Pepe watched as she bit into her bottom lip. Learning the full truth of Cara’s past explained so many things about her. His complaints about his own childhood seemed unbelievably petty in comparison. He’d never doubted his family’s love for him.
‘I have a proposal for you,’ he said, thinking aloud. ‘Will you hear me out?’
With obvious apprehension, she jerked her head.
‘Let’s see if we can make this work. We don’t love each other but we do have a serious case of lust. Eventually it will work its way out of our systems.’
‘Do you think?’ She looked so hopeful he felt an incomprehensible stab of pain in his chest.
He nodded. ‘For as long as we’re together I can promise you exclusivity. Your mother lived in a vicious cycle of high emotion and denial, neither of which applies to us. We’ll take it all one day at a time. When our desire for each other reaches its natural conclusion, we can go our separate ways—and hopefully we can go our separate ways as friends. We both want what’s best for our child and that’s for him or her to have parents who respect each other and can work together for their child’s happiness. Our child will have two parents who are happy in themselves and have no antagonism towards the other.’
‘So you do believe the baby is yours?’
He closed his eyes before inclining his head. ‘Yes, cucciola mia. I believe the baby is mine.’
Pepe waited for a beat, just in case the world did come crashing down.
‘Forgive me. Not trusting people is so hardwired into me that when you told me you were pregnant I went into denial. I think maybe I lost my head a little.’
‘Make that a lot,’ she said with a smile that lightened her features and lifted his spirits.
Cara was not Luisa. If there was one thing he knew about his flame-haired lover it was that she didn’t have a selfish bone in her body. He could not in all good conscience make her continue to pay for Luisa’s sins. And nor could he allow his child to pay.
He really was going to be a father.
His chest swelled with an emotion so pure it pushed all the oxygen from his lungs.
‘I think we should both promise to give this...thing a minimum of a fortnight to at least try and make it work.’
‘No more being kept as a prisoner?’
‘You are free to come and go as you please—I’ll even give you your own set of keys. See, I am trying.’
‘Very,’ she agreed with a straight face.
He tapped her snub nose playfully, his spirits lifting even further. This could really work...
‘If you give me your bank details I will deposit a sum of money into it which should go some way to recompensing you for your future loss of earnings with the auction house.’
‘You do believe I’m not after your money?’ she asked, suddenly looking anxious. ‘All I want is for our child to be provided for.’
‘And it will be,’ he promised. Now that he had openly acknowledged his paternity it felt as if a great weight had lifted from him.
Deep inside, he had always known the truth. Cara was too...straight to tell anything but the most innocuous of lies. It was his own damaged pride that had refused to believe it.
A wave of something that felt suspiciously like guilt rolled into his guts.
He’d done the best he could, he told himself defiantly. Anyone who walked in his shoes would have reacted in the same way.
All the same, he knew he would have to go a long way to make it up to her.
And he knew the best way to start.
Reaching for her hips, he pulled her so she was sitting astride him.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked with a gasp.
‘Celebrating our agreement.’ Thus said, he tilted his head and kissed her.
‘So this is how we celebrate?’ she said when they finally came up for air.
He nuzzled into her neck, marvelling at the softness and the oh-so-heady scent. He was reminded of the way she had tasted on his tongue, could almost taste it anew. ‘Can you think of a better way?’
She tilted her head back to give him better access and sighed. ‘No. Nothing better. This is perfect.’
* * *
A fortnight came and went. It didn’t even cross Cara’s mind to leave.
Now that she was no longer a prisoner, life in general improved considerably. She could come and go as she pleased. She spent hours wandering around Paris’s famous museums and galleries, including three days back-to-back at the Louvre, and spent many a happy lunch doing nothing but hanging out in Parisian cafés drinking hot chocolate.
Her personal belongings, including all her beloved art and history books, had finally been shipped over from Dublin and she had a marvellous time going through all her stuff. Most of it was put back in the boxes—she reminded herself on a daily basis that this was only a temporary arrangement and that it would not do to start thinking of it as permanent.