Dante sat up with a frown; he’d fallen asleep while watching the movie and was still sitting in the living room. He focused his bleary gaze on his watch face and saw that it was after three in the morning. He must have been more tired than he thought. He rolled his shoulders and his neck, working the kinks out, when he heard Cleo scream.

Unnerved by the fear he heard in her voice, he was up the stairs mere seconds later and in her room in under a minute.

“Cleo?” he called, alarmed when he stepped into the room and she was nowhere to be found. He heard sobs coming from the bathroom and dashed to it only to stop at the door at the scene that met his eyes.

There was so much blood. Violent red smeared the white tiles of the floor. Cleo was bent double on the commode, clutching her arms to her middle and rocking back and forth.

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She lifted her tear-stained face to his as he entered the room.

“Make it stop,” she pleaded, her voice weak. “Please make it stop.”

Swallowing down the fear and panic clawing its way up through his throat, he grabbed a towel and knelt in front of her.

“It’s okay, dulzura; it’s okay. I’ll take care of you. It will be fine.” He handed her the wadded-up towel. “Use this to stop the bleeding while I call an ambulance.”

“Don’t leave me,” she begged as he turned to exit the room.

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“Just to the next room to get your phone. I’ll be back in a second,” he promised. Her phone was on the night table beside the bed, and he quickly dialed emergency services, then found the number for her OB/GYN and told her to meet them at the hospital. When he returned to the bathroom, Cleo was clutching the already blood-soaked towel between her legs. He grabbed more and held out a fresh one to her.

This was too much blood. Cleo could go into shock. Feeling helpless for the first time in his life, Dante tried to think logically. He needed to keep her warm. He ran back into the room and tugged the comforter off the bed and came back moments later to wrap it around her.

“Why is this happening?” she wondered dazedly. “Am I being punished because I didn’t want her at first? I want her. I want her so much, Dante!”

“I know, dulzura, I want her too. She’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. Just stay strong for me, okay?”

He gathered Cleo into his arms, comforter and all, and sank down onto the bathroom floor with her head tucked beneath his chin. She was trembling, a delicate armful of woman, and he just wanted to hold her close and keep her safe.

Cleo and Dante lost their baby at six thirty that morning. Cleo stared at Dr. Klein in horror as the grim-faced woman told them the news. She heard fragments of sentences.

Placental abruption . . . possibly caused by the accident . . . early labor . . . autopsy . . . couldn’t be helped . . . just one of those things.

Just one of those things.

Her baby had been taken from her, and she felt hollow, but it was just one of those things. One of those silly things that happened for no reason. She was empty inside now, and while she watched the doctor’s lips move, she heard nothing further. She didn’t want to hear.

Dante was still here. Hovering. Why was he still here? He could leave now. His sole reason for being in her life was gone, and he didn’t have to be here. She didn’t have the will or the energy to tell him that now. She just wished they would leave her alone. She needed to be alone.

“Cleo, do you want to say good-bye?” Dr. Klein’s voice intruded into her roiling thoughts. Grateful that they were finally leaving, she nodded numbly.

“Yes, good-bye.” But they didn’t leave. Instead, someone else came into the room. A woman. And in her arms she held . . .

“Oh.” This was cruel. This was . . . why were they doing this to her? Why were they bringing her dead baby to her? Before she could protest, the woman had placed the not-living thing in her arms. Just a little thing, the length of a banana.

“Oh, Nan,” she whispered, and her heart broke open in her chest as she stared into that perfect little face. He looked like a tiny plastic replica of a full-size baby. He was wrapped in a blue blanket, and they’d put a minute hat on his head. She ran a trembling forefinger over his forehead, down over the bridge of his nose, to his lips and jaw.

Then Dante was there, his own finger following hers as it traced over the precious little features reverently.

“Leave me alone,” Cleo hissed, not sure if she meant Dante, the doctor, or just the world in general. The doctor and nurse left the room quietly, but Dante remained standing there. She clutched her baby protectively to her breast and glared up into Dante’s remote face. Tears clung to her eyelashes before they spilled down over her cheeks.

“Don’t make me leave,” he begged. “Please, cielo, I can’t leave.”

She didn’t want to deal with him too; she was in too much agony to have to think about him, consider him . . . it was all too much!

“I can’t do this alone and neither can you,” he muttered as he pressed his lips to her forehead, but she barely felt the kiss; she was cold and numb and didn’t think she would ever feel anything again.

“I want to name him Zachary,” she whispered. “Zach Damaso Knight.”

She heard a sound very like a sob torn from him, but she still refused to look at him.

“He’s so perfect,” she marveled. “So perfect.”

“Yes.” He sat on the edge of the bed, one arm around her shaking shoulders and his jaw resting on top of her head as they stared down at Zach. Cleo didn’t know how long they sat there, but when the numbness finally gave way to exhaustion, Dante continued to hold her while she slipped into a restless slumber.

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