Johanna and Samuel followed Patrick and the ship’s security team down the corridors to the sickbay and stopped by the door. She waved them away, watching as they walked back to the entrance of the hall. She glanced to Samuel and smiled, then slowly opened the door.
The room was large, with three gurney-style cots sitting on one side, while white curtains were pulled around the beds on the other. There was a metal desk near the door, but there was nobody to occupy the worn, wooden seat of the small chair in front of it. The wall at the back of the room held a tall cabinet with glass doors, and several bottles of medications inside. She saw the two bags she had brought from the palace, sitting on the floor beside the desk and was about to take a step forward, when she heard Alissa’s voice mention her name, then paused to listen.
“I specifically told Father I did not want her to inherit his title,” a deep voice said. “I wanted her to have a normal childhood.”
“She may not have had the typical house, or the typical routine you or I did,” Alissa said in a strong voice, “but she had everything a child needed. And more. I spent my inheritance to make certain she had the best education money could afford. She’s highly intelligent, and strong. She knows more than most people twice her age, and she can do everything. She knows every form of martial arts, she can speak seven languages fluently, and play ten instruments. She can sing, and dance, and she’s an experienced gymnast. She’s had more opportunities than if she would have gone to boarding school.”
“We have no say in how she was raised,” a woman’s voice said, soft and firm. “We left her behind, and your father did the best he knew how. I’m amazed Lady Catherine didn’t put her up for adoption when we didn’t come back.”
“My mother was many things, but she would never…well, at least not so long as Father was involved.”
“Mother loved Johanna, but she didn’t admit it until she was on her death bed,” Alissa said.
“But to inherit everything, at such a young age, and then the crown as well,” Edward complained. “It’s unfathomable that she had to deal with so much.”
“She managed it quite easily,” Martin added. “She’s a brilliant, strong willed, independent woman. She’s never allowed anyone to get the upper hand, and she’s knocked many men on their asses for trying to put her down. You should see what she’s done for Westerly, not to mention your businesses in England.”
“Two of your factories were ready to close, a few years back,” Alissa picked up. “The recession hit hard, and people were being laid off. Orders weren’t being filled, and the companies were in the red. She found out about it from her accountants, and immediately took over. Within a few months, she turned everything around and had both businesses showing a profit.”
“She was only eight when she took over your companies, Edward,” Martin added. “She was always so much smarter than her years. She graduated school when she was twelve, and immediately began university studies. She’s nearly finished with her PhD.”
“Yes, well…” the man mumbled.
“Will Johanna like us Mama,” a small voice asked.
“Of course, she will, darling,” the woman answered.
Her gentleness caused a lump to form in Johanna’s throat, and she clenched her teeth to keep silent. She refused to feel envious over the child, or the way her mother responded to her.
“But you must remember,” the woman continued, “you’ve known you had an older sister, your whole lives. Johanna just found out about you. You have to give her time to adjust and get to know you.”
“What if she hates us?” the voice of a boy asked, his words breaking with the approaching hormones of age.
“She won’t hate you,” Alissa assured him. “Johanna is a fair and honest person. She never lies, and she never breaks a promise. She also doesn’t judge people harshly unless they’ve earned it.”
“Just be patient, and give her some time,” the deep voice of her father added.
Taking another deep breath, Johanna looked to Samuel and took a step forward, moving closer to the curtain, until she was standing on the outside of it. With a steady hand, she reached forward and pulled the drape back, listening to the small rollers in the ceiling scrape against their metal guide.
For a moment, the room was silent as everyone just stared at each other. Juliet was reclining on one cot with two small girls, while Edward sat on the other, a girl on his lap, and the boy sitting next to him. Alissa and Martin were in chairs at the foot of the beds, looking warm and moist in the heat of the sun through the windows.
Johanna looked at the children, frowning at the appearance of their slender bodies in the make-shift clothes provided by the ship. The girls were in tunics that hung to their knees and floor, with gauze wrapped around their tiny waists as a belt. The boy was in a pair of slacks and a tunic, though much thinner than most of the sailors, he was tall enough to keep them from dragging on the floor.
Within the span of a few breaths, Juliet stood as the older of the two girls sitting with her scooted away. She set the youngest child on the cot next to her sister, then walked cautiously to Johanna. Tears fell to her cheeks as she approached her daughter, her bottom lip quivering, and her breath in soft, hidden sobs. Then she reached out, slowly at first, but once she touched Johanna’s arm, she pulled her close, wrapping her into a vice-like grip, and cried.
“Oh, my God, Johanna,” she sobbed. “I’m so sorry we left you. I’m so, so, sorry.”
Samuel moved away a few steps to allow her parents the chance to greet their daughter but remained close by in case Johanna needed him. He watched her mother hug her, noticing that Johanna’s hands barely reached out to her. He knew she was keeping herself under control, hiding behind her resistance to accept her mother’s love.
“Don’t cry,” she told Juliet, and Samuel smiled when he saw her hesitantly reach forward and placed her arms around the woman’s slender waist.
“We should never have left you,” Juliet cried. “We’ve spent so many nights regretting our decision. I’ve prayed that you were safe, and happy, I prayed we’d be together again.”
