Primal Attraction

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Chapter Fourteen

The alarm started beeping, causing Johanna to sit straight up in bed. Her head was pounding, and her heart was jumping, but she managed to pull herself together enough to push the button to silence the annoying noise. The clock showed four twenty in the bright red numbers and she groaned, falling back to her pillow. The sun had yet to rise and the palace was silent enough she could hear the whisper of the breeze against the patio windows. A storm was coming, but the news promised it would not arrive until after she had landed in Northern Shores.

Drawing a deep breath, Johanna pulled herself out from under the blankets and rubbed her eyes. She felt exhausted. The day before had been a mixture of emotional frustrations and a mental marathon that finally had her ready for her trip. She was very happy she’d be gone long before her guests were, which meant she wouldn’t have to endure any more of their ignorance, or arrogance of her island’s history.

She had managed to pen a brief press release before going to sleep last night, offering it to the reporters who had started calling, asking for a statement on her trip. She forwarded it to Charlotte-Anne who released it late last night, which was already being debated and scrutinized. The most she said was that she was embracing her new role and asked for patience from the people of the island as she sorted through several issues left unfinished by her cousin.

Johanna moved through her morning routine as usual, then took a long leisurely shower. With her bags packed, her hair pulled back into the customary braid, and her new black jeans and violet pullover cotton blouse, she was ready to leave. She slipped her feet into her boots and gathered her two suitcases along with the shoulder bag, then quietly slipped out the door of her room.

She had stayed up well after midnight to finish the final details of her trip, waiting for Samuel to return for her - but he never did. She had a late drink with Alissa and Martin, and was joined by his children, then made the excuse of getting up early to escape to the sanctity of her office. Once the files she had received from the bank were packed, along with her computer and Reginald’s journal about her parents’ failed flight, she turned in for a restless night. She had become used to having Samuel next to her and sleeping without him seemed…unnatural. She would have called to check on him, but was afraid of waking him, so she decided she’d have to wait to see him until this morning.

Russell met her in the foyer, making her wonder if the man ever slept. He was dressed in his usual formal attire and looked awake and refreshed, even though she knew he had not retired until after she did. She only hoped she didn’t appear as tired as she felt, wishing she could look as ready for her day as he was. The older man insisted she have something to eat before Samuel arrived to pick her up, serving her coffee and pastries in the parlor.

She had managed to eat a fruit tart when the door opened, and Patrick Reading walked in. He was dressed in full pirate-style uniform, complete with sword and cape around his shoulders. He bowed slightly to her as he stopped by the door, smiling a very tired grin to her.

“Your Majesty,” he began, “I’m here to escort you to the airport.”

“I was expecting Sam…Captain Carrington,” she said with a frown.

“The Captain sent his apologies and told me to let you know he would meet you at the hotel,” Patrick told her. “He went down last night with Lord Carrington.”

“Is there a problem?” she asked standing and walking toward the man.

“No ma’am, he just felt it was best for him to be there ahead of you, in order to keep the press at bay. I can assure you, you will have a full guard on the trip as well as your journey to the hotel.”

“Very well,” she answered, feeling disappointed and slightly discouraged.

“Isn’t your assistant joining you?” Patrick asked, watching her collect her computer case.

“Due to health issues, she is going to stay here. If I need her, I will call her or Skype with her.”

Johanna stepped into the foyer with Patrick, accepting his aid in slipping on her favorite leather jacket, then bid Russell farewell and left the house, climbing into the back of the limousine Roscoe had waiting for them. The trip to the airport was silent, though she didn’t pay much attention to it. Her thoughts were on Samuel and why he decided to leave her to the care of his best friend, and co-guard.

Roscoe drove at a steady pace and within fifteen minutes, they were at the airport. The original idea to take the helicopter had been changed to the smaller of the two royal planes, based on Samuel’s insistence that it would be safer, and she would be able to take more than one guard with her.

The guards carried the bags onboard and handed them off to the flight attendant. Johanna greeted her pilot Leroy Stanford, and his co-pilot Bruce Raymond as soon as she entered the plane. A tall thin dark-haired young woman stood beside them, smiling nervously as she bobbed a quick curtsey. Her brown eyes shined excitedly and by the color of her skin, Johanna knew she was a descendant of one of the original islanders. Captain Stanford introduced her as Pelee Mahale, her flight attendant for the trip.

