Savour the Moment by Nora Roberts

As they left, Laurel stretched. “I need a massage. We should have an in-house masseur named Sven. Or Raoul.”

“I’ll put that on the list. Meanwhile, you could call Serenity and book one.”

“But if we had Sven—I think Sven is better than Raoul—I could have one right now, then I’d slide bonelessly into bed and sleep. How many days until vacation?”

“Too many.”

“You say that now, but once we’re free and get to the Hamptons, you’ll still have that BlackBerry attached to your hand.”

“I can give it up anytime I want.”

Laurel answered Parker’s smile. “You’ll buy a waterproof bag for it, so you can swim with it.”

“They should make them waterproof. We must have the technology.”

“Well, I’m going to leave you and your one true love alone, go soak in a hot tub, and dream of Sven.” Laurel rolled off the couch. “It’s good seeing Emma and Mac so happy, isn’t it?”


“See you in the morning.”

The HOT BATH WORKED WONDERS, BUT LEFT HER WIDE AWAKE instead of relaxed and sleepy. Rather than spending an hour trying to will herself to sleep, Laurel turned on the TV in her sitting room for company, then sat down at her computer to check her week’s schedule. She browsed recipes—as much an addiction for her as the BlackBerry was to Parker—and found a couple worth book-marking to tweak and personalize later.

Still restless, she settled down in her favorite chair with her sketch pad. The chair had been Parker’s mother’s, and always made Laurel feel cozy and safe. She sat cross-legged on the deep cushion, the pad across her lap, and thought of Mac. Of Mac and Carter. Of Mac in the fabulous wedding dress she’d chosen—or that Parker had found for her.

Clean, sleek lines, she mused, that so suited Mac’s long, lean body. Not a lot of fuss, and just a touch of flirt. She sketched a cake that mirrored the idea—classic and simple. And immediately rejected it.

Clean lines for the gown, yes, but Mac was also about color and flash, about the unique and the bold. And that, she realized, was one of the reasons Carter adored her.

So bold. Colorful fall wedding. Square tiers rather than the more traditional round, with the buttercream frosting Mac favored. Tinted.Yes, yes. Dusky gold then covered with fall flowers—she’d make them oversized with wide, detailed petals—in russet and burnt orange, loden.

Color, texture, shape, to appeal to the photographer’s eye, and romantic enough for any bride. Crowned with a bouquet, trailing ribbons in dark gold. Touches of white in some piping, to bring out all the color.

Mac’s Fall, she thought, smiling as she added details. The perfect name for it—for the season, and for the way her friend had tripped into love.

Laurel held the sketch out to arm’s length, then grinned in satisfaction.

“I am damn good. And now I’m hungry.”

She rose to prop the open sketchbook against a lamp. First chance, she decided, she’d show it to Mac for the bride’s opinion. But if she knew Mac—and she did—this was going to get a big, happy woo!

She deserved a snack—maybe a slice of cold pizza if there was any left. Which she’d regret in the morning, she told herself as she started out, but it couldn’t be helped.

She was awake and she was hungry. One of the perks of running your own business and your own life was being able to indulge yourself from time to time.

She moved through the dark and the quiet, guided by her knowledge of the house and the stream of moonlight through the windows. She crossed out of her wing, started down the stairs as she talked herself out of cold pizza and into a healthier choice of fresh fruit and herbal tea.

She needed to be up early to fit in a workout before Monday morning baking.Then she had three couples coming in that afternoon for tastings, so she’d need to prep for that, and get cleaned up.

An evening meeting, full staff, with a client to determine basic details of a winter wedding, then she had the rest of the night free to do what needed to be done—or what suited her fancy.

Thank God she’d initiated a dating moratorium so there was no worry about getting dressed to go out—and what to wear when she did—making conversation, and deciding whether or not she was inclined to have sex.

Life was easier, she thought as she turned at the base of the stairs. It was easier, simpler, and just less fraught when you took dating and sex off the menu.

