Savour the moment, p.23
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       Savour the Moment, p.23

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  wanted to give it to her, just let her have whatever she wanted. Between the grief and the stress, she didn’t think she could handle any more. But her husband and—to his credit—the brother wouldn’t have it.”

  “So they came to you.”

  “The sister hired a lawyer who fits her like a fucking glove. I’m going to kick their asses.”

  “My money’s on you.”

  “The sister had a chance. She knew her mother was dying, that there was a finite time left. But she didn’t use it to be with her, to say good-bye, to say all the things most people think they have endless time to say. Now she wants her cut, and she’s willing to destroy her relationship, such as it is, with her siblings. Add to her sister’s grief. For what? For money. I don’t understand how ... Sorry.”

  “Don’t be. It occurs to me I’ve never thought very much about what you do. I just figured lawyer stuff.”

  He managed a smile. “I do lawyer stuff. This is lawyer stuff.”

  “No, I mean, just the lawyer stuff that pretty much annoys the rest of the world. Sign this, file that—and the this and that is so complicated and written in such ridiculous language it’s more annoying.”

  “We lawyer types enjoy our ‘whereases.’ ”

  “With or without the stupid ‘whereases,’ it’s about people.Your client’s still going to grieve, but her stress is lightened because she knows you’re behind her. It matters a lot what you do, and I’d never thought about it.”

  She lifted her hand to touch his face. “Eat a cupcake.”

  To please her, she imagined, he took a bite. And this time when he smiled, it reached his eyes. “It’s good. It’s happy. This one’s gotten under my skin. I don’t think I realized how much until you were here to dump on.”

  “Is it what you were working on last night?”

  “Primarily”

  “And why you’re tired today. You hardly ever look tired. I could come over tonight, fix you a meal.”

  “Don’t you have a rehearsal tonight, and an event tomorrow?”

  “I can shuffle things around tonight. Tomorrow’s tomorrow.”

  “I should look tired more often. How about I come to you? I’ve been buried here or at home the last couple of days. Change of scene wouldn’t hurt. Neither would being with you. I’ve missed being with you.”

  Her heart melted, and she went into his arms for a kiss that was anything but absent. When he rested his cheek on the top of her head, his phone beeped. “Next client,” he murmured.

  “I’m clearing out. Share the cupcakes.”

  “Maybe.”

  “If you eat the dozen, you’ll be sick—and entirely too full for that meal. Though you might want to remember I’m a better baker than I am a cook.”

  “I can pick up a pizza,” he called out, and heard her laugh as she walked away.

  He took another moment with his coffee and his cupcake, and thoughts of her. He hadn’t meant to say all that about the client, and her situation. Hadn’t realized, really, how angry he was about that situation. And the client didn’t pay him to be angry, but to represent her interests.

  Or would pay him, once he’d kicked her sister’s lawyer’s ass. He’d waived a retainer. He could afford it, and he simply couldn’t justify taking one from a woman who’d dealt with all she’d dealt with.

  But the main thing had been he hadn’t understood just how much it helped to have someone who’d listen to him spew, who’d understand why this particular case hit home with him.

  He didn’t have to explain to Laurel. She just knew.

  An invaluable gift, he mused.

  And there’d been something about the way she’d touched his face—just that simple, understanding gesture, that had something inside him shifting. He wasn’t sure what it was, what it meant, or what it meant that every time he looked at her now he saw something new, something

  else.

  How could you know someone all your life, and still discover something new?

  He’d have to think about it, he told himself. Setting the bakery box with its happy food beside his coffeemaker, he walked out to meet his next client.

  SHE SHOULD’VE LET HIM BRING PIZZA, LAUREL THOUGHT AS SHE raced around the main kitchen to set up. She still had cakes and other desserts to complete in her kitchen, and the construction noise had picked today to peak.

  She couldn’t possibly make dinner there.

  “I could put it together for you,” Mrs. Grady commented.

  “And that would be cheating. I can hear what you’re not saying.”

  “You’re hearing what you think I’m not saying when what I’m actually not saying is it’d be cheating if you pretended you made dinner.”

