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07.03.2019

“Okay,” she consented, determinedly squelching the screeching protests in the back of her mind. She glanced around the empty shop. “I’ll close up and we can get going.”

“Gino’s?” Bronwyn smiled radiantly up at Bryce, all the tension that had built up during the drive dissipating. She had followed Bryce’s car to the tiny family-run restaurant in Green Point and had laughed out loud when she recognized the familiar route. Gino’s had been her favorite restaurant back when they had first started dating. She had insisted on going Dutch in those early days and had often suggested Gino’s because of its affordability. The food was good and the atmosphere warm and cozy. They had stopped coming here after their engagement, and Bronwyn had all but forgotten it existed. She was surprised that Bryce remembered it.

“I thought that you’d like it,” Bryce informed, his voice quiet, before glancing over at Cal, who was hovering behind them as usual, his eagle eyes sharply assessing the streets around them. The silent signal Bryce sent his way was acknowledged with a curt nod as Cal spun on his heel and headed back to the car.

Bryce put a confident hand in the small of Bronwyn’s back and led her inside the little restaurant. The place was the same as it had always been—noisy, chaotic, and filled with laughing people. A young server led them to an intimate corner in the back and handed them the well-worn leather-bound menus with a smile.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes for your drink orders,” she said perkily after lighting the ubiquitous candle in the center of the round table. It was pretty gloomy in their corner, and Bronwyn worried about Bryce’s ability to lip-read in the bad light.

Do you need a little more light? she signed, and he shook his head.

“I can see you fine.” He smiled, his eyes running over her face like a silent caress.

“Oh.” She blushed, his blatantly sensual look making her feel more than a little hot under the collar. There were a few moments of silence before Bryce spoke.

“Are you enjoying the new place?” he asked.

“Of course.” She said. “Kayla’s still having problems sleeping at night though.”

“It’s confusing for her. She’ll get used to the new routine soon.” His smile was bittersweet. The server came back for their drink orders, and after they had ordered, Bryce refocused his attention on her. “What about you? How are you adjusting to your new lifestyle?”

“It’s not that much different from life in Plett. Aside from the fact that we have money, of course, and I don’t really have to work and I no longer worry about Kayla when I’m away from her.” She laughed self-deprecatingly before shaking her head. “Okay, it’s a lot different from our life in Plett. Anyway, I miss her, of course, but I know that she’s with you and that she’s safe.” She was half signing every other sentence, still concerned with the lighting in the place.

“Do you?” he murmured, his eyes intent on her lips.

“Of course,” she dismissed airily. “I don’t know if I’ve said it before, Bryce, but you’re great with her.”

“I didn’t think I would be,” he admitted awkwardly, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. “Being around kids is . . . was way out of my comfort zone. I enjoy them but I don’t always feel . . .”

He hesitated and she leaned forward intently, sensing that he was considering his next words very carefully.

“Confident around them,” he completed, his voice kind of fading away on the last word. Baffled, she stared at him for a long moment before shaking her head.

“I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean when you use the word ‘confident,’” she said bluntly. “Confident in your ability to take care of them, you mean?”

“That, and I don’t trust myself not to lose my temper around them.” Again she could see how difficult that was for him to admit, and she knew that she had to tread very carefully here.

“Kayla does like to test my patience,” she said with a fond smile. “And I have lost my temper with her on a few occasions, but it’s all about how you handle the situation, and quite frankly, Bryce, you’re a pushover when it comes to her. She knows that she can get away with way more than she ever could with me.”

The server returned with their drinks and asked if they were ready to order. They both darted guilty glances down at the menu—they hadn’t even thought about food yet. Recognizing their looks, the girl laughed and promised to return in a couple of minutes. After they had taken care of the business of ordering, Bronwyn turned expectant eyes on him, waiting for him to pick up where he had left off.

Bryce took what looked like a fortifying sip of his red wine before raising his eyes to meet hers.

“You were right when you accused me of keeping stuff from you during our marriage,” he said, surprising her by steering the conversation into a completely different direction. “Stuff I felt that you didn’t need to know. Stuff I thought you’d see as weakness. Stuff that I was too embarrassed to tell you. I once told you that you made me feel like an all-conquering hero, that you made me feel like I could take on the world. It really was a heady feeling, Bron. I enjoyed being your ‘hero,’ the ‘prince’ who had swept you off your feet.

“I never expected to find a woman who made me feel like a hero instead of the villain I’d always believed myself to be. So, instead of telling you everything you needed to know about me, I allowed you to think that I was this perfect man. I spent two years trying to maintain that illusion and trying to live up to the inaccurate impression you had of me. When something went wrong at the office, I bottled it up and kept it from you. I closeted myself away to work it out alone rather than allow my frustration with whatever problem I had to spill over into our lives.”

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