Authors: Natasha Anders
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2014 Natasha Anders
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Cover design by Laura Klynstra
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013919711
To my wonderful family. Thank you for always believing in me.
Rest in Peace, Fidel. You were the best little dog in the world. I miss you so much, my beautiful boy.
hat do you mean, you’re
? What about your studies? We were going to wait, Bronwyn, remember? Just tell me you’re joking?” Bronwyn felt her husband’s furious words strike her like boulders. She stared up into his livid face and didn’t recognize the man standing in front of her. He was shocked, that was all. He was thrown by her news. Her words would sink in soon enough and he’d go back to being the man she adored, the wonderful man to whom she had entrusted her heart. She just needed to give him time to get over his shock. The more she tried to rationalize his inexplicable reaction to what should have been joyous news, the more the insidious little voice in the back of her mind kept telling her that she was lying to herself. This was a side of Bryce that she had never seen before—one that he had never
her to see—and she was terrified of what that said about their two-year marriage.
“I know that it’s sooner than we’d planned,” she said softly, trying to maintain an even tone of voice. “But this is the reality of our situation now, and it can’t be changed. We’re having a baby . . . a
, Bryce. Don’t you get how wonderful that is?”
“I can’t believe you did this. I can’t believe you would stoop to this,” he gritted out bitterly. “This was supposed to be a joint decision. I’m not ready for this, Bronwyn. I don’t want a kid, damn it!”
“But it’s our baby. We made it together,” she protested, trying and failing to keep the pain and confusion from her voice. She tried to find a glimmer of her kind and loving Bryce beneath the mask of anger and frustration that he was displaying, but he wasn’t there. She wondered if he had ever been there.
made it, without my consent.” He could barely meet her eyes, and she was grateful for that because the tears that she had been struggling to keep at bay were finally winning the battle.
“I don’t know why you’re being like this,” she cried. “I didn’t plan this; it just happened. Our birth control failed. I asked the doctor and he said that if I’d had a stomach virus or anything like that it could have provided a window of opportunity. And remember? I was sick a couple of days before your company party three months ago.” He strode out of the conservatory without a word and she followed him as he made his way downstairs to their en suite. She watched in sick disbelief as he opened the medicine chest and yanked out her birth-control pills.
What are you doing?
” She tried to maintain her composure as he counted the pills left in the box and felt the hope that she had been clinging to shrivel up into a tiny ball inside her chest and die. She felt nauseated as she watched the man she had married turn into a monster right in front of her. Slowly the confused mortification turned to fury. How could he do this to her? How could he
her like this?
“God, have you been chucking pills down the drain every night?” he wondered out loud, and she found herself almost hating him for asking the question.
“You know I wouldn’t do that.”
“Do I? Well I obviously don’t know you as well as I thought I did, do I?”
“Of course you know me, Bryce.” She tried to appeal to the reasonable man who had to be in there somewhere and laid a tentative hand on his rigid forearm, but he yanked his arm away and turned away from her.
“Get out of here,” he whispered harshly, and Bronwyn felt something give way and break at those four words.
have misheard him. Still she tried to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Get the hell out,” he said before turning to face her. Bronwyn tried not to flinch when she saw his face. There was nothing there—no anger, no regret, just a blank mask. She didn’t know this man at all. “Go
She sobbed, whirled from the room, and did as he had commanded. She fled.
he had been working for less than two hours and already she knew that it had been a mistake to come in. But not showing up for work meant not getting paid, and that would be disastrous. She needed her job desperately and couldn’t risk losing it.
A bout of flu had wiped her out for nearly a week, leaving her without an income and dangerously low on resources. Though she still felt a bit shaky, she had dragged herself in to work that morning. But no sooner had she walked through the front door of the busiest, trendiest beachfront restaurant in Plettenberg Bay, than she comprehended what a grave error in judgment she had made. She was muddling up her orders, breaking dishes, and walking blindly into her fellow servers. She knew that the manager—who already felt that her personal circumstances were incompatible with her working environment—was just itching to fire her. Now she was basically handing him an excuse to get rid of her.
She valiantly soldiered on, hoping against hope that Gerhard would, by some miracle, take pity on her and keep her on his books. A young couple with a baby cart made their way into her section and she shuffled over to them, her lack of enthusiasm obvious with every reluctant step. The couple were leaning into one another, whispering and laughing intimately, while the baby slept peacefully in its stroller. The pair looked very much in love and pretty much oblivious to the rest of the world.
“Good afternoon,” she murmured, so focused on keeping her nausea at bay that she barely glanced at them. “Would you like anything to drink?” The woman looked up and started to say something, but she was interrupted by her companion, who swore viciously before jumping to his feet like a scalded cat.
Bronwyn gasped and raised one shaking hand to her mouth to stifle a shocked cry when she recognized the handsome man standing in front of her. Her vision blurred and she blinked rapidly to clear it. The baby, clearly startled by the man’s harsh voice, started crying.
