There were a few other pictures scattered about of the dog, the older man with various women, and one of a yacht, but no more of Dante. In all there couldn’t have been more than ten photographs, and she found that rather sad. She might have resented her grandparents, but every aspect of her childhood and teen years had been recorded for posterity. Every report card kept, every playbill from every dance recital she’d ever been in had been meticulously filed away in a scrapbook. She had been loved, and it showed in every memento and photograph that they had kept of—and for—her.
Feeling like an intruder, she backed out of the room and headed downstairs. Dante was focused on whatever he was doing in the kitchen.
“It smells divine,” she said, leaning on the butcher block in the middle of the kitchen as she watched him chop veggies for a salad.
“I hope it tastes divine,” he said, and shrugged a little awkwardly.
“Do you often cook?” She would never have guessed it of him.
“Sí. I enjoy it. I have never really cooked for anyone before now, though.” The confession surprised her, and her eyes widened.
“I don’t bring women here.”
“Will you stop saying ‘really’? It’s . . .”
“Aggravating?” she supplied without thinking.
“It’s . . . ,” he continued, ignoring her.
“Annoying.” The word was gritted out between teeth so tightly clenched, Cleo actually feared he’d break them.
“‘Frustrating’ and ‘aggravating’ are synonyms for ‘annoying,’” she pointed out.
“I wanted to use ‘annoying.’ Which is what you’re being right now. In addition to being frustrating and aggravating.”
“And you’re being redundant.”
“You’re really difficult to talk to sometimes,” he accused, his accent thickening with every word, and she shrugged a little shamefacedly.
“I know,” she confessed. “It’s a defense mechanism.”
“I don’t mean to put you on the defensive, but it seems to be your natural state.”
“It’s my natural state around you.”
He sighed and pointed to the kitchen cabinet.
“Cutlery, tableware, place mats.” He pointed at the huge dining table a couple of yards away. “Table. Make yourself useful.”
“Yes, sir,” she said snappily, and jumped to it.
“Whoa, this is great,” Cleo enthused, after slicing off a sliver of tender, perfectly cooked steak. It was beautifully flavored and practically melted in her mouth. Dante had served it with a mushroom sauce, a baked potato with all the trimmings, and a healthy green salad. He had a glass of Pinotage to accompany his meal, and she had settled on grape soda—she thought she could pretend it was red wine until she took a sip and the sweet fizziness made a liar out of her.
“I never imagined you’d be a good cook,” she said as she dug into her potato.
“I find it relaxing,” he said. He seemed a little uncomfortable with her praise and quickly changed the subject. “By the way . . . kidnappers do not try to create a rapport with their victims. That would make them terrible kidnappers. Victims try to create the rapport. They want the kidnappers to see them as human.”
“It’s just that what you said earlier was technically incorrect,” he pointed out, and she laughed incredulously.
“I was making a point,” she said, and he shrugged. “You brought me here against my will.”
“I brought you here for a reason,” he told her.
“Yes, to talk. So talk.”
“I actually wanted you to see this place.”
“Why?” She didn’t like the sound of that. Why would he bring her to see his home? And why was he now evading her eyes?
“Look.” He sighed. “This pregnancy has taken us both by surprise, and considering how much you dislike me, I can’t imagine you were too thrilled when you first learned about it. Were you?”
She hesitated before shaking her head.
“Yet you decided, despite your initial reservations, to keep the baby. Why?”
“Not because I wanted anything from you,” she said, hating her own defensiveness.
“I know you don’t have a financial motive for keeping the baby,” he admitted. “And I apologize for initially implying that you did. I’m just curious.”
Implying? He had out and out accused her of trying to extort money from him.
“At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy or not,” she said, letting the whole implying thing slide for now. She pushed her half-eaten meal aside, appetite lost. He did the same with his meal, seemingly as disturbed by her confession as she had been to make it.
“And then I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep him or not. But then he had fingers and fingernails.” She wiped at her blurry eyes and was surprised to discover moisture there. “I just felt so protective of him after that. And then I started to think of him as my baby. And that was it. I was going to be this baby’s mother. But in order to take proper care of him, I’d need financial support, and that’s why I approached you.”
“Would you ever have told me about the baby if you’d decided to give him up for adoption?”
“I don’t know. There was—is—nothing between us, so it just seemed like it would complicate things even more.”