The last of the plates were cleared away just as the sun slipped below the horizon. In the distance the fireworks were set up on a patch of graded land that had yet to be cultivated.
Francesca and Brenna strolled in the twilight, heading away from the tables and toward the house.
“I’m going to explode,” Francesca said, touching her stomach. The troubles in her life had done nothing to reduce her appetite. “Why do I always eat too much?”
“Because the Grands are the best cooks in the world,” Brenna said. “I’ve got to get out of here and get my own place. If I stay much longer, I’ll weigh four hundred pounds by the end of summer.”
Francesca laughed. “You look great. Quit complaining.”
“I look okay,” her sister said. “You look amazing. There’s this strange glow about you.” Brenna’s gaze narrowed. “It’s Sam, isn’t it?”
Francesca swore silently. Glowing? She couldn’t be glowing. She was maybe three weeks pregnant. The baby wasn’t even a rice grain yet. “It’s this new moisturizer I’ve been using. Really. It’s fabulous.”
Brenna laughed. “You are such a liar.”
Francesca knew she was teasing, but the ‘L’ word made her wince.
“Admit you like him,” Brenna said. “Commitment or no commitment, you think he’s great.”
At least this was something she could talk about. “Okay, yes. He’s pretty amazing.”
“And you like the kid.”
“Kelly is a good kid.”
They circled around to the rear of the house. Brenna came to a stop. “Then watch yourself, Sis, because I’m seeing sparks between you two.”
“You don’t have to worry. There’s nothing…” She hesitated. Nothing serious between them? Didn’t a baby count as that? “We’re still not picking out rings. I promise.”
“Just watch yourself. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I don’t want that, either. Sam and I-”
The sound of harsh, angry voices caught her attention. Francesca looked toward the house and saw her father arguing with her grandfather.
“What on earth is that about?” she asked, heading toward them.
“Dad looks mad,” Brenna said as she hurried after her.
“She knows,” her father was saying as the two of them hurried up. “Brenna has always known about the grapes. What would it hurt you to listen?”
Grandpa Lorenzo waved a hand in dismissal. “This is not the time.”
“You’re wrong. Buying the Pinot Noir grapes was a good idea. We need to expand.”
“It is not for you to say!” the old man roared. “This land is mine to do with as I will!”
“Are they drunk?” Francesca asked quietly as she and Brenna hovered a few feet from the two men.
“I have no idea.”
Grandma Tessa hurried up, as did Grammy M, who was with Gabriel. Francesca’s mother appeared from around the side of the house.
“Marco?” she said. “What’s wrong?”
“My father,” he said, obviously furious. “He’s being as stubborn as ever. I just found out Brenna tried to buy some grapes, but the great family patriarch wouldn’t let her.”
“I am in charge,” Grandpa Lorenzo declared. “My name is on the label of these wines.”
“We all have the same name,” his son blasted back. “We all care about the winery.”
“I care more. I wait and wait, but there is no heir. Now what? Everything is to be lost.”
His son rounded on him. “Don’t you dare throw that up in my face again, old man. If anyone is to blame, it’s you. Not me, not Colleen. You and Mama decided. You chose this path.”
Francesca had no idea what they were talking about, but she was stunned by the guilty expression on Grandpa Lorenzo’s face. She turned to Grandma Tessa and saw tears in her eyes. Even Grammy M look worried.
Francesca glanced at Brenna, who looked as confused as she felt. Their mother began to cry.
“I can’t, Marco,” she said softly. “I can’t pretend it didn’t happen. Not anymore.”
“I know.” Her husband put his arm around her. “It’s been thirty years and it still hurts every day.” He glared at his father. “Damn you for your arrogance and your pride. Damn you for making us give up our son.”
* * *
Like many other party-goers, Sam had been drawn by the sound of loud voices. Now there was only silence as Marco Marcelli’s words echoed in the twilight.
“What’s happening?” Kelly asked quietly as she hovered by his side.
“I don’t know.”
Whatever it was, the family didn’t need an audience.
“We should go,” he said.
“But we haven’t seen the fireworks.”
Sam figured they had, only not the kind she meant. “We’ll watch the ones over the pier back home,” he said and headed over to where Gabriel stood with Grammy M.
His grandfather looked up as he approached, said something to Grammy M, then began his slow walk toward Sam.
“This is family business,” Gabriel said unnecessarily. “They don’t need us around.”
“I agree. Let me tell Francesca we’re leaving. I’ll meet you by the car.”