“I don’t blame you,” Johanna heard herself saying, surprising herself with the words she didn’t know she was thinking. Somehow, deep inside, she knew she didn’t blame them, at least not as much as she once had.
“Stop crying now,” she continued, patting her mother’s back. “I’m in silk, and it wrinkles easily.”
The others in the room laughed, and Juliet pulled away enough to wipe her tears on the back of her hand.
“It’s my turn,” Edward insisted, taking his daughter, and pulling her into his strong embrace. “You’re so grown up, so beautiful. You look just like your mother.”
Johanna found herself resisting her father more than she had her mother, but within a few moments, she returned his hug, feeling the moisture of his tears on her cheek.
“I brought you some clothes,” she told them, pulling out of her father’s embrace, and glancing to the children. “I wasn’t certain of sizes, but Janessa felt confident she got them close.”
“Who is Janessa?” the boy asked, staring at his sister with eyes that matched hers.
“She’s my seamstress,” Johanna answered and turned to pick up the smaller of the two cases. “She’s amazing, and she managed to have several pieces of clothing finished by the time we returned to the palace. I’ll have her come over and take your proper measurements when we return, and if I know Janessa, she’ll probably have an entire wardrobe ready when we get back.”
“Are we going to live in a palace, like a princess?” the oldest of the three girls asked, bouncing on her knees on the bed next to her brother.
“I’m…not sure…where…” Juliet began, looking to Edward.
“Of course, you will live in a palace,” Johanna told her with a smile she hoped was more sincere than nervous. “Do you like stories about princesses?”
“I love them,” the girl answered excitedly.
“She always insists on hearing more of them,” her brother grumbled.
“Your sister was a princess before she became queen,” Alissa said with a proud smile. “But she didn’t wear dresses like other princesses.”
“Nor did I live in a palace,” Johanna smiled, setting the case on the small table Samuel moved to her side.
“Where did you live?” the boy asked, whose name she remembered as Christopher, from the drawings in the plane.
“I lived in a castle in England until I was five, then I spent fifteen years in tents, mainly. Occasionally, we’d be in hotels or the home in Australia, but for the most part, I grew up in Egypt’s hot deserts.”
“Like us,” the older girl said. “Only we were on an island.”
“In a way…I suppose it was like you,” Johanna answered, pausing in unzipping the case. “Now I live on an island.”
“Are you really a queen? Where’s your crown?”
“It’s at the palace, as well as the royal robes,” Johanna smiled, opening the case in front of her.
“May I see them when we get there?” the girl asked.
“I suppose that would be alright. I have more than one crown, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see them.”
“Will I wear a crown? Am I a princess now?”
“No, dear, you’re not a princess,” her mother told her gently, taking the small child and setting her back on her lap.
“But Johanna is my sister, and she’s a queen. Doesn’t that make me a princess?”
“Johanna is a queen because our distant cousin made her his heir,” her father explained, but was cut off by the look on Johanna’s face.
“As part of my…family,” she said, using the word for the first time in public, “you will be considered royalty. So, in a way, I suppose you will be a princess. I have some authority on Westerly. I think I could declare you, Princess…I don’t know your name.”
“I’m Hope,” the child said excitedly, bouncing on the cot, and causing her brother to frown at her.
“Well, as a princess, you’ll have to look the part. You’ll be expected to wear pretty dresses, and eat lots of sweets,” Johanna laughed when the girl squealed. “But first…I think we should get you out of that sailor’s shirt.”
For a moment, Johanna looked from one child to the next, noticing the similarity between the four. They all had dark hair, like hers, and the same violet eyes as Black Jack. They were thin, but they appeared healthy, and tanned from their time in the sun. The girls all had long hair, while their father’s and Christopher’s were shorter, yet still longer than socially acceptable. Though, for Johanna, they had the same length as Samuel’s, so she didn’t mind it much.
“Johanna,” Juliet began in a quiet voice. “Perhaps you should meet your siblings.”
“I already know Princess Hope,” Johanna smiled, glancing to Alissa, Martin, and Samuel who smiled at the interaction between the two.
“This is your brother, this is Charles Edward Christopher,” Edward said, introducing her to the boy.
“I like Christopher better than all the others,” the boy said.
“What is it with you British?” Samuel asked with an amused frown. “You give your children so many names, they can never remember the order in which they come.”
The room’s mood lightened significantly, and they laughed at the man’s remark. Though, for Samuel, he was still trying to recall all of Johanna’s names, so he could repeat them at their wedding.
“It’s very nice to meet you, brother,” Johanna said, reaching forward to shake the boy’s hand. “How old are you, Christopher?”
“I’m twelve, almost thirteen,” he answered with a small smile.
“And I’m Summer Hope Johanna,” the child next to her brother said. “We’re all named after you. Mama wanted you to be a part of our lives, even if you didn’t know it.”
Johanna didn’t say anything, she just looked to her mother, then back to the child.
“And…how old are you, Princess Hope?” she asked, fighting the wave of emotion that began to wash over her.
