Savour the moment, p.16
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       Savour the Moment, p.16

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  “Nothing. Nothing really.”

  Mrs. Grady had a way of using her eyebrows in certain expressions that had very clear nonverbal meanings. At the moment, they said

  bullshit.

  “It’s just that whole business before got under my skin. It’s nothing.”

  “It’s not the first time you’ve had donnybrooks at one of these dos. Won’t be the last either.”

  “No. It’s not really the fight. That—after the fact—was pretty entertaining. Parker won’t think so for a couple of days, but really, it had shining moments.”

  “You’re circling around it.”

  “It’s stupid. I ended up with the stepmother. Luck of the draw. I guess she felt sad and embarrassed, so she had to explain to me how she’d gotten involved with the FOB when he was sort of, but not really, separated, and how he and his first wife weren’t together so much as just occupying the same house.”

  “Most of the men who want a taste of something fresh say something like that.”

  “Yeah, which is lame and it’s false. But I think I believe her—the stepmother. But why does it matter? Why is it supposed to be okay if you get involved with someone who might be on the way out of a marriage? They’re still in it, aren’t they?”

  “That’s true,” Mrs. Grady agreed. “But life’s rarely a matter of truth and lies, without the gray in between.”

  “Then why the hell don’t they get out of it if they’re going to hook up with someone else?”

  In a gesture more practical than comforting, Mrs. Grady smoothed down Laurel’s hair. “People have their reasons for the damnedest things in my experience.”

  “She’s okay with it. The bride. I remember the consults, and the tastings, the rehearsal. She loves her parents, that’s clear. And she loves her stepmother. How do people manage that?”

  “It’s not always about taking sides, Laurel.”

  “No, it’s not. But you know, I never had a chance to take sides, or not, because they were both so wrong.” She didn’t have to explain she’d shifted to her own parents. “And even now, if I think about it, if I think about sides? It’s them on one, me on the other. It’s stupid, but part of me is still pissed off that they’re both so ... careless.”

  “You’re angry with them when you should feel sorry for them. They’re the ones who are missing out.”

  “They like their life—lives—arrangement.” She shrugged. “At this point it’s really none of my business anyway.”

  “Laurel Anne.” Mrs. G cupped Laurel’s face in her hands, using a name and a gesture rarely employed. “They’ll always be your parents, so it’ll always be your business.”

  “Will I always be disappointed in them?”

  “That’s up to you, isn’t it?”

  “I guess it is.” She sighed, hugely. “Okay. Brooding time’s up. I need to get the groom’s cake and the rest of the desserts dealt with.”

  “I’m here, so I’ll give you a hand with it.”

  Together they carried boxes of pastries to the Ballroom.

  “I’m always dazzled by the flowers,” Mrs. Grady said as she looked around the room. “Our Emma has a magic touch. I like the colors for this one. Nothing pale about it, all bright and bold. Well, would you look at that.” She stepped over to study the wedding cake. “Talk about the magic touch. You’ve outdone yourself here, Laurel.”

  “I think it’s my new favorite summer cake. I’ll save you a piece.”

  “I’ll let you. Wedding cake’s lucky cake.”

  “So I hear. Mrs. G? Did you ever think about getting married again, or ...”

  Mrs. Grady let out a delighted laugh. “Oh, there’s been some or from time to time. I’m not doddering. But marriage?” She walked back to help Laurel with the desserts. “I had mine. I had my Charlie. My one.”

  “Do you believe that?” Laurel asked. “That there’s one person? One?”

  “I do, for some of us. For others, if things don’t work, or you lose someone, there’s another. But for some there’s the one, beginning to end. No one else can fit. No one else gets into the heart the same way, and lives there.”

  “Yeah. No one else. But you’re not always the one back.” She thought of Del, then made herself shake it off. “Do you miss him, still? Your Charlie?”

  “Every day. Thirty-three years this November. I miss him every day. But I had him, didn’t I? I had my one. Not everyone can say that.You can.”

