He watched her narrow back quiver as she bravely tried to bring herself back under control. Damn her! Her tears had always had the power to unman him, but that was something she did not know, something he had never dared reveal to her for fear that she would use them as a weapon against him. But he could tell that Bronwyn hated having him see her tears. He could see her struggling to be strong, but she was so transparent that every devastating emotion showed clearly on her face. The very fact that she was trying so hard to hide any sign of weakness from him made her tears difficult to ignore. He clenched his fists and forced himself to remain where he was, not to give in to the temptation to go and comfort her.
She looked out at the ocean but didn’t appear to be admiring the view as she wrapped her slender arms around herself. She seemed so incredibly lonely that it almost physically hurt him not to go to her. But Bryce refused to fall into her trap again; he was calling the shots now. The last time he had been so smitten with her that he had barely been able to see straight. He remembered the first time he’d laid eyes on her, how he had stared at her that day, trying to figure out what he found so fascinating about her.
She was tall, about five eleven, but she lacked the grace inherent in a lot of tall women. In fact, on that first day, she had seemed to fall over her feet just about every five minutes. She wasn’t even pretty. Her features taken separately were attractive enough, a long straight nose, lush mouth, high arching eyebrows, and the most beautiful, thickly lashed, brown eyes that he had ever seen. Yet when put together in her narrow, oval face, those features just didn’t seem to match. Still he had been compelled to stare for hours, drowning every time she shifted those huge, velvet-brown doe eyes of hers to him.
Now he watched her warily, almost wishing that he had never laid eyes on the treacherous bitch. He damned her for looking like a fragile waif with her badly trimmed dark-brown hair curling around her face where it had escaped from its sloppy ponytail. He watched as she straightened her back, coming to some sort of resolution, and turned back to face him. She walked toward him until they were separated by less than a meter.
“I will stay,” she said, her beautiful mouth forming the words concisely. It was hell, this lip-reading business. Every time his gaze fell on her full lips, he found himself remembering what they tasted like. “It looks like I have no other choice. When I have completely recuperated and Kayla is settled in, I want to resume my studies.” He nodded; one of his objections to her pregnancy had been that she was in the process of obtaining her undergraduate degree in zoology, her ultimate goal to become a veterinarian. He hadn’t been comfortable with the idea of her giving that up and maybe one day resenting both him and the baby for having to sacrifice her dreams. He couldn’t recall telling her that at the time though but he knew that he hadn’t been at his most logical after hearing the news that she was pregnant.
“If this is to be an open marriage,” she continued, “I will start seeing other people too. All I ask is that we be as discreet as possible, for Kayla’s sake.”
She intended to see other men? That thought did not sit too well with him, and he opened his mouth to protest before remembering that it had been his own stupid idea for her not to deprive herself. After all if he did not want her, why should she not feel free to find someone who would? Some other guy who would hold her and kiss her? Someone who would be free to wipe away her tears and comfort her? Some other man who would love her and take care of her? Someone who would do what Bryce no longer wanted to do? He nodded, hoping that none of the confusion he was feeling was evident in his eyes or on his face.
“Sounds fair,” he agreed smoothly before dropping his gaze pointedly to her bare ring finger. “But open marriage or not, you have to start wearing your wedding rings again.”
Bronwyn covered her left hand self-consciously with her right, her own eyes dropping to his strong hands. She had noticed, couldn’t help but notice, that he still wore his wedding ring, a broad brushed gold and platinum band with a complex Celtic design that had matched her much smaller band.
“I . . . I don’t have them,” she confessed, and he made an impatient sound at the back of his throat.
“I’m deaf, remember?” he prompted sarcastically. “Show me your mouth when you speak!” She raised her face and met his gaze unflinchingly.
“I don’t have them.”
“You don’t have the rings?” he asked in disbelief. “What the hell did you do with them?”
“I sold them,” she said before fleeing from the room, not wanting to see his reaction to that confession. She would have given anything to hold on to those rings even though they had come to symbolize nothing but lies.
Bronwyn hadn’t really expected to see the handsome Mr. Palmer again after that disastrous first time, yet there he was, waiting outside the restaurant the following evening after her shift ended. He had looked moody and uncertain, leaning against the wall outside the staff entrance. When she saw him, she hesitated, not sure why he was there.
“Oh . . . sir, are you waiting for someone? Would you like me to deliver a message?” He was frowning down at her in consternation and seemed a little bewildered.
“Have you eaten?” he asked unexpectedly, and her brow wrinkled as she tried to make sense of the bizarre situation.
“Not really.” She shook her head.
“Have dinner with me?” The request was so abrupt that it took a few seconds to sink in.
“Uh . . .”