The Unwanted Wife

By: Natasha Anders

Chapter Five

“What are you doing here?” Theresa paused on the threshold to the kitchen and stared at the big man who stood in front of the open refrigerator wearing only baggy sweatpants, without shoes or a shirt. He turned around slowly to meet her eyes and she swallowed past the huge lump in her suddenly dry throat, God he was so much more beautiful than she remembered. She, however, felt unattractive and sloppy in the Sylvester the Cat silk shortie pyjamas she was wearing. She knew that she had a sleep crease down the side of her face and her hair looked like a bird’s nest.

“I live here,” he replied casually, one hand grasping a carton of orange juice and the other lazily rubbing back and forth over the rippled contours of his abdomen. Her fascinated gaze fell to that hand and she imagined her own hand replacing his. She shook herself slightly to rid herself of the erotic image and focused on her outrage at seeing him so casually standing in the kitchen.

“You’re usually at work by this time,” she pointed out.

“Yes, I am,” he agreed. “But since you go to great pains to not be around when I head out in the mornings or come home at night, I figured the only way I’d know what the hell was going on with you was to stay at home today.”

“You can’t simply stay at home,” she was appalled by that notion. “You’re the boss.”

“Exactly and if the boss can’t take the occasional day off then there’s really no point in being the boss,” his voice was casual, light even but his eyes roamed over her small figure almost hungrily, taking in every single detail of her fuller face and rounder figure. They had been living past each other for nearly three months, with Theresa deliberately evading him when he was in the house. She tended to ignore his text messages and let the machine take his calls. He left little notes for her, sometimes asking her to dinner, sometimes asking after her health, he had recently stuck a Post-it on the fridge reminding her to buy new prenatal vitamins because he’d noticed that she was running out! When she’d forgotten to buy the vitamins despite his reminder, she’d found a new bottle on the kitchen table and a Post-it, with a half-dozen exclamation marks drawn on it, stuck to the lid.

He never entered her bedroom uninvited and she never did any inviting. They still shared the bathroom that connected the two bedrooms which was how he had known that her vitamins were running low but Theresa took great care to shower after he left in the morning or before he returned in the evenings. Now, after successfully avoiding him for nearly three months, finding him so casually standing in the kitchen, half naked and gorgeous, was a bit traumatic to say the least.

“Why are you even interested in what’s going on with me?” She finally asked.

“We live in the same house, you’re pregnant with my baby and I have no idea how you are. The situation is a bit abnormal to say the least, don’t you think?”

“It works for me,” she dismissed, casually turning away from him and toward a cabinet to fetch a cereal bowl.

“So it would seem,” she heard the fridge door closing and tensed as she sensed him padding towards her, he came to a standstill directly behind her and reached up for another bowl. He was standing so close to her that she could feel the heat coming off of his naked chest and his warm, musky scent enveloped her. She shut her eyes and tried to regain her equilibrium in the face of such overwhelming sexuality. He lingered behind her for much longer than he should have before abruptly moving away and leaving her feeling bereft. When she turned back to face him, he was sitting at the wooden table in the sunny breakfast nook and shaking a huge amount of corn flakes into his bowl and when he realised that she was watching him, he lifted the box enquiringly. She sighed before carrying her bowl to the table where she sat down opposite him and watched as he sprinkled the flakes into her bowl, topping the dry cereal with strawberry halves and banana slices that he must have cut before she came downstairs.

It was the housekeeper’s day off so Theresa hadn’t planned on anything fancier than cereal anyway but the company was unwelcome and unexpected. She watched as Sandro poured a generous amount of milk over her cereal and filled a glass with orange juice, which he nudged over to her. She nodded her thanks before lifting her spoon and awkwardly starting her meal. Sandro tucked in enthusiastically and was done before she was halfway through. He leaped up and over to the fridge, digging around in there before triumphantly producing a grapefruit which he halved, put into bowls and carried back over to where Theresa was sitting. He placed one half in front of her before he sat down, grimaced to himself and proceeded on his own half.

“I thought you didn’t like grapefruit,” she suddenly broke the silence between them and he grinned over at her while his hair, which was in serious need of cutting, flopped over his forehead endearingly.

“I don’t,” he admitted. “But I thought I’d give it a try anyway.”

“Why?” She asked curiously. He merely shrugged and she decided that she really didn’t want to know and didn’t push for a response.

