“Me?” Bronwyn did not know what to react to first: the unbelievable news that her beautiful, strong husband was deaf, or the accusation that she was somehow responsible for his condition. It was all too awful to comprehend. “But . . . I . . . how?” Rick made an impatient sound at the back of his throat, seemingly sickened by her continued ignorance. He touched his brother’s arm to gain his attention. Bryce turned to face him.
“I’ve asked that girl Katrina where she lives.” He nodded toward Bronwyn, unable to even say her name. “Some dump downtown. I’ll pack a couple of bags for her and Mikayla.”
“Pack only a change of clothes for the little one,” Bryce ordered, his gaze softening as he looked down into his still-sleeping daughter’s pretty face. “If the rags she’s wearing right now are any indication, there won’t be anything worth keeping. I’ll clothe my own child.” Bronwyn’s eyes stung with tears at that terrible insult; if only he knew how much she had sacrificed and slaved for every single item of clothing the child possessed. She had worked double shifts, bypassed meals, and taken on extra jobs to keep her baby fed and clothed. They may not have been the most expensive clothes, but they were pretty and serviceable enough for an active toddler.
“Pack her toys though,” he told Rick. “God knows they’re probably not much better than the clothing, but she’s bound to have her favorites.”
“What do you mean I did this to you?” Bronwyn asked, letting the matter of Kayla’s wardrobe slide in favor of a much more pressing matter. He didn’t respond and she understood that he must have been lip-reading all along. She tugged at his sleeve to get his attention and he directed his arrogant gaze down to her pinched face.
“What do you mean I did this to you?” she repeated, and he frowned before turning away from her, deliberately blocking her out and making her feel about as significant as a fly.
“What are you . . .” She diverted her gaze to Rick when she saw that Bryce was ignoring her. A neat trick that, turning his back on someone when he didn’t care to know what he or she was saying. It was certainly effective. “What is he accusing me of?” Rick couldn’t ignore her as successfully as Bryce could, but he was definitely doing a good job of trying. He and Bryce were speaking quietly, sometimes lapsing into sign language and cutting her out completely. Feeling muddled, exhausted, and on the verge of hysterical tears, Bronwyn had no clear idea of how to deal with this problem. The situation had just spiraled completely beyond her control and she was too ill to deal with it. She watched as the talking men left the room and took her baby with them and she felt an overwhelming sense of dread. She wanted to snatch her child back and run as fast and as far as she could but all she could do was watch helplessly as the door swung shut behind them.
She covered her face with her hands, feeling as wrung out as a dishcloth. Hot tears seeped through the cracks of her fingers as she allowed herself to weep for everything that she had lost and was still losing. She was so wrapped up in her own misery that the first she knew of another presence in the room was a comforting arm around her narrow shoulders.
“Shhh, it’s okay, it’s okay . . .” Rick’s pretty wife was perched on the side of the bed, her head bowed toward Bronwyn’s. “You’ll be all right, both you and your beautiful little girl will be absolutely fine. Bryce will take care of you.”
“Bryce hates me,” Bronwyn negated miserably.
“Bryce could never hate the woman who has given him such a gorgeous daughter,” the other woman denied.
“He blames me for what happened to him,” Bronwyn groaned. “And I don’t even know what happened to him! How did he lose his hearing?” She lifted her tear-drenched brown eyes to Lisa’s face, and the other woman frowned, her expression thoughtful.
“It was an accident. Rick and I hadn’t been dating for long—barely a month since the day he first walked into my bookshop—but we were serious enough that he was talking about introducing me to you guys.”
So Rick had met Lisa while Bronwyn was still with Bryce. She remembered how euphoric and secretive he’d been during those few weeks before she had left. She’d even teased him about it over dinner one night and he’d stammered and blushed like a schoolboy. The memory warmed her somewhat, but Lisa’s sympathetic voice dragged her back into the horror of the present.
“One night Rick called me to cancel one of our dates because his brother had been in an accident. It was pretty bad. I met Bryce a few weeks later while he was still recovering in the hospital. Rick and I married about four months after the accident, when Bryce was well enough to attend. If I hadn’t been two months pregnant at the time, we would have postponed the wedding. Both Rick and Bryce refused to talk about you again. I think Rick was merely following Bryce’s lead on that score. He was so completely wrecked by what had happened to his brother that he would have walked over hot coals if he thought that it would make Bryce happy. From the rare bits of information about it that I managed to get out of Rick over the past twenty months of our marriage, I thought that you’d opted out because you couldn’t cope with his deafness.”
“But I didn’t even know he was deaf until just now.” She coughed painfully and Lisa stroked her hair soothingly.
“Why did you leave him?” Lisa questioned gently.
“I would never willingly have left him. I love him . . . loved him.” Lisa raised her eyebrows at the telling slip and nodded.