Savour the moment, p.13
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       Savour the Moment, p.13
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         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  running around this park with the rest of the kids, now you’re all grown-up. All paired up, too! Oh, Maureen, you should talk these girls into a triple wedding.Wouldn’t that be something special?”

  “Hilly, the boy just kissed the girl. That doesn’t mean they’re picking out the china pattern. Why don’t you get the potato salad out of the cooler over there.”

  “Why, sure. Kay, this must be your boy Malcolm. All grown-up, too! And you’re with Parker. Isn’t that nice?”

  Mal watched Parker’s face as he answered. “She pulled her weight on line drives and pop flies, but I haven’t even kissed the girl. Yet.”

  “Mal’s not actually with—”

  One searing stare from his sister in Del’s direction stopped his explanation. Deliberately, Parker stepped forward.Aware they were directly in Del’s eyeline, she pressed her body to Mal’s, linked her arms behind his neck, and fixed her mouth to his in a long, slow, sumptuous kiss.

  She pulled back, rubbed her lips together. “That ought to do it.” Mal caged her hips in his hands. “I think we should play a doubleheader.”

  She spared Mal the slightest smile, flicked a cool glance at Del, then stepped over to help unpack a hamper.

  “What was that?” Del demanded as he crouched down beside her. “What the hell was that?”

  “What? Oh, that? Just trying to keep things nice and

  balanced. Wasn’t that the idea, big brother?”

  “For God’s sake, Parker, I just ... He’s a friend of mine, so why not ask him along? Plus you said how you were the only one without a date.”

  “And it was so nice of you to arrange one for me, without even asking if I’d like you to.” She jabbed him with her finger as he started to speak. “You’d better back out of my personal business, or I’ll sleep with him just to make your life hell.”

  He paled, visibly. “You would not.”

  “Don’t test me, Delaney.” She jabbed him again. “Don’t test me.”

  “Time for a walk.” Laurel reached down to tug on Del’s arm. “No. Really time for a walk. Some things even you can’t talk your way out of,” she muttered to him as she dragged him away.

  “What’s wrong with her?”

  “She’s pissed at you, of course. I told you she would be.”

  He skirted the path of a flying Frisbee, then stopped. “She wouldn’t be if you hadn’t told her. Why did you do that?”

  “Because she’s my friend, and I was pissed at you before she was. I’d have told her even if I hadn’t been pissed at you, but that was a secondary factor. You can’t pull a date for her out of your hat without telling her, Del, or I have to.”

  “Another rule. Maybe she should send me a damn memo.” She gave the hand she held an impatient shake. “You should know better.”

  “I should know better? She’s the one who grabbed him and kissed him like that, in front of everybody.”

  “Yes, she should’ve dragged him off to the bushes and done it in private, but you know Parker. She’s brazen.”

  “You think it’s funny?” He stopped, stared her down. “She made a move on him in public, she’s really steamed at me, plus now I have to talk to Mal. It’s not funny.”

  “No. No, you don’t have to talk to Mal. Leave it alone, Mr. Fix-It.They’re grown-ups.”

  “You have your rules, I have mine.”

  “Sometimes I could just ...” She turned away, turned back. “How many guys did you ‘talk to’ and/or warn off when it was me?”

  He slid his hands into his pockets. “The past is the past.”

  “You should probably have a talk with yourself.”

  “Believe me, I have been. It doesn’t seem to do any good. I’ve got a taste for you now.”

  “A taste for me?”

  “Yeah. You know about tastes, and how some of them are just irresistible. That’s you.”

  She let out a half sigh, then framed his face with her hands. “Semi-redeemed. Let’s walk the long way around. We’ll work up an appetite.”

  WITHIN FIFTEEN MINUTES, LAUREL DECIDED THAT BETWEEN THE two of them they knew too many people.A simple walk around the park became a meet-and-greet, with the added slightly sticky layer of curiosity from those seeing them as a couple for the first time. She felt the speculation buzzing around her ears like mosquitoes.

