The Marriage He Must Keep(3)

By: Dani Collins

His wife had taken to avoiding his calls, however. His cousin made all her reports, which was an intrusion Alessandro didn’t appreciate. Why was Primo even still at his mother’s house? How long did it take to get an apartment painted these days?

“Si?” Alessandro prompted his cousin now, tone sharpening with dismay.

“She’s gone into labor,” Primo said bluntly.

Alessandro sat up, arteries stinging with an immediate shot of adrenaline, the desk full of work before him forgotten. This was too early. Almost a month before her due date. He had planned to fly out next week. He reached for his tablet, already tapping out a message to his driver and pilot.

“It all happened very quickly or I would have called you sooner,” Primo continued. “The ambulance was delayed and—well, there have been complications.”

Silence followed.

Alessandro waited.

A knife of dread went through him, impossible to dodge. Primo liked to frame things in as much drama as possible. Sandro had talked to him about it more than once, told him that it only exacerbated situations, but Primo loved to grab and hold attention.

This wasn’t the time.

Unless Primo was truly reluctant to deliver bad news.

Alessandro could hear the ticking of the clock that had been in his family for generations—tick, tick, tick. Like a bomb. He couldn’t breathe. He was paralyzed, completely devoid of feeling and his mind was empty as he held off what he feared would be a repeat of another moment when tragedy unfolded. When tires screeched and—

“Yes?” he prompted, throat raspy and thick.

“They had to take her to the nearest hospital, not the one where she was scheduled to deliver. It’s inundated with a bus crash, but they’re taking her for surgery right now.”

His nerves exploded with a rush of urgency, barely rational.

“Which hospital?” Alessandro demanded, fighting a ferocious grip of emotion that wanted to overstep reason and break down doors and walls and laws of man and nature to reach London. He grappled to stay calm, forcing himself to speak clearly even as his mind and heart raced. “I’m leaving now. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”


SCORE ONE FOR state-run hospitals, was Octavia’s first clear thought as her muddled brain came back from the anesthetic and worked out that Primo had no access to her son.

While he had followed her ambulance, she had clasped the female paramedic’s hand, a kind of desperate fury gripping her. “Primo is not my husband. Not the father. Do not allow him near my baby. Tell the hospital to keep him out of the delivery room. I will hold you responsible if something happens.”

She still felt irrational for saying it, but she just didn’t trust him. Not after the way he’d moved into the mansion as if he owned it and had taken such great pains to make her miserable while he was there.

Despite his premature birth, her son was thankfully doing well. He was being kept in an incubator for observation and the nurse was about to take Octavia to the nursery to feed him.

The staff here was nice, treating her with more warmth and kindness than she’d seen in months. And Alessandro was on his way. He should be here soon, Primo had begrudgingly told her as he’d paced her room.

Because it was a boy? Octavia tried not to feel bitter. Her father would be pleased, she supposed. Oddly, she discovered that she no longer cared what the men in her life expected of her. There was only one male to whom she wanted to answer and that would be on her own terms as his mother.

Still, part of her fluttered with a mixture of excitement and anxiety, knowing she’d finally see Alessandro again. He hadn’t been here since Christmas and that had been a very brief few days. They hadn’t even shared a bed, let alone the physical loving she’d been craving. Her condition had cut that off months ago.

Primo was telling the truth about one thing, she supposed. Alessandro not only thought she was fat and unattractive, but was taking his pleasure elsewhere.

So she shouldn’t be feeling like this: as conflicted as she’d been in the weeks leading up to their wedding, when she’d been tormenting herself with worry over their wedding night. Would he think she was pretty? Would she please him?

With a pang in her heart, she recalled how silly it had been to stress about that side of things. Lovemaking had turned out to be the least of her concerns. Once they got past her virginal inhibitions, she’d adored making love with him, discovering things about herself and the fit of man and woman that astonished her.

But sex—or rather, lack thereof—had become yet one more way Alessandro had been showing her how little she interested him these days. It made her feel needy and pathetic that she ached for his attention, both in bed and out.

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