‘This is your call and I will abide by your decision. The threats I made were...selfish. I’m sorry, you were right. You have every reason to hate me. I slept with you, I took no precautions, it was thoughtless, I’ve never...’ He just stopped himself producing the classic ‘I’ve never done it before’ line. After all, why should she believe it? Actions, he reminded himself, spoke louder than words. ‘I want to make things right.’
Angel was shaken by the depth of self-loathing in his voice, but she forced a laugh and framed her ironic rebuttal in a voice as cold as she could make it. ‘You want Jasmine.’
The goad made the lines bracketing his mouth tighten but he managed to hide his frustration, well aware that once already today he had barged in like the proverbial china-shop bull, issuing threats when he should have been asking questions, building bridges.
‘It’s true, I want to be a father to my child. But you were right—I’m in no position to call the shots.’
Not being in a position to call the shots, as he termed it, had to be a new experience for him. But Angel was not totally trusting of this new Alex, and she refused to be lulled into a false sense of security. She would not lower her defences just yet.
‘That’s a pretty big U-turn for someone who was talking custody battles not a few hours ago.’
‘I told you about Lizzie...’
He nodded. ‘She was ten before she knew who her father was, before she knew she was wanted.... I want Jasmine to know she is wanted.’
The soft addition sliced through her determined stance of wary hostility. There was no question of his sincerity. ‘She does!’ Angel rushed to protest earnestly. ‘I know what it feels like to think you’re nothing but a nuisance.’ Feeling awkward at the admission, she dodged his glance and added, ‘I’ve never let Jas think for one second she isn’t wanted and loved.’
‘I’m sure you’re a great mother, but that isn’t the issue.’
He thinks I’m a great mother? ‘What is the issue, Alex?’ It was pretty obvious that the superficial similarities had dredged up some old issues for him. ‘This isn’t about your relationship with your father. You can’t allow the things that happened in the past to colour the present.’
He emitted a laugh of disbelief. ‘So it’s purely accidental that your mothering style is the complete opposite of your own mother’s? That’s not a criticism, it’s a fact. It’s what people do. We try to avoid our parents’ mistakes. Some of us fail....’ He gave a snort of self-disgust. ‘Talk about history repeating itself.’
‘That’s not true! The situations are totally different,’ she protested.
‘In as much as Lizzie’s mother chose not to tell my father she was pregnant because she knew he was married. You didn’t even know my name. My dad had always been my hero. He made a real effort with me, maybe to compensate for the fact he’d been estranged from his own father. We did everything together, then afterwards... It was never the same between us. I didn’t hold back. I let him know I despised him. I never lost an opportunity to twist the knife. Pretty ironic considering that I ended up emulating him.’
‘But you didn’t!’ she exclaimed. ‘You’re not—!’
His blue eyes lifted and Angel could see that they blazed with self-contempt in the half-light. ‘Married...? My wife had been dead weeks! Tell me how that makes me any better?’
The pain in his voice made her wince. ‘People do things when they’re grieving that they wouldn’t do normally.’
A sound of astonishment escaped his lips as he moved towards her out of the shadows. ‘You’re trying to excuse what I did...?’ He swallowed, the muscles in his brown throat visibly working as he finished on a note of raw incredulity, ‘You of all people!’
‘You’re not being fair on yourself, Alex. You loved your wife, you were hurting, grieving... You had been for a long time....’
‘I knew it was going to happen.’
‘And is that meant to make it easier? For goodness’ sake, Alex, cut yourself some slack.’ She registered his startled expression but didn’t let it faze her or allow him the space to protest. Some things needed saying, especially when they were so obvious, and he was too close to it. ‘You were there when your wife needed you, weren’t you?’
‘I think so.... Yes, I was, but I couldn’t...’