Johanna sat alone on the sofa of the living room, staring at the empty fireplace. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, and she especially didn’t want to see another living soul. She didn’t have to watch the news to know what people were saying about her. She’d made a fool of herself, and she put the reputation of her title in jeopardy.
She had been in her room for what seemed like days, without a single phone call, or visitor to interrupt her moment of self-pity. She was certain Alissa would have called her to chew her out, but she didn’t. She hadn’t even received a text from the twins or Michael. It was as if the world had stopped, and she was the only one left.
Samuel left her room over four hours ago, and for all she knew, he took her at her word and left the hotel, and her life, forever. She knew she owed the country an apology, but she wasn’t sure how to offer one. She had been so angry, so focused on making those boys pay for the way they threatened her, that she wasn’t thinking. She should have ignored them, allowed Samuel and his men to handle them, and just left. That’s what any other person would have done. That’s what Reginald would have done.
Instead, she not only beat the hell out of four boys, and she knew they each had multiple broken bones to remember their encounter with her, but she practically threatened the entire island. She had given the newspapers more fuel to burn her with, then if she would have run away like a frightened rabbit.
But that wasn’t her. She had never run away, and she never would. She had been confronted with worse adversaries than four big mouthed bullies and survived. But things had changed. She was now the one who was supposed to be leading by example, guiding by wisdom, and defending with courage. Not threatening, insulting, and trying to beat some sense into the people.
With a heavy sigh, she pulled herself up off the sofa. She couldn’t hide in this room forever. She had to go see what kind of damage she had done and try to clean up her mess. She just wasn’t sure if there was enough money in the treasury to afford to clean up behind her.
She went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. She didn’t look in the mirror. She didn’t want to see the shame she was feeling, reflected in her image. Instead, she stripped out of her clothes, unwrapped her hair from the ponytail, and stepped under the cool water. Maybe she’d be able to find a bar of soap large enough to stuff into her mouth, she thought bitterly.
Johanna spent the next twenty minutes scrubbing herself to a pink hue, hoping to take her emotions out on herself. She washed her hair three times, and shaved her legs and underarms twice, before she shut the water off. Even clean, she didn’t feel any better.
She had just wrapped herself into a thick towel when the bell to her front door rang. It wasn’t like she could answer it, she thought angrily, as she kicked the bathroom door closed. Besides, wasn’t Samuel’s guards supposed to keep people away from her? Or were they angry with her as well? Did he take his guard and leave her unprotected in his anger, like she told him to?
It would serve her right, she thought to herself as the bell rang again. Nobody could stand up against her anger, without getting hurt, so why should he even try? She told him she could defend herself, so he left her alone to prove it. Didn’t he think she could fight her own battles? The more she thought about him leaving, the more she thought about him taking his men and abandoning her, the angrier she became.
With a tight clenching of her jaw, she went into the adjoining closet and pulled on a pair of jeans and a comfortable tee-shirt. If she was going to face the angry masses, she was going to do it as herself.
Taking her boots, she sat down on the bench in the room-sized wardrobe, and quickly tugged them across her feet. She grabbed her brush as she heard the bell a third time and stormed out of the room. She would deal with everything alone. She didn’t need Samuel Carrington. She had made it on her own for fifteen years, she’d do it for another fifty.
Pulling the brush through her wet hair with the vigor of her pent-up anger, Johanna went into the Livingroom and pulled the front door open. She was ready for a fight, and she would be damn if she tried to hide from it.
Alissa jumped in surprise at the abrupt way her niece opened the door. The anger on her face told her what she had seen on the news was nothing compared to how she was feeling.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, glancing behind her aunt to see the guards standing at their posts, just as they had since she arrived at this hotel.
“I thought you might need someone to yell at,” she told her with a smile, walking into the room when Johanna pulled the door wider.
“Don’t you think I’ve yelled at enough people today?” Johanna asked, ignoring her aunt’s soft chuckle as she closed the door, and went to the bar where she poured herself and her aunt each a glass of whiskey - straight.
“I suppose I could ask how your day has been, but that would be a little redundant,”
“How the hell do you think it’s been?” Johanna snapped, glancing to the door in a silent plea for Samuel to come back. “I’ve put four boys in hospital, I’ve threatened every male on the island, I’ve alienated an entire region, and I fired my personal guard. I think I’ve actually broken my own record for stupid things done in one day.”
“I think you’re being a lot harder on yourself than you need to be,” Alissa said, taking the glass she was handed, and watching as Johanna sat down on the sofa, folding her legs beneath her. “Things aren’t as bad as all that.”
“Are you serious?” Johanna grumbled, watching as her aunt sat down on the opposite end of the sofa. “Do you have any idea what people are saying about me?”
“Do you?” Alissa asked with a half grin.
Alissa picked up the remote and flipped on the television, then moved through the channels until she landed on an all-news station. She turned up the volume, and set the remote aside, watching Johanna for a reaction.
“Be prepared as the storms roll in tomorrow and we head into spring showers,” the middle-aged, dark skinned man was saying, pointing to a map of the island. “We have several storms on the horizon, but nothing more than a simple drizzle, that will break by Thursday, and by the weekend it will once again be sunny and warm. Back to you Mala.”
The camera switched to show an attractive, dark skinned woman with short black hair sitting behind a wooden counter. She smiled at the screen, making some idiotic comment about the weather, that Johanna completely ignored, then moved on with the news.
“Since her arrival in Northern Shores, Queen Johanna has been a very busy woman,” she said. “After taking a break at a local nightclub, the queen began her day by touring some of the homes and businesses that are currently being renovated. She also arranged to have several new businesses brought into the area, including a textile factory, and a recycling plant.”
“How do they always seem to know more about what I’m doing than I do?” Johanna complained, taking a drink from her glass.
“People talk,” Alissa told her as the reporter continued to tell everyone what the queen was going to do about bringing life back into the region.
“I’m sure they’re talking now, after my fiasco this morning.”
“Besides being a compassionate leader, as we have seen when she fed two hundred and thirty-seven people breakfast,” the reporter continued, “we learn today that she is a tough woman who has no patience for bullies.”
