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A Husband’s Regret (Unwanted #2) by Natasha Anders

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Money certainly made life a lot easier, Bronwyn reflected as she watched the movers bring in the last of her newly acquired furniture. Relocating from Bryce’s house into her new home should have taken a lot longer than it actually had, but with money to grease the wheels, packing up an old life and organizing a new one took less than two weeks.

She was moved in to her new “home” before she could blink, and all that was left was the unpacking. She tried to turn it in to an adventure for Kayla, who was being surly and uncommunicative.

“Isn’t this a pretty room, Kayla?” she asked, injecting bright enthusiasm into her voice, but Kayla wasn’t having any of that.

“No.”

“Come on, baby, it’s very pretty,” Bronwyn maintained patiently. “You have a princess bed. Isn’t that great?”

“No. I go home.” She had only recently stopped referring to herself in the third person.

“This is our new home.” Bronwyn smiled sunnily and Kayla glared at her, her little lip protruding rebelliously. Bronwyn felt awful to have moved her again so soon, especially since Bryce had become such an important fixture in her life.

“I want Daddy!” She stamped her foot and Bronwyn’s smile slipped a bit.

“You’ll see Daddy tomorrow,” she explained. “Tonight we’ll sleep in our new home. We can have ice cream. Do you want ice cream, sweetie?”

“No.”

“Of course you do.” Bronwyn couldn’t help but smile a little at the stubbornness. “Chocolate ice cream. Your favorite.”

“I no like ice kweem,” she blatantly lied.

“Hey, Bron, where do you want this box?” Lisa was lugging a medium-size box of photos, and Bronwyn directed her toward the study. Lisa, Theresa, Bobbi, and Alice were all helping with her move and had decided to stick around for one of their Saturday ladies’ nights afterward. Bronwyn welcomed the show of support and the company. She knew that they didn’t want her to be alone on her first evening in the new place.

“Do you want to help me unpack your clothes?” she asked Kayla. “You can tell me where to put everything. That’ll be fun.”

“No.”

Bronwyn sighed. She was heartsick and tired. She hadn’t seen much of Bryce since the night he’d handed her the divorce papers. He had had his attorney contact hers to tell her that he would be giving her a monthly allowance to spend or not spend however she saw fit, and that he would pay to furnish the flat. Bronwyn had tried to refuse but had been told that the money had already been transferred into her bank account and what she did with it was her business. She had decided to give in gracefully and accept the generous alimony.

“Why don’t you show Broccoli our new house?” she asked. Despite the mutinous set of her face, the little girl picked up her well-worn little doll—one of the few toys she still had from their life in Plettenberg Bay—and trudged off.

“You okay?” Theresa asked, coming up to stand beside Bronwyn. Bronwyn glanced over at the pretty woman and shook her head.

“Not really.” Her voice wobbled slightly. “I feel like such an awful parent right now. She’d just gotten used to the other house, and here I am, uprooting her again.”

“Children are resilient.” Theresa put a comforting arm around her shoulder and gave her a reassuring squeeze. “You’ll both be fine.”

“I wish I could be so sure.” Bronwyn stifled a sigh before pasting a determined smile on her face. “Still, there’s no use in worrying about it right now. Too much to do.”

Theresa smiled sympathetically.

“Bronwyn, it’s okay to be emotional about all of this, you know? I can kind of relate to what you’re going through. Sandro and I are happy now but we’ve had some . . . extremely difficult times in the past.” That news surprised Bronwyn. On the few occasions that she’d seen the couple together they had seemed completely devoted to each other. It was hard to believe that they hadn’t always been the perfect couple. “So anytime you need to talk, or just a shoulder to cry on, I’m there for you.”

“That means a lot,” Bronwyn whispered, hugging the other woman gratefully. “Thank you.”

After her friends had left later that night and Bronwyn was alone with her thoughts and her sleeping daughter, she sat down in the darkened conservatory and sadly looked around the still-chaotic room. The place felt alien and a little cold. Even though she had often complained about Bryce’s security team being a blatant invasion of her privacy, she felt a lot safer knowing that Paul had been assigned as the head of her security detail. The man was now in charge of the team that would take care of security for this separate household. It was comforting to know that they were just outside if she needed them. Her cell phone beeped and she dragged it out of her jeans pocket.

You settle in ok? A smiled tugged at her lips. It was from Bryce.

All good. A bit messy still.

Kayla ok?

Grumpy. She misses you.

I miss her. You too.

