Theresa headed down to the kitchen for breakfast three weeks later and found her husband already seated at the table, newspaper in hand. He'd already dressed Lily and had her little baby carrier placed on the table in front of him. Lily was asleep and Sandro was so absorbed in his paper that he didn't notice her at first. It was Phumsile's usual day off, so he'd fixed himself a bowl of cereal, toast and some coffee. She smiled at the sight of them, her heart overflowing with love for both of them.
"Good morning," she greeted cheerily, as she headed over to the breakfast nook. She dropped a kiss on the baby's cheek and then, after the briefest of hesitations, one on her husband's lean cheek. While Sandro was a lot more affectionate these days, she still felt a certain reserve around him, not sure if she could touch and kiss him as freely as he did her. She knew she was being silly but she seemed unable to overcome her emotional barriers. He told her he loved her every day but she still couldn't quite bring herself to believe him. She often cynically caught herself wondering if he meant the words or merely said them because he thought they were what she wanted. She didn't understand herself, on the surface it looked like she had everything she'd ever wanted but she still didn't quite believe it was real.
"Good morning," he smiled up at her and put his newspaper aside as she got herself some cereal and sat down opposite him. He did that all the time now. She seemed to have his undivided attention: the business section was set aside, the television switched off, phone calls terminated and stock reports carelessly tossed away whenever she walked into a room. He wanted to know how she was feeling, how her day was going, what her plans were... they talked all the time, they spent companionable evenings together and he was a hands-on father. They'd had a quiet family Christmas and had both delighted in buying hugely impractical toys for Lily, things that she wouldn't be able to play with for years. Sandro had surprised her with an emerald pendant and earrings and she'd given him a silver Montblanc pen with Lily's and her names engraved on. Their New Year had been equally quiet as they'd invited only Rick, Lisa and Rick's brother over for a poolside barbecue. They made love every night and he worshipped her body during those long, dark hours. They had a great life... so why couldn't she trust him?
She knew that her reserve was frustrating Sandro... hell, it was frustrating her but she needed something more. She just didn't know what.
"I thought I'd let you have a bit of a lie in," he was saying, as he sipped his coffee. "Between Lily's and my demands last night, you didn't get much sleep." She blushed and averted her eyes to her cereal.
"Thank you," she mumbled. Her cellphone rang and she retrieved it from the kitchen counter where she had left it to charge the night before. A quick glance at the screen told her it was Lisa.
"Hey," she greeted.
"Hey yourself Birthday Girl," her cousin greeted and Theresa started. It was her birthday. She'd completely forgotten. "Rhys and I are taking you and Lily out to lunch. Our treat. But we're doing some serious birthday shopping first."
"I'm not sure..."
"No arguments, cuz. I'm sure Sandro will understand. He won't expect you to spend your birthday by yourself while he swans off to work... and he can have you this evening." Theresa glanced over at Sandro, who was playing peekaboo with a slightly groggy Lily. A helpless smile tugged at her lips as she watched him earnestly play with his daughter. Lily looked confused but at least she hadn't started wailing yet.
She refocused on her conversation with Lisa, certain that Sandro had no clue that it was her birthday and she wasn't about to inform him, not when she knew how angry this new Sandro would be with himself for never bothering to discover that information.
"Uhm... okay, what time do you want to meet?" She and her cousin quickly worked out the logistics of their meeting and she hung up shortly after they'd finalised their plans.
"You are meeting Elisa?" It was a question more than a statement, Sandro had lifted Lily from her carrier and was cuddling her to his chest, while she suckled on one of his knuckles.
"Yes, some shopping and lunch."
"Do you want me to take Lily to the office while you enjoy your girls' day out?" She smiled at the inherently selfish offer, knowing that he would love showing his daughter off at work.
"I appreciate the offer, Sandro... but until you start lactating, I don't think having her away from me for hours at a time is a good idea." He grimaced at that logic. She knew he missed Lily while he was at work. After a month of paternity leave, he had very begrudgingly gone back to work but he called every day, claiming to miss "his girls". It was sweet.
