Johanna sat in the plush armchair looking out of the small window beside her. The large white clouds looked more like the stuffing of a blanket than the sky. Thirty thousand feet above the ground made little difference in her mood. She was anxious, a little angry, and a lot apprehensive. One minute she was with her Aunt Alissa, excavating a site believed to have once been the campsite of the Bible’s Jacob and his sons, the next she was in this private jet, streaking through the atmosphere toward an island she had seen only three times in her entire life.
Westerly was a thought she had never truly embraced until now. Her grandfather was the heir of his childless cousin Reginald. As the King’s only relatives, by birthrights and the results of a four-hundred-year-old curse, her grandfather would be the next ruler of Westerly, followed by her father. The thought that she would one day become queen and Ruler of the island was a far-off notion she had never truly considered. Even though her life had changed drastically when she was the tender age of five-years-old, she rarely considered what her future would be like if this day ever came for her to assume the throne.
Johanna looked up to the woman who approached her, accepting the glass of white wine and plate of fruit and cheeses, then watched as she walked silently back into the galley portion of the private jet. She looked around her surroundings and felt a strange sinking sensation in her stomach. This was a side of life she was going to have to adjust to, though she wondered if she ever would. It was a far cry from the tent she had spent the past fifteen years in.
With a deep sigh, Johanna leaned her head back against the chair and closed her eyes. Life had suddenly and drastically changed over the course of a few hours. Ever since she received that dreadful phone call from her cousin’s personal assistant, Ethan Oscar. King Reginald had been killed in a freak accident during one of his many Polo matches. He had been bucked from his horse’s back and trampled to death.
This should have been her grandfather, or even her father, sitting on this plane instead of her. But life hadn’t exactly been what most would consider fair. She had lost more than she ever gained, and this was just one more tally mark among the rest. Alissa had spent as much time preparing her for this day as she could, but as a child, Johanna didn’t want to hear about the future. Instead, she threw herself into her studies and lessons, determined to make her grandfather proud of her.
“Princess,” the woman said in a soft voice, drawing Johanna out of her solemn mood as she opened her eyes. “Would you like some more wine?”
Johanna glanced at the empty glass and realized she had finished it. She could taste the sweetness on her tongue but had no conscious memory of even picking the crystal chalice up.
“No, thank you,” she answered after a moment’s silence.
“Lunch will be served in twenty minutes,” the woman said taking the glass and plate off the table. “Perhaps you would like to relax in a hot bath?”
“A bath? On the plane?” Johanna asked with a frown.
“Yes, ma’am. The plane is equipped with a full bath, two bedrooms, a dining room and a parlor, besides this part, which has always been reserved for business.”
Johanna looked around the room, noting for the first time, the formal atmosphere. There was a wall separating the front section of the plane from the rest of it. The chairs were arranged in such a way as to look at each other, and the black glass top tables held computer screens within them. It was quite amazing, though nothing like what she would have expected. Even the first-class seats she had occupied multiple times with her aunt, never looked anything like this.
“I’m okay…I’m fine…I’ll be fine,” she said, at last, noticing the woman’s sympathetic smile as she nodded her head and turned away, leaving her again in the large room alone.
“Way to go, Johanna,” she cursed herself in a quiet voice as she turned back to the window. “Make everyone think you’re a babbling idiot.”
Johanna’s thoughts turned to her grandfather. She had never known her parents, having died in a plane accident when she was six months old. It was her grandfather who had raised her and loved her as his own child. She in return had admired and loved him. For a young child, the Duke of Cherrington Cross was near perfect in her eyes.
Her father had been Charles Worthington-Farley’s youngest child, and when he died, Johanna was left to inherit everything. Her father had, in fact, been the one to break the family curse after three-hundred years, simply by rejecting his birthright.
As the younger brother of Charles III - Charlie as the family called him - Edward had grown up to believe he was the cause of his brother’s death. Charlie, however, knew what fate awaited him and insisted that he didn’t believe in it, though he wanted to prove his time on this earth was worthy. Just in case.
Charlie joined the Royal Navy during the Vietnam War, despite his mother’s insistence he stay at home. After barely two years into his tour, the family received a visit from an Admiral of her Majesty’s Royal Navy, along with Charlie’s personal belongings. He had been killed at sea, leaving no wife or child to inherit his name or legacy. Lady Catherine was devastated, or so Johanna was told. She held Edward responsible for his brother’s death and made him aware of it daily.
It was on, what would have been Charlie’s twenty-second birthday, that Lady Catherine told Edward, in a drunken stupor, that his existence had been a mistake. It was also the last time her husband was accepted into her bed. When she learned that she was pregnant with another child, Lady Catherine did everything possible to destroy it before her beloved Charles was taken by the family curse. As soon as her husband learned of her intentions, he had her placed in the hospital under strict supervision until his son was born.
