The Unwanted Wife (Chapter Two)
"I want to know exactly where you were yesterday, Theresa," he demanded fiercely.
"Why do you even care?" She asked tiredly. "You've certainly disappeared without explanation enough times for the both of us."
"We're not talking about me here," he pointed out.
"No but I think it's time we do talk about you, about your outrageous behaviour, about the other women and the blatant disregard for the fact that you're married!"
"I don't feel married!" He sounded almost defensive.
"No?" She retorted recklessly. "Well maybe I don't feel married either! Maybe I'm ready to be outrageous. Maybe I'm ready for other men and extra marital affairs too!"
"This had better not be your way of telling me that you were with another man last night, Theresa," he warned ominously, his voice eerily calm. Theresa recklessly ignored the warning in his voice and plunged on regardless.
"So what if that's exactly what I'm telling you?" She asked daringly. "What will you do about it? Make my life hell? Well surprise surprise… it's already hell! Do your worst!"
"What's his name?" He insisted in a lethally calm voice that sent an involuntary shudder down her spine. She suddenly recognised that she had pushed him too far but she knew that even if she backed down now, it wouldn't assuage his anger. "Theresa, who the hell is he?"
Even though Theresa knew that he would never physically harm her, she couldn't help but feel an instinctive frisson of fear. She knew that he had a tight leash on his temper but right now that leash seemed strained to breaking point.
"I… I was speaking hypothetically," she stuttered, abandoning all pretence of bravado and feeling unbelievably intimidated.
"I don't believe you," he bit out furiously.
"I wasn't with anybody, I just needed a break!"
"A break…" he repeated with flat contempt.
"Yes a break! A break from you and from this life… I don't want to be in this marriage anymore. I want out… I want away from you! Please…. I just want a divorce, Sandro. Please."
"You'll get your divorce when I get my son," he reminded ruthlessly.
"That's so sick," she protested. "Why would you even want a child with a woman you despise?" He didn't respond, instead he sent an odd probing little look over her strained face.
"You honestly don't know, do you?" he breathed in disbelief and she blinked in confusion.
"Know what?" She asked blankly, distracted by the rapt look on his face. Again he didn't reply. "Know what?"
"Why did you marry me?" He asked suddenly.
"You know why…" she was outraged by the way he was rubbing salt in the wound unable to believe, even after a year and a half of similar treatment, that he could be so cruel.
"Humour 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?" 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 a year ago is no longer an issue. I want a divorce, 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 realise 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 finally 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 felt like 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. Realising 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 to realise that Sandro had actually 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 his 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 dryer 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 III scoffed contemptuously. "She would never have married you if I had… the little twit fancied herself in love with you!" Her father laughed harshly 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 knew… that 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 finally said after a long pause.
"Would it have changed your mind if you'd known you were marrying a naive little fool, who thought you epitomized her every dream come true?"
"And she has no idea what the terms of our agreement are?" Sandro finally 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 humiliatingly incredulous that Theresa would ever have believed him in love with her.
"Of course," her father snorted, she could practically hear the careless shrug in her words.
"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's 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 furiously. "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 this ridiculous arrangement… and I would like to get back to it at some point," Sandro finally intoned and 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 second 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.
"You know we had a setback, it's been difficult to recover from that!" He finally 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 realised 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 realised what they had been referring to in such dry, legal 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 had been/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 fuelled by his Italian male ego; the need to propagate his seed 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.
But what was supposed to happen to her and the baby once Sandro had fulfilled his end of the bargain? Would he simply leave and forget about them? The one thing she had never doubted was that if Sandro wanted a son, he would love the child. Now she wasn't even sure of that! Sandro seemed to despise her so much she now knew that even though any baby they had would carry his name, it would ultimately be neglected and unloved by its father just like she had been by hers. She couldn't allow that to happen… this made her even more determined not to have a child.
