Cleo allowed herself to lean on him for a second longer, knowing that her big brother would always have her back. She had never loved or appreciated him more than in that moment.

CHAPTER SIX

Cal was still pointedly ignoring her when he returned to the flat, sans Greg, much later that night.

“Hey,” Cleo greeted tentatively, even though she found his wounded air annoying.

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“Oh. Hey,” he replied, as if he’d only just noticed her sitting on the lone chair in the living room, an overstuffed monstrosity that she’d purchased at a thrift store.

“So . . . I’m pregnant,” she blurted, and he froze on his way to the bathroom. He turned to face her, his mouth gaping and his eyes just about popping out of his skull.

“Shut up. You’re shitting me, right?” He always got so American teen when he was surprised by something. It was equal parts endearing and exasperating. “Oh my God. No wonder you’ve been such a bitch lately.”

“Wow, thanks,” she said with a grin. She couldn’t help it; his irreverence and honesty always made her smile.

“Well, you have.” He forgot all about his need to go to the bathroom and sank down onto his sleeper couch opposite her chair. “Are you keeping it?”

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“I don’t know.”

“Are you thinking about terminating the pregnancy?”

“I was thinking about it, but decided against it. It’s not a choice that sits well with me, not at this point in my life.”

“Fair enough,” he said. “So adoption is still in the cards?”

“Yes.”

“Have you considered telling the da . . . Ohmygod, is Dante Damaso the father?” His voice rose dramatically on the last syllable, and she winced.

“What do you think?”

“I think you should keep the kid and let baby daddy fork out loads to take care of you both,” he said, as if she were crazy to even consider any other option.

“Yeah. No. I’m not that mercenary.”

“Did you get pregnant deliberately?” Cal asked pointedly.

“Of course not. It was probably a stupid faulty condom.”

“And who, pray tell, took care of the condoms?”

“He did.”

“Then why are you stressing about this? You didn’t ask to get pregnant; this is as much his fault as it is yours—more his than yours, in fact. You trusted him to take care of your protection. I mean, you could have caught all kinds of nasty diseases because of that one dodgy condom.” Cal would be the one to think of gritty realities like that. But Cleo didn’t think she’d caught anything other than a bad case of pregnant from Dante—the man was too fastidious.

“The doctor tested for those today,” she said listlessly, remembering Dr. Klein explaining what some of the blood draws were for. She wasn’t particularly concerned that they would find anything untoward.

“So, you’re going to be like those impractical chicks in the romance novels, all super strong and independent: ‘I don’t need no stinking man and his stinking money to take care of me and my stinking baby’?” Cal asked after a while. “And while their men are rolling in dough, they’re living in poverty—because they’re good girls and taking his money would seem greedy, right?”

Cleo didn’t respond. When Cal was off on a tangent, it was best to let it run its course.

“Because that’s just plain bollocks. The guy was there when this kid was made; he should damned well own up to that and help you out.”

“I don’t even know if I’m keeping the baby,” Cleo said weakly.

“Hmm. Just don’t be a fool, Cleo. False pride never helped anybody.”

“Look, I only learned about this pregnancy today, Cal,” she said, exhausted. “I need time to think about some things.”

“Yeah, and one of the things you need to think about is the fact that this baby’s father isn’t exactly impoverished, and if you wanted to keep it, there’s no reason he couldn’t support his child.”

“Enough.” She held up a hand and rubbed her forehead with the other hand. She was developing a splitting headache. “I’m going to bed. Good night.”

For the next couple of weeks, Cleo felt like someone who was swimming in ether. She couldn’t get her head together. She felt like she was living in a weird otherworld where nothing made sense—up was down, left was right, and she was carrying Dante Damaso’s baby. She kept expecting to wake up and heave a huge sigh of relief because of the outrageous dream she’d had, but that never happened. Every day she faced the same crazy reality. Worse, her pregnancy made itself felt in all the nastiest ways: constant morning sickness; a severe lack of energy; lack of sleep; bloating; tender, swollen breasts—just about every symptom she’d read about, she had. It was crazy, annoying, and more than a little unbearable.

Every Sunday night she picked up her secondhand copy of a handy week-to-week pregnancy guide she’d bought at a bargain bookshop and read up on what she could expect over the next week. She found it fascinating how fast the baby was developing every week, but she found the changes in her body slightly less fascinating.

Cal was still pressuring her to tell Dante, while Blue and Luc’s stoic refusal to ask about her decision had the opposite intended effect. She felt more pressured by their unwavering, silent support.

She put all of that out of her mind and focused on her book, wanting to see where the baby was this week. The most exciting news was that it should now have perfect little fingers with fingernails starting to grow in. Her hand rubbed her flat abdomen in wonder as she pictured those tiny fingers with their soft, brand-new little fingernails. If it was a girl, someday—years from now—she might take an interest in manicures and want pretty painted nails. If it was a boy, he might like working with his hands and getting dirt under those nails. Or maybe vice versa. Who knew?

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