Savour the moment, p.19
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       Savour the Moment, p.19

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  “That’s right.” Casually, easy,

  mature, Laurel congratulated herself. “You dated her.”

  “Briefly, and long ago. Before she was married.”

  “I hope you didn’t date her while she was married. After her divorce?”

  He shook his head. “I represented her in the divorce. No dating clients, and I have a policy about dating former clients in divorce cases. Just a bad idea.”

  “Penny Whistledown.” Laurel pointed at him. “I remember you handled her divorce,

  and you dated her a couple years after.”

  “Which is why I know it’s a bad idea.”

  “She was so needy. If she couldn’t get you at home or the office, she’d call the house nagging Parker about where you were.” She sipped her wine again. “That, Counselor, was a serious error in judgment on your part.”

  “Guilty as charged. You’ve had a couple.”

  “Uh-uh. I steer clear of needy men.”

  “Errors in judgment. Drake, no, Deke something. How many tattoos did he have?”

  “Eight, I think. Maybe nine. But he doesn’t count. I was sixteen and hoping to piss off my parents.”

  “It pissed me off.”

  Her eyebrows winged up. “Really?”

  “Really. He hung around most of that summer, in his torn-off-sleeve T-shirts and motorcycle boots. He had an earring, and I think he practiced his smirk in the mirror.”

  “You remember him better than I do.”

  She paused while Ben served the salads, topped off their wine. “We know too much about each other’s dating past. Could be dangerous.”

  “I won’t hold yours against you, if you don’t hold mine against me.”

  “Fair and reasonable,” she concluded. “You know, people are wondering what we’re doing, what’s going on with us.”

  “What people?”

  “Here, tonight. People who know you.” She inclined her head slightly toward the table where the three women were pretending not to be talking about them. “And people who know me.”

  “Does that bother you?”

  “No. Not really. Maybe a little.” She shrugged and gave her salad her attention. “It’s natural enough, especially when one of us is a Brown of the Connecticut Browns.”

  “I’d say it’s natural enough because I’m sitting here with the most beautiful woman in the room.”

  “Good. That’s very good. A popular standard for a reason.”

  He laid his hand on hers on the table. “I know who I’m looking at.”

  Undone, she turned her hand over to link her fingers with his. “Thanks.”

  Let them wonder, she thought. Let them talk. She had what she’d always wanted right in her hand.

  They ate, sampling each other’s choices, sipping good wine, talking about whatever came to mind. They’d always been able to talk, Laurel mused, about anything and everything. She found herself able to put that glass wall around them, close everyone else out on the other side and savor the interlude as much as the meal.

  Ben set a trio of mini soufflйs on the table. “Compliments of Charles, the dessert chef. He heard you were here and wanted to do something special for you. He’s a little nervous,” Ben added, lowering his voice as he leaned down.

  “Seriously?”

  “You’re a tough act, Laurel. If you’d rather have something else—”

  “No, this is great. They’re beautiful.” She sampled the chocolate first, with a dollop of whipped cream. And closing her eyes, smiled. “Gorgeous. Try it,” she told Del, then took a taste of the vanilla. “Really wonderful.”

  “He’d love to come out and meet you.”

  “Why don’t I go back? After we do justice to these.”

  “You’d make his day Thanks, Laurel.”

  She tried the last while Ben walked away. “Mmm, the lemon’s exquisite. Just the right blend of tart and sweet.”

  “A Brown of the Connecticut Browns. That’s what you said before.” He shared the soufflйs with Laurel. “But I’m with the Diva of Desserts.”

  “Diva of Desserts.” A laugh bubbled out, then she paused and just grinned. “I like it. I may get a sign. God, I’m going to have to work out like a maniac tomorrow, but I don’t want to hurt his feelings,” she added and took another bite. “Listen, I’ll only be a few minutes in the back.”

  “I’m coming with you.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Wouldn’t miss it,” he said, and rose to take her hand.

  “It’ll have calmed down by now,” she told him. “The dinner rush is well over. But don’t touch anything. Julio can be fairly insane. If he threatens to fillet you like a trout, don’t take it personally.”

  “I know Julio. I’ve met him several times when he’s come out to the table.”

  Laurel spared Del a glance as they approached the kitchen. “Then you don’t know Julio.”

  She pushed open the door.

  Calm, she’d said. They obviously had different definitions of the term. People moved everywhere at once, it seemed to Del, and the noise level—raised voices, the clatter of dishes, the hum of vents, the thwack of knives, and sizzle from the grill—was simply huge.

  Steam rose in air thick with heat and tension.

  At a section of the enormous stove, Julio stood in his apron and short chef’s hat, cursing steadily in several languages.

  “Can’t decide?” he boomed. “Need more time?” He erupted with a stream of gutter Spanish that singed the already simmering air. “Don’t want mushrooms, want extra carrots. Assholes! Where’s my fucking plate, goddamn it.”

  “Nothing changes,” Laurel said just loud enough for him to hear.

  He turned, a scrawny man with beetled black brows over molten brown eyes. “You, don’t talk to me.”

