Authors: Natasha Anders
“You’ve never been selfish with your things; I didn’t think you’d mind,” she said uncertainly.
“I gave you a car as a wedding present. What happened to it?” he gritted, his eyes narrowing as he reminded her of the beautiful sporty BMW. She flushed as she struggled to respond to that question.
“What do you think happened to it? I sold it,” she whispered softly, defiance in her eyes. She had loved that car, but she had sold it before selling her wedding rings. She had clung to her marriage, her love for Bryce, and the rings that had symbolized both, for as long as she possibly could. The corners of his lips curled downward and she lowered her eyes, not wanting to see the contempt he had for her reflected on his face.
“Why?” he asked quietly. The question threw her. She had expected yet another one of his scathing set downs.
“I needed the money,” she confessed huskily. “I was seven months pregnant and I had no place to live. Up till then, I’d been staying in cheap hotels until the money I had in my personal bank account dried up.” The money in her personal account had been hers, money earned during her short-lived waitressing career, and that had been left over from her grandmother’s trust fund. It had lasted longer than expected after she had scrimped and saved, going without a lot of things in order to keep a roof over her head. She had worked three separate jobs, until she had been forced to concede that she wasn’t doing herself or her unborn baby much good. So eventually she’d had to sell her car and put some of the money down as a deposit on the small flat that she and Kayla had been still living in when Rick found her again. The money from the car and the rings had kept her comfortably afloat for nearly a year. The added income from work had been used for food and rent. The car and rings had paid for the extras and had helped with the medical bills as well as with feeding and clothing Kayla.
“It took me that long to grasp that our marriage was well and truly over,” she admitted shamefully. “It took four long months before I—at long last—accepted that I couldn’t continue living my life in limbo. I needed a place to stay, someplace that would be good for both the baby and me. I also knew that I would need medical care soon and some sort of financial cushion for a month or so after giving birth. I didn’t want to abandon Kayla for work mere days after giving birth to her. I wanted to spend some time with her.” He stared at her in silence for a long time, and she wet her lips nervously, not really knowing what to expect. Not even sure that he’d caught half of what she’d said. She had spoken a little too quickly, without really giving any thought to his deafness.
“I expected you to use the money in our mutual account, or to use your credit card. I was hoping that you would because it would have helped me track you down. I nearly went crazy wondering how the hell you were taking care of yourself. Why didn’t you use the money, Bronwyn?” he asked hoarsely, clearly staggered by her words. “Surely your health and the baby’s welfare meant more than your stubborn pride?”
She blinked at him in mute shock.
“I used my own money, Bryce,” she repeated with a shrug, knowing that the money had been a pittance compared to what he had. But at least it had been
. “In my old account.”
“What account?” he asked blankly, and she frowned.
“The account I had before we married,” she said quietly.
that account?” He practically exploded, and she winced, understanding how that must look to him. “After two years of marriage, you still had a bank account in your maiden name? What the hell was that about, Bronwyn? Your escape clause?”
“Hardly,” she scoffed. “It barely had enough in it to see me through the first month. I just never got around to closing it, that’s all. And besides, you have no right to get all self-righteous with me over it.
had cut me off so completely I’d assumed—”
“What? That I’d be happy to let you and the baby starve to death or wind up homeless?” he interrupted fiercely, and her mouth opened and then closed again as she tried to gather her thoughts. Yes, she should probably have used the money. When she thought back to all the unnecessary suffering that she had endured, it seemed stupid now, but at the time she’d been trying to prove a point.
“Bryce,” she tried to find a way to explain her decision to him and drew a complete blank. “After four months of constant and inexplicable rejection, I gave up on trying to reach you. By that point I didn’t think that you deserved to have the baby or me in your life. I wanted to move on and couldn’t do so with
money. I needed to do it on my own, without being beholden to the man who had made it clear that he didn’t want anything to do with us. I didn’t feel entitled to your money after making that decision.”
“You didn’t feel entitled to it?” Bryce latched onto those words, obviously dismissing the rest of what she had said. “To the
of your child’s money? I don’t even know how to respond to that, Bronwyn. You may not have felt entitled to it, but Kayla certainly was, and
, entitled to it. You could have set aside your pettiness and considered her in all of this!”
“Oh please just
throwing Kayla in my face. I did everything I could for her. I gave her the best I could afford after you kicked us out. How was I supposed to know you’d have this turnaround where the baby was concerned? As far as I knew, you didn’t want her and didn’t think that she was entitled to anything you had. She didn’t want for
. Her clothes may not have had designer tags and her toys may have been secondhand, but my baby was well loved and well taken care of. Don’t you dare imply anything else!” More interminably silent staring from him, but she refused to lower her eyes, refused to be intimidated or cowed by him. Instead she met his inscrutable gaze head-on, with chin tilted defiantly, eyes sparking, and fists clenched. She looked like a feral cat ready to defend herself and her baby against any and all threats.
“What time are you meeting Alice?” The question threw her completely, and she blinked in astonishment, surprised and relieved that he had let it drop. She checked her watch.
“In about half an hour,” she told him.
Not understanding the question, she merely stared at him confusedly for a few moments.
“You won’t run off again?” he rephrased, and she reeled in shock at the depth of vulnerability and insecurity his question had revealed.
“Uh . . . n-no. Mikayla . . .” was all she managed, and he nodded shortly, realizing that she would never leave without her daughter.
“If not for Mikayla . . .” He seemed to ask the question before he could stop himself, and in doing so, clearly revealed a lot more than he had ever intended to reveal. “Would you come back?” She hesitated, her eyes lowered as she pondered the question, and seeing the uncertainty on her face, Bryce made a slight movement with his hand.
