Savour the moment, p.10
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       Savour the Moment, p.10

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  posture. “We’ll probably want to murder each other half the time.”

  “That won’t be anything new In or out, Laurel?”

  “In.” She offered a hand to close the deal.

  “I think this calls for more than a handshake.” But he took her hand, used it to draw her to her feet along with him. “Plus we should see what it’s like when neither of us is irritated.”

  A little frisson, as much anticipation as nerves, jittered up her spine. “Maybe I am.”

  “No. No little crease here.” He skimmed a fingertip between her eyebrows. “Dead giveaway.”

  “Wait,” she said when he ran his hands down her arms. “Now I’m self-conscious. It’s no good if I’m thinking too much and—”

  He shut her up, drawing her in and up to brush his lips over hers in slow, soft sweeps.

  “Or,” she murmured, and let her hands glide up from his shoulders until her arms could link around his neck.

  More surprises, he thought, when there was warmth and exploration instead of just heat and impulse. Sweet and easy wrapped in layers of the familiar and the new. He knew her scent, her shape, but the taste of her, ripe and seductive, merged what was into what might be.

  He took his time, drawing it out, drawing her in, to savor the new mix of sensations.

  She poured herself into it, taking every ounce of the moment she’d imagined dozens of times. A dying day, soft lights, the quiet sigh of a summer breeze. Foolish fancies of a young girl’s crush, longings transformed over time into a woman’s need.

  Now the fancies were real, the longings met. And in the kiss she felt his need rise with hers. Whatever happened, this moment, this dying day, would always be hers.

  When their lips parted, he stayed close. “How long do you think that’s been in there?” he wondered.

  “Hard to say.” Impossible to tell him.

  “Yeah.”

  He touched his lips to hers again, testing, stirring, then deepening until they were both breathless.

  “I’d better go get your shoes.”

  “Okay.” But she pulled him back, racheting up the heat, groaning with it when his hands stroked down her sides to grip her hips.

  He teetered on the edge, but made himself pull back. “Shoes,” he managed. “Free the hostages.You really need to go. Home.”

  Stirred and shaken, she leaned back against the deck rail. “I told you dating’s harder than sex.”

  “We don’t shirk from challenges.You’ve got some lips. I’ve always liked the look of them. I like them even better now.”

  They curved. “Come over here and say that.”

  “Better not. I’ll be back in a minute with the shoes.”

  She watched him go and thought it was going to be a really long month.

  SNEAKING BACK INTO THE HOUSE SHOULD BE, BY ALL THE ODDS, simpler than sneaking out. Carter and Mac would be tucked into their place, Emma and Jack in theirs. Mrs. G would either be watching TV in her cozy apartment with her feet up and a pot of her evening tea, or out with some cronies. Parker? Probably still working, but in her own suite and in comfortable clothes.

  Laurel parked, reassured by the lights in the studio and guest-house. She just wanted to get into her own space, alone, and think about everything that happened, everything that had changed or started to change tonight.

  Her lips still tingled from his; her skin still hummed. She could all but dance to the tune. If she’d kept a diary, she’d cover today’s page with little hearts and flowers.

  Then rip it out and tear it up because that was embarrassing. But still, she’d do it.

  Smiling at the idea, she let herself into the house, carefully and quietly locked up behind her. She didn’t exactly tiptoe up the stairs, but it was close.

  “Are you just getting in?”

  She didn’t scream, but that was close, too. Whirling, Laurel gaped at Parker, then sat down hard on the steps before she tumbled.

  “Jesus Christ! Jesus! You’re scarier than a Rottweiler. What are you doing?”

  “What am I doing?” Parker waved the carton in her hand. “I went down for a yogurt and I’m going up to my room. What are you doing sneaking up the steps?”

  “I wasn’t sneaking. I was walking. Quietly. You have yogurt in the little fridge upstairs.”

  “I’m out of blueberry. I wanted blueberry. Do you mind?”

  “No, no. God.” Laurel took a ragged breath, patted her heart. “You just scared the crap out of me.”

  This time Parker pointed with her spoon. “You have guilty face.”

  “I do not.”

