Authors: Natasha Anders
“They told me my heart stopped . . . twice. Of course, I don’t remember it at all. I just woke up to the sound of Kayla’s crying. It took so much strength to turn my head but . . .” She smiled radiantly up into his face, her tears blinding her to his expression. “She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. So perfect and so healthy, and in that moment I knew that I would do
to keep her safe!”
“Bronwyn . . .” Bryce’s throat was tight with emotion, and he struggled to get the words out. “Why didn’t you . . .”
“Call you?” She completed the question and gazed at him levelly. “Perhaps I was stubborn . . . or stupid? Maybe I didn’t love Kayla enough to want the best for her?” He didn’t want her truth, he had forced her into uttering the only major lie she had ever told him, and she would be
if she ever tried to convince him of the facts again. She was tired of defending herself to a man who refused to see the truth. Well, now the truth was something that Bryce would have to discover for himself. She had given up on it and on him.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered painfully, his own eyes shimmering with what could only be tears. “God, I’m so sorry you had to go through that on your own.”
Bryce wasn’t quite able to process everything he had just learned without wanting to howl in agony at the horror of it all. Her
had stopped for God’s sake! She had
and he hadn’t even known about it. His beautiful, fragile Bronwyn had nearly been snatched from him forever and the knowledge was eating him up alive. His own suffering seemed almost immaterial when measured against the cripplingly painful facts that she had just revealed and yet he couldn’t help thinking that if she had just stayed, come back, called him—
—he could have protected her, kept her safe from harm. He ignored the shrill voice screeching at him in the back of his mind,
Who would have kept her safe from you?
“You said the nurse asked you for your next of kin’s contact details. Why didn’t you give them my number?” he asked gruffly.
“Oh, now why on earth would I do that?” Bronwyn asked flippantly. “I much preferred the thought of leaving Kayla an orphan.” His brow lowered threateningly. You didn’t have to be able to hear to recognize such blatant sarcasm.
“Bron, now’s not the time for facetiousness!”
“Well,” she blinked up at him innocently, forming her words carefully so that there would be no misunderstanding. “I’m just telling you what I believe you want to know, since it has become rather self-evident that the truth gets rejected when it doesn’t suit you. What I don’t get is how on earth you could marry a woman you have such a low opinion of. By now we’ve established that I’m foolish, fickle, cruel, and selfish! God knows what you saw in me in the first place. You must be an
judge of character.” She disentangled herself from his arms and jumped out of bed, uncaring of her nudity. She just wanted to get away from him.
“Where are you going?” he asked, sounding panicky.
“Shower,” was her succinct reply.
“But we haven’t finished our talk . . .”
“I’ve said all I have to say on that particular subject.” She waved her hand dismissively and turned toward the en suite.
“Bron,” his voice was gruff with some indefinable emotion, and she turned to face him. He stared at her for a long moment, looking completely lost for words, before shaking his head.
“Rick and Lisa got back from their holiday last night, and I thought it would be nice to have them come by for the afternoon. I’d like Rick to get to know Kayla, and I think that you and Lisa might get along.” She nodded in response, part of her looking forward to seeing Rick again and the other part remembering his cold-bloodedness at the hospital when she had been ill and defenseless. She
looking forward to spending more time with his new wife though; the woman had been very kind to her in the brief moments they had shared.
“That’ll be nice,” she murmured before turning back toward the bathroom, and this time he let her go without protest.
ick, Lisa, and Rhys arrived just after one o’clock. The couple was holding hands and looked tanned, healthy, and happy. Rick’s greeting of Bronwyn was strained; merely a curt nod before he grinned at his older brother and immediately struck up a conversation in SASL, rather rudely excluding both Bronwyn and Lisa. The other woman shared a wry smile with Bronwyn before clasping her hand warmly and planting a totally unexpected kiss on her cheek.
“You look so much better than the last time I saw you,” she said with a friendly smile.
“Rest and sunshine will do that,” Bron responded easily before stepping back and giving Lisa an all-encompassing once-over.
“I don’t remember much about you, beyond your kindness that day, but I have to say, you’re looking very good too.” She snuck a glance over to her expansively signing brother-in-law. “I’m happy the whole . . . situation with Bryce and I didn’t ruin your holiday!” Lisa shook her head with a smile.
“Rick was a bit withdrawn for a while, but Rhys and I soon dragged him out of it.” She nodded down at the sleeping baby in his stroller and grinned good-naturedly.
“Oh, I’m so relieved to hear that.” Bronwyn couldn’t help but respond to Lisa’s warm personality. The woman was absolutely lovely. She could see how Rick fell for her so quickly.
“So where is your beautiful little girl?” Lisa sent a questioning glance around the sunny patio as if expecting Kayla to pop out from some nook at any moment.
“Poor little thing. Bryce was preparing her for your impending visit all morning and while she has no idea what cousins, aunts, and uncles are—I think she’s expecting some exotic form of animal—she kept chattering on about it throughout her lunch. She wore herself out and drifted off to sleep almost immediately after completing her meal. It’s for the best; she gets cranky if she doesn’t have her afternoon nap. She’ll be up again in an hour or two.” She glanced over to where Bryce and Rick were still immersed in conversation and frowned.
understand sign language?” she asked quietly, and Lisa’s eyes became pools of liquid sympathy.
