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

“Lower your center of gravity while keeping your back straight. Rock your hips until you feel the movement, then begin to rotate them.”

Zarina demonstrated, making it look easy. Kayleen tried to do as she said, but felt awkward.

But she didn’t give up and after a few minutes, she had the hip movement down. Next she learned to hold her arms out to the side, moving them gracefully.

“Very good,” Zarina told her. “Now turn slowly. You want to dance for a minute or two, turn, then remove one of the veils.”

Kayleen skidded to a stop. “I can’t dance naked.”

“You won’t have to. No man can resist the dance of the veils. You will remove two, maybe three, then he will remove the rest.”

“What if he thinks I look stupid?”

“He won’t. He’ll think he’s the luckiest man alive. Now let us prepare you for the evening.”

Unsure she was really going to be able to do this, Kayleen followed Zarina to another tent where there were several women waiting. She was stripped down to her underwear and sat patiently as henna was applied to her hands and feet.

“It’s the temporary kind,” Zarina told her. “A sugar-based dye that will wash off in a week or so.”

Kayleen stared at the intricate design and knew she wouldn’t mind if it lasted longer.

Next she was “dressed” in layers of veils. They were wound around her, woven together until they appeared to be a seamless garment. They were sheer, but in enough volume to only hint at what was below.

Zarina applied makeup, using a dark pencil to outline Kayleen’s eyes and a red stain on her lips.

“Better than lipstick,” the other woman told her. “It won’t come off.”

Her hair was pulled back and up through a beaded headpiece. Dozens of bracelets fit on each wrist. The final touch was a pair of dangling earrings that nearly touched her shoulders.

When they were finished, Zarina led her to a mirror. Kayleen stared at the image, knowing it couldn’t possibly be her. She looked exotic. She’d never been exotic in her life. She also looked sexy and mysterious.

“I will leave you here for a few minutes to practice, then come for you,” Zarina told her. “Believe in yourself. With this dance, you can snare As’ad’s heart so that he can never be free again. What wife doesn’t want that?”

Good question, Kayleen thought when she was alone. Nerves writhed in her stomach, but she ignored them. Having As’ad respect her wasn’t enough. She wanted more—she wanted him to love her.

He had to see she was more than just someone to take care of the girls or an innocent he’d slept with. Their engagement might have begun due to circumstances other than love, but it didn’t have to stay that way.

She’d already given him her heart—now she had to claim his. Which meant being equal to a prince.

Could she? Kayleen had spent her whole life in the shadows, lurking in the background, not making waves, desperate for what she wanted, but afraid to step up and take it. It was time to be different. If she wanted to love a prince, she would have to claim him. She would have to show him she was so much more than he imagined. Her upbringing had given her an inner strength. She would use that power to achieve her heart’s desire.

With a last look at herself, she walked to the front of the tent to wait for Zarina. She wasn’t afraid. She was going to bring As’ad to his knees and make him beg. And that was just for starters.

While As’ad enjoyed the company of Sharif, he was disappointed in the evening. He’d brought Kayleen to the desert so they could share the experience. But she had been whisked away and a polite guest did not ask why.

As the strong coffee was served at the end of the meal, he glanced at his watch and calculated how long he would have to wait until they could politely take their leave. Perhaps he and Kayleen could go into town for a couple of hours. There were a few nightclubs that were intimate and had small, crowded dance floors. He liked the idea of holding her close.

Zarina approached and bowed. “Prince As’ad, would you please come with me?”

As’ad looked at his host. “Do I trust your daughter?”

Sharif laughed. “As if I know her plans. Zarina, what do you want with the prince?”

“Nothing that will displease him.”

As’ad excused himself and followed her. Night had fallen and the stars hung low in the sky. He thought briefly of his brother Kateb, and wondered when he would next return to the palace. If he came in time, he could attend the wedding. As’ad would like to have all his brothers there for the ceremony. And to point out that he would no longer have to listen to their father’s complaints that they had yet to all find brides.