“I’m nine, almost ten. Mama named me Summer because that’s when I was born, and Hope because she always watched for a plane or a ship. You look like Mama. Except you don’t have lines around your eyes and mouth.”
“That’s enough of that,” her father scolded.
“This is Crystal Faith Johanna,” Juliet said, introducing her to the middle girl.
“Hello,” Johanna said, kneeling on the floor next to the bed and smiling at the shy child. “Do you like Crystal or Faith?”
“She likes Faith,” Hope answered for her sister. “Mama named her Crystal because she said the water in the pond always looked like crystals in the morning sun.”
“It’s very nice to meet you Faith,” Johanna said, watching the girl roll over on the bed and hide her eyes into the covers.
“She’s shy,” Hope said, again speaking for her sister.
“And who is this?” Johanna asked, looking to the child on her mother’s lap.
“She’s Destiny June Johanna,” Hope said as her mother opened her mouth to speak.
“And does she go by June, because of the month she was born?” Johanna asked Hope who laughed.
“No, silly. She’s called Destiny. June is the month Mama and Daddy landed on the island.”
“Well, it’s very nice to meet all of you,” Johanna said, straightening up, and watching Hope struggle to lift her shirt off her legs.
Hope wiggled her finger for Johanna, and whispered in her ear, loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Who’s that?” she asked, pointing to Samuel.
“This is Samuel Carrington. He’s the Captain of my personal guard, and my fiancé,” she added, feeling slightly less awkward about the title.
“What’s a fiancé?” Hope asked.
“It means they’re getting married, stupid,” Christopher chastised. “If you’d do your homework, you’d know that.”
“That’s enough of the names,” Juliet scolded the boy, as Johanna watched the girl stick her tongue out at her brother.
The sentiment of saying she was feeling overwhelmed, was an understatement. She was quickly becoming fatigued watching the girl bounce between the beds, wondering what it was going to be like to live with her.
“Carrington,” Edward said, shaking the man’s hand. “You aren’t Walter Carrington’s boy, are you?”
“Yes, sir, I am,” Samuel answered with a smile.
“The last time we saw you, you weren’t much older than Faith.”
“I was five years old.”
“I know you’ve led a simpler life than even I have,” Johanna said, eager to have the day over with. “But I anticipated your need for clothing. Although you look smashing in your tunics,” she smiled, watching Hope struggle to untwist the shirt that wrapped around her waist. “I brought you something else to wear. I just hope they fit.”
Johanna looked at Faith, who had sat up a few minutes earlier, and was now sitting on the edge of the bed, hesitating between her curiosity and her desire to hide.
“Christopher, I’m sorry if these are too small,” she continued, pulling out a pair of blue jeans and a tee-shirt of light green cotton. “I don’t think Janessa was expecting you to be so tall.”
She handed the clothes to the boy and watched as he took them, hesitantly, then smiled and backed away. Johanna reached back into the bag and found a small wrapped paper bag with Boy written on the front and handed it to her brother.
“I’m not sure what this is, but I assume it’s for you.”
“Thank you,” Christopher said, taking the bag, and opening it.
Inside was a pair of white briefs and a pair of white cotton socks. He looked at them oddly, then looked to his father for assistance.
“As you can imagine,” Edward began, “we didn’t have a sewing machine, or a seamstress with us. We made do with what we had. Fortunately, we did have some clothes for the children at the orphanage, so there was clothing. After so many years, though, they became worn and thin.”
“They chose to run around naked most of the time,” Juliet added. “Except for Christopher, who wore a pair of his father’s jeans we cut off.”
“Running around naked isn’t acceptable on Westerly,” Johanna told the girls. “Except for the seaside. Most of the people, from what I’ve been told, enjoy the ocean in the nude.”
“I want a princess dress,” Faith said excitedly, as she slid off the cot, speaking to her sister for the first time. “I won’t ever take it off.”
“You’ll have much more than one dress,” Johanna told her, kneeling to meet her on her own level. “You will have pretty dresses, and pants, and shiny shoes with little bows on the front. Would you like that?”
“You mean we get to have more than one?” Hope asked as Faith nodded.
“When I first came to the island, I only had a few jeans, and some tee-shirts,” Johanna said, standing back up to collect more clothes from the bag. “I don’t care much for dresses, so I avoided them as much as I could. As queen, I don’t always have the choice of what I want to wear.”
“I will always wear dresses. I love them so much,” Hope said, falling back on the bed, her arms spread out beside her, in a very dramatic way.
“I think Nora may have some competition,” Johanna told Samuel, watching the smile cross his handsome face.
She reached in the bag and pulled out a stack of clothing, then sat down in a chair Juliet pulled up for her. She doubted Janessa had made any dresses, but she would have to make it a point to tell the woman to make some.
Sorting through the clothes, she saw labels on them, marked as Girl 1, Girl 2, and Girl 3. She took the first and handed it to Hope, praying the Girl 1 meant the oldest of the three. Hope held it up in front of her and squealed, seeing the pink dress with ruffles around the skirt, and short puffy sleeves.
“That woman has ESP,” Samuel said with a curious frown.
