Authors: Natasha Anders
Bryce found Bronwyn in the conservatory a few hours later, sitting on the sofa with her legs tucked beneath her and a glass of wine in her hand. She was staring pensively out as the sun dropped gracefully into the ocean and set the horizon on fire. It was a beautiful sunset, but if Bronwyn’s somber face was anything to go by, she wasn’t fully appreciating the sun’s last hurrah as it fled from the night. She was running one elegant finger round and round the rim of her wineglass, her restlessness betrayed by the swift, repetitive movement.
Bryce glanced down at the sheaf of papers he held in his hand and shut his eyes as he sent an uncharacteristic and desperate prayer to a God he hadn’t really acknowledged since he was a boy. He was all out of options here. He had no choice but to give her what she wanted.
“Bronwyn,” he murmured, and she jumped, nearly spilling the wine. She blinked up at him as if surprised to see him standing there. She self-consciously tucked an errant strand of brown hair behind her ear.
“Bryce, you startled me.” He sat down next to her and turned to face her.
“Sorry about that,” he apologized. “I just wanted to give you these.” He handed over half of the papers he was holding, and she put the glass onto a side table to take hold of the documents. She stared blankly down at the big, bold words at the top of the first sheet.
“That was fast,” she murmured. He reached over and angled her jaw upward, and she realized that he hadn’t been able to read her lips. She repeated the three words, keeping her face determinedly neutral.
“I had them drawn up last week. I gambled on the fact that I knew you well enough to guess which place you’d go for.”
“Why bother showing me the other places then?” she asked, and Bryce shrugged. Yes, he’d been confident she would go for the last place, but he had wanted her to have choices and . . . he had wanted to spend time with her.
His first instinct was to cling to his reticence, but all her accusations of secrecy were valid. He
kept things from her—important things that would probably have made a big difference to their marriage. But if he wanted any kind of future with her, he would have to let go of his fear of appearing weak and vulnerable in her eyes and keep her “in the loop,” so to speak. And if that meant keeping her up to date on the minutia of his every fleeting thought, then so be it.
“I wanted the choice to be yours. You may have hated that last one. I didn’t want to presume too much.”
“And yet you went ahead and drew up the necessary paperwork?” she asked with an incredulous little shake of her head.
“I like to be prepared,” he muttered, abashed. “All you have to do is sign these and the flat will be yours. Finances have been taken care of.”
“Still you could have taken me to three or four places instead of eight.”
He sighed and bit the bullet.
“I also wanted to spend some time with you and Kayla,” he confessed. He could see the shock in her eyes and wondered if it was a result of his words or the fact that he’d actually said them out loud. He watched her luscious lips form an
and took a deep breath before rushing in to the next bit of this ordeal.
“I wanted to spend some time with you before I gave you these,” he said, holding out a second sheaf of papers. He had a moment’s hesitation when she reached for them and tightened his grip when she tried to take them. After a brief tug of war, he reluctantly released the papers and stepped back. He tried to gauge her reaction, but her usually open face had closed up and revealed not a single emotion as she read the top of the first page. He was breathing in uneven gasps, and he counted slowly to twenty, then thirty, as he tried to regulate his breathing.
She looked up at him and the impact of her devastated gaze hit him like a two-ton truck. She said nothing for the longest time, and when she spoke her words nearly sent him to his knees in agony.
, she signed.
Bryce nodded before turning and walking away.
Bronwyn stared at the signed divorce decree in her hands for the longest time and now understood that the restaurant hadn’t been a counterattack, it had been a farewell. For an endless age shock kept her numb, but by agonizingly slow degrees feeling returned. She felt . . . raw. Her entire body felt like an open, festering wound. She sat perfectly still, afraid to move because even the simple act of blinking was
. When she allowed herself the luxury of crying, it wasn’t a cathartic act meant to heal. Instead the tears lodged in her throat and scalded her skin like acid.
She had gotten what she had asked for. Her marriage was over.
Hours later she found herself staring at the front door of the only place she could think of to go. She rang the doorbell, and after several minutes a disheveled-looking Rick opened the door. He blinked down at her in confusion.
At the sound of his voice the fragile control she’d managed to exert over her emotions shattered, and she burst into tears and launched herself into his arms. He folded her into his embrace and murmured soothing little sounds into her hair. “What’s this now? Shhh, sweetheart, it’s okay. It’s okay.” He was drawing her farther into the house. And after a few long minutes of inconsolable weeping, Bronwyn surfaced enough to take in her surroundings.
She was sitting on a sofa, curled up against Rick’s bare chest, which was now slick with her tears. Lisa was sitting on her other side, patting her back comfortingly.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her voice hoarse after her extended bout of crying. “You were asleep. I wasn’t thinking of the time.” They were both dressed for bed. Rick in loose pajama bottoms and Lisa in a tank top and shorts. A quick glance up at the clock on the wall told her that it was nearly midnight.
