Savour the moment, p.8
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       Savour the Moment, p.8

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  “About eight. I take it you were drifting for a while.”

  “I guess. Busy night.”

  “It was. Did you see Del?”

  “Why? Yes, but why?”

  “Because he was here, and for a while you were AWOL.”

  “I wasn’t AWOL, Captain. I just took a break.”

  “And changed your shirt.”

  Something like guilt began to inch up her spine. “I spilled something on it. What is this?”

  “Curiosity.” Parker held out an envelope. “This was on the kitchen counter. Mrs. G gave it to me to give to you.”

  “Well, why didn’t she just ... Oh.” Laurel stopped when she recognized Del’s handwriting.

  “Don’t you want to know what it says? I do.” Parker stood, blocking the way and smiling brightly. “The polite thing would be for me to go back inside, give you privacy when you read it. But, I’m just not that mature.”

  “It’s nothing. Fine.” Feeling foolish, Laurel opened the envelope.

  You might think this is over, but you’d be wrong. I’ve taken your shoes hostage. Contact me within forty-eight hours, or the Pradas get it.

  Laurel made a sound caught between a laugh and a curse as Parker read over her shoulder.

  “He took your shoes?”

  “Apparently. What am I supposed to do about this?” Laurel waved the note. “I’m drifting. I decided I wanted to drift, and now he’s playing games. I just bought those shoes.”

  “How did he get your shoes?”

  “It was nothing like that. I took them off, and then he was there, and I left them after ... Nothing. It was sort of tit for tat.”

  Parker nodded. “Your tit or his tat?”

  “Neither of those, gutter-brain. I apologized for going off on him, but that’s not enough for Del and he started cross-examining me. One thing led to another in the refrigerator. It’s hard to explain.”

  “Obviously.”

  “He’s just being a smart-ass. He can keep the damn shoes.”

  “Really?” Eyes placid, Parker smiled. “Because that would say to me—and probably him—that you’re afraid to deal with it. Him. Any of it.”

  “I’m not afraid—and don’t play that card with me.” Laurel yanked off the towel to rub it furiously over her hair. “I just don’t want to stir anything up.”

  “Because it’s hard to drift when things are stirred up.”

  “Yes. Anyway, I have other shoes. I have better shoes. I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of drawing me into his silly game.

  Parker smiled again. “Boys are so lame.”

  Laurel rolled her eyes. “He’s your brother,” she muttered and strode back toward the house.

  “Yes, he is.” And she wondered how long it would take her best friend to crack. “More than twenty-four,” Parker decided, “less than forty-eight.”

  The BlackBerry in her pocket rang. She glanced at the display as she strolled across the lawn. “Good morning, Sybil. What can I do for you?”

  CHAPTER SIX

  THERE WAS ALWAYS A WAY TO GATHER INFORMATION. TO PARKER’S mind, information wasn’t just power; it led the way to efficiency—and in her world, efficiency ruled them all. To get anything done well, and yes, efficiently, you first lined up the details and facts.

  And whenever possible, multitasked.

  The first order of business roughly twenty-four hours into the hostage situation was to tap Del for a ride. It was a simple matter to arrange, particularly since she’d opted to use his mechanic for the regular maintenance check on her car. Malcolm Kavanaugh might have been rough around the edges with a hefty dose of cocky, but he excelled at his work—and that mattered most. It didn’t hurt that he was a friend of Del’s.

  With a weekend packed with events, starting with a rehearsal that evening, she could honestly tell Del she needed the lift, as none of her partners could spare the time.

  It didn’t matter that she could have called half a dozen other people—or a cab for that matter, she thought as she freshened her lipstick. The favor would make Del feel like big brother—a role he enjoyed—and would give her the opportunity to pump him for information since Laurel had clammed up.

  She checked the contents of her bag, then the schedule on her BlackBerry.

  Talk to Del. Pick up car. Meet clients for lunch, pick up dry cleaning, go to market, return by four thirty to prep for rehearsal. The sub lists for the meeting, the items to be picked up at the cleaners and the market ranged under each entry.

  She did a quick turn in the mirror. The clients were major, and as they’d booked lunch at their country club, presenting the correct appearance mattered.

