Royal Heirs Required(5)By: Cat Schield
“Stop speaking this instant,” Olivia commanded without raising her voice. “No one deserves to be threatened like that, especially not children.”
The nanny stopped dead in her tracks and sneered. “You don’t know what they’re like.”
“Whom do you work for?”
The woman looked wary. “I take care of these two.”
“Yes, yes.” Olivia put one hand on each of the toddlers’ heads. The hair was silky beneath her fingers and she longed to give the girls her full attention, but this woman must be dealt with first. “But who are their parents?”
“Their mother is dead.”
Olivia sucked in a short breath at the woman’s lack of compassion. “That’s awful.”
The woman didn’t respond.
“In heaven,” the child on her left said.
Olivia liked the girls’ nanny less and less. Had the woman no heart? Did the father know how badly his daughters were being cared for? “Perhaps I should speak to their father. What is his name?”
“A lawyer hired me a week ago to take care of them.” The woman stared at Olivia in hostile defensiveness.
“Well, you’re not doing a very good job.”
“They’re terribly spoiled and very difficult. And right now they need to be in bed.” Eyes on the children, the nanny shifted her weight forward and her arms left her sides as if she intended to snatch the little girls away from Olivia.
The little girl on her right shrank back. Her sister, emboldened by Olivia’s defense, fought back.
“Hate you.” She hung on Olivia’s skirt. “Wanna go home.”
Although she’d been too young to know the shock of losing her mother, Olivia remembered her lonely childhood and ached for the sadness yet to come for these girls. She wanted to wrap her arms around the toddlers and support them through this difficult time, but these were not her children and she shouldn’t get attached.
With a heavy sigh, Olivia knew it was time to extricate herself from the situation. She would summon a maid to get the girls settled and return to her room. In the morning she would find out to whom they belonged and fill him in on his employee.
“If I make this mean lady go away,” Olivia began, gazing down at the dark heads. “Would you go back to your room and go to sleep?”
“No.” Only one of the pair seemed to be verbal. The other merely gave her head a vehement shake. “Stay with you.”
Oh, dear. Obviously she’d defended the girls a little too well. But maybe it wouldn’t hurt for them to spend one night with her. There was plenty of room in her big bed and in the morning she could sort them out.
“Would you like to come to my room to sleep tonight?”
In unison, the two dark heads bobbed. Olivia smiled.
“You can’t do this,” the nanny protested.
“I most certainly can. I suggest you return to your room and pack. I will send someone to escort you out shortly.” Olivia extended a hand to each girl and drew the children toward the stairs. Once they were settled in her room, she would send a maid up for their nightgowns and things.
It took time to descend to the second floor. The toddlers’ short legs made slow work of the steps, giving Olivia time to wonder who in the palace would raise a cry that they’d gone missing. She looked forward to having a conversation with their father in the near future about the sort of person he’d employed to take care of his children.
When Olivia entered her room, she was surprised to find it occupied by a maid. The girl looked up in surprise from the desk items she was straightening as the trio entered. Although the palace had provided Olivia with maids to tidy up and assist with whatever she needed, she hadn’t expected to find one in her room during the middle of the night. And from the expression on the woman’s face, she wasn’t expecting to be caught at it.
“Lady Darcy, I was just tidying some things up for you.”
“At two in the morning?”
“I saw your light on and thought you might be needing something.”
Not wanting to make a huge scene in front of the little girls, Olivia scanned the maid’s face, confident she’d be able to recognize her again from the hundred or so servants that maintained the palace. She had a small scar just below her left eye.
“Could you run down to the kitchen and get glasses of warm milk for these two?”
“Hate milk,” the talkative one said. “Ice cream.”
Recalling the nanny’s assessment that the girls were spoiled, Olivia hesitated a moment before giving a mental shrug. Again she reminded herself they weren’t her responsibility. She could indulge them to her heart’s content. “With chocolate sauce?”
Olivia nodded. “Please fetch two bowls of ice cream with chocolate sauce.”
“Of course, Lady Darcy.”
The maid scooted past her, eyeing the odd group before disappearing through the doorway.
Olivia half sat, half collapsed on the sofa near the fireplace and gestured to the girls. “Let’s get acquainted, shall we? My name is Olivia.”
They hesitated for a moment before coming toward her. Olivia kept her warmest smile fixed on her face and patted the seat beside her.
“Please sit down. The ice cream will take a little while. The palace is very big.”
The girls held hands and stared about the enormous room in wide-eyed silence. Now that she could see them better, Olivia noticed the Alessandro family resemblance. In fact, they looked like the pictures she’d seen of Gabriel’s sister, Ariana, at a similar age. Were they cousins? She frowned. Her extensive research on Sherdana had included all the royal family. She recalled no mention of young cousins.
“I’ve only been here a few days and I’ve gotten lost a dozen times already,” she continued, her voice a soothing monotone. “I was very scared when that happened. But I also discovered some wonderful places. There’s a library downstairs full of books. Do you like stories?”
They nodded at her, their movements identical as if choreographed.
“So do I. My favorite stories when I was a little girl were about princesses. Would you like to hear one?” She took their smiles as assent. “Once upon a time there were two princesses and their names were Karina and Bethany.”
* * *
Gabriel paced his office, impatient for Stewart to arrive with news that the twins had been settled into the palace. In his hand was the single photo he’d kept of Marissa after they’d broken up. He’d sealed it in an envelope and shoved it in the back of a drawer. Why he’d kept it was a question he was brooding over now.
After a long, unproductive strategy session with Christian regarding Marissa’s daughters, he’d sent his brother home. Although he had rooms for his use in the palace, Christian liked his privacy and only rarely stayed in them. Sometimes Gabriel suspected that if either of his brothers had a choice they would give up their titles and any claim to Sherdana’s throne. As it was they spent almost no time in Sherdana. Nic had gone to university in the US where he’d met his business partner and only returned when he absolutely had to, while Christian spent most of the year out of the country pursuing his business interests.
As close as the triplets had been growing up, the distance between them these days bothered Gabriel. While he’d known, as eldest son, that he’d be in charge of running the country someday, he’d never expected that his brothers wouldn’t be around to help.
Stewart appeared as Gabriel was returning Marissa’s photo to the envelope. Glancing at the clock he saw it was almost three in the morning. He’d sent his private secretary to check on Marissa’s daughters half an hour earlier.
“Well?” he demanded, pushing to his feet.
“They arrived at the palace a couple hours ago and I arranged to have them escorted to the nursery in the north wing.” It had seemed prudent to squirrel them away at the opposite end of the palace, far from where the royal family was housed.
“Have you seen them?” He wanted to know if the girls bore any resemblance to him, and could scarcely restrain himself from asking the question outright. Christian had cautioned that a DNA test would have to be performed before Gabriel let himself get emotionally involved. It was good advice, but easier agreed to than acted upon.
Gabriel’s temper flared. “What have you been doing?”
The private secretary wasn’t fazed by his employer’s impatience. “I went to the nursery, but they appear to be missing.”
“Missing?” He couldn’t imagine how that had happened. “Didn’t the lawyer say they had a nanny? Did you ask her where they are?”
“She’s gone. Apparently she was escorted from the palace by one of the guards an hour ago.”
“Escorted...? On whose authority?”
“Lady Darcy’s private secretary.”