  Laurel paused a moment, actively

  yearned to take that route. She could just tell Del Mrs. G had done the cooking as she’d been too busy to do it herself. He wouldn’t care, but ...

  “I said I’d do it. Plus you’re going out with your friends tonight.” She blew out a breath. “So, field green salad with a nice balsamic vinaigrette, seafood linguine, and the bread. It’s fairly simple, right?”

  “Simple enough. You’re in a dither over it. And him.”

  “It’s food. I know how I am about it, but I can’t be otherwise. It has to be perfect, and that includes presentation.” Absently, she adjusted the clip holding up her hair. “You know, Mrs. G, if I ever have kids, I’ll probably take twenty minutes to perfect the presentation of a PB and J. They’ll all need therapy.”

  “I think you’ll do well enough on that score.”

  “I never really thought about it. Having kids, I mean.” She got out the field greens, the grape tomatoes, the carrots she intended to straw, to wash, dry, and chill before she prepared the salad. “There’s always been so much to do right now, that I haven’t thought much about someday.”

  “And now you are?” Mrs. G began to dry the greens Laurel washed.

  “I guess it’s the sort of thing that keeps passing through my mind. Maybe it’s a biological clock thing.”

  “Maybe it’s a being in love thing.”

  “Maybe. But two people have to be in love and thinking about someday. I saw this couple today who’d gotten married here last spring.” She glanced out the window as she worked, toward the green and the blue of summer. “They were in Del’s office to do some sort of legal stuff for their first house. Dara was handling it, and the baby came up. The bride-well, wife-got sort of dreamy-eyed over the thought of a baby, and he said: House first, baby later ... or something like that. Which is absolutely sensible.”

  “Babies don’t always come when it’s sensible.”

  “Yeah, tomorrow’s bride found that one out. But I just mean it makes sense to plan the steps, to take them in logical order. To be patient.”

  “Running low on it.” Mrs. Grady gave Laurel’s back a quick rub.

  “Sometimes, a little anyway. I don’t need all the fuss, all the details, all the trimmings. All, essentially, that we do here. Emma does, and Parker will, and God knows Mac’s gotten into it.”

  “She has, and I think it’s been a surprise to her.”

  “But I don’t. I don’t need a ring or a license, or a spectacular white dress. It’s not marriage so much, or at all really, that matters. It’s the promise. It’s the knowing someone wants me to be part of his life. Someone loves me, that I’m the one for him. That’s not just enough, it’s everything.”

  “Who do you think Del would want to be with tonight other than you?”

  Laurel shrugged. “I don’t know. I do know he’ll be happy to be with me. That may not be everything, but it’s enough.” The timer she’d set went off. “Crap. I’ve got to get back to my kitchen. Don’t cook anything.”

  “I’ll act as sous chef and no more. I’ll just finish washing these, and get them dried and put away for you. That wouldn’t be cheating.”

  “You’re right. Thanks.”

  As Laurel raced away to the next task, Mrs. Gra
dy wondered why the girl didn’t consider maybe Del wanted some of that everything, too.

  “Love,” she murmured as she washed. “Nobody inside it knows how the hell to handle it.”

  NATURALLY, THE ONE TIME, THE ONE TIME, LAUREL NEEDED A REHEARSAL to run smoothly, move quickly, it turned into a circus show-casing a weepy bride—hormones, probably—a MOG woozy in the heat, and a groomsman woozy from a little too much prerehearsal celebration. Added to it were the flower girl and ring bearer—brother and sister—who picked the event to display their sibling loathing.

  With two kids running and screaming, the bride indulging in a crying jag in her mother’s arms, and the MOG fanning herself in the shade, Laurel couldn’t duck out as she’d planned.

  Parker handled it—they all handled it, but Parker seemed to be everywhere at once. Urging water on the MOG, iced coffee on the groomsman, herding the kids, and distracting the worried groom.

  The MOH—and the mother of the battling siblings—did her best to restore order. But, Laurel thought as she passed out iced tea, the woman was outnumbered.

  “Where’s the father?” she muttered to Emma.

