The Marcelli Bride

Page 19

Anger gave energy to his stride as he walked to the door. “I’ll see you in the morning. Good night.”

“Alex, wait.”

But he didn’t. Instead he stepped into the hall and closed her door behind him.

He stood there in the darkness, but she didn’t come out. She didn’t beg him to return. And then he didn’t know why he’d left in the first place, but it was too late to change that now.

Joe walked through the winery. Funny how this was the one place he could usually find to be alone. No Grandma Tessa trying to feed him or talk about his ex-wife. No Brenna wanting to talk about grapes or his ex-wife, or Mia wanting to talk about God knows what, including his ex-wife, with Ian offering a hundred different opinions. No Darcy.

He didn’t have a specific complaint about her, except he was an idiot where she was concerned. He wasn’t supposed to even like her. She should be a nonperson. Simply the subject to be kept safe. Nothing more. But she was real and alive, and for some reason he’d yet to figure out, she got to him.

In an effort to distract himself, he walked into Lorenzo’s office. The old man wasn’t there—a good thing because Joe wasn’t interested in going another round on inheritance, his future, or changing his name from Larson to Marcelli.

He glanced at the old ledger books, the charts that detailed production, and the big map on the wall—the one that showed all the Marcelli land, and most of Wild Sea next door. He moved closer and traced the line of the coast, then studied the elegant script that spelled out the family name.

He wasn’t one of them, never had been, never would be. But no matter how many times he told them, they ignored him. It was as if they thought they could make him believe by their combined force of will. As if they could force him into what they saw as his destiny.

A familiar slow step caught his attention. He turned to the doorway and saw Lorenzo enter the room. The old man nodded at Joe, then made his way to his desk where he sat down heavily.

“There are too many women in this family,” he announced as he rested his cane against the desk. “There always have been. God could have blessed me with five grandsons, but instead he saw fit to surround me with women.” He leaned back in his chair and eyed Joe. “You had the right idea. Join the navy and leave the women behind.”

Joe grinned. “They’re letting women in the navy these days. Even on the ships.”

“Fools. It was better before. When a man could be alone with his thoughts. Now—all the talking. If Tessa is awake her lips are moving, and not in prayer.”

Joe held in his amusement. “At this point, she’s not going to change.”

Lorenzo nodded. “I know. She makes me tired. Of course you would know that. A man learns things when he takes a wife.”

Joe groaned. “Not you, too.”

“Of course me.” The old man shook his head. “You didn’t tell us.”

“It didn’t matter. The marriage was long over before I knew about the Marcellis.”

Before Joe could respond, Ian popped his head in the office. “Hey. There you are. I thought I’d find you here. Hi. We’re going to be heading out. Mia and I want to go down to San Diego for a few days before coming back here. Joe, you think you could get us on base? It would be really cool to see some of the ships and planes and stuff up close. I’d really like to.”

Ian stepped into the office and looked around. “Great place. Marcelli is the best. Everything is so interesting here. I really like the wine stuff. Mia doesn’t know much, but we’ve done tasting and watched the guys working. If I wasn’t going into government work, I think I’d want to work with wine. But here. Not in Napa or up there. I grew up here.” He spotted the map on the wall. “Cool. I know this part of the coast. My grandfather took me fishing out here all the time.”

Ian traced a spot on the map and grinned at Joe. “There are some caves here. A few are really deep. You can get a big boat in them. Some fill up with every tide, so you don’t want to be there at the wrong time. It could be really bad. But I liked the caves. You probably know all about swimming in caves, from being a SEAL. Right? Maybe you two could go fishing. Or if you wait until Mia and I come back, I could go with you.”

Ian actually paused for breath. Lorenzo looked shell-shocked while Joe took advantage of the lull. “Is that Mia calling you?” he asked.

“What? Oh, she doesn’t know I came in here. I’d better go find her. Thanks for everything. You guys have been great.” He shook hands with Lorenzo, then turned to Joe. “Mia thinks you’re terrific. She’s always talking about you and—”

Joe pulled his hand free. “Thanks. You’d better go find her. You know how Mia gets.”

“What? Oh, right.”

Ian disappeared. Joe crossed to the chair opposite Lorenzo’s and sank down. “Not my favorite guy.”

Lorenzo frowned. “What does she see in him?”


“Then why is she with him? I want Mia married and having babies, but not with that one.”

Joe agreed. “Mia isn’t interested in settling down right now. So she picks men who don’t challenge her. She could never be with someone she didn’t respect. That means she’s protected—she won’t fall in love with someone like Ian.”

Lorenzo stared at him. “You have considered this.”

He shrugged. “I’ve had a lot of free time since I got here.”

“You have been around the women too long. They are changing your brain. Come. We’ll go taste from the barrels. You can tell me what you think.”

Lorenzo slowly rose to his feet. Leaning heavily on the cane, he led the way into the barrel room, where he motioned for one of the workers to come along. Small samples of wine were poured and glasses handed around.

