The Marriage He Must Keep(8)

By: Dani Collins

All she could manage was a tiny nod and a shrug. Yes, she wanted to call her son Lorenzo, but that name didn’t match this baby.

Alessandro’s dour look stilled the air in her throat, making it impossible for her to say so. Why did he have to look at her with such disdain? She could practically hear him thinking, Just like Mother, but she wasn’t making a scene on purpose!

She opened her mouth to plead her case, but Sorcha Kelly was holding out her arms for the baby that her nurse had fetched and loosely wrapped. The nurse asked Alessandro to turn his back and he did with a brisk apology, dragging his gaze off the other infant and giving Sorcha the privacy she needed to settle in the rocker with one breast bared.

A lightning streak of anguish burned through Octavia, singeing her heart into a dark, powdered coal as she watched Sorcha close her arms around the baby.

“I’ve been waiting to meet you, Mr. Kelly.” Sorcha’s expression was filled with anticipation and sweet joy.

Octavia finally found her voice. “That’s—”

“Octavia,” Alessandro said, his tone soft yet deadly.

She took a shaken breath, glanced into eyes that might have been shadowed with something more than disparagement. Offense? Injury? It caused a dip and roll in her chest, but anxiety had her quickly shifting her attention back to Sorcha.

The other woman had cocked her head. Her brows pulled together as she smiled crookedly at the overwrought infant she held. The nurse urged Sorcha to put the baby to her breast.

“I don’t think—” Sorcha’s gaze came up and straight across to the baby Octavia was trying to soothe, rubbing his back and rocking him.

“The bottle, sir,” Wendy said, returning to hand something to Alessandro.

Octavia was aware of them in her periphery, but her entire world fuzzed at the edges as she met Sorcha’s troubled gaze. The only thing that mattered was that baby Sorcha held. Her baby.

Sorcha’s gaze clashed with Octavia’s, apprehensive and confused. Gently, Octavia lowered the baby she held so Sorcha could see his face.

They were only a few meters apart. It was very easy to see Sorcha’s eyes widen in shock, to interpret her expression as the kind of terrified alarm that only a mother whose baby was in peril would wear. As if he was falling out a window.

“How did you—” Sorcha began in a tone of accusation, then quickly bared the ankle of the boy she held, hand shaking as she looked at his tag. Her panicked gaze came back to Octavia’s.

“They wouldn’t believe me,” Octavia said, voice so thin she barely heard it herself.

“Believe what?” Sorcha’s nurse asked, while the nurse who’d been torturing Octavia tried to stammer out statements of protocol again.

“My wife is confused,” Alessandro said and bent to reach for the baby Octavia held.

She tightened her arms around him, refusing to give up the infant.

At the same time, Sorcha blurted, “Don’t. Don’t touch him.” She struggled to her feet and hitched her gown over her breast, then came across to Octavia.

“No one would believe me,” Octavia told her again, motherly instincts rising hard as her own baby approached. Her eyes stung and her heart hurt. “I wanted to feed him, but he needs his own mama and they wouldn’t give me mine...”

Her words garbled into a choke of emotion as she and Sorcha clumsily exchanged infants.

“I believe you,” Sorcha said with a wobbling smile, kissing her baby’s cheek as she took him, drawing him close against her chest with tender care. “Of course we know our own babies.”

Octavia nodded in gratitude, thinking she would be Sorcha’s slave forever, she was so thankful. This was Lorenzo. He smelled right and fit her arms and his skin was so soft and right against her lips. His little body was startlingly strong despite being racked by crying for a good twenty minutes. Oh, he had his father’s ferociously determined face, looking as though he would get exactly what he wanted no matter what he had to do.

He latched perfectly, quieting in synchronicity with his nursery mate.

Octavia sighed with relief and exchanged a teary smile with Sorcha, then became aware of the thick silence. The nurses were staring at them, mouths agape.

Alessandro was thunderstruck.


“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Alessandro asked Octavia, feeling as though he’d hit black ice and was skidding toward an abyss. Never in his life had he seen anything like what had just happened.

“Can’t you see they mixed them up? Look at him.” She gently adjusted the blanket with a trembling hand, ensuring the baby was kept warm, but allowing Alessandro to see the boy’s face.

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