  The summer dress in soft yellow struck a nice balance, she thought, between casual and professional. Understated jewelry, but the client’s hawkeyed mother would recognize the real deal, which would carry some weight. She’d left her hair down and loose for a change—girl lunch, friendly. Nothing flashy, nothing too eye-catching. The wedding planner never, never outshone the bride. Satisfied, she added a tissue-thin white sweater to combat the air-conditioning if the clients chose to eat inside the club.

  A full ten minutes before her brother’s scheduled arrival time, she walked downstairs. The house she loved seemed so quiet, so big in the middle of the morning with no clients scheduled, no events demanding her time and attention. Emma’s flowers perfumed the air in massive arrangements or pretty little displays, and some of Mac’s photos mixed with the art on the walls.

  Still, she’d changed little here, moving only the most personal items to her private quarters or into Laurel’s. But it remained very much a home, and a happy place, one that had witnessed hundreds of celebrations. And arguments, she thought as she adjusted the placement of a bowl. Laughter, tears, drama, and foolishness.

  She couldn’t remember ever being lonely in this house, or wishing to be somewhere else.

  She checked her watch, gauged her time, and decided to drop in on Laurel.

  At the counter, Laurel kneaded a round of fondant. Nearby, six baked tiers sat waiting on their racks. Since she’d chosen a morning talk show instead of music, Parker understood Laurel was willing to be distracted.

  “I’m heading out,” Parker announced. “Need anything?”

  Laurel glanced over. “Great color on you.”

  “Thanks. It makes me feel sunny.”

  “And look the same. I could use about five pounds of strawberries,” she added. “Really fresh. I don’t want all of them completely red and ripe. Mix it up. It’ll save me from running out this afternoon.”

  “No problem.” Parker took out her BlackBerry to key it into her list. “I’m going to the market anyway, after the lunch meeting. Jessica Seaman and her mother.”

  “Right.” Laurel stopped kneading to cross the fingers of both hands.

  “MOB wants to discuss menu and music. That one’s for tomorrow night?” she asked as Laurel dusted her work surface with cornstarch.

  “Yeah. Six layers, fondant with a pleated skirt and gum paste orchids to match the bride’s signature flower.” She rolled out the first sheet of fondant. “Wait, I thought your car was in the shop.”

  “It is, and it’s ready. Del’s going to drop me off at the mechanic’s.”

  “Oh.” Frowning, either over Del or the air bubbles she spotted, Laurel pricked the tiny bubbles with a straight pin.

  “Any message—for him or your shoes?”

  “Funny.” Working quickly, Laurel lifted the fondant with both hands and laid it over the first tier. “You could tell him to stop being so asinine and give them back.”

  “Okay.”

  “No, don’t say anything.” She shrugged then smoothed the top and sides, pushing out more air bubbles as she worked. “I don’t need the shoes. I’ve already forgotten them.”

  “Sure.”

  Laurel picked up a pizza cutter, shook it at Parker. “I know your games, Brown. You’re trying to get me worked up so I’ll call him about it. It
won’t work.”

  “Okay.” Parker smiled easily while Laurel ran the cutter around the base of the cake to cut away the excess fondant. “He’ll be here in a minute. I’ll come back with strawberries.”

  “Different sizes, different shades,” Laurel called out.

  “Got it.” She strolled back to the front of the house, pleased to know she’d done just what she’d set out to do. Laurel would work the rest of the day with Del and the shoes on her mind.

  She stepped outside, slipped on her sunglasses, and walked down the path just as Del pulled up.

  “Right on time,” he said.

  “You, too.”

  “We’re Browns. We’re obsessed with punctuality.”

  “I consider it a virtue, and a skill. Thanks for doing this, Del.”

  “Easy enough. I’m going to swing by and meet with a client, then hook up with Jack for lunch. Worked out.”

  “Multitasking. The key to all. New shoes?” she asked.

  “No.” He glanced over at her as he made the turn out of the drive. “Why?”

  “Oh, I heard you recently acquired some fabulous new shoes.”

  “Right.” The corner of his mouth twitched in amusement. “They’re not the right size. Plus walking around in heels makes my toes cramp.”

  She poked him in the arm with her finger. “Taking Laurel’s shoes. When are you going to stop being twelve?”

