Savour the moment, p.6
Savour the Moment, p.6Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
don’t do that knowing a wrecking ball’s going to swing into it eventually. Want a piece?”
“Hang on until we get the first couple of server trays filled.” Which, she concluded, would give her an opening to pump him for information. “So, Del’s not coming over to play with you tonight?”
“I think he’s got something going.”
Something female, she supposed. But that was none of her business, and not to the point.
“I guess you’re both too busy to hang out much these days.”
“Actually, we caught dinner Thursday night.”
After “The Kiss,” she thought. “So, what’s the news, what’s the gossip?” She slanted up a quick smile, trying to read his face.
“The Yankees are having a good month,” he said, and smiled back.
No awkwardness, she concluded, no smirkiness. She couldn’t decide whether to be insulted or relieved that Del hadn’t mentioned the incident to his closest friend.
“Here.” She handed him a generous slice of cake.
“Thanks.” He sampled. “You’re a genius.”
“Too true.” Satisfied she’d cut enough servings for now, she wound through wedding guests to check the dessert table and groom’s cake.
Music pumped, packed the dance floor. With the terrace doors wide open to the balmy night, guests danced or gathered outside as well.
Parker sidled up beside her. “The cake’s an enormous hit, FYI.”
“Good to know.” Laurel scanned the nearest dessert table and judged that supplies would probably last through the final dance. “Hey, is that the MOB?” She nodded toward the dance floor. “Girl’s got some moves.”
“She was a professional. Danced on Broadway.”
“I can see it.”
“That’s how she and the FOB met. He was a backer, came in to watch a rehearsal, and—he says—fell for her on the spot. She danced until after their second child was born, and a few years later started giving private lessons.”
“Sweet. But seriously, how do you remember all that?” Parker continued to scan the room, eagle-eyed, for any problem. “The same way you remember all the ingredients in that cake over there. The B and G requested an extra hour.”
“I know, but everyone’s having a great time. The band’s okay with it.We’ll transfer the gifts as scheduled, so that’ll be done. Then, hell, let them dance.”
“It’s going to be a long night.” She reassessed the desserts. “I’ll go get some more pastries.”
“I’ll beep Emma. She and Carter should be free. I’ll send them down.”
AT NEARLY ONE IN THE MORNING, WHILE THE CLEANING CREW massed over the Ballroom, Laurel completed her check of the Bride’s Suite. She gathered forgotten hair clips, a stray shoe, a pink leather makeup bag, and a lacy bra. The bra might be evidence of a quickie during the reception, or an attendant’s need to free her girls.
The items would go into Parker’s Lost and Found bin until claimed—with no questions asked.
As she carried them out, Parker swung by. “Looks like we’re clear. I’ll take those. Quick staff meeting.”
Every muscle in Laurel’s body whined in protest. “Tonight?”
“Quick one—I’ve got most of an open bottle of champagne to kill the pain.”
“Our parlor. Couple minutes.”
No use complaining, Laurel thought, and made her way down to the parlor to claim the sofa.
She stretched out. Groaned.
“I knew you’d get here first.” Since she couldn’t claim the sofa, Mac lay down on the floor. “The BM hit on me. Carter thought it was funny.”
“The sign of a confident man.”
“I guess. But the thing is, I hardly ever got hit on at events before Carter. It doesn’t seem right. I’m not available.”
“Hence the hitting on.” With a sigh instead of a groan, Laurel toed off her shoes. “I think men have built-in radar for that. Unavailable is sexier.”
“Because they’re dogs.”
“Yes, of course.”
“I heard that,” Emma said as she came in. “And I think that’s cynical and untrue. You got hit on because you’re gorgeous—and because now that you have Carter, you’re happier and more open—therefore only more appealing.” She dropped into a chair, curled up her legs. “I want to go to bed.”
“Join the crowd. We have to meet tomorrow for the Sunday run-through. Why can’t whatever it is wait?”
