A Christmas Night to Remember(10)

‘But I’m not, Zeke, not any more.’ She was as white as the snow outside the window but determined to make him see. ‘I have scars—angry, red, puckered things that are gouged into the skin you used to say was like honey-coloured silk—and they’ll always be there. Oh, they might fade some, but they’ll still be ugly until the day I die. This isn’t going to go away.’

‘I don’t care about your scars. Only inasmuch as they affect your perception of yourself,’ he added softly.

‘You haven’t seen them.’ She stared at him, dying inside.

‘And whose fault is that? When I asked to see them you went hysterical and I was thrown out of your room and warned not to mention it again. You’d show me when you were ready, they said. But the next thing I know I’m warned visiting you at all is doing you more harm than good and if I care about you I have to give you a breathing space. Well if the “breathing space” resulted in these damn fool ideas you’ve got I should have carried on visiting. I love you, dammit—every part of you, scars and all—and I resent being labelled as some pathetic bozo who will bed any women on offer. That’s not who I am and you know it.’

Two spots of colour burnt in her ashen face now as her own temper rose. ‘I didn’t say that.’

‘That’s exactly what you said.’ He was breathing hard and still furiously angry. ‘Okay, let me ask you something. What if it had been me in that accident? What if I’d been the one having the operations and months in hospital? What if it was my legs? Would you be looking around for someone else?’

‘Of course I wouldn’t. You know I wouldn’t.’

‘Then why the hell do you think I would? And what makes your love so damn superior to mine? Because that’s what you’re insinuating, however you dress it up, and I resent that.’

‘You’re twisting my words,’ she said helplessly, on the verge of tears. ‘I never said my love is better than yours.’

Zeke looked at her trembling lips, at the bruised blue shadows under her eyes from where she hadn’t slept and her too-slim frame where the weight had dropped off her. Swearing softly, he pulled her into him, careless of where they were. ‘Don’t cry,’ he muttered thickly. ‘I don’t want to make you cry. I want to love you and care for you and make it all better, but you’re driving me mad, woman. Stark, staring mad. I’ve nearly gone insane the last few weeks. I even resorted to coming to the hospital at night and sitting outside in the car park just to be near you. Crazy, eh? But that’s how it’s been.’

Melody relaxed against him for a moment—but only a moment. Far from reassuring her, his words had hammered home the fact that Zeke wasn’t seeing things clearly. He couldn’t make it all better—no one could—and the words he’d spoken earlier, about being in it for the long haul, were at the forefront of her mind. He felt staying with her, supporting her, protecting her, was his duty. And duty wasn’t a bad thing, even if there were folk these days who regarded it as a four-letter word; she just didn’t want it to be the reason for their marriage to continue. She couldn’t live with pity. His pity.

Drawing away from him, she made herself finish her cup of coffee. After a moment or two he did the same, but the ebony eyes remained fixed on her delicate features as he drank. ‘This is partly to do with your grandmother,’ he said after a little while. ‘You know that, don’t you? A damn big part too.’

Caught unawares, she shot her gaze to meet his. ‘What on earth are you talking about? My grandmother has been dead for years.’

‘I know she brought you up and you loved her,’ he said tersely, ‘but she wasn’t exactly a fan of the male of the species, from what you’ve told me. She never let you forget that your father walked out on your mother, and your grandfather’s affairs were mentioned every day. Isn’t that right?’

‘Every day is an exaggeration.’

‘Not much of one. She drip-dripped the poison of her own bitterness for years. You know she did. She couldn’t get over the fact that he left her in the end, even though she’d put up with his roving eye most of their marriage.’

Melody lifted her soft chin and glared at him anew. ‘And why should she have forgiven him? He was a hateful man. I’d have taken him to the vets for a certain operation if he’d been my husband,’ she declared stoutly.

A flicker of a smile touched Zeke’s mouth. ‘I’ll bear that in mind,’ he said gravely. ‘But the truth is her jaundiced view did some damage and made you very insecure in certain areas. Admit it. It’s the truth, Dee, and you know it. Face it.’

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