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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:57

“Because she’s looking for security in her old age and he’s obviously not the way to find it.”

“Do you care what happens to her?”

“She’s my mother. I can’t not care.” Which didn’t mean she’d changed her mind. She still wanted her mother gone. Not that she’d figured out how to make her go.

“I think it is time I dance with my new sister.”

Kayleen turned and saw Qadir, As’ad’s brother, standing next to her.

“Assuming you don’t mind,” Qadir told As’ad.

“One dance and don’t flirt.”

Qadir laughed. “I flirt as easily as I breathe. Are you so worried that I will steal her away?”

“A man always guards what is precious to him.”

Kayleen held in a sigh. “Flirt away,” she told Qadir. “My heart belongs to your brother.”

“Then he is a lucky man.” Qadir led her to the dance floor. “You are beautiful tonight.”

“Just tonight? Am I usually a troll?”

He laughed. “So this is what has charmed my brother. There’s a brain.”

“I have all my organs. Unusual, but there we are.”

He laughed again. They chatted about the party and the guests. Qadir told her outrageous stories about several people, including a rumor about an English duchess who complained about not being allowed to bring her dog to the event.

When the dance was finished, Kayleen excused herself. Qadir was nice enough, but not the person she wanted to spend the evening with.

She walked around the edge of the room, and saw As’ad speaking with her mother.

“That can’t be good,” she muttered to herself and crossed the room to where they were standing.

“You will leave,” As’ad said as Kayleen approached.

“I’m not so sure about that,” Darlene told him. “The girl is my daughter. Who are you to come between her and her family?”

“A man who is willing to pay you to leave.”

Kayleen caught her breath. No. As’ad couldn’t do that. It wasn’t right. She moved forward, but neither of them noticed her.

“You will not see her again,” he continued. “If she contacts you herself, that is fine, but you will not have contact with her directly without her permission.”

“So many rules.” Darlene smiled. “That’ll cost you.”

“I would think a million dollars would be enough.”

“Oh, please. Not even close. I want five.”

“I’ll take four and you’ll consider it a bargain.”

The room went still. Oh, sure, people were dancing and talking and Kayleen was confident the orchestra kept playing, but she couldn’t hear anything except the conversation of the two people in front of her.

“I’ll wire the money as soon as you get me an account number,” he said.

“I can give it to you tonight.” Darlene patted his arm. “You really care for her. That’s sweet.”

“She is to be my wife.”

“So I hear. You know she’s in love with you.”

Kayleen’s breath caught.

“I know.” As’ad spoke quietly, confidently.

“I’ll bet that makes things real easy for you,” Darlene said.

Her mother tilted her head. “You think she’s foolish enough to think you love her back?”

“You are not to tell her otherwise.”

“Of course not.” Darlene smiled again. “But I think I should be allowed to keep the dress and the jewelry then. As a token of goodwill.”

“Then she’ll never hear the truth from me.”

K ayleen didn’t remember leaving the party, but she must have. When she finally looked around, she was in the garden—the one place she always seemed to retreat to. It was mostly in shadow, with lights illuminating the path. She wandered around, her body aching, her eyes burning, neither of which compared to the pain in her heart.

As’ad didn’t love her. While he’d never specifically said he cared, she’d allowed herself to believe.

“I’m a fool,” she said aloud.

He’d dismissed feelings as nothing more than a convenience. He’d admitted that their marriage would be easier for him, because of her feelings. He was using her. Nothing about their engagement mattered to him. She didn’t matter to him.

She hurt. Her whole body ached. Each breath was an effort. She wanted to cry, but she was too stunned.

Her hopes and dreams continued to crumble around her, leaving her standing in a pile of dusty “what could have been.” She’d thought she’d found where she belonged, where she could matter and make a difference. She’d thought so many things. But in As’ad’s mind, she was little more than a comfy ottoman, where he could rest his feet. Useful, but not of any great interest.