  Slowly, Laurel shifted her gaze over.

  “He’s been your one from the start. Took you long enough to go after him.”

  Why deny it? Laurel thought. Why pretend otherwise with someone who understood so well? “It’s scary.”

  Mrs. Grady let out a laugh. “Sure it is. You want safe? Find a nice puppy you can train to come to heel. Love’s supposed to be scary.”

  “Why?”

  “Because if there’s no fear there’s no thrill.”

  “If that’s true, then I’m thrilled half to death.” Laurel cocked her head. “That’s Parker’s signal. Cocktail and dinner hour.”

  “Go on and give her a hand. I can finish this.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “I like to get my hand in now and then. Go on.”

  “Thanks. Thanks,” she repeated, laying a hand over Mrs. Grady’s. “I’ll make sure you get that cake.”

  Alone, Mrs. Grady shook her head and sighed. Her girls, she thought, knew all there was to know about weddings. But love turned them upside down.

  Then again, she supposed love was meant to do just that.

  WHEN THE HOUSE CLEARED, LAUREL JOINED THE OTHERS FOR A little unwinding on the terrace. Del put a glass of champagne in her hand.

  “You earned it.”

  “Damn well did. Thanks. Where’s Parker?”

  “Something to do.” Mac stretched out her legs, curled her tired toes. “She’ll be right down. Sorry I missed the Battle of the Mothers. I heard it was worth the price of admission.”

  “Brief but brutal.” Laurel yawned and thought of fluffy pillows and cool, cool sheets.

  “Do you have many wrestling matches?” Mal wondered.

  “I got punched in the face once.” Carter wiggled his jaw.

  “It adds an element,” Mal decided. “Good food. Great cake.” He lifted his beer in toast to Laurel, then watched Parker come out looking as if she’d spent the day sipping tea rather than riding herd on a couple hundred people.

  “Your winnings,” she said and handed him an envelope.

  “Thanks.” He hiked up a hip to stuff it in his pocket. “So you do all this again tomorrow?”

  “Hugely.” Emma groaned. “We usually have smaller events on Sundays, but this time of year we have plenty of big ones. And with that in mind, I’m going to bed.”

  “Better walk my girl home.” Jack stood to take Emma’s hand. “I’ll drop the truck off on Monday, Mal.”

  “Got it. Better get going myself.”

  “Thanks for pitching in.” Mac stretched. “Come on, Professor. Let’s go home and kick the cat out of bed.”

  “Can’t move yet.” Pleased it was close, Laurel dropped her head on Del’s shoulder. “Need a minute. Bye, Mal,” she added. And closed her eyes.

  “I’ll walk you out. See the rest of you tomorrow,” Parker added as she turned to lead Mal around the house.

  With her head still on Del’s shoulder Laurel opened her eyes. “I knew breeding would do it.”

  “Hmm?”

  “Parker’d be obliged to walk Malcolm out if I stuck here with you. They look good together.”

  “What? Come on.”

  She made an effort to clear her fuzzy brain, then gave up and closed her eyes again. “Sorry. I forgot who I was talking to. Of course there are no sexual sparks there, nothing smoldering beneath the surface. Nope, nothing there at all.”

  “He’s not her type.”

  “Exactly. No obsessing unless it’s about me. Haul me up, will you?”

  “If h
e’s not her type, why the talk about sparking and smoldering?”

  “It was probably me.” She laughed as he pulled her to her feet. “I get sparky and smoldery when you’re around.”

  “Good one. Excellent way to shift my attention.”

  “And true.” She felt wobbly, and half drunk with fatigue. “Are you staying the night?”

  “That was the plan.”

  He glanced toward the door as they approached the stairs, and Laurel knew damn well he considered strolling out just to ... be Del, she decided, when it came to Parker.

  “See, I’m sparking and smoldering again.” She nudged ahead of him, stepped up to bring their mouths on level for a kiss.

  “Sweetie, you’re all but asleep on your feet.”

  “True, which makes me a lousy Saturday night date.”

