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

Kayleen shook her head. A question would require a functioning brain, which she didn’t have at the moment. Marrying As’ad was unexpected enough, but to find out the event would be a state occasion?

“Obviously no serious work can get done until we have a date,” Fayza continued. “The king mentioned a spring wedding.”

“With a formal announcement right after the holidays?”

“All right. That gives us time, which, believe me, we won’t have enough of. You’ll start working with one of our people right away. She’ll help you learn the culture and traditions of El Deharia. You’ll need instruction in the language, deportment, current events, etiquette and a hundred other things I can’t even think of right now. Oh, I’ll need your personal list for the announcements and the wedding. What family are you inviting?”

Kayleen had to consciously not grab her head to keep it from spinning. This wasn’t anything she’d imagined. All she wanted was to marry As’ad and get on with her life.

“Does it have to be like this?” she asked. “Can we just go away and get married quietly?”

Fayza laughed. “He’s a prince, dear. And the first one to marry. You’re going to be on the cover of People magazine.”

The idea made her want to throw up. “What if I don’t want to be?”

“Sorry—this will be the social event of the spring. We’ll try to keep the number of guests down. Anything over five hundred is a nightmare.”

F-five hundred? Five? As in five hundred?

Kayleen stood and walked to the window. The need to run was as powerful as her instinct to keep breathing. None of this felt right, probably because it wasn’t. Not for her. But this was As’ad’s world. This was what he expected. If she was to be his wife, she would have to learn his ways. He believed in her and she wouldn’t let him down.

“Your family? About how many?” Fayza asked again.

What family? Not her own—they had abandoned her. Why would she want them at her wedding? Would any of the nuns she knew back home make the journey?

“I’m not sure I have any,” she admitted.

“Something we’ll deal with later. Now, you’re going to have to be a little more careful when you go out. You must be escorted, either by Prince As’ad or Princess Lina. If neither of them are available, you’ll have a security person with you. You already have one in the car when the girls go to and from school, so that helps. You will not be allowed to be alone with a man who is not attached to the palace. No friends even. Brothers are fine, cousins squeak in.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Kayleen told her as she stared down into the garden.

She wanted to marry As’ad, she thought. She wanted to be with him, his wife, the girls’ mother. But like this? Why couldn’t he be a regular man? Even the camel dealer he had joked about on Thanksgiving.

She told herself she was being ungrateful. That her hardships were nothing when compared with those in the world who truly suffered. She should be grateful.

“We won’t be making an announcement for a few months,” Fayza continued. “It’s unlikely there will be any media leaks, but it would be best if you didn’t wear your engagement ring outside the palace. Just to keep things quiet.”

Kayleen nodded, but she wasn’t really listening anymore. Instead she stared at the cage in the garden. The one that had held all the doves. Even though the door was open, the space was full again. They had all returned home.

Products of their destiny, she thought. Trapped. Just like her.

“I ’m not sleeping at all,” Lina complained as she sat on the stone bench in the garden.

It took her a moment to realize what Hassan meant. She laughed. “All right. Yes, you’re a part of my exhaustion, but not the only part. Playing matchmaker is hard work. I feel guilty in a way. I started all this. I brought them together.”

“You introduced them and then removed yourself from the situation. You did not lock them in a room together and insist they become intimate. They chose that course themselves.”

“I agree, in theory. But I planned this from the beginning. I thought Kayleen would be good for As’ad and that she secretly longed for more than teaching at the convent school. But what if I was wrong? What if I messed up both their lives?”

Hassan leaned in and kissed her. “You worry too much.”

“I’m very good at it.”

“Perhaps it is not a gift one should cultivate.”

She smiled. “You don’t actually expect me to change, do you?”