The late morning sun was warm as Francesca adjusted her straw hat and wove her way through the row of grapevines.
“What are these?” she asked her sister.
Brenna stopped walking and pressed her lips together in an expression of disgust. “I can’t believe you don’t know the different kinds of grapes.”
“They’re red,” Francesca said helpfully.
“Wow. You can do your colors. What’s next? Shapes?”
“Hey, don’t mock my intelligence,” Francesca told her. “I was the slow learner, remember? I’m very sensitive about my abilities.”
Brenna shook her head. “That was nearly twenty years ago. Since then you’ve gone to college, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree, and you’re in a Ph.D. program. That ‘I’m not the smart one’ card doesn’t play anymore.”
Francesca started to protest, then stopped herself. She still remembered her frustration at being unable to read while everyone else in her class caught on so quickly. She’d been nine before she’d suddenly figured out what the jumble of letters meant and saw they could form words and sentences and entire thoughts. No one knew what had caused her learning disability. A few doctors had speculated there was a part of her brain that had simply taken longer to mature. Regardless, she’s spent a lot of years feeling stupid and slow.
Had that really been almost twenty years ago? When she thought of it in those terms, she was forced to admit she’d come a long way.
“So now I’m smarter than you,” she said, teasing her sister.
Brenna bent over and checked the trellis holding the grapevine in place. “Not about growing grapes or making wine.”
Brenna straightened. “And we’re both idiots when it comes to men. Unless you’ve improved through practicing on Sam?”
Francesca didn’t want to think about him. “Not really.”
“We won’t even get into the family problems.”
“I think we should. We have to talk about it, Brenna.”
Her twin shrugged. “Is that why you came by?”
“It’s part of the reason. I’ve been worried about you.”
About them both. There was so much going on right now. Francesca didn’t think she could handle one more thing.
“They want Sam to find him,” Brenna said. “Mom already called him and he agreed.”
Francesca wasn’t surprised. She’d passed along Sam’s offer. Her parents had still been in shock, but when that faded, she knew they would want to get in touch with their firstborn.
“Did he tell you they’d accepted?” Brenna asked.
Francesca glanced at the rows of grapevines. “No, but we haven’t actually seen that much of each other in the past week or so.”
Not since Kelly had gone to spend the afternoon with a friend and Sam had gone ballistic.
“Do I want to know why?”
“That sounds ominous.”
Francesca brushed aside her concern. “That’s not important. I’ve been worried about you. About how you’re handling all this. Grandpa Lorenzo talking about selling was one thing. It could have been a lot of bluster on his part. But finding out about another child…”
Brenna plucked at a leaf. “Not just a child. A grandson. Our sexist grandfather is so happy he positively beams. I’m guessing he has visions of bringing the long-lost man into the folds of family and teaching him all he needs to know to run Marcelli Wines.”
Francesca wanted to say that wasn’t possible, except she knew it was. It might even be likely. “Maybe he won’t be interested.”
Brenna’s expression tightened. “Marcelli Wines is worth about forty million dollars. Would you walk away from that?”
Francesca swallowed. “Forty million?” She’d known the land and the vines had value, but that much? “Tell me again why I’m scrimping and saving to put myself through college.”
Brenna smiled. “Because you have integrity, kid.”
“Oh, right. Think I could get a cash advance on my inheritance?”
“You’re probably going to have to talk to your brother about that.”
A brother. She still couldn’t believe it. “They should have told us a long time ago. We would have understood.”
“It wouldn’t have hurt so badly,” Brenna murmured.
Francesca agreed. Keeping secrets created trouble, which was something she’d been telling herself.
“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?” Brenna asked.
“You’ve been acting weird since the Fourth. And don’t tell me it’s about our long-lost brother, because you were weird before that.”
Francesca tried to smile. “Gee, thanks for the endorsement.”
“You know what I mean. I can tell there’s something off. So what is it? Did you go and fall for Sam? Are you starting to think that marriage might not be such a bad thing?”
Her sister’s guess was so far from the truth that Francesca laughed. “Not even close. I’m-”
Francesca sighed. Maybe it was time to come clean, if not to Sam then to her twin sister. “I’m pregnant.”
Her twin’s eyes widened and her mouth dropped open.
“Holy shit! Are you kidding?”
“No. I took a pregnancy test about ten days ago, and it was positive. I haven’t gotten my period since, so there’s no reason to think anything has changed.”
