“I know that now. I took one look at you this morning and I knew. So why did you leave him?”
“Because he told me to leave. He kicked me out,” Bronwyn recalled miserably. “He was unhappy about my pregnancy because we had agreed to wait a few years before starting a family. He accused me of getting pregnant deliberately, of tricking him. It was awful.”
“I don’t understand.” Lisa frowned. “Why would he go off the deep end like that? Surely a pregnancy is something to be celebrated?”
“I don’t know,” Bronwyn confessed. “I left to give him some time to cool off and went to our house in Knysna. I knew that once he had calmed down enough he would come looking for me. I never believed he wouldn’t come . . .” Her voice faded away as she remembered the pain, betrayal, and disillusionment she had felt when it became apparent that Bryce would not be coming for her.
“What did you do?” Lisa asked sympathetically.
“I waited. For two weeks I waited. Bryce is usually pretty good about keeping his temper under control, and when he does lose it he usually needs only a couple of hours for his logical thought processes to kick in again. But I’d never seen him as angry as he was that night, so I figured that it would take him a little longer than usual to come to his senses.” She shrugged helplessly, battling to keep the pain she still felt at the memory from showing. “After a week, I tried calling him. But I was stonewalled. His staff had closed ranks around him. I couldn’t reach him or Rick and I didn’t know what to do. It felt as if my whole world had imploded.” She bowed her head.
“After the initial disbelief and pain, the anger and resentment kicked in. I decided that if he wanted nothing to do with the baby and me, then I wasn’t going to make it easy for him to come crawling back. Not that I believed he would come back. I suppose I started thinking that way to preserve my pride. I went off the grid—no credit, no bank accounts except the one I already had in my maiden name. The only jobs I was qualified to do didn’t exactly keep stellar employee records. I never believed he would actually try to find us.” She shook her head dazedly.
“I thought he loved me.” It shamed her to admit that now, embarrassed her to confess such a foolish belief in front of this woman who was so obviously confident in her husband’s love. “Now he blames me for his deafness, and he’s practically accusing me of stealing Kayla from him when he had made it abundantly clear that he had no interest in her!” She heard the bitterness creeping into her voice. “He undoubtedly thinks that the way we’ve been living is beneath him, but I took good care of my baby. I fed her, clothed her, and loved her after he had abandoned us! How dare he waltz back into my life and presume that he’d be the better parent just because he has so much more money than I do!”
“Bryce has kept pretty much to himself in the time since I got married to Rick. He’s a difficult man to get to know,” Lisa said into the silence that ensued after Bronwyn ran out of steam. “But what I do know I like and respect. I can’t really reconcile the picture you’ve just painted with the man I’ve come to know.”
Bronwyn nodded miserably. “I’m sorry,” she responded, forcing the words past her tortured throat. “I don’t mean to place you in an awkward position. I shouldn’t have said those things.”
“No, that’s not it at all,” Lisa hurriedly corrected. “It’s just that you each seem so convinced of the other’s wrongdoing that there must have been some crossed wires somewhere.”
“Hmm.” Bronwyn tried to agree, but she was feeling fuzzy again, unable to concentrate.
“Try to get some rest,” Lisa suggested gently. “You look done in.”
“I didn’t . . . would never . . .” She could not complete the thought and was aware of nothing more as she slid into unconsciousness.
She looked fragile, like the slightest touch would break her, and how he wanted to break her. Bryce glared down at the stranger who was his wife and was eaten up by pure hatred for her. This innocent-looking bitch had destroyed his life and stolen his child. The barely contained violence he felt toward her had been festering for just over two years, and he quite cheerfully would have strangled her in her sleep if it weren’t for the fact that their daughter needed her. He watched her labor to breathe and imagined that it sounded hoarse and ragged. He remembered sounds but sometimes wondered if his memory was accurate. For the longest time, despite his unsuccessful attempts to force it out, his most precious memory had been of her voice. Now the memory of the sweet, clear sound of her voice returned unbidden along with the bell-like clarity of her laugh and, lastly, how that lovely voice had sounded during their final argument, thick with tears and entreaties.
She looked so ill. He grimaced, unwilling to feel any compassion for her. If she had worked herself into the ground it was less than she deserved for running out on him, for stealing his child, and for crippling him! He lived in a silent world now, the only sounds he heard were mere echoes of memories and her voice . . . always her voice.
He had hated her for haunting him, and he hated her still for looking so damned vulnerable, for being ill and weak and nearly defenseless, thereby rendering him impotent to lash out and rail at her the way he had fantasized about doing for so long.
Well, she wouldn’t always be sick. He could wait. Revenge, they said, was a dish best served cold. He’d been waiting for two years, so a few more weeks wouldn’t make a difference. And how much sweeter the payback would be now that he had her very firmly within his grasp!