Savannah tiptoed over to the bathroom to look for it there. Where could it have gone to? She wondered. Looking around quickly she tried not to yell out in excitement when she saw her bra hanging from the lamp by the bed. Rushing quietly she snatched it from its post and stuffed it in the pocket of her hunter green wool trench coat. Slinging her Jimmy Choos over her fingers she picked up her purse, combed her fingers through her unruly black Caribbean hair and walked to the door, careful to make sure that she didn’t make any noise. Opening the door she walked quickly through, before the door closed, she made sure to turn back and get one last glimpse at her latest mistake.
There he was, his black hair almost concealing his face, where it hung off the bed. He was a beautiful specimen, she had to admit that. His athletically muscled body was a direct contradiction to his rumpled Armani suit that was haphazardly tossed on the table. They had been in a little bit of a rush the two of them.
Having met in a bar the night before, Savannah was well on her way to what she liked to call Drunksville when she saw him walking in with who she could only guess was his angelic posse. All of them gorgeous, but it was him that caught her attention. She’d nudged her best friends, the group of them affectionately called the Alphas because of their A+ grades, looks, status, class, and culture; and made her way over to his table. When he looked up her heart had slammed in her chest and for the first time she’d been struck mute, then when he smiled at her, she’d been struck dumb. When he stood up from his table and held out his hand the only thing she could do was accept his invitation and follow him out onto the makeshift dance floor. The two of them danced three dances, their eyes locked on each other, neither of them speaking.
At the end of the last song she finally spoke.
“My name is Savannah,” she whispered.
“Hello Savannah, my name is Armando,” he stated, his voice a deeply sensuous growl.
“Well Armando, thank you very much for the dance, I really enjoyed it,” she replied as she turned to walk away.
“Wait a minute, Cara mia; are you seriously going to walk away from me like that? After sharing such passionate dances with me? I cannot allow you to do such a thing. It would not be good for either of us,” he said as he tightened his grip on her hand.
“Well then, what are you suggesting sir?” she questioned flirtatiously.
“You and I, we need to get to know each other better, much better. Will you come to my room for a drink?”
And while Savannah did not engage in one-night stands or drunken liaisons it was something about this handsome, muscled Italian that drew her into him.
“Yes, I will. Just let me tell my friends and I’ll meet you by the elevators,” she smiled at him seductively.
“I look forward to it,” he stated before kissing the back of her hand and walking towards the elevators.
Savannah walked quickly over to her friends. They all stood waiting with bated breath, the knowing smiles giving away the fact that they’d been watching her the whole time that she’d been dancing with Armando. The Alphas, she thought to herself as her eyes perused her four best friends. They all looked completely different from one another, all of them coming from different backgrounds and familial structures, but all of them professional and at the top of their game. There was Ming Lae, whose father was Asian and mother was black. Ming was the highest paid lawyer in Atlanta where she practiced family law. Ming’s long black hair was the source of much teasing when she was growing up, usually by girls who were jealous of her beautiful caramel color, seductive eyes, and petite figure all topped off with the most beautiful black hair in the world that came to her hips. Ming had her hair swept up into her signature coiffure but it did nothing to diminish her beauty, neither did the black pantsuit that she‘d chosen to wear that evening. Ming’s parents had met during her mother’s second tour of duty in Japan when she served in the Army. Their love story was the biggest reason that the Alphas all decided that they wouldn’t settle for second best.
Then there was Susan. At first glance she looked the part of the All-American girl with her blonde hair, blue eyes and supermodel figure, however, after getting to know her the fierceness of her personality and the intelligence that she possessed overshadowed and obliterated all preconceived notions about blondes. Susan’s parents were wealthy, both of them having come from money, they met in prep school and got married right after they graduated from college. Susan’s birth came as something of a shock to her parents as they’d been told after three years of trying that they were unable to conceive children, and then lo and behold they were told on the anniversary of their fourth year that they were going to be having a baby. They called Susan their miracle baby as she was the only child that they had. It was because of this fact that they tended to be overprotective of her. Susan didn’t let it bother her; she just smiled and continued her work as a scientist in her lab in Illinois. Susan was determined to discover the cure for cancer and HIV, and she was well on her way, the drug that she’d invented had been known to extend the lifespan of HIV patients for 10 years. Susan’s blonde hair was pulled up into her signature “Geisha girl” style, complete with chopsticks and a flower at the back of her hair, her lithe body wrapped in a purple dress.
