"GOT US SOME NICE peelers here, cap'n." Jim Bodine culled crabs from the pot, tossing the marketable catch in the tank. He didn't mind the snapping claws--and had the scars on his thick hands to prove it. He wore the traditional gloves of his profession, but as any waterman could tell you, they wore out quick. And if there was a hole in them, by God, a crab would find it.
He worked steadily, his legs braced wide for balance on the rocking boat, his dark eyes squinting in a face weathered with age and sun and living. He might have been taken for fifty or eighty, and Jim didn't much care which end you stuck him in.
He always called Ethan 'Cap'n', and rarely said more than one declarative sentence at a time.
Ethan altered course toward the next pot, his right hand nudging the steering stick that most waterman used rather than a wheel. At the same time, he operated the throttle and gear levels with his left. There were constant small adjustments to be made with every foot of progress up the line of traps.
The Chesapeake Bay could be generous when she chose, but she liked to be tricky and make you work for her bounty.
Ethan knew the Bay as well as he knew himself. Often he thought he knew it better--the fickle moods and movements of the continent's largest estuary. For two hundred miles it flowed from north to south, yet it measured only four miles across where it brushed by Annapolis and thirty at the mouth of the Potomac River. St. Christopher's sat snug on Maryland's southern Eastern Shore, depending on its generosity, cursing it for its caprices.
Ethan's waters, his home waters, were edged with marshland, strung with flatland rivers with sharp shoulders that shimmered through thickets of gum and oak.
It was a world of tidal creeks and sudden shallows, where wild celery and widgeongrass rooted.
It had become his world, with its changing seasons, sudden storms, and always, always, the sounds and scents of the water.
Timing it, he grabbed his gaffing pole and in a practiced motion as smooth as a dance hooked the pot line and drew it into the pot puller.
In seconds, the pot rose out of the water, streaming with weed and pieces of old bait and crowded with crabs.
He saw the bright-red pincers of the full-grown females, or sooks, and the scowling eyes of the jimmies.
"Right smart of crabs," was all Jim had to say as he went to work, heaving the pot aboard as if it weighed ounces rather than pounds.
The water was rough today, and Ethan could smell a storm coming in. He worked the controls with his knees when he needed his hands for other tasks. And eyed the clouds beginning to boil together in the far western sky.
Time enough, he judged, to move down the line of traps in the gut of the bay and see how many more crabs had crawled into the pots. He knew Jim was hurting some for cash--and he needed all he could come by himself to keep afloat the fledgling boat building business he and his brothers had started.
Time enough, he thought again, as Jim rebaited a pot with thawing fish parts and tossed it overboard. In leapfrog fashion, Ethan gaffed the next buoy.
Ethan's sleek Chesapeake Bay retriever, Simon, stood, front paws on the gunwale, tongue lolling. Like his master, he was rarely happier than when out on the water.
They worked in tandem, and in near silence, communicating with grunts, shrugs, and the occasional oath. The work was a comfort, since the crabs were plentiful. There were years when they weren't, years when it seemed the winter had killed them off or the waters would never warm up enough to tempt them to swim.
In those years, the watermen suffered. Unless they had another source of income. Ethan intended to have one, building boats.
The first boat by Quinn was nearly finished. And a little beauty it was, Ethan thought. Cameron had a second client on the line--some rich guy from Cam's racing days--so they would start another before long. Ethan never doubted that his brother would reel the money in.
They'd do it, he told himself, however doubtful and full of complaints Phillip was.
He glanced up at the sun, gauged the time--and the clouds sailing slowly, steadily eastward.
"We'll take them in, Jim."
They'd been eight hours on the water, a short day. But Jim didn't complain. He knew it wasn't so much the oncoming storm that had Ethan piloting the boat back up the gut. "Boy's home from school by now," he said.
"Yeah." And though Seth was self-sufficient enough to stay home alone for a time in the afternoon, Ethan didn't like to tempt fate. A boy of ten, and with Seth's temperament, was a magnet for trouble.
When Cam returned from Europe in a couple of weeks, they would juggle Seth, between them. But for now the boy was Ethan's responsibility.
