Royal Heirs Required(8)By: Cat Schield
“Today you are going to meet many new people,” she told them. “I know you might be scared, but you don’t need to be.”
“Sort of.” If that was what it took to keep the twins from being afraid, then so be it.
“A birthday party?”
Bethany’s mention of their mother reminded the girls that she was dead. Olivia saw Karina’s lip quiver and rushed to distract them.
“Are you this old?” She held up two fingers and was rewarded with head shakes.
“We’re this old.” Bethany held up one finger.
“But you’re too big to be one. I’ll bet you have a birthday coming up soon.”
“Get pony,” Bethany said with a definitive nod.
Olivia rather doubted that, but clever of her to try to sound convincing. “I’m not sure you’re old enough for a pony.”
Karina spoke for the first time. “Puppy.”
That seemed more doable.
“Pony,” Bethany repeated. “Mommy said.”
“There might be a pony in the stables,” Olivia said, aware she was already caving to their demands. She hadn’t pictured herself the sort of mother to give in to her child’s every whim.
Bethany nodded in satisfaction. “Let’s go.”
“No.” Karina shook her head. “Puppy.”
“Oh, no. It’s too early to go to the stables. We have to get dressed and have breakfast. Then we have to get you settled in your own room.”
“No.” Karina’s large green eyes brimmed with anxiety.
Immediately Olivia realized what was wrong. “It’s okay,” she assured them. “The mean lady is gone. You will have really nice people taking care of you.”
“Stay here.” Bethany had an imperious tone well suited to a princess.
“I’m afraid you can’t do that.”
“This is my bed and you two take up way too much room.”
“Slept with Mommy.”
Somehow they’d circled back to Marissa again. Olivia held her breath as she watched for some sign that they would get sad again, but the girls had discovered the mattress had great springs and they started bouncing and laughing.
Olivia watched them, amusement taking the edge off her exasperation. The challenges confronting her were coming faster than she’d expected. She wasn’t just going to become a wife and a princess, but now she was going to take on the role of mother, as well. Not that she couldn’t handle all of it. Maybe it was just her sleepless night and her anxiety about marrying a man who might not be over his dead former lover.
While the girls jumped off the bed and raced around the room, looking out the window and exploring the attached bathroom, Olivia heard a soft knock. Assuming it was Libby, she opened the door. To her intense surprise, Gabriel stood there, looking handsome and elegant in a charcoal pinstripe suit, white shirt and burgundy tie.
“I hope it’s not too early,” he said, entering the room. His gaze slid over her hair and silk-clad body.
Several maids followed, one pushing a cart loaded down with covered plates. Delicious smells wafted in their wake.
Olivia smoothed her hair, acutely aware of her makeup-free face, knowing she wasn’t looking her best after such a rough night. She hadn’t even brushed her teeth yet.
“No, of course not. You’re eager to meet the girls.”
“I am.” His gaze went past her shoulder, golden eyes intense and a little wary.
Olivia’s heart gave a little start as she realized he must be thinking about their mother. Chest tight, she shifted her attention to the twins. “Bethany. Karina. Come meet...” She wasn’t sure how to introduce the prince.
Gabriel supplied the description. “Your father.”
* * *
Beside him, Gabriel felt Olivia tense in surprise. In the hours since leaving her room, he’d contemplated what the best political move would be regarding his daughters and decided he didn’t give a damn about the fallout. He intended to claim them.
Olivia held out her hands to the girls and they went toward her. She introduced them one by one, starting with the little girl on her right. “This is Bethany. And this is Karina.”
Gabriel could discern no difference between their features. “How can you tell?”
“Bethany is the talkative one.”
Neither one was verbal at the moment. They stood side by side wearing matching nightgowns and identical blank stares.
Deciding he would appear less intimidating if he was at their eye level, Gabriel knelt. “Nice to meet you.” As much as he longed to snatch them into his arms and hug the breath from their bodies, he kept his hands to himself and gave them his gentlest smile.
The one Olivia had introduced as Bethany eyed him suspiciously for a moment before declaring, “We’re hungry.” Her imperious tone made her sound like his mother.
“What would you like for breakfast?” he asked them. “We have eggs, pancakes, French toast.”
“Not for breakfast,” he countered.
Olivia made no effort to hide her amusement. Her grin and the laughter brimming in her blue eyes transformed her from an elegant beauty to a vivacious woman. Gabriel felt his eyebrows go up as her charisma lit up the room.
Bethany’s demands forced Gabriel to refocus his attention. “Maybe after lunch.” He’d met some tough negotiators in his time, but none had shown the sort of determination exhibited by his daughters. “If you eat everything on your plate.”
“Want ice cream.”
“How about waffles with syrup?” He tried softening his words with a smile. The twins weren’t moved.
“Olivia.” Bethany’s plaintive, wheedling tone was charming, and Gabriel found himself struggling to restrain a grin.
“No.” Olivia shook her head. “You listen to your father. He knows what’s best.” She gently propelled the girls toward the table the maid had set for breakfast and got them into chairs. “There aren’t any booster chairs so you’ll have to kneel. Can you do that?”
The twins nodded and Gabriel pulled out the chair between them, gesturing for Olivia to join them, but she shook her head.
“You should spend some time alone with them. I’m going to shower and get dressed.” With one last smile for the twins, she headed toward the bathroom.
As the door shut behind her, Gabriel turned his full attention to the toddlers. “Have you decided what you want to eat?”
Their green eyes steady on him, they watched and waited for some sign that he was weakening. Gabriel crossed his arms over his chest and stared back. He was not going to be outmaneuvered by a pair of toddlers.
The word broke the standoff and Gabriel gestured the maid forward to serve pancakes. Having little appetite, he sipped coffee and watched them eat, seeing Marissa in their gestures and sassy attitude.
The girls ate two large pancakes before showing signs of slowing down and Gabriel was marveling at their appetite when the bathroom door opened and Olivia emerged. Her long blond hair framed her oval face in soft waves and she’d played up her blue eyes with mascara and brown eye shadow. She wore a simple wrap dress in seafoam that accentuated her tiny waist and the subtle curves of her breasts and hips. Nude pumps added four inches to her five-foot-six-inch frame and emphasized the sculpted leanness of her calves.
Gabriel felt the kick to his solar plexus and momentarily couldn’t breathe. Her beauty blindsided him. Desire raged in his gut. He hadn’t expected to feel like this when he proposed. She’d been elegant, poised and cool, inspiring his admiration and appreciation.
In a month she would be legally his. But he was no longer content to wait until his wedding night to claim her. Such had been the heat of his desire for her last night that if the twins hadn’t occupied her bed, he would have made love to her.
The strength of his desire gave him a moment’s pause. Wasn’t this feeling what he’d hoped to avoid when he chose her? Craving something beyond reason was what had gotten him into trouble with Marissa. But desire wasn’t love and didn’t have to become obsession. He should feel a healthy desire for his future wife. Surely, he could prevent himself from getting in too deep with her and repeating his past mistakes.
He’d sunk into a black depression after his breakup with Marissa. Knowing they couldn’t have a future together hadn’t prevented him from letting himself be lured into love. He’d come through the other side of losing Marissa, but the fight to come back from that dark place wasn’t something he wanted to go through ever again.
“Coffee?” he asked, shoving aside his grim reflections.
He just needed to be certain that he kept a handle on his growing fascination with her. He’d lost his head over Marissa and look what it got him. Two beautiful, but illegitimate, daughters.