Royal Heirs Required(9)

By: Cat Schield

At the top of the stairs, Olivia spied two shadows racing toward her down the darkened hallway. Curious as to what was going on, she’d taken several steps in their direction when a voice cut through the shadows.

“Karina. Bethany. Come back here this instant.” The shrill command provoked the children to faster flight.

Worried that at the speed they were going, they might pitch down the stairs, Olivia knelt and spread her arms wide. With their path blocked, the children stopped abruptly. With eyes wide, arms around each other for comfort, they stared at Olivia.

“Hello.” She offered them her gentlest smile. “Where are you two going so late?”

“You girls are nothing but trouble.”

The scolding woman hadn’t spied Olivia in the dimness or she wouldn’t have spoken so rudely. The two little girls shrank away from their pursuer, obviously afraid, and sidestepped in Olivia’s direction. Now that they were closer, Olivia could see them better. She blinked, wondering if she might be seeing double.

The two little girls, two frightened little girls, were mirror images of each other with long brown hair and large dark eyes in their pale faces. They were dressed in identical dresses and tears streaked their matching cheeks.

Olivia wanted to snatch them into her arms, but feared upsetting them still more. Although her childhood had lacked a loving mother, Olivia had developed a strong maternal instinct. Being warned by the doctor that unless she had surgery she might never have her own children had been a sharp knife in her heart.

“You’d better learn to behave and fast or the people who live here will kick you out and you’ll have nowhere else to go.”

Having heard enough, Olivia surged to her feet to confront the woman and was surprised when the girls raced to stand behind her. They gripped her dress with strength born of fear, and protectiveness surged through her.

“Stop speaking this instant,” Olivia commanded without raising her voice. “No one deserves to be threatened like that, especially not children.”

The nanny stopped dead in her tracks and sneered. “You don’t know what they’re like.”

“Whom do you work for?”

The woman looked wary. “I take care of these two.”

“Yes, yes.” Olivia put one hand on each of the toddlers’ heads. The hair was silky beneath her fingers and she longed to give the girls her full attention, but this woman must be dealt with first. “But who are their parents?”

“Their mother is dead.”

Olivia sucked in a short breath at the woman’s lack of compassion. “That’s awful.”

The woman didn’t respond.

“In heaven,” the child on her left said.

Olivia liked the girls’ nanny less and less. Had the woman no heart? Did the father know how badly his daughters were being cared for? “Perhaps I should speak to their father. What is his name?”

“A lawyer hired me a week ago to take care of them.” The woman stared at Olivia in hostile defensiveness.

“Well, you’re not doing a very good job.”

“They’re terribly spoiled and very difficult. And right now they need to be in bed.” Eyes on the children, the nanny shifted her weight forward and her arms left her sides as if she intended to snatch the little girls away from Olivia.

The little girl on her right shrank back. Her sister, emboldened by Olivia’s defense, fought back.

“Hate you.” She hung on Olivia’s skirt. “Wanna go home.”

Although she’d been too young to know the shock of losing her mother, Olivia remembered her lonely childhood and ached for the sadness yet to come for these girls. She wanted to wrap her arms around the toddlers and support them through this difficult time, but these were not her children and she shouldn’t get attached.

With a heavy sigh, Olivia knew it was time to extricate herself from the situation. She would summon a maid to get the girls settled and return to her room. In the morning she would find out to whom they belonged and fill him in on his employee.

“If I make this mean lady go away,” Olivia began, gazing down at the dark heads. “Would you go back to your room and go to sleep?”

“No.” Only one of the pair seemed to be verbal. The other merely gave her head a vehement shake. “Stay with you.”