She watched him go back to muttering sweet nothings to his daughter between sips of coffee.
"Sandro, do you know who leaked that story about our marriage to the press?" She surprised herself by asking and she could tell by the way he jerked that the question had thrown him. He lifted his eyes to her, absently rocking Lily as he tried to gauge her mood.
"My oldest sister, Gabriella, had indiscreet conversations about our private family business with one of her friends. When my father died, the family was in the news for weeks and this 'friend' saw a golden opportunity to make some money. Our marriage wasn't the only thing that was dragged out for public scrutiny, my sister Rosalie's teenage abortion hit the news, my other sister Isabella's cheating husband..." he shook his head in disgust. "Ours was just the biggest news because of your father's involvement. It made a bad time for the family even worse. I was so busy doing damage control after the news of Rosalie's pregnancy and subsequent abortion that when the story of our marriage first hit, I wasn't even aware of it, until my mother brought it to my attention. I dropped everything and flew home to you. I couldn't stand the thought that you'd think it was true... that you'd think I valued our marriage so little that I would file for a divorce without even talking to you about it."
"What happened to the friend?"
"She sold our secrets for a pittance but the status she had in our society has diminished to nothing. She is no longer welcome in the circles she once ruled. Trust me, there's no greater punishment for someone like her. Gabriella has learned a valuable lesson in discretion... and a few Italian publications are currently being sued for libel when they completely fabricated a lot of the so-called 'facts' to back up the already juicy story they'd been handed. Like the 'fact' that I was filing for a divorce."
"Also..." she paused.
"Also?" He prompted.
"Why didn't you call? You promised you'd call every day," she whispered.
"Cara, my father had just died, my sisters, mother and nonna were emotional wrecks... I had so much to take care of but, every time I spoke with you, all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there and come home," that was the second time in as many minutes he'd referred to their house as 'home' and the word warmed her down to her soul. "Trust me when I tell you, the urge to come back was so strong that I actually ordered a car to take me to the airport after one of our awkward little conversations. I was torn between following my heart and honouring my responsibilities. But if I hadn't strictly rationed our phonecalls, I would have abandoned those responsibilities."
"You wouldn't have," she said with a half-laugh.
"Don't underestimate your allure, sweetheart. I would have... in a heartbeat. I know it was selfish of me not to call but it was the only way I could think of to control the impulse to simply hand the whole mess over to my sisters and come back to you. At the same time, our very stilted conversations weren't helping matters. I was frustrated and hated how emotionally distant you sounded. I was also afraid of saying the wrong thing and alienating you even further. It was driving me into the wall."
She laughed slightly.
"Up the wall," she corrected.
"What?" He looked baffled.
"It was driving you 'up the wall'... not into it."
"Into the wall, up the wall, over the wall, whatever," he flicked a dismissive hand. "It was driving me crazy." Charmed by his failure to grasp the English idiom, Theresa laughed again and decided to let the matter go. His explanations had gone a long way toward dispelling some of her lingering uneasiness with their relationship. Lily started to fuss and Theresa reached for her before quickly and efficiently bared a breast, she winced slightly when Lily latched on hungrily. Sandro dropped his jaw into the palm of one hand and watched them possessively. He enjoyed watching her feed Lily. In fact he was so completely fascinated with the new shape and size of her breasts recently that he handled them with gentleness and a bit of reverence whenever they made love.
"Thank you for answering my questions," she said after a few moments of silence, broken only by the snuffling sound of the hungrily feeding infant.
"I'm happy to answer any others," his voice trailed off in invitation and she nodded.
"Good to know.," she needed to ask him about Francesca, about their future... but she was meeting Lisa. Later, she promised herself. She would ask him later. She ignored the tiny voice in the back of her head that called her a coward.
"So what are the plans for tonight?" Lisa asked curiously as Theresa enjoyed the decadent slice of chocolate mousse cake she was having for dessert.