Johanna greeted each of them politely then took a seat by the window. Patrick and two other guards joined her, sitting on the opposite side of the plane to allow her privacy, while Pelee set the queen’s laptop case on the seat next to her. As much as she wanted to focus on the day ahead, all she could think about was Samuel. She couldn’t understand why he hadn’t called to tell her of the change in plans, but perhaps it was her own fault. She had created a problem for him that went beyond the bedroom. He was her guard, and it was his sworn duty to protect her. He had to put her safety above his personal feelings…and that was an even bigger problem.

She knew Samuel was more open and much more giving than she ever could be. Even though sex had been…amazing seemed too simple a word for what she felt in his arms, yet it was just that - amazing. He told her he felt more for her than mere physical attraction, but she couldn’t return his feelings. She didn’t know how. Sharing so much of herself with another person was foreign to her. She doubted if Alissa even knew that much about her.

Pelee set a plate of fruit and yogurt on the table in front of Johanna as the sound of the engines started to hum beneath her feet. She glanced to the girl and smiled, watching as she poured a glass of juice, then moved across the plane to her guard, serving them their morning reprieve.

Johanna watched Pelee return to the galley and disappear as the plane began to roll away from the hanger where it was kept when not in use. The sun was just beginning to rise, offering a brilliant reddish-orange hue to the morning sky. She watched the airport from her window as they moved down the tarmac in the direction that would take them to the northern end of the island. The plane stopped as the engines began to hum louder vibrating the floor beneath her feet just enough to assure her they were ready to take off. Then the wheels moved again, this time they didn’t stop.

Within a few moments the large white craft was lifting in the air. Johanna continued to watch as the plane flew above the town. She could see the palace as they flew over it, amazed by how large it looked from above. The higher they flew, the smaller the buildings became until they were mere dots along the bottom of the window.

“Good morning your Majesty,” Captain Stanford said over the speaker. “It looks like we’re going to have clear sailing for your trip. The weather is predicted to be eighty-four degrees and slightly cloudy with a chance of rain. We are on schedule to arrive at Northern Shores in twenty-five minutes. I hope you have a pleasant flight and if there’s anything we can do for you, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

The speaker went off and Johanna pushed her plate aside, removing her laptop from the case and setting it up on the table. She had to try and get her mind off Samuel, but it was not going to be easy. He had occupied every free thought she had since they first met, and accompanied her into her dreams at night, even when they lay embraced. As much as she tried to deny it, she knew she was starting to grow feelings for the man, and that scared her worse than the prospect of what the future held for her as queen. If she even came close to feeling anything for him, outside of their sexual relationship, he would be bound by her curse and she would lose him. That was a fate she refused to allow happen.

Johanna opened up the files she had created for her trip, reviewing once again the itinerary she had set for her first day. Once she settled into the hotel, she would begin her visit by meeting with the homeowners of the properties that had been foreclosed on within the past two years. Between her and the managers of Westerly Mortgage and Finance, she had arranged a deal that would help the owners bring their mortgages current.

A trust was established that would allow each owner an allowance to help with repairs and maintenance over a three-year period, and their current payments and interest was being lowered by fifty percent for the next five years until they were able to pull themselves back up on top. Over the next five years, the interest would raise half a percentage a year, leveling out at a much lower rate than they were paying to begin with. It was Johanna’s intension to give the property owners a chance to recover from their current financial burdens, without creating a strain on the island’s economy.

After that, the owners of the properties that had been taken by the bank prior to twenty-four months ago, would meet as a group in the hotel’s conference room. The same deal was going to be presented to them, with a forbearance of sixty-three percent of their balance due. The Elders had sold off ninety-one of the one hundred and twelve properties seized. That land was more sought after by developers and investors than the others, and the yield had been greater than any of the other properties were worth. Those owners would be given a choice of land currently under the control and ownership of the throne.

In the morning she would meet with former employees of the factories that had been closed. Two of four were going to be simple to repair. The mechanics believed the machines would be an easy fix with just a few needed parts and some minor maintenance, and with Walter’s crew already working on the buildings, they should open within a few short weeks. She had a team of marketers working on contacting past accounts for the factories to arrange deals that would bring the work back to the town.

