A Husband's Regret (The Unwanted Series) (4 page)

BOOK: A Husband's Regret (The Unwanted Series)
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Kayla decided that she didn’t like scary and noisy helicopters and cried during the entire short, chartered flight from Plettenberg Bay to Camps Bay. Her beleaguered father, who was figuring out that parenthood may not be as fabulous as he had first imagined, battled to keep her calm while Bronwyn, who was feeling the effects of some pretty powerful medication, remained mostly oblivious to it all. Bronwyn was vaguely aware of Bryce frantically trying to shush the child. He made funny faces and played silly little games but Kayla refused to be comforted by someone who was a total stranger to her. She was too small to be belted in but she stubbornly refused to stay in Bryce’s lap. Instead she kept trying to crawl over onto her mother’s lap, and Bronwyn tried her best to soothe the little girl, but Kayla wasn’t too impressed with her limp hugs either.

something,” Bryce eventually entreated, when Kayla slid from his grasp like a greased pig and melted to the floor in a boneless heap. Once at their feet she wailed pitifully.

“Kayla scairt, mummy, Kayla scairt!” she howled. Bronwyn, thoroughly fed up with the theatrics, reached down and dragged the limp toddler up with as much strength as she could muster.

,” she managed hoarsely in her toughest, no-nonsense, voice. Kayla was momentarily silenced by Bronwyn’s “mummy” voice and her wide blue eyes melted Bronwyn’s heart. The poor little thing was understandably scared. Too many changes in too short a time for her. Bronwyn gentled her voice and smiled with what she hoped was cheerful confidence. “It’s fine, baby. Sit with your daddy; he’ll take care of you.” Mikayla glanced over at the swiftly unraveling Bryce with wary speculation in her gaze. Turning to him for protection had evidently not occurred to her.

“Man?” she questioned uncertainly.

“Daddy,” Bronwyn corrected tiredly, fading fast. “Go and sit with him.” The little girl, clutching her favorite stuffed doll to her chest, took the one small step separating her from Bryce and raised her arms to let it be known that she would allow him to pick her up now. Bryce lifted her into his lap and she curled up against his chest, propping her thumb into her mouth. Huge crocodile tears were streaming down her cheeks. Bronwyn rolled her eyes and leaned back with an exhausted sigh. For a couple of minutes everything was quiet, save for the noisy drone of the chopper. Bronwyn was just settling in for a doze when Bryce spoke, so softly that she could barely hear his voice above all the noise. Not even the headphones she was wearing helped to amplify his voice.

“She’s a handful.”

Bronwyn opened her eyes and found herself staring straight into his brooding eyes. “Yes.” She nodded tiredly. “She tends to be. But she’s just frightened right now; this isn’t anything that she’s used to.”

“Tell me about her,” he invited, almost reluctantly. It obviously dented his pride having to ask her for anything.

“She’s inherited more than just some of your physical traits,” Bronwyn said with a smile. “She has a stubborn streak a mile wide and is ferociously independent.”

“When did she start walking and talking?”

“She was an early talker.” Bronwyn’s smile went misty. “She mostly gurgled a lot, babbled incoherently for a while . . .” Bryce was frowning and she stuttered to a halt. “What’s wrong?”

“Slow down,” he commanded gruffly. “I can’t understand a damned thing you’re saying!”

Having momentarily forgotten about his deafness, the reminder served as a cruel reality check. She swallowed convulsively, aware of the dry, painful heat in her throat.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered before repeating her previous statement as slowly and clearly as she could. Bryce rolled his eyes impatiently.

“I’m deaf, not stupid,” he ground out furiously. “Just speak normally; don’t babble and don’t drawl and keep facing me.”

“I’m sorry.” She helplessly repeated her apology. She felt hopelessly inadequate. Again, she tried to repeat her previous statement, but she was so nervous by now that she stammered badly. Bryce swore impatiently beneath his breath before deliberately lowering his gaze to Kayla.
easily he ended the conversation. The slight was brutally effective and left Bronwyn feeling thoroughly abandoned. She felt like a complete failure and kept her eyes trained on his face, hoping that he would look back up, but he was talking to the still-crying Kayla. He was so absorbed by his daughter that Bronwyn might as well not have been there.

