The Unwanted Wife (Chapter Ten)

Sandro had made good on his promise and had enlisted both Lisa and Phumsile's aid in ensuring that she took her vitamins and rested enough… but that was the only promise he kept. A month passed with barely any word from him, his phonecalls, the few that came, were rushed and impersonal and barely lasted three minutes each time. When Theresa tried to contact him, he was never available, or so the cold female voices on the other end of the line told her. She had no choice but to take them at their word.

She kept track of Sandro's movements through the news; online, televised and printed, his father's death and Sandro's subsequent taking over of an empire were pretty hot news items and barely a day went by that it wasn't mentioned in some form of news. There had been paparazzi coverage of the funeral, despite the media ban the family had put on proceedings, some intrepid photographer had managed to get a picture of Sandro standing over his father's open grave, his face closed up tighter than a fist, flanked by his mother and by Francesca who had stood with her hand woven through his arm, offering the support of a lover, the support a wife would offer. A lot had been written about that photograph, a lot of cynical criticism had been aimed at his cold, absent wife and a lot of praise for the stoic Francesca who stood by him through thick and thin.

No word about her difficult pregnancy which made travel nearly impossible for her. A few local reporters had contacted her, wanting her "side of the story" and her refusal to be interviewed or offer any comment had merely added fuel to the fodder that she was unfeeling and cold. The media, when given free rein, were ruthless. For the most part they left her alone, content to write what they wanted and in every article the beautiful, vivacious Francesca was lauded for her unwavering and loving support, while the "plain and anti-social" Theresa was criticised for her seeming neglect of her husband in his time of need.

She sighed quietly, as she stared out at the heavy downpour, missing Sandro so much it hurt and wishing that she could just talk with him. The baby moved restlessly and she winced slightly as a tiny foot caught her just beneath the ribs. She sang a quiet lullaby and ran her hands over the mound of her stomach. She was feeling her burden more and more with each passing day and it was getting increasingly difficult just to make it through the day.

"Theresa?" The quiet voice coming from behind her made her jump nearly out of her skin and she yelped before turning to face Lisa and Rick both of whom stood framed in the doorway of the den.

"God, you startled me," she gasped as they stepped into the room, neither cracking a smile, both looking relentlessly grim. "What's wrong? Has something happened?"

. "Terri… we have to get you out of here," Lisa said urgently, rounding the sofa to stand in front of her.

"What? Why?"

"We'll explain once we're out of here…"

"No," she shook her head stubbornly. "Tell me now. Is it Sandro? Was he hurt?"

"He will be once I get done with him," Rick suddenly threatened furiously.

"Rick, not now," Lisa groaned and Theresa's eyes settled on the grim-faced man in confusion.

"I don't understand…" her confused gaze went from Lisa's frantic expression to Rick's furious one. "What's going on?"

"A story just broke in the European newspapers…"

"What story?" She asked in bewilderment and Rick swore softly.

"Sweetheart we can discuss it later, for now we have to leave before the vultures descend."

"No, Rick," she maintained stubbornly. "I'm not leaving my home without good reason." Rick's jaw clenched and his expression clearly gave away his frustration with her.

"Terri they're saying that Sandro was blackmailed into marrying you. That he did so for his father. They're also saying that a source close to the family claims that since Sandro has no reason to be with you anymore he'll be filing for a divorce as soon as he gets back."

"I never thought of that," Theresa half-whispered to herself. "Of course he's free now. That's probably why I never heard from him, he's been busy planning this… I should have realised that he would want that. I should have seen this coming."

"Theresa, don't you dare beat yourself up about it. If the divorce rumours are true then he's a bastard for abandoning his pregnant wife when she needs him most," Rick fumed.

"No, I'm happy for him. He was trapped…" she was so dazed, she barely realised what she was saying and Rick swore in disbelief.

"My God, it's like you have battered wife syndrome. Stop making excuses for him, he's an ass who hurt you time and again." When it looked like she was about to protest, Lisa stepped forward.

