Savour the moment, p.15
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       Savour the Moment, p.15

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  “About what days didn’t count in the given thirty. It’s complicated. It’s a formula, but I’d worked it out. Once he caught up with me, logistically, he agreed it made sense, but thought we should just forfeit the bet. So we did.”

  “Weekends, right?” Mac shoveled in some eggs. “I thought about that. Weekends don’t count.”

  “Exactly. And the first and last days don’t count. It gets more complicated, but that’s the gist. But in all fairness, since we didn’t set those terms, we went with the forfeit. Then we ...”

  Bizarre or not, these four women were her women. “It was wonderful. I had this place in my head that worried I’d be nervous, that we’d be awkward. But I wasn’t, and we weren’t. He wouldn’t rush, and wouldn’t let me rush, so it was slow and sweet. He was ...”

  When she trailed off, Parker sighed. “If you think I’d squirm because you’d say my brother is a good lover, a considerate one, you’re wrong. It’s not just skill, you know. It’s also a sign of respect and affection for his partner.”

  “He made me feel that there was nothing else that mattered but the two of us, then and there. That’s all there was. And after, I could sleep with him, feeling absolutely safe, absolutely natural. That’s always the hardest part for me. Trusting enough, I guess, to sleep.”

  Emma rubbed Laurel’s thigh under the table. “That’s a really good sexy breakfast story.”

  “We had a little tangle this morning.”

  “A sexy tangle?”

  “That, too, One-Track Mind,” she said to Mac. “I needed to find my clothes in the dark so I could call a cab and get back. Full day. But he woke up, which led to a sexy tangle even though I had bed hair.”

  “I hate that,” Emma muttered. “There should be an instant cure for bed hair.”

  “Then he insisted on driving me home.”

  “Of course.”

  Laurel rolled her eyes at Parker. “The two of you have this unshakable code of conduct. Why should he have to get up, dressed, drive me when I can get myself home?”

  “Because you were in his home, that’s number one. Second, you were in his bed. Good manners are just that, and don’t threaten your independence.”

  “Brown Rule of Thumb?”

  Parker smiled a little. “I guess you could call it that.”

  “He did. Well, that’s going to have to hold you, because I have to get to work.”

  “Don’t we all? I have half a million lilies coming in this morning to be processed. And the crew’s starting today.”

  “Here, too?” Laurel asked.

  “Here, too, according to Jack.” Emma glanced at her watch. “Any minute.”

  “You will now live in interesting times,” Mac told her. “And noisy ones.”

  “It’ll be worth it. I’m going to keep telling myself it’ll be worth it. Thanks for breakfast, Mrs. G.”

  “It was a good story, so paid in full.”

  “If things get too crazy in my space, can I shift some of the work in here?”

  “You can. Emmaline and Mackensie, you called for the story. You’re on dishes. I’m going to take a walk around the garden before the hammering starts.”

  Parker walked out with Laurel. “Happy’s what counts. Remember I like seeing you and Del happy when you feel weird about it again.”

  “I’m working on it. Tell me if I start screwing this up, okay?”

  “Absolutely.” Her phone rang. “And there we have the opening bell. I’ll see you later. Good morning, Sarah. How’s the bride today?”

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  EMMA’S LILIES SCENTED THE AIR AND BLOOMED IN SUMMER COLORS of brilliant scarlet and buttery yellow, bright, hard-candy pink and blinding white. The bride, who’d considered a mis-scheduled manicure a disaster on the morning of July fifth, posed radiantly for Mac while Parker dealt with a groomsman’s misplaced vest and tie.

  After checking to see no emergencies required her attention or assistance, Laurel carried the cake’s centerpiece—a sugar vase she’d molded from a hexagon bowl and filled with miniature lilies.

  Emma’s lilies had nothing on hers, Laurel thought—in execution or time spent. She’d embossed gum paste with a rolling pin covered with textured grosgrain ribbon, then meticulously cut out each individual petal. The result, once the stems had been wired and dipped in thinned royal icing, was both charming and elegant.

  In the Ballroom, she ignored the buzz and hum of setup and studied the cake. More textured petals adorned each tier—a circular dance of those strong colors. More scattered over the cake board in what she considered a pretty and organic touch.

