The Unwanted Wife(2)

By: Natasha Anders

            “I’m not…” She tried to defend herself, but he made a scoffing sound in the back of his throat before continuing as if she hadn’t spoken.

            “You’ll get your divorce eventually, but there’s something I need to get from you first. You wanted this marriage, remember? You begged for it, I’m sure. So if you want a divorce right now, it’ll come with some heavy penalties. Are you willing to gamble with your cousin’s future?”

            Theresa wouldn’t do it, and Sandro knew it. He had her exactly where he wanted her. There would be no divorce. Not when so much hung in the balance. But there would be changes…Theresa Chloe Noble De Lucci was done being a doormat! She said nothing, choosing to turn and walk away instead. He watched her go, and she could feel his eyes burning into her slender back but he did not call her back. She did not return to the bedroom they had shared since the first day of their marriage, opting instead to head for the library, knowing that she could not sleep another wink. Not in that room, not anymore.

            Hours later, he came downstairs for breakfast. It was a Saturday morning, so he didn’t have any early-morning meetings to rush off to and instead he tended to linger over his newspaper and coffee and largely ignore Theresa. That morning was no different. It was as if their earlier argument hadn’t happened at all. They ate their casual weekend meals in the kitchen and the homey setting lent a false sense of domesticity to the scene. But while Theresa was uncomfortable and tense in the intimate setting, Sandro always remained as cool as the proverbial cucumber.

            Then again, that was nothing new, as he rarely showed emotion. In fact the “discussion” of that morning was the most heated she had ever seen him. He kept his feelings under wraps but had always made his contempt for her more than clear. It was in the way he refused to meet her eyes, the way he could make love to her without kissing her on the mouth, the way he could talk past her when he had something to tell her, while eternally optimistic and stupid Theresa had never been good at hiding her feelings from him. Not from the very moment she’d met him, nearly two years ago. How hopelessly infatuated she had been! How quickly she had fallen in love.

            She vividly recalled their first meeting. He had come to dinner at their house. Her father hadn’t told her much about their guest except that he was the son of an old acquaintance. He had then left her to meet Sandro by herself so that he could make an entrance. It had been one of Jackson Noble’s many “tricks” to keep his business adversaries constantly wrong-footed. He loved getting them on his own turf and had conducted many business deals in his home. He would let Theresa soften them up with her natural warmth, and then he would swoop in while they were still charmed and go in for the kill.

            Theresa hadn’t known about her role in her father’s wheeling and dealing until she was nineteen; before that she had merely been grateful for the opportunity to help her father entertain his important friends. By the time she met Sandro, Theresa was the consummate hostess: charming, sweet, warm on the outside but completely disillusioned on the inside. Her father’s little business parties had always left her feeling used and disheartened.

            Alessandro De Lucci had swooped into their home looking grim and purposeful, like a man ready for battle. He had seemed surprised to see her standing in the huge entrance. She had been wearing a simple green sheath dress, her hair upswept into an elegant chignon, and she had chosen a simple emerald pendant with matching earrings as her only embellishments. He had faltered at the sight of her and frowned in confusion. Theresa, for her part, had been completely riveted by the unexpectedly splendid man who stood in front of her, and for the first time ever her poise had deserted her. She had been unable to utter a single word. He had been beautifully outfitted in a tailor-made business suit, but his windswept hair had contradicted that air of sartorial splendor, giving him a slightly wild appearance. His dark stubble and loosened tie reinforced that ruggedness. He had been like no other man she had ever seen before, and she wanted to know everything there was to know about him.

            Sandro had recovered first. He had taken a step toward her, followed by another and then another, until he stood directly in front of her, so close that his every inhalation of breath caused his chest to lightly brush against her. Theresa had tilted her head back to stare at him in wonder, tracing every angle and curve on his face in fascination.

            “Hello, cara.” His voice, like dark velvet over gravel, had sent a shudder of awareness up her spine. “What’s your name?”

            “Theresa.” She had been helpless to do anything but respond. He had smelled wonderful, and she had found herself leaning toward him to breathe in his scent.

            Theresa remembered every word, every emotion, every sensation of the exchange that had followed.

            “Theresa?” he repeated, his appealing voice going slightly husky. “Bellissima. I’m Alessandro.”

            “Yes,” she said, not making much sense in that moment, and he grinned. It was a beautiful, warm, boyish smile that made him even more handsome.

            “Can you say it?” he asked quietly.

            “Say what?”

            “My name. I want to hear my name on those amazing lips.” He traced a finger over her lips and she stopped breathing completely and moaned. “Say it, cara. Four little syllables—A-les-san-dro. Please?”

            “Alessandro,” she whispered, and he groaned a little.

            “Perfect. You’re perfect, little Theresa.” No one had ever looked at her and seen perfection before. No one had ever smiled at her with so much appreciation and warmth in his eyes before. Theresa had found herself staring back at this appealing stranger, and for the first time in her life, she had felt wanted. Between one heartbeat and the next, Theresa had fallen head over heels in love.

            She shook herself, refusing to dwell on past events that she could not change and instead tried to focus on her present.

            Breakfast passed with agonizing slowness, the silence broken only by the sound of his newspaper as he carefully perused the business section. She barely ate and hated him for being so unaffected by the tension that he could finish a hearty meal. She picked up her dishes and headed to the sink.

            “You have to eat more than one slice of toast,” his voice suddenly growled unexpectedly. “You’re getting much too thin.” The fact that he had noticed what she’d eaten, despite having hardly glanced at her over his newspaper, startled her.

            “I’m not that hungry,” she responded softly, and placed her dishes in the sink.

            “You barely eat enough to keep a sparrow alive.” He lowered his paper and met her eyes for a few seconds before diverting his focus back to the mug of coffee on the table in front of him. The direct eye contact was so unusual that Theresa barely restrained a gasp.

            “I eat enough,” she responded halfheartedly. Normally she would have let it go, but she wanted to see if she could goad him into meeting her eyes again. No such luck; he merely shrugged, neatly folded his newspaper, and dropped it onto the table beside his empty plate. He gulped down the last sip of his coffee before getting up from the table.

            She watched as he stretched, his black T-shirt lifting to reveal the toned and tanned band of flesh at his abdomen. Her mouth went dry at the sight of that dark flesh, and once again she was disgusted by her reaction to his physical presence. She had spent the first year of her marriage believing that Sandro would come to love her. She had valiantly believed that if she loved him enough, he would go back to being the laughing, affectionate man she had known in the first few months after they had met. She still wasn’t completely sure what had caused the change, but from the snide things he sometimes said in passing, she suspected it was her father’s influence. After nearly a year of marriage she had been forced to face reality; he truly hated her. He hated her so much so that he couldn’t bring himself to speak to her, kiss her, touch her outside of bed, or even look at her.