“Good morning, ma’am, sir . . . I’m Kate. May I be of assistance?” Cleo peered at Dante, who—with his arms folded across his chest—seemed to be waiting for her to say something. Cleo was tempted to turn down Kate’s offer, but another look around the bewildering array of baby paraphernalia and Dante’s impassive face changed her mind for her.
“I need . . . well, everything,” she said helplessly. She felt a little inadequate when she acknowledged to herself that she wasn’t certain exactly what babies needed, aside from love, care, food, and clothing. As she watched Kate’s smile transform from a hundred watts to a hundred thousand megawatts, Cleo realized it was the worst reply she could have given.
“Well, then,” Kate said smugly, “you’ve come to the right place, because we have everything.” She lowered her eyes to Cleo’s barely protruding stomach, and her smile turned simpering. “Your first?” Cleo nodded, and Kate’s smile became beatific. She certainly had an amazing variety of smiles.
“How far along are you?”
“Just on five months,” Cleo replied.
“Babies are wonderful, aren’t they?” Kate gushed. “So full of life.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Cleo’s response was dry. “I don’t have a baby yet.”
Dante made a little choking sound that Cleo was coming to recognize as his attempt at disguising a laugh. Another quick look in his direction confirmed that his lips had tilted upward, even while he kept his gaze firmly averted from Cleo’s. Kate’s smile faded somewhat; she clearly did not like having the obvious pointed out to her.
“Of course.” The woman nodded before going into full-on sales mode. “Well, the best place to start would be with a crib. If you’ll follow me, we have a fantastic variety, which I am sure you’ll adore! Everything we have here is for display purposes, and your crib will be built to order, so we can change aspects of any design if you’re not happy with something. We could even custom-build one for you based on a design you have in mind. So it’s a good thing you came to us this early, because it takes time to make, especially if you’re purchasing matching furniture, which will also have to be built to order.”
Kate led them to the cribs in the back, and even to Cleo’s untrained eye, she could tell that everything was ridiculously expensive. While Kate was lauding the merits of one of the beautiful cribs, Cleo gravitated toward a smaller, less conspicuous one tucked away in the back. While not as beautiful as the rest, it definitely looked less pricey.
“This one looks okay,” she said, running her hands over the plain, unadorned surface of the crib. Actually this plain, boxy little thing was not something she had ever pictured her baby in, but if she wasn’t going to feel beholden to Dante for the rest of her life, instinct told her this was the one to take.
“I rather like this one.” Dante spoke for the first time since they’d entered the store, and both women looked at him in surprise. He was standing beside a crib smaller than the one Kate was gushing over but bigger than the one Cleo had been eyeing.
Truth be told, it was perfect—not too small and not too ostentatious either. She knew what he was doing; he was trying to help, without flaunting his obvious ability to buy the most expensive and best. He was allowing her some measure of pride and independence, and she was grateful to him for that. But a cynical part of her brain hissed that if he didn’t want to flaunt his ability to buy the most expensive, then maybe he shouldn’t have brought her to this snooty upmarket store.
She walked over to the crib while he examined its lines and tested its durability with a keen masculine eye. He asked Kate about the toxicity of the varnish they used and other technical questions that wouldn’t have occurred to Cleo. The girl’s answers seemed to satisfy him, because he nodded approvingly with each of her replies before turning back to Cleo.
“It’s sturdy,” he informed her quietly before testing the catches. “And the rail isn’t likely to come down accidentally. The baby should be safe in here.”
“Hmm,” she murmured thoughtfully, pretending to consider, even though he’d sold her on it already. “It’s pretty too. I love the little pixies and fairies carved into the head- and footboards, as well as the mobile.” She touched the colourful mobile, which swayed at her touch. The mobile consisted of winged fairies and cavorting pixies and elves.
“I like this one,” she told Kate, who jumped to attention and enthused over their “wise choice.”
“This particular model comes in teak, oak, and pine. Obviously the price varies according to the wood you choose. Which would you prefer?”
Cleo considered the choices, while Kate pulled out a catalog to show her the difference in the wood.
“Teak.” She ran her finger over the carvings in the headboard of the crib and thought of her own bed. She liked the idea of them matching, and she pictured Nan sleeping contentedly in this crib and smiled. Kate practically vibrated with excitement as she wrote down the details of the order and then took them toward the changing tables.
“That was an excellent choice, Dante. I don’t know why I didn’t notice it at first.” He looked pleased with her praise and grinned like a little boy.
“You think so?”
“Yes. Thank you. And it has given me an idea for the nursery. What do you think of a fairy-tale motif?”
Dante hesitated, a little surprised that she’d asked for his opinion. He didn’t want to do anything that could spoil what was turning out to be a pretty good day . . . but he really had to tell her what he thought of this idea of fairies.