A Christmas Night to Remember(5)

Melody took a deep breath, and as she did so the first starry snowflake wafted by in the wind. ‘It takes two to keep a marriage together, Zeke. You can’t force me to stay.’

‘I don’t believe I’m hearing this.’

‘Believe it because I mean every word.’ She was amazed her poise was holding. ‘Things are different now.’

His opinion of her last statement was decidedly profane, but she didn’t flinch in the face of his anger. He stared at her after his outburst, conflict evident in every line and contour of his rugged features. ‘Are you telling me you don’t love me any more?’ he ground out finally. ‘Is that it?’

She lowered her eyes from the brilliant black orbs boring into her. She couldn’t lie convincingly otherwise. Allowing her hair to swing forward and hide her face, she muttered, ‘Yes, that’s it. I don’t love you. All right?’

‘Look at me and say it.’ His fingers forced her chin upwards. ‘Tell me you’re prepared to wipe away the last couple of years and all we’ve shared together as though they never happened. Tell me that and look me in the face while you do it.’

‘Of course they happened, and I’ll always be grateful for them, but things move on. People change.’ She could hear herself saying the words as though it was someone else speaking.

‘I haven’t changed!’ He suddenly shook his head in rapid movement, signifying a silent apology for his raised voice. ‘I haven’t changed,’ he repeated more softly, the sensual, smoky quality to his voice apparent. ‘And I simply don’t believe you have either.’

‘Oh, I have,’ she said, with such bitterness he couldn’t fail to believe her. He had married a young, whole woman. Now she didn’t feel young any more and she certainly wasn’t whole. She was a mess, inside and out. And there was no room in Zeke’s world for emotional and physical cripples.

‘You mean the accident? Your legs?’ He was speaking so quietly she almost couldn’t hear him. ‘That doesn’t make any difference to me—surely you know that? You’re still you—’

‘No.’ Her voice was brittle but with a thread of steel running through it. ‘I’m different, Zeke. And you can’t wave a magic wand and make me the old Melody, any more than you can pretend I’m not damaged. I’ll never dance again. I’ll never even walk without a limp. I have months of intensive physiotherapy in front of me and they’ve already warned me the chances of arthritis as I get older are high. I could end up in a wheelchair at worst.’

‘I know all that. I’ve been seeing the consultant on a regular basis and I have worked out a programme of treatment with him.’ Before she could react, he took her arm again, adding, ‘It’s starting to snow and you’re getting cold. Come and sit in the car at least.’

‘I’ve told you I’m getting a cab.’ He was wearing a black overcoat and he looked very big and dark as he glanced down at her. A part of her noticed the way his hair curled over his collar, unlike his usual short, almost military style. Was that intended or did he need a haircut? For some reason she found the thought weakening, and to combat this her voice had a sharp edge as she added, ‘And I don’t want you talking to my consultant again, okay? Much less deciding on my treatment. I can look after myself. We’re not together any more, Zeke. Deal with it.’

Before she had met Zeke she had looked after herself for years after all. She knew from her grandmother that her father had walked out on her mother before she was born, but, her mother having died when Melody was little more than a baby, she had no recollection of her. Her maternal grandmother had brought her up, and as her mother had been an only child there had been no aunts and uncles or cousins in her life, and her grandfather had divorced her grandmother years earlier and moved away.

Consequently it had been a somewhat singular childhood, especially as her grandmother had discouraged friendships with other children. She had lived for the twice-weekly dance lessons she’d attended since a small child. At the age of sixteen she’d been accepted at a dance school and had just graduated from there when her grandmother had passed away, leaving her a small inheritance. She had moved from her home town in the west of England to the capital, finding a bedsit and beginning to look for dancing work while practising every day. Once her nest egg was gone she’d been forced to take other jobs between dancing engagements to pay the bills, but she had been happy enough while she waited for her ‘big break’. And then the part of Sasha had come along and she had met Zeke and her life had changed for ever.

Helen Brooks's Books