She eventually lowered her gaze to where her hands were curled into tight fists in her lap, and as she desperately fought the urge to cry, she tried to figure out where and how her life had gone so very wrong. She thought back to their first meeting, which had always seemed like something out of a fairy tale to her—Prince Charming meeting Cinderella while she was still in her rags but falling for her anyway.

It had seemed so perfect . . .

He had been, without a doubt, the most handsome man she had ever seen. It was her first day waitressing at the upscale beachfront restaurant in Camps Bay and she could not afford distractions, especially since she had lied about her qualifications to get the job. Fortunately she had managed to bluff her way through the in-house training without looking too incompetent. Since finishing high school six years ago, she hadn’t been much good at anything except looking after her ailing grandmother, her only relative. It had been a full-time job, leaving no room in her life for the socializing other women her age enjoyed. Instead, she had spent most of her day in the company of an infirm old woman and any free time she may have had was devoted to her stash of books. It had been a sad and solitary existence for a young woman with such a sunny disposition but Bronwyn had never wished the task away. Her grandmother had raised her without complaint after her parents had died and Bronwyn had loved the old lady fiercely because of that.

They had scraped by, living off her gran’s pension and a small trust fund her grandfather had set up for his wife. After her grandmother’s death just two months before, the balance of the fund had been spent on the funeral and Bronwyn had been forced to sell their small semi-detached house. Most of the money made from the sale had gone toward settling outstanding hospital bills, with barely enough left over for Bronwyn to pay the deposit on the tiny flat that she was now renting.

So here she was, trying desperately to do well at her new job, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the man who had just walked into the restaurant. He was tall, blond, and beautiful, and he was absorbed in the conversation he was having with the lean, dark man beside him. The two men were as opposite as night and day. The blond was big and bulky, almost Nordic in appearance, while the dark one was lean and lithe, with a definite sexy Gallic look to him. They sat down at one of her tables and her mouth went dry. She hurried over, not wanting to keep such important-looking men waiting and thankfully stumbled only once along the way.

“Good morning . . . Uh, hello . . . How may I . . .” She blanked, having already stuffed up the perky greeting that had been drilled into her during training. The men were looking at her expectantly, and she faltered even more beneath the blond man’s icy stare. “Your order,” she concluded abruptly. “What is it, please?”

The dark man’s eyebrows climbed in astonishment, but the blond remained impassive even though Bronwyn, for a fleeting moment, thought that she spotted amusement flashing in those seemingly cold eyes of his.

“Drinks,” she continued desperately. “You probably drink. So you probably want some, a lot, I mean . . .” She felt her face going blood red with embarrassment. The dark man was staring at her in complete amazement, with his jaw dropped practically to his chest. The other man though, his jaw was clenched; he looked like he was exerting enormous control over his emotions. She panicked. He was probably angry, probably used to vastly superior service from this restaurant. She floundered again . . . at a complete loss.

“You look thirsty,” she murmured, hoping to prompt them into saying something, anything. “And we have plenty of drinks.”

“What would you recommend?” the blond asked unexpectedly. His voice was warm and mellifluous and much gentler than she had expected. It seemed completely at odds with the craggy planes of his face, as well as with his tightly controlled expression. His voice flowed over her like warm honey, and she stood staring at him dreamily without being aware of it for the longest time.

“Miss?” the dark man prompted impatiently. “What do you recommend?”

“Uh”—she snapped out of her daze, embarrassingly aware that she had been caught staring at the blond. “Recommend?”

“Drinks,” the blond reminded gently.

“Yes of course . . .” She scanned her memory frantically. “Wine . . . we have wine, and of course we have . . . you might like it, because I quite like it, you see?” They didn’t seem to see. God, she was being such a socially awkward ditz. She wasn’t usually this bad.

“Like what?” the blond asked.

“The . . . um . . . the milkshake. Chocolate especially.” The dark man’s brows lowered in complete consternation; he really had the most expressive eyebrows.

“You recommend the . . .” He sounded like he was choking, and his face was going an unbecoming shade of red. “The milkshake?”

