His fingers tightened on the bones of her shoulder; his hand felt heavy, reassuring. Angel closed her eyes, sucked in a deep breath, before throwing her head back to meet his eyes.
‘I’ll be fine,’ she pronounced, thinking, Don’t get used to leaning on him, Angel. He won’t always be there.
‘I won’t be long. I just want to make sure that this section of beach is fenced off by the morning. We don’t want this happening again.’ He sketched a bleak but determined smile and beckoned his nephew over. ‘Nico will see you back to the bungalow and wait until I get back.’
Nico nodded. ‘Of course.’
Jasmine raised her head. ‘I want my kitten back.’
Angel arched a questioning brow and angled a glance up at Alex. ‘Your kitten, darling?’
‘She saw a stray cat and it looks like she followed it through the hole in the fence, crawled through after it. The cat led her back to her litter of feral kittens and Jasmine decided she wanted to take one home.’ He skimmed over the struggle he had had to convince her that this was not a good idea. His daughter had, it seemed, inherited her mother’s stubborn disposition as well as an underdeveloped sense of danger.
Life for a man in a household with two such females was not to be envied, but it was what Alex had discovered he wanted for himself, what he would do anything to achieve.
‘Hence the scratches.’
He took one small grubby hand, turned it over, and Angel saw the scratches on the chubby wrist and arm. They looked red and angry. ‘Hold on...’ He pulled his mobile phone out and glanced at the message on the screen. ‘Mark Lomas.’
Recognising the name of a man whom she had exchanged the odd good morning with during the week, Angel felt a stab of resentment that Alex should consider taking a message from a guest a priority at such a moment.
He gave a nod of satisfaction as he slid the phone back into his breast pocket. ‘Mark should be there by the time you get to the bungalow.’
He felt a stab of anxiety as he studied her face more closely. Angel remained dramatically pale, her skin the colour of wax, her eyes dark emerald bruises nestled among the pallor.
He wanted to urge her to sit down before she fell down and give him Jasmine, but he knew it would be a futile exercise. Angel was holding on to her daughter as if she would never let go and would definitely resist any efforts he made to lighten her burden.
His jaw tightened—a burden she had been carrying alone for too long because of him.
‘I thought you might have spoken the other night. He’s in the next bungalow to you. A doctor...?’
‘I might have.’
‘He’s coordinating the medical backup on the charity race,’ he explained, referring to the charity Ironman event that was currently causing a buzz in the hotel.
‘I sent a text when I found Jasmine and explained the situation. I thought he could take a look at her, clean up those scratches and do what is necessary. He asked if her tetanus is up to date. I didn’t know.’ His jaw clenched as he looked away. He would know...next time. Not that he wanted there to be a next time, but there would be other times...other crises, and he would have the knowledge a father should.
‘She’s covered.’ She kissed her daughter’s tear-stained cheek and realised that she herself probably didn’t look any better.
‘Shall I take her?’ Nico offered.
Angel shook her head and held on to her baby. Life would be so much simpler if she could never let go, could keep her safe from the big bad world for ever. She heard people say that the hardest part of parenting was letting go, but it wasn’t until now that she knew what that really meant.
With Nico by her side she walked away from Alex, thinking that it felt wrong to be doing so. What was so important that he couldn’t come with them? She wanted to tell him he should be with them but didn’t—he ought to know.
* * *
They reached the bungalow two minutes ahead of the doctor, who arrived apologising for his tardiness, wearing shorts and little else but a reassuring air of calm competence.
As Alex had predicted he cleaned the scratches, applied some antiseptic and managed to distract Jasmine while he gave her a shot of broad-spectrum antibiotic. He advised Angel to keep an eye on the scratches as cats’ scratches, he explained, were more prone to infection than dogs’, and told her to contact him if she had any concerns at all.
Angel had managed to adopt Alex’s what-an-adventure-you’ve-had tack with Jasmine, who was displaying a youthful resilience that Angel envied. After having a bath and a sandwich or two from the tray that had arrived at the room Jasmine had barely been able to keep her eyes open. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.