It all came from a fear of flying.
The prospect of a week-long transatlantic voyage on a luxury ocean liner had been so appealing (rest, relaxation, time to work without the usual distractions and interruptions, escape from the demands of the press and the public). It was a much more glamorous and civilized way to travel, and it had all been carefully arranged so that she'd arrive in plenty of time to do the rounds of appearances and promotion overseas. It would be a vacation, of sorts.
:::knock, knock, knock::: "Security."
At first, she'd resented the intrusion, both for the loss of privacy and the illusion of safety. She'd always prided herself on being in charge, in control, capable of handling any emergency, calm and rational in the face of extreme situations. In the past, she'd never been able to rely on anyone else having her back in a fight or backing her up when she needed it, so she'd learned to be her own backup. A self-rescuing princess, like the saying on the cutesy toddler shirt she once saw online. Trust no one completely.
Now, that had changed. Being a woman of some notoriety these days, a constant security presence was a necessary evil. Such was the price of fortune and glory, it seemed. Still, she had to admit to herself, albeit reluctantly, that having a body-guard, a guardian angel, an escort did have a certain appeal. It certainly helped give her a bit of breathing room when her claustrophobia kicked in amidst the press of adoring fans and aggressive paparazzi, and as much as she hated to admit it, being considered precious enough or valuable enough to be deemed worthy of protection was a boost to her sometimes fragile self-esteem and ego.
What she hadn't counted on was that it would be him. Well, she assumed it was him. How many men in the world could there be with that name? Gods, had it been almost 20 years since she'd seen him? They certainly weren't getting any younger.
She'd always had a thing for him, ever since she'd first met him in school way-too-many years ago. He was genuinely, timelessly handsome with a wry, sarcastic sense of humor, and they'd both been unabashed geeks about the same music, books, movies and TV shows. He'd always been kind and thoughtful too, unlike most guys their age. When her best friend confessed her own secret crush on him, she'd worked hard to arrange for the two of them to date and later, go steady, just so she'd have an excuse to be around him. She'd never felt pretty enough or smart enough or good enough to ask him out herself, but she'd lived vicariously through not one, but two friends she'd set him up with. It was safer that way. At least she could keep him in her life as a friend.
They'd lost touch over the years, of course. She'd struggled through substance abuse, self-loathing, and a variety of failed relationships before finally finding her sanity, her voice, herself. She'd heard through mutual friends that he'd done a stint in the military, had gotten married, had started a family, but she hadn't seen or spoken to him for the better part of two decades and the prospect of reconnecting now filled her with a curious mix of excitement and dread. Funny that he'd gone into "executive protection," as it was called. He was a perfect fit for it.
Had he known it would be her when he agreed to take this assignment? Would it be awkward, being together constantly for the better part of a week when they hadn't seen or spoken to each other for so long? She was relieved to have talked her handlers into letting her have the suite to herself on the ship, but they had insisted on her security detail having the room next to hers with an adjourning door. Judging by the way her heart was pounding, she obviously still had feelings for him. Would he be able to tell? Would he care? Would it affect his ability to do his job? Would it affect her ability to do hers?
:::knock, knock, knock::: "Brenna?"
She glanced in the mirror, noting her softer, rounder body, her relatively few wrinkles (for a woman her age), the sprinkling of silver-gray lightening her once dark hair. Then, she put on her best, most confident smile, took a deep breath, and opened the door.