  “I’m not here to talk to you.” She turned away to approach the younger man who’d stopped drizzling raspberry sauce around a slice of chocolate cake on a dessert plate. “You must be Charles.”

  “Don’t talk to him until he gets that done. You think this is a social club?”

  Charles’s eyes rolled in a handsome face the color of freshly ground coffee. “Please. Just one minute.”

  He completed the plate with a scattering of berries, added thin cookies around a bowl of trifle. As if by secret signal, a waitress scooped them up and out the door.

  “I’m so pleased to meet you. So pleased.”

  “Your soufflйs were wonderful—the lemon one in particular. Thank you.”

  His face simply lit up, Del thought, as if Laurel had switched on electricity. “You liked them? When I heard you were here I wanted to do something for you. The lemon. You liked the lemon?”

  “Especially the lemon. Rich and fresh at the same time.”

  “We don’t serve it yet. It’s new. I’ve been working on it.”

  “I think you’ve perfected it. I don’t suppose you’d share the recipe.”

  “You ...” His voice went breathless. “You want my recipe? I’ll write it down. Right now. I’ll write it down for you, Ms. McBane.”

  “Laurel.”

  “Laurel.”

  Del swore her name came from the man’s lips like a prayer. When he scurried away to get the recipe, she turned to Del.

  “I’ll be right back.”

  When she walked off with Charles, Del slipped his hands in his pockets and glanced around. Julio guzzled from a water bottle and eyed him.

  “Pork medallions.”

  “That’s right. They were excellent.”

  “Mr. Brown.” Julio acknowledged his due, then shifted his gaze to Laurel, back to Del. He said, “Hmm.”

  He capped his water before striding over to where Laurel huddled with Charles. “I’m still mad at you.”

  She shrugged.

  “You left my kitchen.”

  “With plenty of notice,

  and I came in on my own time to help train my replacement.”

  “Your replacement.” He
cursed and sliced a hand through the air. “Useless. He cried.”

  “Some of them do once you’ve chewed on them awhile.”

  “I don’t need crybabies in my kitchen.”

  “You’re lucky to have Charles. Luckier if he stays and puts up with your crap.”

  “He does okay. He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t talk back.”

  “Give him time. I’ll get you that recipe, Charles. I think it’s a good trade.” She tucked the one Charles gave her in her bag.

  “Thank you for coming back. It means so much to me.”

  “I’ll see you again.” She shook his hand, then turned back to Julio. “The snapper was fabulous.” She kissed his cheek. “You bastard.”

  He let out a laugh that boomed as effectively as his curses. “Maybe I’ll forgive you.”

  “Maybe I’ll let you. ‘Night.”

  Del ran a hand down her back as they walked outside. “That was a very nice thing you did, on both counts.”

  “I can be nice.”

  “You’re like a lemon soufflй, Laurel. Just the right blend of tart and sweet.” As he brought her hand to his lips to kiss, she blinked at him.

  “Well. Somebody’s going to get lucky tonight.”

  “I was hoping.”

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  MOVING AS QUIETLY AS POSSIBLE IN THE DARK, LAUREL CREPT TO the bathroom to change into a sports bra and bike shorts. She had to start remembering to get her workout gear together the night before when Del stayed over.

  That’s what Parker would’ve done, she thought as she wiggled into the shorts.

  She clipped up her hair, pulled on her socks, then decided to carry her shoes. As she eased the door open she let out a strangled gasp. Del sat on the side of the bed, illuminated by the bedside lamp.

  “What, do you have superhearing? I was quiet.”

  “Reasonably. Working out? Good idea. I’ll dig up some gear and join you.”

  Since he was awake anyway, she sat to put on her shoes. “You can leave some stuff in here next time.”

  He smiled a little. “Some of our tribe are sensitive about such matters.”

  “I’m not.”

  “Good. Neither am I. Makes it easier all around.” He glanced at the clock, winced. “Mostly.”

  “You can go back to sleep. I won’t hold it against you, or think you’re a wimp. Or soft. Or lazy.”

  He squinted at her. “I’ll meet you in the gym.”

  “Okay.”

  She strolled out thinking it was a good way to start the day. Teasing Del, getting in an hour’s gym time followed by a hot shower, hot coffee, and a solid day’s work.

  In fact, it was pretty damn perfect.

  In the gym she found Parker already doing cardio to CNN.

  “Morning,” she called out.

  “Good morning.You look awfully damn chipper.”

  “Feeling awfully damn chipper.” Laurel got a mat from the rack, unrolled it on the floor for warm-up stretches. “Del’s coming in to work out.”

  “Which explains the awfully damn chipper. How was dinner?”

  “It was good. Really good. Except ...”

  “What?”

  Laurel glanced toward the door. “I don’t know how quick he’ll be. Later.” Stretching, she studied Parker’s exercise tank and capris. The chocolate brown pants and floral top managed to be serviceable and feminine. “I should probably get some new exercise outfits. I think most of mine are getting tatty.”

  She walked over to take the second elliptical. “How long have you got in?”

  “Just passing thirty.”

