“Thank you. Sometimes I just don’t know what I’d do without you.”
By ten the following morning, Cleo was still lounging around in her robe and pajamas. She had no real desire to do much. She felt flat. She’d spent the better part of the morning hugging the toilet bowl, vomiting, and now she felt completely wrung out. Her stomach still uncertain, she gingerly padded to the sleeper couch that Cal had, for once, made up before traipsing off to parts unknown earlier that morning. He always disappeared for hours on end doing God knows what, God knows where. Cleo had been relieved to see the back of him that morning because his relentless and oblivious good cheer was driving her up the wall.
She was thinking about attempting to eat some food when a knock sounded on the front door. She frowned, not used to being here during the day and not at all sure who it could be. They had an intercom security system, so knocks at the door without advance warning were extremely rare.
The knock sounded again, and she pushed herself up from the couch. She paused for an instant to get the nausea under control, before making her way to the front door. There was no peephole, so she’d have to go the other route.
“Who’s there?” she called through the door. There was a long moment of silence during which she wondered if the person had moved on to a different apartment.
“Me.” The voice, only slightly muffled by the thin wood of the door, was instantly recognizable, and Cleo froze. When she didn’t respond for a full minute, the knock sounded again, loud and authoritative and so damned like him she wondered how she hadn’t guessed who it was from the sound of the knock alone.
“It’s me, Damaso!” he growled. “Open the damned door.”
She could practically feel his incredulity through the wood.
“I said no. Go away.”
“I will not leave until we have settled this matter.” He sounded pretty adamant, and she chewed on her lip indecisively.
“I didn’t think there was anything to settle. You’ve made your mind up.”
“I refuse to discuss this through the door. If you do not open it, I will kick it down. I don’t imagine it will take too much effort, the wood is so thin.”
“We can’t all have fancy walnut oak doors,” she said with a sneer, and he was right: the wood was pretty thin if she could hear him sigh through the door.
“I will count to three. If you do not open the door, I will—”
She clicked her tongue irritably and snatched open the door. Only after she stood facing him in his bespoke-suited splendor did she remember that she wore fleecy, polka-dot pajamas with a fuzzy pink robe and pink-and-white bunny slippers. Her hair was a mess, and she probably looked pretty washed out after that morning’s puking session. And the way he stared at her told her everything she needed to know about how truly awful she looked.
“Your hair . . .”
She stared at him in complete bewilderment. Why would her hair be the first thing he noticed about her? And then she remembered. She reached up a trembling hand to run a hand through her short, sleek bob, trying to recall if the pink she and Cal had applied to the bleached tips of her hair the night before was particularly vivid.
“I figured I didn’t have to look like a corporate drone anymore,” she said, shrugging slightly.
“Only the tips.”
He finally dragged his horrified gaze from her hair down the rest of her body.
“Did I disturb your sleep?” he asked, looking truly confused.
“I didn’t see the need to get dressed when I don’t have a job to get ready for.”
“And you did not consider going out to look for a new job?”
Jeez, rich people really had no clue how the real world worked. He sounded way too judgmental for her liking, and she bristled defensively.
“I just got fired from my previous position yesterday. I haven’t had time to sit down with the classifieds to job-hunt yet.”
He nodded and shoved his hands into his coat pockets as his gaze roamed around the small, slightly dingy, and far-from-tidy interior of her apartment.
“This place has lousy security. A student type in baggy jeans and a Rastafarian cap simply let me in. Held the door open and waved me through.”
“I think he might have been on something,” he said, voice ripe with disapproval.
“If it’s who I’m thinking of, then he was very definitely on something.” Young Isaac from down the hall was always high. Cleo didn’t know how he managed to get any studying done. Dante’s brow furrowed in response to her words.
“And you feel safe in this dump?”
“Why are you here?” she asked, refusing to answer any more of his questions.
“May I sit?” After a brief hesitation, she nodded. He glanced around the room again before heading toward the kitchen table and turning to wait for her there. Once she joined him, he dragged out a chair, ushered her into it, and took his own seat. A little flustered by the gentlemanly gesture, she waited for him to speak. But he didn’t say anything for a long time and merely stared at his loosely folded hands resting on the table in front of him.
She shifted uncomfortably before he lifted his eyes and trapped her with that intense gaze of his. She froze beneath that stare, feeling like a butterfly pinned to a board.
“How far along are you now?” he asked. She couldn’t help it; she allowed her hand to drop to her abdomen, still in awe that there was a life in there.