The Marriage He Must Keep(5)

By: Dani Collins



But it didn’t come.

This was wrong. The boy grew more frantic, his high-pitched cries breaking her heart, but there was nothing of herself in him. Nothing familiar. He looked wrong. Not bad or repulsive or ill or damaged. Just...wrong.

He arched his little back and let out demanding, furious squawks.

“The first time is always awkward,” Wendy assured her, reaching to assist. “You’re not the first to cry. Just let him—”

“No,” Octavia said, asserting herself with more strength than she had realized she possessed, but this was the oddest sensation she’d ever felt. She wanted to help this baby. He was obviously hungry and distraught and so helpless. She wanted to feed him, but the words just came out. “This isn’t my baby.”

* * *

Alessandro hadn’t slept. He’d piloted his private jet himself and sped through a mess of winter weather to arrive in London as quickly as possible. It was exactly the sort of recklessness he would lecture anyone else against, but he was here and that was the result he had sought.

On landing, he picked up the message that his son was born. He was being kept in an incubator as a precaution since he was a few weeks premature, but he was otherwise healthy.

Good news, but Primo had said nothing about Octavia, which Alessandro suspected was deliberate. Couldn’t Primo see there was a place for jocular games and this wasn’t it? Alessandro loved his cousin, but Primo was compelled to taunt and make power plays at every turn. When would he grow up and quit swiping at him for a decision made by their grandfather?

Stepping onto the curb next to his pensive cousin, Alessandro demanded, “How is she?”

“How am I to know?” Primo dropped his cigarette and stamped it out, then gave Alessandro’s security detail a look that was difficult to interpret. Like he viewed the bodyguards as an affectation, making Alessandro bristle.

“She doesn’t talk to me,” Primo continued. “Didn’t tell me she was hemorrhaging. I suppose the surgery went well enough, since she’s alive, but it’s like she didn’t want to make it to the hospital in time. This hospital is a joke, by the way. She put herself and the boy at risk. Honestly, Sandro, I told you I wonder about her mental health and this is a perfect example.”

Alive. His heart finally settled into a normal, healthy beat, making him aware of how high his blood pressure had been.

“Women are emotional during pregnancy,” he reminded his cousin, striding into the hospital. “Why do you take these things so personally?” He was such a prima donna, not that Alessandro had ever called him that aloud. He would never hear the end of it, but his cousin’s narcissism grated. Things were fraught enough without Primo waving his hands in the air.

But Primo still had his father and the bunch of them were as animated as any Italian family. Sandro was the wet blanket of the clan, consistently reminding everyone that lack of forethought could have dire consequences.

“It’s more than that, Sandro,” Primo insisted, pacing him. “She says things that don’t make sense.”

Alessandro schooled himself against making a patronizing remark that at least Octavia didn’t constantly border on hysteria, but he had some concerns for her mental state all the same. He’d noticed small inconsistencies in Primo’s reports against what Octavia had told him via text and email. Her odd relationship with her parents, so detached, had made an impression on him from the beginning.

Her mother had a tendency toward depression, Alessandro had come to recognize, but he had hoped his wife wasn’t prone to it, as well. She’d been bashful in their early weeks of marriage, gradually opening up in a way that had delighted him, but she’d become downright withdrawn in the past months, which worried him.

She had been pregnant, though. He’d watched enough sisters and cousins go through the process to know that every woman behaved differently as she came to terms with the way her body and life was changing. He had told himself that all of this was normal and temporary.

Primo steered him up the stairs then down the hall to an empty room. He should have brought flowers, Alessandro realized belatedly, and was startled by a lurch in his middle as he stared at the unoccupied bed. He had been counting on seeing her.

“She must still be in the nursery,” Primo said, stepping into the hall to point toward the end. “They may not let you in. She was being very touchy, didn’t want to let me see him. Honestly, Sandro, this animosity she has... We’re family. I understand that she’s an only child and is jealous of me, that it threatens her that you and I are so close, but I’m only trying to look out for her. You asked me to. Will you explain that to her? Again? Please?” He tagged on the last with a testy roll of his eyes.

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