He pulled in the drive, behind the old white 'Vette that had been Ray and Stella Quinn's. The car looked as pristine as the day it had rolled off the showroom floor. Cam's doing, he thought. Cam would say it was a matter of showing proper respect for an exceptional machine. But it was all about Ray and Stella, all about family. All about love.
The lilac in the front yard was smothered with blooms. That was a matter of love, too, he reflected. He'd given Anna the little bush for Mother's Day when he was twelve.
She'd cried, he remembered. Big, beautiful brown eyes flooded with tears, laughing and swiping at them the whole time he and Cam planted it for her.
She was Cam's wife, and so that made Anna his sister. But inside, he thought now, where it counted, she was his mother.
The Quinns knew all about what was inside.
He got out of the car, into the lovely stillness. He was no longer a scrawny boy with oversized feet and a suspicious eye.
He'd grown into those feet. He was six-one with a wiry build. One that could go gawky if he neglected it. His hair had darkened and was more a bronzed brown than the sandy mop of his youth. He tended to neglect that as well and, running a hand through it now, winced as he recalled his intention to have it trimmed before leaving Rome.
The guys were going to rag on him about the little ponytail, which meant he'd have to keep it for a while, out of principle.
He shrugged and, dipping his hands into the pockets of his worn jeans, began to walk, scanning the surroundings. Anna's flowers, the rockers on the front porch, the woods that haunted the side of the house and where he'd run wild as a boy.
The old dock swaying over the water, and the white sailing sloop moored to it.
He stood looking out, his face, hollow-cheeked and tanned, turned toward the water.
His lips, firm and full, began to curve. The weight he hadn't realized was hanging from his heart began to lift.
At the sound of a rustle in the woods, he turned, enough of the wary boy still in the man to make the move swift and defensive. Out of the trees shot a black bullet.
"Witless!" His voice had both the ring of authority and easy humor. The combination had the dog skidding to a halt, all flopping ears and lolling tongue as it studied the man.
"Come on, it hasn't been that long." He crouched, held out a hand. "Remember me?"
Witless grinned the dopey grin that had named him, instantly flopped down and rolled to expose his belly for a rub.
"There you go. That's the way."
There had always been a dog for this house. Always a boat at the dock, a rocker on the porch and a dog in the yard.
"Yeah, you remember me." As he stroked Witless, he looked over to the far end of the yard where Anna had planted a hydrangea over the grave of his own dog. The loyal and much-loved Foolish.
"I'm Seth," he murmured. "I've been away too long."
He caught the sound of an engine, the sassy squeal of tires from a turn taken just a hair faster than the law allowed. Even as he straightened, the dog leaped up, streaked away toward the front of the house.
Wanting to savor the moment, Seth followed more slowly. He listened to the car door slam, then to the lift and lilt of her voice as she spoke to the dog.
Then he just looked at her, Anna Spinelli Quinn, with the curling mass of dark hair windblown from the drive, her arms full of the bags she'd hefted out of the car.
His grin spread as she tried to ward off the desperate affection from the dog.
"How many times do we have to go over this one, simple rule?" she demanded. "You do not jump on people, especially me. Especially me when I'm wearing a suit."
"Great suit," Seth called out. "Better legs."
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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