“What papers?” he asked.
“The d-divorce papers,” she whispered, and Lisa hugged her fiercely.
“Aaah God.” Rick sounded pained.
“I’m so sorry, Bronwyn,” Lisa said.
“I thought this was what you wanted.” Rick’s confusion was obvious, and Bronwyn glanced up into his bewildered face.
“It’s for the best,” she said. “But it still hurts, Rick. It hurts so much. I never stopped loving your brother. I just can’t . . . live with him anymore. Do you understand?”
Rick sighed and nodded slowly.
“Yeah, I get it. Bron . . .” he said gruffly. “I love you like a sister and while I failed you for a while there, I still want you to be happy. I get that you don’t think you can be happy with Bryce anymore. His behavior was . . . inexplicable. But I hope you understand that I have to go and make sure that he’s okay. You stay here with Lisa, all right?”
“Yes. This can’t be easy on him.” She was grateful that Bryce would have someone there for him. This wasn’t what he had wanted. He had done it for her because he thought that it would make her happy. “You’ll need these.” She handed over her house keys and the electronic gate remote. Rick nodded and—after one last hug and kiss for Bronwyn—left the room to get dressed. He returned briefly to let them know he was leaving, and then it was just Lisa and Bronwyn. Lisa took control of the situation, shepherding Bron into the kitchen and pouring some sweet tea down her throat. Bronwyn just couldn’t seem to stop the endless flow of tears.
“I didn’t expect it to be this hard,” Bron confessed after Lisa led her to a spare bedroom.
“I know,” Lisa responded quietly. “I can’t even imagine how this must feel, Bron.” Bronwyn laughed half hysterically.
“I think the only one right now who has any idea how I feel is Bryce. Can you believe that? Our marriage is over and all I can think is that Bryce would understand how I’m feeling. That I can talk to him about this. It’s so messed up . . . I had to leave the house before I sought him out for comfort. I’m just a walking disaster, Lisa.”
After aimlessly wandering around the huge house like a lost little boy, Bryce eventually found himself standing in the nursery. That was where he discovered a modicum of peace. He dropped into a rocking chair and watched his precious daughter sleep. He didn’t know how long he sat there, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees and his fists folded one over the other. He had his mouth pressed into his knuckles in an effort to keep from uttering the despairing cry that had been lodged in his throat since he’d handed over those papers all those hours ago.
So absorbed was he in his thoughts that he remained unaware of the third presence that had entered the room until he felt a warm hand cupping the exposed nape of his neck. He jumped, but the hand squeezed his neck reassuringly, and the familiar scent of Rick’s aftershave immediately dampened his fight-or-flight instincts.
He got up and followed Rick out of the room into the well-lit den. His brother walked over to the liquor cabinet and poured a couple of whiskeys before coming back and handing a glass over to Bryce. The scene reminded him of the one weeks ago when Bronwyn had told him that she’d filed for a divorce, and he forced away the sharp stab of pain as he sat down in the same chair he had occupied that night.
They sat quietly for a while, sipping their drinks before Rick set his aside to sign something.
Bron is with Lisa. Bryce nodded an acknowledgment.
I know. Cal SMSed me and told me where he was taking her.
There was another long period where they merely sat and sipped their drinks.
You okay? Rick’s concern was reflected in his gray eyes and Bryce shrugged.
No. The sign was curt.
I’m sorry, Bryce.
Why? Not your fault.
You know what I mean. Bryce sighed and nodded.
It was inevitable. I don’t deserve her trust. Not after what I did.
Why did you react that way to her pregnancy? Rick asked, and Bryce stared at the proud and strong man sitting across from him. But all he saw was an earnest young boy with freckles on his nose and a gap-toothed grin, a boy whom Bryce had once protected with every fiber of his being. Bryce had suffered bruises, broken bones, and bloody noses for that kid and given half the chance would do so again. Their father had never touched Rick—had never gotten the chance—and as a result Rick was a well-adjusted man who had never known the evil that Bryce had grown up with.
He had never wanted Rick to know about it, had kept it from him all these years, but as he stared at his brother he acknowledged that Rick no longer needed his protection and right now Bryce needed to talk about the past.
“I thought that I’d . . . be like our father,” he said aloud. Rick said nothing, merely kept his gray eyes steady on Bryce’s. It gave Bryce the courage to continue. “I thought that I would be a danger to the baby, or Bron.” Not by a flicker of an eyelash did Rick betray any emotion as Bryce’s story came pouring out. Bryce dropped his eyes, trained his gaze on his glass, and spoke for what seemed like hours. When he risked a glance up at his brother after the words had trickled to a stop, Rick was leaning forward in his chair, with both hands clasped tightly around his glass. His skin was ashen and his eyes gleaming with suppressed emotion.
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” he asked.
“I wanted to protect you from that knowledge.”
“Protecting me when I was a kid, sure . . . I get that. Protecting me now? Not so much.”