“I didn’t even know they had milkshakes here,” the blond said conversationally. “Did you, Pierre?” The other man, Pierre, seemed incapable of replying, and Bronwyn wished the ground would open up and swallow her, she was so humiliated. Milkshake? What was she thinking recommending the milkshake to a pair of men who had doubtless not had one since hitting puberty?

“We have other—” she began miserably but was interrupted by Jake, the manager. Sensing a problem, he had come over to intervene.

“Excuse me, is everything all right here?” he asked politely, sending a surreptitious glare toward the flustered Bronwyn. Bronwyn suspected that he knew she had lied about her previous experience, and it seemed that the owner had hired her against Jake’s advice. Now Jake seemed desperate for her to mess up so that he could have an excuse to fire her. She hung her head and waited miserably for the men to complain. The darker one, Pierre, opened his mouth to say something, but the blond forestalled him.

“No problem at all,” he murmured smoothly. “My colleague and I were just having some difficulty deciding what to order.” Jake had no option but to retreat, but not before sending a warning glare toward Bronwyn.

“Very well, Mr. Palmer.” He practically genuflected as he stepped back. “But if you need anything, please ask for Jake.”

“Now why would we do that when we already have an excellent server right here?” the blond, Mr. Palmer, asked smoothly before dismissing Jake with a casual flick of the hand. His colleague gaped at him in disbelief.

“Bryce . . .” Pierre started to say. His name was Bryce! He ignored his friend and refocused his beautiful ice-blue eyes on Bronwyn’s flushed face.

“Now where were we?” he asked mildly, his eyes running over her face intently. “Ah, yes . . . I think I’ll have the chocolate milkshake.”

“Uh . . .” She gaped at him stupidly. “Uh . . . what?”

“The milkshake, I’ll have that. Chocolate of course.” She nodded dazedly and scribbled down the order before reluctantly turning her attention to Pierre.

“And for you, sir?” Pierre was staring at his friend in disbelief, before refocusing his attention on Bronwyn. Those previously grim eyes of his were alight with humor.

“What the hell.” He had a French accent. She had been so focused on Bryce that she hadn’t noticed that before. “I think I’ll have that milkshake too!”


few hours after arriving in Camps Bay, Bronwyn was still unsettled by the emotions those long ago memories on the chopper had stirred up. She was standing in the conservatory; it was the highest point in the staggered house and had always felt like an eagle’s aerie to her. All but one wall, as well as half of the ceiling, was entirely made of glass.

She gazed down at the beautiful, blue Atlantic Ocean with its pristine beaches. To her left was a view of the mountain range, the Twelve Apostles, named after the majestic craggy peaks that loomed above the gorgeous beaches, while the bustling city of Cape Town lay to the right.

The house was exactly as she remembered. Big and beautiful, it was built into the face of the mountain and had panoramic views all around. Bronwyn loved this house, absolutely loved the way it caught the sun and loved the fact that it had
felt like home. It still did. She had felt it welcoming her back from the moment she had stepped off the chopper. Bryce had deserted her immediately after their arrival, taking Kayla to introduce her to her new home. Bronwyn had wandered around listlessly before finding herself back in this room—her favorite. Bryce had always complained that she had turned it into a “girlie” room, with comfortably overstuffed furniture, beautiful throw rugs, and anything else that caught her fancy. She had trawled flea markets and out-of-the-way little shops for anything she felt would suit this room, and the result had been an eclectic blend of old and new, a room for all seasons.

He hadn’t changed it at all. Everything was still in exactly the same place as it had been when she had left, but the room felt unused, and Bronwyn knew that he hadn’t set foot in it over the last two years. The room contained so many memories. They had spent hours in it, night and day; it was the room they had done most of their daily living in, simply talking, often making love, and then arguing fiercely on that last day.

Her eyes flooded with tears and she covered her face with her hands. Kayla had been conceived in this room too. One night, three months or so before their final argument, they had returned home from a party, both of them slightly tipsy. He had looked at her like she was the most beautiful woman in the world and had, indeed, told her that over and over again as he had worshipped her body on one of the rugs in front of the window. They had fallen asleep here, right where she was standing, entangled in each other’s arms. They’d been so close it had felt like nothing would ever separate them.


