Royal Heirs Required(7)By: Cat Schield
Her breath caught as he stopped just shy of brushing Olivia’s lips. The disturbed rush of air awakened his senses with fierce urgency. He longed to crush her against him and feast on her soft mouth. Instead, he concentrated on the scent of her, a delicious floral that reminded him of a spring evening when the roses were in full bloom, while he reined his urges back under control.
What was happening to him? Her body’s tension communicated across the short distance between them, the trembling of her muscles, a siren call that demanded he claim her. He was a little startled how compelling that desire was.
Ever since they’d danced, he’d been preoccupied with investigating the chemistry that had sparked between them. He hadn’t expected to find passion in his marriage. But now that the sexual chemistry had flared, he couldn’t wait to explore her every sigh and moan.
From the start she’d intrigued him. Every time they shared the same room, she’d claimed and held his attention. But he’d chosen her because of what her father’s investment could mean for Sherdana rather than for any emotional connection between them. And then tonight she’d revealed that her tranquil exterior camouflaged a quick mind and determined nature.
“This might not be the best place for our first kiss,” he told her, his voice raw and husky. Body aching in protest, Gabriel stepped back.
“I understand.” She glanced toward his sleeping daughters.
But he doubted that she did because he barely understood his own actions.
No woman before or after Marissa had made him feel like losing all control, and it was logical to assume that no one ever would. Earlier he’d thought of Olivia as cool and untouchable. He’d been very wrong.
This abrupt and overwhelming craving to make love to her long into the night until she lay sated in his arms wasn’t part of the plan. He needed a woman who would grace his side in public and warm his bed at night.
The operative word being warm.
Not set it on fire.
“I think they should stay here tonight,” Olivia murmured, her words wresting him back to the other complication in his life. “In the morning, we can get them settled upstairs.” She must have seen a protest building because she shook her head. “They’re staying put. They’ve been through enough for one night. I want to make certain someone familiar is with them when they wake.”
Gabriel’s eyebrows rose at her adamant tone. “And you’re that someone familiar?”
“I fed them ice cream,” Olivia said, her expression lightening. “They’ll be glad to see a friendly face.”
“You certainly have that.” He glanced toward the sleeping girls. “And a very beautiful one, as well.”
Olivia didn’t sleep well on the couch. But she wasn’t sure she’d have slept any better in her bed alone. She kept running through her evening. Rescuing the twins, discovering they were Gabriel’s illegitimate children and finally, the kiss that had almost happened.
Why had he hesitated? Had she imagined the desire in his eyes as they’d danced earlier that night?
Doubts had begun to plague her as soon as Gabriel left. Her experience with men wasn’t extensive. Indulging in lighthearted affairs wasn’t something she’d ever done. Her friends accused her of being overly conscientious about her reputation, but in fact, she hadn’t been attracted to the men in her social circles. She might have worried about her inability to feel physical desire if she hadn’t experienced something magical her first year of university.
She’d attended a masquerade party with one of her friends. The event’s host was one of London’s most notorious bachelors, and it was the last place she should have shown her face. Fortunately, the costumes and masks had enabled her to remain anonymous. The crowd had been racier than she was used to. Drinking and drugs had led to some boisterous behavior and Olivia had made the mistake of getting cornered.
The man had used his size and strength to pin her against the wall and run his hands beneath her skirt. She’d struggled against the hateful press of his moist lips against her throat, but couldn’t free herself. And then it had been over and he’d ended up sprawled on the floor some distance away, the hands he cupped over his bloody nose muffling the obscenities he launched at the tall stranger who’d stepped in.
The hallway was too dark for her to see her rescuer clearly and she was still shaken up by the violence of the encounter, but she managed a grateful smile. “Thank you for helping me.”
“You don’t belong here,” the stranger had told her, his English lightly accented. “It isn’t safe for someone as young as you are.”
Her cheeks had grown hot at his words because he was right and she had felt foolish. “When is it safe for any woman when a man won’t stop when she says no?” She peered through the guests, searching for her friend. “Next time I will carry a stun gun instead of lipstick in my purse.”
He’d smiled. “Please don’t let there be a next time.”
“You’re right. This isn’t my crowd.” She had spotted her friend halfway across the room and decided it was time to leave. “It was nice to meet you,” she had told him. “I wish the circumstances had been different.” Impulsively she rose up on tiptoe and touched her lips to his cheek, before whispering, “My hero.”
Before she moved away, he had cupped her cheek and dropped his lips to hers. The touch electrified her and she swayed into his solid strength. His fingers flexed against her skin, pulling her closer. The kiss had been masterful. Demanding enough to be thrilling, but without the roughness that would make her afraid.
Magic, she remembered thinking, as she’d indulged in a moment of reckless daring.
Olivia released a long slow exhale at the memory. Seven years later it continued to be the most amazing kiss she’d ever had. And she’d never even known his name. Maybe that’s why it dwelled so vividly in her memory.
Lying with her forearm across her eyes, Olivia pushed aside the emotions stirred by that singular event. No good would come from dwelling on a romantic moment. The man who rescued her was probably as vile as the rest of the guests and had merely suffered a momentary crisis of conscience. She was marrying an honest, good man and needed to stay focused on the here and now.
As the room began to lighten, Olivia gave up on sleep and pulled out her laptop. During her research into Gabriel and his family, she’d focused on all things Sherdanian. Now she searched for his past romance and discovered a couple articles that mentioned him and Marissa Somme, a half American, half French model he’d dated for several years.
Olivia scanned the news stories. A few mentioned rumors that Gabriel had been considering abdicating the throne to one of his younger brothers, but ultimately, the affair ended instead.
Awash in concern, Olivia went looking for images of the couple. What she saw wasn’t reassuring. The news outlets had gotten it right. The couple had been very much in love. Olivia stared at Gabriel’s broad grin and Marissa’s blinding smile and guessed if she hadn’t been a commoner and an unsuitable candidate to give birth to the future king of Sherdana, they would have married and lived happily ever after.
Obviously Gabriel had chosen his country over his heart. And Marissa had vanished.
Hearing soft whispers coming from the bed, Olivia rose from the sofa. Sure enough, the twins were awake. They’d pulled the fluffy cream comforter over their heads, encasing themselves in a cozy cocoon.
For a moment, Olivia envied them each other. An only child, she’d always longed for a sister to share secrets with. If her mother had lived, she could have had a second child and Olivia might not have grown up so isolated from other children. Because her world had been filled with adults—nannies and various tutors—she’d never had a best friend her own age to play with. In fact, playing wasn’t something she’d been given much freedom to do.
Multiples obviously ran in the Alessandro family. Did that mean she could expect a set or two of her own to be running around the palace in the years to come?
Olivia tugged on the comforter, pulling it down little by little to reveal the twins. They lay with noses touching, intent on their communication. Their first reaction as the comforter slid away was fear. Olivia saw their hands come together, as they took and received reassurance from each other.
Then, they recognized her and smiled.
“Someone’s been sleeping in my bed,” she teased, her words bringing forth giggles. “And they’re still here.”
Then she growled like a big bad bear and reached down to tickle them. Squeals and laughter erupted from the girls, a vast improvement over last night’s terrified protests.
Olivia sat down on the bed. The prince would be back soon and the girls needed to be prepared to meet him. No doubt he’d informed the king and queen and they would be interested in meeting their grandchildren. It would be an overwhelming day for the girls and Olivia wanted to prepare them.