She didn’t know how to respond to that. She missed him like crazy but telling him that would definitely send a mixed message.

It’s late. I’m off to bed. It was abrupt but she didn’t want to be charmed by him. She didn’t want to encourage him. They both needed to move on. No matter how painful and difficult it was for them.

Right. I’ll see you 2m. G’nite.

She held the phone to her chest for a few long moments before eventually dragging herself up and to bed.

The bell jingling above the shop door jarred Bronwyn from her thoughts. She’d been staring down at her notes for about half an hour without actually absorbing any information and—despite it being nearly closing time—a customer would be a welcome distraction. She put what she hoped was a bright, welcoming smile on her face as she raised her eyes. The smile immediately withered when she saw who was standing there.

Bryce met her eyes with a brief nod before walking farther into the shop. Bronwyn pushed herself halfway out of her chair and then hovered uncertainly between standing and sitting, a puzzled frown on her face. He was supposed to have Kayla today, but there was no sign of the child.

“Bryce?” He didn’t see her question and continued his browsing, picking up a book here and there and reading the back-cover blurbs before replacing them on the shelves. She made her way to him and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to face her with a polite smile on his face. Baffled by his odd behavior, she frowned and used sign language to ask him what he was doing there.

“Well, I wanted to learn how to balance my chakras.” He held up a book. His smile remained bland and polite. “And I’ve been thinking of buying some healing crystals or something.”

“Where’s Kayla?” she asked worriedly.

“I had to go in to the office this afternoon for an emergency meeting and instead of dropping her off at the day-care center, I thought she’d enjoy spending some time with Rhys since it is Lisa’s day off. When I swung by to pick her up a couple of hours later, she wasn’t ready to stop playing. Lisa suggested I let her stay for dinner. So I found myself at loose ends and thought you might like to grab some dinner.”

“I don’t think . . .” God, she was tempted. But their divorce had just been finalized and it seemed like a step in the wrong direction. They had fallen into a comfortable routine over the two and a half weeks since she had moved in to her new place. She dropped Kayla off at his house after breakfast in the mornings on her way to campus, and he brought her home before dinner every night. Kayla stayed over at his house on Friday nights, and Bryce returned her to her mother late Saturday afternoons. Bronwyn had her for the remainder of the weekend. They were coolly friendly when they spoke, and those brief moments in the mornings and evenings when Kayla was handed from one parent to the other were the only times they saw each other. He sent her the occasional SMS during the day, but that was it. It had been a bit of an adjustment for all of them.

“I think we should try to be friends at least,” he said. “For Kayla’s sake. It’s just dinner.”

“It’s never just dinner with us, Bryce,” she pointed out.

“Please?” His beautiful blue eyes mutely pleaded with hers, and Bronwyn had another fleeting moment of doubt before doing what she had wanted to all along. She told herself that she was doing it for Kayla’s sake—it was important for the little girl to have parents who got along—but she knew that she was lying to herself. She couldn’t resist the idea of spending time alone with him. He was her weakness, and while spending more time with him wouldn’t help her overcome that weakness, it certainly did a good job of keeping the part of her that craved his company satisfied. It didn’t seem to matter how counterproductive it was.

Okay,” she consented, determinedly squelching the screeching protests in the back of her mind. She glanced around the empty shop. “I’ll close up and we can get going.”

“Gino’s?” Bronwyn smiled radiantly up at Bryce, all the tension that had built up during the drive dissipating. She had followed Bryce’s car to the tiny family-run restaurant in Green Point and had laughed out loud when she recognized the familiar route. Gino’s had been her favorite restaurant back when they had first started dating. She had insisted on going Dutch in those early days and had often suggested Gino’s because of its affordability. The food was good and the atmosphere warm and cozy. They had stopped coming here after their engagement, and Bronwyn had all but forgotten it existed. She was surprised that Bryce remembered it.

“I thought that you’d like it,” Bryce informed, his voice quiet, before glancing over at Cal, who was hovering behind them as usual, his eagle eyes sharply assessing the streets around them. The silent signal Bryce sent his way was acknowledged with a curt nod as Cal spun on his heel and headed back to the car.

Bryce put a confident hand in the small of Bronwyn’s back and led her inside the little restaurant. The place was the same as it had always been—noisy, chaotic, and filled with laughing people. A young server led them to an intimate corner in the back and handed them the well-worn leather-bound menus with a smile.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes for your drink orders,” she said perkily after lighting the ubiquitous candle in the center of the round table. It was pretty gloomy in their corner, and Bronwyn worried about Bryce’s ability to lip-read in the bad light.

