Savour the moment, p.5
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       Savour the Moment, p.5
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         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts

  Steph slapped her hands over her mouth. “Oh, oh, wow!”

  It was, Laurel thought, definitely a wow. “Five graduated tiers, separated by dowels to give it that open, airy look. And the dowels are covered with sugar paste petals, more petals and blossoms overlaying the top of the tiers and spilling over for abundance. These are hydrangea blossoms,” Laurel went on, “but I can do any kind. Rose petals, cherry blossoms, name it. Any colors or tones. I use royal icing on this, generally, piping it out on each tier to form the crown. But again, I can customize. Using fondant for a sleeker look, doing ribbons or pearls, in the white, or in the color of the flowers.”

  “It’s my colors, the blue and that lavendery pink.You knew that. You knew that and showed me the perfect cake.” Steph let out a reverent sigh. “It’s so beautiful.”

  “It is,” Chuck agreed. “But you know what else? It’s really charming. Like Steph.”

  “Oh. Chuck.”

  “I have to agree. If you like this direction, you could go with more than one flavor and filling.”

  “I don’t like this direction. I love this cake. This is my cake. Can we still do a topper? The bride and groom topper.”

  “Absolutely.”

  “Perfect. Because I want us to be on top. Can I have another glass of champagne?”

  “You bet.” Laurel rose to pour.

  “Can’t you have one, too? Are you not allowed?”

  Glancing back, Laurel smiled. “I’m the boss, and I’d love to have one.”

  The champagne and the clients left her in an excellent mood. And since she was done for the day, she decided to pour herself a second glass and make herself a little fruit and cheese platter to go with it. Relaxed, she sat at her counter sipping, nibbling, and making a list of supplies for Parker to pick up.

  Greek meant butter, butter, butter, and lots of nuts. She’d have to make phyllo sheets—a pain in the ass, but the job was the job. Honey, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, bread flour.

  While she was at it, it wouldn’t hurt to list her staple bulk items, then the supplies she’d need to order soon from her wholesaler.

  “Now this is the kind of work I want.”

  She glanced up to see Del in the doorway. Full lawyer mode, she thought, with the tailored suit—charcoal with subtle pinstripes—the elegant tie in a precise Windsor knot, the serious leather briefcase.

  “You can have it after you’ve been on your feet for ten hours.”

  “Might be worth it. Is that coffee fresh?”

  “Enough.”

  He helped himself. “Parker said you should think sexy, weepy, or silly. Whatever that means.”

  Movie night, Laurel concluded. “Okay. You want your cake?”

  “No rush.” He stepped over, used her knife to spread some Camembert on a rosemary cracker. “Good. What’s for dinner?”

  “You’re eating it.”

  The faintest of disapproving frowns clouded his eyes. “You have to do better than this, especially after a ten-hour day.”

  “Yes, Daddy.”

  Impervious to the sarcasm, he tried a slice of apple. “I could’ve brought you something since part of the ten’s on me.”

  “It’s not a big deal, and if I wanted something, I could make it, or tug on Mrs. G.”

  Just one of his girls, she thought as frustration simmered. “Somehow we grown women get through the day without you fussing over our nutritional choices.”

  “Champagne ought to put you in a better mood.” He cocked his head to scan her lists. “Why don’t you do that on the computer?”

  “Because I’m doing it by hand, because I don’t have a printer down here, and because I didn’t feel like it. What’s it to you?”

  Obviously amused, he leaned on the counter, bracing on his forearms. “You need a nap.”

  “You need a dog.”

  “I need a dog?”

  “Yes, so you’d have someone to worry about, fuss over, and order around.”

  “I like dogs, but I have you.” He stopped, laughed. “And that really came out wrong. Besides, ‘fuss over’ is what grandmothers do, so it’s an inaccurate term. Worrying about you is my job, not only as your lawyer and a silent partner in your business, but because you’re my girls. As for ordering you around, that only works about half the time, but five hundred’s a damn good batting average.”

  “You’re a smug bastard, Delaney.”

  “Can be,” he agreed and tried the Gouda. “You’re a moody woman, Laurel, but I don’t hold it against you.”

  “You know your problem?”

  “No.”

  “Exactly.” She jabbed a finger at him as she hopped off the stool. “I’ll get your cake.”

  “Why are you mad at me?” he demanded and trailed behind her to the walk-in refrigerator.