As for the other factories, one was far beyond any sort of repair, so it was going to be torn down completely. The last one had been destroyed by fire several years ago. That property would be leveled and offered as land to those who had their land sold by the Elders. The town needed more factories to help provide jobs and a living to those in the area, so Johanna had arranged with two of the larger canneries to open branches in Northern Shores, while a recycling plant would be built to help maintain the rest of the economy.

By the end of the week, she would meet with the school board and discuss her plans on getting the youth back in their seats and hire new teachers to take up the space after the previous ones left town. With the help of Samuel’s guards, new police authorities would be trained to maintain and control the crime and help get the Region back on top again.

Johanna had finished reviewing her day’s schedule, when Pelee removed the coffee and plates and assured her they were about to land. Johanna tucked her computer back into its case and pulled out her phone. She had hoped Samuel would have sent her a message, but there was nothing from him, just a text from Alissa wishing her luck.

The plane’s wheels touched down and Johanna looked out the window as they slowed to a halt. There were at least fifty guards lined up on either side of a long narrow red carpet waiting her arrival. A sleek black limousine with the royal flag on the front waited at the end with a chauffeur standing beside the driver’s door.

Outside the fences were hundreds of people and reporters, just like when she landed on Westerly the first time, all carrying banners and signs welcoming her. More cameras than she could imagine began snapping pictures, lighting the morning sky with white flashes. A sudden jumping gripped her stomach as she tried to control her anxiety. She wasn’t certain if the nerves were caused by the prospect of being the center of attention again, or if it was due to seeing Samuel and addressing him as her guard rather than the man her body craved.

She didn’t know why, but just the thought of him had her heart pounding and her stomach twisting. Perhaps it was the way he looked at her. There was something in those eyes that made her feel secure and desired. The way he held her made her feel protected and…there was that word again, that stupid ‘L’ word she found herself running from, more on Westerly than all the years in the desert. She couldn’t understand why so many people had to bring emotions into something as simple as lust and passion. Just because you desired someone, longed to be with them, hungered for their touch, it didn’t mean you loved them. It was just a primal attraction.

“Your Majesty,” Patrick said, bringing her thoughts back to the present. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yes, Lieutenant,” she answered standing and picking up her computer case.

She followed the guards to the exit, thanking Pelee and the pilots, then drew a deep breath and stepped out of the door. Remembering what Mary told her when she first landed on Westerly, she forced herself to smile and wave at the spectators, causing the crowd to erupt in a louder display of shouts.

Johanna walked down the steps to the carpet, looking at the faces of the guards as she passed. She nodded politely to each one as she made her way to the limousine. The sinking feeling was back in her stomach when she reached the car and smiled to the young woman in a formal black and white uniform. He hadn’t been there. She was sure he would be, but he wasn’t. She sunk into the back seat, accompanied by Patrick and the two guards that had been on the plane with her and looked at the dark-haired man across from her.

“Where is Captain Carrington?” she asked, hoping she didn’t sound as disappointed as she felt. “I thought he would meet the plane.”

“He’s at the hotel making certain everything is secure and ready for you. He’ll report to you as soon as you get settled,” Patrick answered.

He could see the sadness in the queen’s eyes, and after spending two hours with Samuel last night, he knew the two were much closer than either wanted to admit.

The car drove straight to the hotel, led by an SUV, and followed by another two, all carrying the guards from the airport. Johanna stared out the window as they passed by several homes in disrepair, and one of the factories that had been closed down. Briefly, she forgot about Samuel, seeing the graffiti-splattered businesses, many with boarded-up windows, others with bars over the glass panes. The streets were filled with potholes and cracks, the sidewalks and curbs decayed and crumbling in more places than not. She was amazed and disappointed to see how bad the town truly was.

Then they drove down a side street and out to the other side of town. On this side, there were many middle-class homes clean and well cared for. Several businesses, even though they had bars on their windows, appeared to be much more successful than their counterparts on the opposite side of town. The streets were better cared for, though there were cracks and holes that had been filled with asphalt and tar.

Johanna frowned. How could any city have residents who appeared to have so much, while others looked like they were barely scraping enough together to get by? Even the factories on this side of town looked well maintained and successful.

The limousine neared the white brick and glass hotel with the name Northern Lights spelled out in elegant calligraphy lettering across the front. There were sixteen floors all with balconies. It was an impressive building, nothing like she had expected. Outside was a large group of spectators on the sidewalk near the front door, while even more lined the street behind barricades, all with welcoming signs like those at the hotel. Johanna didn’t pay much attention to them though. She was more interested in the hotel itself.