  “I like to look ahead, to Sunday morning.”

  “A Sunday morning date sounds perfect,” she said as they walked upstairs. “Especially since it’s an evening event, and I don’t have to be up at dawn. How about eight o’clock?”

  “Eight works.”

  “How about meeting me in the shower?”

  “A Sunday morning shower date? Even better.”

  She drew him into the bedroom, then remembered to shut the door—something she rarely if ever did. Something she rarely had reason to do. She walked over to the terrace doors. “I like these open on summer nights. Does that bother you?”

  “No. I didn’t hear Parker come in yet. Is she still out there?”

  Laurel rolled her eyes, considered the options. Turning she shed her suit jacket, slowly unzipped her skirt. “Maybe I’m not so tired after all.” She stepped out of the skirt so she wore only a chemise, panties and heels. “Unless you are.”

  “I’m getting an unexpected second wind.”

  “Must be the fresh air.” And moving to him she put a great deal of effort into distracting him. It was the least she could do, she thought as his hands went to work. For friendship.

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  PARKER POKED HER HEAD INTO LAUREL’S KITCHEN. “GOT A minute?”

  “Yeah. I thought you had a consult and a tour.”

  “Had both, did both.”

  Laurel scraped vanilla beans into the mixture of milk and sugar in her saucepan, added the pods. “How’d we do?”

  “The consult nailed down several details, and added more. The tour booked the last Sunday we had available next May.” She glanced toward the mudroom, and the sheet of plywood blocking it off from the space and the banging and buzzing beyond it. “It’s not as noisy as I thought it might be.”

  “Not if I keep the TV or radio on, and pretend it’s background noise at an event. Could be worse. Well, it was worse during the demo, so this is almost tranquil.”

  “And it’ll be worth it, right? With all the extra space.”

  “So I keep telling myself.”

  “What are you making?”

  “Pastry cream.”

  “Want something cold?”

  “Wouldn’t mind.” Laurel prepared an ice water bath for the last stage as Parker fixed two glasses of lemonade.

  “No date tonight, right?”

  “No date. The guys are off to cheer the Yankees and eat hot dogs.” Laurel glanced up, arched her eyebrows. “Girl night?”

  “I’m thinking. Especially as I think I found Emma’s wedding dress.”

  Laurel paused. “Seriously?”

  “Well, I know what she’s after, and it feels like I started a tradition with Mac’s. I’d like us to surprise her tonight, so she can try it on, see if it works.”

  “I’m in.”

  “There’s something else I’d like to talk about.”

  “Talk.” Laurel gave the mixture a stir as it came to a boil.

  “I’m told Jack asked Malcolm Kavanaugh to join us at the beach house in August.”

  “Oh?”While she turned that over in her head, Laurel removed the saucepan from heat, covered it. In one of the bowls on her counter she broke four eggs, then broke another four, separating them and adding the egg yolks to the bowl. “I guess they’ve gotten to be pretty good friends. Plus, there’s plenty of room, right? I can’t wait to see the place myself. To wallow in the place,” she continued as she began to whisk. “To bury myself in the glory of vacation until I—Sorry,” she said when Parker held up a hand. “I get carried away with the idea of doing whatever the hell I want to do for days and nights at a time.”

  “To continue. I just got off the phone with Del, who called to swear to me on his life that he had nothing to do with the invite.”

  “Well, you punished him over the Fourth of July deal.”

  “I did. I may have to punish Jack.”

  “Aww.” Amused at the thought, Laurel added the sugar and cornstarch she’d already mixed together to the eggs, kept whisking.

  “Doesn’t your arm get tired?”

  “Yes.”

  “Jack’s fate hangs—Damn it.” She broke off as her phone rang. “Give me a minute.”

  Used to interrupted conversations, Laurel judged the egg and sugar mixture ready, so took the vanilla pod out of the milk, and put it back on the stove. While she waited for it to return to a boil, she drank some lemonade and listened to Parker solve a problem for an upcoming bride.

