The Marriage He Must KeepBy: Dani Collins
Claiming his heir
When Alessandro Ferrante dutifully married shy heiress Octavia, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that his convenient bride was as sweetly sensual as she was beautiful. But when their newborn baby is swapped at the hospital, their fragile marriage reaches crisis point.
…and his wife!
With her baby safely back in her arms, the revelation that Alessandro’s family was involved leaves Octavia wanting nothing more to do with him. But Alessandro won’t take no for an answer...after all, in the bedroom she always said yes! He will seduce his wife again and ensure Octavia—and his child—are his forever!
“You were happy in our marriage, Octavia. You can be happy again.”
Because he decreed it?
“It wasn’t a marriage, Alessandro. It was an affair.” Her voice thinned and her cheeks burned. It was hard to face the truth. Hard to speak it. “You took three weeks off work, and I had a lover for the first time in my life. We did nothing but eat, swim and make love. Of course I was happy. But the minute we returned to reality, you set me aside.”
The injury of that slow realization, as their sense of closeness had been eroded daily by neglect, made her voice unsteady. “I wasn’t sharing your life. I was the sex toy you took to bed at night.”
His head went back. “That’s insulting to both of us.”
“You didn’t have any use for me once we were told I couldn’t have sex.” She looked down at her hands knotting in her lap, peeled three fingers into a salute that she held up. “Three duty visits,” she reminded him.
He looked away. His grip on the stem of his glass looked as if it would snap the delicate strand.
“Is it any wonder I believed Primo when he said you were cheating?” she added.
“I didn’t even think of other women while we were apart. I only want you,” he said in a tone that fell somewhere between frustration and fury.
ANOTHER KNIFING PAIN speared into her lower back, radiating like a spiked belt around her middle and clenching her torso in a merciless fist that stole her breath.
“Please call Alessandro,” Octavia Ferrante begged in a pant, knotting her fists in the blanket beneath her as she braced herself for the next contraction. She was starting to fear that something would happen and she would never hear his voice again.
Her husband’s cousin Primo Ferrante only sighed. His hold on the curtain dropped with disinterest as he turned away from the window. “I told you. He said he would come if the baby is born alive. Otherwise he’s not going to put himself out.”
She didn’t want to believe it. Primo seemed to draw more enjoyment daily from tormenting her. She no longer trusted him and was sure this was more of his games.
But after this many months of being exiled to London by her husband, she was beginning to believe at least some of what Primo said. He was certainly correct in labeling her soft in the head. She’d let her life spiral beyond her grip. Pregnancy was an odd state, making you feel vulnerable in tiny degrees so you didn’t realize how defenseless you were until the need to fight arose and there was nothing to draw on. She had insulated herself here, licking her wounds over Alessandro’s rejection, and suddenly she had no resources. No one to help her.
Rebellion had backfired on her in the past so she rarely dissented, but she’d never been weak. At one time she’d been confident in herself, at least, if not truly assertive. She’d even felt a certain pride in those first few weeks of her marriage—
Another pain tore through her, making her grit her teeth to hold back a scream.
Alessandro, she silently begged, as a fresh wave of perspiration rose to ice her skin. But she knew all about men who wanted live births of their sons. Maybe Primo was telling the truth about her husband’s lack of concern.
Call my mother then, she almost said as another pain gripped her, but her mother was also in Italy and would have even less sympathy. Eight times she’d gone through this. Seven of them fruitless labors. Eight, really, since Octavia was hardly counted as a valid heir.
Female. Only good for one thing. This.
Octavia had lived in fear all her life that she would suffer as her mother had, losing babies before she could deliver them. For good reason, apparently. This was not the idealistic, natural process the books promised. This was torture. The baby was coming a month too early, and the pain was terrifying. Something was wrong. She knew it.
“Where is the ambulance?” she cried as the pain throttled back enough that she could catch her breath and speak. “The clinic said to call one as soon as I went into labor. Did you do it?”