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

“You don’t have to. Kayleen, do you have any idea how wealthy I am?”

“Not really,” she admitted.

“You don’t need to shop for a bargain.”

But she would. She would be responsible with his money, even if he didn’t care.

“Okay. I’ll get right on ordering one.”

He studied her for a moment. “You may also use that to shop for yourself and the girls.”

“We don’t need anything.”

“You will. Clothes wear out. Even my limited knowledge of children tells me they grow and require new clothes.”

“You’re right.” She stared at the card. “You’re also very kind.”

“I am not. My daughters deserve the best because of who I am.”

“You don’t have a self-esteem crisis, do you?” she asked, both amused and envious.

“No. I am clear on my place in the world.”

Must be nice, she thought longingly.

“You belong here, as well,” he told her.

Because he was once again reading her mind? “Not really.”

“If I say it is so, it is.”

“Thank you” seemed the right response. He was being kind. The truth was, she didn’t belong here at all. She was just staff and easily replaceable.

She turned to leave, but he called her back.

“I’ll get you information on your salary and benefits,” he said. “I should have taken care of that before.”

She smiled. “You’re a prince. I guess you’re not into details.”

“You’re very understanding. Thank you.”

His dark gaze caught hers. She told herself it was okay to go now, that they were done. But she couldn’t seem to pull away. She felt a powerful need to move closer, to…to…She wasn’t sure what, but something.

The phone rang. He glanced down and she was able to move again. As much as she wanted to stay, she forced herself to walk out of the office.

“We’re making progress,” Lina said as she curled up on her bed and held the phone close.

“There is no ‘we,’” Hassan told her. “You are in this on your own.”

“That’s not true. This was all your idea. You’re in this as deeply as I am.”

“You’re a very difficult woman.”

“I know.” She smiled. “It’s part of my charm.”

She squeezed her eyes shut and did her best not to scream. Not only wasn’t it fitting her position, but she was forty-three. Forty-three-year-old women didn’t go around screaming because a handsome man flirted with them on the phone. Even if that handsome man was the king of Bahania.

“Kayleen really likes As’ad,” she continued. “She’s having a little trouble adjusting to the palace, but who wouldn’t? Still, she’s doing well. He came and talked to me about making sure she had a salary and benefits. He wants to be generous. That’s something.”

“You may be reading too much into what he says.”

“I hope not. She would be good for him. He always holds back his emotions. I blame his father for that.”

“How refreshing,” Hassan said dryly. “One usually blames the mother.”

She laughed. “Speaking as a woman, I would say that needs to change.”

“This is my favorite part of our conversations. The sound of your laughter.”

Her heartbeat went from normal to hyperdrive in two seconds. Good thing she was lying down—otherwise, she would have fallen.

“It is as beautiful as the rest of you.” He paused. “Have I startled you with my confession?”

“Um, no. It’s fine. I mean, thank you.”

He sighed. “How much of this awkwardness is because I am a king and how much of it is because I am so much older?”

“None of it is because you’re the king,” she said without thinking.

His short “I see” had her backpedaling.

“No, no. It’s not about your age. I just wasn’t sure…We’ve never really talked about…I thought we were friends.”

“We are. Do you wish us to be more?”

Oh, my. Talk about putting it all out there.

Lina clutched the phone and told herself to keep breathing. She was terrified to tell the truth, to admit that she thought about him a whole lot more than she should. What if he wanted to know so he could let her down gently?

“Hassan,” she began, then stopped.

“I would like us to be more than friends,” he said. “Does that information make things easier or harder for you?”

She exhaled. “Easier. A lot easier. I want that, too.”