The Marcelli Bride

Page 32

Not surprisingly, Joe ducked out without speaking.

“He’s been doing a lot of that lately,” she murmured.

“He’ll come around,” Tessa assured her.

Darcy wanted to believe it was true, but she had her doubts. So far he’d been doing a fabulous imitation of a man doing his best to bolt for freedom.

Paige considered the contents of the refrigerator, but it was really tough to get worked up about cooking when all she had to do was walk up to the main house and collect some of the best leftovers on the planet. She didn’t know the secret ingredient Grandma Tessa and Grammy M put into their meals, but it was worth millions. Paige was willing to give up a large percent of her pension to get daily access to Grammy M’s scones alone. And Tessa’s marinara sauce was worthy of stardom.

There was, however, the calorie issue. She was already five pounds over her normal weight. So a salad for dinner made sense. The fact that there was an entire platter of chicken marsala with a side of grilled potatoes less than a hundred yards away was meaningless. Salad was the far healthier choice.

She closed the refrigerator and looked longingly at the door. Okay, principle over self-indulgence. Which would win? Alex walked into the kitchen. “I’m not leaving,” he announced.

The unexpected statement left her blinking. She banished thoughts of flavorful chicken and considered his words.

“Not leaving here?” she asked.

“Right. I’m on the team. With you.”

“Okay. That begs the question of why. Isn’t there something more important for you to be doing with your day?”

“I’m not always interested in the high-profile cases,” he told her. “I’m not in this for the glory.”

“Agreed, but nobody even knows Darcy’s here. The odds of something happening to her are pretty close to zero. So you’re setting yourself up for some long days when nothing is going to happen. That isn’t exactly your style.”

“Maybe my style is changing.”

Funny how she wanted to believe that. Being around Alex had a way of making her remember the past—their past. But to what end?

“I’m thinking of leaving,” she said.

“This job?”

“The agency. When Darcy returns to D.C. I’m going to resign.”

Nothing about his expression changed. She’d thought he might be disappointed, but she was wrong. He wasn’t anything.

“Why?” he asked, although she wasn’t sure why he bothered.

“We’ve discussed this before. I want a life. I want to belong to something other than my job. I want a personal worldview that doesn’t include daily concerns that someone I care about is going to be shot or kidnapped.”

“So you’re leaving me again?”

She stared at him. “This has nothing to do with you.”

“It has everything to do with me,” he said. “You told me not to play games, or start something I wasn’t prepared to finish. I’m going to tell you the same thing.”

He left. Paige gave in to the inevitable and headed for the main house, where she would drown her confusion in sweet sauce and perfectly cooked chicken.

She and Alex seemed to have mastered the art of the cryptic conversation, which made for an entertaining afternoon but didn’t really get them anywhere.

Did she want to change that? Did she want to talk to him about what was in her heart? Did she know what was in her heart? All those years ago, life had been both harder and easier. With her late husband, she’d learned what loving someone really meant. She wanted that again. But did she want it with Alex, and if she did, was he willing to make the sacrifices love required?

The reading of the will took place in the living room. The family lawyer was a young woman of thirty or so, which surprised Joe. He’d expected some old and dusty family retainer. Good to know that Lorenzo still had the power to shock him, even after he was gone.

The entire family gathered on sofas and chairs. As this was the Marcellis, there was plenty of food, although wine was noticeably absent.

Joe listened to the lawyer, who explained the nature of the will. There were several provisions for charities, a significant trust fund for Marco and Colleen and the great-grandchildren. But the biggie, the winery itself, was left for last.

The lawyer flipped the page and cleared her throat.

“Marcelli Wines,” she read, “is my pride and joy. Four generations have worked the land. Soon that will be five. It is my dearest wish that the winery go on forever. To ensure that, I leave it in capable hands. Hands I trust. I leave each of my granddaughters fifteen percent of the winery and to my grandson, Joseph Larson, I leave forty percent. The majority share.”


A fter the reading of the will, Joe sat in the library until the lawyer and most of the family had filed out. Marco and Brenna stayed behind.

Joe took one look at their calm faces and said, “You knew.”

Marco sat on the sofa across from Joe’s chair and nodded. “My father told me what he wanted to do about a year ago. We discussed it and agreed it was a good idea.”

Joe didn’t know who the “we” was in the conversation, nor did he care. “It’s not a good idea for me.”

“He wanted you to be a part of the family,” Marco said. “He wanted you to belong.”

“You can’t force me to do this,” Joe told him. “What was he thinking of, leaving me the majority share?”

“It’s what he wanted. What we all want,” Brenna said from her seat at the opposite end of the sofa. “Partners, Joe. Remember?”

“You run the winery,” Joe told her. “You have for years. You should be in charge.”

“I will be.” Brenna rubbed her stomach. “But Four Sisters winery is growing. That’s going to take more and more of my time. Plus, honest to God, some of the choices Nic wants to make at Wild Sea. He needs me. You don’t have to panic, Joe. We’re going to hire a manager to run Marcelli until you learn what you need to and get your feet under you.”