“Because.” Parker stepped in, pointed at Laurel. “I have something that’ll make everyone go to sleep just a little happier.” She took an envelope out of her pocket. “The FOB gave us a bonus. Though, I, of course, politely and delicately demurred, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Ahh,” she added when she stepped out of her shoes. “We gave his little girl the wedding of her dreams, gave him and his wife an extraordinary night, and he wanted to show his appreciation over and above.”
“Nice.” Mac yawned. “Really.”
“It’s five thousand dollars.” Parker smiled as Laurel reared up on the sofa. “Cash,” she added, pulling out the bills to fan them.
“That’s really nice appreciation. So very, very green,” Laurel commented.
“Can I touch it before you put it away?” Mac asked. “Before you roll it back into the business?”
“My vote is take the money. Maybe I’m just really tired, but that’s my vote. A thousand for each of us, and a thousand for Carter and Jack to split.” Parker waved the bills. “Up to you.”
“Aye.” Emma shot up a hand. “Wedding fund for me!”
“Seconded. Or thirded. Hand it over,” Mac ordered.
“No argument from me.” Laurel wagged her fingers. “I can use a grand.”
“Okay then.” Parker handed Laurel the open champagne. “Pour and I’ll count it out.” She knelt on the floor.
“This is very, very sweet. Champagne and cash money at the end of a really long day.” Mac took a flute, passed it to Emma. “Remember our first official event? After, we popped a bottle, ate leftover cake, and danced. The four of us and Del.”
“I kissed Del.”
“We all kissed Del,” Emma pointed out and tapped her glass to Mac’s.
“No, I mean the other day I did.” Laurel heard herself say it with some shock, then considerable relief. “I’m incredibly stupid.”
“Why? It’s just ...” Mac blinked, clued in. “Oh.
Kissed Del. Well. Huh.”
“I was mad, and out of sorts, and he came for the cake. He was just so
Del,” she said with rancor she thought she’d walked off.
“I’ve been mad at Del,” Emma commented. “It didn’t lead me to kissing him.”
“It’s not a big deal. Not to him. He didn’t even bother to tell Jack. Which means it didn’t mean anything. Don’t tell Jack,” she ordered Emma. “Because he should have, and he didn’t, so it meant nothing. Less than.”
“You didn’t tell us until now.”
Laurel frowned at Mac. “Because I ... had to think about it.”
“But it meant something to you,” Parker murmured.
“I don’t know. It was an impulse, a moment of insanity. I was pissed off. It’s not like I have a thing for him, really. Oh shit,” she muttered and dropped her head in her hands.
“Did he kiss you back? Well?” Mac demanded when Emma kicked her. “It’s a question.”
“He didn’t not. But he wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t expecting it. It was mostly temper.”
“What did he say? Don’t kick me again,” Mac warned Emma.
“Nothing. I didn’t give him a chance. I’m going to fix it,” she promised Parker. “It was my fault, even though he was being irritating and patronizing. Don’t be upset.”
“I’m not upset, not about that. I’m wondering how I could be so oblivious.
“I don’t. Okay, I do, but it’s not like I pine for him day and night. It comes and goes. Like an allergy. Only instead of making me sneeze, it makes me feel like an idiot.” Distress rolled up from her belly and into her voice. “I know how tight you are. It’s great how tight you are, but please don’t tell him I said any of this. I wasn’t going to say anything, but it just spilled out. Apparently I have an impulse-control problem.”
“I won’t say anything to him.”
“Good. Good. It was nothing, really. It was just lips.”
“No tongues?” Mac scooted out of Emma’s reach, then hunched down as she got hit with scowls instead. “What? I’m interested. We’re all interested or we wouldn’t be here at one in the morning, with five thousand in cash on the table, talking about it.”
“You’re right,” Laurel decided. “We shouldn’t be talking about it. I only brought it up in the interest of full disclosure. Now, we can all just put it aside, take our bonus money, and go to bed. In fact, now that I’ve disclosed, I don’t know why I was so twisted up about it. It was nothing.”