"We'll probably have a quiet evening," she shrugged. "Sandro doesn't know it's my birthday."
"Oh," Lisa glanced away for a long moment before turning back to Theresa. "Do you want me to tell him?"
"No he'd feel awful if he realises," Lisa's lips tilted at the sides.
"Well, at least he wouldn't be indifferent," Lisa said. "Which is probably what he would have been a year ago." Theresa nodded.
"I know..." she paused. "He told me he loved me... about a month ago. And he's said it every day since. But, I can't quite seem to bring myself to believe him."
"Theresa, it's been pretty obvious to me for a while now that he's in love with you," her cousin startled her by saying.
"Yes... I think I started to see it when he tried to forgive my debt for no good reason and then when you fainted after your amniocentesis and started crying when I got there, Rick was right, the man looked devastated when you burst into tears. I think you should start believing in him. I know that he hurt you badly in the past but it's time for you to decide if you can forgive him or not. Because if you can't then there's no point in staying in this marriage but if you can then I think this man is going to do his damnedest to make sure that you're happy for the rest of your life."
Lisa went home with Theresa that evening deciding that they should have an impromptu birthday dinner for her. But when they got back to the house and Theresa got a phone call from Sandro telling her that he had to work late, Lisa grimly bullied Theresa into a pretty dress, called Rick and said that they were taking Theresa and Lily out to what she called a "fancy" restaurant.
Theresa was in no real mood to celebrate and when they got to the restaurant, she dragged her feet to the entrance, where Rick stood waiting. He looked quite dashing in a tuxedo and well-matched with Lisa, who was wearing one of the pretty evening gowns she had bought on their shopping expedition that afternoon.
"Look guys, this is too much fuss..." Theresa protested. "Why don't we just head back to my house and have a nice dinner or something?"
"Too late now, Sunshine, we're here, so you're going to have to deal with it." Rick grinned, before dropping a kiss on her cheek and then reaching over to taking Lily's carrier from her. "Happy birthday, Theresa, you look ravishing."
Right, the knee-length silk slip dress was a little too low and made her swollen breasts look slightly too voluptuous for her liking. She felt a little uncomfortable in it but Lisa had chosen it, saying that the ice green colour did wonderful things for her hair and eyes.
"I mean, did you guys even think to make reservations?"
"Theresa, with your dad and husband being who they are, do you really think getting into any restaurant you want is ever going to be a problem?" Lisa scoffed and Theresa wrinkled her nose, conceding the point. Lisa flounced through the door and Rick stood aside to let Theresa in.
The maitre'd smiled and led her through without question. Surprised, she followed him with a little frown on her face. He led her through double glass doors. The place was packed with people and for some reason no-one was sitting down. She squirmed uncomfortably when everyone turned to stare at her, not quite sure what on earth was going on.
"Surprise!" She nearly jumped out of her skin at the collective shout and then finally realised that she recognised most of the faces in the room. Rick, who had stood outside of the room until after surprise, in case it scared Lily, moved to stand beside her.
"What's going on?" She whispered in panicked confusion.
"It's a surprise birthday party, you ditz," he teased, dropping another fond kiss on her cheek before heading off to find his wife in the throng. People were milling around her, kissing her and shaking her hand. She recognised Gabe Braddock and all of Sandro's Friday night buddies along with their significant others, Rick's brother Bryce came up and gave her an unceremonious pat on her back and a gruff "happy birthday" before disappearing back into the woodwork. The man hated crowds, she could imagine this scene wasn't really to his taste but he was here and she was so utterly confused by that. Why was he here, why were any of them here? How did Lisa even know to invite Gabe Braddock and that lot?
"Happy birthday, my love," a familiar pair of strong arms wrapped around her waist and she was tugged back against a broad chest. Sandro dropped a kiss in her neck. She turned in his arms and stared up at him in bemusement.
"You did this?" She asked in disbelief. "But I thought you didn't..."
