“I was the first-born to Prince Elmer Sayid,” Ethan said, sitting straight in the chair across from Natalie’s desk, all business and ready to give her a full explanation. “Ten years ago, when my great-grandfather died, my father was crowned king of the tiny kingdom of Madain Saleh, which was recently absorbed into Saudi Arabia. My mother and father still reign as king and queen, although we are no longer considered an independent sovereign nation-state.”
“Do you still have contact with your parents?” Natalie asked. She had begun taking notes, a simple pen in hand and a spiral notebook. The blotter on her desk was stained in several places where a mug had created a condensation ring and scribbles where she’d tested an old pen or marker. There were crayon drawings facing Ethan showing stick figures and cartoons. Ethan could picture a small child, kneeling on a chair beside a harried, frustrated parent, leaning over the desk with a crayon to stay busy while waiting for their mom or dad to be done with this boring appointment. Natalie didn’t seem bored, so Ethan continued.
“They are aware of my intentions, but we have said our goodbyes. I don’t want anyone, other than my attorneys, to know who I am giving the money to.” Ethan nodded toward Natalie. “There are instructions in my notes to have my body returned to my parents so that I can be interred with the rest of the royal family.”
“And you don’t have any other family members who could make a claim against your estate?”
“I have some cousins and a sister, but they are not privy to my location or diagnosis,” Ethan said. “They are all extremely wealthy and don’t need my money, but I have written each of them a letter to be delivered after my passing.”
“I’m assuming their contact information is in your notes?” She didn’t look up from her notetaking.
“Of course. Please, I need you to recognize that everything I do between now and when I die should be confidential between you, me, and your father. Are you comfortable with that?”
“Yes, Mr. Sayid—I mean, Ethan—I’m comfortable with that.” She finally met his gaze.
“How much would you like as a retainer?” Ethan pulled out his checkbook and clicked open a pen.
“Well, the first half hour consultation is free”—Natalie looked up at her clock— “We haven’t quite reached that, so—”
Ethan cut her off. “I’ll just write the first check for $5,000 and we’ll go from there.” He leaned forward and began writing the check before she could protest.
“I was going to say $200,” she whispered and sat back in her chair. The wheels creaked as the momentum pushed her a few inches away from her desk. She clasped her hand over her chest. Her cheap, department store blouse hid behind a faded cardigan sweater with one button missing.
Ethan couldn’t help thinking she’d look beautiful in one of the handwoven overwraps his sister, Princess Miranda, had purchased in India last year. He had the sudden desire to introduce Natalie to his sister but knew that wasn’t an option. In order for this plan to work, no one in his family could have knowledge of where he was or who he was working with. A lump formed in his throat and he had to look away.
“You… can’t possibly… realize.” A broken sob escaped from the startled attorney and Ethan whipped his gaze back to her.
“What is it? What have I done wrong?” Ethan leaned forward in concern.
“No”—Natalie held her hand up to stop him— “Not wrong. I haven’t taken a paycheck in weeks because our budget is so tight. I’ve barely had any paid clients in months. This town is so destitute. You are an answer to my prayers.”
Natalie lowered her head into her hands and broke into tears. Ethan set his pen and checkbook on the desk and came around to her side, dropping to his knees in front of her and pulling her into his arms. He didn’t speak, just held her while she rested her head on his shoulder and cried.
Suddenly she pushed away from him and scrambled to get out of her chair. “What are you doing? What am I doing?” She hurried to the other side of the room, grabbing a tissue from the box on the corner of her desk.
Ethan used what strength he had left and hoisted himself from the floor, closing his eyes and counting backwards from ten. He had trained himself to snap out of any pain by the time he reached one. Some days the technique worked better than others. He opened his eyes and blew out a long breath.
“Are you okay?” Natalie took a tentative step forward, not quite reaching out to him, but fighting the natural instinct to want to help another human.
“Maybe we should be done for the day.” Ethan lowered himself back into the chair in front of her desk and finished writing her check, reminding himself to sign his name without his full title. That would take some getting used to.
