Savour the moment, p.28
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       Savour the Moment, p.28

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  He also believed he knew how to find out.

  He glanced over to where Emma manned the bar.

  He just needed to bide his time, and use the right approach.

  “Let the games begin,” Jack called out, and held up a hat. “Everyone picks a number for the first round.”

  SHE REALLY DID SUCK AT FOOSBALL. SO GREAT WAS HER FAILURE even Carter beat her. Now

  that, she thought, was humiliating.

  Still, she’d killed at pinball with a run of luck and skill that had put her slightly ahead of both Jack and Del in that field of play. Much to

  their chagrin.

  And that was satisfying.

  She felt she’d hold her own at poker. But currently Mal and Parker were ripping it at competitive DDR. She’d have to ace her run to have even a fighting chance for the trophy.

  She sipped wine as Parker and Mal hit double A’s at the end of their second of three rounds.

  Shit, she was probably doomed.

  It was probably unfair to think having Mal there balanced things out—but it did. Parker was perfectly capable of getting her own man if she wanted one, but it just added a nice touch.

  Plus, they looked really good together.

  Really good.

  And maybe she should switch back to water if she was heading toward even around the borders of matchmaking.

  She shrugged, took another sip, then prepared for her round with the Xbox.

  She entered the final round tied with Mac for fifth after scorching Jack at DDR.

  “Damn the Wii,” he muttered. “It killed my standings.”

  “You’re in fourth.” Emma poked his belly. “I’m dead last. Something’s wrong with that pinball machine. And my Xbox controller was faulty.” She plucked the cigar out of his hand. “For luck,” she decided and took a puff. “Ugh, can’t be worth it.”

  Forty minutes into Texas Hold ‘Em, Laurel went all in on a pretty heart flush. The pot would put her on top, and potentially eliminate Emma, Mac, and possibly Carter.

  As the bet rounded the table, she felt a buzz as her opponents folded one by one. Until Carter.

  He considered, weighed—endlessly, she thought. Then called.

  “Ace high heart flush.” She spread her cards.

  “Very nice,” Del told her.

  “Oh.” Carter adjusted his glasses, looked sorrowful. “Full house. Queens over sevens. Sorry.”

  “Woo!”

  At Mac’s cheer, Laurel scowled.

  “Sorry, I have to cheer. We’re getting married.”

  “Maybe you could check the sauce,” Mal said.

  “Yeah, I can do that.” She pushed away from the table. “It was the stupid foosball.”

  She took her time, stirred the sauce, then wandered over to step onto the deck.

  Mac’s prediction had finally come true. It had cleared up. Maybe it had waited all day to do it, but the skies bloomed blue again. There’d be a moon out later, and the stars. Lovely night for a walk on the beach.

  She went up to see Emma at the bar pouring a Diet Coke.

  “You out?”

  “I’m out.”

  “Yay. I won’t come in last.”

  “I could hate you for that, but I’m magnanimous. Jack’s down to his last chips. Our love did not soar us on wings of skill and luck this day. But, hell, it was fun. Oops, there goes my man. I guess I should commiserate.”

  It took another thirty minutes for the eliminations, and a few more for the tallying.

  In the end, Del turned from the board to reach for the trophy. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a tie. Parker Brown and Malcolm Kavanaugh each end with one hundred and thirty-four points.”

  Mal grinned at Parker. “Looks like we share the spoils, Legs.”

  “We could have a tiebreaker, but I’m too damn tired.” She held out her hand for a shake. “We share.”

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  DEL FOUND HIS OPPORTUNITY TO TALK TO EMMA ALONE FOR A good stretch the next day when he suggested the two of them drive to the local nursery to see what sort of plantings she’d like to put in.

  She jumped on the idea so quickly and enthusiastically, he felt just a little guilty. He’d make up for it, he decided, by letting her pick whatever she wanted, even if it meant hiring a local landscaping crew to maintain it.

  She cut that sop to his conscience the minute she hopped in the car with him.

  “Low maintenance is key,” she began. “I’d love to do whole rivers of color and texture, but you don’t live here. No point in having all that, then needing to hire people to deal with it when you’re only here off and on through the year.”

  “Right.” Anything she wanted, he told himself again. Anything.

  “Next key is sticking to plants and grasses indicative of the beach, and going for a natural look. It’s going to be fun!”

  “You bet.”

  “It will.” She laughed and poked him. “I’m going to enjoy this a lot, plus it goes in as my own little payback for the vacation. It’s such a beautiful place, Del. We’re all so happy to be here.”

  “Payback? Come on, Emma.”

  “It feels good to do something to show appreciation.You’re not taking that away from me, so don’t even think about it. Boy, it’s a gorgeous day. I can’t wait to get started on this.”

  “It’s nice to get away, relax. It’s good for everybody.”

  “No argument from me.”

  “Dump the stress. We’ve all got it. Not just work, but outside sources bring it, too. Laurel going head-to-head with Linda added plenty for her.”

  “Oh, she told you about that. I wasn’t sure she would.” Emma sat back as anger shifted over her face.

  “It’s lucky she caught Linda before she strolled right in Mac and Carter’s place, but I don’t like knowing she had to take Linda on alone.”