  “Business trip. Plane was delayed. He’s on his way. I’m going to take the girl, see if I can interest her in making up a quick little nosegay. Maybe you could take the boy—”

  “Carter’s the teacher. Carter should do it.”

  “He’s got his hands full with the not-quite-drunk groomsman. I think the MOH could use a little break, and maybe she can help the MOB pull the bride together. Mac and Parker can handle the rest.”

  “Okay, fine.” Leaving Emma to smooth it over with the mother, Laurel set the iced tea and glasses on the table, then approached the boy. “Come with me.”

  “Why?”

  “Because.”

  It seemed to be an answer he understood, though his brow knit in mutinous lines. He trudged with her, shooting looks that promised revenge at his little sister.

  “I don’t wanna wear a tuxshedo.”

  “Me, either.”

  He snorted, derisively. “Girls don’t wear tuxshedos.”

  “They can if they want.” Laurel glanced down at him. About five, she figured, and pretty cute. Or he would be if he wasn’t over-tired, wound up, and sulking. “But tomorrow all the men in the wedding party get to wear them. Wait. Maybe you’re not old enough to wear one.”

  “I am, too!” Insult radiated. “I’m five.”

  “Whew. That’s a relief,” she said as she walked him down toward the pond. “Because it would really mess everything up if we had to find another ring bearer by tomorrow. They can’t get married without the rings.”

  “Why?”

  “They just can’t. So if we had to find somebody else, it would really be hard.You’ve got a really important job.”

  “More than Tissy?”

  Tissy, Laurel interpreted, was the little sister. “Her job’s really important, too. She has a girl job, but you have a guy job. She doesn’t get to wear a tuxedo.”

  “Not even if she wants to?”

  “Nope, not even. Check it out,” she told him, and pointed at the lily pads. Near the edge one of them served as a float for a fat green frog.

  When Del arrived he spotted her down at the pond, near the sweeping fronds of the willow, with her hand in the hand of a little boy with hair as bright and sunny as her own.

  It gave him a quick start, a little jump in the belly. He’d seen her with kids before, he reminded himself. Weddings usually included a few. But ... There was something odd, maybe a little dreamy, about the picture they made, beside the pond, too far away for him to clearly see their faces. Just that sun-washed hair, and the joined hands.

  As he watched they started back, the boy looking up at her, Laurel looking down at him.

  “Hey, Del.”

  He pulled himself out of that odd, dreamy picture and turned to Carter. “Hi. How’s it going?”

  “Okay now, I’d say.Ten minutes ago, it was touch and go. We’re about to get started. Again.”

  “One of those.”

  “Oh yeah. I think Laurel ...There she is.”

  Laurel stopped by a woman with a little girl on her hip, shared a quick word, an easy laugh with her. Then bent to the boy and murmured in his ear. He grinned as if she’d promised him a lifetime supply of cookies.

  Del walked over to meet her halfway. “Make a new friend?” “Looks like. We’re running behind.”

  “So I hear.”

  “Parker’ll get it back on track,” she said even as Parker called for everyone to take their places.

  Del stepped out of the way with Carter as Parker called out instructions, and the other three women guided and aligned.

  It looked smooth as silk to him, with everyone smiling. He saw the boy and Laurel exchange a quick grin as he walked toward the pergola.

  Moments later, she signaled to Del and slipped into the house.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  HE FOUND HER IN THE MAIN KITCHEN, MOVING FAST.

  “I’m a little behind,” she began. “It’s not like a Parker schedule, but—”

  He stopped her by getting in her way, moving in, drawing her into a long, warm, indulgent kiss. And when he felt her go under, just a little, just enough, he eased back.

  “Hi.”

  “Well, hi. Was I saying something before all my brain cells went gooey?”

  “Something about schedules.”

  “Oh, yeah. That. Okay. I have a nice sauvignon blanc chilling. Why don’t you open it so we can try it out while I get things going.”

  “I like when my main chore is opening the wine. What was the problem with the rehearsal?” he asked as he moved to oblige.

  “What wasn’t, is more like it.” She shot him a look over her shoulder with those bluebell eyes. “The bride learned just this week she’s pregnant.”

