“Legal documents being shoved at you without warning? That sounds remarkably familiar,” she said pointedly. “It’s no fun when the shoe’s on the other foot, is it?”
“So what’s this, some kind of warped revenge? Punishment because I had the nerve to treat you like every other woman in my life? Because you’re so special, right? Not like all the other—”
She held up a hand to stop him, and it worked, because his mouth clamped shut.
“Let me stop you right there, Dante. I don’t have to hear any more of this. Stop trying to make yourself sound like some kind of victim. I presented you with the ideal solution to a problem I knew you didn’t want.” She backed away and folded her arms belligerently across her chest. Her eyes were challenging him to deny her words.
“No, you presented me with a fait accompli. And why would I argue? I could continue to live my life as if none of this ever happened. But I can’t. This baby exists and I can’t ignore that.”
His words were so eerily similar to the thoughts that had prompted her to have the baby that they made her pause and then panic. Her stomach plummeted to her feet and then back up into her throat until it took everything she had not to vomit on his stupidly expensive shoes.
“You can’t have him,” she whispered. “He’s mine.”
“He’s mine too.”
“No, you signed those papers. He’s not yours; he’ll never be yours.” Her hand dropped to her abdomen defensively, and his eyes darkened at the movement.
“I don’t want to take him from you, I just . . . I want to be there. I want to see him. I want to know him, and I want him to know me.”
“What changed? How could everything just change overnight?” Her voice rose almost hysterically, and she felt Cal’s arm curl around her shoulder protectively.
“Maybe you’d better get going, bud,” Cal warned.
“This has nothing to do with you, Mr. Faris. It’s between Cleo and me.”
“I want to know what’s changed!” she screeched, demanding to be heard and uncaring of the bystanders who paused on the street to glance at the unfolding tableau. If Dante Damaso insisted on doing this in public, then he would damn well get a scene.
“I have!” he snapped. “I’ve changed. I can’t stop thinking about this baby. In my head she’s a dark-haired, green-eyed little princess in a pink tutu and white leggings, and she’s been toddling in and out of my dreams since Monday.”
That made her pause and look at him. Really look.
His tie was crooked, she noted absently, one white cuff stuck out slightly longer than the other, one of his shirt buttons wasn’t fastened, his hair looked like he’d repeatedly run his fingers through it all morning, and he’d cut himself shaving that morning. Dante Damaso looked . . . undone. He looked like a man who no longer had a handle on his life.
“In my mind he has dark hair, your golden eyes, as well as your mouth and jaw, and he’s wearing the world’s smallest little sheriff’s uniform. He can’t walk yet, but he’s grinning a big, droolly, toothless grin.”
They were both silent for a moment, and her shoulders dropped.
“What do you want from me?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted, which was quite a confession for the usually self-assured Dante Damaso to make. “I don’t think I’d be a great dad. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll be lousy at it.”
It so closely resembled her own fears about the type of mother she’d be that she was staggered by the lack of self-confidence from a man who always seemed to know exactly what to do.
“But I was hoping to be . . . someone she knows?”
“This is such a huge change of heart, Dante, and it isn’t at all what I want.”
“I know that. I’m just asking that you allow me to properly take care of her, and that I get to see her sometimes.”
“What does ‘properly take care of her’ entail?”
“Trust fund, private schools, decent living conditions.”
“No. You’re trying to dictate my life and the way I raise my child.”
He just stared at her and kept his face frustratingly blank.
“Does this have to be done right now?” Cal asked pointedly, and they both looked at him in surprise, having completely forgotten his presence. He rolled his eyes. “It’s starting to rain. And you, miss, have an appointment that you’re going to be late for.”
“Oh, crap,” she muttered, before tossing a sideways glance at Dante, who stared back at her with an uncharacteristically hangdog expression.
“Dante, you can’t show up here, tell me you’ve had a change of heart, and expect me to just be okay with that,” she said. “I don’t want you at my ultrasound. I don’t think I want to share something so . . . intimate with you.”
“You’re having my kid, lady,” he reminded, and Cal snorted. “It doesn’t get much more intimate than that.”
“Cal’s going in with me,” she maintained.
“I don’t have to.” Cal shrugged. He kept his eyes on his nails and ignored the murderous glare Cleo threw at him. “I’m squeamish. Blood makes me nauseous.”
“Blood?” Now Dante looked a tad green, and Cleo wanted to scream in frustration.
“There’s no blood involved. Cal, you’re coming with me.” She pointed an assertive finger at Dante. “You can wait for us, I’ll . . . I’ll see if they can make you a copy of the DVD or something.”