Savour the moment, p.18
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       Savour the Moment, p.18

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  did fight dirty. Okay, fine. Fine.Yes, I’m in love with him. I’ve always been in love with him, which makes it unsteady because maybe

  that’s projecting. But it doesn’t feel like it, especially since I’ve spent a good part of my life trying not to be in love with him. And I couldn’t pull it off. So yes, if we ever got to the point where we talked about the rest of our lives, I’d dive headfirst, jump in with both feet, name your cliche. The thing is, it takes two people to get to that point.”

  “Why wouldn’t he love you?” Emma demanded.

  “Of course he loves me. He loves all of us. It’s different with me now, but it’s not ...” God, it was lowering, she realized, even among her closest friends. “It’s hard loving someone more than they love you, and it’s something I have to deal with. My feelings, my responsibility.”

  “I understand that.” Mac reached over, squeezed Laurel’s hand. “I let Carter feel that way. I didn’t want to be in love, I didn’t want to take that dive, that jump, so I kept holding back. I know it hurt him.”

  “I’m not hurting. Or maybe a little, but that could just be pride. I’m happy where we are. I know I may not be happy later, but this is more than I expected to have.”

  “I’m surprised your expectations would be so low,” Parker commented. “You’ve always aimed high.”

  “When it’s something I can work for or compete at. But you can’t win love, can you? Not like an award or a game. We played at Wedding Day. Now we work at it. But when it comes to our own, it’s not a game or a job. I don’t need the dress or the ring, or the fonts,” she added with a smile for Mac. “But I guess I need to know I’m the one. I can’t work my way into being the one for him. I just have to be the one.”

  “That’s really smart,” Emma murmured.

  “No one else has been the one for him,” Parker told her. “I’d know.”

  “Not even Cherise McConnelly?”

  “Oh God.” Parker gave a mock shudder. “What was he thinking? Besides that,” she added at Laurel’s cocked brow.

  “Considering Cherise, I’d say his taste has improved considerably with me.” Laurel took another slice. “So, there’s hope for the man.”

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  EVEN AS JACK AND DEL SETTLED ON STOOLS AT THE BAR AT THE Willows, the bartender stepped over. “Looks like I hit the daily double.”

  “How’s it going, Angie?”

  “No complaints, which is more than I can say for half the people who plop down on those stools. What can I get you?”

  “Pellegrino,” Del ordered.

  “I’ll have a Sam Adams.”

  “Gotcha covered. Just in for a drink?” she asked while she put a pint glass under the tap and added ice to a water goblet.

  “I am,” Jack told him. “This one’s got a date.”

  “Yeah? Who’s the lucky lady tonight?”

  “I’m having dinner with Laurel.”

  “McBane?” Mild surprise showed in Angie’s eyes. “A date-date?”

  “Yeah.”

  “That’s a switch.” Knowing Del’s preferences, she added a slice of lime to the sparkling water, then put both glasses on the bar. “I heard some speculation about that, but I just put it down to talk.”

  “Oh, why?”

  “Because you’ve known Laurel for a couple of decades, and never dated her before. I haven’t seen her in here for a while, but I hear business is booming on her front.”

  “Booming’s the word.”

  “I’ve been to a couple of weddings there. First class. But that’s your sister, isn’t it?” Angle added as she wiped the bar with her white cloth. “First class all the way.We still miss Laurel around here. Best damn pastry chef we’ve ever had. So, Jack, how’s Emma—and the wedding plans?”

  “She’s great. Found her dress, which is apparently the keys to the kingdom.”

  “You can take that to the bank. Maybe something’s in the water over there. First Mac, then Emma.” She winked at Del, tapped the side of his glass with a finger. “Be careful what you drink.” She moved down the bar to wait on another customer as Jack laughed.

  “Don’t look so surprised, bro.” Jack tipped his glass in Del’s direction. “It’s a pretty natural progression.”

  “We’ve been dating what, a month, and wedding plans are a natural progression?”

  Jack shrugged. “Mac to Emma to Laurel. It’s like a marriage triple play.”