"Come on, darling, let's get you packed up and out of here," her cousin took charge, grabbing hold of Theresa's arm and jerking her out of her stupor. Lisa steered her out of the room, tossing a warning look over her shoulder when it looked like Rick wanted to say something more.

After getting settled at Rick and Lisa's, Theresa decided to give the couple, who were walking on eggshells around her, a break from her presence by taking a nap. She was just slipping into a troubled doze when she heard the unmistakable voice of her husband coming from a distance. She frowned and sat upright, pushing her tangled hair out of her face. She tilted her head, not sure if her imagination was playing tricks on her, until she heard it again. It was Sandro, without a doubt, and he sounded agitated.

She got out of bed with some difficulty before padding to the door on bare feet and opening it slightly. This time she could clearly make out his voice.

"I had nothing to do with that story," he was protesting. "And I'll be damned if you keep me away from my family like this."

"She doesn't want to see you, Sandro," Rick informed with obvious relish and there was a moment's charged silence.

"Maybe not," Sandro finally conceded quietly. "But that's because she doesn't know everything. I just need to explain things to her. I need to talk with her…"

"Explain what? How you've been cheating on her with that woman since nearly the day of your wedding? How you've spent every available moment with her since you returned to Italy for the funeral, while your heavily pregnant wife waited in vain for you to call her every day?"

"I haven't cheated on her," Sandro growled after a moment's silence. "Not in deed and not in thought. Not once. She knows that."

"All she knows is that her husband left nearly two weeks ago, supposedly to attend his father's funeral but then hooked up with his mistress and started divorce proceedings once he realised that nothing was tying him to his wife anymore."

"There's a hell of a lot tying me to my wife, Palmer," Sandro gritted. "Our baby for one."

"Oh please, we know how little you actually want that baby, De Lucci."

"I want him," Sandro said quietly, so quietly she nearly missed it. "I want them both…"

"Stop it," Theresa could stand it no more, she waddled into the living room where Rick and Lisa stood on one side of the room and Sandro on the other. The atmosphere was so charged that Theresa was sure her hair was standing on end. Sandro's face tightened at the sight of her.

"Theresa," he whispered. "This was not meant for you to hear."

"It doesn't matter," she shrugged listlessly. "I'm tired… I'm so tired of all this, Sandro."

"I know, cara but it will get better. I promise you that."

"I don't see how it can…" she shook her head bitterly and he groaned, closing the distance between them in four strides, before gathering her into his arms and hugging her tenderly.

"It can. It will. I didn't file for a divorce, Theresa. I have no reason to divorce you…"

"Sandro please just… shut up!" She interrupted furiously, pushing him away forcefully and his face went ruddy but his mouth slammed shut. "If you won't divorce me then I'll be the one divorcing you. I don't want a husband who feels obligated to be with me. You have no reason to stay with me anymore. I can take care of myself and I can take care of this baby. I don't need you or your guilt anymore. You're free to leave. In fact, I want you to go." He said nothing, merely stared down at her, with one hand squeezing the nape of his neck. His face was inscrutable, his eyes dark with an emotion that she could not read. He looked stunned, incapable of movement and Theresa realised that he needed a harder push.

"For God's sake, go back to the woman you love! Go back to Francesca." She turned away from him, dismissing him contemptuously but froze when he swore shakily.

"God, you are the most contrary little bitch!" He hissed. "I don't love Francesca. I don't think I've ever loved her. Maybe when I married you, for about five seconds, I believed that I did. But I was disabused of that notion pretty damned early on in our marriage. I don't love her… and I have no idea why the hell you're so fixated on her." She turned on him furiously, ignoring Rick and Lisa who were watching the exchange in morbid fascination.

"Maybe I'm fixated on her because every time you go to Italy, the papers and Internet are full of pictures of you two attending the same functions, touching, kissing, dancing or hugging! Don't you dare insult my intelligence by saying that it meant nothing. I believe you when you say that you've never slept other women while we were married. But I'm willing to bet you came pretty close with her. I mean, how the hell could she be the other woman? I was the other woman. Your entire family knew it, my father knew it… I know it."

