The Marcelli Bride

Page 11

She smiled. “Less interested in making you crazy?”


“You’re a lucky man, Joe Larson,” she said. “You have a family most people would envy.”

His expression turned from wary to trapped. She sensed he did not want to be having this conversation with her. She also knew that he wasn’t comfortable walking away from her. After all, she was the person they were all trying to keep safe.

“Oh, I have to admit I like that,” she murmured.

His dark gaze lasered in on her face. “Like what?”

“Having power over an ex-SEAL.”

One eyebrow rose. “Not in this lifetime or the next.”

“Uh-huh. The thing is, you can’t go anywhere, can you?”

She moved closer, then circled around him. Was it possible to make him do tricks? She grinned. His eyes narrowed.

“Ever married?” she asked.

“Once. You?”

She laughed. “You hardly have to ask. Nearly every detail of my life has been played out in the press. No engagements, no serious boyfriends. At least not in a while. Dating the president’s daughter comes with restrictions most guys aren’t willing to take on. Now back to you. What happened to the little woman?”

“I used to ship out for six, eight months at a time. Kind of makes it hard to keep the home fires burning.”

Yet other men managed to do it. Why not Joe? He was good-looking enough. He had a body that was near godlike in its perfection. When he forgot to act as though he had a stick up his ass, he was okay to talk to. So why no entourage of women hanging on him? Why did he always act as if he would rather be somewhere else?

“You do like women, right?” she asked, pretending a seriousness she didn’t feel.

Fury erupted in him. She felt both the energy and the heat, but his control was impressive. Not by a flicker of a lash did he react to the insult. “What do you think?”

“I think your past could make for a very interesting story. But don’t worry. I won’t ask you. There are plenty of folks around here who would like nothing more than to tell me all they know about you.”

He groaned.

“Oh, yeah,” she said with a laugh. “The hell of family. Why is it so hard for you to be with them?”

“This isn’t a conversation we’re going to have.”

“Why not?”

“The subject doesn’t interest me.”

But it interested her. Why did he resist such a wonderful group of people? From what she’d seen in the past two days, all that the Marcellis wanted was the freedom to love him. What wouldn’t she give to have a piece of that for herself.

“I can help you with this,” she said.

“No, thanks.”

“Oh, but you don’t have a choice. We’re trapped here, and I could use a distraction.” She didn’t mean any of it, but threatening him was fun.

“When did you get to be an expert?” he asked.

“I’m not. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. That’s me. Your new instructor on getting along with your family. We’ll have classes and everything. You can thank me later.”

“Not likely.” His gaze narrowed. “This is a joke, right?”

She arched her eyebrows. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

The man actually growled. She had a feeling he was thinking that he would rather have an arm cut off than deal with her and the Marcellis. Not that he had a choice. Neither of them were going anywhere, and she was in a position to force her will on him.

For once being the president’s daughter didn’t seem like such a bad thing.

Mia Marcelli didn’t sit still, Paige noted. She squirmed, hunched over, straightened, then bounced to her feet.

“I didn’t know what those agents wanted when they came to see me last week,” Mia said as she took the mug of coffee Paige offered. “I thought it was about the spy stuff.”

“What spy stuff?”

Mia rolled her eyes. “They keep asking me to be a spy. Is that crazy or what? I mean look at me. Do I blend in?”

“Why you?” Paige asked. “Do you know?”

Mia shrugged. “I do languages. Give me a good instructor and a few weeks and I can function using that language. Give me three months and I can talk like a native. It’s my brain. I’m really smart about other stuff, too, but languages are my thang. I try to pick up a couple every year, you know, just for fun.”

As Paige had struggled with high school Spanish and barely passed, she didn’t know what to say. “Good for you. Did you accept any of the offers?”

Mia wrinkled her nose. “No. I just graduated from Georgetown, and I’m starting with the State Department in September. This is my last summer of freedom, and I was going to spend it traveling with Ian. Are you guys going to kill him?”

Paige laughed. “No. We want to find out more about him, though.”

“Because of Darcy.” Mia’s eyes got wide. “Why is she here?”

“There was a kidnapping attempt on Lauren. They took Darcy by mistake.”

“Whoa—that’s scary. I wonder how you guys picked this place to hide her. But it’s good. I mean, the Grands will love her to death. I know they always make me feel better when I’ve had a bad day or something.”

Alex walked into the kitchen. “We’re nearly done,” he told Paige, then he turned to Mia. “Your friend will be free to go in about an hour.”

“So he’s not dangerous?” Mia asked. “I could have told you that. Ian’s fun, but not the least bit deep, and isn’t depth of character required for true commitment to a cause?”

Alex stared at her without speaking. Paige was careful to hide her amusement.

Mia rose and walked over to Alex. “You obviously work out. Talk about muscles. So who are you?”

“Special Agent Alex Vanmeter. I’m in charge of this operation.”

“Ooh, our fearless leader.” She glanced at Paige and grinned. “I just love military types. And guys into security. There’s that whole ‘take a bullet’ mentality. The ultimate sacrifice. Of course it doesn’t measure up against Kyle Reese in Terminator. He traveled across time, but death is a close second.”

