Savour the moment, p.4
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       Savour the Moment, p.4

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  “A good one.”

  “That’s the only kind I make. Give me a clue here. How many people?”

  “Maybe twenty.”

  “Sheet or layered?”

  He sent her a pleading look. “Help me, Laurel. You know Dara. Just whatever you figure.”

  “Is she allergic to anything?”

  “No. I don’t think.” He topped off her coffee an instant before she thought to do so herself. “It doesn’t have to be spectacular. Just a nice cake for an office deal. I could go to the market and pick one up but... that’s what I’d get,” he said, pointing at the scowl on her face. “I can pick it up Wednesday after work if you can squeeze it in.”

  “I’ll squeeze it in because I like Dara.”

  “Thanks.” He reached over to give her hand a pat. “Gotta run. I’ll pick up that paperwork Wednesday,” he told Parker. “Let me know about the other stuff when you figure it out.”

  He stood, then walked to Mrs. G. “Thanks.”

  He gave her a quick, casual kiss on the cheek first. Then came the hug, and it was the hug that always made Laurel’s heart mush. Serious grip, cheek to the hair, eyes closed, just a little sway. Del’s hugs

  mattered, she thought, and made him impossible to resist.

  “Pretend to behave yourself,” Mrs. Grady ordered.

  “That I can do. See you.” He gave a wave to the rest of the group, then went out the back.

  “I’d better get moving, too. Mrs. G,”Jack said, “you are the goddess of the kitchen. The empress of epicure.”

  She gave her big laugh at that. “Go to work.”

  “Going.”

  “I’d better get started, too. I’ll walk out with you,” Emma said.

  “Actually, I’ve got something I’d like your take on,” Laurel said to Emma before she could rise.

  “Then I get to have more coffee.” She shifted to fuss with the knot of Jack’s tie, then tugged it until their lips met. “Bye.”

  “See you tonight. I’ll drop those revised plans by, Parker.”

  “Anytime.”

  “Should I get out of the way?” Carter asked when Jack left.

  “You’re allowed to stay, and even comment.” Laurel scooted out for her sketchbook. “I had a brainstorm last night, so I worked up an idea for the wedding cake.”

  “My cake? Our cake,” Mac corrected quickly with a grin for Carter. “I wanna see, I wanna see!”

  “Presentation,” Laurel said sternly, “is a watchword of Icing at Vows. So, while the inspiration for this design primarily stems from the bride—”

  “Me!”

  “It also factors in what the designer sees as qualities that attract the groom to said bride, and vice versa. So we have, I think, a blending of the traditional and nontraditional in both form and flavor. Added to this, the designer has known the bride for more than two decades, and has developed a deep and sincere attachment to the groom—all of which play into the concept—but will ensure that any critiques of said concept will be gracefully accepted.”

  “That’s bull.” Parker rolled her eyes. “You’ll be pissed off if she doesn’t like it.”

  “That’s only true because if she doesn’t like it, she’s an idiot. Which means I’ve been friends with an idiot for over two decades.”

  “Just let me see the damn design.”

  “I can adjust the size once you’ve nailed down your guest list. The current concept’s good for two hundred.” Laurel flipped open the book, held up the sketch.

  She didn’t have to hear Mac’s breath catch to know. She saw it in the stunned delight on her face.

  “The colors are pretty true to what I’d do, and you can see I’d want to do a variety of cakes and fillings. Your Italian cream, and the chocolate with raspberry Carter favors, the yellow, maybe with pastry cream. It’s just one way to do your cake sampler fantasy.”

  “If Mac doesn’t like it, I’ll take it,” Emma announced.

  “It doesn’t suit you. It’s Mac’s if she wants it. The flowers can be changed,” Laurel added, “to whatever ones you and Emma decide on for your bouquets and arrangements—but I’d stick with the color palette. You’re not white icing, Mac.You’re color.”

  “Please don’t hate it,” Mac murmured to Carter.

  “How could I? It’s stunning.” He glanced over at Laurel, gave her a slow, sweet smile. “Plus, I heard chocolate with raspberry. If we’re voting, it gets mine.”

  “Mine, too,” Emma said.