He realized in that moment that international travel would not be in his best interest now that he was maintaining a low profile. His passport and identification were diplomatic documents designed to allow him access throughout the world. Even getting pulled over by a local police officer would draw unwanted attention.
“Where are you staying? There are no hotels between here and Omaha.”
“I’ve reserved a room at the bed and breakfast on First Street,” Ethan said, still trying to catch his breath.
“That’s not exactly handicap accessible,” Natalie said, pacing again. “They don’t even have a main floor suite. You’d have to climb all those stairs. There’s a Holiday Inn up in Columbus but that’s a half hour drive.”
“Do I look handicapped to you?” Ethan glanced at his Italian made Sutor Mantellassi shoes and Dolce & Gabbana cashmere suit. Everything about him screamed success, other than his pallid skin and the diaphoretic sheen on his forehead.
“Yes,” Natalie said, handing him a tissue which he used to wipe his face. “You do look handicapped and I don’t like the idea of you climbing all those stairs.”
As Ethan was contemplating the need for a wardrobe change in order to blend in with society, Natalie’s father swept in the front door with a bag of Chinese take-out and a cheerful smile.
“Whose Lincoln Continental is that out front?” Miles Dolan asked, not having noticed Ethan yet. “I need to get me one of those when I become rich and famous.” He snorted, laughing at his own joke.
Ethan rose from his chair and offered Miles a subdued grin. “Or I could just leave you that beauty in my will. She purrs like a kitten and rides like a cloud.”
“Well, hello there, I didn’t realize we had company.” Miles set the bag of food on the folding table in the corner of the sparsely decorated office and turned to Ethan.
“Hello, Mr. Dolan, I’m Ethan Sayid.” He reached out a hand. “Your daughter and I were just discussing me hiring your firm to draft some estate planning documents.”
“Welcome, Mr. Salad.” Miles clasped his hand and cocked his head to the side. “Where are you from? Your attempt to disguise your foreign accent isn’t working.”
“Please, just call me Ethan.” He chose not to point out the complete mispronunciation of his last name, but Natalie jumped in with a correction.
“It’s pronounced Sigh-eed, Daddy.” Natalie helped him out of his coat and hung it on the coat hanger in the corner. “He’s from somewhere in Saudi Arabia, right?” Natalie turned to Ethan and raised her eyebrows.
“Madain Saleh, yes.” Ethan tucked both hands in his pants pockets, feeling better after having rested a minute. Dropping to his knees so quickly and then leaning over to push himself off the floor had messed up his equilibrium.
Miles creased his brows, all friendliness gone from his countenance. Natalie didn’t seem to notice her father’s reaction.
“Would you care to join us for lunch, Ethan?” Natalie began pulling containers out of the bag and spreading them on the table. She opened a container of white rice, fried rice, egg rolls, noodles, and orange chicken. Ethan’s mouth watered and stomach rumbled at the heavenly aromas.
“I wouldn’t want to put you out.”
“Oh please, we have plenty.” She waved away his concern. “Daddy always buys enough for lunch and dinner.”
“Well, I insist on buying you both dinner this evening to make up for your willingness to share your lunch.” Ethan sidestepped Miles—who seemed to need a minute more to absorb the situation—and joined Natalie at the small folding table.
“You’re on,” she said, handing him a paper plate. With each helping of food she scooped onto her plate, she added a scoop to his and her father’s. “Come on, Daddy, let’s eat.”
“I’ve heard of people like you.” Miles didn’t try to hide his suspicion as he joined them at the table. “You prey on unsuspecting young ladies, claiming to be a Jordanian prince and convincing them to send you money to some overseas bank.”
“Prince Rashid is a very nice man,” Ethan said, ripping open the clear wrap around the plastic fork and napkin provided by the Chinese restaurant. A little packet of salt fell out and he set it aside. Chinese food was usually salty enough on its own. “My father served with him on the United Nations Security Council a few years ago, I think.” Ethan carefully lifted a bite of food onto the fork and leaned over his plate to avoid spilling.
“Who—what?” Miles shook his head in confusion.
“The Jordanian prince,” Ethan said, hiding his mouth behind a napkin to avoid talking with his mouth full of food. “They’re one of our primary trading partners.”
