Royal Heirs Required(3)

By: Cat Schield


Beside her his father was laughing at whatever story she was telling him, looking years younger. Recent economic difficulties had taken their toll on the king. Once vibrant and strong, he’d begun to tire faster in recent months. It was why Gabriel had taken on more and more of the day-to-day running of the country.

Although she returned her attention to the king, the slightest lift of her delicate eyebrows let Gabriel know her curiosity had been aroused by his exchange with Christian and Stewart. Awareness surged through him. It was the first time that they’d connected at a level deeper than politeness. Anticipation sparked. Perhaps they would be able to share something more than a bed.

“Please, Your Highness.”

Glancing toward Christian, he said, “Will you go entertain my fiancée while I discover what’s going on?”

“Don’t you mean distract?” Christian countered, his expression sour.

“Just make excuses for me until I can get back.”

And then he was slipping through the multitude attending the ball honoring Sherdana’s independence from France back in 1664, smiling and greeting the guests as if nothing in the world was wrong. All the while two words pounded in his head: Marissa Somme. What could this be about?

Since it first declared itself a principality, Sherdana had survived as an agrarian economy. But Gabriel wanted his country to do more than survive, he wanted it to thrive. Tucked between France and Italy on a verdant plane resplendent with grapevines and fertile fields, Sherdana needed an active technological culture to move the economy into the twenty-first century and beyond. Olivia’s father, Lord Edwin Darcy, held the match that would light the fuse. Nothing must interfere with that.

Entering the green salon, Gabriel strode over to greet the man who’d barged in unannounced. The lawyer wore his gray hair short, making no attempt to hide the bald patch that caught the light from the wall sconces behind him. His clear gray eyes had few lines at the corners. This was not a man who smiled often. Dressed in a navy suit and black overcoat, the only spark of color about him was a thin line of yellow in his striped tie.

“Good evening, Your Royal Highness,” the gentleman said, bowing respectfully. “Forgive me for interrupting, but I’m afraid the matter is quite urgent.”

“What mischief is Marissa up to now?”

“Mischief?” The man looked dismayed at Gabriel’s harshness. “You misunderstand the reason I’m here.”

“Then enlighten me. I have guests waiting. If you have a message from Marissa, then deliver it.”

The man straightened his shoulders and tugged at his coat lapel. “It’s a little more complicated than a message.”

“My patience is wearing thin.”

“Marissa Somme is dead.”

Dead? Gabriel felt as if he’d been clobbered with a poker. For a second he couldn’t process the man’s words. Brilliant, beautiful, vivacious Marissa dead? His gut twisted.

“How?”

The older gentleman nodded in sympathy. “Cancer.”

Even though he hadn’t spoken with her in a very long time, the news rocked him. Marissa had been the first woman he’d ever loved. The only one. Their breakup three years before had been one of the most painful experiences of his life. But nothing compared to knowing she was gone for good. Wounds he’d thought healed were reopened, the pain as fresh as it had ever been. Never would he see her again. Hear her laugh.

Why hadn’t she called him? He would have helped her out.

“You came all this way to deliver the news of her death to me?” Had she still cared about him? Despite her final angry words? Impossible. She’d never once tried to contact him.

“And to bring you something she said you should have.”

“What?” Gabriel demanded. Had she returned the diamond heart pendant he’d given her for their first anniversary? He’d been a romantic fool in those days. Young. Rebellious. Caught up in a passionate affair that had no future. And a fool. “What did you bring me?”

“Your daughters.”

“Daughters?” As in more than one? Gabriel wondered if he’d heard the man properly.

“Twins.”

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