“I’m sorry to spring this visit on you,” Dante told Luc as the man ushered him into a seat in his dingy little office at the back of the store he managed. Dante glanced around the place. Luc had been brilliant at school, and it was inconceivable to Dante that he wasn’t the business manager of some multi-million-dollar corporation somewhere. He shouldn’t be working in such a tiny store in this industrial part of Cape Town.
Dante looked at his friend and saw—for the first time—the lines etched into his brow and next to his mouth. He looked older than his thirty-two years, and there was some early gray mixed into his thick black hair. He and Cleo bore a passing resemblance to each other, in the eyes and around the nose and mouth.
“How are you, amigo?” he asked quietly.
“Ah, you know, same old same old. Nothing much has changed since we saw you last. Blue and I are still trying to get that wedding organized, but the house is taking up our spare funds at the moment.”
Dante had offered, years ago, to help out with the house, but Luc was as stubborn and proud as his sister. He could definitely see where Cleo got it from now.
“And hey, man,” Luc added, “I’ve wanted to apologize about the whole Cleo thing for a while now.”
It was the opening Dante had been searching for, even though the man’s words baffled him.
“The Cleo thing?” Dante wasn’t sure what to make of Luc’s cryptic statement.
“Yeah, first, she didn’t even know who you were when she applied for that job. I mean, I was a little irritated with her for applying, I didn’t want you to think I had anything to do with it.” Dante shook his head in disbelief. Unable to grasp that Cleo’s job application had been sheer coincidence. But then knowing what he knew about both Cleo and Luc, how could it have been anything different? The siblings would rather chew off their own limbs before asking a friend for help. “And then to just quit like that?”
Luc shook his head in disgust.
“She’s always been so irresponsible, and now with the . . .” He paused, even though Dante knew he’d been about to mention the pregnancy. Luc shook his head again before continuing. “Anyway, I just wanted to apologize about that. Her behavior was completely rash, as usual.”
Something about the way Luc was denigrating Cleo rubbed Dante the wrong way, especially since it was completely unfair.
“You shouldn’t be so harsh on her,” Dante said, and Luc did a double take.
“You shouldn’t be so hard on her. She didn’t quit. I fired her.”
“You did?” Luc’s brow furrowed, as he tried to process this new information. “Why? What did she do?”
“Maybe you should give your sister the benefit of the doubt once in a while,” Dante said, and Luc’s eyes narrowed.
“Dante,” he said, his voice going dangerously quiet. “What’s this about?”
“This is what I’ve come here to discuss with you,” Dante replied, clearing his throat awkwardly.
“What? My sister?”
“Yes. And the baby.”
Luc pushed himself up out of his chair and braced his clenched fists on the desk in front of him as he leaned forward to pin Dante with his fierce glare. Dante remained seated, allowing the man the position of power in this instance because, really, Dante was in the wrong.
“How do you know about the baby?” Luc asked in an uneven voice, and Dante took a deep breath and met his friend’s gaze head-on before bidding one of his longest-standing friendships a reluctant farewell.
“I’m the child’s father.”
Luc moved so fast it took both of them by surprise. Dante was out of his chair and pinned against the thin prefab wall in seconds.
“You bastard,” Luc hissed, his hands fisted in Dante’s shirtfront. “I trusted you with my family!”
“Luc, take it easy.” Dante tried to remain calm and nonconfrontational, but Luc dragged him forward and slammed him back against the wall, shaking it violently.
“You’ll be marrying her.”
“No, I won’t,” Dante corrected. “Neither your sister nor I want that. I will, however, be taking care of her and of the baby.”
“We don’t need anything from you,” Luc said, the Knight pride once again coming to the surface. “Not one bloody thing. If you won’t do the right thing and marry her, then I’ll take care of her and the baby.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Lucius. The baby is my responsibility. Cleo—while she’s pregnant—is my responsibility. You have Blue and the house to take care of. Cleo will be moving in with me for the remainder of her pregnancy, and after that she’ll be moving into a house that I will purchase in our child’s name—as per her wishes.”
“Yeah, money buys you out of every undesirable situation, doesn’t it? Must be nice,” Luc said with a sneer, and the man’s contemptuous words stung more than they should have. Dante tried not to let them affect him, but it was hard when Luc’s opinion of him had just hit rock bottom. “My sister and her child are not for sale. You can take whatever the hell deals you have made with her and shove them up your ass. Get out of my office.”
“The arrangements that Cleo and I have made have nothing to do with you. I only came to tell you about our plans out of respect for you and for our friendship.”
“You have so much respect for me that you used my sister like one of your little sluts? And then tossed her aside like rubbish when she turned up pregnant? And worse than that, you fired her? Why? Because your mistake would be staring you in the face every day as she grew bigger and bigger with your little bast—”