Savour the moment, p.22
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       Savour the Moment, p.22

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  She told herself to consider the source, reminded herself that Linda loved creating upheaval and was particularly skilled at creating it when thwarted.

  It didn’t help.

  She sat and brooded until Emma came out with a pretty tray of iced tea and cookies.

  “I raided your supply,” Emma said. “Cookies are called for.” She passed Laurel the bottle of aspirin. “Take two, then spill it.”

  “I had a really good consult. Sherry and Nick.”

  “They’re so cute together.”

  “And so damn happy. They really put me in a terrific mood. I was actually walking down to your place, to see if you wanted to take a swim and tap into the champagne I’d opened for the consult when I saw Linda about to walk into Mac’s.”

  “There goes the terrific mood—and my champagne.”

  “Yeah. She started off the way she usually does. Big smile, all innocence.Just popping in since she’d come in to see some friends.” Laurel picked up a cookie, nibbling a little as she continued the story.

  “You told her you’d knock her on her ass?” Emma interrupted, with relish. “Oh, I wish I’d been there. I really do. What did she say?”

  “Basically, that I had no say around here, how I’m here on Parker’s sufferance—”

  “What bullshit.”

  “She jabbed me about my parents. I’m hard and cold like my mother, and that’s why my cheating father slept with her—among others.”

  “Oh, honey.”

  “I always figured he’d probably had a spin with Linda—basically every cheating husband in the county has—but ...”

  “It hurts,” Emma murmured.

  “I don’t know. I don’t know if it hurts. I think it just pisses me off, and disappoints me. Which is stupid, considering.”

  “But it’s Linda.”

  “Yeah.” There was nothing more precious than a friend who understood exactly. “I shrugged it off. No way was she going to get a rise out of me on that score. So, I had to give it back to her, and told her to get gone again, or I’d make her.”

  “Good for you.”

  “Then she hit me with Del.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “How everyone’s talking about me and Del, how they’re laughing at me, how he’d never be serious about someone like me. I’m not in his class—the Brown class.”

  “Vicious bitch.” Emma’s hand fisted. “I’d like to punch her. You are not going to tell me you bought one word of that, or I’ll have to punch

  you.”

  “Now I’m terrified.” Laurel sighed again. “It’s not a matter of buying it, Emma. I know the kind of person she is, and it’s just how she thinks. And I know even if she didn’t think it, she’d say it to slap at me. But the fact is ... The fact is, he’s Delaney Brown, so people are talking, and speculating, and some of them probably are getting a laugh out of it.”

  “So what if they are?”

  “I know, and I tell myself the same.” She hated,

  hated that the tears burned again, and this time filled, this time spilled. “Most of the time I feel just that way. So what? But other times ...”

  “It’s insulting to Del as much as you.”

  “Maybe. We’ve never really talked about if we’re serious, or if we’re looking to make what we have long-term. It’s really just about the moment. Most of the time I’m good with that, fine with it, because the moments are really good. But other times ...”

  “Do you think he’s with you just because you’re available?”

  “No.” She brushed impatiently at the tears. “No, of course I don’t.”

  “Do you think it’s just about the sex for him?”

  “No.”

  “Or that he’s given a single thought to the fact that your last name doesn’t have the same cachet as his?”

  Laurel shook her head. “Emma, I know when I’m being stupid, but even knowing it doesn’t always stop someone from being stupid. I wish I didn’t have this vulnerable spot, and God knows I wish I hadn’t let Linda poke her sharp stick right into it. But it’s there.”

  “We’ve all got them.” Emma covered Laurel’s hand with hers. “Especially when we love somebody. That’s why we need girlfriends.”

  “She made me cry. How weak is that? I would’ve gone up to my room and blubbered over it if you hadn’t stopped me. When I think of how frustrated I’d get with Mac when she’d let Linda push her around emotionally.” She blew out a breath.

  “The woman’s poison.”

  “Damn right, she is. Well, at least I kicked her off the estate.”

