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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:51

As for the sisters—he had grown fond of them. With Kayleen he would have sons, but the girls would always be special, for they had come first.

He smiled as he imagined facing Dana’s first boy-friend. It would not be easy to meet a prince on a first date, but having to deal with him would be an excellent test of character for any young man.

Kayleen looked up first. “As’ad, you’re here.”

She took the book from Pepper, then set the girl on the sofa next to her. After she rose, she paused, as if not sure what to do. They were engaged now—some greeting was required. Obviously she did not know what.

He crossed the room to her and pulled her close, then kissed her. Behind him, he heard the girls murmuring. They were not used to such displays of affection, but they would become accustomed to them. He enjoyed being with a woman and having Kayleen in his bed would be one of the perks of married life.

When he stepped back, he kept his arm around her.

“We have something to tell you,” he said.

All three girls huddled together, their eyes wide and apprehensive.

Kayleen smiled. “It’s a good thing. Don’t worry.”

“Kayleen and I are to be married,” As’ad said. “Nothing has been formally announced so you’ll need to keep the information a secret for now, but I wanted you to know.”

The girls stared at each other, then back at him. “What about us?” Dana asked, sounding worried.

Kayleen knelt down and held out her arms. “You’re staying right here. With us. We’ll both adopt you. This will be your home forever.”

Nadine and Pepper ran into her embrace. Dana looked at him. Her smile was bright and happy, her eyes wide with excitement.

“I’d hoped this would happen,” she admitted. “I wanted you to figure out you were in love with Kayleen. You look at her the way Daddy used to look at Mommy.”

Love? Not possible, As’ad thought, dismissing the very idea. Kayleen kept her head down. Dana rushed to her.

“Do you have a ring?” the girl asked.

Kayleen removed it from her pocket and slipped it on her fingers. The girls gasped.

“That’s really, really big,” Pepper said. “Is it heavy?”

“I’m getting used to it.”

As’ad watched in contentment. All had turned out well, thanks to his aunt. She had given him advice on the best way to approach Kayleen. While he didn’t usually agree with taking advice from a woman, in this case she was the acknowledged expert.

She had told him about Kayleen’s desire to be needed. It was a position he could respect. Having a place to belong was far better than worrying about a fleeting emotion like love.

Kayleen stood. The girls rushed at him and he found himself embracing them all. He bent down and gathered Pepper into his arms, then straightened and settled her on his hip.

“I’m a real princess now,” she said. “I want a crown.”

“A princess wears a tiara,” he told her.

“Then one of those. Does this mean the next time I hit a bully I won’t get into trouble?”

“Hitting anyone is never a good idea,” Kayleen told her.

Pepper sighed and looked into his eyes. “But you’re the prince. Can’t you change that?”

She was delightful, as were her sisters. He smiled. “I will see what I can do.”

“You shouldn’t encourage her,” Kayleen told him.

Perhaps not, but he suddenly wanted all that was possible for the girls. He wanted to give them everything, show them everything, and always keep them safe.

An odd pressure tightened in his chest. It was a feeling he didn’t recognize, so he ignored it. But it was there.

Fayza St. John arrived the next morning exactly on time for her prearranged meeting with Kayleen. She was a fifteen-year veteran of the protocol office, something she shared with Kayleen immediately upon their meeting.

“I’ll be in charge of the wedding,” Fayza said as she stretched her thin lips into what Kayleen hoped was a smile.

Everything about the woman was thin—her body, her face, her legs, her hair. She was well-dressed, but more than a little scary-looking, although elegant. Kayleen had the feeling that the other woman already knew her dress had been bought at sixty percent off at a discount outlet and that the patch pockets had been added after the fact to cover a stain that wouldn’t come out.

“You’re our first bride in decades,” Fayza went on. “Princess Lina was the last, of course. With the princes getting older, we knew it was just a matter of time, so we’ve been doing a lot of prep work, just in case. Now you’ll have to deal with a lot of decisions yourself, but much of the wedding will be handled out of my office. You can request things like colors, but everything will have to be vetted. While this is your happy day, it is also a state occasion.” She paused. “Any questions?”