“So has the morning sickness completely finished?” He asked after another short silence and she made a noncommittal sound which he could interpret any way he wanted to. He lifted his eyes to hers and something in his expression made her sigh and shake her head.

“Not completely, no…” she admitted. “But it’s a lot better than it was before.”

“What are your plans for today?” He asked keeping his eyes glued to hers.

“I was going to spend the morning with Lisa and the baby,” her cousin had given birth to her beautiful son, Rhys, just a couple of days after Theresa had had her own pregnancy confirmed.

“Mind if I tag along?” He asked casually and she frowned slightly, disturbed by the notion of her husband “tagging along” with her all morning.

“Well…” she began reluctantly.

“I wanted to discuss some business with Elisa,” he added.

“What business?” She asked flatly.

“It’s about her loan,” he elaborated.

“What about her loan?” Her voice rose in alarm but his face remained impassive. “I won’t have you upsetting her, Sandro.”

“Well, I either tell her today, while you’re there as moral support… or I tell her sometime when she’s alone and vulnerable,” he shrugged disinterestedly.

“What are you going to tell her?” She asked in a panic.

“I don’t believe that’s any of your business, Theresa,” he dismissed in an annoying casual voice. “Now why don’t you hop into the shower while I clean up down here? I’ll use one of the guest bathrooms this morning.”

She shook her head desperately.

“Sandro, you can’t do this…”

“Well, I have no aversion to doing a bit of housecleaning,” he said, deliberately misunderstanding.

“You know that’s not what I meant,” she hissed angrily and he cultivated a baffled frown which completely infuriated her.

“Well if you have a problem with me using a guest bathroom, then I have to tell you, I certainly don’t mind sharing a shower with you,” he grinned lasciviously and she made an angry sound in the back of her throat, before turning on her heel and stalking off with her head held high.



She refused to talk to him for the duration of the drive to Rick and Lisa’s home. It was only as he slid the car through their security gates, that she turned toward him desperately.

“Sandro, please don’t do this…” she begged, her beautiful eyes appealing for mercy. The stony expression on his face went even grimmer and he reached out a blunt forefinger to gently trace the delicate line of her jaw before turning away from her and getting out of the car. She was devastated by his lack of response and climbed out numbly when he came round to open the door for her. He took her hand but she tensed and tried to drag her hand out of his grip. For a moment, when his hand tightened around hers, she didn’t think he would allow it but he reluctantly released her and instead placed one large hand in the small of her rigid back, steering her towards the front steps, which led up to the house.

Lisa had been expecting her and was waiting in the doorway with a huge smile on her face. She still retained the few kilograms that she had picked up during her pregnancy but she fairly radiated happiness and good health. She greeted Theresa effusively, enveloping her in a warm hug and spared a slight smile for Sandro who loomed above both of them.

“Alessandro, what a surprise,” she nodded politely. “I didn’t expect to see you today.”

“I took the day off,” he responded easily. “And when I heard Theresa was coming for a visit I thought I’d come along with her and see that baby of yours again.” Again? Theresa wasn’t aware that Sandro had bothered seeing Rhys before now and she frowned in confusion, wondering why Lisa hadn’t mentioned it to her before. “Also, I had some business I needed to discuss with you.” Theresa tensed at the last bit but Lisa simply smiled and nodded, making Theresa wish that she had called ahead to warn her cousin of the impending disaster.

Why would Sandro do this now? When he was getting everything he could possibly want? What merit was there in destroying Lisa’s business? She looked up into his relaxed face and wondered if she could possibly have misread the situation but what other business could he possibly have to discuss with her cousin?

Lisa led them into the house and Sandro immediately gravitated toward the three-month old baby who was seated in a blue baby seat which was placed on the coffee table in the living room. His entire face seemed to light up at the sight of the infant and Theresa watched in fascination as he sank to his haunches until his face was level with the baby’s head.

“He’s grown a fair bit since I saw him last,” Sandro observed in delight, reaching out to grab one of the infant’s flailing hands.

“Well, I should hope so since he never stops eating,” Lisa grimaced and Sandro laughed. Theresa took a step back, feeling like she’d just stepped into some alternate universe. Sandro was crooning down at Rhys in Italian and the baby was staring up at him raptly, his green eyes unblinking. “Would either of you like something to drink?” Lisa asked politely and Theresa shook her head numbly, watching while Sandro nimbly undid the straps of the baby seat and lifted the infant into his arms.