Savannah’s eyes traveled over the comic of the group. Ava was seen as being the comedienne because she was always cracking jokes when they all got together. Ava stated that it was because of her serious job as a detective for the Special Victims Unit in New York’s Police Department that she was such a character when they all got together. Ava was a Spanish beauty and one look at her all breath left the body, male or female they were all attracted to her. Her body was athletic and firm due to the rigors of her job, her black hair, usually in a bun, was in curls framing her face and falling down to her shoulders. Her uniform had been left in her apartment in New York and tonight she was wearing a gorgeous red Salsa dress, laughingly stating she didn’t know why she wore it as she and Savannah were the only ones who knew how to do the Salsa, the rest of them were merely “fuddy duddies.” Ava had been raised by her grandmother after her parents died in a revolt that took place in Madrid. Ava’s grandmother was a loving woman who taught Ava how to be strong in body, mind and spirit, but also teaching Ava early on that men were not to be trusted. It had taken years for Ava and her current boyfriend of five years to overcome the hurdles of her upbringing. They had though and Ava had stated that very day that she thought that he might be proposing soon.
Looking over at Evangeline, Savannah felt her face pull into a smile. Evangeline and Savannah were the closest of the entire group. That had a lot to do with the fact that they were roommates in college and the fact that they both lived in Texas. Evangeline was raised by her single mother after her father was gunned down at the courthouse when he went to testify against a racist group that had been terrorizing the neighborhood. Evangeline’s mother was a beautiful Native American and her father had been a strong, educated African from Darfur in the Sudan, who’d migrated over to the United States to create a better life for himself, when his father was killed and his sisters and mother were raped and then kidnapped right in front of him where he hid in the closet where his eldest sister, Mulani had shoved him along with his youngest sister, Kolata. After the terrorists left, he’d taken his sister and they’d fled. By panhandling, begging, studying English, enlisting in school and working odd jobs, he was able to get them to the states. Once he did he met and fell in love with Evangeline’s Native American mother. They’d endured a lot even before the murder, but after Evangeline’s father died, the family really suffered a blow. However, Evangeline and her mother are extremely resourceful and strong and they were able to overcome the pain and anger that came after being dealt that blow. Evangeline had gone on to be one of the world’s foremost and most sought after diplomats, speaking out against oppression of any kind. Her writings and books sold for a bundle, but Evangeline was still just an Alpha, whose idea it was for them all to get together at least once a month in a vacation spot or hotel so that they could all unwind from the pressures of their lives and jobs.
However it was Savannah, with her milk chocolate skin, tall lithe “porn star” figure, almond shaped eyes, full lips that surrounded a gorgeous smile, and beautiful black hair that hung to just below her shoulders that usually commanded the most attention when they were all together. Having grown up with both her parents, Savannah always joked that she was not the normal statistic. Living in government housing for half of her life, Savannah watched her parents struggle to make ends meet. Her mother ran a hair salon from their living room and her father worked at the local warehouse as he struggled to start his own trucking company. Savannah began going to the local library and studying foreign languages and countries in order to escape the poverty of her own life. It wasn’t too long before Savannah was fluent in Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, Swahili, Russian, German, Hebrew, and Japanese. Her teachers paid for her to go on every school trip and before long everything in her life was great. By the time junior year of high school came around, her father’s trucking company was nationwide, her mother owned one of the most well-known high end hair salons and boutiques, one that even celebrities flew all the way to Texas to come to. From Gabrielle Union to Mandy Moore, her mother’s salon and boutique had been written up in every magazine and newspaper out there. As for Savannah, she’d gotten a full-ride scholarship for languages to the University of Texas and shortly after graduation had gotten a job as a translator for a multi-cultural corporation. It was there at UT that she’d met Evangeline in her dorm room, Ming Lae in one of her Foreign Affairs classes, Susan in one of her Science classes, and Ava in one of her English classes. She’d introduced the girls to each other, and while out in the library one night studying, the group had achieved their name when a guy who had been snubbed by Ming Lae came over and called them the Alphas, because they lived and thought like they were A-pluses. The five girls had laughed as he marched off in a huff but as they said the name simultaneously, they realized that they liked it. Others thought that they were a part of a sorority, and many girls were disappointed to find out that they weren’t. They sure felt like they were, however, being as close as sisters can be.