“So this is where you have been hiding out all this time?” The shock had disappeared from his voice to be replaced by contempt.
“Ricky,” she moaned shakily, overwhelmed by love, fear, and relief all at the same time.
“Don’t call me that!” he growled in warning, and she flinched. “God, you’re an ice-cold bitch, aren’t you? How could you stay away all this time? How could you
“Please,” she implored in the smallest whisper. “Please don’t . . .”
“Don’t what? Call a spade a spade?” He sneered.
“Rick,” the woman, whom Bronwyn had forgotten about, spoke up. She kept her voice low, while she rocked the still-crying baby. “Take it easy, for heaven’s sake, she doesn’t look well. What’s going on here?”
“Of course she doesn’t look well,” he scoffed, his harsh tone of voice totally unfamiliar. “Why would she look well when she has finally been caught, like the miserable little sneak that she is?”
Bronwyn swayed even more. Rick had never spoken to her like this before—it wasn’t in his gentle nature to be deliberately cruel—but he was firing on all cylinders today, and Bronwyn flinched with each terrible barb.
“Rick.” The woman was speaking again, but her voice sounded hollow, like it was coming from down a long tunnel. “Rick,
it . . .” She was saying something else but this time her voice had disappeared behind the angry buzzing in Bronwyn’s head. She shook her head but the sound got worse and louder until it was as deafening as a chainsaw. She groaned weakly and lifted her hands to her ears. That didn’t help, and she sobbed as her field of vision got narrower and narrower, until she could not see them at all, until there was only blackness.
Voices faded in and out of her consciousness and Bronwyn struggled to make sense of what they were saying. She was comfortable again, no longer dizzy and no longer achy. She felt like she was floating and was enveloped by an incredible sense of well-being. But this feeling was not
right, and that awareness prevented her from being entirely at ease. She was sure that this uneasiness stemmed from the raised voices in the background, and again she attempted to filter out the garbled speech from the few words that she could understand.
“. . . Don’t get . . .” it was a man’s voice, recognizable and well loved but unfamiliarly harsh. “. . . What she did . . . unforgivable . . .
t him . . .
!” An unfamiliar female voice intervened, her gentle voice soothed Bronwyn’s overwrought nerves.
“. . . Is she? What . . . she do . . . so bad?” Bronwyn strained to open her eyes but it felt like a colossal effort.
“. . . Deserted Bryce . . . needed her most . . .”
Bronwyn managed a weak gasp at that, outraged by this blatant lie. The couple went abruptly silent.
“. . . Waking up,” the woman said urgently. “. . . The doctor!
Bronwyn frowned. Why a doctor? For the first time since regaining consciousness she wondered where she was and managed to drag her heavy lids apart with great effort. She stared up into the vaguely recognizable features of a pretty woman who seemed to be a couple of years younger than Bronwyn’s twenty-eight. The woman’s warm smile transformed her gentle features from plain to almost pretty and had the effect of immediately calming Bronwyn down.
“Try not to panic,” she instructed gently. “You passed out at work. At first we assumed it was shock but your fever and pallor soon made it pretty clear that you’re seriously ill.” Her sea-green eyes were grave behind the lenses of her trendy prescription eyeglasses, and her voice took on a chastising tone. “You should never have been at work in that condition. You should take better care of yourself.”
Bronwyn frowned, wondering who the woman was, before deciding that being offended by her admonishment would require way too much of her strength. Clearly she was going to need that strength in the face of Rick’s unexpected and unprecedented hostility. An alarming thought struck her, and she sat up in a blind panic, ignoring the sudden onslaught of dizziness.
“Passed out at work?” Her voice sounded weak, even to her own ears. “Oh no . . . I have to call my boss!”
“Bronwyn.” The woman placed gentle hands on her shoulders to push her back onto the cot, her lovely eyes brimming with sympathy. “I’m afraid that he wasn’t very sympathetic about any of this. He said something about having had enough of your drama and that you shouldn’t bother coming back. I’m so sorry.”
“Oh no,” she moaned. “No, no. I needed that job!”
“Well if you wanted to keep it, you shouldn’t have gone to work in the condition you were in today, young lady.” A stern voice intruded from the doorway, where a harried-looking older man in a white coat stood framed. “Are you trying to kill yourself? You’re just barely over a
bad bout of flu, possibly even pneumonia from what I can gather, and you were so dehydrated when they brought you in that I’m amazed you didn’t pass out sooner! The mere fact that you’ve been out like a light for nearly five hours is proof of how close you are to relapsing. You’re completely run-down.” She went dramatically pale at that bit of news, and the doctor wrongly assumed that he had shocked her into taking her illness seriously. “I would like to keep you overnight to monitor your condition.”
” They were all taken aback by her sudden, shrill vehemence. “No, I can’t stay here. I have to go home. I should be there right now. My shift would have ended an hour ago; I should be at home.”
