The Unwanted Wife
They barely spoke over the next week or so, merely co-existing in the same house. Sandro still insisted that they take breakfast and dinner together and that they sleep together but he never touched her in bed, maintaining the distance that she had insisted on. Some part of Theresa was relieved while another, even larger part, bemoaned the loss of the one bond they had shared. Still, she kept telling herself that it was just sex and it had never meant anything.
Besides she had other, more immediate, concerns. Like the fact that she had thrown up every day for the last week and the fact that she was still stricken by dizzy spells at the most unexpected times... like the fact that her period was now than it had ever been before. She was relieved that the intimacies between her and Sandro had ceased, because he was as familiar with her cycle as she was and she would really prefer absolute certainty before telling him anything. She also wanted time to figure out what her next move would be.
Yet another decision taken from her, she reflected bitterly but at least she could decide the time and place to tell him, if indeed she was pregnant, which she desperately hoped was not the case. She worried at her lower lip with her teeth, staring blindly at the design she had been working on for most of the week. It was supposed to be a necklace but it looked like no necklace she had ever seen before. She shook her head in disgust; she could not seem to get anything done. It was the equivalent of writer's block and it was extremely frustrating. Her cellphone buzzed discreetly and she snatched it up, welcoming the distraction. She had been exchanging text messages with Lisa all day and was expecting the message to be from her cousin. She was rather unpleasantly surprised to see Sandro's name in her inbox. He usually refrained from contacting her during the day. She frowned down at his name, not all that keen on reading the text. Finally she exhaled gustily and clicked on the message.
"Eating out tonight. Dress: casual. 'Business thing'. Will be home by 6. Dinner @ 7:30"
She groaned, Sandro and his damned "appearances"! She was tempted to simply refuse but didn't have the energy for the argument that would ensue. At least he'd forewarned her this time, there had been a few incidences in the past where he had simply come home and told her that they were going out in an hour. A couple of times the events had been formal, leaving Theresa to scramble for appropriate dresses and silently cursing the fact that she hadn't even had the opportunity to have her hair professionally done. Sighing softly, she gave up on work for the rest of the afternoon and instead decided to get her hair done. Looking good tonight would give her ego a boost if nothing else.
Sandro was home promptly at six. Theresa was curled up on the sofa, flipping through the coffee table book by an extremely popular photographer, which she had just purchased on her afternoon excursion. He was a wildlife photographer but his subject matter this time round was a lot closer to home. His latest anthology, entitled "Man's Best Friend" was all about dogs. Theresa, being a huge sucker for dogs, hadn't thought twice before buying the book. Sandro paused in the doorway and she looked up to see his arrested gaze on her hair. She lifted a self-conscious hand to her newly-cut hair, knowing that it was a big change. She had had her waist length fall of Titian hair cut to just below her jaw. The style was straight and sleek, with a feathery fringe and Theresa loved the way it made her look and feel like a new woman. Something she was so desperately striving to be.
Her hair had always been long, her father had absolutely forbade her to cut it and Theresa knew that the one thing Sandro absolutely adored about her, aside from her rather small breasts, was her hair. When he was having sex with her he was always touching, stroking or tugging at her hair. Now she waited with bated breath for his inevitable negative reaction to the cut which framed her face and emphasised her large, grey-green, eyes and high, delicate cheekbones. His hands clenched and he seemed to swallow with visible effort.
"You look..." his voice was hoarse and he cleared his throat before starting again. "You look bellisima, cara." His quiet voice seemed to ring with sincerity and something which, in any other man, would be akin to reverence. "Absolutely stunning..."
"Oh," was all she could think of to say and he came further into the room, still so riveted on her hair and face that he very nearly tripped over a small footstool placed beside an easy chair. He frowned down at the offending piece of furniture before sinking down into the leather easy chair opposite the matching sofa Theresa was curled up on.
