Savour the moment, p.29
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       Savour the Moment, p.29

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  “Then nothing’s wrong.”

  “Laurel.” He took both her hands. “You didn’t tell me that Linda came at you about me. About you and me.” He felt her hands go rigid in his.

  “I told you I dealt with Linda. Emma had no right to—”

  “Not her fault. I maneuvered it out of her. She thought you’d told me the whole story. And you should have. More, Laurel, much more, you should’ve told me you felt any part of what she said might be true. If I’ve done or said anything to make you think that way—”

  “You haven’t. Let’s forget it.”

  “No.” He tightened his grip when she would’ve pulled her hands free. “She hurt you, and indirectly so did I. I can’t forget I had any part in hurting you.”

  “Forget it, Del. Absolved. I don’t want to talk about Linda.”

  “We’re not. We’re talking you and me. Damn it, Laurel, can’t you be straight with me? Can’t we be straight with each other?”

  “I am. I said it’s nothing.”

  “It’s not. It’s damn well not when you get so twisted up when I offer to pay for some damn groceries. Or a cake I’ve asked you to bake. It’s not about that either, but what’s under it.”

  “And I said, clearly, you don’t need to pull out your wallet. I won’t have you hiring me—”

  “Laurel.” His tone, utterly reasonable, stopped her. “I never intended that. Never. And you should know. You’ve said this has to be equal ground, but it can’t be if you don’t tell me what you want, what you need, what you’re feeling.”

  “How can you not know?” she demanded.

  “Because you don’t tell me.”

  “Tell you? All this time.You can look at me, touch me, be with me, and not know?”

  She whirled away, spun back. “All right, all right. I’m responsible for my own feelings, and clearly it’s stupid for me to wait and wait and hope you might

  see. You need me to tell you, I’ll tell you. Equal ground? It’s never going to be equal ground when you care about me and I’m so hopelessly in love with you. I’ve always been hopelessly in love with you, and you’ve never seen it.”

  “Wait—”

  “No, you want it straight?You’ll get it straight. You’re the one. You’ve always been the one. Nothing,

  nothing I’ve ever done changed it. Moving to New York, working to find my way, making myself into

  something I could be proud of. But it was still there. Del’s the one, and whatever I do, whatever I accomplish, I’m still missing that. Trying to feel something real and important for other men? Temporary stopgaps, or failures. Because none of them were you.”

  She yanked the hair out of her face as the wind blew it into her eyes. “I couldn’t harden it out or reason it out of me, no matter how hurtful or humiliating or just plain infuriating. I dealt with it, then I changed it. I changed it, Del.”

  “You’re right.” He reached out to brush the tears she rarely shed from her cheeks. “Listen—”

  “I’m

  not finished. I changed things, but you’re still trying, you always will try, to take

  care of things. Of me. I don’t want to be your responsibility. Your obligation. Your pet. I won’t have it.”

  “For God’s sake, I don’t think of you that way. I don’t feel that way. I love you.”

  “Yes, you love me.You love all of us, and you had to step to the front of the line when your parents died. I know that, Del, I understand, and I

  feel for you and what you had to take on. Being with you, I understand more, and I feel more.”

  “It’s not about that.”

  “In some ways, it’s always about that. But it’s different now, with us. Or it should be. I’m okay with the way things are—or I was. Didn’t I just tell you I was happy? What I need and want? If I have to tell you, give you a damn list, then it’s

  not what I need and want. I’m not asking you for declarations. I’m not asking for promises. I can live in the moment, and be happy in the moment. I’m entitled to be hurt and upset when someone like Linda scrapes me raw. And I’m entitled to keep it to myself until I grow fresh skin. I don’t need you taking care of it. I don’t need or want you to make it all better. I don’t need you pushing at me about my feelings when I never push at you.”

  “No,” he murmured, “you don’t. Why don’t you?”

  “Maybe I don’t want to hear the answers. No, I don’t want to hear them,” she said before he could speak. “I don’t want to hear what you have to say when I’ve ripped myself open and I feel like a fool.You can’t expect me to. I need to walk this off. I need to pull myself together. You need to let me.You need to go away.”

  He watched her run down the beach. He could go after her, he thought. He could catch her, and he could make her listen. And if he did, she wouldn’t hear him.

  He let her go.

  She needed more than words, he realized. And he wanted to give her more. She might have ripped herself open, he thought, but by doing so she’d shown him, very clearly, what was inside him.

  SHE RAN IT OFF, WALKED IT OFF, SETTLED HERSELF. THE TRUTH WAS, she’d come to understand, that moment on the beach would have happened at some time, at some place. She couldn’t have coasted forever. Neither of them could or would. Better it happened sooner than later.

  If it ended things with Del, she’d heal. She knew how to tend her own wounds, accept her own scars.

  He’d be kind; she’d hate it. Then they’d move on. Somehow. She went up to her room by the outside stairs, hoping to avoid everyone until morning.