“You’re deciding for me? In case you’ve forgotten, I have a career. One I’ve worked for. One I want. Not here.”

He stood and glared at them both. “You think you can finish what he started?” he asked, furious with the change of events. “It’s not going to happen. I’m leaving on Monday, and right now I have no plans to come back.”

Brenna paled. Marco looked as if he’d been shot. Before either could react, Darcy stepped into the library.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she said.

“This is not the time,” Joe told her, his voice cold.

She narrowed her gaze. “Amazingly enough, everything isn’t about you, Joe. As requested, I’m letting Brenna and Marco know that my sister is due to arrive any second. And just in case it’s of interest to you, your captain left a message to say he would be delighted to join us for dinner tonight and it’s formal. So you’ll need your dress whites.”

He felt like a jerk. “Darcy,” he said as he reached for her.

She sidestepped him. “I have to go see my sister.”

Darcy headed for the kitchen. She appreciated that Joe was under a lot of strain, but she wanted to walk back to the library and smack him upside the head.

Katie had already told her what had happened when the will was read, so she knew he couldn’t be happy about that. While she was willing to offer friendly support, she didn’t appreciate him turning on her as though she was the enemy.

Mia and Ian were in the kitchen, while Grandma Tessa was nowhere to be seen. Had the ever chatty Ian driven away the matriarch of the family?

“I can’t wait to meet your sister,” Ian said. “I’ve seen lots of pictures of her. She’s really pretty. Is she that pretty in person? I’ve heard she’s really nice. Is she nice? I sent money to that children’s charity she supports. Only a few dollars because I’m a student, right? It’s not like I have a ton of cash. But still, it was something.”

Darcy walked to the coffeepot and tried to block out Ian’s incessant conversation. Mia joined her.

“I know he’s a little hard to take,” she whispered. “I’m going to dump him as soon as we get back to D.C. He’s starting to get on my nerves, too. It’s just been nice to have him around, especially after Grandpa Lorenzo died, you know?”

Darcy nodded. She heard a car pull up outside and hurried to the back door.

She walked out onto the back porch just as the rear door of the SUV opened. Lauren stepped out into the early afternoon light. Sunlight brightened her hair to the color of spun gold and made her features seem as if they’d been touched with starlight. Her tailored cotton blouse topped a trim khaki skirt that showed off her voluptuous curves to perfection. Darcy tugged at her black dress and suddenly felt like a grandmother in mourning.

Lauren spotted her and grinned. Darcy smiled in return. As she took a step forward, she had a moment of complete clarity. It was what Oprah always called a light-bulb moment.

She didn’t want to be Lauren. She’d never actually envied her sister. She’d envied what her sister had—a life she adored, a great love, a close family. Darcy didn’t want to be blond, she wanted connections. A sense of belonging.

The downside was falling for a man incapable of committing, but whose life was perfect?

Grandma Tessa hovered. There was no other word to describe the older woman’s anxious, quivering movement as she motioned to the room in question.

“If we’d had more time,” she murmured, gesturing to the floral wallpaper and fifteen-year-old rock star posters, “we could have decorated.”

Lauren hugged the tiny woman. “It’s lovely. Just like my room back in high school. You’re so sweet to take me in on a moment’s notice. I could have stayed at a hotel. This is such an inconvenience and I apologize. It’s just I’ve missed Darcy so much, and she’s made all of you sound so wonderful that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to crash the party. Is that horribly rude?”

As Darcy watched, Tessa, Grammy M, and Colleen were completely charmed by Lauren.

“We’re delighted to have you here,” Colleen said.

“’Tis no trouble a’tall,” Grammy M assured her.

“Stay as long as you like,” Grandma Tessa requested.

Lauren laughed. “You might want to be careful with invitations like that. What if I never want to leave?”

Being who they were, and Lauren who she was, the Marcelli women only looked delighted at the prospect.

Her sister was gracious, Darcy thought. She wasn’t sure if she’d been born that way or had developed the skill over time, but it was something she was going to have to cultivate. It seemed to smooth over rough patches. There were other changes she could make, she thought. She could get more involved in her father’s life. Go to the White House more. Her stubbornness was costing her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

That decided, she completed the tour of the amenities, showing Lauren the bathroom across the hall.

“At least we won’t be sharing,” Mia said as she raced up the stairs with one of Lauren’s small suitcases. “Good thing. I’m not too bad, but Ian hogs the mirror for hours.”

Lauren looked at her and smiled. “Mia, right? All these names. I’ll never get them straight.”

Mia set down the suitcase. “Oh, I’m easy to remember. I’m the fun sister. And the only one who isn’t married.” She frowned. “How on earth did that happen? Oh, yeah. Right. Didn’t want to be tied down.”

She grinned, and Lauren laughed. Colleen welcomed her again, then ushered the Grands away.

“We’ll let you girls help Lauren unpack. Don’t forget dinner tonight is formal. Mia, you know what that means.”

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