The Marcelli Bride

Page 10

Lorenzo might annoy his granddaughter, but Darcy heard the love in her voice, too.

They left the carts and walked into the main buildings of the winery. Brenna showed her the pressing room, the fermenting room, and the equipment that delivered ready wine into bottles. Paige hovered by the main entrance while Alex stalked from room to room, checking for terrorists in all the shadows.

“I need to talk to my manager,” Brenna said. “I’ll just be a second.”

Darcy nodded and crouched down to pat Max as she examined the bottling equipment more closely.

“This is interesting,” she said. “My peak tour experience had been watching them manufacture M&M’s, but this is just as good.” She stood. “You must love being a part of it.”

Joe shrugged, as if it didn’t matter.

She faced him. “You don’t care about this?”


“But they’re an amazing family.”

“We’re related. That doesn’t make us family.”

She couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d morphed into a giant moose.

“But that’s crazy,” she told him. “Why on earth would you walk away from all this? It’s your heritage, it’s who you are.”

“I’m not interested in their money.”

“I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about belonging to something bigger than just you. There’s history here, and love. People who care about you.”

He turned away. “I’m here because of my job. Nothing else.”

She could hear Lauren’s voice in her head telling her this was a really good time to change the subject. She didn’t want to alienate someone on her security team on her first day. There were probably at least fourteen different, polite ways to handle the situation. Darcy ignored them all.

“I thought you had to be smart to be a SEAL. I guess not.”

Brenna returned, and they completed the tour. Joe stayed in the background, watching Darcy as she interacted with everyone she met.

He hadn’t thought about her as a person before. To him she’d been little more than the slightly attractive reason he was stuck here instead of back on base. Not that there was any guarantee that he would have been allowed to stay on base after the incident with the admiral’s boat.

Now he saw her as an individual—one with a temper. She liked dogs, had a smart mouth, and was shy with strangers, although she forced herself to act otherwise. She was also afraid.

Brenna opened her car door and Max jumped inside. She turned to Darcy.

“I had fun,” she said.

“Me, too.” Darcy smiled, then leaned in to hug her. Brenna’s large stomach got in the way.

“I’m huge,” Brenna said with a sigh.

Darcy touched her belly. “You’re lucky.”

Her voice had a wistful quality that made Joe feel as if he’d stumbled onto something personal. Before he could turn away, Brenna reached for him.

“All right, big guy. I’m outta here. Take care of our guest.” She lowered her voice. “I like her. Based on what I read in the paper, I thought I’d hate her, but I don’t. So be nice to her.”

“You’re not the boss of me.”

“So you like to think.”

Brenna moved to the car and climbed in. Darcy stood there and waved until she disappeared around the corner.

“That was fun,” she said when they were alone. “Your sister’s great. I really like how she bullies you.”

“I let her think she bullies me.”

“Oh. Right. That’s how it is.”

Her eyes were bright with humor, her mouth smiling. She was pretty, he thought, as heat tumbled in his gut and moved south. And as much as he hated to side with Brenna—if she found out she would never let him forget—he agreed with her assessment of Darcy. From what he’d read in the paper, she was supposed to be a class A bitch. So far, no real sign of that.

Paige strolled up. “Hey, Darcy. What’s up for the rest of the day?”

“I’m not sure. I’d like to head out and sketch the vineyards.”

“Sure. Give us about a thirty-minute heads-up. We’ll send you out with a team of three.”

Darcy’s smile faded. “Sure. Thanks.”

Paige wandered back to the guesthouse. Joe turned to Darcy.

“Not in the mood for an entourage?” he asked.

“I don’t mind that. Sometimes I forget why I need them. I’m not excited to be reminded.”

“You were kidnapped. They want to be careful.”

“And I want them to be careful.”

She turned toward the house, but he grabbed her arm to stop her. Her skin was soft against his fingers.

“What?” she demanded. “Did I disobey? Do I have to get down and give you twenty?”

He studied her face. The shadows were darker today. “You’re not sleeping.”

Instantly her expression closed, and she jerked free of his hold. “I’m fine.”

“You should talk about it to someone.”

“Are you volunteering?”

“Maybe Paige could help.”

“Don’t worry about me.”

He knew what she was going through—not the particulars but what it was like to be unable to come down after an assignment. “There are ways to handle post-traumatic stress—”

“Don’t you dare psychoanalyze me,” she told him. “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“Actually I do. And while you’re already pissed off at me, I’m going to tell you to start eating better. And exercising. It will help you sleep.”

She headed for the house. “Go away,” she called over her shoulder as she ran up the stairs and ducked inside.

He wanted to, but there was nowhere to go. Like her, he was trapped here for the duration. Also like her, he had ghosts haunting his sleep and things he didn’t want to remember.


