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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:39

“You insult me with your mistrust.” The audacity of her statements was right in keeping with what he’d seen of her personality, but it was important to establish control before things began.

“I don’t know you,” she said.

“I am Prince As’ad of El Deharia. That is all you need to know.”

Lina smiled at her. “As’ad is a good man, Kayleen.”

As’ad resented that his aunt felt the need to speak for his character. Women, he thought with mild annoyance. They were nothing but trouble.

Kayleen looked him in the eye. “You have to give your word that you’ll be a good father, caring more for their welfare than your own. You’ll love them and listen to them and not marry them off to anyone they don’t love.”

What was it with women and love? he wondered. They worried too much about a fleeting emotion that had no value.

“I will be a good father,” he said. “I will care for them and see that they are raised with all the privileges that go with being the daughter of a prince.”

Kayleen frowned. “That wasn’t what I asked.”

“It is what I offer.”

Kayleen hesitated. “You have to promise not to marry them off to someone they don’t care about.”

Such foolish worries, he thought, then nodded. “They may pick their own husbands.”

“And go to college and not be servants.”

“I have said they will be as my daughters, Ms. James. You test my patience.”

She stared at him. “I’m not afraid of you.” She considered for a second.

“I can see that. You will be responsible for them. Do as you see fit with them.” He glanced at his aunt. “Are we finished here?”

She smiled, her eyes twinkling in a way that made him wonder what else she had planned for him. “I’m not sure, As’ad,” she told him. “In a way I think we’re just beginning.”

K ayleen wouldn’t have thought it was possible for her life to change so quickly. That morning she’d awakened in her narrow bed in a small room at the orphanage. If she stood in the right place and leaned all the way over, she could see a bit of garden out of her tiny window, but mostly the view was a stone wall. Now she followed Princess Lina into an impossibly large suite in a palace that overlooked the Arabian Sea.

“This can’t be right,” Kayleen murmured as she turned in a slow circle, taking in the three sofas, the carved dining table, the ornate decorations, the wide French doors leading out to a balcony and the view of the water beyond. “These rooms are too nice.”

Lina smiled. “It’s a palace, my dear. Did you think we had ugly rooms?”

“Obviously not.” Kayleen glanced at the three girls huddled together. “But this stuff is really nice. Kids can be hard on furniture.”

“I assure you, these pieces have seen far more than you can imagine. All will be well. Come this way. I have a delightful surprise.”

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Kayleen doubted any surprise could beat a return address sticker that said El Deharian Royal Palace but she was willing to be wrong. She gently pushed the girls in front of her as they moved down the hallway.

Lina paused in front of a massive door, then pushed it open. “I didn’t have much time to get things in order, so it’s not complete just yet. But it’s a start.”

The “start” was a room the size of a small airport, with soaring ceilings and big windows that let in the light. Three double beds didn’t begin to fill the space. There were armoires and desks and comforters in pretty pastels. Big, fluffy stuffed animals sat on each bed, along with a robe, nightgowns and slippers. Each of the girls’ school backpacks sat at the foot of her bed.

“Laptop computers are on order for the girls,” Lina said. “There’s a big TV back in the living room, behind the cabinet doors. There are a few DVDs for the girls, but we’ll get more. In time, we can move you to a different suite, one with a bedroom for each of the girls, but for now I thought they’d be more comfortable together.”

Kayleen couldn’t believe it. The room was perfect. Bright and cheerful, filled with color. There was an air of welcome, as if the space had been hoping for three girls to fill it.

Dana turned around and stared at her. “Really? This is for us?”

Kayleen laughed. “You’d better take it, because if you don’t want it, I’ll move in.”

It was the permission they needed. The three girls went running around the room, examining everything. Every few seconds one of them yelled, “Look at this,” because there was so much to see.

A ballerina lamp for Nadine, a throw covered with teddy bears for Pepper. Dana’s bed had a bookcase next to it. Kayleen turned to Princess Lina.