“Daddy baf I?” she asked, probably knowing that her dad would go easy on her. Bronwyn raised a questioning brow at Bryce, who nodded, his gaze tender as he smiled at the little girl.
“Come on then,” he invited, holding his arms out to her. She toddled into them and he hugged her close for a long moment, shutting his eyes as he inhaled her baby scent. “Love you, sweetheart.”
Bronwyn’s heart turned to mush as she watched them. She turned away and busied herself cleaning up the dinner debris as she struggled to keep the waterworks at bay. She kept her back to them as Kayla led him out of the living room and upstairs to the bathroom. She left them to it for about ten minutes while she fiddled about in the kitchen, before she followed them upstairs.
Bryce was already toweling off a chatty Kayla by the time Bronwyn joined them. He smiled up at her as she entered his field of vision; the look on his face was so warm and unaffected that Bronwyn couldn’t help but smile back.
“That was a fast bath,” she said quietly, and he shrugged.
“I used the hand shower,” he muttered. “She’s asleep on her feet as it is. I thought hosing her down would be more efficient in this case.”
He picked Kayla up and carried her to her girlie bedroom.
“She’s had a busy day,” he explained, dragging a pretty pink nightgown over Kayla’s head. There was a nervous quality to his constant stream of chatter that Bronwyn found endearing. “We went to the South African Museum this morning. She had a blast, loved the animal and bird exhibits. I had to stop by the office after that so she hung out with her day-care buddies for a couple of hours before lunch. You had fun with your friends, didn’t you, Kayla?” She nodded sleepily, and he grinned as he lifted her onto her bed and tucked her in.
They spent a few minutes reading the little girl’s favorite nursery rhymes in tandem, which turned out to be an entertaining and unique experience for all three of them. In fact, Bronwyn and Bryce were enjoying the experience so much that they didn’t notice that Kayla had fallen asleep. It was Bryce who first discerned that Kayla was sleeping, and he shushed Bronwyn, who was really getting into her Mother Goose impression. They crept out of the child’s room and paused at the doorway to watch her sleeping for a few minutes.
“At least I managed to get something right, huh?” Bryce said, his voice brimming with pride, and Bronwyn tilted her head back to meet his eyes.
You got a lot right, Bryce, she signed, and he grimaced—his eyes dull with disbelief—before turning away and heading back downstairs. She followed him, her gaze fixed on the tense set of his broad shoulders.
“I guess I’ll be going,” he said once she had joined him at the foot of the stairs.
“No,” she shook her head. “We have to have an uninterrupted talk, Bryce. I’m open to the idea of a fresh start because I still love you. I’ve never stopped loving you, even when you were being a total arse. I just didn’t think the situation was healthy for us or for Kayla. I felt like our marriage was doomed because I couldn’t see us growing as a couple or as a family when we still had so many unresolved issues between us. You want another chance? Then we’re going to do this properly. No more secrets.”
Bryce watched her slender back as she led the way back into the living room, and swallowed nervously. This was what he had been dreading from practically the moment he’d first met her. He had tried his best to avoid this “talk” and had destroyed his marriage in the process. It was time to take a leap of faith and believe that if she still loved him despite his past cruelty, she could love him enough to overlook even his inherent cravenness. After everything that he had put her through, she more than deserved the truth. He just hoped that he was strong enough to face the consequences if she wanted nothing to do with him afterward.
She stopped walking and he was so wrapped up in his anxiety that he crashed right into her. They both lost their balance and his hands encircled her upper arms to steady her. For a few breathless moments he had her lithe body plastered right up against his, her back to his front, and his body responded with embarrassing predictability. He released her almost immediately and put a decent distance between them, hoping that she hadn’t felt him hardening against the curve of her firm little behind.
Focus, Bryce! he snapped at himself, drawing in a shuddering breath. He moved past her and headed directly to the sofa. He dropped down and folded an ankle over his knee in an uncomfortable attempt to hide his erection from her. The damned thing had no sense of occasion and even the gravitas of the situation wasn’t doing much to tamp things down.
Bronwyn sat down in a chair across from him and stared at him unsmilingly for a few long seconds. That look was more than enough to bring his body back under control. He wasn’t sure how they were supposed to start this conversation and waited to take his cues from her. When she continued to just stare at him, he started to feel uncomfortable and shifted restlessly in his seat. When had she perfected that damned soul-piercing icy stare? It hadn’t been a part of her “irate spouse” repertoire in the past.
“Well,” he said uncomfortably. He was used to silence but he found himself wanting to fill in this particular conversational void with inane words, hoping that it would prompt some kind of response from her. “Well . . .”
She said nothing, her usually expressive face completely devoid of emotion. She wasn’t going to make this easy on him . . . and really, why should she? He had once told her that he couldn’t fix the damage he had wrought—but quite honestly he hadn’t even tried. He could see that now. He hadn’t tried because he hadn’t felt like he’d deserved to try. Well he was done with being crippled by fear. He could fix it—he would fix it. He just had to take the damned leap.