  “Laurel doesn’t think that way.” Hadn’t it been pointed out he’d known her for a couple decades? “Weddings are a business. She’s a businesswoman. A serious, ambitious businesswoman.”

  “So are the rest of them. Serious, ambitious people get married all the time.” He studied Del over the rim of his glass. “This really never occurred to you?”

  “Occurred is a wide word,” Del evaded. “We’re still adjusting to the change in our relationship. I’m not opposed to marriage. In fact, a big fan of the institution here. I just haven’t given it any serious personal thought.”

  “Maybe it’s time for a little role reversal with you and me, considering the blast I got from you when Emma and I got together. Just what are your intentions toward my surrogate sister?”

  “I intend to have dinner with her.”

  “And do you intend to get lucky later?”

  “I’d be a fool not to. We’re enjoying this new phase. It’s ... new,” he decided. “For both of us. She matters, always has.You know that. She just matters differently now. But I’m not thinking of hiring my sister to plan the wedding.”

  “Ever, or yet?”

  “Jesus, Jack.” Because his throat was suddenly dry, Del took a long drink of water.

  “It’s a fair question.”

  “You’ve got weddings on the brain,” Del muttered. “Maybe there is something in the water over there. Anyway, I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it, really. And now I can’t think about anything else. Look, I know Laurel. She’s not thinking about getting married, and certainly not just because Mac and Emma are. This is the girl who went off to New York and Paris on her own to study. Hell, she seriously considered moving to Paris, was working here to save up the money for it when ...”

  “Yeah, I know.”The teasing light winked out of Jack’s eyes. “All that changed when your parents died.”

  “She put her Paris plans on hold then.” He hadn’t forgotten that; would never forget that. “She wouldn’t have left Parker. And I guess, now that I think about it, she stayed for me, too. Then Parker’s brainstorm took all of them over.”

  “Plans change.”

  “Yeah, plans change. But my point is that Laurel’s always had her own direction, always followed her instincts rather than the trend. If things had been different, she’d be living in some stylishly bohemian Paris flat, running her own upscale bakery.”

  “I don’t think so.” Jack shook his head. “I think when it comes down to the sticking point, those four are too solidly linked. New York maybe, but not Europe. The pull from the other three’s just too strong.”

  “I said almost the same to her not long ago, only half-kidding.”

  Jack ate one of the almonds from the dish Angie set on the bar. “I thought I got it before, before Emma and I changed direction. But living there, being in the mix the way I am now? It’s the next thing to a psychic connection there. A little spooky sometimes, to tell the truth.” He lifted his beer, a half toast. “That’s love, man, wide and deep as it gets.”

  “Always has been.” Del considered for a moment. “I still say this isn’t something Laurel’s got on the brain, but if there’s anything there, the other three would know. You could feel out Emma about it.”

  “No way. Not even for you. If I start that, it’ll lead to a whole discussion on what I think about you guys, how I might feel

  you out about it.” Jack popped another almond. “The end is madness.”

  “You’ve got a point. Besides, that would only launch the idea balloon on it anywa
y. We’re fine. We’ll leave it alone. We’re on a smooth road for the moment, so why test the detours?”

  Jack grinned. “That’s what I thought about Emma and me.”

  “You’ve got to stop that.”

  “I have to admit, it’s fun poking at the vulnerable spots. But speaking of Emma and me, you’ll do the best man thing, right?”

  “Sure. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

  “Good. That’s about the only thing I have to do. Mostly, I just have to smile and say that’s great when she tells me what they’ve come up with for the wedding. Parker told me my deal’s the honeymoon, then gave me the contact for a travel agent she says is the best—and an entire packet on Bora-Bora because she says it’s somewhere Emma’s always wanted to go, plus it’s exotic and romantic. So I guess that’s where we’re going.”

  Intrigued, Del studied Jack over his sparkling water. “Do you want to go to Bora-Bora?”

  “You know, I do. As soon as I looked at the packet, I thought, hey, this is it.Your sister’s a little scary, Del.”

  “She can be.”

  “Carter got a packet on Tuscany, which included those ‘Learn Italian’ discs for both of them.”

