Savour the moment, p.12
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       Savour the Moment, p.12
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         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  Laurel remembered how often there’d been fun summer meals on the terrace when she’d visited as a child. Flowers, good dishes, and easy company on lovely, lazy mornings.

  They’d already put tables together to accommodate the whole group, draped them in pretty cloths, and, yes, there were flowers and good dishes, and the sparkle of crystal in the morning sunlight.

  She’d forgotten what it was to indulge like this with nothing more pressing on the day than enjoyment.

  She took the glass Jack offered her. “Thanks.”Took a sip. “You could have a career.”

  He gave her hair a friendly tug. “A fallback’s always good.”

  When Mrs. G came out with the last platter, Del took it from her. “Head of the table for you, Waffle Queen.”

  Of course she loved him, Laurel thought, watching as he fussed over Mrs. Grady until she was settled with a mimosa in her hand. How could she help it?

  She stepped up, kissed his cheek. “Good job.”

  It would be like this from now on, she realized. Oh, not Belgian waffles and mimosas on the terrace. But this group, this family. These voices, these faces, on holidays and impromptu family meals.

  Voices crisscrossed the table along with the food. A sliver of waffle for Emma, fruit for Parker while she talked to Carter about a book they’d both read recently. Heaps of whipped cream for Mac, and Del arguing with Jack about a call on a baseball game.

  “What’s on your mind, girl?” Mrs. Grady asked her.

  “Hardly anything. It’s a nice change.”

  Mrs. Grady leaned over, lowered her voice. “Are you going to show them the design you just worked up?”

  “Should I?”

  “Eat first.”

  Mac tapped her spoon on her glass. “I want to announce we’re holding tours after breakfast for the new Carter Maguire Library. Carter and I hauled half a million books up there last night, so we expect lavish praise, with some left over for the architect.” She lifted her glass to Jack.

  “It wasn’t more than a quarter million books,” Carter corrected. “But it’s great. Really great, Jack.”

  “Nothing I like more than satisfied clients.” He aimed a look at Emma. “Well, almost nothing.”

  “And no more hammering, sawing, painting. Not that we’re complaining,” Mac said. “But, oh boy.”

  “Hammering and so forth starts next door next week,” Jack warned her.

  “Earplugs,” Mac said to Emma. “Highly recommended.”

  “I can take it. For a new cooler and work space, I can take it.”

  “We’ll be doing some work on your space in tandem, Laurel.”

  “She’ll bitch.” Mac waved her fork. “Me? I’m a saint, but she’ll bitch and complain.”

  “Probably.” Laurel shrugged and finished her waffle.

  “We’ll block off the work area from your kitchen,” Jack told her. “Keep out of your space as much as possible.”

  “She’ll still bitch. It’s her nature.”

  Laurel gave Mac a cool stare, then rose and walked inside. “What? What? I was kidding. Mostly.”

  “She’s not mad. If she was mad she’d have snapped your head off.” Parker glanced toward the house. “She’ll be back.”

  “True.You’re not mad, right?” Mac wagged her fork at Del. “If she’s mad you’d be mad on her behalf since you’re hooked up.”

  “If that’s a rule, it’s a girl rule.”

  “It’s not a girl rule. It’s a couple rule.” Mac looked to Emma for verification.

  “Yes, it is. If you know what’s good for you.”

  “I’m not mad, so if she’s mad she’s going to have to get over it.”

  “You really don’t get how this works,” Mac decided. “Parker, you should write some of this stuff down for him. Rules are the thread that knits the fabric. He’s got holes in his fabric.”

  “Are these girl rules, couple rules, or Quartet rules?”

  “It’s really all the same,” Parker told him. “I’ll get you a memo.” She glanced over as Laurel came back out with her sketchbook. “But the point’s moot at the moment.”

  “What’s the point?” Laurel asked.

  “Anger and insult rule.”

  “Oh. I’m not angry or insulted, I’m just ignoring her.” She walked around the table to Carter. “This is for you, not for her. Just for you.”