Do you need a little more light? she signed, and he shook his head.

“I can see you fine.” He smiled, his eyes running over her face like a silent caress.

“Oh.” She blushed, his blatantly sensual look making her feel more than a little hot under the collar. There were a few moments of silence before Bryce spoke.

“Are you enjoying the new place?” he asked.

“Of course.” She said. “Kayla’s still having problems sleeping at night though.”

“It’s confusing for her. She’ll get used to the new routine soon.” His smile was bittersweet. The server came back for their drink orders, and after they had ordered, Bryce refocused his attention on her. “What about you? How are you adjusting to your new lifestyle?”

“It’s not that much different from life in Plett. Aside from the fact that we have money, of course, and I don’t really have to work and I no longer worry about Kayla when I’m away from her.” She laughed self-deprecatingly before shaking her head. “Okay, it’s a lot different from our life in Plett. Anyway, I miss her, of course, but I know that she’s with you and that she’s safe.” She was half signing every other sentence, still concerned with the lighting in the place.

“Do you?” he murmured, his eyes intent on her lips.

“Of course,” she dismissed airily. “I don’t know if I’ve said it before, Bryce, but you’re great with her.”

“I didn’t think I would be,” he admitted awkwardly, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. “Being around kids is . . . was way out of my comfort zone. I enjoy them but I don’t always feel . . .”

He hesitated and she leaned forward intently, sensing that he was considering his next words very carefully.

“Confident around them,” he completed, his voice kind of fading away on the last word. Baffled, she stared at him for a long moment before shaking her head.

“I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean when you use the word ‘confident,’” she said bluntly. “Confident in your ability to take care of them, you mean?”

“That, and I don’t trust myself not to lose my temper around them.” Again she could see how difficult that was for him to admit, and she knew that she had to tread very carefully here.

“Kayla does like to test my patience,” she said with a fond smile. “And I have lost my temper with her on a few occasions, but it’s all about how you handle the situation, and quite frankly, Bryce, you’re a pushover when it comes to her. She knows that she can get away with way more than she ever could with me.”

The server returned with their drinks and asked if they were ready to order. They both darted guilty glances down at the menu—they hadn’t even thought about food yet. Recognizing their looks, the girl laughed and promised to return in a couple of minutes. After they had taken care of the business of ordering, Bronwyn turned expectant eyes on him, waiting for him to pick up where he had left off.

Bryce took what looked like a fortifying sip of his red wine before raising his eyes to meet hers.

“You were right when you accused me of keeping stuff from you during our marriage,” he said, surprising her by steering the conversation into a completely different direction. “Stuff I felt that you didn’t need to know. Stuff I thought you’d see as weakness. Stuff that I was too embarrassed to tell you. I once told you that you made me feel like an all-conquering hero, that you made me feel like I could take on the world. It really was a heady feeling, Bron. I enjoyed being your ‘hero,’ the ‘prince’ who had swept you off your feet.

“I never expected to find a woman who made me feel like a hero instead of the villain I’d always believed myself to be. So, instead of telling you everything you needed to know about me, I allowed you to think that I was this perfect man. I spent two years trying to maintain that illusion and trying to live up to the inaccurate impression you had of me. When something went wrong at the office, I bottled it up and kept it from you. I closeted myself away to work it out alone rather than allow my frustration with whatever problem I had to spill over into our lives.”

“Bryce.” She was a little stunned by his revelations and tried to gather her thoughts before responding. “I never expected you to be this perfect heroic husband. I fell in love with a man, not a superhero.”

“You didn’t know the real man, Bron,” he said heavily. “And that’s why I had to sign those papers. I wanted to give you a chance to get to know me. Flaws and all. I wanted us to have a fresh start, to go back to the beginning. I wanted this dinner to be a new beginning for us.”

“So, let me get this straight, you agreed to a divorce because you wanted us to start dating again?” she asked incredulously. Not quite sure she had understood him correctly.

“Basically . . . yes,” he confirmed, and Bronwyn felt like the top of her head was about to blow off. She actually lifted a hand to her face, almost certain that steam was billowing from her nose and ears like she was some maddened cartoon character. Unfortunately their server chose that moment to return, and Bronwyn waited impatiently while the woman offloaded the piping-hot, aromatic bowls of pasta and crispy garlic bread onto the table in front of them. As soon as the server left, Bronwyn turned her frowning gaze back on the uncomfortable-looking man sitting across from her.

