The Marcelli Bride

Page 39


“Yes, Captain.”

“We just got word. They warned us not to try anything. They’ve wired her with an explosive. If anything happens they don’t like, she’s gone.”

Joe heard the information but he refused to react to it. Now he was on a mission and it was all about doing the job. He wouldn’t allow himself to think emotionally or feel. Darcy’s life depended on his ability to disconnect from her.

“This changes everything,” Phillips said. “You have to come back.”

“No, sir,” Joe told him. “We’re still going forward. If they’ve got her wired, they’re prepared to kill her. They’ll probably do it anyway. We have to get her out.”

“Larson?” Another man came on the line. “This is President Jensen.”

Joe stiffened. “Yes, sir.”

“That’s my daughter we’re talking about.”

It was also the woman Joe loved. “I understand what she means to you, sir. I’ll bring her back alive.”

“You’d better.”

“Sir, I will bring her back or die trying.”

Jensen didn’t respond. Phillips came on and gave a few last-minute instructions, then Joe motioned for the team to head out. As they moved north across the ocean, Joe breathed in the scent of salt air. The water had always been a haven, he thought. It was the one place a SEAL could feel safe, and where he performed best.

Three caves. He’d taken the team going into the largest one. His gut told him she was there. They had a plan and a willingness to do whatever it took to save her life. He loved her too much to let her die.

Darcy sat in her chair, shaking. She would have thought that over time the fear would lessen, but it hadn’t. She held on by a thread.

Ian and Jesse stood in the rear of the cave, speaking in low voices. The acoustics were such that Darcy could hear them, and their words didn’t make her feel any more comfortable.

“You think they’re really going to release Jonathan?” Jesse asked.

“Sure. They don’t want anything to happen to Darcy. We’ve got them. Once we get word he’s released, we’ll call the boat and get out of here.”

Boat? They already had two. Darcy glanced at the small vessels in question and realized Ian was talking about something bigger. Of course. They were flying Jonathan to a rendezvous point and they would meet him there with a boat.

“Good,” Jesse said. “When we’ve put this place behind us, we’ll dump her overboard. No one will ever find her.”

Darcy froze and waited for Ian to deny the statement. When he didn’t, she knew she wasn’t going to be able to hold it together much longer. A scream built up inside her.

Suddenly the television picture disappeared into snowy static. Ian ripped off his headset and yelled, “What the hell?” Cries of pain came from the back of the cave. Without warning, the water seemed to rise up and a shock wave blasted across the open space.

Darcy felt herself tossed around like a toy. She and the chair slammed into the wall and everything went black.

Joe and his men rushed out of the water. The jamming signal had rendered everything electronic inoperative, including the remote detonation for the bomb. He’d sent in the stun grenades such that Darcy received the least of the impact, but she’d still been blown back into the wall.

“No one gets out of the cave,” Joe said into his headset.

The instruction was unnecessary—his team knew what to do, but he couldn’t help it. There was too much at stake.

He ran to Darcy’s side and checked her for injuries. No blood, although her head might have hit the wall. He saw the chains and cursed, then reached for the vest.


“Hey, Darcy.” She was awake. Thank God. He fingered the various wires, then reached for his small tool kit.

“You’re not dead. I thought he shot you.” Tears trickled from the corners of her eyes.

“That was Alex,” he told her. “I’m okay and so are you.”


“He’s in surgery.”

“It was horrible. I was so scared.” She touched the vest. “It’s a bomb.”

“I know. Trust me. I know what I’m doing.” He managed a smile. “I’ve taught the class.”

“I always knew you were a great guy to have around in a crisis.”

He sorted through the wires, then cut three. “How do you feel?” he asked as he pulled off the vest and tossed it away.

“Like I was hit on the head with a hammer. You know, he could have detonated that remotely.”

Joe wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. She was still attached to the chair, but he didn’t care.

“We jammed the signal.”

“So that’s why the TV went out.”

“Yeah. Signals from the cavalry. You okay?”

She clung to him. As soon as he felt her hands on his back, he allowed himself to relax a little.

“Never better.”

“You must have been scared.”

She pulled back enough to look at him. “You can’t imagine. Remember how last time you said I had to talk to someone?”

He nodded and touched the bruise on her cheek. “I have some names.”

“I think I’m going to need them.” Tears filled her eyes. “Oh, Joe. You’re here.”

“Yes, Darcy. I’m here.”

“Don’t let go.”

“I won’t. Not ever.”

“You can’t take me,” Ian screamed as he ran out from the back of the cave and drew a gun.

Joe pushed Darcy behind him and, in one quick move, pulled out his gun. One of the guys on his team got there first. After a terse order to “freeze,” three shots rang out in the cave. Ian stumbled then collapsed.

