The Marcelli Bride

Page 21

“Not the same way.”

“That’s unfortunate, because they are just as willing to give up their lives for you. They love you, Joe. More than you know and certainly more than you deserve. I wish you could see that.”

He shrugged, not sure what to say.

“The good news is they’re not going to give up,” she told him. “You are so stuck with them.”

“I’ve figured that out already. Brenna and Mia are easy, but I don’t know what to do with the rest of them.”

“You’re letting Grandma Tessa feed you. That’s something.”

He shrugged. “It’s just food.”

“Not to her. My next goal is for you to start calling people by their actual names.”

He didn’t like the sound of that. “What are you talking about?”

“You avoid mentioning anyone by name. Probably because you don’t want to call Colleen and Marco Mom and Dad, which makes sense, but what about the Grands. Even I’m calling them Grammy M and Grandma Tessa. It’s who they are. The fact that they’re related to you is beside the point.”

He made a noise low in his throat. She laughed.

“Are you growling at me?” she asked, sounding more delighted than annoyed.


“I’ve never had a man growl at me before.”

“They were probably all too scared of your Secret Service agents.”

“And you’re not?”

“I could take every one of them.”

Darcy stood by the window in her room, but instead of the view, she saw questions. So many opportunities had seemed to slip through her fingers. Times when she could have said something, only to hesitate out of fear or concern or need. What had she missed because of that hesitation? What had been lost?

She crossed to the secure phone on the nightstand in the corner and dialed Lauren’s number. Her sister answered in two rings.

“Hi, it’s me,” Darcy said.

“Hi, you. How’s it going? Are you basking in your sunny days and sultry nights?”

Darcy smiled. “There’s not much sultry here. Humidity is required for that.”

Lauren sighed. “There’s plenty here. Near record levels. The corn is growing, though. Growing and moving closer to the house. I’m beginning to feel like a character in a Stephen King novel. Soon I’ll be slipping into insanity.”

Darcy sat on the edge of the bed and battled guilt. “I’m sorry you’re stuck wherever you are.”

“Me, too, but I’ll survive. The Secret Service guys are nice, and I’m teaching myself to cook. Nothing up to White House standards, of course, but I never really bothered before. Even when I was married…” Her voice trailed off.

Darcy knew her sister enough to know she was about to get lost in the past. Given that Lauren was trapped in the middle of nowhere and on her own, she didn’t think that was a good idea.

“You should plan your welcome-home party,” Darcy said quickly. “Start working on the guest list. You can put me on top.”

Lauren laughed. “Hardly. You don’t like all those fancy events, but I appreciate you making the effort for me.”

“Is that what you think?” Darcy asked lightly. “That I don’t like the White House social scene?”

“You don’t. When Dad was vice president, he made sure you got invitations to everything, but you never came. I know grad school kept you really busy, but we both figured you were too polite to actually say you hated that kind of stuff.”

Darcy wasn’t sure what to say. Yes, she had been busy with school, but she’d also been confused and feeling unwelcome.

“I thought the kindest thing was to not ask you anymore,” Lauren added. “Was I wrong?”

“No. Of course not.” Darcy flopped back on the bed. “Maybe. I mean I know I kept refusing invitations, but I didn’t want to be cut off from you two.”

Lauren sucked in a breath. “Is that how you feel?”


“Oh, Darcy. I’m sorry. You know we don’t want that.”

Darcy’s mouth twisted. “I know you don’t want that.”

“Stop it. Dad loves you. He talks about you and asks about you, which he wouldn’t have to do if you called him and came by sometimes. He’s busy, but he’s still your father and he cares about you.”

Darcy wanted to believe that, even though it wasn’t true. After her mother had died, she’d been so lost. Finding out the truth about her biological father the same day that her mother died had nearly destroyed her. Worse, the man who was her biological father was already dead, so she’d lost him before she ever found him. She’d been emotionally battered and unable to feel anything for months. Ryan Jensen had reached out to her time and again, only to have her walk away from him. Just about the time she’d been ready to reach back, he’d stopped trying.

“It’s complicated,” she said.

“It doesn’t have to be,” Lauren told her. “He wants you in his life.”

Darcy wasn’t so sure, but maybe she should find out before making any more decisions.

“All right,” her sister said. “Change of subject. I’m so bored here. Tell me something exciting that’s happening in your life.”

Darcy opened her mouth to say there wasn’t anything exciting, but what came out instead was, “I’ve met someone.”

Lauren squealed. “You’re kidding. That’s so great. The petty, bitter side of me is complaining that you get to meet a guy while I’m stuck in a cornfield, but I will squash those evil thoughts and focus only on you. Who is he? What’s he like?”

“He’s…” Darcy curled up on the bed and grinned. “He’s gorgeous. A naval officer and a former SEAL. I know nothing will come of it, but still, I really like him.”

