Inner harbor:Nora Roberts(5)

By: Nora Roberts

Phillip looked into Ray's eyes. He saw compassion and hope. And he saw himself mirrored back, bleeding in a dirty gutter on a street where life was worth less than a dime bag.

Sick, tired, terrified, Phillip dropped his head into his hands. "What's the point?"

"You're the point, son." Ray ran his hand over Phillip's hair. "You're the point."

Things hadn't changed overnight, Phillip thought now. But they had begun to change. His parents had made him believe in himself, despite himself. It had become a point of pride for him to do well in school, to learn, to remake himself into Phillip Quinn.

He figured he'd done a good job of it. He'd coated that street kid with a sheen of class. He had a slick career, a well-appointed condo with a killer view of the Inner Harbor, and a wardrobe that suited both.

It seemed that he'd come full circle, spending his weekends back in this room with its green walls and sturdy furniture, with its windows that overlooked the trees and the marsh.

But this time, Seth was the point.

Chapter Two

phillip stood on the foredeck of the yet-to-be-christened Neptune's Lady. He'd personally sweated out nearly two thousand man-hours to take her from design to finished sloop. Her decks were gleaming teak, her bright work glinted in the yellow September sun.

Belowdecks her cabin was a woodworker's pride, Cam's for the most part, Phillip mused. Glossy cabinets were fashioned of natural wood, hand-fitted and custom-designed with sleeping room for four close friends.

She was sound, he thought, and she was beautiful. Aesthetically charming, with her fluid hull, glossy decks, and long waterline. Ethan's early decision to use the smooth-lap method of planking had added hours to the labor but had produced a gem.

The podiatrist from D.C. was going to pay handsomely for every inch of her.

"Well…?" Ethan, hands in the pockets of his faded jeans, eyes squinting comfortably against the sun, left it an open-ended question.

Phillip ran a hand over the satin finish of the gunwale, an area he'd spent many sweaty hours sanding and finishing. "She deserves a less clichéd name."

"The owner's got more money than imagination. She takes the wind." Ethan's lips curved into one of his slow, serious smiles. "Good Christ, she goes, Phil. When Cam and I tested her out, I wasn't sure he was going to bring her back in. Wasn't sure I wanted him to."

Phillip rubbed a thumb over his chin. "I've got a friend in Baltimore who paints. Most of the stuff he does is strictly commercial, for hotels and restaurants. But he does terrific stuff on the side. Every time he sells one, he bitches about it. Hates to let a canvas go. I didn't really understand how he felt until now."

"And she's our first."

"But not our last." Phillip hadn't expected to feel so attached. The boatbuilding business hadn't been his idea, or his choice. He liked to think his brothers had dragged him into it. He'd told them it was insane, ridiculous, doomed to fail.

Then, of course, he'd jumped in and negotiated for the rental of the building, applied for licenses, ordered the necessary utilities. During the construction of what was about to become Neptune's Lady, he'd dug splinters out of his fingers, nursed burns from hot creosote, soaked muscles that wept after hours of lifting planks. And had not suffered in silence.

But with this tangible result of long months of labor swaying gracefully under his feet, he had to admit it was all worth it.

Now they were about to start all over again.

"You and Cam made some headway this week on the next project."

"We want to have the hull ready to turn the end of October." Ethan took out a bandanna and methodically polished Phillip's fingerprints off the gunwale. "If we're going to keep to that killer schedule you worked up. Got a little bit more to do on this one, though."

"This one?" Eyes narrowed, Phillip tipped down his Wayfarers. "Damn it, Ethan, you said she was ready to go. The owner's coming in to take her. I was about to go in and work up the last of the papers on her."

"Just one little detail. Have to wait for Cam."

"What little detail?" Impatient, Phillip checked his watch. "The client's due here any minute."

"Won't take long." Ethan nodded toward the cargo doors of the building.

"Here's Cam now."

"She's too good for this yahoo," Cam called out as he came down the narrow dock with a battery-operated drill. "I'm telling you we should get the wives and kids and sail her off to Bimini ourselves."

