‘Please, this is not a joke,’ she reproached to his retreating back.
He spun back, spearing the fingers of both hands deep into his hair as he rocked back on his heels. ‘Sorry.’
Her eyes narrowed. ‘Thanks for that sincerity.’
‘I’m sincere—sincerely tired of this ridiculous discussion.’ His sarcasm made Angel clench her teeth. ‘Just tell me what is bothering—’
‘My pretty little head?’ she jumped in, glaring.
A spasm of irritation crossed his patrician features. ‘You are not pretty.’
Angel was not particularly mad about her looks. Given the choice she would have chosen blonde and petite, but she had no body-image issues and she was well aware that she was considered by most people to be more than averagely attractive, so it made it all the more crazy that the comment hurt. ‘So I’m ugly!’ She could not believe this childish response was coming from her own mouth.
‘No, you are beautiful,’ he countered. Midglare his eyes broke contact with Angel’s and slid to the photo. ‘So is she. She looks so like you....’
The husky observation successfully refocused Angel’s attention. ‘She has a much sweeter temperament.’
‘Maybe she takes after her father...?’
Alex Arlov, sweet? Any other time the two words in the same sentence would have had her in hysterics but Angel didn’t crack a smile.
She made an effort to channel calm. ‘I can’t have an affair with you, Alex.’
Even if she could have stomached the idea of sex without an emotional commitment it wouldn’t have worked. She simply lost all sense of perspective when it came to Alex. She could never maintain any sort of simple sexual relationship with the way he made her feel.
She had never understood women who would risk everything for a man. She didn’t want to understand, but what she did know was that if such a man existed Alex Arlov was the living, breathing embodiment of it.
‘Who’s saying I want an affair?’
She flinched at the growled rebuttal and, lifting her chin, defiantly murmured, ‘My mistake.’ Presumably an affair was too formal a footing for what he had in mind. ‘As a matter of interest, what did you have in mind?’ She arched a delicate brow and suggested in a sardonic drawl, ‘Friends with benefits?’
‘We are not friends.’
‘Thank you for reminding me.’
A look of regret slid across his lean face. ‘I didn’t mean it that way.... I just...’ He dragged a hand through his dark, tousled hair. ‘I just... You’re driving me crazy.’
There’s a lot of it around, Angel thought grimly. ‘Don’t worry, I appreciate bluntness,’ she said instead. Hopefully he could take it as well as dish it out. ‘I can’t have sex with you at all. We need to keep our relationship uncomplicated for Jasmine.’
He struggled to follow her logic and realised there was none. ‘How is us sleeping together bad for Jasmine?’
‘I want my daughter to learn about relationships based on mutual respect and—’
The correction made her grate her teeth. ‘For five years she’s been my daughter, Alex.’
‘And you resent the fact it has to change,’ he flung.
The suggestion that this was a fait accompli annoyed her. He was failing to recognise that she was the one making an effort.
‘I’m an example to my daughter. I don’t want her to think casual sex is all she can have. I watched my mother sleep her way around the fashionable spots of Europe. I had her boyfriends drift in and out of my life and I don’t want that sort of instability for Jasmine.’
‘So you are holding out for marriage.’ He seized on this evidence triumphantly.
‘I’m holding out for a relationship based on more than lust,’ she countered. ‘One that is...safe.’
His heavy-lidded gaze slid over her sleek, sensuous curves and the fist of desire in his belly tightened. ‘Safe!’ he spat in disgust. ‘And what is so terrible about lust? Lust is not a bad place to start....’ he commented in a deep throaty drawl that made the surface of her skin tingle.
The deep, drowning blue of his eyes made her dizzy and it was an effort to break the contact. ‘Only if both participants want the same thing.’
‘I thought I gave you what you wanted.’
His inability to see what she was saying drew a frustrated grunt from Angel.
‘My mother changed her lovers the way some women change their shoes. I know what it feels like to grow fond of someone and have them vanish or to hear arguments when you’re trying to go to sleep, to have a sleazy boyfriend of your mother’s make a pass at you.’ She saw the outrage flare in his eyes and added quickly, ‘Only once and my brother walked in.’