  “I’m thinking you’d better hide that sketch.” Parker nodded at Laurel. “If our clients get a look at it, we’re going to have brides fighting for that cake. Nailed it in one, Laurel.”

  Mac stood to step closer, to take the pad and study. “The shape, the textures, not to mention the colors. Oh, oh, the photographs we’ll get! Which you considered,” she added, shifting her gaze to Laurel’s.

  “It’s hard to think about you without thinking photography.”

  “I love it. You know I love it. You knew I’d love it. You know me.” She put her arms around Laurel, squeezed hard, then did a little dance. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

  “Let me have a look at that.” Mrs. Grady took the book out of Mac’s hand and studied the sketch with narrowed eyes and pursed lips.

  Then she nodded, looked at Laurel. “Good girl. And now, all of you, out of my kitchen.”

  CHAPTER THREE

  BY WEDNESDAY, LAUREL JUGGLED BAKING, TASTINGS, MEETINGS, and design sessions. Her cooler and freezer bulged with a variety of fillings, frostings, and layers, precisely labeled, that she’d use to create the cakes and desserts for the weekend events. And she still had more to go.

  With her kitchen TV tuned to

  The Philadelphia Story for the buzz and pop of the dialogue, she added egg yolks, one at a time, to the fluff of butter and sugar in her mixing bowl. Her board held sketches or photos of this week’s designs, and a printed schedule of tasks to be done.

  Once each yolk was fully incorporated, she added the mixture of flour and baking powder she’d already sifted together three times, alternating it with the milk she’d measured out.

  She was whisking egg whites and salt in a separate bowl when Mac came in.

  “Working.”

  “Sorry. I need cookies. Please, can I have cookies?”

  “Doesn’t Mrs. G have any?”

  “They’re not to eat. I mean not for

  me to eat. Although, cookies. I need some for a shoot I have in a couple hours. I got this idea, and cookies would work. Emma let me have flowers.”

  Laurel arched her eyebrows at Mac’s pleading smile as she added a quarter of the stiffened egg whites to the batter. “What kind of cookies?”

  “I won’t know until I see what you’ve got. You always have cookies.”

  Resigned, Laurel gestured with her head. “In the cooler. Write down what you take on the inventory board.”

  “There’s another board? A cookie board?”

  Laurel began folding in the remaining whites. “We now have two men in our world. They’re known for mooching cookies.”

  Mac angled her head, pouted a little. “You give Carter cookies?” “I’d give Carter my love and devotion if you hadn’t gotten there first, sister. So I give him cookies instead. He’s over here nearly every day since school let out, working on his book.”

  “And eating cookies without bringing home any to share, apparently. Ah, the chocolate chunk,” Mac announced with her head and shoulders in the cooler. “Big as my hand, traditional, and will photograph nicely. I’m taking half a dozen, well, seven, because I’m eating one now.”

  She took one of the small bakery boxes for transport while Laurel poured batter into prepared pans.

  “Do you want one?” At Laurel’s head shake, Mac shrugged. “I’ve never known how you resist. My shoot’s your tasting today.”

  “Right. I’ve got them on the list.”

  “I love this movie.” Mac crunched into a cookie, then
glanced away from the TV toward the display. “What’s this design? It’s not in my book.”

  Laurel tapped the pans on the counter to break up any air bubbles. “It’s off book.” She transferred pans to the oven, set the timer. “For Del’s paralegal. She’s coming back from maternity leave, and he’s having a little cake and coffee thing for her.”

  “That’s nice.”

  “I’m the one who made the cake.”

  “Which is nice, too, Miss Crankypants.”

  Laurel started to snarl, then stopped herself. “Shit. I am Miss Crankypants. Maybe it’s the sex moratorium. It has its upside, but there is the inevitable down.”

  “Maybe you need a booty buddy.” Sagely, Mac pointed with the remainder of the cookie. “Somebody who can just pop the cork every couple weeks.”

  “That’s an idea.” Laurel tried a bright, eager smile. “Can I please have Carter?”

  “No. Not even for cookies.”

  “Selfish, that’s what you are.” She got to work cleaning up the baking area. Next on the list, she noted, were the crystallized flowers for Friday’s cake.

  “We should go shopping,” Mac decided. “We should all go buy shoes.”