Alex sighed heavily. “Ms. Marcelli,” he began.

Mia moved in close and rubbed her palm against his upper arm. “Mia. Call me Mia. And I’ll call you Alex.” She stared into his eyes. “Ian’s just a summer fling. It’s not serious at all. I mean, he’s fun, but I can’t imagine living with him for the next sixty years. He talks too much, and I’d be forced to kill him. Then I’d need to be punished. Would you want to be the one to punish me, Special Agent in Charge Vanmeter?”

Paige had a feeling that if Alex had been drinking, he would have spit. Color darkened his cheeks as he jerked free of her touch and stepped back.

“Perhaps you would like to return to the house until we’re finished questioning your friend,” he said firmly.

Mia sighed. “All right. But if you change your mind, let me know.”

She waggled her fingers at Paige and sauntered out of the guesthouse.

Paige began to chuckle as soon as Mia left.

Alex glared at her. “You think that’s funny?”

“That you have a groupie? Absolutely. She’s just playing with you, Alex. She doesn’t mean it.”

He grabbed a bottle of iced tea from the refrigerator. “If she gets in the way of my job, I want you to talk to her.”

“Oh, no. If you have a problem with Mia, you take it up with her. She’s not a threat, and if you can’t handle a little flirting from a twenty-one-year-old grad student, then you’re not the man I thought you were.”

Alex’s glare deepened. “You like her.”

“Of course. She’s fabulous.”

“Then she’s your problem.”

“Sorry, no. I’m busy with Darcy.” She moved close and batted her eyes. “But I’m sure a big, bad agent like you can handle little Mia.”

Alex set the bottle on the counter and grabbed her upper arms. There was nothing challenging about his hold, or threatening. But the second he touched her, everything changed.

For a moment, time shifted and Paige found herself slipping back to her weeks in training. When Alex had been so much more than a fellow recruit. The heat of his hand burned through to memories she’d thought she had forgotten. The scent of his body reminded her of being naked and in bed and never ever having enough of him.

Wanting slammed into her like a shot from a .45. Need joined it, making her hungry and weak and suddenly afraid.

Then time righted itself and she was back in the kitchen, a very different person than she’d been before.

“This isn’t a game, Paige. This is deadly serious.”

She nodded, not sure if he meant the situation with Darcy, the trouble with Mia, or what was happening between him and her.

He dropped his hand, grabbed his iced tea, and walked away. She was left alone in the kitchen, shaken, aroused, and confused as hell.

Darcy sat in front of the window, doing her best to draw the vineyard. The problem was her view was limited by a couple of large trees. As much as she would like to walk outside and find the perfect spot for an afternoon of drawing, she wasn’t sure she was willing to put up with the security entourage that would accompany her. Their silent but very real presence wouldn’t do much for her creativity.

Before she could decide if the pain was worth the price, someone knocked on the door. Before she could say anything, it burst open and Mia bounced into the room.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” the younger Marcelli said as she jumped onto the bed and stretched out. “It’s very exciting. I’m the youngest. You knew that, right? Mom made one last attempt to have a son, and I came along. They’ve hidden their disappointment pretty well. And now they adore me, so they’re stuck, right? Plus they have Joe. So, you’re here. Wow. How are you adjusting? Was it too horrible being kidnapped? I’ll bet you were brave. You look like the brave type. I would have screamed and begged and really embarrassed myself, I just know it. Do you like having Secret Service agents all around? I met Alex. He’s hunky.” She glanced around, as if checking that they were alone, then lowered her voice. “Do you, like, get to have sex with the agents? Is that too personal? Should I wait a couple of days before asking that?”

Darcy put down her pencil and stared at her visitor. “Honest to God, I have no idea what to say to you.”

Mia tucked her hands behind her head and beamed. “I know. I often have that effect on people, but they love me anyway.”

“I can only imagine.”

Mia sat up. “They searched the car. I turned into the driveway, and these men appeared from nowhere. They had guns and ordered me to stop. I had to show them ID, then they searched the car. I think they were looking for a bomb or something. Then they said we could drive up to the house but not to get out of the Jeep until we were instructed to. It’s like being in a spy movie. And the worst part is I can’t tell anyone. That seriously sucks.”

Darcy felt as if she could barely catch her breath. She’d thought that Brenna was high energy, but Brenna had nothing on Mia.

“I guess I can talk about it with Ian,” Mia continued. “Of course I can’t talk to him about Alex.” She grinned. “You didn’t answer my question about sex with the agents, did you?”

“No. And that’s my answer. No. Haven’t, wouldn’t, don’t want to.”

“But he’s very hunky.”

“Maybe. I can’t imagine him naked, though. He’s too uptight.”

Mia sighed and flopped back on the bed. “Oh, I can clearly see him naked, and it’s a very nice picture, let me tell you. Yum.” She raised her head. “You know I’m just playing, right? I say a lot of stuff to make people nervous, but I don’t really mean it. Ian and I are together—at least for now. I wouldn’t cheat on him or anything.”

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