‘Coffee would be good,’ he’d heard himself say.
She had expelled a tiny sigh and beamed up at him in undisguised delight, and when he’d kept a guiding hand on one of her elbows she hadn’t pulled away. He’d felt her shiver and that time he’d known why.
Alex pushed away the memory; as always it was inextricably and painfully linked in his mind with guilt. On one level he recognised the guilt was irrational. He had no longer been married at that point, hadn’t cheated, he’d been free to have sex with a total stranger.
Even when Emma had been alive he could have taken a mistress with her blessing. Alex was not easily shocked but on the first occasion she had brought the subject up he had been—deeply. He’d known she’d had something on her mind and had coaxed her to tell him what was bothering her but he hadn’t been prepared for the incendiary suggestion she had made.
‘You’re a man, you have needs that I can’t...and you’ve been so patient with me, never said that I should have told you about the MS. I wanted to, but it might have been years before it came back or even never.’
‘It wouldn’t have made any difference if I had known,’ he had told her, hoping it was true. Even wondering had felt like a betrayal.
‘I know that, Alex, but the fact remains you didn’t have the choice. I didn’t give you the choice. So if you need to, you know...date other women, that’s all right with me. I don’t have to know, I don’t want to know, so long as you stay with me while I’m— I hate hospitals so much, Alex...’
And there it was, the real fear, that he would send her to some anonymous nursing home. It had cut him to the core to know his wife had been willing to endure infidelities for the security and promise of staying in the home that she had enjoyed furnishing in those first months of marriage. She had enjoyed a lot of things before the disease that had finally killed her resurfaced.
A short year later she had been confined to a wheelchair and eaten up with guilt because she hadn’t told him before they’d got married. The constant apologising had been hard to hear and sometimes had made him angry with her. Guilt piled on top of more guilt. It had been a vicious circle.
‘This is your home, Emma, our home.’ Her hand had felt so small under his, the bones fragile as he’d squeezed. ‘There will be no hospitals and no other women, I swear.’
And he had kept his word to the letter if not the spirit. He might have been legally free but in his mind, in his heart, Alex had still been married when he had spent the night with Angelina. Though not once during that night had he thought of Emma. How could he have forgotten, even for a moment? The next morning he hadn’t been able to get out of there quickly enough.
If he had encountered the stunning Angel when Emma had still been alive would he have found it so easy to keep his promise? The question wouldn’t go away and he would never know the answer, but he was pretty sure that if he had it wouldn’t have given him any comfort.
Alex liked to think he was able to forgive weakness in others, but he set higher standards for himself. Though he’d got out of there as fast as he could the morning after, memories of the night before had haunted him. Well, he was about to lay that ghost—literally if things turned out as he intended—to rest.
‘Only the star is missing.’ His inability to prevent his eyes going to the doorway sent a surge of irritation through Alex. ‘Does the lady like to make an entrance?’
Beside him Nico responded defensively to the disdain in his uncle’s voice. ‘She’s really nice.’
The balding executive whom he had directed his sardonic comment to nodded in agreement with his nephew’s assessment. ‘She certainly doesn’t stand on ceremony and the last thing you can accuse her of is being a diva.’ He laughed at some private joke and took a sip of the orange juice he was nursing. ‘And if she wanted people to notice her she wouldn’t need any stunts. With Angel in the room no one else exists.’ He drew a line in the air and pronounced with utter confidence, ‘End of story.’
Alex recalled Angelina, or Angel as it seemed he must learn to call her, in his room, an anonymous hotel room. For him that night, no one else had existed. He clenched his teeth in an effort to eject the image of her sitting on the bed gloriously naked and utterly unselfconscious, acting as if they had just shared more than lust, acting as if there would be a tomorrow.
Dragging himself into the present, he wondered if the executive’s admiration was purely professional. Was the man sleeping with the model? He knew little of the world they occupied but he supposed it would hardly be a revelation if they were.