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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:58

“You came back here to make notes?”

“Apparently.” She set the paper and pen on the coffee table, then stood. “Have you transferred the money to my mother?”

He swore silently. “You spoke with her?”

“Not about that. Don’t worry. She didn’t tell me anything, so she gets to keep the dress and jewelry, right? I mean, that was the deal. Along with the four million. A generous offer. I’d already told her to leave, but you didn’t know that. She made out well.”

“I do not care about the money,” he said, trying to remember exactly what he and Darlene had discussed. Obviously Kayleen had been in a position to overhear their conversation.

He felt badly—he guessed she was hurt and his intent had been to avoid that.

“I know,” Kayleen said. “But she does, so it works out well for both of you.”

He tried to read her expression, but he had no idea what she was thinking. Was she angry?

“Once she is gone, all will be well,” he said, willing it to be so.

“I’m not as sure.” She stared into his eyes. “This is just a marriage of convenience for you. I’m surprised you’d pick me. I’m sure there are women with better pedigrees out there. Women who understand what it’s like to be a princess and who won’t have foolish expectations.”

“I am pleased to be marrying you. I want you to be the mother of my sons. I respect you, Kayleen. Isn’t respect and admiration more important, more lasting, than a fleeting emotion like love? I will honor you above all women. That must have value.”

“It does. But love has value, too. Maybe it’s a peasant thing.”

She was calm and he didn’t like it. Screaming and crying he could understand, but not this quiet conversation. What did she want from him?

“I take a lot of the blame,” she said, her gaze steady. “I took the easy way out. You told me that after we slept together, and you were right. I want to hide, first at the convent school and then here, with you. I was never willing to really strike out on my own. I was afraid and I let that fear rule me. I thought by staying close to what I knew, I would be safe and belong. Even when I went halfway around the world to your country, I huddled in the orphan school, terrified to take a step.”

Her reasoning sounded correct, but he had a bad feeling about what she was saying.

“Now you have chosen a different path,” he pointed out. “So you are making changes. That is as it should be.”

“I am making changes, As’ad. Big ones.” She removed her engagement ring and held it out to him.

“No,” he told her, shocked by her actions. “You have agreed to marry me. Changing your mind is not permitted.”

“You don’t get to decide that. I won’t marry a man who doesn’t love me. I’m worth more. I deserve more. And so do you. I know you believe love makes you weak, but you’re wrong. Love makes you strong. It is powerful and the reason we’re here. To love and be loved. You need that, As’ad. I love you, but that’s not enough. You have to be willing to love me back. Maybe I’m not the one. Maybe there’s someone else you can love.”

She gulped in a breath and tried to smile. Her lips trembled. “It hurts to say that. It hurts to think of you with someone else. But I can’t make you love me.”

She didn’t mean this, he told himself. It was the emotion of the moment. She would get over it.

“I will not accept the ring back.”

“That’s your choice.” She put it on the coffee table. “Either way, I’m leaving.”

“You cannot go. I won’t permit it. Besides…” He prepared to say the one thing that would change her mind. “I need you.”

She nodded slowly. “You do. More than you realize. But that’s not enough.”

He frowned. It had worked before. Lina had told him Kayleen wanted to be needed above all. “I need you,” he repeated.

“Maybe, but you can’t have me.” She sighed. “It’s late, and you should go.”

Somehow he found himself moving to the door. Then he was in the hallway. He stood there a long time, fighting the strangest feeling that he’d just lost something precious.

No, he told himself. Kayleen wouldn’t leave him. She couldn’t. She belonged here. To him and the girls. She would be fine. In the morning they would talk again. He would make her understand that she belonged here. With him. It was what he wanted. And he was Prince As’ad of El Deharia. He always got what he wanted.

As’ad gave Kayleen plenty of time to think about what she was considering, which turned out to be the one flaw in his plan. For when he returned to her suite close to midday, she and the girls were gone.