Bed of Roses, page 3part #2 of Bride Quartet Series
SHE LIKED PARTIES, EMMA REMINDED HERSELF. SHE LIKED people and conversation. She enjoyed picking the right outfit, doing her makeup, fussing with her hair. She was a girl.
She liked Adam and Vicki - and had, in fact, introduced them four years ago when it had become clear she and Adam made better friends than lovers.
Vows had done their wedding.
She liked Sam, she thought with a sigh as she pulled up in front of the contemporary two-story, then flipped down her visor mirror to check her makeup.
She enjoyed going out with Sam - to dinner, to a party, to a concert. The problem was the spark-o-meter. When she'd met him, he'd hit a solid seven, with upward potential. In addition, she'd found him smart and funny, appreciated his smooth good looks. But the first-date kiss had dropped to a measly two on the spark-o-meter.
Not his fault, she admitted as she got out of the car. It just wasn't there. She'd given it a shot. A few more kisses - kissing was one of her favorite things. But they'd never risen over the two - and that was being generous.
It wasn't easy to tell a man you had no intention of sleeping with him. Feelings and egos were at stake. But she'd done it. The problem, as she saw it, was he didn't really believe her. Maybe she'd find someone to introduce him to at the party.
She stepped inside, into the music, the voices, the lights - and felt an immediate lift of mood. She really did like parties.
After one quick scan, she saw a dozen people she knew.
She kissed cheeks, exchanged hugs, and kept moving in a search for her host and hostess. When she spotted a distant cousin by marriage she shot out a wave. Addison, she mused, and signaled that she'd be back around to say hi. Single, fun loving, stunning. Yes, she could see Addison and Sam hitting it off. She'd make sure she introduced them.
She found Vicki in the kitchen area of the generous great room, talking to friends while she refreshed a tray of party food.
"Emma! I didn't think you were going to make it. "
"It's going to be practically a hit-and-run. You look great. "
"So do you. Oh, thank you!" She took the bouquet of candy-striped tulips Emma offered. "They're beautiful. "
"I'm in a 'Damn it, it's spring' frame of mind. These said I'm right. Can I give you a hand?"
"Absolutely not. Let me get you a glass of wine. "
"Half a glass. I'm driving, and I really can't stay very long. "
"Half a glass of cab. " Vicki laid the flowers on the counter to free her hands. "Did you come alone?"
"Actually, I'm sort of meeting Sam. "
"Oh," Vicki said, drawing out the syllable.
"Not really, no. "
"Listen. Here, let me do that," she said when Vicki got out a vase for the flowers. Lowering her voice, Emma continued as she dealt with the flowers. "What do you think about Addison and Sam?"
"Are they an item? I didn't realize - "
"No. I was just speculating. I think they'd like each other. "
"Sure. I suppose. You look so good together. You and Sam. "
Emma made a noncommittal sound. "Where's Adam? I didn't see him in the mob. "
"Probably out on the deck having a beer with Jack. "
"Jack's here?" Emma kept her hands busy and her tone casual. "I'll have to say hi. "
"They were talking baseball, last I heard. You know how they are. "
She knew exactly. She'd known Jack Cooke for over a decade, since he and Parker's brother, Delaney, had roomed together at Yale. And Jack had spent a lot of time at the Brown Estate. He'd ultimately moved to Greenwich and opened his small, exclusive architecture firm. He'd been a rock, she remembered, when Parker and Del's parents had been killed in a private plane crash. And when they'd decided to start the business, he'd been a lifesaver by designing the remodels of the pool house and guest house to accommodate the needs of the company. He was practically family.
Yes, she'd make sure to say hi before she left.
She turned with the glass of wine in her hand just as Sam made his way into the room. He was so good-looking, she thought. Tall and built, with that perpetual twinkle in his eyes. Maybe just a tiny bit studied, with his hair always perfectly styled, his clothes always exactly right, but -
"There she is. Hi, Vic. " He passed Vicki a very nice bottle of cabernet - exactly the right thing - kissed her cheek, then gave Emma a warm, warm smile. "Just who I've been looking for. "
He caught Emma up in an enthusiastic kiss that barely bumped the pleasant level on her scale. She managed to ease back an inch and get her free hand on his chest in case he got it into his head to kiss her again. She smiled up at him, added a friendly laugh. "Hi, Sam. "
Jack, dark blond hair tousled from the evening breeze, leather jacket open over faded jeans, walked in from the deck. His eyebrows rose at Emma; his lips curved. "Hey, Em. Don't let me interrupt. "
"Jack. " She nudged Sam back another inch. "You know Sam, don't you?"