As for her father's role in all this, she certainly knew why he wanted a grandson, absolutely no mystery there! He had always bemoaned his lack of male progeny to carry on his line and his business. Theresa had never been good enough to inherit, he had always made that quite clear but she had never realised how far he would go to ensure a male heir. It was all so archaic… she was so wrapped up in her painful thoughts that it took her a while to register the low buzzing in her ear and realise that the two men had disconnected their call. She very carefully, as if it was the most fragile thing in the world, replaced the receiver in its cradle and sat quite still for a long time before suddenly exploding into action and dashing to the en-suite bathroom where she violently threw up the meagre portion she had had for breakfast.
After she was done she rinsed her mouth and headed back to the bedroom and crawled into the centre of the huge bed, where she sat with her knees drawn up to her chest and her face buried in her hands. She was hurting too much to even cry and was shaking so badly that her teeth were chattering. She didn't know what to do or where to turn. She needed to get out of this situation, as far away from both of them as she possibly could. Possible solutions and scenarios kept marching their way through her traumatised mind but nothing viable presented itself. There was still Sandro's threat against Lisa's business to consider, she also had no real money of her own and she knew that with their considerable resources her father and husband would find her before she could get very far.
She was still mulling it over when a soft knock sounded on the bedroom door. It swung open before she could respond and her big, dark, beautiful husband stood framed in the doorway. His eyes swept over her small, dishevelled form as she sat in the middle of the bed, her knees still drawn up to her chest and her arms wrapped around her folded legs.
"You've been in here for nearly three hours, Theresa," he said in a quiet voice. It was the kind of voice one would use when talking to an unbroken, high-strung horse. Three hours? Theresa hadn't realised that it had been that long and when she moved, her muscles screamed in protest. She had actually been sitting in one position for nearly that long. She gingerly and with visible effort stretched her arms and legs, trying not to wince in agony as her blood started circulating more freely.
"I didn't realise," she murmured, pushing her long hair out of her eyes. "I was going to visit Lisa."
"Why?" He asked sharply and she shrugged.
"Something to do," was her casual response.
"I thought…" He hesitated and Theresa's eyes snapped up to his face in surprise, the hesitation was so unusual in her supremely confident husband. "I thought we could have lunch together… go out somewhere. We haven't done that in a while."
"Try never," she half-laughed incredulously and his brows beetled slightly.
"Of course we have…" he began.
"Once," she nodded. "About a month before we were married. I remember that once quite vividly because I felt like a heroine in my own personal fairytale. The giddy, foolish, not-quite-so-fair maiden having a meal with her dark, broody, oh-so-handsome prince who couldn't be bothered to string together two sentences the entire time and checked his watch every five minutes like he had someplace much more important to be. But of course, I didn't care, that was just the way you were and I 'loved'…" she sneered the word. "…you anyway. We never went out again after that."
"Of course we did," despite his assertion, he looked remarkably uncomfortable; he shifted his shoulders restlessly and shoved his hands into his jean pockets.
"Those other times were official work-related dinners, the ones you have to take your wife to." He frowned even more but chose not to respond to her statement.
"Well, then I'd say it's about time we went out together don't you?" He asked in an artificially cheerful voice and Theresa slanted her head as she tried to read his expression. As usual he was giving nothing away. Her lips tilted slightly in a cynical and unamused smile.
"I don't think so, Sandro," she shook her head. "I think I'll go to my cousin's place like I'd originally planned." He nodded thoughtfully, swaying back and forth on his heels in an uncharacteristically restless manner.
"Suit yourself," he shrugged. "What time were you planning to leave?"
"Right," he shrugged again looking strangely awkward. "See you later then." She nodded and he turned away and left without saying another word.
Rick and Lisa were doing nothing more productive than watching DVD's when Theresa came around. Lisa, in her advanced state of pregnancy, couldn't do much else. They were both lounging in the den, Rick looking devastating in a snug, well-worn pair of jeans and a grey t-shirt that had definitely seen better days. Lisa, in the meantime, looked miserable in a huge blue and white striped football jersey that Theresa knew had once belonged to Rick, who was a capable Sunday afternoon player, and a pair of stretchy blue leggings. She was about the size of a baby whale. Therese simply melted when she caught sight of her cranky younger cousin and once again resolved not to do anything to jeopardise her happiness and health. She dropped a kiss on Lisa's cheek and one on the top of Rick's head as she passed behind the sofa on which they were sitting. Rick grinned up at her.
