“Claire, this is my family. That’s my mother, Antonia. This is my father, Mario.” He went around the room as fast as he could. She likely wouldn’t remember all the names anyway. “You know Mia, then my sister Carla. My brother Giovanni and his wife, Nicole. My other brother Angelo and his wife, Tonia. My nephews Tony, Giovanni Jr., Matteo, Paolo and my niece Valentina.”
Luca watched Claire’s eyes get wider with every name he listed. “Is that everyone?” she asked.
“No,” he had to admit. “My brother Marcello and his family apparently couldn’t come, but they have a new baby. And it looks like Carla’s husband stayed home with the kids.” Luca turned his back to his family and silently mouthed the words to Claire, “I’m so sorry.”
She just shook her head and pasted on a smile. “So glad all of you could come. Please, set down your things and relax. Can I get anyone something to drink? I was just about to make some breakfast. Have you eaten?”
The resounding roar of voices startled Claire for a moment, but Luca felt a touch of pride as she recovered. At the mention of food or drink, half the family headed toward the kitchen. No one bothered to tell her what they’d like; they simply took over like they would at home. She watched them for a moment in confusion.
Luca handed Eva to her and leaned over to whisper in her ear. “Just go with it. This is how they are.” He leaned in to plant a kiss under her earlobe, but she shied away, heading toward the kitchen to help the others. He tried not to frown at her rejection.
Instead, he approached Giovanni as he sat in one of the overstuffed chairs. “Really?” he asked.
Giovanni just shrugged him off. “You know how they are. I got a phone call at ten last night telling me that you had a daughter and I was to be packed, ready and at the airport by six a.m. to go see her.”
Luca slipped into the chair beside him. “You all took the corporate jet?”
His brother nodded. “Did you really think you could keep this a secret?”
“It worked for a few months.”
“Months?” Giovanni looked stunned.
“Yes. I found out about this mistake at the clinic, and then I wanted to wait to get the results of the paternity test. You remember what happened with Jessica. I wanted to keep it under wraps until I knew for certain Eva was truly mine. After that were a few weeks of battling back and forth with her lawyer before I could see Eva. We came here to break the ice and figure out how to work together. It didn’t seem like the right time to bring all of you into the picture.”
“It seems understandable, but I doubt Mama will accept your excuse. Expect a tongue-lashing later.”
Luca chuckled. “You mean that wasn’t it just now?”
“Oh, no. You were saved by your pretty girlfriend and talk of cooking. That distracted her. You’ll hear more about it when she’s done pumping Claire for details and we’ve all been fed.”
“She’s not really my girlfriend,” Luca argued. The way she pulled away from him a moment ago made that very clear. Last night was what it was, but she obviously didn’t want his family to read into anything. “I mean, we’re just...”
“You two came out of the same bedroom, Luca. And you’re not wearing a shirt.”
Luca looked down and realized he needed to fetch his shirt from the bedroom floor. “Yeah, but that was the first time. I’m not sure it will happen again, especially with you all showing up and breaking the romantic spell I’d so carefully crafted.”
“Are you trying to woo her?” Giovanni asked.
“Not at first, but then I realized Claire and Eva might be my one shot at a real family. I’d be stupid to let this chance slip through my fingers.”
“You don’t know that for sure, Luca. Have the doctors—”
“No,” Luca interrupted. “But I know. This is my chance. It could be worse. Claire is...” He found it hard to find the words in the moment. “A very special woman. And a great mother.”
The two brothers turned to look into the kitchen. Their parents, Mia, Carla, Nicole and Angelo were talking all at once, bumping elbows and carrying around ingredients for the breakfast of champions. Tonia was unsuccessfully trying to corral a toddler. Claire stood on the fringe with Eva, not quite brave enough to jump in. She watched the group with fascination, like a circus performance.
Periodically, their mother would stop what she was doing to pat Claire’s arm and pinch at Eva’s cheeks. She’d mutter something in Italian that they couldn’t make out, then she’d return to what she was doing.