  Laurel considered. “Yes. Shoes are a viable substitute for sex. Let’s schedule that. Soon. Ah, here’s just the woman who can schedule anything,” she said as Parker strode in. “But she’s got that work look on her face.”

  “Good, Mac’s here, too. I’m going to make some tea.”

  Laurel and Mac exchanged looks. “Uh-oh,” Mac murmured.

  “It’s not uh-oh. Very much,” Parker qualified.

  “I don’t have time for not very much. I have to make a zillion crystallized baby roses and Johnny-jump-ups.”

  “You can get it set up while I’m dealing with the tea.”

  Useless to protest, Laurel thought and got out her wire racks and baking pans, her bowls, her ingredients.

  “Mia Stowe, January bride?” Parker began.

  “Big, fat Greek wedding,” Mac commented. “The MOB’s Greek, and her parents still live there. They’re after a big, wild, traditional Greek deal.”

  “Right, exactly. Good. It seems the grandparents have decided—impulsively—to visit. Grandmother wants to check on some of the wedding plans, since apparently she’s never completely forgiven her son-in-law for taking her daughter to the U.S., and lacks confidence that we—or anyone—can pull off the kind of wedding she wants.”

  “The grandmother wants,” Laurel said as she got the edible flowers Emma had provided out of the cooler.

  “Again, exactly. MOB is in a panic. Bride is scrambling. Grandmother is demanding an engagement party—and yes, they’ve been engaged for six months, but this doesn’t deter Grandmother.”

  “So let them have a party.” Laurel shrugged and began trimming stems.

  “She wants it here, so she can check us out, approve the location, our services, and so on. And she wants it here next week.”

  “Next week?” Mac and Laurel sputtered in unison.

  “We’re booked. Full slate,” Laurel pointed out.

  “Not on Tuesday night. I know.” Parker held up both hands for peace. “Believe me, I know. I’ve just spent most of an hour on the phone between a hysterical MOB and a bride who feels caught in the middle.We can do this. I’ve checked with the caterer, managed to book a band. I called Emma and she’ll handle the flowers. They want some formal family portraits, and some candids. But the formals are the key,” she said to Mac. “And some traditional Greek desserts, along with a weddingish cake.”

  “Weddingish?”

  Parker merely spread her hands at the wasp on Laurel’s tone. “The bride is firmly against a reproduction of the design she’s picked for the actual event. And it’s a much smaller deal. About seventy-five people, but I’d plan for a hundred. She said she’d leave the design, the flavor completely up to you.”

  “That’s considerate of her.”

  “She’s really stuck, Laurel. I feel for her. I’ll handle the rest, but I need the two of you on board.” She set a cup of tea on the counter while Laurel dipped a flower into beaten egg whites and water. “I said I’d call her back one way or the other after I’d checked with my partners.”

  Laurel shook off the excess egg wash, blotted the rosebud with a paper towel before sprinkling it with superfine sugar. “You booked the band.”

  “I can unbook the band. All for one.”

  Laurel laid the first flower on the wire rack. “I guess I’m making baklava.” She glanced at Mac. “You in?”

  “We’ll make it work. I know all about crazy mothers. How much different is a crazy grandmother? I’ll go add it to my schedule, and talk to Emma about the flowers. Let me know the cake design when you decide on it.”

  “Thanks, Mac.”

  “It’s what we do,” she said to Parker. “I’ve got a shoot,” she added, and ducked out again.

  Parker picked up her own cup of tea. “I’ll get someone in to help you if you need it. And I know you hate that, but if you need it.”

  Laurel drizzled the next flower. “I can put something together. I’ve got emergency layers and fillings in the freezer for just such occasions. I think I’ll work up something to kick Greek Grandma’s ass—and shut her up. Maybe Primrose Waltz.”

  “Oh, I love that one. But it’s a lot of work, as I remember.”

  “It’ll be worth it. I’ve got the fondant, and I can make the primulas ahead of time. Mia’s got a couple younger sisters, right?”

  “Two sisters and a brother.” Parker’s smile bloomed. “And, yes, we’re both thinking we’re planting fertile seeds for future business. If you make up a list, I’ll take care of the marketing.”

  “That’s a deal. Go call the MOB and earn her grateful tears.”

  “I will. Hey, how about pajama and movie night?”

