Prologue

"'Ere she eez, my boy," announced Marie Brightmore – Niles' mother – delicately passing over the small bundle to her son. "Your little girl...!"

Niles took the baby in his arms in a mixture of both awe and sadness. Yes, this was his little girl – Charlotte, he'd already decided, would be her name. Charlotte Brightmore.

But she was one of two daughters, the other of which it had been agreed he'd never see. That was the arrangement that he and C.C. had come to, after the whole...situation they'd found themselves in.

It hadn't started off as a 'situation'. If anything, it had begun because of a 'situation' between himself and Fran. Namely, a situation in which neither one was speaking to the other. But Niles hadn't been by himself for all of that time (which, he sometimes thought, hadn't been the good idea it had originally seemed to be). Instead, he'd found himself spending more and more time with the blonde producer; they'd gone out as friends, taken pottery classes together, played pranks as a team, instead of on each other...

And their words had taken on a... flirtatious tone. So flirtatious, in fact, that they'd actually ended up going out on a date.

A single date. But that had been more than enough for them to end up in bed.

Everything that had happened after seemed to have been designed by some deity that held a grudge against him. And it had all started when he'd woken up, still blissful from a night of passion, only to realise that the other side of his bed was empty.

To him, the truth was evident. C.C. had obviously woken up, feeling embarrassed and ashamed of having spent the night with him, and had decided to leave before things got any further out of hand. He should have realised sooner that she would – she was the upper class, powerful, millionaire Broadway producer, and he was nothing to her. Nothing but a servant, who lived in someone else's house for the express purpose of keeping it clean. Nothing but an insignificant butler who made less money in a year than she could make in a month. Maybe even a week.

He was nothing but a mistake that she'd quickly had to fix.

With his heart breaking in two, he'd tried to go about his day after that. Fran had noticed his sour mood, and he'd suddenly found himself with a shoulder to cry on. They'd quickly re-established their friendship, and things returned to normal for them.

Not that C.C. had realised that, it seemed. She'd come back into the mansion later that same day, trying to be all playful with him for reasons he couldn't understand (perhaps she was intending to use him as some sort of bedwarmer, until she found a wealthy businessman that she could ensnare and intended to keep). But Niles hadn't been having any of it – he'd coolly stepped away when she'd gone in for a hug or a kiss, or whatever she had intended on doing, and even if she'd been a little bit put out, she hadn't taken the hint.

That had come when she'd tried to insult Fran's clothes later that day. He'd turned around and told the producer that she was one to talk, considering the closest thing she'd ever worn to couture was on display in a museum in Turin.

Things had fallen apart after that. Their insults were back immediately, harsher and more designed to hurt, and the pranks soon followed in the same vein, growing more elaborate and better designed to humiliate.

The tension didn't stop growing until Fran and Maxwell's wedding, when one too many neat scotches had led to them ending up in bed again, only this time there wasn't much in it apart from anger.

That was when everything had blown up directly in Niles' face.

He'd woken up before her the next day, and had eventually only been able to lie there thinking about fixing things between them. And, like the fool he was, he'd tried to put that plan into practice when the producer had woken up, embarrassed and clearly remembering less of the evening than he did. She'd tried to go, but he'd grabbed her arm and begged her to stay.

And when she'd asked him why, he'd told her the truth. Again, like a fool, he'd told her that he loved her.

Of course, she'd laughed in his face, and told him that he hadn't ever exactly acted like he'd loved her, and that she was going to pay him back for him dropping her to become Fran's friend again – by dropping him, the "pathetic excuse for a man passing as a sub-par maid".

And just as she'd turned to walk away, in his anger he'd told her that the biggest mistake he'd ever made was assuming that she had a heart. That she was just an easy lay.

That had been it for them, after that. They'd barely been able to stand being in the same room together, and their pranks had only reached a peg or two away from destroying the house around them, much to the frustration of the Sheffields.

And it had all ended, with one final call and prank.

She'd come into the office late one morning, looking pale and ill. She had left a message for Niles the night before, asking if they could talk.

He'd set up a prank for the producer in return, which he thought he'd pulled off with aplomb, imagining that she'd get angry and then find a way of getting even, like she always did these days.

But the minute she'd tripped and fallen on the steps to the mansion (that he'd highly waxed), and then gotten back up again with tears in her eyes while he laughed in her face, all that had happened was that she'd eventually gotten angry. And, for perhaps the first time, Niles got angry back about it – it hadn't been any different to any other prank they'd played on each other!

She'd gotten so angry at that remark that she'd slapped him across the face, and it had all ended in a fight. A fight during which she'd basically confirmed to him why she'd left his bed that fateful day – he was a loser, who lived off his employer and would never amount to anything. Then to top it all off, she'd quit working for the company.

Well, to truly top it all off, she'd then spat out that she was pregnant, letting the guilt of what he'd just done crash down over him like a tidal wave. What if she'd fallen and hit her stomach?! He could have caused her to miscarry! And he wouldn't have even known if she hadn't told him! He could've...it could've all been his fault, that a child he'd helped to create – two children, he'd later found out – wouldn't have existed anymore!

He'd gone after her after that, pleading to be given a chance to make up for what he'd done, but she hadn't listened. She'd gotten into a taxi and gone, leaving him there in front of the gaping Sheffields. And Niles had then felt so embarrassed by her openly calling him all of those things that she had before, knowing that she was right about all of them, that he had quit, too.

He'd spent the next few weeks calling her, and only getting her answering machine. He wanted – and asked, desperately – to help, to make up for what he'd almost done.

And nothing had come of it, until she had deigned call him to offer a deal. The arrangement she'd apparently thought they could, however, was a far cry from what he'd wanted.

