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“No!” They were all taken aback by her sudden, shrill vehemence. “No, I can’t stay here. I have to go home. I should be there right now. My shift would have ended an hour ago; I should be at home.”

“That would be stupid and downright dangerous in your condition, Mrs. Palmer,” the doctor admonished, and Bronwyn’s world reeled.

“What did you call me?” she asked in a shocked whisper.

“He called you Mrs. Palmer,” Rick taunted from where he stood in the doorway with his arms folded across his broad chest. “That is still your name, isn’t it?” She stared at Richard Palmer helplessly, not knowing what to say and suddenly hating him with a ferocity that shook her.

“Well?” he prompted sarcastically, and she nodded mutely, not understanding this hostility from someone who had always loved and respected her.

“Please . . .” she whispered. “Please, Rick, I have to go home.”

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“You’re going home all right,” Rick informed her coldly. “Just as soon as it can be arranged.”

“Mr. Palmer, I strongly advise against that,” the doctor interjected firmly, but Rick ignored him, keeping his eyes on Bronwyn.

“Just prescribe whatever medication she’ll need, Doctor,” he ordered in a manner that went completely against his usual easygoing nature. “We’ll make sure that she gets plenty of rest.” The doctor glared at them before shaking his head and leaving the room abruptly.

“Rick, do you think this is a good idea?” The other woman asked worriedly, and he raised his eyes to her anxious face before smiling gently, his expression now reminiscent of the Rick that Bronwyn knew and loved.

“It’ll be fine,” he murmured reassuringly, but the woman made an irritated sound and shook her head angrily.

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“I’ve had enough, Rick,” she seethed, revealing claws beneath the sweet exterior. “You’d better tell me what’s going on and fast. I’ve been sitting here for hours without getting a single straight answer from you, and I’m fed up with it. Tell me what’s going on, or I’ll pack up and head off to Knysna on my own!” Bronwyn watched in fascination as his eyes flared in panic and he lost all semblance of his previous icy coolness.

“Lisa,” he choked. “You wouldn’t go off on your own when we just . . .”

“Don’t test me,” she warned. “Now I think that it’s past time you did some proper introductions and try to be civil, please.” He frowned sullenly, looking about as menacing as a little boy with his hand caught in the biscuit tin.

“Lisa, meet Bronwyn Palmer. Bron, my wife, Lisa.” Bronwyn’s eyes lit up with genuine pleasure as her eyes flew from one face to the other. His wife? Well, then, that would explain the baby. She glanced around the room, looking for the child. She smiled when she saw the pram parked close to the window on the other side of the room and marveled at how much his life had changed in the last two years.

“Your wife? Ricky, you got married?” He winced in response to her words.

“Bron, don’t call me that,” he muttered uncomfortably, sounding so much like his old self that Bronwyn’s heart swelled with love for him. She smiled and turned her attention to the slender woman who stood beside him.

“I’m so glad that he married someone like you,” she managed weakly, wishing she could be more eloquent but suddenly feeling quite drained. She leaned back against the pillows and smiled up at them both. “Ricky deserves someone lovely . . .” Her eyes drifted shut. “I’m so tired. Take me home. Please. I need to go home . . .”

“She’s my brother’s errant wife,” she heard Rick telling his wife, but he sounded so far away that she frowned. Where was he going? “And, as I said before, she’s the heartless bitch who abandoned him when he needed her most!” Her eyes flew open in horror, and she was shocked to find that he was closer than his distant voice had suggested. Confused, she tried to gather her thoughts.

“I didn’t,” she protested vehemently. “I wouldn’t. Why would you say something like that, Rick? Why would you lie?” She heard the bewildered hurt in her voice and was ashamed to reveal how much his lies had wounded her. “I thought we were friends.”

“Our friendship ended when you did what you did to my brother,” he snarled. She jumped when his voice caught up with him and the volume increased dramatically on the last word.

“I didn’t do anything to Bryce,” she whimpered, her own voice still far away. “He didn’t want me anymore . . . so I left. I left him.”

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“You left him for dead!”

The woman, Lisa, laid a restraining hand on Rick’s arm as he made a frustrated move toward Bronwyn. Bron blinked at the fury on his face; she had no idea where all of this anger was coming from.

“Take me home . . .” she entreated again, keeping her eyes on the other woman’s face. “Please. I have to go home . . .” Just then an intimidatingly large figure suddenly loomed in the doorway, and when Bronwyn’s eyes lifted, she was filled with a sense of impending doom.

He stood there. Quiet, graceful, and fierce, and Bronwyn cowered at the sight of him.

“You called him?” she said, exhaling, the hurt and betrayal she felt evident in her voice and face. Despite everything, she had still steadfastly clung to the belief that Rick was her friend. She lifted her wounded doe eyes to his furious face. “You called him? Oh, Ricky, how could you?”

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