He rested his head on his hand and ran a finger along the jagged red scar than ran down her shin and to her ankle. ‘Does it hurt?’
‘No. It just tickles,’ she murmured.
‘Glass in my shoe.’ She stretched her foot languorously, unutterably relaxed.
He frowned. ‘Glass?’
‘In my pointe shoe,’ she explained briefly. ‘Not much. I didn’t feel it until I was partway through the performance. But, you know, the show must go on.’
He shifted down to her foot and inspected her toes.
‘Don’t.’ She tried to curl them away because they were so ugly and now she was self-conscious and regretted telling him that much.
‘You kept dancing?’ He released her foot and she pulled her legs from his reach.
‘Of course. When you’re in the zone, you feel invincible. You don’t notice until it’s almost too late. At first I thought it was just a bad blister or something. In the end I fell and landed badly and broke my ankle and shin.’
And when she’d looked later, there’d been blood seeping through her pointe shoe. The cut had been so deep it had severed nerves and the chunk of glass they’d struggled to remove had been viciously jagged.
‘The show went on.’ She shrugged, playing it down with a casual smile. ‘The understudy stepped up. I went to hospital.’
One of the pins they’d put in was still there and during those months in plaster she’d lost flexibility, muscle tone. Confidence.
‘There was no way you could build up your strength again?’ he asked. ‘Retrain and get back out there?’
‘Not to the level I want.’ And it had been ruined for her. That someone in her own company had hated her that much to do something so horrific?
She’d thought the company had been her safe haven but she’d been wrong.
So she was determined to be independent now. Any success she had, she would own in its entirety. She wouldn’t be vulnerable by being reliant on anyone else. She had to control her own destiny and haul herself out of any problems alone. It was the lesson her mother had never learned.
‘How did the glass get in your shoe?’ Antonio asked ominously.
She didn’t want to answer but she knew that look in his eye. The wickedness had vanished and he was in ‘ruthless ruler’ mode. She shouldn’t have answered so thoughtlessly in the first place. ‘I guess some people didn’t believe I deserved my position in the company. That I was there because of my profile, not talent. Sex appeal, not technique.’
He looked grim. ‘Did they catch whoever did it?’
‘I didn’t want to cause a scandal and nor did company management.’ Sebastian had asked her not to go to the police, arguing bad press would destroy the company. And she’d had her reasons for agreeing with his request.
She flinched at the fury in Antonio’s tone.
‘I didn’t want people to know I was a victim,’ she defended herself hotly. ‘I didn’t want the world to know I had enemies who’d do something that mean. I didn’t want to show that.’ She hadn’t wanted anyone to know how vulnerable she was. How isolated. So she’d left and played up the party queen. ‘I fell. My leg broke. End of story.’
And she’d trust no one now. Not even a prince.
She reached out and ran her hand over the small silver elephant that she noticed sitting on the nightstand, wanting to distract them both. ‘This is pretty.’
He glanced at the trinket, still frowning. ‘Alessia gave it to me for my birthday.’
Silently she wondered which birthday, how long ago and what significance the elephant held. All she knew about elephants was that supposedly they never forgot anything.
Maybe that was what it was—for him to remember her. They’d been school sweethearts for years before getting engaged, hadn’t they? Bella returned the trinket to the table and looked back down the bed to Antonio.
His expression had shut down, of course. Remote, reserved Prince Antonio had returned. He might be lying at her feet, but he couldn’t be further removed and it couldn’t be more obvious that he didn’t want to discuss it with her. Of course he didn’t.