The Sheik and the Christmas Bride(5)

By: Susan Mallery



“We’re talking about children’s lives. What is politics when compared with that?”

The door to the classroom opened and Lina stepped inside. Kayleen gasped. “He has the girls?”

“Of course not. They’ve gone back to their rooms while Tahir and his men take tea with the director.” Lina looked at As’ad. “What have you decided?”

“That I should not allow you into my office when you do not have an appointment.”

Lina smiled. “You could never refuse me, As’ad. Just as I could never send you away.”

He held in a groan. So his aunt had taken sides. Why was he not surprised? She had always been soft-hearted and loving—something he had appreciated after the death of his own mother. But now, he found the trait inconvenient.

“Tahir is powerful. To offend him over this makes no sense,” he said.

Lina surprised him by saying, “I agree.”

Kayleen shrieked. “Princess Lina, no! You know these girls. They deserve more.”

Lina touched her arm. “They shall have more. As’ad is right. Tahir should not leave feeling as if his generous offer has been snubbed. Kayleen, you may not agree with what he’s trying to do, but believe me, his motives are pure.”

Kayleen looked anything but convinced, yet she nodded slowly.

Lina turned to As’ad. “The only way Tahir can save face in this is to have the children taken by someone more powerful who is willing to raise them and honor the memory of their father.”

“Agreed,” As’ad said absently. “But who would—”

“You.”

He stared at his aunt. “You would have me take three orphan girls as my own?” It was unbelievable. It was impossible. It was just like Lina.

“As’ad, the palace has hundreds of rooms. What would it matter if three girls occupied a suite? You wouldn’t have to deal with them. They would have your protection as they grew. If nothing else, the king might be momentarily distracted by the presence of three almost-grandchildren.”

The idea had merit, As’ad thought. His father’s attempts to marry off his sons had become unbearable. There were constant parades of eligible young women. An excuse to avoid the events was worth much.

As’ad knew it was his duty to marry and produce heirs, yet he had always resisted any emotional involvement. Perhaps because he knew emotion made a man weak. His father had told him as much the night the queen had died. When As’ad had asked why the king did not cry, his father explained that to give in to feelings was to be less of a man.

As’ad had tried to learn the lesson as well as he could. As a marriage of convenience had never appealed to him, he was left with the annoyance of dealing with an angry monarch who wanted heirs.

“But who would care for the girls?” he asked. “The children can’t raise themselves.”

“Hire a nanny. Hire Kayleen.” Lina shrugged. “She already has a relationship with the girls. They care for her and she cares for them.”

“Wait a minute,” Kayleen said. “I have a job. I’m a teacher here.”

Lina looked at her. “Did you or did you not give the girls your word that their life would get better? What are you willing to do to keep your word? You would still be a teacher, but on a smaller scale. With three students. Perhaps there would even be time for you to teach a few classes here.”

The last thing As’ad wanted was to adopt three children he knew nothing about. While he’d always planned on a family, the idea was vague, in the future, and it included sons. Still, it was a solution. Tahir would not stand in the way of a prince taking the children. And as Lina had pointed out, it would buy time with his father. He could not be expected to find a bride while adjusting to a new family.

He looked at Kayleen. “You would have to be solely responsible for the girls. You would be given all the resources you require, but I have no interest in their day-to-day lives.”

“I haven’t even agreed to this,” she told him.

“Yet you were the one willing to do anything to keep the sisters together.”

“It would be a wonderful arrangement,” Lina told Kayleen. “Just think. The girls would be raised in a palace. There would be so many opportunities for them. Dana could go to the best university. Nadine would have access to wonderful dance teachers. And little Pepper wouldn’t have to cry herself to sleep every night.”

Kayleen bit her lower lip. “It sounds good.” She turned to As’ad. “You’d have to give your word that they would never be turned out or made into servants or married off for political gain.”

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