  “At least Mrs. Babcock came right out and asked.”

  Del glanced over as they wound their way back. “Asked what?”

  “‘What’s going on with them? Are they dating? Are they sleeping together? What’s Delaney Brown doing with Laurel McBane? When did that happen? What’s going on with them?’ I feel like I should’ve written up a mission statement.”

  “People like to know what’s going on with other people, especially if there’s any hint or possibility of sex or scandal.”

  “I can feel the eyebrows wiggling behind my back.” As if to dislodge them, she rolled her shoulders. “That doesn’t bother you at all?”

  “Why would it? In fact, let’s give them something to wiggle about.”

  He spun her around, locked her into a just-short-of-steamy kiss. “There. Questions answered. Let’s get some of that potato salad.”

  It was easier for him, she decided, because he was easier with people. Added to it, he was Delaney Brown of the Connecticut Browns, and that meant something in Greenwich. She didn’t think of him that way—often—and she suspected he only thought of himself that way when it was useful. But others did.

  He had the name, the position, the wealth. Their first real public outing as a couple served to remind her he was more than her childhood friend and her potential lover.

  Sex and scandal, she thought. Well, there had been both in her family, hadn’t there? She supposed some people would remember and have that to chew over, and the same ones would speculate over cocktails and country club tennis if she set her sights on Del for that name, position, and wealth.

  It didn’t bother her overmuch, and she wouldn’t let it bother her, she thought. Unless it reflected on him or Parker.

  “Long thoughts.” Mac came over and gave her an elbow nudge. “Long thoughts aren’t allowed on national holidays.”

  “Not all that long.” But since she wondered ... “Do you ever wonder what you and I are doing here?”

  Mac licked icing off her fingers. “In a Zen way?”

  “No, that’s entirely too long a thought. You and me in particular. The public school kids with crappy families and a bumpy childhood.”

  “Mine was bumpier.”

  “Yes, you win that prize.”

  “Yay” For a moment, Mac studied her plastic cup of lemonade. “Speaking of bumps, Linda got back yesterday.”

  “You didn’t say anything.”

  Mac shrugged. “It’s not such a deal for me anymore. Plus, she’s living in New York with the new husband, and still currently pissed at me. It’s a nice distance.”

  “May it continue.”

  “Doesn’t matter so much, because I really did win the prize.” She looked over at Carter while he talked to a couple of his students who’d found him in the crowd.

  “He is pretty great,” Laurel agreed. “Did we ever have any teachers that cute?”

  “Mr. Zimmerman, U.S. History. He was cute.”

  “Oh yeah, the Zim Man.Very cute, but gay.”

  Green eyes wide, Mac lowered her cup. “He was gay?”

  “Definitely. You must’ve been doing one of your stints at the Academy when that hit.”

  “I missed a lot of the good stuff bouncing back and forth.Well, gay or straight, he starred in several of my adolescent dreams. Here’s to the Zim Man.”

  “To the Zim Man,” Laurel echoed and tapped her can to Mac’s cup.

  “Anyway,” Mac continued, “you and me.”

  “There’s Emma. Solid family. They’re legion, but rock solid. Certainly privileged. Then Parker. The Browns

  are Greenwich. Then there’s you. Crazy mother, feckless father.
Never knowing if you’re going to be up or down. Then there’s me, with my father and his little problem with the IRS and his mistress. Oops, we’re very nearly broke and nobody’s talking to anybody. We barely kept the house, and my mother’s more pissed about having to let the staff go than the mistress. Strange times.”

  Mac nudged Laurel’s arm with hers, in solidarity. “We got through them.”

  “We did. And we’re still here. I guess I didn’t think I would be, not when I look back. I was embarrassed and confused and angry, and imagined I’d take off as soon as I turned eighteen.”

  “You did, in a way. Going to school in New York, getting your own place. Man, that was fun—for me for sure. Having a pal with an apartment in NewYork.Young, single, and not completely broke in New York City. We had some interesting times.When we weren’t working our asses off.”

