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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:46

She was used to telling the story in a upbeat way that avoided making anyone feel awkward. There was no reason for the king to know that her mother had abandoned her and that her grandmother hadn’t wanted to be stuck with another child to raise. No reason to talk about what it had felt like to be left on the doorstep of an orphanage on her fifth birthday, knowing no one in her family wanted anything to do with her. King Mukhtar wouldn’t know what it felt like to never belong anywhere.

“So you don’t remember your mother at all?” he asked.

“No.” Which was fine with Kayleen.

“Perhaps you’ll meet again one day,” the king said.

“I would like that very much,” Kayleen lied, knowing it was what the king wanted to hear.

Growing up, she’d been taught that it was her duty to forgive her mother and grandmother for abandoning her. She’d made peace with what had happened, but that didn’t mean she wanted to be close now. Perhaps there were circumstances that, if explained, would help her understand. In truth, she wasn’t interested enough to find out.

“So your past is the reason you were so against the three sisters being split up,” the king said.

“Absolutely. They only have each other. They need to stay together.”

“Because of you, they will.”

She smiled. “Actually As’ad gets all the credit. He’s the one who saved them. I’ll always be grateful to him.”

The king glanced at her. “I heard you rode into the desert and met with some of the villagers who live there.”

“I did. I liked them a lot. It’s an interesting way of life. Carrying one’s roots wherever one goes.”

“Most young women would be more interested in the elegant shops on our boulevards than in the desert.”

She wrinkled her nose. “I’m not much into shopping.” She’d never had the money for it to be serious sport and she doubted the stores the king spoke of had much in the way of bargains.

“Perhaps As’ad will take you one day,” the king said.

“That would be fun, but it’s not necessary. He’s given me so much already.”

“So you like my son?”

“Of course. He’s a wonderful man. Charming and kind and patient.” And a great kisser, but she wasn’t going to mention that to the king.

“I am pleased to hear you are getting along,” King Mukhtar told her. “Very pleased.”

K ayleen waved at Neil, As’ad’s assistant, and when the man didn’t lunge for her, walked past him and into the prince’s office.

As’ad glanced up from his computer. “You have so intimidated my assistant that he has given up trying to stop you.”

She laughed. “If only that were true. I won’t stay long, I just…” She walked to the desk, started to sit down, then stopped. “I spoke with the king.”

As’ad looked at her as if waiting for her point.

“Your father is a king,” she said.

“I don’t. I can’t be speaking with a king. That sort of thing doesn’t happen to people like me. It doesn’t happen to anyone. It’s not normal.”

“You live in the royal palace. What did you expect?”

“Not to be living here,” she admitted. “It’s too crazy. You’re a prince.”

“Again, information I have already obtained.”

She sighed and sank into a chair. “You’re not taking me seriously.”

“You have given me no reason to. My father and I are who we have always been.”

She nodded slowly. He’d grown up this way. It was impossible for him to grasp the incredibleness of the situation for her.

“I shouldn’t have made you take the girls,” she told him. “I didn’t think the whole thing through. How they would change things for you.”

He rose and walked around the desk until he was standing in front of her and she had to look way, way up to meet his gaze.

“You did not make me do anything.”

She waved that away. “You know what I mean.”

“Indeed, I do not. I was aware that adopting three American sisters would make things different and still I went forward.”

Which made her wonder why he hadn’t just dismissed her like an annoying gnat. Isn’t that what princes did?

“I don’t belong here,” she told him. “I’m not used to this sort of thing.”

He took her hand and pulled her to her feet. “I say who belongs and who does not.”

“That is not what I had in mind.”

She knew he was going to kiss her even before he bent toward her and brushed his mouth against hers. She couldn’t say how she knew, only that anticipation tightened her stomach and she forgot to breathe. Nothing else mattered but the feel of his lips on hers and the nearness of his body. He put his arms around her and drew her close.