In the end, Coco and Gigi walked her up to her apartment, and Cleo managed to send Dante on his way after he extracted a promise from her that she would call him later. Cal wasn’t home when the women reached the apartment, which was a blessing—in that he absolutely hated Coco and, to a lesser extent, Gigi—and a curse because Cleo was desperate to talk to him after her revelation. She figured he was probably uncertain of her mood and hiding out after “abandoning” her at the doctor’s office that afternoon.
Coco and Gigi stayed for a couple of hours, eating forbidden chocolate truffles, chatting about the company’s new production of Cinderella and Coco’s role as one of the evil stepsisters, Cal, the weather, and eventually Dante.
“So, that man is gorgeous,” Coco said, licking some melted chocolate off her fingertips.
“Which one?” Cleo asked evasively, and both Gigi and Coco threw her a dry look.
“Do we have to answer that?” Coco asked incredulously.
“Okay, fine. Yeah, he’s good-looking.”
“And he’s the baby’s dad?” Coco prompted. With everything that had happened, was the nondisclosure agreement still valid? Cleo had no idea how things stood between her and Dante now.
“He’s my ex-boss,” she hedged. “We were just going over some details involving my old job. He’s a bit of a prick, actually.” Most of that was technically true.
“So, who is the baby’s dad?” Gigi asked, falling for the subterfuge like the sweet, trusting soul she was. Coco’s eyes told Cleo that she wasn’t buying it at all, but thankfully she didn’t pursue the matter.
“Nobody you’d know,” Cleo said dismissively, before asking Coco another question about her new role. As a diversion, it was pretty effective, because there was nothing Coco loved more than talking about herself.
Cal wasn’t back by the time they left, so Cleo bit the bullet and called Dante. Luckily she still had his number in her phone. He answered after the second ring.
“Did you mean it?” he asked without preamble.
“Yes, but there are a few caveats.”
“Of course there are,” he said drily.
“I won’t have my freedom curbed,” she said, ignoring his sarcasm.
“How the hell would I curb your freedom?” He actually sounded offended. “I won’t shackle you to the kitchen sink or whatever the hell it is you’re imagining.”
“I just mean that I’ll come and go as I please. I still dance regularly at a studio in Newlands, and I’m thinking of teaching a few classes to earn some money.” She’d been thinking about this option more and more after her last visit to Susan’s studio. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad; maybe she could finally let go of her old ambitions and take pride in her students’ achievements. It would help if said students were kids instead of teens or adults, though. She wasn’t sure she’d be any good at it, but she was still excited at the thought of a fresh start.
“You don’t have to work,” Dante said.
“Yes, I do.” There was a long silence after that firm proclamation before she heard him clear his throat.
“What else?” he asked.
“My life is my own, and where I go, what I do, and who I do it with are none of your concern.”
“You mean with men?”
“I mean in general. But yeah, any relationships—platonic or otherwise—I happen to form with other men are not your business.”
“You intend to get involved with guys while you’re pregnant?”
“Who knows? Life is weird like that.”
“Fine, and the same rule applies to me.”
“Whatever.” Like she cared. Okay, maybe she cared. A little. “And we’ll be looking for a small—not huge, expensive, or ostentatious—place for the baby and me to move into after he’s born. The place will be in his name. It will never belong to me. Any money from you will go toward my medical bills and the baby’s necessities, like clothes, medical bills, and education.”
“I want to set up a trust fund and a university fund.”
She let him have that one, since the next one was so important to her.
“The baby’s last name will be Knight, and while you will play a role in his or her life, you will never be named as this child’s father.” He was silent for so long that she feared they had lost the connection. When his voice eventually broke the silence, it was quiet and a little hoarse.
Cleo exhaled the breath she’d been holding and allowed herself to relax.
“I want all of that in writing and witnessed by both attorneys before I move in,” she added shakily.
After another achingly long silence, Cleo felt her eyes well up with tears. She hoped to God this was the right move for all of them. She didn’t want to be unfair, but she didn’t want to screw herself over either.
“Dante,” she whispered.
“Mi placer, cielo.” The Spanish startled her. Dante’s English was so good that, despite his accent, she sometimes forgot that Spanish was his first language. She was starting to learn that he only ever used it when he was under emotional duress.
“I think I’ll have to tell Luc about this now,” she acknowledged, saddened by how the news would potentially affect her brother.
“I should do it,” Dante insisted. “It is the man’s duty, and I should have told him long before now.”