Charlie was a good brother to Edward and they grew to become best friends, despite the ten-year difference in age. His mother, however, never forgave him for being born, and refused to allow him to call her Mother. She had always been known as Lady Catherine. Charles II despised his wife’s reaction to their son and went out of his way to make Edward feel loved. Between his father and his brother’s support, Edward became a strong, proud man. He followed his elder brother around as much as possible, imitating his every move. When he wasn’t with Charlie, he was with his father learning everything there was to know about the many companies and businesses Charles II controlled.
What little time he spent with Lady Catherine was done so, grudgingly. He grew to tolerate his mother, though there was never any love lost between them. Lady Catherine had a habit of pointing out the family curse and making certain anyone who would listen understood that only one child would live to inherit the title.
Edward was only eight when Charlie joined the Navy. At her son’s funeral, Lady Catherine made it clear to everyone in attendance that it was Edward’s birth that caused his brother’s death. From that day forward, Edward was forced to face his fate and knew he had no choice but to someday take over the family fortune.
Johanna had heard the story of her parents’ meeting a thousand times by her grandfather. It was her favorite bedtime story. Her father had been on his way to London for a business meeting when he passed by a young Italian girl on the street corner selling her artwork. He ordered his driver to pull over and purchased every one of her paintings. As the story went, he fell instantly in love with Juliet and made her an offer to come to stay at Cherrington Cross while she painted a family portrait. Edward knew Lady Catherine would object - she never wanted to be reminded that she was his mother - but it was the first excuse he could think of. He had to keep Juliet in his life.
She stayed at the castle for six months while she painted a number of portraits. There were paintings of each member individually, as well as together, and as a special gift to Lady Catherine, Juliet painted a portrait of her dead son. She had earned the heart of everyone at Cherrington Cross - especially Edward’s.
One night, shortly before she was to leave the castle, Edward took her for a walk through the large rose garden and asked her to marry him. Lady Catherine had made certain she heard of the family curse, and she didn’t want to turn out like the angry, bitter Duchess. Juliet refused his proposal, even though she was deeply in love with Edward. She told him she wouldn’t be a part of his family’s legacy and returned to London alone the next day.
Lady Catherine was delighted when she heard of the girl’s rejection. It was the best revenge she could have hoped for. She had spent every moment she could with Juliet, convincing her of how depressing life as an Abbott- Worthington was. She was determined to make their young visitor aware of the curse and how it had been the betrayal of Edward’s ancestor who caused it. It was his rejection of his lover, for that of his new bride, that began the centuries of misery and pain.
Prince Harold of the island of Westerly had a very long love affair with one of the Bordello’s whores. Little did he know she secretly practiced the art of witchcraft. Their passion had been a mutual agreement of perversion and sexual satisfaction for several years until Harold moved her into a cottage on the palace grounds. There, she would entertain him nightly, satisfying his lustful cravings. But their affair ended when the king forced his son to marry the daughter of a dear friend of his.
Harold promised the witch that nothing would change between them. He may have been forced to marry a woman of value and to produce an heir with her, but that would not stop him from coming to his lover’s bed. But once he met the young woman, Harold fell in love with her beauty and innocence and forgot his promise. He turned his back on his mistress, who was so furious that her lover had chosen the arms of his wife over her, that she cursed the family forever.
Only one son would live to inherit his father’s title. The spell was strong. It affected the lineage of Westerly heirs as well as that of Harold’s brother who was living in England. The witch insisted that until an heir was born who would reject his duty for true love, only male children would be born to the families, and only one would live to inherit their title.
Juliet feared for herself as well as Edward. She was afraid of what her life would be like if she married him. Lady Catherine had frightened her with stories of the curse, insisting that even trickery couldn’t break the hold it had on the family. Over the years, the heirs tried to cheat the enchantment. They would have a child with a maid - or a whore - so that their wives wouldn’t endure the misery of loss, but when another child was born to the wife, the first always died. No family over the length of the spell had seen more than one child reach their adulthood. Even Charles thought he could trick fate.
Lady Catherine had been widowed when her husband died in a boating accident. She was left to raise her young two-year-old daughter alone. Charles married her out of the sheer hope that adopting Alissa would give him the girl he needed to break the curse. The last girl born to the family was four-hundred years ago, so having a girl - even an adopted one - would surely be the loophole in the spell. The fact that Lady Catherine was an extremely attractive woman made his choice an easy one to make, but within a few months of their marriage, she was pregnant. When Charlie was born, and Alissa didn’t die, Charles was certain the curse was broken. That was when King Reginald announced his marriage.
