The Marcelli Bride

Page 6

Paige stepped between them. “Darcy, allow me to present Mr. and Mrs. Lorenzo Marcelli. They own the winery and all the property here.” Paige pointed to the slightly younger couple. “This is their son, Marco, and his wife, Colleen. And Lieutenant Commander Joe Larson.” Paige hesitated. “He’s a former SEAL and our naval liaison with the family.”

“Because I’m in danger of being kidnapped and taken out to sea?” Darcy asked. “That’s comforting. Be sure someone stocks me up with Dramamine. Any other surprises?”

“That’s not why I’m here—” the lieutenant commander said, but he was interrupted when Mrs. Marcelli senior stepped forward.

“I’m Tessa,” she said with a smile. “You should call me Grandma Tessa. Everyone does.” She grabbed Darcy’s upper arms as she studied her. “You’re much prettier in person than in the pictures. You should smile more. Welcome. It’s good to have you here.”

Then, before Darcy could react to the comment or the advice, the small, elderly woman reached up and pinched her cheek. The squeeze sent pain shooting through her entire face and made her eyes water.

“Mama, not so hard,” Marco said, putting his arm around his mother and pulling her back. “Don’t scare our guest off.” He smiled. “Paige said we were to call you by your first name. Are you comfortable with that?”

Darcy nodded, still caught up in the pain in her cheek. That little old lady could twist wood with that grip.

Darcy shook hands with Marco, his wife, and most of the Secret Service team. Last up was Joe Larson.

He was tall—maybe six feet—and muscled. Not as big, pound for pound, as Alex, but still a lot of man. He might be navy, but she would bet he could give any member of her team a run for his, or her, money.

A former SEAL was good, she thought. He’d probably killed bad guys before. She would have to remember to stick close to him.

“Lieutenant Commander,” she said as she stared into eyes as dark as a storm. They shook hands.

“We should probably get inside,” Paige said.

The elder Marcelli led the way, followed by his wife. Darcy motioned for Marco and Colleen to follow.

Darcy paused at the bottom of the steps. “I don’t get it. Are we staying here?”

“Yes,” Paige told her. “You’ll be in the main house with the family. Alex and I are in the guesthouse.”

Darcy couldn’t believe it. “Here? Have you looked around? Open fields. How are you going to keep me safe? There have to be a thousand places for people to hide.”

“They’re not open fields, they’re vineyards,” Alex said.

She glared at him. “Thanks for the clarification. I’ll be doing a crossword puzzle later. You can stop by and help.”

Paige touched her arm. “Darcy, this is a good location for you. There’s plenty of protection, but you won’t feel trapped or isolated. Plus the family is pretty cool.”

She wasn’t interested in the family or anything but not feeling afraid.

“I don’t like it,” she said.

“Tough. Until I hear otherwise from the president, this is where you’re staying,” Alex said sharply.

“Alex, no.” Paige turned to Darcy. “Let’s give it a couple of days. I think you’ll like it here.”

Darcy ignored her. “You’re the agent in charge?” she asked Alex.


“Then you better do your job. Because I will take this up with my father.”

A bluff, but Alex didn’t know that.

Alex shook his head. “Take care of her,” he told Paige, then stalked away.

Paige looked at Darcy. “You’re in a mood. What’s going on?”

Darcy grimaced. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m tired, I’m scared. My team let me be kidnapped. I’m a little wary of that happening again.”

“Alex is the best,” Paige told her. “We’re all here to keep you safe.”

“The words sound good, but I’m not much of a believer.”

The back door opened, and Joe Larson stuck out his head. “You two coming?”

“Right away,” Paige said easily. “I was explaining to Darcy that there are even more Marcellis in her future.”

“How many more?” Darcy asked.

“Dozens,” Joe said as he stepped out onto the porch. “Four sisters, three spouses, three and a half kids. More grandparents, too. Or at least one more. Mary-Margaret O’Shea, better known as Grammy M.”

Darcy didn’t know what to do with all that information. There was no way she could keep that many people straight.

“Have they all been checked out?” she asked Paige.

The Secret Service agent smiled. “Yes, and they’re all cleared. I’ve met most of them, but not Grammy M a.k.a. Mary-Margaret O’Shea.” She pulled a small notebook out of her jacket pocket and flipped through the pages. “She’s living just south of Santa Barbara with Gabriel Reese. He’s the grandfather of one of the Marcelli granddaughters’ husbands.”

Darcy blinked. “I’ll never keep this straight.”

Paige grinned. “You’ll have time to study before the quiz.”

Joe held open the back door. “Food’s waiting.”

Darcy hesitated, then stepped past him and entered a massive kitchen and was confronted by what had to be three tons of food.

Grandma Tessa and Colleen carried trays to a huge kitchen table by a row of windows. There were platters of meats, bowls of pastas, mounds of salads, along with at least three different kinds of bread. The scent of simmering sauces competed with the fragrance of cinnamon and fruit.

The elderly Marcelli walked into the kitchen. “It’s ten-thirty in the morning,” he grumbled. “Only a fool would eat now.”

