A Husband's Regret (The Unwanted Series) (27 page)

BOOK: A Husband's Regret (The Unwanted Series)
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“I thought that I’d . . . be like our father,” he said aloud. Rick said nothing, merely kept his gray eyes steady on Bryce’s. It gave Bryce the courage to continue. “I thought that I would be a danger to the baby, or Bron.” Not by a flicker of an eyelash did Rick betray any emotion as Bryce’s story came pouring out. Bryce dropped his eyes, trained his gaze on his glass, and spoke for what seemed like hours. When he risked a glance up at his brother after the words had trickled to a stop, Rick was leaning forward in his chair, with both hands clasped tightly around his glass. His skin was ashen and his eyes gleaming with suppressed emotion.

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” he asked.

“I wanted to protect you from that knowledge.”

“Protecting me when I was a kid, sure . . . I get that. Protecting me now? Not so much.”

“I didn’t want to stain your childhood memories with the truth.”

“You couldn’t possibly have done that, since most of my memories involve you and the fun we had . . .” His eyes went distant, and Bryce watched his mouth form a foul word. “All those so-called sports injuries? He did that?” Bryce nodded, and Rick swore again. “
Sonofabitch!
Shit, Bryce . . . I’m so bloody sorry.”

“Not your fault.” Bryce shrugged.

“How many of those knocks did you take for me?”

“It’s not important, and this is why I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t want you to blame yourself. I made a decision to protect you and I did. End of story.”

“Why didn’t you tell Bron about this?”

“Tell her what? That I allowed a dictatorial bastard to use me as a punching bag? That I may turn into the same dictatorial bastard and use my fists on her and Kayla someday? She’s a hell of a lot better off without me.” The words burned like acid but they had to be said.

“Why do you think you’d hurt Bron or Kayla?” Rick asked him, and Bryce could feel himself growling at his brother’s deliberate ignorance.

“It’s in my blood.”

“Yeah? It’s in my blood too. Think I’d ever harm a hair on Lisa’s or Rhys’s head?” Bryce blinked stupidly, completely thrown by Rick’s question. It wasn’t something that had ever occurred to him.

“Of course not.”

“Why not? He was my father too.” He watched Rick’s chest heave as the younger man sighed heavily. “Bryce, you have to talk to a therapist about this. You have to see that you would never physically harm your wife and child.”

“Ex-wife . . .”
God.

“You have naturally protective instincts, Bryce,” Rick was saying, while Bryce still reeled from the emotional impact of the words “ex” and “wife” in relation to Bronwyn. “You . . .”

“Enough,” he whispered. “Enough, Rick. Please.”

Rick stopped talking but he didn’t make a move to leave, merely got up to refill their drinks and sat down again. He was clearly content to remain sitting for however long Bryce did. Comforted by his younger brother’s stoic presence, Bryce sat immersed in his thoughts for a while longer.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

M
oney certainly made life a lot easier, Bronwyn reflected as she watched the movers bring in the last of her newly acquired furniture. Relocating from Bryce’s house into her new home should have taken a lot longer than it actually had, but with money to grease the wheels, packing up an old life and organizing a new one took less than two weeks.

She was moved in to her new “home” before she could blink, and all that was left was the unpacking. She tried to turn it in to an adventure for Kayla, who was being surly and uncommunicative.

“Isn’t this a pretty room, Kayla?” she asked, injecting bright enthusiasm into her voice, but Kayla wasn’t having any of that.

“No.”

“Come on, baby, it’s very pretty,” Bronwyn maintained patiently. “You have a princess bed. Isn’t that great?”

“No. I go home.” She had only recently stopped referring to herself in the third person.

“This is our
new
home.” Bronwyn smiled sunnily and Kayla glared at her, her little lip protruding rebelliously. Bronwyn felt awful to have moved her again so soon, especially since Bryce had become such an important fixture in her life.

“I want Daddy!” She stamped her foot and Bronwyn’s smile slipped a bit.