The screen switched to a video of her and the four boys she’d beaten up, and she listened with a sinking heart to the entire exchange. Then it happened. In the flash of an eye, she had all four on the ground, and she was moving past them, snapping orders like a bull in heat. She closed her eyes for a moment as she listened to herself telling the gangs to come find her, then saw the image of Samuel behind her.
He didn’t look as angry as he had here in the room. In fact, he almost looked amused. So why did he jump on her the minute they were alone?
“Rafiki Serano spoke with people from Northern Shores, to get their opinion on the queen’s actions. Rafiki,” the woman said, and the screen flipped to a young islander, with short dark hair and a baby face that made him look barely old enough to be out of school, much less on the television.
“After Queen Johanna was caught defending herself to known gang members this morning, news of what she had done began to spread across Northern Shores,” the boy said in a voice that sounded soft and almost feminine.
“She may not always have her guards around to defend her,” a young teenage girl said as the microphone was placed in front of her. “The queen has to know how to protect herself, and anyone who reads Nora Carrington’s blog, knows that she’s a martial arts expert. I’m just glad someone finally put those jerks in their place.”
Johanna frowned as she listened to the positive comments, one after another, from people of all ages. Nobody was angry with her, nobody thought ill of her actions, and nobody was calling her out on her threats.
“If you ask me, it’s about time we have a leader who is willing to fight for the people.”
“Johanna is as beautiful as she is tough. What more can we ask for in a leader?”
“It’s like having Black Jack or Bloody John on the throne.”
“I think people need to pay attention to the good she’s doing and stop pissing her off.”
“It’s time these kids get their butts back in school as the queen has ordered.”
“Those kids needed to get knocked down a few pegs.”
“After the king’s funeral, she told everyone that the parents were responsible for their kids’ actions. Where were they today?”
“I’m tired of living in fear because of the gangs around here. We can’t even walk to church without having one of them following us, or demanding money.”
“Those jerks attacked my sister. I’m glad they met their match.”
“I hope they get flogged.”
“I thought everyone would hate me,” Johanna said in a soft voice as the interviews continued.
“Nobody hates you, Sweetheart,” Alissa assured her. “You have to understand, these people got used to Reginald. That’s why there are gangs here. They knew he wasn’t going to stop them, but you will. I think there’s going to be a bigger change in this region than you originally thought.”
“Why did you come here?” she asked her aunt with a frown. “I thought you’d call and cuss me out for what happened.”
“I saw the look on your face, and knew you were pissed,” Alissa laughed, turning the television down. “I figured I’d better get down here, to protect Samuel.”
Johanna didn’t say anything as the doorbell rang again. Quietly, she stood and walked to the door, still listening to the reporters as they began talking to teachers who were amazed by the number of students in their classes.
She opened the door to find Walter standing outside, looking tired and much older than he had last night. She returned his smile, and held the door open, glancing to Samuel as he stepped off the elevator. For a moment, they just stared at each other, then he walked down the hallway to his room and disappeared.
“I wanted to bring the list of supplies we’re going to need, to finish the apartment complex, and start on the new subdivision,” Walter said, noticing the solemn, almost sad expression on the young woman’s face.
Johanna took the list and sat down at the table to review it, while Alissa chatted cheerfully with the man. Based on Walter’s estimates, the factory that made marital toys was ready to start up again. All they needed were orders, which Mary was working on.
“I’ll support the materials necessary to get this finished.”
“If all goes well, the recycling plant will be finished in four to five weeks, and the homes by the end of July.”
“You’ve been a godsend,” Johanna told him, handing him back the list. “I’ll have Mary arrange an open house for the toy factory this weekend. We’ll invite the former employees and the press, along with anyone who wants to tour the progress.”
“The cannery should be ready to open in two weeks, and I’ve spoken with a number of former employees who were asking if there were still jobs available. I told them to contact you to discuss it.”
“When was the last time you took a break?” she asked a few moments later, watching the man run his large hand through his gray-streaked hair. “You look like you haven’t slept in days.”
“Actually…” he paused, and Johanna thought she saw him blush. “I find it difficult to sleep without Franny. After twenty-seven years of marriage, it’s hard to be in a bed alone.”
“She’s more than welcome to join you,” Johanna advised him. “If you’re worried about Nora and Kevin being alone, I can arrange for them to stay at the palace until their mother returns.”
“Nora would love that,” Walter chuckled.
“I sleep with the phone on the pillow next to me, whenever Martin’s gone,” Alissa said with a wide smile. “He keeps his line open, and I can hear his snoring. It isn’t the same as having him to cuddle up with, but it isn’t as lonely as not having him there at all.”
“I’ll give it a try,” Walter smiled. “Lord knows, I’ll do anything at this point to get a few hours rest. It’s alright, Johanna. I’m sure I’ll pass out eventually, and I’ll need to go back to Spring Arbor in a few days to check on my workers, so I’ll see her then.”
Johanna smiled and showed the man to the door, but when she opened it, she found Samuel standing outside, his hand in the air as if he were going to knock. Alissa exchanged knowing glances with Walter, but remained silent, as Samuel and Johanna just stared at each other.
“Captain,” she whispered in a strangled voice.
“Your Majesty,” he answered quietly.
“Well,” Walter began, clearing his throat. “I’ll get these items taken care of, and I’ll report back tomorrow. Son,” he said patting Samuel on the back when he passed.
“I’m going to leave as well,” Alissa said, hugging Johanna, blinking in surprise when she didn’t pull away.
“Where are you staying?” Johanna asked her aunt who had taken a few steps out of the door, by the time she realized what was happening.
“Your guard there,” she added with a nod toward Samuel, “was kind enough to arrange a room, right here on this floor. I’ll give you a call in a little while. Maybe you’ll join me for supper.”
“Thank you, Aunt Alissa,” Johanna remarked, turning her attention back to Samuel who had taken a step into the room.
Quietly, she closed the door and turned around. She looked around the room to avoid looking at those brilliant blue eyes. Absently, she walked toward the bar and removed a crystal glass from the shelf beneath.
“Would you like a drink?” she asked, reaching for the bottle of whiskey.