Joe ignored the bleeding body. “The rest?”

“All captured, sir.”

“Call it in. Tell them to send the boat in for Darcy.”

He turned back to her. She had her eyes closed. “I don’t want to look,” she whispered.

“You don’t have to.”

One of his men brought over a key for the chains. Joe released her and pulled her onto his lap. She huddled against him and started to cry.

“Hey,” he said gently, smoothing her hair and kissing her face. “Don’t do that. You’ll want to look good for your dad.”

She sniffed. “He’s here?”

“Of course. The entire military is here. Lauren, too. The Marcellis are really worried about you. Oh, Brenna’s in labor.”

“You’re kidding. Now?”

“Yeah. She’s at the hospital. Last I heard, there’s no baby, but plenty of screaming.”

She chuckled. “I don’t blame her. Nothing about the actual process of giving birth seems pleasant.”

He cupped her face. “There’s one more thing.”

“What’s that?”

He stared into her brown eyes and knew he’d finally found the one thing that had been missing his whole life.

“I love you.”

She stared at him. “Excuse me?”

“I love you, Darcy.”

She opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, Joe felt a tap on his shoulder.

“The boat is here, sir.”

Joe shifted Darcy onto the ground, then stood and swept her into his arms. She grabbed him around his neck.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Saving you.”

“You’ve already done that once today.”

“I plan on doing it for a long time to come.”


They were escorted out of the cave and back to shore by the Coast Guard. Darcy had expected a Secret Service agent or two to be waiting, but what she saw instead was something closer to the staging area for a space shuttle launch. There were five or six ships cruising the immediate area. At least two dozen cars were parked along the sand. Three helicopters sat on the road, and two trucks filled with military personnel stood watch a hundred or so feet away.

Joe took her arm and helped her step onto the sand. She looked from the staring crowd back to him. “All this for me?” she asked, not able to believe it.

“Of course.”


The fear had faded, but in its place was a shaky feeling. Too much emotion in too short a time, she told herself. She clung to Joe, her only stable point in a spinning world, and promised herself that as soon as she caught her breath she would deal with his amazing and unexpected declaration of love. She would have guessed he cared, but not that he could admit he actually loved her.

The crowd parted and her father hurried toward her. “Darcy!”

He held out his arms.

The unexpected gesture made her hesitate at first, then she rushed forward to hug him. He pulled her close and squeezed so hard, she could barely breathe.

“I was scared to death,” he murmured in her ear. “When I heard what had happened, I couldn’t believe it.”

“Me, either,” she said.

He cupped her face in his hands. “I don’t want anything to happen to you. I’d be lost without you.”

She read the truth in his eyes and felt sadness for all the time they’d wasted.

“I love you, Daddy,” she whispered.

He kissed her forehead. “I love you, too, Darcy. You’re my daughter. You know that, right?”

She nodded, too close to crying to speak. Her father put his arm around her and led her to the waiting SUV. Before she climbed in, she looked back for Joe, but he was gone.

“Where is he?” she asked. “Joe Larson.”

“Debriefing,” her father told her. “Don’t worry. You’ll see him later, and you can thank him for rescuing you.”

She planned to do a whole lot more than that but doubted her father wanted to hear about the details.

“Is Alex all right?” she asked as she slid onto the leather seat.

“Yes. He’s already out of surgery.”

“I’d like to go see him.”

“Of course. We’ll stop by the hospital on our way back to the Marcelli house.”

The Marcellis. She’d nearly forgotten. “The fire. Is everyone all right? Did they get it out?”

“Yes. Just as you were kidnapped, it started to rain. That put out the rest of it. A few acres were burned, but I was told they can be replanted.”

“Ian did that,” she said. “He started the fire as a diversion.”

“The authorities know.”

“You’re not letting that Jonathan person out of prison, are you?”

Her father pulled her close and put his arm around her. “Stop worrying, Darcy. I’m doing a good job of running the country. Just think about yourself and the fact that you’re safe now.”

She hadn’t been held by her father in more years than she could count, but the sensation was still familiar and comforting. Funny how she’d spent so much time looking for a place to belong and it had been waiting for her all along.

Mia sat alone in the house. She couldn’t remember the last occasion when she’d been the only person there. Usually Grandma Tessa or Grammy M were puttering around, but not this evening. Everyone had gone to the hospital to check on either Alex or Brenna. Mia had promised to come as soon as she could. But she’d needed to be alone. To think. To recover from the horror of what had happened.

Ian had betrayed her. He’d used her to do something horrific, and she’d never had a clue.

She’d trusted him, both in and out of her bed. She’d thought he was funny and smart, if a little too talkative. She’d been friends with him for nearly two years, lovers for three months, and she’d never guessed.

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