  “She handled it, sent Linda off with a bug in her ear. But, I know what you mean. She didn’t have any backup when Linda went after her. She was so upset.That woman knows exactly where to slip the knife.”

  “Nothing Linda says means a damn.”

  “No, but words hurt, and she knows which ones to use. She’s . . . She’s a predator, that’s what she is, and she goes for the weak spots. She really piled it on with Laurel. First her father, then you. Stab, stab, claw.”

  “Fathers, or parents, are weak spots with a lot of people. What Laurel’s made of herself, in a lot of ways despite them, is something to be proud of.”

  “I completely agree, but it’s easier for you and me because we didn’t have to deal with despite. We always had love and support. And knowing your father was weak enough—and just had the extremely bad taste—to have an affair with Linda’s a tough one to swallow. And while Laurel’s choking that down, Linda bitch slaps her with how everyone’s talking and laughing at her about you, about her

  delusions that you’d ever be serious about someone like her, and insults her with all that ‘everyone knows she’s after the Brown money and status anyway because look where and what she comes from.”’

  She paused a moment, just to seethe, and Del let the silence ride as he turned it all over in his mind.

  “Which tied it up in a big ugly bow,” Emma continued, “making her the pathetic gold digger and you the slime who’s just banging his sister’s friend because he can. And because that’s exactly the way Linda thinks, she pushes that knife in with authority. It made Laurel cry, and you have to practically beat her with sticks to make her cry. If Linda hadn’t been gone when I got there, I’d have . . . And oh shit, shit, Laurel didn’t tell you about this.”

  “She told me about Linda and running her off. But she left out several salient points.”

  “Damn it, Del,

  damn it! You maneuvered me into telling you the rest.”

  “Maybe I did, but don’t I have a right to know?”

  “You may have the right to know, but I didn’t have the right to tell you.You set me up so I’d betray a friend.”
r />
  “You didn’t betray anyone.” He pulled into the nursery lot, parked, then turned to her. “Listen, how can I fix it if I don’t know?”

  “If Laurel wanted you to fix it—”

  “Apparently Laurel gets pissed at the idea of my fixing anything. But leave that out for a minute. Linda’s a problem, and she’s a problem for all of us. But in this specific incident, she went after Laurel. She hurt her. Weren’t you going to say you’d have taken her on over it yourself if you’d known at the time?”

  “Yes, but—”

  “Do you think I’m with Laurel just because I can be? That I’m sleeping with her because she’s available?”

  “No, of course not.”

  “But there’s part of her that thinks so.”

  “That’s not for me to answer, and it’s not fair for you to ask me.”

  “Okay, I’ll rephrase the question.”

  She yanked off her sunglasses so she could glare at him. “Don’t pull the lawyer crap on me, Delaney. I’m so mad at you right now.”

  “I needed to know. She won’t let me in this area. Part’s pride, I think, but another’s half believing it. And maybe that’s my fault, or some of it’s my fault. I got the idea it might be something along these lines yesterday, but I needed confirmation.”

  “Good for you.” She started to wrench open her door. He laid a hand on her arm.

  “Emma, by not knowing, not dealing with it or acting on it, I’m hurting her. I don’t want to hurt her.”

  “You should’ve asked her directly.”

  “She wouldn’t tell me. You know she wouldn’t, not unless I have a way to push her into a corner over it. Now I do. Damn it, I hurt her yesterday by offering to pay for a bunch of groceries, because I just didn’t get it. It’s not about Linda, though I’d already intended to deal with her, and will. It’s about me and Laurel.”

  “You’ve got that part right.” She heaved out a sigh. “But you’ve put me in a hell of a spot, Del.”

  “I’m sorry, and I’m going to keep you there by asking you not to say anything to her about this. Not until I can talk to her. If she doesn’t believe, all the way, in what we have, it’s never going to work. It’s never going to fit. And if I’m responsible for that, even part of the way, I have to make it right. So I’m asking for you to give me a chance to make it right.”

  “God, you’re good. How am I supposed to say no to that?”

  “I mean it. She and I need to strip away some of the armor, and some of the cushion, and see what’s under it. I want you to give me a chance to do that.”

  “I love you both, and I want both of you happy. So, believe me, Del, you’d better figure it out. Screw it up, or let her screw it up, and I’m blaming you.”

  “That’s fair. Are you going to stay mad at me?”

  “I’ll let you know after you talk to her.”

  “Emma.” He leaned over, kissed her cheek.

  “Oh.” This time she heaved out a breath. “Let’s go buy some plants.”

  He struggled to be patient as the scanning, scouting, selection took endless amounts of time. Plus whenever he so much as thought about nudging her along, Emma simply shot him a steely stare.

  In the end, they loaded what they could in the car and arranged for the rest—and there was plenty of rest-to be delivered.

  “Take her down to the beach,” Emma said on the drive back.

  “Away from the rest of us. Don’t try to talk to her about this in or around the house. Too many possibilities of interruption. If you’re interrupted, she’ll have a chance to regroup or evade.”

  “That’s a good point. Thanks.”

