“What?” he asked blankly.
“Well, you just said that you loved me ‘too much.’” She rolled her eyes. “As if that’s such a bad thing. But you used the past tense. So do you still love me?”
“That’s a stupid question,” he growled.
“It’s a valid question,” she dismissed.
“Of course I love you,” he nearly shouted. “It’s not a question of me not loving you—”
“I beg to differ,” she interrupted, waving her hands at him. “It’s very much a question of you not loving me. You never told me you loved me. Not once.”
“Okay, when we married, quite honestly, I didn’t even know I loved you. I told you, I’d never had anyone love me for no reason before. I didn’t bloody know what love was!” His voice rose on the last three words, but she merely raised her eyebrows at him.
“Do you know what it is now?”
“Yes,” he whispered. “Yes, I know.”
“It’s . . . it’s . . .” He floundered for a few moments before inhaling deeply. “It’s everything, isn’t it? It’s the quiet dinners when not much gets said. It’s the sunny days at the beach. It’s hearing your laughter in my head when I see Kayla giggling. It’s seeing the love in your eyes when you watch our baby sleep. It’s watching the sun rise in your smile and set in your tears. It’s the contentment in seeing you eat and sleep and study and play. It’s the small, everyday things, like never getting tired of watching you tuck that same stubborn strand of hair behind your ear twenty times a day, and it’s the huge life-altering things like seeing your smile and my eyes on our beautiful little girl’s face. It’s knowing that even if you turn away from me forever, I’ll always be the better for having had you in my life.”
She leaned forward and stared deeply into his grave blue eyes for an endless moment before reaching out to cup his strong and stubbled jaw with her slender hands. He had trustingly laid his beautiful, wounded soul into her keeping, and she would protect it fiercely.
“There you are,” she whispered wonderingly as the edges of her lips tilted up into a tiny smile. She formed her words as clearly as she could, not wanting him to misunderstand her. “I’ve been looking for you.” His stern brows lowered in confusion, and she leaned down to press a feather-soft kiss to his sensuous lips before easing back so that he could see her face again.
“There’s the man I married.”
His eyes widened as her words registered. He swallowed and then swallowed again, his Adam’s apple bobbing with the movement. She watched him valiantly try to keep it together, to remain strong as usual—but her steady gaze seemed to completely unravel him. His shoulders heaved as he drew in a convulsive breath, and the sound that tore loose from his chest when he exhaled again was an unmistakable sob.
“It’s okay,” she said, stroking one hand down the side of his face, and it was that gentle touch that undid him completely. His face crumpled, his eyes filled, and he finally, finally, dropped every single defense that he had built up over the years and allowed himself to weep. He tried to turn away. Even after everything that he had just revealed, his first instinct was to weather this storm of emotion alone; but Bronwyn wouldn’t let him.
She put her arms around his neck and held on tight. His head dropped into her lap and she folded herself over him so that she was wrapped around him. She crooned the same soothing little sounds that she used when Kayla cried, hoping that he could feel the slight vibrations coming from her chest and throat. His weeping was raw, violent, and gut-wrenching. Her own tears had all but blinded her, but she was determined to be strong for him, and she refused to allow them to overwhelm her. This moment was for this beautiful man who was so very terrified of allowing himself to be happy.
“It’s okay,” she whispered into his hair. “It’s okay, Bryce.” The words were ridiculously inadequate of course. It was very far from okay, but she was still processing the ugly truth and trying to figure out how to deal with everything he had revealed. He was so very, very damaged, but his revelations only gave her deep and abiding love for him a sharply protective edge. She would be damned if she’d allow him to spend one more second thinking that he wasn’t deserving of her love. She now understood that the mistakes he had made had been his twisted and misguided attempts to protect her from the monster he believed himself to be. The realization was heartrending, and her scorching tears slid silently down her face and into his soft hair.
It felt like hours later when his sobs came to a shuddering stop. For a moment he simply allowed himself to rest in her arms, before she felt the tension creep back into his big body, and he lifted himself out of her loving hold and moved to stand beside the window again. He kept his eyes averted as he self-consciously tugged at his dress shirt, which had wrinkled beyond repair. She watched as his ravaged face closed up and shook her head with a sigh before standing up and placing herself squarely in front of him, giving him no option but to meet her eyes.
She had carefully weighed all of her possible responses to his tormented disclosures and knew that there was only one way to play this without stomping all over his fragile male pride.
“You’re an idiot,” she said quietly, and he blinked in confusion.
“I don’t . . .”
“How could you even think that you’re capable of hurting Kayla or me?” she asked, rolling her eyes to convey exasperation. “We’ve had some huge arguments in the past, and I’ve never felt remotely threatened by you.”