  “I’m not mad, I’m irritated.” She picked up the cake she’d already boxed for travel. She might have turned and shoved it into his hands, but even irritated she took care with her work.

  “Okay, why are you irritated?”

  “Because you’re in my way.”

  He held up his hands for peace, stepped aside so she could walk by him and set the cake on the counter. She flipped up the lid, flicked her hand toward it.

  Cautious, because he was getting fairly irritated himself, he eased over and looked inside. And couldn’t help but smile.

  The two round layers—tiers, he corrected—were glossy white, and decorated with colorful symbols of Dara’s current life. Briefcases, baby strollers, law books, rattles, rocking chairs, and laptops. In the center, a clever cartoon depiction of the new mother held a briefcase in one hand and a baby bottle in the other.

  “It’s great. It’s perfect. She’s going to love it.”

  “Bottom layer is yellow, buttercream filling. Top’s devil’s food with Swiss meringue. Make sure you keep it level.”

  “Okay. I really appreciate it.”

  When he reached for his wallet, she actually hissed. “You are not paying me. What the hell is

  wrong with you?”

  “I just wanted to ...What the hell’s wrong with

  you?”

  “What the hell’s wrong with me? I’ll tell you what the hell’s wrong with me.” She planted a hand on his chest to push him back a step. “You’re irritating and overbearing and self-righteous and patronizing.”

  “Whoa. All this because I wanted to pay you for a cake I asked you to make? It’s your business, for Christ’s sake. You make cakes, people pay you.”

  “One minute you’re fussing—and yes, the word is fussing—because I’m not eating the kind of dinner you approve of, and the next you’re pulling out your wallet like I’m the hired help.”

  “That’s not what—Goddamn it, Laurel.”

  “How can anybody keep up?” She threw her arms in the air. “Big brother, legal advisor, business associate, motherfucking hen. Why don’t you just

  pick one?”

  “Because more than one applies.” He didn’t shout as she did, but his tone boiled just as hot. “And I’m nobody’s motherfucking hen.”

  “Then stop trying to manage everyone’s lives.”

  “I don’t hear anyone else complaining, and helping you manage is part of my job.”

  “On the legal end, the business end, not on the personal end. Let me tell you something, and try to get this through that thick skull once and for all. I’m not your pet, I’m not your responsibility, I’m not your sister, I’m not your girl. I’m an adult, and I’m free to do what I want, when I want, without asking your permission or courting your approval.”

  “And I’m not your whipping boy,” he shot back. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but you can either tell me or take it out on somebody else.”

  “You want to know what’s gotten into me?”

  “Yes, I do.”

  “I’ll show you.”

  Maybe it was the champagne. Maybe it was just the mad. Or maybe it was the look of baffled annoyance o
n his face. But she went with the impulse that had been bubbling inside her for years.

  She grabbed him by the perfect knot of his elegant tie, jerked him down even as she gripped a handful of his hair, and yanked him forward. And she fixed her mouth to his in a hot, sizzling, frustrated kiss, one that gave her heart a jolt even as her mind purred:

  I knew it!

  She threw him off balance—she meant to—so his hands came to her hips, and his fingers dug in for one gloriously heady moment.

  She threw herself into that moment, to exploit, to savor, to absorb. Tastes and textures, heat and hunger, all there for the taking. She took exactly what she wanted, then shoved him away.

  “There.” She tossed her hair back while he stared at her. “The sky did not fall, the world did not end, neither of us was struck by lightning or beamed straight to hell. I’m not your damn sister, Delaney. That ought to make it clear.”

  She strode out of the kitchen without a backward glance.

  Aroused, astonished, and still considerably annoyed, he stood exactly where he was. “What was that? What the hell was that?”

  He started to go after her, then stopped himself. That wouldn’t end well, or it would end ... He’d better not think of that until he could think, period.

  He frowned at the half glass of champagne. How much had she had before he’d come in? he wondered. Then, because his throat was uncommonly dry, he picked up the flute and downed the rest of the contents.

  He should go, just go home, and set the whole thing aside. Chalk the whole incident up to ... something. He’d figure out what to chalk it up to when his brain regained full function.

  He’d just come for the cake, that’s all, he reminded himself as he carefully closed and secured the lid on the bakery box. She’d picked a fight, then she’d kissed him to prove some sort of point. That’s all there was to it.

