“Hi, sweetheart, do you know who I am?” His eyes were trained on Kayla’s perfect little features; she was an enchanting combination of both parents. She had his eyes . . . blue eyes so pale that they sometimes looked almost gray.
“Man,” Kayla responded shyly before popping her thumb into her mouth and laying her head on her mother’s chest.
“That’s right.” He nodded. Rick reentered the room silently, and Kayla dragged her thumb out of her mouth long enough to point at him.
“Man,” she informed helpfully, and Bryce swiveled his head, caught sight of his brother, and nodded with a grin.
“That’s your Uncle Rick.” Rick looked startled to hear himself introduced as such, startled and then pleased. He seemed to swell with pride. “I am your daddy . . . Can you say ‘daddy’?”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Bronwyn was so appalled by his blasé introduction, that her voice came out louder than she had intended. It startled Kayla, who blinked in shock before melting into tears. Bryce looked devastated. He stared at the crying child helplessly, not knowing what to do. Bronwyn, unable to stop herself, continued furiously.
“How can you just announce it to her like that? How can you simply . . .” Kayla cried even harder, and Bryce patted the child’s head and cheek helplessly. “Stop ignoring me, damn you, I hate it when you do that!” He looked up then, and when he saw her expression, his face darkened.
“It was you,” he seethed. “You made her cry. I thought it was something I’d done, damn you.” Bronwyn blinked down at him in amazement before lifting her eyes to Rick’s face in shocked realization.
“He can’t hear me, can he?” she asked Rick, who stood just behind Bryce. The younger man said nothing and merely continued to stare at her levelly. His silver-gray eyes were unnerving in their uncharacteristic iciness.
“Why don’t you ask me that question?” Bryce asked mockingly, and she returned her gaze to his face, realizing that he had heard her question. She berated herself for being ludicrous. Of course he could hear her. “Ah, but you already know the answer, don’t you?” he taunted and she stiffened, feeling like a fool. Kayla had stopped crying and had her head resting on Bronwyn’s chest and her thumb back in her mouth. She was eyeing Bryce warily.
“What’s your name, angel?” he asked her gently. The child refused to answer and her eyelids grew heavier as she started to slip into a doze.
“Her name’s Mikayla,” Bronwyn supplied, but he kept his eyes on Kayla’s face, ignoring Bronwyn again.
“Go on, tell me your name.” He blatantly snubbed her. Kayla dragged her thumb out of her mouth and deigned to respond.
“M’kayla.” She did not bother to lift her head and barely opened her eyes as she garbled her name the way she always did. It was recognizable enough, but Bryce was staring at the child with a baffled frown. He raised his confused eyes to Bronwyn, and she sighed before repeating the name.
“Mikayla, I named her Mikayla.” The frown deepened and something uncomfortably close to loathing settled over his taut, handsome features.
“Goddamn you, Bronwyn,” he growled, and she gasped. He didn’t like the name? She had named Kayla after him—his second name was Michael. Maybe he thought it was hypocritical of her to name their daughter after him when, as he now claimed, she had deprived him of his child. Bryce looked angry, hurt, and confused at the same time, and he kept glancing at his dozing little daughter and shutting his eyes despairingly. Bronwyn did not understand his reaction.
Rick stepped forward, leveling a resentful glare at Bronwyn that baffled her even further, before laying a calm hand on his agitated brother’s shoulder. Bryce looked up and grabbed Rick’s hand as if it were a lifeline.
“Tell me,” he pleaded desperately, and Rick nodded.
“Her name is Mikayla, Bryce,” he told his brother gently, with both his mouth and his hands.
W-why are you doing that?” Bronwyn stammered. Both men ignored her, and Bryce turned back to his sleeping daughter, with his heart in his eyes.
“Mikayla . . .” he murmured, running a gentle finger down the baby’s soft cheek. “What a beautiful name.”
“What’s going on here?” Bronwyn asked in a voice bordering on hysteria, before convulsing into a series of painful coughs. Kayla stirred a little, disturbed by the violent coughing, and Bryce picked the little girl up and cradled her to his chest.
“Give me your flat keys. Rick and Lisa will pack your things.” Her eyes were blurry with tears as the coughing tore at her throat and chest. She was unable to respond to the autocratic demand and was appalled when Bryce simply reached for her handbag and tossed it to Rick.
“They’re probably in there,” he told his brother. The younger man nodded and turned away.
“Wait!” Bronwyn called painfully, trying to get her coughing under control. Bryce handed her a glass of water that she gulped down thankfully. “Why were you using sign language?” she asked urgently, her throat on the verge of giving out. Rick turned back with naked disgust on his face.
“This display of ignorance is an insult to our intelligence, Bronwyn!” he hissed, and her eyes widened with hurt.
“I don’t know what’s going on here!” Her voice was strained but she hoped she managed to convey her urgency. “Can you hear me, Bryce?”
“I haven’t heard much of anything over the last two years, Bronwyn.” He shrugged scornfully. “And you know it. You did this to me, after all.”