  He had to laugh. “I guess that’s taken care of.”

  “Apparently. Hey, I’ve got to run. I got an e-mail before I left the office. Emma’s in a cooking mood.”

  “I’ll get your beer.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Jack? The getting married suit? It looks good on you.”

  “Feels good. Who knew? See you later.”

  It wasn’t just the getting married that looked good on him, Del mused. It was the whole life with Emma, the foundation he could so easily see—now—Jack building on. Home and family, dinner together at the end of a long day. They’d need more room eventually in the pretty little guest house. Knowing Jack, he’d come up with something.

  The estate was turning into a kind of commune. When he considered it, Del decided it was something that would have pleased and amused his parents.

  “Your table’s ready, Mr. Brown.” The maitre d’ stepped up to the bar. “Would you like to be seated, or would you prefer to wait for your party here at the bar?”

  He glanced at his watch. Laurel was running late—or Mac who was dropping her off on the way to a shoot was running late.

  “She should be here any minute. I’ll take the table.”

  He decided to go ahead and order a bottle of wine, and had barely made his selection when he heard his name.

  “Hello, stranger!”

  “Deborah.” He rose to greet her, and exchanged a light, friendly kiss with the woman he’d known for years. “You look great. How are you?”

  “Fabulous.” She tossed back her lush mane of red hair. “Just back from two months in Spain—with the last two weeks in Barcelona.”

  “Business or pleasure?”

  “Both, a lot of both. I’m meeting my mother and sister for a little catch-up girl time. I’m early, as usual; they’re late, as usual.”

  “Sit down, wait with me.”

  “I’d love to, Delaney.” She gave him a sparkling smile as he pulled out a chair. “I haven’t seen you since ... when? I think it’s since the Spring Ball. What have you been up to?”

  “Nothing as interesting as Barcelona.” As the wine steward offered the bottle for approval, Del glanced at the label, nodded.

  “Well, catch me up. Who’s doing what, and who are they doing it with? What’s the latest hot gossip?”

  Del smiled as he sampled the taste the steward poured in his glass. “I think you’ll need your mother and sister for that. It’s perfect,” he told the steward, and gestured toward the glass in front of Deborah.

  “You’re too discreet. Always were.” She sipped the wine. “And you still have excellent taste in wines. Come on, spill something. I heard a rumor that Jack Cooke’s engaged. Confirm or deny.”

  “That I can confirm. He and Emmaline Grant set the date for next spring.”

  “Emma? Really? Well, here’s to them.” She lifted her glass.

  “Though scores of single females may mourn. Obviously I’ve been out of the loop. I didn’t even know they were an item.”

  “I guess it moved pretty quickly once it started.”

  “I’m happy for them. Is it odd for you? I mean, Emma’s the next thing to a sister, and Jack’s your closest friend.”

  “I had a moment or two,” he admitted. “But they’re good together. Tell me about Barcelona. I’ve never been there.”

  “You need to go. The beaches, the food, the wine. The romance.” She smiled at him. “It’s in the air.”

  They were laughing, leaning across the table toward each other when Laurel came in. It stopped her dead in her tracks, as if she’d walked into a glass wall—and she stood on the wrong side of it.

  He looked so relaxed, she thought. No, they looked so relaxed, and gorgeous—both of them. If Mac had come in with her, she could have snapped a photo, captured that moment, that image of two beautiful people sharing wine and laughter over candlelight.

  Anyone would think they were a couple, perfectly suited, absolutely in tune.

  “Laurel, hi.”

  “Hi, Maxie.” Laurel worked up a smile for the waitress who paused. “Busy night.”

  “Tell me.” Maxie rolled her eyes. “I didn’t know you were coming in. We’ll fix you up.”

  “Actually I’m meeting someone.”

  “Oh, okay. Don’t let Julio see you.” She winked as she talked of the chef. “He’d be tempted to drag you back into the kitchen on a night like this. We miss you around here.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Gotta keep it moving. I’ll talk to you later.”