And being just like sisters, when she told them where she was going they all had something to say. Regardless of the warnings and the cautions, Savannah had gone anyway, and now she was walking away from the door of the gorgeously handsome Italian stranger that she’d just had an explosive night with. Sighing dejectedly as the elevator doors closed with a ding, she knew that the only thing she’d have to remember that night with were memories, the sweet ache between her thighs, and a name…..Armando.
If only things could’ve been different, she thought to herself. “Ah well,” she said aloud as she walked off the elevator to the front doors of the hotel, valet slip in hand, “it’s just as well that we forget each other. He won’t remember me and I will forget about him after tonight.”
And as she drove away in her silver Lamborghini, she really thought that was true. But we know how sometimes mistakes….even glorious ones have repercussions.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”-Juliet, Romeo & Juliet ACT I, Scene IV
Savannah wiped her now sweaty palms along the length of her hip hugging brown skirt. Sighing she checked her appearance in the full length bathroom mirror once again, making sure to smooth any stray hairs and smacking her lips together in frustration when she noticed the stain on her shirt collar. “Victoria!” she gritted in frustration. Turning back to the sink she grabbed a paper towel and wet it under the sink water. Wiping furiously at the spot her actions slowed as she thought about Victoria, affectionately called “Vicky.” She was so sweet and cute it was hard to stay mad at her. Calm once again, Savannah checked her appearance once more in the mirror. From her new haircut, stopping to just below her chin, to her new brown suit with a brown and white striped collar shirt and her stockings and brown Jimmy Choos, she looked the part of a professional.
Sighing again, this time in satisfaction, she squatted down delicately, picking up her brown portfolio, slung her attaché case on her right shoulder and turned to leave the plush, elegant and sophisticated bathroom in the high-end company that she was having a meeting at and smiled as she passed the janitor who was coming in to clean. Stepping out into the hallway, she looked at the Directory posted up on the wall to make sure she was heading in the right direction and turning to the left she set off to the office of Mr. Santorini.
Quickly refreshing her mind of all she knew of Mr. Santorini, Savannah barely noticed the many offices that she passed, the thick maroon carpet that she walked on or the men who stopped and stared with their mouths hanging open in appreciation. Her mother had long ago told her that she walked like a supermodel, even pushing her daughter to attempt to become a supermodel. Savannah loved her languages, however, and in order to appease her mother, did a little bit of modeling while attending college in order to have extra money to go on trips and for shopping excursions. She’d grown independent early on and had hated asking her parents for money so having the occasional odd jobs had helped in that aspect. Refocusing her thoughts, Savannah reminded herself that she’d been told that Mr. Santorini was known as the quintessential Italian ladies-man. He was very big on family, loyalty, trust, and dependency. She hadn’t been told if he was married, young or old, but none of those things mattered. She’d stopped her work for the government two years ago so that she could be closer to home and now worked for a company that hired out translators for mergers, vacations, classes, conferences, conventions, and hostile corporate takeovers. Savannah had done more traveling in the last two years than ever before, but never for too long and always coming home.
Finding herself outside of the office of Mr. A. Santorini, Savannah took a deep, cleansing breath, not knowing why she was suddenly so nervous; she’d never been nervous before and stepped into the lobby of his office. Savannah gasped as she took in the vastness of the lobby before her. Her eyes took in the maroon and gold furnishings. From the comfortable looking chaise lounge to the fully stocked magazine rack to the gorgeous gold trimmed maple desks where two women sat, everything there spoke of elegance. Savannah walked sedately over to the desk of the woman whose nameplate stated that she was the receptionist and waited for her to finish her call. Trying not to gape at the phone’s multi-line system that had every line lit up, Savannah allowed her eyes to roam over the walls. Taking in the pictures of buildings and well-known products Savannah tried not to be intimidated by the popularity and success of the company.
“Miss?” Savannah heard herself being addressed and focused on the receptionist, realizing that she’d probably been called repeatedly.
“Oh! I apologize. I was just admiring the work that your company has done,” she admitted to the amused receptionist.
“It’s perfectly fine ma’am. How may I help you?” she asked.
“My name is Miss Savannah Hunter and I’m here for a meeting with Mr. Santorini,” she explained with a smile.
