Savour the moment, p.25
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       Savour the Moment, p.25
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         Part #3 of Bride Quartet series by Nora Roberts

  was closed. “Now I’m freezing. I need a hot shower.”

  “Yeah, you probably do. You look like somebody who just had sex in the pond.”

  He put his arm around her to warm her as they walked toward the shower.

  “Del? Remind me to do some extra training the next time I make you dinner.”

  SHE SLEPT LIKE A WOMAN IN A COMA, AND SURFACED JUST AS groggy and disoriented when her alarm sounded.

  “No, it’s a mistake. It can’t be morning.” She opened one eye, read the time display on her clock—and with a resigned slap, turned off the alarm.

  Beside her Del murmured something, and tried to draw her back.

  “I have to get up. You should just go back to sleep, stay in bed.”

  “Good idea.” He rolled over.

  She scowled at him, then got up to dress in the dark.

  Down in her kitchen she brewed coffee, and drank the first cup hot and black while she scanned her day’s schedule. It might as well have been written in Greek.

  To clear the cobwebs, she poured a second cup, added a generous spoonful of sugar, then got a muffin out of her tin. She took the coffee and the muffin outside, into the air, into what was arguably her favorite time of day.

  Just before dawn, just before the light beat back the dark. Before anyone or anything stirred and the world—her favorite place in the world—was all hers.

  Maybe she was tired, maybe another couple hours’ sleep would’ve been blissful, but it was hard to beat the view, the feel of that hushed early morning.

  She nibbled on the muffin, sipped the coffee, felt her brain start to clear as the sky turned pink and pale in the east.

  Her eyes scanned the horizon, and back over the roll of green, skipped over the gardens, the terraces, the pergola Emma and her crew would be busy dressing before long.

  And she saw the light shimmer over the water of the pond, the vague shadow of the willow swimming on it.

  She thought of the night, of Del sleeping in her bed. And smiled.

  It was going to be a beautiful day.

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  VACATION. LAUREL COULD SCENT IT, NEARLY TOUCH IT. SHE WOULD be on it if this damn event would ever

  end.

  Sunday afternoon events tended toward smaller affairs. Sophisticated or casual, fussy or freewheeling, weddings or anniversary parties booked on a Sunday afternoon leaned toward a pretty brunch or an elegant tea, most often ending early enough for guests to go home, maybe catch a ball game or a movie.

  But not this one. Not the last event before the glories and raptures of vacation began. At four on Sunday afternoon, the Ballroom rocked. Champagne flowed. The bride and groom—second-timearounders in their early forties, danced to the oldies the DJ spun like a couple of teenagers on spring break.

  “Why don’t they want to go home and have sex?” Laurel muttered to Emma.

  “They’ve been together for three years—over a year of that living together. They probably have sex whenever they want.”

  “But it’s Wedding Day sex, and they can only have Wedding Day sex today. At midnight, that ship has sailed. They should want it. Maybe we need to mention it.”

  Emma patted Laurel’s shoulder. “Tempting—boy, tempting. But we have to stick it out until five.” She snuck a glance at her watch.

  “You have a Tinker Bell Band-Aid on your finger.”

  “Isn’t she cute? It almost makes up for daydreaming about vacation and nicking myself a good one. Anyway, forty-nine more minutes by my clock. Then it’s two weeks, Laurel. Fourteen beachy days.”

  “It makes my eyes sting when I think of it. But if I start crying, people will just think I’m touched by the wedding, so that’s okay.” She had to order herself not to shift impatiently from foot to foot. “We’re all packed.” She narrowed her eyes at Emma.

  “I’m packed. I’m packed.”

  “Okay then. So in forty-nine minutes we load up the cars. I figure you have to allow twenty minutes for load-up because of the beach gear and the arguing. That’s sixty-nine minutes. Another ten for Parker to check and recheck her lists. Seventy-nine minutes and we’re on the road. Vacation begins the minute you’re on the road.”

  “It does.” Emma smiled at a small group of guests on their way to the bar. “Seventy-eight now. And a couple hours later, we’re drinking frozen margaritas on the beach. Del’s going to have margaritas ready, right?”

