Savour the moment, p.21
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       Savour the Moment, p.21

         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts
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  er.”

  She laughed and poked him. “I don’t talk about the wedding more than a hundred times a day. Oh, my mom got her dress. It’s so pretty! I pooh-poohed every boring mother-of-the-bride type suit she tried on until she finally gave up.” Sherry let out her infectious laugh again. “It’s red. I mean serious, kick-your-ass red with glittery shoulder straps and a swingy skirt that’ll look great on the dance floor. Because, baby, my mom can dance. I’m going with Nick’s mom tomorrow to find hers. And she will not settle for fade-into-the-background matronly. I can’t wait to bend her to my will.”

  Charmed, Laurel shook her head. “And some brides worry about being upstaged.”

  Sherry dismissed the idea with a flick of her hand. “Everybody at our wedding’s going to look awesome. I’ll just make sure I look the most awesome.”

  “No chance of otherwise.”

  Sherry turned to Nick. “Any wonder I’m nuts about him?”

  “None. How about a glass of champagne?” Laurel offered.

  “Can’t, but thanks,” Nick said. “I’m working tonight.”

  “The ER frowns on doctors with a champagne buzz.” But Sherry wiggled in anticipation. “But I’m not working tonight, or driving, since Nick’s dropping me off on his way to the hospital.”

  Laurel poured a glass. “Coffee?” she asked Nick.

  “Perfect.”

  She poured, then sat back. “I just have to say working with the two of you and your families has been so much fun for all of us. I really think we’re looking forward to September as much as you are.”

  “Then you’re looking forward a lot. And then, you’ve got the next Maguire wedding in December.” Sherry did another quick chair dance. “Carter’s getting married! He and Mac are ... Well, they’re just exact, aren’t they?”

  “I’ve known her all my life and can honestly say, she’s never been happier. I’d love him for that alone, but just being Carter is plenty of reason on its own.”

  “He’s really the best of us.” Sherry’s eyes filled, and she blinked quickly. “Wow, one sip of champagne and I’m all sentimental.”

  “Then let’s talk cake.” Laurel tucked her hair behind her ears before she poured herself a cup of tea. “What I’ve got here are various samples for you to taste. Cake, fillings, frostings. From the size of your guest list, I’d recommend five tiers, graduated sizes. We can mix cakes, fillings for the tiers, or go with one for all. Whatever you want.”

  “This is where I’m terrible, because I can never make up my mind. By the time we’re done here,” Sherry warned, “you’ll have stopped looking forward to the wedding.”

  “I don’t think so. Why don’t I show you the design I have in mind? If you don’t like it, we’ll try some more until we come up with what works for you.”

  Laurel didn’t sketch a design for every client, but Sherry was family now. She opened her sketchbook, offered it.

  “Oh gosh.” Sherry stared and blinked again. “The layers—tiers—aren’t round. They’re—what is it?”

  “Hexagons,” Nick supplied. “Very cool.”

  “They’re like hat boxes! Like fancy hat boxes with all those flowers between, and all different colors. Like the attendants’ dresses. Not white and formal. I figured you’d do white and formal, and it would be beautiful but it wouldn’t be ...”

  “Fun?” Laurel prompted.

  “Yes! Yes. This is

  fun, but beautiful, too. Special, beautiful fun. You designed this just for us?”

  “Only if you like it.”

  “I love it.You love it, right?” Sherry said to Nick.

  “I think it’s great. And, man, this is a whole lot easier than I expected.”

  “It’s a fondant frosting. I initially thought that might be too formal, but when I thought about tinting each tier to play along with the colors your attendants picked, it felt as if it showed off better, and suited your style.”

  As Sherry simply beamed over the sketch, Laurel sat back, crossed her legs.

  Nick had it right. This was a whole lot easier than expected.

  “The flowers push more color so it’s bold and cheerful and anything but formal. Emma will work with me so we have the flowers keyed into what she does for you, and we’ll arrange more on the cake table. I did the piping in gold—and can change that if you’d like something else. I like the way it played off the colors, and thought we’d use a gold cloth for the cake table—set it all off. But—”

  “Stop!” Sherry shot up a hand. “Don’t give me more choices. I love this, I love everything about it. It’s so us. I mean, you just nailed us with this. Look at our awesome cake.” Sherry tapped her flute to Nick’s cup.

  “Okay, please avert your eyes while I indulge in unprofessional behavior.” With a grin, Laurel lifted fisted hands in the air. “Yes!”