  “Don’t thank me. I may not be doing it for you. I may be doing it only for her.”

  “Either way.”

  “A long walk, and believe me, if she comes back from it upset, I’m kicking your ass. Or I’ll have Jack do it.”

  “I’m not sure he could kick my ass. But you could.”

  “Keep that in mind, and don’t screw this up.” She paused a moment. “Do you love her?”

  “Of course I do.”

  She turned to him. “That’s a stupid answer. A stupid thing to say. I really ought to kick your ass.”

  “Why—?”

  “No.” She shook her head and stared straight ahead. “No more pointers. You have to deal with this yourself or it’s not real. I’m going to stay out of the way. I’m going to start right in on these plants, so I’ll be out of the way. That’s the best thing I can do for both of you.” She bit her lip. “But don’t say ‘of course,’ you idiot.”

  “Okay.”

  When he pulled up at the house, Emma was true to her word. She unloaded the tools they’d bought and dug, literally, right in.

  But plans to lure Laurel off for that long walk had to be postponed.

  “Laurel went off with Parker. Shopping,” Jack told him. “Parker wanted some stuff for the house. She had a list. And there was talk about earrings. Mac’s in the pool, Carter’s down at the beach with one of his books, Mal’s somewhere. I’m about to head down there.”

  “Did they say when they’d be back? Laurel and Parker?”

  “Dude, they went shopping. It could be an hour or three or four days.”

  “Right.”

  “Problem?”

  “No. No. Just wondering.”

  Jack slid on his sunglasses. “Beach?”

  “Yeah. I’ll come down in a bit.”

  “I guess I have to see if Emma wants some help before I go down—thanks a lot for that.”

  “Wait until the rest of it gets here. We didn’t have room for most of it.”

  “Great.”

  When they didn’t come back in an hour, he fought off the first prickles of irritation. He paced the deck, going over various possible scenarios in his head, as he would before going into court.

  He heard Emma’s voice, Jack‘s, Carter’s, Mac’s, Mal’s—come and go. He spotted them on the beach, in the water, on the walkway. When he heard the group of them come in—probably digging up lunch—he went out for a solitary swim and more thinking.

  As the afternoon wore on, he considered calling Laurel’s cell. He nearly gave in and did so when he finally saw Parker’s car turn in the drive.

  He headed down while the two of them unloaded a mountain of shopping bags and giggled like a couple of kids with both hands in the cookie jar.

  He had no excuse for it, but it annoyed the hell out of him.

  “Oh, Emma, that looks fabulous!” Parker called out.

  “It absolutely does, and I’m not nearly done.”

  “Take a break. Come see what we got. We had the best time. Hey.” Laurel stopped to shoot a grin at Del. “Just in time to help haul all this stuff. And God, it’s way past time to start up the blender, because shopping’s made us thirsty for beach margaritas.”

  “I was starting to get worried.” He heard the tone of his own voice, nearly winced.

  “Oh, don’t fuss, Daddy. Haul.” She pushed bags at him. “Em, we found the most amazing gift shop. We have to go back!”

  “You mean they have something left?” Mal wandered over to take some bags.

  “I think we hit every shop within fifty miles, but we left a few things behind. Don’t look so put out.” Laurel laughed at Del. “I bought you something.”

  With no choice, he carried bags upstairs. And had to stand back while the women tore into them to show off their scores.

  “Why don’t we take a walk on the beach?” he asked Laurel.

  “Are you kidding? I’ve walked a half a million miles. Must have margarita. Who’s in charge of the blender?” she called out.

  “Got that covered.” Mal headed off to the kitchen.

  Del shot Emma a look, hopeful for a little help. She merely shrugged and went back to admiring the take.

  Payback, he thought.

  “Here.” Laurel offered him a box. “A memento.”

  Since he couldn’t beat them, Del se
ttled down.

  “A sun catcher,” she told him when he opened it. “Recycled beach glass.” She reached out to finger one of the smooth, colored shards. “I thought you might like to hang it in your place—to bring back good times.”

  “It’s great.” He tapped a piece so several danced and clicked together. “It really is. Thanks.”

  “I got a smaller one for my sitting room. Couldn’t resist.”

  They drank margaritas, talked about dinner. He couldn’t budge her.

  Patience, he reminded himself.

  He managed to take his own advice until nearly sunset.

  “Walk. Beach. You and me.” He grabbed her hand, pulled her toward the door.

  “But we’re going to—”

  “Later.”

  “Pushy,” she said, but linked her fingers with his. “And God, it does feel great out here. Look at the sky. I guess I owe the beach a visit since I spent most of the day shopping.” She flicked a finger at her newest earrings. “But now I have such pretty things to remind me of these two weeks. When we’re socked in next winter, I’ll be able to look around and say, summer’s coming back.”

  “I want you to be happy.”

  “Right now, your wish, my command. I am happy.”

  “I need to talk to you, to ask you something.”

  “Sure.” She turned, walking backward to look up at the house. “Emma was right about the plants, the grasses.”

  “Laurel, I need you to pay attention.”

  She stopped. “All right. What’s wrong?”

  “I’m not entirely sure. I need you to tell me.”

 
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