The Marriage He Must Keep(4)

By: Dani Collins

Because it was a boy? Octavia tried not to feel bitter. Her father would be pleased, she supposed. Oddly, she discovered that she no longer cared what the men in her life expected of her. There was only one male to whom she wanted to answer and that would be on her own terms as his mother.

Still, part of her fluttered with a mixture of excitement and anxiety, knowing she’d finally see Alessandro again. He hadn’t been here since Christmas and that had been a very brief few days. They hadn’t even shared a bed, let alone the physical loving she’d been craving. Her condition had cut that off months ago.

Primo was telling the truth about one thing, she supposed. Alessandro not only thought she was fat and unattractive, but was taking his pleasure elsewhere.

So she shouldn’t be feeling like this: as conflicted as she’d been in the weeks leading up to their wedding, when she’d been tormenting herself with worry over their wedding night. Would he think she was pretty? Would she please him?

With a pang in her heart, she recalled how silly it had been to stress about that side of things. Lovemaking had turned out to be the least of her concerns. Once they got past her virginal inhibitions, she’d adored making love with him, discovering things about herself and the fit of man and woman that astonished her.

But sex—or rather, lack thereof—had become yet one more way Alessandro had been showing her how little she interested him these days. It made her feel needy and pathetic that she ached for his attention, both in bed and out.

She’d learned long ago to roll that lonely emptiness into a wall of aloof indifference, though. She just wished she could feel aloof or indifferent at his impending arrival. But she couldn’t.

“Mrs. Ferrante,” the nurse, Wendy, greeted her as she brought in the empty wheelchair she’d fetched. “Let’s take you to your little man.”

Primo made no move to help Octavia and she was grateful, even though her emergency surgery had annihilated her abdominal muscles and the anesthetic still had her feeling nauseous and weak.

He did follow them from the room to the door of the nursery, though, obviously under the impression he could enter with them.

Wendy, bless her, said, “I’m sorry. Parents only in the nursery.”

“Octavia,” he prompted firmly.

“You’ll have to meet Alessandro and show him where we are,” she replied innocently.

The hospital wasn’t that big. Alessandro was a resourceful man. He’d find her just fine, but Wendy was buzzing them into the nursery with her security card and the bright, warm room washed over Octavia like a hug of welcome. Beyond the windows, beams of morning sunlight broke the gray clouds hovering over London, sending angelic rays onto the rooftops and giving Octavia a lift of hope for the first time in ages.

“He’s been calling for you,” the heavyset nurse inside the nursery said. Her name tag read Hannah. “I’ll fetch Miss Kelly while you’re in here to keep an eye on this one,” she said to Wendy, nodding at the only other baby in the room.

“The calm after the storm,” Octavia said as she gingerly moved herself into one of the padded rocking chairs. “The emergency room was a zoo when I arrived last night.”

The chaos had been alarming, adding to what was already a frightening situation. Tears of relief stung her eyes as she finally felt as if she could relax and hold the baby she’d been so worried for.

“I heard,” Wendy responded as she gathered up the fussing baby from the incubator labeled Ferrante and loosely wrapped his diapered form in a blanket. “That’s why Dr. Reynolds isn’t in to see you yet. She had these two deliveries back-to-back, then they asked her to assist with that tourist bus crash that came in right before you two. She was here very late. Everyone was on their toes for hours. One of you was actually sewn up by our cosmetic surgeon so Dr. Reynolds could run to the other. Yes, we hear you, Mr. February,” Wendy said as the baby in the other incubator grew more insistent.

Wendy came across to her, but something in the other baby’s cry gave Octavia a stab of fretfulness. It was disconcerting, but Wendy distracted her, waiting with her baby, saying, “You’ll want to take your arm out of the sleeve of your gown.”