  As she lifted the topper out of the box, someone knocked over a chair with a crash. She never blinked.

  That’s what Del noticed. The noise, the shouts, the movement might not have existed. He watched her center the bowl of flowers on the top tier, step back to check the positioning, then take one of her tools out of the box to run a line—no, pipe, he corrected. He knew that much. She piped a couple of perfect lines, like a base on the bowl, around it with hands steady as a surgeon’s.

  She circled the table again, nodded.

  “Looks great.”

  “Oh.” She took a step back. “I didn’t know you were here. Or going to be here.”

  “It was the only way I could figure out how to have a Saturday night date with you.”

  “That’s nice.”

  He brushed his thumb over her cheek.

  “Do I have icing on my face?”

  “No. It’s just your face. How many flowers on that?”

  “About fifty.”

  He glanced around at the arrangements. “It looks like you and Em matched petal for petal.”

  “We worked at it. Well, so far everything’s going smooth, so I might be able to—”

  “Code Red!” Emma shouted in her earbud.

  “Crap. Where?”

  “Great Hall. We need everybody.”

  “I’m on my way. Code Red,” she told Del as she rushed for the stairs. “My own fault. I said everything was going smooth. I know better than to say that.”

  “What’s the problem?”

  “I don’t know yet.” She hit the second-floor landing from one wing as Parker charged in from the other.

  “SMOB and MOB altercation. Mac and Carter have the bride occupied and unaware.”

  Laurel whipped the clip out of her hair, shoved it in her suit jacket pocket. “I thought we had detente there.”

  “Apparently that’s over. Del, good you’re here. We might need you.”

  As they approached, the sound of shouting pumped out of the Great Hall. And something crashed. Then someone screamed.

  “You might need the cops,” Del commented.

  They burst in to see Emma, her hair tumbling from its pins, trying desperately to separate the two snarling, elegantly dressed women. The bride’s stepmother’s hair and face dripped with the champagne tossed from the flute still in the mother of the bride’s hand.

  “You bitch! You’re going down!”

  Shoving, flailing arms sent Emma skidding on her heels then onto her ass as the women flew at each other.

  Game, and with a hot beam in her eye, Emma scrambled up as Parker and Laurel sprang forward. Grabbing the closest body, Laurel hauled while curses spewed like grapeshot.

  “Cut it out! Stop it now!” Laurel dodged a fist, then blocked an elbow with her forearm. The force of the contact sang straight up to her shoulder. “I said

  stop! For God’s sake, it’s your daughter’s wedding.”

  “It’s

  my daughter’s wedding,” the woman Parker and Emma struggled to control shouted. “

  My daughter.

  Mine! Not this home-wrecking bimbo bitch’s.”

  “Bimbo? Bimbo? You tight-assed lunatic, it’s your last face-lift I’m going to wreck.”

  Emma solved the mother of the bride problem by sitting on her while Laurel grappled with her opponent.

  As Del risked hi
s skin by stepping between the two women, Laurel spotted reinforcements coming. Jack, and oddly Malcolm Kavanaugh, rushed into the melee.

  Kneeling on the floor, Parker spoke quietly and steadily to the MOB whose temper was already giving way to wild tears. Laurel put her mouth close to the stepmother’s ear. “This isn’t solving anything, and if you care about Sarah, you’ll put it away, you’ll suck it up for the day. Are you listening? If you want to fight, you’ll do it another time, another place.”

  “I didn’t do

  anything, and she threw champagne in my face. Look at my hair, my makeup. My

  dress.”

  “We’ll take care of it.” She glanced at Parker, got a nod. “Del, I need you to bring a couple glasses of champagne up to my room, then you can take—I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.”

  “I’m Bibi,” the SMOB said in something close to a wail. “It’s all ruined. Everything’s ruined.”

  “No, we’ll fix it. Del, you can take Bibi’s dress down to Mrs. G. She’ll fix it up. Come on with me, Bibi. We’re going to take care of everything.”

  As she steered Bibi away, Parker repeated the routine on the MOB. “Emma’s going to take you somewhere to freshen up. I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”

  “Don’t tell Sarah,” the MOB sobbed. “I don’t want to upset her.”

