The Marriage He Must Keep(2)

By: Dani Collins



Female. Only good for one thing. This.

Octavia had lived in fear all her life that she would suffer as her mother had, losing babies before she could deliver them. For good reason, apparently. This was not the idealistic, natural process the books promised. This was torture. The baby was coming a month too early, and the pain was terrifying. Something was wrong. She knew it.

“Where is the ambulance?” she cried as the pain throttled back enough that she could catch her breath and speak. “The clinic said to call one as soon as I went into labor. Did you do it?”

“You’re being hysterical. These things take hours. You know that,” Primo muttered.

He had said he would, but she would bet her life that he hadn’t.

“Give me the phone,” she demanded, holding out her hand. Why was he even here? Why wasn’t her husband?

Her pains were coming on top of themselves. She had to wrap her arm across her swollen middle, fearful her skin would split under the stress.

“Please, Primo. I’m begging you. Take me to the hospital.”

“You’re an embarrassment to our family name,” he said, sneering at her rumpled, sweaty form and tear-streaked face. “Where is all this pride in duty you once told me you had? Show some dignity.”

His cruel words, delivered by a cruel man whom she hated with all her being, still had the power to wound. Because Alessandro had left her to this. Each time Primo verbally flayed her, she felt it as an uncaring swipe from Alessandro, like batting a fly. She had been his toy, perhaps, because he’d seemed so taken with her in those early days, but now she was nothing to him. Utterly forgotten. His indifference was a body blow every time she confronted it.

As anguished and defeated as that made her feel, she wasn’t about to give birth on her bed, risking her baby’s life and her own. Inching to the edge of the mattress, she braced herself on the night table, begging her knees to hold her. She’d crawl out of this room if she had to. Primo might wish her dead, but she wasn’t going quietly.

“Is that blood?” Primo demanded sharply. His hawk-like gaze swooped from her tense face to the spotted blanket and back. His complexion grayed.

As she looked at the small mark, what little body heat remained in her drained from her face and chest and limbs. This was it, then. Like her mother, she was doomed to lose her baby. If she survived, this would happen again and again as she tried to live up to her side of the marital contract. Why, oh, why had she thought going through with an arranged marriage would finally earn her some respect from her father? Why had she let herself begin to care for her husband, hoping to earn his affection?

Why had she opened her heart and taken this unborn infant deep inside it, believing that finally there would be a human on this earth who loved her back?

No one was ever going to love her. She was the only person she could rely on. It was time to face that.

With a sob, she staggered across to where he’d left her phone on the windowsill and snatched it up. Bowing her head against the wall, silently praying, she dialed the number for emergency services and told them to send an ambulance.

* * *

Alessandro Ferrante saw his wife was calling and his pulse tripped. He immediately tamped down on the involuntary reaction, ruthlessly regaining control over himself and annoyed that he let her catch him so easily, even when she was on the other side of the continent.

But some measure of surprise was legitimate. She never called him anymore.

Which he was trying not to let bother him.

“Cara,” he answered, ears straining for clues as to why she was calling now. It was late in London, even later here in Naples, but apparently they were both still up. Perhaps the baby was kicking. She had said a few times that she had trouble sleeping through that. It had made him feel the distance between them quite keenly...

He ignored the stab of something that might have been regret. The separation was necessary. He wouldn’t give in to weak yearnings and wind up putting her in danger. That would be irresponsible.

“Sono io,” Primo said into his ear. It’s me.

Not Octavia then. Disappointment fell through him before he could deflect it. He habitually fought extreme degrees of emotion, never allowing them to rule his actions, but this marriage was becoming so very much not a marriage and it was beginning to frustrate him. It had started with such promise. They had had a remarkable compatibility, particularly in bed, but it had disintegrated into something he didn’t know what to do with anymore.

Not for the first time, he questioned his decision to leave her in London, but all the facts remained the same: she was pregnant and at risk. Her mother had a history of losing babies. His mother’s house in London was in the same city as a world-class specialist clinic, one that had been monitoring her closely. She was also safe from the threats here in Naples. His refusal to bring her home was absolutely the best thing for her and their unborn child.

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