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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:53

“Then you’re halfway there. Just give things time.”

“We have that,” Kayleen murmured.

“You have your life. After you’re married, you can start having children of your own.”

Kayleen touched her stomach. A baby. It had always been her secret dream. The one she wouldn’t allow herself to think of very often.

Lina sighed. “I’d love to get pregnant. I’m a little old, but I’m going to try.”

The princess nodded. “I always wanted children. While my nephews have been a source of endless delight, I confess I still have the fantasy of my own child. Hassan is willing to try. We’ll see. If it is meant to be, then it will happen. If not, I still have the man of my dreams.”

“I’m nervous,” Kayleen told As’ad as they walked into the auditorium at the American School. “I’ve been working with the girls. I know in my head they’ll be fine, but I’m still terrified.”

“Yet they are the ones performing.”

“I want them to do well so they’ll be happy,” she said. “I don’t want them to feel bad.”

“Then you should have faith in them. They have practiced. They are ready.”

“You make it sound so logical.”

“No, it’s not. It’s horrible. I think I’m going to throw up.”

As’ad laughed and pulled her close. “Ah, Kayleen, you delight me.”

“By vomiting? Imagine how excited you’ll be when I get a fever.” She grumbled, but in truth she enjoyed the feel of his arm around her and the heat of his body next to hers. Not only for the tingle that shot through her, but because the sensation was familiar. She’d leaned against him enough to know it was him. She would be able to pick him out blindfolded—by touch or scent alone. She’d never been able to think that before.

They took seats toward the front, by the aisle. Kayleen was vaguely aware that people were looking at them, but she was too nervous for the girls to notice or feel uncomfortable. A thousand horrible scenarios ran through her mind. What if Dana forgot her lines or Nadine tripped or Pepper decided to teach some bully a lesson?

As’ad took her hand and squeezed her fingers. “You must breathe. Slowly. Relax. All will be well.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I know that your panic will in no way influence the outcome and it will only make you more uncomfortable.”

“Again with the logic. It’s really annoying.”

She glanced at him and he smiled. She smiled back and felt something tug at her belly. Something that felt a lot like a connection. It startled her and made the rest of the room fade away. In that moment, there was only As’ad and she didn’t want anyone or anything else.

A few minutes later, the orchestra began and the curtains parted. The pageant went from the youngest students to the oldest, so it wasn’t long before Pepper appeared on stage with her class. They did a skit about a frog family snowed in for the holidays. Pepper was the mother frog.

Kayleen mouthed the girl’s lines along with her, only relaxing when she left the stage at the end of the skit.

“A flawless performance,” As’ad murmured. “You worry for nothing.”

“Maybe my worrying is what made it perfect.”

“You do not have that much power. Nadine is next. I believe she will dance. That will be enjoyable to watch.”

Sure enough, Nadine and several of her classmates danced to music from The Nutcracker. Kayleen willed her to hold her positions exactly long enough and exhaled when the music ended and the girls were still.

“You will wear yourself out,” As’ad told her.

“I can’t help it. I love them.”

He looked into her eyes. “Do you?”

“Of course. How could I not?”

Something flashed through his eyes—something she couldn’t read. “I was most fortunate to find you. Not that I can take total credit.” He smiled. “We must send Tahir, the desert chieftain, a gift of thanks.”

“Maybe a fruit basket.”

“I was thinking more of a camel.”

“That can be tricky,” she told him. “Don’t you hate it when all you get in a year is camels?”

“Mostly I’m mocking the camel.”

Another class took the stage, then Dana’s group appeared. Once again Kayleen held her breath, willing the preteen to get through all the lines without messing up.

Partway through the performance, As’ad took her hand in his. “You may squeeze my fingers, if that helps.”

She did and felt a little better. When Dana finally left the stage, Kayleen slumped back in exhaustion.