Domini froze. Only one nameless he in Anton’s life. “Your father has been there?”
“Betcha she didn’t tell you that, huh?”
“No, she didn’t.” Nadia and Rex. There was a good reason Nadia kept her contact with her ex to the absolute minimum—the man was an abusive asshole. “Is she trying to make you spend time with him?”
His shoulder lifted. “No. He doesn’t talk to me at all, but I don’t care. Really. I don’t.”
Although she was upset with Nadia, she pasted on a smile for Anton. “Well, I’m glad she’s letting you spend time with me, even if my artistic skills are limited to coloring inside the lines.”
Anton hopped up and used a magnet to attach the picture to the fridge.
Domini set her hands on his shoulders. “Looks good, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Anton cranked his head around and smirked. “So were you lyin’ about the cookies?”
“Talk about impatient.” She snagged a cookie from the breadbox and slid it into the microwave, so the dough would be warm and the chips inside gooey, just the way Anton liked it.
After the snack, they watched TV. Domini covered Anton up with an afghan when he conked out.
About ten o’clock, Nadia knocked on the door. “Is he asleep?”
“Yes. You want a cup of tea before you go home?”
“Sure.” Nadia dropped into a dining room chair with a heavy sigh.
Domini turned up the kettle and gathered her thoughts as she lined up mugs, sugar cubes and milk. She poured and sat across from her friend.
She and Nadia had met in Sundance right after Domini relocated. At the time, Nadia had been in an abusive relationship with her ex-husband, desperate to get out. After Nadia wised up, left the man and filed for divorce, she and Anton had moved in with Domini.
Things had worked out well as roommates, but something changed and Nadia started hinting about finding a new place to live for just her and her son.
Around that same time, India Ellison married Colt McKay, and the apartment above the restaurant sat vacant. Domini let Nadia take over the lease on the house they rented and moved out. It eased her loneliness that she saw Anton frequently, but the close relationship she shared with Nadia had cooled considerably. Now Domini knew why.
Nadia sighed after the first sip of tea. “I miss having tea with you.”
“Me too.” Domini fingered the handle of her mug, dreading this conversation. “I’m worried about Anton.”
“He doesn’t seem the same the last couple times I’ve seen him. Tonight he told me…”
“What?” Nadia asked sharply.
Domini’s eyes connected with Nadia’s. “That Rex has been coming around a lot lately. Is that true?”
“So?” Normally the “stay out of it” train of thought won out and Domini would shut her mouth and seethe in silence. Not this time. “Do you really need me to remind you that Rex used to beat you? And verbally abuse you? And a big part of the reason you left him was because you were worried about Anton’s safety?”
When Nadia’s gaze fell, Domini’s hopes fell right along with it.
No he hasn’t! Domini bit the words back even when it seemed she’d choke on them.
“He loves me. He wants me back. He wants us to be a family again.”
“What about what Anton wants? Does that matter to you at all?”
Nadia became defiant. “Anton is seven years old. Rex is Anton’s father. He has a right to know his son. And Anton needs to get to know his father.”
“Even if that means going back into an unsafe situation?”
“It’s not unsafe. He’s changed,” Nadia repeated stubbornly.
“This man threatened to kill you.”
“That was in the past.”
Domini dug her fingernails into her palms to keep from grabbing Nadia and shaking her.
“He’s asked me to give him another chance,” Nadia said softly. “I’m just supposed to say no?”
“Damn right you should say no. I’d say no.”
Nadia drained her tea. “I’m not you. I’m tired of being alone, Domini. Maybe if you don’t know what you’re missing, it’s not so bad, living alone all the time. But I do know what I’m missing. I want someone to hold me. I want an adult to talk to at the end of the day. I want to share my life with someone. We have a history. That means something.”
“You have a violent history,” Domini retorted. “And if I remember correctly, he used to hold you down and smack you. That is not holding you, Nadia. Is that really what you want? For yourself? For Anton?”
“I knew you wouldn’t understand.” Nadia stood stiffly. “I’m tired. Thanks for watching my son tonight.”
Domini wanted to keep the dialogue open, but she knew Nadia well enough to recognize the conversation was over. She swallowed her anger. “You’re welcome. I love having him. You know that.”
