Savour the moment, p.14
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       Savour the Moment, p.14

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  Swim, he ordered himself an instant before the banging on his front door, the insistent buzzing of his bell, had him rushing back through the house.

  Sharp claws of panic ripped viciously through his gut at his first glimpse of Laurel, winded, wide-eyed, and flushed.

  “Was there an accident? Parker.” He grabbed her, checking for injuries even as his mind jumped forward. “Call nine-one-one, and I’ll go—”

  “No. No accident. It’s fine. Everyone’s fine.” She waved him back, sucking in a breath. “Here’s the thing. You can’t count today, and it’s actually tomorrow, so you can’t count that. Or the first day, because it’s the first.”

  “What? Are you okay? Where’s everyone? What happened?”

  “Nothing happened; I came back.” She held up one hand as if to calm him and shoved the other through her hair. “It’s just all about the math, really, and today being tomorrow because it’s after midnight. So there’s that. Plus you don’t count weekends. Who counts weekends? Nobody does. Five business days, that’s what they all say.”

  Panic throttled down to bafflement. “About what?”

  “Everything. Pay attention.” She jabbed a finger at him. “Keep up.”

  “Well, I would—could—if I knew what the hell you’re talking about.”

  “Listen, okay?” She started to slip out of the sandals she’d changed into after the ball game, but stopped. “This is how it works. You take off the first day and today, and the weekends. That’s like ten days, which is actually two weeks by most definitions.” As the words tumbled out, she gestured, one hand, then the other. “Plus, I don’t think thirty days works when you really meant a month. That’s four weeks. Twenty-eight days—seven times four. It’s just basic math. Then if you take off the two weeks that don’t count due to weekends and whatever, we’re actually behind.”

  “Behind wh—Oh.” Understanding brought relief, amusement, and gratitude in one big rush. “Uh-uh. I’m not sure I got all of that. Can you run it by me again?”

  “No. I figured it out. Take my word. So I came back because we’re falling behind.”

  “Can’t have that, can we?”

  “That’s the math. Now we have the multiple choice portion. A, you take me home; B, I call a cab; or C, I stay.”

  “Let me think it over. Done.” He grabbed her again, took her mouth with his.

  “Correct answer.” She boosted herself up to wrap her legs around his waist. “Definitely the correct answer. You can thank me later for figuring it out.” Her mouth found his again in a hot, urgent kiss. “But now, I’m going crazy. You’d better be going crazy, too.”

  “I was thinking about you, and wanting you.” He started up the stairs. “It’s all I could think about. Thank God for the five-business-days rule.”

  “It’s industry standard,” she managed as her heart began to pound in her ears again. “We made it too big a deal. The sex. I can’t think straight when I’m obsessing, and I can’t think about anything else but wanting to be with you. I keep thinking about how it’ll be, but I don’t want to think. I just want it to be. I’m talking too much. See? Crazy.”

  “Then let’s be.”

  When he lowered to the bed with her, her legs tightened around his waist, her hands skimmed down his back and up again. She felt the first twinges of desperation even as their mouths met again. Heat washed over her, spilled into her—so fast, so intense she lost her breath. Too long the waiting, she thought, and the wondering and the wanting.

  She gripped his hips, arching up as his teeth scraped lightly down her throat and awoke dozens of nerve endings. She tried to get her hands on the button of his jeans, but he took her wrists, brushed his thumbs over her drumming pulse.

  “Too fast.”

  “It’s already been forever.”

  “What’s a little longer?” He eased back and in the swatch of moonlight began to unbutton her shirt. “I’ve spent a lot of time not looking at you in a certain way. I want to enjoy the looking. And the touching. The tasting.” As he spread her shirt open, his fingers trailed down her skin.

  Touching her was like finally understanding a puzzle, seeing for the first time the beauty and complexity of it. The angles of her face, the curves of her body, his now to explore.

  When she reached for him, he drew her up so he could slip the shirt aside, taste the smooth skin of strong shoulders. He flicked open the catch of her bra, heard her little gasp before he smoothed the straps off her shoulders. More silky skin pressed to his as she tipped her head back to invite his kiss.