“Coffee would be nice,” he nodded, rocking the baby soothingly. Rhys made an uncoordinated grab for Sandro’s hair and managed to latch on to a tiny fistful of it. Sandro grimaced good-naturedly and said something admonishing to the baby in Italian, while he reached up to loosen the baby’s grip. Lisa excused herself to go to the kitchen but Theresa barely heard her, she was too busy dumbly watching her husband with the baby.

“I didn’t know you liked children,” she whispered, one of her hands absently dropping to her still-flat belly in a protective gesture that he couldn’t miss.

“I like babies well enough,” he murmured casually. “I am quite fond of them actually.” She tried to disguise the stab of pain at his words.

“Any baby except mine, of course” she murmured half-under her breath and he inhaled impatiently, his eyes flaring with fury that he kept contained because of the baby in his arms.

“If you’re going to be making asinine comments like that please make them when I have both hands free to throttle the life out of you,” he said in the most personable, baby-friendly voice he could manage. He sat down on the sofa still holding Rhys in his arms and feeling a flare of possessive resentment; Theresa made her way over to him and held her arms out for the baby.

“I would like to hold my nephew, if you don’t mind,” she informed coldly and he raised one arrogant brow, before standing up and gently depositing the serene baby into her arms. She sat down gingerly in the chair opposite the sofa and cooed at the sweet baby she held in her arms. Sandro stood up and stretched lazily.

“While you’re busy in here, I think I’ll go and have that chat with Elisa,” she looked up in alarm but he was smiling gently down at her, his eyes warm with some emotion she had a hard time defining.

“Sandro,” she began quietly.

“You stay in here with Rhys,” he murmured softly. “I don’t want you getting upset by anything Lisa and I may have to say to each other.” Before she could utter another word of protest he was gone. Theresa got up nervously, holding the baby to her chest. Much as she strained and strained she could not hear a single sound from the direction of the kitchen and she slowly began to move toward the kitchen as well. She was just outside the slightly ajar door when the sounds of their quiet voices finally reached her.

“But I don’t understand why?” Lisa was asking, sounding baffled but, strangely enough, not too upset. “I still have at least a year within which to finish the loan, it’s a substantial amount of money, so I don’t see why you would do this?” Theresa bit her lip, wanting to intervene but not sure how anything she could do or say would persuade Sandro to change his mind. She felt helpless and furious and strangely hurt that he would carry out his threat anyway.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Sandro’s deep voice rumbled quietly in response to Lisa’s question. “I gave you the loan for all the wrong reasons. Reasons which I now… regret… I can’t in good conscience allow it to continue.”

“So let me pay it and we can put it behind us,” Lisa implored and Sandro said something which Theresa didn’t quite catch.

“Sandro, this is crazy,” Lisa was starting to sound upset and Theresa braced herself, prepared to enter the fray come hell or high water. Sandro’s next words cut her short though.

“Elisa, please, you have to let me do this…” he sounded… desperate.

“It doesn’t feel right,” Lisa was saying and Theresa frowned in confusion. What on earth was going on here?

“I’ve drawn up the papers, it’s practically a done deal,” he was saying urgently.

“I have to think about it and discuss it with Rick, of course,” Lisa was saying softly.

“Of course,” Sandro agreed amicably and realising that their conversation was at an end, Theresa very quickly made her way back to the living room. She was back in the chair and gently rocking a contentedly gurgling Rhys when the other two appeared. She sat up abruptly, her wide eyes flying from one face to the other. They both looked annoyingly relaxed and neither face revealed much. Sandro placed the tray that he was holding onto the coffee table and sat down on the same sofa he’d occupied earlier. Lisa sat down next to him and busied herself with the tray, placing a tall glass of orange juice on the coffee table in front of Theresa.

“Don’t argue,” Sandro intervened when she opened her mouth to protest. “It’s good for you.” He helped himself to the coffee while he and Lisa proceeded to chat like old friends. Theresa sat there seething, hating to be so thoroughly excluded.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t join you yesterday, Theresa,” Lisa suddenly said. “How did your check up go?” Theresa glared at her cousin for bringing up the topic in front of Sandro, who sat up and watched her like a hawk as he waited for her to respond.

