didn’t have all that much interest in growing grapes or making wine, but she considered herself a real fan of the Marcelli family home. So many happy memories lingered in the corners and crevices of the old place. So much history filled each of the rooms. Coming back always made her feel good.

She pulled up next to the large house, parking her car next to Mia’s five-year-old Accord. A beat-up pickup sat on the other side, which meant Francesca had also come home for the weekend. Brenna would be arriving later. Katie smiled in anticipation. The four sisters hadn’t been under the same roof since Christmas, nearly two months before.

She’d barely popped the trunk when a side door opened and Francesca strolled out.

“I figured you’d be the next to arrive,” she said with a wave. “Brenna won’t be here for a while. She had to take Jeff to the airport.”

“He’s not coming for the weekend?” Katie asked, more than a little disappointed. She, along with her sisters, adored Brenna’s husband. He was funny, affectionate, the brother they’d never had.

“Nope. He had to go to some doctor convention.”

“I can’t believe he’d rather go there than hang out with us.”

“I agree. I mean, we’re charming and we have unlimited access to pasta. What’s not to like?”

The two women laughed, then embraced. Katie hugged her sister hard, holding her close for a second. When they released each other, she tried not to notice how great Francesca looked in her white cropped T-shirt and pale blue skirt.

Francesca had always been the pretty sister…pretty and nearly physically perfect. She was perfectly tall (5 feet 9), perfectly slender, with that annoying combination of large breasts and nonexistent hips. Her perfect features- wide hazel eyes, a full mouth, and cheekbones that defied gravity-combined to create a face that could not only launch a thousand ships, it could heal several debilitating personality flaws. Long, thick brown hair tumbled down her back, while perfect, olive-colored skin seemed to radiate light.

All of this and a brain, too, Katie thought with a combination of love and pride, flavored with a touch of sibling rivalry. Katie had always been the smart sister, but Francesca’s success in her Ph.D. program demonstrated there were fairly efficient brain cells firing behind those big eyes.

Katie grabbed her suitcase. “Poor Dad and Grandpa Lorenzo. They always look forward to Jeff’s visits. He keeps them from feeling outnumbered by the women.”

“They’ll survive, but I’m not sure we will,” Francesca said as they walked to the back door and stepped into the utility room. “You need to brace yourself. There’s an estrogen fest going on in the kitchen. The Grands are on a roll and Mom is only making it worse. If you don’t keep your distance, your ovaries may mutate.”

Katie smiled as she dropped her suitcase and purse. She stepped into the kitchen and took a deep breath.


Three women stood around the central island of the massive kitchen decorated with hand-painted tiles. Dozens of bowls, casseroles, and pots filled every inch of counter space that wasn’t already holding fresh produce and homemade pasta.

Three heads turned, three pairs of eyes widened in delight, six arms reached for her. Katie found herself being engulfed in a hugging competition designed to snap at least two ribs, while making her feel she was the most important person on the planet.

“Katie, at last! We were so worried. The long drive. A young woman alone. Who knows what could happen?”

Her paternal grandmother pinched her cheek hard enough to leave a mark. Katie smiled, even as her eyes watered from the pain. “Grandma Tessa,” she said warmly. “If you stopped worrying, what would the saints do with their time?”

Grandma Tessa, born and bred in Italy, dismissed the blasphemy. She was used to it from all her girls.

Katie’s mother, petite and stylish in a designer suit, sans shoes, cupped her face. “You look thin. Katie, you’re a beautiful young woman. You don’t need to starve yourself. Are you dieting again?”

Katie kissed her soft, pale cheek. “I swear, I’m not dieting. In fact, I weigh exactly the same as I did the last time you saw me, and the time before that.”

Colleen O’Shea Marcelli harrumphed, obviously unconvinced. “I think we should talk later. When your father and I were in San Francisco, we met the nicest young man. He’s a sous chef in a restaurant up there.”

Francesca stole a slice of cheese. “I thought all chefs were gay.”

Grandma Tessa brought the cross on the rosary around her neck to her lips. “Francesca, God did not make you so lovely on the outside so that you could have such a dark heart. Katie needs a man. For that matter, you need a man.”

Francesca looked at Katie. They both rolled their eyes.

Finally Katie turned to the tiny woman still holding her arm. “Grammy M,” Katie said, her voice warm with affection. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m grand. The sun feels good on these old bones. I’ve no complaints a’tall.”

“You’re not so old,” Katie reminded her. “Besides, I’m counting on you living forever.”

Mary-Margaret O’Shea had been born in Ireland and married at seventeen to a young man she’d only met twice. Less than two weeks after the wedding he’d taken her away from home and family, bringing her across the ocean to a great new land. They’d eventually settled in California.

Grammy M squeezed her hand. “I’m plannin’ on it, darlin’.”

“So,” Katie’s mother said, expectantly. “If you’re not interested in the sous chef, does that mean you have someone special in your life?”

Katie looked at Francesca, who stuck her finger down her throat and silently gagged.

Katie knew she had two choices. She could tell the truth-that she wasn’t seeing anyone and that she was perfectly okay with that. Only no one would believe her. Instead her grandmothers and mother would fuss and chide and torture her for the entire weekend. They would bring up names of men who had never married (and once they reached forty without tying the knot, how couldn’t there be something wrong with them?), men who were recently divorced, even men who were thinking about divorce. They would talk about her growing old alone, about the odds of finding a man after she turned thirty. They would try to love her into submitting to the family credo of “marry young and have many babies.”

Or she could lie.

While she generally tried to tell the truth, desperate times and all that.

“I recently met the most amazing guy,” she said.

The Grands did a second swooping thing, while her mother beamed.

“Tell us everything,” she insisted. “What’s he like?”

“His name is Zach Stryker and he’s a very successful lawyer.”

“Ooh, a man with a profession,” her mother said happily. “So he has money.”

Katie didn’t have a clue, but unless Zach spent every weekend redecorating his house at the Neiman Marcus home store, he should have gobs. “Sure. He’s gorgeous and charming and I think he’s really special.”

Francesca nearly choked on her cheese. Katie tucked her hand behind her back and crossed her fingers. “He hired me to handle a big fund-raiser for his firm. It’s a huge job and it’s going to put my company onto the ‘A’ list, but that’s not nearly as exciting as meeting the right guy, you know?”

Francesca still stood behind the Grands. Now she chewed the last bit of cheese and wrapped her hands around her throat, as if strangling herself. Katie knew she was laying it on a bit thick, but she was on a roll.

She sighed heavily. “The man is a hunk.”

Just then footsteps clattered on the dining room hardwood floor. Katie was almost disappointed by the interruption. She could have done another five minutes on the unlikely virtues of Zach.

Everyone turned toward the sound as Mia burst into the kitchen.

As usual, she was dressed in jeans and a cropped shirt. Her highlighted hair looked more blond than brown, although the roots were showing, the way Mia liked it. Heavy makeup emphasized her brown eyes. She looked like a makeover gone bad, and yet so lovely and full of life that Katie couldn’t help smiling.

“You’ve got to start blending,” Katie said, crossing to her youngest sister and hugging her. “That’s why God invented Q-tips.”

Mia puffed out her glossy lips, then gave an exaggerated sigh. “I’m still experimenting to find my style. We

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