The Marriage He Must Keep(8)

By: Dani Collins

Months of those sorts of queries had left her questioning her own sanity. Why was she in London, isolated from all that was familiar, carrying a baby the father seemed to care nothing about? Why wasn’t she fighting for a better situation? At the very least, she should have insisted on some sort of contact or acknowledgement from her husband. Why hadn’t she demanded that he speak to her firsthand, not second?

Being here in London had been like boarding school, something to be endured. She hadn’t been in physical peril, merely unhappy. Her mother had spent her entire life unhappy. Such was the lot of a wife who was a pawn in male ambition. Who would have had any pity for Octavia? Poor little rich girl, whining because she had to live in a mansion with servants and all the shopping she could stand.

Being the tolerant, patient sort, she’d thought her husband would eventually show up and make her feel special again. She had believed in the vision of a warm and loving family, that was the problem, yet here she was being denied even the right to hold her own baby.

Being tolerant and patient and obedient and dutiful were all starting to look like the stupidest things she’d ever done.

Rocking jerkily, she gently bounced the baby she held, mind whirling. That baby over there looked like Alessandro. Couldn’t he see it? She’d argued with the nurse until she couldn’t stay on her feet any longer or risk dropping the baby she’d been given. The woman had refused to let her have him, but it was obvious to anyone with functioning eyes. Why wasn’t her husband backing her up? If he couldn’t see it, perhaps she really was cracked.

But his cry, that baby’s cry, muted as it was by the incubator, was tearing her up. So was this one’s. She felt like the worst person in the world, unable to help him, but she couldn’t feed him from her breast. That boy over there was her son. That was the baby her body yearned to nurture. She knew it.

Into the din of crying infants and the staccato glide of her chair, the door gave a click and a woman’s chattering voice entered.

“—expected to deliver naturally, but the cord— Oh, hello. I heard we were competing for the surgeon’s attention last night. I’m Sorcha Kelly.” The blonde in the wheelchair was beautiful. Her hair was pulled into a clip and her oval face was clear and pale. She hadn’t puffed up the way Octavia had. When her curious gaze lifted to Alessandro’s, it made Octavia tense with jealousy.

Bracing herself, Octavia glanced up, certain Alessandro would be noticing and responding to a smile that wasn’t exactly an invitation, but what man could resist such fresh-faced beauty?

He offered a polite nod and a distant introduction. “Alessandro Ferrante. My wife, Octavia, and our son, Lorenzo. That is the name we agreed upon, is it not?” he said to Octavia, willing her to accept that much at least.

All she could manage was a tiny nod and a shrug. Yes, she wanted to call her son Lorenzo, but that name didn’t match this baby.

Alessandro’s dour look stilled the air in her throat, making it impossible for her to say so. Why did he have to look at her with such disdain? She could practically hear him thinking, Just like Mother, but she wasn’t making a scene on purpose!

She opened her mouth to plead her case, but Sorcha Kelly was holding out her arms for the baby that her nurse had fetched and loosely wrapped. The nurse asked Alessandro to turn his back and he did with a brisk apology, dragging his gaze off the other infant and giving Sorcha the privacy she needed to settle in the rocker with one breast bared.

A lightning streak of anguish burned through Octavia, singeing her heart into a dark, powdered coal as she watched Sorcha close her arms around the baby.

“I’ve been waiting to meet you, Mr. Kelly.” Sorcha’s expression was filled with anticipation and sweet joy.

Octavia finally found her voice. “That’s—”

“Octavia,” Alessandro said, his tone soft yet deadly.

She took a shaken breath, glanced into eyes that might have been shadowed with something more than disparagement. Offense? Injury? It caused a dip and roll in her chest, but anxiety had her quickly shifting her attention back to Sorcha.

The other woman had cocked her head. Her brows pulled together as she smiled crookedly at the overwrought infant she held. The nurse urged Sorcha to put the baby to her breast.

“I don’t think—” Sorcha’s gaze came up and straight across to the baby Octavia was trying to soothe, rubbing his back and rocking him.

“The bottle, sir,” Wendy said, returning to hand something to Alessandro.

Octavia was aware of them in her periphery, but her entire world fuzzed at the edges as she met Sorcha’s troubled gaze. The only thing that mattered was that baby Sorcha held. Her baby.

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