“Do not blame me for your life, Cleo. It was a fucked-up mess before I ever met you,” he snapped, and then took a deep breath as he tried to get his spiraling emotions under control. He held up his hands in surrender. “You’re in pain, I get that. You’re hurting, but don’t do this . . . not now. Let’s be the parents Zach deserves; let’s give him a dignified and loving farewell.”

“We don’t have to be together to do that.” She kept her face and voice remote and cold. “I want you to leave. Go home. Please.”

“I don’t want you to be alone,” he protested, his face clenching in frustration.

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“I’ll be fine. Your being here makes this worse; don’t you get that?” Her voice was bordering on shrill again, and he backed away.

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow.” He probably sensed that she was on the verge of losing it completely and that his presence really just exacerbated her distress. He approached her again, with the extreme wariness of a man reaching out to pet a snake, and before she knew his intention, he dropped a kiss on her cheek.

“I’m doing this under protest, Cleo,” he whispered. “I’d stay here all day and through the night if you’d let me. Try to get some rest, okay? I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She didn’t reply, just watched as he picked up his jacket and left without a backward glance. After she was sure he was gone and wouldn’t be back, she curled up on her side, stared out at the blue sky visible from her window, and allowed the tears to come again.

Blue and Luc showed up a couple of hours later, and Cleo burst into fresh tears when she saw her brother hover uncertainly in the doorway. His face just crumpled as he made his way to her bedside and gathered her into his arms.

“I’m sorry, Pattypan! I was such an asshole,” he whispered into her hair.

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“My baby died,” she told him, and his arms tightened around her at the words. “He was so beautiful, Luc. I named him Zachary Damaso Knight.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said again, still holding her close, and she felt comforted by his embrace. But the solace she found in his hug made her guiltily think of Dante and acknowledge to herself that he didn’t have anyone to offer him this comfort. She shoved that thought aside, telling herself that he would be okay, he hadn’t felt the same depth of love for Zach, he’d been going through the motions, trying to do the right thing.

He would bounce back.

“Please, take me home,” she begged her brother.

“Of course,” he assured her. “As soon as they give you the all clear, we’ll get your stuff from Dante’s and . . .”

“No, take me home now! Today.” She felt a pang of loss at having to leave Zach behind, and she very nearly changed her mind. Earlier, after Dante left, she had demanded they bring Zach up to her again and had sat in a rocking chair for an hour just singing to him until her voice hoarsened. Afterward, when she resisted their attempts to take him from her, they gave her a mild sedative and very gently but firmly removed him from her grasp. A grief counselor had been dispatched to her room and told Cleo that the anger she felt was normal, but nothing the woman said had helped. Nothing anybody said or did could help or make her feel better. Nothing could make this gaping chasm in her soul go away.

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Dante restlessly paced from empty room to empty room, avoiding the bloodied bathroom in Cleo’s room. He knew he would have to clean it up before she came home again. He didn’t want her to see it. He doubted she even knew how much blood she’d lost, and the memory of the fear and panic he’d felt at the time surged back.

He had gone over it and over it in his head. Maybe if he’d done something differently he could have saved the baby. Maybe if he’d heard her cry out sooner. Or perhaps if he’d helped her apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Maybe if he hadn’t insisted they go shopping that afternoon. He swallowed back bile as he remembered how he had pressed her. He should have used his common sense, but he had selfishly wanted to spend that time with her and hoped an inoffensive pastime like shopping would make her see him in a positive light. Would make her consider marrying him.

His mind kept coming back to her words in the hospital. Even though she voluntarily gave up her keys, she had only done so to avoid a prolonged argument with him. An argument he’d had no intention of losing, and she knew that. She was right, this was his fault, and he didn’t blame her for hating him right now and for not wanting to be around him. He hated himself and could barely stand his own company right now.

He found a bucket, scrub brush, and some detergent, and after mentally bracing himself, he stepped into the bathroom.

Oh God. It was worse than he remembered; the blood was smeared on the white tiled floor, the side of the bath, in the basin, on the commode, even on the wall. He swallowed back his nausea and went about the solemn task of cleaning up the last vestiges of Cleo’s pregnancy. Once he completed the grim job to his satisfaction, he finally allowed himself to succumb to his nausea and lost his meager lunch down the toilet. He stripped down where he stood, climbed into her shower, and scrubbed himself clean with delicately fragranced soap that reminded him of her. He stood beneath the buffeting, punishingly hot spray, with his hands braced on the tiled wall, his head tilted up toward the water, and finally allowed himself to grieve.

“Where is she?” Dante stood chest to chest with his former friend and glared threateningly at the man. He’d gone to the hospital only to be informed that Miss Knight had left against medical advice the previous afternoon. She left without even having the courtesy of telling him. Dante headed straight to Luc’s place from the hospital.

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