“I know.” Bronwyn smiled. “She rejects any attempt to help feed her. I usually give her extra portions in the hopes that she manages to get as much of it into her mouth as she does all over everything else. But sometimes I have to take the bull by the horns and feed her myself anyway, despite her fervent protests.”
“She is also inordinately fond of ice cream,” he pointed out with a grimace, seeming to recall something particularly unpleasant.
“I’m guessing you discovered one of her favorite pastimes?”
“Finger painting?” He nodded and she laughed.
“Unfortunately ice cream, especially chocolate, seems to be her favorite medium,” Bronwyn said solemnly.
“I thought Celeste would quit after Kayla demonstrated her talent on the kitchen walls, but luckily she seems to have the patience of a saint.”
“I hope that you reprimanded Kayla?” Bronwyn asked with a frown, and he shook his head.
“She seemed so proud of her painting,” he responded, and Bronwyn sighed before shaking her head.
“She’s testing you,” she informed. “She knows better than to mess on the walls, she wouldn’t dare do it at ho—” She halted, knowing that the word home would be a mistake and not wanting to destroy the fragile peace between them. “She wouldn’t have done that in our old flat. She wants to see how much she’ll be able to get away with here. You’ve got to be firm with her, Bryce. Don’t let her take advantage of you.”
“I wouldn’t know how to go about reprimanding her,” he offered quietly. “I haven’t had much practice at this fatherhood business. I want her to like me.” Judging from the pained look on his face, it grated to admit as much and she bit her lip, unsure how to respond without rekindling hostilities.
“I can guarantee,” she began reluctantly, not really wanting to help him with this but knowing that it was in Kayla’s best interests, “that she loves you already, Bryce. She won’t like it if you raise your voice to her, she may even shed a few fake little tears, but she’ll get over it. You’re as much of an authority figure to her as I am now, and she has to get used to that. We’re here to teach her right from wrong. If we don’t she’ll become a spoiled brat. And while a bit of spoiling never hurt anyone, I would not want her to become intolerable.” He was paying close attention to her mouth, and Bronwyn was careful to enunciate clearly and slowly.
“It makes sense, I suppose,” he said. “I’ll try to be a little less indulgent, but it’s still such a treat for me to give her things and spoil her a bit.”
“That’s understandable.” Bronwyn nodded. “You’ll get over it soon enough, once the novelty wears off and she becomes bratty.”
“She’ll never be that bratty.” He grinned before becoming quite serious. “You did a good job with her, Bron.”
“Uh . . .” The compliment was as unexpected as it was flattering, and Bronwyn had no idea how to respond to it. “Thank you.” She could not read his mood at all and wondered if she could trust what seemed to be an armed and uneasy truce. She bent her head and focused on her food. The cook had prepared a light lunch of crispy fried filleted hake—a delicious Cape game fish—herbed baby potatoes, and steamed fresh vegetables. Her mouth fairly watered at the sight of it. She checked Kayla’s bowl and was gratified to note that the little girl’s vegetables had been mashed into manageable chunks. Kayla had already started digging in with her chubby little fingers, and Bryce groaned when she proceeded to lift her fist to her mouth and suck the food off it.
“Mummy.” She picked up a piece of fish between two grubby fingers and held it up to her mother. “Hmm nice . . . Mummy . . .”
“I already have food, Kayla. See?” she pointed out, lifting a fork with some fish speared onto the tines. Kayla dropped the fish back into her bowl and lifted her plastic spoon and attempted to imitate her mother. When the fish kept falling back into the bowl, she glared and tossed the spoon aside in frustration before resorting to using her hands again. Bronwyn put aside her own utensils and lifted the plastic spoon, firmly placing it back into her daughter’s hands.
“Use the spoon, Mikayla,” she ordered firmly, but the little girl shook her head mutinously.
“No ’poon, Mummy,” the child protested, tossing it aside again the moment her mother let her hand go.
“Kayla, I’m not going to tell you again,” Bronwyn warned, picking the spoon up and wrapping the child’s stubborn fingers around it. Bryce watched the little power play unfold in fascination. Kayla, knowing how far she could push her mother, sulkily held on to the spoon and clumsily rooted around her bowl, messing about rather than actually attempting to eat. Bronwyn ignored the recalcitrant child and quite deliberately went back to her own lunch.
Kayla was now scooping up spoonfuls of food and placing it in little mounds on the tray of the high chair in front of her. Bronwyn finished off the last of her fish and sighed before dragging a wet wipe from the container Celeste had thoughtfully left within easy reach and wiping Kayla’s face and hands clean. She ignored the way the child tried to evade her attempts and after giving her face a thorough wipe, Bron lifted the squirming toddler out of the high chair and into her own lap. She grabbed Kayla’s bowl and spoon and very determinedly began spooning food into the protesting child’s mouth.
“No, Mummy, no! No!” Kayla was sobbing hysterically and working herself up into a fine little tantrum. Bronwyn could feel it in the way her small body was tensing up more and more. “Kayla no want! Kayla no like!”