  Laurel drew her knees up, rested her cheek on them to keep her eyes on Mac. “We always worked, you and me. I don’t mean Emma and Parker sat on their ass, but ...”

  “They had a cushion,” Mac put in with a nod. “We didn’t. Except, we had them, so we did.”

  “Yeah, you’re right. We did.”

  “So I guess I don’t wonder about it too much. We got here, and that’s what counts. And look, you’ve got a very nice prize there, too.”

  Laurel lifted her head and studied Del. “I haven’t claimed him yet.”

  “I know I’ve got money riding on it, but I’ve got to say, McBane, why the hell haven’t you?”

  “You know, I’m asking myself the same question.”

  LATER, WHEN THE FIRST SHOWER OF LIGHT FOUNTAINED IN THE sky, Del sat behind her, drawing her back so she could rest against him. It was all color and sound and spectacle, with his arms loose around her.

  However she got here, Laurel thought, it was exactly where she wanted to be.

  LOADING BACK UP WAS NEARLY AS FRAUGHT AS THE INITIAL CHORE, but once done, Parker piloted them to a local club. At the door she passed Carter the keys. “Del’s buying the first round,” she announced.

  “I am?”

  “You are, and our designated driver’s money is no good here.” She glanced over as Mal came in behind them. “We’d better grab a couple tables.”

  They pushed a couple together, claimed their spots. Once the round was ordered, the women moved off en masse to the ladies room.

  “What do you figure they do in there, as a pack?” Mal wondered.

  “Talk about us,” Jack said, “and plot strategy.”

  “Since we have a minute, I figured I should tell you Parker just made that move earlier because she was mad at me.”

  Mal smiled easily at Del. “Okay. Maybe you could piss her off again.”

  “Ha. See, I didn’t tell her I’d called you, and she got the wrong idea.”

  At ease, Mal kicked back and looped an arm over the back of his chair. “Yeah? What idea’s that?”

  “That I was setting the two of you up.”

  “Does your sister have trouble getting dates?”

  “No. Of course not.”

  “Then I wouldn’t worry about it.”

  The band started up as their drinks arrived—and the women came right behind them. “Dance! Come on, Jack.” Emma grabbed his hand, tugged.

  “There’s beer.”

  “Dance, then beer.”

  “A plan.” Del got up and claimed Laurel. “It’s been a while for you and me.”

  “So, let’s see what you’ve got.”

  “Okay, Carter.”

  “I’m a terrible dancer,” he reminded Mac.

  “You’ll have to dance at the wedding, so it’s time to practice.”

  “Oh well.”

  Mal gave it a moment, then stood and held out a hand to Parker.

  “Really, you don’t have to—”

  “You can dance, can’t you?”

  “Of course, I can dance, but—”

  “Not afraid to dance with me, are you?”

  “That’s ridiculous.” Obviously annoyed, she rose. “This isn’t a date, and I’ll apologize for before, but I was—”

  “Pissed at Del. I get it. So, we’ll have a drink, we’ll dance. No big deal.”

  The music was hot and fast, but he gave her an unexpected little spin, then twirled her in close. And began to move.

  He had the beat, and still it took her a minute to match his steps and rhythm. She had to admit, he’d thrown her off guard again.

  “Somebody’s had lessons,” she said.

  “No, somebody just figured out dancing’s a solid way to pick up women.” He spun her out again, then in so their bodies meshed. “And jobs. Fight scenes are choreography. I did a lot of stunt work in fight scenes.”

  “Jobs and women.”

  “Yeah. Life’s better with both.”

  Nearby, Laurel snapped her fingers in front of Del’s face. “Stop. You’re staring at them.”

  “I was just ... checking.”

  “Look at me.” She forked her fingers in front of her eyes, then pointed them at his.

  He took her by the hips to tug her closer. “You were too far away.”

  “Okay.” She linked her hands behind his neck, and used her hips. “How’s that?”

