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Going Too Far
By Tori Carrington
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Tori Carrington
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMondays had a way of challenging even Marie Bertelli's good-girl tendencies. The weekend always seemed to go by too quickly. All too often the first day of the workweek seemed more like an ugly three-eyed monster to conquer rather than a fresh start to finish what she hadn't the week before.
She laid on the horn then shouted at the driver who had just cut her off, showing a tiny glimpse of the bad girl she had let out once and only once in her twenty-six years and didn't dare let out again. She justified the brief transgression by pointing out the other driver couldn't hear her through the windows of her '67 ragtop Mustang, closed against the late January chill of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Of course, it didn't help that she hadn't had a man in her life for ... well, much longer than she cared to think about. Especially when Valentine's Day loomed around the corner and everywhere she turned red and pink hearts were popping out at her, reminding her of the pathetic state of her love life.
She glanced at her watch. What also didn't help was that she'd been waylaid by an accident on I-40, and now grumpy and preoccupied Monday morning drivers threatened to send her careening over an emotional edge that she'd preferred not to be teetering on just then.
"Marie Antonia Bertelli, is that the mouth you use to talk to your mother?"
Marie sighed and moved her wireless phone from under her chin where she'd thought her mother couldn't hear her. Ha. "I wasn't talking to you, Mama."
Although for all intents and purposes she should say exactly what she'd said to the driver to Francesca Bertelli. Her mother sometimes acted like she'd immigrated from Italy last week, with her old-world traditions and speech patterns, rather than the second generation Italian-American that she was, who'd placed first runner-up in the Miss New Mexico beauty pageant.
Francesca went on as if they hadn't been interrupted. "About dinner tonight. I want you to wear the blue dress. You know the one I'm talking about? The one you wore to Anthony's wedding. It makes you look like you have breasts. And, of course, it brings out the blue in your eyes."
Marie's mood worsened with each word her mother said. "I'm not coming to dinner tonight, Mama," she told her for the third time in as many minutes. Her mother had a habit of only hearing those things she chose to hear. Which was very little of what Marie had to say.
"The blue dress," her mother said again.
The blue dress was the most hideous of hideous bridesmaid's dresses and was packed away in the bottom of a box somewhere, though Marie had seriously considered burning it. The poofy clown-like nightmare made her look like a blue elephant.
"I'm making your favorite. Farsumagru o briolone. You have to come to dinner," her mother complained.
The Sicilian meat roll wasn't her favorite. It was her older brother Frankie Jr.'s favorite. But to tell her mother that now would only encourage her to go on. In fact, the mix-up might be a trap altogether. Entice her into an argument of what they would have for dinner, and she would end up going to the dinner and forgetting that it was the last thing she wanted to do tonight ... or ever.
Marie bit the inside of her cheek. She'd finally moved into her own apartment a week ago after living with her family for ten months upon her return from L.A. Since the move, every morning like clockwork her mother called to invite her to dinner. Marie had made the mistake of going last Sunday, thinking there was only so much her mother could do during a family meal. She'd been sorely mistaken. There, seated to her right, had been Benito Benini, a guy she'd gone to kindergarten with and twenty years was not enough time to erase the memory of him launching green PlayDoh out of his nose. A nose that had grown considerably since then.
"No," Marie said. "Absolutely not." She hesitated as she negotiated a right-hand turn into the Bernalillo County Courthouse parking lot. "I ... I already have plans."
She resisted the urge to bang her forehead against the steering wheel as she said the words. What was she thinking?
"Plans? With whom? What's his name? Do we know him?"
"We," of course, referred to the entire Bertelli family. Her father, Frank Sr. Her mother. And her three older brothers, Frankie Jr., Anthony and Mario, all married and either with or starting families of their own.
And each with their own reason for butting into every aspect of Marie's private life.
"Never mind, Mama," Marie said as she zoomed into a parking space in front of another car. She ignored the blast of the other driver's horn and gave a friendly wave. She moved the wireless phone to her other ear then shut off the car engine. "Look, I've got to go. I'm at the courthouse and I'm already late meeting my client."
"Late? See, you should have stayed home. You wouldn't be late if you were home."
"I was late because there was an accident, Mama. The highway was backed up for miles."
"Accident? You got into an accident?"
"No. I said there was an accident. One that, I am happy to say, I was not involved in." But with five minutes more of this conversation she might wish otherwise. "Goodbye, Mama. I'll call you later."
"This is how you would leave your mother? Worrying about what ax murderer you're meeting tonight?"
Marie leaned her head on the rest behind her. "I'm not going out with an ax murderer. I'm meeting Dulcy and Jena for dinner."
Was that a note of disappointment in her mother's voice? Yes, it definitely was. The realization made even her little white lie easier to swallow.
Marie smiled. Interesting. Was her mother to the point where she'd welcome even a potential ax murderer into the family just so long as he was a possible husband?
"You could bring them to dinner. It's been so long since we've seen your friends."
That was because on the few occasions that her best friends had met up with her family the police had almost needed to be brought in. Mostly because Jena had a hard time believing the family really did think they had a right to meddle in Marie's life and had challenged them on the point. And the Bertellis had a habit of referring to Jena as "the loose one" who would tarnish their only daughter's reputation.
If only that were the case. Marie couldn't even pay for a reputation, good, bad or otherwise.
"I don't think so, Ma. Gotta go. Love you, bye."
She clicked her wireless closed on her mother's automatic protest then quickly switched the phone off altogether, routing any incoming calls to her voice mail.
How she'd survived twenty-six years in the Bertelli family was anyone's guess. And the phone conversation she'd just had with her mother was nothing compared to what it was like to actually grow up in the Bertelli house. Directions on how she should do this, wear that, fix this. Oh, she adored her family. Loved them to death. Unfortunately, she also feared they would be the death of her.
Excerpted from Going Too Far by Tori Carrington Copyright © 2003 by Tori Carrington
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.