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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride Susan Mallery 2022/8/5 16:56:59

She had left him. Willingly, easily. She had walked away and not come back. She, who had claimed to love him.

While he knew in his heart her affection for him had not had time to fade, in his mind he grew angry. But she was not there to fight with.

He spent the night in her rooms, wandering, sitting, waiting, remembering. He arranged to go to Paris to forget her, then canceled his plans. He, who had never allowed himself to care, to need, to love, had been broken. Prince As’ad of El Deharia reduced to a shell of a man because his woman had left.

He hated that. Hated to be weak. Hated to need.

He hurried to see his father, walking in on the king without knocking. His father looked up from his morning paper. “As’ad, what is wrong? You do not look well.”

“I am fine. Kayleen has left.”

“You must not give her permission to leave the country, or take the girls with her. Those are my children. The law is clearly on my side.”

His father frowned. “Kayleen said you did not love the girls. That they would be better off with her. Was she wrong? What do you wish?”

Love. Why did it always come back to that? As’ad walked to the window and stared out at the horizon.

“I want her back,” he said quietly. “I want her here, with me. I want the girls to return. I want…”

He wanted Kayleen smiling at him, laughing with him, close to him. He wanted to see her stomach swell with their baby, he wanted to ease her discomfort when she was sick. He wanted to see the girls grow and learn and prepare for college. He wanted to walk each of them down the aisle, only after terrifying any young man who would claim one of them as he had claimed Kayleen.

What if Dana was in a love with a man who did not love her back? What would he do?

Kill him, he told himself. He would kill the suitor in question, then take his daughter home where she belonged. He would insist she not be with anyone who did not love her desperately. Because that was what she deserved. What they all deserved. He could not let them go under any other circumstances.

Didn’t Kayleen deserve the same?

He already knew the answer. He believed it. But if it was true, then shouldn’t he let her go to find such a man?

The roar came from deep within him. He faced his father. “No. She is to have no one but me. I am the one who first claimed her and I will not let her go.”

His father sighed. “We have let go of the old ways. You will not be allowed to claim a bride who is not interested in marrying you.”

“I will convince her.”

“By giving her the one thing she wants.”

The king looked doubtful. “Do you know what that is?”

As’ad finally did. “Where is she?”

Mukhtar hesitated. “I am not sure…”

“I am. Where is she? I know she has not left the country. Lina told me. Where is she hiding?”

And then he knew that, as well. “Never mind. I’ll find her myself.”

Kayleen did her best to smile. The puppy was adorable, as was Pepper as the two of them tumbled together on the rug by the fire. Dana and Nadine were off with the older girls. Despite the sudden change from a palace to a desert camp, the sisters had adjusted well. They thought they were on a fun adventure.

Kayleen wished she could share their excitement and flexibility. While she appreciated that Sharif and Zarina had taken them in, she longed to be back at the palace. While life under the stars offered a level of freedom she’d never experienced before, it was difficult to even breathe without thinking of As’ad.

She ached for him every minute of every day. She knew she had to stay strong and she was determined not to give in to the need to see him, but there were times when the pain overwhelmed her.

Zarina hadn’t asked any questions when Kayleen had shown up with the girls. Instead she’d offered a comfortable tent and acceptance by the villagers. But it was a temporary situation—in a few days the tribe would return to the desert and Kayleen would have to find temporary housing until she could leave El Deharia.

Perhaps in the city somewhere. A small house. Lina had promised it would only take a couple of weeks for her paperwork to be pushed through the legal channels. There were advantages to a royal connection.

Thank goodness As’ad hadn’t been interested in hurrying the adoption. If he had she wouldn’t have been able to leave. Royal children could not be taken from El Deharia without the royal parent’s permission.

She touched her belly and remembered the last time they’d made love. If she was pregnant, she would be trapped forever. Imagine the irony if she at last had the baby she’d long desired.