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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:43

Of all the stupid, annoying things she’d ever heard. He wasn’t going to feel anything because he was a prince? But it was okay for her because she was a woman?

“No way,” she told herself as she headed back to her own rooms. “Something is going to change around here and it isn’t going to be me.”

“It’s so egotistical,” Kayleen ranted the next morning as she paced the length of her living room. “So two hundred years ago. He gets to be in charge because he’s a man? What does that make the rest of us? Chattel? I’m so angry, I want to throw him in the dungeon until he begs. I’m smart. I’m capable. And I have a heart. Why can’t he see that emotions give us depth? They define us. Are all men so stupid? I have to tell you, Lina, the more I see of the world, the more I long for the convent.”

Her friend smiled at her. “Is it possible your energy and intensity on this topic is one of the reasons you weren’t called to serve in that way?”

“That’s what I was always told when I was growing up. I was too passionate about things. Too willing to go my own way. It’s just when I see an injustice, I can’t stop to think. I act.”

“As you did with Tahir.”

Kayleen remembered the tall chieftain who had wanted to take the girls. “Exactly.”

“Life does not always move on your timetable,” Lina said. “You need to be patient.”

“Don’t act impulsively,” Kayleen said, knowing she’d heard the same advice a thousand times before.

“Exactly.” Lina patted the seat next to her. “As’ad is a product of his world. His father taught all his sons to avoid emotion. To think logically. While my brother grieved after his wife died, he chose not to show that to the boys. In front of them, he went on, as if unmoved by her passing. In my opinion it was the wrong lesson.”

Kayleen agreed. “Because of that, As’ad won’t care?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “He’s not stupid. Why can’t he see the truth all around him?”

“He has been trained for a specific purpose. His is a life of service, in a way, but with ultimate power and ego. You haven’t met his brothers, but they are all like him. Strong, determined men who see little virtue in love. It’s probably why none of them have married.”

“But love is strength and a great gift,” Kayleen said as she sat on the sofa. “He has to love the girls. They need that. They deserve it. He would be better because of it. Happier. Besides, there’s a ticking clock here.”

Lina frowned. “You’re still leaving?”

“I can go back on my twenty-fifth birthday. That’s less than four months away.”

“But you have the girls now.”

“I know.” Kayleen hadn’t worked that part out. “They’ll get settled and then As’ad can bring in someone else.”

She spoke bravely, but the words sounded a little feeble, even to her.

“I’m surprised,” Lina admitted. “When you asked As’ad to adopt the girls, I thought you were taking on the responsibility with him. This isn’t like you, Kayleen. To retreat from the world.”

“The world isn’t always a fun place. I want to go back to where I belong.” Where she’d grown up. It was the only home she’d ever known. “I can teach there.” That was the deal. She had to stay away until she was twenty-five. Then she could return to the convent school forever.

“You can be a mother here.”

“Not really. It’s just a game. When the girls are older, As’ad will have no use for me. Besides, if he doesn’t want to get involved, maybe I can take them with me.”

“I assume my nephew doesn’t know about your plan to leave.”

“I haven’t mentioned it.”

“Soon. It’s not as if he’ll miss me or anything.”

Kayleen had always wondered what it would be like to be missed by someone. By a man. To be cared for. Loved, even.

“Things change,” Lina told her. “You have a responsibility to the girls.”

“Would you walk away from them so easily?”

Kayleen shook her head. “No. It won’t be easy. Sometimes I do think about staying.” She didn’t know what was right. Her plan had always been to go back. Being here with the three sisters had changed everything.

Was Lina right? Did she, Kayleen, have a responsibility to the children? Should she give up her dreams for them? Could she go back later? When the girls were older?

Three weeks ago, she’d known all the answers and now she knew none. Her instinct was to go talk to As’ad about all this. But that made no sense. He was a man who didn’t listen to his heart and she had always believed the truth could be found there.