The Marriage He Must Keep(7)

By: Dani Collins



The infant was red-faced and frantic, abrading Alessandro’s nerves with his cries. Just feed him, he thought, unable to fathom why she couldn’t see that’s what the baby wanted.

“And look at that one.” She pointed to the incubator on the other side of the room. It was clearly labeled Kelly.

Alessandro looked from the incubator back to his wife. Then to the fussing infant she held. Then to the nurse. Then back to the incubator.

He was not a stupid man, but he didn’t understand. And it made him uneasy that he didn’t understand. It was too foreign an experience.

“The tags are in order, Mr. Ferrante,” Wendy assured him. “We follow very tight protocols. When the head nurse gets back, she’ll explain. This is your baby.” She pointed to the one that Octavia held.

“Look at that one,” Octavia demanded vehemently enough that Alessandro was impelled across to view the other infant inside the dome.

The boy was on his side, naked but for a diaper, limbs moving in slow flails. He looked forsaken, bawling alone in there, catching at Sandro’s heart. He had the urge to pick him up and try to soothe him. This boy was literally crying out for human touch, but that would have to come from parents with the last name of Kelly. Obviously.

Nevertheless, he found himself unable to lift his gaze, locking on to the few wisps of black hair that poked from beneath the baby’s green-and-white-striped cap. Something in the fine silkiness made Sandro think of the delicate strands at Octavia’s temple and the back of her neck, but the tag on this baby’s ankle read Kelly.

Exhaustion was catching up to him if he was having delusions. Octavia had been through a lot, he reminded himself, using mammoth effort to scale himself back to cool reason. He had thought Octavia one of the most rational people in his life, but she was only human and possibly still foggy from whatever drugs they might be feeding her.

He looked back at her and for once he held her complete attention, as if she was sending silent brain waves at him, trying to induce him toward something.

“She won’t give him to me,” Octavia said, husky voice wavering between acute anger and a deep suffering that tugged at a deep place inside him.

“He’s not your baby, Mrs. Ferrante,” the nurse maintained.

“This is not my son,” Octavia returned, red and frazzled as she tried to calm the baby bellyaching on her shoulder.

Alessandro had to use a long mental reach to find his patience, but he was well practiced at maintaining his composure. Snapping and acting on impulse, no matter how tempting, was not the sort of behavior he exhibited, ever. Italian or not, his mother’s son or not, his displays of passion were confined to the bedroom.

“Bring me a bottle. I’ll feed him,” he ordered the nurse. “My wife is obviously having reservations. It’s her body, so...”

“That is not—I’ll feed my baby,” Octavia cried, looking up at him in a way that was halfway between forceful and vanquished. Betrayed and misunderstood.

Disappointed.

As stung as he was by her rejection of their son, as shocked as he was to see her throw a tantrum, something moved in him. Uncertainty.

But she had to be wrong. Mix-ups didn’t happen. She was holding their baby. Wasn’t she?

Her gradual rejection of him the past months crept over him like a frost. Why didn’t she want him anymore? Why wouldn’t she accept his child?

* * *

Wendy left to prepare a bottle, of course, because when Alessandro spoke, people listened. No one ever jumped like that when Octavia spoke.

And no one had ever managed to look at her quite like that, as if she was something he wanted to scrape off the bottom of his shoe like cold, fetid mud.

Octavia dropped her gaze, unable to meet his eyes. He was far too handsome anyway, shrugging out of his leather aviator jacket so his muscles strained against the clinging knit of the light blue pullover he wore. His stubbled cheeks were the only sign of his long night in the air. The rest of him was crisp gray pants, hair ruffled and starting to curl where it was a little too long on top, and those gray-green eyes that penetrated like a persistent tropical rain.

Everything about him was strength. Level shoulders, steady mouth, composed brow. His face had a perfect bone structure of clean lines, like his maker had used a ruler while drawing his features, leaving sharp angles at his cheekbones and making a straight slope of his nose before finally softening with freehand for his lips.

His sinful lips. She shouldn’t be thinking of all the wonderful things that mouth had done to her. Carnal things.

That mouth was pursed in distaste at her unbelievable claim.

Patting the baby she held, Octavia tried desperately to comfort him while seeking comfort herself. Was she crazy? Primo was always quick to ask her that. Are you on drugs? Have you lost your mind? Do you think like normal people? How could you imagine such a thing?

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