The Marcelli Bride

Page 33

Mia rolled her eyes. “Yes, Mom. I’ll tone down the makeup and wear something nice. And I’ll be polite to Joe’s captain.” She watched as her mother went down the stairs with the Grands, then leaned in close.

“She’s afraid I’ll ask about the sexy SEALs. I tease Joe about it all the time and it makes him crazy.”

“How do you tease him?” Lauren asked.

“Pretending I want to sleep with them all.”

Darcy eyed her. “I don’t think it’s much of a pretense.”

Mia grinned. “Sometimes it’s not.”

They returned to Lauren’s temporary quarters. Lauren closed the door, put her hands on her hips, and shook her head. “Do you have to always wear black?” she asked.

Darcy laughed, then hugged her. “I missed you, too.”

Mia looked between them. “You’re right. Darcy is always in black. I never noticed before. It’s very city chic.”

“You hear that?” Darcy asked. “I’m chic, and you’re an Easter egg.”

Mia flopped down on one of the beds. “Hey, don’t pull me into a family argument. Lauren looks fabulous, too. But in a different way.”

“I’m much more wholesome,” Lauren said primly. She picked up one of her suitcases and put it on the other bed. “And I wear colors.”

Mia looked at the pile of luggage. “Do you have a maid or something to take care of your clothes?”

“No. Just me. Well, back home there is a full laundry and dry cleaning service, so I don’t have to worry about that.”

Mia sat up. “You mean back home at the White House.”

Darcy sat next to her. “I can’t believe you’re starstruck. I figured you were too cool for that.”

Mia laughed. “I only pretend to be cool. I’ve never known anyone who’s been related to a president before I met you two.” She leaned toward Lauren. “So tell me everything.”

“Hey.” Darcy bumped her shoulder against Mia’s. “You didn’t ask me questions about the White House.”

“I know.” Mia looked at her. “I guess I just think of you as one of us.”

Darcy felt her whole body relax as Mia’s words sank in. It was about the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her.

Mia squinted at Lauren. “I see the resemblance a little, but you guys are pretty different.”

“Lauren’s the beauty,” Darcy said easily.

Lauren threw a pair of socks at her. “You’re very attractive.”

Mia glanced between them. “Lauren’s the classic beauty,” she said thoughtfully, “but Darcy has the face you can’t look away from. At least my brother can’t.”

Darcy rolled her eyes. “Don’t you start with me.”

“I can if I want to.” She leaned toward Lauren. “They’re having sex. We all know about it, but we’re pretending we don’t.”

Darcy groaned. “You weren’t supposed to say anything.”

“Why not?” Lauren asked. “I already know you have sex with him. Although she won’t give me details. I hate that. I want specifics.”

Mia shook her head. “Normally I would, too, but he’s my brother. He’s going to look gorgeous tonight,” she added. “You’ll both have to control yourselves.”

Lauren hung up yet another pastel-colored skirt. “Because of the formal dinner?”

“Dress whites,” Darcy said. “He’ll be impressive.”

“Then we’ll all have to look nice,” Lauren said. “So he can be impressed, too.”


J oe was downstairs fifteen minutes before his captain was due to arrive. As per his custom, Owen Phillips was ten minutes early. Joe stood at attention by the house and waited until Phillips stepped out of his fully restored ’68 Mustang and closed the door.

“Sir,” Joe said, saluting.

Phillips returned the salute, then said, “Good to see you, Joe. Sorry about your grandfather.”

“Thank you, sir.”

His captain smiled. “It’s a family dinner. I think we should ease off on the formalities.”

Joe nodded, thinking if they weren’t standing on ceremony then why were they both wearing ice cream suits.

“Great place,” Phillips said as he looked around at the vineyard. “I’ve always enjoyed this part of the state. Very pretty.”

“Yes, ah, it is. The vineyards do well. We’ll be having Marcelli wine with dinner.”

Phillips looked at him. “You told me you’ll be back on base on Monday. It’s only been a couple of weeks since your grandfather died. You’re welcome to take more leave.”

“I appreciate that, but I’m ready to get back to work. My team needs me.”

“The admiral has cooled down enough that you should be safe to return to duty, but I have to tell you. If I had a home like this, I don’t think I’d be so quick to leave it. A man could search all over the world and never find anything quite like this.”

Before Joe could respond, the back door opened and the Grands hurried down the stairs. For two old ladies, they sure moved fast.

“We heard the car,” Grammy M said, beaming at the captain. “We were thinkin’ it was your friend.”

Joe winced. “Captain Phillips, may I present the matriarchs of my family? This is Tessa Marcelli and Mary-Margaret O’Shea. Better known as Grandma Tessa and Grammy M.”

Phillips nodded at them both, then took Tessa’s small hand in his. “I’m so sorry about your loss,” he said quietly. “I hope I’m not imposing too soon.”

“Not at all,” Tessa told him. “We invited you so we could meet you. Besides, I like the company.” Then, before Joe could warn the other man or stop her, Tessa reached up and pinched Phillips’s cheek. “You’re a handsome one. Married, I suppose?”