The queen was young, barely seventeen, and was pregnant within weeks of marrying Reginald. A son was born to the King, but within a year another child was born, a second son. Nobody thought much about it, after all, Charles had broken the curse by adopting Alissa. The King’s eldest child was close to the same age as Charlie but died suddenly at the young age of nine-years-old, after falling off his bicycle. He hit his head on a rock and was dead before the ambulance could arrive. The queen was devastated, and in her grief, she smothered her youngest son in his sleep, before throwing herself off the Cliff of Tranquility. Her body was discovered the next morning by some fishermen. That was when Lady Catherine realized the hex was still alive and as vengeful as ever. Reginald, as well, realized the curse had not been broken. He never remarried, refusing to endure the pain of losing another child. His decision left the future of Westerly to the care of Charles and his lineage.
After several weeks apart, Edward returned to Juliet on bended knee and begged her to marry him. He promised her that he would surrender his title and would never get her pregnant. He would have surgery to prevent it, and when she wanted a child they would adopt, or he would pay the price to have her inseminated. Juliet had missed him so much, that she agreed, but only if his father approved.
Edward returned to Charles the next day and advised him that he was legally rejecting his heritage. He was going to make it publicly known that he was never to be the Duke of Cherrington Cross. Charles was disappointed, but understood, though they were both doubtful it would affect the curse. He agreed to Edward’s request and the papers were drawn up to disinherit him from Charles’ will and estate. Reginald too declared Edward’s disinheritance, leaving the throne empty if the king died.
The couple was married less than a month later, but by the time they returned from their honeymoon, Juliet was pregnant. Edward tried to relieve Juliet’s anxiety by insisting that he would have a vasectomy as soon as their baby was born, though she doubted he was very sincere. When Johanna was born, all of Cherrington Cross, and all of Westerly for that matter rejoiced. The fact a daughter had been born after all these years, was proof the curse was finally broken. Celebrations were held in England as well as on the island to rejoice in her birth. Lady Catherine was indifferent to the event, though she insisted she was happy and honored to be a grandmother. The joy was short-lived, though, when Edward and Juliet made the decision to go to Africa and leave their baby daughter behind.
The orphanage they sponsored had endured a horrible illness and eight out of thirty children had died. Edward was asked to bring food and medicine to help the rest of the children, and he, in turn, convinced Juliet to go along. It would be the first time they were able to be alone since Johanna’s birth, so she agreed, leaving their baby daughter in the care of Charles and Lady Catherine.
Edward was a licensed pilot so taking his private plane, The Painted Lady - named in honor of his artist wife - was much quicker and more efficient than a commercial liner. A week after delivering the supplies to the orphanage, Edward and Juliet were dispatched to Australia to bring back a cure they believed would help the children. Little did they realize at the time, Edward had contracted the illness. He showed no signs of being sick until they left Australia and was halfway across the ocean. He developed a fever rather quickly, which left Juliet alone to help him steer the plane back to Africa. Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, they encountered a storm that threw them off course. With Edward’s weakened condition, they became lost in the night sky. An SOS was dispatched but moments later the plane went silent and was never heard from again.
After more than a million pounds and six months of searching, Charles was forced to abandon hope and pronounce his son and daughter-in-law dead. A funeral was held in their honor and Charles filed for custody of Johanna. Despite Edward and Juliet’s insistence that Johanna not be given her grandfather’s title, Charles announced that he made her his sole heir. Upon that decision, King Reginald also declared her as his heir. The young child, barely a year old, became one of the richest, most powerful people alive, and she hadn’t even learned to speak.
“Your Highness,” a voice said, pulling Johanna back to the present, “your lunch, ma’am.” Johanna looked up to the woman beside her and nodded, adjusting herself in her chair.
The plate was placed in front of her and she looked down at the grilled salmon, asparagus and fresh pineapple, but had a difficult time focusing on it. Memories she had suppressed for so many years had insisted on her full attention, and she was unable to push them aside any longer.
Johanna reached for the glass of wine and took a sip before picking up her fork. She spent several long moments pushing the food around on the china plate as she continued to think of her grandfather. He was her idol for five short years. He would take her everywhere with him, shopping trips, football games, even to board meetings. He taught her to ride a horse bareback when she was two, and how to decipher a bank account by the time she was five.
Lady Catherine insisted she be taught to be a young lady, since she was a duchess, and would one day be a queen, but Charles continued to monopolize her time. He loved her as if she were his own and spoiled her beyond logic. He spent hours with her, telling her about her parents, teaching her about the businesses she would one day inherit and how she would have to keep everyone in line. When Lady Catherine insisted that Johanna be sent to boarding school to be educated as a lady of her stature dictated, it was her grandfather who put a stop to it. He made it clear that she would never be a proper young lady. She was his Duchy, and that was all he wanted for her.