"Nothing exciting planned for today, sweetie," he informed cheerfully as Theresa sank down onto the other sofa. "I'm afraid we're feeling a bit out of sorts today, a touch grumpy, if you will. So we're staying in, in the hopes that it will improve our temper… ouch!" The last as Lisa swatted him in the back on his head.
"Stop talking like that, you know it drives me crazy! I'm not a two year old throwing a tantrum, I'm the hormonal woman you knocked up! So don't push me…" Rick slanted a rueful gaze at his amused friend and mouthed a wisely silent "see?" Theresa grinned before kicking off her shoes and dragging her feet up under her. She was dressed casually too, wearing an old pair of jeans and a bright blue t-shirt with a large, stylized butterfly printed on the front of it.
"What are we watching?" Theresa asked, leaning forward to help herself to a handful of the popcorn which was in a glass bowl on the coffee table.
"Some romantic thing that has Lisa dissolving into tears every two minutes or so," Rick shrugged dismissively, ignoring the way his wife was glaring at him over the top of her round little glasses. "God, the sacrifices I make to keep this woman happy," he groaned and Lisa gasped in outrage.
"Well if you had your way, we'd be watching some macho jerk swear and punch his way through two of hours of relentless explosions, car chases and gunfire," she retorted and he grinned down at her.
"Your point being?"
"Aaargh!" She actually said "aaargh" and Theresa for the first time in a long time felt a giggle bubbling up in her throat. Rick suddenly grinned before dropping one arm around his wife's narrow shoulders to drag her closer. He placed his other hand protectively over her stomach and Lisa put up a token struggle before sighing contentedly and dropping her head onto his broad shoulder. Theresa watched them enviously for a few moments before trying to focus on the movie. She had thought Rick was exaggerating about her cousin's response to the overly-soppy film but it was true, Lisa sniffled on an average of every two minutes. Theresa was just managing to get somewhat absorbed in the plot when the doorbell went. Rick excused himself and jumped up to answer it.
Lisa watched him go with a slight smile on her face. She was quiet for a while before shaking her head in exasperation.
"You know, if I didn't love him so darned much, I would probably have killed him by now," she admitted sourly and Theresa surprised herself by laughing out loud in response to her cousin's disgruntled confession. She couldn't believe that her sense of humour was still intact after the events of the last forty-eight hours. Rick made his way back into the room, looking uncharacteristically grim and all the laughter and light drained from Theresa's face when she saw who was standing behind the tall blonde man.
"What are you doing here?" She finally managed to choke out after a moment of shocked silence.
"I thought I'd join you all for lunch," he shrugged, nodding apologetically to a still gaping Lisa. "May I sit down?" He indicated toward the sofa Theresa was occupying.
"Yes, of course," Lisa nodded graciously.
"No!" Both Rick and Theresa all-but yelled at the same time as Lisa. Sandro smiled humourlessly before choosing to ignore their vehement rejections and sitting down beside Theresa. She shied as far away from him as she could but Sandro chose to ignore that too. He leaned forward and placed his elbows on his spread thighs with his large, masculine hands dangling down between his legs. He focused intently on Lisa.
"How have you been, Elisa?" He asked gently. He was the only one who ever called Lisa by her full name and Theresa could sense Rick bristling.
"Fine thanks," Lisa murmured, rubbing her hands over her stomach in an instinctively maternal gesture. "A little tired but I suppose that it's to be expected when you're lugging another human being around." Sandro grinned, he actually grinned, at that and nodded.
"Rick, for God's sake, stop hovering and sit down," Lisa snapped up at her still-glowering husband. "I would like to finish watching this movie sometime in this year! We're having lunch afterwards, Alessandro, I hope you don't mind?"
"Of course not," he said smoothly, leaning back and making Theresa feel incredibly claustrophobic as he crowded her with his large body. "What are we watching?" Lisa told him and Sandro did an admirable job of concealing his grimace. Lisa barely contained her own grin before hitting the play button. Rick rejoined her on the sofa, sending periodic glares over at Sandro, who kept his eyes glued on the screen and looked unfairly relaxed.
