“And have fun in Wessco,” Tommy says, smiling brightly. “Maybe you’ll like it enough to stay.”
Logan shakes his head, exasperated, making me think he knows more than he lets on. “Shut up, Tommy.”
I move to Ellie and Marty. Ellie flings her vibrating self at me. “I’m going to miss you! But I want you to do everything—go everywhere!”
I squeeze her as tight as I can, and my heart breaks just a little bit.
“I’m going to miss you too. I know you can handle this, Ellie—you’re going to do great. But be careful and listen to Marty and Logan and Tommy, okay?”
Then Marty scoops me up, hugging me right off my feet. “Have the time of your life, girlfriend. And remember—pics or it didn’t happen.” He gives me a dirty wink and tilts his head toward Nicholas. “Take all the pics.”
I laugh and move toward the door. But a voice behind me freezes me in place.
My father appears in the doorway. He walks up to me slowly and then wraps his arms around me in a strong, solid hug.
Just the way he used to…before.
He kisses my temple and whispers in my ear, “I love you, honey.”
And I feel the tears come and overflow. “I love you too, Daddy.”
A moment later, I pull away. I hiccup and give him a smile. Then I walk to Nicholas’s side.
As we turn to leave, my father calls out, “Nicholas. You take care of her.”
There’s a distinct edge to his voice when he answers.
“Yes. I will.”
Then he takes my hand and leads me out the door.
The tears are still flowing as I climb in the limo—where Henry is waiting.
“Oh no, she’s crying. I hate it when girls cry. What did you do, Nicholas?” Then he raises his glass—filled with amber-colored liquid and ice. “Don’t cry, Olive. Drink!”
In the seat beside me, Nicholas tugs me closer. “Are you all right, sweets?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. I’m just really emotional.” I wipe under my eyes. “And I’m scared about the plane.”
Nicholas smiles, flashing his dimples. “You can hold onto my stick the whole time.”
I giggle, and Henry makes a grossed-out sound.
“Is that a sexual reference? Bloody hell, it’s going to be a disgusting summer.”
On the runway, outside the big, scary plane, Bridget, Nicholas’s personal secretary, greets us. She reminds me of a favorite aunt—in a cheery violet suit and with an attitude that’s both playful and efficient.
“Oh my,” she stutters when Nicholas first introduces me. “I didn’t know you were bringing guests, Your Grace.” Then she recovers—or at least tries to. “The Queen will be quite…surprised.”
She gives my hand a firm, friendly shake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Hammond. If there’s anything you need during your visit, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
I have a feeling taking my first flight on a private plane is going to ruin me for “normal” air travel forever. It reminds me of Old Rose in Titanic when she said, “The china had never been used. The sheets had never been slept in…”
The interior of Royal I is all royal crests, creamy leather, and shining, polished wood. There are two fully appointed bedrooms in the back, and not just any bedrooms—these are beds fit for a queen. Literally. There are also two marble bathrooms with showers. The main fuselage has a dark wood desk and a computer and phones, a long leather couch and groups of four reclining seats that swivel around with gleaming wood tables in between.
Two uniformed stewardesses are there to cater to our every whim—and they look like supermodels, both blond and tall, with little navy caps perched on their heads. The pilot bows to Nicholas before he enters the cockpit and I notice a change in Nicholas’s demeanor—or maybe it’s just a reaction to how the staff treat him—with supreme leader deference. Respect bordering on worship. He leads the way…and everyone else gladly follows.
Takeoff is…absolutely terrifying.
I keep my eyes closed the entire time and choke down the urge to puke. It’s a good thing I hold Nicholas’s hand instead of his “stick,” because my grip is so strong I would’ve crushed it.
And it’s one of my favorite parts.
In the air, after hot towels and cocktails, Nicholas asks Bridget about things at home. Political things. Her eyes skirt briefly to me and then Henry, and I wonder if this is classified information.
But then she tells Nicholas, “The Queen has doubled her efforts to persuade Parliament to pass the trade and jobs packages, but talks remain…acrimonious. They want concessions.”
Henry sits up from the couch where he’s lounged, plucking chords on a guitar—Nicholas told me once that Henry “fancied himself” the “rock star royal.”
“What kind of concessions?” the younger prince asks.
“Concessions from the Queen,” Bridget says uncomfortably. “And the royal family.”
“Two years is a long time to be gone, Henry,” Nicholas explains. “Things have changed since you were last home.”
“Parliament has always been filled with a bunch of useless wankers.” He scoffs.
Nicholas tilts his head. “Now they’re worse.”
A little later, Bridget instructs me on protocol. How to greet and behave around the Queen…and the heir apparent.