“Twelve weeks,” she whispered. “This week her eyelids started to grow in properly.”
“‘Her’?” he asked gruffly, and she shook herself out of her reverie to focus on him again.
“The baby’s a ‘she’ this week. Last week a ‘he.’ Last week was exciting; she—or he—started making fists. Can you imagine this little life, barely the size of a prune, with tiny hands that can make fists?”
“Can you feel it doing all that? Making fists and stuff?” he sounded fascinated despite himself.
“No, I can’t. I’ve been reading this week-by-week pregnancy book. It’s really good.”
There was another long, awkward silence as Cleo tried to figure out if she could say or do anything to convince him to leave. “I wish I had security guards too,” she said wistfully, and he glanced up at her in surprise.
“So that you can kick me out?” He sounded amused rather than offended.
“I want you to leave,” she admitted. “I don’t like having you here in my home.”
“I came to tell you that I agree to your terms. I’ve signed your documents. If I am the father of that baby, I will pay an amount toward its support.”
“You won’t try to take her from me?” Cleo verbalized her worst fear on a whisper.
“No. Your baby doesn’t interest me. You don’t interest me. I want you both out of my life as quickly and quietly as possible.”
Well, she’d always known that was how he would feel, but the rejection still stung. She felt the pain more for her baby than she did for herself. She’d known the stakes going into this thing with Dante Damaso, but the baby was an innocent in all of this, and now would never have a father to love her and protect her. Still, he was cold and ruthless and would undoubtedly make a lousy father. She’d grown up without a dad, and while she was a mess at times, she’d turned out mostly all right. Luc barely remembered their father either; the man had stuck around for five years and had skipped out on his family less than a month after Cleo’s birth. Their mother, never the most stable of creatures, had gone on a downward spiral after that, and five years later had dumped her children with their grandparents and swanned off to Asia. None of them had seen or heard from her again, and Luc and Cleo had received word of her death soon after their grandparents had passed. Luc flew to Nepal, where she died, and took care of the funeral arrangements. He returned with a few boxes of her personal items, and that had been that. A sad and lonely ending to a sad and lonely life.
“Why didn’t you send your attorney to take care of the matter?” she asked Dante. “You didn’t have to come in person.”
“I wanted to make it perfectly clear that this is all there will ever be between us, just a financial agreement benefitting the child should it happen to be mine.”
“Got it,” she murmured. As if she needed that obvious fact spelled out to her.
“And I wanted to add that perhaps I was a little . . . hasty in firing you.”
“Hasty? Try unfair,” she corrected. “And harsh. You treated me like a criminal. Do you have any idea how humiliating it was to be escorted out by your thugs? I didn’t get to say good-bye to anybody, and I heard rumors that maybe I’d been caught stealing.”
He looked uncomfortable and his broad shoulders shifted restlessly.
“It was not my intention to humiliate you.”
His words infuriated her and opened her eyes to the fact that she was a lot angrier about the embarrassing experience than she realized.
“Is that an apology? Because if it is, it needs work.”
“Look, this is not getting us anywhere,” he deflected. “I would like to offer you another position.”
“Back in HR?” she asked, allowing the subject change. For now.
“No, there would be too many uncomfortable questions. I want to move you to the Joburg office.”
Oh, he wanted to move her to an unfamiliar office, in a strange city miles away from her family and friends, did he? And far, far away from him. Wouldn’t that just make his life a whole lot easier? Not that Cleo was interested in making it difficult; she just wanted to move on with her own life and forget she even knew Dante Damaso.
“I can’t move to Johannesburg,” she stated, her voice brooking no argument.
“Look, be reasonable. You can hardly raise a kid without some form of employment to bolster the financial aid you’ll be receiving from me.”
“You be reasonable. If I take you up on this offer, I may have the benefit of an added income, but I won’t have the emotional support I would need from my family and friends. This is my first pregnancy, I’ll be going it solo, and I’ll want my brother, Blue, and my other close friends around. I’ll want familiar surroundings. The last thing I want or need right now is to move to an unfamiliar city.”
He was quiet for a long time before conceding the point with a very brief dip of his jaw.
“Give me time and I’ll try to arrange something else,” he said.
“I don’t need any favors from you, Mr. Damaso.” He looked almost embarrassed by the honorific he had insisted she use just the day before. “Just child support. You are in no way responsible for any other part of my life.”
“Nonetheless, I am the reason you no longer have a job. I acted hastily and would like to make amends for that.”
“A glowing reference would do just fine, thank you,” she said, while the inner voice that had tried to warn her on that first night in Tokyo protested again. As before, she didn’t listen to it, and Cleo hoped she wouldn’t wind up—once again—paying for her refusal to heed her common sense. But she had some pride, and depending on him for child support was bad enough; she didn’t want to depend on him for her very livelihood too, not after he had so unceremoniously fired her the day before. Yet another thing, she noted, that he had not yet apologized for.