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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:39

The rest of it was a blur. Kayleen drew in a breath. “I started yelling, too. Then I sort of got between the chieftain and the stairway. I might have attacked him.” Shame filled her. To act in such a way went against everything she believed. How many times had she been told she must accept life as it was and attempt change through prayer and conversation and demonstrating a better way herself?

Kayleen desperately wanted to believe that, but sometimes a quick kick in the shin worked, too.

One corner of As’ad’s mouth twitched. “You hit Tahir?”

“What happened then?”

“His men came after me and grabbed me. Which I didn’t like, but it was okay because the girls were released. They were screaming and I was screaming and the other teachers came into the hall. It was a mess.”

She squared her shoulders, knowing she had to make As’ad understand why that man couldn’t take the girls away.

“You can’t let him do this,” she said. “It’s wrong on every level. They’ve lost both their parents. They need each other. They need me.”

“You’re just their teacher.”

“In name, but we’re close. I live here, too. I read to them every night, I talk to them.” They were like her family, which made them matter more than anything. “They’re so young. Dana, the oldest, is only eleven. She’s bright and funny and she wants to be a doctor. Nadine is nine. She’s a gifted dancer. She’s athletic and caring. Little Pepper can barely remember her mother. She needs her sisters around her. They need to be together.”

“They would be in the same village,” As’ad said.

“But not the same house.” She had to make him understand. “Tahir talks about how people in the village are willing to take in the girls. As if they would be a hardship. Isn’t it better to leave them here where they have friends and are loved? Where they can grow up with a connection to each other and their past? Do you know what he would do to them?”

“Nothing,” As’ad said flatly, in a voice that warned her not to insult his people. “He has given them his honor. They would be protected. Anyone who attacked them would pay with his life.”

Okay, that made her feel better, but it wasn’t enough. “What about the fact that they won’t be educated? They won’t have a chance. Their mother was American.”

“Their father was born here, in El Deharia. He, too, was an orphan and Tahir’s village raised him. They honor his memory by taking in his three daughters.”

As’ad hesitated. “It is their likely fate.”

“Then he can’t have them.”

“The decision is not yours to make.”

“Then you make it,” she told him, wanting to give him a quick kick to the shins, as well. She loved El Deharia. The beautiful country took her breath away every time she went into the desert. She loved the people, the kindness, the impossible blue of the skies. But there was still an expectation that men knew better. “Do you have children, Prince As’ad?”

“If you had a sister, would you want her to be taken away and made a servant? Would you have wanted one of your brothers ripped from his family?”

“These are not your siblings,” he told her.

“I know. They’re more like my children. They’ve only been here a few months. Their mother died a year ago and their father brought them back here. When he was killed, they entered the orphanage. I’m the one who sat with them night after night as they sobbed out their pain. I’m the one who held them through the nightmares, who coaxed them to eat, who promised things would get better.”

She drew herself up to her full five feet three inches and squared her shoulders. “You talk of Tahir’s honor. Well, I gave my word that they would have a good life. If you allow that man to take them away, my word means nothing. I mean nothing. Are you so heartless that you would shatter the hopes and dreams of three little girls who have already lost both their parents?”

As’ad could feel a headache coming on.

Kayleen James stated her case well. Under other circumstances, he would have allowed her to keep the children at the school and be done with it. But this was not a simple case.

“Tahir is a powerful chieftain,” he said. “To offend him over such a small matter is foolish.”

“Small matter? Because they’re girls? Is that it? If these were boys, the matter would be large?”

“The gender of the children is immaterial. The point is Tahir has made a generous gesture from what he considers a position of honor. To have that thrown in his face could have political consequences.”