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07.03.2019

“I didn’t,” she protested, shocked by the near violence of his reaction. “I knocked but . . .”

“You knocked?” His voice dripped with derision. “I can’t hear, damn it!”

“Well, what was I supposed to do, then?” she responded defensively.

“There’s a doorbell,” he informed, calming down marginally, and she stared at him in confusion.

“A doorbell? But how . . .” her question trailed off when he pointed toward the lamp on his desk.

“The lamp is rigged to flicker when the bell rings. It works for both the front door and the study door. Two flickers for outside, one for inside.”

“Oh. That’s quite clever,” she murmured, impressed by the ingenious device and feeling like a complete idiot for not realizing sooner that the flickering lights that she had absently noticed intermittently since her return were not the result of an electrical fault as she had assumed.

“Clever, yes.” He smiled humorlessly and practically sneered the words. “It’s a common-enough device for the deaf. There are so many ways to make our lives as convenient as possible, clever little toys that light up and vibrate, tablet computers and smart phones with face-to-face call capabilities, SMSes and various other little gadgets designed to ease my life. Yet not one of these clever little toys would ever be able to alert me to the fact that my little girl is standing right behind me, trying to get my attention, not one of them could prevent me from turning around and treading on her before I’m able to stop myself.” Oh God! After her initial panic at finding Kayla in floods of tears and obvious pain, she had suspected that it might be something like this. Of course it was an accident, something that Bryce would tear himself up over, a situation that she had worsened with her stupid overreaction. His eyes were tormented, and she swallowed back a sob as she cupped his jaw in her slender hands.

“Bryce,” she whispered, her eyes liquid with regret and sympathy. He saw nothing but the sympathy and mistook it for pity. He jerked away from her and turned his back on her.

“No,” she moaned softly, not willing to allow him to close himself off when he was clearly in pain. She stepped around him and forced him to meet her eyes.

“Mikayla and I are going to have to learn not to sneak up on you then,” she told him firmly. “You are not at fault here, Bryce, it was an accident!”

“You’ve changed your tune rather quickly,” he mocked, and she flushed.

“I overreacted,” she conceded. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gone off the deep end like that. I know that you would never intentionally hurt our daughter.”

“Intentionally or not, I did hurt her,” he pointed out harshly. “And I can’t promise that it won’t happen again in the future. And she—she’s frightened of me now. I don’t think . . .”

“She’s a baby, Bryce,” Bron pointed out firmly. “She was shocked and in pain, but she’ll soon forget. Children are resilient and have a much larger capacity for forgiveness than we do. She has also learned her lesson, and I doubt she’ll be coming up behind you without warning you in some way in the future. One thing about your daughter”—she smiled fondly—“she’s a fast learner!”

“She was crying so much,” he remembered in a shaken voice. “I couldn’t make her stop! Her little face was so sad and confused. I felt like a monster.”

She took a step closer to him, her heart going out to him.

“Oh, Bryce,” she began, not sure how to make this better. “I’m so sorry.”

“I don’t need your pity,” he snarled, as defensive and dangerous as a wounded animal. Bronwyn blinked, his abrupt mood swing throwing her completely off guard.

“I don’t pity you,” she denied, placing one tentative hand on his forearm, but he shrugged her off and signed something at her, glaring wildly while he did.

“I don’t understand,” she said helplessly, and he responded with another mutinous flurry of sign that left her completely adrift. His eyes were burning with anger and some other emotion that she could not define.

“Bryce, please . . .” she begged, not sure why it mattered to her that she comfort him. “Don’t shut me out like this.” He said something else, again with his hands, and then quite abruptly turned his back on her. Once again shutting her out as completely as he could. She sobbed a little before lifting a clenched fist to her lips and biting down on her knuckles, not sure how to deal with this. She stared at his broad, stiff back through burning eyes. She refused to let him do this.

Bryce had always been much too good at shutting her out. After a bad day at work, he used to closet himself in his study and refuse to speak to her about it until after it was resolved. She had never told him how much that had hurt her, and the one time she had dared mention it, he had quite condescendingly informed her that she wouldn’t understand anyway and not to worry about it. That had made her so furious, but she had let it slide. She had let a lot of things slide back then, in an effort not to upset Bryce. But she wasn’t that silly, spineless girl anymore, and she was determined not to let him shut her out again, not this time. Not when it was so important to their future as a functioning family. She threw back her shoulders resolutely before stepping around him again to meet his glare with a ferocious one of her own. She chose to ignore the scorching anger in his eyes.

“I won’t allow you to turn your back on me this time, Bryce. And I refuse to leave until you acknowledge me and we talk about this!” she told him resolutely, and his lips tightened as he signed something particularly vicious looking back at her.

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