  “He’d better, seeing as he’s already on the beach.”

  “Well, somebody had to go up, open the house, get supplies, make sure everything’s set up.”

  “Yeah. He’s probably kicked back with a beer now, but I’m trying not to resent that. It’s okay because in a hundred and ninety-eight minutes, give or take a few, we’ll be there, too. Damn, we have to change—add twenty more minutes. Two hundred and eighteen—”

  “Seventeen,” Emma interrupted. “Not that we’re watching the clock or anything.”

  “We’ll be sipping those margaritas, and our biggest worry will be what to have for dinner.” She gave Parker’s arm a pinch when Parker walked over.

  “Ow.”

  “Just making sure none of us are dreaming. We’re having a private countdown. Two hundred and seventeen minutes till margaritas on the beach.”

  “Two hundred and seventy-seven. They just asked for the extra hour.”

  Emma’s big brown eyes went sad as a hungry puppy’s. “Oh, Parker.”

  “I know, I know. But it’s their option, their money, and we can’t say no.”

  “There could be a bomb threat by an anonymous caller. Just a suggestion,” Laurel said when Parker gave her a bland stare. “I’m going to start transferring the gifts to the limo. It’ll pass the time. If you need me, beep me.”

  It kept her busy, supervising the transfer, carting gifts out herself. Afterward, she made a trip up to the Bride’s and Groom’s suites to make sure they’d been put to rights, then headed down to her kitchen for the boxes needed for leftover cake and desserts.

  “Two hundred and twenty-nine minutes,” she told herself.

  At six sharp, she stood with her partners, with Jack and Carter, waving off the newlyweds and the stragglers.

  “Go away now,” she said under her breath. “Bye-bye. Keep driving.”

  “Somebody out there might read lips,” Jack commented.

  “Don’t care.” But she gripped his arm and angled herself slightly behind him. “Go home. Go away. Okay, there’s the last ones. Why are they standing there talking? They’ve had hours to talk already. Yes, yes, hug, hug, kiss, kiss, go, for pity’s sake.”

  “They’re getting in their cars,” Mac said from behind her. “It’s happening. Starting the cars, backing out. And they’re driving, they’re driving.” She clamped her hands on Laurel’s shoulders. “Almost to the road, almost there, nearly clear, and ...Yes!”

  “Vacation!” Laurel shouted. “Everybody scatter, get your stuff.” She dashed inside and up the stairs.

  Within fifteen minutes, dressed in cropped pants, a tank, a straw hat on her head and sandals on her feet, she dragged her bags downstairs. Then frowned at Parker.

  “How could you be faster than me? How could you? I was like the wind. I was a freaking tornado of speed and efficiency.”

  “My talents are many. I’ll bring the car around.”

  Mrs. Grady wandered out while they loaded up, and put an insulated bag in the car. “Road supplies,” she said. “Cold water, some fruit, cheese, and crackers.”

  “You’re the best.” Laurel turned to give her a squeeze. “Change your mind, come with us.”

  “Not on your life. Two weeks of quiet right here will suit me.” With her arm slung around Laurel’s shoulders, she studied Parker. “Don’t the pair of you look ready? Pretty as they come, too.”

  “Beach girls of Southampton,” Parker said and did a stylish turn. “We’ll miss you.”

  “You won’t.” Mrs. Grady smiled as Parker kissed her cheek. “But you
ll be glad to see me when you get back. Here comes the next group.” She jutted her chin as Mac and Carter pulled up behind Parker’s car. “You see she doesn’t forget to slather on plenty of sunscreen,” she told Carter. “Our redhead fries like an egg.”

  “We’re stocked.”

  She handed him an insulated bag. “Road food.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Emma’s late, naturally.” Parker checked her watch. “Carter, you’re in the middle of the convoy so you don’t fall behind.”

  “Aye, Captain.”

  “You have the directions on your GPS, in case?”

  “We’re good. We’re ready.” Mac adjusted the brim of her ball cap. “We’re set.”

  “It’s about a two hour and ten minute drive,” Parker began. Laurel tuned her out and stared in the direction of Emma’s house as if to will her friend to hurry with the power of her mind.

