“Mia is great with kids, I promise. Not only is she an elementary school teacher, she’s watched all of my nieces and nephews a hundred times. She will be fine with Eva while we’re gone.”
It all seemed sensible, and yet Claire felt her hackles go up with his presumptuous tone. He seemed to think Eva was an asset of his corporation, not a child she had any say in. “That’s all well and good, Luca, but you didn’t even ask me before making that decision. This is the kind of stuff that worries me about our arrangements. I don’t mind letting you in on some of the parenting decisions, but I’m not about to get pushed out of them entirely.”
Luca seemed dumbfounded by her irritation. Could he really not see what he was doing while he was doing it?
“Fair enough,” he said after a moment’s consideration. “I’ll leave the final decision up to you. When you meet Mia, you can decide if you trust her to watch Eva. If so, I’ll take you out. If not, my sister will just be visiting for a few days.”
Claire sighed with relief. All she wanted was a voice in the process, even if she already knew that in the end she’d let his sister watch Eva so they could go out. Whatever was going on with Luca had inspired all of this, and despite what he’d just agreed to, he wasn’t likely to change his mind easily. He wanted to take her out, so she would let him. It might actually be nice. It had been a long time since she’d had an evening out for a little grown-up time. She worked so much that she felt guilty leaving Eva with a sitter after spending all day with Daisy.
“When will she be here?” she asked instead.
Luca glanced down at his watch. “Less than an hour. She texted me when she got on the ferry. She’ll definitely be here in time to eat, so I thought I’d make her favorite chicken tetrazzini. Does that sound okay to you?”
Claire chuckled and walked past him to the refrigerator to get a drink. “Any meal I don’t have to cook is great by me. It certainly doesn’t hurt that you’re an excellent cook.”
“I’m a passable cook,” Luca clarified. “My sister is an amazing cook. You’ll see.”
“Does your sister know you just invited her up here to watch children and cook?”
Luca laughed. “When my family gets together, that’s what we do. Lots of food, laughter, playful bickering and kids. You keep an eye on whichever one is closest. It won’t faze her in the slightest, but yes, I did tell her why I wanted her to come up. She’s excited to meet you and Eva.”
Claire wished she was as excited to meet his sister. She suddenly felt anxious about the whole thing for an entirely different reason. What would his family think of her? Would they hate her for fighting Luca for custody? Would they read something into the two of them being here together, alone? Her stomach started to ache with worry. She was a fairly quiet and reserved woman who often came off to strangers as aloof or stuck-up. What if they didn’t like her?
“Are you okay?” Luca asked. “You don’t look very excited about Mia coming.”
“I’m fine. I’m just a little nervous about meeting some of your family, is all. I’m not really the loud, laughter type.”
Luca turned away from his sautéing chicken to take Claire’s hands. He pulled them to his chest and held them there. Claire’s breath caught in her throat. She could feel his heart pounding in his rib cage almost in time with her own. His dark gaze focused on her. This close, she could see the gold and caramel colored flecks in his hazel eyes. Looking into them, she started to relax. He could have such a soothing effect on her one moment, then with a simple wicked smile, he could heat her cheeks and make her think thoughts she hadn’t entertained in a very long time.
“You’re going to be fine,” he insisted. “Mia will love you, and when you meet the rest of my family, they’ll love you, too. They’re used to intimidating new people, so if you’re quiet, they’ll think it’s them, not you. Besides, just meeting Mia without everyone else will be a nice icebreaker.”
“Are you not worried about the rest of your family finding out what’s going on?” Claire didn’t care if his family found out the truth, but she knew it concerned him. She didn’t know what it was like to have a large, overbearing family, so she didn’t understand his issues with them. This did seem out of character for him, though. What had changed his mind? That was a big change just for the opportunity to go out to dinner.