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

“Because I’m a redhead? I think that’s just an old wives’ tale.” She’d always wanted to be a cool blonde, or a sexy brunette. Well, maybe not sexy. That wasn’t her style.

“I know many old wives who are wise,” he murmured, then released her. “You will be responsible for the girls when they are not in school.”

She nodded, wishing they were still talking about her being brave and that he was still touching her hair. Which was strange. Prince As’ad was nothing more to her than her employer. A very handsome, powerful employer who could trace his lineage back a few thousand years. She didn’t even know who her father was.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

She told him the truth.

Kayleen regretted the change in topic. “I, um, don’t really remember her. She left me with my grandmother when I was a baby. She took care of me for a few years, then left me at an orphanage.” She gave a little shrug as if the rejection hadn’t mattered. “She was older and I was a handful.”

In the darkness it was difficult to read As’ad’s expression. She reminded herself there was no reason to be ashamed of her past—she hadn’t been able to control it. Yet she felt as if she were being judged and found wanting.

“Is that the reason you defended the girls so fiercely?” he asked. “Your own past?”

He nodded slowly. “They live here now. As do you. You are all to consider the palace your home.”

If only. “Easier said than done,” she murmured.

“It will be an adjustment. Although it would be best if they did not roller-skate down the hallways.”

“I’ll make sure of that.”

“Good. You will want to learn about the palace. There is much interesting history here. Perhaps you and the girls should take one of the daily tours.”

She stared at him. “Tours? People come here and take tours?”

“Only of the public rooms. The private quarters are off-limits. There are security people on duty. You are safe here.”

She wasn’t worried about being safe. It was the idea of living somewhere grand enough to have tours that made her mouth go dry.

“What does your family think of this?” she asked. “Will anyone be angry?”

He seemed to grow taller. “I am Prince As’ad of El Deharia. No one questions my actions.”

“Not even the king?” she asked.

“My father will be pleased to see me settling down. He is anxious for his sons to start a family.”

Kayleen had a feeling adopting three American sisters wasn’t exactly what King Mukhtar had in mind.

“You said you have brothers,” she said.

“I am one of six,” he said. “They are in and out of the palace. Kateb lives in the desert, but the others keep rooms here.”

Six princes, one princess, one king and her. What was wrong with this picture?

“You will be fine,” he said.

“Would you stop knowing what I’m thinking? It’s not fair.”

He shrugged. “I am gifted. It can’t be helped.”

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“Apparently not.” He also seemed to have no problems with his ego. What would it be like to grow up so confident, so sure about everything, including his place in the world?

“Kayleen, you are here because of me,” he said, his voice low and mesmerizing. “My name is all the protection you require. It can be used as a shield or a weapon, however you prefer.”

“I can’t imagine using it as either,” she admitted.

“It is there for you. Know that. Know no harm can befall you while you are under my care.” He looked at her. “Good night.”

Then he turned and was gone.

Kayleen stared after him, feeling as if she’d just had a close encounter with a character from a book or a movie. Who said things like “My name is all the protection you require”? Yet, he was telling the truth. She believed that down to her bones.

No one had ever taken care of her before. No one had ever protected her.

Oh, sure, the nuns had always made sure their charges were safe, but that was different. This was specific.

She hugged her arms across her chest, as if feeling the comforting weight of his protection. As if feeling the strength of the man himself.

As’ad walked into the king’s offices the next day and nodded at Robert, his personal assistant.

“Go right in, sir,” Robert said with a smile. “The king is expecting you.”

As’ad walked through the double doors and greeted his father.

“I hear you have taken in a family,” his father said from his seat behind his impressive desk. “Lina tells me you are to adopt three orphans. I did not know you cared for such causes.”