‘I don’t have an early call. I mean... What I mean...’ She stopped, squeezed her eyes closed and groaned. ‘Don’t look at me like that,’ she pleaded.
His display of innocence drew a growl of frustration from Angel. ‘Like you’re...’
‘Thinking about making love to you...?’
When wasn’t he?
His eyes narrowed as he struggled to contain a flicker of shock. Sex no longer came with a big guilt trip. It had become a normal part of his life again, but it was not something that occupied his thoughts exclusively. Or it hadn’t been until Angel had come back into his life.
This frank translation made her flush and press a hand to her heaving chest.
‘I can’t focus!’ she choked. ‘I’m trying to tell you we can’t...ever do...’ she jerked her head in the direction of the open bedroom door where the tumbled bedclothes were visible ‘...that.’
She lifted her chin and responded to his taunt with an unintentionally loud reply. ‘Sex. That’s part of the deal. If you want to be part of Jas’s life then we have to get our act together.’ She expelled a breath. It was over with; she had said it. This was the point where the tension was meant to flow from her body. She had told herself she’d feel better once she got this over with, but she didn’t.
‘You just lost me.’
She struggled to preserve her calmness, aware in the face of this pretence of ignorance that with his steel-trap mind he got the point half an hour before most people. ‘A child needs continuity...security.’
What she did not need was a constant stream of ‘uncles’ at the breakfast table; she did not need slammed doors, raised voices, dramas played out at volume at all hours of the day and night; she did not need spurned lovers who turned nasty or even the ones that turned pathetic.
‘You expect me to argue with that?’
‘I put Jas’s needs ahead of my own,’ she said quietly.
There might not be a definitive rule book that told you how to be a good mother—Angel had discovered everyone had to work it out for themselves, and there were times when she frankly got it wrong and worried about just how much mothering skills were down to genes—but at least she knew how not to be a bad mother, or at least an uninterested one.
Growing up, she would have settled for her mother remembering once in a while that she had children! Her beautiful and erratic parent had lived her life exactly as she had wanted and her children had been the ones who had done the adapting.
‘And you need me.’
The smug insertion proved to Angel that they were still not on the same page. ‘This isn’t about your ego,’ she flared, tightening the belt on her robe, thus unwittingly causing the neckline to gape.
Jaw clenched, Alex dragged his gaze off the heaving contours of her bosom and the effort made his tone abrupt.
‘Then what is it...?’ He stopped as the penny belatedly dropped. He could see where this was going.
‘You mean you want to get married?’
The cynic in him was not surprised. It was not the first time a woman had looked at him as prospective husband material. He was normally alert to the subtle signs that signalled attempts to manoeuvre him into matrimony, but he hadn’t seen this one coming. For some reason, neither could he summon up his well-rehearsed smile, the one that softened his harsh response.
And none of the women he had let down gently had been the mother of his child.
His eyes narrowed. That made a difference. And now that he thought of it, was it such a bad idea from a purely practical point of view? Of course he was old-fashioned enough to prefer to be the one making the proposal, but Angel’s horrified exclamation suddenly cut into his stream of thought.
‘M-marry? Of course not!’
The unmitigated horror in her voice was reflected on her face. It seemed he could always rely on Angel to deliver a kick to his ego.
‘That would be ridiculous.’ She gave a laugh, wincing when her effort to convince him she was neither crazy nor an idiot made her sound both. ‘I’m not wife material, believe me.’
‘What, parents getting married?’ His jaw clenched as he resisted the childish impulse to inform her that there were more than a few women who would not consider the idea of being his bride a nightmare. ‘Hell, yes, you’re right, crazy...that would never catch on,’ he drawled, swinging away from her, his feet silent on the floor as he stalked towards the window. He reminded her of a caged tiger on a short leash as he traversed the room.