"Uh..." he dragged his gaze down to the book in her lap and seemed strangely desperate to make conversation. "What are you reading?" His sharp eyes honed in on the title before he raised his gaze to hers in consternation. "Dogs?" He sounded so insultingly nonplussed that she hugged the book defensively to her chest.
"I happen to like dogs," she said fiercely and his strangely gentle gaze swept over her tight features before coming to a rest on the book she had clutched to her chest. He leaned forward and extended his right hand palm up.
"May I?" He kept his gaze steady until she reluctantly let up on the death grip she had on the book and handed it over to him. "Thank you." He leaned back and flipped through the glossy pages, pausing here and there before grinning almost boyishly up at her. He looked so breathtakingly handsome that for a long moment she didn't realise that he was talking to her.
"Sorry, I didn't quite catch that," she whispered and his grin widened as he flipped the book toward her, tapping his long index finger on the picture of a grinning black Labrador retriever.
"I had one just like this," he informed and she frowned.
"One what?" She asked blankly and his grin widened into a fully-fledged, devastatingly appealing smile.
"Dog," he informed patiently, turning the book back towards himself. His expression was gently reminiscent. "I like dogs too... the way I see it, anyone who doesn't like dogs is not to be trusted. My retriever was called Rocco. He died just before I started university. I'd had him for sixteen years. I suppose you could say that I grew up with him." She smiled reluctantly at his obvious affection for what must have been a well-loved pet.
"You must have had a dog too, growing up?" He prompted and she nodded slowly. "What breed?"
"She was a bit of a mutt," Theresa whispered, more than a little reluctant to continue.
"What was her name?" Why was he being so damned persistent?
"Sheba," she supplied, her voice going even quieter and his smile faded as he leaned forward intently, his eyes fixed on her downcast face.
"Tell me more," he invited quietly.
"Nothing much to tell," she shrugged, clearing her throat. "My mother took me to the SPCA for my eleventh birthday and told me to choose any dog I wanted. I'd been going on and on about getting a dog for months before that, promising that I would take good care of it. It was getting to the point where, I guess, she would have done anything to shut me up. So I chose Sheba, with her soulful brown eyes, her scruffy black and white coat and her happy, wagging tail." He smiled slightly at that and so did she. "She wasn't much to look at but I adored her." She sighed heavily before stopping and shrugging, finally lifting her eyes to meet his. "Time to get ready for that dinner now, isn't it?" He frowned before shaking his head.
"How long did you have your dog?" He asked softly in a tone of voice that said he wouldn't rest until he knew everything and Theresa tugged at her full lower lip with her teeth.
"About three weeks," he smothered a soft curse at the whispered confession.
"Mom and Daddy didn't agree on most things and apparently my getting a dog was yet another excuse to fight. Getting Sheba was Mom's way of scoring points against Daddy and getting rid of Sheba was Daddy's way of scoring points against Mom," she strove to sound flippant but the tremor in her voice made a liar out of her. Sandro said nothing but he seemed to be struggling with something, his jaw was so tightly clenched that she could see the little muscles knotting just below his ears and his knuckles showed white where his grip had tightened on the book.
"What did he do to the dog?" He finally gritted out, sounding like he was chewing nails.
"I never knew for sure," she confessed. "Mom said Sheba went to a new family and was happy with them. But I don't know... I always feared that he took her back to the pound." Despite her best intentions, tears of long-remembered pain flooded her eyes and she averted her gaze and tilted her chin in an effort to appear casual. "I couldn't sleep for the longest time afterwards, imagining how confused Sheba must have been and on the really bad nights I pictured them taking her into the vet's surgery to be put down... because even though I loved her, she really wasn't cute, or clever or all that special. If she went back to the pound, I don't think she would have gone to another home."
"You mustn't think like that," he admonished.
"I know. Never mind, it's so far in the past that the wound has healed long ago. Not even a scar," his intent gaze told her that he didn't believe a word of it but fortunately he didn't challenge her on it. He handed her book back to her and she took it with a nod, making sure to avoid all contact with his large hands. He noticed the evasion and, while his eyes narrowed, he chose not to say anything about it.