Driving around a curve in the road, she could see the backside of the building. It opened up onto the beach with the crystal clear blue ocean to offer relaxation for the guests. Over a hundred beach chairs and a dozen covered pavilions lined the sandy shore. There was a large outdoor bar and grill, and what looked like a swimming pool separating the hotel from the three-level parking garage.

They pulled up a circular driveway and parked under a blue and white striped canopy covering. Within seconds the guards who had escorted the limousine were out of the vehicles, securing those curious and excited islanders who wanted a glimpse of the queen. Johanna remained in the car for several long moments until the door at last opened. Patrick was the first to exit, followed by the other two guards. They stood to the side of the door, allowing Johanna to step out.

The crowd seemed to explode with excitement as they screamed and yelled for her. She glanced to them, seeing an ocean of hands waving at her, and a brilliant display of bright lights from cameras flashing all at once. Near the front entrance, held back by a rope barrier and a line of guards, was a small child who instantly captured her attention. A little girl about five-years-old, holding a bouquet of roses. Holding onto her hand was an elderly woman with white hair and an old knit shawl around her shoulders. She didn’t appear to be wealthy by any means, yet she fought to remain in front of the pushing group.

Ignoring Patrick’s insistence that she go inside the hotel, Johanna handed her computer case to a nearby guard and casually walked to the group. She knelt down and smiled at the little girl who handed her the roses.

“These are yours,” the child said with a nervous smile.

“Thank you,” Johanna said, taking the flowers and sniffing them. The people around the child seemed to grow quiet as she stared at the young queen in disbelief. “My name is Johanna, what’s yours?”

“Molly Anne Summerhays,” the little girl answered proudly.

“It’s very nice to meet you Molly, and who is this very lovely lady?” Johanna asked looking up to the older woman.

“This is my Nana. Her name is Kathy Sue Summerhays.”

“It’s a pleasure, Mrs. Summerhays,” Johanna said, standing to address the woman.

“Your Majesty,” the older woman said, bobbing an unsteady curtsey.

“It’s rather early for you to be out here,” Johanna continued looking down to Molly again, noticing the ragged coat she had around her shoulders, no hat or gloves, and the worn shoes on her feet. It was a very cool morning with the sun dodging in and out of heavy clouds. Her face and hands felt the morning chill, and she could only imagine how the child must be feeling, not to mention the older woman.

“Aren’t you cold?”

“I’m okay, but Nana is sick.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that. Are you alright?”

“Yes ma’am,” Mrs. Summerhays told her with a blush to her pale face. “It’s nothing, just a cold.”

Johanna stared at the woman for a few very brief moments before looking to the rest of the people standing around. Most of them were in jeans, tee-shirts, old appearing coats and hats. Many were women with small children in old worn blankets. She felt suddenly guilty for having so much and pulled the leather gloves she kept in her pockets out. She bent down and showed them to Molly.

“Slip your hands inside these,” she ordered gently and watched as the child hesitated. “I promise, they are very warm.”

Molly put her hands in the gloves, wiggling her fingers into them. Johanna then stood and removed her leather jacket and gently flung it around Mrs. Summerhays’ shoulders.

“Your Majesty…” the woman began.

“Don’t argue,” Johanna insisted, holding it securely until the woman hesitantly moved her arms into it. “I have another one, and you need something warmer than that thin shawl.”

Johanna glanced around to the crowd once again. With a frown she turned to Patrick who stood at her side with a concerned expression as he worried about her safety - not to mention what Samuel would say when he learned she had put herself in the way of possible harm.

“How long have these people been standing out here?” she asked, mentally estimating about fifty people of all ages huddled close together, then another hundred or more across the street behind the barricades.

“We were here all night,” Molly said with a soft sniffle as she wiped her nose on her coat sleeve. “We wanted to be the first to see you.”

“Well, I’m very happy you were,” Johanna said with a smile and a gentle voice, then looked back to Patrick. “Is there a restaurant inside the hotel?”

“Yes, your Majesty,” he answered with a curious expression.

“Tell them to prepare breakfast for these people and hot chocolate. I want them fed before they return to their homes.”

“As you wish, your Majesty,” he answered turning in time to see Samuel coming out of the hotel.

He waved to a guard instructing him to inform the kitchen to start preparing food, smiling at the confused expression on Samuel’s face.