  “I’d better catch up.”

  “No chance, I’m coming up on mile three then switching to pilates.”

  “I can do three, then I’ll see your pilates with some yoga. Maybe I’ll do four. I had soufflй last night.”

  “Worth the extra mile?”

  “And then some. They’ve got a solid dessert chef at the Willows.”

  “Charles Barker.”

  “Do you know every damn thing?”

  “Yes,” Parker said with satisfaction. “And there’s my three.”

  Parker wiped down the machine, switched off the news, switched on music.

  “Morning, ladies.” In ancient sweat shorts and a faded T-shirt, Del grabbed a bottle of water out of the case, took out another for Laurel, then headed for Parker’s machine.

  “Thanks,” she said when he tucked her water in the holder.

  “Gotta stay hydrated. What did she do?”

  “Parker? Three. I’m going for four.”

  He stepped on, set a program. “I’m up for five, but I won’t hold four against you. Or think you’re a wimp.”

  “Five?” She nodded. “I’m in.”

  Competitive, Parker thought as she stretched out on her mat to start her ab work. Well, she couldn’t fault either of them for that. She was competitive herself—and was already wishing she’d done an extra couple of miles just because they were.

  They looked so good together. Did they realize it? Not just the physical looks, she mused as she switched to leg scissors. But the way they moved, the way they connected.

  She wanted them to be good together. More, she wanted them to be right together so much it was nearly painful.

  She’d wanted that rightness for Mac and Emma, too, but this was more. This was her brother, and her sister in everything but blood. These were two of the most important people in her life, and she wanted, so much, for them to be happy. To be happy together would be like a gift for her nearly as much as it would be for them.

  She believed, absolutely, that each person, each heart, had a counterpart—had a mate. A rightness. She’d always believed it, and understood that unshakable belief was a reason she was good at what she did.

  “One down!” Laurel announced.

  “You started before I did.”

  “Not my problem.”

  “Fine.” Parker watched Del dig in. “No more nice guy.”

  Shaking her head, Parker started another set of crunches.

  They’d passed mile three with Del taking the lead when Mac dragged herself in.

  “There it is.” She bared her teeth at the Bowflex. “The enemy.” She scowled at Parker, who finished up her session with basic yoga poses to stretch out. “You’re already finished, aren’t you? I can tell by that smug look on your face.”

  Parker put her palms together in prayer position. “My face reflects the centered peace of my mind and body.”

  “Up yours, Parks. Hey, don’t look now but there’s a man in here.”

  “They’re in a five-mile competition.”

  “Jesus, why? Why would anyone want to puff on that monster for five miles? So, hey, what do you think?” She did a turn to show off her sports tank and cropped yoga pants. “I broke down and bought some buff-yourself-up outfits. To inspire myself.”

  “Pretty and functional. Good for you.” Parker ended with a handstand that had Mac craning her head.

  “Now that I have the outfit, do you think I can do that?”

  “I’ll spot you if you want to try.”

  “No, better not. I’ll hurt myself and I’m supposed to call Carter for a swim when I finish my self-imposed torture. Have you seen him swim?”

  “Mmm.” Parker did an upside down split, then righted herself. “I might have caught a glimpse while stepping out on the terrace. Not that I was ogling, of course.”

  “He’s worth an ogle. He’s pretty cute in his trunks. But the thing is, he gets in the water and suddenly he’s Mister Grace instead of Professor Klutz.” After setting the machine, she started with biceps curls. “Why is that?”

  “Maybe because there’s nothing solid to run into or trip over in the water.”

  “Hmm, that could be it. Anyway, when I finish abusing myself here, Carter and I are taking a morning swim. Swimming’s a civilized exercise. It’s probably the only one. Speaking of pretty cute,” she added, lowering her voice as she jerked he
r chin at the elliptical machines. “They are.”

  Parker nodded as she hooked the towel around her neck, then gulped down water. “I was thinking the same thing earlier.” She checked her watch. “You know, I’ve got just enough time to sneak in a quick swim myself before I start the day. Ten o’clock consult, full staff.”

  “I’ve got it.”

  “See you then. Oh, Mac?Your shoulders look awesome.”

  “Seriously?” Mac’s face brightened with pleasure and hope. “You’re not just saying that because you love me and I’m suffering?”

  “Awesome,” Parker repeated, then walked out to get her swimsuit.

  “Awesome,” Mac muttered and switched to her triceps.

  “Mile four.” Del grabbed his water and drank deep. “Oh, look, you’re behind.”

  “I’m saving myself for the kick.” Laurel swiped sweat from her face. No way she’d catch him, she thought, but she could make him work for it.

  She glanced over. He’d sweated through the T-shirt in a dark vee that had lust curling in her belly. She used it to push herself a little harder.

  His hair had darkened at the temples, and the damp brought out those sexy curls. His arms gleamed; muscles bunched.

  He’d taste salty, she thought. He’d be slippery under her hands. That energy, that strength and endurance would be over her, under her, all around her. In her.

  Her breath began to quicken from more than the exertion, and she hit mile four.

 
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