“Oh God, sweetheart . . . Bron . . .” The anguish in his voice undid her, and she found herself unable to resist when he lowered his head and rested his forehead against hers. His warm breath washed over her face, her lips, and she shuddered before going up onto her toes and brushing his mouth with hers. He went so still that she thought he would shatter, but when she moved her small hands up to cup his face, his breath escaped on a strangled sob. He tentatively wrapped his strong arms around her slender body to gather her close and responded to her sweet kiss with unbelievable tenderness and reverence. The kiss did not last long; it was over before it properly began, and Bryce took a step back, lifting a hand to gently palm one of her cheeks, his eyes bright with some inscrutable emotion. Bronwyn tilted her face into his hand and lifted her own much smaller hand to cover his. They stood that way for what seemed like an eternity but what was, in reality, only a few seconds before Bronwyn stepped around him. She left without a word, unable to find the right words, not even sure if there were words for what she was feeling.
Bryce groaned the following morning, when his boisterous twenty-one-month-old daughter bounced her way onto his bed at some ungodly hour. One sharp little knee narrowly missed his groin to land painfully on his abdomen, causing him to curse softly under his breath as he doubled over in pain.
“Kayla, honey, why don’t you go find your mummy? It’s her day off today.” He caught her to stop her bouncing and planted a quick kiss on her soft cheek. She giggled at the feel of his stubble.
“Tickley.” She formed the word clearly as she rubbed her cheek squeamishly.
“Go and wake Mummy up, sweetheart; Daddy’s trying to sleep. I’ll give you some sweeties if you go to your mummy!” He cajoled.
“See fishies.” He frowned at that bit of information, wondering what the hell he was missing in translation. He often had trouble with voiced and unvoiced consonants, but he doubted very much that she meant “vishies,” so the word had to be “fishies,” which confused the hell out of him.
“Fishies, Daddy, see fishies!” She made a squirmy, fishlike movement with one of her plump hands. Okay, so he definitely hadn’t misread the “fishies.”
“Where’s your mummy?” He kept her still when it became obvious that she wanted to bounce again.
“There,” she pointed to his bedroom door, the dimple she’d inherited from him deepening as her smile widened. He looked up to find Bronwyn standing in the open doorway. Well that certainly explained how Kayla had gotten into his room; she wasn’t tall enough to open doors yet. Bronwyn was leaning against the doorjamb with her arms folded over her chest and her eyebrows raised.
“Don’t think I missed that blatant bit of bribery just now,” she said, and he groaned.
“C’mon, Bron, you know the weekends are your domain. I didn’t want to rob you of any time with our precious little angel. It wouldn’t be fair to you,” he quickly smooth-talked, but she wasn’t having any of it and he could practically hear her hah! Their high-strung “angel” of a daughter had escaped his grip and was jumping on the bouncy mattress again, her curls flying as she chanted, “Fishies, fishies” with every bounce. Bryce grimaced as he read her lips.
“What’s all this about ‘fishies’?” he asked, feeling ridiculous as he said the word. He glanced up and caught Bronwyn staring at his naked chest. She blushed when he caught her staring and took a few seconds to gather her thoughts before responding.
“Uh . . . I’m taking her to the aquarium today and was wondering if you’d like to join us.” He blinked up at her, wondering if he had read that right.
She repeated the question, using her eloquent hands this time, and he blinked again, more than a little shocked by the unexpected invitation. Her blush deepened and she started to say that he didn’t have to if he didn’t want to, but he quickly brushed that aside before she changed her mind completely.
“Sure! I’ve never been! That would be great! Kayla will love it!” He knew he was speaking in exclamations but he didn’t want any misunderstanding. “Give me ten minutes and we can head off.” He jumped out of bed, forgetting that he was wearing nothing but skin and quickly grabbed a sheet to preserve modesty when he felt a breeze on areas best kept covered in the presence of his little girl and his estranged wife. Tucking the sheet in at his waist, he grabbed Kayla while she was in midjump and hugged her to his chest, twirling her around for a couple of seconds. “We’re going to see the fishies, baby!” He dropped a kiss on the toddler’s cheek before setting her down, where she tottered dizzily before plonking down onto her butt. She laughed happily after the dizziness passed and held up her arms to him for another round.
“Not now, sweetie. I have to shower and then we’re going to see all the pretty fishies.”
“Nebo?” she asked worriedly, and he grinned at the thought of the Disney movie that she insisted on watching at least five times a week, with her daddy of course! Bryce was thankful for the subtitle option on DVDs and never thought he’d be the type to recite the dialogue of a cartoon movie word for word in his lifetime.
“Yes, Nemo too,” he promised. “I’ll be quick,” he told Bron on his way out.
“No rush.” She smiled. “I still have to get Kayla ready. We can leave in about half an hour.”
Bronwyn watched him leave, his broad tanned back rippling with muscles, the sheet molding his tight behind much too lovingly. Her mouth went dry as she recalled that flash of nudity; he was so gorgeous that it was a real shame to cover it up. She grinned as she recalled his near schoolboy giddiness at her impulsive invitation. She hadn’t seen him that lighthearted and ecstatic in, well, ever really. Even before her pregnancy when they had been happy together, there had always been this reserve in him, a darkness that he had tried to keep hidden from her. She had always believed that it would only be a matter of time before he confided in her but then she had gotten pregnant and they had run out of time. She sighed at the dark turn of her thoughts; it was too bright and beautiful an autumn day to dwell on the past.