“How would you like some pancakes and eggs?” Johanna was asking Molly when Samuel joined her.

“Yes, please,” the little girl answered excitedly.

“And hot chocolate?” Johanna smiled.

“I love hot chocolate.”

“So do I, with lots of cream.” Johanna looked to Patrick, ignoring Samuel. “Make certain these people remain here until they have eaten, then report back to me.”

“Yes ma’am,” he answered.

“Molly, I have to go now, but I hope to see you again soon,” she told the little girl as she once again knelt down. “Will you bring your Nana back here this afternoon and have tea with me?”

“Oh, yes…can we Nana?” Molly asked excitedly.

“We don’t want to be a bother, your Majesty,” Mrs. Summerhays said with an expression that matched Samuel’s.

“My name is Johanna, and it’s not a bother. I would like to thank you and your granddaughter for your kindness and your willingness to brave the cold to be here. It means a great deal to me that you would go to such effort, especially since you’re not feeling well. I will inform the front desk that you will be meeting me at four o’clock. We’ll have a nice tea and talk.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Mrs. Summerhays said with tear filled eyes.

Johanna smiled, offered Molly a hug and thanked her again for the flowers, then turned and walked back to the hotel entrance. She had barely made it halfway through the lobby when the manager came hurrying up to greet her. He was a middle-aged man, tall with gray hair, wearing a formal black suit, white shirt, and black tie. His shoes had been polished to a high gloss and his face was free from any signs of a beard. He bowed to her, staring at her with steel gray eyes.

“Your Majesty,” he began in a deep voice. “On behalf of the staff of Northern Lights, we’d like to welcome you to our hotel.”

“Thank you Mr…” she paused noticing for the first time his lack of a name badge.

“I’m Nelson Blankenship,” he answered. “I am the general manager here.”

“Well, thank you again, Mr. Blankenship.”

Johanna turned to continue her path to the set of glass elevators at the side of the lobby when the man stopped her.

“I beg your pardon, your Majesty,” he said. “But your guard said you expected the restaurant to prepare food for the crowd outside.”

“Yes, I do. Is there a problem?” she answered as Samuel watched closely.

From the way she stared the man down, he knew she wasn’t about to relent on her orders, and he was eager to see what the hotel manager had to say about it.

Since their arrival the night before, the man had been complaining nonstop about the noise and the type of people who were waiting to see the queen. He had even asked Samuel at one point to please have his men order them away. They were reflecting badly on the reputation of the hotel and their high-class guests. Samuel anticipated Johanna’s reaction when she learned he had set her guard on the innocent citizens who only wanted to see her arrive and refused. He wasn’t about to get on the woman’s bad side, especially after leaving without calling her.

“Your Majesty,” Blankenship continued, “those…people have been here all night long, disturbing the paying guests of the hotel. Not only are they a nuisance, but I will not ask the restaurant to prepare food for them. It’s bad enough they have been here all night, and your guard refused to have them removed from the premises, I will not offer them our food as well.”

“Is that right?” Johanna asked with a frown. “Well, Mr. Blankenship, either you do as I have instructed, or I will find another hotel to stay at.”

“There is not another decent hotel in Northern Shores that could possibly compare to mine,” the man said with an arrogant smile.

“All it takes is one word from me and your decent hotel will become as vacant as a side street truck stop,” she told him. “If my orders are not followed out immediately, I will make certain those reporters outside understand that I am leaving this establishment due to the mistreatment by the management on the ruler of this island. I will further instruct the rest of Westerly to avoid this hotel like a plague.”

The man opened his mouth to speak, his eyes wide with disbelief, but Johanna hadn’t finished with him.

“Furthermore,” she continued, “if the food I have ordered is not prepared with the care normally given to your paying guests, and served to those people straightaway, I will order the immediate closure of the restaurant and lay off every one of the employees. I am here to try and bring this Region back up to Westerly standards. I suggest you don’t force my hand and give me cause to leave prematurely.”

“But…but…” Blankenship stuttered as he tried to find the right words to respond to the young queen’s demands.

Johanna turned to Patrick who was standing just behind Samuel, addressing him directly.