Elizabeth tried not to gasp when Savannah smiled at her. She’d never been attracted to a woman before but when Miss Hunter smiled she found herself reconsidering her earlier misgivings. Smiling warmly at her she responded with a friendly smile.
“Miss Hunter! Mr. Santorini has been expecting you! He just stepped out for a minute but asked that you wait in his office should you arrive. If you’ll just follow me I’ll show you in?”
Instantly liking this receptionist, Savannah agreed wholeheartedly and followed the receptionist into the office directly behind her desk. Walking in, Savannah was once again shocked, only not by the elegance of the office but by the simplicity of it.
“I know it’s amazing isn’t it? Mr. Santorini let his mother design the entire building, but he designed his office. It really shows what kind of man he is,” Elizabeth stated, “My name is Elizabeth, by the way, and if you need anything don’t hesitate to ask.”
Savannah smiled at Elizabeth once again and politely refused her offer of a drink. Turning back to the office, Savannah made herself comfortable at the plain cherry wood table on the left side of the office and opened her portfolio. Setting up for the notes and reports that she’d made in order to help her client, Savannah caught sight of something out of the window and wandered over to investigate. Turning when she heard the door open, she opened her mouth to greet Mr. Santorini, the words died in her throat however, when she saw him.
“You’re Mr. Santorini?” she whispered.
Armando could remember only two times in his life where he’d ever been shocked speechless. Both of which had something to do with the woman standing in front of him. He stood still in shock as his eyes took in the woman who had haunted his dreams for the last two years. She still looked amazing. Her hair was shorter, but it looked good on her. She’d filled out some. She was still slim, but her bosom looked bigger and her hips had spread a little. In one word she looked, GORGEOUS.
Swallowing deeply he answered her question, “Yes, I’m Mr. Santorini. And I take it that you’re Miss Hunter? What a coincidence. When you snuck out of my hotel room two years ago, I thought that I’d never see you again, and now here you are, about to work for me,” his voice was silky sweet as he slid into Italian, sure that she could understand him.
Smiling at him without humor, Savannah answered him back in Italian, “I left two years ago without saying goodbye because I felt that it was what was best for the both of us,” ignoring his grunt of disbelief she continued, “you may not realize it now, but I promise you, it’s what was best. I mean, especially considering my last two years. But, contrary to what you believe, I don’t work for you; I work for my company, whom you hired for consultation. I am your consultant, your translator. I am here to assist you, but let’s get one thing straight,” she walked closer to him, “if you start acting high-handed with me, I will walk out and send in my assistant to help you instead.”
Turning around and walking away from him, she sat down on the couch in the room and setting her attaché case on her lap, she opened it, “Now, let’s get down to business shall we? We’ll leave our brief history in the past where it belongs and get through this initial meeting.”
Armando nodded even as he headed to his chair. Sitting down behind his desk gave him a sense of normalcy, a sense of control and power. Sighing deeply, he closed his eyes and counted backwards from ten.
“Mr. Santorini?” Savannah questioned, her voice filled with concern.
“Give me a second,” Armando whispered. Thinking of his home in Italy, Armando took his mind off of the enticing woman in front of him. When he reached one, he opened his eyes, his implacable business mask firmly in place.
“Well Miss Hunter, let’s get to work.”
Five hours later the two workaholics closed their folders and rose from their chairs. Picking up her suit jacket, Savannah glanced at her watch and realized that she needed to go home to check on Vicky. Placing the jacket over her arm, she grabbed her attaché case and smiled at Armando.
“Mr. Santorini,” she stated before nodding her head and turning to leave.
“I’ll see you in the morning Miss Hunter, and please, be on time,” Armando replied as he packed up to leave also.
Savannah smiled, thankful that her back was still to him. “Of course Mr. Santorini. Ciao,” she answered as she walked out of the door without looking back.
Armando sat back in his chair as he watched her walk down the hallway, grinning in male appreciation of her supple form. It wasn’t until he heard the ding of the elevator doors signaling that she’d gotten to the bottom floor that he allowed himself to look around the room. It was then that he noticed that she’d left her notes from that day. Knowing that she needed it in order to prepare for tomorrow, Armando leapt out of his chair and snatched up the folder, running down the hallway to try and catch her before she got to her car. Suddenly he stopped. While she wanted to forget everything that had occurred between them two years ago, Armando wasn’t in agreement like she thought he was. No woman could forget him, whether they wanted to or not, and while he’d forgotten nearly everyone woman he’d ever slept with, she was the first and only one that he’d been haunted by. She might think it was a mistake, but he believed in what Italians liked to call destino. They were brought together for a reason, and it was for that reason that the Universe kept throwing them back together. He wouldn’t rest until he found out what that reason was.