She jumped and swung around, so wrapped up in her memories that it took a few seconds for her to realize that he was no longer the same Bryce who had held her so tenderly that night. He had a sleeping Kayla draped against his chest and looked at a bit of a loss. She felt a combination of anger and regret at the sight of him holding her daughter and possessively reached out for her, but Bryce sent her a quelling look.

“You can barely stand upright. Do you really think you’re capable of carrying her without dropping her?” Frustrated by the logic of his words and biting back her protestations only out of concern for her daughter’s safety, Bronwyn took a step back.

“It’s past her usual nap time,” she said, making certain that he was looking at her before she spoke, not wanting a repeat of the incident on the helicopter. “Where can we put her?”

“I have a room prepared for her.” He turned away and headed for the stairs, which led down to the second-story bedrooms. Bronwyn tensed when they passed the master bedroom and wondered where
would be expected to sleep. He led her to the room that adjoined the master and, with his hands full, he nodded toward the closed door. She obediently opened the door and then gasped when she saw the room. It was a nursery, beautifully decorated in lemon and cream. Toys of every kind were stacked neatly on shelves, and a crib—gorgeously detailed and obviously for a newborn—was positioned close to the large picture window. He carried Kayla to a bigger cot that Bronwyn hadn’t immediately noticed. She watched as he tenderly laid his daughter down and covered her with a lightweight downy blanket. He stared at her for the longest time, his hand looking clumsy and huge and infinitely gentle as it stroked the little girl’s silky hair.

“Welcome home, Mikayla,” he murmured gently before leaning down to place a sweet kiss on her forehead. He raised his head to meet her eyes, and seeing the question in them he shrugged, his face going a little bit red.

“I had the room done a few months after you left. It was that or go stir-crazy. I didn’t know if she was a boy or girl, so the colors had to be neutral. She has outgrown just about everything in here but I couldn’t imagine . . . couldn’t picture how she would look and didn’t know how big she would be.” His voice broke and he lowered his gaze to the sleeping toddler, his eyes glittering with unshed tears. “
, she’s so beautiful.”

Bronwyn didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how to respond to this obvious desire he’d had to be a part of his child’s life. Why hadn’t he come for her if he’d wanted the baby? Why hadn’t he taken, or returned, any of her calls? At the same time she couldn’t help but feel near hatred toward this clearly conflicted man. He had robbed them of the opportunity to be a real family with his inexplicably cruel actions, and pretty little rooms with expensive toys weren’t going to change that fact.

“Bryce.” She tugged on his sleeve to get his attention. She wouldn’t be swayed by the obvious vulnerability on his face. “I don’t know what kind of cruel games you’re playing with me. You tossed us away like so much garbage. If you wanted us you would never have done that. I’m sorry that you missed out on the first year and a half of your daughter’s life, but you do know that you have only yourself to blame for that, right?” She watched the barb hit home as he flinched at her words. The vulnerability fled from his face to be replaced by fury.

“You should get some rest.” His words were icy. “You look exhausted and ill! You’re also much too thin. Mikayla needs a healthy mother, not some wraith who can barely lift her.”

“Bryce . . . I don’t understand. Why do you hate me so much. What have I done to deserve this ridiculous amount of contempt?” It was getting increasingly hard for her to remain upright, but this was important. She was physically weak at the moment, but she was not going to let him walk all over her.

“How dare you ask me that?” he hissed furiously. “How
you, after everything that you’ve done?”

“I did what you told me to do,” she reminded him, her trembling voice as icy as his had been before. “You told me to leave, to get out of your sight! You called me a deceitful, lying bitch and told me that you never wanted to see me again.”

stop playing the tragic victim,” he warned. “The only reason I can stomach having you back in my life is because of Mikayla, but push me too far and I’ll make damned sure you never set eyes on her again.”

His threat—her worst fear—sent a shiver down her spine, and her throat closed up, shutting her up as effectively as a punch to the jaw would have. Their eyes clashed for a moment, his stormy and furious, hers bleak with terror. Bryce muttered something vile sounding beneath his breath before taking an unexpected step toward her and folding her into his strong arms. His head swooped and he caught her lips in a fiercely tender kiss. Bronwyn gasped in shock, fear, and relief. This felt more like home than the house had. She burrowed closer, wanting the intimacy and affection that she had been missing for so long. Her head tilted back and her mouth opened like a flower beneath his. He groaned, one large hand flat against the small of her back, the other cupping the back of her head. There was an edge of desperation to his kiss, a hunger that had never been present in his lazy, long kisses of the past. His tongue sought and found hers; she felt weak and dizzy with desire.
she had missed him so much, enough to allow this moment of weakness, even though she knew it wouldn’t solve any of their problems. His hands crept up to cup her face, and his thumbs swept over the silky skin of her cheeks. She had her arms wrapped around his hard, warm body, and her hands splayed against his back. She would have crept into his skin if she could.