“Lieutenant Reading, I want your men to see that the restaurant staff does as I order. If they have any complaints, please have them see me directly. If they refuse to do as I instructed, they are to be removed from the premises and the restaurant is to be locked. If that happens, please see to it that those people outside come inside to get warm while I arrange to have breakfast catered for them by Westerly Arms. When you have finished, please bring a bill for the food and labor associated with the meal to me.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” Patrick answered with a bow as he snapped his fingers and walked to the restaurant, followed by a dozen guard.

Johanna looked to the hotel manager’s suddenly ashen complexion. She nearly laughed at the shocked expression on his face at the mere mention of Westerly Arms, the most common, most popular and reasonably priced hotel in Northern Shores.

“I suggest Mr. Blankenship you return to your job…while you still have one.”

With that said, Johanna turned and continued on her path to the elevators. She stepped inside, followed by Samuel and a half dozen guard as the lift attendant stared at her with unbelieving eyes. She looked back to the manager who briefly tried to regain his composure, tugging the front of his vest down before turning and walking into a small office behind the check-in counter.

The young blonde holding the lift doors open stepped inside and pressed the button that would take their honored guest to the Royal Suites on the sixteenth floor. Johanna glanced to him as he smiled to the red-haired girl at the front desk. Both appeared less than distressed by the stripping of their employer’s pride, making Johanna wonder what kind of a man he truly was.

As the glass box began to rise into the air, she caught a glimpse of the photographers inside the lobby, all snapping pictures while their reporting counterparts spoke into their phones or handheld microphones. She hadn’t realized they were there during her exchange with Blankenship, or she would have insisted they go into another room. Stripping a person of their dignity was not something she felt should be a public display. But the man had made her angry, and her nerves had been on edge all morning. Confronting her the moment she walked through the doors probably wasn’t the wisest idea.

With a deep breath, she tried to steady her jumble of nerves. The day wasn’t exactly panning out quite the way she had anticipated when she first awoke. So far, she had discovered a wide awakening with the reality of what Northern Shores was really like, insulted the manager of one of Westerly’s most exclusive hotels, and arranged to buy nearly half the population of the city breakfast. Life on Westerly just couldn’t get any better, she thought sarcastically. And just think, it was only nine o’clock in the morning.

The occupants of the lift remained silent as it rose steadily to the top floor. She felt like she should try to say something to break the silence, but she wasn’t sure what to say. The tension inside the lift was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Thankfully, she wasn’t the one who took the initiative.

“That was rather…interesting,” Samuel said. Not exactly what she would have preferred hearing, but it was a start. “I highly doubt anyone will be wanting to cross your path for a while.”

“I’m not that scary,” Johanna answered. “Unless you see me first thing in the morning. I’m amazed my mirror doesn’t crack.”

She hadn’t realized how annoyed she was with him for not picking her up that morning until she saw him outside, but their close contact, and the heat she felt coming off his body as he stood next to her, was enough to warm the chill between them.

“I’ll have to take your word for that,” he chuckled. “Personally, I cannot imagine you ever looking anything less than lovely.”

“Thank you, Captain Carrington, but since I’m paying you, I think you have to say that.”

“You don’t pay me, and I think it,” the young man controlling the lift said boldly, then blushed a scarlet red when he realized he had spoken out loud. “I beg your pardon, your Majesty. I... I…,” he paused for half a breath. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Please forgive me.”

“For complimenting me?” Johanna asked with an amused smile. “I will never forgive you for that, but I will let you off the hook. And the name is Johanna.”

“Thank you,” he said with a brilliant smile that seemed to light up his freckled face. “I’m A.J. McAllister.”

“A.J.?”

“It’s short for Alexander Jonathan Jr., but my friends call me A.J.”

“Well, A.J., I thank you for the ride…and the compliment,” she said as the box came to a halt and the doors slid open. She stepped out then turned back and smiled, reaching forward to shake the young man’s sweaty hand. “I hope to see you again.”

“Oh, yes ma’am…I mean Miss Johanna,” he answered with a wide smile that revealed straight white teeth beneath a set of metal braces. “I work every day except Thursday and Sunday.”

“Excellent. Then I’ll see you soon.”

The small group turned and followed Samuel who led her down the softly lit hallway to her room. Johanna looked up to the cathedral style ceiling with small crystal chandeliers hanging every three to four feet. Their soft yellow bulbs made the hall appear almost romantic. The walls were painted in a light beige with elegant paintings of landscapes, ocean scenes, and ships hanging on them. Beneath every painting stood a small, highly polished, wooden table which held either a vase of fresh flowers or a ceramic of some sort.

