Authors: Natasha Anders
“The master bedroom will get the sunrise in the morning,” he continued after clearing his throat awkwardly. “And the living room gets the sunset. I thought you’d like that.”
“You didn’t have to go to so much trouble, Bryce. I know that you don’t want us to leave. I didn’t expect you to put so much work into this.”
“If you really have to leave me again, Bron, I want to know that you’re safe, happy, and well taken care of. This is the only way I know to ensure that.” She bit her lip uncertainly and he rewarded her with a grim smile before showing her the rest of the spectacular flat. By the time twelve o’clock rolled by, he’d shown her seven places, each one less than five minutes’ drive away from his house. He clearly meant to keep them close by.
“I chose this one because I thought you’d like this,” he told her as he led her to the second floor of the last place. It was an enormous duplex with panoramic views, a garden, a huge kitchen, four rooms, three and a half bathrooms, and a second-floor balcony that opened up from the main bedroom and overlooked the ocean.
He opened a door on the second floor and stood aside to let her enter, and Bronwyn’s breath was sucked out of her body at the emotional sucker punch he’d just dealt her. It was a small, beautiful conservatory. Two walls and half of the ceiling were made entirely of glass, one side facing the ocean and the other the mountain. It was absolutely beautiful. Her eyes flooded with tears as she realized that Bryce had chosen this place because he knew how much she would miss their conservatory when she moved out of the house.
“Do you like it?” he asked, standing behind her as she automatically walked toward the window overlooking the aquamarine ocean.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered hoarsely, blinking back tears, before realizing that he couldn’t see her lips. She nodded, keeping her back to him.
“I knew you would.” His voice sounded empty and she turned to see him reach for his cell phone and tap out a message to someone. Once he’d completed it, he looked up at her with shadowed eyes.
“I’ve contacted the estate agent to let her know that I’ll be making an offer on this place.”
“But . . .”
“It has a garden, views, a fully equipped kitchen, a fenced-in pool, it’s close to the stores and schools, and of course you’ll have your own security detail. It also has this . . .” He indicated one of the floor-to-ceiling glass walls. “It’s perfect for you.”
She nodded miserably, watching Kayla tug at her father’s trouser leg as she tried to show him something that she had spotted through the window. Bryce looked down at his daughter before dutifully following her as she tugged him toward whatever had caught her attention. Bronwyn furtively swiped at a few errant tears and moved over to join them at the window. Her heart, already irretrievably broken, had just crumbled into a million tiny shards and the sharp little fragments were tearing her apart.
“Ready to go?” he asked after a few minutes of fawning over Kayla, and she nodded when he looked up at her. He hoisted Kayla up onto his hip and rested his free hand in the small of Bronwyn’s back as he guided her ahead of him.
She expected him to drive them directly back to the house but instead he detoured down to the beachside restaurants that dotted the Camps Bay coastline, stopping outside one of the smaller places. Bronwyn gasped when she recognized it and her eyes flew to his profile. Why was he bringing her here?
“I thought we could grab some lunch,” he explained, throwing her an enigmatic look before unbuckling his seat belt and climbing out of the safe-as-houses Audi that he now preferred driving.
He rounded the bonnet of the car and held the passenger door open for her. She unbuckled her own belt and reluctantly got out of the car. He had Kayla out of her car seat before Bronwyn could react, and he once again placed his hand in the small of her back in order to gently steer her toward the familiar restaurant.
“Bryce.” She resisted and looked up at him with pleading eyes. “I don’t want to eat here.”
“I’ve already made a reservation and every other place will be packed at lunchtime on a Saturday. Besides, Kayla will get cranky if she doesn’t get her lunch soon.” Bronwyn cast a skeptical eye over her brightly smiling daughter, who was happily hugging Broccoli, her well-worn green-haired little ragdoll.
“Are you hungry, Kayla?” he asked, and Kayla nodded sunnily.
“Hungwy,” she replied, and Bronwyn, realizing that she was outnumbered, bit back any further protests and reluctantly entered the restaurant where she had first laid eyes on him so long ago.
he restaurant was the same as she remembered it. Of course, the staff was different but the menu and décor—but for a few small changes here and there—transported her back to a less complicated time. Bryce whispered something into their server’s ear and sure enough, they were led to the same table that he had been seated at on that first day. A high chair was promptly provided for Kayla, and after taking their drink orders, the server bustled off and left them to stare silently at each other. Kayla was excited by the new surroundings and picked up her toy cell phone to tell her cousin “Wees” about it.
“Why did you bring us here?” Bronwyn broke the silence with a defeated little sigh, and he shrugged.
“I was feeling nostalgic.” No. This had definitely been a deliberate decision that had very little to do with nostalgia. When he had agreed to her moving out, she had thought that he was beginning to accept her decision to get a divorce. This move, however, seemed to be the opening salvo of a counterattack.
The server returned with their drinks and for their meal orders. Neither of them had even glanced at the menu, but Bronwyn knew it by heart and ordered steamed chicken and vegetables for Kayla and chicken Marsala with mashed potatoes for herself. Bryce kept his eyes pinned to hers as he directed his order to the hovering server.