  But her three friends waited for her.

  Emma rose. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I said anything to him about Linda.”

  “It’s not your fault, and it doesn’t matter.”

  “It is, and it does. I’m sorry.”

  “It’s my mother who set off the bomb,” Mac said. “I’m sorry.”

  “He’s my brother.” Parker held out a hand. “I’m sorry.”

  “Well, we’re a really sorry group.” Laurel sat on the bed. “Nobody’s to blame, really. It just is what it is. But I think I’ll skip the fun and games tonight. You can make an excuse, right? Headache, shopping fatigue, one too many margaritas.”

  “Sure, but . . .” Mac trailed off, looked at Parker and Emma.

  “What? What now?”

  “Del’s gone.” Parker sat beside her.

  “Gone? What do you mean

  gone?”

  “He said he’d be back in the morning. That he had to go take care of something. He made it sound like work, but . . .”

  “Nobody bought that.” Laurel put her head in her hands.

  “Great. Just great. I told him to go away. Since when does he listen? Now everything’s screwed up. I should’ve gone away. For God’s sake, it’s his house.”

  “He’ll be back.” Emma stepped over to rub Laurel’s back. “He probably just wanted to give you a little space. You’ll make up, honey.”

  “It’s not about making up. The things I said . . . ”

  “Everybody says rotten things when they’re mad or upset,” Mac told her.

  “I told him I loved him, always had. That there’d never been anyone else. Basically, I ripped out my own heart and threw it at him.”

  “What did he say?” Parker demanded.

  “That’s about the time I told him I didn’t want to hear it, and to go away. And I stalked off. Okay, I ran off.”

  “He didn’t come after you?” Emma huffed. “Idiot.”

  “No, really. He knows enough to be sure I meant it. I didn’t expect him to actually leave. You can know someone all your life, and they can still surprise you. Let’s just try not to have this spoil everything. I think I’d be literally sick if it did. I just want to go to bed.”

  “We’ll stay with you,” Emma murmured.

  “No, really. I’m going to bed, and you can all do me a favor by going out there and fostering the pretense that everything’s fine. Situ
ation normal. I’d really appreciate it.”

  “Okay,” Parker said before Emma could protest. “If you need company or anything else, you just have to knock on my door.”

  “I know. I’ll be all right, and I’ll be better in the morning.”

  “If you’re not, and you want to go home, we’ll go.” Parker pulled her in for a hug.

  “Or we’ll kick the men out and stay,” Mac told her.

  “Best friends ever. I’ll be fine.”

  She stayed where she was when they left her, but knowing one of them would come back to check on her in an hour, she made herself get up, get ready for bed.

  She’d had her summer, she reminded herself. No one could ever take that away from her. She’d had the love of her life for a season. Not everyone could say the same.

  She’d survive. And because, even if they couldn’t be lovers, they would always be family, she and Del would find a way to heal the rift.

  She lay in the dark and ached. Ached and ached. And she tried to comfort herself that it would get better with time. Then she turned her face into the pillow and wept a little, because she didn’t believe it.

  The sea breeze whispered over her cheek like a kiss. Sweet and soft. She sighed with it, wanting to cling to sleep, to cling to the numbness that came with it.

  “You need to wake up.”

  She opened her eyes and stared into Del’s. “What?”

  “Wake up, get up. Come with me.”

  “What?” She pushed at him, struggled to think. The light was the quiet dull silver of predawn. “What are you doing? Where did you go? What are you doing back?”

  “Up.”

  She tried to snag the sheet when he pulled it off, but missed. “You walked out on your friends.You left when—”

  “Oh, just shut up. I listened to you, now you’ll listen to me. Let’s go.”

  “Where?”

  “Down to the beach to finish this.”

  “I’m not going down to the beach with you.We had our scene, now it’s done.”

  “You are a contrary woman, Laurel. You can walk or I can drag you, but we’re going to the damn beach. If you ask me why, I swear, the dragging begins.”

  “I need to get dressed.”

  He studied her tank and boxers. “You’re covered. Don’t test me, McBane. I haven’t had any sleep, and I’ve had a long drive. I’m not in the mood.”

  “You’re not in the mood. Isn’t that something?” She swung her legs off the bed, planted her feet on the floor. “All right, we’ll do this at the beach since that’s so important to you.”

  She slapped his hand away when he reached for hers. “I didn’t have the best night either, and I haven’t had coffee. Don’t

  you test

  me.”

  She stalked out onto the deck, down the stairs.

  “You might as well settle down,” he advised. “There’s no point being pissed.”

  “I see points.”

  “You usually do. Lucky, I’m more even-tempered.”

  “My ass.Who threatened to drag who out of bed in the middle of the night?”