"We're in the same social circle, Theresa. She was always at the same functions as I am. She's an old friend, naturally I hugged her or touched her occasion. Yes I danced with her, dropped a few casual kisses on her cheek or mouth… it meant nothing. I treated her as I would one of my sisters. I don't desire her, I don't love her and I don't want her! Those are feelings reserved for you… only for you," his voice deepened and his face softened at the admission, his eyes were gentle as he registered the confusion on her face. Was he saying he loved her? And if he was… did she believe him? She wasn't sure of the answer to either question and a second later she didn't really care when she suddenly doubled over in pain.

Sandro, Rick and Lisa all surged forward in concern but her husband got to her first, he had an arm around her thickened waist before she could blink.

"What's wrong?" He demanded hoarsely. Theresa grabbed his free hand in both of hers and squeezed it urgently as her entire body quivered in excruciating pain. After an eternal moment, the pain lessened and faded and she pushed her way upright, meeting Sandro's frantic gaze with a panicky one of her own.

"It's the baby…" she whispered in fear. "I think the baby's coming…"

"No, no, no," the naked panic and fear in his eyes did nothing to alleviate Theresa's own terror. "He can't be coming now. He's nearly a month early! Are you sure?"

"I've been cramping all day but I thought it was due to stress," Theresa moaned after the pain had subsided. "But now I think I'm having contractions."

"Okay, it's okay," he soothed, automatically gathering her trembling body into a hug. "We'll be fine. We have to get you to the hospital."

Theresa had argued, begged, cajoled, attempted to reason but Sandro had refused point blank to defer his position as her coach to Lisa. In the end, Lisa had simply declined to go in to hospital with her, saying that it was best for Theresa to have her original coaching partner with her. Shocked and hurt by what she felt was an unforgivable betrayal, Theresa had refused to look, or even talk, to her cousin while Sandro shepherded her out to his car. Lisa had seemed to be cheerfully and deliberately oblivious to Theresa's pointed and rather childish, silent treatment, promising that she and Rick would be at the hospital soon.

"She did what she thought was best, cara," Sandro tried to placate en-route to the hospital. She simply turned her head and stared out at the passing scenery, scared and angry and not really in the mood to be comforted by him. "She knew that I would have insisted and we'd have just wasted time arguing futilely about it."

"I wanted somebody I trusted in there with me," she suddenly said, keeping her eyes glued on the road ahead. He didn't respond to that but from the corner of her eye she saw his hands tighten on the steering wheel and knew that she'd scored a direct hit. The rest of the journey went by quickly and before she knew it she was being admitted into the elite private maternity clinic that Sandro had arranged for months ago. She'd had only one contraction en-route but it had nearly sent Sandro off the road in a panic.

Still it was hours before anything more interesting than that happened. The doctor confirmed that she was indeed in labour but reassured them that it was perfectly normal for women to go into labour a few weeks early. They were taking extra precautions because of her health issues during the pregnancy but for someone whose pregnancy had been fraught with drama, Theresa's labour was pretty boring aside from the intense periods of pain. Her obstetrician monitored her condition carefully and weathered Sandro's demanding, panicked questions with admirable calm. Her contractions seemed to leave Sandro more wrung out than they did her and he wasn't dealing with it very well.

About five hours after her admission Theresa found herself glaring up at her hovering husband in frustration.

"For God's sake, go and get yourself some coffee or something, you're driving me up the wall!"

"I won't leave you. What if you have another contraction? What if your water breaks and they rush you into the delivery room? What if there are complications?" He asked hoarsely, his eyes dilating more with each anxious question. And Theresa rolled her eyes in exasperation.

"I doubt any of those things will happen in the two minutes it would take you to leave the room and get a cup of coffee, Sandro," she sighed impatiently.

"They could," he insisted stubbornly.

"Unlikely." He didn't respond, merely continued to sit by her bedside. They were both silent for a few minutes.