“And did you really think, after the emotional turmoil of the last few months, that I’d be on board with this scheme of yours?” she asked, trying extremely hard to rein in her temper, unable to believe the absolute arrogance of the man. “And what’s this? Phase One of some big reconciliation plot?”

“There is no such thing,” he said quietly. “I was just hoping you’d understand what motivated me.”

“You wanted to start a new, honest relationship by deceiving me into coming out to dinner with you? I mean, what is this if not luring me here under false pretences? I’m not quite feeling the honesty here, Bryce,” she pointed out sarcastically. He had the grace to look repentant.

“I didn’t say it would be an easy habit to break, Bron,” he said uneasily, and she swallowed down the irreverent giggle that wanted to burble from her lips. For some unfathomable reason, she was both irritated and oddly charmed by his flagrant presumption. She felt so many conflicting emotions that she wasn’t quite sure how to approach this crazy new spanner that he had tossed into the works. Part of her wanted to move on and rebuild her life without him in it, a larger part wanted to know why he had such a low opinion of himself. She wanted to know why he thought he was a villain. She didn’t for a second believe that the man she had fallen in love with had never existed, but it disturbed her that he clearly thought that. Still, they couldn’t keep going around in circles like this. It wasn’t doing either of them any good.

Bryce, I don’t know if I can go another round with you, she signed sadly. It’s so exhausting.

“For now, let’s try to enjoy our dinner,” he suggested. “Nothing more, nothing less. Just dinner. Okay?”

She hesitated for a long moment before nodding with a resigned little sigh.

“Okay. Just dinner.”

The rest of the evening wasn’t as strained as Bronwyn had expected it to be after that outrageous conversation. Bryce kept her entertained with his tales of Kayla’s daytime antics. He didn’t touch on the controversial subject of dating again, but it remained there between them, the huge elephant sitting at the table with them.

The wind was howling when they left the restaurant a couple of hours later, and a combination of rain and hail was viciously pelting down on Cal who dashed over to meet them when they paused under the eaves of the restaurant. The huge black umbrella that Cal held up over his head was being buffeted by the wind, and Bronwyn didn’t have high hopes for its survival. It was mid-June and winter—which had been late in arriving—was gleefully showing off its jagged teeth. Cape Town was notorious for its terrible winter storms, and this one, which had arrived without much warning, looked like it was going to be one of the bad ones. They quickly decided that bringing Kayla home from Rick and Lisa’s place in such bad weather wasn’t a good idea, and they ducked back into the restaurant for a few minutes while Bronwyn called Lisa to ask if Kayla could sleep over. The other woman readily agreed with their decision and put the sleepy little girl on the line to say good night to her parents. Kayla sounded happy enough but Bronwyn was naturally worried, as Kayla had never spent a night away from either of her parents before. After a few more minutes of reassurance, Bronwyn hung up and met Bryce’s concerned gaze.

“You okay?” he asked, and she nodded, blinking back the sheen of tears. Kayla’s first overnight stay away from her parents was a big deal, and Bronwyn felt more than a little emotional about it.

“She’ll be fine.” Bryce gave her a self-conscious one-armed hug. Bronwyn was touched by his masculine awkwardness at the sight of her tears, and she gave him a wobbly smile as he led her back outside. Once again they hesitated under the eaves, where poor Cal had been left waiting.

I don’t want you to drive home in this weather, he signed urgently. Bronwyn stared out at the deluge and tended to agree with him. She definitely didn’t fancy driving in this downpour. The near gale-force winds didn’t help matters. She bit her lip as she stared out at their cars parked by the sidewalk. Unfortunately Bryce had dismissed Paul before they’d even left the bookshop, stating that he and Cal would ensure that Bronwyn got home safely.

Cal can drive you. I’ll follow, he signed authoritatively, and she shook her head. She didn’t like that suggestion at all, not with Bryce being an uneasy driver himself, but she knew that protesting for that reason wouldn’t sit too well with his pride.

“Bronwyn, you can’t mean to argue with me on this matter,” he said aloud. “I know you don’t want to drive in this weather.”

We can all go in your car, she decided. Paul can pick mine up in the morning.

He looked a little stunned by that decision but agreed quickly as if he were afraid that she would change her mind.

Cal—who was proficient in sign language and had been following the conversation—looked relieved that they had made up their minds and ushered them toward Bryce’s sleek car.

“Do you think my car will be okay here?” she asked Cal worriedly as he held the car door open for them.

