By the time Alex had reached them—seconds? Who knew? It was all a blur—Angel had lost the rictus grin of fear and had her face composed into a mask of polite indifference. Bone-deep indifference, though her grip on her composure was not even a cell deep. But who cared as long as she didn’t make a fool of herself by giving in to the need to tell him exactly what she thought of him?
The indulgence of venting her real feelings, though tempting, would not exactly improve the situation. Angel knew exactly what she would say. She’d had nearly six years to figure it out, which didn’t make her some pathetic creature who’d been unable to move on, or someone who had spent the past six years thinking about him.
She had a life that she loved and he had no place in it. At least that was the way it had worked this morning.... Now he wasn’t an unidentifiable figure; he was here and real and present. She had always dreaded the future conversation with Jasmine that began with, ‘Sorry, I don’t know who your dad is,’ but when she thought of naming Alex Arlov as the man in question it suddenly became not such a terrible prospect.
He might not even recognise her...? No such luck, not the way this day was going, she thought, swallowing the bubble of hysterical laughter as she grabbed another drink.
But if he didn’t, if he had forgotten she existed the moment he had left the room, would it be so bad to keep him in ignorance? Well, yes, it would be, Angel thought to herself. You could stretch moral ambiguity just so far but it would make life a lot simpler.... She shook her head, unable to deal with the fallout, the deeper implications now. Not falling down was tough enough, she thought, struggling to focus on her contempt and not her near nervous collapse.
Maybe she focused too hard because as his eyes brushed her face for a split second she thought she saw a flicker of shock in those ice-blue depths, but then it was gone and so was his attention.
Angel experienced a weird sense of anticlimax and thought, Was that it? Sandy, the recipient of a smile of practised charm, lit up when he spoke to her in the deep gravelly drawl Angel recalled so well. She winced to hear the make-up artist respond with a high girlish giggle, but she couldn’t judge. Especially as someone who had gasped wow the first time she had seen him was in no position to judge anyone.
The memory made her cringe. Easy hardly covered how very eager she had been to be seduced. She’d been so convinced that she was feeling some deep spiritual connection that he hadn’t had to lift a finger to seduce her.
While Alex’s attention was on Sandy and she had pulled back from the brink of total panic, Angel took the opportunity to study him. She wasn’t the only one—most of the women in the room were checking him out.
The interest was no mystery—the aura of masculinity that had taken her breath away that first time was still intact, was presumably an integral part of him. He was the sort of man whose testosterone entered the room ahead of him, and, to Angel’s intense fury and eternal shame, even after being a victim of it she was still not immune to its effects.
The difference was she was not about to equate her physical response to his blatant sexuality with anything but hormones. The shameful heat between her thighs had nothing to do with love at first sight. She was almost too embarrassed to acknowledge she had ever been naive enough to believe that such a thing existed.
At almost twenty and just starting her art college course, Angel knew she had acquired a reputation for being sophisticated among her fellow students. She never could work out how or why, but the label had stuck.
‘You’re so independent,’ a homesick friend had once remarked enviously. ‘And you can talk to anyone.’
Well, Angel was certainly independent. Arriving home for the school holidays to find a cheque and a note from her mother to explain that she’d been invited to spend the week at a villa in Switzerland made a person independent. And ten schools in eight years made it essential that she could talk to people, though it had been hard on her grades and near impossible to cultivate long-term friendships.
Given her reputation, it was ironic that, unlike most of her contemporaries, at twenty, Angel’s experience of the opposite sex had been limited. Her sexual experience had been pretty much nil. Angel’s problem had not been low self-esteem or issues about her body or that she was a prude. No, much worse, Angel had been a closet romantic!
The fact was none of the men she had met up to that point had come close to the idealised lover she had imagined was out there waiting for her. And when she’d met the man who looked and acted like her fantasy lover he had turned out to be a lying, cheating rat!