Authors: Natasha Anders
When next he opened his eyes, it was to profound silence. He gradually came to understand that he was hanging upside down and held suspended by his seat belt. He blinked at the gathering crowd outside the car and the first face he saw clearly was hers. He smiled, relieved that she had come back but puzzled by the complete lack of emotion on her face.
“Bronwyn.” He felt his lips form the word but couldn’t hear it. It was incredibly quiet; he hadn’t expected an accident scene to be this deathly silent. He tried again, called her name, and felt his throat tighten and hoarsen as he kept calling and calling without once uttering a sound. She didn’t move, she merely watched him, and he went cold with dread. She
God, he had known that she would eventually hate him . . . he had
known it. He had spent the past two years waiting for her to fall out of love with him. He wasn’t good enough for her love. Some part of him had always known that the son of a monster didn’t deserve such a glorious creature’s love.
Still, he begged and pleaded with her to come to him. God, she was so lovely, he adored her in that dress, he always had. But she had ignored him. She had turned around, walked away, and left him in pain and in silence.
Five days after Bronwyn’s devastating announcement, Kayla was sitting in a patch of late autumn sunshine in the conservatory with her daddy and happily playing house with her dolls and tea sets. She was dressed in a pink princess costume and those ubiquitous red sneakers that she so loved. Bryce had brought his laptop upstairs and was sitting on the heated tile floor next to her, enjoying the sunshine as he read and replied to his most urgent e-mails. He stopped occasionally to take a sip of imaginary tea from a dainty plastic cup, smacking his lips every time, which inevitably sent his daughter into paroxysms of giggles. He loved watching her laugh. She looked exactly like her mother when she laughed so unreservedly. Bronwyn used to laugh like that; she’d put her entire body into it as the laughter worked its way out from her belly. He couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed like that and felt a pang of regret at the loss. It had always been such a joy to see and hear her laughing, and he often wondered if Kayla’s laughter sounded anything like her mother’s.
He watched Kayla play and contemplated his previous fears that he would hurt her the way his father had hurt him. The thought of anybody, including himself, harming her in any way was repellent and raised every protective instinct he had. Something that had once seemed so inevitable had become a complete nonevent. He hadn’t expected to trust himself around her, had thought that he would need constant supervision, someone to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn’t hurt her. But from the moment he had first laid eyes on her all he had wanted was to spend time with her, get to know her, spoil her, and love her.
She amused him, baffled him at times, and even angered him on the odd occasion, but the only time he had physically hurt her had been by accident. It was an incident that still weighed heavily on his mind because of his reprehensible behavior toward Bronwyn afterward. He sighed heavily. Kayla toddled over to wrap her arms around his throat and plant a moist kiss on his cheek.
“Daddy sad.” She had learned to speak to him only when he was facing her, and he saw her sweet words clearly.
“No, baby, I’m happy to be with you,” he reassured her, and she smiled brightly.
, she signed clumsily, and his heart simply melted. He kept it together as he signed
I love you
back at her. That satisfied her, and she went back to her dolls. Bryce swallowed the lump in his throat and blinked the scorching moisture from his eyes. It had been two weeks since Bronwyn had told him that she wanted to move out, and tomorrow he would be taking her to look at the flats that he had personally selected. The divorce papers had been delivered earlier in the week, and he had shoved them into one of his desk drawers rather than put his signature on them. He knew that he was running from the inevitable, but he felt such an overwhelming sense of panic every time he thought about those papers that he often found himself on the verge of hyperventilating. He could feel the panic rising even now and set aside his laptop to focus on Kayla, hoping to tamp down the anxiety.
Bronwyn walked into the conservatory, where Celeste had told her she would find Kayla and Bryce and froze in surprise at the sight that met her eyes when she entered the room. Bryce was sitting quietly while Kayla bustled around him, draping him in material. Bronwyn recognized the burnt orange throw from the sofa, the shell pink pashmina that she had left on one of the chairs the night before, a couple of bright-red curtain cords, and a couple of frilly doilies that Bronwyn had stowed away ages ago. The pashmina was draped over his shoulders, the throw over his lap, the doilies adorned his shoulders, and the cords were decorating his wrists like bracelets. Kayla took a step back and tilted her head contemplatively before nodding. She reached for her shiny plastic tiara and with the matching clip-on earrings and placed them on his head and ears.
“How do I look?” she heard Bryce rumble from beneath the elaborate draping, and for a moment Bronwyn thought the question was aimed at her before she realized that he hadn’t seen her yet. It was Kayla’s opinion that he sought.
“Pwetty,” the little girl replied, her curls bouncing with her assertive nod.
“So, can I have some tea now?”
