Page 21

The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:44

“Arrangements will be made.”

“Arrangements?” Kayleen asked. “What arrangements? And what’s all this about being your woman? I’m your nanny. There’s a really big difference.”

He took her by the elbow and led her to the Jeep. “It makes things easier if they think you belong to me. Otherwise you would be fair game for every man here. You’re very exotic. They would find that tempting.”

Kayleen didn’t know what to say to that. She was so far from exotic that if they put her picture on that page in the dictionary, it would have a circle with a line drawn through it over her face. She couldn’t imagine a man ever being tempted by her.

It was the hair, she thought with a sigh. Bright red hair tended to call attention to itself.

“Fear not,” As’ad told her. “I have claimed you. You are safe.”

She shivered slightly, but not in fear. It was more from the memory of the brief kiss he’d given her when he’d first arrived. An unexpected and warm touch of his lips on hers. She’d been shocked by the contact, but not in a scary way. More surprised, but pleased.

“We’re staying for dinner,” he said.

“It’s the polite thing to do.”

She looked around at the tidy camp. “I don’t mind. I like it here, out in the desert. Although it would be nice if they didn’t pretend not to understand me.”

“They are private people. You rode in from nowhere, babbling about missing children. They were cautious.”

She narrowed her gaze. “I do not babble.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Not often,” she amended. “I was scared. I thought the girls were lost.”

“You were not equipped to find them, yet you went after them.”

“Perhaps one of the grooms. Or you could have called me.”

Oh. Right. “I didn’t think of that. I’m not used to having resources.”

“Perhaps next time you will consider that you do.”

It would take some getting used to. “You came after me yourself,” she said. “You could have sent one of the grooms.”

“The girls were most distressed to think they were the cause of your being gone. Coming after you myself seemed the quickest way to allay their fears.”

“It was a little impulsive. You have resources, too.”

Something flashed in his eyes. Something dark and primitive that made her heart flutter. She didn’t know if she should throw herself at him or run into the desert, so she stood her ground.

“So what do you think is for dinner?”

The women of the village prepared a rich stew with lots of vegetables and a flat bread that smelled so good it made Kayleen’s mouth water. She did her best to be friendly and polite, helping with the cooking as much as the women in the camp would let her.

Zarina, Sharif’s oldest daughter, was the only one who would speak to her in English.

“Am I really that scary?” Kayleen asked quietly as she stirred the stew.

“You are different. From the city and from another country. You do not know our ways.”

Zarina, a dark-haired beauty with a flashing smile, laughed. “Give up your comforts to roam the desert? I do not think so.”

“Comforts don’t matter to me,” Kayleen told her. She would give up many things to belong somewhere.

“Yet you live in the palace with the prince.”

“It’s a long story and I don’t live with him. I take care of…” She shook her head. “It’s a really long story.”

Zarina glanced at As’ad where he sat with the leaders of the tribe. “The prince is handsome. If I were not happily married, I might try to steal him from you.”

Kayleen started to say he wasn’t hers to steal, but figured there was no point. “He’s nice.”

Zarina laughed. “Not nice. No man worth having is nice. As’ad is a desert warrior. He takes what he wants, but then he protects those he claims. He is a strong man. A powerful husband. You have chosen well.”

A lion of the desert? As’ad? He was strong and powerful and he did seem to take care of those around him. His presence here was proof of that. But a dangerous animal? She didn’t believe that. As for her choosing him…as if.

He looked up and met her gaze, then rose and approached. “What troubles you, Kayleen?”

“Nothing. I was just thinking. Zarina says it’s good she’s happily married, otherwise she would steal you from me.”