Lisa dropped her head onto her husband's broad shoulder and resumed her occasional sniffling and Rick, unable to remain furious for long with his wife draped across him dragged Lisa close again and snuggled her up against him. His fingers interlaced with the hand she had resting on her stomach and Theresa felt like she was the only sane person in the room. Sandro was sprawled out beside her, his shoulders and thighs brushed against her every time he breathed, the other couple was snuggled together like a couple of lovebirds and she, Theresa, felt like she was losing her mind!
She got up abruptly and left the room, heading blindly toward the kitchen, where she stood in the middle of the room taking in great gasps of air. She should have known that he would follow her even there because when she turned back toward the kitchen door, there he was, watching her and a looking splendid in his own version of casual wear; a pair of faded blue jeans and a black dress shirt with the top button open to reveal the strong, masculine column of his neck.
"Why did you come here?" She asked on a whisper.
"I thought that we should spend some time together," he said with a gentleness that Theresa instinctively mistrusted.
"But I told you… I don't want to spend time with you," she said in a soft, bewildered voice. "I don't want to be anywhere near you!"
"Theresa…" he said, still in that same gentle voice, taking a cautious step into the room and Theresa backed up until she hit the fridge.
"The one place I had… the one place I could come and be myself," she shook her head, her eyes were wide and shimmering with tears. "And you had to take that from me too…" the tears overflowed and she desperately tried to blot them from her cheeks with the hem of her t-shirt. He made a soft almost dismayed sound in his throat before moving so quickly that she barely had time to register it. One second he was still close to the kitchen entrance and the next he was right in front of her, sandwiching her between his body and the fridge. His large hands reached up to cup her face and his thumbs brushed roughly at the tears on her cheeks.
"Don't," his voice was low and gravelly and so thick that she could barely understand that one word. She raised her much smaller hands to his and tugged futilely at his hold, trying to get him to release her.
"I want to make things less difficult for us, Theresa…" he muttered uncomfortably, his face so close to hers that his breath washed over her skin and raised goose pimples all over her body.
"Why now?" She challenged the ludicrous statement angrily, trying to ignore the effect his closeness was having on her very receptive body. Her soft green eyes snapped up at his through her tears. "Is it because I'm threatening to leave this marriage without giving you your precious son, is that it?" She dropped her hands down to his hard, broad chest and tried to push him away. He wouldn't budge.
"No," was all he said. "That's not it… because I know you won't leave."
"What makes you so sure of that?" She hissed and he was silent for a while before responding.
"The discussion we had yesterday," he eventually, reluctantly, said and she went limp against him, all the fight leaving her abruptly.
"So, if you're so sure I won't leave, what's this sudden need you have to spend your every waking moment with me?" She asked hollowly.
"We're married for God's sake… and we're like strangers! I know nothing about you!"
"Of course you know nothing about me," her voice was hoarse with the effort it took not to scream at him. "You're the one who decided, even before we got married, that there was nothing worth knowing about me."
"Well I've changed my mind," he didn't bother to deny her wild accusation, probably because it was true, instead dropping his hands down to her narrow shoulders to give her a little shake.
"Which once again begs the question of why… after eighteen months of marriage, why now?" His hands fell from her shoulders before he shrugged with an air of disinterest which belied his urgency of just seconds ago.
"Why not now? Now's as good a time as any…" he was back to being remote and icy and Theresa shuddered involuntarily.
"It's much too late, Sandro," she whispered, wrapping her arms around her slender frame. "I may be trapped in this marriage but I want nothing to do with you! The very sight of you makes me sick to my stomach."
"There's a way out of this you know," he finally murmured.
"I know," his hooded gaze snapped back up to her face. "Have a baby, right? You want a son… and I'm the chosen incubator." She watched his face carefully but he betrayed not one iota of emotion other than a slight tightening of his jaw. "So what happens after I have this precious baby of yours? Who gets him after the divorce? You expect me to be nothing but a surrogate mother. I'm to bear him and you'll then take him away from me, right?"
