“Let me get this straight,” Miles stopped them again. Ethan was forcing himself to stay patient. “You’re dying of cancer and want our help to give away all your money.”
“And you really are a prince?”
Ethan reached into his briefcase again and pulled out his passport and diplomatic papers, spreading them in front of Miles, who had finally finished his meal.
Miles lifted each document and examined it with the scrutiny of an attorney. He narrowed his eyes at Ethan. “Where do you live now?”
“I bought a small house near Omaha where I have backups of everything I’m providing to you.”
“That’s too far away for you to drive back there tonight,” Natalie said with a panic in her voice.
“Like I said earlier, I’ve reserved a room at the bed and breakfast.”
“You should stay with us,” Natalie said.
“Natalie!” Miles cried. “You can’t just invite a strange man to sleep at our house!”
“Why not? Momma won’t mind. She loves to entertain. She’ll make a better breakfast than he’d ever get over at Rachel’s bed and breakfast.”
“Absolutely not, young lady.”
“Daddy, I am thirty-one years old and a professional attorney. I am most certainly not a young lady.”
“Thank you for the offer, Natalie, but I think I’m going to keep my reservation at the bed and breakfast.” Ethan pushed himself away from the folding table and returned to his chair near her desk. “Let’s get back to work, shall we?”
* * * * * * * * *
“How did you sleep last night at the bed and breakfast?” Natalie asked when Ethan got seated across from her desk. “Were you able to handle the stairs okay?” Concern for his welfare was a welcome change after having been alone for the past several months and feeling the decline in his health.
“The suite was comfortable and quiet with a beautiful view of the sunrise this morning. I slept like a baby.” Ethan laid the stack of paperwork on her desk, which had yet to be filled out. “You were right about the stairs. By the time I hoisted myself up there with my small travel bag I had to sit down at the top and rest for a few minutes. I think I’m going to drive home tonight to Omaha rather than stay at the bed and breakfast again.”
“Nonsense,” Natalie said. “You can stay with us. And I’ll help you with the paperwork.” She reached across the desk and pulled the stack closer.
“Your dad would throw a fit again,” Ethan said. “I’ll be fine driving home.”
“That’s almost two hours, Ethan.” Natalie’s jaw dropped. Her emerald eyes had darkened to a hazy jade and frustration pulled her brows together.
“More like an hour and a half. I live on the outskirts of town.” He waved away her concern, afraid if she continued these passionate exchanges, he would say something inappropriate again and offend her. She was beautiful to the point of making his stomach flutter, or maybe that was the homemade pastry he’d indulged in during breakfast.
“Hmpf.” She scowled at him and started flipping through the stack of papers. “Did you have trouble with any of these questions? Or did you just not have time to fill them out?”
“When I got to my room, I was so exhausted I prepared for bed immediately. I barely glanced at the packet. I noticed that you need tax information for my new house. I’ll have to find that when I get home tonight.”
“We can look up that information on the internet.” Natalie turned to her computer and jiggled the mouse. The screen saver—a picture of a big family wedding—disappeared and she opened a browser window. “You’d be surprised how many public records you can find on the internet. Hey, do you mind if I do a Google search for your kingdom? I want to know where you’re from.” The excited gleam in her eyes was enough incentive for him to offer her anything she desired.
“M-a-d-a-i-n S-a-l-e-h,” Ethan said as she typed. Images popped up on her screen and he couldn’t help leaning across the desk to see better.
“Is that your mother and father?” Natalie leaned closer as well. “Oh, Ethan, she’s beautiful. You have her eyes. And your skin tone is closer to hers than your fathers.”
“Her Grace is elegant.” Ethan’s words caught in his throat as he took in his mother’s multicolored eyes. Her copper skin had aged well, and she never tried to hide her full figure. Ethan always had the impression that his father loved her curves and was often caught gazing at her across the room with love and longing in his eyes.
Ethan wished he could have a tiny bit of the passion his parents had for one another but knew that wasn’t possible. Loving a dying man would just lead to hurt and loss. He would never want to do that to a woman.
“I wish I could introduce you to them.” Ethan cleared his husky throat and refocused, pointing to the screen. “That’s my sister, Princess Miranda, the one who’s married to Prince Hayden.”
“She looks more like your father,” Natalie said. “And she lives in the United States?”
“Yes, they settled close to Hayden’s family in the Hudson Valley a few hours from New York City.”
“Didn’t you say you needed to go to the city to settle some affairs?” Natalie asked. “Maybe we could take a detour afterward and go visit her.”
“Do you have time in your schedule to travel with me?” Ethan’s heart raced with excitement. The idea of spending hours together in a car was intriguing. “Don’t you need to work?”
“Work is slow right now,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Have you seen any clients coming and going since you arrived yesterday? My father can handle any business we have for a couple days.”
“I plan to be travelling for a couple of weeks,” Ethan said. “I have a bucket list of famous places to see. I want my last few days to have meaning. I don’t want to sit home and wait to die.”
“What if you get sick while you’re travelling?” Natalie’s voice lowered with concern and compassion.
“Then I’ll check myself into a hospital and wait there to die, hoping the duration of my stay won’t be prolonged.”
“Do you have a DNR?” She gulped.
“Yes, it’s right here.” Ethan reached into his briefcase and pulled out the legal document. “Do not resuscitate. Only palliative care.”
“That’s smart.” Her voice caught at the end. “No reason to prolong the inevitable. Better to keep you comfortable.” Did she have tears in the corners of her eyes?
“Are you okay?”
“I just need a minute.” Natalie rose from her desk and grabbed a tissue on the way to stand by the window. She dabbed at her eyes a few times then turned with a determined stance. “I’m struggling with this, Ethan. Usually when I talk to clients about estate planning, it’s in the abstract, in the future, sometime far away. Not a young, handsome man who doesn’t seem ready to die.”
“Oh, come on, I thought I looked handicapped.” Ethan chuckled and stood from his chair. He leaned against the edge of her desk and folded his arms. From where he stood, Ethan could see out the window at rolling hills in the distance. Keeping his eyes unfocused on the horizon he mused. “You’re right though; I’m not ready to die.”
Neither of them spoke for a moment then he shook off his stupor and returned to the present.
“Would you like to see my bucket list?” Ethan reached into his briefcase and pulled out a handwritten piece of paper. A few of the items had already been crossed off. He handed the paper to Natalie who sat in the chair next to his rather than moving to the other side of her desk.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Niagara Falls.” She ran her finger down the page. She looked up at him with raised eyebrows. “Mackinaw Island?”
“I hear it’s beautiful.” Ethan cleared his throat and nodded to the page. “Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon?”
“No… gosh, no wonder you want to take several weeks. This is a long list.”
“Running out of time, aren’t I?”
“Well, let’s get this paperwork started so we can get on the road.” Her false enthusiasm broke the seriousness of the moment, which Ethan welcomed. He was here for business.
Getting all these emotions involved was adding confusion to Ethan’s situation. Natalie had already made her intentions clear. He was a client, and she didn’t date clients. Not that he’d date her anyway. He was dying with an inoperable malignant brain tumor. He had a few months left, at the most.