Savour the moment, p.2
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       Savour the Moment, p.2

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  “Sorry about the FOB’s bad luck, but if that’s the biggest problem this weekend, we’re in good shape.”

  Parker shot out a finger. “Don’t jinx it.”

  Mac strolled in, long and lean in jeans and a black T-shirt. “Hello, pals of mine.”

  Laurel squinted at her friend’s easy smile and slumberous green eyes. “You had morning sex.”

  “I had stupendous morning sex, thank you.” Mac poured herself coffee, grabbed a muffin. “And you?”

  “Bitch.”

  With a laugh, Mac dropped down in her chair, stretched out her legs. “I’ll take my morning exercise over your treadmill and Bowflex.”

  “Mean, nasty bitch,” Laurel said and popped a raspberry.

  “I love summer when the love of my life doesn’t have to get up and out early to enlighten young minds.” She opened her own laptop. “Now I’m primed, in all possible ways, for business.”

  “Saturday afternoon’s FOB may have broken his nose,” Parker told her.

  “Bummer.” Mac’s brow creased. “I can do a lot with Photoshop if they want me to—but it’s kind of a cheat. What is, is—and it makes an amusing memory. In my opinion.”

  “We’ll see what the bride’s opinion is once he gets back from the doctor.” Parker glanced over as Emma rushed in.

  “I’m not late.There are twenty seconds left.” Black curls bouncing, she scooted to the coffee station. “I fell back to sleep. After.”

  “Oh, I hate you, too,” Laurel muttered. “We need a new rule. No bragging about sex at business meetings when half of us aren’t getting any.”

  “Seconded,” Parker said immediately.

  “Aww.” Laughing, Emma scooped some fruit into a bowl.

  “Saturday afternoon’s FOB may have a broken nose.”

  “Aww,” Emma repeated, with genuine concern at Mac’s announcement.

  “We’ll deal with it when we have more details, but however it turns out, it really falls to Mac and me. I’ll keep you updated,” Parker said to Mac. “Tonight’s event. All out-of-town attendants, relatives, and guests have arrived. The bride, the MOB, and the attendants are due here at three for hair and makeup. The MOG has her own salon date and is due by four, with the FOG. FOB will arrive with his daughter. We’ll keep him happy and occupied until it’s time for the formal shots that include him. Mac?”

  “The bride’s dress is a beaut. Vintage romance. I’ll be playing that up.”

  As Mac outlined her plans and timetable, Laurel rose for a second cup of coffee. She made notes here and there, continued to do so when Emma took over. As the bulk of Laurel’s job was complete, she’d fill in when and where she was needed.

  It was a routine they’d perfected since Vows had gone from concept to reality.

  “Laurel,” Parker said.

  “The cake’s finished—and a wowzer. It’s heavy, so I’ll need help from the subs transferring it to reception, but the design doesn’t require any on-site assembly. I’ll need you to do the ribbon and white rose petals, Emma, once it’s transferred, but that’s it until it’s time to serve. They opted against a groom’s cake, and went for a selection of mini pastries and heart-shaped chocolates. They’re done, too, and we’ll serve them on white china lined with lace doilies to mirror the design of the cake. The cake table linen is pale blue, eyelet lace. Cake knife and server, provided by the B and G. They were her grandmother’s so we’ll keep our eye on them.

  “I’m going to be working on Saturday’s cakes most of today, but should be freed up by four if anyone needs me. During the last set, the subs will put leftover cake in the take-away boxes and tie them with blue ribbon we’ve had engraved with the B and G’s names, and the date. Same goes if there are any leftover chocolates or pastries. Mac, I’d like a picture of the cake for my files. I haven’t done this design before.”

  “Check.”

  “And Emma, I need the flowers for Saturday night’s cake. Can you drop them off to me when you come to dress today’s event?”

  “No problem.”

  “On the personal front?” Mac lifted a hand for attention. “No one’s mentioned that my mother’s latest wedding is tomorrow, in Italy. Which is, thankfully, many, many miles away from our happy home here in Greenwich, Connecticut. I got a call from her just after five this morning, as Linda doesn’t get the concept of time zones—and, well, let’s face it, doesn’t give a shit anyway.”

  “Why didn’t you just let it ring?” Laurel demanded, even as Emma reached over to rub Mac’s leg in sympathy.

