The Marriage He Must Keep(10)

By: Dani Collins

At least Octavia had an ally in Sorcha. Yes, Alessandro was determined to get to the bottom of things, but Octavia couldn’t help feeling that he was blaming her. She’d seen that hard-faced look before, usually when his mother was around, saying outrageous things and demanding to be the center of attention.

When he came across to her, she almost flinched from his hand on her shoulder.

He noticed, shock flickering in his expression before he gentled his touch into a soothing caress.

“I’m going with the administrator to speak with their head of security.” He still sounded gruff and looked terrible. Tired and stressed, but that air of grit was oddly reassuring as he added, “I want to see for myself whether their procedures were followed. This is unacceptable. There shouldn’t be any doubt.”

His gaze dropped to the sleeping baby and a flash of torture cut across his expression before he suppressed it. He might not be ready to believe her—he was too much a man of facts and process to follow someone’s gut instinct, even his wife’s—but he wasn’t discounting her, either.

Before she could react, he cupped the side of her face and leaned in. His mouth covered hers in a brief, damp openmouthed kiss that shot a jolt of excitement through her, stopping her breath and curling her toes in her slippers. It was over before she could respond, but his mouth had been hot enough to brand, turning her inside out.

He straightened and his gaze delved into hers before she could hide the yearning he had provoked. With a final caress of his thumb against her cheek, he left.

His absence always left her bereft, no matter how much she hated herself for being dependent on him, but there was more. She felt as though he’d just promised to fight for her, which was deeply heartening after she’d pretty much given up on his wanting anything to do with her.

Maybe that was wishful thinking, though.

“He reminds me of Enrique’s father,” Sorcha murmured after Alessandro was gone. She rocked gently. They’d both been given slings so the babies were tucked securely against them in case they nodded off in their comfortable gliding rockers.

“How so?” Octavia asked, curious how any man could be anything like Alessandro. In every way, he was a step above anyone she had ever met.

“His way of taking control. So confident and determined. You’re lucky to have him here. I guess we both are,” she said wryly.

“Your husband isn’t here?” Octavia probed gently, wanting to know more about her new friend. Well, she hoped they were becoming friends. She had lost touch with the few women she’d known in Naples. They’d never been true friends anyway, just young women she’d gone to school with, most of them single and keen to party, hunting in packs for Mr. Right. After she married and became pregnant and moved to London, Octavia had had nothing in common with them. They’d moved on without her.

“He’s in Spain,” Sorcha answered, voice growing strained. “There was an accident.” She lifted a quick hand from the back of her baby’s head, staying Octavia’s quick gasp. “He’s fine. Recovered. Mostly. But no, he isn’t here.”

“Because you delivered early? Is he on his way?” Octavia asked, instinctively trying to comfort.

Sorcha’s mouth pulled down at the corners and her gaze skimmed the nursery. Only one nurse remained and she was on the telephone.

“We’re not married. Not together,” Sorcha admitted, offering a brave, but flat smile. It fell away very quickly, as though she was having second thoughts about confessing that she was single. As though it was a crime to be ashamed of.

“I’m sorry,” Octavia said thinly, worried she’d overstepped. “But you won’t leave here without my phone number,” she added on impulse. “You and I are in this together.”

“Seems so, doesn’t it?” Sorcha said with a flash of her pretty smile. “Mum always tells me there’s a silver lining to any of life’s setbacks. I’ll be going home to stay with her in Ireland until I’m ready to go back to work, though. I won’t be here to have coffee in person. We’ll have to do it over the tablet.”

“Oh,” Octavia said, crestfallen. As much as she’d been yearning to go back to Naples all these months, now that she’d seen Alessandro again, she wasn’t sure. He might be taking her side right now, but where had he been all these months?

Funny how she’d thought marriage would offer her a chance at a real family, but she felt more alone than ever, despite having a child with him.

“A friend over the tablet would be better than none at all,” Octavia assured her.

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