It was Thursday, May 11th - a day that would live forever in her memory - when Charles’ body was brought home to Cherrington Cross. He had gone out riding alone shortly after dawn, searching for a colt that had gotten loose from the corral and ran off. For some unknown reason, he had been thrown from his horse, striking his head on the side of a boulder. He was dead before he could make it back to the castle.
Johanna remembered the tears from Lady Catherine, but always felt they had been forced. She didn’t believe there was an emotional connection between the two, especially since Charles slept in a different bedroom than his wife. He did, however, have a lady he liked quite a bit. A lady he would visit two or three times a week, taking Johanna with him. While she watched the cook prepare cookies or helped the gardener pick roses and pull weeds, her grandfather and his lady friend would go into her private chambers to discuss business. It wasn’t until she was twelve that Johanna realized the lady had been her grandfather’s mistress. It didn’t matter to her, though. She really liked her and was treated kindly by the whole staff.
Alissa and her partner, Martin Miller, returned to England for Charles’ funeral and stayed on for several weeks. It was during that time Lady Catherine informed Johanna she was to be sent to a boarding school in France, where she would be taught to be a proper lady. Johanna was furious and threw a fit, screaming at Lady Catherine before storming out of the room. Before she could reach the second floor of the castle, she heard Alissa and Lady Catherine arguing.
“You can’t send her away, Mother,” Alissa said. “She was Father’s sole heir, with the exception of the money he left you and me. His will strictly prohibits you or anyone from acting as her guardian, so legally she became emancipated the day he died.”
“Let the courts try and intervene,” Lady Catherine remarked. “There isn’t a person on this planet that will take the desires of a five-year-old child over that of her grandmother. I am simply trying to help her become a normal, decent young lady. She is the Duchess of Cherrington Cross and will one day be the Queen of the Island of Westerly. Neither of those titles is suitable for a ruffian who can barely spell her own name.”
“The courts will accept Charles’ will over your interference, Catherine,” Martin added as a high-pitched tinkle echoed through the hall, assuring Johanna he had dropped an ice cube into an empty cup. “It was made with a clear and sane mind and legalized in front of his attorneys. If they learn that you have sent her away under her refusal, you can be held in contempt.”
“Nonsense,” Lady Catherine said in her usual poo-poo sort of tone. “It’s the best thing for the child. Charles never treated her like a girl and she has to learn how to take over her status. Just look at her, for heaven’s sake. She’s as tanned as a piece of leather, she refuses to wear dresses or stockings, and her hair is always a ratted messy ponytail. She will never be taken seriously by her inferiors looking and acting the way she does.”
“Good God, Mother,” Alissa snapped, “she’s only five-years-old. What inferiors does the girl have?”
“You know exactly what I mean,” Lady Catherine remarked with a raised voice. “That…child…girl…tomboy must be taught how to take her place in society, and I’ll do whatever I have to do to make certain she understands who, and what, she is.”
Johanna looked over the banister to see Bronson, the family butler, walk out of the back hallway. He paused a moment when he heard the shouting coming from the parlor and glanced up to see Johanna. He smiled kindly to her then placed a finger across his lips to keep her quiet.
“Mrs. Simpson has fresh cookies in the kitchen,” he whispered up to her. “Just came out of the oven.”
Johanna smiled and quietly tiptoed back down the stairs, hurrying into the kitchen. She had heard enough of the argument to know she didn’t have to listen to her grandmother, and she had enough of her grandfather in her to know she wasn’t going to leave Cherrington Cross. At least not without a fight.
“Is everything alright with the food, Princess?” a voice asked, bringing Johanna once again out of her past. She looked down to see that she hadn’t done more than mix the items together on the rose decorated plate.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I guess I’m just not very hungry.”
“Perhaps you’d like dessert instead,” suggested the woman. “We have chocolate lava cake.”
“That sounds delicious, but I think I’ll pass for now. I’m really not hungry.”
“Very well,” the woman replied as she took the plate off the table. “Do you want anything else?”
“No, thank you…I’m sorry, I don’t think I know your name.”
“I’m Mary Crosby,” the woman answered with a very slight curtsey. “I’m your personal assistant …unless you desire someone else.”
“No, that’s fine,” Johanna answered with a slight frown. “I didn’t know I had a P.A. What happened to Lord Oscar?”
“After the king passed away, he decided to go to his sister’s in England. Before he left, Lord Oscar appointed me to assist you until you have a chance to review the staff or interview for someone else.”
“That won’t be necessary. I’m sure you’re more than qualified and capable of handling…whatever you handle.”
“Yes ma’am,” Mary said with a half grin. “If you don’t require anything else, I’ll let you relax for a while. We should be landing in Westerly soon.”
