The Marriage He Must Keep(5)

By: Dani Collins

“It’s more than that, Sandro,” Primo insisted, pacing him. “She says things that don’t make sense.”

Alessandro schooled himself against making a patronizing remark that at least Octavia didn’t constantly border on hysteria, but he had some concerns for her mental state all the same. He’d noticed small inconsistencies in Primo’s reports against what Octavia had told him via text and email. Her odd relationship with her parents, so detached, had made an impression on him from the beginning.

Her mother had a tendency toward depression, Alessandro had come to recognize, but he had hoped his wife wasn’t prone to it, as well. She’d been bashful in their early weeks of marriage, gradually opening up in a way that had delighted him, but she’d become downright withdrawn in the past months, which worried him.

She had been pregnant, though. He’d watched enough sisters and cousins go through the process to know that every woman behaved differently as she came to terms with the way her body and life was changing. He had told himself that all of this was normal and temporary.

Primo steered him up the stairs then down the hall to an empty room. He should have brought flowers, Alessandro realized belatedly, and was startled by a lurch in his middle as he stared at the unoccupied bed. He had been counting on seeing her.

“She must still be in the nursery,” Primo said, stepping into the hall to point toward the end. “They may not let you in. She was being very touchy, didn’t want to let me see him. Honestly, Sandro, this animosity she has... We’re family. I understand that she’s an only child and is jealous of me, that it threatens her that you and I are so close, but I’m only trying to look out for her. You asked me to. Will you explain that to her? Again? Please?” He tagged on the last with a testy roll of his eyes.

Alessandro hadn’t asked his cousin to look after his wife. He had said once that it had been kind of Primo to take Octavia to her doctor appointment. Frankly, he’d hoped Primo’s staying at the mansion would help the two of them get past that small discord from the night they’d all met, but it hadn’t happened. Sensing the tension, Alessandro had actually suggested Primo find other accommodation when he had been here at Christmas. Primo had assured him the renovations to his apartment were almost finished.

“I’m here to look after her now,” Alessandro said, and, since the death threats hadn’t been repeated, he added, “She and the baby will come back to Naples with me once she’s released. You can focus on work.”

“About that, there are things we need to discuss,” Primo said with abrupt urgency.

“They’ll have to keep,” Alessandro said, thinking that Octavia was not the only one who was jealous. Primo couldn’t stand being upstaged ever, which was the foundation of his acts of rivalry. Normally, Alessandro would do what he could to keep the peace, but today he had higher priorities. “I would like to meet my son, Primo. Go back to Mother’s and get some rest.”

He motioned to a nurse as he continued toward the nursery, vaguely aware of Primo falling back, but the focus of his attention was now firmly fixed on Octavia and his child. “Thank you,” he said to the nurse after identifying himself and being buzzed into the nursery.

It was a surprisingly noisy place. Babies were crying, a nurse was speaking plaintively, and Octavia’s voice, always clear and modulated, never whiny or harsh, said firmly, “I can see he’s hungry and I’m telling you I will feed him, but with a bottle.”

“Octavia?” Alessandro moved forward and the nurse standing in front of her stepped aside, an uneasy look on her face.

The anticipation rising in him skewed to concern. His wife looked...breakable. Wan. As if she was barely holding herself together. Her eyes, dark as the petals of black pansies, were pools of fraught distress. Her luscious mouth, the lips he loved to devour, were pinched in torment. The roundness in her face and bare shoulder took him by surprise. Her weight gain through the pregnancy hadn’t been tremendous, but he hadn’t seen her often enough to be used to it. It made her seem that much softer. Vulnerable.

And so feminine, still so beautiful and womanly with her hair loose and her face clean of makeup that his libido responded. How? How could he not go five seconds in her presence without experiencing a rush of heat to his groin and a lurch of possessiveness in his gut? It was maddening to have such a primeval reaction and not be able to control it.

For the merest hint of a second, as their gazes locked, he saw a flash of...something. The thing he saw when she woke beside him. The smile that began to glimmer before it reached her lips.

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