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

“Good. I did not expect to find you, Lina. You are a gift for which I will always be grateful.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, not sure what else to say. “I’m intrigued, as well.”

“Intrigued,” he repeated. “An interesting choice of words. Perhaps we should explore all the possibilities.”

As’ad walked into his suite at his usual time in the early evening. But instead of quiet, dark rooms, he found the living area bright and loud. Dana and Pepper were stretched out on the floor, watching a show on his large television. Nadine swirled and danced by the window and Kayleen stood at the dining room table, arranging flowers.

She looked up when he entered. “Oh, good. You’re here. I called Neil to ask him what time you’d be home. He didn’t want to tell me.” She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t think he likes me.”

“Perhaps he is just trying to protect me.”

“From us?” She asked the question as if it were a ridiculous possibility. “I wanted to have dinner ready, which it is. I have to say, this calling down to the kitchen and ordering food is really fun. We each picked a dish. Which may not have been a good idea. The menu is fairly eclectic.”

She paused for breath, then smiled. “We wanted to have dinner with you.”

She wore another dress that was ugly enough to be offensive. The dull gray fabric sucked the life from her face and the bulky style hid any hint of curve. Yet when she smiled, he found his mood lifting. He wanted to smile back. He wanted to pull her close and discover the body hidden beneath.

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Heat stirred, reminding him how long he had lived only for his work.

He ignored the need and the wanting, the heat that forced blood south, and set down his briefcase. He even ignored that, given her past, Kayleen had probably never been with a man, and instead focused on the fact that she and the girls were in his room.

He had made himself extremely clear. She was to keep the children away from him. They had their own suite and everything they could possibly want or need. He had only taken the sisters to keep them from a less desirable fate. Yet when he started to remind Kayleen of that, he could not seem to bring himself to say the words.

Perhaps because she looked so hopeful as she smiled at him. He did not want to squash the light in her eyes.

“I’ll get some wine,” he said, moving to the small wine rack tucked in a cabinet. Something stronger might make the evening go more quickly, but he only had wine in his rooms. He did not, as a rule, drink here. Of course he did not, as a rule, have a woman and three children to contend with.

Nadine danced over to him. “Hi, As’ad,” she said, her eyes bright with happiness, her mouth smiling. “Did you have a good day? I got every word on my spelling test except one and it was really hard. My new teacher says I’m a good speller. I’m good in all my subjects, except math, and Kayleen is gonna help me with that.”

Pepper ran over and pushed in front of Nadine. “Hi! I’m in school, too, and I’m good at math.” She stuck out her tongue at her sister, then smiled back at him. “I made a picture and I brought it for you, but you don’t have a ’frigerator, so where are we gonna put it?”

Dana stood and joined them. “He doesn’t want your picture,” she said, then sighed, as only an older sibling can. “She’s not a very good artist.”

Pepper stomped her foot. “I’m an excellent artist. You’re just a butthead.”

Dana gasped, Nadine looked worried and Pepper slapped her hand over her mouth. Terror darkened her blue eyes and she glanced between him and Kayleen. Apparently saying “butthead” was not allowed.

As’ad rubbed his temple.

Kayleen walked over and looked at Pepper. “You know that’s wrong.”

Pepper nodded frantically, her hand still over her mouth.

“You need to apologize to Dana.”

Pepper, a tiny girl with long, curly blond hair, turned to her big sister. “I’m sorry I called you that.”

Dana put her hands on her hips. “That’s not good enough. You always call people—”

Kayleen cleared her throat. Dana hunched her shoulders.

“Thank you for apologizing,” she grumbled.

Kayleen touched Pepper’s shoulder. “Now you help me think of a suitable punishment. What is appropriate for what you did?”

Pepper’s eyes filled with tears. “No story tonight?” she asked in a whisper.

Kayleen considered. “That’s a little harsh. What if you have to give up your choice on movie night? Dana gets two choices instead.”

Pepper shivered slightly, then nodded. “Okay.”