"Sure. How's it going?"
"Good. " Sam shifted, draped his arm over Emma's shoulders. "You?"
"Can't complain. " He took a chip, shoveled it into salsa. "How are things back on the farm?" he asked Emma.
"We're busy. Spring's all about weddings. "
"Spring's all about baseball. I saw your mother the other day. She remains the most beautiful woman ever created. "
Emma's casual smile warmed like sunlight. "True. "
"She still refuses to leave your father for me, but hope springs. Anyway, see you later. Sam. "
As Jack walked off, Sam shifted. Knowing the dance well, Emma shifted in turn - so she avoided being trapped between him and the counter. "I'd forgotten how many mutual friends Vicki, Adam, and I have. I know almost everyone here. I need to touch some bases. Oh, and there's someone I really want you to meet. "
Cheerfully, she took Sam's hand. "You don't know my cousin, Addison, do you?"
"I don't think so. "
"I haven't seen her in months. Let's track her down so I can introduce you. "
She pulled him into the heart of the party.
J ACK SCOOPED UP A HANDFUL OF NUTS AND CHATTED WITH A group of friends. And watched Emma lead the Young Executive at Play through the crowd. She looked . . . freaking amazing, he thought.
Not just the sexy, sloe-eyed, curvy, golden-skinned, masses of curling hair, soft, full-lipped amazing. That was killer enough. But you had to add in the heat and light she just seemed to emanate. She made one hell of a package.
And, he reminded himself, she was his best friend's honorary sister.
In any case, it was rare to see her when she wasn't with her regular gang of girls, some of her family, surrounded by people. Or, like now, with some guy.
When a woman looked like Emmaline Grant, there was always some guy. Still, it never hurt to look. He was a man who appreciated lines and curves - in buildings and in women. In his estimation, Emma was pretty much architecturally perfect. So he popped nuts, pretended to listen to the conversation, and watched her slide and sway through the room. Looked casual, he observed, the way she'd stop, exchange greetings, pause, laugh or smile. But he'd made a kind of study of her over the years. She moved with purpose. Curiosity piqued, Jack eased away from the group, merged with another to keep her in his eyeline. The some guy - Sam - did a lot of back stroking, shoulder draping. She did plenty of smiling at him, laughing up at him from under that thicket of lashes she owned. But oh yeah, her body language - he'd made a study of her body - wasn't signaling reception.
He heard her call out Addison! and follow up with that sizzle-in-the-blood laugh of hers before she grabbed a very fine-looking blonde in a hug.
They chattered, beaming at each other the way women did, holding each other at arm's length to take the survey before - no doubt - they told each other how great they looked. You look fabulous. Have you lost weight? I love your hair. From his observations
H E CUT OUT EARLY. HE HAD AN EIGHT O'CLOCK BREAKFAST meeting and a day packed with site visits and inspections. Somewhere in there, or the day after, he needed to carve out some time at the drawing board to work up some ideas for the addition Mac wanted on her studio now that she and Carter were engaged and living together.
He could see how to do it, without insulting the lines and form of the building. But he wanted to get it down on paper, play with it awhile before he showed Mac anything. He hadn't quite gotten used to the idea of Mac getting married - and to Carter. You had to like Carter, Jack thought. He'd barely blipped on Jack's radar when he and Del and Carter had been at Yale together. But you had to like the guy.
Plus, he put a real light in Mac's eyes. That counted big.
With the radio blasting, he turned over in his head various ideas for adding on the space so Carter had a home office to do . . . whatever English professors did in home offices. As he drove, the rain that had come and gone throughout the day came back in the form of a thin snow. April in New England, he thought.
His headlights washed over the car sitting on the shoulder of the road, and the woman standing in front of the lifted hood, her hands fisted on her hips.
He pulled over, got out, then, sliding his hands into his pockets, sauntered over to Emma. "Long time no see. "
"Damn it. It just died. Stopped. " She waved her arms in frustration so he took a cautious step back to avoid getting clocked with the flashlight she gripped in one hand. "And it's snowing. Do you see this?"
"So it is. Did you check your gas gauge?"
"I didn't run out of gas. I'm not a moron. It's the battery, or the carburetor. Or one of those hose things. Or belt things. "
"Well, that narrows it down. "
She huffed out a breath. "Damn it, Jack, I'm a florist, not a mechanic. "
That got a laugh out of him. "Good one. Did you call for road service?"