The Marcelli family clustered together. Francesca was next to Colleen, her arm around her mother. They both looked shocked.
“We’re going to head out,” he told Francesca.
She glanced at him and nodded, but he wasn’t sure she saw him. He wanted to offer the same kind of comfort to her that she offered to her mother. Right now Francesca seemed to need a shoulder to lean on.
She managed a shaky smile. “We usually do a better job at our parties.”
“We had a great time. Don’t worry about it.”
Light from the house spilled out and illuminated the side of her face. He visually outlined the curve of her jaw and the strand of dark hair curving against her neck.
“Call me if you need anything,” he said. “Kelly and I will be around all weekend.”
“I appreciate that.”
He waved and turned toward the car.
Ten minutes later they’d left the Marcelli house behind and were approaching the highway.
“What happened back there?” Kelly asked.
“I’m not sure.” Sam figured Francesca would explain things when he finally saw her. Until then there was no point in speculating.
“Mary-Margaret was damned upset,” Gabriel muttered.
Sam glanced at his grandfather. “I noticed you spent a lot of time with her.”
Gabriel gave a wolfish grin. “She’s a fine woman.”
“That is totally gross,” Kelly complained.
Gabriel chuckled, then winked at Sam. “I told you I still had some life left in me, boy.”
“That you did.”
Francesca and Brenna stood across from Katie. All three of them were in the kitchen, while their parents and grandparents talked in low voices in the living room.
“This is completely crazy,” Brenna said, her voice harsh, her eyes glazed with shock and disbelief.
Francesca knew she probably looked just as stunned, but unlike Brenna, she didn’t have as much to lose if the bombshell was true. Sure, their grandfather had hinted about selling the winery, but Francesca hadn’t believed that was likely. Eventually Grandpa Lorenzo would relent and Brenna would inherit. Unless there was a male heir.
“A brother,” Katie repeated. “It’s not possible.”
“It’s more than possible,” Brenna said bitterly.
Francesca shook her head. “Why wouldn’t they have said something? This is a thirty-year-old secret.”
“Maybe Dad isn’t the father,” Katie said, sounding as stunned as Francesca felt.
“He said our son,” Brenna reminded her.
“What about all the times Grammy M said the family was being punished by God?” Francesca asked. “We never figured out what that meant. What if it was about this?”
Zach, Katie’s fianc?, walked into the kitchen, then paused. “You want me to go wait somewhere else?”
Katie glanced at Francesca, who shook her head.
“I think it’s a little too late for secrets,” Francesca said, trying to lighten the tone.
“Now what?” Brenna demanded. “I can’t believe it. This is complete bull.”
Francesca touched her twin’s arm. Brenna’s pain was as real to her as the ache in her own heart.
“Now we go find out the truth.”
Katie’s mouth twisted. “Grandpa Lorenzo already sent us away. You know if we go in there, he’s going to threaten to throw us out of the family. Speaking as the last person that happened to, it’s not fun.”
“We don’t have a choice,” Francesca told her. “I’m sorry about what happened before. We should have stood together. That’s what we’ll do this time.”
“You think he bothers you,” Brenna said bitterly. “Try working for him.” She took her sisters’ hands. “Come on, we’re joining them.” Zach put his arm around Katie.
The four of them walked into the living room. Her parents sat together on the sofa. Her mother was in tears. She pressed a tissue to her face with one hand and held on to her husband with the other. Grammy M huddled next to her daughter. For the first time Francesca realized her grandmother was an old woman. Pain emphasized the lines in her face and pulled at her mouth.
Grandma Tessa sat alone on a chair by the fireplace and Grandpa Lorenzo stood next to her.
They all looked up when Francesca, her sisters, and Zach entered. Grandpa Lorenzo frowned.
“This is not your business.”
Francesca ignored him and crossed to the sofa. She squeezed in next to Grammy M and took her frail hand in hers. “Are you all right?”
Her grandmother offered a trembling smile. “ ’Tis something I knew would have to come out one day. None of us meant to hurt you girls. You have to believe that.”
“Mary-Margaret!” Grandpa Lorenzo roared. “You will be silent!”
Grammy M flinched.
Francesca rose and faced her grandfather. “There has been too much silence for too many years. We are all a part of this family. You can threaten us, Grandpa, but you can’t scare us away. We want to know what’s going on.”
Her parents exchanged a look of silent communication. Grandma Tessa looked at her husband. Grammy M nodded slowly.
“ ’Tis time,” she said softly.
“I agree.” Her father stood. “It’s long past time.”