“Would you rather have chopsticks?” Natalie handed a pair of bamboo sticks to Ethan. “Those little forks are so hard to use.”
“Oh, thank goodness, yes.” Ethan gladly took the chopsticks and expertly lifted the next bite of food with ease.
“How long have you lived here in America, Ethan?” Natalie asked before sitting across from him. She separated her bamboo sticks and picked up a clump of rice and a piece of orange chicken.
“We have a penthouse in New York City for the family to use when my father was serving in the UN, and my sister and I both stayed there while attending Pace University. She remained in the States and married one of Prince Marcos’ sons, and I returned to the kingdom after business school.”
“Who’s Prince Marcos?” Natalie seemed completely at ease now that they were chatting over lunch rather than discussing legal affairs. Ethan wondered if her demeaner would shift back to her stoic professionalism once they were sitting across from each other at her desk again.
“My father’s second cousin, which would make Prince Hayden my sister’s third cousin… I think?” Ethan took another bite of food.
“Far enough removed by anyone’s standards, I’d say,” Natalie said.
“They met at the king’s funeral of all places.” Ethan chuckled and shook his head remembering with fondness how the young princes had fallen all over each other to gain favor with Princess Miranda.
“I thought your father was still alive?” Natalie cocked her head to the side.
“Yes, my father’s coronation was on the same day as my great-great-grandfather’s funeral. Confusing, I know.”
“Would the two of you please explain to me what you’re talking about?” Miles had yet to take a bite of food and seemed to grow more agitated the longer Ethan and Natalie spoke.
“How about if Natalie tells the story and I’ll fill in the missing details,” Ethan suggested, nodding to her. “That will help you to understand things better anyway. I know my story is very complicated and we don’t have many months left to get things taken care of.”
Ethan pushed his chair back and reached into his briefcase for a money clip and drew out several hundred-dollar bills. He slid them across the table along with the check he’d written.
“Also, I’d like you to keep this, at least until my check clears. I don’t want you to think I’m trying to swindle you out of the retainer. Sorry I don’t have five thousand in cash, but four hundred is at least more than the original two you had anticipated.”
Miles Dolan’s jaw dropped but Ethan pulled himself forward again and picked up his chopsticks, letting the father and daughter team gape at the exorbitant amount of money on their cheap folding table. Maybe now they’d believe him.
Prince Ethan Sayid of Madain Saleh had every intention of walking into the attorney’s office and stating the facts, “I’m dying, and I need to give away all my money.”
But when the beautiful, young lawyer looked up from her desk with eyes that sparkled like emeralds, he choked. He disguised his accent and changed his approach.
“I need help preparing a will,” he said.
“You’ve come to the right place.” She rose from her desk and stepped forward with her hand raised. “Estate planning is my specialty.”
“You’re perfect,” Ethan said then shook off his awe as he clasped her hand in greeting. “I mean, that’s perfect. I need an estate attorney.”
“I’m Natalie Dolan. It’s nice to meet you, Mister…”
“Salad?” She raised her eyebrows and bit her lower lip. Was she laughing?
“No, Sayid, like sigh-eed.” Ethan cringed. “It’s a traditional middle eastern name that is not widely used in American culture.”
This was why he didn’t want to use his real name anymore. But his attorney would need his full legal name if she was going to help him. She didn’t need to know his full title or lineage, however. At least not yet.
“Please, just call me Ethan unless you’re filling out legal documents.”
He was a prince in name only and the last of his family. His tiny monarchy had been swallowed into the deserts of the middle east and the royal family splintered. When his great-great grandfather, King Sayid of Madain Saleh had died at the age of one-hundred and six, Ethan’s parents had remained in their homeland to take their rightful place as heirs, but the country had now been absorbed into Saudi Arabia.
Ethan had heard tales of how his uncles and father had fought over what was left of their grandfather’s power until all that was left was the money. A monarchy without a kingdom is merely a very wealthy family. Now that his parents had signed over their fortune, Ethan was the sole heir to just over a billion dollars.
And he was dying.
