The Unwanted Wife(3)

By: Natasha Anders

            Theresa had finally realized that there would be no thaw; their marriage was a perpetual winter wasteland, and if she ever wanted to feel the warmth of the sun on her face again, she had to get out of it. Unfortunately, escaping would be trickier than she had thought. She would have to find a way out that did not include hurting her cousin. Lisa and Rick Palmer were expecting their first baby, and while Lisa was having a fairly easy time of it, Theresa was concerned that anything that would upset her could be potentially harmful to her or the baby. Also, while Rick’s advertising agency was fairly successful, Lisa had always prided herself on the fact that she held her own financially in their relationship. Taking her bookshop away could put too much strain on their relationship, and Theresa didn’t want that on her conscience.

            She sighed heavily and started to do the dishes. She liked to do little household tasks despite the fact that her thirty-one-year-old husband, who had worked his way up from mailroom clerk to the president of the bank his father owned, “had more money than God,” as her father had once put it. Theresa had even enthusiastically insisted on doing some of the cooking herself. They employed a housecleaning staff, as was practical when one lived in a ten-bedroom, five-bathroom monster of a house.

            Because their marriage united two prominent families, the press avidly followed the intimate details of their marriage, yet Theresa tried to cling to what she believed was a semblance of normalcy. On Saturdays the staff had the day off and Theresa liked to pick up after herself and Sandro rather than wait for the maids to get to it later. She had never had a “normal” life, and she fondly imagined that these tasks kept her grounded in reality. Sandro didn’t pretend to understand her need to have a hand in the everyday running of the house and had mockingly accused her of playing house once, shortly after their wedding. He had never seemed to notice it again after that. She stared down at the dishes she had ready to be placed in the dishwasher and quite abruptly abandoned the task halfway through before heading upstairs and leaving Sandro still in the kitchen.

            She changed her clothes from sweat suit to jeans and T-shirt, dragging her vibrant, waist-length Titian hair into a ponytail and tugging on a denim jacket to ward off the early autumn chill. On her way to the front door, she passed by the den where Sandro had retreated with his laptop.

            “I’m going out,” she casually called through the open door, and his head jerked up while his eyes flared with some indefinable emotion.

            “Where…?” he began.

            “I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.” She dashed out before he could utter another syllable, grabbing her shoulder bag and car keys on the way out. She had her reliable silver Mini Cooper fired up by the time he eventually made it down to the front door. With a cheery little wave that she knew had to grate, she reversed out of the driveway and headed out. She had no clue where she was going and knew that there would be hell to pay when she got back—Sandro liked to keep her in a little box labeled “wife,” to be brought out only for social occasions when he needed someone to act as his perfect hostess. Any sign of mutiny from her was bound to have unpleasant and unforeseen consequences. Still, it felt good just to do something so defiantly out of character. Her cellular phone started ringing seconds later and when she stopped at a red light she switched it off and tossed it aside.

            It was still early, barely nine, and because it was Saturday, the roads were a bit congested. Still, she felt free and she headed from the relative tranquility of Clifton, one of the wealthiest and most beautiful suburbs in Cape Town, toward the city. Usually she would go to Newlands and spend the day with Rick and Lisa…but she knew that it was the first place Sandro would look. He knew how limited her social life was. She had never made friends easily; her father had kept her isolated throughout her childhood, and her only real friend growing up had been her cousin Lisa.

            Her family had founded one of the first banks in the country in the 1800s and had always been leaders in the rarefied reaches of society. Jackson Noble maintained that someone of Theresa’s “breeding and background” shouldn’t be allowed to mingle with just anybody, which had left Theresa’s options for companionship severely limited. She had grown up playing by herself, with Lisa, or—when her father wasn’t around to see—with the housekeeper’s children. The loneliness and isolation had carried over into her adulthood and even now, she spent most of her free time with Rick and Lisa or learning new recipes from Phumsile, her housekeeper. She spent more time chatting with Phumsile than she did speaking with Sandro. The loneliness was a cycle that Theresa didn’t know how to break.

            Now she found herself contemplating all the things she could do with this unexpected time and, deciding to stick with the trend of the day, opted for the most out-of-character thing she could think of: going to the movies. It was the purest form of escapism, and if there was anything that Theresa desperately wanted, it was to escape from her life. So she spent her day going from one cinema to the next—laughing, crying, cringing, or jumping, depending on the plot. It was the most unproductive day she had ever spent in her life and she loved it.

            By the time the last show of the day finished it was after midnight and she had a throbbing headache from sitting in darkness and the flickering light of the projector all day and a slightly upset stomach from a diet of soda and popcorn. As she headed back to her car, the sudden reality of her situation sank in and she started trembling. She didn’t know what to expect from Sandro. She had never seen him display anything other than icy control, even in bed, but it was the first time she had ever done anything like this. She always strove to be the perfect wife and perfect daughter, always putting Sandro or her father’s wishes first, and something as innocent as going to the movies without telling Sandro seemed beyond reckless. While she knew he would never physically hurt her, his potential to hurt her emotionally was unlimited.

             The house was ablaze with light when she got back, and the dread made her stomach heave. She swallowed down her nausea before parking her car and heading toward the front door, which was wrenched open before she even had the chance to get her keys out.

            She gulped slightly at the intimidating form of her husband looming in the doorway and stifled a yelp when he grabbed her arm and yanked her inside. He slammed the door shut, gripping both her shoulders in his huge hands and backed her up until she was leaning against the door. It took her a few seconds to get over her disorientation and grasp that he wasn’t hurting her. His eyes feverishly raked up and down her trembling body, until he was apparently satisfied that everything was in relatively good condition, and then he raised his eyes to meet hers full on.

            His eyes, which she’d had so little opportunity to actually look into of late, were heartbreakingly beautiful. They were chocolate brown and set between incredibly thick, blue-black lashes and beneath sweeping brows, and right now they were smoldering with something that, in a less controlled man, might have been described as fury. His hands released her shoulders and crept up to her face. She flinched slightly at the contact, but they remained gentle, moving to cup her jaw, his large thumbs brushing over her cheeks. Her breathing became ragged when he leaned toward her, dipping his head closer to hers. He was so near she could feel his clean, warm breath on her face. He tilted her jaw slightly and she groaned, aching for his lips on hers, wanting it so desperately her legs had just about turned to jelly, and the only thing that kept her from falling to a puddle at his feet was his solidly muscled body braced against hers. She could feel his erection throbbing against her stomach and knew he wanted her as desperately as she wanted him. His lush mouth was centimeters away from hers, and when he spoke, his lips brushed against her mouth.

            “You pull a stunt like this again, tesoro mia, and I swear to God, you’ll regret it!”

            She flinched as reality brought her back down to earth with a thump. He let her go and she slid down the door to land at his feet. He raked a contemptuous glance over her, the ice back and the fire gone.

            “Where have you been?” he asked calmly. She staggered to her feet, humiliated that she had allowed him to affect her to such an extent that she would fall at his feet. She tilted her head back defiantly and refused to answer him. “Theresa, I’m warning you…”