"She's good enough for the final draw he's going to give us today. Once he gives me that certified check, he's the captain." Phillip waited until Cam stepped nimbly aboard. "When I get to Bimini I don't want to see either of you."

"He's just jealous because we've got women," Cam told Ethan. "Here." He shoved the drill into Phillip's hand.

"What the hell am I supposed to do with this?"

"Finish her." Grinning, Cam pulled a brass cleat out of his back pocket.

"We saved the last piece for you."

"Yeah?" Absurdly touched, Phillip took the cleat, watched it wink in the sun.

"We started her together," Ethan pointed out. "Seemed only right. It goes on the starboard."

Phillip took the screws Cam handed him and bent over the markings on the rail. "I figured we should celebrate after." The drill whirled in his hands. "I thought about a bottle of Dom," he said, raising his voice over the noise, "but figured it'd be wasted on the two of you. So I've got three Harps chilling down in the cooler."

They would go well, he thought, with the little surprise he was having delivered later that afternoon.

it was nearly noon before the client had finished fussing over every inch of his new boat. Ethan had been elected to take the man out for a shakedown sail before they loaded the sloop onto its new trailer. From the dock, Phillip watched the butter-yellow sails--the client's choice--fill with the wind.

Ethan was right, he thought. She moved.

The sloop skimmed toward the waterfront, heeled in like a dream. He imagined the late-summer tourists would stop to watch, point out the pretty boat to each other. There was, he thought, no better advertising than a quality product.

"He'll run her aground the first time he sails her on his own," Cam said from behind him.

"Sure. But he'll have fun." He gave Cam a slap on the shoulder. "I'll just go write up that bill of sale."

The old brick building they rented and had modified for the boatyard didn't boast many amenities. The lion's share was a vast open space with fluorescent lights hanging from the rafters. The windows were small and always seemed to be coated with dust.

Power tools, lumber, equipment, gallons of epoxy and varnish and bottom paint were set up where they could be easily reached. The lofting platform was currently occupied by the bare skeleton of the hull for the custom-designed sport's fisher that was their second job.

The walls were pitted brick and unfinished Sheetrock. Up a steep flight of iron stairs was a cramped, windowless room that served as the office.

Despite its size and location, Phillip had it meticulously organized. The metal desk might have been a flea market special, but it was scrubbed clean. On its surface was a Month-at-a-Glance calendar, his old laptop computer, a wire in/out box, a two-line phone/answering machine and a Lucite holder for pens and pencils.

Crowded in with the desk were two file cabinets, a personal copier, and a plain-paper fax.

He settled in his chair and booted up the computer. The blinking light on the phone caught his eye. When he punched it for messages, he found two hang-ups and dismissed them.

Within moments, he'd brought up the program he'd customized for the business, and found himself grinning at the logo for Boats by Quinn.

They might be flying by the seat of their pants, he mused as he plugged in the data for the sale, but it didn't have to look that way. He'd justified the high-grade paper as an advertising expense. Desktop publishing was second nature to him. Creating stationery, receipts, bills was simple enough--he simply insisted that they have class.

He shot the job to the printer just as the phone rang.

"Boats by Quinn."

There was a hesitation, then the sound of throat clearing. "Sorry, wrong number." The voice was muffled and female and quickly gone.

"No problem, sweetheart," Phillip said to the dial tone as he plucked the printed bill of sale from the machine.

"there goes a happy man." Cam commented an hour later when the three of them watched their client drive off with the trailered sloop.

"We're happier." Phillip took the check out of his pocket and held it out. "Factoring in equipment, labor, overhead, supplies…" He folded the check in half again. "Well, we cleared enough to get by."

"Try to control your enthusiasm," Cam muttered. "You got a check for five figures in your hot little hand. Let's crack open those beers."

"The bulk of the profits have to go right back into the business," Phillip warned as they started inside. "Once the cold weather hits, our utility bill's going to go through the roof." He glanced up at the soaring ceiling. "Literally. And we've got quarterly taxes due next week."

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