“Look, I know how this must seem,” he acknowledged gruffly. “But I assure you, I am not in the habit of lurking around outside restaurants and ambushing the female staff with invitations to dinner. I won’t harm you in any way. I’m not some creepy pervert or anything. I just . . . I just . . .”
She waited, watching in absolute fascination as he glowered in frustration and ran an agitated hand through his hair while swearing beneath his breath. He dropped his gaze to the ground as he made a visible effort to gather his scattered wits.
“God,” he was muttering to himself. “I sound like a complete psychopath . . .” Her lips curved into a slight smile at the tone of disgusted self-discovery, but she quickly wiped it from her face when he shifted his eyes back to her.
“I had no intention of coming back, but I wanted to see you again.”
“I don’t know.” He sounded so baffled that the smile crept back into her eyes. “Will you have dinner with me?”
“Okay,” she said lightly, and his frown deepened. He nodded, pushing himself away from the wall and turning to lead the way before pausing to turn back to her.
“Do you have absolutely no sense of self-preservation?” he growled, and her eyebrows shot up in surprise at his stern tone. “Promise me that after tonight you won’t agree to have dinner with any more strange men off the street! It’s dangerous. There are all manner of crazies out there. Murderers and rapists and God knows what else. You have to be more careful, Bronwyn. Promise me.”
“I promise,” she vowed, a little stunned by this unexpected protectiveness from a man she barely knew.
He had smiled in relief and she noticed, for the first time, that he had a rather sexy dimple in his right cheek. “Good. Then let’s eat . . .”
Bryce had been in an unpredictable mood since she had confessed, earlier that day, to pawning her wedding and engagement rings. Bronwyn eyed her husband nervously across the dinner table. They tended to have late dinners, so Kayla had been fed and put to bed an hour before. She had toyed with the idea of skipping dinner, but she knew that it would be foolish to miss any meals when she was already so weak, and eating in her room would be the coward’s way out. Bryce had insisted, soon after her arrival, that they dine together. He seemed to want everyone to think that this was some kind of happy reconciliation. Not that anyone other than the maids had been around to see them together. Rick, Lisa, and their thirteen-month-old baby—Rhys—had resumed their family vacation in Knysna and wouldn’t be back in Cape Town for another few days.
Bronwyn was still amazed by how much things had changed since she left. She wondered where Bryce’s friends were. Pierre De Coursey, his business partner at DCP Jewellers Inc. and good friend, used to be a regular visitor in their home; she had liked the Frenchman, although she knew he must have wondered what Bryce was doing with a small-town hick like her.
“Where is Pierre?” She got sick of the silence and decided to take the bull by the horns. When she received no response, she looked up to find Bryce contemplating his wineglass. She sighed sadly, immediately realizing her mistake. She waved to catch his attention and he looked up absently. She repeated her question and he frowned.
“You want beer?” he asked in surprise.
“Pierre De Coursey?” She used the Frenchman’s full name, hoping that it would help, and watched as Bryce’s lips quirked in amusement, causing his dimple to wink briefly. She was a little shocked at the self-deprecating humor she saw in his eyes.
“Sorry, b’s and p’s, you know? Along with v’s and f’s and t’s and d’s. It can be a little confusing when there’s no context to a comment or conversation. I can get a little lost.”
She nodded and dared a slight smile. “What about Pierre?”
“Well he hasn’t been around at all since my return. I find this rather strange, since he used to come by most evenings before . . . before . . .” Her voice petered off, and his eyebrows rose.
“Before you ran away?” he inserted smoothly.
“Before I was driven away,” she corrected, just as smoothly, fed up with being the villain of the piece. His eyebrows raised a notch higher, but he let it slide for once.
“Pierre spends most evenings at home with his family these days.”
“His family?” Pierre hadn’t been married when she left.
“Yes, he has a wife and son.”
“Pierre De Coursey got married?” She couldn’t quite keep the shock out of her expression.
“Came as a surprise to me too.” He grinned unexpectedly and looked so much like his old self that Bronwyn’s mouth went dry with longing. “Last year, nearly a full year after you’d left, he quite unexpectedly announced that he was getting married. Admittedly, I had been very much out of commission and not too aware of what was happening in the world around me at the time, but Pierre, who had been a regular and concerned visitor and friend had never even mentioned meeting a woman he was serious enough about to marry.”
Bronwyn was so busy absorbing the rare and revealing statement about his convalescence after the accident that his comments about Pierre barely registered. To all intents and purposes, it seemed as if Bryce had retreated from the world after his accident and hadn’t ventured back into it. He seemed almost reclusive and hardly ever left the house. In fact she could not recall him going to the office once since her return. He and Pierre co-owned an exclusive jewelry company that was renowned for its designer accessories that catered to only the wealthiest members in the most rarefied reaches of society. The company had branches in all the major cities in Europe, North America, and Asia and had just recently gone public on the stock exchange.