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

“Good evening,” he said. “You and the girls are settled?”

She nodded. “Thank you. The rooms are great. Your aunt thought of everything to make us feel at home.” She looked up at the imposing structure of the palace. “Sort of.”

He moved toward her. “It’s just a really big house, Kayleen. Do not let the size or history intimidate you.”

“As long as none of the statuary comes alive in the night and tries to chase us out.”

“I assure you, our statuary is most well-behaved.”

She smiled. “Thanks for the reassurance. No offense, but I doubt I’ll sleep well for the next couple of nights.”

“I hope that changes quickly.” He shrugged out of his suit jacket. “If you find my aunt forgot something, let someone on the staff know.”

“Sure.” Because every palace had a staff. And a king. And princes. “What do we call you? The girls and I. Your Highness? Prince As’ad?”

“You may all use my first name.”

“Really? And they won’t chop off my head for that?”

One corner of his mouth twitched. “Not for many years now.” He loosened his tie, then pulled it free.

Kayleen watched for a second, then looked away. He wasn’t undressing, she told herself. The man had the right to get comfortable after a long day of…of…being a prince. This was his balcony. She was the one who didn’t belong.

“You are uneasy,” he said.

She blinked. “How did you figure that out?”

“You are not difficult to read.”

Great. She had the sudden thought she wanted to be mysterious and interesting. Mostly interesting. Like that was going to happen.

“A lot has changed in a short period of time,” she told him. “This morning I woke up in my usual bed in the orphanage. Tonight I’m here.”

“And before you lived in El Deharia? Where did you sleep?”

She smiled. “In the Midwest. It’s very different. No ocean. No sand. It’s a lot colder. It’s already November. Back home the leaves would be gone and we’d be bracing for the first snowfall. Here, it’s lovely.”

“One of the great pleasures of the most perfect place on earth.”

“You think El Deharia is perfect?”

“Don’t you think the same of your birthplace?”

Not really, she thought. But they came from very different circumstances. “I guess,” she murmured, then felt awkward. “I was a teacher there, too,” she added, to change the subject. “I’ve always loved children.”

“Which makes your employment more enjoyable,” he said. “I would imagine a teacher who dislikes children would have a difficult time.”

Was he being funny? She thought he might be, but wasn’t sure. Did princes have a sense of humor? She’d assumed being royal meant being serious all the time.

“Yes, that was a joke,” he said, proving she was as readable as he said. “You are allowed to laugh in my presence. Although I would suggest you are sure I’m being humorous. To laugh at the wrong time is a grave mistake most people only make once.”

“And we’re back to the head-chopping. You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met.”

“Not many princes in the Midwest?”

“No. Not even rock stars, which in my country are practically the same thing.”

“I have never been fond of leather pants on a man.”

That did make her laugh. “You could be considered fashion forward.”

“You wouldn’t like that,” she said without thinking, then covered her mouth. Oops.

Something flickered in his gaze. He folded his arms. “Perhaps a safer topic would be the three sisters you insisted I adopt.”

“What about them?” Had he changed his mind? She would hold him to his promise, no matter how nervous he made her.

“They will have to change schools. The orphanage is too far away. The American School is closer.”

“Oh. You’re right.” She hadn’t thought that part through. “I’ll get them registered in the morning.” She hesitated. “What do I tell the administrator?”

“The truth. They are my adopted daughters and are to be treated as such.”

“Bowing and scraping?”

He studied her. “You’re an interesting combination of rabbit and desert cat. Fearful and fearless.”

She liked the sound of that. “I’m working to be all fearless. I still have a ways to go.”

He reached out and before she realized what he intended, he touched a strand of her hair. “There is fire in your blood.”