“A little. Rick has been teaching me,” she admitted softly.
“What are they talking about?” Bron wondered wistfully, and Lisa squeezed her hand again.
“I think Rick is telling Bryce about his shark cage dive.” She shuddered at the unpleasant recollection.
“Oh dear . . . Rick
does stuff like that?”
“Apparently it was the first time he’s ever gone shark cage diving. He loved it but told me that he doubts he’ll do it again, now that he’s experienced it. I should hope not. It gives me jitters whenever I think of him down there with all those huge great whites circling the flimsy little cage he considers protection!”
“He’ll settle down a bit now that he’s married with a child, I suspect,” Bron stated confidently.
he will.” Lisa rolled her eyes. “Or maybe he’ll simply drag Rhys and me along with him. Back when we were dating, before I got pregnant, he did a brilliant job of talking me into doing the crazy stuff with him! In fact I’m pretty sure getting pregnant so soon was my body’s defence mechanism kicking in to save me from Death by Crazy.”
,” Bron gasped, unable to picture the sweet, bookish-looking woman participating in some of the extreme sports Rick commonly did for fun.
“Well let’s see: bungee jumping, parasailing, parachuting, hang-gliding.” She ticked off her fingers as she itemized. “Navigating in some crazy off-road race, white-water rafting . . . these are just a
of the insane things I found myself roped into doing back then.”
“Ballet recitals, operas, poetry readings, symphony orchestras, shopping for
old furniture,” Rick interjected.
“Antiques,” Lisa inserted smoothly, smiling affectionately as her husband came over to join them.
“. . . Art exhibitions,” Rick continued to recite as if she hadn’t interrupted, dropping an arm around his wife’s narrow shoulders and angling himself so that Bryce was able to lip-read what he was saying. “These are just a few of the really boring things
have found myself participating in since getting married.”
Lisa snorted and rolled her eyes again.
don’t have a thing for jumping off high mountains and out of perfectly good planes,” she scoffed, and he grinned before dropping a quick kiss on her lips and whispering something in her ear.
Bronwyn watched them enviously and unconsciously found herself raising her eyes to Bryce’s face. She was startled to see that he was studying her intently, and she lowered her gaze quickly but he came over to stand beside her. They stood side by side for a couple of moments, not touching, watching the younger couple whispering and giggling with each other. Bronwyn nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt the first tentative, wholly unexpected touch of his large hand in the small of her back. Her eyes flew to his impassive profile, but he kept his eyes straight ahead, watching his brother and Lisa with a slight smile playing about his lips.
His hand moved up hesitantly, until it was in the nape of her neck, beneath the thick fall of her hair and the heat of his skin singed the delicate flesh of her vulnerable neck. He massaged her soft skin gently before clearing his throat to get the younger couple’s attention; they jumped apart guiltily, grinning like kids.
“Ready to eat?” Bryce asked quietly before turning toward the patio table that was laden with delicious food and fruit. He kept a possessive hand on Bronwyn as he led her toward the table and let her go long enough to pull out a chair for her. Bronwyn glanced up at him warily before accepting the seat. He used to do things like that for her all the time in the past, unconscious acts like opening doors, helping her into coats, seating her. It was an old-world chivalry that Bronwyn had found completely charming. He hadn’t done anything like it since her return, and Bronwyn realized with a pang that it was one of the small details she had forgotten, yet subconsciously missed, about him. She nodded her thanks, wondering what was behind the sudden courtesy. His hand unexpectedly lowered to her cheek and his thumb stroked her flesh briefly, but he moved away before she had any chance to react to the unexpected caress.
Baffled, Bronwyn’s eyes followed his progress as he sat opposite her, next to Lisa, leaving Rick no option but to sit beside Bronwyn. Rick largely ignored her in favor of his brother and wife, leaving Bronwyn feeling snubbed and ridiculously hurt. She
why he was behaving the way he was, knew that he was merely being loyal to his brother, whom he felt had been treated unfairly. Yet Bronwyn still couldn’t help but feel almost betrayed by Rick’s blatant display of hostility. By the time they were halfway through the meal, Lisa was glaring daggers at her husband, and Bryce was looking almost as strained as Bronwyn felt. Rick was either oblivious to the tension he was creating or—more than likely—ignoring it.
“Bronwyn,” Bryce’s quiet voice interrupted Rick’s animated description of some of the more exotic sights he and Lisa had been treated to during their “and baby makes three honeymoon,” as he had so delightfully described the holiday. “You’re not eating . . .”
Bronwyn looked down at her barely touched meal and shrugged helplessly, a bit thrown by the abrupt shift in topic.
“I’m not that hungry,” she responded with a strained smile. “And I was wrapped up in Rick’s story.”
“You should eat,” Bryce prompted. “You’re still too thin . . .”
Bronwyn snapped, instantly and utterly fed up with everything. The ridiculous untruths he believed about her, Rick’s hostility, and her own weakness in both body and spirit.