  “Never.” He laid a hand over his heart as if to swear it. “Is she pissed or amused?”

  “Both, and neither. I’d say she’s confused.”

  “Then mission accomplished.”

  “That’s so typical. Why do you want to confuse her?”

  “She started it.”

  She tipped down her sunglasses to peer at him over the tops. “I think you just regressed to the age of eight. Started what?”

  He shot her another look. “I may be eight, but I know you and your pack. You know what she started, and now you’re trying to wheedle out my side of it.”

  “I don’t have to wheedle, and you don’t have to tell me. Sorry,” she added when her phone rang. “Shawna, hi! I just left Laurel in the kitchen where she was finishing your cake. It’s going to be gorgeous. All right. Uh-huh. No, no, don’t worry. I’ll call my travel agent and ... That was resourceful. Do you have his new flight number? Yes.”

  As she spoke she took out a pad and pen, and repeated the information as she noted it down. “I’ll check shortly, just to make sure it’s on schedule, and I’ll arrange for a car to pick him up and bring him to rehearsal. No, it won’t be a problem. You just leave it to me, and we’ll see you tonight. Relax, everything’s under control. Go, get your nails done and don’t worry about a thing.Yes, me, too. Bye.

  “BM’s flight cancelled. He’s rerouted,” she said as she put the pad away. “He’ll be a little late tonight.”

  “I was worried for a minute.”

  “Laurel’s right.You are a smart-ass.”

  “Is that what she said?”

  With a careless shrug, Parker tucked her BlackBerry away.

  “Okay, okay, your torture methods are efficient and cruel. She changed the playing field so I’m trying to figure out if I should suit up. I’m not sure it’s a good idea, but ... well, it’s an idea. Comments?”

  “I think you’re both going to try to be in charge so you’ll either fight like rabid dogs or fall wildly in love. Possibly both, as you’re each starting out with strong and long-term feelings for and about each other. And those feelings will shift and change if you ... suit up.”

  “I’m not looking to fight or fall wildly. I’m just exploring a potential new dynamic. Is it weird for you?”

  Interesting, she thought, they’d both asked her the same question. “I don’t know yet. When she gets in touch with you about the shoes, which she will even though she thinks she won’t, don’t gloat.”

  “Only on the inside.” He turned into the parking lot of the garage. “She’s going to get in touch?”

  “She really likes those shoes. Plus, she’ll decide not getting in touch is letting you win.” She leaned over, kissed his cheek. “Thanks for the lift.”

  “I can wait for you. Mal’s around somewhere, so I can hang out with him until you’re set.”

  “That’s okay.” If Del talked to Malcolm, then Malcolm would know she was there, and he’d certainly have something to say. She’d prefer to avoid it, and him. “I called ahead so they know I’m coming.”

  “Of course you did. Well, tell Mal I’ll see him at poker night.”

  “Hmm. Come to dinner next week.” She stepped out of the car. “We’ll do a big family dinner. I’ll check everyone’s schedule and let you know what night’s best if you’re open.”

  “I can be open. Hey, Parker. You look pretty.”

  She smiled. “Just keep your eyes off my shoes.” She shut the door on his laugh and walked into the office.

  The frazzled woman with the orange hair and green-framed cheaters sat behind the counter and gave Parker a little come-ahead as she talked on the phone. A few discreet inquiries had given Parker the info that the woman was Malcolm’s mother.

  Not that it mattered, particularly. She just liked to know who she was dealing with.

  “That’s right, tomorrow afternoon. After two. Look, buddy, the part just got here, and the boy’s only got two hands.” She rolled sharp green eyes—the same shade as her son’s—at Parker while she chugged from a bottle of Dr Pepper. “Do you want it fast or do you want it right? He told you it’d take a day once the part showed up. I heard him myself. Maybe you oughta buy American. If it’s ready sooner, I’ll call you. Best I can do. Yeah, you have a real good day. Dickhead,” she added when she’d hung up.

  “Everybody thinks the world revolves around them,” she said to Parker. “Everybody’s the center of the freaking universe.”

  Then she sighed, then she smiled—a singularly sweet smile. “You look real fresh and pretty.”

  “Thank you. I’m meeting a client.”

  “I got your bill right here. Got it together and printed it out after you called. I’m getting the hang of this damn computer.”

