Authors: Nora Roberts
Which meant the third man was Phillip Quinn, the advertising executive, who worked at the top firm in Baltimore. He looked gilded, she thought. Wayfarers and Levi's, she mused. Bronzed hair that must be a joy to his stylist. A long, trim body that must see regular workouts at the health club.
Interesting. Physically they bore no resemblance to each other and through her research she knew they shared a name but not blood. Yet there was something in the body language, in the way they moved as a team, that indicated they were brothers.
She intended simply to pass by, to give the building where they based their business a quick look and evaluation. Though she'd known that at least one of them would be there, since he'd answered the phone, she hadn't expected to see them outside, as a group, to have this opportunity to study them.
She was a woman who appreciated the unexpected.
Nerves shimmered in her stomach. Out of habit, she took three slow breaths and rolled her shoulders to relax them. Casual, she reminded herself. There was nothing to be uneasy about. After all, she had the advantage here. She knew them, and they didn't know her.
It was typical behavior, she decided as she crossed the street. A person strolling along and seeing three men working
to hang an impressive new sign would display curiosity and interest. Particularly a small-town tourist, which was, for this purpose, what she was. She was also a single female, and they were three very attractive men. A mild flirtation would be typical as well.
Still, when she reached the front of the building, she stood back. It seemed to be difficult and precarious work. The sign was bolted to thick black chains and wrapped in rope. They'd worked out a pulley system, with the ad exec on the roof guiding and his brothers on the ground hauling. Encouragement, curses, and directions were issued with equal enthusiasm.
There were certainly a lot of muscles rippling, she observed with a lift of her brow.
“Your end, Cam. Give me another inch. Goddamn.” Grunting, Phillip dropped onto his belly and squirmed out far enough that she held her breath and waited for gravity to do its work.
But he managed to balance himself and snag the chain. She could see his mouth working as he fought to loop the heavy link around a thick hook, but she couldn't hear what he was saying. She thought that might be for the best.
“Got it. Hold it steady,” he ordered, rising to tightwalk his way across the eaves to the other end. The sun struck his hair, gleamed over his skin. She caught herself goggling. This, she thought, was a prime example of sheer male beauty.
Then he was bellying over the edge again, grabbing for the chain, hauling it into place. And swearing ripely. When he rose, he scowled at the long tear down the front of his shirt where she supposed it had caught on something on the roof.
“I just bought this sucker.”
“It was real pretty, too,” Cam called up.
“Kiss my ass,” Phillip suggested and tugged the shirt off to use it to mop sweat off his face.
Oh, well, now, she thought, appreciating the view on a
purely personal level. The young American god, she decided. Designed to make females drool.
He hooked the ruined shirt in his back pocket, started for the ladder. And that's when he spotted her. She couldn't see his eyes, but she could tell by the momentary pause, the angle of the head, that he was looking at her. The evaluation would be instinctive, she knew. Male sees female, studies, considers, decides.
He'd seen her all right and, as he started down the ladder, was already considering. And hoping for a closer look. “We've got company,” Phillip murmured, and Cam glanced over his shoulder.
“Hmmm. Very nice.”
“Been there ten minutes.” Ethan dusted his hands on his hips. “Watching the show.”
Phillip stepped off the ladder, turned and smiled. “So,” he called out to her, “how's it look?”
Curtain up, she thought and started forward. “Very impressive. I hope you don't mind the audience. I couldn't resist.”
“Not at all. It's a big day for the Quinns.” He held out a hand. “I'm Phillip.”
“I'm Sybill. And you build boats.”
“That's what the sign says.”
“Fascinating. I'm spending some time in the area. I hadn't expected to stumble across boatbuilders. What sort of boats do you build?”
“Wooden sailing vessels.”
“Really?” She turned her easy smile toward his brothers. “And you're partners?”
“Cam.” He returned the smile, jerked a thumb. “My brother Ethan.”
“Nice to meet you. Cameron,” she began, shifting her gaze to read from the sign. “Ethan, Phillip.” Her heartbeat accelerated, but she kept the polite smile in place. “Where's Seth?”
“In school,” Phillip told her.
“Middle. He's ten.”
“I see.” There were scars on his chest, she saw now. Old and shiny and riding dangerously close to his heart. “You have a very impressive sign, Boats by Quinn. I'd love to drop by sometime and see you and your brothers at work.”
“Anytime. How long are you staying in St. Chris?”
“Depends. It was nice to meet you all.” Time to retreat, she decided. Her throat was dry, her pulse unsteady. “Good luck with your boats.”
“Drop by tomorrow,” Phillip suggested as she walked away. “Catch all four Quinns at work.”
She shot a look over her shoulder that she hoped revealed nothing more than amused interest. “I might just do that.”
Seth, she thought, careful now to keep her eyes straight ahead. He'd just given her the open door to see Seth the following day.
Cam gave a quiet and male hum. “I gotta say, there's a woman who knows how to walk.”
“Yes, indeed.” Phillip hooked his hands in his pockets and enjoyed the view. Slim hips and slender legs in breezy maize-colored slacks, a snug little shirt the color of limes tucked into a narrow waist. A sleek and swinging fall of mink-colored hair just skimming strong shoulders.
And the face had been just as attractive. A classic oval with peaches-and-cream skin, a mobile and shapely mouth tinted with a soft, soft pink. Sexy eyebrows, he mused, dark and well arched. He hadn't been able to see the eyes under them, not through the trendy wire-framed sunglasses. They might be dark to match the hair, or light for contrast.
