Cleo fell asleep thinking about those tiny perfect hands.
It was the fingernails that did it. Cleo could not stop thinking about them. She fell in love with those fingernails and their tiny fingers on their equally tiny hands. And over the course of the next week, she stopped thinking of it as “the baby.” It had become “my baby.”
It was a seemingly trifling change in thinking but it had major implications. The baby was now hers, and she couldn’t imagine anyone else loving it or taking care of it. There was no longer a choice. She was keeping it.
And Dante was entitled to know about the baby.
But first she would have to think about how she would go about this. She had to make it perfectly clear that his responsibility began and ended with the baby. She wanted what was best for her baby, and what was best was for the father to provide some kind of financial support. She wasn’t looking for some huge payday, even though she knew he would think otherwise.
Two weeks later, during her twelfth week of pregnancy, Cleo was sitting in the waiting area of Dante’s office, smiling nervously at Mrs. Clarke. The woman—currently sporting a gigantic diamond on her ring finger courtesy of Mr. Whitman, who had proposed after just a month of “courting”—had happily agreed to help Cleo sneak in a visit with Dante. Cleo didn’t want him to know she was coming, didn’t want him to speculate about the purpose of her visit, so here she was . . . ready to turn his carefree bachelor existence upside down.
“He’ll be done with that conference call in about ten minutes, dear,” Mrs. Clarke informed her. “Would you like a cup of coffee or tea while you wait?”
“No, thank you, Mrs. Clarke, I’ll be fine.” As much as Cleo would have loved a cup of herbal tea to settle her nerves, her bladder had become ridiculously small over the last few weeks. She couldn’t trust herself not to need a bathroom within minutes and miss her window of opportunity.
She was nervous about seeing Dante again, not just because of the news she had, but because she couldn’t help wondering if that crazy chemistry would still sizzle between them. She didn’t understand this attraction they had for each other. How could you want someone so desperately while disliking them so intensely? It was bizarre. Well, whether the chemistry still existed or not was a moot point; this baby would take care of any lingering desire soon enough. Dante was about to regret the day he’d met her.
She was nervously twiddling her thumbs when Mrs. Clarke looked up at her.
“You can go in now, Cleo. And please bring this to Mr. Damaso.” She handed Cleo a folder. Cleo straightened her skirt before taking the folder with trembling fingers.
She halted outside of those intimidating walnut oak doors, straightened her shoulders, and, after a cursory knock, let herself in. His dark head was bent as he focused on his phone, and he didn’t so much as glance up while she hovered awkwardly just inside the doors. She was so enthralled by the sight of him that when he spoke, she nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Just leave the folder on my desk, Mrs. Clarke,” he said irritably, head still down. When she made no move to obey him, completely unable to unstick her frozen feet from the floor, he glanced up with an imposing frown. The frown deepened into a scowl when he saw her. That scowl certainly didn’t bode well for the future of this meeting. At first, he just stared at her, making her wonder if he’d forgotten her name again, but after a few excruciatingly long moments, he finally spoke.
“What are you doing here, Knight? I’m busy.”
“I’m aware of that, but I need to speak with you.”
“I don’t have time for idle chitchat,” he said dismissively. “And quite frankly, I don’t care what this is about. If you have any grievances about Whitman or your new position, take them up with Whitman’s second in HR. Just because we happened to have a thing at some point doesn’t entitle you to special privileges.”
“I don’t want special privileges,” she said automatically and then hesitated because she kind of did want special privileges. That slight hesitation put her on the defensive, and she grappled desperately for a way to regain momentum. She walked toward his desk and sat down in the same chair she had once sunk down into in a postcoital blaze. The memory of that morning was enough to stain her cheeks red, and the dilation of his pupils and tightening of his jaw told her he knew exactly why she was blushing. They both took a moment to lose themselves in that raunchy memory before Dante snapped back to reality.
“You need to leave.”
“Not before I say what I came here to say,” she maintained stubbornly.
“I told you, I’m busy.”
“I don’t care,” she snapped, and then regretted her tone when he tensed and his eyes narrowed with temper. “Look, I’m sorry to intrude, but I really have something important to tell you.”
“I can’t think of anything you’d have to say that could possibly be of interest to me,” he growled, and settled back into his chair. He positioned his elbows on the armrests and steepled his hands just in front of his face. It made him look like a movie villain, which—she supposed—was the point. “But if you really think it’s that important, make an appointment. My time is precious, and I have no room in my schedule for you today. That will be all. Good day.”
She watched as he unfolded his tall frame and leaned forward to grab his phone and the folder she had dropped on the desk. She was so shocked by the rude dismissal that all she could do was gape at him as he got up and started to round the desk, clearly intending to leave the office.