The Marcelli Bride

Page 24

“They’ve arrested two of the kidnappers,” she said. “They have leads on the rest of them. I’m going to tell Darcy when I see her. She’ll be thrilled.”

Alex looked over the paper. “At least if the rest of them are on the run, they won’t have time to plan another kidnapping.”

“That should make our job easier,” she said.

“I don’t need my job easier.”

Of course not, she thought. But he did need a sense of humor.

He walked to the refrigerator, opened it, and stared inside. Then he closed it and turned to her. “Would you have married me?”

Paige stared at him. “Excuse me?”

“If I’d asked. Before. Would you have married me?”

She had no idea what he was thinking or why he’d brought this up now. It didn’t make sense.

“Alex, I don’t understand why—”

“Yes or no,” he said sharply. “It’s a simple question.”

“Not for me.” Nothing about this was simple.

Would she have married him? She stared at his eyes. There’d been a time when she’d wanted to get lost in those eyes. When being with him had been so important.

“I don’t know,” she said after a while. “I don’t believe you would have asked. And if you had and I’d said yes, then one of us would have had to leave the Secret Service. You would have expected me to be the one to leave.”

He frowned. “Right.”

She smiled. How typical of him. “Then no,” she said gently. “I wouldn’t have married you.”

He folded his arms over his chest. “Why? Because I wasn’t willing to give up my career for you? This is what I’ve always wanted.”

“What about what I wanted? You’d have asked me to give up the one thing you wouldn’t. It doesn’t seem fair or a very healthy way to start a marriage. One criterion of a successful relationship is love makes each party stronger, giving them more of what they want. Love isn’t supposed to take your dreams away.”

“There was no way for us to win.”

She considered the statement. “I guess not. Some relationships are like that.”

“I don’t accept that.”

What was it about stubborn men? “You not accepting it doesn’t change the truth.”

He stared at her for another couple of seconds, then turned and walked out of the room.

Paige had no idea what all that had been about. She respected Alex a lot. She thought he was totally hot, and his being in the next room made some nights long and difficult. But there were times when his mind was a complete mystery to her.

She gathered her paperwork, but before she could stand up, he stalked back into the room, walked over to the table, bent down, and kissed her.

He cupped her face in his large hands and pressed his mouth to hers. The action was so unexpected, she didn’t know what to think, and then she couldn’t think because her brain had shut down in order to let her feel everything.

He held her gently. His lips rediscovered hers in a soft caress that took her breath away. She parted before he even asked, wanting him to claim her the way men had been claiming women since the beginning of time.

He swept into her mouth and circled her tongue with his. Then as quickly as it had begun, the kiss was over. He straightened, then walked away without saying a single word.

“I’ll fix you a nice cuppa,” Grammy M said to Joe as he walked into the kitchen the next morning.

He squinted at the time and saw it was barely after six. “You’re here early.”

“I like to start my day with the sun,” she said cheerfully.

Tessa walked into the kitchen and scowled. “It’s all that sinning. It keeps you from sleeping.”

Grammy M glared at her. “You’re very concerned about the state of my soul. All this talk of sinning. Could it be because your own man isn’t making you happy in the bedroom?”

Joe winced and headed for the door. No way did he want to get in the middle of this.

Tessa might be elderly, but she was fast, spry, and she had that killer grip. She got him by the arm and steered him to the table.

“Sit,” she ordered, and he sat.

“I’ll make that tea,” Grammy M said, smiling at him.

Tessa narrowed her gaze. “Joseph doesn’t drink tea. He’s a man. He drinks coffee.”

Grammy M turned to him. “Didn’t you say you’d be wantin’ tea?”

“I, ah…”

Tessa speared him with a look that could stop a tank. “Joseph, you always have coffee.”

“I, ah…”

They ignored him as they both raced to the stove. Joe figured he was about to get both and he’d better drink them equally. Maybe they could just pour them into a big mug and he could choke them down together.

“I’ll fix you an omelet,” Tessa announced.

“I have fresh scones to go with that,” Grammy M said.

“Fruit,” Tessa added.

Grammy M sniffed. “And some bacon. Maybe sausage.”

“I’ll be using the stove,” Tessa told her.

“Oh, I see. And you’ll be needin’ all of the burners for your omelet. Last time I made one, I only needed the one pan. But you were never very good in the—”

“Stop,” Joe yelled. “I beg you. It’s too early for this.”

The Grands stared at him, at each other, then turned their backs and went to work.

Coffee arrived first. Joe sipped it until Grammy M plopped a cup of tea in front of him. Then he alternated. The women worked in silence, carefully stepping around each other, not getting too close.

He looked away as he remembered how it had been his first couple of visits. Before Grammy M had moved in with Gabriel and the old ladies had had a falling-out. He remembered their elegant dance in the kitchen, a rhythm honed from years of practice and working together. He’d never heard a harsh word exchanged.

