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“I didn’t want to stain your childhood memories with the truth.”

“You couldn’t possibly have done that, since most of my memories involve you and the fun we had . . .” His eyes went distant, and Bryce watched his mouth form a foul word. “All those so-called sports injuries? He did that?” Bryce nodded, and Rick swore again. “Sonofabitch! Shit, Bryce . . . I’m so bloody sorry.”

“Not your fault.” Bryce shrugged.

“How many of those knocks did you take for me?”

“It’s not important, and this is why I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t want you to blame yourself. I made a decision to protect you and I did. End of story.”

“Why didn’t you tell Bron about this?”

“Tell her what? That I allowed a dictatorial bastard to use me as a punching bag? That I may turn into the same dictatorial bastard and use my fists on her and Kayla someday? She’s a hell of a lot better off without me.” The words burned like acid but they had to be said.

“Why do you think you’d hurt Bron or Kayla?” Rick asked him, and Bryce could feel himself growling at his brother’s deliberate ignorance.

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“It’s in my blood.”

“Yeah? It’s in my blood too. Think I’d ever harm a hair on Lisa’s or Rhys’s head?” Bryce blinked stupidly, completely thrown by Rick’s question. It wasn’t something that had ever occurred to him.

“Of course not.”

“Why not? He was my father too.” He watched Rick’s chest heave as the younger man sighed heavily. “Bryce, you have to talk to a therapist about this. You have to see that you would never physically harm your wife and child.”

“Ex-wife . . .” God.

“You have naturally protective instincts, Bryce,” Rick was saying, while Bryce still reeled from the emotional impact of the words “ex” and “wife” in relation to Bronwyn. “You . . .”

“Enough,” he whispered. “Enough, Rick. Please.”

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Rick stopped talking but he didn’t make a move to leave, merely got up to refill their drinks and sat down again. He was clearly content to remain sitting for however long Bryce did. Comforted by his younger brother’s stoic presence, Bryce sat immersed in his thoughts for a while longer.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Money certainly made life a lot easier, Bronwyn reflected as she watched the movers bring in the last of her newly acquired furniture. Relocating from Bryce’s house into her new home should have taken a lot longer than it actually had, but with money to grease the wheels, packing up an old life and organizing a new one took less than two weeks.

She was moved in to her new “home” before she could blink, and all that was left was the unpacking. She tried to turn it in to an adventure for Kayla, who was being surly and uncommunicative.

“Isn’t this a pretty room, Kayla?” she asked, injecting bright enthusiasm into her voice, but Kayla wasn’t having any of that.

“No.”

“Come on, baby, it’s very pretty,” Bronwyn maintained patiently. “You have a princess bed. Isn’t that great?”

“No. I go home.” She had only recently stopped referring to herself in the third person.

“This is our new home.” Bronwyn smiled sunnily and Kayla glared at her, her little lip protruding rebelliously. Bronwyn felt awful to have moved her again so soon, especially since Bryce had become such an important fixture in her life.

“I want Daddy!” She stamped her foot and Bronwyn’s smile slipped a bit.

“You’ll see Daddy tomorrow,” she explained. “Tonight we’ll sleep in our new home. We can have ice cream. Do you want ice cream, sweetie?”

“No.”

“Of course you do.” Bronwyn couldn’t help but smile a little at the stubbornness. “Chocolate ice cream. Your favorite.”

“I no like ice kweem,” she blatantly lied.

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“Hey, Bron, where do you want this box?” Lisa was lugging a medium-size box of photos, and Bronwyn directed her toward the study. Lisa, Theresa, Bobbi, and Alice were all helping with her move and had decided to stick around for one of their Saturday ladies’ nights afterward. Bronwyn welcomed the show of support and the company. She knew that they didn’t want her to be alone on her first evening in the new place.

“Do you want to help me unpack your clothes?” she asked Kayla. “You can tell me where to put everything. That’ll be fun.”

“No.”

Bronwyn sighed. She was heartsick and tired. She hadn’t seen much of Bryce since the night he’d handed her the divorce papers. He had had his attorney contact hers to tell her that he would be giving her a monthly allowance to spend or not spend however she saw fit, and that he would pay to furnish the flat. Bronwyn had tried to refuse but had been told that the money had already been transferred into her bank account and what she did with it was her business. She had decided to give in gracefully and accept the generous alimony.

“Why don’t you show Broccoli our new house?” she asked. Despite the mutinous set of her face, the little girl picked up her well-worn little doll—one of the few toys she still had from their life in Plettenberg Bay—and trudged off.

“You okay?” Theresa asked, coming up to stand beside Bronwyn. Bronwyn glanced over at the pretty woman and shook her head.

“Not really.” Her voice wobbled slightly. “I feel like such an awful parent right now. She’d just gotten used to the other house, and here I am, uprooting her again.”

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