“I’m so sorry,” he whispered painfully, his own eyes shimmering with what could only be tears. “God, I’m so sorry you had to go through that on your own.”
Bryce wasn’t quite able to process everything he had just learned without wanting to howl in agony at the horror of it all. Her heart had stopped for God’s sake! She had died and he hadn’t even known about it. His beautiful, fragile Bronwyn had nearly been snatched from him forever and the knowledge was eating him up alive. His own suffering seemed almost immaterial when measured against the cripplingly painful facts that she had just revealed and yet he couldn’t help thinking that if she had just stayed, come back, called him—anything—he could have protected her, kept her safe from harm. He ignored the shrill voice screeching at him in the back of his mind, Who would have kept her safe from you?
“You said the nurse asked you for your next of kin’s contact details. Why didn’t you give them my number?” he asked gruffly.
“Oh, now why on earth would I do that?” Bronwyn asked flippantly. “I much preferred the thought of leaving Kayla an orphan.” His brow lowered threateningly. You didn’t have to be able to hear to recognize such blatant sarcasm.
“Bron, now’s not the time for facetiousness!”
“Well,” she blinked up at him innocently, forming her words carefully so that there would be no misunderstanding. “I’m just telling you what I believe you want to know, since it has become rather self-evident that the truth gets rejected when it doesn’t suit you. What I don’t get is how on earth you could marry a woman you have such a low opinion of. By now we’ve established that I’m foolish, fickle, cruel, and selfish! God knows what you saw in me in the first place. You must be an appalling judge of character.” She disentangled herself from his arms and jumped out of bed, uncaring of her nudity. She just wanted to get away from him.
“Where are you going?” he asked, sounding panicky.
“Shower,” was her succinct reply.
“But we haven’t finished our talk . . .”
“I’ve said all I have to say on that particular subject.” She waved her hand dismissively and turned toward the en suite.
“Bron,” his voice was gruff with some indefinable emotion, and she turned to face him. He stared at her for a long moment, looking completely lost for words, before shaking his head.
“Rick and Lisa got back from their holiday last night, and I thought it would be nice to have them come by for the afternoon. I’d like Rick to get to know Kayla, and I think that you and Lisa might get along.” She nodded in response, part of her looking forward to seeing Rick again and the other part remembering his cold-bloodedness at the hospital when she had been ill and defenseless. She was looking forward to spending more time with his new wife though; the woman had been very kind to her in the brief moments they had shared.
“That’ll be nice,” she murmured before turning back toward the bathroom, and this time he let her go without protest.
Rick, Lisa, and Rhys arrived just after one o’clock. The couple was holding hands and looked tanned, healthy, and happy. Rick’s greeting of Bronwyn was strained; merely a curt nod before he grinned at his older brother and immediately struck up a conversation in SASL, rather rudely excluding both Bronwyn and Lisa. The other woman shared a wry smile with Bronwyn before clasping her hand warmly and planting a totally unexpected kiss on her cheek.
“You look so much better than the last time I saw you,” she said with a friendly smile.
“Rest and sunshine will do that,” Bron responded easily before stepping back and giving Lisa an all-encompassing once-over.
“I don’t remember much about you, beyond your kindness that day, but I have to say, you’re looking very good too.” She snuck a glance over to her expansively signing brother-in-law. “I’m happy the whole . . . situation with Bryce and I didn’t ruin your holiday!” Lisa shook her head with a smile.
“Rick was a bit withdrawn for a while, but Rhys and I soon dragged him out of it.” She nodded down at the sleeping baby in his stroller and grinned good-naturedly.
“Oh, I’m so relieved to hear that.” Bronwyn couldn’t help but respond to Lisa’s warm personality. The woman was absolutely lovely. She could see how Rick fell for her so quickly.
“So where is your beautiful little girl?” Lisa sent a questioning glance around the sunny patio as if expecting Kayla to pop out from some nook at any moment.
“Poor little thing. Bryce was preparing her for your impending visit all morning and while she has no idea what cousins, aunts, and uncles are—I think she’s expecting some exotic form of animal—she kept chattering on about it throughout her lunch. She wore herself out and drifted off to sleep almost immediately after completing her meal. It’s for the best; she gets cranky if she doesn’t have her afternoon nap. She’ll be up again in an hour or two.” She glanced over to where Bryce and Rick were still immersed in conversation and frowned.
“Can you understand sign language?” she asked quietly, and Lisa’s eyes became pools of liquid sympathy.
“A little. Rick has been teaching me,” she admitted softly.
“What are they talking about?” Bron wondered wistfully, and Lisa squeezed her hand again.
“I think Rick is telling Bryce about his shark cage dive.” She shuddered at the unpleasant recollection.
“Oh dear . . . Rick still does stuff like that?”