The Marcelli Bride

Page 7

Paige made notes as he spoke. “Anything else?”

“Just one more thing.” He moved close to the table and loomed over her. “Are you going to have a problem with me being in charge?”

“We’ve worked together before,” she said.

“Not in quarters as close as these, and not with me running the op.”

She stood, dropping her pen on the table. “I asked to be assigned to this team,” she said slowly and deliberately. “I care about Darcy and I want to be a part of keeping her safe. As long as you do your job, I don’t give a rat’s ass who’s in charge. You might be a good agent, Alex, but in private, you’re not all that.”


D arcy unpacked three pairs of linen slacks, jeans, several shirts, and five pairs of shoes, all black. As she held up her third black T-shirt, she felt her lips twitch. Dear God, she really did dress like a rock star groupie in mourning.

Not the best time in the world to notice, she thought as she carried her clothes to the closet. What with her being abducted the last time she’d gone to the mall, she had a feeling she would be doing all her future purchases online. But maybe she could try a color other than black. Maybe—

A knock on the door interrupted her mental list. “Come in,” she called.

The door opened and a very pretty, very pregnant woman entered. She had long, dark wavy hair, olive skin, and huge brown eyes. She held a bottle of wine in one hand and a glass in the other.

“Hi, I’m Brenna,” the woman said. “I can’t have wine, but I figured you’d need some.”

Darcy glanced at the bedside clock. “It’s barely eleven in the morning.”

“Sure, but you’re still on East Coast time.” Brenna grinned. “Trust me. With my family, you need all the help you can get. Drink early and often.” She set the bottle and glass on the dresser. “Wow. You have a lot of clothes. And they’re gorgeous. I’m currently shopping in the tent department of the sporting goods store. What a nightmare. Nic and I both really want kids, but I have to tell you, unless he plans to carry the next one, this is the end of the line for me.”

Brenna lowered herself into the room’s only chair, then sighed. “Better. Now, you look confused. What didn’t I explain?”

Darcy sank down on the edge of the bed. “Who the hell are you?”

Brenna grinned, then started to laugh. “Sorry. Brenna Marcelli. Well, technically Brenna Giovanni. I live in the next house over, which is about two miles away. I’m one of Marco and Colleen’s daughters. I run Marcelli Wines. I have my own winery, too. Four Sisters. It’s doing great, but that’s another story.”

Darcy felt as if she’d been caught up in a tornado. “Okay. Am I in your room?”

“Nope. You’re in Katie’s. She has much better taste. I shared a room with my twin, Francesca, and let me tell you, you don’t want to stay there. Very scary wallpaper.”

“You’re one of four sisters?”

Brenna nodded. “Katie’s the oldest. She’s married to Zach, and they have one daughter, Valerie. Francesca is my fraternal twin. She’s married to Sam. They have a fifteen-year-old, his from a previous marriage, and twins who are nearly two and a half. Mia, the youngest of us, has just graduated from Georgetown with a master’s in world domination. She starts her job with the State Department in September. Currently, she’s traveling with friends, enjoying her last summer of leisure. And you’ve already met Joe.”

“Yes.” The good-looking naval officer. “I thought being in a political family was complicated, but we’re easy compared to your relatives.”

Brenna rested her right hand on her swollen belly. “Don’t worry. They won’t quiz you on the various relationships for at least a week. But this can’t be tough duty. You’re used to hanging out at state dinners. I could never do that. I’m way too opinionated.”

“I avoid state dinners. That’s more my sister’s idea of a good time.”

“Still, I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the president’s daughter. Everything would be so public. I mess up enough in my life that I really appreciate being anonymous.”

“There are advantages to no one knowing who you are,” Darcy said lightly.

Brenna’s expression turned sympathetic. “They told us about the kidnapping. How terrifying. Are you doing okay?”

“I’m fine,” Darcy said. “They didn’t hurt me.”

Brenna glanced at the marks on her wrists. “I would think they did. But you’ll be safe here. There are tons of us to protect you. Not that I could really do much. Except maybe sit on the guy until he screamed for mercy. But Joe’s burly. All that SEAL training. Just toss him a Q-Tip and he’ll take on any enemy.”

“A Q-Tip, huh? What could he do with an actual weapon?”

“Conquer the known civilized world. Oh!” She pressed down on her belly. “Someone’s awake. It’s time for soccer practice.” She felt around on both sides of her stomach. “Just the two feet, I think. There can only be two. I couldn’t take more.”

“Are you expecting more?”

“I’m terrified I’m having twins. The doctor swears there’s just the one heartbeat, but they’ve been wrong before. I’m a twin, my twin had twins, and I firmly believe God has a sense of humor. Plus, I’m huge. Francesca didn’t even show until fifteen minutes before she gave birth, and Katie gained exactly twenty-seven pounds. I am a freak of nature.”

Darcy wanted to be sympathetic, but she couldn’t help laughing. If Brenna was an example of the Marcelli sisters, she couldn’t wait to meet them all.

She heard footsteps in the hallway. Grandma Tessa appeared. “Brenna, there you are. How are you feeling? Are your feet swollen?”

