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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:50

“I did not trick you.”

She shifted away and stood. “Whatever. You can go now.”

“I am not leaving,” he said as he rose to his feet. “Kayleen, you are missing the point of my visit.”

She wiped her cheeks with her fingers. “What’s the point?”

Not exactly the opening he’d imagined. He cleared his throat. “It occurs to me that you were not in a position to consider the ramifications of what happened to us. You were lost in the moment, not realizing that by giving in to me you were destroying your most precious gift and—”

Fresh tears filled her eyes. “How could you?” she breathed and ran into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

He stared in disbelief. She’d walked away from him?

He followed her to the closed door. “Kayleen, please come out here at once.”

“Go away. I have to figure this out and you’re not helping.”

He opened the door and stepped into the bathroom. “You will listen to me. I am here to make this better. I am here to fix your problem.”

She shook her head. “You can’t fix anything. I’ve lost everything I wanted.”

“You have lost nothing. You are not a woman to be locked away. You deserve more than that and I am going to give it to you. Think of being married, of having a family to fill your day, children of your own.” He paused to give her a chance to brace herself for the honor he would bestow upon her.

“Kayleen, I will marry you.”

He smiled at her, waiting for her tears to dry. Instead more fell. Perhaps she did not understand.

“You will be my wife. You will live here, with me. In the palace. I have taken your virginity, therefore I will return your honor to you by marrying you. You will carry my name.”

He waited, but she said nothing. She didn’t even look at him.

“All right. I see you are having trouble understanding all this. It is unlikely you ever allowed yourself to dream of such a life. In time you will be able to believe this has truly happened. Until then, you can thank me and accept. That is enough.”

She raised her gaze to stare at him. Something hot and bright burned in her eyes, but it wasn’t happiness or gratitude.

“Thank you?” she repeated, her voice high and shrill. “Thank you? I’m not going to thank you. I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man alive.”

He was so stunned that when she shoved him, he took a step back. The bathroom door slammed shut in his face and he heard the bolt shoot home.

“T ake another drink of tea,” Lina said soothingly.

Kayleen wrinkled her nose. The brew was a nasty herbal concoction that tasted like wet carpet smelled, but her friend assured her it would help. At this point, Kayleen was open to any suggestions.

She finished the mug and set it on the table, then grabbed a cookie she didn’t want to get the taste out of her mouth.

“Better?” Lina asked.

Kayleen nodded because it was expected. In truth she didn’t feel better, she felt awful. She still couldn’t get herself to understand what had happened or how she’d so quickly and easily lost her moral compass. Yes, As’ad was handsome and charming and an amazing kisser, but she should have been stronger than that.

Lina sighed. “I can see by the look on your face that you’re still beating yourself up. You need to let it go. Men like my nephew have been tempting women since the beginning of time.”

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate the information,” Kayleen murmured. “It’s just…”

“It doesn’t help,” Lina said kindly.

“Sort of. I feel so stupid and inexperienced.”

“At least you’re more experienced than you were.”

Despite everything, Kayleen smiled. “That’s true. I won’t fall for that again. Next time, I’ll resist.”

Assuming there was a next time. Her last meeting with As’ad had ended badly. He had to be furious.

“He was serious about marrying you,” Lina told her. “Don’t dismiss that.”

“I didn’t have a choice. He didn’t propose—he commanded, then he expected me to be grateful. I know he’s part of your family and you love him, but that wasn’t a proposal, Lina. He’s just so…”

“Among other things.”

And it hurt, Kayleen admitted to herself. That he would talk to her that way. If he’d come to her with compassion, truly understanding what she was going through, she would have been appreciative of what he offered. She might have been tempted to say yes. At least then her world would have been set right. But to act the way he did?