  Slow, smoldering, deep with tongues sliding as he lowered her down again to look into those bold blue eyes, as he feathered his fingers over her breasts. She quivered, and her reaction coiled need, hot and hard, in his belly.

  “Let me,” he murmured, and closed his mouth over her breast.

  Pleasure seared over her skin and flashed through her body as she gave herself over to his hands, his mouth. He wanted; he took, but inch by scorching, torturous inch, exploiting her vulnerabilities, her longings, as if he knew every secret she held.

  “I’ve wanted this. Wanted you,” she murmured.

  “Now we have this. Have each other.”

  He slid her jeans down her legs, his mouth gliding over her belly, her thigh. Time, an eternity of time spun out, and stopped.

  Just now, she thought. This moment.

  It seemed everything in her opened for him, and everything in her was warm and willing. Slow, he ordered himself, though his need had begun to buck at the end of its tether, and he used his hands to guide her over the peak.

  He watched pleasure turn her eyes to blue crystals, tasted her moan as he crushed his mouth to hers.

  Finally, when their eyes met again, he slipped out of his clothes and into her, held himself there while they both trembled.

  She said his name, a single, catchy sigh, then rose in welcome. No more wondering, but only wonder as they moved together. At last, she thought, at last. And broke apart.

  She lay under him, weak and wildly happy, with her lips curved against his shoulder because his heart pounded against hers.

  She’d let him lead this time, she thought, but he’d ended up as wrecked and satisfied as she had. She stroked a hand down his back, and over his very fine ass, because she could.

  “My idea.”

  He managed a weak laugh. “A good one.” He shifted to draw her against his side. “Yeah, this is good.”

  “If we use my math and formula, we didn’t actually lose the bet.”

  “I think, under the circumstances, we can forfeit the bet. We still won.”

  She decided if she were any happier, little pink hearts and singing bluebirds would shoot out her fingertips. “I guess you’re right.” She let out one contented sigh. “I have to get up really early.”

  “Okay.” But his arms came around her, signaling she wasn’t going anywhere yet.

  She angled her face up for one last kiss. “Worth waiting for?”

  “Definitely”

  She closed her eyes and slept in his arms.

  LAUREL WISHED SHE HAD A PENLIGHT. AND A TOOTHBRUSH. FUMBLING around in the dark the morning after never got any easier, she decided. At least she’d found her bra and one shoe. She let out a grunt of satisfaction when her seeking fingers hooked on the elastic of her panties.

  A shirt, a shoe, and her pants to go, she thought, and her purse was downstairs where she’d dumped it. There she’d find mints and cab fare.

  She’d have killed for coffee. She’d have maimed for even the scent of coffee.

  On her hands and knees she continued to search the floor, then awarded herself a mental

  aha when she came across the other shoe.

  “What are you doing down there?”

  “Sorry.” She sat back on her heels. “I’m looking for the rest of my clothes. I told you I had to get up early.”

  “How early is early? Jesus, it’s barely five.”

  “Welcome to bak
ers’ hours. Listen, if I could just have the light for thirty seconds, I could find the rest and get out of your way so you can go back to sleep.”

  “You don’t have a car.”

  “I’ll call a cab from downstairs. I’ve got everything but my—” The light flashed on, causing her to squint before she covered her eyes with one hand. “You could’ve warned me. Just a second.”

  “You look ... interesting.”

  “I bet.” She could imagine it well enough. Naked, her hair looking like a couple of cats had wrestled in it, squatting on the floor holding underwear and shoes.

  Why couldn’t he be a heavier sleeper?

  “Two seconds.” She spotted her shirt and debated which was less dignified. Crawling over to get it or standing up and walking over to get it. Crawling, she concluded, was never dignified.

  Naked didn’t matter. He’d seen her naked. But he hadn’t seen her naked in the morning when she wasn’t even close to the low end of her best.

  And damn it, she wished he’d stop smiling at her that way. “Go back to sleep.”

  She stood, stepped over for the shirt. Her shoes went flying when he grabbed her and pulled her down on the bed.

  “Del, I have to go.”

  “This probably won’t take long.” He rolled on top of her, making it absolutely clear her bed hair didn’t put him off in the least.

