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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:41

Without meaning to, he imagined her wearing nothing at all. Pale and soft, covered only by her long hair, a naked temptress who—

“Thank you for seeing me,” Kayleen said, interrupting the erotic image that had no place in his head. “I guess I should have made an appointment.”

“Not at all,” he said as he came to his feet and motioned toward a sofa in the corner. “How can I help you?”

She sat down. “You’re very polite.”

She smoothed the front of her dress. “The palace is really big. I got lost twice and had to ask directions.”

“I can get you a map.”

She smiled. “For real or are you teasing?”

“Both. There is a map of the palace. Would you like one?”

“I think I need it. And maybe a computer chip implant so security can find me.” She looked uneasy as she glanced around the room. “This is nice. Big, but I guess that comes with being a prince.”

He couldn’t tell if she was just nervous or stalling. “Kayleen, is there a reason for your visit?”

“What? Oh. Right. I enrolled the girls in the American School this morning. It all went well. I used your name.”

He smiled. “Bowing and scraping?”

“Some. Everyone was very eager to help. And to have me tell you they helped. That part is weird. You’re probably used to it.”

“The school is great. Big and modern with a real focus on academics. Not that the orphan school is terrible. If they had more funding…” She sighed. “Asking about that is probably inappropriate.”

“Will knowing that stop you from asking?”

She considered for a second. “Not really.”

“I will see if funds can be made available.”

Her eyes widened. “Just like that?”

“I have made no promises. But I’m sure a few dollars could be found.”

“That would be great. We’re not working with a big budget over there, so anything would help. Most of the teachers live in, which means the salaries aren’t huge.”

He doubted they would ever be huge. Teachers didn’t choose their profession in an effort to amass a personal fortune. He frowned.

“Why did you become a teacher?” he asked.

“Because I couldn’t be a nun.”

An answer he never would have expected. “Did you want to be a nun?”

Kayleen nodded slowly. “Very much. The orphanage my grandmother took me to was run by nuns. They were wonderful to me. I wanted to be just like them. But I don’t really have the right personality.”

“Too…everything. I’m opinionated, I have a temper, I have trouble with the rules sometimes.”

She seemed so quiet and mousy in her baggy brown dress, but there was something in her eyes, a spark that told him she was telling the truth. After all, she had attacked Tahir.

He’d never met an almost-nun before. Why would a pretty woman want to lock herself away from the world?

“Our Mother Superior suggested I go into teaching,” Kayleen continued. “It was a great idea. I love it. I love the children. I wanted to take a permanent position there, but she insisted I first see the world. That’s how I ended up here. Eventually, I’ll go back.”

“To the convent school?”

“What about a husband and a family?”

Kayleen ducked her head, but not before he saw her blush. “I don’t really expect that to happen to me. I don’t date. Men are…They don’t think of me that way.”

He recalled his earlier fantasy about seeing her naked. “You would be surprised,” he murmured.

She looked up. “I don’t think so.”

“So there has never been anyone special?”

“A boyfriend?” She shook her head. “No.”

She was in her midtwenties. How was that possible? Did such innocence truly exist? Yet why would she lie about such a thing?

He found himself wanting to show her the world she’d been avoiding. To take her places.

Ridiculous, he told himself. She was nothing to him. Only the children’s nanny.

K ayleen backed out of the kitchen, her hands up in front of her, palms out. “No really. I mean it. Everything we have is terrific. I love the food. I’ve gained three pounds.”

When she could no longer see the head chef’s furious expression, she turned and hurried to the closest staircase, then ran up to a safer floor.

She’d only been offering to help, she told herself. But her offer of assistance had been taken as an insult.

With the girls gone all day and a kindly worded but clear letter from the orphan school saying it would be too awkward to have her teaching there, now that she was under Prince As’ad’s “protection,” Kayleen had nothing to do with her time. Sitting around was boring. She needed to keep busy with something. She couldn’t clean the suite she and the girls lived in. There wasn’t even a vacuum in the closet.