  “I’m looking at it. I know guilty face when I’m looking at it.”

  “I’m not guilty. Why should I be guilty? I don’t have a curfew, do I, Mom?”

  “See, guilty.”

  “Okay, okay, put away the rubber hose.” Laurel threw up her arms in surrender. “I just went to Del’s to get my shoes.”

  “Laurel, I can see that.You’re holding them in your hand.”

  “Right. Right. Well, they’re great shoes and I wanted them back.” She stroked one affectionately. “He’d ordered Chinese.There were pot stickers.”

  “Ah.” Nodding, Parker walked up to sit beside Laurel.

  “I wasn’t going to stay, but I did, so we sat out on the deck and talked about me kissing him, then him kissing me. Which I didn’t actually mention to you. It feels weirder talking to you about it than it does talking to him.”

  “Get over it.”

  “I’m working on it, aren’t I? Anyway, we had to get to what do we do about it, if anything. He had an outline.”

  “Of course.” Parker smiled as she spooned up yogurt.

  “You’d expect that because the two of you are from the same mold. I told him if you and I were gay we’d be married.”

  Parker nodded again as she ate her yogurt. “I could see that.”

  “We talked it over and we agreed we’d see each other and do stuff that people do, except no sex.”

  Brows lifting, Parker licked her spoon. “You’re going to date but not have sex?”

  “For thirty days. The theory being we’d know by then if we really wanted to have sex, or if it’s just ... hmm. I know it’s reasonable and adult, but we know we want to have sex now.”

  “You take a little time first to make sure you’ll still like each other if and when you do.”

  “Yeah, that’s the sticker.There was more in there. Tribes and my legs, but the upshot was we’re going to see how it goes.You’re really okay with it?”

  Parker rapped her knuckles lightly on Laurel’s head. “Of course I’m okay with it, and if I wasn’t okay with it, you should tell me to go to hell and mind my own business. Want some of this yogurt?”

  “No, thanks. Pot stickers.” But she leaned her head on Parker’s shoulder. “I’m glad I didn’t manage to sneak in.”

  “Be gladder I’ve decided to be magnanimous and not be insulted you tried to.”

  “Best friend ever.”

  “It’s so true. I am. He’s a good man. I know he can be bossy because, same mold.And I know he has flaws, but he’s such a good man.” She laid her hand over Laurel’s briefly. “He deserves you. You and I have to make a pact right now, that when you need to bitch about him—or he needs to bitch about you to me—that you and I handle it the way we handle any other bitching about guys. You don’t feel hamstrung because he’s my brother, and I don’t take offense because he’s my brother.”

  “All right.”

  They hooked pinkies on the swear.

  “Now I’m going up, finishing up a couple things.” Parker rose. “You know if you don’t fill in Emma and Mac, their feelings are going to be hurt.”

  “I’ll update them.” She pushed to her feet to walk to the third level with Parker.

  FULL DISCLOSURE, DEL DECIDED, AND MADE ARRANGEMENTS TO meet Jack for a morning workout. Since the word was full, he told Jack to drag Carter along. He started off with cardio while Carter ap
proached a treadmill with obvious trepidation.

  “I try to avoid doing this sort of thing in public. People could get hurt.”

  “Start off slow, then kick it up every couple minutes.”

  “Easy for you to say.”

  “I’ve missed this place.” In solidarity, Jack took the machine on the other side of Del. “Having the home gym right there’s convenient, but you miss the group buzz. Plus the many athletic females in skimpy outfits. I’m engaged, but still breathing,” he said at Del’s look.

  “I don’t understand walking on an electric belt when there are sidewalks right outside.” Gripping the bar with one hand—just in case—Carter gestured vaguely. “And they don’t move under your feet.”

  “Kick it up, Carter. Snails are passing you. How’s my Macadamia?”

  “She’s good.” Brow furrowed, Carter increased the speed slightly. “Staff meeting this morning, and a studio shoot. It’s probably good I’m out of the way for a couple hours.”

  “You’ll have your professor room before long,” Jack told him. “Then we’ll move on to Emma’s new space, and Laurel’s.”

