Authors: Natasha Anders
“But the condoms?”
“In the pedestal drawer,” she elaborated, and his lips twitched.
“Rick and Lisa have used that room in the past and while they did the responsible thing in purchasing condoms, they never really got around to using them, and she got pregnant faster than you could blink.” He stared levelly up at her for a beat before grinning wickedly. “Were you jealous, Bron?”
“Not at all.” She kept her face expressionless but couldn’t quite hide the betraying flush from him. “I just thought you were a hypocrite for getting weird about Raymond when you’d all but admitted to sleeping with other women. It doesn’t matter anymore anyway. The divorce still stands.” Her words brought the reality of their situation back to him and he sobered immediately. “I want to pick up the pieces of my life and move on. I just can’t be happy living like this.”
He stood up, towering above her, and his eyes bored desperately into hers.
“We can be a family, Bronwyn,” he urged, holding out an imploring hand. “This weekend proved that.”
“No, all this weekend proved is that you still have secrets that you refuse to share with me. And it will always be that way, won’t it, Bryce? You will always close off some part of yourself from me. I’ve never really known you and I doubt that I ever will.”
“Sweetheart, please,” he groaned.
“Don’t call me that,” she said. She just felt tired and defeated. He stood there, hand still outstretched and looking miserable, with alcohol dripping from his hair and into his eyes. For a very brief moment she felt herself softening.
“I know that I’ve been an utter bastard,” he admitted.
His admission strengthened her resolve.
“I’m sorry . . . ?”
“Is that a question? Or an actual apology?”
He hesitated briefly and she rolled her eyes. “Get back to me when you know for sure.” She swept from the room, and Bryce stared at the door for a long time after she’d left.
Now that this whole divorce thing was becoming a palpable fact, he admitted to himself that he wasn’t quite so willing to roll over and give her everything that she asked for. He wanted his wife and child but he was a broken man, both physically and emotionally, and it hardly seemed fair to saddle her with his innumerable problems after everything that he had already put her through. Yet he knew that without her he’d go back to being the empty husk he’d been after she’d left. He sighed and corrected the thought, after he’d
her away. Two years ago he had been careless with the most precious thing in his world and had lost it as a result. He wished that there were some way to regain her trust and reconcile with her, but in his heart he didn’t think he deserved that much anymore.
“You still with us, Bronwyn?” Bronwyn blinked when a slender hand was waved in front of her face and she saw that the four other women sitting at the restaurant table were staring at her expectantly. They had been discussing Theresa’s marriage renewal ceremony, which was coming up later in the year. The other women were excitedly exchanging ideas for the event.
“Sorry, I missed that,” she muttered, and Alice snorted.
“You’ve missed large chunks of the conversation from what I could tell,” the other woman said with raised eyebrows. “What’s going on with you? You checked out of this conversation before it even started.”
“I’m divorcing Bryce,” Bronwyn told them after taking a fortifying sip of alcohol. It had been a difficult week. She and Bryce had barely spoken since Monday even though he had tried to approach her on numerous occasions. She’d spent her time actively avoiding him and felt like a rank coward because of it.
“Seriously?” Lisa looked stunned by the information, and the other women were all staring at her sympathetically.
“Yes. I’ve spoken to a lawyer.”
“But I thought things were getting better.” Lisa looked devastated by the information, and Bronwyn sighed quietly before shaking her head.
“No, the plan has always been to get a divorce. We’re living together because it’s convenient right now and less stressful for Kayla, but as soon as I graduate and find a job I’m leaving.”
“But that will take years.” Theresa unknowingly echoed the words Bronwyn had spoken to Bryce when he’d first suggested his house-sharing idea to her.
“Yes and it does bother me. I really don’t want to take advantage of Bryce’s generosity . . .”
,” Theresa cut her off with what for her was uncharacteristically strong language. “You’re the mother of his child and you spent the first year and a half of Kayla’s life struggling to take care of her at the cost of your own health. So don’t you
feel bad about accepting the aid that you’re entitled to receive from the father of your child. It’s the very least he can do.” The other women stared at Theresa in surprise, and she looked a little uncomfortable before shrugging. “It’s something I feel strongly about.” Bronwyn smiled before nodding her agreement.
“You’re right, Theresa, but Bryce has suffered too. He missed the first year and a half of Kayla’s life, and he had that accident while following me and we all know how that ended.”
“All things that could have been avoided if he’d acted less like an arse after he discovered that you were pregnant,” Lisa pointed out reasonably.
“Yes, what married man reacts like that to the news that he’s going to be a father, anyway?” Alice added her two cents worth. “I like Bryce but seriously, that was a jerk move.”
“I think that everything will seem a lot less complicated after a couple of drinks,” Roberta Richmond, who had joined their group for the first time that night, suggested with a decisive nod. She wasn’t quite up to speed on the Bronwyn and Bryce situation, but she showed her solidarity by ordering a round of drinks—even though she kept herself restricted to nonalcoholic cocktails. The woman, at twenty-six, was a couple of years younger than Bronwyn and was a friend of Theresa’s. Apparently they had met at some football thing that Sandro, Theresa’s husband, attended regularly. The tomboyish young woman was now the only single, childless member of their group. Theresa had informed them before inviting Bobbi—as she preferred to be called—that the other woman had very few female friends. Bronwyn liked her positive energy. She was a good addition to their little group.