  When he lifted her hips, eased inside her, she decided there were some things even better than coffee in the morning.

  “I’ve probably got a couple minutes.”

  He laughed, nuzzling his face in the curve of her shoulder.

  She let it build in her, slow, soft, sweet, the rising up with quickening pulse and sighing release. Everything in her went warm and loose with him filling her, heart and body.

  The fall, as gentle as the rise, made her wish she could just curl up with him and sleep all over again.

  “Morning,” he murmured.

  “Mmm. I was going to say sorry for waking you up, but it turns out I’m not.”

  “Me, either. I guess we’d better find the clothes so I can drive you home.”

  “I’ll take a cab.”

  “No, you won’t.”

  “Don’t be silly. There’s no reason for you to get up and dressed and drive there and back when all I have to do is call a cab.”

  “The reason is you spent the night in my bed.”

  “Welcome to the twenty-first century, Sir Galahad. I got myself here, so I can—”

  “You know, you’re in a very strange position to start an argument.” He braced on his elbows to look down at her. “If you keep it up for about ten more minutes, I should be able to give you one more reason you’re not taking a cab.”

  “That’s a pretty optimistic recovery time.”

  “Want to see who’s right?”

  “Let me up.And since you’re going all gallant, how about scoring me an extra toothbrush?”

  “I can do that. I can even get some coffee into a couple of travel cups.”

  “For coffee, you can drive me anywhere.”

  IN UNDER FIFTEEN MINUTES, AND ARMED WITH A TALL COFFEE, Laurel stepped outside. “It’s raining. Pouring,” she corrected. How had she missed that? “Del, don’t—”

  “Stop arguing.” He just grabbed her hand and pulled her into a dash for the car. Drenched, she climbed in, then shook her head at him when he got behind the wheel.

  “It’s not an argument.”

  “Okay. How about a discussion?”

  “Better,” she allowed. “I just wanted to avoid setting a precedent where you’d feel obligated to drive me home, or that sort of thing. If I follow an impulse I should handle what’s connected to it. Like transportation.”

  “I really enjoyed the impulse, but regardless, when I’m with a woman, I take her home. Consider it a Brown Rule of Thumb.”

  She did consider while tapping her fingers on her knee. “So, if you followed an impulse, I’d be obligated to drive you home.”

  “No. And no, I don’t consider that sexist, I consider it elemental.” He glanced over, all sleepy midnight eyes as he drove through the rainy morning. “Equal rights, equal pay, choice, opportunities, and so on. I’m for them. But when I’m with a woman I take her home. And when I’m with a woman, I don’t like the idea of her driving around in the middle of the night, or alone at five-thirty-whatever in the morning if there’s a way around it.”

  “Because you have the penis.”

  “Yes, I do. And I’m keeping it.”

  “And the penis shields against accidents, breakdowns, and flat tires?”

  “You know what’s always been interesting, and occasionally frustrating, about you?You’re able to turn the simple into the complicated.”

  It was true, but it didn’t change the point. “What if I’d had my car?”

  “You didn’t.”

  “But what if I did?”

  “I guess we’ll find out when you do.” He turned into the drive.

  “That’s evasive.”

  “It is, isn’t it? How about I give you a point back? I won’t walk you to the door.”

  She cocked her head. “But you’re going to sit here until you know I’m inside?”

  “Yes, I am.” He leaned over, cupped her chin, kissed her. “Go bake a cake.”

  She started to get out, then shifted back and gave him a longer, much more satisfying kiss. “Bye.”

  She dashed to the door, then turned, dripping, to wave as she let herself in.

  Then, alone in the quiet, she leaned back on the door and indulged herself. She’d made love with Del. She’d slept in his bed, awakened beside him. A lifetime of dreams had come true in one night, so she was allowed to indulge herself in private, to grin like a maniac, hug herself, and feel utterly, foolishly wonderful.

  Nothing she’d imagined had come close to those moments, and here alone in the quiet she could revel in them. She could remember each one and savor it.

  What happened next was anyone’s guess, but now, right this minute, she had what she’d always wanted.

  She almost floated up the stairs and into her room. Full day ahead of her, she thought, but God, she wanted to chuck it all and just flop down on the bed, kick her heels at the ceiling, and wallow.

