The two men apologized profusely, and he shut them up with a wave of his hand.
“See Miss Knight back to her desk, wait while she packs her personal items, and escort her out of the building. I want her gone within the hour.”
“Yes, sir,” one huge guy responded curtly while the other slanted her a sympathetic sideways glance.
They approached her chair and flanked her, and one of them dropped a hand on her shoulder.
“Do not touch her.” Dante surprised them all by snapping out the command.
“Sorry,” the security guard mumbled awkwardly.
“You need to come with us, miss,” the other guy said, and Cleo nodded, feeling defeated and exhausted. Her hand dropped protectively to her flat abdomen; the gesture was unconscious and seemed to draw his eye and darken his expression even further. She pushed herself up tiredly and grabbed one brawny guard’s arm for support as she swayed slightly. She held on to him as they both escorted her out of his office. She could feel Dante’s eyes boring into her back as she left, but she refused to look back. If this was how he wanted it, then so be it. She would find a way to look after her baby without his help. Dante Damaso be damned.
Dante dragged both hands through his hair and gulped in a deep, semicalming breath. The nerve of her. The goddamned, absolute gall of her.
Who the hell did she think she was? Who did she think he was? Some naïve fool who would fall for such a ridiculous and obvious ploy? He was absolutely livid. He wanted to wring her duplicitous little neck with both hands.
He leaped into action, jumping out of his chair and striding determinedly toward the doors. Halfway there he turned back and grabbed the envelope she left on his desk. He didn’t even want to look at it, but he’d need to show it to Mike Grayson, his personal attorney.
He glared at Mrs. Clarke on his way out.
“You and I will have words later about the type of riffraff you allow into my office, Mrs. Clarke,” he snapped, and the woman paled in response to his words. He was too furious to take even the mildest satisfaction in that reaction.
Two hours didn’t do much to calm his temper. He found himself sitting across from Mike Grayson, still wearing the glare that felt like it had taken up permanent residence on his face. Mike had been startled to see his biggest client walk into his office earlier. Mike usually came to Dante, never vice versa. The fact that he had stormed into the man’s office defying their usual protocol spoke to Dante’s current frame of mind. He felt completely . . . discombobulated. He was annoyed with himself for not seeing this coming. Surely he should have sensed this mercenary streak in her? He usually had a better nose for these things. When she had signed that nondisclosure agreement without much protest, he had considered himself in the clear. But he had completely underestimated the lengths some women would go to for a little bit of his wealth.
“I have to say, it’s a pretty fair deal,” the other man said. Exactly what Dante did not want to hear.
“She wants a monthly stipend from the baby’s birth right up until its eighteenth birthday or until she marries, whichever comes first. She asks for only enough to take care of basic necessities: food, clothing, and medical bills—for the child, not for her. She asks for an increase to cover school fees and other necessities when the child is old enough. There is, of course, interest applied commensurate to whatever changes take place in the economy. And she wants these only if a paternity test proves that you are indeed the child’s father.”
Dante’s jaw dropped. Why make that stipulation unless she was absolutely certain he was the child’s father? Had she sabotaged his condoms somehow? He immediately discounted that possibility. They had never left his possession, and he was always the one to don them, without exception. Ever. He couldn’t chance an accidental fingernail through the latex. He had learned that lesson the hard way, when he had caught one of his former lovers blatantly trying to break a condom while supposedly “fumbling” with it as she tried to sheathe him. Having escaped that particular trap, Dante had never allowed for the possibility again. No woman ever got her hands on his condoms.
Which meant, if this baby was his, it was because his method of protection had failed. He had always known condoms were not 100 percent foolproof, but he had considered the risk negligible. Until now.
He shook his head, disgusted with himself, with her, with the whole bloody world.
“I don’t want to be a dad,” he growled. “Is there any way to get her to . . .” He couldn’t verbalize it. It made him feel like a louse.
“Well, she’s got you covered there too,” Mike said, sounding almost admiring. “All you have to do is agree to these terms, sign this paper, and she’s happy to forget you were even there at its conception. All financial transactions will be done through your attorney and hers. The baby will have her name, and the father shall remain undisclosed. And the existing nondisclosure agreement ensures that she will never speak of your relationship in Tokyo.”
“It wasn’t a relationship.”
“Very well, your sordid encounter, then.”
“Careful, Mike,” Dante warned. He had known Mike for years and they had a fantastic professional and personal relationship, but Dante’s mood was too uncertain at the moment to cope with the man’s irreverent sense of humor.
“Hmm,” Mike hummed noncommittally. “Well, I think this is all pretty aboveboard. She doesn’t want a cent from you until you’re satisfied that the baby is yours, and even then she won’t expect payment to start until after the birth.”