  “It worked! Here she comes. Bye, Mrs. G. If you get lonely, drive over.”

  “Not likely.”

  “No wild parties.” Sober-faced, Parker put her hands on Mrs. G’s shoulders. “No boys sleeping over. No drugs. No drinking.”

  “That doesn’t leave me much, does it?” With a laugh, Mrs. Grady gave her a last farewell hug, and muttered in her ear. “Don’t be such a good girl. Have fun.”

  “Fun is the first item on my list.”

  Laurel climbed in the car as Mrs. Grady passed the last bag of road food to Emma, as more hugs were exchanged. Laurel indulged in a quick bounce on the seat when Parker got behind the wheel.

  “This is it.”

  “This, my friend, is it.” Parker started the car, engaged the GPS. “Roll ’em out.”

  Laurel let out a

  yee-haw as they headed up the drive. “I can already feel the sand in my shoes, the salty breeze in my hair. You must be dying to get there.You own the place, and you haven’t seen it yet.”

  “Co-own. I’ve seen plenty of pictures, from the Realtor and some that Del took.”

  “I can’t believe you, of all people, furnished the place by phone and online.”

  “No other way to do it. No time to go there. Anyway, it’s an efficient way to shop, especially for what’s primarily an investment. We bought some of the furnishings already in place as the previous owners didn’t want to move most of it. Lots of fussy stuff to see to yet. It’ll be fun to pick up little things, or decide to have something repainted.”

  “What do you want to do, first thing, when you wake up tomorrow morning?”

  “Try out the gym, then take a walk on the beach with a huge cup of coffee. Or, depending, skip the gym for a run on the beach. Run. On.The. Beach.”

  “And without your BlackBerry.”

  “I don’t know if I’d go that far. I could go into withdrawal. What about you? First thing.”

  “That’s the beauty. I don’t know. I have no idea what I want to do, or what I will do. Mac will start taking pictures. Emma’s going to plop herself on the beach and stare at the water while she makes happy noises. And you, admit it, will make sure to check your laptop and phone for messages right after the workout and the walk. Or after the run.”

  Parker lifted her shoulders then dropped them. “Probably, but then I plan to do a lot of staring and making happy noises.”

  “And start a list of what you want to change or add to the house.”

  “We all vacate in our own way.”

  “Yeah, we do. And thanks in advance.”

  “For what?”

  “For the two weeks in a beach house in Southampton. Yes, partners and pals, but you could’ve said you wanted a couple weeks to yourself.”

  “What would I do without you?”

  “There’s a question we’ve never had to answer.” She opened the bag, took out the bottled water. She uncapped them both, set Parker’s in the drink cup, tapped it with her bottle. “To us. Beach girls of Southampton.”

  “Absolutely.”

  “Tunes?”

  “Unquestionably.”

  Laurel switched on the radio.

  Everything changed when they cut east of New York and started across the skinny island. She lowered the window, leaned out. “I think I can smell the water. Sort of.”

  “More than halfway there.” Parker bit into an apple slice. “You should call Del, give him our ETA.”

  “Good idea, because I’m going to be starving when we finally get there, and jonesing for a margarita. Should I tell him to fire up the grill? Is there a grill?”

  “Del co-owns the house, Laurel.”

  “Of course there’s a grill. Burgers, chicken, or steak?”

  “You know what, first night of vacation. A really big, fat steak.”

  “I’ll put in the order.” She took out her phone, hit Del’s number.

  “Hi. Where are you?”

  She looked at the GPS screen, gave him their location.

  “Hit some traffic?”

  “No, work. We put on such a good event, they added an hour. But we’re making good time. Parker made Carter drive in the middle so he’s squeezed between us and Jack and has to keep up. We’d like to place an order for many frozen margaritas and big fat steaks.”

  “We’re happy to serve you. Hey, listen.”

  In a moment she heard the whooshing sound. “It’s the ocean! Parker, listen.” She held the phone to her friend’s ear. “It’s

  our ocean. Are you on the beach?” she demanded when she had Del back.

  “Just walked down.”

  “Have fun, but not too much fun until we get there.”