  “Okay.” He glanced at Mac. “Is that allowed?”

  “Depends.”

  “She has nothing to say about it. For you, if you like it. The groom’s cake.” Laurel angled the pad so Mac’s view was blocked, and opened it for Carter.

  She watched his face and saw exactly what she’d hoped to see. The quicksilver flash of pure delight. “It’s amazing. It couldn’t be more perfect, and I’d never have thought of it.”

  “What is it?”

  Even as Mac asked, shifted, Laurel snapped the book shut.

  That brought a few hoots of laughter from around the table as Mac cursed. Then she shifted tactics with a sad, pitiful expression.

  “Please? Pretty, pretty please?”

  Laurel opened the book a fraction. “I’m only showing you for Carter. Not for you.”

  “Okay.”

  Laurel opened the book, heard Mac’s breath catch before she managed a shaky, “Oh.”

  Jack craned his head to get a look. “It’s a book. It’s nice. Fits.” “It’s not just a book. It’s

  As You Like It. It’s kind of our book, isn’t it, Carter?”

  “I was teaching it when we started seeing each other. It’s even open to Rosalind’s speech. See down here.” He ran his finger down the open page. “‘No sooner looked but they loved.’”

  “Oh, big

  awww.” Emma leaned over for a better look. “I love the bookmark ribbon with their names on it.”

  “I think I’m taking Mac’s off. I’ll just have Carter’s.” Laurel considered. “Yeah, just his. Carter Maguire, PhD.”

  “You won’t take me off the cake.You love me.”

  Laurel made a

  pfft sound.

  “You love me,” Mac said again, scooting up. “You designed the perfect cake for my guy. You love me.” She grabbed Laurel in a hug, did a little dance.

  “Maybe I love Carter.”

  “Of course you do. Who wouldn’t? Thank you, thank you,” she whispered in Laurel’s ear. “It’s the best.”

  “You almost deserve it,” she whispered back, then laughed and hugged hard.

  “I’ll have a look at that while the lot of you deal with the dishes.” Mrs. Grady curled a finger. “Food’s ready to be packed up for the park when you are. You’ll need to get the hampers out.”

  “Packing, family kitchen at three thirty,” Parker announced. “I’ll hand out specific assignments after kitchen duty. Loading up the van at four, which includes food, folding chairs, blankets, any sports equipment, and people. I have your assigned seats for transportation,” she added and only inclined her head at the groans. “It’ll save arguing. I’m driving.” This time she held up a hand.“I alone among us am dateless, and as such am to be pitied, indulged, and obeyed.”

  “You could’ve had a date,” Emma objected. “I can get you a date in five seconds.”

  “That’s really sweet, but no. Big no.” Parker rose and began to stack dishes. “Let’s get this done because I have some relaxing and satisfying file purging to do.”

  “That’s just really sad.”With a shake of her head, Mac grabbed a tray.

  “Who could you get in five seconds?” Jack wondered. Emma shot him a laughing look over her shoulder as she carried in dishes.

  “I’ll be right in,” Del told Laurel. “I just need to take care of something first.”

  “If you’re more than five minutes, I’m sticking you with the pans.

  When Del pulled out his phone, Mrs. Grady looked up from Laurel’s sketchbook. “What are you up to?”

  “Just looking out for my sister.” He wandered off
to make a call.

  IT WASN’T EXACTLY LIKE HERDING CATS, LAUREL SUPPOSED, BUT IT was pretty damn close. Here were people who successfully ran their own businesses, who taught the youth of the country, who represented citizens in the court of law—and none of them could get to one place at one time.

  A dozen essential items were remembered at the last minute, then retrieved. Debates broke out on the system of loading the van, then on Parker’s seat assignments.

  Laurel dug a soft drink out of one of the coolers and, popping it open, walked over to sit on one of the low garden walls while chaos reigned.

  “Why aren’t you over there fixing this?” she asked Parker when her friend sat down beside her.