“Thank you for everything Mary,” Johanna answered, assessing her for the first time.
She watched as the woman - more of a girl actually - walked toward the back of the plane. She looked like she was barely eighteen in the pinstriped skirt and white silk blouse. Her hair had been secured in a thick red bun on the top of her head, and she walked steadily away on black high heeled shoes. She had bright green eyes and a heart-shaped face, which made her chin appear pointed. She wasn’t very tall, only about five foot two, Johanna estimated, and extremely thin. She couldn’t weigh more than a hundred pounds dripping wet.
Johanna lifted her wine glass and took a sip before looking out the window again. The sun was bright and shone through the glass, warming her face and neck. She closed her eyes. Thinking through the past seemed like a much better idea than anticipating the future.
She remembered how she had argued with Lady Catherine for over a week about going to France, but neither of them seemed to make headway with the other. Alissa and Martin remained in England and at Cherrington Cross in hopes of preventing the two from killing each other. The fighting had become so bad over the last few days that neither Lady Catherine nor Johanna would speak to the other.
It was late one Friday evening when Alissa woke Johanna from a deep sleep. Her face was pale, and her eyes were red and swollen, making the girl feel frightened. She sat up in her bed and looked at her aunt with a frown.
“It’s your grandmother,” Alissa said with a shake in her voice. “She’s…ill.”
“How?” Johanna asked wondering if this was a trick to make her agree to go to France.
“She had a stroke…that’s when a blood clot travels to the brain,” Alissa explained, though Johanna already knew what it meant. Her grandfather’s secretary had a stroke a year ago, causing her many long months of rehabilitation.
“Johanna,” Alissa said as tears fell down her face, “the doctor is here, but he doesn’t think she’s going to…live…much longer. She wants to see you, Sweetheart. Do you feel like speaking with her?”
“Alright,” Johanna answered and slipped out from beneath the covers.
She slid her feet into the fluffy bunny slippers her grandfather bought her shortly before he died and tied her robe around her waist. She followed Alissa to her grandmother’s bedroom on the third floor and quietly walked into the dark room. Only the side table lamp was on to offer the room light. Johanna looked at the walls to the shadows dancing across the elaborate gold leaf wallpaper. They seemed to be acting out the old woman’s condition through a series of elegant movements. The smell of liniment lingered on the furniture and in the air. It was a familiar aroma that had accompanied Lady Catherine every day of her life for as long as she could remember.
Johanna stepped to the side of the large four poster bed and stared at her grandmother’s closed eyes. The left side of her face seemed to droop, and the corner of her mouth was turned down even further than normal. Lady Catherine opened her eyes slowly and focused on the girl beside her. Johanna frowned as she stared into the gray eyes. Her left one didn’t seem to want to open very wide and the hand she had laying across her lap looked slightly blue in the dim lighting.
“Johanna,” Lady Catherine said in a hushed, slurred voice. “I want you to know…I’m sorry…for everything. You are going to be…a wonderful woman…much like your…mother was. They loved you…very much…never forget that…” she paused for a moment to collect a ragged deep breath. She reached up with her right hand and wiped a trickle of spit from the corner of her mouth with the embroidery edged handkerchief.
“You…look like her…your mother…” she continued a moment later then reached out and took Johanna’s hand. “You have…your grandfather’s…eyes…violet…like all…the Abbott’s. It was…your father’s love…for your mother…that broke the curse. You’re a very…special child…never forget that…” again she paused to draw a deep breath. “They all…loved you…so much…” she continued as a tear escaped her eyes and ran down her cheeks to be absorbed into the neckline of her dressing gown. “Please…forgive me…I only wanted…what was best…for you. I…love you…very…much…I’m sorry…”
Johanna looked at the woman as she closed her eyes, her hand releasing the grip she had on her. Her head fell slightly to the left and her rattled breathing seemed to escape her lungs in short pants before it stopped completely. Johanna didn’t know what to do as she stood beside her grandmother’s bed staring into her lifeless face. It wasn’t like it was when her grandfather died. Then, she couldn’t stop crying, but now she didn’t shed a single tear. Alissa came up behind her, wrapping her arms around her shoulders and hugging her against her chest.
“She really did love you, Sweetheart,” Alissa said in a tear-soaked voice.
Johanna stood there looking at the old woman for a long moment before pushing Alissa’s arms away. She clenched her jaw tight and left the room, going back to her own. She shut the door, removed her slippers and robe, and crawled back under the covers.