She rammed straight into a solid object-male-shaped-then tumbled backward. Cursing, she flailed out to save herself. The back of her hand smacked sharply against flesh—causing another curse that wasn’t hers. As she went down, she grabbed a fistful of material. She heard it rip as the male-shaped solid object fell on top of her.

Winded, her head ringing where it thudded against the stair tread, she lay limp as a rag. Even dazed in the dark, she recognized Del by his shape, his scent.

“Jesus. Laurel? Damn it. Are you hurt?”

She drew in a breath, constricted by his weight—and maybe by the fact that a certain area of that weight was pressed very intimately between her legs. Why the hell had she been thinking about sex? Or the lack thereof?

“Get off me,” she managed.

“Working on it. Are you okay? I didn’t see you.” He pushed up partway so their eyes met in that blue dust moonlight. “Ouch.”

Because his movement increased the pressure—center to center—something besides her head began to throb. “Off. Me. Now.”

“Okay, okay. I lost my balance—plus you grabbed my shirt and took me down with you. I tried to catch you. Hold on, let me get the light.”

She stayed just where she was, waiting to get her breath back, waiting for things to stop throbbing. When he flicked on the foyer light, she shut her eyes against the glare.

“Ah,” he said and cleared his throat.

She lay sprawled on the steps, legs spread, wearing a thin white tank and a pair of red boxers. Her toenails were sizzling pink. He decided concentrating on her toes was a better idea than her legs, or the way the tank fit, or ... anything else.

“Let me help you up.” And into a really long, thick robe.

She waved him off, half sat up to rub at the back of her head. “Damn it, Del, what are you doing sneaking around the house?”

“I wasn’t sneaking. I was walking. Why were you sneaking?”

“I wasn’t—Jesus. I live here.”

“I used to,” he muttered. “You tore my shirt.”

“You fractured my skull.”

Annoyance dissolved instantly into concern. “Did I really hurt you? Let me see.”

Before she could move, he crouched and reached around to feel the back of her head. “You went down pretty hard. It’s not bleeding.”

“Ouch!” At least the fresh ringing took her mind off the torn shirt, and the muscle beneath it. “Stop poking.”

“We should get you some ice.”

“It’s fine. I’m fine.” Stirred up, no question, she thought, and wishing he didn’t look so tousled, roughed-up, and ridiculously sexy. “What the hell are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night.”

“It’s barely midnight, which, despite the term, isn’t the middle of the night.”

He stared straight into her eyes, looking, she imagined, for signs of shock or trauma. Any second he’d take her damn pulse.

“That doesn’t answer the question.”

“Mrs. G and I were hanging out. There was beer involved. Enough beer I decided I’d just ...” He pointed up. “I was going to crash in one of the guest rooms rather than drive home with a buzz on.”

She couldn’t argue with him for being sensible—particularly since he was always sensible. “Then ...” She mimicked him, and pointed up.

“Stand up so I can make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m not the one with a buzz on.”

“No, you’re the one with a fractured skull. Come on.” He solved the matter by hooking his hands under her arms and lifting her so she stood on the step above him with their faces nearly level.

“I don’t see any X’s in your eyes, no birds circling over your head.”


He gave her that smile. “I heard a couple birds chirping when you backhanded me.”

She couldn’t stop her lips from twitching even as she scowled. “If I’d known it was you, I’d’ve put more behind it.”

“There’s my girl.”

And wasn’t that exactly how he thought of her? she thought with a slippery mix of temper and disappointment. Just one of his girls.

“Go, sleep off your buzz, and no more sneaking around.”

“Where are you going?” he asked as she walked away.

“Where I please.”

She usually did, he mused, and it was one of the most appealing things about her. Unless you considered how her ass looked in short red boxers.

Which he wasn’t. Exactly. He was just making sure she was steady on her feet. And on her really excellent legs.