Phillips looked stunned. “Yes, ma’am. Nearly twenty years now.”

“It’s all right. You’re too old for Mia.”

Grammy M stepped forward and managed something that looked suspiciously like a curtsey. “We’re all so happy to be havin’ a friend of Joe’s here. You work with him, do you?”

“Ah, yes.” The captain still seemed shell-shocked.

Colleen and Marco came out next. “We heard you were here,” Colleen said as she smoothed the front of her silk dress. “Welcome.”

“So much for trying to get you in the door before you meet everyone,” Joe told his commanding officer. “I did warn you.”

“Yes, you did.” Phillips grinned. “I’m liking them.”

Joe looked at the couple and opened his mouth to introduce them. “Marco and Colleen Marcelli,” he said. Then without planning the words in advance, he added, “My parents.”

There was a moment of silence. The Grands, Colleen, and Marco turned to stare at him. Colleen recovered first.

“It’s a long drive, Captain. Thank you so much for making it.”

“My pleasure, ma’am.”

“Please, call me Colleen.”

He shook her hand. “And you must call me Owen. All of you.” He glanced at Joe. “Not you.”

Joe grinned. “Yes, sir. Understood.”

Joe finally got everyone in the house. Katie, Zach, and Valerie were in Los Angeles, but the rest of the family had come for dinner. He made introductions, then realized not everyone was there.

“Where’s Darcy?” he asked.

“With her sister,” Mia said smugly. “They were trying to figure out what to wear. It could be hours.”

“Not likely,” Colleen said, chiding her youngest. “Darcy is always on time.” She smiled at Owen. “Very polite and simply charming. I’ll admit we were a little nervous about hosting a daughter of the president.”

“Too much like royalty,” Mia joked.

“Actually, that’s true,” Colleen said. “But she’s been a delight. We’ll all be sorry to see her go.”

Mia jabbed Joe in the ribs. “You could do something about that.”

Before he could tell her to shut up, he heard something on the stairs and glanced up. Darcy and the sister he’d yet to meet started down the stairs. He had a vague impression of long blond hair and curves, but neither interested him. Instead he couldn’t stop staring at Darcy.

She wore a long, silky-looking dress in a pale peach color. The cut or style or something emphasized her slender body in a way that got his blood boiling. Thin straps were all that held it up, he thought, knowing he could make quick work of them.

Her large eyes seemed to glow and her mouth was soft and pouty-looking. Pearl earrings hung nearly to her bare shoulders, while a twisted strand hugged her neck.

She was beautiful. More than beautiful—she was spectacular. Feminine, sexy as hell, and if he remembered correctly, he’d spent the last few days acting like a complete idiot around her.

Colleen moved toward the two women. “You’re both so lovely,” she said with a smile. “Allow me to present our dinner guest. Captain Owen Phillips. Captain, this is Darcy Jensen and Lauren Jensen-Smith.”

“Nice to meet you,” Darcy said as she shook his hand.

Lauren did the same and pleasantries were exchanged. Colleen ushered everyone into the living room for a predinner drink, but Joe lingered in the hallway. He touched Darcy’s arm before she could follow the family.

“You look great,” he said, when they were alone.

She gave him a once-over, then shrugged. “Not bad, yourself. I always did like dress whites.”

Emotions swelled up inside him. The sensations were unfamiliar and uncomfortable and all unnamed. But they made him want to say something, do something.

“Darcy, I—”

“Comin’ through,” Grammy M said as she walked toward them with a tray of appetizers. “Hot food here.”

Joe moved to one side and let his grandmother pass. He tried to think of what to say when Marco came out of the living room.

“Your captain wants to start with our wines.” He grinned. “It’s going to be a long night. Good thing we booked him a room at the hotel down the road.”

When Marco had passed, Darcy touched his hand. “It’s okay,” she told him. “I understand.”

An interesting concept, when he didn’t understand himself.

“Now will you believe me?” Lauren asked sometime close to midnight as she sprawled across Darcy’s bed. “I swear, Joe looked like something out of a cartoon the way his mouth dropped open when he saw you. I thought he was going to dislocate his jaw or something.”

Darcy curled up in a chair in the corner of the room. She’d traded in the dress she’d borrowed from her sister for shorts and a T-shirt, but she could still remember the sensual feel of the silk on her body and the stunned appreciation in Joe’s eyes.

“He was pretty surprised.”

Lauren grinned. “Color is our friend. When we go home, I want to go shopping with you and you’re not allowed to buy anything black.”

“Except for lingerie.”

“Okay. Yeah, that can be black, but nothing else.” Lauren sat up and faced her. “He’s really great. I can see the appeal. And when you look at him, there are stars in your eyes.”

“Not stars.”

“Something. You’re in love with him.”

Darcy nodded. “Which doesn’t mean anything.”

“Of course it does. You’ve never been in love before.”

“My track record with men isn’t the greatest, and I don’t think this time is going to work out any better.”

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