“It’s always something with you, isn’t it?” she hissed furiously. “I wasn’t well spoken enough, pretty enough, graceful enough, educated enough . . . I was never good enough for you. I doubt I’ll
be good enough. No wonder you jumped at the opportunity to get rid of me,” she reflected bitterly. “All you needed was an excuse, and I very conveniently provided you with one when I got pregnant. And then, to add insult to injury, you came up with that
. . .” She stopped abruptly, remembering her resolve to let him muddle through the facts and find the truth for himself. She shook her head furiously, turning to a gaping Rick.
“And as for
. . . How dare you sit there judging me with nothing but the so-called facts your stupid brother gave you to go on?” She was so furious, hurt, and frustrated that she couldn’t stop herself from clenching her fist and punching him on his arm. He winced and angled his chair away from her. “I thought you were smarter and fairer than that, Rick!” She got up and turned to face Lisa, who was staring up at her with an approving grin playing about her lips.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her eyes burning with the tears she refused to shed. “Please excuse me . . .”
Lisa nodded and Bronwyn turned to flee, leaving absolute silence in her wake.
“Well,” Lisa drawled into the shocked silence. “I think she’s a little angry, don’t you?”
“Stop it, Lisa,” Rick grunted irritably. “This is none of your—”
“Don’t say it,” she warned direly. “Don’t even
about saying it!”
Rick wisely shut up.
“Your behavior was atrocious, and I was so ashamed of you.”
“Lisa, you don’t know—”
“She claims that she tried to call me,” Bryce interrupted the squabbling couple quietly, and Rick frowned.
“Before having Kayla, as little as a week after leaving me and then again after she gave birth.” He knew enough to read between the lines of her sarcastic responses of that morning. “She said she tried to call me. She said she tried my cell phone, but of course that was wrecked in the accident. She also professes to have tried the house but you’d given Celeste and the staff time off while I was recuperating. But then she also says that she tried to contact the office and was stonewalled by my people.”
Rick gaped at him.
“Bronwyn tried to contact you?”
“So she claims.” Bryce shrugged, trying to disguise his unease behind the careless movement. “My staff would not have given her the run-around, not unless I’d given specific instructions to that effect. Something I could not have done while laid up in hospital. So she has to be lying. But why the hell does she keep telling the same lie, over and over again?”
“Bryce,” Rick looked aghast. “You did give an order to that effect.”
” Bryce leaped to his feet at the outrageousness of the remark. “What in God’s name are you talking about?”
“It was the same night as your accident. Pierre, Cooper”—Cooper had been Bryce’s personal assistant at the time, a young and ambitious self-starter who had since moved on to bigger and better things—“and I were all there. You had just gotten out of surgery and you were still groggy, but when I asked you where Bronwyn was, you were very adamant that you did
want to see her or hear from her ever again. You were in so much pain and the fact that I had to write down everything I said was adding to your emotional strain. I knew that something pretty awful must have happened between the two of you. The mere fact that she wasn’t at the hospital was testament enough of that, but I still figured the words were bluster and that you two would work things out, so I shrugged them off.”
Bryce’s face revealed absolutely no emotion as he got up from the table and dug his cell phone out of his pocket.
“Call Pierre and ask him if he knows of any calls Bronwyn may have made to my office while I was recuperating.”
“Bryce . . .” Rick began.
it, Rick!” The younger man nodded and dialed. Bryce watched his brother’s face as he spoke with Pierre, unable to read his lips while he had the phone up against his ear. He kept picturing Bronwyn’s tormented face as she had flung her bitter words at him. He hadn’t been able to read half of what she’d said to him, but he had gotten the gist of it. She actually believed he didn’t think she was good enough for him? Where the hell had she gotten a demented idea like
? He was still mulling over the question when Rick disconnected his call and looked up. Bryce watched his younger brother’s expression closely, anxious to know what Pierre had revealed. When Rick first spoke, Bryce was so intent on watching his brother’s eyes that he missed the first few words and impatiently signed for him to start again.
“Pierre doesn’t know of any calls Bron may have placed to the office,” Rick began, and Bryce felt an overwhelming surge of despair battling with an equally large dose of anger at himself for almost believing the treacherous little bitch! Rick was still talking and it took all of Bryce’s concentration to focus on his brother’s lips again. “. . .
remember you categorically stating that you wanted nothing more to do with her. Like me, he didn’t take the words seriously, so he placed no such order on your behalf. Pierre thinks that Cooper may not have dismissed your words as lightly. After all, Pierre is your friend and partner, and I’m your brother, and unlike Cooper we had no jobs on the line.” Bryce said nothing, merely stared at his brother thoughtfully for the longest time. The anger and despair was forgotten as a terrible feeling of sinking panic rapidly settled over him, and he frantically tried to figure out what to do next.
“Rick,” he said out loud, as carefully and concisely as he could, not wanting his brother to misunderstand his next words in the slightest way. “I want you to find Cooper. I want to know if she’s lying about this because . . . because . . .” He couldn’t bear to utter the words. His eyes slid away from Rick’s, and he found himself meeting Lisa’s gaze. He saw that her lips were moving and he automatically focused on them.