“Kayla, you will eat your food!” Bronwyn managed in her sternest voice. The child’s determined squirming was rapidly tiring her mother out, and Bronwyn knew that she would have to give up the fight soon. She lifted the spoon to Kayla’s mouth, and the baby kept her mouth tightly shut, turning her head away.
“Mikayla!” The unfamiliar sound of Bryce’s raised voice shocked both mother and child into momentary stillness. Kayla’s eyes swallowed her face when they encountered her father’s stern countenance. His voice softened on his next words. “Listen to your mummy.”
The child obediently opened her mouth to the proffered spoon, her large blue eyes never wavering from her father’s face. She took in bite after bite until she had emptied her bowl, and when she was done, she begged to be let down. Bronwyn helped her down and watched with a helpless smile of sheer adoration as Kayla toddled over to her father and crawled into his lap, curling herself up and tucking her thumb into her mouth. Bryce’s face reflected a mixture of surprise, aching vulnerability, and confusion as he wrapped his arms around the sleepy little girl. He lifted his awestruck eyes to Bronwyn’s smiling face.
“She always gets a little peevish when she’s tired,” Bronwyn informed, watching as Kayla’s eyelids drooped more and more until she was fast asleep.
“I’m hesitant about raising my voice to her,” he admitted quietly. “I find it difficult to judge exactly how loud I’m actually being. I don’t want to terrify her. Sometimes I worry that . . .”
He left the sentence hanging and dropped his eyes down to his daughter’s sleeping face. Bronwyn waited, hoping that he would finish what he had been about to say, sensing that he had been about to reveal something deeply personal. He didn’t say anything further though, and it left her wondering about the insecurity she had heard in his voice.
“Bron . . .” he said after a long silence. He kept his gaze trained on Kayla’s sleeping face. “About last night?” Bronwyn tensed, and she lowered her eyes to the ice-cold glass of mango juice in her hands.
“I just . . . I never meant . . .” He paused again, and the silence grated on her nerves until she could stand it no more. His beautiful blue eyes at last rose to meet hers.
“Look, Bryce,” she said, breaking the silence, hoping that her face reflected the resolution that she could hear in her voice. “I know how much you hate me. In fact, believing what you do about me, I can even understand why you feel the way you do. Anybody who would so cold-bloodedly desert their spouse at the scene of an accident is certainly someone who deserves no forgiveness.”
“You’re . . .”
“I’m not even going to try to defend myself anymore,” she said firmly, interrupting whatever he’d been about to say. “There’s really no point, is there? You’ve hated me for so long I don’t think I’ll ever be able to change your mind. All I ask is that you put this . . . this contempt you have for me aside for Kayla’s sake. Hate me if you must. I think I can almost live with it now that I know you never really loved me, but try to be less obvious about it.” His eyes narrowed as he assessed her face; there was another lengthy silence as he considered her words before shrugging.
“I have a couple of questions,” he murmured, and she bit her lip before nodding. “How long were you at the beach house?” Whatever she had expected, that certainly wasn’t it. She blinked a couple of times before shrugging.
“A couple of weeks,” she managed softly.
“So, if your story is to be believed . . .”
She resisted the overwhelming urge to reach over and slap him for the blatant sarcasm in his voice.
“. . . You went there directly after leaving here, to wait for me, right?”
“Why don’t we just agree to let this matter go?” she asked, not in the mood to defend herself against any more of his crazy accusations.
“No.” He shrugged her request aside nonchalantly. “So, how is it that you never once heard about my accident? Apparently it was in all the papers and had news coverage on radio, television, and the Internet. Are you telling me you missed all of that?”
“Do really think that I spent my days watching the telly and listening to music?” she asked in exasperation. “I could barely drag myself out of bed and into the shower most days. I was ill from the morning sickness, exhausted, scared, and every day that passed without word from you sent me deeper into depressed isolation. So yes, I’m telling you I missed all of that!”
His eyes flickered and she thought she caught a glimmer of uncertainty in them before they went icy with disdain again. She shook her head.
“When are Rick and Lisa due back from their holiday?”
“Saturday,” he replied shortly before continuing on with the original conversation. “So after it became painfully self-evident that I would not be coming for you, what did you do then?” Not caring for the mockery in his eyes and voice and fed up with his determination to disbelieve every little thing she said, Bronwyn got up shakily and rounded the table, reaching out possessively to take her daughter from his arms.
“I’ll put her to bed,” she told him without meeting his eyes.
“Your story is full of holes, Bronwyn, you know that,” he murmured almost gently. “I’d be willing to move on if you’d only admit to being at the scene of my accident.” She lifted blazingly furious eyes to his.
“It would be so terribly convenient for you if I admitted to that, wouldn’t it, Bryce?” she asked angrily. “That way you wouldn’t have to feel any guilt about driving your pregnant wife out into the streets. No guilt about leaving her to fend for herself while she was so ill she was terrified she would lose your baby. You wouldn’t have to be accountable for anything that has happened since the night I left. Well, you can go to hell because I refuse to give you that satisfaction.”