She gestured broadly—too broadly, she realized, and dropped her hands again. “Obviously it was nothing, and Del’s certainly not losing any sleep over it. He didn’t say anything to Jack or you. Right?” she asked Parker.
“I haven’t talked to him since early in the week, but no. No, he hasn’t said anything to me.”
“Listen to me.” She managed a weak laugh. “I’m making it like high school. I didn’t make it like high school when it was high school. Stopping now. I’m taking my money and going to bed.”
She scooped up one of the piles Parker had counted out. “So, let’s not think about this anymore, okay? Let’s just ... be normal. Everything’s ... normal. So, good night.”
At her hasty retreat, her three friends looked at one another.
“It’s so not normal,” Mac said.
abnormal. It’s just different.” Emma put down her glass, picked up her money. “And she’s embarrassed. We should leave it alone so she isn’t embarrassed. Can we leave it alone?”
“It’s more a question of whether she can,” Parker said. “I guess we’ll find out.”
PARKER LET IT GO—FOR THE MOMENT. SHE LET IT RIDE THROUGH the Sunday event, and gave her friend space on Sunday evening. But Monday, she carved out an hour from her own schedule when she knew Laurel would be trapped in her kitchen preparing for the last-minute weekday party.
When she walked in to find Laurel rolling out phyllo dough, she knew she’d timed it perfectly.
“I brought you an extra pair of hands.”
“I’ve got it under control.”
“The bulk of this Greek extravaganza got dumped on you. Hands.” She held hers up. “They can clean up behind you.” She walked over to gather empty bowls. “We could get you a kitchen assistant.”
“I don’t want a kitchen assistant. Assistants get underfoot. Which is exactly why you don’t have one.”
“I’m toying with the idea.” Parker started loading the dishwasher. “Maybe finding someone to train, to take care of some of the legwork.”
“That’ll be the day.”
“We have to decide whether we want to go as we are, or consider expanding. Expanding means we’ll need assistants. We could offer more weekday events if we brought in more staff.”
Laurel paused. “Is that what you want?”
“I don’t know. It’s just something I think about now and then. Sometimes I think absolutely not. Others I think maybe. It’d be a big change, a shift. We’d have employees rather than just subs.We’re good as we are. In fact, we’re great. But sometimes a shift opens up other avenues.”
“I don’t know if we’re ...Wait a minute.” Laurel’s eyes narrowed on Parker’s back. “You’re using this as a metaphor, or a segue—or both—for the Del thing.”
They knew each other too well, Parker thought. “Maybe. I had to take time to think about it, then to obsess about what would happen if you and Del worked this out—then obsess about what would happen if you didn’t.”
“Inconclusive.” Parker turned back. “I love you both, and that’s not changing. And, as much as I am the center of the universe, this isn’t—or wouldn’t be—about me. But it would be a shift.”
“I’m not shifting. See, I’m standing right in one place. Steady, no shifts.”
“Already done, Laurel.”
“And I shifted back,” Laurel insisted. “Right back to where I started. Jesus, Parks, it was only a kiss.”
“If it was only a kiss you’d have told me about it right away, and you’d have made a joke out of it.” She paused, just a beat, giving Laurel a chance to argue. Knowing she couldn’t. “It worried you, so that means it was more. Or you’re wondering if it was more. You care about him.”
“Of course I care about him.” Flustered, Laurel lifted the rolling pin, waved it. “We all care about Del. And okay, that’s part of the problem. Or the thing. It’s more a thing than a problem.” She continued to roll out the dough until it was thin as paper. “We all care about Del, Del cares about all of us. Sometimes he cares to the point I want to give him a shot right in the eye, particularly when he lumps us all together. Like we’re one body with four heads.”
“Yeah, I know, sometimes we are. But it’s frustrating to be part of the lump, and to know he thinks of me as somebody he has to look after. I don’t want to be looked after.”
