“Dante?” Blue’s voice prompted him, her eyes concerned. “Do you want another slice of roast beef?”
“No, thanks,” he said, taking a sip of red wine. He’d been drinking way too much since she’d left, and he didn’t want to become that guy, the fool who turned to alcohol whenever things didn’t go his way. Still, it was damned satisfying to get rip-roaring drunk every night. At least he didn’t have to face his cold and empty apartment sober.
He was starting to hate that place more and more. Cleo had turned it into a home while she had lived there, and he resented not having that home anymore. He missed her companionship, those movie nights with those awful films she got such a kick out of making him watch. He longed for the dinners they’d shared and the conversations they’d had. He had loved cooking for her. Once his greatest passion, it had become a lackluster affair now that he prepared meals for only himself. And even though it had driven him crazy sometimes, he even missed tripping over the stuff she used to leave lying around the place. He couldn’t bring himself to work out in his gym anymore and used the one at the office instead, because it physically hurt to stare at that dance floor and not see her doing her barre routines there. And crazy though it seemed, he even missed having her finish his sentences
“When did you hear last from Cleo?” he asked Luc, and watched his friend tense.
“This morning. She called with Christmas greetings.”
“Is she alone today?” The thought of her being alone at Christmas bugged him, but then he told himself that she didn’t have to be alone. She could be here with people who cared about her.
“Cal’s there. They’re attempting their own version of a roast lunch.”
Dante grimaced at that news.
“They’ll poison themselves,” he grunted, shaking his head. “Especially if Cleo does the cooking.”
“Yeah, she’s a pretty awful cook.”
“Is she happy?” Dante hated asking, but he needed to know, and Luc shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“She’s not unhappy, and for now I think that’s all we can hope for.”
A month after leaving Cape Town, Cleo was starting to feel like she had a handle on her life again. Just a couple of days after arriving in Durban, she’d gone to a local dance studio and informed them they’d be idiots not to enlist her to teach a few ballet classes. Cal and a few of her former colleagues had vouched for her. She loved teaching and had fledgling dreams of opening her own dance school. She finally felt like she had a purpose again. She also choreographed dance pieces in her spare time, sometimes inspired by a song or a piece of art or even a bird in flight. It was wonderful and stimulating. She was developing quite a portfolio but didn’t know if she would ever be brave enough to pitch those ideas to any dance companies.
It was close to five in the evening, and she was just getting home to the apartment she shared with Cal after one of her new junior dance classes. She had her head down and was fumbling with her keys when she walked straight into something huge, warm, and solid just outside of the apartment door.
“You really need to start looking where you’re going, dulzura,” chastised the last voice she had ever expected to hear again. She dropped her keys, her head flying up in reaction to that voice. She was filled with such raw, unbridled joy at the sight of him that her knees could barely hold her upright.
“Well?” he prompted in that dulcet voice. “Do you have anything to say to me?”
“What are you doing here?” she asked shakily. He snorted and shook his head in disgust before bending down to retrieve her keys.
“I think the more accurate question is, what the hell are you doing here?” He unlocked the door and steered her inside before following her in and slamming the door behind them.
“I live here,” she replied defiantly.
“No, you live with me,” he gritted out. “You never moved out!”
“I seem to recall moving out after I lost our baby,” she said pointedly.
“That was always going to be a temporary thing.”
“How can you say that? I was only living there because I was pregnant.”
“Cleo, tell me what the hell happened? We had Zach’s memorial, we said good-bye at the Waterfront, I told you I’d see you the next day, and you just left! How could you do that?”
She had boarded the first plane out of Cape Town the next morning, telling Luc and Blue only that she would be living with Cal, but not telling them exactly where that was, because she didn’t want to put them in the position of lying to Dante. They’d protested, of course, said that she was making a mistake, and begged her to stay for Christmas. But Cleo hadn’t been able to face the holidays and had firmly believed that she needed to get out of the city and as far away from Dante as possible in order to cut him out of her life completely.
“I left you a note,” she reminded him.
“Which said absolutely nothing. ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done. I cannot express how much it has meant to me but I think we both deserve a fresh start’?” He sounded incredulous, but Cleo was more shocked that he could recite her note verbatim. “What the hell was that supposed to mean?”
“It meant exactly what it said, Dante. Everything that tied us together is gone, and there is no need for us to be in each other’s lives anymore.”
“Bullshit,” he growled. “There is every reason!”
“I didn’t want you to stick around because you felt guilty or whatever. I wanted you to go on with your life, and I tried to pick up the pieces of mine. It’s for the best. There’s just no reason for us to ever see each other again.”