“It was okay,” she murmured awkwardly.

“What did he say about the dizzy spells?” Lisa asked and Theresa was aware of Sandro tensing up like a coiled spring at the question.

“Nothing important,” she responded evasively, keeping her eyes on the baby in her arms.

“What dizzy spells?” Sandro suddenly asked in a dangerous voice.

“She’s been feeling faint for most of the last two months,” Lisa helpfully informed and Theresa gritted her teeth.

“And you didn’t think to tell me?” Sandro suddenly snapped furiously.

“I didn’t think you’d care,” Theresa muttered miserably and Sandro swore venomously beneath his breath.

“She didn’t think I’d care,” he repeated incredulously. “Oh my God, woman… you assumed that I would not care about something that directly impacts your health and the baby’s well-being?”

“Of course, I know you’d care if anything happens to the baby but I didn’t want to worry you about something that I know is not a big deal.”

“And how do you know that? Did you obtain a degree in medicine sometime over the last three months? Of course I’ve seen you so rarely lately that you could have gotten a degree in quantum physics and I wouldn’t have known!” Lisa choked back an entirely irreverent giggle at that and both Theresa and Sandro glared at her.

“Sandro, I told you… I’ll take care of the baby and myself. You needn’t worry about it. Your responsibility toward me, us, is at an end,” she reminded logically.

“We’re still married,” he pointed out. “And I think I’ll decide when and where my responsibility toward you and the baby will end. From now on, you will keep me fully appraised of what’s going on with your and the baby’s health.”

“No,” she maintained stubbornly. “It’s none of your business. You made it clear that the only reason you ever wanted me to get pregnant was to escape from this marriage, so why don’t you leave me alone while I attempt, once again, to do everything in my power to make you happy?”

“The only thing that would make me happy right now, you stubborn red-headed little cat, is if you would simply do as you’re told for a change!”

“I’m sick of doing what I’m told, I’m sick of being your obedient little lapdog… I was happy without your interference in my life these last few months, so I refuse to go back to the way it was before.”

“I don’t want to go back to that either,” he unexpectedly conceded. “We didn’t have a real marriage before…”

“You can’t possibly be telling me that you want a real marriage now?” She scoffed.

“What if I am?” He warily asked and she laughed in his face.

“I’d think you were insane to think that I’d want anything to do with it. How can a marriage with a life span of just six more months possibly be beneficial to either of us?”

“It wouldn’t… but that’s not what I want…”

“Oh it’s always about what you want isn’t it? Well, I have news for you, Sandro…” she was still holding the now-sleeping baby to her chest and glowering furiously at the tall man seated opposite her, oblivious to her cousin who sat watching the scene unfold in absolute fascination. “I don’t give one damn about what you want. I don’t want to stay married to you… I want my life back and I want you gone as soon as your contract with my father has been fulfilled.” The silence was absolutely deafening. Finally, after what seemed like ages, he leaned back in his chair and shook himself slightly.

“We’ll still be together until the baby is born,” he finally acknowledged wearily. “Up until then, I want daily updates on your health. I don’t want to be excluded from any bit of news no matter how trivial you think it may be.”

“I don’t understand what you’d hope to gain from such an arrangement,” she said miserably confused and frustrated by how adamant he was being on this point.

“Absolutely nothing,” he murmured. “But what do you stand to gain by keeping me out of the loop?”

Absolutely nothing… And he knew it; she had no reason other than pure bitchiness to refuse his request.

“Fine,” she said begrudgingly. “I’ll keep you updated but I want your word that you won’t interfere in any part of my pregnancy and that you’ll remain a casual observer.”

“How can you expect me to make a promise like that?” He asked hoarsely. “I am not a casual observer, Theresa! I have a vested interest in both you and the baby.”

“You signed away your rights to us before you ever had us,” she reminded bitterly and he flinched slightly at her words. “And you seem to expect me to not only forget that little fact but forgive it too? Sandro… I will never forgive you.”

“I thought you understood what an untenable situation I was in,” he shook his head angrily.

“I understand and I sympathise but that does not change the fact that the person I thought I loved, the man I married in good faith, never existed and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get past that, Sandro.” He sighed heavily.