"Cara," he interrupted with infinite patience. "I'm not a stupid man, I wasn't about to repeat my past mistakes. I love you and I wanted to show you how much."
"How long have you been planning this?" She asked.
"God, since before my father died... the plans were put on hold until after I returned and then with Lily's birth they stalled a bit but I wanted to do something special to make up for all the times your birthday was neglected or forgotten over the years." She knew he meant by her father as well as himself and was helplessly touched by the gesture.
"Thank you," she smiled and stood up on her toes kiss him. He cupped her face and kissed her hungrily.
"You look beautiful," he told her.
"You don't look too bad yourself," she said, stepping back to take in his tailor-made tuxedo.
"Hey, break it up you two," a brash male voice intruded into their intimate little cocoon and they both turned to see Gabriel Braddock's smiling face. "Sandro, it's like every time I see you with this gorgeous thing, you have your hands all over her. Share the wealth, bro." He stepped forward to envelope Theresa in a warm hug.
"Happy birthday, gorgeous. We've missed you..." considering how they'd met her only once, months ago, Theresa initially doubted the veracity of that statement but the sincerity in his face, led her to believe that he actually meant his words.
"Thank you," she smiled. "I'm sorry I never came to any of your other soccer nights."
"You had a difficult pregnancy, perfectly understandable," he dismissed with a careless flick of the hand. "And congratulations on your beautiful daughter, by the way. Sandro's been flashing pictures of her at us for weeks. It'll be nice to see her in the flesh. Where is the little darling?"
"My cousin's husband has her," she glanced around for Rick and saw him showing Lily off to his brother, Bryce and Bryce's business partner Pierre de Coursey. The little group was soon joined by Rick's business partner, Vuyo and by Pierre's wife. Everybody was cooing over the still-sleeping baby.
"Looks like she's not wanting for attention, so I'll take her beautiful mother out for a spin on the dance floor in the meantime," he whisked a laughing Theresa away from Sandro before the other man could protest and twirled her around to some upbeat music.
He'd had her for barely two minutes before someone cut in, after that she was passed from partner to partner for the next half an hour before Sandro finally claimed her.
"Think you can spare some time to flirt with your husband, cara?" He asked grumpily and she blinked up at him uncertainly until she realised that he was a little jealous. The fact boosted her confidence and brought a delighted smile to her face.
"I have a few minutes to spare between dances," she nodded after a considering pause and he growled before dragging her closer and tucking her head onto his shoulder. They swayed together slowly and he started nuzzling her neck. She sighed and melted into his hard body, enjoying the warm, spicy scent of him. They were so wrapped up in each other that they didn't notice anybody standing beside them until a voice penetrated the fog of desire.
"Sandro?" He made a protesting sound before raising his head and blinking at someone standing behind Theresa. She watched his face light up and a smile grace his lips before he launched into rapid Italian. Baffled, she turned in his arms and froze...
"Cara, this is my mother and two of my sisters... they flew over to meet you and the latest edition to our family. Mama, Isabella, Rosalie, this is my wife, Theresa." The four women eyed one another warily, none of them quite certain what to expect. Finally, the youngest of the trio of gorgeous brunettes stepped forward with a smile. Theresa guessed that she had to be Rosalie.
"I'm very pleased to finally meet you, Theresa," she said in lightly accented English and to Theresa's utter shock gave her a warm hug. "I'm Rosalie."
"I... nice to meet you," Theresa muttered helplessly in response, her eyes desperately seeking Sandro's. He looked anxious but smiled reassuringly when he met her gaze.
"I was expecting them to arrive next week but they flew in late last night, just in time for your birthday," she could see the apology in his eyes, as if he feared their presence would diminish her pleasure in the birthday party. She shook her head, the gesture so slight that only he caught it and smiled at him.
"Well, what a doubly wonderful surprise then," she shook off her shock and bestowed a genuinely warm smile on the small group of Italian beauties. Sandro's sisters were receiving a lot of speculative male looks already.