  Couldn’t be done, but she could wallow in a long, long hot shower. She stripped off her damp clothes, hung them over a towel bar, pulled out the hair clip she’d dug out of her purse to handle the mess of it. Still grinning, she stepped under the hot spray.

  She was basking in the steam and the scent when she caught a movement outside the glass door. It amazed her the scream she ripped out didn’t crack the glass.

  “Jesus, Laurel, it’s just me.” Mac opened the door a crack. “I knocked, then I shouted, but you were too busy singing to hear me.”

  “A lot of people sing in the shower. What the hell do you want?”

  “Not a lot of people who are us sing ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ in the shower.”

  “I wasn’t singing that.” Was she? And now it would be stuck in her head all day. “You’re letting out the heat. Go away.”

  “What’s taking you so long?” Emma demanded as she came in.

  “Parker?”

  “Gym,” Emma answered Mac. “But I told her what’s up.”

  “For God’s sake, has it escaped the notice of you morons that I’m taking a shower?”

  “Smells good,” Mac commented. “You’re clean. Get out. We’re having pancakes in honor of the anticipated sexy breakfast story.”

  “I don’t have time for pancakes.”

  “Mrs. G will make them.”

  “We just had waffles.”

  “Oh, you’re right. Omelettes. We’ll have sexy breakfast story omelettes. Ten minutes,” Emma ordered. “The men are banned from breakfast.”

  “I don’t want to—”

  But Mac shut the shower door. Laurel pushed dripping hair out of her eyes. She could sneak down to her own kitchen, but they’d ju
st come in and nag her. Resigned, she got out and grabbed a towel.

  When she walked into the kitchen twenty minutes later, she found Mac and Emma already there, the table set, and Mrs. Grady at the stove.

  “Listen, I have a really full day, so—”

  “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” Mac said piously.

  “So speaks the Pop-Tart Princess. I really need to get started.”

  “You can’t hold back.” Emma wagged a finger. “We shared ours, and Mrs. G’s already making sexy breakfast story omelettes. Right, Mrs. G?”

  “I am. Might as well sit down,” she told Laurel. “They’ll nag your ears off otherwise. And since I’m told you didn’t get home until about thirty minutes ago, I’ve a mind to hear about it myself.”

  As she gulped down juice, Laurel tracked her gaze from one face to another. “Do you all have some sort of radar?”

  “Yes,” Parker said as she came in. “And if I’m getting called down before I’ve had my shower, this better be good.” In sweat shorts and a loose T-shirt, she went over to pour herself coffee. “I take it Del didn’t bolt the door and turn you away.”

  “This is just bizarre.” Laurel took Parker’s coffee. “You know this is bizarre.”

  “Traditions are traditions, even when they’re bizarre.” Cheerfully, Parker got another cup. “So, what happened?”

  Laurel sat, shrugged. “I lost the bet.”

  “Yay!” Emma scooted in beside her. “I lost it, too, but some things are more important than money.”

  “Who won, Parker?” Mac wanted to know.

  Parker sat, frowned into her coffee. “Malcolm Kavanaugh.”

  “Kavanaugh?” Since it was there, Laurel took a piece of toast out of the rack. “How did he get in on it?”

  “Somebody told him, and he cornered me at the ball game. I said no, bets were closed, but he’s pushy and persistent. Plus he said he’d put two hundred in as a late fee, and he’d pick July fifth.”

  “You mean he nailed it on the button?” Mac demanded. “Lucky guy.”

  “Yeah, lucky guy. I figured he didn’t have a chance anyway, as we were all going out, all going together. I didn’t expect Laurel to jump out of the van and make a run for it.”

  “It was romantic.” Emma smiled. “All rushed and flushed and urgent. What happened when you got there?”

  “He opened the door.”

  “Spill,” Mac insisted and pointed a finger.

  “You can’t be uncomfortable because he’s my brother. You and I have been friends nearly as long as Del’s been my brother. So it’s a wash.”

  “Eat,” Mrs. Grady ordered and served the omelettes.

  Laurel obediently took a bite. “I’d worked out the math.”

  “What math?” Emma asked.

 
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