  Parker remembered their first meeting and Mrs. Kavanaugh’s frustration. “They do save time once you figure out the program.”

  “Well, it’s only taking me half again as long as it would to just write it out rather than three times that like it used to. Here you go.”

  “Great.” Parker stepped up to look it over.

  “I knew your ma a little.”

  “Oh?”

  “You got the look of her some, now that I put it together. She was a real lady. The kind that doesn’t have to act snooty to be one.”

  “She’d have appreciated that exact description.” Satisfied with the bill, Parker took out her credit card. “I think you know Maureen Grady, too. She’s run the house, and us, as long as I remember.”

  “Yeah, I know her some. I guess if you’re around Greenwich long enough, you know most everybody. My boy plays poker with your brother.”

  “He does,” Parker agreed, and signed the credit slip. “In fact, Del dropped me off. He said to tell Malcolm he’d see him on poker night.”There, she thought, duty discharged.

  “You can tell him yourself,” she said as Malcolm walked in from the side garage door, wiping his hands on a red bandanna.

  “Ma, I need you to ...” He paused, slowly smiled. “Hey. Nice.”

  “Ms. Brown here’s just picking up her car.” His mother took the keys, and to Parker’s dismay tossed them to Malcolm, who caught them one-handed. “Walk her on out there.”

  “It’s not necessary. I just—”

  “Part of the service.” Mal walked to the front door of the office, held it open.

  “Thanks, Mrs. Kavanaugh. It was nice to see you again.”

  “Come back anytime.”

  “Really,” Parker began once they were outside, “I’m in kind of a hurry, so—”

  “Got a d
ate?”

  “A meeting.”

  “Shame to waste that dress on business, but we’ll get you there.”

  He smelled of his work, which wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as she’d assumed it would be. His jeans had a hole in the knee and grease stains on the thigh. She wondered if he wore a black T-shirt because it wouldn’t show the stains.

  His hair was nearly as dark and left to fall any way it chose around his sharply defined face. He hadn’t shaved, she noted, but the result made him look more dangerous than scruffy.

  “You’ve got a nice ride.” He jingled her keys in his hand, his eyes on her face when they reached her car. “And you take care of it. We detailed it on us since it’s your first service, but I couldn’t’ve charged you anyway. You keep your baby clean and polished.”

  “Tools work better when they’re taken care of.”

  “Words to live by Most people don’t. So, what’s after the meeting?”

  “Sorry? Oh ... errands, and work.”

  “You ever not have meetings, errands, and work?”

  “Rarely.” She knew when a man was hitting on her, but couldn’t remember the last time it had flustered her. “I really need those keys.The car won’t start without them.”

  He dropped them into her open palm. “If you hit one of those rare times, give me a call. I’ll take you out in my ride.”

  While she tried to think of a response, he jerked a thumb. She followed the direction to a big, burly, gleaming motorcycle.

  “I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.”

  He only smiled. “If you change your mind, you know how to reach me.” He waited a beat while she got into the car. “It’s the first time I’ve seen you with your hair down. It goes with the dress.”

  “Um.” Jesus, Parker, she thought, what has tied your tongue into a knot? “Thanks for the work.”

  “Back at you.”

  She shut the door, turned the key, and with a genuine sense of relief drove away. The man, she decided, just threw her off balance.

  IT WAS SILLY, LAUREL TOLD HERSELF, AND HAD TO BE HANDLED. Ignoring Del and his childish game had seemed like a good idea initially, but the more she chewed on it, the more it seemed ignoring it could be construed as avoidance.That gave him the upper hand, which would never do.

  She kept her plan—such as it was—to herself. Since she wasn’t needed at rehearsal, it limited contact with her friends, and the temptation to share. She kept to her kitchen, making the cream filling and buttercream frosting for Saturday afternoon’s Summer Strawberry cake. She checked her board and her timing, and tried not to feel guilty about sneaking out of her own house.

  She pulled off her apron, then cursed. She wasn’t going over to Del’s to face this situation all sweaty and mussed. Cleaning up didn’t equal fussing.

  She took the back stairs, slipped into her own wing to shower off the day. Putting makeup on wasn’t fussing either. It was just basic grooming. And she
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