“Dante, there’s no need for this sexist BS,” she said. “He’s my brother. I know how to handle him.”
“I’ll do it.” She could hear him practically gritting his teeth as he said it, and she sighed, remaining silent to avoid an argument but already planning when and where to tell her brother about the thing with Dante. She just needed to get to Luc before Dante did, which would be easy since Dante was a slave to his schedule.
He seemed to take her silence for tacit agreement and changed the subject by asking her when she thought she’d be ready to move in.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I have to give notice here, sort out the teaching job with my friend at the studio, and figure out what I’ll be bringing with me.”
“Let me know if you need help; I will arrange movers.”
“I can do it myself,” she protested, and he sighed loudly.
“There you go again, being needlessly difficult. It is a sincere offer of help, dulzura.” She blinked at the endearment. She had Googled it after their return from Tokyo and discovered that it meant “sweetness.” This was the first time he had used it outside of an intimate setting, and it took her by surprise.
“Thanks,” she whispered, wondering how the hell this was going to work when every single offer he made to help her felt like charity and a blow to her pride. She needed to loosen up a bit.
They ended the call soon afterward, and after a quick shower, she slipped into a pair of fuzzy pajamas and sent a text message to Cal, asking where he was. It was nearly midnight when he responded.
Out with Carl. Be home soon.
Cleo stared at the screen and wondered who the hell Carl was. Last time she checked, he was dating some guy named Bryan.
She went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of cocoa, trying not to see the dishes piled in the sink. Dante’s cold marble-and-chrome masterpiece of an apartment wouldn’t remain pristine for long. She wasn’t the neatest of roommates, and she hoped for his sake he’d meant it when he said he wouldn’t be around much.
She was sitting at the kitchen table when Cal finally breezed in about ten minutes later, and she got up immediately to walk straight into his arms and hug him tightly. His arms closed around her in surprise.
“Hey, what’s this? Are you okay, hon? I’m sorry for deserting you at the doctor’s office, but Damaso said he’d get you home and that you guys needed to work some stuff out, which I definitely agreed with. Did he upset you? I’m sorry. I should have foreseen that . . . I should have stayed.”
“No,” she murmured into his chest. “You were right. We had some stuff to work out. I’m not upset about that.”
“Then what’s this about? Pregnancy hormones again?”
“Cal, we need to talk.” She took his hand and led him to the kitchen table, where he sat down opposite her, his face etched with concern.
“I wanted to say that I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“About what? Moving? Hon, we’ve been over this . . .”
“For never really forgiving you after the accident.” His mouth snapped shut and his eyes burned into hers. He didn’t say a word, and she reached over to touch one of his clenched fists where it rested on the table. “It wasn’t your fault, you know. But I needed someone to blame, and all these years I’ve subconsciously blamed you, and worse, I allowed you to blame yourself. Which makes me a crappy friend and an even crappier person.”
“I dropped you,” he said quietly, and he turned his hand over to clasp hers.
“And my timing and balance were off,” she said firmly. “You know that. How we both didn’t get catastrophically injured is beyond me.”
“Still, I should have held on. I was taller, stronger . . .”
“Hon,” she said, using his nickname for her, and he smiled through the tears that were starting to glitter in his gray eyes. “You’re only human. When I lost my balance, you tried your damnedest to hold on to me, but you couldn’t. In all this time I never really admitted that I was also to blame. I’ve been so selfish. I’ve sat back and watched you practically self-destruct, and I never once said anything. I just let you do it. And the worst is, in three years, I never even realized it until tonight. I’ve felt sorry for myself long enough. My dancing career is over, and it has been for years. And my life is fine without dance, and, Cal, as your very best friend who wants nothing but wonderful things for you, I want you to go out there and be everything I no longer can. Your career isn’t over; you’re a damned fine dancer. Stop acting like a complete ass to make me feel better and get your career back on track.”
“Where’s all this coming from?” he asked.
“I’m going to be a mother, time for me to start behaving like an adult, don’t you think? I love you, Cal, and I’m going to miss you like crazy once you start working and touring, but let’s face it, we do tend to drive each other crazy all the time anyway.”
He laughed, and just like that, everything felt lighter and better between them. Better than it had been for years.
“Dante, good to see you, man.” Lucius grabbed hold of Dante’s hand and gave him one of those manly half hugs. It was a familiarity that Dante only ever allowed with Lucius; most of his other male friends were a little more tightly wound and a little less likable. After his conversation with Cleo the night before, Dante suspected that she would try to see her brother before he could have the chance to. So he’d canceled his early-morning meetings and come straight to Luc’s office. Dante knew that he risked losing a friendship he valued very much. It was one of the reasons he’d given the clearly unqualified Cleo a job in such a high-ranking position in the first place—he’d felt he owed it to Luc.