"My daughter Gabriella couldn't make it, she's having some trouble with her oldest child," Sandro's mother finally said keeping her voice determinedly neutral. "And of course, my mother-in-law is too old to travel. But they both send their best." Therese very much doubted that, remembering how particularly hostile those two women had been to her during the video call.
"Mrs de Lucci," Theresa reached out to grip the other woman's hands in both of hers. "I'm so sorry for your loss and I'm sorry that I was unable to attend the funeral."
"Don't be silly, Theresa," she older woman scoffed, determinedly blinking away her sudden tears. "You were heavily pregnant. Travelling in that condition would have been foolish. You did the right thing. Now, where is this granddaughter of mine? I've seen photographs of course but I'm ready to meet her." The imperiousness in her tone brooked no disobedience and Theresa grinned when Sandro practically saluted before abandoning them in search of his daughter.
She tensed, when she realised that he'd left her alone with his intimidating family and braced herself for whatever would come next. She was under no illusions that they liked her or accepted her, knowing that they would all pretend to get along just find for Sandro's sake... but that what went on behind his back would be another story entirely.
"I owe you an apology," Sandro's mother finally shocked her by saying and she dared a glance into the elegant older woman's face. The woman no longer looked intimidating, in fact her face had softened completely and Theresa blinked up at her in surprise. "I was less than.... gracious, when you called to speak with my husband. After the funeral, Sandro told us the truth about your marriage, about the way both he and your father had treated you, so I now know that you would have been completely justified in not wanting to speak with my husband. But you showed a greater depth of character than the rest of us combined when you agreed to meet him... you made a dying man very happy in his last few hours. He was so worried about Sandro and what he'd sacrificed for our family but talking to you eased his mind considerably and he was at peace when he passed away that night. I have you to thank for that."
"I was happy to meet him," Theresa responded, a little blown away by this turn of events.
"Well, this is nearly two years too late but I am very happy to meet you too, Theresa," her mother-in-law engulfed her in a totally unexpected and very awkward hug. Theresa returned it in bemusement before both women stepped back a few seconds later, looking equally flustered. Rosalie and Isabella were both grinning. Rosalie introduced Theresa to Isabella, explaining that the other woman spoke little English
"But she wanted to meet you," Rosalie confided cheerfully. Theresa could see that she and Rosalie were going to get along just fine. The other woman was an irreverent bundle of laughs and they were both giggling conspiratorially over the way Sandro had practically jumped earlier to do his mother's bidding, when he finally returned carrying Lily. The baby was awake and wailing, not happy with the crowd of unfamiliar people surrounding her. Her little face was wet and scrunched up but her aunties and grandmother immediately started fussing all over her.
Sandro handed her over to his mother for a moment before turning to Theresa.
"You okay?" He asked in a low voice that only she could hear. She nodded, smiling reassuringly up at him.
"I'm sorry, I didn't expect them to show up so soon, I hope they haven't spoiled the party for you? I wanted this night to be perfect."
"And it has been pretty near perfect so far," she assured him. "They've been lovely, Sandro. All of them."
"Good, because I would have bounced them the hell back to Italy if they'd said anything at all to upset you" he told her firmly.
"Don't be silly. They're your family..."
"Wife trumps all," he retorted and she rolled her eyes.
"I'm going to rescue Lily from the Kissing Brigade over there. She's probably hungry," she went over to do just that, practically floating on air as she felt Sandro's gaze still on her. Wife trumps all? She very definitely liked the sound of that.
In the end, Theresa got her dream birthday party, complete with singing, a huge cake and dozens of floating balloons. The evening couldn't have been more perfect. After making sure his family was loaded into a taxi that would take them to their hotel, he called their driver to come and pick them up. Lily had been put to bed in a quiet room equipped with a professional nanny that the staff had provided for her and Rhys. She stirred restlessly when her parents collected her and they both tensed, knowing that was close to her regular feeding time.
"I'm knackered," Theresa yawned once they were all snugly ensconced in the back seat of the car. He had his arm draped around her slender shoulders and she had her head tucked against his chest. Lily was contentedly suckling at her breast and both of them were in danger of falling asleep on Sandro.