“No, thank you. I just came to check on you before the guards change shifts.”
“I thought you were leaving,” she said as she poured a drink.
“I told you, I won’t put my men in danger in my place.”
“I’m not that dangerous.”
“I beg to differ,” he told her as she passed by him, fighting the urge to pull her into his embrace. “I know of a few lads who would argue that point.”
“They deserved it,” she grumbled, walking to the sofa, and seeing the glass she had sitting on the table.
“I’m not saying they didn’t. Anyone stupid enough to approach the queen, with or without a squadron of armed guards, deserves what they get.”
“Then why the hell were you so angry with me?” she snapped, turning to face him.
“Because you put yourself in danger,” he argued with a frown as he walked to the sofa, leaning against the back, keeping it between them. “How did you know they weren’t armed? While you were dealing with that big mouthed bastard, any one of the others could have pulled a knife on you. It could be you in that hospital bed, instead of him.”
“I knew what I was doing, and I wouldn’t have allowed them to get that close. It’s not the first time I’ve had to defend myself, and I’ve faced a lot of dangers over the years, without you and your guard.”
“It’s different now, damn it,” he shouted, feeling the anger burning inside him as he stared into those defiant purple eyes.
“How? What’s so bloody different now as opposed to six months ago, or six years?”
“Because you’re mine and I don’t want to lose you,” he growled angrily.
Johanna opened her mouth for rebuttal, but froze as his words began to sink in.
They stood facing each other, silently trying to consider the position they were in. Despite their silent engagement, they knew there was love between them, but they hadn’t yet admitted it.
“I’m sorry I was so angry with you,” he whispered, leaning a little further against the back of the sofa.
“You’re going to have to understand what kind of person I am,” she said, relaxing her stance, and leaning a knee on the sofa cushion, closing the space between them.
“I’m trying, but I’m not used to women who can fight as well as I can. It’s always been my job to protect the throne, and I’m very good at it. I’m not sure if I’m willing to relax my control.”
“You can always take control in other ways,” she said in a hushed voice as she continued to stare into his eyes.
“I’d love to show you the ways I know to control you,” he said in a husky, deep tone.
They leaned closer together, the sofa back still between them. She moved both knees to the sofa cushion, inching within a breath of each other.
“Come to me the next time you want to fight someone,” he whispered, taking a deep breath, and inhaling her clean fresh scent.
“I might hurt you,” she said in a quiet voice.
“I’ll take my chances.”
Samuel leaned in and kissed her, drawing as much of her strength into him as he could. They remained as they were, the only parts of their bodies that touched were their lips, and their tongues as they slowly began to explore the hidden recesses of each other.
Johanna felt all her anger, all her frustrations of the day float away, and she no longer cared about her reputation, how people felt or thought about her, or what work was waiting to be done. All she wanted was to be in the arms of this man.
And if that was love, then so be it.
Johanna paced the floor outside the banquet room, trying to pull herself under control. The press conference had been arranged for noon, though she couldn’t help wondering if it was a good idea to address everyone’s interests at once.
She had relented to addressing concerns from the press about her relationship with Samuel, as well as her actions with the gangs. It was a very rare occasion when she found herself having to explain her actions. In all the years, she could count the times with two fingers, but as queen, she had no choice but to clarify the events.
Samuel saw her pacing and smiled. The room was filled, and he understood her frustrations and anxieties. That was why he chose to stand by her side as she confronted the onslaught of questions. With a prepared speech in her hands, she turned and saw him walking toward her, a reassuring smile on his handsome face.
“I thought I’d find you out here,” he chuckled. “The action is on the other side of the door.”
“That’s why I’m out here,” she smiled back.
“Don’t worry so much. The people love you, and I doubt there’s anything the press can say that will alter their opinions of you.”
“You’ll be with me?” she asked with a deep breath, smiling when he wrapped his arms around her waist.
“I will never be further away than I am right now,” he smiled, kissing her lips gently. “There is one thing that needs to be done before we face your rivals.”
Johanna frowned as Samuel took a step backward, his hand slipping into his pocket as he knelt to the floor. He pulled out a deep red velvet box and opened it, smiling up to her.
“When I consider my future, I feel secure that you’re there to walk through it with me. Not just as my queen, or my lover. You’ve become a part of my life that I never knew I wanted. I don’t need you to survive, and you definitely don’t need me. We both know that. But I want you to be a part of whatever events life throws at me.”
Samuel paused for a moment and drew a deep breath.
“Johanna Abbott-Worthington, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
“You understand, marrying me isn’t going to be easy. I’m not exactly a very likable person at times.”
“I can handle the obstinate side of you, provided I can embrace the submissive side when we’re alone,” he chuckled as he stood up in front of her.
“I don’t know what love is, I never have,” she said weakly. “I’ve spent my life hiding from it. But I know what I feel for you is stronger than anything I’ve ever felt for another person.”
Samuel remained silent as she stared at the ring, then turned her attention back to him, nodding silently. He could see the moisture fill her eyes and knew she would be horrified if he saw her cry. He removed the ring from the box and slipped it on her delicate finger, then leaned in and kissed her.
Johanna’s arms wrapped around his neck as his tongue invaded her mouth, gently caressing hers in a touch that stole her breath and replaced it a moment later with a soft moan.
She had no idea what the next few days would bring, much less the years that lay ahead of her. The one constant she did have, was Samuel. He was a part of her life and a part of her conscience. He was everything she’d missed in her life and more than she knew she wanted. He was the man she loved.
“Are you ready?”
Johanna drew a deep breath and nodded, as her phone began to ring. With a frown, she pulled it out of her pocket and glanced at the number, then pressed the button to answer it.
“This is Johanna,” she answered.
“Your Majesty, this is Admiral Compton,” the man on the other end of the phone said.
“Yes, Admiral. It’s good to hear from you.”
“I hope you still think so when I tell you what I have to say,” the man told her, causing Johanna’s frown to deepen.
After everything that had happened over the past few days, the last thing she needed was more bad news.
“What do you mean?” she asked, glancing to Samuel who frowned, listening to the one-sided phone conversation.
