He turned to Kayleen. “At the orphanage?”
“A former student left several horses to the school, along with the money to pay for them. Many of the children ride.”
There was something about his dark eyes, she thought, knowing she could stare into them for hours and never grow tired of the effect of the changing light.
“Badly,” she admitted. “The horse and I never figured out how to talk to each other.”
“That’s because horses don’t talk,” Pepper told her, then turned to As’ad. “Kayleen falls off a lot. I try not to laugh, because I don’t want her to hurt herself, but it’s kinda funny.”
“For you,” Kayleen murmured.
The main door to the suite opened and a tall, gray-haired man strode into the suite.
“As’ad. There you are. Oh. You’re having dinner with your family.”
“Father,” As’ad said as he rose.
Father? Something nagged at the back of Kayleen’s mind, before bursting free. Father? As in the king?
She jumped to her feet and motioned for the girls to do the same. Once they were standing she didn’t know what to do next. Bow? Curtsy?
As’ad glanced at her, then the girls. “Father, this is Kayleen, the girls’ nanny.” Then he introduced each of the sisters. “Ladies, this is my father, King Mukhtar.”
Three mouths dropped open. Kayleen kept hers shut by sheer force of will.
The king nodded graciously. “I am delighted to meet all of you. Welcome to the royal palace of El Deharia. May you live long, with happiness and health in abundance. May these strong walls always protect you and provide solace.”
Kayleen swallowed. As greetings went, it was a really good one.
“Thank you so much for your hospitality,” she murmured, still trying to accept the fact that she was in the presence of a real live king. Which meant As’ad really was a prince.
She knew he held the title, but she didn’t think of him as royal or powerful. Yet he was.
The king motioned to the table. “May I?”
Kayleen felt her eyes widen. “Of course, Your Highness. Please. We weren’t expecting you, so the meal isn’t exactly…traditional.”
The king took a seat. As’ad motioned for them to resume theirs. Mukhtar studied the various serving bowls, then scooped some macaroni and cheese onto a plate.
“I haven’t had this in years.”
“It was my pick,” Pepper told him. “It’s my favorite. They make it really good here. Sometimes, at the orphanage, Kayleen would sneak us into the kitchen and make the kind in a box. That’s good, too.”
The king smiled. “So my chef has competition.”
“Not really,” Kayleen told him. “His food is amazing. I’m honored just to eat it.”
As’ad looked at his father. “In an effort to fill her day, Kayleen went down to the kitchen and offered to help. It did not go well.”
Kayleen felt herself flush. “He was a little insulted. There was a crash. I’m guessing he threw stuff.”
“Was that the night my soufflé was burned?” the king asked.
“I hope not,” Kayleen told him.
He smiled. “So what conversation did I interrupt?” he asked.
“We were talking about horses,” Nadine told him. “We rode and took lessons at the orphanage.”
The king looked at his son. “Horses. I believe we have a stable, do we not?”
As’ad glanced at the girls. “The king is teasing. The palace stables are world famous.”
Dana leaned toward him. “Do you have horses that go fast?”
“Faster than would be safe for a novice rider.”
She wrinkled her nose. “If we took more lessons, we would be experts.”
“Exactly,” As’ad told her.
The king nodded. “I agree. All young princesses should know how to ride. I will speak to the head groom myself and arrange lessons.” He glanced at Kayleen. “For all of you.”
“Thank you,” she murmured, because it was expected.
“You do not look excited,” As’ad whispered to her.
“Pepper wasn’t kidding about me falling. It happens all the time.”
“Perhaps you need more personal instruction.”
She stared into his eyes as he spoke and found herself getting lost in his gaze. It was as if he had an energy field that pulled her closer. She had the oddest feeling he was going to touch her—and she was going to like him touching her.
“Riding is an enjoyable way to get exercise,” the king said.
“Has anyone asked the horse about that?”
She spoke without thinking—something that had often gotten her in trouble back at the convent. There was a moment of silence, then the king laughed.