Brenna leaned over the row of grapes and hugged her. “Wow. This is so amazing. You’re going to have a baby!” She straightened. “Okay, so this isn’t exactly how you had your life plan set up. I know you don’t want a husband, but kids are different. Aren’t you thrilled?”
“I don’t know.”
Brenna smiled. “You should be. A baby! Remember how we used to talk about how many kids we’d have and how they’d all grow up playing with each other, like you, me, and Katie did? How we’d take them to that grove of trees and let them play dress-up? You’re having a baby!”
Francesca touched her still-flat stomach. “Honestly, Brenna, I don’t know what I feel. I’m scared, I’m excited, I’m worried. And if we’re going to have our kids all playing together, then you’d better get a bun in the oven of your own.”
Brenna grimaced. “That would require me having sex, and right now that’s not likely to happen. But with Katie getting married, there will be cousins for your little one.”
Brenna stopped talking and sucked in a breath. “You haven’t told Sam yet, have you?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know what to say.”
Brenna stared at her. “How about something along the lines of ‘Hey, big guy. One of your little tadpoles got a bit too frisky.’ ”
Despite her emotional angst, she couldn’t help smiling. “You really want me to call him ‘big guy’ and refer to his sperm as tadpoles?”
“Maybe not.” Brenna turned toward the winery. “This is sure going to change your life.”
“Tell me about it.”
“So why haven’t you told him?” Brenna asked.
“A lot of reasons. For one thing, I’ve been in shock. We used a condom. I know they’re not a hundred percent effective, but having me get pregnant the first night seems really unfair.”
Brenna looked at her. “That’s a pretty lousy argument.”
“Agreed. I’m… scared. At first I didn’t want to say anything because he was dealing with Kelly showing up in his life and-”
Brenna swore. “Kelly! I’d forgotten all about her. Oh, kid, you are in big trouble. Practically the same week Sam finds out he’s the father of a teenager, you turn up pregnant. Talk about lousy timing.”
“You’re not making me feel better,” Francesca told her. “But you’re also right. That’s why I waited. I didn’t want to dump this on him, and I was still getting used to the idea myself. Then I found out we had a brother and it’s been crazy.”
Francesca sighed. “And Sam is having a tough time adjusting to Kelly. She’s a great kid, but a handful. Last week he got really angry and said some things about her disrupting his life and how he didn’t ask for the responsibility.”
“If he doesn’t want Kelly, he’s not going to want your baby?”
Francesca wasn’t surprised Brenna understood. “Yeah. Plus, things have been really good with Sam and telling him is going to change all of that.”
“I’m so screwed,” Francesca muttered.
“You’re also not ’fessing up to the most important part.”
Brenna stopped walking and faced her. “You don’t want to tell Sam because you don’t want to hear what he has to say. Not because he’s going to reject your child, but because you have this fantasy in mind. One in which he sweeps you off your feet and confesses undying love.”
Francesca rolled her eyes. “That’s so much bull.”
“Is it? You’re nearly as romantic as Katie. You’re like the middle child, seeing everyone’s point of view, rescuing the world. Sam is a great guy. After years of not wanting a man in your life, you finally hook up with him and he’s terrific. Sexy, smart, successful. It’s okay if you fall for him.”
“I didn’t fall for him. I don’t love him. I don’t want anything from him but sex. Now we’re having a child and that complicates everything.”
“No way,” Brenna told her. “The baby is just logistics. If you weren’t worried about getting hurt, you would have told him. You have to work out details like custody. If your heart weren’t engaged, stuff like that wouldn’t matter.”
Francesca didn’t like anything her sister was saying. “You’re wrong.”
“You don’t want to admit I’m right because it scares the crap out of you and because you don’t like me figuring out something about you that you couldn’t figure out yourself. It violates your view of yourself as psychologically superior.”
The verbal slam caught Francesca like a blow. “That is so unfair.”
Brenna shrugged. “It’s true. You planned this whole affair with Sam as if you were shopping for a wardrobe. Oh, you need a little black dress, so go to the stores until you find the right one. But this isn’t a dress. It’s sex. And you’re not shallow enough to give your body without your heart being engaged.”
“It’s not about being shallow. It’s about being sensible. I don’t want a man in my life right now.”
“According to you, you don’t want one ever. You’re afraid, Francesca. Like I said, it’s been twenty years since you were the dumb kid in class, but you can’t let that go. I remember you crying yourself to sleep because you felt stupid. And when you confessed your fears to our wonderful, caring Grandfather, he told you not to worry yourself. That you were so pretty some nice man would always be around to take care of you. Which Todd did and you hated.”