She was aching to hear an affirmative from him, anything that would prove to her that he was the one who wanted the child and that she had misunderstood the conversation she had overheard between her husband and her father that morning.
"Of course I wouldn't take him from you," he shook his head, sending her heart plummeting. "I wouldn't be that cruel. Naturally you'd maintain custody," Theresa shut her eyes to shield her agony from him and she felt her scalding tears seep down her cheeks.
"How very… magnanimous of you," she whispered. "To be so desperate for something only to give it up in the end… you're so much more generous than I gave you credit for. How often would you want to see him?"
"I would naturally move back to Italy so I would probably see him two or three times a year. It is what you want, no? Less contact with me?" She inhaled deeply and her brow furrowed. Two or three times a year? That was all the time he would want to spend with a child who was half hers? She opened her eyes and met his gaze squarely.
"Like I said before, you're being quite generous but it's all moot anyway because I have no intention of having a baby with you!"
"You're being very childish, Theresa," he admonished quietly.
"No, I'm finally making my own decisions. Up to this point in my life, everything has been decided for me… this marriage would never have happened if my father hadn't decided that you would make the perfect son-in-law. After that, the wedding date, the venue, the cake, where we would live… it was all you or my father. I couldn't even choose my own wedding dress," the last emerged in a small, broken voice which quavered with remembered disbelief and outrage. Her father had simply had the dress delivered to her room with the direction that it was to be worn on her wedding day, no discussion and no choice.
"The only reason I got Lisa as a bridesmaid was because my father deemed it appropriate for my first cousin to be in the wedding party. If she'd been just a friend, I doubt she'd have fit the bill!"
"It turns my stomach to hear someone who's led such a privileged life whine on about how terrible her life is, you've been spoilt and you've had everything money could buy…"
"Except love, specifically my husband's love and my father's love… apparently I'm not quite worthy of that."
"You're feeling sorry for yourself and I'm getting sick of it."
"Yes, I'm feeling sorry for myself," she acknowledged bitterly. "And it's very liberating. In the past all I've done is accept everything you and my father have dished out… thinking it was my lot in life, even thinking I deserved it; if two such powerful men as you thought I wasn't worthy of love and respect, then who was I to differ? But I'm starting to realise that I'm not the one at fault here. I'm not the one with the personality defect… at least my motives for marrying you were honest; I stupidly believed I loved you. Yours were less than stellar, weren't they? They certainly had nothing to do with love."
"They had everything to do with love," he suddenly thundered, silencing her abruptly as she stared up at him in wide-eyed shock. "Just not love for you." She blinked up at him; her green eyes the only colour in her deathly pale face.
"What does that mean?" She asked through barely moving lips. "Love for whom?" Was he referring to Francesca? If he really loved the other woman so much, why on earth marry Theresa? It made no sense.
"None of your damned business," he grated furiously, a muscle working frantically in his jaw.
"It never is," she finally nodded bitterly. "It has nothing to do with me, yet it affects every aspect of my life. You want something from me but you're unable to give me anything in return. Well, I've had enough of that, Sandro. You want a baby but this is my body and so it's my decision to make…"
"I'm your husband…"
"No. You are not my husband," she interrupted in a voice thickened with hatred and tears. "You have never been my husband. A husband loves, honours and cherishes! A husband is a lover and a champion… Look into the next room if you want to see what a real husband is, because you
are no such thing!" He reeled away from her, looking like a man who'd just been bitten by his favourite pet and she pushed herself away from the fridge to brush past him.
"Theresa, wait…" he grabbed one of her arms to prevent her from running off.
"I have to go, please tell Rick and Lisa that…"
"No," he interrupted gently. "You stay. This is your family, you are right this is your place and I should not have intruded. I'm sorry…" his eyes skirted away from hers as he made apology and Theresa's jaw dropped at his second apology in twenty-four hours. She felt certain that the world would grind to a halt at any moment. "I will leave now… it is how it should be." With that he dropped her arm and walked out, leaving her to stare after him in confusion.