The water in the Bay kicked, turning gunmetal gray now to mirror the sky, but neither men nor dog worried about the rocky ride as the boat crept up the steep fronts of the waves, then slid back down into the troughs. Simon stood at the bow now, head lifted, his ears blowing back in the wind, grinning his doggie grin. Ethan had built the workboat himself, and he knew she would do. As confident as the dog, Jim moved to the protection of the awning and, cupping his hands, lit a cigarette.
The waterfront of St. Chris was alive with tourists. The early days of June lured them out of the city, tempted them to drive from the suburbs of D.C. and Baltimore. He imagined they thought of the little town of St. Christopher's as quaint, with its narrow streets and clapboard houses and tiny shops. They liked to watch the crab pickers' fingers fly, and eat the flaky crab cakes or tell their friends they'd had a bowl of she-crab soup. They stayed in the bed-and-breakfasts--St. Chris was the proud home of no less than four--and they spent their money in the restaurants and gift shops.
Ethan didn't mind them. During the times when the Bay was stingy, tourism kept the town alive. And he thought there would come a time when some of those same tourists might decide that having a hand-built wooden sailboat was their heart's desire.
The wind picked up as Ethan moored at the dock. Jim jumped nimbly out to secure lines, his short legs and squat body giving him the look of a leaping frog wearing white rubber boots and a grease-smeared gimme cap.
At Ethan's careless hand signal, Simon plopped his butt down and stayed in the boat while the men worked to unload the day's catch and the wind made the boat's sun-faded green awning dance. Ethan watched Pete Monroe walk toward them, his iron-gray hair crushed under a battered billed hat, his stocky body outfitted in baggy khakis and a red checked shirt.
"Good catch today, Ethan."
Ethan smiled. He liked Mr. Monroe well enough, though the man had a bone-deep stingy streak. He ran Monroe's Crab House with a tightly closed fist. But, as far as Ethan could tell, every man's son who ran a picking plant complained about profits.
Ethan pushed his own cap back, scratched the nape of his neck where sweat and damp hair tickled. "Good enough."
"You're in early today."
Monroe nodded. Already his crab pickers who had been working under the shade of striped awnings were preparing to move inside. Rain would drive the tourists inside as well, he knew, to drink coffee or eat ice cream sundaes. Since he was half owner of the 'Bayside Eats', he didn't mind.
"Looks like you got about seventy bushels there."
Ethan let his smile widen. Some might have said there was a hint of the pirate in the look. Ethan wouldn't have been insulted, but he'd have been surprised. "Closer to ninety, I'd say." He knew the market price, to the penny, but understood they would, as always, negotiate. He took out his negotiating cigar, lit it, and got to work.
The first fat drops of rain began to fall as he motored toward home. He figured he'd gotten a fair price for his crabs--his eighty-seven bushels of crabs. If the rest of the summer was as good, he was going to consider dropping another hundred pots next year, maybe hiring on a part-time crew.
Oystering on the Bay wasn't what it had been, not since parasites had killed off so many. That made the winters hard. A few good crabbing seasons were what he needed to dump the lion's share of the profits into the new business--and to help pay the lawyer's fee. His mouth tightened at that thought as he rode out the swells toward home.
They shouldn't need a damn lawyer. They shouldn't have to pay some slick-suited talker to clear their father's good name. It wouldn't stop the whispers around town anyway. Those would only stop when people found something juicier to chew on than Ray Quinn's life and death.
And the boy, Ethan mused, staring out over the water that trembled under the steady pelting of rain. There were some who liked to whisper about the boy who looked back at them with Ray Quinn's dark-blue eyes.
He didn't mind for himself. As far as Ethan was concerned people could wag their tongues about him until they fell out of their flapping mouths. But he minded, deeply, that anyone would speak a dark word about the man he'd loved with every beat of his heart.
So he would work his fingers numb to pay the lawyer. And he would do whatever it took to guard the child.
Thunder shook the sky, booming off the water like cannon fire. The light went dim as dusk, and those dark clouds burst wide to pour out solid sheets of rain. Still he didn't hurry as he docked at his home pier. A little more wet, to his mind, wouldn't kill him.
As if in agreement with the sentiment, Simon leaped out to swim to shore while Ethan secured the lines. He gathered up his lunch pail, and with his waterman's boots thwacking wetly against the dock, headed for home.