  “Speaking of Laurel, we’re dating.” He heard the oof from the left and glanced over. “You okay, Carter?”

  “Just missed my footing. Um, by dating, you mean each other?”

  “That would be my definition.”

  “This would be my cue to jump down your throat and demand to know what you mean by taking advantage of one of my girls?”

  Del shifted his gaze toward Jack as he punched up his speed. “Unlike you, I’m not sneaking around and hiding it.”

  “I wasn’t sneaking and hiding, I just hadn’t figured out how to explain about Emma, for a short period of time. And since I’m marrying into the Quartet, I have certain privileges and duties. If you’re sleeping with Laurel—”

  “I’m not sleeping with Laurel. We’re dating.”

  “Right, and the two of you are just going to hold hands, admire the moon, and sing camp songs.”

  “For a while. Minus the singing. No comments from you?” he asked Carter.

  “I’m kind of busy trying to stay on my feet.”To ensure he did, Carter gripped the bar one-handed again. “I guess, off the top of my head, I’d say this is a quick situational change.”

  “I thought so at first, now I’m not so sure. It feels like it’s been brewing awhile.”

  “Could’ve fooled me,” Jack said, punching up his speed to match Del’s pace. “How did this brewing situational change happen?”

  “We had a fight, culminating in her telling me, and demonstrating that, I wasn’t her brother. Which I’m not. So we’re dating, and I’m just letting you know”

  “Okay. Three miles?”

  “You’re on. Kick it up, Carter,” Del told him.

  Carter said, “Oh God.”

  SUNDAY MORNING LAUREL LEFT HER KITCHEN WORK TO DASH upstairs for the pre-event briefing. When she found her three partners already in place, she held up a hand. “I’m not late.”And since she’d already had two cups of coffee that morning, grabbed a bottle of water. “Just FYI, it’s raining.”

  “The forecast calls for it to stop midmorning,” Parker stated. “But we’re prepared to move everything inside if it doesn’t.”

  “The arrangements are pretty simple,” Emma put in. “If it clears by noon, we can have everything dressed outside by one. Otherwise, we can shift it all to the Great Hall, do a big fireplace arrangement pretty quickly, add candles. We’re set either way. We’ll have both suites finished by ten.”

  “The grooms are due to arrive at eleven.”

  “I’ll shift back and forth for formals.” Mac nodded at Parker. “Both grooms have sisters standing up for them, which makes it nice. I can get some good shots with that dynamic. Doing guys means less hair and makeup time, and each has just the one attendant, so I should be done with the formals by twelve, twelve fifteen.”

  “Guests arriving twelve thirty, short cocktail mixer.” Parker read off her schedule. “For the outside ceremony, we line up at one, attendants will walk down the aisle together, then grooms will approach from either side. Ceremony time, twenty minutes. Mac takes post-pictures, caterers pass finger food.”

  “Again, it’ll be pretty quick. Fifteen minutes should do it.”

  “Figure one forty-five for the grooms to be announced, buffet brunch, toasts. DJ announces first dance at two thirty. Cake cutting three thirty.”

  “All the pastries are done for the dessert table. I’ll finish the cake by ten, and we’ll move it into the Ballroom. We’re providing the knife and server. The happy couple has requested the top layer be removed and boxed for them to take home.”

  “Okay. Dancing continues at three forty until four fifteen. We’ll transfer the gifts, announce the last dance.We’re clear at four thirty. Any concerns? Potential disasters?”

  “Not on my end. They’re both really cute and should photograph well.”

  “They went with big, happy geranium boutonnieres to match the cake,” Emma added. “Pretty adorable.”

  “They wrote the script for the ceremony themselves.” Parker tapped her file. “It’s incredibly sweet. We’re going to have a lot of crying. Laurel, anything on your end?”

  “I just need the cake topper from Emma, and I’m good.”

  “It’s done, and in the cooler. I’ll get it to you.”

  “Then, we’re all good.”

  “Not so fast.” Mac shot out a finger as Laurel started to rise. “Business completed, now let’s get personal.What’s the latest with Del?”

  “There is no latest. I just saw you eight hours ago.”

  “He didn’t call?” Emma wondered. “Leave you a message or anything?”

