A Christmas Night to Remember(4)

‘Isn’t it obvious? Collecting my wife.’

His voice was unruffled, even lazy, but Melody knew better than to be fooled that was how he was feeling inside. Zeke was a master at disguising his thoughts and emotions; it was one of the attributes which had made him so hugely successful.

There were plenty more.

At thirty-eight years of age, Zeke had been building his empire for twenty years with a ruthless determination devoid of sentiment. He was no respecter of persons; in the two years since they had been married—she had walked down the aisle on her twenty-fifth birthday—Melody had come to realise that, whether someone was a big star or a virtual novice, Zeke treated each artist exactly the same. He expected total dedication and one-hundred-per-cent commitment and if he got that he was charm itself. If he didn’t…

Undoubtedly the charisma he exuded as naturally as breathing helped—especially with the ladies. He was tall at six-foot-four and big with it, although Melody knew for a fact there wasn’t an inch of surplus fat on the muscled male body. His broad shoulders and tough physique dwarfed most other men, and his face was hard and rough-hewn, too strong-featured to be called handsome by any stretch of the imagination. But he had something much more powerful than pretty-boy good-looks: a magnetism that emphasised his raw masculinity and cynical, sexy appeal.

The sharply defined planes and angles of his face were unsoftened by his jet-black hair and dark ebony eyes framed by thick short lashes, but it was his mouth which had always fascinated her. In repose it was deliciously uneven and stomach-quiveringly attractive, and his voice… On their first date she had felt she could listen to the deep, smoky tones for ever. She still did.

But she had made her decision and it was irrevocable. She didn’t belong in Zeke’s world any more. Perhaps she never had. And she wasn’t going to cling onto him until even the memories of the happiest time in her life were soured by the present. She had never understood what it was about her that had made him love her in the first place—not when he could have had any woman he liked—but the Melody he had married was gone.

Forcing a strength into her voice that belied her trembling inside, Melody said, ‘How did you know I was leaving today? I haven’t told anyone.’

‘But I’m not anyone. I am your husband.’ He smiled, but it didn’t reach the coal-black eyes.

A sliver of ice ran down her spine. She recognised that smile that wasn’t a smile, although it had never been directed at her before. But then she had never had occasion to challenge him in the past and come up against his inflexible will. ‘We’re separated and I’ve told you I want a divorce.’

‘And I’ve told you only over my dead body,’ he said conversationally. ‘So, do we stand here in the cold, discussing this for the next umpteen minutes, or are you going to be sensible and come home with me?’

Now she felt a welcome flood of adrenaline as her temper rose. ‘I have no intention of doing either.’ She glanced over at the taxi rank outside the hospital gates. ‘I’m getting a cab to where I want to go, so may I have my case, please?’

He shook his head. ‘No can do.’

She glared at him. ‘I mean it, Zeke.’

‘So do I.’

‘Fine. Keep it.’ She had her handbag over her shoulder, containing her credit cards and cash. ‘But just leave me alone.’

‘Stop this.’ The studiously calm pose vanished. ‘I’ve stayed away the last six weeks, as you asked. I thought that would give you time to come to your senses after the doctor said my presence was upsetting you and hindering your recovery—’ the icy quality to his words told her how he had received that news ‘—but I’m damned if this ridiculous farce is continuing for another hour. You’re my wife—we’re in this for the long haul, remember? For richer or poorer, in sickness or health, till death do us part.’

She only heard the ‘long haul’ part. It suggested gritted teeth, a fulfilment of duty, doing the ‘right thing’ when everything in him was crying out against it. It confirmed all her fears. She felt herself shrinking, dwindling away to nothing.

Zeke had never made any secret of the fact that he delighted in her body. Every night of their marriage and sometimes in the day too he had worshiped her with his lovemaking, taking her to heights she had never imagined as they gloried in each other. He was a skilful and generous lover, adventurous but infinitely tender, intent always on giving her pleasure even as he satisfied his own desire. She had never slept with anyone before Zeke because she had never been in love with any of the men she had dated, and she’d always known she wanted to wait for ‘the one’. And then Zeke had blazed into her life like a dark, glittering meteor, and within two months of their first meeting she had been Mrs James.

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