Royal Heirs Required(2)By: Cat Schield
Although she returned her attention to the king, the slightest lift of her delicate eyebrows let Gabriel know her curiosity had been aroused by his exchange with Christian and Stewart. Awareness surged through him. It was the first time that they’d connected at a level deeper than politeness. Anticipation sparked. Perhaps they would be able to share something more than a bed.
“Please, Your Highness.”
Glancing toward Christian, he said, “Will you go entertain my fiancée while I discover what’s going on?”
“Don’t you mean distract?” Christian countered, his expression sour.
“Just make excuses for me until I can get back.”
And then he was slipping through the multitude attending the ball honoring Sherdana’s independence from France back in 1664, smiling and greeting the guests as if nothing in the world was wrong. All the while two words pounded in his head: Marissa Somme. What could this be about?
Since it first declared itself a principality, Sherdana had survived as an agrarian economy. But Gabriel wanted his country to do more than survive, he wanted it to thrive. Tucked between France and Italy on a verdant plane resplendent with grapevines and fertile fields, Sherdana needed an active technological culture to move the economy into the twenty-first century and beyond. Olivia’s father, Lord Edwin Darcy, held the match that would light the fuse. Nothing must interfere with that.
Entering the green salon, Gabriel strode over to greet the man who’d barged in unannounced. The lawyer wore his gray hair short, making no attempt to hide the bald patch that caught the light from the wall sconces behind him. His clear gray eyes had few lines at the corners. This was not a man who smiled often. Dressed in a navy suit and black overcoat, the only spark of color about him was a thin line of yellow in his striped tie.
“Good evening, Your Royal Highness,” the gentleman said, bowing respectfully. “Forgive me for interrupting, but I’m afraid the matter is quite urgent.”
“What mischief is Marissa up to now?”
“Mischief?” The man looked dismayed at Gabriel’s harshness. “You misunderstand the reason I’m here.”
“Then enlighten me. I have guests waiting. If you have a message from Marissa, then deliver it.”
The man straightened his shoulders and tugged at his coat lapel. “It’s a little more complicated than a message.”
“My patience is wearing thin.”
“Marissa Somme is dead.”
Dead? Gabriel felt as if he’d been clobbered with a poker. For a second he couldn’t process the man’s words. Brilliant, beautiful, vivacious Marissa dead? His gut twisted.
The older gentleman nodded in sympathy. “Cancer.”
Even though he hadn’t spoken with her in a very long time, the news rocked him. Marissa had been the first woman he’d ever loved. The only one. Their breakup three years before had been one of the most painful experiences of his life. But nothing compared to knowing she was gone for good. Wounds he’d thought healed were reopened, the pain as fresh as it had ever been. Never would he see her again. Hear her laugh.
Why hadn’t she called him? He would have helped her out.
“You came all this way to deliver the news of her death to me?” Had she still cared about him? Despite her final angry words? Impossible. She’d never once tried to contact him.
“And to bring you something she said you should have.”
“What?” Gabriel demanded. Had she returned the diamond heart pendant he’d given her for their first anniversary? He’d been a romantic fool in those days. Young. Rebellious. Caught up in a passionate affair that had no future. And a fool. “What did you bring me?”
“Daughters?” As in more than one? Gabriel wondered if he’d heard the man properly.
“Marissa and I had no children together.”
“I’m afraid that’s not true.”
The man pulled out two birth certificates and extended them. Gabriel gestured to Stewart to take them and watched as his private secretary scanned the documents. Stewart’s blue eyes were awash with concern as he glanced up and met Gabriel’s gaze.
“They bear Marissa’s last name, but she listed you as the father,” Stewart said.
“They can’t be mine,” Gabriel insisted. “We were careful.” Perhaps not careful enough. “How old are they?”
“They will turn two in a month.”
Gabriel quickly did the math. They’d been conceived in the week he’d been in Venice shortly after their breakup. Marissa had come and thrown herself at him in one last attempt to make him abandon his duty. They’d made love all night, their kisses frantic, embraces feverish. When she’d awakened to find him departing the room before dawn, she’d lashed out, claiming that he’d led her on, accusing him of indifference. Despite her antagonism, regret had stuck with him for months afterward.
They’d had no future. His duty was to his country. She couldn’t accept that and he’d let the relationship go on too long. She’d begun to hope he would give up everything for her and he’d enjoyed shirking his responsibilities. But it couldn’t last. Sherdana always came first.
What would he have done if he’d known she was pregnant? Set her up in a villa nearby where he could visit? She would never have put up with that. She’d have demanded his complete and total devotion. It was what had torn them apart. He belonged to the people of Sherdana.
“This could all be a huge hoax,” Stewart said.
“Marissa might have loved drama, but pulling a stunt like this goes beyond anything she’d do.”
“We’ll know for sure after a DNA test,” Stewart said.
“And in the meantime? What am I to do with the girls?” the lawyer asked impertinently.
“Where are they?” Gabriel demanded. He crackled with impatience to see them.
“Back at my hotel with their nanny.”
He didn’t hesitate to ponder the consequences. “Get them.”
“Think of your upcoming wedding, Highness,” Stewart cautioned. “You can’t have them brought here. The palace is crawling with media.”
Gabriel aimed a disgusted look at his secretary. “Are you telling me you’re not clever enough to transport two toddlers here without being seen?”
Stewart’s spine snapped straight as Gabriel knew it would. “I will see that they are brought to the palace immediately.”
“In the meantime,” Stewart said, “I suggest you return to the gala before you’re missed. I’m sure the king and queen will wish to discuss the best way to handle things.”
Gabriel hated every bit of Stewart’s sensible advice and the need to play host when his attention was shackled to reckless urges. He didn’t want to wait to see the girls. His instinct demanded he go to the lawyer’s hotel immediately. As if by taking one look at the toddlers he could tell if they were his. Ridiculous.
“Find me as soon as they’re settled,” he told Stewart.
And with those parting words, he exited the room.
Knowing he should return immediately to the party but with his mind racing, Gabriel strode into the library. He needed a few minutes to catch his breath and calm his thoughts.
Twins. His heart jerked. Did they have their mother’s clear green eyes and luxurious brown hair? Had she told them about him? Was he insane to bring them into the palace?
A scandal could jeopardize his plans for stabilizing Sherdana’s economy. Would the earl still allow Olivia to marry him if word got out that Gabriel had illegitimate twin daughters? And what if Olivia wasn’t willing to accept that her children wouldn’t be his only ones?
Gabriel left the library, burdened by a whole new set of worries, determined to make sure his future bride found him irresistible.
* * *
From her place of honor beside the king of Sherdana, Olivia watched her future husband slip through the guests assembled in the golden ballroom and wondered what was so important that he had to leave the Independence Day gala in such a hurry.
It continued to bother her that in less than four weeks, she was going to become a princess, Gabriel’s princess, and she had very little insight into the man she was marrying. Theirs was not a love match the likes of which Kate had found with William. Olivia and Gabriel were marrying to raise her father’s social position and improve Sherdana’s economic situation.
While that was great for everyone else, Olivia’s London friends wondered what was motivating her. She’d never told anyone about the dream conceived by her three-year-old self that one day she’d become a princess. It had been a child’s fancy and as she’d grown up, reality replaced the fairy tale. As a teenager she’d stopped imagining herself living in a palace and dancing through the night with a handsome prince. Her plans for the future involved practical things like children’s charities and someday a husband and children of her own. But some dreams had deep roots that lay dormant until the time was ripe.