“I’ll have the milkshake. Chocolate. And the Brie and bacon burger.” The young man, clearly a much better server than she had ever been, reconfirmed their orders before leaving.
“Bryce, I’m not sure what you’re hoping to achieve here but . . .”
“You were standing over at that table when I first saw you.” He pointed toward a nearby table and she blinked over at it. “You had this look of utter panic on your face. I’d been to this restaurant several times before and knew that if you were serving at that table, then you were probably working this whole section. That’s why I requested this table.”
this table?” She gaped at him in disbelief, absently picking up Kayla’s bright-pink toy phone when she dropped it on the table and handing it back to her so that she could continue her make-believe conversation. Bronwyn had always assumed that he’d been placed at one of her tables by chance.
“I did. I noticed you almost immediately and then simply couldn’t look away.” Yes, she remembered that disturbingly intense stare. She’d been even more of a klutz as a result of it. “I was riveted, charmed, confused, and
. Unequivocally and helplessly fascinated.” He gazed off into the distance, lost in his memories. The harsh lines of his face had softened, and a sweet, wistful smile flirted with the corners of his lips.
“I barely heard a word Pierre said and categorically dominated your time by calling you over for the smallest little thing,” he recalled.
“I didn’t mind,” she confessed, allowing the sweetness of the memory to claim her as well. “I was equally fascinated. I barely remembered that poor Pierre was there half of the time.”
“You were the most entrancing thing I’d ever seen,” he said, his voice gruff, and she shook her head dismissively.
are, Bronwyn.” He brushed aside her automatic protest. “You’re not some boring, conventional beauty, true. And yeah, you tend to be a little clumsy at times. But you’re unusual, interesting, and to
you’re just so indescribably gorgeous. I never thought that I deserved you. You were too good for the likes of me.”
She didn’t understand that sentiment at all. He was heartbreakingly handsome and she was painfully plain. He came from a background of wealth and privilege while her family had been as poor as church mice. He had been Oxford educated with a master’s degree in business while she had barely made it through high school. It had been a classic Cinderella tale, and Bronwyn had been the one to feel inadequate when compared to him.
“I should have left you alone,” he was saying, his low voice alive with misery and his eyes filled with such profound sadness that Bronwyn felt her eyes tearing up in response. “I
to leave you alone after that day, but I just couldn’t stay away from you. I had to see you again. You were so sweet and gentle and every time I was with you . . . I felt . . .” His voice had gone so quiet that she could barely hear him, and the last word was almost silent, but she could have sworn he said
. He’d felt
when he was with her? It was such an odd choice of words that she knew she must have been mistaken, but what else could it have been?
His voice had faded away completely now and he wasn’t speaking anymore, merely staring down at the place setting in front of him. His large hands were curled into fists on the tabletop, and Bronwyn reached over to cover them with her own hands. The gesture brought his eyes back up to hers and she was startled see
sparkling in them.
“I should have stayed away from you,” he repeated. “But I couldn’t. I
. You’re my light, Bronwyn. You’re my love. I’m so lost without you. I’ve always been so
He shook himself and glanced over at their perceptive daughter, who had stopped playing and was watching them with wide and worried eyes. She looked on the verge of tears.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have started this conversation with Kayla around.” He forced a smile for the little girl’s sake and dragged his hands out from under hers. She watched as he brusquely wiped at his eyes and put on a cheerful front for their daughter.
She kept stealing glances at him, wondering at the unfamiliar man that he’d allowed her to catch a glimpse of today. That was what she had wanted—
—from him. Honesty. And he had just given her a huge chunk of honesty. But whatever his truth was, she now knew that it was devastating, and she was certain that whatever it was had been responsible for his painful reaction to her pregnancy. Some truly awful thoughts were starting to form in the back of her mind, but her suspicions were so ugly that she forced them back down and dismissed them as impossible.
She watched as he gently teased and played with their daughter and forced herself to remember the day that she’d told him about her pregnancy. He had reacted in a near-violent explosion of emotions, accusations, and . . . fear. She recalled the look in his eyes and now understood that he had been absolutely
by her news. She was completely staggered by this unexpected new insight into the confusing events of that night.
“Protect us from what?” she asked, but he was playing with Kayla and didn’t see her question. She waved her hand to get his attention, and he blinked up at her, his too-long hair flopping over one eye in the process. That errant lock of hair made him look so boyish and vulnerable that she felt a lump forming in her throat. She unthinkingly reached over and brushed the hair out of his eyes with gentle fingers. He leaned into her touch, but she withdrew her hand almost immediately.
“A couple of weeks ago you said that you wanted to protect us from something.” She went back to what was foremost on her mind, absently rubbing her fingers—still tingling from the brief contact with his skin—on her denim-clad thigh. “Protect us from what?”
He sighed harshly.
“Let’s talk about this when we get home. I was stupid to think this could be the place for that discussion,” he deflected cryptically, and her brow furrowed in frustration. She was sick of the diversions and delays. The conversations that started but never seemed to finish. She picked at her food after it arrived and made sure that Kayla ate hers with as little mess as possible. The little glances she sent Bryce’s way revealed that he was merely toying with his food as well.