Francesca wanted to run away. Why was Brenna turning on her? What was going on?
“This is all old information, and it doesn’t have anything to do with Sam.”
“It has everything to do with Sam. You got scared, Francesca, and I don’t blame you. For so long you were afraid you couldn’t measure up. Todd acted as if you had the mental acuity of a stamp. He wanted you to shut up and look pretty, which you did. But you weren’t allowed to be a person. You’ve spent the last six years becoming your own person. Of course you’re afraid of being with a man again. All your life you’ve been told that only the men matter. That we have to take care of them. If you get involved with Sam, you risk losing yourself.”
“I’m not involved, and I haven’t lost myself.”
“You’re not going to lose yourself,” Brenna told her, obviously annoyed. “That’s my damn point. You’re not that insecure teenager anymore. You’re a successful woman. You’re confident and capable, and it’s okay to admit you care about Sam.”
“I don’t care!” Francesca yelled. “I’m not involved! I’m just pregnant!”
A sharp intake of air made them both turn. Francesca nearly fainted when she saw her grandfather standing not five feet away from them. She and Brenna had been so busy arguing, they hadn’t heard him approach.
Panic flared, and with it a sense of her life spinning out of control. Just when she’d decided it couldn’t get any worse, she was fighting with her sister and had just spilled her secret to the person least likely to keep it quiet.
“Don’t say a word,” she told her grandfather. “You didn’t hear that.”
The old man wasn’t the least bit impressed with her instructions.
“Is it Sam? That young man who was over at the party?”
She couldn’t lie and she didn’t want to tell the truth. “Grandpa, this is my problem and I’ll deal with it.”
His gaze narrowed. “Men who get women pregnant have a responsibility.”
“No. You’re not talking to Sam. I mean it. You’re not to say anything. I’ll handle this.”
“He should marry you.”
“No, he shouldn’t. And he doesn’t know about the baby yet, so don’t you even think about telling him. Grandpa, you can’t!”
It was like bargaining with the weather. No matter how much energy she put into the process, she had absolutely no control over the outcome.
He didn’t say anything. Instead he looked from her to Brenna, then turned and started for the winery.
Francesca folded her arms over her midsection. “This is bad. This is really, really bad.”
“It’s worse,” Brenna said. “Sam and Kelly have been invited to dinner tomorrow night.”
“I thought we’d head out to the mission,” Gabriel said as he settled on a kitchen chair.
Kelly put down her spoon and pushed her cereal bowl away. “You don’t have to worry about me,” she said. “I’ll be fine on my own.”
“Nonsense. You and I can take the day to get to know each other better.”
Kelly wasn’t sure about that. She thought her great-grandfather might like her more if they didn’t get to know each other. “The new nanny starts the day after tomorrow. With my dance class canceled for the day, I can just hang out. You don’t have to bother.”
“It’s no bother.” Gabriel leaned his cane against the table. “I’ve made reservations for a boat cruise this afternoon. It goes over to the Channel Islands. They’re just south of here.”
She eyed the tall, white-haired man sitting across from her. She could kind of see bits of her dad in him. Gabriel wasn’t exactly friendly, but he wasn’t too scary. The odd-smelling Doreen’s last day had been the previous Friday. Sam had stayed home yesterday, and Gabriel was with her today, while Francesca was taking the Wednesday shift. Kelly had lobbied for Francesca to take care of her the whole week, but Sam had said they’d bothered her enough already.
Kelly didn’t like the sound of that. She’d thought Sam was interested in Francesca and that they might want to get married or something. Kelly wouldn’t mind having Francesca around more. Sometimes her dad was okay, but sometimes he made her crazy.
Now she had a grandfather to deal with.
“Are you going to be all right on a boat?” she asked. “Is it safe?”
Gabriel drew his bushy, white eyebrows together. “Are you saying I’m too old to go on a boat?”
“I don’t know. Are you?”
“I’ll have you know, young lady, I’ve forgotten more about boats than you’ll ever learn.”
“If you’ve forgotten it, then you’re not going to be much help, are you?”
The words were out before Kelly could stop them. She flinched slightly, waiting for Gabriel to get mad. Sam would never believe it, but she’d really been working hard to think before she spoke. With Tanya nothing had ever mattered because her mother was too busy with her own life to care. But here things seemed to be different. Fortunately Gabriel only chuckled.
“Good point,” he said with a grin. “Good news that I’m not the captain, eh?”
“You been on a boat before?” he asked.