And that smooth contralto voice had set the whole package off nicely.
“You guys going to stand there watching that woman's butt all day?” Ethan wanted to know.
“Yeah, like you didn't notice it.” Cam snorted.
“I noticed. I'm just not making a career out of it. Aren't we going to get anything done around here?”
“In a minute,” Phillip murmured, smiling to himself when she turned the corner and disappeared. “Sybill. I sure hope you hang around St. Chris for a while.”
HE DIDN'T KNOW
how long she would stay. Her time was her own. She could work where she chose, and for now she'd chosen this little water town on Maryland's southern Eastern Shore. Nearly all of her life had been spent in cities, initially because her parents had preferred them and then because she had.
New York, Boston, Chicago, Paris, London, Milan. She understood the urban landscape and its inhabitants. The fact was, Dr. Sybill Griffin had made a career out of the study of urban life. She'd gathered degrees in anthropology, sociology, and psychology along the way. Four years at Harvard, postgraduate work at Oxford, a doctorate from Columbia.
She'd thrived in academia, and now, six months before her thirtieth birthday, she could write her own ticket. Which was precisely what she'd chosen to do for a living. Write.
Her first book,
, had been well received, earned her critical acclaim and a modest income. But her second,
, had rocketed onto the national lists, had taken her into the whirlwind of book tours, lectures, talk shows. Now that PBS was producing a documentary series based on her observations and theories of city life and customs, she was much more than financially secure. She was independent.
Her publisher had been open to her idea of a book on the dynamics and traditions of small towns. Initially, she'd considered it merely a cover, an excuse to travel to St.
Christopher's, to spend time there on personal business.
But then she'd begun to think it through. It would make an interesting study. After all, she was a trained observer and skilled at documenting those observations.
Work might save her nerves in any case, she considered, pacing her pretty little hotel suite. Certainly it would be easier and more productive to approach this entire trip as a kind of project. She needed time, objectivity, and access to the subjects involved.
Thanks to convenient circumstance, it appeared she had all three now.
She stepped out onto the two-foot slab that the hotel loftily called a terrace. It offered a stunning view of the Chesapeake Bay and intriguing glimpses of life on the waterfront. Already she'd watched workboats chug into dock and unload tanks of the blue crabs the area was famous for. She'd watched the crab pickers at work, the sweep of gulls, the flight of egrets, but she had yet to wander into any of the little shops.
She wasn't in St. Chris for souvenirs.
Perhaps she would drag a table near the window and work with that view. When the breeze was right she could catch snippets of voices, a slower, more fluid dialect than she heard on the streets of New York, where she'd based herself for the last few years.
Not quite Southern, she thought, such as you would hear in Atlanta or Mobile or Charleston, but a long way from the clipped tones and hard consonants of the North.
On some sunny afternoons she could sit on one of the little iron benches that dotted the waterfront and watch the little world that had formed here out of water and fish and human sweat.
She would see how a small community of people like this, based on the Bay and tourists, interacted. What traditions, what habits, what clichÃ©s ran through them. Styles, she mused, of dress, of movements, of speech. Inhabitants so rarely
realized how they conformed to unspoken rules of behavior dictated by place.
Rules, rules, rules. They existed everywhere. Sybill believed in them absolutely.
What rules did the Quinns live by? she wondered. What type of glue had fashioned them into a family? They would, of course, have their own codes, their own short-speak, with a pecking order and a reward and discipline standard.
Where and how would Seth fit into it?
Finding out, discreetly, was a priority.
There was no reason for the Quinns to know who she was, to suspect her connection. It would be better for all parties if no one knew. Otherwise, they could very well attempt, and possibly succeed in blocking her from Seth altogether. He'd been with them for months now. She couldn't be sure what he'd been told, what spin they might have put on the circumstances.
She needed to observe, to study, to consider, and to judge. Then she would act. She would not be pressured, she ordered herself. She would not be made to feel guilty or responsible. She would take her time.
After their meeting that afternoon, she thought it would be ridiculously simple to get to know the Quinns. All she had to do was wander into that big brick building and show an interest in the process of creating a wooden sailboat.
Phillip Quinn would be her entrÃ©e. He'd displayed all the typical behavioral patterns of early-stage attraction. It wouldn't be a hardship to take advantage of that. Since he only spent a few days a week in St. Chris, there was little danger of taking a casual flirtation into serious territory.
Wrangling an invitation to his home here wouldn't present a problem. She needed to see where and how Seth was living, who was in charge of his welfare.
Was he happy?
Gloria had said they'd stolen her son. That they'd used their
influence and their money to snatch him away.
But Gloria was a liar. Sybill squeezed her eyes shut, struggling to be calm, to be objective, not to be hurt. Yes, Gloria was a liar, she thought again. A user. But she was also Seth's mother.
Going to the desk, Sybill opened her Filofax and slid the photograph out. A little boy with straw-colored hair and bright blue eyes smiled out at her. She'd taken the picture herself, the first and only time she'd seen Seth.
He must have been four, she thought now. Phillip had said he was ten now, and Sybill remembered it had been six years since Gloria showed up on her doorstep in New York with her son in tow.
She'd been desperate, of course. Broke, furious, weepy, begging. There'd been no choice but to take her in, not with the child staring up with those huge, haunted eyes. Sybill hadn't known anything about children. She'd never been around them. Perhaps that was why she'd fallen for Seth so quickly and so hard.
And when she'd come home three weeks later and found them gone, along with all the cash in the house, her jewelry, and her prized collection of Daum china, she'd been devastated.