Joe braced himself for a volley of criticism. There was no way he could survive a barrel tasting with his limited knowledge. Despite three years of visits to the Marcellis, he still preferred beer to wine.

“You taste what will be there in the future,” Lorenzo said, swirling the liquid in his glass and studying it. “The hints of how the flower will blossom.” He inhaled the smell of the wine. “It is still young. Like a child. But when it grows, what will it become?”

Joe took a sip and grimaced. The flavor was too sharp, too thick, too much of everything. Before he could say anything, Lorenzo also tasted the wine.

“You see,” he said. “The blending has already begun.”


The old man’s eyes narrowed. “What do you taste?” he asked sharply.

Joe shrugged and told the truth. “Really bad wine.”

Lorenzo muttered something under his breath before saying, “You know nothing of us. Nothing of our wine. You should know. This should be who you are.”

Joe was tired of the argument, tired of the criticism. “Who’s fault is that?” he asked, allowing his temper to get the best of him. “If I remember correctly, you’re the one who made sure I was sent away, so don’t go blaming me for what I do and don’t know. You’re responsible, old man.”

“That was a long time ago,” Lorenzo snapped. “You know about us now. You should be here, married, having babies. You owe this family.”

Joe set down his glass. “I owe you nothing. After thirty years I find out about you. So what? I have a whole life that doesn’t include you or the Marcellis. You get that? I made my own way in the world. You came looking for me when it was finally convenient. You keep pushing, but I’m not interested.”

Lorenzo narrowed his gaze. “So now you say you don’t want your family. What kind of man thinks such a thing?”

“I do.”

“Because the navy is so wonderful? What happens when you get old, eh? They won’t want you anymore. But here, we will always want you.”

“That’s bullshit,” Joe yelled, matching Lorenzo’s rising voice. “You don’t want me. You want some stud service to continue the family name because you have an outdated concept of a woman’s place in the world. Brenna’s doing this a whole lot better than I ever could.”


Joe turned and saw Darcy standing in the barrel room. She looked more amused than shocked by all the shouting.

“What do you want?” he demanded.

She folded her arms over her chest and leaned against the wall. “If anyone was curious about the two of you being related, this moment would satisfy them. You even yell the same. Anyway, Mia and Ian are packed up and leaving. I thought the two of you might want to say good-bye.”

Lorenzo shook his head. “That girl,” he said as he limped out of the room.

Darcy stayed where she was, watching Joe.

“I wouldn’t have pegged you for a screamer,” she said. “But you were matching him, decibel for decibel. It kinda kills my image of the cool, collected SEAL.”

“He pisses me off.”

“I guess.” Her mouth curved into a smile. “Who would have thought Grandpa Lorenzo could take on the big, bad military guy and win.”

He moved close and stared down at her. “I know forty-seven ways to kill you with my bare hands.”

“Uh-huh.” The smile widened. “And I can bring you to your knees with a single sentence.”

No way, he told himself, liking how she wasn’t intimidated by him or the argument.

“Prove it.”

She rested one hand on his chest, drew in a deep breath, and then sighed. “Joe, I think we should talk about our feelings.”


“I don’t think my stitches are even,” Darcy said as she stared at the ten-inch square of fabric in her hands. “Aren’t they supposed to be even?”

Paige leaned over and studied Darcy’s work, then glanced at her own. “Hey, you’re doing better than me. At this rate, the most they’ll let me do is collect leftover scraps and throw them in the trash.”

Darcy tugged at the thread, but it wouldn’t pull through all the way, which left a little bit sticking up that didn’t exactly match the rest of the pattern.

“This is for a good cause,” she muttered. “Tell me it is, because I’m so not getting it.”

“We’re becoming better seamstresses so that when the next Marcelli bride gets her dress made we can help. Not that we’ll be here, but it beats weeding the vineyards, right?”

Darcy smiled. “I don’t think they’d make us do that.”

So far the Marcellis hadn’t asked her to do much of anything except show up for meals and be friendly. Grammy M had stopped by with the squares of fabric and had taught them a couple of basic quilting stitches, with the understanding that in time they would put their newfound skills to good use on a wedding gown.

While Darcy loved the idea of a family of women sewing each bride’s dress, she had a feeling she wasn’t going to be here long enough to see it happen. Although maybe they would invite her back when Mia got married.

“Have you talked to Lauren?” Paige asked, before she tugged too hard, broke her thread, and swore. “I’m not domestic. It’s as simple as that.”

“You and me both,” Darcy said with a laugh. She tossed her square onto the coffee table in front of the sofa. “Yeah, I’ve talked to Lauren. I feel really guilty. I’m here and she’s stuck in some farmhouse in the Midwest. Lately she seems to know way too much about growing corn, which is a little scary. I don’t think she has anything else to do with her day but watch it grow and ripen.”

Paige grinned. “She’s fine. I promise.”

“Hope so.” Darcy glanced at the agent. “You know, Mia’s convinced there’s something going on between you and Alex.”

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