Her parents hadn’t broken the curse that had gripped the family for generations. They exchanged it for another one. Everyone who loved her, her parents, her grandfather…Lady Catherine…everyone was dead. Anyone who dared to feel affection for her was gone. It was at that moment she realized exactly what a curse was. It was that same night that she vowed never to allow another person to love her, and she would never allow herself to feel love for anyone. She would bear the burden of this new bewitchment alone, and by herself, she would go through life strong and independent. The misery of death caused by the lustful greed of her ancestor would end with her. There would never again be an Abbott-Worthington to suffer the wickedness of a witch’s promise.
King Reginald had been a selfish, egotistical man and a very weak ruler. That much Johanna knew and understood, though he had been very kind to her. He never forgot her on her birthday or Christmas, regardless of where she was at the time, and he showered her with attention the three times she had visited Westerly.
About the only thing she really knew of the man was that he loved playing Polo, and his horses were the most important thing in his life. He was very extravagant when dealing with anything pertaining to the animals. So much so, he would cancel public appearances or important meetings to stay with one of them if it were sick. He was worse than an overprotective parent.
Twenty years ago, Reginald found his Polo games becoming too overwhelming and appointed a small group of men known as the Elders to maintain Westerly for him, leaving him free to improve his game. It was the responsibility of these men to enforce the laws, collect the taxes, and oversee the operations of daily life on the island. It was with them, she would have to deal with first.
Johanna looked out the window and saw the island in the distance. It was a large island with nearly four hundred million acres and three and a half million people, though it was much smaller than Hawaii’s Big Island, and farther south. Near the equator, Westerly was the sort of island everyone dreamed of living on. A beautiful warm climate, thick tropical trees, and plants, crystal clear waters. It was practically paradise. Tourism was high on Westerly, whether by ship, cruise liner, or plane, but it wasn’t just the playful dolphins that attracted people to the peaceful community. It was the two hundred or so whorehouses.
Her ancestor had been a Pirate, a Cutthroat if you will, and had been the man who rescued the island from tyranny. Black Jack was known the world over as the greatest pirate to ever sail the seven seas during the fifteenth century. He had earned his title, both as a ruthless bandit and as a lover. He was strong, handsome, powerful, and from what Johanna had discovered, very kind to those he loved. He left a number of journals dictating his life on the water as well as the first ruler of Westerly, all of which she read multiple times over the past fifteen years. His tales of heroism and swashbuckling was the material of fantasy and dreams.
Black Jack, or Johnathan Abbott, as he was known in England, was born to a life of leisure. He was a first cousin to King Edward IV, but because his eldest brother would inherit their father’s title of Duke of Kent, along with the estates and property that went with it, Jack was free to pursue his own interests.
At the age of twelve, Jack ran away to sea and never looked back. He worked his way up from Cabin Boy to Quarter Master in a matter of five years. By the time he was twenty, Jack had his own ship. At first, he served as a mercenary to any who needed him, then he moved on to become a privateer for King Henry VII until he discovered his thirst for blood and turned to piracy.
The dozens of skirmishes he was involved in over the next few years taught his crew to be strong and powerful. By the time Black Jack was twenty-four, he had become a legend. His ship, The Mighty Viper, was the most feared vessel in the ocean, and one that most other ships would steer clear of if they could. It was because of one of these unavoidable encounters, that Jack obtained ownership of the island.
As the story had it, Black Jack had rescued a young maiden from the clutches of her step-father. He had taken her aboard a Spanish frigate in the hopes of persuading the girl to marry a man of wealth twice her own age. The girl had spirit and resisted. When Black Jack came across the ship, he naturally did what Pirates do, and attacked. He found the girl, a sixteen-year-old from a small town in Italy, locked up in the brig. She was bruised and chained to the ship’s hull. She had been beaten and treated as a chamber pot by her step-father and the ship’s Captain.
According to Jack’s journal, the girl had been forced to perform a wide variety of sexual acts for her two captors, all while in front of the crew, in hopes of breaking her will. They abused and molested her yet kept her virginity in check. The man she was promised to, insisted on taking a young virgin to his bed and her step-father couldn’t risk losing the money he would receive once they had married. The crew was horrified with the way the girl was treated, but being men controlled by a powerful Spaniard, they never intervened.
After Black Jack liberated the girl from her bonds, he took her aboard his own vessel, and with the help of his ship’s Quartermaster, began to treat her wounds. She developed a fever that racked her small body and nearly killed her. She was delirious with infection and awoke long enough to hear Black Jack talking with his mate about her. She misunderstood what they were saying and somehow managed to get ahold of his knife. She said she would kill them before they took her back to Italy, but when she realized she was far from being strong enough to withstand them, she turned the knife onto herself. She threatened to kill herself if they took her home.
