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

“I understand,” Lina said. “As’ad is like most princes—used to being impressive. He handled the situation badly and violated your romantic fantasy at the same time.”

Kayleen frowned. “I don’t have a romantic fantasy.”

An interesting question. She’d never really thought about getting married and having a family, so she’d never really thought about a proposal. But if she had, it would have been different. Flowers and candlelight and a man promising to love her forever.

The image was clear enough to touch, she thought ruefully.

“Okay, maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t allow myself to believe it would ever happen, but deep down inside, I wanted more than instructions and an order to feel grateful.”

Lina winced. “That bad?”

“Oh, yeah. The only good news is I slammed the bathroom door in his face. I don’t think that happens to As’ad very much.” She touched her stomach, as if she could rub away the knot that had formed inside. If As’ad was angry enough, he could send her away and she might never see the girls again. “How mad is he?”

“He’s less angry and more confused. From his perspective, he did a wonderful thing.”

Kayleen resisted the need to roll her eyes. “I’ll write a thank-you note later.”

“His world is a different place,” Lina said quietly. “Like his brothers, he has been raised to know that he will be expected to serve his country, that his life, while privileged, comes with a price. Growing up it was difficult for him to know who truly wanted to be friends because they liked him, and who wanted to be friends with a prince. He made mistakes and slowly learned whom he could and could not trust.”

Kayleen could relate to the pain of not having real friends, of wanting to find a place that was safe.

“But he had his brothers.”

“Yes, and that helped. Still, as he got older, there were many girls, then women, willing to do anything to make him fall in love with them. Or at least sleep with them.”

Kayleen felt heat on her cheeks. “Like me.”

“Not like you at all. You didn’t throw yourself at him or pretend to be interested. You were caught up in circumstances. As’ad shares blame in what happened. I’m simply saying he has a different perspective. While his proposal was meant to be the right thing, he handled it badly. As’ad isn’t skilled in dealing with emotion. His father saw to that. He was taught that emotions make a man weak. He avoids them.”

Kayleen had heard that from him and still found it hard to believe anyone could think of love as a weakness. Love gave a person infinite power and strength.

“Is there any part of you that wants to marry As’ad?” Lina asked.

The question was unexpected. Kayleen considered her reply. “It seems the easy way out.”

“Which does not give me an answer.”

Did she want to marry As’ad? In truth, the idea wasn’t horrible. He was a nice man and the thought of spending every night in his bed was thrilling beyond words, which probably meant she was in even worse shape than she’d first thought.

But there was more to marriage than the physical, she thought. There was a lifetime of connection. Did she want to have children with As’ad? Be a true mother to the three girls? Live in El Deharia forever?

The swell of longing surprised her. The need to belong—to have roots and a home—swept over her until it was difficult to breathe. She’d been on the outside looking in all her life. To be inside now was more than she’d ever dreamed. But to marry without love?

“I’m tempted,” she admitted. “Marrying As’ad would give me so much. But I’m not in love with him.”

“Practical marriages are a time-honored tradition,” Lina reminded her.

“I’m not royal. He’s a prince. Doesn’t that matter?”

“The old ways have changed. Now a prince may pick his bride. You have qualities such as honor, intelligence and kindness that make you everything I could want for As’ad.”

The gentle praise made Kayleen want to cry again. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“There is more to consider,” Lina said. “As the wife of a prince, you would be in a position to do good on a grand scale, both here and in the world. You could devote yourself to many worthwhile causes, assuming you have time after you and As’ad start to have children.”

Lina painted a picture that was difficult to resist. “Allow me to use some of the intelligence you claim I have to point out you’re manipulating me.”

Lina smiled. “Perhaps a little, but not as much as I could. If I truly wanted to convince you against your will, I would tell you that As’ad needs you. He needs someone who will love him unconditionally and teach him how important love is.”