“So how does this paternity-test thing work?” He changed the subject rather abruptly and looked remarkably uncomfortable with his own question.
“Well, you’re the one who wants proof that the baby is yours, so you’re going to have to arrange for that.”
“They have prenatal tests, right?”
“I will accept only noninvasive testing. Anything else could potentially harm my baby.” He grunted, a sound she assumed meant assent. “And you’re paying for it. I’m not paying for some stupid test I already know the answer to.”
“I have to protect myself,” he said almost defensively. “You’re not the first woman to ever accuse me of fathering her baby.”
“Oh God, you mean you have other illegitimate kids running around out there?”
“Of course not! Those other women weren’t even pregnant.” He looked so disgusted that Cleo almost felt sorry for him. It couldn’t be easy to be the target of so many gold diggers—no wonder he had them all sign nondisclosure agreements. Then again, how many good, decent women had he scared off with that stupid document? His personal life was crazy and a little messed up, and she was happy enough to stay well away from it.
“Maybe you should consider limiting yourself to—I don’t know—one or two serious relationships a year, with nicer women. You may find life a lot easier in the long run.”
“The thing with you wasn’t a relationship and it wasn’t—” She held up a hand to shut him up. Surprisingly enough it worked.
“Spare me. I’ve heard it all before. Blah, blah, ‘you’re not my usual type’ blah, blah, ‘it wasn’t serious’ blah, blah, blah. You’re like a broken record, Mr. Damaso. It gets tedious after a while. Now would you please mind leaving me alone? I have stuff to do.”
“For God’s sake, call me Dante,” he commanded, and she sighed before crossing her arms over her chest.
“I prefer ‘Mr. Damaso.’ It keeps things businesslike and impersonal. Besides, I hope never to see you again after this, so does it matter what I call you?”
“I suppose not.” He levered himself up from the table and stood towering above her for a few long moments before she scrambled to her feet to feel less small. The hasty movement immediately sent her stomach into turmoil, and she clapped a hand over her mouth and pushed past him to the bathroom, where she was violently ill.
When she eventually came back to her miserable senses, it was to find Dante Damaso on his haunches beside where she was hunched wretchedly over the commode, one of his large hands stroking her back soothingly. Appalled that he had seen her like that, she shrugged off his touch and moved away from him shakily, ignoring him when he reached down to help her stand.
He allowed her that small, defiant move and stood back and watched while she splashed water on her face—soaking the front of her robe in the process—and gargled some mouthwash. She pretended he wasn’t there and exited the bathroom to return to the living room with her spine straight and her chin up.
“Maybe you should lie down or something,” he suggested, and she swallowed down her irritation as she glanced over her shoulder to find him watching her from the bathroom door.
“Why are you still here?” She trudged the short distance to her room, shrugged out of her wet robe, and hung it from a hook on her wall to dry. Unfortunately, he followed her. Could the man not take a hint?
He shoved his hands into his trouser pockets and glanced around her bedroom, taking in the clothes that were draped over every surface, the posters of ballet and contemporary dancers that adorned her beige walls, and the ragged pointe shoes that were hanging from one of the posts of her gorgeous, antique, queen-size four-poster bed. She loved that bed, had brought it with her from her old bedroom in the house when she moved out. It cost the earth to transport it every time she moved, but she would never sell it or leave it behind.
“I can’t figure out if this room is a teen dream or nightmare,” he mused, and leveled that killer gaze on her again. “A bit juvenile, isn’t it? Do you plan to move out of this dump before you have the baby?”
“None of your damned business. Please leave,” she demanded wearily. He sighed impatiently and turned to walk the short distance to her bedroom door.
“Mike Grayson, my attorney, will be in touch.” He threw the words over his shoulder as he reached for the front door. She trailed him back into the living room and was startled when he unexpectedly turned around again to look at her. “Eat something. You look like hell.”
And with that parting shot, he was gone, leaving Cleo feeling absolutely drained in his wake. Her legs turned to liquid as she finally allowed herself to relax, and she sank down onto the sleeper couch.
The door opened again seconds later and surprised the hell out of her. She jumped—instantly back on alert—when his head popped through the opening.
“And lock the damned door!” he ordered before leaving again. She stared at the closed door in complete disbelief, before forcing herself up to do just as he’d commanded. More as a deterrent against any more unwelcome visits from him than out of any real fear of an intruder.
Ten days and one simple cheek swab later, Dante sat in his office and stared at the discreet, still-closed envelope he held in his hands. He knew what it would say; he’d known since that first meeting with Mike. A mercenary woman would have demanded far more from him than Cleo had.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said aloud. And it didn’t. It couldn’t. This kid wouldn’t be his in any way except biologically, and he could live with that. He could quite happily live with that. Why should he sacrifice his freedom for what amounted to a stupid mistake? Cleo chose to keep the baby, and Dante chose not to know the child. They could both live with that.
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