"I had a wonderful evening Sandro," she muttered sleepily.
"I'm happy to hear it, cara," he whispered into her hair.
"All those balloons," her voice faded and the last thing she heard before dozing off was the sound of his indulgent chuckling.
Theresa woke up some time during the early hours of the morning when she felt Sandro leave the bed. She blinked in confusion, not sure how she'd gotten to bed. She was stark naked and she didn't remember getting undressed, or even coming upstairs for that matter. She could hear Lily fretting through the baby monitor and was about to get out of bed when she heard Sandro's gentle voice crooning to the baby. Lily calmed down a little and Theresa smiled as she listened to him sing to the baby, his sleep-roughened voice slightly off-key. His voice faded and she sat up, switching on the bedside lamp and adjusting the pillows behind her back when she realised that Sandro was probably bringing Lily into the bedroom for her feed. He appeared moments later, looking completely rumpled and wearing nothing but white boxer shorts. He smiled when he saw her sitting up in bed.
"Your daughter's hungry," he nodded down at the fussing baby and Theresa reached up for her and he transferred the wriggling bundle gently, before rounding the bed to climb in next to Theresa. He watched raptly as Theresa fed the baby.
"I don't remember getting home," Theresa whispered after a few minutes.
"Yeah, you were wiped out. I brought Lily upstairs and then went back down for you."
"You carried me? Sandro, I weigh a ton..."
"Hardly," he scoffed.
"Well, that explains why I'm totally naked."
"I felt I deserved a reward after all that hard work," he grinned wickedly and she rolled her eyes.
"Sandro, I'm moving back into our bedroom tomorrow," she told him quietly. He said nothing at first and instead reached over to toy with one of Lily's closed fists. It was something she'd been thinking about since Lily's birth. He spent every night in the spare bedroom with her anyway, so insisting on separate bedrooms was a bit of a moot point. The master bedroom was a lot more comfortable and close to the nursery.
"That's good," he finally said, keeping his eyes on the suckling baby. "I'm happy to hear that, Theresa."
An awkward silence descended and Theresa wasn't sure what had caused it. His response to her news had been lukewarm at best.
"You do want me to move back, right?" She asked after another long silence and was surprised by the flash of fury she saw in his eyes when he looked up at her.
"Of course I want you to move back, Theresa. I also want you to trust me, to forgive me... to love me," he seethed, sitting up abruptly and leaving the bed to pace the room like a menacing cat, all feral grace and power. Theresa watched him in helpless fascination.
"I don't know what to say or do anymore, Theresa," he said quietly, running agitated hands through his hair. "Then again it doesn't seem to matter what I say or do... you're determined to keep an emotional distance between us. Do you think I haven't noticed? How much longer are you going to punish me for my stupidity?"
"I'm not trying to punish you," she was appalled that he would think that. "I'm really not. I just..." she didn't know what to say, because now that she thought about it, she wondered if she hadn't been subconsciously punishing him after all.
"I have something for you," he finally muttered grimly. "It's your birthday present. I was going to give it to you in the morning but since you're up..." he left the room abruptly and returned a couple of minutes later with a thick envelope in his hand. He reached over to take the sleeping baby from her and dropped the envelope into her lap. She stared at it uncertainly for a long time, while Sandro continued to pace with Lily cradled in his arms. Finally, hesitantly, she reached for it and turned it over in her hands. But the plain brown exterior of the A4 sized envelope gave no clue as to its contents. She glanced up at Sandro but he was now standing at the floor-to-ceiling windows, presumably staring out at the stormy predawn sky.
"It won't bite you," his deep voice startled her and she realised that, because of the glow from the lamp, he could see her reflection in the window. She ran a finger under the flap of the envelope to open it and reached inside to extract a thick sheaf of legal looking papers. Her stomach plummeted at first when she saw their names printed on the top sheet and for a brief awful moment, she thought he was serving her divorce papers. Then she looked closer and frowned.