“I’ll have to watch what I think around her in the future,” Johanna laughed.
All three girls had matching dresses; Hope’s in pink, Faith had purple, and Destiny with blue. Juliet was handed a dark blue sundress, with small white flowers around the skirt, and a matching belt, while Edward was given a pair of black slacks, a blue cotton pullover, and a dark brown belt. Each person had a separate bag of underclothes, as well as a bag of toiletries.
Once all the items had been handed out, including undergarments, Johanna pulled a small zipper bag out and opened it to find hair ribbons, barrettes, bows, and three tubes of lip-gloss. At the bottom of the case were three pair of white satin slippers for the girls, a pair of slip on canvas shoes for Christopher and Edward, and a pair of low heeled sandals for Juliet.
“What’s in the other bag?” Hope asked, excitedly, struggling to remove the gauze around her waist.
“That has special gifts from my assistant, Mary,” Johanna said, taking the larger bag when Samuel set it down beside her.
She unzipped it, seeing the wrapped presents inside. She wasn’t certain if the children celebrated their birthdays or Christmas, since there were no stores to purchase gifts, and she wasn’t certain how they would react.
The first package she pulled out was marked Brother, and Johanna handed it to Christopher, watching his face light up with excitement.
“Oh, my gosh,” Hope said. “It’s like Christmas.”
Johanna looked to Juliet who smiled.
“We made our own presents,” she explained. “Edward would carve things out of tree limbs, and the children and I would make necklaces out of shells.”
Christopher opened his package to find a remote-controlled car inside. After looking at it with a frown, his father explained what it was, and helped him open it. Within a few minutes, all four children were laughing excitedly over the car as it crashed into cot legs and ran under the desk.
“Do I have something too?” Faith asked with big eyes that made Johanna think of a puppy.
“You all have a gift,” she told the child, and sat straight up in her chair when Faith crawled up on her lap.
Samuel looked to Alissa, who smiled, then looked to her niece who looked shocked. Once Faith wrapped her arms around her sister’s neck and kissed her cheek, she seemed to relax enough to find the present with Second Sister on it.
The girls each got a baby doll, and like their dresses, they were each the same with a different outfit. Mary had purchased a watch for Edward, and a diamond necklace for Juliet, then Johanna handed the children a stack of books. The thought that they may not be able to read came to mind, and she was concerned they would feel insulted, but was relieved when Christopher began to read a book aloud to his sisters.
Everyone was delighted with their items, and the children began undressing in front of the group. Samuel, Edward, and Martin excused themselves, taking Christopher with them, then left the room to allow the girls a chance to get dressed without being stared at.
Hope was so thrilled with her dress, that she spun around several times until she became dizzy and fell down. Faith bounced on the cot just to see her ruffles float around her when she landed, and Destiny pulled at the lace with wide, fascinated eyes.
“How old is Faith and Destiny?” Johanna asked, watching the two older girls finally sit down and begin playing in the bag of hair things.
“Faith is five, and Destiny is two,” Juliet said, brushing Destiny’s long hair.
“Faith is rather shy, isn’t she?”
“Yes, but Hope doesn’t give her much of a chance to speak. She was born crying and started cooing almost immediately afterwards. She hasn’t stopped talking since then.”
Johanna smiled, watching the girls while her mother turned to look at her profile.
“The girls seem to have taken a liking to you,” Juliet said with a motherly smile, glancing down to Destiny who sat on the cot beside her.
“They are sweet girls. Hope is a little much though - but I’m sure I’ll get used to her. Samuel has a younger sister who is a lot like her.”
“Are you angry because we have children?” Juliet asked a few moments later, once the older girls were occupied with putting lip gloss on each other.
“Perhaps, a little,” Johanna answered honestly.
“When I discovered that I was pregnant with Christopher, I was terrified. So many nights I lay awake in fear of what could happen to you. What if the curse really hadn’t been broken? What if we were never rescued, and I never saw you again? When a boy was born, my fears grew stronger. It was a horrible few years. We were trapped on that bloody island, and all I wanted to do was rush back to you, but I had to be a mother to my son. I was more confused than depressed, trying to understand what I was going to do with my life. Then I became pregnant with Hope. Every day I prayed for a rescue but feared to return. If the curse was still active, not only were you in danger, but so was Christopher. Then Hope was born. I knew with her birth, that you would be alright. I would never have had a girl if the curse wasn’t broken.”
“I can’t even imagine what life must have been like for you all those years.”
“It was hard, and there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t regret leaving you. I knew you’d be happy with Charles. He loved you so much, but I was worried about Lady Catherine. I knew how much she despised your father, and I was afraid she’d take her hatred out on you.”
“She tried to control me, but Papa was always there to stop her. I think it was because of him, I grew up to be…stubborn.”
“I loved your grandfather,” Juliet said with a sad smile. “He was more like what I imagined my own father would have been like. I’m very sorry I’ll never see him again.”
“What happened to your parents?” Johanna asked, watching Destiny crawl off the cot and walk to her sisters.
