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“You shut yourself in,” she completed, and he nodded.

“It’s crazy, I know,” he confessed, and she smiled with a shake of her head, covering his lightly trembling hand with her own.

“No, it’s not. You lost one of your senses, Bryce. Naturally there’d be physical, mental, and emotional repercussions. I read that people go through the stages of grief after losing their hearing. Did you . . . did you talk to anyone after the accident?”

“You mean a psychiatrist?” he clarified dryly. “I was seeing one for nearly a year; it’s because of him that I was able to even contemplate coming out today. I was so much worse immediately after the accident and I very stubbornly refused to talk to anyone. Yes, I was in denial and furious that something like this could have happened to me, but I shoved it aside because I had something bigger to take care of. I was adamant that talking to shrinks could wait. But Pierre and Rick kind of forced my hand. They blackmailed me into seeing someone.”

“How?” she asked, curious. One thing she knew about her stubborn husband was that when he made up his mind about something, it was very difficult to get him to change it again. He cleared his throat and gulped down a healthy mouthful of white wine.

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“At the time, my sole purpose was to find you,” he admitted. “But I was so incapacitated and the only two people I trusted to help me with that were Rick and Pierre. They had private detectives working on it and because of my antisocial phobias, they were the ones who dealt with those detectives. They threatened to stop acting as liaisons between the detectives and me if I didn’t see someone. I couldn’t let that happen, and since I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with the detectives myself, I had no choice but to comply with their demands. I resented the hell out of them for imposing that ultimatum, but in the end, Bron, they saved my sanity.” They remained silent for a while after that, while Bronwyn thought about everything that he had revealed.

“And the . . . the deafness is permanent?” She asked the question that she had been too scared to broach before and winced at the immense of amount of pain that darkened his eyes. “There’s nothing they can do about it?”

“To put it in the simplest of terms, I suffered major nerve damage in both ears. I hit my head so hard that the doctors told me I was lucky that deafness was my only major, lasting injury. Lucky, can you believe that?” His voice rang with outrage at the memory, and he shut his eyes briefly before shaking his head and meeting her eyes again. “They told me that the damage to my right ear is less catastrophic and said that an operation might restore some of the function.”

“It didn’t work?” she asked sympathetically, aching for him. What he had done to her was unforgivable, but he had paid in spades for it already, and she found herself unable to hate or resent him any longer. She just felt numb and confused.

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“I didn’t have the operation,” He shrugged and she blinked. Stunned by that information.

“What? Why?”

“It seemed pointless.” His jaw was set, and while she longed to prompt him for more information, she sensed that he wouldn’t be receptive to any more questions. She sighed, his stubbornness and uncommunicativeness merely serving to remind her of why she felt their marriage no longer stood a chance of working. Yes, he had paid for his unforgivable and baffling reaction to her pregnancy, but they had so many other insurmountable problems.

“I’m sorry that this happened to you, Bryce,” she said earnestly. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m not the only one who suffered, Bron.” For the first time since it happened, he was brushing it off because there was so much more he needed to know about what had happened to her during those lost years. “After you left the hospital, what happened? Where did you go? Who took care of you?”

“I really don’t want to talk about this,” she began hesitantly.

“Please.” The single, softly spoken word undid her more than any other could have, and she lowered her eyes to her peacefully sleeping daughter before lifting them back to Bryce.

“Thanks to selling the car, I had enough money for a few months’ rent and food. Luckily Kayla was a healthy baby, and I didn’t have to worry about extra doctor’s bills.”

“What about you? How were you after her birth?”

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“We coped, Bryce,” she said. “I stayed home for a month and a half and my next-door neighbor, Linda, would often drop by to do some of the cooking for me. The first few times I went out job-hunting, Linda babysat Kayla for me. Eventually I got the job in Plettenberg Bay, where I ran into Rick and Lisa, and the rest is history.” The censorious glint in his eyes told her what he thought of the huge gaps in her story.

“Where did Kayla stay while you were at work?”

“Linda usually took care of her but Linda was elderly, and she . . . she died just before Rick found me. I got sick soon after her death, and the day I ran into Rick was my first day back at work. I hadn’t found a replacement for Linda and had to hire a babysitter for the day.” Her situation had been utterly desperate. Heartbroken over her friend’s death, broke, and sick, she was at her wits’ end. If Rick had not found her that day, she didn’t know what she would have done. Odds were she would have lost her job that day anyway as she had been making too many mistakes.

Bryce didn’t need her to spell it out to understand how bad the situation had been, and a grim silence settled over them while they contemplated their roast lamb and potatoes, appetites lost.

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