  “It’s my turn next time.You, Parker, and Mac have all had yours. I want a shot.”

  “Only fair. Thanks, Emma.”

  “Feeling better?”

  “Yeah, I feel better.”

  “Let’s go take that swim.”

  “Okay.” Laurel nodded briskly. “Okay, let’s go drown my pity party.”

  LATER, STEADIER, SHE SETTLED DOWN IN HER OFFICE. HER PAPERWORK could use some attention, she decided, and since she had some time on her hands, it might as well get it.

  She took care of her filing, invoicing, bills, with Bon Jovi for company. Then shifted over to check out some of her suppliers’ websites.

  She needed more pastry bags, cake boxes, pastry boxes, maybe some new transfer sheets. Liners, she thought, and paper doilies. After dealing with the necessities, she started to study tools and display items she really didn’t need—but might be fun to play with.

  Icing at Vows’ budget could handle a few toys, she decided. Plus she could use some new crimpers, some new chocolate molds, and God, she really wanted that double guitar cutter.

  Her practical side made her sit back, stew over the price. But when they finished with her new storage area, she’d have room for the bigger cutter. It would be practical, really. She’d be able to cut twice as many petit fours, chocolates, ganaches as she could now. And it had four frames.

  She could put the one she had now, the one she’d bought used, on eBay.

  Hell with it. She deserved it. But even as she clicked Add To Cart, she jumped in guilt when Mac said her name.

  “God, don’t sneak up on me when I’m spending money I really don’t need to spend.”

  “On what? Oh.” Mac shrugged when she saw the bakery supply site. “Tools, we all need them. Listen, Laurel ...”

  “Emma told you.” Laurel heaved out a breath. “You’d better not be here to apologize for Linda.”

  “I’m allowed to be sorry.” Mac stuffed her hands in her pockets. “My first reaction was to call her and ream her, but that only gives her attention. Which is what she wants most next to money. So I’m going to ignore it, and that way she gets nothing. Which will piss her off. A lot.”

  “Good.”

  “Yeah, but since I’m going to ignore it, I have to be sorry—and you have to let me.”

  “Okay, be sorry.” Deliberately Laurel looked at her watch, counted to ten. “Now, be finished being sorry.”

  “All right.You know what I wish? I wish I didn’t have to invite her to the wedding. But I do.”

  “We’ll handle it.”

  “I know. Maybe a miracle will happen and she’ll behave herself. I know,” Mac added with a half laugh when Laurel cast her eyes to the ceiling. “But as a bride I’m allowed the fantasy.”

  “She’ll never understand you, or us. That’s her loss.”

  “It really is.” Leaning down, Mac kissed the top of Laurel’s head. “I’ll see you later.”

  Whatever crumbs of self-pity remained were swept away as Mac left.

  All done with it, Laurel thought, and bought herself a brand-new double guitar cutter.

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  LAUREL WASN’T SURE WHERE THE IMPULSE CAME FROM, BUT SHE followed it to Del’s law offices. Though she rarely visited there, for personal or legal reasons, she knew the setup.

  The front door of the dignified old town house opened, as she deemed it
should, to a dignified foyer. That angled into a pretty reception area, with leafy plants in copper pots, antique tables, generous chairs, muted colors warm with the flow of light.

  Offices maintained privacy for clients behind thick old doors, lovingly restored, and time-faded rugs highlighted the deep tones of the wide-planked floors.

  Del, she knew, appreciated the mix of the dignified and the warmly casual.

  She stepped out of the sweltering heat into the cool where Annie, a woman she’d gone to school with, manned the desk and its computer.

  Annie shifted, and her professional smile spread to a friendly grin. “Laurel, hi! How are you? Haven’t seen you in months.”

  “They keep me chained to the oven. Hey, you cut your hair. I love it.”

  Annie tried out a little head toss. “Sassy?”

  “Absolutely.”

  “And best, it takes about two minutes in the morning.”

  “So, how are you otherwise?”