“Forget it,” he snapped, before she could even think about formulating a response. “It was a stupid question, and it’s really not that important. As long as you don’t leave with my daughter, I don’t give a damn what you do.” Somehow the words sounded hollow and untrue, ringing with bravado and not much conviction. They avoided each other’s eyes—each afraid of the truth they might spy in the other’s gaze.
“I have to go,” she muttered evasively, getting up from the chair. He jumped up too and caught her arm to halt her progress.
“Wait.” She stood quietly in his grasp, her eyes searching his harsh features warily. He looked moody and uncertain, not at all sure of what he wanted to say or even why he’d halted her progress.
“I don’t want you to go by yourself,” he said, almost reluctantly. “I want one of the security team to go with.” Bronwyn frowned at that. She had always hated the discreet security detail that had followed them just about everywhere after they had first gotten married and had complained about it so much that he had cut her personal detail down to one supposedly unobtrusive guard to keep her happy. Bronwyn had agreed to the compromise because the one guy had been better than a team, but she had never felt comfortable with what she had always felt was a blatant display of wealth.
“Bryce, I don’t want to have some gorilla following me around all afternoon,” she snapped, and his lips tightened.
“I’ll ask Cal to take care of the matter personally.” Cal was his head of security and Bronwyn had always liked the quiet man who read Shakespearean sonnets in his spare time. She hadn’t really seen him since her return. She was relieved to learn that he still worked for Bryce since she had feared that she might have gotten him into trouble after instructing him to take that fateful night off two years ago. She had wanted a private and romantic evening with her husband and had dismissed the entire staff. She knew that it was probably one of the only reasons she had been able to disappear so completely. Cal had left only a skeleton staff on duty that night. Her personal guard, not expecting her to leave the house that night, had also been given the night off.
“I’m glad Cal still works for you,” she said, all the heat fleeing from her voice and expression.
“He’s been acting as my personal guard,” Bryce said before making an odd sound in the back of his throat. “You still have my numbers right?” he continued hesitantly, and she nodded again. “If you need anything, or if you feel ill, call me.”
“Bryce.” She smiled reassuringly up into his eyes. “I’m fine, but in the unlikely event of that status quo changing, I’ll be sure to give you a call.” His eyes frosted over.
“Don’t mock me, Bronwyn,” he said coldly, and she shook her head, alarmed that he had misread her humor.
“I wasn’t,” she assured gently, lifting her hand to cup his jaw. “I’ll be fine, but I promise to call you if I feel ill.” He stepped away from her soft hand, leaving it hovering in midair. He continued to look down at her for a few long moments.
“I’ll tell Cal to meet you in the garage. Let him do the driving,” he said bossily before swivelling on his heel and leaving the room. Bronwyn sighed despondently and stared after him for one long, wistful moment before straightening her shoulders and leaving too.
Alice met her at the restaurant entrance with a warm hug and a smile. Her mischievously sparkling eyes traveled past Bronwyn’s shoulder to where Cal stood hovering in the background, before tossing a conspiratorial glance back over her own narrow shoulder. When Bronwyn saw a large man, similarly dressed in black suit and dark glasses standing a little off to the side, desperately striving to look “unobtrusive” behind Alice, she laughed in genuine amusement.
“All the cool kids have one these days,” Alice wisecracked cheerfully, her expression so comical that it set Bronwyn off again.
“Where’s Tristan?” Bronwyn asked Alice after their initial warm greetings.
“I told Pierre that this was a ladies’ afternoon and as such he had to take Tristan to the office with him.” She grinned. “He was a bit reluctant. He loves having the baby around, but Tristan has this nasty habit of chewing important documents. Pierre still shudders every time he thinks of a certain document that got gummed just minutes before he had to hand it back to the legal department. The way he tells it, he had no option but to give it back as is. He made no comment about the drool and as such none of the legal team had the courage to say anything either. They merely retyped everything before sending it off.” She laughed conspiratorially.
“According to Pierre it was ‘damned embarrassing.’” She imitated her husband’s voice and accent perfectly, and Bronwyn’s grin widened appreciatively. “Apparently he has an important meeting today, but I hardly ever get time to myself, so while he may grumble, he doesn’t really mind. In fact, he’ll never admit it but he gets a total thrill out of having his son to himself for part of the day.”
“Well, I still feel a bit guilty about leaving Bryce with Kayla,” Bronwyn admitted. “He’s been remarkable with her, but I feel like he’s been doing all the work.”
” Alice interrupted coldly. “You have been doing all the work for the last two years, and you’ve paid for it with your health. It’s time for Bryce to put in some hours.”
“But . . .”
“And you can’t tell me he’s not enjoying this time with her. He’s getting to know his daughter, and from what I could see last night, he’s totally in love with her.”
Bronwyn nodded with slight smile.
“So no more guilt; just enjoy yourself. As far as I can tell, you haven’t had too much fun over the last two years.”
Bronwyn’s smile faded, and Alice shrugged, the gesture so Gallic, it could only have rubbed off on her from her husband.
“I know nothing about your situation, Bronwyn,” she said quietly. “But Pierre’s version of events, definitely gleaned from his friend, was so one-sided that I’d always vowed to reserve judgment until I met you. And there seems to be a whole lot that Bryce left out when he told Pierre his story. I mean, he had certainly never told Pierre that you were pregnant. I can’t tell you how shocked Pierre was when he learned that you were back in Bryce’s life and with a