Savannah pulled into her garage and sighed as she turned off her engine. Another long day, one filled with reuniting with someone that she’d hoped to forget for the rest of her life. Although, it was nearly impossible for her to ever completely forget Armando…Santorini. She sighed again, what cruel twist of fate had her consulting for his firm? And the very fact that it was such a complicated situation, one that would require them to work together in very close quarters, alone, and for very long hours, did not make the matter any better. Groaning aloud in her car, Savannah opened the door and got out of the car gracefully. The fifteen years of forced ballet training and classes imposed upon her by her parents was always evident with her graceful walk and fluid movements. Walking into her four bedroom family home, Savannah smiled. It didn’t matter what kind of day she’d had, whenever she walked into her home she always smiled. It was so very homey. With it’s butterscotch colored walls, a kitchen that any chef would kill for and a large backyard, she had the home that she’d always dreamed of.
“Now all I need is a man to complete the picture and I’ll be set,” she stated to the heavens as she kicked off her shoes and placed them in the shoe basket by the garage door. Pushing away the unbidden image of Armando Santorini, she walked quickly down the hallway to the living room and the sounds of the television and laughter.
Sitting on her favorite pink blanket in the middle of the floor was her beautiful, 15 month old daughter, Victoria, laughing at the images of her favorite cartoon characters on the television. When Savannah stepped fully into the room, Vicky’s eyes quickly turned to her. Smiling widely and chanting “Mama”, the gorgeous newly walking infant, who often turned heads with her olive skin tone, wide slanted hazel eyes, full head of thick, black hair, and cute rosebud lips toddled away from her babysitter towards her mother. Savannah’s throat closed up with emotion as it always did whenever Vicky called her “Mama.” Scooping her up, Savannah kissed Vicky’s cheek and snuggled her neck, smiling as Vicky giggled. Cuddling her close, Savannah looked up and met the gaze of her babysitter, and best friend, Evangeline.
“How was she Vangee?” Savannah asked as she walked with Evangeline to the door.
“A complete angel as always,” Evangeline replied her eyes softening as she looked at Vicky.
“That’s good. You don’t want to stay for dinner? I’ve got some crazy news to share with you,” Savannah said as Evangeline opened the door.
Both women were so engrossed in their conversation that neither of them noticed the tall, Italian man walking up the walkway with the portfolio in his hand. Armando had found Savannah’s address when he’d opened the brown portfolio and had promptly gotten in his car to drive over. He kept telling himself that he was only in a hurry to bring her the documents so that she’d be prepared for work the next morning, but if he was completely honest with himself, it was because he’d wanted to see where she lived and he’d wanted to see her just one more time.
Back in the house, Evangeline and Savannah stood in the open doorway talking quickly because Evangeline had to get back to her own home to let her two dogs out so that they could “do their business.”
“So what happened today that has you in such a tizzy?” Evangeline asked amused at Savannah’s tone.
“You will never guess who Mr. Santorini is,” Savannah began.
“Who?” Evangeline asked, intrigued by the way Savannah’s voice was shaking.
Evangeline gasped…she had to have heard incorrectly. “Armando who? The only Armando I know is the Armando, that you foolishly hooked up with two years ago in a bar. The smooth, muscled, sexy Italian. The father of Victoria. That’s the ONLY Armando that I’ve EVER heard you talk about, so what Armando is it that you’re working with?” she questioned, her eyes going wide in shock.
“Vicky’s father, Armando!! What am I going to do Vangee? What if he comes by and sees her? She looks just like him, he’d have to be stupid to not know that she was his daughter after taking one good look at her,” Savannah said frantically.
Evangeline and Savannah turned and gasped in shock when they heard a deep voice state in a voice that sounded equal parts shock, barely concealed rage, and amazingly amusement: “Well, it’s a good thing I’m not stupid then” and they saw Armando standing not two feet away from them, his eyes glued on the little girl who stared at him with hazel eyes, wide with curiosity at the stranger.