“You’ll see Daddy tomorrow,” she explained. “Tonight we’ll sleep in our new home. We can have ice cream. Do you want ice cream, sweetie?”

“No.”

“Of course you do.” Bronwyn couldn’t help but smile a little at the stubbornness. “Chocolate ice cream. Your favorite.”

“I no like ice kweem,” she blatantly lied.

“Hey, Bron, where do you want this box?” Lisa was lugging a medium-size box of photos, and Bronwyn directed her toward the study. Lisa, Theresa, Bobbi, and Alice were all helping with her move and had decided to stick around for one of their Saturday ladies’ nights afterward. Bronwyn welcomed the show of support and the company. She knew that they didn’t want her to be alone on her first evening in the new place.

“Do you want to help me unpack your clothes?” she asked Kayla. “You can tell me where to put everything. That’ll be fun.”

“No.”

Bronwyn sighed. She was heartsick and tired. She hadn’t seen much of Bryce since the night he’d handed her the divorce papers. He had had his attorney contact hers to tell her that he would be giving her a monthly allowance to spend or not spend however she saw fit, and that he would pay to furnish the flat. Bronwyn had tried to refuse but had been told that the money had already been transferred into her bank account and what she did with it was her business. She had decided to give in gracefully and accept the generous alimony.

“Why don’t you show Broccoli our new house?” she asked. Despite the mutinous set of her face, the little girl picked up her well-worn little doll—one of the few toys she still had from their life in Plettenberg Bay—and trudged off.

“You okay?” Theresa asked, coming up to stand beside Bronwyn. Bronwyn glanced over at the pretty woman and shook her head.

“Not really.” Her voice wobbled slightly. “I feel like such an awful parent right now. She’d just gotten used to the other house, and here I am, uprooting her again.”

“Children are resilient.” Theresa put a comforting arm around her shoulder and gave her a reassuring squeeze. “You’ll both be fine.”

“I wish I could be so sure.” Bronwyn stifled a sigh before pasting a determined smile on her face. “Still, there’s no use in worrying about it right now. Too much to do.”

Theresa smiled sympathetically.

“Bronwyn, it’s okay to be emotional about all of this, you know? I can kind of relate to what you’re going through. Sandro and I are happy now but we’ve had some . . .
extremely
difficult times in the past.” That news surprised Bronwyn. On the few occasions that she’d seen the couple together they had seemed completely devoted to each other. It was hard to believe that they hadn’t always been the perfect couple. “So anytime you need to talk, or just a shoulder to cry on, I’m there for you.”

“That means a lot,” Bronwyn whispered, hugging the other woman gratefully. “Thank you.”

After her friends had left later that night and Bronwyn was alone with her thoughts and her sleeping daughter, she sat down in the darkened conservatory and sadly looked around the still-chaotic room. The place felt alien and a little cold. Even though she had often complained about Bryce’s security team being a blatant invasion of her privacy, she felt a lot safer knowing that Paul had been assigned as the head of her security detail. The man was now in charge of the team that would take care of security for this separate household. It was comforting to know that they were just outside if she needed them. Her cell phone beeped and she dragged it out of her jeans pocket.

You settle in ok?
A smiled tugged at her lips. It was from Bryce.

All good. A bit messy still.

Kayla ok?

Grumpy. She misses you.

I miss her. You too.

She didn’t know how to respond to that. She missed him like crazy but telling him that would definitely send a mixed message.

It’s late. I’m off to bed.
It was abrupt but she didn’t want to be charmed by him. She didn’t want to encourage him. They both needed to move on. No matter how painful and difficult it was for them.

Right. I’ll see you 2m. G’nite.

She held the phone to her chest for a few long moments before eventually dragging herself up and to bed.

