Authors: Natasha Anders
Rick stepped forward, leveling a resentful glare at Bronwyn that baffled her even further, before laying a calm hand on his agitated brother’s shoulder. Bryce looked up and grabbed Rick’s hand as if it were a lifeline.
me,” he pleaded desperately, and Rick nodded.
“Her name is Mikayla, Bryce,” he told his brother gently, with both his mouth and his
-why are you doing that?” Bronwyn stammered. Both men ignored her, and Bryce turned back to his sleeping daughter, with his heart in his eyes.
“Mikayla . . .” he murmured, running a gentle finger down the baby’s soft cheek. “What a beautiful name.”
“What’s going on here?” Bronwyn asked in a voice bordering on hysteria, before convulsing into a series of painful coughs. Kayla stirred a little, disturbed by the violent coughing, and Bryce picked the little girl up and cradled her to his chest.
“Give me your flat keys. Rick and Lisa will pack your things.” Her eyes were blurry with tears as the coughing tore at her throat and chest. She was unable to respond to the autocratic demand and was appalled when Bryce simply reached for her handbag and tossed it to Rick.
“They’re probably in there,” he told his brother. The younger man nodded and turned away.
“Wait!” Bronwyn called painfully, trying to get her coughing under control. Bryce handed her a glass of water that she gulped down thankfully. “Why were you using sign language?” she asked urgently, her throat on the verge of giving out. Rick turned back with naked disgust on his face.
“This display of ignorance is an insult to our intelligence, Bronwyn!” he hissed, and her eyes widened with hurt.
“I don’t know what’s going on here!” Her voice was strained but she hoped she managed to convey her urgency. “Can you hear me, Bryce?”
“I haven’t heard much of anything over the last two years, Bronwyn.” He shrugged scornfully. “And you know it.
did this to me, after all.”
” Bronwyn did not know what to react to first: the unbelievable news that her beautiful, strong husband was deaf, or the accusation that
was somehow responsible for his condition. It was all too awful to comprehend. “But . . . I . . .
?” Rick made an impatient sound at the back of his throat, seemingly sickened by her continued ignorance. He touched his brother’s arm to gain his attention. Bryce turned to face him.
“I’ve asked that girl Katrina where
lives.” He nodded toward Bronwyn, unable to even say her name. “Some dump downtown. I’ll pack a couple of bags for her and Mikayla.”
“Pack only a change of clothes for the little one,” Bryce ordered, his gaze softening as he looked down into his still-sleeping daughter’s pretty face. “If the rags she’s wearing right now are any indication, there won’t be anything worth keeping. I’ll clothe my own child.” Bronwyn’s eyes stung with tears at that terrible insult; if only he knew how much she had sacrificed and slaved for every single item of clothing the child possessed. She had worked double shifts, bypassed meals, and taken on extra jobs to keep her baby fed and clothed. They may not have been the most expensive clothes, but they were pretty and serviceable enough for an active toddler.
“Pack her toys though,” he told Rick. “God knows they’re probably not much better than the clothing, but she’s bound to have her favorites.”
“What do you mean
did this to you?” Bronwyn asked, letting the matter of Kayla’s wardrobe slide in favor of a much more pressing matter. He didn’t respond and she understood that he must have been lip-reading all along. She tugged at his sleeve to get his attention and he directed his arrogant gaze down to her pinched face.
“What do you mean I did this to you?” she repeated, and he frowned before turning away from her, deliberately blocking her out and making her feel about as significant as a fly.
“What are you . . .” She diverted her gaze to Rick when she saw that Bryce was ignoring her. A neat trick that, turning his back on someone when he didn’t care to know what he or she was saying. It was certainly effective. “What is he accusing me of?” Rick couldn’t ignore her as successfully as Bryce could, but he was definitely doing a good job of trying. He and Bryce were speaking quietly, sometimes lapsing into sign language and cutting her out completely. Feeling muddled, exhausted, and on the verge of hysterical tears, Bronwyn had no clear idea of how to deal with this problem. The situation had just spiraled completely beyond her control and she was too ill to deal with it. She watched as the talking men left the room and took her baby with them and she felt an overwhelming sense of dread. She wanted to snatch her child back and run as fast and as far as she could but all she could do was watch helplessly as the door swung shut behind them.
She covered her face with her hands, feeling as wrung out as a dishcloth. Hot tears seeped through the cracks of her fingers as she allowed herself to weep for everything that she had lost and was still losing. She was so wrapped up in her own misery that the first she knew of another presence in the room was a comforting arm around her narrow shoulders.
“Shhh, it’s okay, it’s okay . . .” Rick’s pretty wife was perched on the side of the bed, her head bowed toward Bronwyn’s. “You’ll be all right, both you and your beautiful little girl will be absolutely fine. Bryce will take care of you.”
“Bryce hates me,” Bronwyn negated miserably.
“Bryce could never hate the woman who has given him such a gorgeous daughter,” the other woman denied.
“He blames me for what happened to him,” Bronwyn groaned. “And I don’t even
what happened to him! How did he lose his hearing?” She lifted her tear-drenched brown eyes to Lisa’s face, and the other woman frowned, her expression thoughtful.
“It was an accident. Rick and I hadn’t been dating for long—barely a month since the day he first walked into my bookshop—but we were serious enough that he was talking about introducing me to you guys.”
So Rick had met Lisa while Bronwyn was still with Bryce. She remembered how euphoric and secretive he’d been during those few weeks before she had left. She’d even teased him about it over dinner one night and he’d stammered and blushed like a schoolboy. The memory warmed her somewhat, but Lisa’s sympathetic voice dragged her back into the horror of the present.
