Nadine trailed after her younger sister, picking up the leaves that drifted to the floor. As’ad took a length of garland and followed them to the table.
“This will go on top of the leaves?” he asked.
Pepper grinned. “Uh-huh. And we need to have candles. Really tall ones. They’re the prettiest.” She set down her leaves, put her hands on her hips and looked at him. “How come you don’t know this?”
“We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here.”
Her blue eyes widened. “But you have to.”
“They weren’t discovered by pilgrims,” Nadine told her. “America was the new world. It had to be found.”
“It was lost?” Pepper asked.
“In a manner of speaking,” As’ad said. “It’s a celebration unique to your country. Although I believe the Canadians also celebrate Thanksgiving, but on a different day.”
He waited while the two girls straightened out the leaves, then he set the garland on top. It was attractive, he thought. Very festive. Kayleen would like it. The surprise would make her happy.
He imagined her throwing herself at him, and him pulling her close. Then the vision shifted and changed so they were both naked and he was pushing his way inside of her as they—
“As’ad, what traditions do you have here?” Dana asked.
He forced his attention back to the present. This was not the time to explore sexual fantasies with the girls’ nanny.
“We have many celebrations. There is the day the El Deharian armies defeated the Ottoman Empire. We also celebrate Christmas, although it is not as big a holiday here as it would have been for you back in the States.”
Pepped sighed. “I worry about Santa being able to find us here.”
“He’ll find you and he’ll enjoy the large fireplace in your room,” As’ad told her. “It won’t be so hard for him to get inside.”
Her eyes widened. “Santa comes to the palace?”
“So I can write him a letter? I’ve been very, very good this year.”
“Yes. You can write a letter. We’ll arrange to have it sent through the royal post office, so it gets priority treatment.”
The little girl beamed at him.
“Will there be snow at Christmas?” Dana asked as she set yet another paper turkey on the bookcase.
“We do not get snow here.”
“I didn’t think so.” She shrugged. “I miss snow. We grew up in Michigan and we always had a white Christmas. We used to made snowmen and snow angels. Mom always had hot chocolate and cookies waiting.”
“I don’t remember her much,” Pepper said in a whisper.
“Sure you do,” Nadine told her. “She was tall and pretty, with blond hair.”
There was a wistful, sad quality to her voice. It tugged at something in As’ad. Like Pepper, he had minimal memories of his mother. Perhaps his older brothers had more. He had never asked. Instead he’d been raised by a series of nannies when he’d been young and tutors when he was older. Then he’d been sent away to school. It was the expected life of a prince.
“I don’t remember her,” Pepper insisted, her eyes filling with tears.
He crouched in front of her. “You remember snow, don’t you?”
She nodded slowly. “It’s cold and white and it makes my nose red. I want snow for Christmas.”
“It seems unlikely,” he told her. “We live in the desert, on the edge of the ocean. This is not a cold climate. But it can still be very beautiful.”
“We’ll be fine,” Dana told him bravely. “You’ll see. It’s just the change. Change is hard. For all of us.”
“Agreed, but you are here now. This is where you will stay. Didn’t Kayleen tell you?”
The girls exchanged glances, then looked at him.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” Pepper told him. “We’re supposed to stay here, with you, but what happens when Kayleen leaves?”
He straightened. “What are you talking about? She’s not going anywhere.”
“Yes, she is. She told us a long time ago.” Dana drew in a breath. “She’ll be twenty-five soon. When she’s twenty-five she gets to go back to teach at the convent school where she grew up. It’s what she always wanted. What we don’t know is if we go with her or stay here with you.”
Lina hovered by the front of the palace, not an easy thing to do when there were tour groups lining up, official visitors arriving and she was well recognized. She supposed it would make more sense to wait in her rooms until she was notified that King Hassan was in residence. But she couldn’t stand the thought of being confined right now. It was far easier to walk the length of the entryway—a distance of about two hundred feet—than walk back. If nothing else, she was getting her exercise for the day.