  “Of course not. Go on with Emma. Don’t want to upset her,” Parker muttered when the woman was out of earshot.

  “Hell of a party so far,” Mal commented.

  Parker tugged down her suit jacket, smoothed her skirt. “What are you doing here?”

  “Just dropped by to collect my winnings.”

  “I don’t have time for that now.” She dismissed him by turning to one of the subs. “Make sure all the glass is cleaned up, and any spilled champagne. If anything else is broken or damaged, tell one of Emma’s team so they can deal with it. Jack, track down the FOB, will you? I’ll need to speak with him in my office. Immediately.”

  “Sure. Sorry it took me so long. I was outside when I got the alert.”

  “I moonlighted as a bouncer in L.A.,” Mal told her. “In case you want anybody tossed.”

  “Funny, and not completely out of the question. FOB, Jack, thanks. Mac,” she said into her headpiece as she hurried away.

  “She sure moves.” Mal watched her zip across the room and out the door.

  “You haven’t seen anything yet,” Jack said. “Let’s go find the FOB.”

  “Jack? What the hell is an FOB?”

  IN HER ROOM LAUREL EXAMINED THE APRICOT SILK DRESS SHE’D ordered Bibi to strip off. She could hear both the shower and the sobs through the bathroom door.

  A few spots, a torn seam—could’ve been worse, she decided. Mrs. G would deal with it. And according to the emergency plan for just such situations, she knew Parker would have a hair and makeup team en route very shortly.

  Her mission, and she had no choice but to accept it, was to keep Bibi calm, help put her back together, listen to her whine, bitch, and/or complain. And to get her to promise—with a blood oath if necessary—to behave herself through the rest of the event.

  Smoothing her own disordered hair, she answered the knock on the door.

  “Two glasses, as ordered.” Del eased in to set them on a table, and glanced toward the bathroom. “How’s it going?”

  “Well, she’s down from sobs to whimpers. Here’s the dress. It’s not too bad. Parker would’ve given Mrs. G a heads-up, so she’ll be ready for it.”

  “Okay.” He reached out to straighten her left earring. “Anything else I can do?”

  “You could check with Mac, just to make sure the bride’s insulated from all this. Parker would’ve come up with a reason for a slight delay.” Calculating, Laurel rubbed at the tension in the back of her neck. “We’re twenty minutes out, so I figure ten or fifteen for the delay. We’re good. She turned off the shower,” Laurel noted. “You’d better go.”

  “I’m gone. By the way? Nice block,” he added, lifting his arm to demonstrate.

  She gave him a laughing shove, then closed the door.Taking a deep, bracing breath, she walked over to the bathroom, knocked. “Okay in there?”

  Bibi opened the door. She wore Laurel’s best robe with her hair in dark blond dripping ropes over the shoulders. Her red, puffy eyes shimmered with the threat of more tears.

  “Look at me. I’m a mess.”

  “This should help.”

  “Is it a gun?”

  “Champagne. Have a seat, take a breath. We’re having your dress fixed, and we’ll have someone in to do your hair and makeup in a few minutes.”

  “Oh, thank God.” Bibi took a deep gulp of the champagne.

  “Thank God, and thank you. I feel horrible. Sick. Stupid. Twelve years. I’ve been married to Sam for twelve years. Doesn’t that count for something?”

  “Of course.” Soothe, Laurel thought, remembering the Vows’ directive. Soothe, stroke, smooth over.

  “I didn’t wreck anybody’s home. They were separated when we met. Well, okay, not technically, not officially, but practically. She hates me because I’m younger. She’s the starter wife; I’m the trophy wife. She’s the one who throws those labels around. And twelve years, I mean, well,

  shit.”

  “It’s never easy to handle those kinds of relationships and connections.”

  “I’ve tried.” Bibi’s red-rimmed eyes pleaded for understanding. “I really have. And they were divorced before we got engaged. Almost.And I love Sarah. I really do. And Brad’s great. They’re great together. I want them to be happy.”

  “That’s what counts most.”

  “Yeah.” She sighed, took a slower sip. “I signed a prenup. I even asked for it. It wasn’t about the money, even though she’s always saying it was. Is. We just fell in love. You can’t help that, right?You can’t help who you fall in love with, or when or how? It just happens. She’s pissed, that’s all, because her second marriage hit the skids and we’re still going. I’m sorry for all the trouble. Sarah doesn’t have to know, does she?”

