“Hi,” Natalie whispered in the dark. Her face was only a few feet away, lying on the pillow beside him. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” Ethan said. “Better.”
“Better is good.”
“Better is better,” Ethan joked. “Good is good.”
“True,” Natalie agreed. “How can I help you get from better to good?”
“I should probably eat something.”
“There’s some vegetable soup. I put it in the fridge, but I can warm it up in the microwave.”
“That sounds good.” Ethan propped himself on one elbow and Natalie quickly sat up to help him to a seated position. “I should use the bathroom again.”
“Not surprising,” Natalie said, helping him from the bed. “I’ve been force-feeding you Powerade and broth for two days.”
“That explains my full bladder and the awful taste in my mouth,” Ethan said, shuffling to the bathroom.
“Your toothbrush and other toiletries are in there already.” Natalie helped him over to where he could hold onto the counter for support. “I’ll go warm up your soup.” She left him alone and pulled the door shut behind her.
Ethan was tempted by the shower but decided to get some nourishment in him first. He managed to shuffle back out into the hotel room where a tiny table in the corner already had his steaming soup and a stack of crackers along with another Powerade. He pulled out the chair and took a seat, relishing the scent of carrots and celery and onions. “Thanks, this smells incredible.”
Natalie sat opposite him with her own bowl of soup and they ate in companionable silence for a few minutes before she set aside her spoon. “You had me scared there for a few hours.”
“Sorry about that.” He blew on another spoonful and savored the flavor going down.
“I knew you were sick,” Natalie said. “I just never thought about you getting sick. You know what I mean? You joke all the time about dying suddenly, but we’ve never discussed the possibility of you being sick.”
“Should have warned you about that, huh?” Ethan smiled sheepishly.
“I’m taking you home,” Natalie said. He knew she didn’t mean home to Madain Saleh. She was bringing him to her parents’ house.
He nodded in agreement but felt his throat tighten. “I should never have roped you into my mess.”
“Nonsense,” she chastised him. “This past week has been the best week of my life. I love spending time with you.” She bit her lower lip and he was momentarily distracted, remembering their kiss.
“Other than the past few days?” He chuckled.
“Including the past few days.” Natalie reached across the table and laid her hand on top of his. “I wouldn’t trade the past few days if it meant I got to spend a few more days with you. I want to spend the rest of your life with you.”
“I want that too,” he whispered.
“Will you marry me, Ethan?” Natalie asked with complete sincerity, all the previous playful joking removed from her countenance. “I want to be your wife.”
“You’ve definitely proven your commitment to the vow ‘in sickness and in health,’” Ethan said with a chuckle. “I think that earns you a proper honeymoon.”
“Kind of feels like we’re already on our honeymoon.” She lowered her eyes with bashful innocence.
“I’ve kinda liked having you in my bed.” Ethan pulled her hand closer and noticed the diamond ring resting on her finger. The ring that was fit for a queen. “Even if I was asleep for most of it.”
“I was asleep part of the time also,” Natalie said. “And I kind of liked sleeping with you.”
“Do you think your dad’s going to be mad at me for sleeping with his daughter before marrying her?”
“We didn’t actually do anything that would make him upset.”
“But I want to,” Ethan said, rubbing his fingers along the top of her hand. “Do my impure thoughts count for anything?”
“Are you even healthy enough for that?” Natalie raised her eyebrows.
“Not right this minute,” Ethan admitted. “But Vegas is still a couple days drive from here. I should be feeling better by then.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.” Skepticism pulled a grin onto her face.
“So, you’d be willing to marry me if I can’t—you know…”
“There’s more to marriage than sex, Ethan.” She linked their fingers across the table. “If I only have a few more days with you, I want to hold you in my arms and be with you in every way we possibly can, whatever that means for us.”
“Okay, what?” Natalie asked.
“Okay, let’s get married,” Ethan said. “I’d get down on one knee, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back up.”
“Yeah, let’s not try that.” She chuckled and held up her left hand. “You’ve already given me a ring, what more could a girl ask for?”
“Will you marry me?”
“Yes, Ethan, I’ll marry you.” Her soft smile was encouraging.
“Since we’re engaged now, can I ask you a really inappropriate question?”
“Will you help me take a bath?”
A stand alone novella in the All's Fair in Love and Sports Series by Julie L. Spencer.