The Marcelli Bride

Page 8

Marco headed for his mother while Joe took Grammy M by the arm.

“Let’s get you and Gabriel seated,” he said, leading her into the dining room.

“Nowhere near the likes of her,” Grammy M said. “She’s turned cruel and difficult. It’s amazing what old age will do to a body.”

Gabriel leaned close. “She’s jealous.”

Grammy M smiled and patted his hand. “Perhaps. I just…” Her voice trailed off. “No use crying over spilled milk, as my nana used to say. ’Tis her loss.”

Brenna waddled into the room. “You’re both stubborn,” she said as Nic wrapped his arm around her thick waist. “You two have been friends for what, thirty-plus years? Why let things get in the way now?”

Grammy M picked up her napkin. “Ask Tessa. She started it. Tellin’ me I had to choose between her and Gabriel. As if she resented my happiness. That’s not friendship.”

Nic patted Brenna’s shoulder. “Did I tell you not to get involved? Did you listen?”

“I hate that they don’t talk. It’s not right.”

Tessa bustled into the room. “Sit everyone. The food’s all ready. Brenna, you’re there, with Nic beside you. No, save that seat. It’s for Darcy. She’ll be across from Joe.”

Everyone turned to look at him as he held in a groan. Shit. He’d been home less than twenty-four hours and this was Tessa’s second attempt at matchmaking.

Marco came in with a tray of pasta. Colleen followed with baskets of bread. Joe retreated to the kitchen, thinking if he helped carry things maybe he could escape being the center of attention for once.

An unnecessary plan, he realized when he returned and found everyone focused on Darcy Jensen as she entered the dining room.

She still wore the fitted sundress she’d had on when she’d arrived. The black and white fabric hugged slender curves. He preferred women on the lush side of the scale, but she wasn’t bad-looking. And she smelled good. He’d always been a sucker for that.

“If this is lunch, I’m not sure I can face dinner,” Darcy said into the silence. “It, um, looks delicious.”

“It is,” Brenna told her. “And you’re probably one of those disgusting women who can eat what she wants without gaining a pound. It makes me want to hate you, but I won’t.” She waved toward Grammy M. “Darcy, I don’t believe you’ve met my maternal grandmother and Gabriel. We call her Grammy M, short for Mary-Margaret O’Shea. Gabriel Reese is her—”

“Paramour in sin,” Tessa snapped. “That’s right. They’re living together without the benefit of marriage.” She made a quick sign of the cross. “So have a seat.”

Marco jumped to pull out Darcy’s chair. Brenna introduced Nic while Colleen hustled her mother-in-law into the kitchen, no doubt to warn her to back off. Joe made himself busy at the buffet, opening bottles of wine.

Lorenzo walked into the dining room and took his place at the head of the table.

“Damn fool idea to have a big meal in the middle of the day,” he snapped. “No one will want to work later.”

“I was planning to take a nap anyway,” Brenna said cheerfully. “I have to, what with not sleeping at night. Here’s my question. Why nine months? Why can’t pregnancy last three months, or four? Isn’t that enough? I know I’m ready.”

“Your time will come,” Grammy M promised. She turned her attention to Darcy. “Welcome, child. How was your journey?”

“Good. I came here via Florida. Traveling in secret takes longer than regular travel.” Darcy hesitated, as if not sure what to say. “I, um, appreciate your family taking me in. You’ve all been very kind.”

“We’re happy to have you,” Colleen said as she walked back into the dining room with another tray. This one contained a roast and potatoes. After setting everything on the table, she motioned for Joe to take his seat. She did the same, with Tessa following close behind.

Lorenzo make a great show of tasting his glass of wine, then nodding. “Brenna, this is one of yours.”

“That merlot-cab blend you didn’t want me to bother with,” she said smugly. “It’s perfect, isn’t it? I told you it would be.” She gazed longingly at the bottle. “I swear the first thing I’m doing after I’m done breast-feeding is getting drunk. I miss wine. I can give up caffeine and processed foods and other alcohol, but I really, really miss wine.”

“You’ll get there,” Nic said as he kissed the top of her head.

“Easy for you to say,” she complained. “You get to drink what you want.”

Lorenzo waited until everyone had a glass, then raised his. “Welcome, Darcy Jensen. Welcome to the family.”

Brenna raised her water, everyone else picked up their wineglass. “Welcome.”

Joe looked across the table at Darcy. She looked startled by both the words and the gesture, although she raised her glass and smiled.

He remembered his first reaction to the Marcelli family and had an idea of what she was feeling. Overwhelmed didn’t cover it. The Marcellis tended to suck people up and make them their own. Once branded, it was difficult to escape.

As the platters and bowls were passed around, he glanced at her. She listened to the conversation around her but didn’t speak much. He would have expected her to claim all the attention, but she seemed content to observe. She took small portions and didn’t finish them. He could see her collarbone and the hint of ribs where her dress dipped between her breasts. Did she avoid food because of fashion or something else?

