An intercom beeped through the phone on Natalie’s desk and a woman’s voice rang out. “Nattie, I made lunch. Take a break and bring your client over to introduce me.”
“Okay, mom,” Natalie called into the air then looked over at Ethan. “Our house is just next door. Come on.”
They left her law office, which was a small home that had been converted, and stepped onto a quaint sidewalk lined with maple trees. Towering over the town, the trees created a shady tunnel between her office and a modest home with a veranda porch wrapping around the front and side.
The wooden steps up to the porch creaked a little under Ethan’s weight in a comfortable homey way. A sense of peace washed over Ethan as Natalie held open the door and he stepped into an elegant living room worthy of greeting formal guests yet casual enough to sit at the window seat with a novel and gaze out across the tiny town tucked into the heart of Nebraska. Forget lunch; Ethan wanted to sink onto the embroidered sofa and lose himself in time.
An older version of Natalie came walking down the hall with a friendly smile. “Hello, Mr. Sayid, welcome to our home.” Ethan reached for her outstretched hand, honored that she had pronounced his name correctly and wondered if she’d been coached by her lovely daughter.
“Please, call me Ethan.” He nodded politely.
“And you can call me Bonnie,” she said then turned back toward an open kitchen. “I hope you’re hungry. I made baked potatoes on the grill and they are just falling out of their skins.”
“That sounds wonderful, Bonnie, thank you.” Ethan opened his arm to Natalie, then lowered his voice. “I’ll follow you.”
As she passed him to head down the hall after her mother, Ethan fought the urge to rest his hand on her lower back. He smiled at her but silently chastised himself. I’m her client, not her friend.
“I have a confession to make.” Bonnie giggled like a little girl. “Natalie and I spent most of the evening yesterday researching you on the internet.”
“Oh, you did, did you?” Ethan cocked his head and raised his eyebrows at Natalie, fighting a full-on grin.
“Don’t look at me,” Natalie said. “The internet search was my mom’s idea.”
“Was our little search this morning your mom’s idea also?” Ethan leaned against a large kitchen table that had been built in the style of a giant butcher block with just the right amount of wear to give it soft character.
The heavenly scent of grilled food and chopped green onions wafted from the kitchen island where small oval foil packets cooled on a rack. They’d been charred on the outside and he could almost taste the baked potatoes inside. He turned his attention back to Bonnie.
“What juicy details did you uncover?”
“Let’s see, you made the Dean’s List at Pace University.”
“That, I did.”
“You once dated an exotic beauty from India who attended your college.”
“She was after my money,” Ethan said, waving his arm dismissively. “We broke off the engagement when she complained her diamond wasn’t large enough.”
Natalie gasped and covered her mouth.
“I’m kidding. We were never engaged. But she was dating me for my money and the prestige of being seen on the arm of a prince.”
“That’s terrible.” Natalie’s eyes were still wide with horror as she opened a cupboard to pull down plates, and a drawer to dig out silverware.
“Here, let me help you with those.” Ethan reached for the stack of plates and distributed them around the table, which felt quite normal even though he’d never sat around a family table in a real kitchen like this. Every suite at the palace had a dining area but servants brought the meals and plated the food. The main dining hall with the whole royal family was stuffy and formal. This was exciting.
“Actually, bring those over to the island.” Bonnie pointed to the spot beside the potatoes.
“Won’t we be sitting at the table together?” Ethan looked longingly at the butcher block table, not hiding his disappointment.
“Of course, we will,” Bonnie said softly. “But we’ll dish up from over here. That way I don’t have to bring over all the toppings.”
“That makes sense.” Ethan gathered up the plates and nested them in a pile next to the potatoes.
A door to the back end of the kitchen clunked open and Miles Dolan stomped his feet on the rug by the door. “Do I have time to wash up before lunch? Weeding that garden took longer than I thought it would. Oh, hello, Ethan, how are you this afternoon?” Miles smiled as he stepped over to the large kitchen sink and turned on the faucet.
“Get out of my kitchen with those filthy hands,” Bonnie scolded him. “Go use the utility sink in the laundry room.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Miles saluted Bonnie playfully then turned to Ethan. “See what I put up with around here?”
“You lead a tough life, Mr. Dolan,” Ethan called after him as he disappeared around a corner in another hallway off the back of the kitchen.
“Natalie, why don’t you and Ethan dish up first?” Bonnie lifted a plate off the stack and handed it to Natalie, who then handed it to Ethan and grabbed another.
“Is there a trick to this?” Ethan asked, scooting up next to her and placing his plate beside hers on the island.
“Yeah, touch as little of the foil as possible so you don’t get covered in charcoal.” Natalie grasped an oval foil ball by one tiny corner and shook the little packet as the perfectly baked potato rolled down from its wrapper.
Ethan followed her lead and soon a steaming lump landed on his plate, breaking open the skin and releasing an earthy smell that made his mouth water. He watched as she spread open the skin of her potato and dolloped butter and sour cream inside before sprinkling shredded cheddar and minced green onions on top. He tried to re-create her masterpiece and thought he came up with something pretty close.
Natalie and Ethan moved over to the table and before she sat down, Natalie reached for a large pitcher of lemonade and poured them each a glass. “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot to ask. Do you like lemonade? Or would you rather have something else.”
“That sounds perfect actually.” Ethan lifted the heavy glass she offered him, and drips of condensation already gathered on the sides. The sweet and sour combination was iced, delicious heaven as it travelled down his throat.
Bonnie hummed as she plated a potato for herself and one for Miles and joined them at the table just as Miles returned from his handwashing in the utility room.
“These smell wonderful, my dear.” Miles kissed Bonnie on top of her head as he sat next to her.
They were all quiet for a moment as they ate until Natalie glanced up as if remembering something.
“Daddy, I’m going to need you to run the office for a few weeks by yourself because I’m going on a road trip with Ethan to New York City.”
She probably should have waited until her father had finished eating because he immediately choked on his food and the muffled cough that followed sounded something like, “Over my dead body.”