  “Uh-oh.”

  “They’re good with it. In fact, they’ve turned the unexpected expecting into a surprise instead of a problem.”

  “That’s good for everybody”

  “Yeah, but it’s added some stress—and she’s more emotional and a whole lot tired. She’s crying, then the two kids are trying to murder each other, the MOG worked herself up, plus the heat got to her. Probably because she was worked up. Add in a groomsman who started celebrating a bit early. Just another day on the job.”

  Laurel put water on for the pasta, added olive oil to a skillet, then moved past Del to retrieve the salad makings she’d prepared with Mrs. Grady’s help. “It’s a good thing I did most of this ahead, because I’d hoped to duck out of the rehearsal, but no dice.Thanks,” she added when he handed her a glass.

  After sipping it, she began to peel and dice garlic.

  “I should feel guilty about you cooking after you’ve put in a full day. Want me to chop something? I’m a reasonably experienced chopper.”

  “No, we’re under control.”

  Content to do nothing, he watched her add the garlic and some red pepper flakes to the oil. “This is new.”

  “Hmm?”

  “Seeing you cook. This kind of cooking, that is.”

  “Oh, I dip my hand in every once in a while. I picked up some of it from Mrs. G, and some from working in restaurants. It’s an interesting change of pace. When it works.”

  “You always look in charge in the kitchen. That was supposed to be a compliment,” he said when she frowned at him.

  “I guess it is, as long as it doesn’t put me in the same camp as Julio.”

  “Completely different camp. A different camp in a different country.”

  She added some butter to the oil, got out the shrimp. “Good. Because I don’t often have—or want—company when I’m in the kitchen, but I rarely throw knives.” She added the shrimp to the oil, then pasta to the boiling water.

  “Do you just keep everything that goes in, when and how, in your head?”

  “Sometimes. Do you want a lesson?”

  “I absolute
ly don’t. Real men grill.”

  She laughed, and with spoon in one hand, pasta fork in the other, stirred skillet and pot at the same time. “Hand me the wine, will you?”

  “Lush.” But he held it out.

  She set down the pasta fork, then dumped a good cup of wine on the shrimp. Del visibly winced.

  “It’s really good wine.”

  “So it’s really good wine for cooking, too.”

  “No question.” Her hands, he thought, were so quick, so competent. Had he ever noticed that before? “What are we having?”

  “For the main? Seafood linguini.” She paused, took a sip from her glass. “Field green salad, some herb bread I baked for dipping. Vanilla bean crиme brыlйe for dessert.”

  He lowered his glass to stare at her—his Laurel, with her hair clipped up as always when she worked, her quick, competent hands busy. “You’re kidding.”

  “I know you’re partial to crиme brыlйe.” She lifted one shoulder in an easy shrug as the kitchen filled with scent. “If I’m going to cook, I might as well cook what you like.”

  It occurred to him he should have brought her flowers or wine or ... something. And realized it hadn’t occurred to him because he was so used to coming here, coming home, to seeing her in his home.

  Next time he wouldn’t forget.

  When the wine came to a boil, she lowered the heat, covered it. Then tested the pasta, deemed it done, drained it.

  She got a dish of olives out of the fridge. “To hold you off,” she said, then turned her attention to the salad.

  “You know what I said about being in charge when you’re in the kitchen?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “Something about being in charge makes you just stunning.” She looked up, blinked in such obvious surprise he regretted not thinking of flowers even more.

  “You’re already getting crиme brыlйe,” she managed.

  “You’re beautiful. You’ve always been beautiful.” Had he never told her that before, in just that way? “Cooking just spotlights it, the way dancing spotlights a dancer, or a sport spotlights an athlete. It just never struck me until now, I think because I’ve gotten used to seeing you at some stage or other of baking. It’s a kind of taking for granted. I need to be careful not to do that with you.”

  “We don’t have to be careful with each other.”

  “I think we do. Even more because we’re so used to each other.”

  Maybe taking care was more accurate, he thought. Wasn’t she doing just that now? Taking care by making him a meal she knew he’d like particularly, and doing it because she knew he’d had a difficult day? This

 
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