They passed four colonial-style dark colored doors on their long walk down the length of the hallway, each with a three-digit number, until they reached a door with a golden plaque that read, Royal Suite. Johanna looked behind her to see the six guards standing at different places throughout the hallway; two beside the lift doors, and one each outside the four rooms. She looked back in time to see Samuel turn the golden handle and push the door open, stepping aside to allow her to enter ahead of him. Once inside, he closed the door and stood quietly nearby, allowing Johanna a chance to absorb her new surroundings.

The room was a large living room, elegantly decorated in Chippendale style furniture. There were four dark cherry wood chairs, two on either side facing each other, with royal purple upholstered seats. Between them were small round tables with the same elegant curved legs. A large six-foot upholstered sofa sat facing an Italian marble fireplace. Above the mantel was a small wooden clock, and above that a large flat screen television. The sofa was a cream color with small forget-me-not flowers and thin green vines running throughout. On each end were two plump pillows, one a solid cream-color and the other a royal purple.

A thick soft carpet covered the floor, all except the entryway which was tiled in four-foot marble squares. Beside the door was a long narrow table that matched those of the living room, holding a Ming-style vase with an arrangement of island flowers. On the wall behind the vase was a six-foot-high by a three-foot-wide mirror with an ornate frame of dark wood. A chandelier, a larger version of those in the hallway, hung over the entry, and above a coffee table in front of the sofa.

The living room opened up into a formal dining room with a table of the same matching cherry wood as the rest of the furniture. Around it sat ten chairs exactly like those in the living room, each with purple upholstered seats. The floor of the dining room was a mahogany hardwood, covered by a long rug positioned beneath the table in a design that matched the sofa. Around the outside of the rug was a deep purple border, adding just enough accent to the design. Above the table was another chandelier, lit and casting rainbows across the cream-colored walls. Throughout the room were paintings of flowers, mainly those found on the island, a Chippendale buffet sat at one end of the dining room, while a china cabinet sat at the other.

In front of the large wall of sheer covered windows that looked out onto the ocean stood a dark wooden bar. On the top sat a silver tray with several overturned crystal goblets and a wine decanter. Between the dining room and the living room was a door, dark wood like the entrance, with a golden handle.

Johanna walked over to it and pushed it open, revealing a bedroom nearly as large as the one at the palace. A king-size bed sat in the center of the room facing the door with four large column-style posts and a padded headboard. The bedspread was a royal purple with silver vines running through it. Sitting at the top of the bed were just as many pillows as the one back at the palace had, if not more. Beside it was small Chippendale style tables on either side. On them sat matching Tiffany style shade lamps. On one table sat an elegant Victorian style telephone, on the other an alarm clock.

Next to the door was a beautiful twelve drawer dresser, with a mirror similar in style to the one in the living room, but much wider and narrower. A dark rug sat beneath the bed while a thick cream-colored carpet covered the floor. It was so thickly padded, it felt like walking on a cloud as she moved around the room. Next to the balcony doors were two armchairs with padded purple seat cushions, and across the doors hung off-white colored sheers, pulled back and held by floral designed wrought iron drapery holds.

A small hallway opened up into an elaborate bathroom with two bowl styles sinks sitting on top of a marble countertop, a jetted soaking tub, and a glass enclosed tiled shower. Behind a white door to the side was a toilet and bidet, and near the threshold of the room was an entry into a walk-in closet. Three small crystal chandeliers hung in the room, one over the tub, and one over each of the sinks. The floor was a marble tile with a large round rug, very similar in color and design as the one beneath the dining room table.

Johanna returned to the living room, looking to Samuel who was at the bar pouring drinks. For a moment, she forgot the elegance of the suite as she watched the handsome blonde. He was wearing his pirate uniform minus his hat. His hair was slightly tousled from the wind, and his chin was covered with the usual dusting of a beard and mustache. She couldn’t help admiring how his tunic hugged his torso, or how his muscles appeared to ripple as he moved.

Glancing up, he saw the woman staring at him and smiled, causing her to blush softly and turn her head. He watched as she pretended to be inspecting the rooms before he took the fruity drink over to her. He handed her a crystal glass and watched as she set the rim of it against her lips, taking a small drink. Instantly, his libido came alive and he could feel the heat of his erection pressing against the front of his pants.