"So how casual is this business thing?" She asked, getting up carefully, not wanting another revealing attack of dizziness in front of him.
"Extremely casual," he responded. "Jeans, t-shirt and jacket will do."
"You mean I had my hair done for nothing?" She frowned, rather disgruntled that she wouldn't be showing off her new look in the best possible setting.
"I hardly think it was for nothing," he protested with another one of those rare, breathtaking smiles of his. "I think the result was well worth the effort. I loved your long hair, cara, but this new chic, sleek little cut... words fail me... you look..." he shook his head and in a quintessentially Italian gesture, raised his fingertips to his lips and kissed them to signify his approval. For some reason that struck Theresa as funny and she stifled a giggle with her hand. Her eyes, above the hand she held over her mouth, were iridescent with laughter and he stood for a long moment, simply staring at her, before he cleared his throat.
"Go on, Theresa," he prompted gently. "Get ready. Meet me down here in half an hour?" She nodded at the question in his voice.
Sandro remained extremely closemouthed about where they were going, ignoring Theresa's increasingly desperate pleas for information. It was highly unusual for him not to tell her what to expect. He usually drilled information into her, what their hosts liked and what he wanted her to talk about. He always seemed afraid that she would mess it up somehow but he was markedly different this time, he seemed unusually relaxed and every time Theresa asked him to tell her about their eventual destination he told her not to worry about it. She stole irate peeks at his handsome profile, hating his nonchalance in the face of her edginess. He was dressed even more casually than she was, wearing name brand sweatpants that had definitely seen better days, battered sneakers of the same brand and jacket to match the pants.
"Stop staring," he growled, not even sparing her a glance, keeping his eyes glued to the road ahead. "You're making me nervous."
Yeah right! Mr Nerves of Steel, who handled the powerful Ferrari with grace and confidence, was nervous. She didn't believe that for a second. She pursed her lips and diverted her gaze to the rapidly darkening horizon beyond her window. They had been driving for nearly forty minutes now and Theresa had no clue where they were. She tilted her head back and closed her eyes for a few moments, feeling like the past few weeks of uncertainty were finally catching up with her.
"We're here..." Sandro's voice jerked her out of her doze some time later and she stretched voluptuously before sitting up to take stock of their surroundings. The car was already parked in the driveway of a huge house. The place made their own, not immodest, house seem like a garden cottage. There were five other sleek and expensive sports cars parked in the driveway and every light, both inside and out of the house seemed to be on.
Theresa unbuckled her belt and was out of the car before Sandro could even move. She stood with her hands braced on the roof of the Ferrari and stared up the immense house in unabashed curiosity. She was aware of Sandro, rummaging about in the space behind the front seats before climbing out of the low-slung car with feral grace and rounding the bonnet to join her on the passenger side of the car.
"Theresa, I don't want you to think that..." whatever he had about to say was cut off when another car, this one an expensive metallic-blue Lamborghini, slid to a stop behind theirs. Sandro glanced over and swore when he seemed to recognise the car.
The sole occupant emerged from the car in seconds and Theresa could see him quite clearly beneath the bright lights flooding the driveway. He was a tall, dark-haired, gorgeous man about Sandro's age and he had a huge, friendly grin on his face as he strode over to join them. Theresa found herself helplessly admiring his sexy, loose-limbed gait. He was dressed in similar fashion to her husband, just sporting a different name brand on his sweat suit.
"De Lucci!" He greeted her austere husband with a hearty slap on the back.
"Max," Sandro nodded in return, not seeming to share the man's exuberance at all. He turned to fully face the man and placed a peremptory hand in the small of Theresa's back to turn her as well. He kept his hand there even after they were both facing the other man.
"Who's this gorgeous babe?" Max turned that killer smile on her and Theresa found herself helplessly returning it. Sandro levelled a fulminating glare at the other man, who seemed to take his ill-humour in stride and grinned even wider.
"My wife, Theresa," Sandro snapped curtly, the warning in his voice more than a little obvious.
