Authors: Natasha Anders
When she opened her eyes, she was shocked to find that he had moved. He was standing right beside her bed and much too close for comfort. She shifted somewhat, lowering her eyes to the bed covers, afraid to meet his glacial gaze. She was terrified of what she would see in those eyes and sneaked a peek at him from beneath her half-mast lids.
He was so big. She had forgotten that about him, forgotten the sheer bulk of this man who had once been her love and her life. He stood six feet four and had the brawn to match the height, huge shoulders, trim waist, and slim hips. He resembled a Norse god of old with the darkly golden hair and the grim features that looked carved from granite. The only hints of softness in that roughly hewn face were his long, long lashes and his beautifully shaped mouth. She had always wondered what a gorgeous, successful man like him had seen in a plain nobody like her. She was an awkward and gangly woman who had long legs, a skinny body, and the gracelessness of a giraffe. There was nothing remarkable about her, save that a man like Bryce Palmer had chosen her to be his wife, had seemed to love her and want her.
He looked older than his thirty-three years. He had obviously aged since she had last seen him, but it wasn’t unflattering and it added even more character to an already strong face. Now he hovered over her like an avenging angel, beautiful and intimidating. He had all the power in the world to hurt her and—according to him—all the reason on Earth to hate her.
“Look at me!” he hissed furiously. She lifted her head to meet his cold eyes head-on and quaked before the sheer, unadulterated hatred she saw there. “You took everything from me when you left. You stripped me of all dignity, left me bleeding by the roadside, and you never once looked back. I will
forgive you for that, Bronwyn.”
me to go,” she defended herself weakly, looking down as she spoke, and was shocked when his huge hand reached out and grasped her fragile jaw. His grip was so unexpectedly fierce that she cringed a bit. She sensed Rick moving to intervene, but Bryce let her go abruptly.
at me when you talk to me,” he gritted out savagely. “You did this to me. The least you can do is look at me when you have something to say.”
“Bryce,” she managed weakly, looking up at him, even though it terrified her to meet his eyes. “You told me to go. Remember?” He made an impatient sound and turned his back on her. Bewildered, she stared at the broad expanse of his back and tried again, tears spilling from her eyes and her voice thickening with despair. “You didn’t want me anymore. You said . . . I t-tricked you . . . said . . .”
“Where is my baby?” He cut through her words coldly, spinning around to face her again, his eyes locked onto her tearful face with an intensity that unnerved her. She was aware of Rick making a shocked sound and Lisa quietly taking the stroller and leaving the room. “Where is the child you so cruelly deprived me of knowing?” The tears streaming down her face did not move him at all, and his vicious gaze was unwavering.
“Please,” she whispered, and his eyes dropped to her mouth. “Please, Bryce . . . you said you didn’t want a child . . . said I’d tricked you. I don’t understand why you’re being like this.”
sake, Bronwyn,” he all but shouted, suddenly and quite spectacularly losing his cool. “You knew that I was angry! You knew that I would calm down eventually. But you chose to run out of there, chose to jump into your car when you weren’t the best of drivers, and then you sped down that hill so fast that I was terrified you’d kill yourself. You
that I’d follow . . .” He gritted his teeth and tilted his head back, and she could see the muscles in his neck and throat work as he forced himself back under control. It took him longer than she would have expected. Bryce had always been quite adept at mastering his temper. Not this time, it seemed. While he managed to damp down the rage, she could still feel it simmering dangerously below the surface and it unsettled her. She didn’t quite understand where all this anger was coming from.
Where is my child?
” he growled dangerously, and Bronwyn’s eyes flooded as she thought of her beautiful little girl. Kayla had every right to know her father and vice versa. It was just that, up until now, Bronwyn had had no clue that Bryce
to know his daughter. She thought of the two weeks she’d spent at their holiday home in Knysna, waiting for him to come. Yes, she had known that he would need time to calm down and she had known that once he thought things through he would come for her. There had never been a doubt in her mind that he would want her and their baby.
