They were of places rather than people, and many of the scenes he recognized. The narrow streets of Rome, the wild cliffs of western Ireland, the classy little cafes of Paris.
"I've been here." He tapped the frame of the Paris cafe.
"How nice for you." She said it dryly, trying not to resent the fact that her pictures were the only way she could afford to travel. For now. "Now, what are you doing here?"
"I wanted to talk to you about—" He made the mistake of turning, looking at her again. She was obviously a very annoyed woman, but it only added to her appeal. Her eyes and mouth were sulky, her body braced in challenge. "Christ, you're a looker, Anna. I was attracted to you before—I imagine you caught that—but… who knew?''
She didn't want to be flattered. She certainly didn't want her heartbeat to pick up speed and lose its steady rhythm. But it was difficult to control either reaction when a man like Cameron Quinn was standing there looking at her as if he'd like to start nibbling at any single part of her body and keep going till he'd devoured it all.
She took a careful breath. "You wanted to talk to me about…?" she prompted.
"The kid, stuff. How about some coffee? That's civilized, right?" He decided to test them both by walking to her. "I figure you expect me to act civilized. I'm willing to give it a shot."
She brooded a moment, then pivoted on those sexy blue heels. Cam appreciated the rear view, rolled his eyes toward heaven, then followed her to the spotless counter that separated living room and kitchen. He leaned on it, pleased that the location gave him a perfect view of her legs.
Then he heard the electric rumble and caught the amazing scent of fresh coffee. "You grind your own beans?"
"If you're going to make coffee, you might as well make good coffee."
"Yeah." He closed his eyes to better appreciate the aroma. "Oh, yeah. Do I have to marry you to get you to make my coffee every day, or can we just live together?"
She looked over her shoulder, lifted her brows at his wide, winning grin, then got back to the task at hand.
"I bet you've used that look to shut men down with enormous success. But me, I like it. So where were you tonight?"
"I had a date."
He moved around the counter. The kitchen area was small, no more than a narrow passageway. He liked being close enough so that her scent mixed with the smell of coffee. "Early evening," he commented.
"It was going to be." She felt the hair on the back of her neck prickle. He was too damn close. Instinctively she employed her usual method with men who crowded her space. She rammed her elbow into his gut.
"Practiced move," he murmured and, rubbing his stomach, backed off an inch. "Do you ever have to use it in your social worker mode?"
"Rarely. How do you want your coffee?"
"Strong and black."
She set it to brew, turned around, and bumped solidly into him. Her radar, she decided as his hands came up to take her arms, had definitely been off. Or, she was forced to admit, she'd ignored it because she'd wondered how they might fit.
Well, now she knew.
He deliberately kept his eyes on her face, didn't let them dip down to the small gold cross nestled between her breasts. He wasn't particularly devout, but he was afraid he would go to hell for having lascivious thoughts about the framework for a religious symbol.
Besides, he liked her face.
"Quinn," she said with a long, irritated sigh. "Back off."
"You dropped the Mister Quinn. Does that mean we're pals?"
Because he smiled when he said it, and because he did step back, she found herself chuckling. "Jury's still out."
"I like the way you smell, Anna. Lusty, provocative. Challenging. Of course, I like the way Miz Spinelli smells, too. Quiet and practical and subtle."
"All right… Cam." She turned, took out two pretty, deep cups from the cupboard. "Let's stop dancing and agree that we're attracted to each other."
"I was hoping once we agreed to that we'd start dancing."
"Wrong." She tossed her hair back and poured coffee. "I'm Seth's caseworker. You're proposing to be his guardian. It would be incredibly unwise for either of us to act on a physical attraction."
He picked up the cup, leaned back against the counter. "I don't know about you, but I love doing stuff that's unwise. Especially if it feels good." He brought the cup to his lips, then smiled slowly. "And I bet acting on that physical attraction would feel damn good."
"It's fortunate that I happen to be very wise." With a mirroring smile, she leaned back on the opposite counter.
"Now, you wanted to discuss Seth—and stuff, as I believe you put it."
Seth, the rest of his brothers, and the situation had gone completely out of his mind. He supposed he'd used it as an excuse to see her. That was something to consider later. "I have to admit, coming into Princess Anne to talk to you was a great reason to escape. I was about to get stuck with dish duty, and Phil and the kid were already into round one on the homework issue."
"I'm glad someone's dealing with his schoolwork. And why don't you ever refer to Seth by his name?"
"I do. Sure I do."
"No, not as a rule." She cocked her head. "Is that a habit of yours, Cameron, to avoid the personal contact of names with people you don't intend to have an important or permanent relationship with?"
Her point, he was forced to admit, but he lifted a brow. "I use your name."
He saw her blink, heard her sigh, then she waved the issue away. "What about Seth?"
"It's not about him, directly. Except I figure we're starting to divvy things up more evenhandedly. Phil's the best to keep on him—keep on Seth," he corrected with emphasis, "about school because for some reason Phil actually liked school. And we decided to get somebody to come in and deal with most of the housework a couple of days a week."