  Sherry bubbled out another laugh. “Wow, you really get into your work.”

  “I do. But I have to tell you, I really wanted this design for you—and me. I’m excited about making it. Oh boy.” She rubbed her hands together. “All right, done. Now back to professional mode.”

  “I really like you,” Sherry said suddenly. “What I mean to say is I didn‘t—really don’t—know you as well as I do Emma or Parker, and since Mac and Carter got together, I’ve gotten to know her really well. But the more I get to know you, the more I like you.”

  “Thanks.” Laurel smiled at her. “It’s completely mutual. Now let’s eat some cake.”

  “This is going to be my favorite part,” Nick said and reached for a sample.

  It took a lot longer and entailed a great deal more discussion and deliberation to choose the inside of the cake than it had the outside. Laurel steered them, just a little, and in the end they went for a variety as delightful as the design.

  “How will we know which is which?” Sherry asked as they started out. “Like which is the apple cake with the caramel filling or the mocha spice with the apricot or the—”

  “I’ll take care of that, and the servers will offer a full complement as they pass or serve at the tables. If you want any changes, you only have to let me know.”

  “Don’t say that,” Nick warned, and Sherry laughed again.

  “He’s right. I hate that, but he’s right. I’m better off thinking it’s carved in stone. Wait until Mom and Dad get samples.” She shook the box Laurel had given her. “Thanks, Laurel, for everything.” She grabbed Laurel in a hard hug. “We should run over real quick and say hi to Carter and Mac.”

  “I don’t think they’re home.” Laurel checked her watch. “She had an outside shoot, and she was going to drop him off at Coffee Talk. He’s meeting his friend. Bob?”

  “Oh.Well. Next time.”

  Laurel walked outside to wave them off, and decided it had been one of her most satisfying consults. Not only would she enjoy creating that cake, but they were so happy with it—and each other, she thought, catching the way they leaned into each other for a kiss as they approached their car.

  In tune, she thought. That’s what they were, even though Sherry’s beat was often blindingly quick, and Nick’s more deliberate and thoughtful. They complemented each other,

  got each other, and best of all so obviously enjoyed each other.

  Love was lovely, she thought, but being in tune? That spoke of the long haul.

  She wondered if she and Del were in tune. Maybe you couldn’t tell, not for certain, when you were inside the dance. They got each other, she mused, and certainly they enjoyed each other. But did they, could they, find a way to match their different beats?

  “I missed them.” Parker hurried outside in time to see Nick’s car make the turn from top of the drive to road. “Damn it. I got stuck on the phone and—”

  “Shock! Disbelief!”

  “Oh, shut up. Friday night’s bride just found out she doesn’t have a bad case of the nerves or a stomach bug.”

  “Pregnant.”

  “Yeah, you bet. She’s a little
panicked, a little thrilled, a little stupefied. They’d planned to start a family within the year, but this is a lot closer to the beginning of their time frame than the end of it.”

  “How’s he feel about it?” Laurel asked, knowing the bride would have told Parker everything.

  “He had a moment of speechless

  huh? and now he’s excited. And apparently very attentive when she’s dealing with morning sickness.”

  “It says a lot about a guy if he can stick when you’re puking.”

  “He gets the gold star there. She’s told her parents, and he’s told his, but that’s it. She wanted my advice on if she should tell her MOH, the BM, anyone else. And so on. Anyway, I was hoping to get down before Sherry and Nick left. How did it go?”

  “I can’t think of a single way it could’ve gone better. It was one of those times when you’re done, you just can’t imagine being in another business. Or why anyone else would be. In fact, we should go in, pour ourselves a glass from the bottle of champagne I opened for Sherry, and toast ourselves for being so damn good.”

  “Wish I could, so save me a glass. I’ve got a meeting in Greenwich. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

  “Okay. I’m done for the day. Maybe I’ll take a swim, then have a glass of champagne.”

  “Now you’re just trying to make me jealous. It worked.”

  “Another layer of success to my day.”

  “Such a bitch.”

  Amused, Laurel watched Parker walk to her car in her pretty buttercream summer suit and hot pink heels.

  She wondered idly if Emma was done for the day. They could take a swim together, laze around with a glass of champagne before Jack got home. She was in entirely too good a mood to be alone.

  She considered her own heels—donned for the consult—and the walk down to the guest house. She could go inside and call, but if Emma wasn’t ready to quit, she’d have a better time convincing her face-to-face. Better to go in, change her shoes, and wander down to Emma’s and seduce her with pool time and champagne.

