“I didn’t use any protection.” She flinched at the reminder of how much he would loathe getting her pregnant again. But after the last time, getting pregnant by Bryce wasn’t exactly high on her to-do list either.

“I’m on the pill,” she admitted huskily. “I asked the doctor for a prescription last week during my checkup.” She flinched when he laughed scathingly.


“Do forgive me if I choose to doubt you, my dear. We both know how very unreliable you are when it comes to taking care of the birth control,” he mocked, and she trembled violently at the derision in his voice and the contempt on his face. He gave her one last piercing stare before dropping the matter.

“Did I hurt you?” he asked almost impersonally as he hunted around for his boxers. Her reply obviously held little interest for him because he had his back to her. She didn’t bother responding but sat up, humiliated by the position she found herself in—laid out on his desk, naked, and spread out for his pleasure. She was covered in a mixture of their perspiration and other fluids and smelled of sex and sweat. She felt used and cheap and her cheeks burned with mortification. He couldn’t have made his disdain for her any clearer, and Bronwyn was disgusted with herself for falling into his arms so easily every time. She was a little shell-shocked by her unforgivable stupidity and could barely gather her scattered thoughts. She just wanted out of the room and away from Bryce but for some reason she couldn’t seem to figure out how to do that.

She stood up and crossed one arm over her naked breasts and used the other hand to cup the wispy triangle of curls at the juncture of her thighs in a classic pose of feminine shame.

When Bryce looked up and saw her he was struck as still as a statue. Her tear-filled eyes were darting frantically around the room, searching for her scattered clothing. He had dragged on his boxers by now and urgently started hunting for her things, hating the trapped and desperate look in her eyes. He eventually found her blouse and handed it to her, but she didn’t move. She looked almost catatonic and Bryce swallowed down an irrational surge of panic. He helped her into the blouse and buttoned it clumsily, but she looked even more vulnerable with only her lower half exposed. She ducked her head and hid her face behind her heavy fall of hair. He hunted around but couldn’t seem to find her panties. Instead he turned up a dainty bra and her creased trousers. Deciding that the latter would do, he helped her into them, hunkering down to physically lift her feet, one at a time, into the trouser legs. The position brought his face level with the fine curls at her center, but her very nakedness made her seem even more defenceless and in need of his protection.

He eventually managed to get her all zipped and buttoned up, and when he looked into her face he saw that her lips were moving and the tears that had been threatening had spilled over. He gripped her arms urgently, hating the sight of her tears. He focused on her lips and was able to discern that she was saying the same thing over and over again.

You keep punishing me . . .

Bryce acknowledged that fact to himself. He did keep punishing her, but what she didn’t know was that he was punishing himself as well. He hated seeing her like this, and he hated the guilt that burned away at his insides like acid with every reluctant tear that she shed. He kept telling himself that she deserved it but it was getting so damned hard to keep convincing himself of that fact. He lifted a hand to her face but she flinched away from him and he glowered, hating the reaction. He had never physically hurt her, he had always taken great care not to hurt her, and seeing her flinch away from him like he was the monster he so dreaded becoming, had the same visceral effect on him as a punch to the gut. He gingerly wrapped his arms around her and tugged her against his chest. She was as stiff as a board and refused to relax in his embrace. Eventually realizing that she was probably emotionally drained, he lifted her into his arms and rather awkwardly managed to open the door and carry her upstairs to her bedroom. Thankfully, Celeste and Kayla were nowhere in sight. He placed her onto the soft bed and knelt in front of her, trying to catch her eyes.

“If you’d just admit it,” he said. She lifted her dull eyes to his, seeming to register his presence at last and frowned in confusion.

“Admit what?” She looked confused, and he gritted his teeth as he tried to maintain his temper.

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“Admit that you were at the scene of my accident and that you lied about trying to reach me. I could try to forgive you and we could start rebuilding our relationship. Just be honest, Bronwyn.” She sighed tiredly, defeat weighing heavily on her shoulders. She shifted her eyes again and shrugged, looking like someone who just wanted to be left alone and would do anything to achieve that end.

“If that’s what you want, Bryce, then I confess to being guilty of everything that you accused me of. I stood beside that road and watched you suffer before walking away. I never tried to contact you; I preferred to struggle along with no money, no home, and rapidly deteriorating health.

“I didn’t try, and fail, to reach you just after Kayla was born either, when I was so ill I could barely hold the phone, when I was terrified I would die and she would be left alone. I clung to my stubborn pride and quite selfishly never once thought about what was best for you or our daughter.” She shaped the words so clearly, he had absolutely no difficulty understanding her. It was what he had wanted, what he believed to be true, a wholesale admission of guilt, but it did not sit well with him and it certainly didn’t feel right. He wasn’t quite sure how to proceed from here and gently pushed her down until she was lying back on the bed.

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