“Will you be seein’ Darcy later today?” Grammy M asked.

Joe held in a groan. So the news had been passed on to her, had it? No doubt Colleen had told her. Which meant Mia and the other sisters knew, too.

“She lives here,” he said. “Hard to avoid her.”

“Not that you want to,” Tessa said with a wink. “She’s a pretty girl.”

“Not my type.”

Tessa smacked him on the back of the head. “You say that now?”

Okay, poor strategy, he thought as he rubbed where she’d nailed him. “I mean she’s not…” He closed his mouth and reached for the coffee. It would be better to endure whatever they had in mind, then make his escape.

“It’s past time you were married,” Grammy M said as she put bacon into a pan. “You’re not getting any younger.”

He nodded and reached for the tea.

“A man shouldn’t be alone,” Tessa said. “It’s not good. What will happen when you’re old, eh? You’ll be living above the garage with a dog. What kind of life is that?”

“Is that my only option?” he asked before he could stop himself.

“What will become of you?” Grammy M wanted to know.

The only bright spot in this conversation was that they were finally on the same side of an argument.

“You need love in your life,” Tessa said. “You need to love a woman and let her love you.”

After getting smacked for saying Darcy wasn’t his type, he didn’t want to think about what would happen if he said he didn’t love her.

Grammy M put a plate of scones in front of him. Tessa slid an omelet onto a plate and set it on the table. Bacon and fruit quickly followed.

“The president’s daughter, Joseph,” Grammy M said, her voice scolding. “You can’t have your way with her then turn your back on her. You’re a better man than that.”

“She’s right,” Tessa said, looking as if she’d smelled something disgusting.

Joe felt the walls closing in. These were thicker and harder to climb.

“You don’t have to live here, in this house,” Tessa said. “You could build something else. Close by. On the land.”

Joe stared at the food, then at the Grands. He believed what Darcy had told him—that for these old women food was love. But right now he couldn’t take any more. He stood, backed away, and when he was clear of the house, he turned and escaped.


“D id you hear?” Lauren asked eagerly, her voice as clear as if she were in the same room, despite the distance and the secure line. “They’ve caught a couple of the kidnappers.”

“Yes. Isn’t it great?” Darcy asked, trying for as much enthusiasm as possible when in truth the news had made her heart sink.

“We’ll be able to leave soon,” Lauren said. “I can’t wait. I’m getting so tired of my own company. The agents are nice, but they’re not here to babysit me. The good news is I’ve caught up on my reading.”

Darcy felt a twinge of guilt—her stay at the Marcelli house had been so perfect, she never wanted it to end.

“The downside,” Lauren said, “is you’re going to have to leave Joe. Or will you still be seeing him?”

Despite being upset at the thought of leaving, mention of Joe made her smile. “I don’t know. Maybe.” She wanted to. But in reality was that possible? Her smile faded. “He lives in San Diego. I’m in D.C. He’s a naval officer, and I’m the daughter of the commander in chief. I think that makes us more star-crossed lovers than the happily-ever-after type.”

“Lovers, huh?” Lauren teased. “I want to hear all about that.”

Darcy wasn’t willing to talk about it—not yet. “It’s a figure of speech. Don’t get too excited. Besides, this isn’t going anywhere. He’s not the relationship type.”

“How do you know?”

“He resists his family.”

“You’re not trying to be his mother. Romantic love is different.”

“He’s been married.” Darcy filled her in on the generalities, then sighed. “They say people who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. In my case, that’s true. Here I am, falling for a guy as inaccessible as my father.”

As soon as the words came out, she wanted to call them back. She clutched the phone tighter and braced herself.

“Dad’s not inaccessible,” Lauren said softly.

“I know. I didn’t mean it that way. I’m sorry. Please, let’s not get into this long-distance.”

“Okay.” Lauren sighed. “Joe sounds so great, regardless of whatever issues the two of you may have. I want to meet him. I know. When this is all over, you stay there and I’ll come by to pick you up. That way I can check out the military cutie and meet the family.”

Darcy sat up. Her first thought was to scream out her protest. Not Lauren. Not here. This was the one place on the planet where everyone liked her for herself. There hadn’t been any comparing, any disappointing second finishes. No one had rejected her. If Lauren came now, all that would change.

“Your enthusiasm is overwhelming,” Lauren said, the hurt clear in her voice.

Darcy flopped back on the bed. “It’s not that. Of course I want you to meet Joe and everyone.”

“You might try saying that like you mean it. Don’t worry. I’m not going to show up.”

She felt like a worm. A selfish worm who had been living the good life while her sister had been stuck in a cornfield.

“Lauren, please. I’m sorry. It’s just…” She drew in a deep breath. “I’m scared, okay? Joe is really special. I like him a lot. Maybe more than a lot. I haven’t felt this way before, and it’s scary and exciting and new and I don’t want to lose him.”

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