Ethan understood immediately why they called Marcos and Hazel’s home a treehouse. The property surrounding his uncle’s home was acres of full-sized trees with a house that seemed to be growing out of the landscape and had been built quite literally over the top of a real waterfall.
Children were everywhere. Each of his cousins had their wives and multiple babies. He was never going to keep them all straight but grinned as Miranda introduced the adults to Natalie.
“This is my husband, Hayden,” Miranda said, still with the wonderment of love in her voice after five years of marriage. “And his oldest brother Aaron. He’s Ethan’s age.”
Aaron shook Natalie’s hand then stepped over and pulled Ethan into a quick hug. “Hey, man, how are you doing?”
“Good, you?” Ethan returned his hug.
“Living the dream.” Aaron pulled an adorable Hispanic woman closer. “This is my wife, Felicia.”
“Hola,” Felicia said in a pronounced Mexican accent. “Encantada de conocerte.”
Natalie bit her lower lip and glanced at Aaron.
“She said she’s happy to meet you,” Aaron translated.
“Oh, nice to meet you as well.” Natalie and Felicia gave each other a hug, a universal language they could both understand.
Miranda pulled Natalie further into the grand living room. “This is Augustus and Phoebe.”
“Call me Gus,” he said, shaking Natalie’s hand and reaching over to Ethan for a hug. “I’m Ethan’s youngest cousin. And this is my best friend, Alex and his wife, Ellen.”
Alex sat comfortable and self-assured in a sleek wheelchair that seemed more a source of confidence than a handicap. Almost like he was riding a sportscar rather than a wheelchair.
After Natalie shook both of their hands, Gus pointed to his other brother. “And over there is Prince Owen. He’s the only remaining bachelor.”
“It’s very nice to meet all of you,” Natalie said graciously.
“Don’t forget us,” a lovely woman’s voice called from over by the kitchen. “I’m Hazel, and this is Mark.”
“Hey, Uncle Mark.” Ethan stepped over and allowed his uncle to sweep him into a hug while Aunt Hazel focused on Natalie.
“How’s your father these days, buddy?”
“He’s good, Your Highness,” Ethan said. “Hanging in there, I’m sure.”
“How long have you been in the States?”
“A couple of months.” Ethan didn’t want to go into too many details and risk giving away more information than he intended. This visit hadn’t been originally planned but he was glad they’d stopped. “I have a feeling I’ll be here for a while. Probably the rest of my life.” He smiled over at Natalie who coughed lightly.
“I can see why,” Mark said, glancing over at Natalie as well. “You’re finally settling down, huh?”
“That’s the plan.”
“And where are you from, Natalie? How did the two of you meet?”
“My dad’s Ethan’s attorney, actually.” She giggled. “We fell in love pouring over estate planning documents. Real romantic, huh?”
Ethan stepped over and pulled her into a side hug. “I found the situation very romantic, actually.” He leaned down and kissed the top of her head.
“Well, let me get you some refreshments,” Aunt Hazel said. “You look tired from the road.”
“I am tired, thank you.” More than she knew. And more than he was going to tell them. “A cold beverage would be great.”
“I hope you’ll stay a while,” Mark said. “We have plenty of room.”
“We’re quite comfortable in our motorhome but thank you.”
“Well, I hope you’ll at least park here and hang out for the evening,” Hazel said. “Or did you have reservations somewhere.”
“We have no plans.” Ethan looked down at Natalie. “You want to stay here tonight?”
“Sounds good to me,” she said. “I’m excited to get to know your family.”
“Good, then. It’s settled,” Mark said. “Make yourself at home with your cousins and sister and the whole brood, and Aunt Hazel and I will get some burgers ready to throw on the grill.”
Natalie wrapped both arms around Ethan’s waist and looked up at him. “This is the best vacation I’ve ever had. Thank you for bringing me here.”
Ethan fought the urge to lean down and kiss her but didn’t want their first kiss to be in the middle of his uncle’s kitchen surrounded by kids and cousins and noise. If—when—he kissed Natalie, he wanted to give her his full attention and do it right.
He met her smoldering gaze and could tell her thoughts were heading in the same direction. He winked at her and kissed the top of her head once again. Yeah, best vacation ever.