  He’d just go home and let her stew over whatever she was stewing over.

  He picked up the box. He’d just go home, he admitted, and take a really long, cold shower.

  CHAPTER FOUR

  SHE TRIED NOT TO DWELL ON IT. A PUNISHING SCHEDULE OF summer weddings helped keep her from thinking about what she’d done, at least for four out of every five minutes. Then again, so much of her work was solitary, and gave her entirely too much time to think and to ask herself how she could have done something so incredibly stupid.

  He’d deserved it, of course. And it had been a long time coming. But when she came right down to the nitty, just who had she punished with that kiss except herself?

  Because now it wasn’t merely theory or speculation. Now she knew how it would feel, how she would feel, if she let herself go—just for a minute—with Del. She’d never be able to convince herself again that kissing him in reality would fall far short of kissing him in her imagination.

  She’d bought the ticket, and she’d rung the bell. No way to ask for a refund.

  If he hadn’t made her so mad, she thought as she scurried to help with the turnover in the brief window between the two Saturday events. Del being infuriatingly Del with his “Why don’t you do it this way,” “Why aren’t you eating a real meal”—then,

  then reaching for his big, fat wallet as if ...

  And that wasn’t fair; she had to admit it. She’d poked, pushed, prodded. She’d been primed for a fight.

  She assembled the centerpiece on the graceful top tier of the white and gold cake she called Gilded Dreams. She considered it one of her more fanciful cakes with its silklike layered overskirt and coiled rosettes.

  Not her particular taste either, she mused, and arranged some of the extra rosettes around the base, scattered over the sparkling gold tablecloth. Probably because she wasn’t a dreamer or especially fanciful.

  A pragmatist was what she was, she thought. Reality-steeped. She wasn’t a romantic like Emma, or as free-flowing as Mac, or as optimistic as Parker.

  At the bottom of it, she dealt in formulas, didn’t she? She could experiment with amounts and ingredients, but at the end of it she had to accept that certain components simply didn’t mix. Insisting on stirring the incompatible together ended up making an unpalatable mess. When that happened, the only thing to do was chalk it up to a mistake and move on.

  “Gorgeous.” Taking a quick and approving survey of the cake, Emma set her hamper down. “I’ve got the candles and the table flowers.” She tipped her wrist to angle her watch before letting out a brief

  whew. “We’re right on schedule. Everything’s dressed, in and out, and Mac’s about done with the preceremony shots.”

  Laurel turned to look at the Ballroom, surprised so much had been done while she’d brooded. More flowers, more candles yet to be lit, a scattering of tables draped in the shimmery gold and summer blue the bride had chosen.

  “How about the Great Hall?”

  “The caterers are finishing up, but my team’s done.” Emma arranged the tapers, tea lights, blossoms with her clever florist’s hands. “Jack’s keeping the groomsmen entertained. It’s nice, having him pitch in.”

  “Yeah. Does it ever strike you as weird?”

  “What?”

  “You and Jack. Does it ever sneak up and strike you as weird, the way you knew each other for years, and hung out as friends, then took that one-eighty?”

  Emma stepped back, then forward again to slide a rose over a quarter of an inch. “It strikes me as surprising sometimes, but more, scary when I think what wouldn’t have happened if we’d kept going straight ahead instead of taking that turn.” She shoved at one of the pins trying to keep her mass of curls restrained. “It’s not weird to you, is it?”

  “No. I sort of wonder if it’s weird that it’s not weird.” Laurel stopped, shook her head. “Ignore me. My head’s in a strange place.” With some relief, she heard Parker’s signal in her earbud. “Two-minute warning. If you’re good here, I’ll go down and help with the lineup.”

  “I’m good. I’ll be right behind you.”

  Shedding her apron, unclipping her hair as she went, Laurel hurried down and arrived at the checkpoint with thirty seconds to spare. Not her taste, she thought again, but she had to admit the bride knew what she was doing. A half dozen attendants lined up under Parker’s orders, glittering in their bell-skirted gold gowns with the striking bouquets Emma had created of blue dahlias offset with white roses. The bride herself, a regal vision in lustrous silk, pearls gleaming, sequins sparkling on her formal train, stood radiant beside her father—and he was damn dashing in white tie and tails.

  “MOG’s in place,” Parker murmured to Laurel. “MOB’s being escorted now. Ladies! Remember to smile. Caroline, you look spectacular.”

