And someday—when it was old enough—the kid would have to live with that too.
He would have to live with the knowledge that his father had chosen not to know him. Or love him.
Dante noticed, almost impassively, that his hands had started to shake, and he dropped the envelope onto his desk and clenched his fists to control the tremble. He picked it up again seconds later, took in a huge gulp of air, and tore it open—the violence of the gesture akin to ripping a Band-Aid off a wound.
He unfolded the slip of paper carefully, reading through the scientific jargon before getting to the most relevant bit.
Cannot be excluded as the father of the child . . . probability of paternity 99.9992%
He refolded the paper precisely along the original lines and noted that his hands were trembling again. He meticulously placed it back into its envelope and then smoothed it carefully flat on the desk’s surface before tucking it away into the breast pocket of his jacket. Once there, it felt like it was burning a hole into his chest, so he removed it again and shoved it into his desk drawer. He locked the drawer and tucked the key into his breast pocket.
He had anticipated this; he had known it was coming, so now he could continue with his life as planned. This matter was already taken care of; Mike had only been waiting for confirmation of the child’s paternity before he made the financial arrangements. It was out of Dante’s hands now. He could get back to business. He could build more hotels; go out with gorgeous, glamorous women; and one day—years from now—even marry one of them. That woman would be the mother of his children. Simple and uncomplicated, that’s how he liked his life. And the woman he chose to be his wife would have to be equally simple and uncomplicated. Someone who could make his life easier without needing constant attention and validation. Cleo and the baby were just obstacles to overcome before he could get back out onto the open, uncomplicated road of his life again. He need never think of them again.
Only . . .
He couldn’t help but recall the last time he’d seen Cleo, and he wondered if she’d found another job. And if she’d moved into a better, more secure apartment yet. Were the tips of her glossy black hair still that horrendous shade of pink?
Did she still suffer from morning sickness?
What wonders did week fourteen hold?
He had to stop thinking about this. He picked up his phone and thumbed through his contacts before finding the name he was searching for.
“Nicki, querida, this is Dante. Do you want to meet for a drink later?”
He was going to get this situation out of his mind in a time-honored tradition. With booze, babes, and lots and lots of sex.
Cleo read the test results, laughed, then cried a little and laughed again before tearing the paper up and tossing the pieces in the bin. She would probably hear from Grantley Bingham, her grandparents’ really ancient attorney, soon. Mr. Bingham had kindly offered to help her out for a fraction of his usual fee because he felt he owed it to her grandparents. He’d been dealing directly with Dante’s attorney and had informed her that things were going along swimmingly at the moment.
The old man was sweet, and despite knowing her for her entire life, had remained completely nonjudgmental and professional throughout their proceedings. He had merely congratulated her on her pregnancy and kept giving her unwanted advice on everything from morning sickness to baby names.
Cleo rested a hand on the still-flat surface of her abdomen. She still suffered from morning sickness, but luckily it wasn’t too debilitating anymore. Even though her book told her that her energy should be returning, she continued to feel lethargic, which she put down to a mild case of depression. She didn’t have a job yet, and once she started showing it would be even more difficult to find anything. Luc and Blue had been pressing her to move in with them, and it was becoming the likeliest scenario for her.
Luc had been seriously pissed off with her when she’d told him that she’d quit her job, and he’d put it down to “Cleo being her usual irresponsible self.” Cleo had said and done nothing to correct him.
Cleo was scared and felt alone and lonely, despite Cal’s constant and overbearing presence and Luc and Blue’s smothering. Most nights she woke up in an absolute panic, with cold sweat dripping down her body—terrified of screwing up her baby’s life—and she had absolutely no one to talk to about that.
She had her first dating ultrasound coming up in a couple of days and hadn’t even told Blue about it. The appointment was for midday, and she didn’t want Blue to take off any more time from work to go with her. Luc managed a small IT company in a rundown industrial part of town, and the place always seemed to fall completely apart when he wasn’t there. She could take Cal, but quite frankly, she’d rather go alone; he tended to irritate her when she felt even remotely stressed.
She looked around her flat and sighed. She’d been cooped up in here for too long. She hadn’t ventured out much due to a lack of funds and a lack of desire to do anything remotely social. But she was unaccustomed to going so long without any form of exercise, and it was starting to give her a dose of cabin fever.
She resolutely went about collecting her leotard, a gauzy crepe wrap skirt, tights, and pointe shoes and stuffed them into a tote bag. She tied her short hair up into a small, tight ponytail and grabbed up her coat on her way out the door.
It was midspring, but the air still had a bite, and it had been an unseasonably rainy October. A fine, misty rain fell outside, and as she walked the short distance to her favorite dance studio, the light precipitation frizzed her hair and dampened her face. The air smelled clean and she inhaled deeply. She would have to pay for her entry into the studio, and she couldn’t really afford to spend the money, but she really needed this.