  “Because she’d just keep calling back—and I’m trying to deal with her. On my terms for a change.” Mac raked her fingers through the bold red of her gamine cap of hair. “There were, as expected, tears and recriminations, as she’s decided she wants me there. As opposed to a week ago, when she didn’t. Since I have no intention of hopping on a plane, particularly when I have an event tonight, two tomorrow, and another on Sunday, to see her get married for the fourth time, she’s not speaking to me.”

  “If only it would last.”

  “Laurel,” Parker murmured.

  “I mean it. You got to give her a piece of your mind,” she reminded Parker. “I didn’t. I can only let it fester.”

  “Which I appreciate,” Mac said. “Sincerely. But as you can see, I’m not in a funk, I’m not swimming in guilt or even marginally pissed off. I think there’s an advantage to finding a guy who’s sensible, loving, and just really solid. An advantage over and above really terrific morning sex. Every one of you has been on my side when I’ve had to deal with Linda, you’ve tried to help me through her demands and basic insanity. I guess Carter just helped tip the scales, and now I can deal with it. I wanted to tell you.”

  “I’d have morning sex with him myself, just for that.”

  “Hands off, McBane. But I appreciate the sentiment. So.” She rose. “I want to get some work done before I need to focus on today’s event. I’ll swing by and get some shots of the cake.”

  “Hang on, I’ll go with you.” Emma pushed up. “I’ll be back with the team shortly—and I’ll drop the flowers off for you, Laurel.”

  When they’d gone, Laurel sat another moment. “She really meant it.”

  “Yes, she really did.”

  “And she’s right.” Laurel took a last moment to sit back and relax with her coffee. “Carter’s the one who turned the key in the lock. I wonder what it’s like to have a man who can do that, can help that way without pushing. Who can love you that way. I guess when it comes down to it, I envy her that even more than the sex.”

  Shrugging, Laurel rose. “I’d better get to work.”

  LAUREL DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO THINK ABOUT MEN OVER THE NEXT couple of days. She didn’t have the time or the energy to think about love and romance. She might have been neck-deep in weddings, but that was business—and the business of weddings demanded focus and precision.

  Her Antique Lace cake, which had taken her nearly three days to create, had its moment in the spotlight—before being disassembled and devoured. Saturday afternoon featured her whimsical Pastel Petals with its hundreds of embossed, gum-paste rose petals, and Saturday evening her Rose Garden, where tiers of bold red roses layered with tiers of vanilla-bean cake with silky buttercream frosting.

  For Sunday afternoon’s smaller, more casual event, the bride had chosen Summer Berries. Laurel had done the baking, the filling, the assembly, and the basket-weave frosting. Now, even as the bride and groom exchanged vows on the terrace outside, Laurel completed the project by arranging the fresh fruit and mint leaves on the tiers.

  Behind her, the subs completed table decorations for the wedding brunch. She wore a baker’s apron over a suit nearly the same color as the raspberries she selected.

  Stepping back, she studied the lines and balance, then chose a bunch of champagne grapes to drape over a tier.

  “Looks tasty.”

  Her eyebrows drew together as she grouped stemmed cherries. Interruptions while she
worked were common—but that didn’t mean she had to like them. Added to it, she hadn’t expected Parker’s brother to drop by during an event.

  Then again, she reminded herself, he came and went as he pleased.

  But when she spotted his hand reaching for one of her containers, she slapped it smartly away.

  “Hands off.”

  “Like you’re going to miss a couple blackberries.”

  “I don’t know where your hands have been.” She set a trio of mint leaves, and didn’t bother—yet—to spare him a glance. “What do you want? We’re working.”

  “Me, too. More or less. Lawyer capacity. I had some paperwork to drop off.”

  He handled all their legal dealings, both individually and as a business. She knew, very well, he put in long hours on their behalf, and often on his own time. But if she didn’t jab at him, she’d break long-standing tradition.

  “And timed it so you could mooch from catering.”

  “There ought to be some perks. Brunch deal?”

  She gave in and turned. His choice of jeans and a T-shirt didn’t make him less of an Ivy League lawyer—not to her mind. Delaney Brown of the Connecticut Browns, she thought. Tall, appealingly rangy, his dense brown hair just a smidgen longer than lawyerly fashion might dictate.

  Did he do that on purpose? She imagined so, as he was a man who always had a plan. He shared those deep, midnight blue eyes with Parker, but though she’d known him all her life, she could rarely read what was behind them.

  He was, in her opinion, too handsome for his own good, too smooth for anyone else’s. He was also unflinchingly loyal, quietly generous—and annoyingly overprotective.