Deliberately, he turned away and walked up the stairs to the third floor. He turned toward Parker’s wing, and opened the door to the room that had been his as a child, a boy, a young man.

It wasn’t the same. He didn’t expect it to be or want it to be. If things didn’t change, they became stagnant and stale. The walls, a soft, foggy green now, displayed clever paintings in simple frames rather than the sports posters of his youth. The bed, a gorgeous old four-poster, had been his grandmother’s. Continuity, he thought, wasn’t the same as stagnation.

He pulled change and keys out of his pocket to toss them on the dish set on the bureau, then caught sight of himself in the mirror.

His shirt was ripped at the shoulder, his hair disordered, and if he wasn’t mistaken, he could see the faint mark where Laurel’s knuckles had connected with his cheekbone.

She’d always been tough, he thought as he toed off his shoes. Tough, strong, and damn near fearless. Most women would’ve screamed, wouldn’t they? But not Laurel—she fought. Push her, she pushed back. Harder.

He had to admire that.

Her body had surprised him. He could admit it, he told himself as he stripped off the torn T-shirt. Not that he didn’t know her body. He’d hugged her countless times over the years. But hugging a female friend was an entirely different matter than lying on top of a woman in the dark.

Entirely different.

And something it was best not to dwell on.

He stripped off the rest of his clothes, then folded down the quilt—the work of his great-grandmother in this case. He set the old-fashioned wind-up alarm clock beside the bed, then switched off the light.

When he closed his eyes, the image of Laurel lying on the stairs popped into his head—lodged there. He rolled over, thought about the appointments he had the next day. And saw her walking away in those brief red boxers.

“Screw it.”

A man was entitled to dwell on whatever he wanted to dwell on when he was alone in the dark.

IN THEIR MONDAY MORNING HABIT, LAUREL AND PARKER HIT their home gym at nearly the same moment. Parker went for yoga, Laurel for cardio. Since both took the routine seriously, there was little conversation.

As Laurel approached her third mile, Parker switched to pilates—and Mac trudged in to give the Bowflex her usual sneer.

Amused, Laurel throttled back to cool down. Mac’s conversion to regular workouts stemmed from her determination to have happening arms and shoulders in her strapless wedding dress.

“Looking good, Elliot,” she called out as she grabbed a towel. Mac just curled her lip.

Laurel unrolled a mat to stretch while Parker gave Mac some tips on form. By the time she moved on to free weights, Parker was shoving Mac to the elliptical.

“I don’t wanna.”

“Woman does not rule by resistance training alone. Fifteen cardio, fifteen stretching. Laurel, where did you get that bruise?”

“What bruise?”

“On your shoulder.” Crossing over, Parker fluttered her finger on the bruise exposed by Laurel’s racer-back tank.

“Oh, I tripped under your brother.”


“He was wandering around in the dark when I went down for some tea—which ended up being cold pizza and a soda. He ran into me and knocked me down.”

“Why was he wandering around in the dark?”

“My question exactly. Beers and Mrs. G. He crashed in one of the guest rooms.”

“I didn’t know he was here.”

“Still here,” Mac said. “His car’s out front.”

“I’ll see if he’s up. Fifteen minutes, Mac.”

“Nag. When do I get my endorphins?” Mac demanded of Laurel. “How will I know when I do?”

“How do you know when you orgasm?”

“Yeah?” Mac brightened. “It’s like that?”

“Sadly no, but the principle of ‘you know when you get there’ is the same. Are you eating breakfast here?”

“I’m thinking about it. I think I’ll have earned it. Plus, if I call Carter to come over, he can talk Mrs. G into French toast.”

“Do that then. I’ve got something I want to show you.”


“Just an idea.”

It was just after seven when Laurel, dressed for the day, sketchbook in hand, stepped into the family kitchen.

She’d assumed Del would be gone, but there he was, leaning against the counter with a steaming mug of coffee. In a near mirror image of the posture, Carter Maguire leaned on the opposite counter.