“Don’t worry about it,” Rick dismissed. “Tell us what happened. You didn’t drive here in this state did you?”
She blinked in confusion, trying to gather her thoughts.
“No. No, of course not. Cal brought me.” She vaguely recalled waking the man up and remembered the concerned glances he kept directing at her via the rear-view mirror. Lisa held up a box of tissues, and Bronwyn gratefully took one and blew her nose.
“Is Kayla okay?” Rick asked urgently.
“Yes, she’s fine. She’s with B-Bryce.” She stumbled over his name and almost lost it again. “He signed the p-papers,” she told them, and Lisa’s eyes immediately went soft and sympathetic. Rick merely looked confused.
“What papers?” he asked.
“The d-divorce papers,” she whispered, and Lisa hugged her fiercely.
“Aaah God.” Rick sounded pained.
“I’m so sorry, Bronwyn,” Lisa said.
“I thought this was what you wanted.” Rick’s confusion was obvious, and Bronwyn glanced up into his bewildered face.
“It’s for the best,” she said. “But it still hurts, Rick. It hurts so much. I never stopped loving your brother. I just can’t . . .
with him anymore. Do you understand?”
Rick sighed and nodded slowly.
“Yeah, I get it. Bron . . .” he said gruffly. “I love you like a sister and while I failed you for a while there, I still want you to be happy. I get that you don’t think you can be happy with Bryce anymore. His behavior was . . . inexplicable. But I hope you understand that I have to go and make sure that he’s okay. You stay here with Lisa, all right?”
“Yes. This can’t be easy on him.” She was grateful that Bryce would have someone there for him. This wasn’t what he had wanted. He had done it for her because he thought that it would make
happy. “You’ll need these.” She handed over her house keys and the electronic gate remote. Rick nodded and—after one last hug and kiss for Bronwyn—left the room to get dressed. He returned briefly to let them know he was leaving, and then it was just Lisa and Bronwyn. Lisa took control of the situation, shepherding Bron into the kitchen and pouring some sweet tea down her throat. Bronwyn just couldn’t seem to stop the endless flow of tears.
“I didn’t expect it to be this hard,” Bron confessed after Lisa led her to a spare bedroom.
“I know,” Lisa responded quietly. “I can’t even imagine how this must feel, Bron.” Bronwyn laughed half hysterically.
“I think the only one right now who has any idea how I feel is Bryce. Can you believe that? Our marriage is over and all I can think is that Bryce would understand how I’m feeling. That I can talk to him about this. It’s so messed up . . . I had to leave the house before I sought him out for comfort. I’m just a walking disaster, Lisa.”
After aimlessly wandering around the huge house like a lost little boy, Bryce eventually found himself standing in the nursery. That was where he discovered a modicum of peace. He dropped into a rocking chair and watched his precious daughter sleep. He didn’t know how long he sat there, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees and his fists folded one over the other. He had his mouth pressed into his knuckles in an effort to keep from uttering the despairing cry that had been lodged in his throat since he’d handed over those papers all those hours ago.
So absorbed was he in his thoughts that he remained unaware of the third presence that had entered the room until he felt a warm hand cupping the exposed nape of his neck. He jumped, but the hand squeezed his neck reassuringly, and the familiar scent of Rick’s aftershave immediately dampened his fight-or-flight instincts.
He got up and followed Rick out of the room into the well-lit den. His brother walked over to the liquor cabinet and poured a couple of whiskeys before coming back and handing a glass over to Bryce. The scene reminded him of the one weeks ago when Bronwyn had told him that she’d filed for a divorce, and he forced away the sharp stab of pain as he sat down in the same chair he had occupied that night.
They sat quietly for a while, sipping their drinks before Rick set his aside to sign something.
Bron is with Lisa.
Bryce nodded an acknowledgment.
I know. Cal SMSed me and told me where he was taking her.
There was another long period where they merely sat and sipped their drinks.
Rick’s concern was reflected in his gray eyes and Bryce shrugged.
The sign was curt.
I’m sorry, Bryce.
Why? Not your fault.
You know what I mean.
Bryce sighed and nodded.
It was inevitable. I don’t deserve her trust. Not after what I did.
Why did you react that way to her pregnancy?
Rick asked, and Bryce stared at the proud and strong man sitting across from him. But all he saw was an earnest young boy with freckles on his nose and a gap-toothed grin, a boy whom Bryce had once protected with every fiber of his being. Bryce had suffered bruises, broken bones, and bloody noses for that kid and given half the chance would do so again. Their father had never touched Rick—had never gotten the chance—and as a result Rick was a well-adjusted man who had never known the evil that Bryce had grown up with.
He had never wanted Rick to know about it, had kept it from him all these years, but as he stared at his brother he acknowledged that Rick no longer needed his protection and right now Bryce needed to talk about the past.