But he hadn’t come . . . he hadn’t come to the most obvious place, the one place that she had been certain he would look, the place where they had spent so many happy hours together. And as the hours had turned into days and then into weeks, Bronwyn had been forced to face the reality of her situation: he had meant every cruel word. Bryce did not want their child, and as a consequence, he no longer wanted her. She would never have believed it of him, would never have expected him to abandon her to care for their baby on her own.
He had never once during their two-year-long marriage
that he loved her, but he had shown her in so many ways that she had believed that was enough. In the face of his abandonment, she had come to question that love and had been forced to acknowledge that the words would have meant more; the words would have meant
. They would have set his love in stone.
Now he was standing here telling her that he had wanted Kayla after all? What was she supposed to believe? Why was he treating her like the villain for leaving, when
was the one who had driven her away? In the midst of her turmoil, she heard an unmistakable sound—the familiar irrepressible chatter and giggle of a toddler . . . of a
toddler. Bronwyn’s panicked gaze swung to the open door and she was horrified to see the babysitter leading her beautiful daughter toward the room. Her anxious gaze swung toward Bryce but he seemed oblivious. He was watching her intently, still wanting an answer to his previous question. Rick had heard though and his gaze was riveted on the doorway as well. Oh
how could Katrina bring her here? How had the woman even known where to find Bronwyn?
me, damn you!” Bryce was growling. How could he remain unaware of the approaching babble of an effervescent eighteen-month-old baby? He had his back to the door and so did not see when Kayla and the now-faltering Katrina crossed the threshold. The young woman hesitated as her gaze swept around the room, immediately picking up on the tension. The toddler had no such reservations and upon seeing her mother, her face lit up and she made a beeline for the cot. She was muttering incoherently under her breath, as was her wont, and her nappy-clad bottom waddled comically as she toddled her way toward Bronwyn. Bryce still seemed to have no idea that she was there, and as Kayla passed by the bemused Rick, barely sparing him a glance, she was suddenly confronted by an obstacle in the form of her tall father. She frowned up at the big man who had his back to her, looking so much like him in that moment that Bronwyn smiled.
“What do you find so
about this Bronwyn?” he hissed.
“Man big,” Kayla said, her first two clear words since entering the room, and it sounded more like criticism than compliment. When he still didn’t get out of her way, she gave him a measuring look, drew back her leg, and . . .
!” Bronwyn shouted in horror, just as the little girl kicked her father on his calf. Bryce staggered a little, shocked rather than hurt, and whirled around, scanning the room desperately for a few seconds before dropping his gaze to the mutinous tiny girl before him. Not even knee-high to him and still in nappies, but she refused to back down.
“Kayla go . . .” she stated like a queen, sweeping by her enthralled father. When she reached her destination, she stopped and stared up at her next obstacle with a fulminating glare. The bed was too high for her to climb on to, so the beautiful little imp with her mop of silky brown hair and her big ice-blue eyes swept beguilingly back to the tall man she had just slighted and undid him with a charming smile before lifting her arms demandingly.
“Up, peese!” she commanded with the air of one accustomed to getting her way. The “please” was just a formality, and her father was helpless to do anything but obey. He picked her up reverently, holding her close for just an instant longer than she liked and she squirmed uncomfortably until he settled her onto the cot beside her mother, before shifting his piercing scrutiny to the babysitter whom he had only just noticed.
“I’m sorry, Bronwyn,” Katrina spoke uncertainly from the doorway, unnerved by Bryce’s direct stare. “When you were late I called the restaurant and they told me what had happened. I spoke to the doctor before bringing her here, and he said that you weren’t contagious. I have a date . . . and I thought . . .”
“You thought that you’d leave a little girl in hospital with her sick mother?” Bryce completed incredulously.
“Well . . .” The woman looked uncomfortable, and Bryce veered his furious gaze back to Bronwyn, who had her forehead resting on Kayla’s as she and her daughter communed without words. It was such a striking picture that he paused for an instant before launching an immediate attack.
is the type of irresponsible people you entrust our daughter’s care to?” Katrina’s eyes widened at his revealing words, and Bryce turned to face the young woman again, ignoring the surprised expression on her face. “Thank you, miss. Your services will no longer be required. Rick, please give the young lady whatever money is owed to her.”