  “Best offer I’ve had all day. See you there.”

  Laurel continued to coat the flowers, thinking the only dating she was doing these days was with her best pal Parker.

  WITH THE LAYERS BAKED, WRAPPED, AND IN THE FREEZER TO SET THE crumb, the crystallized flowers drying on the rack, Laurel prepped for her tasting. In the lounge off her kitchen, she set out the albums of designs along with the flowers Emma had arranged for her. She fanned cocktail napkins with the Vows logo, stacked spreading knives, spoons, teacups, wineglasses, and champagne glasses.

  Back in the kitchen she sliced a variety of cakes into slim rectangles and arranged them on a glass platter. In small glass dishes, she placed generous dollops of different frostings and fillings.

  She slipped into the bathroom to freshen her makeup and hair, then buttoned on a cropped jacket, and changed out of her kitchen shoes into heels.

  When her clients rang the buzzer, she was ready for them.

  “Steph, Chuck, it’s good to see you again. How was the shoot?” she asked as she gestured them in.

  “It was fun.” Stephanie, a cheerful brunette, hooked her arm with her fiance’s. “Wasn’t it fun?”

  “It was. After I stopped being nervous.”

  “He hates getting his picture taken.”

  “I always feel goofy.” Chuck, sandy-haired and shy, ducked his head as he grinned. “I usually am.”

  “Mac had me feed him a cookie because I’d told her we’d had cookies on our first date. When we were eight.”

  “Only I didn’t know we were dating.”

  “I did. Now, eighteen years later, I’ve got you.”

  “Well, I hope you left room for cake. How about some champagne, or wine?”

  “I’d love some champagne. God, I love this place,” Steph enthused. “I love everything about it. Oh, is this your kitchen? Where you bake?”

  She made a point of bringing clients through her kitchen, so they could get a feel for it—and see it sparkle. “It is. It was originally used as a secondary or caterer’s kitchen. Now it’s all mine.”

  “It really is beautiful. I like to cook
, and I’m pretty good at it. But baking ...” Steph fluttered her hand side to side.

  “It takes practice, and patience.”

  “What are these? Oh, they’re so pretty!”

  “Crystallized flowers. I just made them. They have to set several hours at room temperature.” Please don’t touch them, Laurel thought.

  “You can eat them?”

  “You sure can. It’s best not to use any flower or garnish on a cake, I think, unless it’s edible.”

  “Maybe we should do something like that, Chuck. Real flowers.”

  “I have a lot of designs that incorporate them. And I can customize for you. Why don’t you come in and sit? I’ll get you that champagne, and we’ll get started.”

  It was easy when the clients were inclined to be pleased, as these were, Laurel decided. They seemed to love everything, including each other. Her hardest job, she realized after the first ten minutes, would be to steer them toward what made them the happiest.

  “They’re all delicious.” Steph spread a bit of white chocolate mousse on vanilla bean. “How does anyone ever pick?”

  “The best part is there’s no wrong choice. You like the mocha spice,” Laurel said to Chuck.

  “What’s not to like?”

  “It’s a good choice for a groom’s cake, and it’s fabulous with the chocolate ganache. Manly,” she said with a wink. “And in this design, it resembles a heart carved into a tree, with your names and the dates piped on.”

  “Oh, I love it. Do you love it?” Steph asked him.

  “It’s pretty cool.” Chuck angled the photo for a better look. “I didn’t know I got a cake.”

  “It’s up to you. No wrong choices.”

  “Let’s do it, Chuck. He can have the manly, and then I can go completely girly on the wedding cake.”

  “That’s a deal. This is the ganache, right?” He sampled, grinned.

  “Oh yeah. Sold.”

  “Yay! This is fun, too. People keep telling us planning a wedding is a huge headache, and how we’ll fight and get edgy. But we’re having such a good time.”

  “It’s our job to have the headaches and fight and get edgy.” Steph laughed, then lifted her hands. “Tell me what you think. You hit it dead-on with Chuck.”

  “Okay. Valentine’s Day wedding. Why not go full-out romance? Now, you liked the idea of crystallized flowers, but this design uses sugar paste. Still, I think it’s romantic and fun and really, really girly.”

  Laurel found the photograph in the album, turned it.

 

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