"Sandro... what did you do?" She whispered in shock. "You can't do this."
"I can... I have," he shrugged, still watching her reflection in the glass. "It's yours."
He had given her the vineyard. His father's vineyard.
"But it's your father's."
"And when he died, it became mine. I suppose technically your father could snatch it back at any moment but it's a gesture, Theresa."
"Why?" She asked helplessly.
"I didn't want you doubt my reasons for wanting to be with you... I didn't want it hanging between us anymore."
"But your mother and sisters..."
"They know about it and for the most part approve of my decision. Not that it would have mattered if they didn't. This isn't about them, this is about us. It's about fixing what I broke." He finally turned around to face her and stalked back to the bed. "The vineyard is yours, Theresa and if you don't want it, you can burn it to the ground or transfer the deed to Lily. You can hand it back to your father on a platter. It doesn't matter to me. The only thing that matters to me is you. You're the sun I revolve around and without you..." he shook his head as his voice broke.
"I think it's time you told me about Francesca," Theresa finally said and he inhaled deeply, before sitting down next to her. Theresa reached over and took Lily from him. Thankfully the baby continued to sleep peacefully.
"Francesca..." he shut his eyes as he tried to gather his thoughts. "She's the kind of woman I always pictured myself marrying. Poised, sophisticated, beautiful... she keeps all her emotions locked up tight, which suited me fine because I never appreciated messy emotional scenes. We dated and got along pretty well. I fancied myself in love with her. It was a very neat, clinical and uncomplicated version of love. I thought that we were perfectly suited..." Theresa tried to keep her expression neutral but it hurt so much listening to him talk about the other woman in such terms. "Then I came here to meet your father and saw you for the first time. Your quiet beauty drew me immediately. I don't think I ever told you that. I couldn't keep my eyes off of you that first time and I wanted you with a violence that shocked the ever-loving hell out of me. If your stupid father had left things alone, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to keep my hands off of you. But when he forced the issue, he did the one thing that guaranteed I would keep my distance from you. I don't like being told what to do, cara. And even though you were exactly what I'd wanted, I very perversely kept you at a distance.
"I resented you and I resented your father for messing up my life and my future plans. I went into our marriage, determined to grab that damned divorce with both hands as soon as you had a son. But things got messy... and emotional. I tried so hard to keep you at a distance, I refused to kiss you, I pretended to want other women and all the time I couldn't stay away from you. I could see how much I was hurting you and..." she watched him struggle to find the right words before he shook his head and dropped his gaze. "At first I didn't care. I rationalised that it was nothing more than you deserved. But the more distant and closed off you became more frustrated I became with you. I told myself that it was because I wanted to see you suffer but when I gave it any serious thought I knew it went deeper than that. I hated not having your attention. When we first married you showered me with attention, you knew something was wrong but you were always so determinedly affectionate and loving. Seeing that affection and that trust fade from your eyes... it was so much harder than I'd ever anticipated."
He got up and started to pace again. Theresa watched him prowl aggressively around the room and felt the ice around her heart melting with every word he uttered. He was being so brutally honest with her, some of his words were ugly and hurtful, while others sent her heart soaring.
"Every time I returned to Italy I spent time with Francesca..." he confessed roughly, stopping his pacing abruptly to pin her with his fierce gaze. "I never touched her. I want you to know that. Not in any sexual way. I never wanted to. My mother and sisters kept arranging these little get-togethers with her family and ours; they tried to push us together more often than not. I very rarely sought out her company. I saw her at parties and family gatherings but never felt the need to contact her at any other time. You were never far from my thoughts while I was out of the country. I found myself wondering what you were doing, who you were with, if you were happy... if you missed me," he cleared his throat self-consciously. "I really wanted you to miss me, Theresa. I told myself it was because you would suffer more, wondering what I was up to... what a joke! I wanted you to miss me because I missed you. The few times I called home you were so distant and it drove me out of my mind. All I could think of when I was in Francesca's company was getting back to you. I fantasized about the things I would do to you when I had you naked beneath me again. Why else do you think I was always so damned horny when I got home after those trips?" Theresa blushed as she recalled a particularly memorable homecoming; Sandro had returned on a Friday and hadn't let her out of bed until the Monday morning. The man had been insatiable.