Nadia’s defiant posture softened. “I do. Sometimes I think you’ve been his mother more than I have been.”
That didn’t sound like something Nadia would say; that sounded like something Rex would say to undermine Nadia’s confidence. But pointing it out would be…pointless.
At the doorway, Anton hugged Domini fiercely before allowing his mother to lead him out into the night.
As Domini tidied up the kitchen, her gaze landed on the picture on the refrigerator. Was Anton facing backward in the car, watching her building disappear? Fearing she’d disappear?
A sob escaped. She slid to the floor, curled into a ball and cried, not for herself, but for the little boy who’d bear the brunt of his mother’s bad decision.
Her cell phone buzzed in her back pocket, jarring her out of her crying jag. She dug the phone out and stared at the caller ID. Cam. She debated on answering, but if she let the call roll to voicemail, he’d stop by to check on her. She couldn’t face him right now. “Hello?”
“Hey. Sorry to be calling so late.”
“I was just about to go to bed.”
Silence. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m just tired.”
“Bullshit. You sound like you’ve been crying.”
The man had radar-like instincts when it came to reading her emotions. Part of being a cop? Or part of being so tuned in to her needs?
Right. Wishful thinking.
“Cam, it’s been a long day, but I appreciate the good night call. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“Don’t you hang up on me.”
Domini sighed. “Look, Cam—”
“I’ll be there in five goddamn minutes. Stay put. I mean it.” Then he hung up on her.
By the time Cam arrived, Domini had worked herself up into a rare frenzy. She flung open the apartment door before he knocked. Once he was inside, she sidestepped him before he had a chance to grab her, kiss her, and cool down her temper.
“What makes you think something happened?” she volleyed back.
Cam lifted an eyebrow. “Well, for starters, you’re pacing and snapping like a dog on a leash.”
“Tell me you did not just compare me to a dog.”
He winced. “Shit. Sorry. But you know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t. I don’t know why you’re here.”
His mouth opened. Then shut.
Domini scanned his clothes. Sweat pants. Tight T-shirt, the armpits and neck hole ringed with sweat. “Where were you?”
“Working out with Colt.”
“Colt waits until Hudson and Indy are asleep before he comes to town. So are you gonna tell me what’s wrong? Or are you gonna keep changing the subject?”
“I didn’t ask you to come over.”
“I know, princess, that’s why I’m here. I knew you wouldn’t ask me.”
The soft concern in Cam’s eyes did her in. Tears fell again. Before her sobs became incoherent, Cam enclosed her in his arms. He stroked her hair as he rained kisses on the crown of her head. “Talk to me, baby.”
Don’t be such a pushover. You’ll never tell him what’s bugging you if he’s touching you.
She wiped her eyes and attempted to retreat but Cam wouldn’t release her.
“No harm in letting me hold you until you calm down, is there?”
Yes. I’ll start to depend on you for comfort and support and that’s never turned out well for me.
Domini squirmed away. “I’m fine.”
“Then talk to me. You watched Anton tonight, right?”
She nodded. “He was really quiet. He’s been that way the last couple times I’ve seen him. So he let it slip his father has started coming around again.”
Domini didn’t have to explain to Cam what a bastard Rex DeMarco was. The man had harassed her a couple of times when she’d lived with Nadia and Anton. But Rex was smart and careful enough not to step over the legal line.
“I asked Nadia and she admitted she’s considering reconciling with him.”
“Nadia claims he’s changed. He quit drinking. Now he wants them to be one big happy family. She just doesn’t see it. Men like him don’t change.” Her eyes searched Cam’s. “Do you think he can change?”
Cam sighed. “That’s a tricky question. Even my own family didn’t believe my brother Colt had changed. Only recently have they accepted Colt is not the same guy he was. So on one hand, yes, I honestly believe some people can change. But this guy? My gut reaction is no. Rex has way too many issues, coupled with a history of violence and…”
“When Nadia had you as a roommate, Rex didn’t have much chance to be alone with her. My worry was for you in case he decided to push this issue. So I was goddamn glad to hear you’d gotten out of that dangerous situation.”