He watched the look on her face turn from disbelief, to an almost blank expression as she listened to the admiral.
“I’m sorry…” she said in a soft voice filled with hesitancy. “Would you mind repeating that?”
Samuel frowned, watching her eyes widen and her face pale. Her expression turned from disbelief to shock, as she looked into the space around her.
“Alright, yes,” she said nodding her head. “I’ll make the arrangements. I’ll meet you in Sydney.”
Samuel remained silent as she hung up the phone and slipped it into her back pocket. The hallway was silent with only the sound of their breathing to accompany the dim lighting.
“Darling, what’s the matter? What did the admiral say?”
Johanna looked up to him and drew a deep breath to steady her suddenly racing heartbeat. She felt numb, yet her head spun with a million scenarios at once.
“He found the island from Bloody John’s map,” she whispered softly. “He found…the plane.”
“Oh, my God,” Samuel said with wide eyes. “It was really there?”
“And more,” she said in a voice that sounded strangled with emotions. “They found…my parents…”
“Darling, I’m so sorry,” Samuel said sensing the worst, but frowning again as she shook her head.
“They’re alive,” she said, watching his shocked expression through a cloudy vision of tears. “They’re alive…and they have…a family.”
Samuel sat across from Johanna, her cell phone to her ear as she issued orders to her staff. The press conference, she was scheduled to give, had been canceled as they hurriedly packed for their return trip to Westerly Heights. Johanna called Charlotte-Ann and instructed her to release the news of her engagement, as well as announce the Summerhays’ as the new Regional Leaders. She then instructed her to announce the news from Admiral Compton, informing the island of her parents' survival, as well as the unexpected news that the queen had younger siblings.
The manor house was already under repairs, and the latest factory was scheduled to have a grand opening in two days, so leaving the region earlier than she planned, wasn’t going to cause any harm. The area was ready to stand on its own two feet. Walter agreed to remain behind for the next few days to see that everything was taken care of, then would return to Spring Arbor to meet with his old friends again.
Johanna texted Janessa on her way back to the palace, who was delighted for the chance to create a masterpiece gown for the queen. She was told about the children and somehow managed to have clothing for them, including their parents, ready and waiting at the palace. Johanna emailed Mrs. Reynolds to prepare a menu for the celebration, then sent a message to Ellis Deerdorf, the royal party planner, to begin preparations for a wedding.
The royal plane landed in the main city on the island, long enough to pick up the clothes Janessa made, and to switch to the larger of the two private planes, then left to meet with Admiral Compton in Australia. Having an unexpected family, after twenty years, was a thought Johanna pushed far from her mind. Keeping herself absorbed in work, was the only way she knew to keep her sanity.
Because they had been born and lived on a deserted island their entire lives, the children would be susceptible to the germs everyone else had built immunities to. With the insistence of the royal physician, the children were not to be allowed around crowds or groups of people, without wearing masks. Since she had no idea what these kids were like, she couldn’t predict their reactions to their sudden isolation.
Mary’s maternal instincts had kicked in, and once she learned of the children, she sent staff members to the store and had books and toys ready when Johanna returned to the palace. She hoped it would be a way of breaking the ice between the children and their new sister.
Samuel knew the news of her parents was a shock to Johanna, but there was an anger that lingered in her words when she told him she had siblings. The curse the Abbot-Worthington family had suffered for three hundred years, played on her conscience. The spell said only one child would live to inherit the title. If she had been born a male, she would have died a long time ago. In her mind, it was a risky, arrogant way to tempt fate, and she was angry with the news.
Pelee set a plate of fruit on the table between the queen and her future husband, while Alissa and Martin sat on the opposite side of the plane. Johanna continued her phone calls, issuing one order after another, in the attempt to keep her mind focused on an area she had control over. Samuel looked to Alissa who was quietly near the back of the plane. They exchanged concerned glances, uncertain how Johanna would act once she met her new family.
“That son-of-a-bitch,” the queen grumbled, hanging up the phone and turning her attention to the computer screen in front of her.
“What’s wrong?” Samuel asked, fearing any news that would push the woman’s temper closer to the boiling point.
“Sorensen has already met with the press,” she continued. “He’s insisting that Edward Abbott-Worthington is the true ruler of Westerly, by order of birth, and is demanding I step down.”
“I thought your father legally surrendered his right to the title, as well as to your grandfather’s fortune?” Samuel asked with a frown.
“He did. Reginald declared me his sole heir, so even if he had retained his rights, he would never be king. One of these days, the rotten bastard is going to cross me the wrong way, and I’m going to have it out with him, once and for all.”
“It’s only because you’ve put him in his place and showed the island how well you can rule without the elders,” Patrick told her as he joined the small group from the back of the plane.
Samuel arranged to have an additional two guards with them, to help protect the queen and her new family from the onslaught of press and photographers. When they returned to Westerly, there would be a full squadron of armed guards to escort them back to the palace. He only hoped the noise and confusion wouldn’t frighten the children.
“Sorensen lost more than his status on the island,” Samuel said, bringing Johanna’s eyes off the computer. “After leading the pack who destroyed Northern Shores, he felt he had the world in his hand. You have shown him, and all of Westerly, how wrong he was, and how quickly one woman - albeit, a very beautiful woman - could change the past.”
“I’m sick of his bullshit,” Johanna grumbled, placing her phone to her ear again.
In less than sixty seconds, she had ordered her solicitors to confront Sorensen on her behalf and explain his situation to him. With Westerly’s laws, the throne had the right to remove a leader from his Region, if deemed necessary. With that threat to back her up and her reputation of never backing down, she had a feeling it would be some time before she heard from Lord Sorensen again.
Johanna looked around at the sitting room in amazement. She had never seen the rest of the plane. She had only been on the larger plane once, and that time was spent in the front portion, where meetings were generally held. It was more than obvious, Reginald liked his comfort, and enjoyed showing off his status.
She quietly walked through the room, running her fingers along the back of one of four swivel style, reclining chairs, all in plush beige leather. Each chair had its own cup holder and small table tucked inside the arm. There were two six-foot long sofas, each facing each other, and a narrow coffee table of wood and thick black Formica. Wall sconces illuminated the room, each in a golden color, with a lampshade that resembled a seashell.
