The Marcelli Bride

Page 18

She held him with a fierceness that surprised him. “It’s been three years, Joseph.” She stepped back and stared up at him. “How long? When are we family?”

He didn’t know how to answer that. He wasn’t going to lie, but he didn’t want to hurt her again.

She was so small and frail—she didn’t even come to his shoulder. Funny how she seemed so much bigger when she was bustling in the kitchen or bringing a grown man to his knees with one of her deadly cheek pinches.

Finally she turned away. “I’ll make you some pasta,” she said. “You didn’t eat lunch. You must be hungry.”

His first instinct was to say no, but then he remembered what Darcy had told him. About food being love.

“I’d like that,” he said and was rewarded with a glowing smile.

“Sit, sit. You’ll have bread, too. And salad. Maybe some wine. You like the red, yes?”

“That would be great. Thanks.”

She served the food, poured the wine, then sat down across from him. Later he would swear she waited until he’d taken the first forkful of food and his mouth was full.

“So, Joseph. Tell me about your wife.”


S till feeling the need to hide out after inadvertently dropping a bombshell on the family, Darcy retreated to her room and picked up the secure phone that had been installed the second day of her visit. She dialed a familiar number and was connected with her father’s personal assistant.

“It’s Darcy,” she said. “Is he available?”

“No, honey. He’s in a meeting with China. Want me to interrupt?”

Darcy glanced at her watch. It was nearly five here, which made it close to eight in D.C. As per usual, her father was working late.

“No. That’s okay. Tell him…” What? That she missed him? That would make him laugh. “Tell him I called.”

“Will do. Are you okay? Having a good time?”

Darcy looked around the room, at the familiar furnishings and the view of the vineyard just beyond her window.

“I’m having a great time,” she said.

Darcy’s bedroom door opened without warning and Joe stalked inside. She was about to point out that he should at least pretend to knock—what if she’d been naked—when she saw the slight twitch in his cheek and something that looked amazingly like the need to squash, beat, or maim in his eyes.

She put down the book she’d been reading and held up both hands in a gesture that some might take to be surrender.

“You never said it was a secret,” she pointed out, speaking quickly. “It didn’t occur to me they didn’t know. I mean, come on. It’s been three years and you never bothered to mention to your family that you’d been married? That’s not my fault.”

He closed the door and walked to the bed. She thought about scooting over and patting the mattress in invitation but doubted that was why he was here.

“You’re right,” he said, his voice tight and clipped, which could be caused by his clenched teeth. “I didn’t tell them.”

“And you didn’t say I shouldn’t say anything.”


“And you really should have mentioned it to them before this.”

He crossed to the single chair in the room and sank onto the cushion. “Apparently.”

“Are they hysterical?”

“Tessa’s done her rosary twice and is begging me to tell her that my ex is dead, because a dead wife is a whole lot better than divorce in her book. Grammy M and Colleen are hurt, and Brenna and Mia are mad. I haven’t talked with Marco or Lorenzo yet, but I’m sure they’ll give me an earful.”

He seemed surprised. Men, she thought. Sometimes they weren’t all that bright.

“They’re your family. You may not think of them as such, but they think of themselves that way. It’s not like you stubbed your toe and forgot to mention it. You were married. You had a whole other life.”

He shrugged. “I’m not married now. Haven’t been in a while.”

“What happened?” she asked. “I mean why did you guys split up?”

He stared at her without speaking. Darcy figured he was trying to intimidate her. While it kind of worked, she wanted to know more than she was afraid of him.

“It’s a logical question,” she told him. “You’d ask me the same thing if our positions were reversed.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“Okay. Your loss. So what happened?”

Joe leaned back in the chair and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “She couldn’t handle me having to leave without any notice and being gone for months at a time. I’d warned her what it would be like, and she said it was fine. But hearing about it and living it were different. One time I came home and she was gone.”

Darcy’s heart cracked a little in sympathy. “I’m sorry. That must have been horrible.”

“It wasn’t one of my best moments.” He shrugged. “I got over her quicker than I should have, which says something about the state of our relationship, but I really missed the kids.”

“How many?”

“Two. Eight and ten. They were great,” he said with a smile that told her he had a lot of good memories. “Later, when I realized who I missed the most, I wondered if they were the real reason I’d wanted to get married. To have an instant family.”

As soon as the words were out, he straightened, getting all stiff, as if he regretted the confession.

He’d wanted children in his life? She never would have guessed.

“That’s just so sad,” she told him.

“Whatever. I got over it.” He looked at her. “My family doesn’t need to know about the kids.”

“Not a problem. I won’t say anything. I didn’t mean to spill secrets about your divorce.”