Samuel had spent a restless night sitting in the seat beside his father as they drove the three hundred and seventy miles to get to Northern Shores. All he could think about was her. He remembered the feel of those lips against his and the warmth of her body beneath him. It had been an amazing weekend of lovemaking and passion that would linger in his memory for a very long time to come.

Before leaving Westerly last night, he ran into Michael coming out of one of the bordellos with a handsome young man. He stopped Samuel and asked his friend to wait for him, then asked Samuel if they could speak in private. Ignoring the look, the other man gave the two, they stepped to a park bench in the side yard and sat down. For a moment, Samuel remembered Johanna telling her, her best friend found him quite handsome and that played on his mind for a brief moment, until Michael got to the point of why he wanted to speak in private.

“I wanted to speak with you about the queen,” the tall brunette began. “I saw the way you held her at the coronation ball, and I saw how she responded. I know you have feelings for each other, and because she is my best friend, I wanted to…enlighten you a bit on Johnny.”

“Johnny?” Samuel asked with a grin.

“It’s a nickname I’ve called her since we first met, twelve years ago. Don’t tell her I said so, but I think she rather likes the name. I’m the only one she allows to call her that, though.”

“I’ll try to remember that,” he smiled.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or not, but Johnny is a unique woman. I’m not talking about physically, or even sexually…if you’ve made it that far.”

Michael paused to look into the blue eyes that watched him. He definitely could see what Johanna saw in the man. He was simply gorgeous.

“Johnny is a brilliant young woman,” he continued. “She’s been reported as having an I.Q. of 230, though she rarely puts much stock in that sort of stuff. She can speak seven languages, play ten instruments by ear, and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Religious Studies.”

“Are you trying to say I’m too dumb for her?” Samuel asked with a frown.

“Absolutely not,” Michael assured him quickly. “What I’m saying is that she’s a very intelligent woman, with a no-nonsense attitude and an aversion to lying. If she tells you something, you can believe it. She never breaks her promise and she’s the most loyal friend you’ll ever have. But all of that aside, she’s very insecure and runs away from anything remotely emotional. She refuses to love and pushes everyone away who tells her they love her. Alissa is very emotional, and it drives Johnny crazy. The very few times she’s told her she loves her, Johnny immediately shuts down. She’s rude and condescending and refuses to acknowledge her aunt’s affection.”

“Alissa said Johanna thinks she’s cursed,” Samuel began. “Why?”

“You have to understand Johnny’s way of thinking. When she was a baby her parents died, when she was five her grandfather died, followed shortly behind by her grandmother. With her dying breath, Lady Catherine told Johanna she loved her, possibly the only person besides Alissa the old bat did love. When she died, Johanna blamed herself. She was only five-years-old. She felt alone and confused and filled with grief. She felt like she was to blame for everyone’s death. Everyone who loved her had been taken from her. Because of that, she has pushed anyone away who even hints at having feelings for her.”

“She’s far too intelligent to believe that,” Samuel said.

“Even as smart as she is, she’s not emotionally stable enough to comprehend love logically. She claims to be book smart, not life smart.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Samuel asked with a curious frown.

“Because I want her to be happy, and I think you can do that for her.” Michael paused for a moment then smiled a half grin. “I was passing by her office door the other day,” he continued. “I heard…well, let’s just say I heard something interesting from the other side.”

“I see,” Samuel answered with an awkward shift in his seat.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Michael continued. “I’m not judging, and I’m not condemning in any way. I think it’s amazing that she’s let you get this close. I never imagined she would ever allow another person into her life, much less her bed. She always said she was the consummate virgin. I just don’t want you to blow it. If she’s permitted you to get close enough to share those sounds I heard coming from her office, then subconsciously she’s made her decision on who she wants in her life. She’s not a harlot or a whore, and she would never have given you her virginity if she didn’t think you were worthy, or permanent. I assume from her moaning, she has surrendered her virtue to you, as well as her heart.”

Samuel didn’t answer, but the expression on his face told Michael all he needed to hear.

“I just don’t want you to mistreat her, or abuse her trust,” he continued staring at the man sternly.

“Are you asking me if my intentions are honorable?” Samuel asked with an amused smile.

“I suppose I am,” he answered with a soft chuckle. “I just want to know what your intentions truly are.”

“I’m not sure,” he told the man honestly.

“I hope you don’t blow it. She deserves the best, and I think you can give that to her.”

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