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She was a lost cause. Her face was streaming with tears, and she reached for him but he flinched away and got up to pace to the window. He didn’t want her to touch him, and she wept for the lonely, hurt child he had been and for the emotionally distant and psychologically scarred man that he had become. He was sharing what he felt were his most shameful secrets, and it broke her heart that he thought this was his shame and not that of the pathetic excuse of a man who had fathered him.

“I never felt like I deserved you,” he said, keeping his rigid back to her. “But like I told you before, I just couldn’t stay away from you after that first meeting. I kept making and breaking promises with myself just to spend time with you. When I proposed to you, I thought that I could manage the relationship; that I could keep your love for myself without tainting you, without hurting you. God, what a miserable job I did of that.” He started pacing in front of the window, prowling back and forth like a restless lion and shoving his hands into the pockets of his tailored trousers.

“The night you told me you were pregnant . . .” He stopped moving and grimaced as if the memory pained him as much as it did her. He allowed himself a quick, haunted glance at her before turning away again. “I went off the deep end, Bron. I panicked. I couldn’t be a father, not with my history. What if I hit our baby, what if I started hitting you? My mother always told me that my father never touched her until after I was born. She never said as much, but she made me feel like the catalyst to all that violence! What if I was the same? What if our baby’s birth triggered the same reaction in me? What if I hurt you? I c-couldn’t stand that thought, Bron. But then I ended up hurting you anyway, didn’t I? I hurt you with my wild accusations and the irrational and stupid things that I said. Words can be even more painful than fists, I knew that, but I still couldn’t seem to stop myself! I didn’t even believe the crap I was saying. And I honestly did think that you would end up hating me for getting you pregnant in the middle of your studies, that you would grow to resent me.” He shook his head and sat down opposite her again.

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“This is going to sound like some lame, stupid excuse, but that night, when I told you to leave, I wanted to give myself time to think and to breathe. I never meant for you to leave the house, Bron, just the room. I calmed down almost immediately and realized what a fool I was being. I didn’t know what kind of father I’d be, but I figured that with you by my side I could possibly be okay. I’d taken care of Rick practically from the moment he was born, without once hurting him, and the thought of raising a hand to you is so abhorrent that it sickens me. I stopped thinking of us as a couple and started imagining what it would be like to be a family. The thought of anyone, especially me, hurting you or Kayla is unbearable, but how do I know something won’t set me off someday? How can you ever trust me around her, knowing what you do about me now?”

Bronwyn had her hands pressed over her mouth again as she tried to muffle her sobs, but she was wholly incapable of preventing the tears from flowing down her cheeks. She was a mess. She wanted to go to him but she knew he would not permit it, not until after he had said his piece. Yes, the emotional wound had been lanced, but the pus that had been festering away beneath the surface for so long had to drain before the healing process could begin.

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“I’d just made up my mind to tell you everything,” he continued in the same rambling, disorganized way that had characterized his entire monologue up till now. He was bouncing between the past and the present—just stating his thoughts as they popped into his head. “I heard your car starting up and I panicked, I was so sure that you would hurt yourself. I immediately gave chase and had my accident. Thinking I saw you there, I think it was the only way I could cope with having driven you away. I think that my subconscious had to have you betray me, because it gave me an excuse to tell myself that I hated you. I needed that excuse because knowing that I was to blame both for your leaving as well as for my deafness would have sent me even further off the deep end.

“But I never stopped looking for you, Bron, and it wasn’t just about finding the baby. I think that part of me always knew that you would never have done what I accused you of doing, so I had to find you to be sure you were both okay. I was so ashamed of my behavior that I even withheld the news of your pregnancy from Rick and Pierre. What I’d done was completely inexcusable, and both Pierre and Rick would have had no qualms about letting me know that.” He raised his eyes to hers and winced when he saw her tears. His jaw clenched and his hands curled into tight fists before he lowered himself from the sofa to kneel directly in front of her chair. He placed his hands on the armrests, effectively caging her in, but she didn’t feel trapped. Far from it. She felt . . . liberated.

“I was such a fool, Bronwyn.” His voice had lowered and she wasn’t sure he knew that he was speaking barely above a whisper. She had to strain to hear him. “I’m a wreck of a man and I brought you into this hell with me and ruined your life in the process.”

“You didn’t ruin my life,” she protested, but he shook his head at her denial—not believing her.

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“It sounds crazy to say that I loved you too much and that my love destroyed us, but I feel like that’s what happened. I’m toxic. I’ve always known that and to even consider a fresh start with you . . .” He laughed bitterly. “I’m a selfish idiot.

“Do you love me?” she asked him quietly, and he blinked at the question.

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