“Lorenzo, stop. We have company. Darcy, come.” Grandma Tessa took her arm. “You must be hungry. All that travel.”

As tempting as it all looked, Darcy couldn’t imagine keeping down food. She felt too unsettled. But before she could say anything, Lorenzo limped over to stand in front of her.

“How old are you?” he demanded.


“Ha.” He grabbed her left hand and looked at her bare fingers. “No ring. No husband, no babies. What is it with you women today? Listen to your parents and grandparents. Get married and have babies.” He dropped her hand and poked her in the stomach. “You need babies.”

Darcy took a step back. “I’ll get right on that.”

Colleen sighed heavily. “Lorenzo, please. Stop torturing Darcy. At least let her get settled.” She looked around the kitchen and waved at Joe. “Would you take her upstairs and show her around? We’ve put her in Katie’s old bedroom. Brenna and Francesca’s is just too frightening.” Colleen smiled at her. “You can unpack, then come back down and have something to eat. How does that sound?”

For once Darcy didn’t have a snappy comeback. Not knowing what else to do, she smiled and said, “That would be very nice. Thank you.”

She followed the naval officer out of the kitchen and down the hall.

“This way,” Joe said as he headed for a flight of stairs.

The house was large and well kept. She liked the blend of colors, the earth tones that offered welcome. Although a hotel would have made her feel more safe, she could see the charm of the Marcelli home.

He led the way down a long hallway and stopped at the end. “You have your own room,” he said. “It hasn’t been decorated since Katie was in high school, but it’s comfortable enough. You also have your own bathroom.”

She stepped into a large and airy room decorated in shades of lavender. Before she could take in much more than the white eyelet bedspread and the striped wallpaper, a Secret Service agent entered her room, carrying a large suitcase. Three more followed, each with at least one bag. Paige came last. She handed Darcy a wristband.

“Automatic transmitter,” she said. “So we know where you are at all times.”

“I live to be a blip on a monitor.” Darcy took it and snapped it into place. The cold metal was comforting. At least if someone tried to take her away, her team would be instantly alerted.

When Paige had left, Joe glanced at Darcy. “So much for being a regular person.”

Surrounded by luggage, security, and wearing the human version of a homing beacon, she wasn’t in a position to argue.

“Why on earth would I want to be?” she asked. “Talk about boring. So how exactly does a naval liaison know so much about the Marcelli family?”

“Colleen and Marco are my parents.”

If he’d meant to surprise her, he’d succeeded. “But you have a different last name.”

He shrugged. “True enough. If there’s anything you need, just ask. The Marcellis lead with their hearts. The Grands will do their best to feed you to death. Colleen will hover and mother you, and the sisters will seduce you with wine, chocolate, and girls’ night out.”

All of which sounded like fun, but she knew better than to admit that. “Whatever,” she said as she picked up one of the smaller bags and put it on the bed. “So what are you doing here? Why aren’t you on a ship somewhere?”

“I’m part of the team.”

“You’re not Secret Service.”

“I’m the liaison with the family.”

But why would they need one? “The navy doesn’t get involved with the personal security of the president’s family.”

“They do now.”

She looked at him. “You were a SEAL?”

“Until I got promoted out of active duty and into logistical planning, yes.”

“At least you’ll know what you’re doing if the kidnapper returns.”

As the bedrooms in the guesthouse were identical, Paige had figured it was safe to claim one for herself without waiting for the special agent in charge to okay the decision. She’d unpacked the night before and begun to familiarize herself with the area around the house. Now she listed all the sections that would have to be checked on a regular basis, such as outbuildings, tree groves, and storage sheds.

The front door opened. Paige sucked in a breath to brace herself then glanced up as Alex Vanmeter stalked into the small living room.

He’d gotten older, but then they both had. He was still good-looking, in a rugged, street-fighter kind of way. Barely contained energy radiated from him, making her remember how much heat the two of them had once generated.

“She’s going to make this a hell of an assignment,” he said as he crossed to the refrigerator, pulled open the door, and checked the contents. “I heard she’s a bitch on wheels, but I thought the other agents were lying. Obviously not.”

“Yes, they were,” Paige said. “Darcy isn’t difficult at all.” Or she hadn’t been until today.

Alex grabbed a bottle of iced tea. “So you think this attitude of hers is temporary?”

Paige leaned back in her chair. “She’s scared, Alex. She was just kidnapped because our department failed to keep her safe. You might want to cut her a break.”

She used his first name deliberately. He might be in charge and able to pull rank, but she’d seen him naked, and she wasn’t about to let him forget it.

“You’ve worked with her before,” he said. “What do you know about her?”

“That her reputation is a lot more about the press wanting a story than about Darcy herself. She’ll cooperate.”

“She’s not going to have a choice. Nothing is going to happen to her on my watch. I want to meet with the team in two hours. We’ll review the location, set up a schedule. I want you working the house. I’ll be here, mostly, coordinating everyone. The team will work in eight-hour shifts.”

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.