The Marcelli Bride


Page 17



Why had he started this conversation?


“He’s a jerk, and you’re better off without him,” Joe told her.


“I know that, but it’s not the point. And at the time, it really hurt. There I was, heartbroken, and my sister was trying to make it better. She’s just a nice person.”


“She sounds perfect.”


Darcy nodded. “She is. Pretty much in everything she does. Everyone loves her.”


“Perfect can get boring.”


Darcy glared at him. “Don’t you say anything bad about my sister.”


He held up both hands and took a step back. “You have a pretty complex relationship with Lauren.”


“I know.” She sighed. “Sorry for snapping. Sometimes…” She smiled. “I’m a multifaceted person.”


And charming, he thought as he moved closer. Funny, vulnerable. And the president’s daughter. He was just the hired help. Getting involved would be crazy.


“Oh, wow,” she breathed as she stared up at him.


“I’m not going to kiss you,” he told her.


“I can see that.”


Darcy watched desire darken Joe’s eyes. He might claim he wasn’t going to kiss her, but she would bet a lot of money that he wanted to. She felt all shivery and hot and nervous. But she didn’t move away. Not even an inch. If there was the potential for some lip-lock, she wanted to be there for the whole thing.


He reached out and touched her cheek with his fingers. “I could lose my career over this,” he said quietly.


“No woman could ever be worth that.”


“Agreed.”


But he didn’t step away, and the thought thrilled her. He wanted her. She could feel it in the tension in his body. He wanted her. Not Lauren, he wasn’t interested in political favors. He was—


He leaned forward and claimed her mouth with his. There was heat and promise in that first brush of his lips. She relaxed into him, raising her arms to his shoulders, and let her body sag into his hardness. He pulled her close, angled his head, and swept his tongue against her bottom lip.


She parted without thinking. Need overwhelmed her, and the second he eased inside to claim her, she knew it wasn’t going to be enough. She wanted more. She wanted all of it.


Hunger swept through her, causing her to run her hands up and down his back, urging him closer. Her breasts flattened against his chest, her thighs nestled with his. She wanted to rub against him like a cat—she wanted him touching her everywhere.


Instead she had to content herself with a deep, sensual, perfect kiss. He claimed her mouth with a mastery that left her breathless. His tongue circled hers, teasing, arousing, delighting. His large hands stroked her back before moving lower to cup her rear. When he squeezed, she arched forward, bringing her belly in contact with his erection.


Her breath caught as she realized he was hard. She’d made him want her. Need swelled as did her nipples. They ached. She ached.


Not knowing what else to do, she slid her hands under his T-shirt until she touched bare skin. He was hot and slightly damp, and she found herself wanting to explore him all over. First with her fingers and then with her tongue. She wanted to taste him and consume him.


He pulled back with a suddenness that made her gasp. They stared at each other, both breathing hard. Joe’s eyes were dilated.


Silence filled the room. She waited for him to dismiss what had happened between them. Not because she believed he could, but because her luck with men just wasn’t that good. He stunned her when he gave her a half-grin, half-grimace and said, “It wasn’t supposed to be that great.”


“Yeah?” she asked, unable to keep from smiling.


“Yeah. You’re big trouble. Your father is my commander in chief.”


“Does that really matter?”


“It should.”


Which didn’t answer her question.


“You go first,” he said, motioning to the door.


Right. So they weren’t seen together.


“I’ll wait here,” he continued. “Until it’s safe.”


“I doubt anyone is lurking in the hallway.”


“That’s not what I mean.” He pointed at his crotch.


“Oh.” He was obviously hard, and it was damned impressive. “Right. You don’t want to flash that at Grandma Tessa.”


He winced. “Talking about her will help solve the problem.”


“I live to serve.”


Mia caught up with Darcy late that morning. “You have to come right now,” Mia said as she burst into Darcy’s room. “I’m convinced there’s something going on between Paige and Alex.”


“What? That’s crazy. Agents can’t be involved.”


“I don’t know what the rules are, but they’re always giving each other these smoldering looks. I’ve called a meeting of the Marcelli women and you have to be there. I mean, you’re one of us, now.”


Darcy didn’t think that was true, but she was delighted to be asked. “I’m in.”


“Cool.” Mia grinned. “Francesca is coming, too, so you can meet her and the twins. They’re at the insane age. Running around and getting into everything. There’s two of them and only seven of us. I’m not sure we’ll manage.”


Darcy laughed. “I think we can handle it.”


Mia shook her head. “Have you ever been around toddler twins? Trust me, every second is an adventure.”


It turned out Mia was telling the truth. Eric and Haley were two and a half and too adorable for words. They both had dark hair, and blue, blue eyes. Haley had the kind of curls women sell their souls for. They were also bundles of energy who refused to be contained.


The Marcelli women gathered in the large living room where Darcy met Francesca Reese for the first time. Brenna’s fraternal twin was tall and slender, with short, dark hair and beautiful features.


Brenna settled in a corner of the couch, then announced she would need help when it was time for her to stand up.