She struggled to climb up on the bed, but Hope reached down and lifted her up and set her between her and Faith. Destiny reached for the bag of hair ties, and began playing with them, while Hope tried to sort them in piles.
“The orphanage told me they had been killed in an auto accident, but when I was sixteen, a woman came to the home claiming to be my aunt. She took me to lunch, and we talked for a while. Before she left, she told me my mother had been fifteen when she gave birth to me, and that my father was the son of a neighbor. They were running away when her father found them. He beat my father to death, and nearly killed my mother, and me, but was stopped by two men who were passing by. They pulled him off my mother and rushed her to a nearby hospital. She was in a home for abused women until I was born, then she left. This woman told me she eventually killed herself with drugs.”
“How horrible,” Johanna said with a frown. “Why would she tell you that story? It was better thinking they were killed in an accident.”
“It was because of her, I left the orphanage and went to London, where I found your father. If she hadn’t come to see me, I might never have left, and Edward and I would never have met. I love your father very much, but it has been exceptionally hard on him, being on the island. I blamed him for the accident, for so many years. I was so distraught about leaving you, that I blamed him for everything, including the storm. But it wasn’t his fault. It took me a long time before I realized it was just fate. We were there for a reason, and nothing I said or did would change it.”
“I should go find Samuel and the others,” Johanna said a few minutes later. “We need to be leaving for the airfield if we plan on getting back to Westerly before morning.”
“Johanna,” Juliet said, stopping her from leaving the room. “Please forgive us for leaving you. We loved you so much…if it hadn’t been the orphanage…”
“I do forgive you,” she told her honestly. “Like you said, it was fate.”
She hugged her mother once and slipped out before the children saw her leave. She found Patrick at the end of the corridor, along with her two guards and the ship’s security. Reluctantly, she allowed them to follow her out of the interior of the ship, and onto the deck where she found the others standing by the railing, staring at what was left of the Painted Lady.
“The captain said it was your calculations that found us,” Edward said, watching Alissa and Martin excuse themselves. “I will never be able to thank you enough for what you’ve done. You truly are an amazing woman.”
“I’m just good with numbers,” she answered, watching Samuel pace his way to the guards, allowing her time with her father.
“You have no idea how much we wanted to get back to you,” Edward said. “Leaving you was the hardest thing we could have done, but realizing we may never see you again…”
“It’s alright,” she told him, preventing him from going through the grief he’d been living all those years. “I was happy with Papa, and then Aunt Alissa. I wasn’t sure how I would feel being queen, but Samuel has helped me through it. I would never have had the opportunities I’ve had if you had been there. Alissa has been such a huge support for me, and I really have learned a great deal more than I would have, had I been forced to attend a normal school.”
“You have an amazing outlook on this.”
“It’s taken me a long time to get here.” Johanna chuckled when she considered how quick her feelings changed, between the time they arrived on the Iron-Fist, to that very moment.
“Samuel and Alissa assure me you’re very intelligent,” he continued in a low voice. “I need to speak with you about the accident.”
“There was a bomb, wasn’t there?” she asked, watching the surprised expression cross his face. “I received a copy of the last transmission before the accident. I heard a loud popping in the background and then…Mother…said the engine was on fire.”
“You really are quite intelligent,” Edward told her with a hint of admiration in his voice.
“I found something on the wing,” she told him, walking down the gangplank with him and back onto the American ship.
They were followed by Samuel and Patrick, as they made their way to the wing and showed him the burned spot.
“It feels like something was screwed on to it, but it’s inside the engine casing.”
“I saw that too. At the time, I wondered if it had been part of the engine, but over the years, I’ve come to realize it was a separate piece.”
“You were doing an investigation into one of your companies before you left England,” she said. “What was it concerning?”
“How did you hear of that?” Edward frowned, watching his daughter look down the deck to her guards.
“Let’s just say, I made it my business to learn as much as I could, about your accident, the companies you left behind, everything pertaining to the Abbott-Worthingtons.”
Edward was silent for several moments, then drew a deep breath and slipped his hands into his pockets.
“I received an anonymous memo saying Tim Drake was embezzling money from Cherrington Cross Electronics,” he began. “I’ve known Tim for years, and I trusted him. I couldn’t just accuse him without proof. I started looking at the books and discovered nearly a million pounds had been pilfered. Checks were recorded that had never been written, two fictitious employees were being paid fifteen hundred pounds, a week, and supplies were purchased and paid for, but never received.”
“Tell me about the van that followed you,” she asked.
“You have been investigating the past,” he said, a tone of admiration and surprise in his voice. “We never found out who it was, and despite what the police thought, I was certain Drake was behind it. He made a comment after the first attempt on us, that made me think he knew more than he pretended.”
“What did he say?” she asked, watching Samuel walk up to her side.
“I went to the factory the day after we were run off the road the first time, and he said he’d heard about what happened. The only people who knew anything, was my father and the police. Neither of them reported it to anyone else.”
“What about the attempts on your lives? I received the police reports, but it was just basically the unbiased details.”
