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Wedding baker Laurel McBane is surrounded by romance working at Vows wedding planning company with her best friends Parker, Emma, and Mac. But she's too low-key to appreciate all the luxuries that their clients seem to long for.
What Laurel does appreciate is a strong, intelligent man -- a man just like Parker's older brother Delaney, on whom she's had a mega-crush since childhood. But some infatuations last longer than others, and Laurel is convinced that the Ivy League lawyer is still out of her reach.
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Nora Roberts is the number-one New York Times-bestselling author of more than 190 novels, including The Search, Black Hills, Tribute, High Noon, and many more. She is also the author of the bestselling futuristic suspense series written under the pen name J.D. Robb. Roberts has more than 400 million copies of her books in print.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Alone, with Norah Jones whispering through the iPod,Laurel transformed a panel of fondant into a swatch of elegant,edible lace. She didn’t hear the music, used it more to fill the airthan as entertainment while she painstakingly pieced the completedpanel onto the second tier of four.
She stepped back to eye the results, to circle, to search for flaws.Vows’ clients expected perfect, and that’s exactly what she intendedto deliver. Satisfied, she nodded, and picked up a bottle of water tosip while she stretched her back.
“Two down, two to go.”
She glanced toward the board where she’d pinned various samplesof antique lace, and the final sketched design for the cake Fridayevening’s bride had approved.
She had three more designs to complete: two for Saturday, onefor Sunday—but that was nothing new. June at Vows, the weddinga nd event business she ran with her friends, was prime time.
In a handful of years, they’d turned an idea into a thriving enterprise.Sometimes just a little too thriving, she mused, which waswhy she was making fondant lace at nearly one in the morning.
It was a very good thing, she decided. She loved the work.
They all had their passions. Emma had the flowers, Mac the photography,Parker the details. And she had the cakes. And the pastries,she thought, and the chocolates. But the cakes stood as the crowningtouch.
She got back to it, began to roll out the next panel. Followinghabit, she’d clipped her sunny blond hair up and back out of herway. Cornstarch dusted the baker’s apron she wore over cottonpants and tee, and the slide-on kitchen shoes kept her feet as comfortableas possible after hours of standing. Her hands, strong fromyears of kneading, rolling, lifting, were capable and quick. As shebegan the next pattern, her sharp-featured, angular face set in seriouslines.
Perfection wasn’t simply a goal when it came to her art. ForIcing at Vows it was a necessity. The wedding cake was more thanbaking and piping, sugar paste and filling. Just as the wedding photosMac took were more than pictures, and the arrangements andbouquets Emma created more than flowers. The details and schedulesand wishes Parker put together were, in the end, bigger thanthe sum of their parts.
Together, the elements became a once-in-a-lifetime event, andthe celebration of the journey two people chose to make together.
Romantic, certainly, and Laurel believed in romance. In theory,anyway. More, she believed in symbols and celebrations. And in areally fabulous cake.
Her expression softened into pleasure as she completed thethird tier, and her deep blue eyes warmed as she glanced over tosee Parker hovering in the doorway.
“Why aren’t you in bed?”
“Details.” Parker circled a finger over her own head. “Couldn’tsettle. How long have you been at this tonight?”
“Awhile. I need to finish it so it can set overnight. Plus I havethe two Saturday cakes to assemble and decorate tomorrow.”
They knew each other well enough that it was understood ifLaurel said no, there’d be no off ense. And often, when deep in work,no was the answer.
“I love the design.” Parker, as Laurel had, circled the cake. “Thedelicacy of the white on white, the interest of the diff erent heightsof each tier—and the intricacy of each. They really do look like differentpanels of lace. Old-fashioned, vintage, that’s our bride’s theme.You’ve nailed it with this.”
“We’re going to do pale blue ribbon around the pedestal,” Laurelsaid as she started on the next panel. “And Emma’s going to scatterwhite rose petals at the base. It’s going to be a winner.”
“The bride’s been good to work with.”
Comfortable in her pajamas, her long brown hair loose ratherthan in its work mode of sleek tail or smooth chignon, Parker puton the kettle for tea. One of the perks of running the business outof her home, and of having Laurel living there—with Emma andParker right on the estate as well—were these late-night visits.
“She knows her mind,” Laurel commented, choosing a tool toscallop the edges of the panel. “But she’s open to suggestion, and sofar hasn’t been insane. If she makes it through the next twenty-fourthat way, she’ll definitely earn Vows’ coveted Good Bride status.”
“They looked happy and relaxed tonight at rehearsal, and that’sa good sign.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Laurel continued the pattern with precisely placedeyelets and dots. “So, again, why aren’t you in bed?”