  “A lot better.” His mouth found hers. “Better yet, even though it’s killing me.”

  “You can take it.” She ran her teeth over his bottom lip. “Or me.”

  “Definitely killing me. Come on, let’s sit down.”

  She thought about the last time she and her three friends had gone to a club. Just the four of them, she recalled, to a trendy place in the city. All of them unattached, and just out for an evening of dancing. A lot could change in a few months, she mused.

  Now there were eight of them squeezed together, yelling at one another over the music. Every now and again, Del would brush a hand over her hair, or down her back. He couldn’t know, couldn’t possibly know what that absent touch did inside her body.

  It made her want to curl up and purr—or drag him out to the van where they could be alone. It was pitiful how much she yearned, how much he could do to her with so little.

  If he had any idea how desperately in love with him she was ... He’d be kind, she thought. And that would destroy her.

  Better, much better they take it slow and easy, just as he’d said at the beginning. Maybe some of these feelings would settle. Maybe they’d be able to meet somewhere in the middle so she wouldn’t feel so outweighed by her own heart.

  He glanced her way and smiled, and that heart stuttered.

  So much could change, she thought. And yet, if she counted the longing, so much could stay the same.

  Just after midnight they piled back into the van with Carter behind the wheel. She listened to the muted voices around her, the winding down of the day. But there was still a moon, still stars, still a long night ahead.

  “I’ve got a client dinner tomorrow,” Del told her, “then poker night. Why don’t you think about what you’d like to do, where you’d like to go when we go out next time.”

  “Sure.”

  “You could miss me in the meantime.”

  “I might.”

  As Carter turned toward his house, Del tipped her face up for a kiss. “Why don’t you make a point of it?”

  He shifted to get out, nudged Parker on the shoulder. “You’re not still mad.”

  She gave him a long look. “I’m only not still mad because we won the ball game and he’s a good dancer. Try that again, and I’ll make you hurt.”

  “You had fun.” He kissed her cheek. “Thanks for the lift. See you all later. You men, sooner. Poker night.”

  He stepped out, gave a wave, then headed up the walk to his door.

  Laurel argued with herself for nearly a quarter mile.

  “Stop! Stop! Pull over.”

  “Oh, honey, are you sick?” Emma straightened in her seat, swiveled around.

  “No, no, just ...This is stupid. It’s all just stupid.” She w
renched the door open. “Screw the bet. I’m going to Del’s. Go home.”

  She ignored the cheers and slammed the door.

  “Wait.” Carter stuck his head out. “I’ll drive you back. Just—”

  “No.Thanks. Go.”

  And turning, she began to run.

  CHAPTER TEN

  AS HE TOSSED HIS KEYS IN THE LITTLE BOWL ON HIS DRESSER, plugged his cell phone into its charger, Del considered a quick swim before he turned in. Something physical, he thought, to take the edge off the sexual frustration and help him sleep. He pulled off his shirt, his shoes, and headed down to the kitchen to grab a bottle of water.

  It was the right thing to do, this waiting. Laurel held too important a place in his life—played too intricate a part—to rush this change between them.

  She wasn’t just an interesting, attractive woman. She was Laurel. Tough and funny, smart and resilient Laurel McBane. She had so many of the qualities he admired in a woman—and all in one sexy package.

  All these years, he mused, he’d considered that package off-limits. Now that she—he—they, he decided, had torn down the restrictions, he wanted her more than he’d anticipated.

  It added another reason for the wait.

  Impulse was great; he was a fan of acting on impulse. But not when it came to someone who mattered as much as she did, and on so many complicated levels. Slow and sensible, he reminded himself. It was working, wasn’t it? In a short amount of time they’d learned things about each other neither of them had explored in all the years they’d known each other.

  They’d spent the holiday together as they’d spent countless others—but in a whole new light, with an entirely different approach. That was the sort of thing they needed to do more of before they took the next step.

  He was fine with it; he was good with it.

  He wondered if the month would ever end.

 
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