She opened her mouth to protest, but he placed a long finger on her lips to silence her. The skin-on-skin contact was so unexpected that Cleo found herself momentarily diverted. It was long enough for him to hastily bundle her into the passenger seat of his luxury car and climb in next to her.
“Dante, I don’t want—”
“Cleo, try to be cooperative for once in your life, okay?”
“That’s almost on par with me asking you to not be bossy for once in your life,” she pointed out, and he grinned. An honest-to-God grin. She could get used to seeing that. It was such an open and boyish expression that it was quite breathtaking to witness.
“We each have our weaknesses,” he quipped.
“Stop smiling like that, for God’s sake,” she admonished. “People might start mistaking you for a nice guy.”
“God forbid,” he retorted, and she stared at him, wondering if there was a sense of humor hidden beneath that detached façade he presented to the world.
The drive back to his place was short and silent, and when he parked his car, she made one last halfhearted protest.
“James could drive me back to my place,” she suggested. “I promise to rest when I get home.”
“We’re already here. You might as well enjoy the quiet and take a nap. I’ll be heading back to the office, so you’ll have the place to yourself. Help yourself to anything, and if you need something, contact James. He’ll see to it.”
Cleo figured it was a good trial run for when she moved in and decided not to argue any further. She was genuinely tired. The emotional outburst of that morning, combined with the overall lethargy she still felt, resulted in a powerful urge to just sleep.
Dante escorted her back into his penthouse, going through all those high-tech security procedures before they found themselves facing each other in the middle of his living room. He dug a pen out of his breast pocket and scribbled a four-digit number on the edge of a discarded newspaper on the coffee table.
“This is the code for the elevator, should you decide to go home later.” He took hold of her hand and held it palm up before dropping her car keys in it. “If you choose to leave, please let James know that you’re going. I’ve left him with explicit instructions to ensure you get home safely.” She didn’t say anything to that, even though she was doing some serious mental eye-rolling. She’d been getting herself home safely for years now, but this was Dante’s paranoid world, and while she was in it, she supposed she’d have to adhere to the weirdness.
He was standing so close to her that she could feel his torso brush against her chest with every inhalation of breath. He lifted his hand and oh-so-tenderly brushed her hair back from her face. His fingertips grasped one tendril, and an enigmatic smile played about his perfect lips.
“Love the blue,” he murmured. “I prefer it to the pink. Pink’s not your color.”
“I was thinking of going p-purple next,” she heard herself saying inanely, and he looked at the strand he held captive in his fingertips for one long, evaluating moment.
“It might clash with your eyes a bit. The purple would have to be subtle,” he announced, and she nodded, wondering why they were standing here discussing her hair. He seemed to snap out of whatever spell he was under and blinked a couple of times before shaking his head and dropping her hair.
“Anyway, I . . . uh . . . I should get back to work. Try to rest, dulzura,” he said, his voice soft. “It’ll do both of you the world of good.”
The word both reminded Cleo that the main reason she was here and that he even wanted her close was because of the baby. He’d kicked her out of his life before they’d known about this pregnancy, and the baby was the only reason she was back. She’d better not lose sight of that fact, and she had damned well better not start weaving dangerous fantasies around this man. Especially now that she was starting to see other—likable—aspects of his personality.
She watched him leave and waited for a few moments before she trudged up to one of the spare rooms. She kicked off her shoes on her way up the stairs and shrugged out of her denim jacket. By the time she fell into the closest bed, she was wearing nothing but a tank top and a pair of boy shorts. She dragged a comforter up to cover her body and was asleep in seconds.
Cleo’s wreck of a car was still parked in the underground garage when Dante returned home that evening. He had—uncharacteristically—finished work at the stroke of five, leaving a lot of speculative glances and raised eyebrows in his wake. He had ignored everybody’s blatant curiosity and rushed to get home. According to James, Cleo hadn’t yet left, and Dante wanted to assure himself that she was okay. Considering her stubborn nature, he would have expected her to leave hours ago. The fact that she was still here was a little concerning.
He let himself in, and a quick glance around the lower level of his apartment told him that it was empty and quiet as a tomb. He could feel his heart start up a heavy bass beat in his chest as panic began to edge its way into his consciousness. He didn’t know what the hell he was expecting to find, but he wasn’t sure it would be good.
He headed up the stairs and told himself that he was being ridiculous, even while his breath caught in his throat. He was so focused on reaching the top of the single flight of stairs that he didn’t see the shoe on the step in front of him and tripped over it. He glanced down incredulously and picked up the small white sneaker, feeling a little perplexed by its presence there. The shoe’s twin lay two steps up. And a denim jacket was carelessly thrown over the banister just above the second shoe.