“One of the maids took me on that tour around Manhattan once. It was pretty cool to see the whole city that way.”
“Where was your mother while this was going on?”
“I don’t know. Out, I guess.”
He frowned. “You miss her?”
Kelly considered the question. “It’s weird to be here instead of there, you know? But miss her?” She shrugged.
Not really. She’d never spent any time with Tanya. The staff were always taking her places, not her mother.
Here it was different. Sam was in her face all the time, but he wasn’t so bad. Maybe he didn’t spoil her, and she really hated not having a DVD player, but they had some good times. They’d started going out to dinner a few nights a week. Different places with different kinds of food. And they’d gone to the movies. He’d refused to take her shopping, but he’d promised the next nanny would. And honestly, thinking of Sam in the teen department of a mall store was kind of funny.
“Your father’s a good man,” Gabriel said.
“You’re his grandfather. You have to like him.”
“You’re his daughter.”
“I guess.” She turned her spoon over in the bowl. “I don’t really know him.”
“You’ll get there. And he’ll get to know you.”
His words were meant to reassure, but they made Kelly feel all cold inside. Staring at a few floating bits of cereal, she cleared her throat. “What about after?” she asked, her voice quiet. “When he sends me away. Do you think it will be to a boarding school or something?”
It was the thought of the “something” that terrified her the most.
“What the hell are you talking about? Sam’s not sending you anywhere.”
Kelly looked at her great-grandfather. “My mom said he’d probably keep me around for a couple of years and then he’d send me away when I got to be too much trouble. Maybe one of those boarding school places or even to a dance school. I guess that would be okay.”
The last bit was more to convince herself than because she believed it. She didn’t want to go anywhere. She wanted to be a part of a family. She wanted to feel safe.
“Do you want to go away?” Gabriel asked.
Kelly opened her mouth, then stunned both of them by bursting into tears.
“Silly girl,” he muttered as he shifted his chair close to hers and drew her against him. “This is where you live now. I know it’s hard to adjust, especially with your mother dumping you like this. But we’re your family now. You’re stuck with us.”
Kelly wanted to believe him. Really. “Sam gets mad at me.”
“Of course he does. I used to get so angry with him that I wanted to lock him in his room forever. But I got over it. Then he screwed up again. It’s what kids do. Think of it as your job.”
He smelled of peppermint and sports cream. His arms were thinner than Sam’s, but being in them made her feel just as safe. She raised her head and looked at him. “Yeah?”
“Absolutely.” He brushed her hair off her forehead. “My late wife was one of the most beautiful women I ever had the pleasure of knowing. Whenever we’d walk down the street, the other men would watch her and wonder how somebody like me got so lucky. Want to know a secret?”
Kelly swiped away her tears. “What?”
“You look just like her. She had red curls and green eyes, too.”
Wonder filled her. Wonder and something light and warm that made it feel as if her heart was floating. “Even freckles?”
“Especially freckles. Freckles just like yours.”
Francesca parked in front of the hacienda. Kelly raced toward the backdoor and burst inside, but Francesca was slower to follow. If she hadn’t had Kelly for the day, she might not have had the courage to show up at all. Except with Sam due for dinner, she hadn’t had a choice. There was no way she could let him face her family without her first knowing what they knew and what they planned to say.
Oh, but she didn’t want to go inside. Not now. If Grandpa Lorenzo had told anyone… She leaned her forehead against the steering wheel. If? Was there any alternative universe in which he wouldn’t spread the news? She wouldn’t be surprised to find her father standing just inside the door, a shotgun in one hand and a list of available priests in the other.
The only bright spot was that she knew no one would say anything to Kelly. Her family would never hurt or upset the girl. If only they felt that way about their adult daughters, she thought wryly.
Unable to avoid the inevitable, she climbed out of the truck and made her way to the house.
The kitchen was the usual chaos. Even though it was only early afternoon, the Grands were in the midst of preparing dinner. Pots bubbled, vegetables lay on the countertops, and something delicious baked in the oven. Her mother stood with Kelly, next to Katie, who was sitting at the table and working on a list. As she entered, they all turned to look at her. There was a second of silence, and in that second she knew that they knew. Francesca braced herself against the need to bolt.
“Hi,” Francesca said weakly.
Her grandmothers rushed forward to embrace her. When she’d been squeezed, hugged, and cheek-pinched, Grammy M offered tea and Grandma Tessa told her to sit “and take a load off your feet.”
