“No, you wouldn’t. But I understand where you’re coming from. But if that’s the case, then why weren’t you elated when I told you I was pregnant with your child. After all, that meant you weren’t infertile. Shouldn’t you have been proud?”
Dante’s smile was solemn. “Yes, I suppose I should have.” He paused and I gave him the time he needed to figure out his next words. I had a feeling he’d share something very personal with me. “But when you told me about your pregnancy, it almost felt like an attack on Carla’s memory, as if you were blaming Carla for her inability to give me children by getting pregnant so quickly.”
“I never wanted to attack your wife,” I said horrified. “I know you loved her more than anything. I knew it before we married, and you never let me forget it in all the time we’ve been together.” The last part came out more accusatory than intended.
“I know,” Dante said, his cool blue eyes tracing my face. “I treated you badly. You did nothing to deserve it. When you gave yourself to me for the first time, I should have held you afterward. It would have been the decent, the honorable thing to do. Instead I left. I didn’t want to allow myself to be close to you. I’d allowed myself to love once and after I had to watch Carla die a slow horrible death, I’d sworn to myself that I wouldn’t let a woman into my life again.”
I nodded slowly. “I’m sorry for what happened to Carla. I’m sorry you had to watch her die.”
Dante’s eyes were distant. He wasn’t crying. I didn’t think he’d ever allow himself to do so in front of anyone, but there was a deep sadness in his eyes that tore at me. “I killed her.”
I jerked in his embrace, my eyes wide. “You did what? But I thought she died from cancer.”
“She would have, yes. The doctors said there was nothing they could do for her. She was home, drugged up most days so she wasn’t in too much pain, but even the morphine eventually didn’t help anymore. She asked me to help her, to free her from the horror that her life had become. She didn’t want to spend more weeks bound to her bed, unable to get out and wrecked by pain.” He paused, and I was openly crying, even if he couldn’t. I pressed my hand against his chest, trying to show him that it was okay, that I understood. “She wanted me to shoot her because she thought it would be easier for me, less personal. I couldn’t do it. Not like that. Not the same way I dealt with traitors and scum that wasn’t even worth the dirt under her feet. I injected her insulin and she fell asleep in my arms and never woke up again.”
“I didn’t know. I was always told that she died because her organs failed in the end.”
His eyes settled on me, dark and haunted. He brushed his thumb under my eyes, wiping away my tears. “That’s what I wanted. I never told anyone.”
I shivered against him, too overwhelmed to say anything. I buried my face in his neck, seeking his warmth and scent. His hand rubbed gentle circles on my stomach. “If I’d known, I wouldn’t have pushed you so much.”
“Val, you didn’t push me. When I married you I made a vow to take care of you and try to be a good husband, and I don’t take my vows lightly. I’m a man of honor, and yet I didn’t fulfill the promises I made to you.”
“Why did you ever agree to marry if you knew how hard it would be for you?”
“My father wanted me to marry, and I knew I was starting to look weak because I couldn’t move on from Carla, so I did what I thought would be best for my claim to power. You seemed like the perfect choice.”
The way he said it made it sound as if I wasn’t but I didn’t interrupt him.
“I thought you’d be reluctant to allow closeness so shortly after your first husband died.”
The mentioning of Antonio tightened my throat but I swallowed past it. “I would have if we’d been in love, or had had anything resembling a real marriage.”
“I’m not blaming you for wanting something real after how Antonio used you. Which makes it even worse that you married another man who used you for his own purposes.” He let out a low breath.
“So when you decided to marry me, you never intended to sleep with me?”
Dante laughed darkly. “I’m not that honorable. No, I thought I’d consummate our marriage and then sleep with you whenever I felt like it, without any kind of emotional attachment.”
“Then why didn’t you sleep with me on our wedding night or in the days after?”
“I wanted to. When I brought you into my bedroom on our wedding night, I wanted nothing more than to rip your gown off and bury myself in you. I was angry. I wanted to fuck you until I got that anger out of my system, but then you stepped out of the bathroom in that modest silk nightgown looking every bit the lady, and my wife, you were, and you had that fucking hopeful and insecure look in your eyes, and I knew I couldn’t use you like that.”
My lips parted in surprise. “Did you suspect that I had never slept with a man?”
Dante shook his head. “No. I could tell you were unpracticed in your advances and attempts at seducing me but I guessed your first husband had been dominant in the bedroom and didn’t let you take the incentive, although it didn’t match up with my assessment of Antonio.”
“Was I that bad at trying to seduce you?” I asked with a small, embarrassed laugh. It felt incredible talking to Dante like this, so openly, and being in his arms without him trying to pull back was even better.