“Apparently it was the first time he’s ever gone shark cage diving. He loved it but told me that he doubts he’ll do it again, now that he’s experienced it. I should hope not. It gives me jitters whenever I think of him down there with all those huge great whites circling the flimsy little cage he considers protection!”
“He’ll settle down a bit now that he’s married with a child, I suspect,” Bron stated confidently.
“Sure he will.” Lisa rolled her eyes. “Or maybe he’ll simply drag Rhys and me along with him. Back when we were dating, before I got pregnant, he did a brilliant job of talking me into doing the crazy stuff with him! In fact I’m pretty sure getting pregnant so soon was my body’s defence mechanism kicking in to save me from Death by Crazy.”
“No,” Bron gasped, unable to picture the sweet, bookish-looking woman participating in some of the extreme sports Rick commonly did for fun.
“Well let’s see: bungee jumping, parasailing, parachuting, hang-gliding.” She ticked off her fingers as she itemized. “Navigating in some crazy off-road race, white-water rafting . . . these are just a few of the insane things I found myself roped into doing back then.”
“Ballet recitals, operas, poetry readings, symphony orchestras, shopping for really old furniture,” Rick interjected.
“Antiques,” Lisa inserted smoothly, smiling affectionately as her husband came over to join them.
“. . . Art exhibitions,” Rick continued to recite as if she hadn’t interrupted, dropping an arm around his wife’s narrow shoulders and angling himself so that Bryce was able to lip-read what he was saying. “These are just a few of the really boring things I have found myself participating in since getting married.”
Lisa snorted and rolled her eyes again.
“At least I don’t have a thing for jumping off high mountains and out of perfectly good planes,” she scoffed, and he grinned before dropping a quick kiss on her lips and whispering something in her ear.
Bronwyn watched them enviously and unconsciously found herself raising her eyes to Bryce’s face. She was startled to see that he was studying her intently, and she lowered her gaze quickly but he came over to stand beside her. They stood side by side for a couple of moments, not touching, watching the younger couple whispering and giggling with each other. Bronwyn nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt the first tentative, wholly unexpected touch of his large hand in the small of her back. Her eyes flew to his impassive profile, but he kept his eyes straight ahead, watching his brother and Lisa with a slight smile playing about his lips.
His hand moved up hesitantly, until it was in the nape of her neck, beneath the thick fall of her hair and the heat of his skin singed the delicate flesh of her vulnerable neck. He massaged her soft skin gently before clearing his throat to get the younger couple’s attention; they jumped apart guiltily, grinning like kids.
“Ready to eat?” Bryce asked quietly before turning toward the patio table that was laden with delicious food and fruit. He kept a possessive hand on Bronwyn as he led her toward the table and let her go long enough to pull out a chair for her. Bronwyn glanced up at him warily before accepting the seat. He used to do things like that for her all the time in the past, unconscious acts like opening doors, helping her into coats, seating her. It was an old-world chivalry that Bronwyn had found completely charming. He hadn’t done anything like it since her return, and Bronwyn realized with a pang that it was one of the small details she had forgotten, yet subconsciously missed, about him. She nodded her thanks, wondering what was behind the sudden courtesy. His hand unexpectedly lowered to her cheek and his thumb stroked her flesh briefly, but he moved away before she had any chance to react to the unexpected caress.
Baffled, Bronwyn’s eyes followed his progress as he sat opposite her, next to Lisa, leaving Rick no option but to sit beside Bronwyn. Rick largely ignored her in favor of his brother and wife, leaving Bronwyn feeling snubbed and ridiculously hurt. She knew why he was behaving the way he was, knew that he was merely being loyal to his brother, whom he felt had been treated unfairly. Yet Bronwyn still couldn’t help but feel almost betrayed by Rick’s blatant display of hostility. By the time they were halfway through the meal, Lisa was glaring daggers at her husband, and Bryce was looking almost as strained as Bronwyn felt. Rick was either oblivious to the tension he was creating or—more than likely—ignoring it.
“Bronwyn,” Bryce’s quiet voice interrupted Rick’s animated description of some of the more exotic sights he and Lisa had been treated to during their “and baby makes three honeymoon,” as he had so delightfully described the holiday. “You’re not eating . . .”
Bronwyn looked down at her barely touched meal and shrugged helplessly, a bit thrown by the abrupt shift in topic.
“I’m not that hungry,” she responded with a strained smile. “And I was wrapped up in Rick’s story.”
“You should eat,” Bryce prompted. “You’re still too thin . . .”
Bronwyn snapped, instantly and utterly fed up with everything. The ridiculous untruths he believed about her, Rick’s hostility, and her own weakness in both body and spirit.
“It’s always something with you, isn’t it?” she hissed furiously. “I wasn’t well spoken enough, pretty enough, graceful enough, educated enough . . . I was never good enough for you. I doubt I’ll ever be good enough. No wonder you jumped at the opportunity to get rid of me,” she reflected bitterly. “All you needed was an excuse, and I very conveniently provided you with one when I got pregnant. And then, to add insult to injury, you came up with that ridiculous . . .” She stopped abruptly, remembering her resolve to let him muddle through the facts and find the truth for himself. She shook her head furiously, turning to a gaping Rick.