“Don’t!” Dante finally pushed back, releasing Luc’s hold on him and preventing him from saying the horrible word he’d been about to utter. To his credit, the other man looked shamefaced for a few moments, before the anger took over again.

“Get the hell out of my office,” Luc seethed, and Dante, tempted though he was to leave, stood his ground.


“Luc, Cleo will be moving in with me, and she’s going to need you.”

“Don’t tell me what the hell my sister needs; I know her better than you do,” Luc retorted.

Dante nodded. “Just don’t abandon her because you’re pissed off with me,” he said.

Luc seemed to consider his words before drawing back and punching him in the jaw.

Dante reeled, his hand going up to his throbbing face. His instinctive reaction was to punch back, but he knew that he owed Luc a free one and let it go. He opened and closed his jaw to test if it was broken, but luckily it was just stiff.

“I deserved that,” he acknowledged, and the words seemed to infuriate Luc even more. When the man drew back for another punch, Dante felt the need to warn him, “But the second one won’t be free.”

The warning made Luc hesitate.

“I hope you will come to understand that I never meant to disrespect you or your family, Luc,” Dante explained. “But the solution to Cleo’s pregnancy isn’t marriage. We’d both be miserable, and as a consequence, the child would suffer too.”

“I don’t want to hear any more of your pathetic excuses, Damaso.” Luc refused to meet his eyes, which bothered Dante more than anything that had happened before. “You’re not the man I thought you were.”

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Cleo—upon arrival at Luc’s work—spotted Dante’s car immediately. She brought her car to a quick stop and jumped out to confront James, who, as usual, was a stoic sentinel beside the gleaming black car.

“Don’t tell me he’s in there,” she said, dread pooling in her stomach. James removed his sunglasses and nodded. Cleo muttered something completely unladylike before tossing her keys at James and sprinting toward the entrance of the grubby little IT store her brother managed.

“James, I’m sorry, please park that for me,” she called over her shoulder, and because she wasn’t looking where she was going, she ran full tilt into something hard and immovable.

“Oof!” She stared up at whatever it was she’d just run into and then immediately scowled.

“God, are you okay?” Dante’s hands had come up to steady her, and he looked her over for potential damage.

“You just had to get here before me, didn’t you?” she hissed, ignoring his concern. She brushed away his hands impatiently. “Is he here? Have you seen him?”

Dante nodded, the grim set of his jaw and the blankness in his stare telling her everything she needed to know.

“How did he take it?” she asked anxiously.

“Not well.” His hand involuntarily moved up to his jaw, and she saw the bruise forming there.

“Oh my God, he hit you?” Her brother was usually such a pacifist. Wouldn’t even harm a fly—well, okay, he’d probably harm a fly, but he wouldn’t harm a small fuzzy animal like a mouse—so for him to up and hit Dante was beyond her imagination.

“Did you hit him?” she asked suspiciously, and a flicker of annoyance entered Dante’s frighteningly blank eyes, which she much preferred to the shell-shocked expression there previously.

“Of course I didn’t hit him.”

“He’s upset?”

“I’d say so, yes.” His dry rejoinder made her attempt to push past his bulk and get into the building, but he kept sidestepping to prevent her from passing him.

“Hey, get out of my way,” she demanded, exasperation peppering her voice.

“He’s extremely pissed off at the moment, Cleo. I think he might say something you’d both regret, and it’ll cause an unnecessary rift.” The words showed more sensitivity than she’d believed him capable of, and she wasn’t sure how to take it.

“And you don’t think there’s already a rift now?”

“Nothing that can’t be fixed,” Dante said. “At the moment all his anger is focused on me. If you walk in there now, it’ll redirect to you . . . don’t do that to yourself or to him.”

She bit the inside of her cheek as she thought about his words and finally nodded. He took her arm and led her back to where their cars were parked. Or rather, where his car was parked. James was behind the wheel of her car, trying to slot it into the space next to Dante’s sedan. The huge man looked ridiculous behind the wheel of her small hatchback, and they both paused to stare before Cleo sniggered, then chuckled, then burst into loud, uncontrollable laughter. Dante halted in midstride to stare at her, and the alarmed expression on his face made her laugh harder. Soon her laughter took on a desperate, hysterical edge, and before she knew it, tears were seeping from her eyes and slipping down her cheeks, and the howls became tearing sobs. Dante said something beneath his breath and dragged her into his arms and held her tenderly as she hunched into him and allowed herself to cry.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered after the worst of the storm had abated, and he murmured gently in response, smoothing her hair back from her face and using his handkerchief to dab at her hot and swollen cheeks.

“Come on, you need some rest,” he said authoritatively, and she nodded, heading toward her car, but his hand on her elbow stopped her. “Not what I meant. You’re definitely not driving in this condition, and I for damned sure don’t think you’d get any rest in that apartment of yours. James will be following in your car, and I will be driving us to my place.”

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