Royal Heirs Required(6)

By: Cat Schield

Firstborn, he’d won the right to inherit the throne by a mere forty minutes. But there was no question in anyone’s mind that he was utterly and completely suited to the role.

His commitment to Sherdana was absolute and apparent to all. He’d been educated here and rarely left, except on official business. While in contrast, his two younger brothers had both chosen to spend as little time in their native country as possible.

Drawn by a magnetic pull too great to resist, her attention returned to the ballroom doors that Gabriel had passed through. What could have taken him away in the middle of the party? As if her thoughts had summoned him, she spied the prince coming through the crowd toward her.

Her gaze traced the sculpted breadth of his shoulders, the way his white jacket stretched across his broad chest, providing an abundance of room for the medals pinned there. A blue sash cut diagonally from shoulder to hip.

“Forgive me for neglecting you,” he said as he came to a stop before her. “I hope my brother has kept you sufficiently entertained.”

“Christian has been filling me in on your guests.”

For the first time in her company, Gabriel’s courteous mask slipped. He shot his brother a hard look. “What have you been telling her?”

“Things most people, including you, wouldn’t. If she’s going to be Sherdana’s princess, she needs to know where the bodies are buried or she’ll be no help to you at all.”

Gabriel shook his head. “She doesn’t need to know all the ins and outs of our politics to help out the country or me.”

Olivia’s heart sank. Now she knew what he expected from her. There would be no partnership, no working together. She would attend ceremonies and support charities while he ran the country and dealt with its problems alone.

“She’s smarter than you’re giving her credit for, Gabriel. You should use her to your best political advantage.”

“Thank you for your opinion, brother.” And his tone said that was the end of the conversation.

With a mocking bow, Christian retreated. While part of Olivia regretted his departure, she was glad for a moment alone with Gabriel. Or she was until he began to speak.

“I know you haven’t seen much of Sherdana since your arrival,” he said, his polite formality pushing her to greater impatience. “But maybe that can change in the next week or so.”

“That would be lovely.” She bit back her thoughts on how unlikely it was. With the wedding only a month away she would scarcely have the opportunity to sleep, much less take a tour of the countryside. “I’m eager to visit the wine country.”

“Sherdana takes pride in its wine as you well know.”

“As it should,” she murmured, her boredom coming through in her tone. “I’m glad you were able to get your business resolved so you could return to the party so quickly.”

“Business?” There wasn’t the least suggestion of understanding in his manner.

“I saw your private secretary approach you with some news. It seemed to be something unpleasant. And then you left. Christian explained it was old business you needed to take care of.”

“Ah, yes. Just a misunderstanding with Stewart. It was nothing.”

“I’m glad.” But her mind was busy cataloging all the nuances of his tone and expression. Her future husband was skilled at deflection.

“Would you care to dance?” he asked, his deep voice rumbling through her like distant thunder.

Not really. She was tired and her shoes pinched. But she smiled. “Of course.”

A waltz began to play as Gabriel took her hand and led her onto the dance floor. Keeping her expression pleasant and neutral was torture as his palm slid against her back. The gown she wore had a modest cut, showing no cleavage or bare shoulders, but the material was silk and the heat of Gabriel’s hand burned through the fabric and set her on fire.

“Are you feeling compelled to marry because your father wishes it?”

The abruptness of his question was so unexpected, she almost laughed. “Why would I need to be compelled by my father? You’re rich, handsome and going to be king one day. What girl wouldn’t wish to be queen?”