“Do you like her hair?” Brenna asked, pointing at Francesca.


Darcy nodded. “It’s really cute.”


“So typical. I cut my hair three years ago and I looked like a yak. She does it right after the twins were born and she’s a supermodel.” Brenna eyed the twins as they raced around the coffee table. “Please, God, no twins for me. I’d have to kill myself.”


Grammy M picked up her cup of tea. “Brenna, darlin’, be careful how you’re talkin’ to the Lord.”


“But I’m sincere. I’m really worried about the twin thing. I can’t have twins. I just can’t. I’ll be forced to send them back.”


“Good luck,” Colleen told her daughter. “They resist the process.” She glanced around. “This is nice, having my girls here. Except for Katie. I miss her. If only she lived closer.”


Grammy M smiled at Brenna. “See how a mother loves her children? You’ll do the same, twins or not.”


“I guess.” Brenna didn’t sound convinced.


Mia flopped down on the second sofa and reached for a cookie on one of the plates of food Grandma Tessa had brought into the room. There’d been a minor scuffle in the kitchen when Grammy M had shown up with brownies, but now Tessa’s cookies and Grammy M’s brownies sat at separate tables.


“Wouldn’t it show up in an ultrasound?” Mia asked as she munched. “Wouldn’t they see four arms or legs?”


“I’ve only had a couple to make sure things are all right. Nic and I don’t want to know the sex of the baby, and if you keep going, someone is bound to slip. It’s just that at one of the ultrasounds, the technician said there were two babies, but since then, we’ve only seen one.” Brenna tried to lean forward, then sagged back and held out her hand. “Someone give me a brownie, please. I need chocolate.”


Little Haley dove for the brownie Colleen picked up, slipped, and banged her head on the coffee table. She started crying, and Eric joined in, Darcy supposed, to be supportive. Francesca grabbed for one twin, Colleen took the other, and Brenna clutched her brownie.


Mia waited until the sobs had died down, then cleared her throat. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why I called this meeting.”


“You said it was because you thought Paige and Alex have something going on,” Darcy said.


Francesca smiled at her. “They’re your Secret Service agents, right?”


“Two of many,” Darcy said with a shrug.


Francesca rocked Haley. “You must get tired of having so many people around.”


“Yeah,” Brenna said. “I had plenty of that when I lived here.”


Tessa bustled into the room and scowled at her granddaughter. “We’re your family, and you’re lucky to have us.”


Brenna grinned. “I love you, too, Grandma Tessa.”


The old woman’s face softened into a smile.


“Hey, back to my agenda,” Mia said. “Paige and Alex. I haven’t actually seen them doing anything, but there are plenty of longing glances. It makes me wonder what’s up. Darcy. You’re the person most likely to know.”


Everyone looked at her. Darcy held her mug of tea like a shield. “Time out. I don’t know anything. I’ve had Paige on my security team before, but I’ve only just met Alex. To be honest, he’s so by the book, I can’t imagine him with a woman.”


“Still waters,” Colleen said. “Men like that can surprise you.”


Brenna, Francesca, and Mia looked at one another, then Mia said, “Mom, if that is any reference to your sex life with Dad, I beg you to stop. No one here wants to know. Especially your daughters. Yuck.”


Colleen’s smile turned smug. “All right, girls, don’t freak out.”


“I’m totally freaked,” Brenna said. “What about you?”


Francesca nodded. “It’s an image I never want in my brain.”


“Alex and Paige,” Mia said. “Stay focused, people.”


Darcy looked at her. “I don’t understand. Do you want to help them get together?”


“Of course.” Mia sat up straighter. “I figure we can trick them into being alone together.”


Interesting plan, Darcy thought. “But they’re already sharing the guesthouse. Doesn’t that mean they’re alone together every night?”


“Oh.” Mia sank back onto the sofa. “Good point. I guess they don’t need our help. So, Darcy, what do you think of Joe?”


Darcy immediately sensed the danger of the situation. Still, she faced the other women bravely and decided the best defense and all that.


“He’s great. What can you tell me about his ex-wife?”


She’d expected a few murmurs about how lovely she was or maybe shrugs when they said they’d never met her. She didn’t expect stunned silence, followed by forty-seven questions at once.


“Married?” Brenna asked. “When did he get married?”


“There’s an ex-wife?” Francesca asked. “Do we know her?”


“Tell me she’s dead,” Grandma Tessa said as she pulled her beads out of her pocket. “Better that than a divorce.”


“I wonder if she’ll tell us what he looked like naked,” Mia mused.


Joe wandered into the kitchen in the late afternoon. He crossed to the refrigerator before he realized Tessa was at the stove. She looked up when he entered but didn’t say anything. Still, the hurt in her eyes was enough to make him feel like a slug.


Dammit, what was he supposed to say to her? He couldn’t give her what she wanted, but that didn’t give him the excuse to be cruel.


He crossed to her and gave her a hug. “I’m sorry about what I said.”



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