  She nodded, then slipped into the rest room to give herself a minute. Stupid, she told herself, stupid to lose her balance because Del was having a drink with a friend. Stupid to feel somehow less because a handful of years before she’d have been back in the kitchen hustling instead of sitting at a table. She’d have created some lovely dessert for a couple like Delaney Brown and Deborah Manning.

  “Nothing wrong with that,” she muttered, and dug out her lip gloss as she scolded herself in the mirror. She was proud of the job she’d done here—and the money she’d earned to help launch Vows. She was proud of her talent, and proud that talent enabled her to have a business, earn her living, create something that made people happy.

  She took care of herself, made her own way, and God, nothing was more important to her than that.

  But it stung, she couldn’t help it, to remember that she’d always be, in some sense, on the wrong side of that glass wall.

  “It doesn’t matter.” She replaced the lip gloss, took a breath. “It just doesn’t matter.”

  Confidence, she reminded herself, was like lip gloss—all you had to do was put it on.

  She stepped out of the rest room, turned toward the dining room, and started toward the table.

  Okay, she mused, it helped considerably to see the way Del’s eyes warmed when he spotted her. He rose, held out a hand for hers as Deborah shifted and glanced up.

  Laurel saw the momentary struggle to place the face with a name. She and Deborah didn’t run in the same circles, after all.

  “Laurel, you remember Deborah Manning, don’t you?”

  “Sure. Hello, Deborah.”

  “Laurel. It’s good to see you again. Del just told me about Emma and Jack. You must be planning a spectacular cake.”

  “I have some ideas.”

  “I’d love to hear them. Weddings are so much fun. Can you sit down? Del, we need another glass.”

  To her credit, Deborah caught on quickly, and her flawless redhead’s skin flushed at her bungle. “I’m an idiot.” She laughed as she got to her feet. “Del’s been waiting for you. He was sweet enough to keep me company.”

  “That’s fine.” Look how mature I am, Laurel thought. “You should stay, finish your wine. We can get another chair.


  “No, no. I’ve been waiting for my mother and sister. I’m going to step out and give them a call, make sure I haven’t been stood up. Thanks for the wine, Del.”

  “It was good seeing you, Deborah.”

  “You, too. Enjoy your dinner.”

  She strolled off, but not before Laurel caught the look of baffled speculation.

  “I’m late,” Laurel said brightly. “Completely Mac’s fault.”

  “It was worth the wait.” He held her chair. “You look beautiful.”

  “I was thinking the same thing about you.”

  With the smooth efficiency the restaurant was known for, a waiter removed Deborah’s glass, replaced it, and poured Laurel’s wine. She sipped, nodded. “Very nice.”

  She took the menu the waiter offered, but didn’t open it.

  “Hi, Ben.”

  “Hi, Laurel. I heard you were here.”

  “What’s good tonight?”

  “The red snapper, topped with crab, sautйed in a white wine reduction, and served with jasmine rice and asparagus.”

  “Sold. And a small side salad with the house to start.”

  “I’ll play,” Del said. “What else is good?”

  “You might like the pork tenderloin with honey-ginger sauce. We’re serving it with fingerling potatoes and roasted vegetables nicoise.”

  “Sounds perfect. I’ll have the salad as well.”

  “Excellent choices.”

  He’d barely stepped away when another server placed the restaurant’s signature olive bread and dipping sauce on the table.

  “You know, the service is always good here,” Del commented. “It’s better with you.”

  “We like to take care of our own.” She nibbled on some bread.

  “I’d forgotten you used to work here—or didn’t think of it when I suggested we have dinner here. We’ll have to have dessert, so you can check out your replacement.”

  “I think it’s my replacement’s replacement now.”

  “Once you’ve had the best, it’s hard to settle for less. Do you miss it at all? Working with a team, I mean, the energy, the controlled chaos.”

  “Not always so controlled. And not really. I like having my own space, and restaurant hours are brutal.”

  “And you have so much time on your hands now.”

  “Well, it’s my time, and that makes a difference. Ah, looks like Deborah’s mother and sister showed up.” She lifted her glass toward a nearby table, and Del glanced over to see the three women being seated.

  “They probably weren’t late, or not by much. She tends to be early.”

 
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