Page 7

The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:40

“I have resources and I’m not afraid to use them,” her friend told her. “This was fun. I don’t get to act imperious very often and send servants scuttling to do my bidding. Besides, we all enjoyed pulling this together in a couple of hours. Come on. Let’s go see where you’ll sleep.”

Kayleen followed Lina past a large bathroom with a tub big enough to swim in, to a short hallway that ended in a beautiful room done in shades of green and pale yellow.

The furniture was delicately carved and feminine. The bedcovering was a botanical print that suited her much better than ruffles and frills. The attached bathroom was more luxurious than any she’d ever seen.

“It’s silk,” she whispered, fingering the luxurious drapes. “What if I spill something?”

“Then the cleaners will be called,” Lina told her. “Relax. You’ll adjust. This is your home now that you’re a part of As’ad’s life.”

Something else that just plain wasn’t right, Kayleen thought. How could she be a part of a sheik’s life? Make that a sheik prince?

“Not a happy part,” she murmured. “He didn’t want to help.”

“But he did and isn’t that what matters?”

Kayleen nodded, but her head was spinning. There was too much to think about. Too much had happened too quickly.

“Our bags! Kayleen, hurry! Our bags are here.”

Kayleen and Lina returned to the main room to watch as their suitcases were unloaded. The pile had looked so huge at the orphanage, but here it seemed small and shabby.

Lina lightly touched her arm. “Get settled. I’ll have dinner sent up. Things will look better in the morning.”

“They look fine now,” Kayleen told her, almost meaning it. “We live in a palace. What’s not to like?”

Lina laughed. “Good attitude.” She held out her arms and the sisters rushed to her for a hug. “I will see all of you in the morning. Welcome to the palace.”

With that, she was gone. As the door to their suite closed behind her, Kayleen felt a whisper of unease. A palace? How could that be home?

She glanced at the girls and saw fear and apprehension in their eyes. It was one thing for her to worry, but they shouldn’t have to. They’d already been through so much.

She glanced at her watch, then looked back at the girls. “I think we need to give the new TV a test drive. Here’s the deal. Whoever gets unpacked first, and that means putting things neatly in the armoire, not just throwing them, gets to pick the movie. Start in five, four, three, two, one. Go!”

All three sisters shrieked and raced for their bedroom.

“I can go fastest,” Pepper yelled as she crouched down in front of her suitcase and opened it.

“No way,” Dana told her. “I’m going to win because you’ll pick a stupid cartoon. I’m too old for that.”

Kayleen smiled at the familiar argument, then her smile faded. Dana was all of eleven and in such a hurry to grow up. Kayleen suspected the reason had a whole lot to do with being able to take care of her sisters.

“That’s going to change,” she whispered, then returned to her room to unpack her own suitcases. Lina had promised that Prince As’ad could be trusted. He’d given his word that he would raise the girls as his own. That meant they were safe. But, after all they’d been through, how long would it take them to feel that way?

The evening passed quickly. Dinner was sent up on an elegant rolling table and contained plenty of comfort foods for lost, lonely children. Kayleen piled everyone on the largest sofa and they watched The Princess Diaries, then compared the differences in the movie castle and the real-live palace they’d moved into. By nine all three of them were asleep and Kayleen found herself alone as she wandered the length of the beautiful suite.

She paused by the French doors leading onto the balcony, then stepped out into the warm night.

Lights from the shoreline allowed her to see the movement of the waves as they rolled onto the beach. The inky darkness of the water stretched to the horizon. The air was warm and salty, the night unexpectedly still.

She leaned against the railing and stared into the sky. What was she doing here? This wasn’t her world. She could never in a million years have imagined—

The sound of a door opening caused her to turn. She saw a shadow move and take the shape of a man. Fear gripped her then, as quickly as it had come, faded. But she should be afraid, she told herself. He could be anyone.

But he wasn’t, she realized as he stepped into the light. He was Prince As’ad.

He was as tall and broad as she remembered. Handsome, in a distant sort of way. The kind of man who intimidated without trying. She wondered if she should slip back into her own rooms before he saw her. Perhaps she wasn’t supposed to be out here. Then his dark gaze found her.