“We were nearly killed, both times,” Edward continued as the three walked back toward the plane’s entrance. “The first time, we were run off the road. It was more of a game of chicken, you might say. He swerved into us twice and sent us into oncoming traffic. Fortunately, it was late and there weren’t a lot of cars on the road. I was afraid if I pulled over, the driver would try and run us down, or might have a weapon. I felt it was safer to stay in our car. I knew the driver was edging us closer to the cliff, and I knew he’d ram us when we neared it, and that would send us over the side. I was ready for his assault, and when he came into the side of us again, I drove off the road and onto the sandy embankment.”
“That was risky,” Samuel said with a frown.
“True, but I had my wife with me, and I wasn’t going to let him send us off the cliff. The embankment was less hazardous, and I was certain we’d be able to get out of it if he came back. He never did, but we saw the van again the night before we left England. This time, he did ram us. Apparently, he didn’t like the idea he’d been tricked the first time.”
“Were you aware, a van was seen at Cherrington Cross Airfield, the morning you left?” she asked, watching the shocked expression on the man’s face.
“Nobody told me,” he answered.
“The person couldn’t be identified, but he removed a box from the van and went into the hanger where your plane was. At the time, it was assumed he was delivering another box of supplies you were taking with you. I think he was placing the device intended to blow you up.”
“Why didn’t it go off on our way to Africa? If it was placed in England, then why wait for two weeks until we went to India?”
“Do you remember how high you were flying that first trip?”
“Twenty-five thousand feet,” Edward answered. “There was no point in going higher, and we had clearance to fly at the lower altitude.”
“When you were caught in the storm, you were originally at twenty-five thousand feet. The last transmission stated that you wanted to go higher to try and get over the storm. As soon as your plane reached thirty thousand feet, the engine exploded.”
“I don’t understand,” Edward said, pausing, and looking to his daughter, short of entering the ship.
“Tim Drake; was he ever in the military?” she asked with an expression that said she already knew the answer.
“He worked in demolition in the royal army.”
“And bombs were a part of his job, weren’t they?”
“I suppose…” Edward paused, realizing what she was saying. “Yes, it was, and he was quite good at it. I remember him telling me he had received several accommodations for destroying bridges in Viet Nam.”
“When Papa died, all the family was told was that he was thrown from his horse. He hit his head and never regained consciousness. The official report was accidental homicide. He had a bullet in the back of his neck. The police report stated that it was a stray bullet from the gun range beside the castle.”
“But the range is too far away,” Edward told her. “That was a worry Father had when he was approached to allow the range to go in. He didn’t want his horses, or his visitors to be at risk. He insisted they double the normal distance between properties, and they had to place a brick wall around the shooting range.”
“Reginald didn’t believe it, either,” Johanna told him, continuing her path into the ship. “Papa was researching the same embezzlement you were, only it had gotten worse. He spoke with a private investigator he worked with for other purposes, and advised him, he knew who had caused your accident. He was planning on turning in the evidence to Scotland Yard, but was killed before he could do it. He told Mr. Carson he had spotted a van, he believed to be the same as what drove you off the road.”
“I knew I should have told the police before we left. I wanted to, I even went out the day prior in the attempt to involve the police, but I got distracted with a phone call from Africa.”
“Who knew you were going to the orphanage?” Samuel asked with a frown, getting wrapped up in the conversation.
“Besides Father, and the airfield who prepared my plane, nobody. It was such a quick decision, we didn’t have time to discuss it with anyone else.”
“Papa told Mr. Carson he had documented proof of who was behind the crash. I talked to Bronson who said he showed it to Lady Catherine, but never saw it again. He did find a piece of the envelope in the rubbish, but never saw anything of the package itself. I’m waiting for a list of guests at several functions she attended the day she died. Reginald was convinced the same person who killed Papa, and caused your crash, also killed Lady Catherine.”
“Tim Drake was many things, but I could never imagine him as a murderer,” Edward said.
“You don’t have to be a murderer to hire someone who is,” Samuel told him.
“I think it’s time we get back to Westerly,” Johanna said. “I have some phone calls to make.”
Edward watched Johanna walk away, then looked to Samuel who just smiled.
“She does that a lot,” he assured the man, patting him on the back. “You’ll get used to it.”
When they arrived at the airfield, the children were excited, but once the plane began to taxi down the runway, they began to panic. They had heard the story of their parents’ accident many times over the course of their young lives, and they were afraid of crashing. It wasn’t until they were in the air, that they finally settled down and began to relax.
“Is everything alright?” Edward asked Samuel, glancing to his children who had moved cautiously into the living area and was looking around at the furniture.
“Johanna was trying to convince me that sex isn’t a matter of feeling, but rather instinct. A primal attraction, as she calls it.”
“I see,” Edward answered.
“Huh, funny,” Samuel said absently, causing both sets of violet eyes to look at him.
“What’s funny?” Johanna asked.
“You and your dad sound alike, that’s all,” Samuel answered. “Every time I tell you something, that you don’t really have an answer to, or you feel you need to comment without having anything to say, you always answer with I see. Your dad just did the same thing.”
Johanna frowned then glanced to the man across the table from her, seeing the same expression on his aged face.
