The Marriage He Must Keep(4)

By: Dani Collins

Octavia did, feeling immodest as she bared her breast, even though it was only her and the nurse in this very warm room. The baby Wendy offered her was clearly distressed and famished.

Goodness both babies had a pair of lungs. As Wendy placed her son in her arms, his warm weight filled Octavia with a rush of protective emotions. He was wiggly and endearing, very handsome with a shadow of silky black hair showing from beneath his little blue-and-white-striped cap. His eyelashes and eyebrows were so faint they were barely there, his nose a button, his disgruntled expression almost laughable.


A strange chill went through her.

“That’s what we’ve been calling them. Mr. January and Mr. February,” Wendy chattered on. “Since they were born barely an hour apart, but in different months. Do you have a name picked out? Let him find your nipple,” she prompted.

“I was waiting for my husband to finalize his name,” Octavia replied in a murmur, but broke off as the baby’s arm waved and his little face rooted against the swell of her breast. He was adorable, so cute in his determination. He rather stole her heart in a way, but drawing him to her breast felt wrong.

Oh, dear God, was this what had happened to her mother? She’d finally birthed Octavia, a live baby, and had wanted to meet the basic needs of her daughter, but failed to feel a wash of true, maternal love?

Octavia’s world crashed in on itself. She was such a failure. An utter failure. First as a child, then as a wife. Now as a mother. No wonder no one loved her. She was incapable of feeling the emotion herself.

Tears rushed up to cling to her lashes. She blinked hard. One fell onto the scrunched-up face of the infant. She wiped it away, trying to find something in his tiny features that would provoke that feeling she had had during her pregnancy. The one that had told her this baby was connected to her. Indelibly.

But it didn’t come.

This was wrong. The boy grew more frantic, his high-pitched cries breaking her heart, but there was nothing of herself in him. Nothing familiar. He looked wrong. Not bad or repulsive or ill or damaged. Just...wrong.

He arched his little back and let out demanding, furious squawks.

“The first time is always awkward,” Wendy assured her, reaching to assist. “You’re not the first to cry. Just let him—”

“No,” Octavia said, asserting herself with more strength than she had realized she possessed, but this was the oddest sensation she’d ever felt. She wanted to help this baby. He was obviously hungry and distraught and so helpless. She wanted to feed him, but the words just came out. “This isn’t my baby.”

* * *

Alessandro hadn’t slept. He’d piloted his private jet himself and sped through a mess of winter weather to arrive in London as quickly as possible. It was exactly the sort of recklessness he would lecture anyone else against, but he was here and that was the result he had sought.

On landing, he picked up the message that his son was born. He was being kept in an incubator as a precaution since he was a few weeks premature, but he was otherwise healthy.

Good news, but Primo had said nothing about Octavia, which Alessandro suspected was deliberate. Couldn’t Primo see there was a place for jocular games and this wasn’t it? Alessandro loved his cousin, but Primo was compelled to taunt and make power plays at every turn. When would he grow up and quit swiping at him for a decision made by their grandfather?

Stepping onto the curb next to his pensive cousin, Alessandro demanded, “How is she?”

“How am I to know?” Primo dropped his cigarette and stamped it out, then gave Alessandro’s security detail a look that was difficult to interpret. Like he viewed the bodyguards as an affectation, making Alessandro bristle.

“She doesn’t talk to me,” Primo continued. “Didn’t tell me she was hemorrhaging. I suppose the surgery went well enough, since she’s alive, but it’s like she didn’t want to make it to the hospital in time. This hospital is a joke, by the way. She put herself and the boy at risk. Honestly, Sandro, I told you I wonder about her mental health and this is a perfect example.”

Alive. His heart finally settled into a normal, healthy beat, making him aware of how high his blood pressure had been.

“Women are emotional during pregnancy,” he reminded his cousin, striding into the hospital. “Why do you take these things so personally?” He was such a prima donna, not that Alessandro had ever called him that aloud. He would never hear the end of it, but his cousin’s narcissism grated. Things were fraught enough without Primo waving his hands in the air.

But Primo still had his father and the bunch of them were as animated as any Italian family. Sandro was the wet blanket of the clan, consistently reminding everyone that lack of forethought could have dire consequences.

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