They spent the rest of the day tossing back cocktails, and, in an effort to cheer her up, the other women started offering Bronwyn all kinds of increasingly bawdy advice on how she could bounce back from her divorce. One of them suggested Bronwyn hook up with a male stripper, which actually made very little sense, but they weren’t very sensible by that point.
“I guarantee a male stripper would know what to do between the sheets.” Lisa nodded knowingly.
“Please, like you’d know,” Theresa scoffed.
“I heard they are mostly gay,” Bronwyn ventured.
“No way.” Alice looked disappointed by the very idea.
“We should do some research,” Bobbi mused, licking the salt off her margarita glass. “Find a stripper and ask him if he’s gay.”
“Where are we going to find a stripper?” Bronwyn asked, curious, more than a little tipsy.
“I know a place,” the very shy and straitlaced Theresa, of
“Stop it,” Lisa gasped, scandalized. “You do
“I do,” Theresa maintained smugly. “I saw a documentary about it last week.”
“Well, what are we waiting for then?” Alice asked eagerly. “Let’s go find us some strippers!”
Bryce always positioned himself in a room that would get hit by any car headlights whenever he knew Bronwyn was going to be out late. That way he could be certain she was home safely before heading to bed. He would never be able to sleep if he knew she was still out. He always worried about whether she was safe when she was out late with her bunch of gal pals. Unfortunately the women were all quite adamant that security not be present at their gatherings, but the men had collectively agreed to always have at least one guy incognito and keeping an eye on them. Still, it didn’t prevent Bryce from getting stressed out every time it got a little too close to midnight on these girlie Saturdays. Right now it was
midnight and the responses he’d received to the frantic SMSes he’d sent to both Rick and Pierre—whose guy had security detail that night—had been pretty similar:
out bro, they’re fine
Relax! I’ve checked. There’s nothing to worry about.
He supposed he would have to be content with that.
At long last, close to one in the morning, the headlights swept up the drive, and he leaped up from the sofa in the den and headed to the front door, fury mixed with the relief he felt.
Strangely enough the headlights were sweeping back down the drive just as he got to the front door, and he was still trying to figure out what that meant when the door swung open. His wife staggered, that was the only word he could think of to describe her movement, into the foyer. Her face lit up when she saw him, and he blinked in surprise until the fumes hit him.
!” he accused in disbelief. That explained the headlights; she had probably come home by taxi. She said something that he didn’t quite catch, and he imagined that she was probably slurring her words. She held her hand up, thumb and forefinger an inch apart, and he shook his head. “
than a little, Bronwyn. Where the hell have you been?” She winced and rubbed her ears and spoke again, and he caught enough of her words to comprehend that he’d probably used a little too much volume on the question. He took a deep, calming breath like his speech therapist had taught him to and repeated the question in what he hoped was a quieter voice. It was always hard to judge when he was feeling this riled up.
“. . . With girls.”
He caught just the tail end of that, but it was enough.
“You’ve been out with ‘the girls’ before but never till nearly one in the morning,” he said, seething.
You’re not my dad!
she signed sloppily before trying to weave her way past him. She lacked the necessary coordination though and instead walked right into him. Bryce grabbed her upper arms and steadied her. She smiled blindingly up at him before quite unexpectedly running her hands over his bare forearms and then up over his biceps. He was so distracted by her touch that for a second he didn’t know that she was speaking. Her eyes had glazed over with familiar desire, and she seemed to be talking more to herself than him. He tried to focus on her lips and not on his burgeoning erection, but it still took a few moments before any of what she was saying sank in.
” Okay, this time he knew he was bellowing. “What stripper?” To his utter disappointment, she stopped her seductive stroking of his skin and frowned up at him. She lifted one of her hands from his arm and raised a forefinger to her lips in the universal
“What stripper?” he asked again, in what he knew was a whisper, and she rolled her eyes.
“Massive Marvin,” she informed him helpfully, but then removed her other hand from his overheated skin to say the rest in clumsy sign language.
But he’s not that massive. You’re much bigger than he is . . .
She paused thoughtfully while she ran her eyes over his body and then switched back to words. “Much bigger, all over!” Right. That last gesture was not exactly standard sign language but accompanied by the look she directed downward it was quite unmistakable and
flattering. He felt his face heating and his body hardening even more. He watched as her eyebrows sprang almost all the way to her hairline as she recognized what was happening to him. She raised her glassy eyes to his once more and licked her lips hungrily.
, he knew that look. She wanted him as much as he wanted her, but she was so drunk that he knew it would be wrong to act on their mutual need right then.
Sleeping with her while she was wasted was
part of his reconciliation plan. Okay, he still had no real idea what the hell his reconciliation plan was, but he was pretty sure that sleeping with her right now would not be the best first step.