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07.03.2019

He watched Kayla play and contemplated his previous fears that he would hurt her the way his father had hurt him. The thought of anybody, including himself, harming her in any way was repellent and raised every protective instinct he had. Something that had once seemed so inevitable had become a complete nonevent. He hadn’t expected to trust himself around her, had thought that he would need constant supervision, someone to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn’t hurt her. But from the moment he had first laid eyes on her all he had wanted was to spend time with her, get to know her, spoil her, and love her.

She amused him, baffled him at times, and even angered him on the odd occasion, but the only time he had physically hurt her had been by accident. It was an incident that still weighed heavily on his mind because of his reprehensible behavior toward Bronwyn afterward. He sighed heavily. Kayla toddled over to wrap her arms around his throat and plant a moist kiss on his cheek.

“Daddy sad.” She had learned to speak to him only when he was facing her, and he saw her sweet words clearly.

“No, baby, I’m happy to be with you,” he reassured her, and she smiled brightly.

Love Daddy, she signed clumsily, and his heart simply melted. He kept it together as he signed I love you back at her. That satisfied her, and she went back to her dolls. Bryce swallowed the lump in his throat and blinked the scorching moisture from his eyes. It had been two weeks since Bronwyn had told him that she wanted to move out, and tomorrow he would be taking her to look at the flats that he had personally selected. The divorce papers had been delivered earlier in the week, and he had shoved them into one of his desk drawers rather than put his signature on them. He knew that he was running from the inevitable, but he felt such an overwhelming sense of panic every time he thought about those papers that he often found himself on the verge of hyperventilating. He could feel the panic rising even now and set aside his laptop to focus on Kayla, hoping to tamp down the anxiety.

Bronwyn walked into the conservatory, where Celeste had told her she would find Kayla and Bryce and froze in surprise at the sight that met her eyes when she entered the room. Bryce was sitting quietly while Kayla bustled around him, draping him in material. Bronwyn recognized the burnt orange throw from the sofa, the shell pink pashmina that she had left on one of the chairs the night before, a couple of bright-red curtain cords, and a couple of frilly doilies that Bronwyn had stowed away ages ago. The pashmina was draped over his shoulders, the throw over his lap, the doilies adorned his shoulders, and the cords were decorating his wrists like bracelets. Kayla took a step back and tilted her head contemplatively before nodding. She reached for her shiny plastic tiara and with the matching clip-on earrings and placed them on his head and ears.

“How do I look?” she heard Bryce rumble from beneath the elaborate draping, and for a moment Bronwyn thought the question was aimed at her before she realized that he hadn’t seen her yet. It was Kayla’s opinion that he sought.

“Pwetty,” the little girl replied, her curls bouncing with her assertive nod.

“So, can I have some tea now?”

“Of course.” The little girl sounded so adult that Bronwyn bit back a giggle, unutterably charmed by the scene in front of her. She proceeded to pour her imaginary tea into a plastic cup and balanced it on a matching saucer before handing it to her father. She followed it up with a bigger plate of very real biscuits. Bryce made appreciative sounds as he munched and “sipped” and Kayla imitated him, chatting in her mostly unintelligible language all the while.

Bronwyn stepped farther into the room, startling both of them simultaneously. Kayla hurled herself at her mother for a hug, and Bryce tugged at one of the clip-on earrings in embarrassment, going bright red at being caught playing dress-up. He gave up with a sheepish shrug when he saw Bronwyn’s amused smile, and a reluctant grin tugged at his lips.

“You’re early,” he pointed out, and Bronwyn jiggled Kayla on her hip, bussing the little girl’s cheek before responding.

“We had some plumbing issues and had to close shop early. It may take a few days to sort out. So I may not be working on Monday either if they don’t fix the problem over the weekend.” She kicked off her shoes and let Kayla down when the little girl wriggled impatiently. Bronwyn sank down on the floor beside Bryce while Kayla fixed the earring he had tried to remove earlier.

“Daddy pwetty,” Kayla announced proudly as she tugged a doily back in place on one of her father’s broad shoulders before dropping down into his lap and resting her head on the same shoulder she had just redecorated. Her thumb immediately went into her mouth.

“Very pretty,” Bronwyn agreed with a smirk, and Bryce rolled his eyes.

“We’re princesses,” he explained, and she laughed.

“Very fetching,” she complimented. Kayla repeated the word “fetching” around her thumb before pointing to the plate of biscuits with her free hand. Bryce reached for the plate and held it up to Bronwyn, who picked up a chocolate chip biscuit with a smile.

“I’d love some tea,” Bronwyn prompted, and when Kayla lifted her head to give him a pointed look, he sighed and “poured” a cup of tea. The cup looked ridiculously tiny in his hand as he daintily held it up.

“Thank you.” Bronwyn nodded politely as she accepted the offering. “So this is what you do every day?”

He snorted and nodded toward the closed laptop on the floor beside him.

“I was trying to get some work done, but this was just so much more diverting,” he confessed with a charming grin.

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