The Marriage He Must Keep(7)

By: Dani Collins


As stung as he was by her rejection of their son, as shocked as he was to see her throw a tantrum, something moved in him. Uncertainty.

But she had to be wrong. Mix-ups didn’t happen. She was holding their baby. Wasn’t she?

Her gradual rejection of him the past months crept over him like a frost. Why didn’t she want him anymore? Why wouldn’t she accept his child?

* * *

Wendy left to prepare a bottle, of course, because when Alessandro spoke, people listened. No one ever jumped like that when Octavia spoke.

And no one had ever managed to look at her quite like that, as if she was something he wanted to scrape off the bottom of his shoe like cold, fetid mud.

Octavia dropped her gaze, unable to meet his eyes. He was far too handsome anyway, shrugging out of his leather aviator jacket so his muscles strained against the clinging knit of the light blue pullover he wore. His stubbled cheeks were the only sign of his long night in the air. The rest of him was crisp gray pants, hair ruffled and starting to curl where it was a little too long on top, and those gray-green eyes that penetrated like a persistent tropical rain.

Everything about him was strength. Level shoulders, steady mouth, composed brow. His face had a perfect bone structure of clean lines, like his maker had used a ruler while drawing his features, leaving sharp angles at his cheekbones and making a straight slope of his nose before finally softening with freehand for his lips.

His sinful lips. She shouldn’t be thinking of all the wonderful things that mouth had done to her. Carnal things.

That mouth was pursed in distaste at her unbelievable claim.

Patting the baby she held, Octavia tried desperately to comfort him while seeking comfort herself. Was she crazy? Primo was always quick to ask her that. Are you on drugs? Have you lost your mind? Do you think like normal people? How could you imagine such a thing?

Months of those sorts of queries had left her questioning her own sanity. Why was she in London, isolated from all that was familiar, carrying a baby the father seemed to care nothing about? Why wasn’t she fighting for a better situation? At the very least, she should have insisted on some sort of contact or acknowledgement from her husband. Why hadn’t she demanded that he speak to her firsthand, not second?

Being here in London had been like boarding school, something to be endured. She hadn’t been in physical peril, merely unhappy. Her mother had spent her entire life unhappy. Such was the lot of a wife who was a pawn in male ambition. Who would have had any pity for Octavia? Poor little rich girl, whining because she had to live in a mansion with servants and all the shopping she could stand.

Being the tolerant, patient sort, she’d thought her husband would eventually show up and make her feel special again. She had believed in the vision of a warm and loving family, that was the problem, yet here she was being denied even the right to hold her own baby.

Being tolerant and patient and obedient and dutiful were all starting to look like the stupidest things she’d ever done.

Rocking jerkily, she gently bounced the baby she held, mind whirling. That baby over there looked like Alessandro. Couldn’t he see it? She’d argued with the nurse until she couldn’t stay on her feet any longer or risk dropping the baby she’d been given. The woman had refused to let her have him, but it was obvious to anyone with functioning eyes. Why wasn’t her husband backing her up? If he couldn’t see it, perhaps she really was cracked.

But his cry, that baby’s cry, muted as it was by the incubator, was tearing her up. So was this one’s. She felt like the worst person in the world, unable to help him, but she couldn’t feed him from her breast. That boy over there was her son. That was the baby her body yearned to nurture. She knew it.

Into the din of crying infants and the staccato glide of her chair, the door gave a click and a woman’s chattering voice entered.

“—expected to deliver naturally, but the cord— Oh, hello. I heard we were competing for the surgeon’s attention last night. I’m Sorcha Kelly.” The blonde in the wheelchair was beautiful. Her hair was pulled into a clip and her oval face was clear and pale. She hadn’t puffed up the way Octavia had. When her curious gaze lifted to Alessandro’s, it made Octavia tense with jealousy.

Bracing herself, Octavia glanced up, certain Alessandro would be noticing and responding to a smile that wasn’t exactly an invitation, but what man could resist such fresh-faced beauty?

He offered a polite nod and a distant introduction. “Alessandro Ferrante. My wife, Octavia, and our son, Lorenzo. That is the name we agreed upon, is it not?” he said to Octavia, willing her to accept that much at least.

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