‘Is she asleep?’
Angel nodded, lifted her chin and launched into a pre-emptive apology. ‘I know it was my fault, totally and—’
He touched a finger to her lips. ‘You talk so much rubbish.’
Angel had steeled herself for his accusations; she was totally prepared for his anger. She could have taken that, but what she had no protection from was the incredible tenderness in his face, the concern in his blue eyes and the caressing warmth in his vibrant voice as he took her by the shoulders and looked down into her face, not judging her but offering her support.
‘Sorry I was so late but I wanted to be there when the police arrived and explain the situation. And I didn’t want to leave until we’d checked the perimeter fence for holes, a classic case of after the horse has bolted, I know, but—’ He stopped. ‘Here’s me babbling and you...you poor baby, you look like hell.’
Her lip quivered. ‘I... For God’s sake, don’t be nice to me, Alex!’
Ignoring her plea, he slid his arms slid around her back. ‘Come here.’
Her face crumpled and she stepped into him, feeling his arms close around her as the tears began to flow.
She almost choked on her shame and sense of inadequacy as she struggled to communicate her guilt to him. ‘It was all my fault. I—’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he condemned roughly as he passed a hand over her slick wet hair. ‘You can’t watch a child every second. Even I know that.’
Her teary face lifted. ‘I can and I will,’ she flashed fiercely, fighting against every instinct she had as she pulled away, dabbing her wet face with her hands and sniffing.
Who’d have thought a sniff could be sexy...? Not Alex, but with Angel there had always been a steep learning curve. Fighting against the temptation to haul her back into his arms, he took a couple deep breaths to conquer and beat the dangerous need into submission. She was shattered physically and emotionally; this was not the time.
‘So what did Mark say? You didn’t mind me calling him? I just thought it would be less traumatic than a trip to the hospital. I explained about her hip.’
‘He was great with her and she’s fine. Just superficial scratches and she was very thirsty. He gave her an antibiotic jab to be on the safe side.’ Angel’s eyes darkened as she shuddered and whispered, ‘When I think what could have happened.’
She closed her mouth over the smart ‘easy for you to say’ retort, realising with a stab of remorse that it wasn’t easy for him. If she still needed it she’d had ample proof today that Alex loved his daughter deeply. Today he had been a rock.
‘It is a totally pointless exercise to torture yourself this way.’
She exhaled a long shuddering sigh. ‘You’re right.’
Some of the gravity left his face as he gave a crooked half smile. ‘I am?’
She didn’t smile back. ‘I don’t know how I’ll ever thank you for what you did today.’
Alex shook his head, embarrassed by her shining-eyed gratitude. He did not want her gratitude—he wanted her. ‘There is nothing to thank me for.’
Her green eyes widened in protest. ‘If you hadn’t found her before it got dark it could have been hours before she was discovered and anything could have happened.’ There were a lot worse things out there than kittens.
He touched her chin, drawing her face round to his as his fingers moved to frame the side of her face. ‘You weren’t going to do that, remember...?’ She nodded, her throat too thick with emotion to speak. ‘I was only doing what a dad is meant to and, let’s face it,’ he added bleakly, ‘I have some time to make up for.’
The regret in his voice brought a lump to her throat. No matter what pain it cost her it was worth it for Jasmine to have her father in her life.
‘Can I see her?’
Her reply was husked with emotion. ‘Of course. You don’t have to ask.’
She gave an uncomfortable half shrug. ‘I know I’ve been defensive and suspicious. It’s hard for me to—’
He filled in the blank. Trust. And he had played a big part in any trust issues Angel might have.
A strange expression flickered across his face. Taking her totally by surprise, he leaned down and kissed her mouth softly. ‘I’ll hold you to that promise.’
Balling her hand into a fist to stop it going to her trembling lips, she went with him, but paused at the bedroom door and let him go inside alone.