“I’ll get my assistant to look into viable homes for you. Once we’ve compiled a list of possibilities, you can decide which one suits you best.” He turned and walked out of the room, leaving Bronwyn feeling wrung out and deflated by the hollow victory.
Bryce waited until he was safely back behind the closed door of his study before bending at the waist and inhaling deeply as the consequences of his promise hit him like a freight train. She was going to leave him and he was going to let her because she deserved her freedom, because it was cruel to saddle a vibrant and affectionate woman like her with an emotionally crippled husband, and most importantly because he still didn’t know how to explain his actions on that long-ago night.
A baby, Jesus God, he had thought. He wasn’t ready to be a father! He would be terrible at it. He would be like his own father—abusive, mean, and absent in both heart and soul. He couldn’t have a child yet, not until Bronwyn healed him some more. Over the last couple of years, she had been a balm to his restless and damaged spirit. In time, her gentle calm and kindness would have spread to him, would have seeped into his soul and made him the kind of man that he longed to be. He would have been ready to be a father then and responsible for a brand-new life. And yet she was pregnant now . . . she had his baby inside of her at this very moment. His breath hitched on a sob as he saw her in his mind’s eye, getting rounder, softer, her breasts growing full and heavy with milk. He saw her giving birth, saw their baby: angry, red, naked, and crying and loved it with all his heart. He wanted that life with his entire being.
Not just the two of them but the three of them: A family.
Yes, he wanted that life badly, and with Bronwyn by his side, he was almost certain that he could have it. He wasn’t his father. He had practically raised Rick without harming a hair on his head, so why would he be any different with his own children? God, Bron probably hated him so much right now, but he would try to explain it to her. Maybe he could finally tell her about his father and she would understand. She wouldn’t think he was a monster just because one had sired him. She would forgive him. She had to. Surely she loved him enough to forgive him?
He was already back on his feet and ready to go talk to her when he heard the engine of her BMW roar to life, followed by the unmistakable sound of tires squealing in the driveway. His stomach clenched and his heart just about stopped.
“No . . . nononononono . . .” The litany sounded like a prayer as he lurched from the room. He heard a screech as she battled with the clutch and then the throaty purr as the car obeyed her commands and sprang to life. He was just out of the front door when the car went hurtling out of the driveway. “God, please . . .” he begged as he turned back and palmed his own set of keys from the table in the hall before diving for the Maserati that he had left parked in the front. She wasn’t a good driver, and she usually battled with the curves on the steep, winding road. He followed her at a distance, careful not to spook her; he could see her taillights a few bends down and knew he would be able to catch up to her in his faster car. He only prayed that she didn’t misjudge a curve and get hurt. God, he would die if she were injured or if the baby got hurt. She would never forgive him if anything happened to the baby, would never believe that he wanted it as much as she did but had just been too damned cowardly to admit it. He wanted them safe. He wanted them with him. He would give anything in the world to take back the last half an hour. He was petrified that when he managed to catch up with her, she wouldn’t want him anymore, wouldn’t love him anymore!
He couldn’t live without her love. All that stupid overwhelming tenderness he had told himself he felt for her, how the hell had he not recognized it for what it was? The road was leveling out when it happened—a young couple, hand in hand, stepped into his path. They were so absorbed in each other that they didn’t see him coming. He swerved to avoid them and went off the road. He had just enough time to feel gratitude that he had left the steep curves behind him before the car flipped and rolled several times. He was briefly aware of feeling excruciating pain everywhere, and his last thoughts before he passed out were regret that he might never see his baby and absolute terror that he might never hold Bronwyn again.
When next he opened his eyes, it was to profound silence. He gradually came to understand that he was hanging upside down and held suspended by his seat belt. He blinked at the gathering crowd outside the car and the first face he saw clearly was hers. He smiled, relieved that she had come back but puzzled by the complete lack of emotion on her face.
“Bronwyn.” He felt his lips form the word but couldn’t hear it. It was incredibly quiet; he hadn’t expected an accident scene to be this deathly silent. He tried again, called her name, and felt his throat tighten and hoarsen as he kept calling and calling without once uttering a sound. She didn’t move, she merely watched him, and he went cold with dread. She hated him.
God, he had known that she would eventually hate him . . . he had always known it. He had spent the past two years waiting for her to fall out of love with him. He wasn’t good enough for her love. Some part of him had always known that the son of a monster didn’t deserve such a glorious creature’s love.
Still, he begged and pleaded with her to come to him. God, she was so lovely, he adored her in that dress, he always had. But she had ignored him. She had turned around, walked away, and left him in pain and in silence.
Five days after Bronwyn’s devastating announcement, Kayla was sitting in a patch of late autumn sunshine in the conservatory with her daddy and happily playing house with her dolls and tea sets. She was dressed in a pink princess costume and those ubiquitous red sneakers that she so loved. Bryce had brought his laptop upstairs and was sitting on the heated tile floor next to her, enjoying the sunshine as he read and replied to his most urgent e-mails. He stopped occasionally to take a sip of imaginary tea from a dainty plastic cup, smacking his lips every time, which inevitably sent his daughter into paroxysms of giggles. He loved watching her laugh. She looked exactly like her mother when she laughed so unreservedly. Bronwyn used to laugh like that; she’d put her entire body into it as the laughter worked its way out from her belly. He couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed like that and felt a pang of regret at the loss. It had always been such a joy to see and hear her laughing, and he often wondered if Kayla’s laughter sounded anything like her mother’s.