“I’ll work something out. It’s not your concern.” She brushed past him dismissively, hoping he’d take the hint and leave, but he followed her up the stairs to the entrance.
“Perhaps we should discuss these terms of yours,” he said, and she turned to face him, savagely satisfied to note that because she stood several steps above him, she could meet his gaze head-on.
“There’s nothing more to discuss. For a man who likes to keep his personal life clutter free, you’re making a total nuisance of yourself.”
“You know nothing about me,” he grated.
“And you know even less than nothing about me,” she hissed, sticking her face right up to his until they were almost nose to nose.
“I know that you’re stubborn, pregnant, and unemployed. I know that you’re living in a hovel and are financially ill equipped to deal with this pregnancy.”
“Yeah? Well, what’s my name then, smart-ass? Why do you keep calling me Miss Knight?”
“Not because I’ve forgotten your name, Cleopatra,” he murmured, his voice dropping an octave as his eyes fell to her mouth. She cleared her throat, feeling hot and uncomfortable, and she stepped back, but her heel caught the edge of the next step and she lost her balance. She windmilled as she struggled to regain her footing, but his hands dropped to her elbows and steadied her. “I’ve got you. You’re fine.”
Her own hands dug into his forearms as she fought her shock and tried to regain her breath and her equilibrium. One of his hands released its grip and moved up to cup her cheek.
“You’ve gone remarkably pale. Are you okay?”
She started shaking as her fear of falling subsided.
“I’m fine,” she said through chattering teeth. “Just a bit shocked, is all. I mean there wasn’t even the slightest possibility of falling, was there?”
“No,” he agreed. “And if there was, you would probably have landed on me. So you would have been fine.”
“The thought of falling terrifies me a bit,” she confessed. Something she did only because she still felt so off-kilter.
“The scar on your knee?” he asked perceptively. She didn’t respond, merely stared at him mutely.
“I have to go,” she said. “Let’s not do this again sometime.”
“Can I come up?”
She gave him a disbelieving look.
“What? No! You cannot come up.”
“Then I suppose we’ll have this discussion out on the steps, in public?”
“Go right ahead,” she invited, calling his bluff. “You’re the one who doesn’t like his business aired in public. I’m quite comfortable with public scenes. I was once a performer.”
That made him pause, but not for the reason she would have thought.
“You were? What kind of performer?”
She shrugged, uncomfortable with his interest.
“Look, I won’t take up more than five minutes of your time.” He took a step down to give her some space, as if sensing that his presence was making her feel claustrophobic. He held his hands palms up in a gesture of surrender. Cleo looked over his shoulder, noting for the first time that his massive black car was parked next to the curb and that one of his hulking personal protection guys—who often doubled as drivers for him—watched them silently from beside the car.
“Hey, James,” she called, and waved at the huge, tattooed, dark-suited bald man. He wore sunglasses, despite the gloom of the day. He lifted one of his hands to wave back at her.
“How’s your new puppy?” Cleo asked. “Still leaving surprise puddles on the floor for you?”
“He’s getting better,” James replied with a thumbs-up.
“Have you decided on a name for him yet?”
“Piddles.” Cleo laughed, aware of Dante’s incredulity at the bizarre exchange between his bodyguard and former assistant. He focused a glare on James, who refolded his hands loosely in front on him and shifted his stance slightly, until he stood with his legs shoulder-width apart. That quickly, James went from personable and friendly to forbidding and formidable.
“Do you mind? I would like to have a serious conversation with you,” Dante said through clenched teeth, and Cleo sighed.
“I suppose you can come up for five minutes,” she said begrudgingly. “But you’re starting to make a nuisance of yourself.”
Dante trailed behind Cleo as she led the way to her fourth-floor apartment. He kept his eyes on her narrow, straight back, once again noting her grace and elegant carriage. She really carried herself beautifully, and it was one of the things he’d found so appealing about her.
He didn’t know why he was here, but despite arranging to see Nicki Unwin—one of his regular on-again/off-again lovers—later that evening, he hadn’t been able to get Cleopatra Knight out of his mind today. He had found himself standing at her doorstep for reasons that remained completely unfathomable to him.
As he followed her upstairs, he started to take in his surroundings a bit more. The place was a complete mess. It reeked of mold and damp, the wallpaper was peeling, the light in the stairwell flickered, and the stairs themselves were old and rickety. He couldn’t understand why she lived here. Why didn’t she move in with Lucius? Her brother had that huge old house. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than this place.
“Why not use the elevator?” he asked as he noticed her starting to limp. Her hand, which had previously glided over the banister with barely a touch, started to grip it with each step up.