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“You need to rest,” he said as gently as he could, but he was an inaccurate judge of his own tone of voice at the best of times, and from the way she flinched, he suspected that his words had emerged a lot harsher than he had intended. Still she obeyed him and lay unresisting, looking utterly drained of any desire to fight him anymore. He tugged the covers up over her unmoving body and kissed her forehead tenderly before standing up. He hovered uncertainly, feeling faintly ridiculous in nothing but his black cotton boxers.

“Try to get some sleep. Don’t worry about Kayla. I’ll see to her dinner and get her to bed . . .” He seemed to be rambling now and Bronwyn was confused by his uncertainty. “I’ll bring her up to say good night later. Things will get better now, Bron,” he vowed in an awkward rush, but Bronwyn refused to acknowledge his impulsive promise. “You’ll see. They’ll get better.”

Well, things certainly felt better when she woke up the following morning. She felt warm and cherished and soon realized that it was because she was being cradled in Bryce’s arms with her back pressed to his warm chest. It was only the second time she found herself waking up beside him since her return, and after the events of the last twenty-four hours, she felt more than a little ambivalent about his presence in her bed. He had one arm wrapped around her waist with his hand cradled between her breasts, and the other arm was tucked beneath her head. One of his muscled thighs was squeezed between her own slender thighs. Against her better judgment, Bronwyn felt safe, secure, and almost cherished. She felt his warm and steady breath feathering against the vulnerable nape of her neck, and she fought back a little shiver of pleasure. She slowly became aware of the fact that they were both naked—and vaguely recalled Bryce brusquely helping her out of her clothes sometime during the night. The scorching hot length of his erection was pressing up against the small of her back. She immediately tensed.

“Relax.” His voice sounded like the contented purr of a cat and had the exact opposite effect of relaxing her. “I’m not going to jump you this morning. We need to talk.”

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“I have nothing to say to you,” she responded mutinously, safe in the knowledge that he could not hear her or see her lips.

“What did you say?” he surprised her by demanding, and she tensed even further. He turned her resisting body to face him as if she weighed no more than a feather, but she kept her gaze glued to his jaw. “I know you said something . . . I could feel the vibration in your chest!”

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“I asked what you wanted to talk about,” she lied, meeting his eyes. He looked unconvinced, and his eyes seethed with frustration, but he tamped it down determinedly.

“Us . . .”

“I thought we’d said all that needed saying last night,” she responded. “I’m a liar and you’re the victim of my vindictive and cruel nature.” He chose to ignore her sarcasm.

“I want to know what you meant last night when you said that you were terrified that you would die,” he probed softly, watching her face carefully. They were lying so close together that it was difficult to conceal the smallest emotion from him.

“There were complications.” She shrugged casually. “It was a difficult pregnancy, worsened by the fact that I was . . . malnourished.” How humiliating it was to admit that. She lowered her eyes again, embarrassed by her inability to take care of herself. “I was underweight and weak by the time I went into labor. It was a long, intense labor, and because my body had been deprived of the vitamins it needed during the pregnancy, it was ill-equipped to deal with the . . . trauma . . . of an extended labor. There was some tearing, I lost a lot of blood and went into shock. I remember them asking for the name and number of my next of kin right after Kayla was born.” She felt moisture on her cheeks and was appalled to discover that she was crying silently. God, she was so sick of crying all the time, but it was so difficult to recall the fear and absolute loneliness of that moment without succumbing to emotion. “I was so scared. I just wanted to hold my baby. I wanted to be sure that she was okay. The doctors all looked so grim behind their masks; they told me that she was fine but nobody would show me.” She felt a rough thumb wiping away the tears on her cheeks and shut her eyes at the gruff gentleness. She swallowed bravely before continuing. “One of the last things I remember before everything went dark was begging to see my baby, and then a doctor calling my name and swearing. I remember him swearing because he sounded so angry and so concerned that he reminded me of you. For a split second I thought it was you! And I was so happy . . .” She could feel him trembling now, as if chilled to the bone, but for some reason she couldn’t seem to stop the flow of words. He had asked, he had wanted to know, and she was not going to sugar coat it for him. She cleared her throat hoarsely before continuing.

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“They told me my heart stopped . . . twice. Of course, I don’t remember it at all. I just woke up to the sound of Kayla’s crying. It took so much strength to turn my head but . . .” She smiled radiantly up into his face, her tears blinding her to his expression. “She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. So perfect and so healthy, and in that moment I knew that I would do anything to keep her safe!”

“Bronwyn . . .” Bryce’s throat was tight with emotion, and he struggled to get the words out. “Why didn’t you . . .”

“Call you?” She completed the question and gazed at him levelly. “Perhaps I was stubborn . . . or stupid? Maybe I didn’t love Kayla enough to want the best for her?” He didn’t want her truth, he had forced her into uttering the only major lie she had ever told him, and she would be damned if she ever tried to convince him of the facts again. She was tired of defending herself to a man who refused to see the truth. Well, now the truth was something that Bryce would have to discover for himself. She had given up on it and on him.

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