“Fair enough,” he finally conceded. “But we need to make the best of this situation in the meantime and living like strangers in the same house isn’t the best solution.”

“Fine,” she whispered reluctantly. “What do you suggest?”

“I would like to be present at your doctors’ appointments,” he said after a long pause and she hesitated, slanting a helpless gaze at her cousin who shrugged slightly.

“Why?”

“Peace of mind,” he responded succinctly and she frowned, trying to think about it from all angles before sighing quietly.

“Fine… but your opinions and input are not encouraged or desired. So you’ll be there as just an observer… A silent observer. I will manage my own health and pregnancy,” his jaw clenched in displeasure but he kept his mouth shut and nodded reluctantly.

“I also think…” his voice was slightly hoarse and he paused to clear his throat before continuing. “I also think that living in the same house and never seeing each other is… well… ridiculous actually. Please stop disappearing when you know I’m home. It makes me feel like a monster knowing that you’re cowering away in some corner of the house because you’d rather not face me.” He couldn’t have chosen better words to get her back up and she bristled furiously.

“I do not cower,” she seethed, barely aware of the amused look he exchanged with her cousin.

“It certainly feels that way to me,” he responded. “I know that you find it difficult to be around me because of the feelings you once had for me…” another outraged gasp from her. “And I also know that with the attraction between us you’re probably afraid the chemistry will flare up and we’ll wind up in bed again, I mean it’s fairly obvious how much you want me… but…”

“I… you…” she was absolutely furious with him for bringing up their sex life in front of her cousin and appalled to realise that he thought she was hiding from him. Like some timid little rabbit. Okay, so maybe she had been hiding but she had been doing it to keep both of them comfortable with the awkwardness of the situation. “The colossal ego on you… I’m not cowering or hiding or anything like that! I just can’t stand to be around you.”

“Of course you’d say that now,” he shrugged dismissively and she gasped again, furiously rocking little Rhys back and forth as she desperately tried to find a suitably scathing response to his words.

“Anyway,” Sandro murmured. “I was going to suggest we start having breakfast and dinner together again, no point in having separate meals.”

“Fine,” she snapped grudgingly.

“And can we try to be civil?” He asked pseudo-meekly. “Have a decent conversation while we’re having our meals?” Her eyes snapped but she simply nodded, silently telling herself that it would be for just six more months.

“Anything else?” She asked sarcastically, her tone of voice definitely not inviting any more of his “suggestions” but he chose to take her question at face value.

“Yes…” he nodded. “The Friday night gang was wondering where you’d disappeared to. The ladies were disappointed when you didn’t come again.” She said nothing, she couldn’t do it… she quite simply wouldn’t do it.

“I. I can’t,” she finally admitted softly. “They’re your friends and when we divorce… well, they’ll still be your friends. I don’t want to form ties with people when I know exactly how temporary the relationships will be. I can’t keep saying goodbye to people I care about.” The last emerged on a whisper and he swallowed before nodding slightly.

“Then one last request,” he murmured, leaning toward her intently.

“What?”

“Two hours…” His voice had dropped to a husky whisper.

“What does that…”

“In the evenings…”

“Two hours for what?”

“Just to…” His face clenched in frustration and he shrugged helplessly. “Spend together. Talk, watch a movie, read, sit… anything, as long as we spend it together.”

“But that’s… I don’t understand why you’d want that?”

“Please.” The word, soft and pleading, stayed the rejection hovering at the tip of her tongue.

“Two hours… three times a week,” she found herself stipulating against her better judgement. Still, enforcing some kind of restriction on his request made her feel like she had some measure of control over the way things were going. He nodded eagerly.

“Name the days,” he invited and she nibbled at the lower lip, giving it some serious thought.

“Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays,” she deliberately chose his busiest office days, the days he often trudged home much later than usual, hoping that it would force him to cancel a lot of the time. His sharp gaze told her he knew exactly why she had chosen those days but he grinned suddenly and nodded.

“Fine with me,” he acquiesced and she sat back feeling like she’d been manipulated somehow. Rhys had fallen asleep and Lisa reached out to take him from Theresa.

“I’ll just put this little one to bed,” the other woman said quietly and Theresa nodded numbly. She felt completely drained and looked it too. Sandro sat down on the sofa and leaned toward her, very gently nudging the glass of orange juice in her direction again. She shot him a warning glance and he grinned slightly.