The trouble is cancer doesn’t know who is rich and who is poor, who is young and who is old, who is the last of a decimated royal blood line, or who is the first-generation in a newly-created interracial family with all the promise that ensues. No, cancer doesn’t care.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you,” Natalie said with a barely contained hysteria. She collapsed back into her leather swivel chair. “It’s just been one of those days. I think I need an evening of binge-watching old episodes of The Big Bang Theory and eating chocolate ice cream.”
“I’m rather fond of chocolate ice cream myself,” Ethan said, sitting cautiously in the seat across her desk.
“What about old sitcoms?” She chuckled.
“Is that an invitation?” Ethan leaned forward and couldn’t help his voice dropping to what he imagined was a sexy, smoldering huskiness. He rarely invested the time to pursue a woman, so this was unfamiliar territory.
Natalie seemed momentarily distracted and speechless, then cleared her throat and shook her head as if to refocus. “I don’t date my clients.” She gulped.
“My apologies,” Ethan said. He pulled back his stance and resumed an air of professionalism. “Shall we discuss a more appropriate topic? Help me with my estate planning. I’m a billionaire prince with no throne or heir, and I’m dying of cancer.”
“You’re so funny, Ethan.” She opened a drawer in her desk and pulled out a packet of forms, obviously assuming he was joking. “Here is the stack of paperwork needed to get started. With something so important as estate planning, I prefer to have paper copies in the client’s own handwriting, as well as computer files, and printed copies with signatures. Do you have someone who will be your witness? And do you have in mind who will be your named beneficiaries?”
“I have very little in the way of physical possessions, other than a very large trust account controlled mostly by myself and a few carefully-chosen trustees, none of whom I fully trust. I have done a great deal of research into charitable organizations throughout the world and have determined approximate dollar amounts I’d like to leave to each of them. I have the list here.”
Ethan pulled from his briefcase a fifty-seven-page single-spaced, twelve-point font document that represented his years of research narrowed down to a bulleted list of the names of charitable organizations.
“I have computer files backed up on multiple servers as well as paper documentation for each of these organizations in my nondescript home in an undisclosed location. Given my recent prognosis, I am concerned that my wishes will not be carried out if I don’t take action quickly. I have researched your father’s law firm here in the middle of the United States of America where I have determined that your firm has no affiliation with any of my trustees nor any of these organizations. I apologize for not being forthcoming as to my intentions upon walking into your office, but I must admit I was taken aback by your beauty. I will attempt to maintain a level of professionalism from now on.” Ethan finally stopped, feeling as if he had already overwhelmed the poor girl. He was right.
“I thought you were joking,” Natalie whispered.
“Not in the least, Ms. Dolan,” Ethan said. “My research has shown that you conduct a great deal of your business pro-bono for the less-fortunate in your community and that you don’t seem to be persuaded by the prospect of becoming wealthy from your work as an attorney. But I dare say the large sum of money I will offer you to take on my case will assist you in providing a great deal of service long after my departure.”
“You’re kind of freaking me out right now, Mr. Sayid.” Natalie rose from her chair and began pacing the floor of her small office.
“Again, I apologize. I had hoped to handle this differently but was momentarily caught up in a youthful fantasy of actually meeting a woman who would care about me for my charm and personality rather than my crown and wealth. It is unfortunate that I finally meet someone worth pursuing days after receiving the news that my cancer is inoperable and will likely be my demise. Not that I’m a stranger to adversity, mind you. I’ve had a price on my head since the day it was determined that I was a male, and potential heir to the throne in a highly-contested battle for the last semblance of power in my country of origin.”
“I think I need a drink,” Natalie said.
“I think you need to stick to the chocolate ice cream and binge-watching old sitcoms,” Ethan answered. “I need you at your highest mental faculties if we are to accomplish this task in the limited amount of time I have left.”
“Okay,” she squeaked out.
“Okay, what?” Ethan asked.
“Okay, I’ll take your case,” Natalie said.
“Thank goodness.” Ethan lowered his shoulders in a relieved sigh. “I don’t have time to do any more research.”
Good news! Billionaire's Brother is now available on Amazon!
Good news! Billionaire's Brother is now available on Amazon!