Page 56

The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:55

“Because of As’ad.” It wasn’t a question.

“Partly. Oh, Kayleen, life was hard for me when you were young. I couldn’t take care of a baby, I was just a baby myself. You’re grown-up. You can see that. Then I lost track of you. But now we’re together.”

Kayleen found it difficult to believe she would have been so hard to find.

Darlene stood. “I’m your mother. I want what’s best for you. If you really expect this prince to marry you, you’re going to have to keep him interested. I can help you with that. Otherwise, some rich socialite will steal him away. We don’t want that, do we?”

“I find it hard to believe you care anything about me,” Kayleen said, feeling both anger and guilt. What was she supposed to believe? “You never did before.”

“Don’t say that. Of course I cared. But I had a career. You were better off with those nuns. They took real good care of you.”

“How would you know?”

“It’s the kind of people they are. Am I wrong?”

“No,” Kayleen told her. “They’re exactly who you’d think they would be.”

“Then you should thank me.” She walked to the bar and fixed a second drink. “I’m not leaving, Kayleen. The king thinks he’s done you a big favor, finding me and bringing me here. I, for one, agree with him. You’re my baby girl and that means something to me. We’re going to get to know each other, you and I. Now run along. I need to rest. We’ll talk about this more later.”

Kayleen left. Not because she’d been told to, but because she couldn’t stand to be there anymore.

She didn’t know what to think about Darlene. She’d never really allowed herself to imagine what her mother was like—it hurt too much to think about all she’d lost. But this woman wasn’t anyone’s fantasy.

Then Kayleen thought about what the Mother Superior would say about judging someone so quickly. Maybe Darlene was sorry about their lost relationship. Maybe they could at least learn to be friends. Didn’t Kayleen owe her to give her a chance to prove herself?

K ayleen returned to her suite, but she couldn’t seem to settle down. Not with her mother so close. Just a wall away.

It was her own fault for lying, she reminded herself. If she’d told King Mukhtar the truth, none of this would have happened. But she hated talking about how her mother didn’t want her and her grandmother abandoned her. It sounded sad and pathetic. So she’d made up a more comfortable version and now she was stuck with it.

She walked to the French doors and started to open them, then remembered her mother was right next door. She didn’t want another run-in with her. She turned back to pace the room when someone knocked.

Kayleen froze, afraid of who would be there. The door opened and As’ad stepped inside.

Without thinking, she ran to him. She wrapped her arms around him, wanting to feel the warmth of him, the safety that came from being close.

“That bad?” he asked as he hugged her.

“I take it my father’s surprise was not a pleasant one.”

She looked at him. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I don’t know what to think or what I feel. She’s not like mothers on television.”

“Few are.” He touched her cheek. “Are you all right?”

She sighed. “I will be. It’s just strange. I don’t know her. I’ve never known her and now she’s here and we’re related and I can’t figure out what it all means.”

“I should probably tell you that getting to know her will take time, that it will get easier, but I am not sure that is true.” He smiled at her. “So perhaps I bring you good news.”

“Do you remember your unexpected visit to the desert? Sharif, the chieftain there, has heard of our engagement and invites us to join him and his people for dinner.”

“I thought the engagement was supposed to be a secret.”

“There are those who find a way to know everything. He is one of them.”

“He probably saw light reflecting off my diamond ring. It’s like a beacon.”

As’ad chuckled. “Perhaps. I have spoken with Lina. She is pleased to take the girls if you would like to go.”

Kayleen bit her lower lip. “Is it too rude to leave my mother on her first night here?”

“I think she will be exhausted from her journey. Perhaps you can leave a message on her phone and see her another time.”

Kayleen was more than up for that. She left the message, then changed into a comfortable dress for her evening in the desert and met As’ad downstairs.