“Morning,” she murmured, and then wrinkled her nose and covered her mouth. He grinned in delight at the gesture.
“Come on, morning breath isn’t cute,” she protested. He leaned over and dropped a kiss on the back of the hand covering her mouth.
“Buenos días, dulzura,” he said, his voice rasping sexily. “How did you sleep?”
“Like a log,” she said, still from behind the hand. He stretched with a groan and smiled at her contentedly. God, he looked so beautiful in the morning, with that stubble, the slightly crooked grin, and his hard, ripped chest uncovered. She tried—and failed—to avert her eyes.
“Me too. Best sleep I’ve had since it happened.” His gorgeous smile dimmed somewhat at the reminder.
He got out of bed and stretched again, arms up over his head, with a massive yawn. Cleo blushed at the sight of all that toned, gorgeous flesh and at the obvious morning erection straining at the front of his white boxer briefs. The underwear left very little to the imagination. He noticed her fixed stare and glanced down at himself.
“It’s nothing,” he shrugged. “Morning wood. Although waking up next to you has definitely made it more impressive than usual.”
It reminded her of Tokyo and how comfortable he had been with his own nudity.
“You’re getting out of those pajamas today,” he mandated. “And we’re going out.”
“Dante,” she murmured miserably. She really didn’t want to be among crowds of happy people when she felt like she was only half-alive.
“Trust me, cielo,” he implored, and she bit the inside of her cheek painfully as she considered his words.
“Please, I don’t think I can be around people right now.”
“Nothing like that,” he said. “Just us. Trust me.”
To her surprise he took her to a yacht, the Arabella, which he proudly told Cleo was his. She recognized it from the photograph in his study.
“This is nice,” she said as he helped her on board. She looked around, fascinated, and was reaching out to touch one of the intricate knots on the crossbar of the mast when Dante barked, “Stop!” She jerked back her hand in fright.
He took her hand and led her to a cushioned seat by the steering wheel.
“Sit here and don’t touch anything, okay? If I need your help, I’ll let you know.” Bossy Dante was back. Great.
She pointedly folded her arms over her chest and stared back at him mutely. His lips quirked when he turned away from her and started untying rigging and doing the other mysterious and fascinating-looking things that boat people did. Because he hadn’t brought a change of clothes with him last night, he was wearing a pair of Luc’s faded old jeans, battered sneakers that her brother used for handiwork around the house, and a T-shirt that was a size too small for him. He looked scruffy and absolutely scrumptious, and it was hard for Cleo to focus on much else. While she had definitely learned to value many other aspects of Dante’s character—his warmth, his sense of humor, his kindness and thoughtfulness—she still fully appreciated the packaging all that unexpected generosity of spirit was wrapped up in. The man was damned fine.
But she was soon distracted by his seeming skill around the boat. As with all things, he just looked supremely competent and confident. Cleo had never been on a boat before and had no idea how things worked. So in hindsight she should probably not have reached for that knot like a child who didn’t know better. She might have broken his boat.
After he used the motor to steer them out of the harbor, he unfurled the sails and switched off the engine, leaving only the creaking sounds of the boat, the swish of water as they skimmed across the surface of the ocean, and the sound of the wind billowing in the white sails.
It was magnificent. Absolutely and unutterably peaceful.
“Got your sea legs yet?” he asked after about half an hour of not a single word exchanged between them. The silence had been enjoyable and comfortable. Cleo, who was still sitting where he’d left her, looked up, not sure what to make of the question.
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve just been sitting here, very industriously not touching anything,” she said pointedly, and he chuckled.
“Since you usually do your own thing, I had to speak a bit sharply to ensure you understood that I meant business this time,” he said, and she gasped, clutching a hand to her chest.
“Oh my God, are you kind of, almost, sort of apologizing to me?” She squealed, and he very uncharacteristically rolled his eyes. A habit he may have picked up from her.
“Yes, I am,” he acquiesced. “Kind of. Almost. Sort of. I’m still trying to work my way through that list of yours.”
She laughed merrily and then immediately sobered.
“Cleo, it’s okay to laugh,” Dante said gruffly. “It’s okay to be happy. There is no right or wrong way for you to deal with this.”
“And how do you know this?” Since when had he become an expert grief counselor?
“When I went back to the hospital the next day and found you gone.” His voice broke slightly on that last word, and his eyes darkened. “I immediately went to Luc’s place to fetch you. Luc and I had a long conversation.” That was news to her. Luc had never told her about it.
“He convinced me to give you space, and even though it went against my every instinct to walk out of that house without you, I thought it might be best. I told myself not to be selfish, that even though I needed you, I had to do what was right for you, not for me. So I left. But . . . I couldn’t go back to the apartment alone. I couldn’t face that.” He cleared his throat before continuing. “The hospital offered grief counseling, and I thought maybe it would help. So I went to talk to someone. And when you’re ready . . . I think you should go as well. We could go together.”