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

Their closets were empty, the toys missing, the dining room swept clean of homework and books. The only thing lying there was the engagement ring he’d given her.

He had expected a fight or tears or even an apology, but not the silence. Not the absence of life. It was as if they’d never been there at all.

He walked through the rooms, not truly accepting the truth of it. She had left him.

Him! A prince. After all he’d done for her, all he’d given her. He’d rescued her and the children, started the adoption process for the girls. He’d given them a home, had proposed to Kayleen. What more did she want?

He burst into his aunt’s office and glared at her. “This is all your fault,” he told her sternly. “You created the problem and you will fix it.”

Lina’s office was small and feminine, overlooking the garden. Normally he would tease her about the frills and ruffles, but not today. Not now when she had ruined everything.

Lina poured herself some tea from a pot on a silver tray. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Of course you do. Kayleen is gone. She left and took the girls. Those are my children. El Deharian law states royal children cannot be taken from the country without their royal parent’s permission.”

“You’re not the royal parent yet. Your petition for adoption has not been approved, nor is it likely to be. Custody will be given solely to Kayleen. She’s already spoken to the king.”

As’ad stared at her, unable to believe what she was saying. “That is not possible.”

“It’s very possible. You only took the girls because I suggested it as a way to solve the problem with Tahir. You never actually wanted them.”

This was not happening, he told himself. “I did not know them. I know them now and they are my daughters.”

“Not really. Kayleen is the one who loves them.”

“I provided snow for their pageant.”

“Which was great and I know they enjoyed it. I’m not saying you didn’t care about them, As’ad. But love? You don’t believe in it. You’ve told me yourself. Your father understands completely. Don’t forget, these aren’t royal children who grew up like you did. They expect their parents to love them. Kayleen will. They’re leaving El Deharia. All four of them.”

Leaving? Permanently?

“I will not allow it,” he told her. “I insist they stay.”

“They will through the holidays, then Kayleen is taking the girls back to the States. It will be easier for them to start over. Your father has offered to help financially. Kayleen is being her usual sacrificing self. She will allow him to help her with the girls until she gets established, but then she’ll handle things. She’s going to let him pay for college, though. Especially for Dana. Apparently she wants to be a doctor.”

“I know that,” As’ad said through ground teeth. “And Nadine will dance and Pepper has yet to decide, but she’s only eight and why should she? This is ridiculous. My father will not support my children. It is my responsibility and my right. You have meddled, Lina. You have ruined everything.”

“Actually, you did that all yourself. Kayleen is a wonderful woman. She adored you and would have made you very happy. She was yours to lose and you did. But don’t worry. She’ll find someone else. I’m a little more worried about you.”

He wanted to rant and yell. He wanted to throw her antique desk through the large window. He wanted to crush her teapot with his bare hands.

“None of this is acceptable,” he growled.

“I’m sorry you see it that way, but I think it’s for the best. Kayleen deserves a man who will love her. Or don’t you agree?”

He glared at his aunt. “You seek to trap me with your words.”

“I seek to make you understand that you don’t deserve a woman like Kayleen.”

Her words cut him in a way no words had before. He stared at her for a long moment as the truth settled into the wound. She was right—he did not deserve Kayleen. All this time he had assumed he was doing her a favor when, in truth, the situation was reversed.

He left Lina’s office and retreated to his own. He told Neil he would not be disturbed. Then he stood alone in the silence and wondered what had gone wrong.

Two days later he understood the real meaning of the words living in hell. Only there was no living for him, only reminders of what he had lost.

He had always enjoyed life in the palace, but now every room, every corridor, was a reminder of what was missing. He turned, expecting to see one of the girls. But they weren’t there. He thought of a thousand things he should tell Kayleen, but she wasn’t around to listen. He ached to hold her, touch her, kiss her, and there was no one.