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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:48

Her lips twitched, but she was determined to be serious. “There’s a royal camel stable?”

His dark gaze settled on her, seeming to caress her with a warm, tender touch. “Of course. There is a royal everything.”

Pepper took a bite of turkey and chewed. “Can I see the royal camels?”

“Do they look different than regular camels?” Nadine asked.

“They wear very small crowns.”

Dana grinned. “They do not.”

As’ad laughed. “You’re right. But they are a special breed. And they are extremely stubborn. I did not know this when I first took them, but soon they were leading me into the desert, rather than the other way around.”

Nadine giggled. Dana joined in. “What happened?” she asked.

As’ad wove a funny tale about a boy and four stubborn, angry camels, a lost night in the desert and many disasters. By the time he was done, all three sisters had finished their dinner, gotten seconds and were eyeing the pie. The tears were gone, as were the bad memories.

This is what they would remember about their first Thanksgiving in El Deharia, Kayleen thought as she tucked them in and kissed them good-night. As’ad’s story would be a part of their history and they would remember it and him for the rest of their lives.

He’d escorted them down to their suite and had waited while they got ready for bed. As she walked back into her living room, she saw he’d started a fire in the fireplace and made himself at home on the large sofa across from the flickering flames.

“It’s not exactly chilly outside,” she told him, knowing it made sense to sit next to him, but suddenly feeling shy.

“I thought you would appreciate the ambience. More memories of home, but happy ones I hope.”

She walked over to the sofa and sat down at the far end. “There are a lot of happy ones,” she said, then turned to him. “Thank you for tonight. For the surprise and for helping the girls through a difficult time. This is their first holiday season without their parents and it’s going to be hard for them.”

“They will need both of us to get through,” he said.

“I agree.” She was a little surprised that he saw it that way, though. “I didn’t think you wanted much to do with them.”

“They are charming girls with much potential. I find I enjoy spending time with them.”

“And you?” he asked, his dark gaze seeming to see into her soul. “What do you think of them?”

“I adore them. Why do you ask?”

“Because you plan to leave them.”

She opened her mouth, then closed it. Embarrassment made her stare at the fire. She battled guilt, as if she’d done something wrong. She knew she should have talked to him before—so he learned of her plans from her and not someone else. But she’d been afraid of what he would think of her.

“They told you,” she murmured.

“Dana said you planned to return home on your twenty-fifth birthday. That you would lock yourself away and teach at the convent school.”

When he said it, her dreams seemed small and pointless. “As you say, it’s my home.”

“A place we cannot always return to. What of your commitment to the girls?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I haven’t really thought anything through. This was planned a long time ago. I didn’t expect to be their nanny.”

“You are the one who insisted I adopt them. You are the most stable adult presence in their lives. Would you subject them to more upheaval by leaving them so soon after they came to be here? Are they nothing to you?”

“No. Of course not.” She hated what he was saying. “I don’t know what I was going to do. Of course I’d help you hire someone else. Someone to replace me.”

“Would you? Or was your plan to take them with you?”

She ducked her head. “I thought of that, too.”

“Did you think that would be allowed? This is El Deharia. No one may take royal children from the country without their parents’ permission. I will not give it.”

Kayleen could only stare at him. Of course. Thanks to her, he was their father and his rules applied. She hadn’t thought that part through, either.

“No decision has to be made now,” he said. “We will find a solution together. Do you have any other secrets you are keeping from me?”

“What? No. Never. And I would have told you about leaving.” She leaned toward him. “As’ad, I wasn’t trying to trick you about anything. I was desperate for Tahir not to take the girls back to his village.”