“I’ve never seen you laugh like that before,” he muttered.
“We haven’t had much to laugh about,” she pointed out softly. She remained on her back, one arm curled up above her head and the other resting on the mound of their baby. “An unwanted sex thing followed by an unwanted pregnancy. Not exactly giggle-worthy topics of conversation.”
“Baby can hear you,” he warned, his tone serious. “Don’t let him come into this world thinking he’s unwanted.”
“I’d never do that,” she said. “Not after knowing what that kind of rejection feels like. He’s going to know that his mother wants him and loves him.”
But not his father, Dante reflected. Because that particular idiot gave him up without a second thought.
He was having a hard time with this entire situation. Living with her and seeing the child grow inside of her. Feeling that child move. How the hell was he supposed to feel about this baby, knowing that it would never bear his name and never know him as a father? Every single decision he’d made since she’d informed him about her pregnancy had been wrong, and he was paying a harsh price for that stupidity.
He couldn’t allow himself to develop strong feelings for this baby, not when he would never be able to show those feelings.
And Cleo . . .
What the hell was he supposed to do about Cleo? He told himself he’d stay away from her, but then when he came home from work he’d find her watching a movie or reading a book, and he’d find a way to insert himself into that activity. He’d ask her questions even while telling himself he didn’t want to know the answers. And that morning, in the gym, God—how did she get more and more beautiful every time he saw her? How was that even possible?
And then there was the other night when he’d allowed himself to get too close. She’d been so right in calling a halt to those proceedings. He barely recognized himself anymore. He was usually much better disciplined than this. He wasn’t a man easily swayed by his emotions. He would get this under control.
He had to.
“Why do you know so much about Star Trek?” she asked curiously, on the verge of falling asleep on the tiled floor. He glanced down into her sleepy face and had a hard time not smiling.
“Why does anyone?” he shrugged. “Why do you know so much about some celebrity family?”
Ah, so he knew exactly who she’d been talking about, which meant that he must have made that comment to make her laugh.
So, who the hell was this guy?
Before now she would have bet her life on the fact that Dante Damaso did not have a sense of humor. Yet it was there—subtle, dry, and shockingly self-deprecating.
“So you did know to whom I was referring?” She grinned.
“I didn’t back when I told you to find a replacement assistant for me. I looked it up.” He flushed at the confession.
“So the comment about the Klingons and the Vulcans just now was . . .”
“I told you I have a sense of humor,” he reminded her. “Like I said, you’re always finding all kinds of weird shit to laugh about, but you’re relentlessly grim or sarcastic with me. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to make you laugh as openly as you do with other people.”
What did that mean? That he had wanted her to laugh with him? That was so . . .
“Sweet.” She completed the thought out loud and he looked startled.
“You wanted to make me laugh. That was sweet of you, Dante. Don’t deny it.” The last was said when he opened his mouth to comment. Her quick command made him shut his mouth again. “You wanted to make me laugh. Admit it.”
“God, you really are quite obnoxious sometimes,” he groused, without heat. “Fine. I wanted to make you laugh. I wanted to prove that I could. Like I said, you’re always laughing with every random person you meet but . . .” His voice tapered off.
But not with him. Cleo completed the unfinished sentence. Sure, they’d had a few amicable moments together, and she’d shared smiles with him, but this was the first time she’d ever really laughed with him. She’d put up some major defensive barriers to keep him from hurting her, but she couldn’t really remember the last time he had deliberately said or done anything designed to hurt her. Still, just because he hadn’t, didn’t mean he wouldn’t, so her shields would stay up, even though they were taking some battering beneath this weird charm offensive he occasionally launched at her.
“Are you going to laze around on the floor all day, or are you going to let me help you finish this crossword puzzle?”
She sighed and unselfconsciously held out a hand for him to tug her back into a sitting position, which he did with the utmost tenderness.
“Fine, but I’m doing this under protest.”
They were halfway through the puzzle when she noticed him staring at her. She lifted a self-conscious hand to her hair, wondering if it was sticking up or something.
“What?” she prompted, and he hesitated for a moment, his mouth opening and then closing. “Come on, Dante. Spit it out.”
“I’m sorry.” The words were hurried and a little garbled but unmistakable. She raised an eyebrow and noticed that he had trouble meeting her eyes.
“For which item on your long list of indiscretions?” she asked as she toyed with the pen.
“All of them?”
“Please. I don’t do blanket forgiveness.” She waved her hand dismissively and was delighted to see a grin flirt along the corners of his mouth.