  “They’re having fun.” She held out a hand for the drink. “And I built an extra twenty minutes into the load time.”

  “Naturally. Did you really purge files all afternoon?”

  “Some people do crossword puzzles.”

  “How many calls did you get?”

  “Five.”

  “Some holiday.”

  “It works for me. Things seem to be working for you, too.”

  Laurel followed Parker’s gaze and watched Del rearrange the placement of a hamper and a pair of folding chairs. “We haven’t had a fight. It’s kind of nerve-racking.”

  “Oh, you’ll get back to that.” Parker patted Laurel’s knee, then rose. “All right, people, this bus is leaving the station. Everyone into their assigned seats.”

  Del shut the back door of the van then walked over to take Laurel’s hand. “You get to sit beside me. My sister fixed it.”

  “It’s going to be pretty crowded. I might have to sit on your lap.”

  He grinned as she climbed in. “We can hope.”

  CHAPTER NINE

  THANKS TO PARKER’S SCHEDULE THEY ARRIVED EARLY ENOUGH TO claim a good location for what Laurel thought of as their camp. Folding chairs were unfolded, blankets spread, hampers and coolers hauled.

  Del tossed a ball glove into Laurel’s lap. “Right field.”

  “I always get stuck back in right field,” she complained. “I want to play first base.”

  Dating status notwithstanding, he looked at her with pity. “Face it, McBane, you field like a girl. Most of the shots are going to stay in the infield, so I need Parker on first.”

  “Parker’s a girl.”

  “But she doesn’t field like one.Jack’s got Emma and Mac, Carter’s going to ump so nobody gets hurt. Plus he’ll be fair. We’re filling in the rest with pickups, and some are unknown quantities, so until ... And here comes my ringer.”

  Laurel looked over. “You drafted Malcolm Kavanaugh?”

  The light of competition sparked in Del’s eyes. “He’s got serious skills, plus it evens things out.”

  “The lineups?”

  “No.You know, with Parker.”

  “Parker?” Shock, then amusement, then her own dose of pity ran over her face. “You got Parker a date? Jesus, Del, she’s going to kill you.”

  “Why?” Absently, he tossed a ball from hand to glove, hand to glove. “I’m not asking her to marry him. We’re just hanging out.”

  “It’s your funeral.”

  “Why?” he asked again. “Does she have some sort of problem with ... Hey, Mal.”

  “Hey.” He caught the ball Del tossed him, winged it back. “How’s it going?” he said to Laurel.

  “We’re going to find out.”

  “Ball game, free food.” Mal, in worn jeans, a white tee, and dark sunglasses used the bat he’d brought with him to pop up a fungo. “Good deal. My mother’s hooked up with your Mrs. Grady and some of them.” He laid the bat on his shoulder. “So, what’s the lineup?”

  “I’ve got you on third, batting cleanup.”

  “That’ll work.”

  “Laurel’s in right field, leading off. Her fielding’s crap, but she’s got a good bat.”

  “My fielding is not crap.” She hit Del with the glove. “Keep it up and you’re not going to have any problem winning that bet, Brown.”

  When she stalked off, Mal took an easy, testing swing. “What bet?”

  Laurel strode straight up to Mac. “I want to switch with you. I want to play on Jack’s team.”

  “Baseball slut. Okay by me, but you’d better tell Jack.”

  She walked over to where Jack sat on the ground writing his lineup. “I switched with Mac. I’m on your team.”

  “Trading the redhead for the blonde. Okay, let me figure ... You’re right field, leading off.”

  Son of a bitch. Did he and Del have telepathy? Laurel narrowed her eyes. “Why right field?”

  He flicked her a glance, and she

  saw him reconsider his response. “You’ve got a strong arm.”

  She pointed at him. “Good answer.”

  “How come you ... ? Hey. Hey, is that Mal? Del hooked Mal?” Jack bared his teeth. “So that’s the way he wants to play the game.”