On the opposite side of the plane was a black dining set, complete with ten matching leather chairs, and a small china hutch. At the far end of the room, were two closed doors, a circular staircase, and a bar with a wall of mirrors behind it. the floor was covered in a thick carpet, that felt like she was walking on a cloud. There were four small oval windows on each side, with their shades pulled down to block out the day’s hot sun.
Continuing her investigation, Johanna opened the doors in the back of the plane, finding a small bedroom with a double bed, and a wall length, built-in row of shelves and mirrors that ran from one length of the room to the other above them. The second door opened into a bathroom of black and gold, with a standup shower, a toilet, a sink, and a long narrow wooden bench.
She walked up the steps to the upper level, to find herself in a small foyer with two small chairs and a wooden table between. On the wall, directly across from the stairs was a set of double doors, with a wall sconce light on either side. Johanna opened the door and found herself standing in a bedroom, much larger than she would have expected on an airplane.
It held a queen-sized bed, a desk and chair, a flat screen television, and a narrow set of drawers, like the ones in the first bedroom, that lined both sides of the room. There was a small closet at the end of one set of drawers, and a door on the opposite wall. She walked to the door and opened it, finding another bathroom beyond. This one much larger than the first.
There were two small sinks, a long, narrow tub, about the size of a single person, and a standup shower. The room was decorated in wood with gold accents, faucets, and sinks. The lights were recessed in the ceiling and adjustable. The floor was covered in the same thick carpeting as the rest of the plane, with smaller rugs in front of the tub and shower. There was a single toilet, with a bidet arm that lowered when needed.
Johanna walked back out of the room and went to the bed, sitting on the end. Samuel was right. It had been a very long day, and one she would not want to repeat again. She had gone from being frustrated over an impending meeting with the press, to learning she had a family. Parents she thought was dead, had been stranded on a deserted island, where they got busy and started a whole new life.
She didn’t know how to feel about the admiral’s news. She felt frustrated, shocked, and angry. A part of her felt as if her parents had completely forgotten her. Though, she knew she really couldn’t blame them. They had no choice but to wait and pray for rescue. They obviously knew she was alive and well, even if she didn’t share the sentiment.
Johanna fell backward on the bed with a heavy sigh. She was frustrated and angry, nervous, and anxious, and overall confused. She didn’t know how she was supposed to react to seeing her parents for the first time since she was six months old. How was she supposed to act to a brother and three younger sisters? It was worse than a dream, it was a nightmare.
She sat up when she heard the door open, watching Samuel walk in. He didn’t seem surprised by the room’s décor, but then he had been Reginald’s guard, so it was likely he’d been on this plane before. He sat beside her as she rose back to a sitting position. They were silent for several long moments, his hand reaching for hers and holding it securely.
“Are you alright?” he asked her in a soft voice, barely above a whisper.
“Oh sure, why wouldn’t I be?” she asked with a snort of humor. “Just a typical day in the life of a queen, who thrives to shock her people.”
“At least it keeps you interesting,” he chuckled.
“What am I supposed to do?” she asked a moment later, her voice low and soft as she struggled with the emotions rolling around inside her.
“I’d say, you do what you always do, and take it in stride. You’ll prove to everyone that you’re strong and independent, and the most intelligent, beautiful woman anyone has ever known. But this time, I think you should step back and take a few minutes for yourself. The life you knew is changing, and it’s a matter of allowing your mind to clear and focus on the events one at a time.”
“How do I do that?” she asked with a frown. “I’ve never given myself more than a few minutes for soulful meditation. There’s always too much work to do, or too many people to deal with. If it wasn’t my studies, it was my grandfather’s businesses. Now the island, the economy, the poverty, the crime…”
“Enough,” he told her, tipping her chin, and kissing her lips. “You’re going to drive yourself insane if you keep going at this pace. Occasionally, things need to break before they can be fixed. For now, try forgetting that you’re the queen, and try remembering you’re just a person, like the rest of us. You have a lot of people on your side, people who will help you when you need them. You’re not alone. Not anymore.”
“I have siblings,” she whispered. “Four of them.”
“Yes, I know.”
“How do I act with them? What do I say?”
“Start with saying hello and move on to I’m your sister. The rest will fall into place in time. Soon, they’ll see you as the amazing woman the rest of us know and love.”
He moved to the floor between her legs, taking her hands in his, and holding them gently. He looked up into her face and saw the stress pulling on her features, and was determined to ease her mind, even if for a little while.
“You have tried to push people away, your whole life, but it hasn’t worked,” he told her. “No matter how rude or distant you are, your aunt and Martin love you. The twins love you, maybe in a way you’re not aware of, but they do. And your friend Michael, thinks you’re amazing. He really cares for you, Johnny.”
Samuel chuckled when she gave him a disgusted look, using the nick-name her friend called her.
“And I love you,” he told her in a soft, serious voice. “When I came to the palace the day you arrived, I wasn’t sure if you’d be strong enough to handle the challenges that were placed in front of you. Then I saw you. I remembered the gentle young girl in the stables, and I looked into your eyes. I saw a person I wanted to know more about.”
He paused for a moment as he kissed her fingers, smiling at the light that twinkled from the diamond on her hand.
“I was worried that you were going to be like all the other women I’ve known. Self-centered, conceited, vain. I doubted you’d have the ambition or the intelligence to rule. Then you started talking about everything you wanted to do, and I became intrigued. I was certain you’d never see your plans through, and I wanted to be there to help clean up the mess when you abandoned them. But you proved me wrong. You proved a lot of people wrong.”
Johanna stared at him with a curious frown for a long moment until he stood and kissed her.
“One moment at a time, my love,” he whispered as he gently pressed her against the mattress and stretched out beside her.
“What if I can’t do it?”
“I’ll be there with you, right beside you. I’ll take each step with you, and I’ll be the wall you need to lean against. Don’t rush it, darling. You’ll get through it as long as you remember you’re not alone.”
