The Marriage He Must Keep(6)

By: Dani Collins

Then it was gone.

She adjusted her hospital gown self-consciously and shifted the baby up to her shoulder, rocking with agitation in the gliding chair, trying anxiously to soothe the baby who sounded positively desolate.

“Alessandro.” She kept her lashes lowered.

Not caro. Not even Sandro. He tried to recall the last time she’d greeted him in a way that sounded the least bit welcoming or friendly.

When had she last really looked at him? Met his gaze for longer than a millisecond?

But if he had a moment of regret that leaving her in London had impacted their marriage, his sense of duty smothered it. Every decision he made was for the sake of the Ferrante family. He had shunned marrying for love quite deliberately. His wife was an asset, a strength, not a weakness.

Still, her rebuff grated after his difficult journey to reach her.

The nurse gave him a pleading, I don’t know what to do look, putting him further on edge. He loathed emotional chaos and had been drowning in it since Primo’s call. Why the hell wasn’t anyone taking things in hand here?

“Is there a problem?” he asked, taking control himself.

“Your wife wants to use a bottle, but you don’t want to introduce one this early,” the nurse insisted to Octavia. “It causes nipple confusion. He might not take to the breast after.”

“You don’t want to feed him yourself?” Alessandro was genuinely shocked. He and Octavia hadn’t talked about how she would feed the baby and women had a choice about these things, he supposed. He wasn’t sure why he took her decision like a slap, but coming on the heels of her cool greeting, he had never felt so summarily rejected in his life.

“Look at him,” she said with a tremble in her voice, and showed him the baby.

The infant was red-faced and frantic, abrading Alessandro’s nerves with his cries. Just feed him, he thought, unable to fathom why she couldn’t see that’s what the baby wanted.

“And look at that one.” She pointed to the incubator on the other side of the room. It was clearly labeled Kelly.

Alessandro looked from the incubator back to his wife. Then to the fussing infant she held. Then to the nurse. Then back to the incubator.

He was not a stupid man, but he didn’t understand. And it made him uneasy that he didn’t understand. It was too foreign an experience.

“The tags are in order, Mr. Ferrante,” Wendy assured him. “We follow very tight protocols. When the head nurse gets back, she’ll explain. This is your baby.” She pointed to the one that Octavia held.

“Look at that one,” Octavia demanded vehemently enough that Alessandro was impelled across to view the other infant inside the dome.

The boy was on his side, naked but for a diaper, limbs moving in slow flails. He looked forsaken, bawling alone in there, catching at Sandro’s heart. He had the urge to pick him up and try to soothe him. This boy was literally crying out for human touch, but that would have to come from parents with the last name of Kelly. Obviously.

Nevertheless, he found himself unable to lift his gaze, locking on to the few wisps of black hair that poked from beneath the baby’s green-and-white-striped cap. Something in the fine silkiness made Sandro think of the delicate strands at Octavia’s temple and the back of her neck, but the tag on this baby’s ankle read Kelly.

Exhaustion was catching up to him if he was having delusions. Octavia had been through a lot, he reminded himself, using mammoth effort to scale himself back to cool reason. He had thought Octavia one of the most rational people in his life, but she was only human and possibly still foggy from whatever drugs they might be feeding her.

He looked back at her and for once he held her complete attention, as if she was sending silent brain waves at him, trying to induce him toward something.

“She won’t give him to me,” Octavia said, husky voice wavering between acute anger and a deep suffering that tugged at a deep place inside him.

“He’s not your baby, Mrs. Ferrante,” the nurse maintained.

“This is not my son,” Octavia returned, red and frazzled as she tried to calm the baby bellyaching on her shoulder.

Alessandro had to use a long mental reach to find his patience, but he was well practiced at maintaining his composure. Snapping and acting on impulse, no matter how tempting, was not the sort of behavior he exhibited, ever. Italian or not, his mother’s son or not, his displays of passion were confined to the bedroom.

“Bring me a bottle. I’ll feed him,” he ordered the nurse. “My wife is obviously having reservations. It’s her body, so...”

“That is not—I’ll feed my baby,” Octavia cried, looking up at him in a way that was halfway between forceful and vanquished. Betrayed and misunderstood.

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