He had never once during their two-year-long marriage said that he loved her, but he had shown her in so many ways that she had believed that was enough. In the face of his abandonment, she had come to question that love and had been forced to acknowledge that the words would have meant more; the words would have meant everything. They would have set his love in stone.
Now he was standing here telling her that he had wanted Kayla after all? What was she supposed to believe? Why was he treating her like the villain for leaving, when he was the one who had driven her away? In the midst of her turmoil, she heard an unmistakable sound—the familiar irrepressible chatter and giggle of a toddler . . . of a particular toddler. Bronwyn’s panicked gaze swung to the open door and she was horrified to see the babysitter leading her beautiful daughter toward the room. Her anxious gaze swung toward Bryce but he seemed oblivious. He was watching her intently, still wanting an answer to his previous question. Rick had heard though and his gaze was riveted on the doorway as well. Oh God how could Katrina bring her here? How had the woman even known where to find Bronwyn?
“Answer me, damn you!” Bryce was growling. How could he remain unaware of the approaching babble of an effervescent eighteen-month-old baby? He had his back to the door and so did not see when Kayla and the now-faltering Katrina crossed the threshold. The young woman hesitated as her gaze swept around the room, immediately picking up on the tension. The toddler had no such reservations and upon seeing her mother, her face lit up and she made a beeline for the cot. She was muttering incoherently under her breath, as was her wont, and her nappy-clad bottom waddled comically as she toddled her way toward Bronwyn. Bryce still seemed to have no idea that she was there, and as Kayla passed by the bemused Rick, barely sparing him a glance, she was suddenly confronted by an obstacle in the form of her tall father. She frowned up at the big man who had his back to her, looking so much like him in that moment that Bronwyn smiled.
“What do you find so funny about this Bronwyn?” he hissed.
“Man big,” Kayla said, her first two clear words since entering the room, and it sounded more like criticism than compliment. When he still didn’t get out of her way, she gave him a measuring look, drew back her leg, and . . .
“Kayla, no!” Bronwyn shouted in horror, just as the little girl kicked her father on his calf. Bryce staggered a little, shocked rather than hurt, and whirled around, scanning the room desperately for a few seconds before dropping his gaze to the mutinous tiny girl before him. Not even knee-high to him and still in nappies, but she refused to back down.
“Kayla go . . .” she stated like a queen, sweeping by her enthralled father. When she reached her destination, she stopped and stared up at her next obstacle with a fulminating glare. The bed was too high for her to climb on to, so the beautiful little imp with her mop of silky brown hair and her big ice-blue eyes swept beguilingly back to the tall man she had just slighted and undid him with a charming smile before lifting her arms demandingly.
“Up, peese!” she commanded with the air of one accustomed to getting her way. The “please” was just a formality, and her father was helpless to do anything but obey. He picked her up reverently, holding her close for just an instant longer than she liked and she squirmed uncomfortably until he settled her onto the cot beside her mother, before shifting his piercing scrutiny to the babysitter whom he had only just noticed.
“I’m sorry, Bronwyn,” Katrina spoke uncertainly from the doorway, unnerved by Bryce’s direct stare. “When you were late I called the restaurant and they told me what had happened. I spoke to the doctor before bringing her here, and he said that you weren’t contagious. I have a date . . . and I thought . . .”
“You thought that you’d leave a little girl in hospital with her sick mother?” Bryce completed incredulously.
“Well . . .” The woman looked uncomfortable, and Bryce veered his furious gaze back to Bronwyn, who had her forehead resting on Kayla’s as she and her daughter communed without words. It was such a striking picture that he paused for an instant before launching an immediate attack.
“This is the type of irresponsible people you entrust our daughter’s care to?” Katrina’s eyes widened at his revealing words, and Bryce turned to face the young woman again, ignoring the surprised expression on her face. “Thank you, miss. Your services will no longer be required. Rick, please give the young lady whatever money is owed to her.”
“I can pay my own babysitter,” Bronwyn hissed furiously, but he kept his back to her, ignoring her, while Rick led Katrina out of the room. He turned to face her, and she repeated her claim. “I can pay my own babysitter, damn you!”
“Seeing that you have just lost your low-paying job, I don’t think that you’re in any position to be stubborn on this issue, Bronwyn.” Kayla was glaring up at Bryce furiously, and her scowling little face immediately distracted him.
“Hey there, angel.” His voice gentled as he crouched down beside the bed to meet her eyes. “Why so cross?”
“Mummy sleep,” she admonished. “Shhh!” He blinked for a startled instant, before lifting his gaze to Bronwyn’s shadowed eyes.
“It appears that our daughter has a lot more common sense than either of us does.” He smiled fondly down at the toddler, who was lovingly stroking her mother’s hair. “You’re in no condition to argue, Bronwyn. Just do as I say.” She gasped at his nerve and was about to protest when he hunkered down in front of Kayla again.