Lauren sighed. “Sounds fabulous. Okay start at the beginning and talk slowly. I want to know every detail.”

“So you’re reading the books,” Brenna said. “Learning about the wine. What do you think?”

Joe held in a groan. “I’m sorry I said anything about them.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Brenna said cheerfully, “but you did, and now I get to grill you on them. It’s time to give in. Let the wine have its way with you.”

They were in the storeroom in the winery. Brenna had gotten even bigger, which didn’t seem possible. How far could one body stretch before splitting open?

As uncomfortable as it made him to look at her bulging stomach, his situation was made worse by the fact that he couldn’t just walk away. Not from a very pregnant woman who looked as if she could go into labor at any time. No matter how much she bugged him.

“I’m not interested in the wine,” he said, facing her and folding his arms over his chest. “I’ve told you.”

“I only listen to about half of what you say. It’s not personal—I deal with all men that way.” She grinned. “You can’t escape us. This is your destiny, Joe.”

“Not in this lifetime.”

The humor fled her eyes as she grabbed his arm. “I’m serious here. I’m pregnant. I’m going to have a baby. That’s bound to cut into my time. Four Sisters is growing. Grandpa Lorenzo won’t live forever. I need some help.”

The walls instantly began moving in on him. He pulled away from her and moved toward the door. “Marco can take over.”

“Whoa. Stop right there. No one is taking over from me. I said help. Like a partner.”

“Like I said—Marco.”

“Sorry, big brother. You’re the one. You’re the heir. Not just because you’re male, although that’s a big part of it, but also because you have the determination to make things happen. You have a lot to learn before you’ll be of any help to me. So you need to start now. You have responsibilities.”

He wanted to hit something or throw something. The barrels were too large and the desk behind him had been screwed down. He thought about tearing the intercom out of the wall, but what would that accomplish?

He glared at her. “It’s not going to happen,” he said, speaking slowly. “You can’t make me want this. I’m not interested in you, in them, in the winery. In any of it.”

“Is this why your marriage failed?” she asked softly. “Because you wouldn’t let anyone in?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I?” She rubbed her stomach. “We’re not leaving you, Joe. No matter how long you’re gone or how much you push us away. It’s been three years. What will it take for us to finally earn your trust?”

When he didn’t answer, Brenna shook her head and walked out without saying a word. Seconds later Darcy appeared. Her knowing expression only made the need to destroy something even stronger.

“Go away,” he growled.

“I wasn’t listening in,” she said. “You were yelling pretty loud until the end there. I’m guessing the whole back forty knows what you two were fighting about. Don’t you ever get tired of having the same argument over and over again?”

“Yes. They need to give it up.”

“Or you need to give in.”

He threw up his hands. “Perfect. You want to run my life, do you? It’s your fault it’s screwed up in the first place.”

“Oh, right. Because the sole purpose of the kidnapping was to mess up your career plans. I’m trying to help you here, you jackass. But you’re too stubborn to see the truth. You keep pushing them away, and they keep coming back.”

She moved closer. “You say the navy is your family, your life. But what do they care about you? You’re a rank and a number. Someone capable of doing a good job. There are a dozen guys who could take your place. Even now someone else is doing your job, and that’s what’s killing you. But this is different. This is your family. They love you. It’s specific and personal and you’re blowing it.”

He didn’t want to hear any of this. “Don’t call me a jackass.”

“Why not? You’re acting like one. You’re such a typical male, wanting to be defined by what you do. But you’re more than that.”

He moved close and considered shaking her. “You’re the most annoying woman I know.”

“Maybe, but I’m trying to help you. You should be grateful and offer me a small but tasteful gift. Flowers or chocolate.”

He grabbed her and pulled her close. But instead of shaking her, he lowered his head and kissed her.

She let herself sink into him as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

“That works, too,” she whispered before kissing him back.


M an, oh man, did Joe know how to kiss. Darcy closed her eyes and let herself get lost in the sensation of his warm mouth on hers. Despite the fact that they’d kissed before, he didn’t attack or assume. Instead he coaxed her into responding. Gentle brushes of flesh against flesh had her wishing for more before he even offered.

He let her get used to the feel of his hard body, his arms around her. He let her inhale the scent of him and melt in his heat. Only then did he lightly nip her lower lip.

He followed the shape of her mouth, tracing the line slowly, so slowly that she finally grabbed him by the back of his head and pulled him close.

Even as he swept inside her mouth, he chuckled. She felt the rumble low in his chest and smiled in return. They were good together, she thought hazily, right before the passion exploded.

The need came without warning. One second she’d been enjoying his kiss, the next she was desperate. Hunger claimed her. Large, powerful, and nearly out of control, it made her cling, reach, seek. She wanted him touching her everywhere, she wanted him naked and ready. Right here, right now.

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.