The Marriage He Must Keep(9)By: Dani Collins
Sorcha’s gaze clashed with Octavia’s, apprehensive and confused. Gently, Octavia lowered the baby she held so Sorcha could see his face.
They were only a few meters apart. It was very easy to see Sorcha’s eyes widen in shock, to interpret her expression as the kind of terrified alarm that only a mother whose baby was in peril would wear. As if he was falling out a window.
“How did you—” Sorcha began in a tone of accusation, then quickly bared the ankle of the boy she held, hand shaking as she looked at his tag. Her panicked gaze came back to Octavia’s.
“They wouldn’t believe me,” Octavia said, voice so thin she barely heard it herself.
“Believe what?” Sorcha’s nurse asked, while the nurse who’d been torturing Octavia tried to stammer out statements of protocol again.
“My wife is confused,” Alessandro said and bent to reach for the baby Octavia held.
She tightened her arms around him, refusing to give up the infant.
At the same time, Sorcha blurted, “Don’t. Don’t touch him.” She struggled to her feet and hitched her gown over her breast, then came across to Octavia.
“No one would believe me,” Octavia told her again, motherly instincts rising hard as her own baby approached. Her eyes stung and her heart hurt. “I wanted to feed him, but he needs his own mama and they wouldn’t give me mine...”
Her words garbled into a choke of emotion as she and Sorcha clumsily exchanged infants.
“I believe you,” Sorcha said with a wobbling smile, kissing her baby’s cheek as she took him, drawing him close against her chest with tender care. “Of course we know our own babies.”
Octavia nodded in gratitude, thinking she would be Sorcha’s slave forever, she was so thankful. This was Lorenzo. He smelled right and fit her arms and his skin was so soft and right against her lips. His little body was startlingly strong despite being racked by crying for a good twenty minutes. Oh, he had his father’s ferociously determined face, looking as though he would get exactly what he wanted no matter what he had to do.
He latched perfectly, quieting in synchronicity with his nursery mate.
Octavia sighed with relief and exchanged a teary smile with Sorcha, then became aware of the thick silence. The nurses were staring at them, mouths agape.
Alessandro was thunderstruck.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Alessandro asked Octavia, feeling as though he’d hit black ice and was skidding toward an abyss. Never in his life had he seen anything like what had just happened.
“Can’t you see they mixed them up? Look at him.” She gently adjusted the blanket with a trembling hand, ensuring the baby was kept warm, but allowing Alessandro to see the boy’s face.
Now she showed an inclination toward love, but to whose child?
Was he as unhinged as she was that he thought he saw a resemblance in that baby’s features to the various scrunched faces he’d seen on his infant nephews? He’d always thought all babies looked alike at that age, but...
Octavia’s frenetic pace on the rocker had slowed. She looked far more at peace, much more like the composed woman he knew her to be. It was finally quiet enough in here that he could think, but he simply couldn’t wrap his brain around what had just happened. Had she somehow conspired with that other woman to switch his own son with a stranger’s? Or had the hospital genuinely mixed up something as important as two babies?
“It’s impossible,” one of the nurses said, echoing his thoughts. “We have very strict protocols. They couldn’t have been switched. You shouldn’t be doing this. You both have it wrong.”
“You have it wrong,” the other mother, Sorcha, said. “Test them. You’ll see we’re right.”
Alessandro was trying to afford that woman some privacy, but he could see Octavia staring over at Sorcha with solidarity in her expression that was so fervent, it gave him pause. She had welcomed this second infant so tenderly. What if she was right?
“This is beyond anything I’ve ever encountered,” he pronounced, cutting into a discussion between the nurses about how completely impossible a mix-up could be. “Run the tests. Immediately.”
“Of course, sir, but the doctor will have to order it. I’ll phone straightaway,” she assured him.
“Didn’t I suggest tests?” Sorcha murmured dryly to Octavia.
“Women’s voices are so high only dogs hear them,” Octavia retorted, revealing the sense of humor she’d kept hidden from Alessandro since the first weeks after their honeymoon.
As soon as she realized he’d heard her, she sobered, expression ironing into the passive mask he was beginning to realize was a special look she adopted just for him. It shot an arrow of discomfort into his chest, lodging there and vibrating, but he dismissed it, determined to get to the bottom of the babies’ identities. That was paramount.