Armando was going to have to revise his earlier statement, there had been THREE times that he’d ever been shocked speechless, and amazingly they all STILL had to with THIS WOMAN!! She’d gotten pregnant when they’d hooked up two years ago, had his baby, a daughter apparently, kept the baby, and had never thought to tell him that he was a father…he was a father!! That thought alone rendered him speechless, but to be looking at the product of a hot, passionate, glorious…MISTAKE was too much…even for him. Looking up into the unblinking, shocked eyes of the woman who had SO MUCH explaining to do he said in voice that sounded almost like a growl “In the house…NOW…we have MUCH to discuss!” Barely glancing at her friend who by now had made her way completely out of the door and was standing in front of her friend as if protecting her, Armando made his way inside and waited for her to make her goodbyes. He heard her whispered conversation as she assured her friend that she’d be okay, and that yes, she could leave, and that yes, she’d call if something happened and that no, she didn’t think he was dangerous, all before he heard her come back in and close the door. Turning around slowly to face her, he watched as she gracefully strode past him, clutching tightly to the little girl who was still staring at him intently.
He followed her into her living room and watched as she placed the infant down on the blanket. The little girl continued to watch him, though now she did so with her thumb popped into her mouth.
“Vicky, no. Mommy told you that you can’t suck on your thumb,” Savannah whispered as she pulled Vicky’s thumb out of her mouth.
“Vicky?” he questioned, some of his anger having abated.
“Yes,” Savannah answered, turning to look at him as she handed toys to the child, “It’s short for Victoria.”
“My mother’s name is Victoria,” Armando whispered.
“I know. You told me in your room, one of the times that we rested,” Savannah whispered back, refusing to look at him.
Armando swung his gaze to her face. “You remembered that? And that’s why you named her Victoria?” he inquired.
“Victoria Diane…Diane after my mother, Victoria after yours…her…father,” Savannah hesitated and then looked up at him.
The two of them stared at each other for a long time.
“Why Savannah? Why didn’t you tell me? It’s been two years, why didn’t you tell me that I was a father?” Armando asked, his voice breaking with emotion.
“Because it was a mistake. Because it wasn’t supposed to happen…” Savannah began.
“The truth,” Armando demanded in a hushed voice.
“Because I didn’t want to have to see you again and possibly lose my daughter to you,” Savannah finally stated truthfully.
Armando nodded and then looked back at Vicky who had stood up by this time. He saw so much of himself in her. From her eyes to her chin, he could see what Savannah had meant from her earlier statement, he’d have to be an idiot to not know that she was his child.
“Do you want to hold her?” Savannah asked, her voice quavering with nervousness.
“I’d love too,” Armando answered, not caring that Savannah was nervous about it. She’d known for two years and had told him nothing. She’d kept his daughter from him. As he accepted Vicky into his arms and the two of them sat staring at each other, his heart constricted with a protective and possessive instinct that he didn’t know that he possessed. Smiling at Vicky, he was surprised and pleased when she giggled and threw her arms around his neck for a hug. As his arms tightened around her, Armando fought back tears. This was his daughter, his princess, he was her father and he would be damned if anyone would keep her from him…not even her gorgeous, distracting mother.
Savannah stood watching Armando hug Vicky, her heart in her throat. It was such a touching scene that for a moment Savannah found herself feeling slightly guilty that she hadn’t found some kind of way to alert Armando that she’d been pregnant with his child. Vicky was cuddled against his chest and Savannah was more than a little shocked. While always a happy and friendly baby, Vicky had never taken so quickly to someone that she didn’t know. Sighing at the idea that her daughter knew her father even though he hadn’t been around for the pregnancy or the past 15 months, Savannah moved to sit down on the couch next to Armando. Smiling at Vicky when she looked at her, Savannah fully expected for Vicky to reach for her. So she was even more shocked when she snuggled closer to Armando and closed her eyes in sleep.
“Wow,” she heard Armando whisper and she looked up into his eyes.
“Yeah, I know. She’s never done that before,” Savannah whispered back, her gaze having returned to Vicky.
“So when was she born?” Armando asked, his tone still hushed.
Looking back at him, Savannah realized that it was time for the interrogation to begin. Steeling herself against the overwhelming emotions that she always felt whenever she talked about the birth of her daughter, she whispered thickly, “December 25th.”
“She’s a Christmas baby?” Armando asked, a smile evident in his voice.
“Yeah, my little Christmas miracle,” Savannah responded.