The plane landed at the small airport outside Sydney Australia. It taxied to the specified hanger, where Captain Stanford brought it to a halt, and shut it off. Johanna drew a deep breath and yawned. The past hour and a half were spent in the arms of her future husband, as they became familiar with the master bedroom of the luxurious plane. She was tired, but well rested after their long excursion of lovemaking, followed by a short nap.
It wasn’t until the captain’s deep voice echoed over the small speaker of the room, announcing their arrival in Sydney, that they finally broke apart. It was a strange feeling, not buckling a seatbelt around her as they landed. Instead, she climbed out of the bed and began to dress in her jeans, formfitting cotton top with alternating diagonal stripes of white and turquoise. It wasn’t the typical outfit a royal would wear, but it was comfortable, and it gave her the small bit of normalcy she needed to move through the day.
Samuel watched her dress with a wicked smile. The woman was amazing, not just in bed. She had all but admitted she loved him, and he knew with patience and time, he’d have her saying the words. With a cheerful chuckle, he stepped up in front of her and wrapped her in his arms.
“What’s so funny?” she asked with a frown.
“We’ve just joined the mile-high club,” he laughed.
“Look it up when you have a minute. Right now, we need to go. It wouldn’t look very well if the queen was found in the bedroom with her own guard.”
“It’s an event they’ll have to get used to,” she told him, giggling when he began kissing her neck. “Besides, after everything that’s happened the past few weeks, this is probably the least damaging.”
“I wonder what the papers would say about our small excursion on the way to meet your parents?”
“Who cares,” she grumbled, moving out of his embrace and sitting down to slip her feet into her boots.
“I can’t wait to keep you hostage in our honeymoon bed,” he told her. “I’m going to make you so satisfied, you’ll never want to leave the bedroom.”
“I already am,” she assured him with a wide grin. “But as you said, we have to go. The day is far from over.”
“Are you ready?”
“No, but I don’t have a choice. This is one occasion where a press release isn’t going to make up for my absence.”
Johanna slipped her hand in his, smiling as he gave her fingers a gentle squeeze. They walked down the small circular stairway together, and through the sitting room. He placed his hand on the door that divided the two parts of the plane and looked at her with a serious expression.
“I think we should let your aunt know about this,” he told her, lifting her hand to his lips and kissing the knuckle with her ring. “Charlotte-Ann is preparing a press release. It might be best if both of our families knew before the island did.”
“I want her to know before…” Johanna paused, then drew a deep breath. “She raised me, they didn’t. They left me in the arms of my grandfather, while they went to help children, that weren’t theirs. I don’t owe them anything, but I do owe Alissa a great deal.”
“Don’t judge your parents too soon,” he told her. “They were on a mission of mercy, and they didn’t want you to become sick with whatever the orphans had. They saved your life, and in turn, gave you to me. That’s something I’ll never regret.”
Johanna didn’t answer, she simply offered a small smile, then stepped aside so he could open the door. The plane was secured in the small hanger, and a black SUV with US Navy insignia on the sides waited in the opening. Alissa and Martin were talking with the pilot when Johanna and Samuel joined them. Patrick and the guards were waiting by the stairs, and Pelee had dressed in her uniform jacket, with the two suitcases Johanna brought onboard.
“We have something to discuss with you before we leave,” Johanna told them.
Samuel glanced to his men and nodded, watching them take the two cases before departing the plane. Pelee excused herself, and she, Captain Stanford, and co-pilot Bruce Hickman returned to the cockpit. The two couples were left alone to talk, though Alissa felt her stomach jump. The apprehension of what her niece had to say twisted her insides in a tight grip.
“We wanted you to know before the island did,” Johanna continued, glancing to Samuel who lifted her hand with the ring for Alissa to see.
“Oh, my God!” Alissa squealed excitedly, hugging her niece in a vice-like embrace.
Martin chuckled, and shook Samuel’s hand, then hugged Johanna when Alissa moved away, wiping a tear that slid down her cheek.
“Don’t get emotional,” Johanna scolded her aunt, then caused the woman to stare at her with wide eyes when she added, “or we’ll all be crying.”
The small group left the plane a few minutes later. Johanna saw the curiosity on Patrick’s face, but ignored him, turning her attention to the two men in full dress uniforms.
“Your Majesty, I’m Major Evans, with the United States Navy,” the dark-haired man said saluting the queen.
“Major. I appreciate your government’s involvement in this mission,” she said, then looked to Alissa as she continued speaking. “This is my aunt, Alissa Sawyer Abbott-Worthington, and her partner Martin Walters, my fiancé, Captain Samuel Carrington.”
The man greeted each member of her party, as Patrick and the royal guards looked to Samuel with a shocked expression. For him, he felt the pride of silently announcing the woman belonged to him. For Johanna, it was a strange sensation to admit she was part of another person’s life.
“It’s our pleasure, ma’am. The Ronald Reagan is escorting your vessel into port, and has the plane’s fuselage, as you requested. They should be mooring by the time we arrive at the pier.”
“Perfect. Shall we go?” she asked and followed the man to the back of the SUV.
The drive to the pier was short but cramped, with all of them loaded into the three seats of the vehicle, as well as a large suitcase. For Johanna, it didn’t seem to faze her. Her mind was too consumed with the multitude of events going on in her life.
“Relax,” Samuel whispered, causing her to smile when she turned to look at the reassuring grin on his handsome face.
The SUV pulled through a security gate and past two, armed guards, and drove toward the designated pier. Johanna looked out the side window, watching the large American aircraft carrier moving into its berth. The small fuselage of the Painted Lady was tethered on the back of the long deck, and her heart jumped.
When she was told her parents’ plane had been found, it seemed distant and obtuse. It wasn’t real, regardless of the data Admiral Compton supplied her with. In her mind, they were just words, with no substance and no factual image to wrap around the information.
As the SUV neared the final leg of the journey, she saw the Iron-Fist pulling into a berth not far from the American ship. She knew her parents and their children were on the ship, but she chose to concentrate her attention on the fuselage.
The vehicle pulled to a halt, and the two men in the front stepped out, opening the back doors. Samuel stepped out first, reaching his hand to Johanna, and helping her to her feet. The passengers filed out one at a time until the SUV was empty.