“I know. I should have told them myself.”

But he hadn’t. Knowing him as she did, she could guess why. But what didn’t make sense was why he’d told her.

Shortly after midnight, Alex found himself walking restlessly through the small guesthouse. He should have been getting some sleep. He wasn’t on duty, and come morning there would be plenty to do. But he wasn’t sleepy and the light still shining under Paige’s door beckoned him like a siren’s call.

She’d changed, he acknowledged. Softened, but not in a way that interfered with her doing her job. In that respect, she was as focused as always. She seemed more balanced, more connected with people. The drive had faded, maybe disappeared. He would have bet on her staying as career driven as she’d been when he’d first met her, and it pissed him off that the change was due to another man.

He paused outside of her door and put his hand on the knob. Going in would be stupid and weak. Better to walk away. He’d managed to forget about her once before. In fact, after they’d split up and gone their separate ways, he’d barely thought about her at all. So what was the big deal now? He could—

He knocked on the door and opened it at the same time. Paige sat on her bed, reading. There was a glass of wine on the nightstand and soft music playing in the background.

She raised her eyebrows. “It’s a little late for business,” she said. “And we’re officially off duty.”

“I know.”

He started to back out of the room, but she gestured to the open bottle of wine on the dresser. “Help yourself,” she told him.

There was a second glass on the tray. Had she been expecting company? Expecting him?

After pouring himself a glass of chardonnay, he moved to the overstuffed chair in the corner of the room and sank down.

“The assignment’s going well,” he said into the silence.

Paige closed her book and set it beside her. She wore the same pajamas he’d seen her in before. A tank top over loose pants. No bra. The curve of her breast was clearly visible, as was the slight pucker of her nipple.

She picked up her wine and took a sip. “I agree. Darcy is relaxing, which is good. I had an interesting talk with Joe today. He thinks Darcy should receive some advanced self-defense training. Maybe get started in some form of martial arts. He also suggested I put together a workout program for her that will get her into some heavy weights.”

Alex wasn’t sure it would help. “She was taken by four men. Very few women would be able to stop that.”

“Agreed, but the training and additional strength would give her more of a sense of control. That might help her sleep at night.”

He worried more about the subject’s physical safety than her emotional state of mind. Still it couldn’t hurt.

“Whatever you want to do with her is fine with me,” he said.

“How thrilled I am to have my leader’s permission,” she said with a grin. “I know Darcy will do the dance of joy.”

He felt the teasing more than he should have. “Why were you telling me if not to get permission.”

“I was having a conversation, Alex. You might remember them.”

She thought he was too into the job. Not interesting enough. The assessment stung. He’d had to work his ass off to get his present assignment. She, of all people, should appreciate that.

“I know how to have a conversation,” he said. “Let’s have one. Do you miss being married?”

He wasn’t sure if the question surprised her, but it shocked the hell out of him. He’d planned on saying something about the winery. Those other words had come from nowhere.

“I miss Ben,” she said quietly. Her green eyes seemed to darken with what? Memories? Pain?

“A lot of people were surprised when you got married,” he said. Mostly him. “What happened?”

“The usual.” She smiled. “I met Ben and fell in love.”

She’d claimed to love him but there’d been no talk of marriage. No search for a happily ever after. Why? What had that Ben guy had that he, Alex, hadn’t?

“It screwed up your career,” he said.

“If you mean I didn’t get ahead as quickly as I could have, that’s true. On the other hand, I actually had a private life, and that was very important to me. Ben taught me life isn’t an all-or-nothing sport. There are points of compromise, and sometimes that’s even better than winning.”

On what planet? Alex drank more wine and wished they were talking about anything else.

“When I met Ben,” she continued, “I warned him I would work long hours and have to travel. He said he would rather have me around some of the time than not at all. It was a unique perspective.”

Alex didn’t know what to do with that information. “So, how did he die?”

“Lymphoma. He had it when we met, but he was in remission. Unfortunately, it came back and then he died.”

Alex stared at her. “You knew he was dying when you married him?”

“I knew the disease was likely to reoccur and that the odds of us growing old together were slim.”

“Why would you do that?”

Paige smiled. “Because I loved him. Because I would rather have had a short time with him than none at all.”

Annoyance flared into something bigger and hotter. “You were willing to give up your career for some guy who was dying, but you broke up with me because your career was all-important?”

“I told you, Ben taught me to compromise. Besides, you never wanted to marry me.”

“Oh, yeah? How do you know?”

One corner of her mouth turned up. “You never asked.”

This was not how he’d wanted the evening to go. He stood and put the glass back on her dresser. “I won’t bother you anymore,” he said stiffly.

“You’re not a bother.”

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