His cheek stung, smarted right where her hand and fingers had made contact. She might be small but she packed a proper punch. He could feel her imprint burrowing under his skin. He raised a hand to it. Her finger marks lay on the long scar that had been inflicted on him when he’d been eighteen. There were still times when he could feel the blade of the knife burn into his skin.
‘I will let you do that this one time,’ he said, speaking carefully, controlling his tone. ‘But if you ever raise a hand to me again you will never see me or my money again.’
Her breaths were shallow. ‘You deserved it.’
‘Why? Because I pointed out that you are expecting me to take you at your word? Trust me, I take no one at their word, especially a woman purporting to be carrying my child.’
‘I am carrying your child.’
‘No—you are carrying a child. Until the child is born and we can get a paternity test done, I do not want to hear any reference to it being mine.’ After what Luisa had done to him, he would never take anything to do with paternity at face value again. Never.
Only fools rushed in twice.
* * *
Cara itched to slap the arrogance off his face again, so much so that she dug her nails into the palms of her hands to find some relief.
If she could, she would leave. But she couldn’t. She hadn’t been exaggerating about the state of her bank balance. Paying for the return flight to Sicily had left her with the grand total of forty-eight euros to last her until payday, which was still a fortnight away. It was one thing living on baked beans on toast when she had only herself to support, but it was quite another when she would soon have a tiny mouth to feed and clothe. And she needed to find a new home, one that allowed children.
When she’d first discovered she was pregnant, her fear had been primitive, a cold, terrifying realisation that within her grew a life, a baby.
Jeez. A baby. She couldn’t remember ever even holding a baby.
That real terror had morphed when the freeze in her brain had abated and the reality of everything that having a child meant had hit her.
A child would depend on her for everything. Love. Stability. Nourishment. Of the three, came the sharp knowledge that she would only be able to provide the first.
At that precise moment, even more so than when she’d taken the pregnancy test, her life had changed irrevocably.
What stability did she have living in a shared rented home that banned children? What nourishment could she provide when she barely earned enough to feed herself? Nappies alone cost a fortune on her salary. Maybe if this had all happened a few years down the line, when she’d scaled the career ladder a little higher and was earning more, things would have been more manageable. But they weren’t. At that moment she had nothing.
‘So that’s it, is it?’ she demanded, fighting with everything she had to keep her tone moderate, to fight the hysteria threatening to take control. ‘What do you want me to do? Give you a ring in five months and tell you if it’s a boy or a girl?’
He speared her with a look. ‘Not at all, cucciola mia.’
Cucciola mia: the endearment that had appropriated itself as his pet name for her during their weekend together. Curiosity had driven her to translate it on the same phone he had stolen from her. She had been more than a little chagrined to learn it meant something along the lines of my puppy. The way he said it though...in Pepe’s thick Sicilian tongue it sounded tantalisingly sexy.
Momentarily distracted at the throwaway endearment, it took a second before she realised he was studying the scan picture.
‘I notice this was taken a month ago,’ he said, referring to the date of the scan shown clearly on the corner.
‘And it’s taken you all this time to tell me. Why is that?’
How she hated his mocking scepticism, as if he were looking for a conspiracy in every little thing.
‘I didn’t tell you any sooner because I don’t trust you an inch—I wanted to be sure I was too far gone for you to force an abortion on me.’
Pepe’s firm, sensuous lips tightened and his eyes narrowed, lines appearing on his forehead. After too long a pause, he said, ‘Why would you think that?’
She almost laughed aloud. ‘You have loved and left so many women it’s become a second career for you. What do you, Playboy of the Year, want with a child?’
His features darkened for the split of a second before his usual laconic grin replaced it. ‘It might make a nice accessory for pulling more women.’
She would have believed he was serious if the granite in his eyes hadn’t said otherwise. She gave an involuntary shiver.