Royal Heirs Required(9)By: Cat Schield
“Yes.” she gave a little laugh, seeming more relaxed with him than ever before. “I’m afraid I’m in desperate need of the caffeine this morning.”
“The couch is not as comfortable as it is beautiful.”
“Did you get any sleep?”
“Maybe an hour or so.” She dished up scrambled eggs, fruit and a croissant. She caught him watching her and gave him a wry smile. “Your pastry chef is sublime. I will need plenty of exercise to avoid becoming fat.”
“Perhaps after we speak to my parents about the girls we could take a walk in the garden.”
“That would be nice, but I don’t think there’s time. My schedule is packed with wedding preparations.”
“Surely if I can let the country run without my help for half an hour you can delegate some of the wedding preparations to your private secretary. We haven’t really had a chance to get acquainted, and with our wedding less than a month away, I thought we should spend some time alone together.”
“Is that a command, Your Highness?”
He arched an eyebrow at her playful tone. “Do you need it to be?”
“Your mother is the one who determined my schedule.”
Suspecting his fiancée needed no help standing up to the queen, he realized she was chiding him for his neglect during her first week in Sherdana. “I’ll handle my mother.”
“A walk sounds lovely.”
“Go see pony,” Bethany declared, shattering the rapport developing between the adults.
“Pony?” Gabriel echoed, looking to Olivia for an explanation.
“Apparently Bethany wants a pony for her birthday. I told her she was too young, but I thought maybe there was a pony in the stables they could visit.”
“None that I know of.” He saw the bright expectation in their faces vanish and couldn’t believe how much he wanted to see them smile again. “But I could be wrong.”
He made a mental note to have Stewart see about getting a pair of ponies for the girls. He and all his siblings had all started riding as soon as they could sit up. Ariana was the only one who still rode consistently, but Gabriel enjoyed an occasional gallop to clear his mind after a particularly taxing session of cabinet.
“Do you ride?” he asked Olivia.
“When I visit our country house.”
A knock sounded on the door. Olivia’s private secretary appeared, Stewart following on her heels. They wore duplicate expressions of concern and Gabriel knew the morning’s tranquillity was about to end.
“Excuse me a moment.” He crossed the room and pulled Stewart into the hall. “Well?”
“The king and queen are on their way here.”
He’d hoped to be the one to break the news to his parents. “How did they find out?”
“The arrival of two little girls in the middle of the night didn’t go unnoticed,” Stewart told him. “When your mother couldn’t find you she summoned me.”
“So, you felt the need to spill the whole story.”
“The king asked me a direct question,” Stewart explained, not the least bit intimidated by Gabriel’s low growl. “And he outranks you.”
“Gabriel, there you are. I demand to see my granddaughters at once.” The queen sailed down the hallway in his direction, her husband at her side. Lines of tension bracketed the king’s mouth. After nearly forty years as a queen, nothing disturbed her outward calm. But discovering her son had fathered two illegitimate girls was more stress than even she could graciously handle.
“They’ve been through a lot in the last few days,” Gabriel told her, thinking she would upset the twins in her current state of agitation.
“Have you told Olivia?”
“Last night.” He held up a hand when his mother’s eyes widened in outrage. “They spent the night with her after she stumbled upon them fleeing their nanny.”
The king’s light brown eyes had a hard look as they settled on his son. “And how does your future bride feel about it?”
As diplomatic as his parents were with the outside world, when it came to family, they were blunt. It wasn’t like them to dance around a question. Of course, they’d never come up against something this enormous before.
“What you want to know is if she intends to marry me despite my having fathered two children I knew nothing about.”
The king’s deep frown made Gabriel rein in his frustration. As much as he disliked having his carelessness pointed out, he had let passion overwhelm him to the exclusion of common sense. Marissa had made him wild. She was like no other woman he’d ever met. And because of that their relationship had made his parents unhappy.
Gabriel exhaled harshly. “So far it appears that way.”
“Does her father know?” the king asked.
“Not yet. But the girls are living in the house. It won’t be long before the truth comes out.”
His mother looked grim. “Will Lord Darcy back out on the deal?”
“Olivia doesn’t think so. He wants his daughter married to royalty.”
“Have you figured out what we’re going to say to the press?”
“That they’re my daughters,” Gabriel said. “We’ll send out a press release. Anything else would be a mistake. Olivia noticed the resemblance immediately. They look exactly like Ariana did at that age. Coming clean is a good offensive and hopefully by doing so we can minimize the scandal.”
“And if we can’t?”
“I’ll ride it out.”
“We’ll ride it out,” the king said.
“Have you considered that Olivia might not want to raise Marissa’s children?”
Gabriel had already entertained those doubts, but after what he’d seen of Olivia, he’d discovered layers that might surprise everyone. “I don’t think that will be an issue. She’s already very protective of them and they trust her.”
The queen sighed and shook her head. “It will be wonderful having children in the palace again. Let’s go see your girls.”
Olivia was standing with her hands relaxed at her sides as the door opened to admit the king and queen. Libby had warned her they were coming and she’d made sure the girls’ hands and faces were clean. The arrival of more unfamiliar people had revived the toddlers’ shyness and they hid behind Olivia.
“This is your father’s mother,” Olivia explained to them, using gentle pressure to nudge them into the open. “She’s come to meet you.”
Karina shook her head, but Bethany peered at her grandmother. The queen stopped dead at the sight of the girl and reached out a hand to her husband.
“Gabriel, you were right. They look exactly like your sister at that age.” She took a seat nearby and gestured Bethany toward her. “What is your name?”
To Olivia’s delight Bethany went to the queen.
She stopped just out of arm’s reach and studied the queen. “I’m Bethany.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” The queen looked toward her sister. “And what is your name?”
Bethany answered again. “Karina.”
“How old are they?” the king asked.
“They’ll be two in a few weeks,” Gabriel answered.
“Puppy.” Karina had finally spoken.
“I have a puppy you can meet. Would you like that?” The queen smiled as Karina nodded. “Mary,” the queen said to the maid who’d brought the twins’ clothes from upstairs. “Go get Rosie.” The Cavalier King Charles spaniel loved people, especially children, and was a great deal calmer than the queen’s vizsla.
In five minutes the maid was back with the dog and both twins were laughing as Rosie licked their cheeks. “Gabriel, why don’t you and Olivia make yourself scarce for a while. I’ll see the girls are settled.”
Recognizing an order when she heard one, Olivia let Gabriel draw her from the bedroom and down the stairs.
“Let’s get out of here while we can,” he murmured, escorting her through a side door and into the garden.
The late May morning had a slight edge of coolness, but when he offered to send someone upstairs for a sweater, Olivia shook her head.
“Let’s walk in the sunshine. I’ll warm up fast enough.”
He took her hand and tucked it into the crook of his arm. Olivia gave herself up to the pleasure of his strong body brushing against her side as they strolled along the crushed granite pathways.
“Thank you for all you’ve done with the girls,” he said.
“It breaks my heart that they’ll grow up without their mother, but I’m glad they have you.”
“You never knew yours, did you? She died when you were born?”
She’d never told him that. “I guess we both did our research.”