Black Jack had killed her step-father and the Captain of the frigate after seeing the condition of the girl, but she still had an uncle alive. She knew he would turn her over to the man she was promised to, without batting an eye. Her step-father had entered into a legally binding agreement with the groom-to-be, and she would be forced to uphold it. The money that was promised for her virginity was a very large sum, and her uncle wouldn’t hesitate to surrender her in order to collect it. The only escape she could see was death.
Jack tried to reason with her, but before any promises were made, she offered him a bargain. In exchange for freedom from her uncle’s grasp, she would surrender her virginity to her rescuer. Like all Pirates, he would have taken her to his bed regardless of her innocence, given any normal circumstance, despite her offer, but the bargain held merit. He was intrigued, so he accepted her proposal. Once her wounds had healed, she kept her promise and they became lovers.
Black Jack had been reviewing the Spaniard’s journals and maps for quite a while and discovered the island the man had claimed as his own. The island was home to a hundred or so natives, but also several dozen women he had abducted over the years. He forced the men of the island and the able-bodied slaves he had shanghaied to build him a castle suitable for, what he believed, was his new status in life.
The Spaniard brought supplies to the island and continued to have his new home built. It took fourteen years, working every day, seven days a week to complete the castle, but once the Captain had his masterpiece - which was actually more of a palace - he ordered his men to slaughter all the men over the age of twelve. If they were able to rise up against him, they were massacred. He left only the very young and the very old alive to help the women survive.
His crew was given free rein of the islanders and slaves, and for many days the women and girls were raped and beaten. When they finally left the island, there wasn’t a female over the age of maturity left untouched. That was the last time the Spaniard was at the island. The last time any of them saw him before he met Black Jack’s blade.
Jack made port in Portugal long enough to sell off the captured Spaniard’s ship and crew before setting back out to sea. He kept the girl, Angelique, for his own. In the short span of a few weeks, Black Jack had fallen in love with her. He could no sooner let her out of his sight then he could cut off his own arm.
He may have been a Pirate, but he was also a kind and generous man - a gentleman if you will - and despite his thirst for adventure, he was growing bored with his present life. He loved the sea as his first and only true mistress, but he wanted a change - something to offer him more than gold and jewels. He saw the island as his means of getting what he was searching for. He argued that the reason he wanted to find the island was to liberate the slaves, but in all honesty, he wanted a place to call home.
They plotted a course that brought the Viper to Westerly and did exactly what he set out to do. The slaves were free to return to their homes if they chose. He even offered safe passage for each and every one of them. The offer was rejected. Since the last visit of the Spaniard’s vessel, many of the women now had young children to care for. They understood that taking a child back with them would prove an insult to their families and tribes, and they couldn’t abandon their babies on the island alone. They chose to remain on Westerly, under the care and protection of Black Jack and his pirates.
The people of the island were given land to build homes on and were taught to farm and cultivate the soil. Many had been part of successful fishing families and continued their trade as a means of living. After a few months on shore, Jack was unanimously elected the first king of the island and given the home that had been built for the Spaniard. The name Westerly was derived from the direction they had taken to find the island and was christened with a weeklong celebration, now known as Founder’s Day.
Black Jack made a peaceful life for Angelique and their young son and set out to improve the living conditions of their new home. He went to sea occasionally, but for the most part, he stayed at home with his beautiful wife and children. It was Jack’s descendant who caused the curse that embraced the Abbott-Worthingtons for centuries. It was his fault she was now landing on the island, soon to be crowned the new queen.
Johanna drew a breath to steady her nerves as the wheels of the plane touched the ground. Reginald’s funeral would be in two days, and her coronation would be the following Monday. From what her cousin told her the last time she saw him alive, the plans for her ascend to the throne had been underway since her birth. Reginald wanted it to be handled prior to his death so he had control over the details. Everything was ready. The menu had been selected, the ceremony arranged, the guest list was written and rewritten several times, and even the music had been selected. Except for the new queen’s gown, there was nothing left to prepare.
A sudden jolt shot through her as the craft jerked and slowed to a halt. She was here, and there was nothing that could be done to change the events about to take place. She reached for the glass of wine sitting in front of her and swallowed the entire contents in one large gulp, then stood and reached for the laptop case beside her.
Mary stepped out of the back of the plane and smiled. She had slipped on a black pinstriped jacket to match her skirt and her lips seemed a bit redder than they had earlier. Following behind her were two men, both in formal pilot suits of black and white. They held their black caps under their arms as they bowed to her.
“Your Highness,” the older of the two - the Captain by the bars on his shoulder - began in a deep voice. “It would be my honor if you would allow me to escort you from the plane.”
“Thank you, Mr.…” Johanna answered as Mary stepped forward and took the laptop case from her hand.
“Stanford, ma’am, Captain Leroy Stanford, and this is my First Officer, Bruce Raymond.”
“It’s nice to meet both of you.”