"You're married to this goddess?" Max kept his very appreciative gaze on Theresa's blushing face and his grin became a smile of genuine warmth. "I always knew you were a man of impeccable taste, De Lucci but I have to admit, my opinion of you has just sky-rocketed!" he held out a hand towards Theresa, who took it after only the slightest of hesitations.
"Charmed, I'm sure," his smile gentled and he lifted her hand to his mouth, dropping a reverent kiss on the back of it. "I'm Max Kinsley."
"Uh... T. Theresa," she stammered, choking back a giggle at the man's theatrics. She suspected that he was just trying to wind Sandro up and it seemed to be working because her husband's hand had curled into a fist in the small of her back. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr Kinsley."
"There will be none of this formality between us" He admonished. "I'm Max and you are Terri! Or Tessa if you prefer. Now, please... allow me to escort you inside." His grip on her hand tightened slightly as he tugged her towards him but Sandro's hand shot up to the elbow of her free arm.
"Her name is Theresa and I will be escorting my own wife inside!" Sandro gritted out through his teeth, obviously holding onto his temper by the barest of threads.
"How remiss of me," Max said with feigned regret, releasing her slender hand with exaggerated reluctance. "I'd completely forgotten that you were there, De Lucci!" Sandro made a slight growling sound in the back of his throat and Theresa couldn't stifle her giggle this time. Max looked delighted by the sound and stepped back with a jaunty little salute.
"We will continue our acquaintance inside, Tessa my darling" he promised before turning away and bounding up the stairs leading toward the front door of the house. He had a tog bag, which she hadn't previously noticed, slung over one broad shoulder.
"I like him," she smiled up at Sandro who was glowering at the front door that Max had just disappeared through.
"Don't mistake his flirtation for anything more than it is, Theresa," he muttered in warning. "He's got a girlfriend."
"I'm not a complete idiot, Sandro, he was needling you... quite successfully too, I might add."
"Dio, this is not the best time to be arguing, Theresa," he sounded weary. "Let's try..."
"Are you coming in or what?" A voice interrupted whatever Sandro had been about to say and they looked up toward the house, where another tall, broad-shouldered man was silhouetted in the doorway.
"Come on," Sandro muttered, taking her hand and picking up a tog bag similar to the one Max had been carrying. He led her to the front door, where the rugged man stepped aside to let them in.
"Hey, Sandro..." his casual greeting was followed by some more masculine back-thumping and this time the friendly overture was returned by Sandro.
"Gabe," Sandro nodded, before tugging Theresa forward. "This is Theresa."
"Theresa?" The man did a double take as he took a closer look at her, before he recovered from his astonishment with a warm smile. "I'm very happy to meet you. I'm Gabe Braddock."
...And the penny finally dropped. Theresa stared up at the warmly smiling man and felt like a complete idiot for not connecting the dots sooner. It was Friday night, Sandro was dressed in his sports gear and he had brought her to his regular, bloody football game! How typical, the man certainly pulled out all the stops when faced with an obstacle but this was just despicable and so unbelievably obvious! He had given her no warning whatsoever. No wonder he was such a successful businessman, he was a master at manipulating a situation to his advantage and this was a classic example. Give the woman what she wants and maybe her rebellion will subside and she will get down to the business of being a human incubator!
"I'm so happy to meet you, Mr Braddock," she said softly, taking the man's proffered hand and disguising her anger and confusion behind a sweet smile. "Why, just recently I expressed a wish to meet you!" She refused to look at Sandro but she sensed him uncomfortably shifting from one foot to the other. "And here we are..."
"Indeed," the other man smiled even though it was obvious, in the way he glanced at Sandro, that he knew something was amiss. "I'm glad you overcame your aversion to football and decided to join us tonight. The guys will be delighted to meet Alessandro's beautiful wife." Her aversion to football? So that was how he'd explained away her conspicuous absences.