As the baby wasn’t even as big as a pencil eraser, worrying about her carrying around extra weight seemed excessive, but Francesca knew they all meant well. She tried to look on the bright side, but all she could think about was what was going to happen when Sam arrived.
Katie gave her a sympathetic look, then rose. “Kelly, I’m going to start beading the train. Want to help?”
Kelly grinned. “Sure. You mean you’d really let me sew on your dress?”
“Absolutely. There’s a special pattern for around the hem. I thought you’d like to work on that.”
“Wow. Okay. Great!”
Katie led the girl from the kitchen. Francesca watched her go with a sense of impending doom. Her mother crossed the kitchen, stopped in front of her, and reached for her hands.
“How far along are you?”
She’d been a fool ever to hope Grandpa Lorenzo had kept her secret for a second. “Did he run right back to the house to tell you or did he announce it at dinner?” she asked.
Grandma Tessa frowned. “Lorenzo is very worried about you. We all are.”
“Francesca, darlin’,” Grammy M murmured. “Are you feelin’ all right? Are you happy about the wee one?”
“I’m dealing with it.” She couldn’t commit to happy. Not when she was still floundering in confused.
“Does Sam know?” her mother asked.
“No. And I don’t want any of you to tell him.”
Her mother looked disapproving. “Francesca, if he’s the father-”
“Of course he’s the father. I don’t go around sleeping with more than one guy at a time. And for the record, there haven’t been any other guys in a long time, okay?”
Grandma Tessa pulled out her rosary and started murmuring. Francesca crossed to the table and sank into a chair. This was not going well.
“I know I have to tell Sam and I will. I just need a little more time to sort some things through.”
“Don’t be takin’ too long,” Grammy M said. “The weddin’-”
Francesca stared at her. “There isn’t going to be a wedding. Let’s make that clear. No marriage. No Mr. and Mrs. I’ll be having the child on my own.”
The three women looked as if they’d just witnessed a murder. They were stunned, shocked, and more than a little disapproving.
“If you’re concerned about Sam, your father will be happy to have a talk with him,” her mother said.
“No!” Francesca rose. “No talking. No anything. This is my life and you’re not to interfere. Do you understand?”
“Francesca-” her mother began.
“No. I’m going to make my own decision. I don’t want you to get involved. I mean it.”
The three women looked at one another, then back at her and nodded. Francesca knew it was the best she could hope for. They had agreed not to interfere, but that didn’t mean she believed them.
Sam exited the freeway for the two-lane highway that would take him to the hacienda. The late July afternoon was warm and clear-perfect California weather. While he should be back in his office, dealing with any number of crises that were bound to crop up in his absence, here he was playing hooky instead. The thing was, there wasn’t anything he would rather be doing.
He was even willing to admit the reason for his good mood-he couldn’t wait to see Francesca. Since the party on the Fourth, nearly three weeks ago, they’d barely spent any time together. Between his work, getting to know Kelly, Francesca’s need to work on her dissertation, and a five-day crisis involving the kidnapped son of a French banker, they hadn’t had much time alone.
Funny how in the past couple of weeks he’d found himself missing her. He missed talking to her, listening to her. He missed the sound of her laughter and looking at her across the dinner table. He missed her in his bed.
At first he’d been able to ignore the ache inside, but it hadn’t gone away. If anything it had gotten worse. Deeper, darker, more uncomfortable. He wanted to see her smile. He wanted to touch her face, kiss her, tease her, see her blush, watch her taking care of his daughter.
Basically, he had it bad.
Telling himself all the reasons he shouldn’t get involved didn’t seem to be helping. He didn’t want to believe he was thinking with the wrong head, but there didn’t seem to be another explanation.
So here he was, driving to the hacienda, grateful her family had insisted. They’d wanted to thank him for looking for their son. He glanced at the file folder on the passenger seat. To make the visit more official, he’d brought along what he’d been able to find out about the Marcelli’s firstborn.
He turned from the highway onto the long private road that led to the house. The grapes had grown since his last visit. Heavy clusters swelled in the afternoon light. He rolled down the window and inhaled the scent of earth and fruit. There was a heady sweetness in the air. The promise of harvest only a few weeks away. At least, that’s what it smelled like to him, he thought with a grin. Like he knew anything about making wine.
He was still chuckling as he parked the car in the driveway behind the hacienda. He cut the engine and stepped out in the shade. The afternoon was still and quiet. Santa Barbara wasn’t a huge city, but it was a major metropolis when compared with the solitary splendor of the hacienda.