He removed the boots on the back porch. His mother had scalded his skin often enough in his youth about tracking mud for the habit to stick to the man. Still, he didn't think anything of letting the wet dog nose in the door ahead of him.
Until he saw the gleaming floor and counters.
Shit, was all he could think as he studied the pawprints and heard Simon's happy bark of greeting. There was a squeal, more barking, then laughter.
"You're soaking wet!" The female voice was low and smooth and amused. It was also very firm and made Ethan wince with guilt. "Out, Simon! Out you go. You just dry off on the front porch."
There was another squeal, baby giggles, and the accompanying laughter of a young boy. The gang's all here, Ethan thought, rubbing rain from his hair. The minute he heard footsteps heading in his direction, he made a beeline for the broom closet and a mop.
He didn't often move fast, but he could when he had to.
"Oh, Ethan." Grace Monroe stood with her hands on her narrow hips, looking from him to the pawprints on her just-waxed floor.
"I'll get it. Sorry." He could see that the mop was still damp and decided it was best not to look at her directly. "Wasn't thinking," he muttered, filling a bucket at the sink. "Didn't know you were coming by today."
"Oh, so you let wet dogs run through the house and dirty up the floors when I'm not coming by?"
He jerked a shoulder. "Floor was dirty when I left this morning, didn't figure a little wet would hurt it any." Then he relaxed a little. It always seemed to take him a few minutes to relax around Grace these days. "But if I'd known you were here to skin me over it, I'd have left him on the porch."
He was grinning when he turned, and she let out a sigh.
"Oh, give me the mop. I'll do it."
"Nope. My dog, my mess. I heard Aubrey."
Absently Grace leaned on the doorjamb. She was tired, but that wasn't unusual. She had put in eight hours that day, too. And she would put in another four at Shiney's Pub that night serving drinks.
Some nights when she crawled into bed she would have sworn she heard her feet crying.
"Seth's minding her for me. I had to switch my days. Mrs. Lynley called this morning and asked if I'd shift doing her house till tomorrow because her mother-in-law called her from D.C. and invited herself down to dinner. Mrs. Lynley claims her mother-in-law is a woman who looks at a speck of dust like it's a sin against God and man. I didn't think you'd mind if I did y'all today instead of tomorrow."
"You fit us in whenever you can manage it, Grace, and we're grateful."
He was watching her from under his lashes as he mopped. He'd always thought she was a pretty thing. Like a palomino--all gold and long-legged. She chopped her hair off short as a boy's, but he liked the way it sat on her head, like a shiny cap with fringes.
She was as thin as one of those million-dollar models, but he knew Grace's long, lean form wasn't for fashion. She'd been a gangling, skinny kid, as he recalled. She'd have been about seven or eight when he'd first come to St. Chris and the Quinns. He supposed she was twenty-couple now--and "skinny" wasn't exactly the word for her anymore.
She was like a willow slip, he thought, very nearly flushing.
She smiled at him, and her mermaid-green eyes warmed, faint dimples flirting in her cheeks. For reasons she couldn't name, she found it entertaining to see such a healthy male specimen wielding a mop.
"Did you have a good day, Ethan?"
"Good enough." He did a thorough job with the floor. He was a thorough man. Then he went to the sink again to rinse bucket and mop. "Sold a mess of crabs to your daddy."
At the mention of her father, Grace's smile dimmed a li...Présentation de l'éditeur :
New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts presents the second novel in the dramatic trilogy of three men who return home to honor their father's last wish—to care for Seth, a troubled boy in need of a family. Coming home has taught the brothers more than they ever dreamed about the meaning of family and responsibility. Now it is time to learn the meaning of acceptance and love...
Of the three brothers, it was Ethan who shared his father's passion for the Maryland shore. And now with his father gone, Ethan is determined to make the family boatbuilding business a success. But amidst his acheivements lie the most important challenges of his life...
There is young Seth, who needs him more than ever. And a woman he has always loved but never believed he could have. But beneath Ethan's seemingly still waters is a dark and painful past. He must learn to see around the shadows to accept who he is. Because through Ethan's past lies the future—and his one chance at happiness...
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