"And I'm looking forward to meeting them," she said warmly. She was annoyed with Sandro and hurt by his transparent ploys to keep her appeased but this tall, broad-shouldered man with the warm smile seemed lovely and Theresa could not help but instinctively like him.
"Everybody's around back, Sandro," Gabe informed the silent man who stood at her back. "I'll join you soon, I'm waiting for Bobbie." He relinquished Theresa's hand and grinned down at her. "Don't let the guys flirt with you too much, Theresa. They're an incorrigible lot and they're suckers for a pretty girl!" He seemed to mean it, if his lingering glance over her blushing face was any indication.
"Enough with the flirting, Braddock," Sandro suddenly growled, stepping forward to place a possessive hand on her elbow and Gabe's grin took on a decidedly wicked slant.
"I can't believe it..." he hooted his voice alive with discovery. "You're jealous... of me!" The very idea was so ludicrous that Theresa laughed along with him but Sandro's grip tightened on her elbow.
"I'm not jealous," he retorted scathingly once their laughter had died down. "Just trying to protect my wife from your smarmy attentions, you smart ass."
"No... I'm beginning to believe you kept her away from all of us for so long because you can't handle the competition," the other man ribbed with the nerve that only a long-standing friend would possess.
"I am confident of my wife's excellent taste," Sandro dismissed before trying to steer Theresa away but she resisted.
"Now hold on a second, Sandro... I haven't exactly been spoiled for choice you know! I may find that my taste has changed..." Oh he did not like that, not one bit! He slanted a hard narrow-eyed glare at her that the other man, who was laughing in delight at her pithy comeback, did not see and Theresa tilted her chin stubbornly and met his glare with a defiant glare of her own.
"Ooh, I like her, Sandro," Gabe finally laughed, wiping at his eyes. "She's a feisty one."
"Yes..." Sandro's eyes warmed with reluctant amusement. "This I am beginning to realise." He tugged at her arm again and before Theresa could say or do anything more, he was leading her away. She followed docilely until she was certain that they were out of sight and earshot of the other man before she yanked her elbow from his grasp and turned on him furiously.
"You despicable, manipulative bastard!" She seethed, venting her frustration by punching him in the chest for good measure. He grimaced and rubbed at the spot she had hit before stepping out of the range of her swing.
"What the hell is your problem?" He growled angrily.
"My problem?" She managed to keep voice just under a screech. "My problem is you! You lied to me... again. You said that this was a business thing."
"Technically, it is... I am in business with at least five of the men here tonight!" He responded defensively.
"But this isn't really business is it? This is your precious little football game, the one I wasn't good enough to be invited to until after I threatened to leave you!"
"You said that you wanted to meet my friends," he seemed genuinely baffled. "Now when I give you that opportunity, you go crazy! I don't understand you at all..."
"The only reason you brought me here tonight was because you thought it would appease me. Throw the vicious dog a bone and it'll soon be eating out of your hand!"
"More like vicious bitch," he muttered beneath his breath and when he realised that she had heard him, he shrugged unrepentantly. "If you're going to be using animal metaphors, you may as well get it right."
"Fine, I'm a bitch... whatever!" She knew her response was childish but she was feeling more than a little put out by the situation.
"Look, I don't understand why you're so angry when you said you wanted to meet them."
"A year ago... Eighteen months ago even but not now! Don't you realise that this is too little too late?" She shook her head in frustration. "It's like putting a band-aid on an amputation!"
"You're being over-dramatic as usual," he dismissed scathingly.
"Oh you knew what my reaction would be and the only reason you knew that was because you recognised how inadequate and pathetic this gesture really is."
"And how do you figure that?" He asked defensively, crossing his arms over his broad chest and glaring down his beautiful nose at her.
"Why else would you be so sneaky about bringing me here?"