“That would be stupid and downright dangerous in your condition, Mrs. Palmer,” the doctor admonished, and Bronwyn’s world reeled.
“What did you call me?” she asked in a shocked whisper.
“He called you Mrs. Palmer,” Rick taunted from where he stood in the doorway with his arms folded across his broad chest. “That
still your name, isn’t it?” She stared at Richard Palmer helplessly, not knowing what to say and suddenly hating him with a ferocity that shook her.
” he prompted sarcastically, and she nodded mutely, not understanding this hostility from someone who had always loved and respected her.
“Please . . .” she whispered. “Please, Rick, I have to go home.”
“You’re going home all right,” Rick informed her coldly. “Just as soon as it can be arranged.”
“Mr. Palmer, I strongly advise against that,” the doctor interjected firmly, but Rick ignored him, keeping his eyes on Bronwyn.
“Just prescribe whatever medication she’ll need, Doctor,” he ordered in a manner that went completely against his usual easygoing nature. “We’ll make sure that she gets plenty of rest.” The doctor glared at them before shaking his head and leaving the room abruptly.
“Rick, do you think this is a good idea?” The other woman asked worriedly, and he raised his eyes to her anxious face before smiling gently, his expression now reminiscent of the Rick that Bronwyn knew and loved.
“It’ll be fine,” he murmured reassuringly, but the woman made an irritated sound and shook her head angrily.
“I’ve had enough, Rick,” she seethed, revealing claws beneath the sweet exterior. “You’d better tell me what’s going on and fast. I’ve been sitting here for hours without getting a single straight answer from you, and I’m fed up with it. Tell me what’s going on, or I’ll pack up and head off to Knysna
on my own
!” Bronwyn watched in fascination as his eyes flared in panic and he lost all semblance of his previous icy coolness.
“Lisa,” he choked. “You wouldn’t go off on your own when we just . . .”
test me,” she warned. “Now I think that it’s past time you did some proper introductions and try to be civil, please.” He frowned sullenly, looking about as menacing as a little boy with his hand caught in the biscuit tin.
“Lisa, meet Bronwyn Palmer. Bron, my wife, Lisa.” Bronwyn’s eyes lit up with genuine pleasure as her eyes flew from one face to the other. His
? Well, then, that would explain the baby. She glanced around the room, looking for the child. She smiled when she saw the pram parked close to the window on the other side of the room and marveled at how much his life had changed in the last two years.
? Ricky, you got married?” He winced in response to her words.
“Bron, don’t call me that,” he muttered uncomfortably, sounding so much like his old self that Bronwyn’s heart swelled with love for him. She smiled and turned her attention to the slender woman who stood beside him.
“I’m so glad that he married someone like you,” she managed weakly, wishing she could be more eloquent but suddenly feeling quite drained. She leaned back against the pillows and smiled up at them both. “Ricky deserves someone lovely . . .” Her eyes drifted shut. “I’m so tired. Take me home. Please. I need to go home . . .”
“She’s my brother’s errant wife,” she heard Rick telling his wife, but he sounded so far away that she frowned. Where was he going? “And, as I said before, she’s the heartless bitch who abandoned him when he needed her most!” Her eyes flew open in horror, and she was shocked to find that he was closer than his distant voice had suggested. Confused, she tried to gather her thoughts.
“I didn’t,” she protested vehemently. “I wouldn’t. Why would you say something like that, Rick? Why would you
?” She heard the bewildered hurt in her voice and was ashamed to reveal how much his lies had wounded her. “I thought we were friends.”
“Our friendship ended when you did what you did to my brother,” he snarled. She jumped when his voice caught up with him and the volume increased dramatically on the last word.
“I didn’t do anything to Bryce,” she whimpered, her own voice still far away. “He didn’t want me anymore . . . so I left. I left him.”
“You left him for
The woman, Lisa, laid a restraining hand on Rick’s arm as he made a frustrated move toward Bronwyn. Bron blinked at the fury on his face; she had no idea where all of this anger was coming from.
“Take me home . . .” she entreated again, keeping her eyes on the other woman’s face. “Please. I have to go home . . .” Just then an intimidatingly large figure suddenly loomed in the doorway, and when Bronwyn’s eyes lifted, she was filled with a sense of impending doom.
stood there. Quiet, graceful, and fierce, and Bronwyn cowered at the sight of him.
him?” she said, exhaling, the hurt and betrayal she felt evident in her voice and face. Despite everything, she had still steadfastly clung to the belief that Rick was her friend. She lifted her wounded doe eyes to his furious face. “You called him? Oh, Ricky, how could you?”
“He called me because I’m his brother and his loyalties lie with me.” The beautiful dark voice was calmer than she would have expected and drifted over her like a gentle caress. She closed her eyes at the sound of that voice. It was the first time she had heard it in over two years, and God how she had missed it. She had hungered for the sound of his voice and had often thought of calling him just to hear it but had dismissed that impulse as a dangerous and forbidden luxury.