He turned and saw Brenna walking toward him. She wore shorts and a T-shirt, with a large hat covering her head. The wide brim protected her face.
He studied her as she approached, looking for similarities between her and her twin. Their eyes were the same shape, but different colors. Francesca’s features were more of a blend of the two families, while Brenna had inherited Italian features from the Marcelli side. She was full-breasted and full-hipped to Francesca’s slender lines. Her beauty was less obvious than her sister’s but just as powerful.
“I know you’re not here to help with Katie’s dress,” she said when she stopped in front of him.
“Is that what they’re doing? Working on the dress?”
Brenna grinned. “It’s a real estrogen fest in there. Want to take a walk until they’re ready to break? I suspect if you go in too soon, they’ll put you to work.”
He shuddered. “I’m not into beads.”
“As your daughter would say, well, duh. Come on. I’ll let you admire my grapes.”
He followed her back the way he’d come. She headed into the rows of vines closest to the house, pausing every now and then to bend down and study the growing clusters.
“We’re having a good year,” she said. “So far.”
“Could that change?”
“Sure. In a heartbeat. Too much sun, not enough sun, rain at the wrong time, no rain, too much rain. If it gets too cold, too hot, too foggy.”
“Sounds like you’re lucky to get any harvest at all.”
“Some years we are.” She stepped back and pointed to the grapes. “Chardonnay.”
“How do you know when they’re ready?”
“Experience. This is my first harvest in a long time, so I’m a little nervous.”
Sam frowned. “I thought you were the sister who was completely into the vineyard. Francesca told me you love it here.”
Brenna shrugged. “That’s true, but what she apparently forgot to mention is that I’m also an idiot.”
She started walking and he followed along. Several questions came to mind, but he didn’t want to go anywhere dangerous. Just when he was about to change the subject, she started talking again.
“Per family expectations I got married when I was eighteen. Jeff was just entering medical school, and someone had to pay the bills. He was at UCLA, so I couldn’t be married to him and still work here. So over the course of a few years I became less and less involved with the winery. Life went on, I missed it, but I knew my place was with my husband.”
She glanced at him. “That would be the idiot part.”
“Because the marriage didn’t work out?”
She nodded. “I became a twenty-seven-year-old clich?. Dr. Jeff left the wife who had supported him all those years and took up with a younger woman. They’re getting married in a couple of months.”
“I’m just plain relieved to have it behind me.” She shoved her hands into her shorts pockets. “I was too young to marry anyone. Even being with the right guy would have been a challenge. But family expectations can be a real pain in the ass.”
There was something in her tone of voice that caught his attention. “What are you trying to tell me?”
Brenna shrugged. “My parents are pretty anchored in this century, but not the Grands and Grandpa Lorenzo. They don’t take to newfangled ideas. They’re traditional.”
“Are they concerned because I divorced Kelly’s mother?”
“What? No. It’s just-” Brenna pressed her lips together. “I love my sister. She’s annoying at times, but I love her. They love her, too. You’re a single guy with a daughter. Francesca’s single. There’s been talk.”
The lightbulb went on. He grinned. “You’re warning me that they’re not going to be subtle in their matchmaking.”
She hesitated. “Something like that.”
Before he could figure out an answer, Kelly ran out from the backdoor of the house, calling his name. She waved when she saw him and ran up to greet him.
“You’re here!” she said, sounding delighted. “I’ve been working on the dress all afternoon. It’s the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen. We’ve been using shiny beads and little glass balls to make tiny flowers and a vine pattern. I haven’t even pricked my finger once today, but Francesca did.” She paused to suck in a breath. “She bled and everything, but Grammy M says she can get the stain out and Katie said she was sticking herself to get out of having to bead the dress because she’s not very good at sewing, but she’s good at lots of other stuff, so that’s okay.”
She stopped to breathe again. This time he laughed. “So you’re bored and want to go home, right?”
“Not even close. I may never leave. I love it here. Francesca and her family are so cool.”
A noise made him look up. He saw Francesca standing in the doorway of the house. She wore shorts and a shirt. Her hair was loose and a little messy. There was a Band-Aid on one finger and a smudge on her cheek. She shouldn’t have looked beautiful. She shouldn’t have looked anything.
In that second, as he stared at her and she stared back and their eyes locked together, fire flared. It burned bright and hot. In that heartbeat, all his determination to avoid messy relationships, to listen to his brain and not his hormones, faded away. He wanted her-in bed, out of bed, whatever was available he would take, and the hell with the consequences.