“A limousine has been arranged to take you and your family back to the airfield,” the Major told her. “They will be here by five o’clock. If you need a delay, you can tell Captain Savage, and he’ll arrange a later time.”
“Thank you for everything, Major Evans.” Johanna shook the man’s hand, then waited while Samuel did the same.
“I want to check out the plane,” Johanna told her aunt, knowing she wasn’t fooling the woman.
“We’ll go ahead,” Alissa answered. “Don’t be long. The car will be here in an hour.”
Johanna watched the woman walk away with Martin, leaving the suitcases and the guards with her. The sound of a helicopter echoed in the near distance, and she looked up to see a large green machine fly over her head.
With a deep sigh, Johanna walked up the plank to the American ship, advising the man at the top who she was and what she wanted. A tall, dark-haired man with a long chin and a plump belly came toward her. He wore a dark black uniform, with several metal pins and colorful ribbons decorating the front.
“Your Majesty,” he said. “I’m Admiral Harold Bossley. Welcome aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.”
“Thank you, admiral,” she said, making a quick introduction to the people with her. “And I’d like to thank you for all your assistance.”
“When Admiral Compton contacted us a few days ago and told us he was searching for an elusive island, we thought he was nuts,” the man said with a chuckle as he turned and began walking with her toward the plane’s remnants. “We were in the vicinity on a training mission, and it seemed like a good break, but we were doubtful.”
“Were you there when they found…the Painted Lady,” she asked, unwilling to discuss her family.
“Yes ma’am, we were,” the admiral answered. “We were all amazed there was really an island, not to mention one large enough for a plane to land on. I’m surprised nobody ever noticed it before. It was one of our scouting planes that first spotted it. When Admiral Compton sent a team to investigate the wreckage, they found your father. Once he heard where they came from, he informed them of his wife and children.”
“I can’t thank you enough for your effort. I’d like to extend an invitation to your crew, to visit Westerly. I’m sure they could do with a few days of rest and relaxation, and the Founder’s Day celebration will begin in a few weeks. There will be a considerable amount of activities to do on the island, as well as fireworks.”
“On behalf of the crew, I thank you, and I’ll take you up on the offer. The Reagan has been at sea for three months, and I’m sure they are all eager for a break.”
“And of course, they will be curious about the bordellos,” Johanna said with a knowing smile.
“There is that,” the man answered with a chuckle.
“Deep breath,” Samuel whispered when they arrived at the fuselage of the Painted Lady.
Johanna smiled, then stepped through the door when Admiral Bossley opened it. The interior was larger than she expected, even seeing the plane’s specs and diagrams. The chairs had been removed from the floor, and carpet from the cockpit was placed inside the spaces, to provide comfort. The front window of the cockpit was broken on impact, and the small confines were filled with the missing seats from the back.
There was a small serving area, with a sink, cupboards, and dishes. The doors were missing on some of the cupboards, appearing to have been unscrewed. There was a small frying pan that looked well-used, and a 2-quart pot with a dent in the side. The area appeared clean, except for a few dishes that had been knocked out of the cupboards from the move that lay on the floor.
Johanna stooped over and picked them up, feeling a strange sensation of grief wash over her. So much living had been done in this make-shift house, and not a single day involved her.
Setting the plates on the warped wooden countertop, she turned and moved back into the main area that looked like it had been used as a living area, and a bedroom. The cushions from the chairs had been removed and were lined up against the walls to sit on. A small hammock hung from the low ceiling, made from a pair of torn jeans and a large flannel shirt. There was a stack of blankets folded in the corner, and some wooden objects that appeared to be toys beside them.
On the walls were several pictures, carved into the white paneling. It appeared to be her mother’s work, from the intricate lines, and detail. On the wall near the front of the room was a small shelf, and on it was an old tin can with strange tools in it. Johanna looked at them, seeing the different sizes of what looked like arrows. The tips were made of rocks that had been broken and shaped, and the handles were pieces of sticks.
“Look here,” Samuel told her in a hushed voice, bringing her attention to the wall next to the door.
Johanna walked over to it and inspected the five drawings, carved into the paneling like the other pictures.
“They didn’t forget you, after all,” he said, slipping his arm around her waist.
The five drawings were beautifully detailed faces of children, perhaps in their toddler years. There were four in a single row with the names Christopher, Hope, Faith, and Destiny. The one above the others was of a small baby, and below it was the label, Johanna.
Tears filled her eyes, and she found herself smiling. It was a strange, almost reverent feeling being in this place. The smell of salt water lingered in the air, as well as a faint aroma of fish.
“Are you ready to meet your family?” Samuel asked in a hushed whisper, pulling her in his arms, and holding her securely against his chest.
Johanna nodded with a sniffle, then pushed away and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She looked back at the entrance of the plane but didn’t see any sign of Admiral Bossley, or her guards. With a deep smile to collect her emotions, she moved back out of the fuselage and into the bright light of day.
“Admiral Compton told me of your suspicions,” Bossley said, stepping around the side of the plane’s body to her. “The wings had been ripped off on impact, but one of them was on the island. It was being used as a table.”
“Was there anything of interest with it?” Johanna asked, walking to the large white object not far from where they stood.
The admiral paused when Johanna saw a large burn mark inside what was left of the engine housing. She bent down and touched it, feeling a strange, almost rectangular shape pressed into it. She slid her finger along the impression and found four small holes, one on each corner.
“Screws?” Samuel asked, feeling the spots she was investigating.
“Possibly. We’ll need the experts to tell us what it could be.”
“If you’re ready, I’ll be happy to escort you to your ship,” Bossley told her.
The small group left the American ship then moved up the gangplank of the Iron-Fist. The soft sound of a whistle echoed from the deck, and Johanna paused, looking around. There were more than a hundred sailors, all men, on the deck when she stepped to the metal surface. She smiled to the two men closest to her, then noticed the dress blacks the crew wore, like those worn at Reginald’s funeral, and her coronation. The men wore a three-corner hat on their heads, gold or silver emblems were placed on the front right corners, indicating their ranks.
