“Don’t bother finding Cooper,” Bryce growled upon stepping out onto the sunny patio where his brother, sister-in-law, and the two toddlers were happily playing. They, all four, came to an abrupt halt at the sound of his gruff voice. Lisa and Rick looked concerned, Rhys started crying, and Kayla merely looked happy to see him, as always. While Lisa picked Rhys up for a cuddle, Kayla babbled on incoherently but Bryce couldn’t focus and was unable to tell what the child was trying to communicate. It was difficult enough to understand her under normal circumstances, but the emotional turmoil he was in right now made it damned near impossible to make out what she was trying to say to him. He nodded and smiled blindly down at her, before switching his gaze to Rick.
“Why not?” his brother asked when their gazes met.
“She’s telling the truth,” Bryce bit off tautly, the knowledge still tearing him apart.
“How do you know?”
“A dress.” Bryce shook his head in shattered disbelief. “I was so sure of what I’d seen that night, I could remember every single detail of the accident scene down to the dress she was wearing as she stood there watching me scream her name.” He fought back the urge to laugh like a maniac, knowing that it would send him careening off the edge of reason. “Only she wasn’t wearing a dress the night she left me, Rick. I should have known that because I now remember thinking how damned sexy she looked in those jeans, just moments before everything went to hell. Not the cocktail dress I’d been remembering her in for the last two years but a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Oh God . . . oh my God!” He saw Rick go pale and knew that he had to look equally pasty-faced. The younger man blasphemed shakily.
“So now what, Bryce?”
Bryce shook his head helplessly at his brother’s question.
“Now I give her everything she wants because that’s the least of what she deserves.”
“What if she wants a divorce?”
It was the one thing Bryce had been trying not to think about, and he flinched from the question.
“I wouldn’t blame her.” Bryce’s eyes fell to his happily bubbling daughter, who was trying to share her stuffed toys with a still-crying Rhys. “But I’m not sure what I’ll do if she asks for one.”
Bronwyn came down about an hour later to find Rick and Lisa in the conservatory with Kayla and Rhys. The children were playing together contentedly. There was no sign of Bryce. Rick hopped to his feet agitatedly when he saw her enter the room and immediately apologized.
“I was unforgivably rude and needlessly cruel, Bron,” he muttered, shoving his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. “I’m so sorry. I know I hurt you, but . . . damn it, Bron, he’s my brother and he was so damaged and so completely changed by something we all thought was your fault. It just felt like too large an obstacle to overcome!”
“Technically it was my fault,” she pointed out grimly. “He came after me that night, and if not for that he would not have had his accident.”
“No, it was his fault and he admits as much. If he hadn’t been such an absolute bastard about your pregnancy, none of it would have happened. I’m so sorry, Bronwyn.”
“Ricky.” She sighed wearily, not sure why she felt the need to comfort him but wanting to set his mind at ease nonetheless. “You were being loyal to your brother. It was his word against mine. You did what you thought was right.”
“What do you plan to do now?” Rick asked after an awkward pause. He was unable to look her in the eye, and she knew how hard the truth must have hit him. Knowing how unjustly he and Bryce had treated her would not sit comfortably with someone who had such an innate sense of fairness. She knew that it would eat at him for a while and that their relationship might never go back to the way it was before.
“What do you mean?” she asked tiredly.
“Well, my brother is pretty torn up about this, Bron.”
She laughed grimly at his words, cutting him off.
“Yes, and it’s always about him isn’t it?” she asked bitterly.
“No, it’s just . . .” Rick trailed off awkwardly, not sure what to say. “Will you leave him?”
“He doesn’t really want me, you know? He wants Kayla. I’m just excess baggage.” She shrugged.
“He’ll give you just about anything you ask for right now,” Rick pointed out.
“Is that so? Well then, where is he? Maybe it’s time I start making my demands. While his guilt lasts . . .”
“Bronwyn, you’re being—” he began, but Lisa, who had been keeping the children occupied, interrupted whatever he’d been about to say.
“Bryce is in his study,” she informed quietly, absently picking Kayla up and handing her over to Rick while she lifted Rhys into her arms. Bronwyn nodded her thanks and dropped a loving kiss on her daughter’s head before turning on her heel and heading out of the room.
She didn’t ring the doorbell; she wanted an honest reaction from him and did not want to give him time to mask whatever he was feeling. So she strode in confidently and then halted before she’d gotten more than two steps into the room, suddenly unsure of her decision.
He sat behind his huge desk, with his head in his hands in almost exactly the same pose as the day before but he looked so incredibly lost and alone that, for a moment, she was unsure of what her next move should be. He must have sensed her presence because he looked up unexpectedly, pinning her to the spot with his tormented gaze. It said a lot for the changed status of their relationship that he did not immediately fly off the handle because of her supposed “intrusion” into his lair.