“The night you left,” he began quietly, trying to keep his voice level and calm, not wanting to come across as accusatory or angry. “After my accident, Bron, I swear I saw you in the crowd and, even though I knew that I was the one who had driven you out of the house in the first place, in my mind, abandoning me there was completely unforgivable. I know that my reaction to your pregnancy was cruel and unwarranted, but despite that, you were my wife, the person I depended on the most, the woman who claimed to love me, and you left me there! It made no sense to me and it hurt so damned much. It also gave me an excuse to hate you because feeling anything other than that was just too . . .” He broke off awkwardly, aware of her frown and her confusion.
“Bryce, I wasn’t . . .” she began but he held up a hand.
“Please . . . I . . . let me speak.” He shut his eyes painfully. “I remember it so vividly; I looked up and saw you standing there on the fringe of the gathering crowd. You looked cold, remote, and so beautiful. You were wearing the dress that I loved. Remember? The little black one with the floaty skirt. I tried to call you, but my voice wouldn’t work. I now know that I was shouting at the top of my lungs.” He grinned feebly. “I just couldn’t hear myself. Do you understand why it’s been so difficult to let go of that image? How I can’t ever get the memory of you turning your back and walking away from me out of my mind?”
Bronwyn stared up into his dark and tormented face. She knew how much it must have cost him to come up here and reveal how much he been hurt by her perceived actions that night. She sighed; so much for letting him muddle through it on his own. She couldn’t, not when he had just presented her with the means to refute his repulsive accusation.
“Bryce.” Her throat caught, and she inhaled deeply as she fought back the ever-present urge to cry. “I have something to show you.” She led him into the master bedroom and toward the huge walk-in closet that housed her old wardrobe. She opened the door and rifled through the contents briefly before lifting a padded hanger with a flimsy scrap of black chiffon hanging from it.
“This dress?” she asked gently, and he winced as if the dress brought back cripplingly painful memories. He nodded. She shut her eyes tightly as she fought for composure, so did not see the slight movement he made toward her before stopping himself.
“Bryce,” she murmured unsteadily, opening her eyes again. “I was wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt when I left that night. I left with nothing but the clothes on my back. This dress . . . it’s been hanging here for the last two years.” Bryce shifted his gaze to the dress and shook his head, unable to believe that he had gotten something so very crucial to the well-being of their relationship so totally wrong. He took the dress from her and ran the flimsy material gently through his large hands.
“Rick could have packed . . .” he began, but she touched his hand to get his attention and shook her head slowly, keeping her eyes level.
“Why don’t you ask Rick? I’m sure he’d remember a dress like this among the endless amounts of toddler-proof wear he packed for me.” She nibbled at her lower lip. “I left on a Tuesday night, remember?”
“This is a cocktail dress, Bryce,” she pointed out. “Were we at a party that night?”
He hesitated before responding.
“No. You called me at the office and told me you were cooking a special meal because you had something exciting to tell me . . .” His voice broke and he was trembling from head to foot. Bronwyn was the one who remained rock-steady for a change, while Bryce looked like he was on the verge of tears. “I came home and found you wearing your tattered blue jeans and one of those T-shirts you’d bought in the Seychelles. You said that you didn’t feel like dressing up for dinner.”
“So you changed your clothes and we had a picnic in the conservatory. After dinner I told you I was pregnant and you . . .”
He swallowed painfully.
“I reacted in the worst possible way,” he grated. “I told you to leave and you did.”
“Wearing the same jeans and T-shirt that I’d been wearing all evening,” she finished. His face contorted savagely, and he flung the dress aside with a vicious curse. Bronwyn flinched at the sudden movement, unable to gauge his mood, not sure if he believed her or not. He brushed past her abruptly to slam his way into the en suite, and she was shocked to hear the sound of violent retching coming from behind the closed door. She hovered outside, unsure if she should venture in or wait for him to come back out. She had just made up her mind to go in, when the ghastly sounds stopped and she heard the toilet flush, followed by the sounds of water running and gargling.
He opened the door slowly, and she found herself staring up at him warily. He looked awful, hollow-eyed, hunted, and like he had aged ten years in the last ten minutes. He couldn’t quite bring himself to meet her eyes.
“I . . .” he began. “I don’t know . . .” He raised a violently trembling hand toward her but checked the movement abruptly, his hand falling limply back to his side.
“Bryce . . .” she murmured uncertainly, but he shook his head abruptly, lifting his eyes to her face, and Bronwyn was horrified by the depth of self-loathing she saw in his tortured gaze. It was mingled with overwhelming regret and something akin to fear and desperation.
“God, how you must hate me,” he murmured.
“I don’t think . . .” But it was too late, he turned away before she could say anything more and exited the room abruptly. Bronwyn felt ridiculously deflated by the anticlimactic end to such an intense conversation. That Bryce believed her was no longer in doubt, but he now seemed wholly unable to deal with his own culpability in the failure of their relationship.