  “He sent an e-mail with a list of potential movies for tonight.”

  “Oh.” Emma struggled not to look deflated. “That’s considerate.”

  “It’s practical,” Laurel corrected. “And it’s Del. It’s me. I’m not looking for charming little notes and sexy little messages.”

  “They’re fun though,” Emma murmured. “Jack and I sent each other lots of sexy little e-mails. We still do.”

  “What’re you wearing?” Mac demanded.

  “I don’t know. It’s the movies. Something movieish.”

  “But he’ll be dressed for the wedding,” Emma pointed out, “so you can’t be too casual.You should wear the blue top. The one with the scoop-neck that ties in the back. It looks great on you. With the white capris I wish I could wear but would make my legs look stumpy. And the kitten-heel slides.”

  “Okay, thanks for dressing me.”

  “Happy to help,” Emma said with a bright smile that acknowledged the sarcasm.

  “We have a betting pool going,” Mac informed her. “Nobody figures you’ll last the full thirty before you get naked. Carter gives your willpower the most credit with twenty-four days.”

  “You’re betting on when I’m going to have sex with Del?”

  “Damn right.You’re disqualified,” she said when Laurel started to speak again. “Conflict of interest. I give you sixteen days, not because of willpower but stubbornness—in case that might influence you to help me add to my wedding fund.”

  “Unfair, unfair,” Emma caroled.

  “How much is in the pool?”

  “We kicked in a hundred each.”

  “Five hundred? Seriously?”

  “Six, counting Mrs. G.”

  “Man.”

  “We started at ten dollars each.” Emma shrugged and chose a strawberry to nibble on. “But then Mac and Jack kept challenging each other. I had to make them stop when we hit a hundred. Parker’s keeping the bank.”

  Laurel cocked a challenging eyebrow. “What if we have sex and don’t tell anyone?”

  “Please.” Mac just rolled her eyes. “First, you’d never be able to keep it to yourself, and second, even if you did, we’d know.”

  “I hate when you’re right. And nobody gave us the full t
hirty?”

  “No one.”

  “Okay, here’s the deal—and I should get some say since it’s my sex, potentially. I will not be disqualified. I put in a hundred, and if we get to the thirty, pot’s mine.”

  Objections broke out, but Parker waved them off. “You know, that’s fair.”

  “You know how competitive she is,” Mac complained. “She’ll hold out just to win the bet.”

  “Then she’d have earned it. Get me the hundred, and I’ll add your bet.”

  “You’re on.” Gleefully Laurel rubbed her hands together. “At long, long last, the sexual moratorium pays off. I’ve got a cake to frost.” She did a quick boogie at the door. “See you later, suckers.”

  “We’ll see who’s the sucker,” Parker said after Laurel danced out. “Okay, ladies, let’s get to work.”

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  IT WAS STRANGE AND INTERESTING TO GO OUT WITH DEL AS A DATE rather than one of the group. Comfortable on many levels, Laurel discovered, which was probably good. Neither of them had to listen to the other’s life story, because they already knew each other’s life story.

  Not the whole cake, she thought, but most of the layers. Which made it all the more fun to take samples of the filling.

  She knew he’d served on the

  Law Review at Yale, and played baseball as an undergraduate, just as she knew that law and sports were two of his passions. But she hadn’t known he’d made a deliberate choice over which to pursue as a career.

  “I didn’t know you were serious about professional baseball.” The things you learned, Laurel reflected, on a third date.

  “Deadly. And serious enough I kept it to myself, mostly.”

  They strolled the park eating ice cream cones while the summer moonlight silvered the pond—an activity she believed to be the perfect cap to a casual dinner date.

  “What was the tipping point?” she asked him.

  “I wasn’t good enough.”

  “How do you know? I saw you in action when you played at the Academy, and a couple times at Yale—and since at softball games.” With the faintest of frowns she studied his profile as they walked. “I may not consider baseball my religion like some people, but I get the game.You knew what you were doing.”

  “Sure. And I was pretty good. Pretty good isn’t good enough. Maybe I could’ve been if I’d put everything into it. I talked to some scouts from the Yankees’
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