  “Nearly sunrise. That’s pretty good timing, actually. I like it. New day dawning and all that.” He kicked off his shoes at the base of the beach steps. “We didn’t get much farther than this last night. Geographically. I think we can do better in other areas. Here’s a start.”

  He spun her around, yanked her into a hot and possessive kiss. She shoved against him, met a solid and immovable wall. He let her go when she went stiff.

  “Don’t,” she said, quietly now.

  “You need to look at me, and listen to me, and Laurel, you need to hear me.” He took her by the shoulders, but gently. “Maybe you’re right, and I don’t see, but goddamn it, you don’t hear. So, I’m looking, and I’m seeing. You listen, and you hear.”

  “All right. All right. There’s no point in us being angry over this. It’s just—”

  “You can’t hear if you don’t shut up.”

  “Tell me to shut up again,” she invited, with a dare in her eyes.

  He simply laid his hand over her mouth. “I’m going to fix this. Fixing things is what I do, who I am. If you love me, you’re going to have to accept that.”

  He dropped his hand. “I can fight with you. I’ve got no problem with that.”

  “Lucky for you.”

  “But I hate that I hurt you by being careless on one hand and too careful on the other. It’s a Brown trait, I guess, trying to keep the balance.”

  “I’m responsible—”

  “For your own feelings, yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t know if you were always the one. I got used to looking at you and thinking about you another way. So I just don’t know.”

  “I understand that, Del. I do. I—”

  “Be quiet, and

  listen. You changed what was between us. You took the step, and I didn’t see it coming. I can’t be sorry for that when I’m so damn grateful for it. I don’t know if you were always the one,” he said again. “But I know you’re the one now, and I know you’re going to be the one tomorrow, and next month, next year. And you’re going to be the one for the rest of my life.”

  “What?”

  “You heard me. Need it simpler? It’s you.”

  She looked at him, the face she knew so well. And saw. And in that moment, her heart simply flew.

  “I’ve loved you all your life, and that was easy. I don’t know, not for certain, how long I’ve been in love with you, but I know it’s not so easy. But it’s right and it’s real, and I don’t want easy. I want you.”

  “I think . . .” She laughed a little. “I can’t think.”

  “Good. Don’t think. Just listen, listen and stop, for once, trying to project what I think and feel. I thought the logical thing was to take it slow, to give us both time to adjust to what happened between us. To what happened in me.”

  He took her hand, pressed it to his heart.

  “I thought you needed to catch up, so you were right about that. I didn’t see. I should have. But you didn’t see either. You didn’t see how much I love you, how much I want you, how much I need you. I’ll buy those two dogs if I want pets, and I already have a sister. That’s not how I think of you, and it’s sure as hell not how I want you to think of me. That makes us even. Even ground, Laurel, that’s where we’re standing.”

  “You mean it.”

  “How long have you known me?”

  Her eyes blurred, but she blinked them clear. “A really long time.”

  “Then you know I mean it.”

  “I love you so much. I told myself I’d get over you, and it was such a lie. I never would.”

  “I’m not finished.” He reached in his pocket, watched her eyes go huge when he pulled out the box, opened it. “It was my mother’s.”

  “I know. I ... Oh God. Del.”

  “I took it out of the vault a couple weeks ago.”

  “Weeks ago,” she managed.

  “It was after the night at the pond. Everything had already changed direction, but after that night—really after that day when you came to my office, I knew where we were—or where I wanted us to go. I had it resized for you. That was probably a little arrogant, but you’ll have to live with it.”

  “Del.” She couldn’t get her breath. “You can’t—Your mother’s ring. Parker.”

  “I woke her before I woke you. She’s good with it. She said to tell you don’t be stupid. Our parents loved you.”

  “Oh, damn it.”The tears simply flooded her face. “I don’t want to cry. I can’t help it.”

  “You’re the only one I’ve ever thought about asking to wear this. The only one I want to wear it. I’ve just driven all the way to Greenwich and back to get it for you. To give it to you because you’re the only one. Marry me, Laurel.”

  “I won’t be stupid. Kiss me again first, when I’m not wishing I didn’t love you.”

  She felt the sea breeze on her skin, in her hair as
their lips met, and the strong, steady beat of his heart against hers. And heard the whistles and cheers.

  Turning her head so her cheek rested on his, she saw the group gathered on the deck of the house above. “Parker woke everyone up.

  “Well, ours has always been a family affair.” He drew back. “Ready?”

  “Yes. I’m absolutely and completely ready.”

  The ring he slid on her finger sparkled in the first beams of the sun while the eastern sky blossomed like a rose. A moment, she thought, to savor, then sealed their moment with another kiss.

  “This is the right time,” she told him. “This is a good place. Tell me one more time I’m the one.”

  “You’re the one.” He cupped her face again. “The only one.”

  The one, she thought, on this fresh new day. And the one through all the days after.

  Hand in hand, they started back up the steps to share the next moments with family.

 
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