“Get out of here,” he whispered harshly, wanting her out of the room, not wanting her to hear or see how much he ached to take her into his arms.
“Get the hell out,” he snarled, bracing himself before turning to face her. He barely kept himself from flinching when he saw her tears. “Go now.” She uttered a low cry and whirled from the room, fleeing as quickly as she could. Bryce finally allowed himself to break, sinking back against a tiled wall as his legs gave out and sliding down to the floor. He clasped his head in his hands and shook uncontrollably as he tried to imagine his life from this point on.
Bryce had to go in to the office the following morning—the day of Bronwyn’s Big Date. He hadn’t done so in months, but he and Pierre had an urgent meeting with a very important client and the man had requested Bryce’s presence. As he was the business’s CFO and Vice President of Marketing, Bryce knew that it was time to pick up the reins of his life again. He had responsibilities to Pierre, their employees, their clients, and to himself. It was time but it was just unfortunate timing. Celeste was down with the flu, Bronwyn had a test, also her all-important date was that night, and Bryce wasn’t about to bail on this fatherhood business just because things got a little sticky. He hadn’t even told Bronwyn about this meeting, but he figured that she had coped with much worse crises over the past couple of years, so he could deal with this one all on his own.
That meant taking Kayla into the office and she was in a terrible mood. He dressed her in her prettiest pink frock, promising her all kinds of treats if she just did this one thing for Daddy today. He didn’t need his hearing to know that she was muttering a whole lot of “Kayla no want tos” into his hair as he tied the laces on the tiny red sneakers she’d insisted on wearing with the girly little dress. He’d relented on the shoes because he was getting pretty sick of trying to reason with her. Bad parenting, he knew, but it was a matter of picking his battles, and he was running late. He was also terrified of losing his temper with her while there was no one else around and wanted to get out of the house and to the office as soon as humanly possible.
By the time Cal—who also acted as his driver these days—parked the car in the underground parking lot of the huge building in Central Cape Town, which hosted DCP Jewellers Inc., he was exhausted and feeling more than a little harassed. Petulant, angry tears were seeping down his daughter’s rosy cheeks, and he could more than imagine her nagging crying. He knew her well enough by now to know when she was acting up and when she was just being difficult.
“Kayla.” He hoped his voice was firm enough. “Stop crying. You’re going meet some nice, new friends.” She was shaking her head in response to his promise, and he could read her lips well enough to understand that she didn’t want “new fwends.” He groaned and dropped a kiss on one wet, chubby cheek.
“Of course you want new friends.” His plan was to drop her off at the company’s day-care center. Quite a few of the young executives who were present stopped in their tracks to stare as he made his way through reception. He nodded at them abruptly, not caring for the open-mouthed shock they were all displaying but knowing that his presence, especially with a toddler in tow, would fuel gossip for months to come. They were naturally curious because not many of them had seen him since his accident; also God only knew how much noise Kayla was making. Pierre loomed in front of him and grinned as his eyes dropped to the fractious child on Bryce’s hip.
“Hello, Mikayla,” he smiled down at her, signing so that Bryce could catch what he was saying. “Why so grumpy?” He reached over and tried to tug the resisting child into his arms. Kayla refused to go, burying her wet face against Bryce’s neck and tightening her small, surprisingly strong arms around his shoulders. Bryce met Pierre’s amused eyes and groaned.
“A little help, if you please?”
“Hey, mine isn’t old enough to throw tantrums yet.” Pierre shrugged, dropping his hands into his trouser pockets and rocking back on his heels. “I have no idea how to deal with this.”
“I’m taking her to the nursery but she’s going to hate me for deserting her,” Bryce informed as he hugged the crying child closer.
“By the time you fetch her again, she’ll be having so much fun, she’ll cry when you try to take her home.”
“God, this parenting business is tough,” Bryce muttered. “I don’t know how the hell Bronwyn coped on her own for two years.”
“That’s why Mother’s Day is so much bigger than Father’s Day will ever be,” Pierre quipped. “I’m off to the Mezzanine Conference Room; meet you there in ten minutes?”
“Sure,” Bryce agreed. Naturally, that was easier said than done. Kayla stubbornly clung to his leg when he set her down in the nursery, and he and one of the nursery school teachers tried desperately to bribe and cajole her into letting go. Twenty minutes later, exhausted and rumpled, Bryce made his way into the Mezzanine Conference Room, troubled that he’d had to leave his crying and begging daughter behind and wondering how often Bronwyn had had to go through the same ordeal over the past two years. How difficult it must have been for her, especially being able to hear Kayla’s begging and crying, when she turned to walk away.
His first big business meeting outside of his home, after the accident, was not as tough as he’d expected it to be, largely due to the sign language interpreter Pierre had thoughtfully employed. The same woman would be Bryce’s new assistant and would ease his transition back into the office. He still intended to spend a lot more time at home than before the accident, but the meeting made him realize just how much he’d missed being in the thick of things and at the heart of the deal.