  She went back in, changed to her kitchen shoes, then headed out from the back of the house.

  The hot, close summer evening absolutely demanded a swim, she decided. She listened to the hum of bees busy in the garden, took in the scent of grass mown early that morning, of flowers drowsing in the heat. It all felt so lazy and endless.

  Tomorrow, she thought, they’d be set up for rehearsal for Friday night’s event by this time. And there would be no lazy moments for days.

  So she’d savor it now. The blues and greens of summer, the scents and sounds of it, and that feeling that it would go on forever. Maybe she should call Del, she thought, see if he wanted to come over. They could all have a cookout. Fire up the grill, sit outside, and enjoy the summer night and the company of friends.

  Later they could make love with the terrace doors open to the sultry air. She still had time to toss a strawberry shortcake together.

  Warming to the plan, she came around the house. Mac’s studio came into view first—and the hot little sports car parked in front of it. And, an instant later, the hot blonde preparing to open the door Mac wouldn’t have bothered to lock.

  “Linda!” She called out the name sharply, pleased when the woman jolted. Linda, dressed in a breezy summer sundress and mile high strappy sandals, whirled.

  The brief flicker of guilt on Linda’s face brought Laurel another shot of dark pleasure.

  “Laurel. You scared the

  life out of me.” Linda gave her golden, windblown hair a shake so it settled to frame her inarguably lovely face.

  Too bad the inside didn’t match the packaging, Laurel thought and strode toward her.

  “I drove in from New York earlier to meet some friends, and was just popping in to see Mac. It’s been

  ages.”

  She sported a delicate, glowing tan—likely nurtured on some Italian beach or her new husband’s yacht. Her makeup was perfect, which told Laurel she’d taken the time to stop and freshen it up before the “popping in.”

  “Mac’s not home.”

  “Oh, well, I’ll just say hi to Carter.” She waved a hand in a practiced way that had the sun exploding off the substantial diamonds in her wedding and engagement rings. “See what my future son-in-law’s been up to.”

  “He’s with Mac. There’s nobody to pop in on, Linda. You should get back to New York.”

  “I can spare a few minutes. Don’t you look ... professional,” Linda said with a quick eye flick up and down Laurel’s suit. “Interesting shoes.”

  “Parker made it very clear to you, Linda, that you’re not welcome here.”

  “Just a moment’s pique.” Linda dismissed it with a shrug, but temper sharpened her eyes. “This is my daughter’s home.”

  “That’s right, and the last time you were in it, she told you to get out. I haven’t heard she’s changed her mind on that. I know Parker hasn’t.”

  Linda sniffed. “I’ll just wait inside.”

  “Try to open that door, Linda, and I’ll put you on your ass. Guaranteed.”

  “Who the hell do you think you are? You’re nothing. Do you really think you can stand there in your off-the-discount-rack suit and ugly shoes and

  threaten me?”

  “I think I just did.”

  “You’re only here because Parker feels obliged to put a roof over your head.You don’t have any right to tell me to stay or go.”

  “Rights won’t much enter into it when you’re picking yourself up off the ground. Go back to New York and your latest husband. I’ll tell Mac you were here. If she wants to see you, she’ll let you know.”

  “You always were cold and hateful, even as a child.”

  “Okay.”

  “Small wonder with that tight-assed mother of yours. She liked to pretend she was better than anyone else, even when your father tried to screw the IRS, and any woman who

  wasn’t your mother.” Linda smiled. “At least he had some heat in him.”

  “Do you think it bothers me that you and my father had sex in some sleazy motel room?” But it did, Laurel thought as her stomach muscles squeezed. It did.

  “A suite at the Palace,” Linda countered. “Before his accounts were frozen, of course.”

  “Sleazy’s sleazy, whatever the venue. You don’t matter to me, Linda.You never did.The three of us tolerated you because of Mac. Now we don’t have to. So, do you need me to help you to your car, or would you rather get there without limping?”

  “Do you think because you’ve managed to get Delaney Brown into bed it makes you one of them?” This time Linda laughed, a bright trill on the summer air. “Oh, I’ve heard all about it. Plenty have, and they

  love to talk.”

  “God, you must be really bored with the new fish already if you’re spending any time talking about my sex life.”