“It’s getting late, perhaps we should consider putting the children down for a few hours,” Juliet said, joining the three. She had spent the past few minutes, explaining the style of furniture to the children.
“There are two bedrooms,” Johanna answered. “The one down here would be ideal for Alissa and Martin, if they’re tired, otherwise Christopher can take it. The girls can take the larger one upstairs. If you’re tired, I’m sure we can arrange to have Christopher sleep on the sofa.”
“Being back on a plane, even one as luxurious as this, is a little nerve wracking,” Juliet said. “I’m not sure if I can sleep.”
“If we get tired, we can stretch out on the sofa, but where are you two going to sleep?” Edward added.
“The chairs fold out into sleepers, and the chairs in the front fold down,” Samuel added, glancing to the three sets of eyes that watched him. “I’ve spent a lot of time on this plane, with Reginald. He would always take a squad of guards with him, and sometimes, the trips were many long hours. He tried to make it comfortable for the men.”
“Then we can leave the kids here, and you can have your bed,” Edward told Johanna.
“Not necessary,” she insisted. “I have work to do, and I’m not very tired. Besides, we’ll be in Westerly in three hours.”
“That’s Johanna’s way of saying she’s made her decision and there’s no arguing with her,” Samuel explained with a smile.
“Sounds like her mother,” Edward grumbled playfully. “She’s always been like that. And when she gets angry, she starts shouting at me in Italian.”
“Alissa told me, Johanna does the same thing, but I haven’t made her angry enough to shout at me. Yet.”
“Don’t worry, your time will come,” Edward told the man with a warm chuckle, watching the exchanged glances the two women gave each other.
At last the plane was quiet. The children were frightened to sleep alone, so the girls crowded together on the sofa with their mother, while Edward and Christopher unfolded the two chairs. Alissa and Martin took the small bedroom, and the guards rested in the front portion of the plane. Samuel wasn’t tired - or so he claimed - so he remained awake with Johanna, who decided to allow her family a chance to sleep in silence. She had taken up her usual seat in the front portion of the plane and was currently clicking away on her laptop.
They were less than an hour away from Westerly, and so far, the airport reported no curious spectators, or reporters, to interrupt their arrival. Mary had set up the meeting with the Summerhays’, Charlotte-Ann had the press releases written, and Janessa delivered another three outfits for the children, with the promise of returning tomorrow for proper fittings.
Russell had set the maids aside to clean and prepare the bedrooms of the royal apartment, and pajamas had been purchased for each new member of the family. A small repast had been arranged for when they arrived, and the guards were on standby in case they were needed.
Johanna found an email from Bronson. He told her, he had not found the package Lord Charles asked him to send, but he was not finished looking. There were sixteen safes in the castle, all he had to do was find the codes for each one. The email had an attachment with the lists from Lady Catherine’s last day. They had been scanned in, so the notes were in the old woman’s handwriting, but she could make out several familiar names. Including Tim Drake.
The book club she’d gone to was only women, with Martha Drake in attendance. Johanna remembered the woman. She had seen her several times at the factory, with her grandfather, when Mrs. Drake would visit her husband. She was a nice woman, and was always kind to Johanna, but somehow, she felt the woman wasn’t as happy as she pretended to be.
Lady Catherine had also attended a charity luncheon, though the list of guests didn’t seem to strike anything of concern. For the most part, it was a silent auction of items donated to the children’s hospital, and a buffet-style lunch. Most of England’s wealthiest families attended, and more than fifty thousand pounds had been raised. Johanna remembered hearing Alissa read a story from the papers, the following day, after Lady Catherine’s death. The luncheon and auction had been a huge success, and the children’s hospital wanted to thank everyone who attended.
The cocktail party Lady Catherine arranged in honor of Lord Charles, was a rather large affair. There was a supper served, again a buffet-style meal, with a string orchestra for entertainment. The event lasted until well after midnight, though her grandmother left early. That was the last event Lady Catherine ever attended.
Over four hundred guests were in attendance. Besides Tim Drake and his wife, all the managers and CEOs from the twelve factories were there, along with stockholders, and higher-ranking employees. The most surprising guest was none other than Lord Ethan Oscar, Reginald’s personal assistant.
Johanna reviewed the lists again, then found a simple notation on the luncheon with only the initials E.O. There was no reason for Lord Oscar to be in England, and it was a piece of information that seemed to slip past her. Reginald hadn’t even mentioned it in his journals.
There was an email from Ward Carson stating Bronson had given him Lady Catherine’s medication bottles after speaking with Johanna. He immediately sent them to the laboratory he frequently used and was waiting on a report. He assured her that he would call as soon as the report came in. He was also able to get some prints off the bottles, and wanted to run them through his computer to see if they matched anyone. That, at least, was one piece of information Johanna was eager to hear.
Bronson’s email held an interesting twist to the mystery. He told Johanna that he had contacted the employment agency Lady Catherine’s nurse claimed to have been sent from. They told him, they had no record of a nurse being sent to Cherrington Cross, and their records went back twenty-five years, since they first began business. Not only was there no record of the nurse, but they had never had an employee with the name of Wanda Parker.
