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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:54

She nodded because she had no idea what to say. Both the king and As’ad left, abandoning Kayleen to a stranger with greedy eyes.

“Well, look at you,” Darlene drawled when they were alone. “Who would have thought my baby girl would grow up and land herself a prince. I’m so happy for you, honey.” She grabbed a strand of Kayleen’s hair and rubbed it between her fingers. “God, I hate that color. Mine’s exactly the same. It costs a fortune to keep it bleached, but it’s worth every penny. Men prefer blondes. Although you’re carrying the color off great and the prince obviously likes it.” She looked Kayleen up and down. “You could pass for Vivian’s twin.”

“My sister. Your aunt. You had to have met her before, when you were living with my mama.” She looked around at the vast entrance hall. “Did you get lucky or what? I couldn’t believe it when that guy who works for the king called and asked if you were my daughter. After all this time, I had no idea what had happened to you.” She smiled. “Imagine my surprise to see what you’ve become. My little girl. Come on. Show me what life is like in the palace.”

Kayleen led her down the hallway. Her head hurt. This couldn’t be happening. Not after all these years. Not now, when she was engaged to As’ad.

Then she scolded herself for not being happier to see her mother. The woman had given birth to her, after all. Then abandoned her. But shouldn’t she be able to forgive that?

Rather than try to decide now, Kayleen talked about the history of the palace. She took Darlene to the room next to hers and walked inside.

The other woman followed, then breathed a sigh of sheer pleasure as she took in the view of the Arabian Sea and the elegant furnishings filling the large space.

“Oh, I like living like this,” Darlene said. “How did you get from that convent to here?”

Kayleen looked at her, trying not to notice that under the layers of makeup, they had the same eyes. “You knew about that? Where they sent me?”

“Sure. Mama kept complaining about how much trouble you were. I got tired of hearing it and told her to take you there. I knew, ah, you’d be cared for real well. So how’d you get here?”

“I took a teaching job at the convent school here. I’m a teacher.”

Darlene looked amused. “Seriously? You teach children? Interesting.”

Kayleen watched her move around the room. “Your last name is Dubois?”

Darlene nodded without looking at her. She lifted up a small Waterford clock, as if checking the weight and the value.

“Is that my last name?”

Darlene glanced at her. “What are you talking about?”

“I never knew. When my grandmother dropped me off at the orphanage, I didn’t know my last name. Everyone in the house had a different one. Grandmother wouldn’t say which was mine. I had to make one up.”

Darlene grinned. “I made mine up, too. What did you pick?”

“James. From the King James Bible.”

“I prefer Tennessee Williams myself.” Darlene started opening cabinets. “Can you drink in this place?”

“Yes. Right there.” Kayleen pointed to the carved doors hiding the fully stocked wet bar.

Darlene found the ice and fixed herself a vodka tonic, then took a long drink. “Better,” she said with a sigh. She walked to the sofa and sat down, then patted the seat next to her. “You’re going to start at the beginning and tell me everything.”

Kayleen stayed where she was. “About what?”

“The story here. You’re really engaged to that prince?”

“Yes. There will be a formal announcement in a few weeks and a wedding in the spring.”

Darlene took another drink. “So you’re not pregnant. I’d wondered if you were.”

Kayleen tried not to be insulted. “I didn’t have to trick As’ad into marrying me.”

“Of course not. I didn’t mean to imply you would. Still, you have to be sensible. Do you have a prenuptial agreement? How many millions is he offering? Do you have an attorney? I wonder if you could get one to fly out and help.”

Kayleen took a step back. “I don’t need an attorney. As’ad has promised the girls and I will be taken care of.”

“And you believe him? You’re lucky I’m here.”

Kayleen doubted that. “Why are you here?”

“Because I finally found my long-lost daughter.”

“You knew I was in the convent all those years. That’s hardly lost.”

Darlene shrugged. “You’re much more interesting now, honey.”