I only own Ann-Marie, and no one else who is in this chapter.

Chapter 1: What a Little Bird Told Me

I was sitting in the palace when Toby Newbury came in. He walked with a comfortable familiarity of a person who knew they would be welcome. He saw me and smiled. "How are you doing today, young Princess?" he asked.

"Fine, thank you, and how about you?"

"I'm doing well,"

"Mr. Newbury," a familiar voice greeted with utmost respect. Toby turned to find Wallace heading towards him.

Wallace was the king and queen's house minister; he had worked here for a while and kept the east quadrant of the palace moving on well-oiled wheels.

"Hello, Wallace. May I go up?"

"Certainly, sir. I'll just ring through and let the queen know you're coming."

Toby's face fell a little bit, and I guessed it was because he had been hoping the king would be there. He crossed the black-and-white-tiled foyer and started up the wide staircase that led to the second floor and the palace's private chambers. I followed him, neither of us talking.

The queen was waiting just outside the double doors of her favorite salon, dressed in a beautiful blue pantsuit that matched the color of her eyes. "Hello, Toby," she greeted, smiling as they embraced.

"Good morning, Erica." His own smile was warm as he kissed her cheek. "Along this morning, are you?" he wasted no time in asking.

"For another 15 minutes," she replied as she led the way to the plush yellow davenports that sat in a half circle that allowed a lovely view of the inner courtyard.

"Good." Said Toby.

The Queen gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, which I returned before sitting down. "Why is that good?" her eyes twinkled as she asked.

"I have something to tell both of you. Do you think Rafe will have time?"

"Yes. Unless something has come up, he's free until late this afternoon."

"Good," Toby Repeated.

The queen could clearly see that Toby had something on his mind, but it wouldn't have been fair to make him explain it twice. "Did you have a speaking engagement last night?" she asked suddenly.

"As a matter of fact, I was at a banquet, but I didn't address the group."

"I'm surprised you're here so early."

"It wasn't a late night. The dinner was right here in Faraday." His voice grew rather soft while he spoke, and his eyes moved over to the windows, so Erica asked me about my week.

Rafael Markham and Toby Newbury had grown up together as best friends. Not for a moment had Rafe seen a future as Pendaran's king, but that was before meeting King Aton's daughter, Erica. With Toby's encouragement, Rafe had courted Erica with an interest that turned her head. Impressed with this young man who seemed ready to lay his life down on her behalf, King Anton and Queen Ketra, now the King Regent and Queen Regent, gave the couple their blessing. In only a month, Rafe and Erica would celebrate their thirty-second wedding anniversary.

"Wallace told me you were here," the king said as he entered the room. "Hello, Toby."

"Good morning, Rafe."

Although he greeted his friend, Rafe made a beeline for his wife and bent to kiss her. "Hello, love." He said softly before turning to give me a hug and then finally back to Toby. They shook hands but didn't say anything. Rafe sat down and stared at Toby for a long moment, who stared back.

Erica turned to me. "I think it would be best if you left."

I nodded. "Okay, goodbye, Grandma, it was nice talking to you." I smiled before leaving.

But I didn't go far. I know it's wrong to eaves drop, but I just couldn't quiet my curiosity. I rounded the corner and crouched down behind a large plant.

"I think you have something on your mind, Toby" Rafe said.

"You're right, I do, and since I hate beating around the bush, I'll come right to it. It's about our conversation two weeks ago concerning Nick."

My curiosity flamed up when I found it was about my dad, and I leaned closer to the corner to hear better.

"I've been praying about the situation, as I told you I would," Toby explained, "but then last night I met a young woman whom you need to know about."

I instantly tensed up, my palms starting to sweat.

"What is her name?"

"Shelby Parker. I met her at a banquet honoring her father, who has been deaf since he was ten. Shelby interpreted his speech."

"So he doesn't speak?"

"Actually, he does."

"Why did she interpret?"

"Protocol. Most of the room's occupants were also deaf, so Mr. Parker signed his speech, and Shelby voiced for him. I met Shelby and her parents after we dismissed. I've never been so impressed with a family in my life."

"How old is she, Toby?" This came from Erica.

"I didn't ask. She looks young, but she's out of school, so she must be in her early twenties."

"What was it about her that so impressed you?" Rafe asked.

"The first thing that catches your eye is her gracefulness. When she's talking, signing, or even walking, she moves like a dancer. She's tall and thin and extremely poised. Then after I met her, I noticed her relationship with her parents. The three of them adore each other. They laughed and shared secret smiles like the two of you. You can't be with them and miss it."

"And she's a believer?" Erica's voice wobbled a little.

"Yes. Her father gave a brief testimony last night, and it included the salvation of his wife, son, and daughter."

"Do you know for a fact that she's not spoken for?" Rafe asked.

"Positively? No. But I would be very surprised if there were any man in her life outside of her father."

My mind reeled as I was talking it all in. I knew what this meant, but I didn't want to believe it. They had found someone they thought could replace my mother. No! Dad would never do that to me!

Rafe spoke again. "The Council dismissed early this morning, so Nicky and I had a few minutes to talk. I felt a burden to tell him again of his decision to go through with this and trust us. He told me that he knew it wouldn't be easy but that God had been working on his heart. He has been asking for even greater trust, and he knows he'll never need it more than when he marries again."

It was silent for several minutes. My heart stopped beating when I heard that my father was willingly doing this. Breathing was hard as I thought about the Prince's first wife. Yvette DuBois had been a shy French Woman with a loving nature, and my father had adored her. Still quite young, the two of them had met while Yvette's family was visiting Pendaran. They corresponded for more than a year.

I had been nine at the time. I never knew my biological father, and my biological mother was a drug addict, who died when I was four. I had lived in an orphanage ever since, until I got fed up with all the unfairness and cruelty that I experienced from some of the other kids. Yvette found me on the side of the road, clutching a huge gash on my upper thigh. (I don't really remember how I got it, just that I was in excruciating pain.) She took me to her house and dressed the wound. When she found out that I was an orphan, she immediately put in papers to adopt me.

Even though he knew about me, Nikolai, accompanied by his parents, came to France to ask for Yvette's hand in marriage. She was two years older than he was, and now had a daughter, but that never mattered to him. They married when Nick was 20 and Yvette was 22.

I had never been happier. I had two parents who I knew without a shadow of a doubt loved me, grandparents who adored me, and an endless amount of opportunities ahead of me.

Then, without warning, my mother (I thought of her as my real mother because, in most ways, she was.) died of a heart attack two years later.

For my dad and me, the loss was huge. I refused to speak for the first month or so after her death, and then for a while after that I would only speak to Nick.

Pendaran's traditions were not worshipped, but they were honored and held in high regard. The tradition was that the heir to the throne was expected to be married by the time they were 26. My dad (and I've never had any trouble calling him this since he is the only father I've ever known) had more than met these requirements until Yvette had been taken from us. If the time of death had been closer to his 26th birthday, the time would have been extended according to his grief, but the Council decided that, for Nick, the tradition would be upheld. And as of now, Pendaran's prince had only 18 months to re-marry.

I realized that Toby and the king had started talking again, but I had missed half the conversation already.

"Do you have any suggestions, Rica?" Rafe was asking his wife.

I didn't stay to hear the answer; I stood up from my hiding spot and quietly sped down the hallway and out into the courtyard.

I just couldn't take it all in. even though it had been over five years since my mother's death, I couldn't imagine having another mother figure in my life. You can't or you won't? I asked myself, but I pushed the thought away stubbornly.

To be continued…

Hope you guys like it! More coming soon…