“Well, dating or not, Mama seems to like Claire,” Giovanni noted. “That’s a huge hurdle to get over.”
Their mother was notoriously picky about the women her sons dated. It was a pretty big deal to get the Antonia Stamp of Approval. Luca had never brought a woman home before Jessica, and that was only because of the baby. Even without Eva, Luca got the feeling that his mama would take to Claire. It was hard not to like her, even as different as she was.
“Does she know about your illness?” Giovanni asked.
Luca stiffened in his seat and shook his head. “No. And I don’t want anyone telling her, either.”
“It’s not a big deal, Luca. You had cancer. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. You survived. You should be shouting it from the rooftops.”
Luca knew his brother was right, but he’d never felt like shouting. He only ever felt as if he’d lost something. A woman like Claire deserved a whole man who could give her everything she wanted.
Maybe, just maybe, he could fake it and be enough for her.
* * *
Overwhelmed wasn’t quite the word Claire would use to describe the past three days, but it was close. She knew now what Luca was talking about when he said his family was loud, boisterous and fun-loving. They were all of those things and more. The sisters and sisters-in-law had taken Claire into their fold. She was worried they would be cold to her when they found out about the custody battle she and Luca had been fighting, but that wasn’t the case. They’d taken the children to the beach and the ice-cream stand. They’d sat out on the deck together drinking wine and talking about children and men. It was surprising how quickly the sense of camaraderie had set in with these women who were virtual strangers.
Claire had barely even seen Eva since they arrived. Someone was always holding her. The only time they’d had together was when she would insist on giving Eva a bath and putting her to bed. Her room was her only sanctuary. There were Morettis everywhere else. The three couples took over the downstairs bedrooms with the kids sleeping on the floor in blanket forts. Mia and Carla shared the sofa bed.
Truthfully, there was a Moretti in her room, too, but it wasn’t quite the same. She had let Luca return to her room while they were there, but only because there wasn’t anywhere else to sleep. She felt guilty taking up a king-size bed while he tried to get rest on the recliner. She’d set a few rules, however. No hanky-panky. There were too many people around to hear every creak in the wood floors.
Besides that, she wasn’t sure it was something that should be repeated, as much as she might like to. Luca was a complex man, and she got the feeling it would take a long time to peel back all his layers. Sex was just a distraction. If she was going to fully give herself to anyone, there had to be a level of trust and honesty between them. She didn’t feel as if she and Luca had that yet. And maybe they never would. This trip wasn’t supposed to be about romance anyway. It was supposed to be about family, and now, it certainly was.
On the third afternoon of his family’s visit, the men had all gone out in search of fresh lobster to bring home for dinner. Mia and Carla had gone to the grocery store to replenish the pantry they’d depleted. Nicole and Tonia went to the beach with the kids, but Claire passed. She was exhausted from all the activity.
Suddenly, the house felt very quiet. Too quiet. After a while, she started to wonder where Eva was. Although she rarely had her, she did like to keep tabs on where she was. Claire meandered through the house, finally spying her out on the deck with Antonia. She slipped through the French doors and approached the deck chairs.
“May I join you?” she asked.
“Of course. My new grandbaby and I were just enjoying this beautiful day. I’m going to hate to leave tomorrow. I have so much more sugar to give these little cheeks.”
Claire sat down and watched as Eva’s face lit up at her grandmother’s sweet baby voice and kisses. She was really blossoming with all this attention. Perhaps not putting her in day care where she could be around a lot of different people was a bad idea. She was alone with Daisy all day, but Eva really seemed to like people. Perhaps she was more Moretti than Douglas.
“Claire, since everyone is gone at the moment, I wanted to talk to you about something. Being alone is a luxury in my family, so I’ve learned to take full advantage of it when it comes.”
Claire bit her bottom lip to hide her frown. That sounded ominous. Was this the part where she threatened Claire not to hurt her son or keep his daughter from him? Told her to call off her lawyer? “Sure.”