She had been acting up during one of their short visits to their father when her big brother had sat her down and spelled a few facts out.
‘You can act like a spoilt brat and ruin our time here or you can enjoy it. This isn’t Dad’s fault or mine or yours.’
‘But Mum doesn’t want us!’
‘Sure.’ Her brother had held the fists that were punching him in sheer frustration and explained quietly, ‘But she doesn’t want Dad to have us more than she doesn’t want us. Do you get it, kiddo?’
Angel had, sort of, in her childish way. ‘I think I hate her, Cesare.’ She had whispered the confession because she knew this was a bad thing.
Cesare hadn’t said she was bad; he had simply shrugged and retorted, ‘Why bother? She’s not worth it. Just remember when we’re old enough she can’t keep us and then we can live where we like.’
‘Here at the castle with Dad?’
‘Sure,’ her brother had agreed, handing her a tissue and advising her to wash her face and brush her hair because she looked like a banshee.
‘My father betrayed my mother, she forgave him, there was no divorce.’ Angel sighed a sad smile, curving her lips as she dragged her thoughts back to the present. They had gone back to the Scottish castle of their childhoods but there had been no Dad. He had died and Cesare had inherited the ailing highland estate along with responsibility for its debts.
‘You were lucky.’
His astonished stare fastened on her face as he sneered, ‘How do you figure that one?’
‘Divorce is not a good thing and a mother who forgives is...’ Head tilted a little to one side, she studied his face. ‘But you didn’t, did you?’
‘Forgive him.’ He was quick to hide it but Angel saw the shock move at the back of his eyes, followed by a cold, closed look.
‘It was not my place to forgive.’ And now it was too late to tell the father he had idolised that he understood the weakness... How could he not when he was staring at his own in the face? ‘Though, yes, with the arrogance of youth I did judge. Having indulged in a one-night stand, I am in the classic glass-house-stone-throwing position.’
There was a delicious dark irony that he had blamed his father for not taking responsibility for the consequences of his actions.... Unprotected sex—how stupid is that? He heard the scornful words of his younger self and they still had the power to make him flinch.
The only reason he had not found himself in a similar situation was not down to higher moral standards or even basic common sense, but pure luck!
‘So it isn’t normal— You...you don’t—’ She broke off, flushing.
‘Sleep with women I have just met? Actually no. Though I can understand why you made that assumption given how we met. That makes you unique on two levels—my only virgin and my only one-night stand,’ he remarked bleakly. ‘How about you?’
‘I thought you’d already decided that a model is an easy lay.’
He winced and frowned at the crudity while uneasily accepting its factual accuracy. ‘I was not enquiring about your sexual history.’
‘Oh, I see, you just want to know the real me?’ She widened her eyes. ‘Where do I begin? My political views or my favourite author? Let’s see, I’m a Pisces, I drink too much coffee and my favourite colour is green....’
‘Do you always make a joke when things get too personal?’
Shocked that he had recognised the self-defence mechanism so easily, she shook her head in an angry negative motion, but before she could follow up with a firm denial he asked a question that, even though she knew was inspired by idle curiosity not suspicion, almost tipped her over into outright panic.
‘Where is she, your daughter, now?’
Not here, thank goodness.... Angel shuddered to imagine how she would have reacted if fate had thrown this man in her path when Jas had been with her.
‘At home, in Scotland, with Ce...’ She stopped, remembering that he knew Cesare and not wanting him to make the link between her and her brother until she was ready. ‘I always know she’s safe with him.’
The mention of the other man and the perceptible loosening of the tension in her body language when she mentioned him caused muscles along Alex’s taut jaw to clench.
He rarely found himself taken by surprise but he was. Having established that the father was not involved in the upbringing of the child, it had not occurred to him to question whether another man was. And considering he was a man who was justifiably famed for factoring in all possibilities when he approached a project, in retrospect it seemed astonishing that he had not foreseen any other outcome, when engineering a situation where their paths would cross, other than them falling into bed together. He had not been willing to contemplate failure.