"I'm going to, but I thought I should at least look in there in case it was something simple and obvious. Why don't they make what's in there simple and obvious for people who drive cars?"
"Why do flowers have strange Latin names nobody can pronounce? These are questions. Let me take a look. " He held out a hand for the flashlight. "Jesus, Emma, you're freezing. "
"I'd have worn something warmer if I'd known I'd end up standing on the side of the road in the middle of the stupid night in a snowstorm. "
"It's barely snowing. " He stripped off his jacket, passed it to her.
She bundled into it while he bent under the hood. "When's the last time you had this serviced?"
"I don't know. Some time. "
He glanced back at her, a dry look out of smoky gray eyes. "Some time looks to have been the other side of never. Your battery cables are corroded. "
"What does that mean?" She stepped up, stuck her head under the hood along with him. "Can you fix it?"
"I can . . . "
He turned his head toward her, and she turned hers toward him. All he could see were those brown velvet eyes, and for a moment, he simply lost the power of speech.
"What?" she said, and her breath whispered warm over his lips.
"What?" What the hell was he doing? He leaned back, out of the danger zone. "What . . . What I can do is give you a jump that should get you home. "
"Oh. Okay. Good. That's good. "
"Then you've got to get this thing in for service. "
"Absolutely. First thing. Promise. "
Her voice jumped a bit and reminded him it was cold. "Go ahead and get in the car, and I'll hook it up. Don't start it, don't touch anything in there, until I tell you. "
He pulled his car around so it was nose-to-nose with hers. As he got his jumper cables, she got out of the car again. "I want to see what you do," she explained. "In case I ever have to do it. "
"Okay. Jumper cables, batteries. You have your positive and your negative. You don't want to get them mixed up because if you hook them up wrong you'll - "
He clamped one onto the battery, then made a strangling noise and began to shake. Instead of squealing, she laughed and smacked his arm. "Idiot. I have brothers. I know your games. "
"Your brothers should've shown you how to jump-start a car. "
"I think they sort of did, but I ignored them. I have a set of those in the trunk, along with other emergency stuff. But I never had to use any of it. Under yours is shinier than mine," she added as she frowned at his engine.
"I suspect the pit of hell is shinier than yours. "
She puffed out a breath. "Now that I've seen it, I can't argue. "
"Get in, turn it over. "
"Turn what over? Kidding," she said.
"Ha. If and when it starts, don't turn it off. "
"Got it. " In the car, she held up crossed fingers, turned the key. The engine coughed, hacked - made him wince - then rumbled to life.
She stuck her head out the window and beamed at him. "It worked!"
He had an errant thought that with that much power, her smile could have sparked a hundred dead batteries. "We'll let it juice up a few minutes, then I'll follow you home. "
"You don't have to do that. It's out of your way. "
"I'll follow you home so I know you didn't conk out on the way. "
"Thanks, Jack. God knows how long I'd've been out here if you hadn't come along. I was cursing myself for going to that damn party when all I wanted to do tonight was zone out with a movie and go to bed early. "
"So why'd you go?"
"Because I'm weak. " She shrugged. "Sam really didn't want to go alone, and, well, I like a party, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to meet him there and hang out for an hour. "
"Uh-huh. How'd it work out with him and the blonde?"
"The blonde you palmed him off on. "
"I didn't palm him off. " Her gaze slid away, then rolled back to his. "Okay, I did, but only because I thought they'd like each other. Which they did. I'd've considered that good deed worth coming out tonight. Except I ended up broken down on the side of the road. It seems unfair. And mildly embarrassing since you noticed. "
"On the contrary, I was impressed. That and the salsa were my favorite parts of the evening. I'm going to take the cables off. Let's see if she holds a charge. If we're good, wait until I'm in my car before you pull out. "
"Okay. Jack? I owe you. "
"Yeah, you do. " He gave her a grin before he walked off.
When her car continued to run, he shut her hood then his own. Once he'd tossed the jumper cables back in his trunk, he got behind the wheel and flashed his lights to signal her to go. He followed her through the lace of the light snow, and tried not to think of that moment under the hood when her breath had brushed warm over his lips.
She gave a friendly toot of her horn when she reached the private road for the Brown Estate. He eased over, stopped. He watched her taillights shimmer in the dark, then disappear around the bend that led to the guest house.
Then he sat a little while longer, in the dark, before turning the car around and heading home. I N HER REARVIEW MIRROR, EMMA SAW JACK STOP AT THE MOUTH of the drive. She hesitated, wondering if she should've asked if he wanted to come down, have some coffee before he doubled back and drove home.