  “No. At least not today.”

  “They weren’t even sleeping together anymore. When I met Sam they had separate bedrooms, separate lives. That’s like being separated, isn’t it?”

  Laurel thought of her own parents. “I guess it is.”

  “Maybe I was the reason Sam finally took the step and asked for a divorce, but I wasn’t the reason they weren’t happy together. It’s got to be better to take that step than to keep being unhappy together, don’t you think?”

  “Yes, I do.” Twelve years, Laurel thought. Yes, that did have to count for something. “Bibi, you have a good marriage, and a good relationship with your stepdaughter. You can afford to take the high road on this.”

  “She screamed at me. She threw champagne in my face. She tore my dress.”

  “I know. I know” Soothe, soothe, Laurel thought again. “Now, you can be the one to step back, to let it all go today, and focus on Sarah. To help make it the happiest day of her life.”

  “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.” Bibi knuckled her eyes like a child.

  “I’m really sorry about what happened.”

  “Don’t worry about it.” Laurel rose at the knock on the door.

  “And in about fifteen minutes, you’re going to look perfect.”

  “I—I never even asked your name.”

  “It’s Laurel.”

  “Laurel.” Bibi’s lips trembled up into a shaky smile. “Thanks for listening.”

  “No problem. Now, let’s get you ready again.” She opened the door to the hairdresser.

  THE BRIDE, BLISSFULLY UNAWARE OF THE BACKSTAGE DRAMA, STOOD with her father while her attendants walked toward the flower-drenched pergola. Some brides glowed, Laurel thought, and this one certainly did while the pretty, playful breeze fluttered the gauzy layers of her veil.

  Mac changed angles, and Laurel imagined caught that shimmer of joy and anticipation as Sarah turne
d her head to grin at her father.

  “Oh boy! Here we go.”

  The music changed for the bride. Laurel saw Sam glance toward Parker, give the faintest of nods. Appreciation or acknowledgment—maybe both. Then he walked his radiant daughter toward the waiting groom.

  “So far, so good,” Del murmured beside Laurel.

  “It’s going to be fine. Probably better they had their battle before it started. Got it out of their system.”

  “There won’t be any more trouble.” Parker’s tone was cold as January ice. “At least not from that source.”

  “What did you say to the father?” Del wondered.

  Parker’s smile would have frozen flame. “Let’s just say I’m confident the MOB and SMOB will behave in a civil manner, that Vows will be compensated for the additional hair and makeup fees, the gown repairs, and all damages.” She patted Del’s chest. “And we won’t need your services to collect.”

  “I need to go finish the setup.” Laurel checked her watch. “Not that far off time, considering.”

  “Do you want some help?” Del asked her.

  “No. Go ... get a beer or whatever.”

  She went back to her kitchen, where it was quiet and cool. Where she could sit for just a couple of minutes. Listening to Bibi had depressed her, and she needed to shake it off.

  Loveless marriages, unhappy homes, the X factor of another woman. She knew exactly the sort of miserable brew those ingredients created—and how long the bitter aftertaste could linger.

  Surely Sarah had tasted some of that brew, and likely more than once. Yet she’d stood beaming joy on her father’s arm. The father who’d been unfaithful to her mother, the father who’d broken the very vows she herself was about to make.

  Yes, she understood unhappy marriages, but she didn’t understand and couldn’t accept using that unhappiness as an excuse or rationale for being unfaithful.

  Why didn’t people just end it? If they wanted someone else, or something else, why not break it off clean first instead of cheating, lying, tolerating, just existing?

  Divorce couldn’t be more painful for a couple, or the child or children stirred up in that brew with them, than the deceit, the pretense, that smoldering anger. Wasn’t that why, even after all these years, a part of her wished her parents would walk away from each other instead of pretending to be married?

  “Well, and here I’ve come in to see if I can help since you had all that trouble.” Mrs. Grady fisted her hands on her hips. “And here you are loafing.”

  “I’m about to get to it.”

  Lips pursed, Mrs. Grady walked over to tap Laurel’s chin up so their eyes met. “And what’s wrong with you?”

 
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