The Marriage He Must Keep(6)

By: Dani Collins

Alessandro hadn’t asked his cousin to look after his wife. He had said once that it had been kind of Primo to take Octavia to her doctor appointment. Frankly, he’d hoped Primo’s staying at the mansion would help the two of them get past that small discord from the night they’d all met, but it hadn’t happened. Sensing the tension, Alessandro had actually suggested Primo find other accommodation when he had been here at Christmas. Primo had assured him the renovations to his apartment were almost finished.

“I’m here to look after her now,” Alessandro said, and, since the death threats hadn’t been repeated, he added, “She and the baby will come back to Naples with me once she’s released. You can focus on work.”

“About that, there are things we need to discuss,” Primo said with abrupt urgency.

“They’ll have to keep,” Alessandro said, thinking that Octavia was not the only one who was jealous. Primo couldn’t stand being upstaged ever, which was the foundation of his acts of rivalry. Normally, Alessandro would do what he could to keep the peace, but today he had higher priorities. “I would like to meet my son, Primo. Go back to Mother’s and get some rest.”

He motioned to a nurse as he continued toward the nursery, vaguely aware of Primo falling back, but the focus of his attention was now firmly fixed on Octavia and his child. “Thank you,” he said to the nurse after identifying himself and being buzzed into the nursery.

It was a surprisingly noisy place. Babies were crying, a nurse was speaking plaintively, and Octavia’s voice, always clear and modulated, never whiny or harsh, said firmly, “I can see he’s hungry and I’m telling you I will feed him, but with a bottle.”

“Octavia?” Alessandro moved forward and the nurse standing in front of her stepped aside, an uneasy look on her face.

The anticipation rising in him skewed to concern. His wife looked...breakable. Wan. As if she was barely holding herself together. Her eyes, dark as the petals of black pansies, were pools of fraught distress. Her luscious mouth, the lips he loved to devour, were pinched in torment. The roundness in her face and bare shoulder took him by surprise. Her weight gain through the pregnancy hadn’t been tremendous, but he hadn’t seen her often enough to be used to it. It made her seem that much softer. Vulnerable.

And so feminine, still so beautiful and womanly with her hair loose and her face clean of makeup that his libido responded. How? How could he not go five seconds in her presence without experiencing a rush of heat to his groin and a lurch of possessiveness in his gut? It was maddening to have such a primeval reaction and not be able to control it.

For the merest hint of a second, as their gazes locked, he saw a flash of...something. The thing he saw when she woke beside him. The smile that began to glimmer before it reached her lips.

Then it was gone.

She adjusted her hospital gown self-consciously and shifted the baby up to her shoulder, rocking with agitation in the gliding chair, trying anxiously to soothe the baby who sounded positively desolate.

“Alessandro.” She kept her lashes lowered.

Not caro. Not even Sandro. He tried to recall the last time she’d greeted him in a way that sounded the least bit welcoming or friendly.

When had she last really looked at him? Met his gaze for longer than a millisecond?

But if he had a moment of regret that leaving her in London had impacted their marriage, his sense of duty smothered it. Every decision he made was for the sake of the Ferrante family. He had shunned marrying for love quite deliberately. His wife was an asset, a strength, not a weakness.

Still, her rebuff grated after his difficult journey to reach her.

The nurse gave him a pleading, I don’t know what to do look, putting him further on edge. He loathed emotional chaos and had been drowning in it since Primo’s call. Why the hell wasn’t anyone taking things in hand here?

“Is there a problem?” he asked, taking control himself.

“Your wife wants to use a bottle, but you don’t want to introduce one this early,” the nurse insisted to Octavia. “It causes nipple confusion. He might not take to the breast after.”

“You don’t want to feed him yourself?” Alessandro was genuinely shocked. He and Octavia hadn’t talked about how she would feed the baby and women had a choice about these things, he supposed. He wasn’t sure why he took her decision like a slap, but coming on the heels of her cool greeting, he had never felt so summarily rejected in his life.

“Look at him,” she said with a tremble in her voice, and showed him the baby.

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