T wo days later Joe heard a commotion in the driveway. As Darcy had stuck close to the house, he’d been trapped inside as well, and he was happy for an excuse to get outdoors. As he stepped outside, a familiar battered Jeep pulled up. Instantly several Secret Service agents appeared and surrounded the vehicle.

“Don’t shoot,” Mia said as she got out of the driver’s side and held up both hands. “We’re unarmed.”

Joe felt himself smile. When Mia was around, life was never boring.

She spotted him and squealed. “Joe! You’re here! Did you know about the Secret Service? They stopped us at the turn-off to the driveway and searched the car. Now I think they’re going to take Ian out back and shoot him.”

As she spoke a tall, lanky blond guy climbed out of the Jeep and also held up his hands.

“I don’t get it,” the kid said, looking both confused and scared. “What I do?”

Paige took Mia’s friend by the arm. “If you’ll come this way,” she said as she steered him toward the guesthouse.

Mia waited until the agents had walked away before lowering her arms and racing toward Joe.

“What gives?” she demanded as she launched herself toward him. He grabbed her and pulled her against him, then hugged her close.

“All these questions,” he said, putting her down. “How about starting with a greeting?”

She grinned up at him. Mia was barely five foot three, with big brown eyes and brown hair she always had streaked blond. Too much makeup stained her face, and she insisted on wearing trashy cropped shirts and too-short shorts. But she was pure energy, and she adored him with a devotion that never wavered.

Her full mouth swelled into a pout. “You should be greeting me. You never answer my e-mails. Why is that? I’m very faithful about writing.”

He patted her on the head, deliberately mussing her hair. “I don’t consider ‘hey, get any lately’ correspondence I want to respond to.”

“You’re such a stick-in-the-mud.” She glanced toward the guesthouse and then back at him. “What’s up with the police brutality?”

“They’re being careful.”

“Who’s they?”

Joe wasn’t sure what to say. Of all his family members, Mia was the biggest risk to blab. “You didn’t tell anyone you were coming to visit.”

“This is my home, Joseph,” Mia told him sternly. “I don’t need permission to show up. So what did I interrupt? An alien landing? Secret nuclear experiments? Although Brenna won’t like anything that messes with her precious wine. Why don’t you—”

The back door opened. Joe heard it, and he knew who had appeared by the expression of total stunned disbelief on Mia’s face.

“Holy shit,” she breathed. “That’s the president’s daughter.”

Joe glanced back at Darcy. “Meet Mia Marcelli, the youngest and least mannered of the four sisters.”

Mia slugged him in the arm, then walked over to Darcy. “Wow. What on earth are you doing here? Are you lost?”

Darcy smiled. “No. I’m hiding out for a few weeks.”

Mia turned on him. “That’s why those government types came and asked all those questions. I thought it was about something else. This is so incredibly cool.” She looked at the guesthouse and gasped. “Oh, no. Ian wasn’t cleared, was he? That’s the big deal. I brought an unknown enemy into sacred territory. Jeez. What will they do to him?”

Joe didn’t have the answer, so he shrugged.

“You’re no help,” Mia said as she took off at a run toward the guesthouse. “Wait!” she yelled. “He’s not a terrorist. We’re just sleeping together. Don’t hurt him!”

Joe watched her for a second, then turned to Darcy. “We’re all so proud.”

Darcy continued to watch as Mia entered the Secret Service headquarters. “She’s great. I can’t wait to meet your other two sisters.”

“They’re both a little more low-key. Although Francesca has a master’s in psychology, which makes her think she knows more than she does.”

“Then she must have a field day with you.”

Joe hadn’t seen much of Darcy in the past couple of days. He knew he’d pissed her off, and he’d half expected her to report him to Paige or Alex, complaining that he’d crossed the line between the hired help and those who were part of the inner circle. But neither of them had said anything to him.

Now he took in the shadows under her eyes—they were darker than before. There was a wariness in her expression, as if she expected him to attack.

He told himself he didn’t care if she never slept again, that his entire focus was on getting through this assignment and getting back to the base. Nothing else mattered. Not her, not his family, and especially not the awareness he felt whenever she was around.

“You’re looking fierce about something,” Darcy said. “I was teasing about your sister. You don’t have to be so sensitive.”

He stiffened as if she’d shot him. “I’m not sensitive.”

Darcy held in a smile. Men were so predictable. Violate their sense of manliness and they got all prickly and defensive.

“Of course not. How could I have thought such a thing?” He glared at her but didn’t speak. No doubt he wasn’t sure if she was kidding. The last time they’d been together, he’d pissed her off, and she’d reacted. Maybe overreacted. She suspected Joe had only been trying to help.

“I like your family,” she said as a change of subject. “Mia reminds me a lot of Brenna.”

“They’re alike,” he admitted. “Katie and Francesca are similar, too. Less volatile.”

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