The Marriage He Must Keep(4)

By: Dani Collins



She’d learned long ago to roll that lonely emptiness into a wall of aloof indifference, though. She just wished she could feel aloof or indifferent at his impending arrival. But she couldn’t.

“Mrs. Ferrante,” the nurse, Wendy, greeted her as she brought in the empty wheelchair she’d fetched. “Let’s take you to your little man.”

Primo made no move to help Octavia and she was grateful, even though her emergency surgery had annihilated her abdominal muscles and the anesthetic still had her feeling nauseous and weak.

He did follow them from the room to the door of the nursery, though, obviously under the impression he could enter with them.

Wendy, bless her, said, “I’m sorry. Parents only in the nursery.”

“Octavia,” he prompted firmly.

“You’ll have to meet Alessandro and show him where we are,” she replied innocently.

The hospital wasn’t that big. Alessandro was a resourceful man. He’d find her just fine, but Wendy was buzzing them into the nursery with her security card and the bright, warm room washed over Octavia like a hug of welcome. Beyond the windows, beams of morning sunlight broke the gray clouds hovering over London, sending angelic rays onto the rooftops and giving Octavia a lift of hope for the first time in ages.

“He’s been calling for you,” the heavyset nurse inside the nursery said. Her name tag read Hannah. “I’ll fetch Miss Kelly while you’re in here to keep an eye on this one,” she said to Wendy, nodding at the only other baby in the room.

“The calm after the storm,” Octavia said as she gingerly moved herself into one of the padded rocking chairs. “The emergency room was a zoo when I arrived last night.”

The chaos had been alarming, adding to what was already a frightening situation. Tears of relief stung her eyes as she finally felt as if she could relax and hold the baby she’d been so worried for.

“I heard,” Wendy responded as she gathered up the fussing baby from the incubator labeled Ferrante and loosely wrapped his diapered form in a blanket. “That’s why Dr. Reynolds isn’t in to see you yet. She had these two deliveries back-to-back, then they asked her to assist with that tourist bus crash that came in right before you two. She was here very late. Everyone was on their toes for hours. One of you was actually sewn up by our cosmetic surgeon so Dr. Reynolds could run to the other. Yes, we hear you, Mr. February,” Wendy said as the baby in the other incubator grew more insistent.

Wendy came across to her, but something in the other baby’s cry gave Octavia a stab of fretfulness. It was disconcerting, but Wendy distracted her, waiting with her baby, saying, “You’ll want to take your arm out of the sleeve of your gown.”

Octavia did, feeling immodest as she bared her breast, even though it was only her and the nurse in this very warm room. The baby Wendy offered her was clearly distressed and famished.

Goodness both babies had a pair of lungs. As Wendy placed her son in her arms, his warm weight filled Octavia with a rush of protective emotions. He was wiggly and endearing, very handsome with a shadow of silky black hair showing from beneath his little blue-and-white-striped cap. His eyelashes and eyebrows were so faint they were barely there, his nose a button, his disgruntled expression almost laughable.

But...

A strange chill went through her.

“That’s what we’ve been calling them. Mr. January and Mr. February,” Wendy chattered on. “Since they were born barely an hour apart, but in different months. Do you have a name picked out? Let him find your nipple,” she prompted.

“I was waiting for my husband to finalize his name,” Octavia replied in a murmur, but broke off as the baby’s arm waved and his little face rooted against the swell of her breast. He was adorable, so cute in his determination. He rather stole her heart in a way, but drawing him to her breast felt wrong.

Oh, dear God, was this what had happened to her mother? She’d finally birthed Octavia, a live baby, and had wanted to meet the basic needs of her daughter, but failed to feel a wash of true, maternal love?

Octavia’s world crashed in on itself. She was such a failure. An utter failure. First as a child, then as a wife. Now as a mother. No wonder no one loved her. She was incapable of feeling the emotion herself.

Tears rushed up to cling to her lashes. She blinked hard. One fell onto the scrunched-up face of the infant. She wiped it away, trying to find something in his tiny features that would provoke that feeling she had had during her pregnancy. The one that had told her this baby was connected to her. Indelibly.

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