“Oh my God! Bronwyn?”
Bronwyn gasped and raised one shaking hand to her mouth to stifle a shocked cry when she recognized the handsome man standing in front of her. Her vision blurred and she blinked rapidly to clear it. The baby, clearly startled by the man’s harsh voice, started crying.
“So this is where you have been hiding out all this time?” The shock had disappeared from his voice to be replaced by contempt.
“Ricky,” she moaned shakily, overwhelmed by love, fear, and relief all at the same time.
“Don’t call me that!” he growled in warning, and she flinched. “God, you’re an ice-cold bitch, aren’t you? How could you stay away all this time? How could you live with yourself?”
“Please,” she implored in the smallest whisper. “Please don’t . . .”
“Don’t what? Call a spade a spade?” He sneered.
“Rick,” the woman, whom Bronwyn had forgotten about, spoke up. She kept her voice low, while she rocked the still-crying baby. “Take it easy, for heaven’s sake, she doesn’t look well. What’s going on here?”
“Of course she doesn’t look well,” he scoffed, his harsh tone of voice totally unfamiliar. “Why would she look well when she has finally been caught, like the miserable little sneak that she is?”
Bronwyn swayed even more. Rick had never spoken to her like this before—it wasn’t in his gentle nature to be deliberately cruel—but he was firing on all cylinders today, and Bronwyn flinched with each terrible barb.
“Rick.” The woman was speaking again, but her voice sounded hollow, like it was coming from down a long tunnel. “Rick, stop it . . .” She was saying something else but this time her voice had disappeared behind the angry buzzing in Bronwyn’s head. She shook her head but the sound got worse and louder until it was as deafening as a chainsaw. She groaned weakly and lifted her hands to her ears. That didn’t help, and she sobbed as her field of vision got narrower and narrower, until she could not see them at all, until there was only blackness.
Voices faded in and out of her consciousness and Bronwyn struggled to make sense of what they were saying. She was comfortable again, no longer dizzy and no longer achy. She felt like she was floating and was enveloped by an incredible sense of well-being. But this feeling was not quite right, and that awareness prevented her from being entirely at ease. She was sure that this uneasiness stemmed from the raised voices in the background, and again she attempted to filter out the garbled speech from the few words that she could understand.
“. . . Don’t get . . .” it was a man’s voice, recognizable and well loved but unfamiliarly harsh. “. . . What she did . . . unforgivable . . . left him . . . bitch!” An unfamiliar female voice intervened, her gentle voice soothed Bronwyn’s overwrought nerves.
“. . . Is she? What . . . she do . . . so bad?” Bronwyn strained to open her eyes but it felt like a colossal effort.
“. . . Deserted Bryce . . . needed her most . . .”
Bronwyn managed a weak gasp at that, outraged by this blatant lie. The couple went abruptly silent.
“. . . Waking up,” the woman said urgently. “. . . The doctor! Now, Rick!”
Doctor? Bronwyn frowned. Why a doctor? For the first time since regaining consciousness she wondered where she was and managed to drag her heavy lids apart with great effort. She stared up into the vaguely recognizable features of a pretty woman who seemed to be a couple of years younger than Bronwyn’s twenty-eight. The woman’s warm smile transformed her gentle features from plain to almost pretty and had the effect of immediately calming Bronwyn down.
“Try not to panic,” she instructed gently. “You passed out at work. At first we assumed it was shock but your fever and pallor soon made it pretty clear that you’re seriously ill.” Her sea-green eyes were grave behind the lenses of her trendy prescription eyeglasses, and her voice took on a chastising tone. “You should never have been at work in that condition. You should take better care of yourself.”
Bronwyn frowned, wondering who the woman was, before deciding that being offended by her admonishment would require way too much of her strength. Clearly she was going to need that strength in the face of Rick’s unexpected and unprecedented hostility. An alarming thought struck her, and she sat up in a blind panic, ignoring the sudden onslaught of dizziness.
“Passed out at work?” Her voice sounded weak, even to her own ears. “Oh no . . . I have to call my boss!”
“Bronwyn.” The woman placed gentle hands on her shoulders to push her back onto the cot, her lovely eyes brimming with sympathy. “I’m afraid that he wasn’t very sympathetic about any of this. He said something about having had enough of your drama and that you shouldn’t bother coming back. I’m so sorry.”
“Oh no,” she moaned. “No, no. I needed that job!”
“Well if you wanted to keep it, you shouldn’t have gone to work in the condition you were in today, young lady.” A stern voice intruded from the doorway, where a harried-looking older man in a white coat stood framed. “Are you trying to kill yourself? You’re just barely over a very bad bout of flu, possibly even pneumonia from what I can gather, and you were so dehydrated when they brought you in that I’m amazed you didn’t pass out sooner! The mere fact that you’ve been out like a light for nearly five hours is proof of how close you are to relapsing. You’re completely run-down.” She went dramatically pale at that bit of news, and the doctor wrongly assumed that he had shocked her into taking her illness seriously. “I would like to keep you overnight to monitor your condition.”