"Maybe that's because you've been so ridiculous about going anywhere with me lately!" He snapped angrily. "I knew you'd refuse if I asked you to come here tonight, so I had to fabricate a business dinner. Recently you've done nothing but over-react to everything I say and do, as well as completely misread my intentions, so I couldn't take the chance. I was hoping that for once I'd be wrong about you... but sure enough you had to go and be unreasonable about this too. You're so determined to put a negative slant on everything I do these days, that you're not willing to accept anything at face value. There are no ulterior motives here... I realised that you had a point about never meeting my friends, I realised that I have been... unfair and I wanted a chance to make it right," she bit her lip, unwilling to trust him but unable to resist the earnestness in his eyes. He looked like he actually meant his words.
"Don't you realise how foolish I feel?" She suddenly whispered, lowering her gaze to her feet. "Meeting them now... what must they think of me? I feel like I'm on display... your mystery wife who has shunned them for more than a year." He took a hesitant step toward her before wrapping his arms around her and dropping his forehead to hers. He brought his hands up to cup her face.
"They'll know whose fault it was, Theresa... I'll make sure of that," he promised huskily.
"I'll get them to believe that I really was too possessive to share you with them. They'll think that I wanted you all to myself."
"But that would make you look..." she struggled to find the correct word. "... insecure."
"Maybe..." he shrugged carelessly. "Or maybe they'll take one look at you and understand why I'd react like that."
"What do you..." his thumbs pressed to her soft lips, silencing the question.
"Silly little Theresa," he chided softly. "I may not have said it much, or at all for that matter but you're so beautiful I ache just looking at you sometimes." She wasn't beautiful; she knew she wasn't but just this once she wanted to believe him, especially since he seemed to mean it. She had never seen such stark honesty in his eyes before and it warmed her down to her toes. He leaned even closer, his lips just millimetres away from hers when an amused voice had them leaping guiltily apart.
"Come on guys, your honeymoon ended a year and five months ago. Give it a rest!" It was Gabe, coming up behind them. Theresa went a fiery red, while Sandro merely frowned, hunching his shoulders and dropping his hands into his pockets. He slanted a quick and inscrutable look at Theresa, who immediately averted her eyes. She couldn't think about that achingly sweet moment and she certainly couldn't wonder about that near-kiss, not right then.
She was quiet on the drive home and still confusing reality with fantasy. Sandro's friends had been lovely and she'd enjoyed cheering them on from the sidelines. She had been a bit uncomfortable around the other wives and girlfriends at first but they'd been so genuinely welcoming that Theresa had relaxed almost immediately. Sandro's constant attention had helped a lot. He would often trot over to where she was sitting to ask if she was okay, if she needed anything, if she was warm enough and it had become embarrassing after a while, especially when his friends had started ribbing him about it. Theresa had known, of course, that it was all an act but it had still been a heady sensation to have his entire focus on her like that. Theresa had found the actual football game surprisingly riveting, especially since she had been unable to tear her eyes off of her graceful, talented husband. Afterwards they'd had a barbecue and again, Sandro had been constantly attentive and almost affectionate, holding her hand or wrapping his arm around her shoulders. After the initial awkwardness, Theresa had found herself relaxing more and more.
Now in the confined space of the car, there was a shimmering tension between them and Theresa leaned forward to fill the silence with music but he caught her hand to prevent her from turning on the CD player.
"Don't..." she turned to look at the silhouette of his profile but he kept his eyes glued to the road.
"Did you have a good time tonight?" He asked gruffly.
"Yes... they're all lovely people."
"I'm glad." Silence again. He still hadn't released her hand, keeping it pinned between his hard thigh and his large hand.
"Everybody really liked you," she could hear the warmth in his voice but didn't know if it was directed at his friends or at her. "I was... proud... to have you there." She blinked, not at all sure how to take that. "And I felt guilty for leaving it for so long. I never meant to make you feel like I was ashamed of you, Theresa... I didn't want to marry you, it's true, but not at any point did I ever feel that you would shame me."
"Thank you for saying that," she whispered. "It means a lot." His hand tightened on hers before he let her go and she reluctantly lifted her hand from his thigh. There was silence again but this time it didn't feel quite so unfriendly and unwelcome anymore.