She smiled to both men hoping she didn’t look as flustered as she felt. She had briefly met them in Egypt when she boarded the plane but didn’t have the chance to know their names before they took off.
“Is a car going to meet us, or do we need to hire a cab?”
“Everything has already been arranged, your Highness,” Mary said with a reassuring smile.
Johanna merely nodded then followed the three to the door as the co-pilot pulled on the handle to unlock it, then pushed it open as a set of stairs rolled into place. The sounds of shouts and cheers echoed through the plane’s open door making Johanna frown.
“They are here to welcome you,” Mary told her, answering her unspoken question. “You are the first princess the island has had in over three hundred years, so you’re a novelty to everyone.”
“I don’t know if I like that,” Johanna answered as the Captain raised his elbow for her to take.
“You’ll get used to it soon, and things will settle down over time,” Mary assured her. “Once Westerly is used to having you as our ruler, life will return to a quiet, normal pace.”
“I hope you’re right because to be honest, this bugs the hell out of me.”
Johanna slipped her arm through the man’s bent elbow and walked with him through the door. They paused on the top step for a brief moment as Johanna looked around at what seemed like thousands of spectators who waved to her, called her name out loud, cheered and applauded as they held welcome signs up in the air. She glanced to Mary who leaned in to speak to her over the noise of the crowd.
“Just wave back,” she told the princess. “If you don’t acknowledge their greeting, you’ll appear to be rude and you’ll never live it down in the press.”
“Oh Lord,” Johanna grumbled sarcastically. “I wouldn’t want the press to hate me.”
She lifted her hand and waved, hearing the voices echo in a thunderous boom of shouts and cheers. Slowly, she stepped down the metal stairs beside the Captain, to the red carpet running across the tarmac and ending at a large black limousine. At the bottom of the stairs stood a row of well-dressed men and women on the left, while at least fifty armed guards stood on the right. She felt like she was being led to her execution rather than a welcoming committee.
“They are the Elders and the Regional Leaders,” Mary told her close to her ear. “You’ll meet their families at King Reginald’s wake, but right now all you need to do is shake their hands and move on to the next. I’ll help you remember everyone when we don’t have so much noise.”
“I have a photographic memory,” Johanna told her with a degree of arrogance in her voice. “I can remember names quite easily.”
She stepped up to the first man, an elderly man of about sixty-five, and shook his hand. He introduced himself as Eric Sorensen, Regional Leader of West Hallow. She moved on to the man beside him who Sorensen introduced as his son, Julius. The man was quite handsome, dark hair and eyes with a straight white smile. He was a few inches taller than she was but rather skinny. He shook her hand and smiled, what Johanna could only assume was supposed to be a charming grin.
“Welcome home, Princess,” he said.
“Thank you,” she mumbled back before continuing down the line.
She shook hands with the next three men and their wives. Lord Harry Reading of Timber Pines, Lord Stanley Jackson of Red Bluff, and Lord Liam Michaels of Oak Port. All four were Elders and Regional Leaders. Next, she shook the hand of a very handsome, middle-aged man with gray-streaked dark hair and dark blue eyes. He smiled cheerfully and bowed, introducing himself as Lord Walter Carrington of Spring Arbor. Beside him was his wife, Franny, a rather attractive woman with white-streaked blonde hair pulled into a bun at the top of her head. She was tall and slender, but not overly thin, and her light blue eyes seemed to twinkle at her.
Johanna nodded as she continued down the line of greeters. She met a number of other leaders but paid very little attention to them. The noise of those around her was very distracting and the feeling of millions of eyes on her made her feel unsettled. She glanced to her right as she neared the end of the row to see a number of photographers and television reporters standing not far away. With another glance to Mary, she quickly finished her greetings and walked toward the waiting limousine.
“May I suggest, your Highness, that you wave once more to the people,” Mary said as a tall, slightly chubby man in a black suit and cap opened the back door to the vehicle.
With a heavy sigh, Johanna forced a smile across her lips as she raised her hand in the air once more. Again, the crowd seemed to erupt in a volcanic display of cheers and shouts. She turned back and thanked Captain Stanford for his escort, as well as the trip, then sat down in the back of the vehicle and watched as he disappeared through the tinted window as the door closed.
She looked out the window to the uniformed guards who surrounded her car, marching beside it as the driver pulled slowly away from the plane. She could see a line of vehicles ahead of her and glanced to the waving flags on the front of her car. It was official. She was here and about to become the leader to a country she knew very little about.
Quietly, she leaned her head back against the seat and drew a deep breath. In the span of a few short minutes, she had met more people than she had in the past five years, been greeted by a sea of curious spectators, and had her name shouted so loudly her ears still rang. And to think it was only eleven o’clock in the morning.