“Of course.” The little girl sounded so adult that Bronwyn bit back a giggle, unutterably charmed by the scene in front of her. She proceeded to pour her imaginary tea into a plastic cup and balanced it on a matching saucer before handing it to her father. She followed it up with a bigger plate of very real biscuits. Bryce made appreciative sounds as he munched and “sipped” and Kayla imitated him, chatting in her mostly unintelligible language all the while.
Bronwyn stepped farther into the room, startling both of them simultaneously. Kayla hurled herself at her mother for a hug, and Bryce tugged at one of the clip-on earrings in embarrassment, going bright red at being caught playing dress-up. He gave up with a sheepish shrug when he saw Bronwyn’s amused smile, and a reluctant grin tugged at his lips.
“You’re early,” he pointed out, and Bronwyn jiggled Kayla on her hip, bussing the little girl’s cheek before responding.
“We had some plumbing issues and had to close shop early. It may take a few days to sort out. So I may not be working on Monday either if they don’t fix the problem over the weekend.” She kicked off her shoes and let Kayla down when the little girl wriggled impatiently. Bronwyn sank down on the floor beside Bryce while Kayla fixed the earring he had tried to remove earlier.
“Daddy pwetty,” Kayla announced proudly as she tugged a doily back in place on one of her father’s broad shoulders before dropping down into his lap and resting her head on the same shoulder she had just redecorated. Her thumb immediately went into her mouth.
pretty,” Bronwyn agreed with a smirk, and Bryce rolled his eyes.
“We’re princesses,” he explained, and she laughed.
“Very fetching,” she complimented. Kayla repeated the word “fetching” around her thumb before pointing to the plate of biscuits with her free hand. Bryce reached for the plate and held it up to Bronwyn, who picked up a chocolate chip biscuit with a smile.
some tea,” Bronwyn prompted, and when Kayla lifted her head to give him a pointed look, he sighed and “poured” a cup of tea. The cup looked ridiculously tiny in his hand as he daintily held it up.
“Thank you.” Bronwyn nodded politely as she accepted the offering. “So this is what you do every day?”
He snorted and nodded toward the closed laptop on the floor beside him.
trying to get some work done, but this was just so much more diverting,” he confessed with a charming grin.
“You were always so easily distracted from work,” she reminisced. “Like the time you flew me to Mauritius for a long weekend, completely forgetting about that important conference call you had on the Monday.”
“I have no regrets.” He shrugged. “That was a hell of a weekend.” They had spent most of it naked on a private beach.
“Pierre was furious with you,” she recalled.
“He got over it. Besides, we were newlyweds, he understood.”
“We’d been married for more than a year,” she corrected.
“Your point being?”
“Do you remember that street performer who followed us from the marketplace back to the hotel?” she asked, and his eyes lit up with laughter at the memory.
“He wouldn’t stop his horrendous serenading the entire walk back.”
“You begged him to stop, bribed him, and offered to put his unborn children through university,” she said, giggling.
“I don’t think he understood my high-school French,” Bryce laughed.
“He was awful!” they both said in unison before lapsing into an awkward silence.
good times, didn’t we?” he asked after a few minutes.
“The best times,” she agreed.
“Don’t you think . . .”
“Bryce.” She stopped what he’d been about to say with a slight shake of her head, and his voice faded. He cleared his throat, shifting the weight of his now-dozing daughter until she rested more comfortably against his chest.
“So, you’re free tomorrow?”
She nodded in answer to his question.
“Well, I’ve selected a few flats for you to view tomorrow. I’ll shift the appointments to the morning, so you can have the afternoon free.”
“Thank you.” There was really nothing more to be said after that.
Of course, each place he drove her to was more extravagant than the next. Accommodation in Camps Bay didn’t come cheaply, and judging by the sizes of the so-called townhouses he took her to, none of the places would range anywhere under eight figures. Since they were remaining in the area, he’d told Cal that he wouldn’t be needed, and for the first time the family found themselves completely alone. It was an almost novel sensation for Bronwyn, who had gotten so used to the silent, hovering presence of the security guys that she felt inordinately exposed without them at first. But she soon got caught up in the whole flat-hunting experience
“Bryce,” she finally spoke up when she found herself standing in the living room of the third mini mansion he had taken her to. “These places are all much too big.”
He frowned at that and shook his head.
“I chose them because they all have both ocean and mountain views,” he explained quietly. “I know how much you love both. And this one has a patio and garden. You enjoy gardening. You haven’t had much time for it recently, but at least you’ll have the option. The next place on the list has a garden
a secure playground for Kayla. The pool is fenced in and there is ample room for a pet if you ever decide to get that dog you’ve always wanted.” She hadn’t known that he had personally researched every place that he was showing her. She had assumed that he would pass the task off onto his assistant, but the level of care and consideration he’d put into this task, despite his clear reluctance to have them move out, was touching. She didn’t know what to say and swallowed heavily before turning away to shakily caution Kayla not to run too fast as the little girl careened from empty room to room.