Royal Heirs Required(5)

By: Cat Schield

It continued to bother her that in less than four weeks, she was going to become a princess, Gabriel’s princess, and she had very little insight into the man she was marrying. Theirs was not a love match the likes of which Kate had found with William. Olivia and Gabriel were marrying to raise her father’s social position and improve Sherdana’s economic situation.

While that was great for everyone else, Olivia’s London friends wondered what was motivating her. She’d never told anyone about the dream conceived by her three-year-old self that one day she’d become a princess. It had been a child’s fancy and as she’d grown up, reality replaced the fairy tale. As a teenager she’d stopped imagining herself living in a palace and dancing through the night with a handsome prince. Her plans for the future involved practical things like children’s charities and someday a husband and children of her own. But some dreams had deep roots that lay dormant until the time was ripe.

Before Olivia considered her actions, she turned to the king. “Excuse me.”

“Of course,” the handsome monarch replied, his smile cordial.

Released, she left the king and headed in the direction her fiancé had gone. Perhaps she could catch Gabriel before he returned to the ballroom and they could spend some time talking, just the two of them. She hadn’t gone more than a dozen steps before Christian Alessandro appeared in her path.

His gold eyes, shadowed and wary around most people, warmed as he smiled down at her. “Are you enjoying the party?”

“Of course,” she replied, bottling up a sigh as the youngest Alessandro prince foiled her plan to speak to his brother alone.

She’d encountered Christian several times in London over the years. As the wildest Alessandro brother, in his university days, Christian had spent more time partying than studying and had barely graduated from Oxford. He’d earned a reputation as a playboy, but had always treated her with respect. Maybe because Olivia had recognized the clever mind he hid beneath his cavalier charm.

“I noticed Prince Gabriel left the party in a hurry,” she murmured, unable to conquer the curiosity that loosened her tongue. “I hope nothing is wrong.”

Christian had an impressive poker face. “Just some old business he had to take care of. Nothing important.”

“He looked a bit shaken up.” She stared at her future brother-in-law and saw the tiniest twitch at the corner of his eye. He was keeping something important about Gabriel from her. Olivia’s pulse skipped. Seemed she wasn’t the only one with secrets.

Since Gabriel had opened negotiations with her father a year ago, Olivia hadn’t had much opportunity to get to know the man she would marry. The situation hadn’t improved since she’d arrived in Sherdana a week ago. With the wedding only a month away and parliament in session, they’d barely spent an hour alone together and most of that had been divided up into one-to five-minute snippets.

A stroll in the garden the day after she’d arrived, cut short when they’d met the queen’s very muddy vizsla. Gabriel had commended Olivia’s nimbleness in dodging the dog and retreated to the palace to change his trousers.

A moment in the carriage before the parade yesterday. He’d complimented her hat.

A whole five minutes during the waltz this evening. He’d told her she looked lovely.

Their exchanges were polite and cordial. At all times he’d been the perfect prince. Courteous. Gallant. Cultured. And she’d been seized by the absurd desire to muss his hair and shock him with outrageous remarks. Of course, she would never do that. The daughter of an earl, she was acutely conscious of her image and position.

Christian refocused her attention on the crowd around them and began filling her ear with all sorts of salacious gossip about the local nobility. Normally she’d be amused by his outrageous slander of Sherdana’s wealthy and powerful, but with each new dance the air in the ballroom grew stuffier and she wanted to spend time getting to know her fiancé.

What did Gabriel expect from her? A political partner? Or an attractive figurehead that he could trot out for state occasions? She hoped it was the former.