Kayla decided that she didn’t like scary and noisy helicopters and cried during the entire short, chartered flight from Plettenberg Bay to Camps Bay. Her beleaguered father, who was figuring out that parenthood may not be as fabulous as he had first imagined, battled to keep her calm while Bronwyn, who was feeling the effects of some pretty powerful medication, remained mostly oblivious to it all. Bronwyn was vaguely aware of Bryce frantically trying to shush the child. He made funny faces and played silly little games but Kayla refused to be comforted by someone who was a total stranger to her. She was too small to be belted in but she stubbornly refused to stay in Bryce’s lap. Instead she kept trying to crawl over onto her mother’s lap, and Bronwyn tried her best to soothe the little girl, but Kayla wasn’t too impressed with her limp hugs either.
“Do something,” Bryce eventually entreated, when Kayla slid from his grasp like a greased pig and melted to the floor in a boneless heap. Once at their feet she wailed pitifully.
“Kayla scairt, mummy, Kayla scairt!” she howled. Bronwyn, thoroughly fed up with the theatrics, reached down and dragged the limp toddler up with as much strength as she could muster.
“Mikayla,” she managed hoarsely in her toughest, no-nonsense, voice. Kayla was momentarily silenced by Bronwyn’s “mummy” voice and her wide blue eyes melted Bronwyn’s heart. The poor little thing was understandably scared. Too many changes in too short a time for her. Bronwyn gentled her voice and smiled with what she hoped was cheerful confidence. “It’s fine, baby. Sit with your daddy; he’ll take care of you.” Mikayla glanced over at the swiftly unraveling Bryce with wary speculation in her gaze. Turning to him for protection had evidently not occurred to her.
“Man?” she questioned uncertainly.
“Daddy,” Bronwyn corrected tiredly, fading fast. “Go and sit with him.” The little girl, clutching her favorite stuffed doll to her chest, took the one small step separating her from Bryce and raised her arms to let it be known that she would allow him to pick her up now. Bryce lifted her into his lap and she curled up against his chest, propping her thumb into her mouth. Huge crocodile tears were streaming down her cheeks. Bronwyn rolled her eyes and leaned back with an exhausted sigh. For a couple of minutes everything was quiet, save for the noisy drone of the chopper. Bronwyn was just settling in for a doze when Bryce spoke, so softly that she could barely hear his voice above all the noise. Not even the headphones she was wearing helped to amplify his voice.
“She’s a handful.”
Bronwyn opened her eyes and found herself staring straight into his brooding eyes. “Yes.” She nodded tiredly. “She tends to be. But she’s just frightened right now; this isn’t anything that she’s used to.”
“Tell me about her,” he invited, almost reluctantly. It obviously dented his pride having to ask her for anything.
“She’s inherited more than just some of your physical traits,” Bronwyn said with a smile. “She has a stubborn streak a mile wide and is ferociously independent.”
“When did she start walking and talking?”
“She was an early talker.” Bronwyn’s smile went misty. “She mostly gurgled a lot, babbled incoherently for a while . . .” Bryce was frowning and she stuttered to a halt. “What’s wrong?”
“Slow down,” he commanded gruffly. “I can’t understand a damned thing you’re saying!”
Having momentarily forgotten about his deafness, the reminder served as a cruel reality check. She swallowed convulsively, aware of the dry, painful heat in her throat.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered before repeating her previous statement as slowly and clearly as she could. Bryce rolled his eyes impatiently.
“I’m deaf, not stupid,” he ground out furiously. “Just speak normally; don’t babble and don’t drawl and keep facing me.”
“I’m sorry.” She helplessly repeated her apology. She felt hopelessly inadequate. Again, she tried to repeat her previous statement, but she was so nervous by now that she stammered badly. Bryce swore impatiently beneath his breath before deliberately lowering his gaze to Kayla. That easily he ended the conversation. The slight was brutally effective and left Bronwyn feeling thoroughly abandoned. She felt like a complete failure and kept her eyes trained on his face, hoping that he would look back up, but he was talking to the still-crying Kayla. He was so absorbed by his daughter that Bronwyn might as well not have been there.
She eventually lowered her gaze to where her hands were curled into tight fists in her lap, and as she desperately fought the urge to cry, she tried to figure out where and how her life had gone so very wrong. She thought back to their first meeting, which had always seemed like something out of a fairy tale to her—Prince Charming meeting Cinderella while she was still in her rags but falling for her anyway.
It had seemed so perfect . . .
He had been, without a doubt, the most handsome man she had ever seen. It was her first day waitressing at the upscale beachfront restaurant in Camps Bay and she could not afford distractions, especially since she had lied about her qualifications to get the job. Fortunately she had managed to bluff her way through the in-house training without looking too incompetent. Since finishing high school six years ago, she hadn’t been much good at anything except looking after her ailing grandmother, her only relative. It had been a full-time job, leaving no room in her life for the socializing other women her age enjoyed. Instead, she had spent most of her day in the company of an infirm old woman and any free time she may have had was devoted to her stash of books. It had been a sad and solitary existence for a young woman with such a sunny disposition but Bronwyn had never wished the task away. Her grandmother had raised her without complaint after her parents had died and Bronwyn had loved the old lady fiercely because of that.