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“Well, you’ll have to pay for it,” she told him resolutely, and his eyes narrowed. “You will pay for my new place, my studies, and child support. I think that it’s the least you can do. I don’t want hundreds of thousands or half of your company or any other kind of payday, but it would be stupid of me not to ask for your support until after I’ve finished my studies.”

“I don’t want you to move out,” he said grimly.

“I know, but if I don’t move out, we’ll keep repeating the same cycle. I don’t want to want you, Bryce. But I do, and if I stay here we will wind up in bed together again and that’ll be a huge step backward for us. For me.”

“Bronwyn, what will it take to convince you that I don’t want to lose you, or Kayla? That I honestly want to save our marriage?”

“Bryce, there’s nothing left to save,” she said with a bitter smile. “Yes, I’m physically attracted to you, but we can’t base a marriage on that alone.”

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“That’s all you feel for me? Physical attraction?” he asked hoarsely.

“Yes,” she lied, happy that the sunglasses hid her eyes from him.

“What about Kayla?” he asked.

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“Kayla will be fine; we’ll all be fine, Bryce.”

“Bronwyn.” His voice dropped to an urgent whisper, rife with despair. “Please, don’t do this. Give us a chance. I know that I’ve done horrible things and behaved reprehensibly, but . . .” She held up her hands, hating to see him beg and knowing that if she allowed it to continue, she would cave.

“Bryce, you’ve hurt me and I’m finding it . . . a little difficult to move on from that.” She removed her sunglasses, grimacing a bit as the bright light burned into her retinas, but she wanted him to see the truth in her eyes. “I’m trying to forgive you, but I’m only human, and the mistakes you made were enormous. Try seeing it from my point of view. Try to imagine how it felt to be so completely rejected for getting pregnant. Imagine how lost I felt when you didn’t call, when you refused to take my calls, when you seemed to reject me at every turn.” He opened his mouth to say something but after a quick, painful breath closed it again, and he allowed her to speak. “You’ve made some cruel comments about the clothes and toys Kayla had when you found us again. But every single cent I made went into keeping her clean, clothed, fed, happy, and healthy. It was a huge responsibility that I had to bear by myself. You weren’t there, Bryce. It was just me and I had to make the best I could of our situation.

“And then, when you found us again, you behaved like you were the wronged one! Your deafness was somehow my fault and I had ‘abandoned’ you at the scene of an accident.” She could hear the stark bitterness in her own voice and knew that it had to be visible in her eyes and on her face. She was still so very furious at the unjustness of those particular indictments. “Do you not see how unforgivable those accusations were? How insurmountable these problems are? And now you want us to be a family, you don’t want a divorce, and you expect me to somehow be grateful for that? You expect me to forget all the pain you’ve inflicted? Well, I can’t do it, Bryce. I wish I could, but since I have no idea what set you off in the first place, how on earth am I supposed to trust you not to go off the deep end again? What if I inadvertently trigger your rejection button again? I can’t live with the uncertainty. I don’t want to and I refuse to allow my daughter to experience the same pain and confusion.

“I know I’ve said it before, but I’m also heartily sick of your secretiveness, Bryce. This situation has made me recognize how much you’ve kept from me. You’re completely closed off and that’s not something that’s only recently developed. I’ve come to discover that you’ve always kept things from me and I don’t even care what those secrets are anymore.”

It was a long speech and it had been difficult to maintain her focus and keep facing him so that he could catch all of it. She had tried to intersperse it with as much sign language as she could, but she still couldn’t be sure that he had caught all of it. The hangover headache had quite happily invited a tension headache to join the wild party in her brain, and the pain was becoming almost unbearable.

“I was trying to protect you,” he confessed after a long silence, and Bronwyn cast an eye over to her daughter, who was starting to watch her parents with a worried frown, not as oblivious to the tension as they had hoped. Bronwyn cast a reassuring smile at Kayla. Not quite sure what to make of that last statement.

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“You and the baby,” he said. “I wanted to protect you.”

“Protect us from what, Bryce?” she asked, combining the spoken words with broken sign language to convey her frustration. Every little bit that he so begrudgingly revealed made her recognize how very much he was still keeping hidden from her. She’d seen only the very tip of this iceberg, and she was astounded by her own former ignorance. How had she never recognized the magnitude of this problem? She had been so blinded by her love and happiness that she’d never known what an unhappy and troubled man her husband was. She had been so naïve and stupid.

“From what?” she asked again, and he shook his head helplessly. “Why did you react that way to the news of my pregnancy?”

He sighed deeply and the sound seemed torn from the depths of his chest. His eyes were stark with unhappiness and fear. He shook his head again before pushing himself up and dropping a kiss on top Kayla’s head. The little girl managed to smear some scrambled eggs across his cheek but he didn’t seem to notice as he straightened up to look at Bronwyn again. The naked vulnerability on his face tore at her heart and she bit the inside of her cheek to prevent herself from blurting out something stupid. Something like she loved him or that she would stay. She felt like she would do anything to wipe that look of utter isolation and agony from his eyes.

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