“I’m not trying to bully you into drinking a glass of orange juice, Theresa,” he said softly. “I just thought you looked a bit parched.” She gritted her teeth and sheer perversity kept her from picking up the glass and quenching her thirst. He said nothing further, merely leaned back in his chair with a soft sigh.

“So what did the doctor really say yesterday?” He asked after a pause.

“I’m slightly anaemic, that’s what’s causing the dizziness, he adjusted my diet to include more iron,” she responded quietly and he nodded.

“Everything else is normal?” He asked after another short pause.

“Yes.”

“You’d tell me if it wasn’t?”

“Yes,” he seemed satisfied with her answer and smiled slightly.

“Thank you,” she sighed and nodded an acknowledgement before finally conceding that her childishness would achieve nothing. She leaned over to pick up the glass of orange juice and take a sip. Fortunately he made no comment and his expression remained neutral. Again there was silence and this time it lasted until Lisa returned. Things were surprisingly amicable after that and Theresa and Sandro left about forty minutes later.

On the way home, she asked him about his private talk with Lisa but he refused to be drawn into conversation on the subject and Theresa eventually gave up in frustration.



The following month sped by, Theresa and Sandro’s new arrangement worked well, their meals together were civil, even pleasant and her doctors’ appointments were less of an ordeal with Sandro’s silent support. He kept his end of the bargain, merely observing and never interfering but just having him there made such a difference to Theresa’s sense of well-being. What surprised Theresa the most was how much she was enjoying the time together that he had requested. Contrary to her expectations, he hadn’t cancelled once, even coming home earlier than usual on the appointed nights. Sometimes they simply sat side by side in the den, sharing a bowl of popcorn and watching a movie, rarely saying much. Sometimes they would play Scrabble and Theresa usually enjoyed those nights very much, it wasn’t often she got to beat Sandro at anything and to his profound horror he was appalling at Scrabble. He blamed his lack of prowess on the fact that English wasn’t his native language but he approached every rematch with a never-say-die determination. Unfortunately said determination hadn’t yet resulted in a victory for him and Theresa was delighted by the fact that she was a better player than he was.

Despite his lack of skill, he played hard and often had her in stitches with his creative spelling and made up words. They also had an ongoing chess rivalry and were a lot more evenly matched at that game. Theresa soon realised that she was starting to look forward to those two hours and hated the fact that he was insidiously creeping beneath her defences again. Unfortunately, much like a car accident, she could see it coming but couldn’t seem to find a way to prevent the inevitable disaster from occurring. She was always very strict about the time, trying hard to maintain some kind of control over the situation and whatever they were doing, unfinished or not, had to stop exactly two hours after it had started. They usually picked up where they had left off the next time anyway.

“No,” Theresa insisted adamantly one night, during one of their aggressive Scrabble games, they were sitting on the floor with the board placed on the low coffee table between them. “I totally challenge that word! Lexiquon is not a word, Sandro and you know it.”

“Of course it is,” he nodded blithely. “You’re challenging it because you don’t want me to have the bonus points and the two triple word scores!”

“Of course I don’t,” she agreed scathingly. “Two hundred and seventy-five points for a made up word? Never going to happen! I’m not running a charity here...” he grinned boyishly at that and she averted her eyes, trying very hard not to be charmed by him. Finally he grumbled good-naturedly and removed his tiles from the board.

“Maybe it’s a French word,” he muttered defensively and she rolled her eyes.

“Well, feel free to use it the next time you play a Frenchman!” He laughed outright at that and she caught her breath at the carefree sound. Every day he relaxed more and more around her and she often sensed that he wanted to extend their time together. He contemplated the board again, stroking his slightly stubbled jaw thoughtfully as he considered his next move. Eventually he settled on “eel” which was so badly placed it that was worth only three points and she snorted disdainfully, while taking down his points. She smiled sweetly up at him, before pointing out the free “t” which he could have used for the word “exit” before gleefully using that “t” for her own word, making use of the conveniently situated triple word score in the process and amassing a handy thirty-nine points for her “smithy”.

“What is this word?” He growled. “Names aren’t allowed!” She couldn’t help but giggle at his outrage before whipping out a definition of the word for him. He glared down at the dictionary before grumbling to himself in Italian again and going back to studying the board. Theresa smiled slightly to herself, noting the way his hair had slid forward over his forehead and just dying to brush it back, she hid her hands beneath the table and clenched her fists to quell the unreasonable impulse.