She still had a picture of him standing in a puddle of suds with a look of baffled fury on his face. Her lips wanted badly to twitch into a smile. "You'll be happier."
"I hope never to see another vacuum cleaner bag. Ever had one rip on you?'' He shuddered deliberately and made her laugh. "Anyhow, Ethan had this brainstorm. I'm at loose ends, Phillip needs something to occupy him if he's going to be staying here—though he figures on commuting to Baltimore for now. So we're going into business."
"Into business? What kind of business?"
She lowered her cup. "You're going to build boats?"
"I've built plenty—so has Ethan. And actually, though Phil went over to the suit-and-tie life, he's done some himself. The three of us worked on the skipjack that Ethan still sails."
"That's fine for recreation, for personal use, for a hobby. But to consider starting a business, a risky one, at the very time when you're trying to take on a minor dependent…"
"He won't go hungry. For Christ's sake, Ethan holds his own on the bay, and Phil's got that desk job in Baltimore. I could get busywork, but what's the point?"
"I'm only pointing out that a venture of this nature would consume a great deal of money and time, particularly during the first months. Stability—"
"Isn't every damn thing." Annoyed, he set his coffee down and began to pace. "Shouldn't the kid learn there's more to life than nine-to-fiving it? That there can be choices, that you can take a chance? How good is it for him if I'm stuck in that house dusting furniture and hating every goddamn minute of it? Ethan's already got one client, and if Ethan brought this up you can believe he's weighed it from every angle. Nobody thinks things through as much as he does."
"And since you felt you wanted to discuss this with me, I'm simply trying to do the same. Weigh it from every angle."
She took a minute, reminding herself it wouldn't solve anything if both of them lost the battle with temper. "What appeals to me, what I wear, and how I choose to spend my evenings aren't the issues here. As Seth's caseworker, I'm concerned that his home life be as stable and happy as possible."
"Why should me building boats make him unhappy?"
"My question regarding this idea of yours is whether your attention will be taken away from him and turned toward this new business. A business that you would, I imagine, find exciting, challenging, and interesting, at least for a time."
His eyes narrowed. "You just don't think I can stick, do you?"
"That's yet to be proved. But I do think you'll try. What worries me is that you're not trying for Seth, you're trying for your father. For your parents. I don't think that's a count against you, Cam," she said more gently. "But it's not a point in Seth's favor."
How the hell did you argue with a woman who insisted on dotting every i? he wondered. "So you think he's better off with strangers?"
"No, I think he's better off with you and your brothers." She smiled, satisfied that she had shut him up for the moment. "And that's what went into my report. This idea of starting a boat-building business is something new to think about, and I hope none of you intends to rush into it."
"Do you sail?"
"No, I've never tried it. Why?"
"I'd never been on a boat in my life until Ray Quinn took me out."
Because he remembered how those eyes of hers could warm with compassion, he decided to tell her how it had been for him. "I was scared to death, but too tough to admit it. I'd only been with them a few days, never figured I'd stay. He took me out on this little Sunfish he had back then. Told me the air would do me good."
All he had to do was think, and the image of that morning came clear as sunlight in his head. "My father was a big man. The Mighty Quinn. Built like a bull. I knew that little boat was going to tip over, and I'd probably drown, but he had a way of getting you to do things."
Love, Anna thought: It was pure and simple love in his voice. It attracted her, she admitted, every bit as much as that toughly handsome face. "Could you swim?"
"No—but I still hated it that he made me wear a PFD. Personal flotation device," he explained. "Life jacket. Figured it was for sissies."
"You'd rather have drowned?"
"Hell, no, but I had to make him think so. Anyway, I sat in the stern, my stomach clutched. I was wearing these sunglasses my mother—Stella," he corrected, for she'd been Stella then—"had dug up somewhere because my eye was pretty banged up and the sunlight hurt."
He'd been beaten, abused, neglected, she remembered, when the Quinns had found him. Her heart went out to the little boy. "You must have been terrified."
"Down to the bone, but I'd have choked on my tongue before I'd have admitted it. He must have known that," Cam said quietly. "He always knew what was in my head. It was hot, and the humidity was up so that every time you took a breath it was like swallowing water. He said it would be cooler when we moved out of the gut and onto the river, but I didn't believe him. I figured we'd just sit there and fry. The boat didn't even have a motor. Christ, he laughed when I said that. He told me we had something better than a motor."
He'd forgotten his coffee, and even the point of the story drifted away in the memory. "We headed out across the water, slow and easy at first, the boat rocked when we turned into the bend, and I figured that was it. Game over. This heron came out of the trees. I'd seen it once before. At least I like to think it was the same one. It winged right over the boat, wings spread to trap the air. And then we caught the wind and that little sail filled. We started to fly. He turned around and grinned at me. I didn't even know I was grinning back until I split my lip open again. I'd never felt like that before in my life. Not once."
Without thinking, he lifted his hand and tucked her hair behind her ear. "Not once in my life."
NORA ROBERTS SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Vision in WhiteThe Next AlwaysBorn in FireDance Upon the AirJewels of the SunThe WitnessKey of LightBlue Dahlia
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