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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:42

She wandered down the main hallway, then paused to figure out where she was. The wide doorways looked familiar. Still, what would it hurt to have a few “you are here” maps to guide newcomers?

She turned another corner and recognized the official royal offices. In a matter of minutes she was standing in front of As’ad’s assistant, Neil.

“I really need to see him,” she said.

“You do not have an appointment.”

“I’m his nanny.” It was a bluff. She was staff and she had a feeling that all staff needed an appointment.

“I’m aware of who you are, Ms. James. But Prince As’ad is very particular about his schedule.”

Neil was British, so the word sounded like “shed-ule.”

The door to As’ad’s office opened. “Neil, I need you to find—” He saw Kayleen. “How convenient. You’re the one I’m looking for.”

Guilt flooded her. “Is it the chef? I didn’t mean to insult him. I was only trying to help.”

His gaze narrowed. “What did you do?”

She tucked her hands behind her back. “Nothing.”

“Why don’t I believe you? Come inside, Kayleen. Start at the beginning and leave nothing out.”

She glanced longingly at the exit, but followed As’ad into his office. When they were both seated, he looked at her expectantly.

She sucked in a breath. “I went down to the kitchen. I thought I could maybe help out there. I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m bored. I need to do something.”

She stopped talking and pressed her lips together to hold in a sudden rush of emotion. Need— there was the word that mattered. She had to be needed.

“You have your three charges,” he said. “Many would find that enough.”

“Oh, please. They’re in school for hours at a time. Someone else cooks, cleans and I’m guessing does our laundry. So what do I do the rest of the time?”

“With what? Are you paying me? We never discussed a salary. Are there benefits? Do I have a dental plan? One minute I was minding my own business, doing my job, and the next I was here. It’s not an easy adjustment.”

One corner of his mouth twitched. “If I remember correctly, you assaulted a chieftain. Not exactly minding your own business.”

She didn’t want to talk about that. “You know what I mean.”

“I do. Tell me, Kayleen. What did you teach?”

“Math,” she said absently as she stood up and crossed to the window. As’ad’s view was of a beautiful garden. She didn’t know anything about plants, but she could learn. Maybe the gardener needed some help.

“You’re comfortable with statistical analysis?”

“Uh-huh.” What were the pink flowers? They were stunning.

“Then I have a project for you.”

She turned. “You want me to do your taxes?”

“No. I want you to work with the education minister. While many girls from the rural villages are graduating from high school and going on to college, the number is not as great as we would like. For El Deharia to grow as a nation, we must have all our citizens educated and productive. I want you to find out which villages are sending the most girls to college, then figure out what they’re doing right so we can use that information to help the other villages. Does that interest you?”

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She crossed back to the sofa. “You’re serious? You’re not just offering me this to keep me busy?”

“You have my word. This is vital information. I trust you to get it right.”

He spoke with a low, steady voice that seemed to pull her closer. There was something in his eyes that made her want to believe him.

Excitement grew inside of her. It was a project she could throw herself into, and still have plenty of time for the girls. It would be challenging and interesting and meaningful.

She rushed toward him. “I’d love to do it. Thank you.”

She leaned forward impulsively, then stopped herself. What was the plan? To hug him? One did not idly hug a prince and she didn’t go around hugging men.

She straightened and took a step back, not sure if she should apologize or pretend it never happened. As’ad rose and crossed to his desk. Apparently he was going to ignore what she’d almost done. Or he hadn’t noticed.

“Then we are agreed,” he said. “You’ll report your progress to me in weekly meetings.” He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a credit card. “Use this to get yourself a laptop and printer. Your suite already has Internet access.”

She hesitated before taking the card. No one had ever offered her a credit card before. She fingered the slim plastic. “I’ll, um, make sure I get a bargain.”