“So have you. But a better one than you would have had if you’d gotten stuck with my family. I know you probably don’t believe that, but it’s true.” She rose. “Let me shower and get dressed. Then, if you have time, you can take me on a tour of the palace. It’s a beautiful building.”
“It is. I’ve been studying the history. I want to know everything about As’ad and his people.”
Darlene’s expression tightened. “I’m sure he appreciates that.”
As’ad took Kayleen’s hand in his and kissed her fingers. “What troubles you?”
They were having lunch together in his office. She smiled at him. “Nothing. I’m just thinking.”
“Obviously not about how you consider yourself blessed above all women for being engaged to me.”
She laughed. “No. Not that. I’m thinking about my mother.”
She looked at him. “You don’t approve of her?”
“I do not know her. What matters to me is your feelings.”
“I’m not sure of anything,” she admitted, wondering when everything had gotten so complicated. “I told her I thought we should get to know each other and try to be friends.”
“It’s better,” she said slowly. “I just don’t know if I believe her. Then I feel horrible for saying that. I asked, she agreed and now I’m questioning that? Shouldn’t I trust her?”
“Trust must be earned. You have a biological connection, but you don’t know this woman.”
“You’re right. I’m so uncomfortable about everything.” Especially Darlene’s statements that she was in El Deharia to find a rich man to secure her future. Kayleen was torn between keeping her emotional distance and wanting to have family.
She’d always been taught to see the best in people, to believe they would come through in the end. So thinking her mother was using her violated what she knew to be right and what she felt in her heart. But assuming all was well violated her common sense.
She glanced at him. “You know I’m not like her, right?”
He smiled. “Yes, I know.”
Darlene hummed as she flipped through the dresses on the rack. “I could so get used to this,” she murmured as she picked out a low-cut black gown that glittered with scattered beads. “The work is incredible. The details are hand-done. Have you looked at these prices? Twenty-three thousand dollars. Just like that.” She put the black dress in front of her and turned to the full-length mirror set up in Kayleen’s living room. “What do you think?”
“It’s beautiful.” Kayleen thought the dress lacked subtlety, but what did she know about fashion?
Darlene laughed. “Not your thing?”
“You’re young. You’ll grow into black.” She carried the dress over to the tray of jewelry on the dining room table. “I’m thinking the sapphire-and-diamond-drop earrings and that matching pendant. Or the bracelet. As much as I want to wear both, less is more. Are you wearing that?”
Kayleen held up a strapless emerald-colored dress. The style was simple, yet elegant. It wasn’t especially low-cut, but it was more daring than anything she’d ever worn. Still, she wanted to be beautiful for As’ad.
“I love it,” she admitted. “But it makes me nervous.”
“It’s all in the boning. That dress is couture. It should have the support built right in. Don’t worry—you’ll stay covered.” Darlene put her dress back on the rack, then returned to the jewelry tray. “Something surprising. Young, but sophisticated. Let’s see.”
She picked up an earring, then put it down. She handed another to Kayleen. “Here.”
Kayleen took the piece and studied the curving shape. The free-form design was open and sparkled with white and champagne diamonds.
“Really? Not the emeralds?”
“Too expected with the dress,” Darlene told her. “And just the earrings. No necklace or bracelet. You’re young and beautiful. Go with it. When you start to fade, you can add the sparkle. Someone’s going to do your hair, right? You’ll want it up, with long curls down your back. And you don’t wear enough makeup. It’s a party. Use eyeliner.”
Kayleen put in the earring, then held her hair away from her face. “You’re right.”
“Thanks. I’ve been around a long time and I know what men like. Now let’s see how I look in this black dress.”
She stripped down to her lingerie and then stepped into the black gown. Kayleen helped with the zipper.