Royal Heirs Required(4)By: Cat Schield
“I’ve been told I have an aptitude for languages. I speak quite a few.”
“Six, but I understand three more.”
“That will come in handy when dignitaries visit us.”
Once again it hit her that she would never return to her home in England for anything more than a short visit. As princess, she would be expected to spend most, if not all, of her time in Sherdana. At least she would see her father frequently because he would want to keep an eye on his investment.
“You don’t smile much, do you?” His question was more reflective than directly aimed at her.
His observation caught her off guard.
“I smile all the time.”
Gabriel’s gaze slipped intently over her features, arousing a frantic thrumming in her chest. “Polite smiles. Political smiles, but I’m not sure I’ve once seen you smile because you’re happy.”
“I assure you, I’m quite happy.”
“Stop telling me what you think I want to hear. That’s not what Sherdana needs of its princess and definitely not what I expect from my wife.”
The intensity of his tone and the nuances of his observation did not belong to the man she’d known up to this point. His frank speech loosened her tongue.
“Are you giving me permission to argue with Your Highness?”
He made a face. “Gabriel.”
“Olivia.” Tone commanding, he somehow managed to caress her name in a way that vibrated through her. “It would make me very happy if you would start thinking of me as a man and not a prince.”
His demand sent a ripple of excitement up her spine. She decided to speak her mind.
“I will if you stop thinking of me in terms of economic gain or financial dealings and realize I’m a woman who knows exactly what she wants.”
At her words, Gabriel blinked. Surprise quickly became curiosity as he regarded her. For the first time she believed he was seeing her as a person instead of the clause in the contract he needed to satisfy so her father would build a plant in Sherdana and create technical jobs to bolster the economy.
“I’m beginning to think there’s more to you than I realize,” Gabriel remarked, executing a turn in the dance that left her breathless.
“Thank goodness.” It was an effort to get out more than those two words.
Perhaps marriage might hold more of an adventure than she’d first thought. She hadn’t expected her husband to excite her. Even seeing how handsome Gabriel was, he was always so in control. She never imagined passion. And growing up sheltered from the experiences an ordinary girl would have with boys such as dating or even just hanging out, she’d never experienced desire. Until this moment, she wasn’t sure she could.
Relief made her giddy. Tonight she’d glimpsed a very important and unexpected benefit this marriage would have for her and for the first time in months, she faced her future with a light heart.
Olivia lay on the blue velvet chaise in the bedroom she’d been assigned at the palace, a heating pad taking away the discomfort of cramps. She stared up at the touches of gold leaf on the ceiling’s ornate plasterwork twenty feet above her. From the tall, narrow mirrors between the wide cream silk-draped windows to the elegant chandeliers, it was a stunning, yet surprisingly warm, space.
It was a little after two in the morning. She’d felt the first twinge of pain not long after the king and queen left the gala and had taken the opportunity to slip away. The attack had been blessedly mild. A year ago, she would have taken a pain pill and retreated to bed. Thank goodness those days were behind her. A princess couldn’t avoid public appearances because she wasn’t feeling well. She must have a spine of steel and prove her value was more than the economic boost her father’s new technology company would provide.
As if to mock her optimism, a fresh ache began. She’d first started suffering with sharp cramps and strong periods when she was fifteen. Frightened by the amount of blood she lost each month, Olivia had gone to see a doctor. She’d been diagnosed with endometriosis and had begun taking oral contraceptives to reduce the pain and shorten her periods. Yoga, massage and acupuncture had also helped her cope with her symptoms, but none of these could correct the problem.
She’d needed surgery for that.
Olivia couldn’t explain why she’d been so reluctant to have the growths removed when the pain grew progressively worse in her early twenties. She couldn’t share her fears with her mother—who’d died giving birth to her—so she’d hidden the severity of the problem from everyone, including her father. Only Libby, her private secretary, knew how debilitating the pain could get. Libby had helped Olivia keep her doctor visits out of the press and made excuses when she had bad days. Olivia wasn’t sure what she’d have done these past eight years without Libby’s help.
It wasn’t until a year ago, when she’d confronted the connection between endometriosis and infertility, that she began to rethink her plans for coping with the disease. If she was marrying a wealthy businessman, a politician or even one of her own country’s nobles, she could discuss this issue with him and together they could decide what to do about her potential barrenness. But she was marrying the future king of Sherdana and would be expected to produce an heir.
So, she’d had the surgery and had been living pain free for almost twelve months.
With a sudden surge of impatience, Olivia set aside the heating pad and got to her feet. Brooding over her medical condition was the quickest way to doubt herself and that wasn’t the way she faced things. Despite the late hour, the luxurious king-size bed held no appeal. She needed some fresh air and exercise. Perhaps a walk in the garden.
Although she’d removed her ball gown upon returning to her room, she’d not yet dressed for bed. Slipping off her robe, Olivia pulled on a sleeveless jersey dress and found a pair of ballet flats that would allow her to move soundlessly through the sleeping palace.
The room she’d been given was in the opposite wing of the palace from the royal family’s apartments and used for housing dignitaries and visitors. Her father slept next door, his room as expansive and substantially furnished as hers. Olivia tiptoed past his door, aiming for the stairs at the far end of the hall that would deposit her close to the pink receiving room and the side gardens beyond. With her limited time in the palace, Olivia hadn’t had a great deal of time to explore, but she’d taken this route her second day to meet with the queen.
When she got to the end of the hallway, the high-pitched shriek of an unhappy child caught Olivia’s attention. The sound was muffled and it came from somewhere above her. She reached the stairs and paused to listen. She waited no more than a heartbeat before the cry came again, only this time there were two voices.
In an instant Olivia’s destination changed. Instead of going down to the ground level, she headed up to the third floor, following the increasingly frantic exclamations of the children and the no less agitated voice of an adult trying to quiet them.
At the top of the stairs, Olivia spied two shadows racing toward her down the darkened hallway. Curious as to what was going on, she’d taken several steps in their direction when a voice cut through the shadows.
“Karina. Bethany. Come back here this instant.” The shrill command provoked the children to faster flight.
Worried that at the speed they were going, they might pitch down the stairs, Olivia knelt and spread her arms wide. With their path blocked, the children stopped abruptly. With eyes wide, arms around each other for comfort, they stared at Olivia.
“Hello.” She offered them her gentlest smile. “Where are you two going so late?”
“You girls are nothing but trouble.”
The scolding woman hadn’t spied Olivia in the dimness or she wouldn’t have spoken so rudely. The two little girls shrank away from their pursuer, obviously afraid, and sidestepped in Olivia’s direction. Now that they were closer, Olivia could see them better. She blinked, wondering if she might be seeing double.
The two little girls, two frightened little girls, were mirror images of each other with long brown hair and large dark eyes in their pale faces. They were dressed in identical dresses and tears streaked their matching cheeks.
Olivia wanted to snatch them into her arms, but feared upsetting them still more. Although her childhood had lacked a loving mother, Olivia had developed a strong maternal instinct. Being warned by the doctor that unless she had surgery she might never have her own children had been a sharp knife in her heart.
“You’d better learn to behave and fast or the people who live here will kick you out and you’ll have nowhere else to go.”
Having heard enough, Olivia surged to her feet to confront the woman and was surprised when the girls raced to stand behind her. They gripped her dress with strength born of fear, and protectiveness surged through her.