Brenna raised a foot. “Pretty much all the time since late June.”

“When are you due?” Darcy asked.

“The end of September. Another seven weeks. I don’t think I can stand it. Can someone just knock me out until after the delivery?”

Grandma Tessa reached in the pocket of her dress and pulled out a rosary. “Don’t talk like that. Babies are a blessing.”

Brenna leaned toward Darcy. “It’s never good when Grandma Tessa takes a trip around the beads. Just so you know.”

Darcy grinned. “Thanks.”

Tessa sniffed. “You’re already teaching our guest to be disrespectful. What will your mother think? What will the president think?”

“You don’t have to worry about him,” Darcy said. “I won’t tell.”

Grandma Tessa returned her rosary to her pocket. “Lunch is at twelve-thirty. Brenna, you’re staying. I called Nic, and he’s joining us. Darcy.” The old woman reached for her hand. “We’re so happy to have you here with us. I’m going to put you across from Joseph. A pretty face like yours will help his appetite. He doesn’t eat enough. Plus, an officer, eh? Think how nice everyone would look at the wedding.” She winked, released Darcy, and left.

Darcy stared after her. “Am I being set up?”

Brenna chuckled. “Oh, yeah. Big time. Get used to it. Grandma Tessa’s been trying to marry Joe off for the past three years. Matchmaking is a way of life in this family. As the president’s daughter, you’re something of a catch.”

She wasn’t sure about that. “If Joe’s your brother, why does he have a different last name?”

“Ah, that’s one of our more interesting stories.” Brenna tucked her hair behind her ears. “My parents met and fell in love in high school. Neither set of their parents approved—young love never lasts and all that. So when my mom turned up pregnant, the families pressured her to give up the baby for adoption. Which she did.”

Darcy had expected to hear about a child from a previous marriage. “So he was raised by someone else?”

Brenna nodded. “It’s really sad. His adoptive parents were great, but they were killed when he was pretty young. He went into foster care. My sisters and I never knew about him. My parents married right out of high school and are obviously really happy together, but they were crushed to find out what Joe went through. But we found him, and now he’s one of us.” Her smile faded. “At least that’s the goal.”

Darcy shifted on the bed. “I didn’t mean to pry, I just wondered.”

“Makes sense. Grandpa Lorenzo gets on him to change his name to Marcelli, but Joe resists. He’s still holding back, not ready to be one of us. Which is probably more than you wanted to know, huh?” Brenna slowly pushed to her feet. “I’m going to leave you to unpack. I have some wine I need to check on. See you at lunch.”

“Okay. Thanks for the information on the family.”

Brenna smiled. “There’s so much more, but I don’t want to scare you off on your first day. But I’m sure Katie, Mia, and Francesca will be visiting before long. Brace yourself. Remember what I said about drinking wine. It really helps.”

Joe did his best to duck out of lunch. The last thing he wanted was a big family meal and a lot of questions about his career—as in why wasn’t he leaving the navy to move to the winery—and his love life—had he met someone, when was he getting married and having babies? But when he opened the back door to make his escape, he saw Grammy M and Gabriel arriving, and he could no more run out on her than he could back a car over a puppy. Tessa might perform the strongest cheek pinch on three continents, but Grammy M’s warm smile and lilting Irish voice got him every time.

“Joe,” she said warmly as she climbed out of the large yellow Cadillac. “I’d heard you’d come home. It’s been far too long since we’ve set eyes on you.”

He walked down to hug the tiny, old woman. “I’ve been busy.”

“Too busy for those who love you most?” she asked gently. “’Tis a sad thing when a grandson stays away.”

“I’m here now,” he told her.

“So I see. Along with the president’s daughter. Who would have thought. Is she pretty?”

Joe didn’t want to think about Darcy Jensen or the fact that he’d been aware of her from the first second he’d seen her. “She’s okay.”

Gabriel got out of the car and reached for his cane. “That Lauren’s a real looker. I can’t say much about her sister. Still, a kidnapping had to take some of the starch out of her sails.”

He limped up to join Grammy M, then took her arm. “Step aside, sonny,” he snapped. “I’ll be escorting my woman to lunch if you don’t mind.”

Grammy M giggled. “Oh, Gabriel. Don’t talk like that in front of the young people. You know it makes them uncomfortable.”

“My grandson doesn’t mind,” Gabriel said with a cackle. “He likes knowing the family plumbing still works at my age.”

Joe winced. He was with Grammy M on this particular topic.

He followed the older couple into the kitchen, where he found it in the usual Marcelli chaos. Tessa and Colleen carried huge bowls and platters of food to the dining room. Nic had arrived. He managed to call out a greeting to Joe as he helped a very pregnant Brenna out of a chair. Marco carried in several bottles of wine, then paused to kiss his mother-in-law on the cheek. The action caused Tessa to notice that Grammy M had arrived.

“So you’re here,” Tessa said in a chilly voice.

“I wanted to meet Darcy,” Grammy M told her serenely. “So she could see we weren’t all rigid and judgmental.”

Tessa bristled. “I’m not sure you should be around a young woman like that. You could send her down the dark path to hell.”

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