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

“I will not think of that,” she whispered to herself. “I will stay strong.”

She might not know the future, but she was confident she could handle whatever life threw at her. She’d stood up for what she believed, she’d faced As’ad and turned down the half life he’d offered. She’d been willing to lose everything to gain her heart’s desire. There was some peace in knowing she’d been true to herself. Unfortunately peace did not seem to ease pain.

She stood and walked to the fire, where tea always boiled. After pouring herself a mug she stared up at the clear sky. Only two days until Christmas. They would celebrate out here, under the stars, then return to the city.

She turned back to the tent, only to stop when she saw a man riding toward the camp. For a moment her heart jumped in her chest, but then she realized he wore traditional clothes. One of the young men who came and went, she thought, looking away. Someone’s husband.

Several of the tribespeople called out to each other. Kayleen tried to figure out what they were saying, but they were speaking quickly, yelling and pointing. Was there a problem?

Then she looked back at the man and recognized him. As’ad. But he was unlike she’d ever seen him before. He looked determined, primal. This was no prince in a suit—this was a sheik.

She stood her ground, reminding herself she had nothing to fear. He couldn’t hurt her worse than he had when he’d admitted he didn’t love her and that her love for him was a well-timed convenience. She shook out her long hair, then raised her chin. Pride and determination stiffened her spine. She didn’t move, not even when he rode his horse right up to her.

Their eyes locked. She had no idea what he was thinking. Despite everything, she was happy to see him, happy to drink in the male beauty of his hard features. She wanted to touch him and kiss him and give herself to him. So much for being strong.

“I have claimed you,” he told her sternly. “You cannot escape me.”

“You can’t hold me against my will. I’m not your prisoner.”

He dismounted and handed the horse off to one of the young boys who had run up. Then he stalked over to her.

“You’re right, my heart. I am yours.”

She blinked. What had he called her? And what did he mean that he was her prisoner? What?

He touched her face with his fingertips. “I have missed you. Every second of every day since you left me has been empty and dark.”

She swallowed. “I don’t understand.”

“Nor do I. My course was set—the plan clear. I would marry appropriately, father sons, perhaps a daughter or two, serve my people and live my life. It was arranged. It was my destiny. Then one day, I met a woman who leads with her heart, who is fearless and giving and kind and who bewitched me.”

She couldn’t breathe, but that didn’t seem to be such a big deal. This was all good, right? He was saying good things. Maybe, just maybe, she could hope.

“Kayleen, I was wrong,” he told her. “Wrong to think I knew so much more, that I was in charge. You swept into my life and nothing was the same. It was better—so much better. I miss you desperately. You and the girls. I need to see you smile every day. All of you. I need to hear your voices, your laughter. You cannot take my daughters from me and you cannot take yourself.”

She ached for him. Giving in seemed the only option. But how could she?

“I won’t live in a loveless marriage,” she told him, fighting tears, fighting the need to surrender. “I deserve more.”

“Yes, you do. I was wrong to suggest such a thing before. You deserve to be loved, to be worshiped. To be the best part of your husband’s life.”

He took her hands in his and kissed her knuckles, then turned her wrists and kissed her palms.

“Let me be that man,” he said quietly. “Let me show you all the ways I love you. Let me prove myself again and again, then, when you are sure, continue to test me.” He stared into her eyes. “I will not fail, my heart. I will never fail. Because I love you. Only you. I did not think it was possible, yet here I stand. Humbled. Needing. In love. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me? To give me another chance?”

The words were whispered from behind her. She sensed all three of the girls standing there, willing her to give As’ad the second chance he asked for.

“Yes,” she whispered, then threw herself into his arms.

He caught her and pulled her close, saying her name over and over, then kissed her and held her as if he would never let her go.

He felt so right, next to her, she thought, nearly bursting with happiness. Then there were more arms and he pulled back only to let the girls into their circle of love.