  “You?” Linda’s eyes widened in humor, and just enough pity to draw blood. “Nobody’s interested in you. Everyone’s interested in a Brown, especially when he decides to play with the help. Actually, I admire you for the attempt. Those of us who don’t have the name or the finances have to use whatever we can to get them.”

  “Do we?” Laurel said coolly.

  “But a man like Del? Sure he’ll sleep with you. Men will sleep with any woman who knows how to play the game—that’s something you should’ve learned from your father. But if you think he’ll stick, or actually marry you, that’s just sad. A Brown isn’t going to marry out of his class, sweetie. And you? You’ve got no class at all.”

  “Well, on the last part, I’d say that makes us sisters under the skin, except ... eww.” Her knees shook. She had to lock them to stay steady. “I’m going to ask you one more time to leave, then I’m going to make you. So I really hope you don’t listen.”

  “There’s nothing here that interests me.” With another toss of her head, Linda strode to her car, then slid behind the wheel. “People are laughing at you.” She turned the ke
y, fired the engine.

  “They’ll laugh harder when he’s finished with you.” She gunned the engine, then drove off with her blond hair flying.

  Laurel no longer felt like a swim, or a glass of champagne. She no longer felt like a summer cookout with friends. She stood where she was, making sure Linda kept going, turned onto the road, and sped off in her flashy car.

  Her head ached now, and in her belly swam a vague sickness. She’d lie down, sleep it off, she told herself. Nothing that woman said meant anything.

  Goddamn it.

  Realizing she was very close to tears, she struggled to bear down and started back to the house. She had gone no more than a dozen steps when Emma hailed her. And Laurel squeezed her eyes tight, made herself breathe in hopes that the threat of tears wouldn’t show.

  “God, it’s hot! I love it.” Emma threw out her arms. “Summer is my friend. I thought I’d never get done so I could take a break out- What’s wrong?” The minute she saw Laurel’s face, Emma’s smile faded. She quickened her pace, and reached out to take Laurel’s hand. “What’s the matter?”

  “Nothing. Just a headache. I was just going in to take something and lie down until it’s gone.”

  “Uh-uh.” Eyes dark with concern, Emma took a long study. “I know that face. Not just a headache.You’re upset.”

  “I’m upset I have a headache.”

  Emma merely shifted until her arm looped around Laurel’s waist. “Then we’ll walk over to the house together, and I’ll badger you until you tell me what happened to give you a headache.”

  “For God’s sake, Emma, everybody gets headaches. That’s why they make headache pills. Go fuss over your flowers instead of me. It’s irritating.”

  “As if that’s going to work.” Ignoring Laurel’s bad-tempered shrug, Emma kept her arm in place and matched Laurel’s pace. “Did you have a fight with Del?”

  “No. And my moods, aches, days, nights, my

  life doesn’t revolve exclusively around Delaney Brown.”

  “Um-hmm, something or someone else then.You might as well tell me. You know I won’t leave you alone until you do. Don’t make me have to rough you up to get it out of you.”

  Laurel nearly laughed, but sighed instead. When Emma thought a friend was hurting, she’d stick like glue. “I just had a run-in with Scary Linda, that’s all. She’d give anyone a headache.”

  “She was here?” Emma stopped in her tracks, looked over toward Mac’s studio. “Mac and Carter are gone, right?”

  “Yeah. When I spotted Linda it didn’t look like that was going to stop her from walking right in.”

  “It wouldn’t. She actually had the nerve to come here after Parker told her, flat-out, not to? Did Parker—?”

  “Parker’s at a meeting.”

  “Oh. So just you. I wish I’d come out before, then she’d know the true wrath of Emmaline.”

  Which, when roused, Laurel thought, was considerable—if only because it was rare. “I got rid of her.”

  “Yeah, but it obviously upset you.You’re going to sit out on the terrace in the shade while I get you some aspirin and a cold drink. Then you’re going to tell me exactly what happened.”

  She could argue, but not only would it be useless, it would make the entire business more important than it was. Or should be.

  “I want the sun.”

  “Fine, you’ll sit in the sun. Crap, is the crew still here?”

  “No, they left a while ago.”

  “Good, then it’ll be quiet. I didn’t appreciate enough how Mac and Carter dealt with the whole ‘life in a construction zone’ thing until they started work on my place, and your mudroom. Former mudroom. Here, sit down.”

  Laurel did what she was told as Emma hurried into the house. At least letting Emma fuss with aspirin and drinks would give Laurel time to smooth herself out.
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