“One night Rick called me to cancel one of our dates because his brother had been in an accident. It was pretty bad. I met Bryce a few weeks later while he was still recovering in the hospital. Rick and I married about four months after the accident, when Bryce was well enough to attend. If I hadn’t been two months pregnant at the time, we would have postponed the wedding. Both Rick and Bryce refused to talk about you again. I think Rick was merely following Bryce’s lead on that score. He was so completely wrecked by what had happened to his brother that he would have walked over hot coals if he thought that it would make Bryce happy. From the rare bits of information about it that I managed to get out of Rick over the past twenty months of our marriage, I thought that you’d opted out because you couldn’t cope with his deafness.”
“But I didn’t even
he was deaf until just now.” She coughed painfully and Lisa stroked her hair soothingly.
“Why did you leave him?” Lisa questioned gently.
“I would never willingly have left him. I love him . . .
him.” Lisa raised her eyebrows at the telling slip and nodded.
“I know that now. I took one look at you this morning and I knew. So why
you leave him?”
“Because he told me to leave. He kicked me out,” Bronwyn recalled miserably. “He was unhappy about my pregnancy because we had agreed to wait a few years before starting a family. He accused me of getting pregnant deliberately, of tricking him. It was awful.”
“I don’t understand.” Lisa frowned. “Why would he go off the deep end like that? Surely a pregnancy is something to be celebrated?”
“I don’t know,” Bronwyn confessed. “I left to give him some time to cool off and went to our house in Knysna. I knew that once he had calmed down enough he would come looking for me. I
believed he wouldn’t come . . .” Her voice faded away as she remembered the pain, betrayal, and disillusionment she had felt when it became apparent that Bryce would not be coming for her.
“What did you do?” Lisa asked sympathetically.
“I waited. For two weeks I waited. Bryce is usually pretty good about keeping his temper under control, and when he does lose it he usually needs only a couple of hours for his logical thought processes to kick in again. But I’d
seen him as angry as he was that night, so I figured that it would take him a little longer than usual to come to his senses.” She shrugged helplessly, battling to keep the pain she still felt at the memory from showing. “After a week, I tried calling him. But I was stonewalled. His staff had closed ranks around him. I couldn’t reach him or Rick and I didn’t know what to do. It felt as if my whole world had imploded.” She bowed her head.
“After the initial disbelief and pain, the anger and resentment kicked in. I decided that if he wanted nothing to do with the baby and me, then I wasn’t going to make it easy for him to come crawling back. Not that I believed he
come back. I suppose I started thinking that way to preserve my pride. I went off the grid—no credit, no bank accounts except the one I already had in my maiden name. The only jobs I was qualified to do didn’t exactly keep stellar employee records. I never believed he would actually try to find us.” She shook her head dazedly.
“I thought he loved me.” It shamed her to admit that now, embarrassed her to confess such a foolish belief in front of this woman who was so obviously confident in her husband’s love. “Now he blames me for his deafness, and he’s practically accusing me of stealing Kayla from him when he had made it abundantly clear that he had no interest in her!” She heard the bitterness creeping into her voice. “He undoubtedly thinks that the way we’ve been living is beneath him, but I took good care of my baby. I fed her, clothed her, and loved her after
had abandoned us! How dare he waltz back into my life and presume that he’d be the better parent just because he has so much more money than I do!”
“Bryce has kept pretty much to himself in the time since I got married to Rick. He’s a difficult man to get to know,” Lisa said into the silence that ensued after Bronwyn ran out of steam. “But what I
know I like and respect. I can’t really reconcile the picture you’ve just painted with the man I’ve come to know.”
Bronwyn nodded miserably. “I’m sorry,” she responded, forcing the words past her tortured throat. “I don’t mean to place you in an awkward position. I shouldn’t have said those things.”
“No, that’s not it at all,” Lisa hurriedly corrected. “It’s just that you each seem so convinced of the other’s wrongdoing that there must have been some crossed wires somewhere.”
“Hmm.” Bronwyn tried to agree, but she was feeling fuzzy again, unable to concentrate.
“Try to get some rest,” Lisa suggested gently. “You look done in.”
“I didn’t . . . would never . . .” She could not complete the thought and was aware of nothing more as she slid into unconsciousness.
She looked fragile, like the slightest touch would break her, and how he wanted to
her. Bryce glared down at the stranger who was his wife and was eaten up by pure hatred for her. This innocent-looking bitch had destroyed his life and stolen his child. The barely contained violence he felt toward her had been festering for just over two years, and he quite cheerfully would have strangled her in her sleep if it weren’t for the fact that their daughter needed her. He watched her labor to breathe and imagined that it sounded hoarse and ragged. He remembered sounds but sometimes wondered if his memory was accurate. For the longest time, despite his unsuccessful attempts to force it out, his most precious memory had been of her voice. Now the memory of the sweet, clear sound of her voice returned unbidden along with the bell-like clarity of her laugh and, lastly, how that lovely voice had sounded during their final argument, thick with tears and entreaties.
She looked so ill. He grimaced, unwilling to feel any compassion for her. If she had worked herself into the ground it was less than she deserved for running out on him, for stealing his child, and for
him! He lived in a silent world now, the only sounds he heard were mere echoes of memories and her voice . . . always
He had hated her for haunting him, and he hated her still for looking so damned vulnerable, for being ill and weak and nearly defenseless, thereby rendering him impotent to lash out and rail at her the way he had fantasized about doing for so long.
Well, she wouldn’t always be sick. He could wait. Revenge, they said, was a dish best served cold. He’d been waiting for two years, so a few more weeks wouldn’t make a difference. And how much sweeter the payback would be now that he had her very firmly within his grasp!