He would keep one of the twins, but he hadn't been allowed to help or even be around her at any stage of her pregnancy. However, when C.C. had realised just how difficult everything could be when carrying two human beings inside her, Marie had been called to help. She'd spent a great deal of time around C.C., both taking care of her and the children, and trying help cool things down between her and Niles. Much to Niles' relief, C.C. had actually grown to like Marie, so much so that she'd been the only person allowed into the delivery room. She had also been tasked to fetch the only daughter of his that he'd ever be allowed to hold.

The final (and, in a way, most painful) blow had come from the hand of the lawyers that were helping them draw up an decent custody agreement; they'd informed them that, in order for Niles to take one of the girls with him and for them to live a quiet existence in Britain, he and C.C. would have to get married before the girls were born. Otherwise, their children wouldn't be recognised as a British citizens, which would eventually pose a problem for Niles and the twin he'd be taking care of.

And it was all thanks to some stupid law that mandated that, in order for a child to obtain the British nationality through the father, their parents had to be married.

Initially, he'd been certain that Miss Babcock wouldn't subject herself to such a tedious process but, to his surprise, she'd agreed. Begrudgingly, yes, but she'd still agreed.

They'd gotten married at the Town Hall, with only Stewart Babcock and Marie Brightmore as witnesses. Obviously there hadn't been any celebrations, or rice-throwing – afterwards, both he and Miss Babcock (who, at the time had been six months along) had promptly returned to their respective homes, wanting nothing but to forget what had transpired that afternoon.

He hadn't seen her again afterwards, and had only heard from her through the team of lawyers assisting them on the complex situations they found themselves in.

That's how he'd eventually gotten little Lottie, sixty-five million dollars for her upkeep and happiness (courtesy of the Babcock family), and a threat as to what C.C. would do to him if she ever saw his stupid face again. He'd agreed to all of it, and swore to never contact either her or their other daughter for as long as he lived, with the only exceptions being the child in his charge being in danger or gravely ill, and the time when they'd have to sign the divorce papers (something they planned on doing as soon as the girls got their passports).

But even if both girls were going to be dual citizens, he would only have custody of one; he would have to relinquish the custody of the other when the passports arrived, and finally step away from her and Miss Babcock's lives.

Having agreed to it had (and still) felt like a mistake. He was a father to both girls – shouldn't he see the other twin at least once?!

Shouldn't he see C.C. again, at least once...?

In his heart he knew the answer was yes.

But as it was, he had no other option but to accept things as they currently were. He'd be moving back to the UK with one of his girls as soon as the passports arrived, while C.C. would keep the other twin.

His other little girl...

He didn't know her or her name, he'd never held her or seen her, but he missed her already.

And Marie knew it. Given that Miss Babcock (or should he say Mrs Brightmore?) actually liked her, his mother was trying to make the plan work more easily, and she'd been acting as a conduit for messages throughout the entire time. This had allowed Niles to keep tabs – he might not have been able to see and help with the pregnancy, but he could ask. And each and every day that Marie returned home from C.C.'s, he'd ask about how the twins were, how their mother was doing, if everything seemed to be going according to plan…

It always was.

It had worked all the way up to the present moment – the delivery was over, the twins had been separated and Niles was in a hospital corridor, far enough away from the room so C.C. didn't have to see him, and close enough that he hadn't had to wait too long to see Charlotte.

His Lottie, who was so small in her big, warm blanket!

"She eez very like you," Marie gave him a nudge and a smile.

Niles tried to smile back, but found he couldn't entirely. He was overjoyed to be a father and for someone to say she looked like him, but...all the features he saw in the little one's face belonged to C.C..

"Eet eez zhe eyez," Marie said, looking down at the new born child. "She 'az your eyez..."

And indeed, the little child had a pair of the brightest sky-blue eyes, a trait she had inherited from her father, who in turn had gotten it from Marie. Still, unbeknownst to Niles and Marie, there was another little person in that hospital that had eyes the same shade of blue: Amelia Babcock.

Charlotte's twin, like Charlotte herself, was the spitting image of her mother, but she had her father's eyes.

And said mother, who was holding her to her chest and letting her eat in peace (she'd breastfed Charlotte moments ago, before Marie took her away), was painfully aware of this.

It almost like having Niles look at her.

She thought about the irony of the whole situation. She'd spent the past months actively avoiding seeing or speaking to that bastard, and yet she'd given birth to and found herself with two little replicas!

Well, one replica. The other was going with the man she found it even painful to think about.

Part of her had wanted to ask Marie how he was doing, but she'd squashed it down before it saw the light of day. He'd been a part of her life and now he wasn't – it was as simple as that.

She kept telling herself that over and over to help it sink in. And probably to convince herself that she was right, but she wasn't going to examine that path too quickly.

Not when the man in question was going away, and she'd never see him again.

"Well, sweetie," she addressed her daughter. The only little one she'd been able to keep. "I guess it's just you and me from now on..."

Amelia – her little girl's name was Amelia – was obviously too young to respond. But eventually she'd grow, and she'd learn. She'd walk and run. She'd laugh and shout. She'd live the happy life C.C. had made sure would also be provided for Charlotte.

But she'd never know she had a sister. And her father would always remain a mystery.

Not to C.C., though. She thought about it as the nurse helped her burp the baby and got them both settled into bed (well, C.C. in her bed, Amelia in her hospital bassinet). C.C. turned towards the window, watching the world go by, and knowing every second that passed took her other little girl further away until, eventually, there'd be an entire ocean between them.

An entire ocean felt far too far, but she knew it was for the best.

And with that thought, and the image of a bright blue pair of eyes floating in her mind, C.C. drifted off into an uneasy sleep.