  “I feel spectacular. This is it, Daddy,” she said.

  “Don’t get me started.” He took his daughter’s hand, pressed it to his lips.

  Parker cued the music change so the string orchestra the bride had chosen segued into the entrance music. “Number one, go. Head up! Smile!You’re gorgeous. And ... number two. Heads up, ladies.”

  Laurel smoothed skirts, adjusted headpieces, and finally stood with Parker to watch the bride take her walk on the flower-strewn path.

  “Spectacular’s the word,” Laurel decided. “I thought it might be too much, just tipping over into gaudy. But it stops just an elegant inch short.”

  “Yeah, but I can tell you I’ll be happy not to see gold or gilt for a month. We’ve got twenty minutes before we need to move the guests into the Great Hall.”

  “I’m stealing ten and taking a walk. I need a break.”

  Instantly Parker turned. “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah, just need a break.”

  Head-clearing time, Laurel thought as she circled around. Away-from-people time. The valet team would be in the kitchen now, getting fed before they went back on duty, so she took the long way around, past the side terraces and gardens to where she could enjoy the quiet, and the abundance of summer flowers.

  Emma had set urns and pots here a
nd there to add to that abundance, with wildly blue lobelia spilling or sweetly pink impatiens dancing. The beautiful old Victorian stood dressed for the wedding with the bride’s favored blue dahlias and white roses rioting around the entrance portico, swags of tulle and lace adding romance.

  Even without them, the house was romantic, to her mind. The soft, quiet blue trimmed with cream and pale gold. All the rooflines, the pretty bits of gingerbread brought that romance, and a touch of fancy, to dignity. It had been a second home to her as long as she could remember. Now, of course, it was home. And that lovely house stood only a quick call from the pool house and guest house where her friends lived and worked.

  She couldn’t imagine it any differently, even with Carter and Jack now in residence, even with the addition nearly complete on Mac’s studio to make it a home for two.

  No, she couldn’t imagine her life without the estate, the house, the business she’d built with her friends and, well, the community they’d made here among them.

  She had to think about that, Laurel admitted, about why she had what she had.

  Her own hard work, certainly, and the hard work of her friends. Parker’s vision. The check Mrs. G had handed her that day, so many years ago—and the faith that had been as valued as the money—had thrown open the door.

  But that wasn’t all.

  The house, the estate, everything on and in it had gone to Parker and Del when their parents died. Del had taken a leap of faith, too, every bit as vital and essential as Mrs. G had when she’d written that check.

  This was his home, Laurel mused, standing back, studying the lines, the grace, the beauty of it. But he’d signed it over to Parker. There were legal ins and outs, business models, projections, percentages, contracts—but the bottom line remained.

  His sister—no, all four of them, what he liked to call the Quartet—had wanted something, had asked, and he’d given. He’d believed in them, and he’d helped them make a dream a reality. It hadn’t been for percentages or with projections in mind. He’d done it because he loved them.

  “Damn it.” Irritated with herself, she dragged a hand through her hair. She hated knowing she’d been unfair and bitchy and just plain stupid.

  Del hadn’t deserved the things she said to him—and she’d said them because it was easier to be pissed at him than attracted to him. And finally, kissing him? Stupid wasn’t even close.

  Now she had to make amends, cover her ass, and save face. That sort of hat trick wouldn’t be a snap.

  But she was the one who’d crossed the line, and she was the one with feelings that had to be resolved. So she was the one who had to fix it.

  She heard Parker cue the lighting of the unity candle and the vocal solo.Time’s up, she told herself. She’d figure out how to work the fix later.

  SINCE SHE DIDN’T TRUST ANYONE ELSE TO PROPERLY CUT THE complicated design, Laurel stationed herself by the cake table. She waited while the bride and groom made the ceremonial first slice—where she’d instructed—and fed each other while Mac memorialized the moment. Then, while the music and dancing continued, she took over.

  With a chef’s knife, she broke away the side decorations.

  “Damn, that seems wrong.”

  She glanced at Jack as she began to slice and transfer cake to serving plates. “It’s meant to be eaten.”

  “I look at something like this and think, if I’d built it, I’d have to be far away when it was demolished. And I might still have to dab at a few tears.”

  “It hurts the first few times, but then it’s not like building a house.You
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