  “I’ll pace myself. Oh, hey, do you know if Mal got off?”

  “No. Is he coming in tonight?”

  “He wasn’t sure. I’ll give him a call. See you soon.”

  “Can’t wait.” She closed the phone. “Mal might be coming in tonight.”

  “Lovely.”

  “He’s okay, Parker.”

  “I didn’t say he wasn’t. I haven’t adjusted to the change in our group dynamic.”

  “Plus, he’s got that kind of look in his eye that says: How about it, sister?”

  “Yes!” Parker took her hand off the wheel to point at Laurel. “Exactly. I don’t like it. It’s a kind of sexual swagger.”

  “Yeah, but it’s honest. Remember that guy you went out with a couple times. Geoffrey—spelled the Brit way—wine baron or something.”

  “He had an interest in a few vineyards.”

  “And spoke fluent French and Italian, knew about cinema as opposed to movies, skied in San Moritz. He turned out to be a complete sleaze, total sexist asshole under all that culture and polish.”

  “God, he really did.” The memory had Parker shaking her head and sighing. “I can usually spot them, but he slipped right under the radar. Look.”

  Laurel turned her head and got the first glimpse of the ocean. “There it is,” she murmured. “It’s real. We’re so damn lucky, Parker.”

  She thought the same thing again, with a whip of stupefaction when she got her first glimpse of the house.

  “That?”

  “Mmm-hmm.”

  “That’s your beach house? It’s a beach mansion, Parker.”

  “It’s big, but there are a lot of us.”

  “It’s gorgeous. It looks like it’s been there forever, perfect for the spot, and still kinda sleek and new.”

  “It is gorgeous,” Parker agreed. “I hoped it would be, that it wasn’t just the pictures. And it’s so private. Oh, and look at the sand and the water, and the pond and everything!”

  Together they studied the rooflines, the long span of windows, the charm of decks, the fancy of the cupolas.

  She spotted a tennis court, a swimming pool as Parker followed the private drive to the front of the house.

  Laurel realized it was moments like this that reminded her Del and Parker weren’t rich. They were wealthy.

  “I love the angles of it,” Laurel said. “You’ll be able to see the water—ocean or pond—fr
om any room.”

  “It’s partially on a preserve. Del and I wanted to be a part of that. Keeping it pristine, protecting it. He found it, and it’s just exactly right.”

  “I can’t wait to see the rest.” Even as she spoke, Del stepped out on the front deck, and started down. And for that moment, she forgot the rest.

  He looked so relaxed—khakis, tee, bare feet. The sunglasses couldn’t disguise the pleasure on his face.

  She got out first, and he held out a hand for hers as he walked to her. “There you are,” he said and gave her an easy greeting kiss.

  “Nice little beach shack.”

  “I thought so.”

  Parker stepped out, took a long look at the house, turned, took another at the water, the views. Nodded. “Good job.”

  He lifted his arm, so she went over to slide under it, and for a moment the three of them stood, the breeze wafting and the house spread out before them.

  “I think it’ll do,” Del decided.

  The others arrived, and with them noise, movement, choruses of approval and curiosity as they started unloading the cars and hauling luggage and supplies.

  The impressions came fast—sun and space, glossy wood, soft colors. Out of every window stretched water and sand, solitude and sanctuary, the offer of a spot to sit or a path to wander.

  High ceilings and the easy, open flow from one room to the next added an appealing touch of the casual to the simple elegance of furnishings. A place, Laurel thought, you’d be comfortable with your feet up, or sipping champagne in formal wear.

  The Browns, she admitted, simply had a way.

  The kitchen brought her an instant surge of pleasure with its acres of straw-colored counters. The textured glass cabinet doors showcased cheerful Fiestaware in a celebration of mixed colors and the sparkle of stemware. Opening the pot drawers she hummed her approval of the selection of pots and pans. Surrounding the sinks, the tall, bowing windows opened the room to the beach and the crash of waves.

  Even as she took stock she heard Jack let out a crow. “Pinball!”

  Which meant there was likely a game room somewhere, but at the moment, she was more interested in the kitchen, the airy dining area, the proximity to the deck for outdoor eating.

 
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