“Was the labor hard?”
“Not harder than any other I would suspect.”
“Were there any problems during the pregnancy?”
“No, it was amazingly easy. I mean, besides the morning sickness and the mood swings, everything else was a breeze.”
Armando smiled down at Vicky who now slept peacefully in his arms. “Well, that’s good,” he hesitated, unsure of how to proceed, “I want to be involved in her life.”
Sighing resignedly Savannah nodded. “I figured you would say that when I saw your reaction to her. I’m sure that we can work out something.”
Handing Vicky over to Savannah, Armando rose from the couch. The notes that he’d brought to give to Savannah forgotten on the floor. “Yes we will work something out. I will not be a weekend or a holiday father. I want her to know me. I want to know her. I want to be there for everything. Every little moment of her life. I’ve already missed so much, I won’t miss anymore.” Walking slowly towards the door, knowing that Savannah was following behind him, Armando made a quick decision. Not normally an impetuous person, he was surprised that his instincts didn’t protest at the spontaneous idea. He felt nothing but peace over the whole situation. Turning at the door, he faced Savannah.
“I won’t be so old fashioned as to ask you to marry me. However, one of two things will happen within the next two months. You will either move to Italy where I reside for 90 percent of the year,” Armando began, watching as Savannah’s eyes widened at the idea, “Or…I will move here, and not just in the area…but in your home, so that I can be close to my daughter,” pausing, he waited to let his words sink in. “You have three days to decide. I will see you in the morning. Come prepared to work. And do not think to run away with my daughter, because I will find you, I have the time and the unlimited resources to find you.” Looking down at Vicky he whispered softly. “Ciao bambina. I will see you soon.” Looking back up at Savannah who still seemed to be frozen in shock, he commanded, “Bring my daughter into the office with you tomorrow also. We can work with her there, and it’s time that everyone got a chance to meet the heiress to the Santorini empire.”
Opening the door and walking to his car, Armando felt the first true stirrings of peace settle around his mind and his shoulders, something he hadn’t felt in a long time, and the rapid beating of his heart when he thought about Savannah living in close proximity to him? Well…he’d just blame that on indigestion.
Savannah hesitated outside of the doors of the Santorini building. Squaring her shoulders, she pushed the handicap button on the side of the building to open the doors and pushed the stroller that held Vicky through. She couldn’t believe that she was bringing her daughter to work with her. After agonizing over it all night, tossing and turning in her sleep, she’d come to the conclusion that Vicky was an enigma to her workaholic, bachelor father and that once the fascination of the situation wore off that he’d sign away his parental rights and never look back. Pushing the stroller off the elevator and heading towards Armando’s office, Savannah ignored the chill down her spine that told her that she was wrong. She had to believe that things were going to turn out that way. It was her only method of survival, because to imagine Armando Santorini in her life, everyday, for the rest of her life, or at least until Vicky turned 18, was too much for the single mother to handle.
Walking into the lobby of Armando’s office, Savannah was once again struck by its opulence. People looked at her parents, their home, her schools and automatically assumed that she came from a very wealthy family, not realizing that she didn’t start out that way. Smiling at Elizabeth, she nodded when she was waved in. Squaring her shoulders once more she knocked on the door and then gasped when Armando opened the door. The entire office had received a makeover, though how it had been done since the night before was absolutely amazing. The once all-masculine office now looked as if it belonged to a family man. In one corner of the office, behind Armando’s desk was a pink playpen, filled with teddy bears and baby dolls. In the other corner, again behind Armando’s desk, was a changing table; also pink. Stopping in the middle of the room Savannah spun around in a slow circle. A television that was playing cartoons was placed in the corner in front of a pink blanket that looked amazingly like the one that Vicky had been laying on the night before. Savannah turned to look at Armando, a questioning look on her face and was stopped from asking him any questions when she saw the puppy “desire-to-please” look on his face.
“She’s going to love it Armando. Thank you,” she said instead.
“You think so?” Armando asked, looking nervously at Vicky who was looking around with a look of awe on her face.