Parker sighed as she heated a little teapot. “I think I was havinga moment. I was unwinding with a glass of wine out on my terrace.I could see Mac’s place, and Emma’s. The lights were on inboth houses, and I could smell the gardens. It was so quiet, sopretty. The lights went off —Emma’s first, and a little while after,Mac’s. I thought how we’re planning Mac’s wedding, and thatEmma just got engaged. And all the times we played Wedding Day,the four of us, when we were kids. Now it’s real. I sat there in thequiet and the dark, and found myself wishing my parents could behere to see it. To see what we’ve done here, and who we are now.I got stuck.” She paused to measure out tea. “Between being sadthey’re gone and being happy because I know they’d be proud ofme. Of us.”
“I think about them a lot. We all do.” Laurel continued to work.“Because they were such an essential part of our lives, and becausethere are so many memories of them here. So I know what youmean by being stuck.”
“They’d get a kick out of Mac and Carter, out of Emma andJack, wouldn’t they?”
“Yeah, they would. And what we’ve done here, Parker? It rocks.They’d get a kick out of that, too.”
“I’m lucky you were up working.” Parker poured hot waterinto the pot. “You’ve settled me down.”
“Here to serve. I’ll tell you who else is lucky, and that’s Friday’sbride. Because this cake?” She blew stray hair out of her eyes as shenodded smugly. “It kicks major ass. And when I do the crown,angels will weep with joy.”
Parker set the pot aside to steep. “Really, Laurel, you need totake more pride in your work.”
Laurel grinned. “Screw the tea. I’m nearly done here. Pour mea glass of wine.”
In the morning, after a solid six hours’ sleep, Laurel got ina quick session at the gym before dressing for the workday. She’dbe chained in her kitchen for the bulk of it, but before that routinebegan, there was the summit meeting that prefaced every event.
Laurel dashed downstairs from her third-floor wing to the mainlevel of the sprawling house, and back to the family kitchen whereMrs. Grady was putting a fruit platter together.
“Morning, Mrs. G.”
Mrs. Grady arched her eyebrows. “You look feisty.”
“Feel feisty. Feel righteous.” Laurel fisted both hands, flexed hermuscles. “Want coff ee. Much.”
“Parker’s taken the coff ee up already. You can take this fruit, andthe pastries. Eat some of that fruit. A day shouldn’t start with aDanish.”
“Yes, ma’am. Anyone else here yet?”
“Not yet, but I saw Jack’s truck leave a bit ago, and I expectCarter will be along giving me the puppy eyes in hopes of a decentbreakfast.”
“I’ll get out of the way.” Laurel grabbed the platters, balancingthem with the expertise of the waitress she’d been once upona time.
She carried them up to the library, which now served as Vows’conference room. Parker sat at the big table, with the coff ee serviceon the breakfront. Her BlackBerry, as always, remained at easyreach. The sleek ponytail left her face unframed, and the crispwhite shirt transmitted business mode as she sipped coff ee andstudied data on her laptop with midnight blue eyes Laurel knewmissed nothing.
“Provisions,” Laurel announced. She set the trays down, thentucked her chin-length swing of hair behind her ears before sheobeyed Mrs. Grady and fixed herself a little bowl of berries. “Missedyou in the gym this morning. What time did you get up?”
“Six, which was a good thing, since Saturday afternoon’s bridecalled just after seven. Her father tripped over the cat and may havebroken his nose.”
“She’s worried about him, but nearly equally worried abouthow he’s going to look for the wedding, and in the photographs.I’m going to call the makeup artist to see what she thinks can bedone.”
“Sorry about the FOB’s bad luck, but if that’s the biggest problemthis weekend, we’re in good shape.”
Parker shot out a finger. “Don’t jinx it.”
Mac strolled in, long and lean in jeans and a black T-shirt.“Hello, pals of mine.”
Laurel squinted at her friend’s easy smile and slumberous greeneyes. “You had morning sex.”
“I had stupendous morning sex, thank you.” Mac poured herselfcoff ee, grabbed a muffin. “And you?”
With a laugh, Mac dropped down in her chair, stretched outher legs. “I’ll take my morning exercise over your treadmill andBowflex.”
“Mean, nasty bitch,” Laurel said and popped a raspberry.
“I love summer when the love of my life doesn’t have to get upand out early to enlighten young minds.” She opened her own laptop.“Now I’m primed, in all possible ways, for business.”
“Saturday afternoon’s FOB may have broken his nose,” Parkertold her.
“Bummer.” Mac’s brow creased. “I can do a lot with Photoshopif they want me to—but it’s kind of a cheat. What is, is—and itmakes an amusing memory. In my opinion.”
“We’ll see what the bride’s opinion is once he gets back fromthe doctor.” Parker glanced over as Emma rushed in.
“I’m not late. There are twenty seconds left.” Black curls bouncing,she scooted to the coff ee station. “I fell back to sleep. After.”
“Oh, I hate you, too,” Laurel muttered. “We need a new rule.No bragging about sex at business meetings when half of us aren’tgetting any.”
“Seconded,” Parker said immediately.
“Aww.” Laughing, Emma scooped some fruit into a bowl.
“Saturday afternoon’s FOB may have a broken nose.”
