Blue called her regularly, but Cleo tried to keep her sense of isolation from her friend because she didn’t want Blue to feel torn between her concern for Cleo and her love for Luc.
Cleo was spending most days at the studio now, and Susan had entrusted her with two back-to-back classes in the afternoons after school hours and with choreographing the ten- to twelve-year-old group’s upcoming recital performance. It was exciting and challenging, and she had so many ideas. Of course she had to consider her students’ abilities, and once she had everything ironed out, they would start rehearsing the dance. She couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than to see her idea come to life onstage. It felt like she had two babies due, and both of them were bringing joy, excitement, and fulfillment into her life.
Most evenings were spent working out for an hour or so at the barre Dante had installed for her—since she didn’t have time to do so at Susan’s studio anymore—working on the routine, and then eating some dinner and settling down to watch a movie. Tonight, after a long bath in the massive tub in her room, she had donned shorty pajamas and a pair of striped knee socks before getting comfy in front of the TV. She was so focused on the movie that she didn’t even notice the front door swing open and wasn’t aware of Dante’s presence until he spoke.
“What are you watching?” he asked from almost directly behind her, and she nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Crap,” she squeaked, lifting a hand to her chest. “You scared the stuffing out of me.”
“Stuffing?” He raised an eyebrow at her language, and she wrinkled her nose.
“I read somewhere that the baby can hear my voice. I don’t want him to pick up any bad language before he’s even born.”
“He can hear us?” Dante looked completely disconcerted by that bit of news, and after shrugging out of his jacket and neatly placing it on the chair, he sat down on the couch next to her. “Seriously?”
“Yep. Shocked the shi—sherbet out of me too.”
He grinned, the expression so infectious she found herself grinning back.
“How long do you think you’ll be able to keep that up?” he asked, his voice wobbling with laughter.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to try my damnedest not to . . .” She paused, frowned, and then her shoulders sank as she grasped what she’d said. “Shit.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” he chuckled, toeing off his shiny shoes and propping his feet up on the table next to hers. Of course his legs were a lot longer, so they were bent at the knees while hers were straight. She got a funny little flutter in her stomach at the sight of his long, slender feet next to her much smaller ones. How could a man’s feet be sexy?
“I’m exhausted,” he confessed, his shoulders slumped and his voice weary. “Tokyo hit another snag, and Dubai just can’t seem to get off the ground. I spent the entire week bogged down in meetings.”
Without seeming to think about it, he turned sideways, dropping his feet over the arm of the couch and—shockingly—his head into her lap. He tugged at his tie and unbuttoned the top two buttons in an effort to get more comfortable and then turned to face the TV.
“What are we watching?”
The “we” undid her, and she allowed the tension to leave her body at this unexpected turn of events. Her hands, which had been hovering in midair as she tried to figure out where to place them, dropped—one to his hair and the other to his shoulder.
“Uh . . .” She stared blankly at the screen as the high-resolution space marines argued among themselves. “Aliens.”
“Oh, I know that one,” he muttered, his voice sounding slurred. “What was that thing she said? ‘Stay away from her, bitch’?”
“Philistine,” she said with a long-suffering sigh, her hand starting to run soothingly through his hair. “You got that quote all wrong.”
He twisted his head to meet her eyes with his smiling gaze.
“Sí? What is it then?”
“You’ll see. Now be quiet and watch.”
Half an hour later, after pilfering half of her popcorn, criticizing a few of the choices some of the characters had made, and wondering why they didn’t just leave someone on the “big ship” to wait for everybody, his big body went completely limp. A quick glance down confirmed that he’d fallen asleep. Cleo smiled, feeling an overwhelming surge of affection for him. She had never expected to like Dante Damaso, and yet she did. He had wormed his way into her good graces, and she wasn’t exactly sure how.
The logical part of her brain told her to keep him at a distance, that feeling anything more than fondness for him would lead to pain and possible heartbreak. He wasn’t the type of man one could play house with. He was like a wild animal who seemed to do better without any sentimental emotion bogging him down. Cleo and this baby were momentary blips in his lifestyle, and maybe it was the novelty of the situation that drew him. She couldn’t allow herself to depend on him. Not in any emotional sense. He would keep his word when it came to supporting the child, but if she thought he could feel anything deeper than what he’d promised already, she would be fooling only herself.
But it was so hard to remember all of that when he was sprawled out on her lap like this.
She continued to run her hand through his thick, soft hair. He had a dense growth of stubble on his jaw, and she tentatively ran her palm over it, loving the burn of it on her skin. She was so riveted by the feel of him under her hand that at first the fluttering in her abdomen went unnoticed. But when it came again, she recognized that it wasn’t just a tummy rumble or the popcorn unsettling her stomach. A third, faint movement had her gasping and sitting up straighter.