“We’ll just let her prove it to you. How about that?” Savannah replied, locking the stroller in place, walking around the front and taking Vicky out. Walking to the playpen, Savannah pulled out a handful of bears and dolls and put them outside the play area. Setting Vicky down on her feet, Savannah stepped back and smiled at Vicky’s squeal of delight. Vicky toddled over to the bears and dolls, picking them up and squeezing them in her arms, before moving on to the next one. Each one got a hug, the dolls receiving kisses in addition to the hugs. Picking up one teddy bear who had on a tie and jacket, Vicky seemed to study it before walking over to Armando with the bear outstretched. Armando knelt down to receive the bear, looking up at Savannah for an explanation.
“I think she’s telling you that the bear looks like you,” Savannah chuckled.
“Oh!” Armando nodded. Turning back to Vicky he asked in all seriousness, “You think the bear looks like your Papa?”
Studying him intently, Vicky smiled after a few moments of intense concentration, then launching herself into Armando’s arms, she said one word, a word that rocked both Armando and Savannah to their cores: “Papa!”
Savannah was rooted to the floor. Not even the winds from a hurricane or a tornado could have moved her from that spot in the middle of Armando’s floor, looking at her daughter, her baby, who had just called Armando, “Papa.” Technically and biologically he was her father, but she didn’t know anything about him. Where had she gone wrong? Why was her daughter so trusting? She was completely in love with a man that she’d only met the day before, a man that neither she, nor her mother, knew. With that thought Savannah realized why it bothered her so much. She’d read stories and heard cases of children and sometimes even full grown adults who meet their biological parents or parent for the first time and because of the blood connection and some type of genetic wiring, they were able to love them almost instantaneously. No, this situation bothered Savannah because her daughter was so comfortable with a man that Savannah had experienced one of her most reckless, exhilarating, glorious experiences or mistakes on. Yes, Armando was her own glorious mistake, and while she didn’t regret or bemoan the birth of her daughter, seeing him and her together brought back that night with sudden clarity. She didn’t want to relive that moment again and as it was she already struggled with the memories whenever she looked at Vicky, now with Armando being back on the scene she knew that the memories of that night, those stolen moments, that mistake would be forever evident in her mind.
Armando could feel Savannah’s eyes on him and wondered what she was thinking about. He smiled down at his daughter, delightfully surprised that she readily accepted him as her “Papa.” He’d always known that he would one day have a wife and plenty of bambinos who would look like him and call him “Papa” but ever since he’d shared that one glorious night with Savannah, he’d been unable to get back into dating seriously in order to find a wife, to achieve that desired goal. It was hard to see himself married to any of the women that he’d briefly dated when it was Savannah’s face that continuously swam before his eyes. It was her smile that he saw on every woman’s face, her body that he touched, no matter who he was with and in those rare moments when he found himself able to actually make love to one of the countless women that he found himself dating, it was her voice that he heard moaning and her face that he recalled when he found himself experiencing an orgasm. Now, the object of his dreams and frustrations was back in his life, and this time with his daughter. His daughter! He glanced up at Savannah, he knew what his mother would tell him if she was still alive: “Armando, my son, in the old country if a man gave a woman his seed to have a child, he would turn around and marry her. Italians are respectable, responsible, and possessive. You marry this girl and you do it now.”
Shaking off his mother’s voice, Armando knew that even if he knew Savannah well enough to want to marry her, there was no way that she would agree to marry him. He watched as Vicky’s little hazel eyes began to close in slumber and sighed. He wanted his daughter in his life, all the time, and he knew that Savannah would not let her go. Maybe marriage was the only way. He knew that he’d have to think it over a little more before he made his decision, because once he decided to marry her, there would be no stopping him. He always got what he wanted.
Savannah’s eyes narrowed as she watched Armando’s face become a shuttered mask of implacability and his shoulders straighten in determination. He looked as if he were preparing to go into battle. Fascinated, she continued to watch him, his black hair gleaming as he gently rocked Vicky in his arms. The fact that he was so good with Vicky and she was so comfortable with him was not lost on the single mother. Too often she’d considered the possibility that her daughter would instantly bond with her father should they ever meet, but it seemed so unlikely that that would ever occur that Savannah never really thought about what it would mean for her daughter. She’d met enough Italian men and knew enough about their values and culture to know that they considered family to be the most important thing in their lives. She’d always admired and appreciated that, now that that particular value system was affecting her life, however, she found it exceedingly annoying. She knew that Armando would insist on seeing Vicky at least once a week or more, which meant that she’d have to get used to relinquishing her daughter to the man who still haunted her dreams. Now it was Savannah’s turn to sigh. This was going to be complicated.