A Christmas Night to Remember(9)

‘Except there’s not much skiing down the Bayswater Road,’ she said as lightly as she could, knowing her days of such sports were over. ‘Not unless you want to be taken away by men in white coats.’

Zeke chuckled, and then almost immediately his smile died and he leant forward. ‘Talk to me, Dee,’ he urged, unconsciously using his own private nickname for her. ‘Tell me how you feel, what this is really about. I need to know—you can surely see that? This excuse about not feeling the same isn’t you.’

It was the truth and it wasn’t. And deep down she had known she would have to explain herself fully for Zeke to accept they were finished. She had hoped by shutting him out and refusing to let him visit her in hospital his resentment and manly pride would overshadow his feelings for her, but Zeke wasn’t so shallow as that. At the same time she knew how he felt about sickness. In the years with his mother, before she had left, he’d been brought up in the most squalid of surroundings, often rubbing shoulders with drug addicts and down-and-outs, meths drinkers and the like. It had left him with an almost pathological resolve to take care of his own body and he couldn’t understand people who were careless about their health. Her perfectly honed, supple dancer’s body and extreme physical fitness had formed a large part of her attraction for him; she knew that although he had never spelt it out in so many words. And now…

Choosing her words carefully, she looked him full in the face. ‘Zeke, will you listen to me? Really listen and not interrupt until I’ve finished? Will you do that?’

He nodded, his face tense. ‘If you tell me the truth.’

‘You asked me earlier if I still love you and the answer to that is of course I do.’ At his sudden movement she held up her hand, palm facing him. ‘You promised,’ she reminded him.

He settled back, his ebony eyes intent on hers. ‘Go on.’

‘But now, after the accident, my loving you or you loving me is not enough. From a little girl all I’ve ever wanted to do was dance. It was my life. I was totally dedicated to and disciplined by the demands of ballet up until I grew too tall, but as long as I could carry on dancing I didn’t mind too much. You know how fierce the competition is within the entertainment business, but it never caused me a moment’s doubt because I had to dance. It was as simple as that. And now that is over.’

The waiter arriving with coffee interrupted her, and Melody waited until he had bustled off before she went on. ‘I know I could have been killed that day, and I am grateful to be alive, but I can never go back to the way things were. I’m all at sea at the moment, I admit it, but one thing I do know is that if I don’t want to drown in a sludge of self-pity I have to make a new life for myself far away from the world I’ve embraced for the last decade. And Zeke…’ She paused, not knowing how to say it but then deciding there were no right words. ‘You’re the embodiment of that world. You love it; it’s food and drink to you; it’s your whole life.’

He again made a movement to speak and was stopped by her raised hand. ‘But that’s only part of why I have to leave. You’re surrounded by women who see you as the means of their getting on in the business. Beautiful women—talented, young, ambitious—and we’ve laughed in the past at what some of them will do to get your attention. I’ve been there when you’ve been blatantly propositioned. I know how far some of them will go. I didn’t like it then and I like it still less now.’

She was trembling and took a sip of her coffee, needing the caffeine. The next part was harder to say.

‘Then I could be everything you need. Now I can’t. We have to be honest here, to face facts. You have a crippled wife. You—the head of the entertainment business. When we would attend functions and dinners and walk the red carpet and so on I’d be hobbling along beside you. There might even come a day when you’d be pushing me in a wheelchair. Or I’d stay at home, watching from afar, wondering which starlet was trying her luck that night. I’d turn into someone I don’t want to be and in turn you’d change. I don’t want us to end like that. Far better a clean break now, while we still care about each other and have good memories to look back on.’

He was staring at her as though she were mad, and now nothing could have stopped his next words. ‘This is rubbish—absolute rubbish,’ he bit out with controlled fury. ‘This isn’t you and me you’re talking about here. What we have is stronger and better than the people you’ve painted. And these supposedly beautiful women you’ve gone on about—what are you if not beautiful? Inside and out?’

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