  “Let’s kick his ass.”

  Jack rose to slap palms with Laurel. “I won the flip. We’re home team. Let’s take the field.”

  She did just fine at right field. And not just because no one hit a ball in her direction, but because she was

  prepared.

  Once they’d bagged three outs, she switched her glove for a bat and faced down Del on the mound.

  He winked at her. She snarled back. Then swung hard at thin air as she mistimed the ball. He tried to fool her with a pitch that hung low and outside, but she held her ground. She caught the third with enough meat on the bat for a solid base hit. When she held up at first, she tossed her batting helmet aside.

  “Del called Mal in to balance things out for you.”

  “What?” Beside the bag, Parker straightened out of her waiting crouch. “Are you kidding me? Like some sort of pity date?”

  “That, and Mal’s good at the game. I thought you’d want to know”

  “Damn right.” Parker sent a scorching look toward the mound as Del wound up for the pitch. “He’s so going to pay.”

  By the fourth inning Del had them five to three. He’d been right about Malcolm, Laurel had to admit. Serious skills. He held second now on a strong leadoff double, and the strikeout behind him brought Del to the plate. Cheers and calls went up from team-mates and the audience that had gathered. Laurel watched Del set, and Jack shake off the first suggestion from the twelve-year-old catcher.

  He went with a fastball. Or she thought it was, as it looked fast to her. It looked even faster when Del’s bat smacked it and the ball winged into the air. In her direction.

  “Shit. Oh, shit.”

  She heard someone yelling—maybe it was her—as she raced back to meet the path of the ball, but her heart pounded so hard in her ears she couldn’t tell.

  She lifted her glove and prayed.

  When the ball slapped into it, no one was more surprised than she was. She shot up ball and glove to acknowledge the cheers from the crowd. And saw Mal had already tagged up and was charging third. She threw the ball to Emma’s waving hands. Her throw, while hard and fairly true, hit Emma’s glove one wild slide too late.

  Jubilation to disgust, she thought, in less than five seconds.

  Baseball sucked.

  “Good catch, Laurel.”

  “Don’t patronize me, Jack,” she muttered when they got out of the inning with Mal stranded on third.

  “Who’s patronizing? Del creamed that ball. If you hadn’t caught it, we’d be behind a couple more runs. We held them off.” He gave her a brotherly punch on the shoulder.

  “It was a good catch.” She nodded in satisfaction. Maybe baseball didn’t suck after all.

  It sucked again when they lost seven to four, but she had the satisfaction of knowing her fielding hadn’t been crap.

  “You did good out there.” Del tossed her a canned soft drink. “Two singles and an RBI. Plus you robbed me of a potential two-run homer.”

  “You shouldn’t have said my fielding was
crap.”

  “It usually is.” He flicked the bill of her cap, in the same sort of brotherly gesture as Jack’s arm punch. Laurel tossed the cap aside, grabbed a handful of Del’s shirt.

  “I think you’re forgetting something.”

  She yanked him down for a good strong kiss, amused when the gesture brought on a smattering of applause by those who’d dropped down on the blanket or chairs.

  “No, I remembered that.” Del linked his arms casually around her waist. “But thanks for the heads-up.”

  “Well, well, isn’t

  this a surprise.” Hillary Babcock, one of Mrs. Grady’s friends, beamed at Del and Laurel. “I had no idea this was going on! Maureen, you don’t tell me anything!”

  “What I don’t tell you, you find out.”

  “But this is

  big. I’ve always thought of the two of you as the next thing to brother and sister, and here you are, getting all romantic.”

  “Laurel fielded a long fly.” Del shifted to drape his arm around Laurel’s shoulders. His hand rubbed lightly at her biceps as if to soothe away a mild irritation. “She gets a reward.”

  Hillary laughed. “Next time, sign me up! But really, how long has this been going on? Look at all of you.” She beamed the smile again, and her eyes got a little teary. “It seems like five minutes ago you four girls and Del were all
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