Alex remembered a friend who had described how unreal it had felt to take his newborn home from hospital for the first time. He had spoken of the shock of overnight becoming, not a couple, but a family.
Times that by a million, Alex thought, and you might get somewhere near the complex swirl of emotions he was feeling.
He wasn’t seeing a new baby. His daughter was not a blank slate; she was a fully formed little person with a store of experiences that he knew nothing about, a personality. Was she scared of the dark? He resented that he didn’t know, but he was going to find out, and the only way to do that was to be a family.
Alex believed that only fools rushed headlong into important decisions, and allowing emotions to become involved was just so obviously a massive mistake that it did not even warrant debate. It turned out there were exceptions to this rule and standing on the beach he discovered one. He made the most important decision in his life without a second’s debate or hesitation.
He was going to marry Angel and they were going to be a family. It would happen.
JASMINE ACCEPTED THE explanation without question. ‘Does he want to play with us?’
Angel shook her head. ‘I don’t think so, sweetheart, and I think maybe we’ve had enough now too.’ She took her daughter’s hand and they waded out of the shallows and onto the beach where Alex, his dark hair fluttering slightly in the breeze, was standing looking gorgeous. This was obviously a given, but he was also incongruous in this setting in a tailored pale grey suit. The top button of his white silk shirt open and his tie hanging loose around his neck were the only minor concessions to the sun beating down.
His appearance was not lost on Jasmine.
‘Your shoes are wet. It’s really stupid to wear shoes on the beach.’ She wriggled her own bare toes in the wet sand and directed her critical gaze to the rest of him. She didn’t seem impressed by what she was seeing. ‘Or a suit. It’s not p-pract...?’
She looked to her mother, who automatically supplied the word, ‘Practical,’ before adding, ‘Don’t be rude, Jas.’
Alex stepped back out of the shallow water, barely giving his handmade Italian-leather shoes a glance. His daughter had a Scottish accent; the highland lilt was unmistakable. It brought home forcibly the extent of his ignorance. He didn’t even know where she had lived her five years. He had assumed London, but clearly he couldn’t have been more wrong.
‘She’s right. My outfit is not beach appropriate.’ His outfit was appropriate for the discussion of oil leases. If the change of venue had been considered unusual by the oil executives who had expected to be in London, they had not said so when he had met the fleet of helicopters personally. ‘But I’ve been working, and you, I see, have been swimming.’
‘I can’t swim yet. Mum has tried to teach me but I’m not a natural.’
Her sigh and serious expression drew a smile from Alex. While he did not know a lot about five-year-olds it seemed to him as a not-totally-objective observer that his daughter was pretty advanced for her age, and she not only looked startlingly like her mother but she was also not afraid of speaking her mind.
‘Perhaps I could teach you?’
He turned his head towards Angel to gauge her reaction to his suggestion. She was bending forward to pick up a towel from the sand, a wet swathe of her hair concealing her face.
Angel dropped the towel around her shoulders. ‘That’s very kind.’ The little girl skipped ahead.
‘So do you mind?’
‘That’s not the point. You made it impossible for me to say no, and I don’t appreciate that. Don’t manipulate me, Alex.’
‘It wasn’t intentional. She didn’t look to be afraid of the water.’
Angel laughed. ‘Jas isn’t afraid of anything. That’s the problem—she has very little sense of danger. I don’t want to make her scared but it’s a hard balance.... She’s not afraid of water. It’s the cold—she hates it. I first tried to teach her at home when she was a toddler—we have the white sand and the clear seas, but the water is not warm at any time of the year and she is a warm-blooded little creature. She loves the sun.’
‘So I see. The accent came as a surprise—charming, but a surprise.’
‘I don’t even notice she has an accent. We have an apartment in the castle....’ She saw Alex’s expression and added a quick explanatory footnote, ‘My brother inherited the estate when our dad died—beautiful, remote and a lot of rain. Isn’t it every little girl’s dream to live in a castle?’