A Christmas Night to Remember - By Helen Brooks

CHAPTER ONE

HOW could you have longed for something with all your heart, lived through endless minutes and hours and days and weeks anticipating the moment it happened, and be numbingly terrified now it had?

Melody shut her eyes tightly, wrinkling her face as she told herself to get control. She could do this. She had to do it actually. There wasn’t a choice. By tonight her hospital bed could be occupied by someone else, and topping and tailing was strictly against the rules.

The brief moment of dark humour helped to restore her equilibrium. She slowly unclenched her hands, which had been fists at her sides, and opened her eyes. The small room—one of four off the main ward—had been home for three months since the accident. Early on one of the nurses attending her had told her it was mostly long-term patients who were placed in the more private en-suite rooms. She suspected Sarah, the nurse in question, had been trying to warn her not to expect miracles. The damage she’d done to her spine and legs when she’d stepped in front of a lorry one morning wasn’t going to be a quick fix. As it happened she hadn’t needed it spelling out. She’d known she’d changed her life for ever when she’d looked into Zeke’s contorted face as she’d emerged from the fog of anaesthetic after the initial emergency operation.

Enough. Don’t think of him. You need to be strong this morning.

Obeying the inner voice, Melody reached for her thick, warmly insulated jacket. In spite of the hospital’s hot-house central heating, she knew it was freezing outside. The experts had been predicting a white Christmas for days, and it seemed they were going to be right for once. There had already been an odd flurry of snow this morning, and the sky was low over the rooftops beyond the hospital precincts.

Melody walked across to the window and gazed at the view she would be seeing for the last time. The car park was busy—it was always busy—and beyond the walled grounds the streets of London stretched away full of houses and offices and industry and people going about their everyday business. Normal people. She bit hard on her inner lip. Girls who wouldn’t have to think twice about wearing a short skirt in the summer or a bikini. She had been like that once. Now every advertisement on TV and every magazine she read seemed full of perfect women, girls with long beautiful legs and flawless skin.

Enough. She turned from the window, hating herself for the self-pity which always seemed to hit when she least expected it. She was lucky to be alive, she knew that, and she was grateful for it. The damage to her spine and mangled legs, not least the huge amount of blood she’d lost at the scene of the accident, had meant it was touch-and-go for days, apparently, although she hadn’t known much about it. She had vague memories of Zeke sitting by her bed, holding her hand in Intensive Care, but it had been a full week before she had woken one morning and found her mind was her own again.

That all seemed like a long time ago now. As soon as she could be moved from the hospital in Reading she’d been transferred to this one, which specialised in spinal injuries. She hadn’t known Zeke had been instrumental in accomplishing this, or that with her type of injuries expert care was essential for good long-term recovery until recently, when her consultant had mentioned it. Not that it would have made any difference to her decision to end their marriage.

Melody limped across to the narrow bed, staring down at the suitcase she had packed earlier that morning. She had all the relevant documentation and had said her goodbyes. It only remained for her to leave the place which had become comfortingly womb-like in its safety over the past weeks and months, even as she’d longed to be in charge of her own life once again. But here it didn’t matter that she walked with an ungainly gait. The nursing staff were so proud of her that she’d fought to walk at all. They didn’t wince at the sight of her scars, but praised her for the way she’d tackled the painful physiotherapy day after exhausting day.

Outside the walls of the hospital was the real world. Zeke’s world. She swallowed hard. A realm where the rich and beautiful had the power, and nothing less than perfection would