"Why are you here?" Theresa suddenly asked tiredly.

"Because this is where I want to be," he responded promptly and she squeezed her eyes shut.

"Why do you want to be here?" She persisted.

"You're my wife, cara. You're having my baby," he reached out and covered one of her hands with his. "I belong here."

"You don't belong here," she whispered hoarsely.

"I do."

"You have another life, a family that wants you to come home, a woman you love and who loves you. You don't have to be here, Sandro," she shook her head tiredly, tears seeping from beneath her eyelids.

"I have this life, with you. It's the only one that matters to me," he insisted. "I have a wife who loved me once, and who maybe… someday, would dare to love and trust me again? I don't have to be here… but I want to be here."

"Too many things have happened between us. More than two years of pain," she whispered rawly and his hand contracted around hers. "I can't go back to being the naive girl who loved you with all her heart."

"But maybe… the woman who replaced the girl could find a way to love the flawed man she'd once placed on a pedestal he had no business being on?"

"You've hurt me so many times," she confessed. Opening her eyes and meeting his gaze full on. He flinched slightly beneath the accusatory glare.

"I know."

"In so many ways."

"I know."

"Why should I forgive you and love you again? Why should I open up my heart to a man who would probably crush it in the palms of his hands?"

"You probably shouldn't," he smiled bitterly. "But I wish you would."

"I can't," she whispered, tears drenching her pale cheeks and he nodded slightly, reaching out to wipe at the tears.

"I know," he finally said again, before lapsing into silence.

Her water finally broke four hours later and she was moved to the delivery room. She and Sandro hadn't exchanged any further meaningful conversation, he'd just continued to soothe her and coach her through the ever-increasing pain. She didn't ever say it but she was pretty grateful to have him there. Even though he was as nervous and edgy as a cat in a barrel between contractions, he was a solid rock during them.

Four intensely nerve-wracking, sweaty and pain-riddled hours later, during which time Sandro supported her, swore at her doctors, threatened the nurses and seemed to come close to breaking down into tears on several occasions, Theresa finally gave one last painful push. There was a rush of activity at the foot of the bed as Theresa felt an overwhelming flood of relief. Sandro's eyes remained glued to her face, bright and feverish above the surgical mask they had forced him to wear. He dragged down the mask and leaned down toward her, until his mouth was so close to her ear she could feel his hot and moist breath fanning over her overheated skin.

"You're amazing, cara mia. So incredible…" she jerked her head away from his mouth and turned her face to stare at him in bewilderment, rocked by the emotion she heard in his voice. But his attention was now on the doctor and the squalling, naked and tiny bundle the man held cradled in his gentle and capable hands.

"Here's the little lady who's been causing all that fuss and bother," the man was saying jovially. "Congratulations Mr and Mrs De Lucci you have a beautiful and perfectly healthy baby girl."

Theresa's breath hitched in her chest at the man's words and her eyes remained glued to Sandro's face. But instead of the rapidly concealed disappointment she would have expected to see, she witnessed something she would never have believed if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes… she watched her husband fall hopelessly and helplessly head over heels in love with the outraged bundle of femininity the doctor placed onto Theresa's chest.

Theresa was overwhelmed as she stared down at the tiny, wailing infant her chest and not entirely sure what to do with this baby girl who should have been a boy.

"She's beautiful," the smitten Sandro crooned, dropping a large hand to the baby's tiny head and stroking the soft skin and tufts of still-wet hair, gently. "She's so very beautiful, Theresa."

"Yes," she muttered automatically. "I suppose she is." He frowned down at her, puzzled by her response or lack thereof.

"Theresa… what's wrong?"

"Your wife is exhausted Mr De Lucci," the doctor said brusquely. "Give her time to recover and I'm sure she'll be fawning all over this little beauty in no time at all."

"Yes. I'm tired," Theresa said remotely and Sandro's brow furrowed. He watched as Theresa absently stroked the baby's down-soft back, without once looking down at the infant and knew that something was terribly wrong.