“He can’t help that.”
“I know that, too.” She looked over, met Parker’s eyes. “Adds to the frustration. He’s wired, I’m wired, and the problem—the
thing ... I prefer
“Thing it is.”
“The thing is my deal entirely. And it has to be strange for you to have me talk like this.”
“A little bit. I’m working on it.”
“It’s not like I’m lovesick or have this major crush or anything mortifying like that. It’s just a ...”
“Yes, it’s that. And since I did what I did, I’m already smoothing out about it.”
“He’s that bad a kisser?”
Laurel spared a bland glance as she reached for her bowl of filling. “I made the move, and now that I’m over being embarrassed, I feel better. It was just part of the argument really, which was my fault. Mostly my fault. He shouldn’t have tried to pay me for the cake. It was the red flag when I was already pawing the ground. You wouldn’t try to pay for a damn cake.”
“No.” Still Parker held up a finger. “So, let me see if I understand. You don’t want him to lump you in the pile, so to speak, but you don’t want him to offer to pay you for your work, because that’s insulting.”
“You had to be there.”
“Can we forget he’s my brother for a minute?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Let’s give it a shot.” To keep it casual, Parker leaned back against the counter. “You’re attracted.You’re both interesting, unattached, attractive people. Why wouldn’t you be?”
“Because it’s Del.”
“What’s wrong with Del?”
“Nothing. See, this is weird.” She grabbed her bottle of water, then set it down again without drinking. “It’s not logical, Parker, and not something you can work out for me. We’re going to be fine—Del and me, I mean. I’m already over it, and I doubt he gave it a minute’s thought after the fact. Now, go away, so I can concentrate on this baklava.”
“All right. But you’ll tell me if there’s anything to tell.”
“Don’t I always?”
Up till now, Parker thought, but left it at that.
GROWING UP IN A FEMALE-DOMINATED HOUSEHOLD PROVIDED DEL with certain bas
The same rule, he felt, applied in more ... personal male/female relationships—which was also oddly apt under the circumstances.
He’d kept his distance from Laurel, and while it hadn’t led him to a brainstorm of understanding, he could only hope the space had given her room to simmer down.
He didn’t mind a fight. They kept things lively, for one thing, and often cleared the air, for another. But he liked to know the rules of the bout. In this case, he didn’t have a clue.
He was used to her temper, what he thought of as her quicksilver moods. And having her take a few swipes at him was nothing new.
Kissing him brainless? Brand-spanking-new. He couldn’t stop thinking about it, and thinking about it hadn’t helped him reach any conclusions.
Which just pissed him off.
Conclusions, solutions, alternatives, compromises—they served as his stock-in-trade. And with this very personal puzzle, he just couldn’t find the key pieces.
Regardless, he could hardly stay away indefinitely. He not only liked dropping in when he had the time, but the steady stream of business flowing between him and Parker and their business demanded attention.
A week was long enough for space and cooling off, he determined. They’d just have to deal with each other. One way or another. Which they would, of course. It was no big deal. No deal at all, he told himself as he turned into the long drive on the estate. They’d just had an argument—with unusual elements. She’d been trying to prove a point. On some level, he got the point. He tended to think of her—of all of them—as his responsibility, and it annoyed her.
She’d have to be annoyed because they damn well were his responsibility. He was Parker’s brother, he was their lawyer. And through circumstances none of them could control or change, he was head of the family.
But he could try to be more subtle about shouldering responsibility.
Although it wasn’t like he pushed his nose in her business every five minutes.
Still ... Still, he told himself, he could try to back off a little. He couldn’t argue the fact she’d made her point. She wasn’t his sister. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t part of his family, and damn it, he had every right to ...
Stop, he ordered himself. They’d get nowhere if he approached her already spoiling for trouble. Best to gauge the ground and let her take the lead.
Then he could haul her back where they belonged. Subtlety, he reminded himself.
Savour the Moment by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 5.2 out of 5 / Based on52 votes