“Do you remember our first date?” he asked her, and she smiled at the memory.
“How could I forget?” she said, recalling. “You showed up here at the end of my shift, asked me out, and spent the rest of the evening lecturing me about crime and safety.”
talked for hours about our favorite movies, music, and books,” he reminded.
“Yes. And all the time you kept staring at my mouth.” She hadn’t meant to say that, and when his gaze—which had already been fixed on her mouth—went blistering hot at her words, her breath quickened and the residual tingling in her fingertips spread like wildfire through her body before gathering in the sensitized tips of her breasts. Her bra felt uncomfortably tight, and she could feel the blood slowly inching into her cheeks.
“You wouldn’t believe the fantasies I was weaving around that mouth,” he said absently, licking his lips as if he could taste said mouth on his tongue. “And those mile-high legs of yours. God, I could picture them wrapped around my waist or thrown over my shoulders . . .” Both scenarios had come to fruition the first time he’d gotten her into bed.
Her breathing quickened even more as she remembered that particular night—he had been insatiable and so very creative. God, she missed him in her bed . . . in her body. She shook herself, tossing a guilty glance at her daughter, who now had her toy phone pushed up against the side of Broccoli’s head so that the doll could “speak” to Rhys as well. The girl caught her eye and smiled.
“Firsty, Mummy . . .” Bronwyn sneaked a little peek over at Bryce and could see that his own cheeks had gone a dull red, his pupils were dilated, and his breathing was labored. She recognized the signs of his arousal immediately and knew from the way he shifted in his seat that his jeans were getting a little snug in the crotch area. God, this wasn’t helping their cause. She had to control herself. She couldn’t seem to keep her hands off him for the most part, and it wasn’t doing either of them any good. She looked away from him, trying very hard to ignore what was happening to both of them, and smiled down at her daughter, who was starting to look a little grumpy at being ignored.
“Okay, sweetie,” she placated. “Do you want water or some juice?”
“Duce,” Kayla demanded, and glared defiantly back when Bronwyn leveled a reprimanding stare at her. Her rebellious lower lip started quivering before she sighed dramatically and gave in. “Peese. Duce peese.”
“Good girl.” Bryce, who seemed to have gotten a modicum of control over his body, praised her in a hoarse voice. He flagged the server over and nodded at Kayla. When she understood what her father wanted her to do, her tiny chest puffed up with pride, and she smiled winningly up at the younger man.
The server grinned.
“Orange or apple?” He wisely gave her only two choices, and she opted for the apple.
When the man trotted away, Bryce looked meaningfully over at Bronwyn.
“You know that I’m as hard as a steel pipe for you right now, don’t you?”
,” she squeaked, tossing a scandalized look over at Kayla. The little girl was oblivious to them and craning her neck to see where her new friend—the server—had gone.
“And it’s always been that way between us. From the very beginning,” he pointed out, ignoring her shock. “That’s another thing I never told you. While I was riveted, charmed, fascinated, and all of that, I was also turned on beyond belief. Aside from not wanting to leave when Pierre did, my body didn’t give me much choice in the matter. I was pretty much incapable of standing upright without shocking every damned person in here that day. Every time I thought I had it under control, you’d smile or something and I’d go to instant attention again. I had a terminal case of wood for most of the first year of our marriage as you know . . . but in those first few months it was damned near impossible to control. I was like a horny teenager with you.”
“I never quite understood what you saw in me,” she admitted on a whisper, and he sighed quietly.
“Bronwyn, I don’t know how much clearer I can make this, so listen up. To me . . . You. Are. Stunning. Sometimes I can’t stare at you for too long because it almost physically hurts me to look at you. It’s crazy, my chest tightens and burns to the point of actual pain until I remind myself to breathe.” He smiled bittersweetly. “That has happened more often than I care to reveal. You’re so lovely that something as fundamental as breathing becomes damned near impossible around you.”
She searched his harsh face for any sign of deception, but his strong jaw was clenched, his eyes almost hard, and she knew that it couldn’t have been easy for him to reveal that particular tidbit to her. She really affected him that strongly.
“You’ve stolen my breath on numerous occasions too, you know,” she confessed, reaching over to stroke his jaw. The server chose that moment to return with Kayla’s apple juice, and Bronwyn’s hand dropped down to the table, where she started toying with her dessert spoon.
She thanked the server for the juice and reached into the baby bag for Kayla’s sippy cup. After transferring the juice from the glass into the cup, she screwed the top on tightly and gave it to Kayla, who was not very happy about having the grown-up glass confiscated.
She refused to take her juice from the sippy cup, and Bronwyn gave her a sip of the leftover juice in the glass. She refused again and tried to take the glass from her mother. When Bronwyn moved the glass a safe distance away from her, she started kicking up a fuss. She was showing all the telltale signs of a toddler in desperate need of a nap and on the verge of a tantrum. Bronwyn had only to glance over at Bryce before he summoned the server over for the bill. Their conversation was put on immediate hold as their parental roles took precedence.
They packed up and left the restaurant pretty quickly, and as he drove them home, with a crying Kayla strapped into her car seat, Bronwyn felt a pang of regret over yet another unfinished conversation.