“Bryce.” She tugged on his sleeve to get his attention. She wouldn’t be swayed by the obvious vulnerability on his face. “I don’t know what kind of cruel games you’re playing with me. You tossed us away like so much garbage. If you wanted us you would never have done that. I’m sorry that you missed out on the first year and a half of your daughter’s life, but you do know that you have only yourself to blame for that, right?” She watched the barb hit home as he flinched at her words. The vulnerability fled from his face to be replaced by fury.
“You should get some rest.” His words were icy. “You look exhausted and ill! You’re also much too thin. Mikayla needs a healthy mother, not some wraith who can barely lift her.”
“Bryce . . . I don’t understand. Why do you hate me so much. What have I done to deserve this ridiculous amount of contempt?” It was getting increasingly hard for her to remain upright, but this was important. She was physically weak at the moment, but she was not going to let him walk all over her.
“How dare you ask me that?” he hissed furiously. “How dare you, after everything that you’ve done?”
“I did what you told me to do,” she reminded him, her trembling voice as icy as his had been before. “You told me to leave, to get out of your sight! You called me a deceitful, lying bitch and told me that you never wanted to see me again.”
“Just stop playing the tragic victim,” he warned. “The only reason I can stomach having you back in my life is because of Mikayla, but push me too far and I’ll make damned sure you never set eyes on her again.”
His threat—her worst fear—sent a shiver down her spine, and her throat closed up, shutting her up as effectively as a punch to the jaw would have. Their eyes clashed for a moment, his stormy and furious, hers bleak with terror. Bryce muttered something vile sounding beneath his breath before taking an unexpected step toward her and folding her into his strong arms. His head swooped and he caught her lips in a fiercely tender kiss. Bronwyn gasped in shock, fear, and relief. This felt more like home than the house had. She burrowed closer, wanting the intimacy and affection that she had been missing for so long. Her head tilted back and her mouth opened like a flower beneath his. He groaned, one large hand flat against the small of her back, the other cupping the back of her head. There was an edge of desperation to his kiss, a hunger that had never been present in his lazy, long kisses of the past. His tongue sought and found hers; she felt weak and dizzy with desire. God she had missed him so much, enough to allow this moment of weakness, even though she knew it wouldn’t solve any of their problems. His hands crept up to cup her face, and his thumbs swept over the silky skin of her cheeks. She had her arms wrapped around his hard, warm body, and her hands splayed against his back. She would have crept into his skin if she could.
He stiffened suddenly before tossing her aside with a vicious curse and glaring down into her dazed face contemptuously. He shook his head grimly before turning on his heel and striding out without another word, leaving her hurt, humiliated, and furious in his wake. Bronwyn wrapped her arms around her shaking body, still utterly devastated by how much he seemed to despise her. There was a time when he had seemed like a dream come true. He had been an enigma but still the most intriguing man she had ever met . . .
He had kept watching her and making her jumpier than she already was. After slurping down his milkshake with every appearance of complete enjoyment, he had asked her for a meal recommendation, but after the disaster with the drinks, she politely informed him that she highly recommended everything on the menu. He wasn’t having that, and, ignoring his impatient friend, he forced her to tell him what her favorite dish on the menu was. She hadn’t worked at the restaurant long enough to sample much of the menu and very reluctantly revealed her plebeian tastes by saying that she enjoyed the gourmet brie and bacon burger that they offered. He nodded and ordered said burger. His friend, done with indulging him, ordered something much more in keeping with his sophisticated palate. Bryce went through the same routine with dessert, and Pierre, evidently giving up on him, made his excuses and headed back to whatever glamorous life he led. Bryce remained though, eating his dessert and following it up with coffee. He remained for four hours, the last hour of which had been spent sitting solo at the table toying with dessert, ordering cup after cup of coffee and staring at her. He never smiled and never flirted; he simply watched her. Eventually he asked for the bill and when she brought it, he graced her with the slightest of smiles, his serious eyes warm and a bit confused.
“You’ve never done this before have you?” he asked gently, as if afraid of hurting her feelings, and she flushed painfully before nodding.
“What gave it away?” she joked, feeling like a miserable failure.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged, his smile widening. “Maybe the way you kept recommending the least expensive items on the menu, despite the fact that it would probably decrease your tip.” She was appalled for not realizing that herself and made a mental note to recommend the lobster to every client who asked in the future! She frowned, forcing herself to remember to write that down before giving up and drawing a Post-it booklet from her apron pocket to jot down in capital letters: REMEMBER LOBSTERS!!! He was watching her every reaction in complete fascination, and she looked up to find him staring at her again.
“Why do you keep watching me like that?” she asked bluntly, before going even redder, shocked by her own forwardness. His brows lowered as he gave her question some consideration.