“Now you’re so far away you can’t visit your old papa regularly. All because I wanted my boy to have a good education and some valuable life experience,” he said despairingly, but Dante remained unmoved by the theatrics. It was a little act his father liked to put on for the benefit of his future brides. The old Look at how devoted I am to my ungrateful and uncaring only child shtick.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to the wedding, Papa,” Dante interrupted firmly, knowing his father could go on for ages about what an ungrateful son he had. Best to nip it in the bud now. “I’m completely swamped with work.”
“You don’t even know when it is,” his father pointed out, and Dante suppressed a scowl at the rookie mistake. But he was happy to have diverted the conversation away from his own shortcomings, at least.
“I’m sorry I assumed it was soon,” he backpedaled quickly. “I’m tied up with the Tokyo build, and you know the Dubai project is starting to gain momentum. Now wouldn’t be a great time to take a vacation. But, of course, if you’re talking about months down the line, I’d be happy to attend.”
“Aah, no . . . we’re in love, we cannot wait months. The wedding will be in two weeks,” his father said with a regretful sigh. “I really wanted you there, son. I was hoping you could be my best man.”
“I’m sorry, Papa,” he repeated. Carmen pouted prettily. “And Carmen. I would come if I could.”
“It’s okay, Dante,” she giggled, her voice painfully shrill. “I’m sure there’ll be plenty of time to get to know each other in the future.”
Yeah, right. Dante wouldn’t bet on that. His father would be on to wife number next in no time. Dante had lost count of how many—progressively younger—stepmothers he’d had so far, and he had no interest in even trying to keep track of them. His father never kept mistresses or lovers, he kept wives, and out of the many he’d had after Dante’s mother had died of leukemia, one had committed suicide, another had died of an accidental drug overdose, and the rest had all divorced him.
Thankfully, Dante didn’t have dozens of half siblings scattered all over Europe, as his father had had a vasectomy after Dante’s tenth birthday. Which was a mixed blessing, since Dante wouldn’t have minded a brother or sister. It would have made his childhood a little less lonely.
He watched his father neck with his child bride for a few minutes longer before deciding that he’d done his familial duty.
“Well, congratulations again. Please send me the wedding pictures.”
“Okay. It was great talking with you, son. We should touch base more often,” his father said. The man ended every call with the same words, and Dante always agreed that they should, but they both knew they probably wouldn’t talk again for months. They were both okay with that.
After ending the call, Dante wandered from room to room in his vast penthouse apartment, which overlooked the yacht basin at the V and A Waterfront in Cape Town. It was the perfect bachelor apartment and offered a less impersonal way of life than simply staying in one of his hotels, which was the way he’d lived up until his thirtieth birthday. That was when he bought himself this multi-million-dollar gem just a stone’s throw away from both his office and his flagship hotel in Cape Town.
But the Waterfront wasn’t exactly a peaceful environment; it was trendy, noisy, and bustling with sightseers. The property values were through the roof, and it had been a sound investment to purchase this apartment. The glossy finishes, marble floors, slick glass walls, and minimalist interior were designed by the same team that did all of his hotels. The décor was beautiful but left the place feeling sterile and cold. He often felt as if he was still living in a hotel or one of those places they use for interior-design catalog shoots. It didn’t feel like home. Not that he’d ever known what one of those felt like.
When he’d been a child living at home with his father, he’d never felt a sense of permanence or place. Not with the interchangeable “mamas” traipsing through Dante’s life from his sixth or seventh birthday onward.
Because Enrique Damaso believed that each new wife was the Real Thing, he’d never seen the necessity of a prenup. For a wealthy man, Dante’s father could be incredibly stupid. He thought prenups were unromantic and set the wrong tone for a marriage, and with each ex-wife he lost sizable chunks of money. Only one of those ex-wives had remarried and no longer received alimony from him; the others still enjoyed their lavish lifestyles, thanks to his father’s gullibility.
Dante had given up thinking that his father would ever learn his lesson, and had proceeded to protect himself against a similar fate. He’d seen what loving a woman could lead to, and he wasn’t going to allow himself to be used like that. He would choose his future wife with care; she would come from a background of wealth and privilege and would comport herself with grace and dignity in public. There would be no mad, passionate love involved in his choice. It would be an intellectual process, not an emotional one.
He wandered out onto the balcony and stared down at the yachts neatly lined up in the bay beneath his apartment, their masts pointing up at the purple-and-pink dusk sky like accusatory, skeletal middle fingers. His own fifty-foot sloop was berthed down there, but from this distance, in the fading light, it was difficult to spot the Arabella, which he’d named after his first dog.
He could smell the faint scent of fried food drifting toward him on the breeze, hear distant laughter—carried to him on the same breeze—and see people wandering around on the dock. Just living their lives. Some happy, some not. Husbands and wives, lovers, families.