  “I’m great. We should have a drink sometime soon, and catch up.”

  “I’d like that. I brought something for Del.” She lifted the bakery box she carried.

  “If it’s anything like the cake you made for Dara, I just gained five pounds looking at the box. He’s with a client. I can just—”

  “Don’t interrupt him,” Laurel said. “I’ll leave it with you.”

  “I don’t know if I can be trusted.”

  With a laugh, Laurel set the box on the desk. “There’s enough to share. I had to come into town, so I just brought these by before I—”

  “Hold that thought,” Annie told her as her phone rang. “Good morning, Brown and Associates.”

  Laurel wandered away while Annie handled the call, taking a casual study of the art on the walls. She knew they were originals, and from area artists. The Browns had always been serious patrons of the arts, and involved in local interests.

  It occurred to her she’d never given much thought to how Del had set up his practice. After his parents died, she remembered now, and shortly before they’d formed Vows. They’d probably been among his first clients, now that she thought of it.

  She’d been working at the Willows, keeping her own finances afloat while Vows took its first events. She’d been too busy, she supposed, and too damn tired to think about how Del must have been juggling his own fledgling practice, the details of his parents’ estates, the legalities of Vows as a business and a partnership.

  They’d all been scrambling like mad with plans, obligations, test runs, part-time work to fill the coffers. But Del had never seemed rushed, had he? she asked herself.

  The Brown cool, she supposed. As well as that seemingly innate Brown confidence that whatever they outlined they’d make work.

  They’d grieved together, she remembered. Hard, hard times. But the grief and the hard had acted as another kind of glue, fusing them together.

  She’d moved in with Parker, Laurel thought, and had never really, not seriously, looked back. And Del had always been there, handling details that had whizzed right by her. She’d understood it, she thought now, but had she given him credit for it?

  She glanced over as someone came in the door. The young couple held hands, looked happy. Looked familiar, Laurel realized.

  “Cassie?” She’d made them her Bridal Lace cake in the spring. “Hi. And ...” Shit, what was the groom’s name?

  “Laurel? Hello!” Cassie held out a friendly hand. “It’s wonderful to see you. Zack and I were just showing our wedding pictures to some friends the other night, and talking about how we’re looking forward to Fran and Michael’s wedding in a couple months at your place. I can’t wait to see what you do for them.”

  If she’d been Parker, she’d remember precisely who Fran and Michael were, and all the details of the wedding confirmed so far.

  Since she wasn’t Parker, Laurel just smiled. “I hope they’re as happy as you two look.”

  “I don’t know if they could be, because we’re flying.”

  “About to buy our first house,” Zack told her.

  “Congratulations.”

  “It’s wonderful and scary, and oh, Dara. Everyone’s right on time.”

  Laurel supposed Annie had given Dara the signal, and turned to say her hellos.

  “Oh, that cake.” With a laugh, Dara gave Laurel a quick hug. “It was so cute—and so delicious.”

  “How’s the baby?”

  “Wonderful. I’ve got several hundred baby pictures I could show you if you don’t make a quick escape.”

  “I’d love to see baby pictures,” Cassie said. “I love babies,” she added with a wistful look at Zack.

  “House first, then baby.”

  “I can help you with the first part. Come right on back.” Dara gave Laurel a wink, then led the clients off.

  Laurel heard Annie’s phone ring again—busy place—and decided she’d just slip out. Even as she had the thought, she heard Del’s voice.

  “Try not to worry. You’ve done everything right, and I’m going to do everything I can to get this resolved quickly.”

  “I’m so grateful. Mr. Brown, I don’t know what I’d do without your help. It’s all so ...”The woman’s voice broke.

  Though Laurel stepped back, she caught a glimpse of Del and his client, and the way Del put an arm around the woman’s shoulders as she struggled with tears.

  “I’m sorry. I thought I got all that out in your office.”

  “Don’t be sorry. I want you to go home and try to put this out of your mind.”

  His hand rubbed up and down the woman’s arm. Laurel had seen him use that gesture of comfort and support—or felt it herself—countless times.