“I know that it’s early days yet but I’ve been thinking about decorating the nursery,” she said just to get her mind off of her crazy desire to touch him. Her words caught his attention and he looked up with an unguarded smile.

“That’s a terrific idea,” he nodded eagerly. “We could go shopping for furniture and toys, I saw this huge panda bear at a toy shop a week ago that would be perfect for a baby.” His enthusiastic response completely threw her and she stared at him blankly for a few moments.

“A toy shop?” She finally asked and he went slightly red.

“There’s one... close to the office and I’ve been to it a couple of times during my lunch hour,” he finally, very reluctantly, admitted. “Just to see what kind of toys and things babies need these days.”

Theresa had no clue how she was supposed to respond to that. Should she be concerned that he seemed to be taking more than a casual interest in the baby or should she be pleased? And how on earth was she supposed to react to his assumption that they would be decorating the nursery together? Her emotions were in such turmoil that in the end, she simply said nothing... shoving it aside to be processed later. Sandro, sensing the shift in her mood and seeming to realise that he’d said too much lapsed into an uncomfortable silence and toyed with one of his tiles.

“I’m feeling a little tired. I may just head up to bed,” she suddenly said and he looked up in resentment.

“I still have an hour left,” he pointed out bitterly and she bit her lip nervously.

“Yes, you do,” she finally said and gestured toward the board. “It’s your move.” His eyes glimmered with some indefinable emotion before he shook his head and got up.

“You’re not my prisoner, Theresa, if you’re tired go to bed,” he said wearily, shoving his hands into the pockets of his tailored business suit trousers and totally ruining the cut of the expensive garment.

“Far be it from me to renege on a bargain,” she maintained, remaining stubbornly seated, even though she would have liked nothing better than to flee.

“You’re being so goddamned childish,” he seethed and turned to leave the room before she had a chance to retaliate. She sat there for a few minutes before she realised that he really wasn’t coming back. It was the first time in more than a month that they’d had any kind of serious dispute and Theresa regretted that, knowing that she had been childish, because she hadn’t known of any other way to deal with her emotions. She sighed, acknowledging that she needed to apologise to him and pushed herself up off of the plush heated carpet, thinking that it was best to get it over with as soon as possible.

She headed toward his study and as she approached the slightly ajar door, she realised that he was speaking to someone in a low voice. Not wanting to intrude on his telephone call, her steps slowed slightly and she turned around to head toward the kitchen for a small snack. She was just about to walk away when she heard him groan huskily, before saying, “Francesca...” in the most agonised voice she had ever heard from him. The single word was filled with so much yearning and pain that it froze Theresa in her tracks. Sandro was still talking in that low voice, his words, which were in Italian, sounding more urgent now. Theresa took a step back towards the study and the open door and his voice became slightly clearer, even though he was murmuring intimately.

“Francesca, cara...” were two of the incriminating words she could understand amidst the torrent of Italian and she bit her lip uncertainly, not sure if he was talking to Francesca or about Francesca. God, why hadn’t she learned more Italian? Right now she understood just enough to make her miserable with jealousy and pain. After hearing the woman’s name, for the first time so many months ago, Theresa had tried to put her out of her mind... knowing nothing about her, it had seemed wisest not to speculate for fear of having her imagination run wild. Now, she wished she had done some research on this Francesca, even though having only one name to go on would have made it difficult and Theresa hadn’t been about to ask her father or Sandro for details about the mystery woman.

Sandro was obviously oblivious to her presence outside his study door as he continued his low-voiced conversation and Theresa understood only a few random words that meant little to her. He kept using endearments though; those she knew very well because he’d frequently resorted to them while having sex with her. She had often wondered if that had been his way of de-personalising the act even further since he had rarely used her name during their most intimate moments. She hovered outside her husband’s study door, much like she had been hovering on the outskirts of his life for nearly two years, before turning away and heading back upstairs. She had showered, changed for bed and had long since turned off her bedroom lights when she finally heard his heavy tread on the staircase. She held her breath when he paused, as he always did, outside her door but instead of feeling the usual relief when he moved on a few moments later, this time Theresa turned her face into her pillow and cried herself to sleep.

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