“I can pay my
babysitter,” Bronwyn hissed furiously, but he kept his back to her, ignoring her, while Rick led Katrina out of the room. He turned to face her, and she repeated her claim. “I can pay my own babysitter, damn you!”
“Seeing that you have just lost your low-paying job, I don’t think that you’re in any position to be stubborn on this issue, Bronwyn.” Kayla was glaring up at Bryce furiously, and her scowling little face immediately distracted him.
“Hey there, angel.” His voice gentled as he crouched down beside the bed to meet her eyes. “Why so cross?”
“Mummy sleep,” she admonished. “Shhh!” He blinked for a startled instant, before lifting his gaze to Bronwyn’s shadowed eyes.
“It appears that our daughter has a lot more common sense than either of us does.” He smiled fondly down at the toddler, who was lovingly stroking her mother’s hair. “You’re in no condition to argue, Bronwyn. Just do as I say.” She gasped at his nerve and was about to protest when he hunkered down in front of Kayla again.
“Hi, sweetheart, do you know who I am?” His eyes were trained on Kayla’s perfect little features; she was an enchanting combination of both parents. She had his eyes . . . blue eyes so pale that they sometimes looked almost gray.
“Man,” Kayla responded shyly before popping her thumb into her mouth and laying her head on her mother’s chest.
“That’s right.” He nodded. Rick reentered the room silently, and Kayla dragged her thumb out of her mouth long enough to point at him.
“Man,” she informed helpfully, and Bryce swiveled his head, caught sight of his brother, and nodded with a grin.
“That’s your Uncle Rick.” Rick looked startled to hear himself introduced as such, startled and then pleased. He seemed to swell with pride. “I am your daddy . . . Can you say ‘daddy’?”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Bronwyn was so appalled by his blasé introduction, that her voice came out louder than she had intended. It startled Kayla, who blinked in shock before melting into tears. Bryce looked devastated. He stared at the crying child helplessly, not knowing what to do. Bronwyn, unable to stop herself, continued furiously.
“How can you just announce it to her like that? How can you simply . . .” Kayla cried even harder, and Bryce patted the child’s head and cheek helplessly. “Stop ignoring me, damn you, I hate it when you do that!” He looked up then, and when he saw her expression, his face darkened.
“It was you,” he seethed. “You made her cry. I thought it was something I’d done, damn you.” Bronwyn blinked down at him in amazement before lifting her eyes to Rick’s face in shocked realization.
me, can he?” she asked Rick, who stood just behind Bryce. The younger man said nothing and merely continued to stare at her levelly. His silver-gray eyes were unnerving in their uncharacteristic iciness.
“Why don’t you ask
that question?” Bryce asked mockingly, and she returned her gaze to his face, realizing that he had heard her question. She berated herself for being ludicrous. Of course he could hear her. “Ah, but you already know the answer, don’t you?” he taunted and she stiffened, feeling like a fool. Kayla had stopped crying and had her head resting on Bronwyn’s chest and her thumb back in her mouth. She was eyeing Bryce warily.
“What’s your name, angel?” he asked her gently. The child refused to answer and her eyelids grew heavier as she started to slip into a doze.
“Her name’s Mikayla,” Bronwyn supplied, but he kept his eyes on Kayla’s face, ignoring Bronwyn again.
“Go on, tell me your name.” He
snubbed her. Kayla dragged her thumb out of her mouth and deigned to respond.
“M’kayla.” She did not bother to lift her head and barely opened her eyes as she garbled her name the way she always did. It was recognizable enough, but Bryce was staring at the child with a baffled frown. He raised his confused eyes to Bronwyn, and she sighed before repeating the name.
“Mikayla, I named her Mikayla.” The frown deepened and something uncomfortably close to loathing settled over his taut, handsome features.
you, Bronwyn,” he growled, and she gasped. He didn’t like the name? She had named Kayla after him—his second name was Michael. Maybe he thought it was hypocritical of her to name their daughter after him when, as he now claimed, she had deprived him of his child. Bryce looked angry, hurt, and confused at the same time, and he kept glancing at his dozing little daughter and shutting his eyes despairingly. Bronwyn did not understand his reaction.