Bronwyn could barely focus on what Raymond was saying; her mind kept straying back to the lonely image of Bryce sitting in front of that television with her image frozen on-screen. There was something so stark, sad, and desolate about the memory that it ate her up inside every time she thought about it.
“You seem preoccupied.” Raymond’s gentle voice intruded on her thoughts, and Bronwyn was startled back to the present and the man sitting opposite her. He really was a nice man, tall, lean, and almost handsome, with dark eyes, slightly thinning black hair, and a warm smile. Bronwyn really liked him but not enough to seriously consider dating him.
“I think this was a mistake,” she mumbled, and he frowned. “It’s too soon. It just doesn’t feel right for me to be out with you.” He smiled in understanding.
“I was wondering where your mind was,” he said.
“Maybe . . .” she began, and he covered one of her helplessly fluttering hands with his own.
“Some other time?” he completed, and she nodded gratefully. “That’s okay. I can wait until you’re ready.”
The crazy thing was Bronwyn wasn’t sure if she would ever be ready. Despite everything that had happened, she still loved Bryce, and she didn’t know how to stop. While his past behavior had been unforgivable, it had also been completely out of character. How could the man who now loved his daughter so unreservedly have rejected the idea of Bronwyn’s pregnancy in the first place? It made no sense. And yet, while she was confused and conflicted, she still couldn’t forget about or forgive those two years that she had struggled to keep both herself and her baby alive and safe. She loved him and yet she resented him for abandoning them so completely. And there was just no way she could reconcile those two conflicting feelings in any kind of emotionally satisfying manner.
“Thank you for understanding, Raymond.”
“I can’t say I’m not disappointed, Bronwyn. I would still like to get to know you better and spend time with you. I hope I get that chance.”
“You’re a really nice man, Raymond,” she responded. “But I shouldn’t have come out with you. I’m still married, and while my husband may not be perfect, he’s the father of my child and at one point, he was my whole life. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I can’t make any promises, you understand?”
“I understand.” He smiled again, squeezing her hand in reassurance. “I hope you know that I’m here, as a friend. If you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to listen, I’m always here.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, trying desperately to blink back her tears at his graceful acceptance of the situation.
Bryce, who sat alone in the darkened den, was startled when the unmistakable flash of headlights coming up the drive disturbed the unrelenting dark. He jumped up and stepped out onto the wide balcony that overlooked the driveway, knowing that he would not be spotted in the dark. It was Bronwyn, home a lot sooner than he had expected. She was standing beside the car, her head bent over her bag as she fumbled for her house keys. He frowned, making a mental note to talk to her about her carelessness. She really should have her keys out before she got out of her car; they had the best security money could buy, and there were guards all over the property, but he still didn’t want her taking unnecessary risks. He could see her clearly in the light that was spilling from the front porch, and his stomach clenched at how beautiful she looked in the pale blue wraparound skirt that molded to her long legs with every move she made. Her white top dipped low enough to show off her modest cleavage and it set his blood boiling. She looked too provocative, too bloody tempting! He was sure that the pervert professor could not possibly have kept his hands to himself.
Burning up with the need to know if that bastard had laid his grubby paws on her, he made his way downstairs, sure he would be able to read her expression and know if she had let the man touch her. He just needed to know . . .
“How was your date?” The deep voice, sounding so unexpectedly from behind her, made Bronwyn jump in shock. She was busy setting the alarm and botched up the code when he startled her. She took a deep steadying breath and quickly reentered the correct code before turning to face him.
“It was fine,” she murmured, knowing it was too dark for him to read her lips; she used her hands as well.
“When did you get so good at signing?” he asked huskily, stepping into the small pool of light in the hall and neatly trapping her between his body and the door.
“All those times I met Alice for lunch? Before going back to university? We were going to the same center Pierre went to for his sign language lessons. I go mostly on Saturdays now.”
“Why?” She shrugged awkwardly, trying to step back when he took a small step forward but finding herself with no place to go when her back hit the door. He was so close she could feel his body heat and smell his wonderfully clean scent.
“I don’t know,” she said quietly. “I wanted to be able to talk to you.” He very gently lifted his thumb and forefinger to her chin and used it to tilt her face up to his.
“I didn’t catch that,” he whispered. She repeated her previous statement and his eyes darkened.
“You wanted to talk to me? Despite the way I’ve treated you?” There was a world of vulnerability in his voice, and Bronwyn tried not to let it disarm her.
“I know how it feels to have no one to talk to,” she said, closing her eyes to hide her pain from him.