The Marriage He Must Keep(10)

By: Dani Collins

“Maybe you should stick with the bottle, Mrs. Ferrante, until things are made clear,” her nurse said.

“Things are very clear,” Octavia said, lifting heavy eyelids, but sounding surprisingly fierce. “This baby is mine and I’m not letting him out of my arms until you’ve all accepted that.”

Her gaze shifted to slam into Alessandro’s with banked animosity, including him in her statement. More than just a mother bear, she was a jungle cat capable of clawing him to pieces and eating him alive if he crossed her.

Even more unexpectedly, her revelation of such pure aggressive emotion turned him on.

* * *

Lorenzo was surprisingly heavy. Octavia wished they could all go back to her room where she could lie down with her baby and rest.

She wanted to ask Alessandro if he wanted to hold his son. He should have demanded the opportunity by now, she thought, but he was too busy conducting a razor-sharp interview of the nurses on their newborn-tagging procedures.

Even she had to admit, given the precautions in place, the chance of a mix-up was very low. Still, it had happened. She couldn’t prove it, but she knew it.

A rush of tears threatened to overwhelm her as she faced the challenge of substantiating what was merely an instinct.

Fortunately Dr. Reynolds arrived and involved the hospital administration immediately. “DNA tests take time. We’ll do one, of course, but we’ll do a quick blood test right now,” Dr. Reynolds said. “It won’t be conclusive, but it could certainly determine if a baby is not with the right pair of parents.”

“Excellent.” Alessandro began rolling up his sleeve, so used to having people jump the minute a decision was made, he expected nothing less than to have a needle plunged into his arm right this second. “I believe I’m a B, but test to confirm it.”

It all took time, however. A technician from the lab had to come up. The hospital administrator wanted to witness and sign off on the labeling, and interview both mothers. The night staff was being called in for questioning. Security was reviewing records of comings and goings to see if there’d been interference.

At least Octavia had an ally in Sorcha. Yes, Alessandro was determined to get to the bottom of things, but Octavia couldn’t help feeling that he was blaming her. She’d seen that hard-faced look before, usually when his mother was around, saying outrageous things and demanding to be the center of attention.

When he came across to her, she almost flinched from his hand on her shoulder.

He noticed, shock flickering in his expression before he gentled his touch into a soothing caress.

“I’m going with the administrator to speak with their head of security.” He still sounded gruff and looked terrible. Tired and stressed, but that air of grit was oddly reassuring as he added, “I want to see for myself whether their procedures were followed. This is unacceptable. There shouldn’t be any doubt.”

His gaze dropped to the sleeping baby and a flash of torture cut across his expression before he suppressed it. He might not be ready to believe her—he was too much a man of facts and process to follow someone’s gut instinct, even his wife’s—but he wasn’t discounting her, either.

Before she could react, he cupped the side of her face and leaned in. His mouth covered hers in a brief, damp openmouthed kiss that shot a jolt of excitement through her, stopping her breath and curling her toes in her slippers. It was over before she could respond, but his mouth had been hot enough to brand, turning her inside out.

He straightened and his gaze delved into hers before she could hide the yearning he had provoked. With a final caress of his thumb against her cheek, he left.

His absence always left her bereft, no matter how much she hated herself for being dependent on him, but there was more. She felt as though he’d just promised to fight for her, which was deeply heartening after she’d pretty much given up on his wanting anything to do with her.

Maybe that was wishful thinking, though.

“He reminds me of Enrique’s father,” Sorcha murmured after Alessandro was gone. She rocked gently. They’d both been given slings so the babies were tucked securely against them in case they nodded off in their comfortable gliding rockers.

“How so?” Octavia asked, curious how any man could be anything like Alessandro. In every way, he was a step above anyone she had ever met.

“His way of taking control. So confident and determined. You’re lucky to have him here. I guess we both are,” she said wryly.

“Your husband isn’t here?” Octavia probed gently, wanting to know more about her new friend. Well, she hoped they were becoming friends. She had lost touch with the few women she’d known in Naples. They’d never been true friends anyway, just young women she’d gone to school with, most of them single and keen to party, hunting in packs for Mr. Right. After she married and became pregnant and moved to London, Octavia had had nothing in common with them. They’d moved on without her.

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