  Several problems, she decided as her milk had time to boil. She ladled half of it into the egg-yolk mix and went back to whisking.

  “You just leave that to me,” Parker said. “Absolutely. Consider it done. I’ll see you and your mother on the twenty-first. Two o’clock. No problem at all. Bye.” She finished the call. “Don’t ask,” she told Laurel.

  “Wasn’t going to.” Laurel poured the mixture from the bowl to the saucepan. Whisked, whisked, whisked. “Can’t stop now. Critical, but I’m listening.”

  “Where was I?”

  “Jack’s fate.”

  “Right. Whether or not I have to hurt our beloved Jack depends on if this is a setup.”

  “Do you really believe our beloved Jack would even think about setting you up with Malcolm?”

  “No, but Emma might.”

  “If she did, she’d tell me.” Laurel thought about it for a moment. “Yes, she’d tell me. She couldn’t help herself. She’d probably swear me to secrecy, which I’d honor. But there’d be the lie escape clause. I’d have to tell you the truth if you asked.”

  “I’m asking.”

  “Then no. Emma hasn’t said anything to me, so I therefore declare both her and Jack innocent of all charges.You don’t have a problem with Mal, do you?”

  “Not especially. I just don’t like setups.”

  “None of us does, which is why none of us ever attempts one for any of the rest of us. You know that, Parker.”

  Parker’s fingers tapped the glass as she rose and wandered to the window and back again to sit. “There are always exceptions, especially when some of us are blinded by love and wedding plans.”

  Fidgeting, Laurel thought. Parker rarely if ever fidgeted. “This isn’t one, to the best of my knowledge. You’ll have to imagine me lifting my hand to cross my heart because I can’t stop whisking yet.”

  “All right. Jack’s spared. And I suppose there’s even more room since you and Del will be sharing a bedroom.”

  She frowned into her lemonade as Laurel finally stopped whisking and took the pan off the burner. “Next problem?” Laurel asked.

  “I have to decide whether to make sure Malcolm doesn’t have or get the wrong impression about this, or wait to make that clear if and when he does.”

  Laurel strained the cream through a sieve over the bowl she’d set on the ice water bath. “Do you want my take?”

  “I do.”

  “It seems to me if you said anything about wrong impressions ahead of time, you’d invite them and/or irritate him into making a move anyway. He strikes me as the type who takes a dare. I’d leave it alone.”

  “Sensible.”

  “I can be.” Lau
rel took the small pieces of butter she’d already set out, and whisking yet again, added them one at a time to the cream.

  “All right. I’ll just consider Malcolm a playmate for the other boys, and let it go.”

  “Wise.” At last, Laurel put down her whisk and rubbed her arm. “I like him. Mal. I know I don’t know him all that well, but I like him.”

  “He seems likeable enough.”

  “Plus sexy.”

  “Excuse me, aren’t you currently sleeping with my brother?”

  “I am, and really hope to continue that. But one must notice sexy men. And if you tell me you haven’t noticed, I’m going to have to use this ice bath to put out the fire in your pants.”

  “He’s not my type. And what are you grinning about?”

  “Del said the same thing.”

  Challenge and irritation ran over Parker’s face. “Oh, really?”

  “Just the way Del does—because really, nobody’s his sister’s type in Del’s overprotective mind. But when he said it, I thought, yeah, exactly. Which is why I like him.”

  Parker took a slow sip of lemonade. “You don’t like my type?” “Don’t be dense, Parker. He’s sexy, interesting, and different from your usual—and that could be fun for you. Maybe you should let him get the wrong impression.”

  “Blinded by love.”

  “I guess I am.”

  “And why does that worry you?”

  Laurel stopped massaging her fingers to point one at Parker. “You’re changing the subject.”

  “I am, but it’s still a good question.”

  “I guess it is,” Laurel admitted. “I’ve never loved anyone but him. Knowing I’ve got all this in me for him, and only being sure he cares. Cares a lot, but
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