Excavated into the hillside, his sanctuary with its turf roof and no manufactured walls was invisible from most angles, but the clever design meant that every room was flooded with light from the massive glass panels that faced the sea.
‘You live there?’ It was not the power statement that she had assumed any home of his would be.
‘I stay there occasionally. It suits my needs, but it is not equipped for entertaining, hence...’ He gestured to the table.
‘Won’t you sit down?’ He pulled out one of the chairs and, feeling both awkward and anxious, she took her seat.
The first fifteen minutes did not give her any insight into him as a person. His conversational skills were as she had expected but he managed to avoid any personal questions, instead turning them back on her. It was deeply frustrating.
‘You do not care for seafood?’
Angel, who had been pushing her food around her plate, set her fork down and decided the best approach was a direct one.
‘Why did you ask me here? Not to talk about the food, I’m sure.’ Nibbling on her lower lip, she caught hold of one of the crystals that weighed down the cloth, rolling it between her fingers.
‘Why did you come?’ he countered.
She set her elbows on the table and stared across at him. ‘Do you always respond to a question with another question?’
His brows knitted as he forked a large prawn into his mouth. ‘I am resisting the temptation to say pot, kettle, black.’
‘Not very well,’ she inserted sourly.
‘The answer to your question is, yes, I do, when the answer interests me.’
‘I was bored and hungry.’
‘You haven’t eaten much.’
‘I’m watching my weight.’
‘Do you ever worry about your part in the message that the media sends out to young girls?’ His tone was deceptively casual but the eyes that met hers were anything but.
‘The pressure to achieve an impossible level of perfection, like the women they see in the magazines. The message that equates beauty with happiness. Of course, I was forgetting you have a daughter of your own. I’m sure you are well aware of the pressures facing young women.’
She stiffened, her heart beating fast as she twisted the linen napkin between her fingers. He knew, somehow he knew! Or he thought he knew....
‘Jasmine is not a woman. She’s a child.’
‘True, but they grow up so quickly and I believe that anorexia sufferers are getting younger and younger.’
She shook her head, angry now, and got to her feet. Looking down at him lessened the feeling of being a mouse being toyed with by a large feline. ‘Why are you suddenly so interested in my daughter?’
He laid his own napkin down with slow deliberation, holding her eyes as he got to his feet. ‘Because I had this idea... It’s crazy, but in my experience those are the ones that it pays not to ignore. So I did a little research and a few surprising things came up, like the fact that your daughter was born eight months to the day after we spent the night together and there was no one before.’
‘Or after.’ Did I really say that?
He didn’t react, but she could feel the emotions rolling off him.
Angel didn’t blink; she didn’t breathe. She shrugged and struggled to hold on to her manufactured calm.
‘So you want to know if you’re Jasmine’s father? Couldn’t you just have come out and asked? Did it really require all this elaborate stage-managing?’
‘It occurred to me that you might be waiting for the right moment to tell me...?’ He had really tried hard to think of this from her point of view but her expression was not saying she appreciated the effort. He had been her only lover.... Only... He experienced a stab of sheer primitive possessive satisfaction, and breathed out, letting the air escape in a slow, measured sigh.
‘I thought I’d provide it.... I thought if you were relaxed—’
‘You thought you’d get me drunk,’ she countered, pointing to the second bottle in the ice bucket. ‘And trick me into saying things!’
The comment hit a raw nerve. First she threw his consideration back in his face, now she tried to make herself the victim. ‘I shouldn’t have to trick you into anything. If I’ve got a bloody child I have a right to know.... I have a right to know her!’ It was the first time she had heard him use Russian but she was guessing she wouldn’t find the translation of what he snarled in any phrase book.