Still, they were so different. Del, even in the torn shirt and jeans, projected a kind of masculine elegance, while Carter exuded a disarming sweetness. Not sugary, she thought. She’d have hated that—but an innate sort of


And despite Del’s fumble in the night, he was agile, athletic, while Carter tended toward the klutzy.

Still, they were both so damn cute.

Obviously, the sturdy Mrs. Grady wasn’t immune. She worked at the stove—French toast winning the day—her eyes bright, her cheeks a little flushed. Happy to have the boys around, Laurel thought.

Parker came in from the terrace, slipping her BlackBerry into her pocket. She caught sight of Laurel. “Saturday evening’s bride. Basic nerves. All smooth. Emma and Jack are heading over, Mrs. G.”

“Well, if I’m cooking for an army, some of the troops had better sit. Keep your fingers off that bacon, boy,” she warned Del, “until you’re at the table like the civilized.”

“Just trying to get a head start. I’ll take it over. Hey, Laurel, how’s the head?”

“Still on my shoulders.” She set down the sketchbook, picked up the pitcher of juice.

“Morning.” Carter smiled at her. “What happened to your head?”

“Del beat it against the stairs.”

“After she hit me and ripped my shirt.”

“Because you were drunk and knocked me down.”

“I wasn’t drunk, and you fell.”

“That’s his story.”

“Sit down and behave,” Mrs. G ordered. She turned as Jack and Emma came in. “Are your hands clean?” she demanded of Jack.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then take this and go sit.”

He accepted the platter of French toast, sniffed deeply. “What did you make for everybody else?”

She laughed and swatted at him.

“Hey,” he said to Del.

They’d been friends since college, and as tight as brothers since Jack had relocated to Greenwich to open his architectural firm. He took his place at the breakfast nook, movie-star handsome with his wavy, dark blond hair, smoky eyes, quick grin.

The fact that he was dressed in a suit told Laurel he had a client meeting in his office rather than an appointment on a construction site.

“Shirt’s ripped,” Jack said to Del as he nabbed a slice of bacon.

“Laurel did it.”

Jack wiggled his eyebrows at her. “Feisty.”


They grinned at each other as Mac came in. “God! This better be worth it. Come here.” She grabbed Carter, yanked him against her for a noisy kiss. “I earned that.”

“You’re all... rosy,” he murmured and bent his head to kiss her again.

“Stop that nonsense and sit down before the food gets cold.” Mrs. G gave him a flick on the arm as she carried the coffeepot to the table to fill mugs.

Mrs. G was in her element, Laurel knew. She had a full brood to fuss over and order around. She’d revel in the number and the noise of them, and when she’d had enough of both, she’d kick them all out of her kitchen. Or retreat to her rooms for some peace and quiet.

But for now, with the scents of coffee and bacon and cinnamon, with platters being emptied and plates filled, Mrs. G had things just as she wanted.

Laurel understood the need to feed, the desire—even the passion—to put food in front of someone and urge them to eat. It was life and comfort, authority and satisfaction. And if you’d prepared that food with your own hands, your own skill, it was, in a very real way, love.

She supposed she’d learned some of that right here when Mrs. G had taught her how to roll out a pastry shell or mix batter or test a loaf of bread for doneness. More than the basics of baking, she’d learned if you put some love and pride into the mix, the dough rose truer.

“Head okay?” Del asked her.

“Yes, no thanks to you. Why?”

“Because you’re quiet.”

“Who can get a word in?” she asked as conversations crisscrossed the table.

“How about a professional query?”

She eyed him warily over a bite of French toast. “Such as?”

“I need a cake.”

“Everyone needs cake, Del.”

“That should be your slogan. Dara’s coming back from maternity leave. I thought we’d do a little office welcome back, happy baby and all that.”

It was a nice thing to do for his paralegal, and very like him. “When?”

“Ah, Thursday.”

“As in this Thursday?” Also just like him, she thought. “What kind of cake?”
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