  He smiled at her now, quick and easy with a disarming flash of humor she imagined served as a lethal weapon in court. Or the bedroom.

  “Cold poached salmon, mini chicken florentine, grilled summer vegetables, potato pancakes, a variety of quiches, caviar with full accompaniment, assorted pastries and breads, along with a fruit and cheese display, followed by the poppy-seed cake with orange marmalade filling and Grand Marnier buttercream frosting, topped with fresh fruit.”

  “Sign me up.”

  “I expect you can sweet-talk the caterers,” she said. She rolled her shoulders, circled her head on her neck as she chose the next berries.

  “Something hurt?”

  “The basket weave’s a killer on the neck and shoulders.”

  His hands lifted, then retreated to his pockets. “Are Jack and Carter around?”

  “Somewhere. I haven’t seen them today.”

  “Maybe I’ll go hunt them down.”

  “Mmm-hmm.”

  But he wandered across the room to the windows and looked down at the flower-decked terrace, the white slippered chairs, the pretty bride turned toward the smiling groom.

  “They’re doing the ring thing,” Del called out.

  “So Parker just told me.” Laurel tapped her headset. “I’m set. Emma, the cake’s ready for you.”

  She balanced the top layer with an offset stem loaded with blackberries. “Five-minute warning,” she announced, and began loading her bin with the remaining fruit. “Let’s get the champagne poured, the Bloody Marys and mimosas mixed. Light the candles, please.” She started to lift the bin, but Del beat her to it.

  “I’ll carry it.”

  She shrugged, and moved over to hit the switch for the background music that would play until the orchestra took over.

  They started down the back stairs, passing uniformed waitstaff on their way up with hors d’oeuvres for the brief cocktail mixer designed to keep guests happy while Mac took the formals of the bride and groom, the wedding party and family.

  She swung into her kitchen where the caterers ran full steam. Used to the chaos, Laurel slid through, got a small bowl and scooped out fruit. She passed it to Del.

  “Thanks.”

  “Just stay out of the way. Yes, they’re ready,” she said to Parker through the headset. “Yeah, in thirty. In place.” She glanced over at the caterers. “On schedule. Oh, Del’s here. Uh-huh.”

  Leaning on the counter and eating berries, he watched her as she stripped off her apron. “Okay, heading out now.”

  Del pushed off the counter to follow her as she headed through the mudroom that would soon be transformed into her extra cooler and storage area. She pulled the clip out of her hair, tossed it aside, and shook her hair into place as she stepped outside.

  “Where are we going?”

  “I’m going to help escort guests inside. You’re going away, somewhere.”

  “I like it here.”

  It was her turn to smile. “Parker said to get rid of you until it’s time to clean up. Go find your little friends, Del, and if you’re good boys you’ll be fed later.”

  “Fine, but if I get roped into cleanup, I want some of that cake.”

  They separated, him strolling toward the remodeled pool house that served as Mac’s studio and home, her striding toward the terrace, where the bride and groom exchanged their first married kiss.

  Laurel glanced back once—just once. She’d known him all her life—that was fate, she supposed. But it was her own fault, and her own problem, that she’d been in love with him nearly as long.

  She allowed herself one sigh before fixing a bright, professional smile on her face to lend a hand herding the celebrants into Reception.

  CHAPTER TWO

  LONG AFTER THE LAST GUEST DEPARTED AND THE CATERERS LOADED up, Laurel stretched out on the sofa of the family parlor with a well-deserved glass of wine.

  She wasn’t sure where the men might be—back to their dens with a six-pack maybe—but it was nice, very nice, to unwind with just the women, and the relative quiet.

  “Damn good weekend.” Mac lifted her glass in toast. “Four rehearsals, four events. Not a single hitch in any of them. Not even a blip of a hitch. That’s a record.”

  “The cake was amazing,” Emma added.

  “You had a forkful,” Laurel pointed out.

  “An amazing forkful. Plus it was just sweet today, the way the groom’s little boy stood as best man. He was so cute. It got me weepy.”

  “They’re going to make a nice family.” Parker sat, eyes closed, BlackBerry on her lap. “You watch some of the second-timearounds with kids, and think: Ho boy, rough sailing coming up. But this?You can just see she and the kid are nuts for each other. It was sweet.”

  “I got some killer pictures. And the cake was awesome,” Mac added. “Maybe I should go for the poppy seed for mine.”

  To ease the cramping, Laurel curled and uncurled her toes. “Last week you wanted the Italian cream.”