  “Focus on your family, Carolyn, and leave all this to me. I’ll be in touch soon. I promise.”

  “All right. And thank you, thank you again for everything.”

  “Just remember what I told you.” As he walked his client to the door, he spotted Laurel. Surprise crossed his face briefly, before he turned his attention back to the woman he led out. He murmured something that had the client blinking at tears again before she nodded, and left.

  “Well, hi,” he said to Laurel.

  “I’m so in the way. Sorry. I just dropped off something for you, then a couple people came in for Dara, and I knew them, so ...”

  “Zack and Cassie Reinquist.You did their wedding.”

  “God, you and Parker have spreadsheets for brains. It’s scary. Anyway, I’ll clear the field so you can—”

  “Come on back. I’ve got a few minutes before my next appointment. What did you bring me?”

  “I’ll get it.” She walked back to pick up the bakery box.

  “Sorry,” Annie murmured, tipping the phone away from her mouth. “Floodgates.”

  Laurel made a “don’t worry about it” gesture, and took the box with her.

  “You brought me a cake?”

  “No.” She walked back to his office with him, where the sunlight streamed through tall windows, where more antiques gleamed—and the desk she knew had been his father’s, and his father’s before—held prominence.

  Laurel set the box down, opened the top. “I brought you cupcakes.”

  “You brought me cupcakes.” Obviously puzzled, he looked in the box at the dozen cheerfully iced cakes. “They look good.”

  “They’re happy food.”

  She studied his face. Just as Emma had claimed about hers, Laurel knew that face. “You look like you could use some happy.”

  “Do I? Well.” He bent to give her an absent kiss. “That makes me happy. How about some coffee to go with the cupcakes?”

  She hadn’t intended to stay—her own schedule was so damn tight as it was. But, oh, he really did look like he needed a little happy. “Sure. Your client looked pretty distressed,” she began as he walked over to the coffee machine on the Hepplewhite buffet. “You probably can’t talk about it.”

  “In general terms. Her mother died recently after a long, diffic
ult illness.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “She was the primary caregiver, and as her mother’s condition required more—and it was important to them both that her mother die at home—she took an extended leave of absence from her job so she could care for her mother full-time.”

  “It takes a lot of love and dedication to do that.”

  “Yes, it does. She has a brother in California. He came in a few times, helped out some. She has a sister in Oyster Bay—who was apparently too busy to visit or help more than a couple times a month, if that.”

  He handed Laurel her coffee, leaned back against his desk. He took out one of the cupcakes, studied it.

  “Not everyone has a lot of love and dedication.”

  “No, not everyone,” he murmured. “There was insurance, of course, but it doesn’t cover everything. What it didn’t my client paid for out of pocket until her mother found out, and insisted on putting her daughter’s name on her personal checking account.”

  “Which takes love, and trust.”

  “Yes.” He smiled a little. “It does.”

  “It sounds like, even though it had to be a terrible thing to go through, they had something special.Your client and her mother.”

  “Yes, you’re right. The leave of absence was a financial burden, but my client and her family dealt with it. Her husband and kids pitched in when they could. Do you know what it must be like to care for a dying parent, one who at the end is essentially bedridden, incontinent, who requires special food, constant care?”

  Not just sad, she realized. Angry. Very angry. “I can only imagine. It must be a terrible strain, physically, emotionally.”

  “Two years, with the last six months all but around the clock. She bathed her, changed her, did her laundry, fed her, took care of her finances, cleaned her house, sat with her, read to her. Her mother changed her will, left the house, its contents—but for some specifics—and the bulk of her estate to her daughter. Now that she’s gone, now that the client and her brother from California made all the funeral arrangements, the sister’s contesting the will. She’s accusing my client of unduly influencing their mother in her favor. She’s livid, and has privately accused her of stealing money, jewelry, household items, turning their dying mother against her.”

  When Laurel said nothing, Del set his own coffee aside. “Initially my client
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