“It looks like you were expected,” Samuel told her in a soft whisper.
Before Johanna could answer, two men in black stepped out of an opening in the side of the ship. She recognized Admiral Compton, and from the age and insignia on the other man’s hat, she could assume he was the ship’s captain. The men stepped up to her and saluted her, by placing their right fists across their left chests. She smiled and was about to thank them when the whistle sounded again and a man with bagpipes appeared from the interior of the ship.
As they waited patiently, the man began to play Westerly’s national anthem, bringing the rest of the crew to stand at attention. Those sailors and officers on the pier or the ships around them stopped what they were doing and watched. They had never seen a royal reception before, especially one presented by a ship of pirates.
When the song ended, the men saluted her in unison, followed by her guard returning their greeting. Johanna didn’t know what to do, so she smiled and thanked the crew, then turned to Admiral Compton who introduced her to Captain Savage. The two men turned and led the queen and her group into the belly of the ship.
“I want to personally thank you for all you’ve done,” she told the men.
“It was your coordinates that brought us to the island,” Admiral Compton said. “I’m not afraid to tell you, we were about to give up the search when the American plane spotted the island. Everything that happened after that, was like a dream. Who would have imagined your parents were still alive, after all these years, or had a new family?”
“Yes,” she answered, fighting the anger at the man’s sentiment of her parents’ new family. “I’m happy it turned out the way it did. How are they? Physically, I mean. Are they healthy?”
“Very,” Captain Savage answered. “The island was free of animals, and they stated they’d never seen a snake or anything that could cause harm, but there were fruit trees, and they had fish they were able to catch. Despite being deserted for so many years, they are remarkably healthy.”
“That’s good to know,” she commented in a soft voice.
“I have some work to do on the bridge, so I’ll leave you in the capable hands of my security, and your guards. They’ll show you to the sickbay.”
“Sickbay?” she asked, with a frown. “I thought they were in good health?”
“They are there for their own protection, Your Majesty,” the admiral explained. “The children have been placed in isolation while they’re aboard, for their own health.”
“I see,” she said as the captain nodded his head and turned away.
Samuel saw the fear on her face as they moved closer to their destination, then glanced back as the Admiral turned and left back down the corridor. He couldn’t begin to understand what she was feeling, but he knew he wasn’t going to leave her side for a single moment. He would be her strength, even if she denied needing any.
“What am I going to say to these people?” she asked in a hushed voice.
“How about starting with hello, and see what comes next,” he told her in a soft, confident voice.
“If that curse hadn’t been broken…” she paused for a moment, feeling the anger of reality weigh down on top of the anxiety. “Their lust would have killed me when that boy was born.”
“That boy is your brother. And I’m sure they weren’t intending on getting pregnant and having a child alone, without medical help. Hormones can’t be denied forever, sweetheart. Eventually, you must answer the door. You did and look where it’s led you.”
Johanna paused in the hallway, watching Samuel wave the guards away.
“I just feel so…angry…confused…scared. Hell, I don’t know what I’m feeling.”
“You’re feeling like anyone would, when faced with a similar situation.”
Samuel reached for her hand, then lifted it to his lips with a reassuring smile.
“You were scared when you first came to Westerly, weren’t you?” he asked with a knowing expression on his face.
“That was different,” she argued weakly.
“Not really. You were meeting people you never had before. It’s the same here. You were scared and nervous when you had to bury Reginald, but you pulled on a pair of breeches and trudged through, successfully. You were nervous when you became ruler, even when you went to Northern Shores, but that never stopped you. Johanna, I have seen you take a grown man and turn him into a babbling idiot one minute, then feed a small army of poor, the next. You don’t take grief from anyone, and you never allow another person to take away your dignity. You have a temper that is matched only by your beauty, and you have a deep seeded desire for justice and honesty. When you take all of that into consideration, meeting your family is just another event in a long line of successful conquers.”
“Those things are nothing more than what I’ve always dealt with. Men who think I’m available for their pleasure, simply by offering me a stupid smile, or an expensive trinket. I can handle that, I can handle people who think they can push me against a wall, but this is different.”
“Despite everything Nora told me about you, I didn’t think you were capable of being a ruler,” he told her with a deep sigh. “I saw Reginald in your eyes, and I was afraid you’d start something, and then leave it halfway through because it was boring. It wasn’t until I saw you put Sorensen in his place, that I realized you were different. I heard you at the mortuary telling Reginald that he left you a mess to clean up. You took on the issues of the island without batting an eye. Look what you’ve done for Northern Shores. You jumped into a shark invested nightmare and continued to plug away, day after day until you showed everyone what kind of woman - what kind of ruler - you are. People are happy, the region is safe and prosperous, and there’s hope for the first time in years. You did that, on your own. If you can do that, you can do this. It’s just another monster to confront, only with a different face.”
“Do you really think I can do this without yelling or trying to hit someone?” she asked a few quiet moments later.
“I don’t know about that,” he chuckled, his warm hand pulling her into his embrace. “I do know you’ll handle this like you do any situation. With the strength and determination of a champion, and with that same smile that sends my heart racing.”
Samuel moved his hand into her hair and kissed her lips gently, offering her the courage she needed, through the touch of his mouth against hers.
“Give your siblings the clothes and toys you brought them, say hello to your parents, and see where things take you. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll tell them off for leaving you, then take your frustrations out on me. I can handle it, and I’ll enjoy every second of it.”
“Thank you,” she said with a confident grin. “You always seem to know when I need courage.”
“Trust me, it’s my pleasure,” he smiled. “You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for. I’m not talking about physical strength. You’re more stable than anyone I’ve ever known and more determined to have your own way than even Nora is. I know you can do this.”
Johanna drew a deep breath and nodded as she turned and continued down the passage. She knew, no matter what happened over the next few minutes, she had Samuel by her side, and she had years of cold emotions to fall back on. She would do what she needed - she would meet her parents, and she would allow her old friends, time and fate, to guide her. They had never let her down before, and she knew she could rely on them now. Nearly as much as she relied on the man whose hand rested comfortably on the small of her back.