Too skinny. Not his type. And yet…He felt it—the subtle tension between them. A precursor to attraction.

Not to worry, he told himself. What he felt didn’t matter. As long as he didn’t act on it, he was fine. No woman was worth his career, certainly not this one.

“Brenna,” Lorenzo said loudly. “You ordered too many barrels. We have no use for them.”

“Oh, they’re not all for us,” she told him. “The extras are for Nic.”

Nic looked at his wife with an expression of long-suffering. “I have more than enough barrels.”

“No, you don’t. You need to age more of your chardonnay in wood, not stainless steel. Then you blend the two together.”

“Brenna, Wild Sea is my winery.”

“Yes, my love, but that doesn’t seem to prevent you from doing it all wrong. Take the extra barrels and use them. You’ll see a big increase in the quality of the reserve chardonnay.”

Darcy leaned toward him. “Why does it matter what they’re stored in?” she asked.

Joe shrugged. “I haven’t a clue.”

As soon as he spoke, he knew he should have kept his mouth shut. But it was too late. Lorenzo set down his fork.

“You should know,” he growled. “You are the firstborn grandchild. The only boy. This could have all been yours. But no. You resist. Why? So you can play soldier?”

“Pop, stop it,” Marco said.

“Don’t worry about it,” Joe told him. He was used to the old man’s complaints. They didn’t bother him.

“If he would just try. Give it a chance.”

“Not interested,” Joe told him.

“I don’t know anything about wine,” Darcy said. “Except that you’re supposed to have red with beef. How big is the Marcelli winery?”

Joe narrowed his gaze. Had she stepped in to deflect the attention from him? Why the hell would she bother?

“More acres than you’d want to walk. I can take you on a tour,” Brenna said. “In a manner of speaking. We’ll have to use carts, what with me being unable to waddle very far, but there’s still a lot to see.”

“Sounds like fun,” Darcy said. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

Brenna grinned. “Are you kidding? I love the chance to show off everything I know about wine.” She patted Nic’s hand. “I’ll explain the difference between the quality we shoot for here at Marcelli Wines and the volume they’re so proud of at Wild Sea.”

“Bite me,” Nic said with a grin.

“I believe that’s what got us into trouble in the first place,” his wife told him. She turned back to Darcy. “Does tomorrow morning work for you?”

“I’m not exactly filling my social calendar these days,” Darcy told her. “Name the time.”

That evening, Alex walked into the small guesthouse. He’d been avoiding it for the past couple of hours, but he’d run out of work and been forced to return.

The space itself wasn’t too bad. He’d turned the dining room into a command center. Computers and monitors covered the table and spilled onto the chairs. A large map of the Marcelli and Wild Sea property covered most of one wall. That left the living room as the only place to sit outside of the two bedrooms.

The rest of the team would be housed at a nearby hotel, but he and Paige would share the house and the single bathroom. He’d suffered through worse, of course. He’d slept in tents, cars, and out in the open, all in the name of getting the job done. The difference was he hadn’t done it in such close quarters with Paige.

The bathroom door opened and she walked out. Her hair was damp, and she’d traded in her dark suit for a loose pair of pajama bottoms and a tank top. No bra. Her nipples were clearly visible through the thin, ribbed fabric.

It had been a long time since they’d shared a roof, and he expected her to run for cover when she saw him. When she didn’t do anything but nod, he was determined to show he didn’t care, either.

“They’re in for the night at the house,” he said. “Richards had the first shift. He’ll let us know if he spots anything.”

“I don’t think there’s going to be trouble, but it’s best to be sure,” she said as she walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. “Did you taste the pasta Grandma Tessa sent over? It’s spectacular. I’m going to have to add a couple of miles to my run every morning or I won’t fit into my clothes.”

As she spoke, she bent over and pulled out a covered bowl. He wasn’t so much interested in the food as in the way the pajama fabric stretched over her ass. He couldn’t figure out if she was just being herself or if this was all a carefully constructed plan to drive him insane.

“We need to clear the air,” he said, hating how stiff he sounded.

She straightened and faced him. “Is there a problem?”

“You tell me. We started out in the same training class.”

“Ah.” She reached for a bowl and scooped pasta into it. “You’re worried that I’m bitter. Don’t sweat it, Alex. You had a couple of lucky breaks, where you got to strut your stuff. You’re good, and I’m okay with that.”

He hated her causal acceptance. “You used to be driven. You used to want it all.” He remembered it had been a mutual decision for them to end things. They’d both been more interested in their careers than in each other.

“Not anymore.” She put the small bowl in the microwave and punched in a time. “I guess I’ve mellowed with age. These days I’m looking for more balance in my life.”

She was saying all the right things, and he hated that. “You get that from your husband?”

Her green eyes narrowed. “Yes. Not so much from his life as from his death.”

Alex instantly felt like a jerk. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“Thanks, but I’m okay with it now. I still miss him, but I mostly remember the good times.”

With that she took her pasta from the microwave and walked to her room.

He watched her go and wondered what she remembered from their time together.

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