He didn't know what to say about that. "What am I supposed to do when we get where we're going?"
"Live," Ray told him. "Be a boy. Go to school, get in trouble. I'll teach you to sail."
"On a boat?"
Now Ray laughed, a big booming sound that filled the car and for reasons the boy couldn't understand, untied the nerves in his belly. "Yeah, on a boat. Got a brainless puppyI always get the brainless onesI'm trying to housebreak. You can help me with that. You're gonna have chores, we'll figure that out. We'll lay down the rules, and you'll follow them. Don't think because I'm an old man I'm a pushover."
"You gave her money."
Ray glanced away from the road briefly and looked into eyes the same color as his own. "That's right. That's what she understands, from what I can see. She never understood you, did she, boy?"
Something was gathering inside him, a storm he didn't recognize as hope. "If you get pissed off at me, or tired of having me around, or just change your mind, you'll send me back. I won't go back."
They were over the bridge now, and Ray pulled the car to the shoulder of the road, shifted his bulk in the seat so they were face- to-face. "I'll get pissed off at you, and at my age I'm bound to get tired from time to time. But I'm making you a promise here and now, I'm giving you my word. I won't send you back."
"I won't let her take you back," Ray said, anticipating him. "No matter what I have to do. You're mine now. You're my family now. And you'll stay with me as long as that's what you want. A Quinn makes a promise," he added, and held out a hand, "he keeps it."
Seth looked at the offered hand, and his own sprang damp. "I don't like being touched."
Ray nodded. "Okay. But you've still got my word on it." He pulled back onto the road again, gave the boy one last glance. "Almost home," he said again.
Within months, Ray Quinn had died, but he'd kept his word. He'd kept it through the three men he'd made his sons. Those men had given the scrawny, suspicious and scarred young boy a life.
They had given him a home, and made him a man.
Cameron, the edgy, quick-tempered gypsy; Ethan, the patient, steady waterman; Phillip, the elegant, sharp-minded executive. They had stood for him, fought for him. They had saved him.
The gilded light of the late-afternoon sun sheened the marsh grass, the mudflats, the flat fields of row crops. With the windows down he caught the scent of water as he bypassed the little town of St. Christopher.
He'd considered swinging into town, heading first to the old brick boatyard. Boats by Quinn still custom-made wooden boats, and in the eighteen years since the enterprise had startedon a dream, on guile, on sweatit had earned its reputation for quality and craftsmanship.
They were probably there, even now. Cam cursing as he finished up some fancywork in a cabin. Ethan quietly lapping boards. Phil, up in the office conjuring up some snazzy ad campaign.
He could go by Crawford's, pick up a six-pack. Maybe they'd have a cold one, or more likely Cam would toss him a hammer and tell him to get his ass back to work.
He'd enjoy that, but it wasn't what was drawing him now. It wasn't what was pulling him down the narrow country road where the marsh still crept out of the shadows and the trees with their gnarled trunks spread leaves glossy with May.
Of all the places he'd seenthe great domes and spires of Florence, the florid beauty of Paris, the stunning green hills of Irelandnothing ever caught at his throat, filled up his heart, like the old white house with its soft and faded blue trim that sat on a bumpy lawn that slid back into quiet water.
Copyright Nora Roberts 2002. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Putnam. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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