  “Maybe I should have cake samplers. Small versions of several kinds, different designs. It would be a culinary orgy, plus amazing photography.”

  Laurel cocked a finger. “Die, Mackensie. Die.”

  “You should stick with the Italian cream. It’s your favorite.”

  Mac pursed her lips as she nodded at Emma. “You’re right. And it is all about me. What are you leaning toward, cakewise?”

  “I can’t even think about it. I’m still getting used to being engaged.” Emma studied the diamond on her finger with an undeniably smug smile. “Plus, once I shift into wedding plans and details, I fully expect to succumb to mania. So we should put that off as long as possible.”

  “Yes, please.” Laurel sighed her agreement.

  “You need the dress first anyway.” Parker kept her eyes closed. “The dress always comes first.”

  “Now you’ve done it,” Laurel muttered.

  “I’ve barely thought about it. More than a thousand times,” Emma added. “I’ve hardly looked at more than half a million pictures. I’m going for princess. Miles and miles of skirt. Probably an off-the-shoulder bodice, maybe a sweetheart neckline since I do have exceptional breasts.”

  “It’s true, you do,” Mac agreed.

  “Absolutely nothing simple. Lavish is my byword. I want a tiara—and a train.” Dar
k eyes glowed at the thought. “And since we’re squeezing it into next May, I’m going to design myself an incredible, and yes, lavish, bouquet. Pastels, I think. Maybe. Probably. Romantic, heartbreaking pastels.”

  “But she can’t even think about it,” Laurel put in.

  “All of you in soft colors,” Emma went on, unfazed. “A garden of my friends.” She let out a sigh of her own, long and dreamy. “And when Jack sees me, he’ll lose his breath. In that one moment, you know, when we look at each other, the world’s going to stop for us. Just for a minute, one incredible minute.”

  From her position on the floor, she rested her head against Parker’s leg. “We didn’t really know, all those times we played Wedding Day when we were kids. We didn’t really know what that one incredible moment meant. We’re so lucky we get to see it as often as we do.”

  “Best job ever,” Mac murmured.

  “Best job ever because we are.” Laurel sat up enough to toast. “We put it together so people can have that one incredible moment. You’ll have yours, Em—orchestrated down to the last detail by Parker, surrounded with flowers you’ve arranged yourself, captured in a photograph by Mac. And celebrated with a cake I’ll create just for you. A lavish one. Guaranteed.”

  “Aww.” Emma’s dark eyes filled. “As much as I love Jack—and boy, do I ever—I couldn’t be as happy as I am now without all of you.”

  Mac handed Emma a tissue. “I’m still first. I want a cake that’s just for me,” she said to Laurel. “If she gets one, so do I.”

  “I can put little cameras and tripods around the tiers.”

  “And little stacks of books for Carter?” Mac laughed. “Silly, but apt.”

  “It follows the theme of your engagement shots.” Emma dried her eyes. “I love the way you set those up, with you and Carter on the couch, your legs all tangled together, him with a book on his lap, you looking like you’ve just lowered your camera after taking his picture. Both of you just grinning at each other. Which leads me to ask you about our engagement portrait. When, where, how?”

  “Easy. You and Jack in bed, naked.”

  Emma shot out a foot to give Mac a light kick. “Stop.”

  “Also apt,” was Laurel’s opinion.

  “We do more than have sex!”

  “You certainly do. You think about having sex.” Parker opened one eye.

  “We have a very layered relationship,” Emma insisted. “Which includes lots of sex. But seriously—”

  “I’ve got a few things in mind. We should look at our schedules and set something up.”

  “Now?”

  “Sure. Parks must have both our schedules on her CrackBerry.” Mac reached toward it.

  Parker opened both eyes, aimed a smoldering warning stare. “Touch it and die.”

  “Jesus. Let’s go check my book at the studio. We should probably round up the guys anyway—and we’d have to have Jack clear the time.”

  “Excellent.”

  “Where are the guys?” Laurel wondered.

  “Down with Mrs. G,” Emma told her. “Eating pizza and playing poker—or that was the plan.”

  “Nobody asked us for pizza and poker.” Laurel managed a horizontal shrug as eyes turned to her. “Okay, no, I don’t want pizza and poker because I like it right here. But still.”

  “Anyway.” Mac pushed to her feet. “Rounding up under the circumstances might take some time. Let’s just plant the seed, then go figure the schedule.”

  “That’s a plan. Good job, girls,” Emma said as she stood.

 
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