With a thumbs-up to the ground crew, we lift off.
Olivia freezes next to me. Like she’s afraid to move or speak. Until we bank to the right. Then she screams bloody murder.
“Oh my God! We’re tipping!” She grabs my arm.
“Olivia, we’re not tipping.”
“Yes we are! Lean! Lean this way!” She shifts her weight away from window—in the opposite direction of our embankment.
And Tommy, trying to be helpful, leans with her.
I level us off, but her grip on my arm doesn’t let up.
“Look at the view, sweets. Look at the lights—they’re like thousands of diamonds on a bed of black sand.”
Olivia’s eyes are squeezed shut so tightly, they almost disappear into her face.
“No thanks, I’m good like this.”
I pry her hand from my arm, one finger at a time. “All right, here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to put your hand on the stick and fly the helicopter.”
Her eyes spring open. “What?”
“You’re afraid because you feel out of control,” I tell her calmly. “This will make you feel better.”
“You want me to touch your stick so I’ll feel better?” she asks incredulously. “Sounds like a line.”
I laugh. “No line. But…my stick always makes everything better. You can’t go wrong touching it.” I take her hand and put it on the control, teasing her.
“That’s it, grip it firmly, but don’t strangle it. Don’t stroke, just hold it for now—I know it’s big—get used to the feel of it in your hand.”
Olivia snorts. “You are a dirty, dirty man.”
But she’s forgotten to be afraid, just as I was hoping. And after a few minutes, I take my hand off of hers and she holds the control steady, all on her own, her face flushing with happiness.
“Oh my God!” she gasps—and that turns me on, too. “I’m doing it, Nicholas! I’m flying! This is amazing!”
We land about two hours later and drive to the Smithsonian, which has been decorated dramatically with crimson swaths between stone pillars and sweeping spotlights along the red carpet. As we pull up, I see the familiar flash of cameras.
“Front door or back?” I ask Olivia, turning to face her in the limo. I mean the question exactly as it sounds.
She looks at me with a hint of a dry smile. “Don’t you think it’s a little early to be talking about the back door?”
I smirk. “Never too early for the back door.”
But then I turn serious. Because I know just how much I’m about to turn her life upside down…and then, in less than four months, I’m going to walk away. Olivia doesn’t understand yet, not really.
“If we go in the front door, they take your picture, they find out your name and the world goes mad—but it’s our decision. If we use the back door, we may buy a little more time but we won’t know when or where or how the discovery will come. Just that it will.” I smooth my hand over her knee. “It’s up to you, love.”
She angles her head, gazing at the window, watching the throng of photographers—seeming more curious than anything else. “What will we say?”
“Nothing. We don’t give them anything. They’ll write what they want and take their pictures whenever, but we never confirm or deny. And the Palace doesn’t comment on the personal lives of the royal family.”
She nods slowly. “Like when Beyoncé and Jay Z got married. It was all over the papers: the flower delivery, gossip from the caterers—everyone knew, but until they actually confirmed it, no one really, really knew. There was always that shred of possible doubt.”
I smile. “Exactly.”
After a few moments, Olivia takes a deep breath. And holds out her hand to me. “Sorry to disappoint you, Your Highness, but there won’t be any back-door action tonight—front door all the way.”
I take her hand and kiss her—sweet and brief.
“Let’s go, then.”
Olivia does well. She waves and smiles and ignores the questions that get thrown at us—like rice at a wedding. She’s concerned that she’ll have “fish face” in every photograph—I’m not exactly sure what that is, but it doesn’t sound good. And there are spots before her eyes for a long while—I tell her next time to look down, below the flashes, not at them—but otherwise she gets through her first experience with the American press unscathed.
In the ballroom, with a glass of wine in my hand and my palm on the small of Olivia’s back, we’re greeted by our hosts, Brent and Kennedy Mason.
Mason’s several years older than I, but there’s an air of youthfulness about him. He doesn’t seem like the type to take himself—or anything—too seriously.
They bow—a feat Kennedy Mason struggles with because of her large, round, heavily pregnant midsection. Then we shake hands and I introduce Olivia.
“We’re honored to have you here, Prince Nicholas,” Mason says.
He means money—he’s honored to have my money, here—because that’s what these things are really about. Although I like the Mason Foundation; their overhead is low and they support programs that actually help real people.
“But we’ll miss your grandmother,” Kennedy remarks. “She was the life of the party last year.”