The Unwanted Wife(7)

By: Natasha Anders

            “Humor me,” he prompted, and she exhaled shakily, before getting up with as much dignity as she could muster. She felt shaky and nauseous and couldn’t stomach being around him anymore. She took an unsteady step away from the table, swaying so badly that he jumped up and clasped one large hand around her slender arm to steady her.

            “Theresa?” He sounded almost shaken.

            “I’m fine.” She shrugged off his hand. “I just got up too quickly. Now, please excuse me, I have things to do!”

            “Wait…” he said urgently. “I asked you a question.”

            “A stupid question that you already know the answer to,” she retorted.

            “Maybe I’d like to hear the answer again.” He was being a total ass about this, and not for the first time in her life, Theresa felt like hitting him.

            “Oh God, why do you insist on doing this to me?” she groaned.

            “You really loved me, didn’t you?” He breathed in amazement, and she shot him a haunted look before turning away.

            “You may rest assured that whatever I felt for you when we married is no longer an issue. I want a divorce, and nothing you do or say can induce me to stay with you,” she insisted, and he surprised her by nodding thoughtfully.

            “Yes. I’m beginning to discern that,” he acknowledged softly. There was nothing more to be said, and she left the room with her head held high and her dignity intact.

            She was a mass of nerves when she got to the bedroom and sank down on the bed, feeling quivery and still vaguely nauseous. She felt like she had just gone ten rounds with a heavyweight boxer, but she also thought that he had actually listened to her and that she had made some headway. Feeling like she needed to speak to someone about what had just happened, she picked up the telephone receiver from its cradle on the nightstand, but she was taken aback to hear ringing on the other end. Realizing that Sandro was on the extension downstairs, she was about to put the phone down when the ringing stopped abruptly.

            “Jackson Noble.” Her father’s voice snapped into her ear, and her eyes widened in shock. Sandro and her father did not get along, and she was surprised that Sandro had willingly called the older man. More than a little curious, she hesitated before replacing the receiver, but that brief hesitation proved to be enough to keep her riveted to the phone.

            “Your daughter wants a divorce,” was Sandro’s opening sally, and Theresa’s fingers tightened around the phone.

            “What are you talking about? Divorce is not an option and you know that!” her father astounded her by responding.

            “Yes,” Sandro’s voice was drier than the desert in summer. “I know that, but it appears that she does not. You didn’t tell her about our agreement?” What agreement?

            “Of course not,” Jackson Noble scoffed contemptuously. “She would never have married you if I had. The little twit fancied herself in love with you!” Her father laughed nastily and Theresa winced. Her free arm wrapped around her midriff as she tried to keep her nausea at bay. Sandro did not react to her father’s last statement.

            “I thought she’d gone into this marriage consenting to sell herself for the sake of your sadistic little contract. Daddy’s good little girl to the very end!” he said after a long pause.

            “Would it have changed your mind if you’d known you were marrying a naïve little fool who thought you epitomized her every dream come true?”

            “And she has no idea about the terms of our agreement?” Sandro asked slowly.

            “Well, I assumed she would discover them from you eventually…”

            “Are you telling me that she married me believing that I was in love with her?” He sounded incredulous that Theresa would ever have believed him in love with her.

            “Of course.” Her father snorted.

            “And you just went ahead and let her believe that?”

            “I know it was a ridiculous assumption on her part but it played right into our hands. It was like watching a sleepy kitten fall in love with a roaring lion,” her father laughed, he actually laughed, after saying that. “But I doubt she would have married you otherwise.”

            “‘Played into our hands? There is no us here, Jackson. I had nothing to do with your obscene little scheme.”

            “Oh, spare me your sanctimonious drivel, Sandro,” her father scoffed. “It smacks of hypocrisy when you gained a hell of a lot out of this deal. And even if you’d known about Theresa’s expectations, it would have made no difference to the eventual outcome. You know that as well as I do.”

            “She’s your daughter!” Sandro suddenly roared. “That should have meant something to you.”

            “Of course it meant something to me. It meant that she could at last be of some use to me! Her role in my life is now quite vital. So you’d better keep her happy, get her pregnant, and stop her prattling on about divorce. You know what you stand to lose if your marriage dissolves before I get what I want.”

            “I had a life before we made this ridiculous arrangement and I would like to get back to it at some point,” Sandro said. Theresa bit her lip hard to stop herself from crying out at the knowledge that her husband had always considered their marriage to be something outside of his real life. She had never met his family, all of whom lived in Italy. He visited them every other month for at least two weeks and never bothered asking her to join him. Of course he had never wanted them to meet her, not when she was just his “temporary” and unwanted wife.

            “Well, you know what it would take to get out and I’m amazed that it’s taken you so long to accomplish that task.”

            Sandro remained silent for a moment.

            “You know we had a setback, it’s been difficult to recover from that!” he responded. Theresa’s brow furrowed, and her sweaty hand tightened around the receiver, which was practically welded to her ear. She tried to figure out what they were talking about. What was this goal that would set her free? It had something to do with a mutual business interest if the conversation was anything to go by. She would do anything to help Sandro accomplish whatever he needed to if it meant she could get out sooner. And once she was free, she would walk away from them both and never look back.

            “Yes…that damned girl can’t do anything right, can she?” her father suddenly grated, and Theresa’s head came up when she realized that they were talking about her. What on earth did…? “The one thing you’d expect the woman to be able to do and she botched even that.” Oh God! Theresa finally understood what they had been referring to in such dry terms and she nearly doubled over in pain.

            “No one was to blame for what happened,” Sandro shocked her by saying. “It was just one of those things.”

            “Regardless,” her father dismissed. “Sire a boy on the brat and be done with it. Surely the task shouldn’t be too difficult for a strapping young man like you? After that, you’re most welcome to obtain your divorce and live happily ever after with that Francesca woman of yours. ‘The love of your life’—that’s what the press once called her, right?”

            Francesca? Theresa didn’t know what to process first, the fact that this whole marriage had been about her being a broodmare for whatever sick goal they had in mind, or the fact that Sandro was in love with another woman. Both bits of information hurt so much that Theresa felt like she had been physically assaulted. She’d always assumed that Sandro’s desire for a son was fueled by his Italian male ego; the need to propagate his line and all that. The thought that it was part of some kind of bargain that he had made with her father had never even crossed her mind! Even though she had hated the way he could never touch her without that ultimate goal in mind, she had always believed that it was something he wanted, a son to carry on his name and an heir to inherit his fortune. Instead the baby would only ever have been a way for him to gain his freedom and carry on his life with Francesca.