He stared off into the distance, the orange orb of the setting sun reflected in his sunglasses. He took a deep breath, and the lowered angle of his head told Cleo that he’d shifted his focus to her. He stepped away from the wheel and held out his hand to her, and she took it without hesitation, getting up to join him.
“Look at that,” he said, pointing out at the horizon and the huge, shimmering globe of the sun as it sank silently into the ocean. He wrapped his arms around her waist from behind, resting his chin on her shoulder and tugging her back until she could feel his hard warmth against her. His next words were spoken directly into her ear. “I want you to always remember the beauty of this sunset when you think of Zach, dulzura. Can you do that for me?”
Tears flooded into her eyes, and she gulped back a sob as she nodded mutely.
“Good.” He seemed to silently communicate something to Luc, who got up and went into the cabin. He emerged moments later with the urn in his hands. He came up to stand on their left, while Blue moved to their right.
“Cleo, you have to be prepared . . . there’s not much in there. He was so tiny.” This time her sob couldn’t be swallowed back, and he gave her a squeeze when he heard the sound.
“Are you ready?” he asked as the sun disappeared completely, leaving only a bright-orange-and-scarlet sky in its wake, making the ocean look like it was on fire.
He released his hold on her and took the urn from Luc.
“We do this together? Okay?”
“Okay,” she whispered.
“Would you like to say something?”
“Yes.” Her response was so faint she wasn’t sure if he heard her, so she straightened her shoulders and found her voice. “Yes.”
She put her hands below his on the urn, and he adjusted his grip until his hands were on top of hers.
“When you’re ready,” he told her.
“You will . . . ,” she began, but the words felt too big and obstructive to squeeze past her swollen vocal cords. She cleared her throat and tried again. “You will always be in my heart, Zach. I will love and cherish you till the end of time.” The last word was so badly mangled that it actually made her wince. Dante kissed her cheek sweetly and then returned his attention to the vessel in their hands.
“Te amo, hijito. Te amo,” he muttered, before lifting one of his hands from hers to take the lid off the urn and hand it to Luc. Once he had his hands over hers again, he looked at her, and this close to him she could see the faint quiver of his lips and, most tellingly, the line of moisture trickling down his cheek from behind his glasses.
“Okay?” she asked him, recognizing that nobody had asked him that question since they’d boarded the boat. His lips quirked slightly in acknowledgment of her consideration, and he inclined his head.
They both took a huge gulp of air, and together they upended the urn and watched as the meager contents poured into the water below. A minute portion was taken by the wind and scattered toward the distant city.
Blue and Luc scattered white rose petals into the water to mix with the ashes, and they all watched as the petals drifted away from the boat. The ash, being heavier, sank almost immediately. Cleo felt . . . hollow but at peace, grateful for the support of these three people who meant so much to her, and happy to have the opportunity to offer the same support to this man she loved with her entire being.
They all silently watched the petals drift farther and farther away, and after half an hour, when it was almost completely dark, Dante started preparing to take them back to shore. As the boat started back up, the powerful purr of the engine shattered the silence around them, and Cleo felt a moment’s panic at leaving. But as the boat stirred up water in its wake, something absolutely astonishing happened, and she cried out at the beauty of it. Dante left Luc at the helm and came leaping over at her startled cry, but he paused when they saw what had caught Cleo’s attention.
“It’s so beautiful,” Cleo whispered in awe. The stirred-up water in the wake of the boat was a sparkling electric blue, creating an otherworldly glowing path back to where they’d left Zach. It was perfect, and even though Cleo knew it was ocean phosphorescence, it couldn’t have happened at a better time or had a more magical impact.
She felt a strong and familiar arm creep around her shoulder, and she leaned into Dante as they both watched the shimmering wake stream behind them.
“It looks like a path to heaven,” she said, and then turned to look at him before hugging him fiercely. “Thank you for this, Dante. It’s perfect. So beautiful.”
“My pleasure, dulzura,” he said, returning her hug. She took a deep breath and inhaled his wonderful scent one last time before stepping away from him.
Christmas would have been a lot grimmer if not for Blue and Luc inviting him over for the day. It had been almost two weeks since Cleo had simply upped and left with nothing but an unsatisfactory note of “explanation” for Dante.
He was pissed off and worried about her. He couldn’t understand why she’d just gone without a warning or good-bye. It had felt like a kick to the gut, especially since she’d flown out the day after they’d scattered Zach’s ashes. Dante felt a little used and a lot hurt. Only Cleo had the ability to make him feel such contrary and powerful emotions.
He, of course, knew exactly where she was, despite the fact that she’d kept that information from Luc and Blue just to avoid the possibility of them telling him. But all he’d really needed to know was that she was with Callum Faris, and his resources had done the rest. He had known where she was since two days after she left. But he kept waiting for her to call. Only she never did.