"That morning when you said you wanted a divorce," he shook his head. "You shocked the hell out of me. Up until that point you'd been so passive and accepting of the situation."
"The quintessential doormat you mean?" She inserted drily.
"I don't think you were ever a doormat, Theresa. I think you were trying to make the best of a bad situation and in the end when you no longer could, you showed me who you truly were. I was fascinated with you before but once I started seeing the real you, I fell hard and fast. I was appalled when I realised that you knew nothing about your father's sick arrangement. I hated what I'd done to you, how I'd made you suffer for his mistakes. I tried to make it up to you but by then you clearly despised me and with good reason. I wanted get to know you, I wanted us to have a real marriage but you insisted that you wanted nothing to do with me... and Theresa, if you ever wanted revenge for the way I'd treated you, you got it in spades when it felt like nothing I was doing or saying was making any difference to the way you felt about me.
"And then when you told me you were pregnant," he knelt on the bed and stared down into their sleeping baby's face, before raising his eyes to hers. "Suddenly it felt like there was a ticking time bomb in the house. I didn't have all the time in the world to make you love me again; I had only a few short months. The one thing I'd wanted above all else in the beginning was now a noose around my throat, tightening with every passing day. I loved the baby with everything in me but I feared it too because I was terrified that it would eventually take you away from me. I didn't want you to exclude me from the pregnancy, I wanted to show you what we could like if we operated as a solid family unit but you were so depressingly obsessed with having a son that it felt like a constant uphill battle. I started praying for a girl because I knew a girl would buy me more time. A girl would keep you with me longer; it would also prove to you, once and for all that your father's ridiculous contract meant nothing to me anymore. That I wanted our marriage to last forever." He finally seemed to run out of words, taking in a deep breath of air and exhaling it shakily. His eyes searched hers desperately but she kept her expression neutral, despite the joy bubbling up inside of her. This vulnerable and naked passion was what she'd been waiting for. He'd finally bared his soul for her and it was almost blindingly beautiful.
"So you want our marriage to last forever?" She finally asked after a long silence.
"And you love our baby?"
"Yes, of course."
"And you love me?" Her voice shook a bit at the enormity of that realisation.
"Just good?" He asked in disbelief.
"Well, what else do you want from me?" She asked innocently and he growled. She laughed at the feral sound, before reaching up her free hand to cup his tense jaw. "Sandro, you gorgeous idiot... I never stopped loving you. I just got much better at hiding it from you. I was too afraid of being hurt again."
"I'll never hurt you again," he promised vehemently.
"Don't make promises you can't keep, Alessandro" she warned direly.
"Okay, I'll try my best not to inadvertently hurt you again," he rephrased carefully and she smiled, the old affectionate smile that she used to shower him with in the beginning of their marriage. She heard Sandro's breath catch at the sight.
"Much better," she approved and he growled again, this time the sound was more a sexy purr than a warning. He swept both her and Lily up in a fierce hug but when Lily made a high-pitched sound of protest, he let them go reluctantly.
"I love you with all my heart, Theresa and I want to marry you," he said huskily and she started.
"I love you too, Sandro but the last time I checked we were already married."
"I want to give you the wedding you should have had, cara. I want to make my vows again and mean them with all my heart."
"You don't have to do that, Sandro," she shook her head. "I know you love me. You don't have to prove anything to me."
"I don't have to do it, Theresa... but I want to do it. I want my family there to see me marry the woman who holds my heart in her hands. Please marry me again, Theresa, and make me the happiest man in the world."
She wound an arm around his neck and dragged his head down for a long kiss.
"Yes. With all my heart yes, Sandro."