“Don’t worry about it, ma’am, I’ll have one of my guys pick it up tonight,” he assured her.

“I don’t want to inconvenience anybody, and this weather is atrocious.”

“It’s our job,” Cal said with a polite smile. “We’ll take care of it.” Realizing that he wasn’t going to bend on the matter, Bronwyn ducked her head and climbed into the back of the car; Bryce followed, his bulk taking up most of the space in the backseat. Bronwyn immediately felt boxed in, but he seemed to be aware of how uncomfortable she was, so he kept to his side of the car. Despite his attempts not to crowd her, Bronwyn was still hyperaware of his larger-than-life presence. Naturally conversation was severely limited because of the lack of light, and she tried not to squirm during the short drive from the restaurant to her new home.

She unthinkingly tried to start a conversation to alleviate the awkwardness but was immediately aware of the futility of the gesture. The words died in her throat before they had even properly formed. That left her to toy with the buckle of her seat belt, and after a few minutes of restless fidgeting, she jumped when his warm hand closed over her fingers.

He didn’t say anything, merely lifted her hand to his lips and dropped a sweet kiss onto her sensitive palm. Her breath caught as she tried to see his face in the gloom, but she couldn’t see anything other than the whites of his eyes. He squeezed her hand reassuringly before dropping it gently into her lap.

When they arrived at her townhouse, Cal asked her to open the electronic gates and slid the car to a smooth stop right at the front door. He dashed out to open the door on her side, and as she ducked beneath the umbrella he held up for her, she heard the other door open and saw that Bryce had exited the car as well. Before she could utter a word of protest, he had rounded the car and dismissed Cal, taking the umbrella from the other man and walking her to the front door himself. When they reached the lit porch, she turned to him with a nervous smile.

“Thanks for dinner,” she said quickly, not sure what else to say really. He continued to look down at her, his handsome face and hair wet from the lashing rain. He really wasn’t getting much protection from the large umbrella, focusing his attention on keeping her dry instead.

“I’m sorry if you thought I was being deceptive tonight, Bron,” he said after a few long moments of silence. “That wasn’t my intention.”

She sighed softly.

“You definitely need a little more practice in the full-disclosure department,” she conceded. He looked confused and realizing that he hadn’t quite understood her, she repeated the statement—to the best of her ability—in sign language. The shadows that were lurking in his eyes cleared up at her words, and she was moved by the hope that bloomed on his face. Yes, he had gone about this the wrong way by foolishly using Kayla as a platform to launch his crazy campaign for reconciliation from, but she had to admit that she was intrigued. More than that, she couldn’t deny that she had been profoundly affected by the vulnerability and shocking lack of self-confidence that he had revealed earlier. His words were hard to ignore and impossible to forget.

“I guess I’m just a sucker for punishment,” she said aloud, and judging by the smile that lit up his face, he could read that without a problem. “I’m going to Pierre’s birthday party on Saturday, and since Alice told me that you’ll be there too, we might as well go together.”

“I’d like that.” His voice was thick with barely restrained excitement, and Bronwyn found that lack of cool quite sweet.

“We can work out the details later.” She smiled.

“I’ll fetch Kayla from Rick and Lisa’s place in the morning and bring her home at the usual time,” he said after an awkward pause.

“That works.”

“Great.”

“Okay . . .”

They stood there for an endless moment leaning toward each other, oblivious to the storm raging all around them. She stared at his mouth, knowing that it was foolish of her to want to kiss him so badly. If nothing else it was premature. Especially since this fledgling relationship that they were trying to build from scratch wasn’t ready for any kind of physical intimacy yet. But Bronwyn ached for it so desperately that she could almost taste him on her lips. His head lowered, hers tilted back, and the world slowed down and . . . stopped. Her senses were so incredibly heightened that she could almost count each individual drop of rain as it hit his face and beaded in his hair and on his long eyelashes. His lips had just barely brushed against hers when the wind caught the umbrella and ripped it from his loosened grip, flipping it inside out in the process. They jerked apart abruptly, both flustered and breathing heavily. Reality shoved its way between them and quite literally dumped a shock-load of icy water all over them both. Bronwyn shuddered when she felt the freezing rain dripping down the back of her neck where the collar of her coat gaped a bit.