“Aww,” Emma repeated, with genuine concern at Mac’sannouncement.
“We’ll deal with it when we have more details, but however itturns out, it really falls to Mac and me. I’ll keep you updated,”Parker said to Mac. “Tonight’s event. All out-of-town attendants,relatives, and guests have arrived. The bride, the MOB, and theattendants are due here at three for hair and makeup. The MOGhas her own salon date and is due by four, with the FOG. FOB willarrive with his daughter. We’ll keep him happy and occupied untilit’s time for the formal shots that include him. Mac?”
“The bride’s dress is a beaut. Vintage romance. I’ll be playingthat up.”
As Mac outlined her plans and timetable, Laurel rose for a secondcup of coff ee. She made notes here and there, continued to doso when Emma took over. As the bulk of Laurel’s job was complete,she’d fill in when and where she was needed.
It was a routine they’d perfected since Vows had gone fromconcept to reality.
“Laurel,” Parker said.
“The cake’s finished—and a wowzer. It’s heavy, so I’ll need helpfrom the subs transferring it to reception, but the design doesn’trequire any on-site assembly. I’ll need you to do the ribbon andwhite rose petals, Emma, once it’s transferred, but that’s it until it’stime to serve. They opted against a groom’s cake, and went for aselection of mini pastries and heart-shaped chocolates. They’redone, too, and we’ll serve them on white china lined with lace doiliesto mirror the design of the cake. The cake table linen is paleblue, eyelet lace. Cake knife and server, provided by the B and G.They were her grandmother’s so we’ll keep our eye on them.
“I’m going to be working on Saturday’s cakes most of today,but should be freed up by four if anyone needs me. During the lastset, the subs will put leftover cake in the take-away boxes and tiethem with blue ribbon we’ve had engraved with the B and G’snames, and the date. Same goes if there are any leftover chocolatesor pastries. Mac, I’d like a picture of the cake for my files. I haven’tdone this design before.”
“And Emma, I need the flowers for Saturday night’s cake. Canyou drop them off to me when you come to dress today’s event?”
“On the personal front?” Mac lifted a hand for attention. “Noone’s mentioned that my mother’s latest wedding is tomorrow, inItaly. Which is, thankfully, many, many miles away from our happyhome here in Greenwich, Connecticut. I got a call from her justafter five this morning, as Linda doesn’t get the concept of timezones—and, well, let’s face it, doesn’t give a shit anyway.”
“Why didn’t you just let it ring?” Laurel demanded, even asEmma reached over to rub Mac’s leg in sympathy.
“Because she’d just keep calling back—and I’m trying to dealwith her. On my terms for a change.” Mac raked her fingersthrough the bold red of her gamine cap of hair. “There were, asexpected, tears and recriminations, as she’s decided she wants methere. As opposed to a week ago, when she didn’t. Since I have nointention of hopping on a plane, particularly when I have an eventtonight, two tomorrow, and another on Sunday, to see her get marriedfor the fourth time, she’s not speaking to me.”
“If only it would last.”
“Laurel,” Parker murmured.
“I mean it. You got to give her a piece of your mind,” she remindedParker. “I didn’t. I can only let it fester.”
“Which I appreciate,” Mac said. “Sincerely. But as you can see,I’m not in a funk, I’m not swimming in guilt or even marginallypissed off . I think there’s an advantage to finding a guy who’s sensible,loving, and just really solid. An advantage over and abovereally terrific morning sex. Every one of you has been on my sidewhen I’ve had to deal with Linda, you’ve tried to help me throughher demands and basic insanity. I guess Carter just helped tip thescales, and now I can deal with it. I wanted to tell you.”
“I’d have morning sex with him myself, just for that.”
“Hands off , McBane. But I appreciate the sentiment. So.” Sherose. “I want to get some work done before I need to focus on today’sevent. I’ll swing by and get some shots of the cake.”
“Hang on, I’ll go with you.” Emma pushed up. “I’ll be back withthe team shortly—and I’ll drop the flowers off for you, Laurel.”
When they’d gone, Laurel sat another moment. “She reallymeant it.”
“Yes, she really did.”
“And she’s right.” Laurel took a last moment to sit back and relaxwith her coff ee. “Carter’s the one who turned the key in the lock.I wonder what it’s like to have a man who can do that, can help thatway without pushing. Who can love you that way. I guess when itcomes down to it, I envy her that even more than the sex.”
Shrugging, Laurel rose. “I’d better get to work.”
Laurel didn’t have time to think about men over the nextcouple of days. She didn’t have the time or the energy to thinkabout love and romance. She might have been neck-deep in wed-dings, but that was business—and the business of weddings demandedfocus and precision.
Her Antique Lace cake, which had taken her nearly three days tocreate, had its moment in the spotlight—before being disassembledand devoured. Saturday afternoon featured her whimsical PastelPetals with its hundreds of embossed, gum-paste rose petals, an...
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