When he dragged himself away from the sleeping child—it still seemed a total stunning miracle that he had had anything to do with her creation—Alex found Angel outside on the veranda. Night had fallen and the white fairy lights wrapped around the branches in the trees had sparked into life, their glow lending the scene a twinkling other-worldly quality.
‘It’s a beautiful evening....’
Angel turned and she looked so magnificent that for a moment he couldn’t breathe. He stopped midsentence and, loosing a low growl of frustration, he dragged a frustrated hand through his hair.
‘This is ridiculous!’ His dark brows drew together in a straight, uncompromising line above his hawkish, masterful nose. ‘I have so much to say and I’m discussing the weather with you, as if we’ve just met in the street!’
From where she was standing Angel could feel the waves of emotion rolling off him. She shook her head urgently. ‘No, Alex!’ She knew what he was going to say—today could only have convinced him more that his duty was to marry her. Everyone thought she was cool and capable and it was an opinion she liked to encourage. Sometimes even she fell for the act, but today had outed her as a spineless, needy wimp who, when the going got tough, fell apart.
‘I can’t marry you, Alex.’
Aware of how fragile she was, he struggled to control his impatience but he knew it was a battle he was losing.
Pale but composed now, she took a step backwards, widening the gap between them, but not the growing tension. As she continued to hold his gaze she explained the situation in a distant expressionless voice.
‘Marriage,’ she explained carefully, ‘isn’t meant to be a penance.’
His eyes darkened with outrage at the suggestion. He started forward and then stopped himself. ‘You think marriage to me would be a penance?’
‘Oh, God, no!’ She took a deep breath and waited for the urgent need to walk into his arms to pass. ‘Marriage to you would be...’ She stopped, lowered her gaze, thinking, Too little too late, Angel.
Way too late. She had been standing there, not wearing her heart on her sleeve, but instead painted like a neon sign across her face!
Still, she mused darkly, she was not telling him anything he didn’t already know.
She made herself meet his eyes. ‘I know you think it’s your duty to marry me.’ Feeling the pressure of a future without Alex, a future where she waved goodbye as he drove off with Jasmine for the weekend pressing in on her, heavy and dark, she struggled to maintain eye contact as she told him bluntly. ‘I’m not what you need.’
‘What I need!’ he grated through clenched teeth before swearing in several languages. To hell with this not being the right time, to hell with her being fragile. He had to challenge her blind, wilful stupidity. ‘You know nothing, Angel Urquart, but I do. I know that you love me, so why the hell don’t you stop putting us both through hell and admit it?’
‘Love has got nothing to do with it,’ she flared back. ‘And don’t you dare yell at me. And even if it did...’ She shook her head and said firmly, ‘There are very good reasons why I can’t marry you.’
‘Name one,’ he challenged, looking unimpressed.
‘Well, you don’t love me.’ Hard words to say without sounding terribly vulnerable and needy but Angel liked to think she pulled it off. ‘You don’t even like me most of the time....’ Taking a moment to flick the damp tail of her hair over one shoulder, she left ample room for him to jump in, but he didn’t. He just stood there being unhelpful and looking so gorgeous that she wanted to weep.
‘You make me laugh, when you’re not making me yell.’
She slung him a reproachful look. Did he have any idea how hard this was for her? ‘You think that you should marry me because of Jasmine. I know you mean well...!’
His lips curled in dismissive scorn. ‘I am not some misguided do-gooder!’ He took a purposeful step towards her. ‘I am a man who wants you, and I intend to have you....’
This outrageously arrogant pronouncement should have made her do many things: laugh scornfully, realise what a lucky escape she’d had, but no. Where on that list of responses came a surge of heavy, hot, toe-curling excitement?
His confidence was total, impregnable. The gleam in his dark eyes as they looked down into her face was hungry.
The urge to melt into him, to lift her face to receive the kiss she could almost taste, was so compelling that resisting it drew a tiny moan from her lips. His silence seemed to be willing her to make that move.