He stiffened suddenly before tossing her aside with a vicious curse and glaring down into her dazed face contemptuously. He shook his head grimly before turning on his heel and striding out without another word, leaving her hurt, humiliated, and furious in his wake. Bronwyn wrapped her arms around her shaking body, still utterly devastated by how much he seemed to despise her. There was a time when he had seemed like a dream come true. He had been an enigma but still the most intriguing man she had ever met . . .

He had kept
her and making her jumpier than she already was. After slurping down his milkshake with every appearance of complete enjoyment, he had asked her for a meal recommendation, but after the disaster with the drinks, she politely informed him that she highly recommended everything on the menu. He wasn’t having that, and, ignoring his impatient friend, he forced her to tell him what her favorite dish on the menu was. She hadn’t worked at the restaurant long enough to sample much of the menu and very reluctantly revealed her plebeian tastes by saying that she enjoyed the gourmet brie and bacon burger that they offered. He nodded and ordered said burger. His friend, done with indulging him, ordered something much more in keeping with his sophisticated palate. Bryce went through the same routine with dessert, and Pierre, evidently giving up on him, made his excuses and headed back to whatever glamorous life he led. Bryce remained though, eating his dessert and following it up with coffee. He remained for four hours, the last hour of which had been spent sitting solo at the table toying with dessert, ordering cup after cup of coffee and staring at her. He never smiled and never flirted; he simply
her. Eventually he asked for the bill and when she brought it, he graced her with the slightest of smiles, his serious eyes warm and a bit confused.

“You’ve never done this before have you?” he asked gently, as if afraid of hurting her feelings, and she flushed painfully before nodding.

“What gave it away?” she joked, feeling like a miserable failure.

“I don’t know.” He shrugged, his smile widening. “Maybe the way you kept recommending the least expensive items on the menu, despite the fact that it would probably decrease your tip.” She was appalled for not realizing that herself and made a mental note to recommend the lobster to every client who asked in the future! She frowned, forcing herself to remember to write that down before giving up and drawing a Post-it booklet from her apron pocket to jot down in capital letters:
He was watching her every reaction in complete fascination, and she looked up to find him staring at her again.

“Why do you keep watching me like that?” she asked bluntly, before going even redder, shocked by her own forwardness. His brows lowered as he gave her question some consideration.

“I wasn’t aware that I was being so . . . obvious,” he murmured. He shook himself out of some kind of reverie before reaching for his wallet and extracting a platinum credit card. It was pretty clear that he had no intention of answering her question. He was a generous, but not overly generous, tipper, and when she returned with his credit card he stood up while pocketing his wallet.

“Thank you . . .
is it?” She nodded mutely and he smiled—just the barest tilt at the corners of his mouth—again. “The name suits you.” She didn’t respond to that, not sure if it was a compliment or not.

He turned to go and then hesitated before turning back to face her.

“How old are you, Bronwyn?”


His expression was inscrutable.

“You seem younger.” He shrugged. “I’m twenty-nine.”

“Okay?” Why was he telling her this? He was a strange man, but not in a scary way. He seemed so sophisticated, so unlike anyone else she had ever met.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that . . .” He seemed to lose track of what he was saying and stood, awkwardly silent for a few seconds. “You just . . . you have . . .”
She had
? She ran her tongue over her teeth, afraid that she may have something stuck in them, and then rubbed her nose in case she had a spot on it.

amazing eyes,” he concluded in a rush.


She gaped at him uncomprehendingly for a while, and he went dull-red before clearing his throat and turning away abruptly. He left before she could blink, before she could draw breath, and before she could call him back.

BOOK: A Husband's Regret (The Unwanted Series)
6.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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