She captured his wrists in her hands, intending to tug his hands down, but she couldn’t find the strength to do so. In the end her hands merely rested there, her thumbs caressing the warm, hair-roughened skin of his wrists as that one, tender kiss rewrote their entire relationship and took it from antagonistic and familiar to this. Whatever this was.
Cleo finally found the strength to jerk her head back, breaking the contact between them. Her breath came in gasps, and her body was shaking badly. A quick glance at him confirmed that he was as shaken and shocked as she.
“That was . . . it was . . .” She shook her head, frustrated with her inability to verbalize her thoughts. “It shouldn’t have happened.”
“I know,” he said.
“I’m serious, Dante.”
“Me too.” He ran a shaky hand through his hair. “It shouldn’t have happened. Don’t worry. I’m leaving. Take care of yourself, Cleo.”
He was gone seconds later.
In the end, Dante called Nicki and canceled their date. He wouldn’t have been very good company anyway. He didn’t know why he was being so weird about the situation with Cleo. They had reached an amicable agreement. She was happy enough; he didn’t have to worry about being held accountable for a mistake that neither of them could possibly have foreseen. After one slight hitch, his life was smoothly on track again.
Dante’s phone buzzed as he stepped into his apartment, and he groaned when he saw the message—in Spanish—that had popped up onto his screen:
Must Skype immediately, Papa
Great, just what he needed after an already difficult day. He headed up to his study and set up the Skype call. He had other, more efficient means of making face-time calls, but his father couldn’t quite grasp the technology involved. This was the easiest method for the older man. Dante really only used this program to contact his father, and as such, the man was the only contact on his list. Which made it easy to spot that Enrique Damaso was already online. As soon as Dante was logged in, the familiar ringtone came up. His father really was in a rush to speak with him tonight. The last time they’d Skyped had been months before.
“Ah, Dante. It’s good to see you, son,” his father said in Spanish as soon as they were connected. “You are good? You look good.”
Dante was so far removed from good that it was actually quite funny, but he merely nodded.
“All good here, Papa,” he lied. Their relationship wasn’t one that encouraged confidences.
“Ah. Wonderful,” the man said jovially. “Listen, Dante, I have someone I want you to meet.” He ushered someone off-camera to join him, and a stunning young brunette stepped into view and sat down on his father’s lap. Dante sighed inwardly, already knowing where this would lead.
“Dante, this is Carmen, your new mama-to-be.” Dante tried not to wince at the introduction; the girl looked a full decade younger than Dante’s own thirty-two. “Carmen, this is my boy, Dante.”
He planted a kiss on the giggling woman’s cheek and did something—thankfully out of the camera’s view—to make her squeal.
“We’re getting married,” he announced unnecessarily. “Carmen is the one, Dante. She makes your papa so happy.” And the sixty-three-year-old man was probably going through shedloads of little blue pills and truckloads of pretty trinkets to keep her equally happy.
“Congratulations,” Dante said woodenly, knowing from experience that trying to talk his father out of making yet another colossal error would simply end in failure—much like the marriage itself inevitably would. His father’s marriages never ended amicably, and each divorce had involved protracted and ugly legal battles. But it was useless reminding his father of past mistakes; it was easier to just make polite noises, buy a gift, and stay the hell out of it.
The old man was both cynical and a hopeless romantic. He hated all his exes with a bitterness that had easily poisoned Dante’s own mind against women, and yet he loved every new opportunistic bitch that flitted her way into his life with a passion that was borderline obsessive.
“Will you come to the wedding?” his father asked eagerly. “Carmen and I are having a beach wedding in Tenerife. Carmen wanted the most romantic destination. And I will give my beautiful Carmen everything she wants. Also, I think it’s closer to you, right? Off the African coast?”
“That’s northwest Africa, Papa. I’m in South Africa. Pretty far away.” Dante tested his acting skills by pulling the most regretful expression he could muster out of the bag. Clearly, geography was not his father’s strong suit. But the old man had never understood why his only son had chosen to move so far away, and because he was still waiting for Dante to “come to his senses,” he hadn’t really bothered to learn much about the place that had become Dante’s adopted home.
“I sometimes regret sending you to that university when you were a boy, Dante,” his father said with a shake of his head. It was a familiar refrain. “But I thought, let the boy go, he can learn to be a man far away from his home and comfort. But then you had to go and live there.”
Enrique Damaso felt that Dante going to college in another country, far away from everything familiar to him, would be a good character-building experience. And the old man had happily handed over the reins of the company immediately after Dante received his MBA, but his father hadn’t counted on Dante staying in that country and forging a completely new life. Worse, Dante had “rebooted” the Damaso hotel brand in Cape Town and had completely distanced himself from his father’s influence.