The bell jingling above the shop door jarred Bronwyn from her thoughts. She’d been staring down at her notes for about half an hour without actually absorbing any information and—despite it being nearly closing time—a customer would be a welcome distraction. She put what she hoped was a bright, welcoming smile on her face as she raised her eyes. The smile immediately withered when she saw who was standing there.

Bryce met her eyes with a brief nod before walking farther into the shop. Bronwyn pushed herself halfway out of her chair and then hovered uncertainly between standing and sitting, a puzzled frown on her face. He was supposed to have Kayla today, but there was no sign of the child.

“Bryce?” He didn’t see her question and continued his browsing, picking up a book here and there and reading the back-cover blurbs before replacing them on the shelves. She made her way to him and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to face her with a polite smile on his face. Baffled by his odd behavior, she frowned and used sign language to ask him what he was doing there.

“Well, I wanted to learn how to balance my chakras.” He held up a book. His smile remained bland and polite. “And I’ve been thinking of buying some healing crystals or something.”

“Where’s Kayla?” she asked worriedly.

“I had to go in to the office this afternoon for an emergency meeting and instead of dropping her off at the day-care center, I thought she’d enjoy spending some time with Rhys since it is Lisa’s day off. When I swung by to pick her up a couple of hours later, she wasn’t ready to stop playing. Lisa suggested I let her stay for dinner. So I found myself at loose ends and thought you might like to grab some dinner.”

“I don’t think . . .” God, she was tempted. But their divorce had just been finalized and it seemed like a step in the wrong direction. They had fallen into a comfortable routine over the two and a half weeks since she had moved in to her new place. She dropped Kayla off at his house after breakfast in the mornings on her way to campus, and he brought her home before dinner every night. Kayla stayed over at his house on Friday nights, and Bryce returned her to her mother late Saturday afternoons. Bronwyn had her for the remainder of the weekend. They were coolly friendly when they spoke, and those brief moments in the mornings and evenings when Kayla was handed from one parent to the other were the only times they saw each other. He sent her the occasional SMS during the day, but that was it. It had been a bit of an adjustment for all of them.

“I think we should try to be friends at least,” he said. “For Kayla’s sake. It’s just dinner.”

“It’s never
just
dinner with us, Bryce,” she pointed out.

“Please?” His beautiful blue eyes mutely pleaded with hers, and Bronwyn had another fleeting moment of doubt before doing what she had wanted to all along. She told herself that she was doing it for Kayla’s sake—it was important for the little girl to have parents who got along—but she knew that she was lying to herself. She couldn’t resist the idea of spending time alone with him. He was her weakness, and while spending more time with him wouldn’t help her overcome that weakness, it certainly did a good job of keeping the part of her that craved his company satisfied. It didn’t seem to matter how counterproductive it was.

“Okay,” she consented, determinedly squelching the screeching protests in the back of her mind. She glanced around the empty shop. “I’ll close up and we can get going.”


Gino’s?
” Bronwyn smiled radiantly up at Bryce, all the tension that had built up during the drive dissipating. She had followed Bryce’s car to the tiny family-run restaurant in Green Point and had laughed out loud when she recognized the familiar route. Gino’s had been her favorite restaurant back when they had first started dating. She had insisted on going Dutch in those early days and had often suggested Gino’s because of its affordability. The food was good and the atmosphere warm and cozy. They had stopped coming here after their engagement, and Bronwyn had all but forgotten it existed. She was surprised that Bryce remembered it.

“I thought that you’d like it,” Bryce informed, his voice quiet, before glancing over at Cal, who was hovering behind them as usual, his eagle eyes sharply assessing the streets around them. The silent signal Bryce sent his way was acknowledged with a curt nod as Cal spun on his heel and headed back to the car.

Bryce put a confident hand in the small of Bronwyn’s back and led her inside the little restaurant. The place was the same as it had always been—noisy, chaotic, and filled with laughing people. A young server led them to an intimate corner in the back and handed them the well-worn leather-bound menus with a smile.

BOOK: A Husband's Regret (The Unwanted Series)
6.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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