The Unwanted Wife

By: Natasha Anders

She vividly recalled their first meeting. He had come to dinner at their house. Her father hadn’t told her much about their guest except that he was the son of an old acquaintance. He had then left her to meet Sandro by herself so that he could make an entrance. It had been one of Jackson Noble’s many “tricks” to keep his business adversaries constantly wrong-footed. He loved getting them on his own turf and had conducted many business deals in his home. He would let Theresa soften them up with her natural warmth, and then he would swoop in while they were still charmed and go in for the kill.

Theresa hadn’t known about her role in her father’s wheeling and dealing until she was nineteen; before that she had merely been grateful for the opportunity to help her father entertain his important friends. By the time she met Sandro, Theresa was the consummate hostess: charming, sweet, warm on the outside but completely disillusioned on the inside. Her father’s little business parties had always left her feeling used and disheartened.

Alessandro De Lucci had swooped into their home looking grim and purposeful, like a man ready for battle. He had seemed surprised to see her standing in the huge entrance. She had been wearing a simple green sheath dress, her hair upswept into an elegant chignon, and she had chosen a simple emerald pendant with matching earrings as her only embellishments. He had faltered at the sight of her and frowned in confusion. Theresa, for her part, had been completely riveted by the unexpectedly splendid man who stood in front of her, and for the first time ever her poise had deserted her. She had been unable to utter a single word. He had been beautifully outfitted in a tailor-made business suit, but his windswept hair had contradicted that air of sartorial splendor, giving him a slightly wild appearance. His dark stubble and loosened tie reinforced that ruggedness. He had been like no other man she had ever seen before, and she wanted to know everything there was to know about him.

Sandro had recovered first. He had taken a step toward her, followed by another and then another, until he stood directly in front of her, so close that his every inhalation of breath caused his chest to lightly brush against her. Theresa had tilted her head back to stare at him in wonder, tracing every angle and curve on his face in fascination.

“Hello, cara.” His voice, like dark velvet over gravel, had sent a shudder of awareness up her spine. “What’s your name?”

“Theresa.” She had been helpless to do anything but respond. He had smelled wonderful, and she had found herself leaning toward him to breathe in his scent.

Theresa remembered every word, every emotion, every sensation of the exchange that had followed.

“Theresa?” he repeated, his appealing voice going slightly husky. “Bellissima. I’m Alessandro.”

“Yes,” she said, not making much sense in that moment, and he grinned. It was a beautiful, warm, boyish smile that made him even more handsome.

“Can you say it?” he asked quietly.

“Say what?”

“My name. I want to hear my name on those amazing lips.” He traced a finger over her lips and she stopped breathing completely and moaned. “Say it, cara. Four little syllables—A-les-san-dro. Please?”

“Alessandro,” she whispered, and he groaned a little.

“Perfect. You’re perfect, little Theresa.” No one had ever looked at her and seen perfection before. No one had ever smiled at her with so much appreciation and warmth in his eyes before. Theresa had found herself staring back at this appealing stranger, and for the first time in her life, she had felt wanted. Between one heartbeat and the next, Theresa had fallen head over heels in love.

She shook herself, refusing to dwell on past events that she could not change and instead tried to focus on her present.

Breakfast passed with agonizing slowness, the silence broken only by the sound of his newspaper as he carefully perused the business section. She barely ate and hated him for being so unaffected by the tension that he could finish a hearty meal. She picked up her dishes and headed to the sink.

“You have to eat more than one slice of toast,” his voice suddenly growled unexpectedly. “You’re getting much too thin.” The fact that he had noticed what she’d eaten, despite having hardly glanced at her over his newspaper, startled her.

“I’m not that hungry,” she responded softly, and placed her dishes in the sink.

“You barely eat enough to keep a sparrow alive.” He lowered his paper and met her eyes for a few seconds before diverting his focus back to the mug of coffee on the table in front of him. The direct eye contact was so unusual that Theresa barely restrained a gasp.

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