She probably should have - least she could do - but it was too late now. And all for the best, no question.
It wasn't wise to entertain a family friend who banged a bo
She wished she could go by and talk over the whole stupid mess with Parker or Laurel or Mac - better yet, all three of them. But that, too, wouldn't do. Some things couldn't be shared even with the best friends in the world. Especially since it was clear Jack and Mac had gotten snuggly once upon a time. She suspected that Jack got snuggly with a lot of women.
Not that she held it against him, she thought as she parked. She liked the company of men. She liked sex. Sometimes one led to the other.
Besides, how could you find the love of your life if you didn't look for him?
She turned off the car, bit her lip, then turned the key again. It made very unhappy noises, seemed undecided, then fired.
That had to be a good sign, she decided, then switched it off again. But she'd take it into the shop as soon as she could. She'd have to ask Parker about mechanics, as Parker knew everything. Inside the house, she got herself a bottle of water to take upstairs. Thanks to Sam and the stupid battery she wouldn't make it to bed by the righteous hour of eleven, but she could get there by midnight. Which meant she had no excuse to miss the early workout she'd planned for the morning. No excuse, she lectured herself.
She set the water on her bedside table by a little vase of freesia and started to undress. Then realized she was still wearing Jack's jacket.
"Oh, damn it. "
It smelled so good, she thought. Leather and Jack. And that wasn't a scent that was going to give her quiet dreams. She carried it across the room, laid it over the back of a chair. Now she had to get it back to him, but she'd worry about that later.
One of the girls might be going into town for something and could drop it off. It wasn't cowardly to pass the task off. It was efficient.
Cowardice had nothing to do with it. She saw Jack all the time. All the time. She just didn't see the point in making a special trip if someone else was already going. Surely he had another jacket. It wasn't like he needed that particular one immediately. If it was so important, why hadn't he taken it back?
It was his own fault.
And hadn't she said she'd worry about it later?
She changed into a nightshirt then went into the bathroom to begin her nightly ritual. Makeup off, skin toned and moisturized, teeth and hair brushed. The routine and her pretty bathroom usually relaxed her. She loved the happy colors, her sweet slipper tub, the shelf of pale green bottles that held whatever flowers she had handy.
Miniature daffodils now, to celebrate spring. But their cheerful faces seemed to smirk at her. Irritated, she flipped off the light.
She continued the ritual by removing the small mountain of throw pillows from the bed, setting aside the embroidered shams, fluffing up her sleep pillows. She slid under the duvet, snuggled in to enjoy the feel of smooth, soft sheets against her skin, the dreamy scent of freesia perfuming the air, and . . . Shit! She could still smell his jacket.
Sighing, she flopped over on her back.
So what? So what if she had lusty thoughts about her best friend's brother's best friend? It wasn't a crime. Lusty thoughts were absolutely reasonable and normal. In fact, lusty thoughts were good things. Healthy things. She liked having lusty thoughts.
Why wouldn't a normal woman have lusty thoughts about a sexy, gorgeous man with a great body and eyes that were like smoke wrapped up in fog?
She'd be crazy not to have them.
Acting on them, now that would be crazy. But she was perfectly entitled to have them. She wondered what he'd have done if she'd moved in that last inch under the hood of the car and planted one on him?
Being a man, he'd have moved in right back, she imagined. And they'd have spent a very interesting few minutes smolder ing on the side of the road in the lightly falling snow. Bodies heating, hearts pounding with the snow showering over them and . . .
No, no, she was romanticizing it. Why did she always do that, always move from healthy lust to romance? That was her problem, and certainly rooted in the wonderfully romantic love story of her parents. How could she not want what they had?
Put it aside, she ordered herself. She wasn't going to find happy ever after with Jack. Stick with lust. So they'd have gotten all hot and tangled on the side of the road. But. After that impulsive and no doubt spark-loaded kiss, they'd have been awkward and embarrassed with each other. Then they'd have had to apologize to each other, or try to make some kind of a joke out of it. Everything would be weird and strained.
The simple fact was it was too late to act on the lust. They were friends, the next thing to family. You didn't hit on friends and family. She was better off, tons better off, keeping her thoughts to herself and continuing to look for the real thing. For love.
The sort that lasted lifetimes.
NORA ROBERTS SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Vision in WhiteThe Next AlwaysBorn in FireDance Upon the AirJewels of the SunThe WitnessKey of LightBlue Dahlia
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