“You should get inside before you catch a cold,” he urged, ushering her toward the door, and she nodded numbly. She messed up the security code a couple of times before he gently pushed her aside and did it for her with hands that trembled only marginally less than hers. Once he had the door opened, he turned to her, caught her face in his cold, wet hands, and kissed her unceremoniously. There was no finesse to the kiss at all, just raw passion, and Bronwyn was left feeling a little dazed and unsteady on her feet when he released her seconds later.

“Good night,” he said gruffly, jerking the collar of his soaked coat to protect his already wet neck from the rain and turning to walk back to the car. She stood in the doorway and watched as he gestured at Cal to remain in the car before he climbed into the passenger seat and shut the door in one smooth movement. The car remained standing there after that, and she knew that he wouldn’t leave until she stepped inside and shut the door. She waved at the dark figure in the front of the car before stepping back and shutting the door. As she watched the car head back down her driveway, she sighed and for once tried not to dwell on the definite mistakes that she had made tonight.

She really was a fool when it came to her relationship with Bryce. She made the same stupid blunders over and over again, but tonight she had seen something in him that had never been there before. She had seen resolution in his eyes as well as an unfamiliar mix of determination and vulnerability. The man she’d been married to would never have let her catch so much as a glimpse of that susceptibility before. It gave her hope.

“Hi.” Bryce looked almost shy when he brought Kayla home the following evening. The little girl threw herself at Bronwyn and they reconciled like two people who had been separated for months instead of a mere day, showering each other with exaggerated hugs and kisses.

After a long and exuberant greeting, Kayla ran off to her room to check if her toys had missed her too, leaving her parents to stare at each other nervously.

“Hey.” Bronwyn returned his greeting and pushed her hands into the back pockets of her jeans as she rocked back and forth on her heels. It had been raining incessantly since the night before, and Bron stared out at the dismal weather over Bryce’s shoulder. He was still standing on the porch, as was his habit when he dropped Kayla off. He never came inside.

“It’s freezing out there,” Bronwyn observed inanely. “Do you want a hot drink?” His eyes lit up at the invitation and he nodded quickly. He turned and signed his intentions to stay at Cal, who was waiting in the car. The other man nodded and sent back an “okay” sign.

“You’ve done a lot with the place in such a short time,” he said, looking around the homey kitchen as he sat down at the island. He watched as she bustled around the large room, preparing a pot of tea. She sat down across from him a few minutes later with the pot of tea steeping between them.

To keep her hands busy and her anxiousness at bay, she poured his tea, automatically making it the way he liked it.

“Do I make you nervous?” he asked, and her hands stopped their restless movements as she considered his frank question. How like Bryce to cut to the chase.

“No,” she replied. “You don’t but the situation does. Don’t you feel the same way?”

He took a sip of his tea as he considered her question and placed his dainty teacup carefully back into its saucer before replying.

“I’m bloody terrified,” he admitted with a disarming grin. “Terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing. Last night is a perfect example of me screwing things up without meaning to.” The smile faded and his eyes darkened. “Our entire marriage was an example of me screwing up without meaning to.”

She honestly had no idea what to say in response to that and was relieved when Kayla came running back into the kitchen with Broccoli clutched to her chest. They were both grateful for the interruption and focused their attention on the little girl, who was talking a mile a minute. After a few minutes of fussing over the child, Bronwyn tapped Bryce on his shoulder to get his attention.

“Do you want to stay for dinner?”

“I’d like that very much,” he said.

“We’re ordering pizza,” she warned in case he was expecting some miraculous home-cooked meal after she’d spent all day at school and work.

“No problem.” He whipped out his phone. “I’ll let Cal know that I’ll be staying a while. He and Paul can order takeout for dinner too.”

She nodded as she sent Kayla to the refrigerator for the magnetized pizza menu that she kept low enough for the child to reach.

“I can’t remember the last time I had pizza,” Bryce said, leaning back against the sofa with a contented groan. “That was delicious.”

They were all in the living room, where they had enjoyed an impromptu picnic on the heated carpet. Kayla liked the novelty of eating on the floor and constantly crawled from her mother’s lap to her father’s lap, loving the undivided attention from her doting parents. She was currently sitting on her mother’s lap and Bronwyn could feel the child’s head getting heavier and heavier as she started to doze off. It was getting close to her bedtime.

“Bath time, munchkin,” Bron whispered into her ear.

“No baf, Mummy,” the child protested sleepily.

“Yes bath, Kayla.”

The little girl was grubby and her face was covered in pizza stains. The child pushed herself up and heaved a long-suffering sigh that nearly had Bronwyn in stitches when she heard it.

“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.”

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