Johanna emailed Ward Carson about Tim Drake, and asked him to perform a background search on the man, as well as those employees Drake worked closely with. Then she told him about Wanda Parker and asked if he could look in to the claim that she had been hired by Lady Catherine’s physician, and let her know what he could find, if anything.
Pelee stepped out of the kitchen area and advised her that they would be landing in a few minutes. She said the captain didn’t want to announce anything overhead, because of the children. He didn’t want to frighten them any more than they already were.
Johanna turned off her computer, and slipped it back into its case, then nudged Samuel, who had fallen asleep beside her. She watched him open his eyes, amazed at how his face seemed to light up when he looked at her. She smiled and told him they were getting ready to land, then walked into the living area of the plane, and woke up Edward and Juliet. Alissa and Martin woke up when the wheels of the plane touched land and came to help with the children.
Hope and Faith woke up with a start, and began crying, but Destiny remained asleep, resting on her father’s shoulder. Christopher had been frightened awake as well but refused to let anyone know he was afraid. He was at the age, he wanted everyone to think of him as a man; strong, brave, and able to handle the world.
Juliet was able to calm Faith down rather quickly, but Hope wouldn’t stop crying. Alissa tried to comfort her, as did her mother and father, but she continued to sob. It wasn’t until Johanna sat down on the sofa next to her, telling her that princesses didn’t cry, that she finally stopped howling. She wiped her tears with her hands and took Johanna by the hand when she stood up.
The palace limousine was waiting for them when they arrived. Since the news release she had instructed Charlotte-Ann to write, indicated that they would be back in a few days, there were no crowds and no flashing cameras to frighten the children further. They stepped off the plane, thanking Captain Stanford, co-pilot Bruce Hickman, and Pelee for the trip. Roscoe stowed the luggage into the trunk, while the others filed into the back of the long black vehicle.
Christopher was wide awake, anxiously wanting to see everything that passed by the window as they drove the short distance to the palace. Destiny continued to sleep contentedly on her father’s shoulder, and Hope snuggled close to Johanna, dozing back to sleep. The first signs of the palace came into view and Christopher excitedly asked if that was where they were going.
Johanna smiled while Edward explained the history of the palace to his son. She hadn’t paid much attention to the massive building, since she first arrived on the island. She had to admit, at night, it was a spectacular vision. Security lights lined the front walkway, the security gate, and the fourteen-foot fence that circled the property. There were lights around the flowerbeds in the front, and the light shone against the white bricks. It looked like something from a fairytale.
Russell met them at the side door, as the car pulled into the courtyard. He looked as orderly as ever, though there were a few deep creases in his tired face. Johanna greeted him as the others climbed out of the backseat and made a quick introduction. They walked inside the door, and toward the front foyer. The look on Christopher’s face was priceless, and Johanna wondered if she ever looked as awestruck as he did.
“Who are all those people?” he asked, pointing to the large paintings of Black Jack and Angelique.
“That is the founder of our island, and the first king of Westerly,” Johanna explained, then went on to tell him the names of every person staring down at them.
Edward and Juliet took the sleeping girls up to the rooms, by elevator, while Johanna and Samuel stepped into the living room with Alissa and Martin. Christopher stayed in the foyer, looking at the paintings until his neck hurt from looking up. He wasn’t certain what to do next. He hadn’t paid attention to where his parents had gone, and he wasn’t sure if Johanna would want him to join her and the others.
Just as the boy was about to panic, Russell came down the long hallway, pushing a cart of pastries and the silver teapot. He stopped beside the boy and smiled.
“Are you confused, or lost, sir?” he asked in a friendly tone.
“Both, I think,” Christopher answered in a small voice. “I don’t know where I’m supposed to go.”
“Would you like a pastry?”
“What’s a pastry?” Christopher asked with a frown.
“Come with me, sir. I’ll serve you the best of all of them.”
Christopher followed the man into the parlor and sat down on the sofa when Alissa called to him. He watched Russell set the teapot down and pour five cups of hot, fruity smelling tea. He accepted the cup and looked to Johanna who smiled, silently instructing him to drink it.
The flavor was soft and sweet, and Christopher soon found himself drinking all of it at once. He set the cup down, watching Russell dish up a large pastry. He accepted the china plate from the older man, then looked to the others, waiting to be instructed what to do next.
“Mrs. Reynolds is an excellent cook,” Johanna told him, pointing out a pastry for Russell to dish up for her. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever had dessert before.”
“We have fruit for dessert, and Dad and I catch fish, every day,” the boy said.
“This is different than fruit. Much sweeter, and much more addictive. Once you’ve had one bite, you won’t want to stop.”
Christopher picked up the flaky, frosting covered object on the plate in his hands, and took a small bite. He chewed it several times, then smiled and took a larger bite, causing the others to laugh.
The small group continued to talk for another half hour before fatigue began to wear on them and they decided it was time for bed. Alissa and Martin took Christopher and went up to the royal apartment, allowing Samuel and Johanna some time alone. Once the room was empty and the palace was quiet, Samuel stood and moved to the chair where she was sitting. He reached down and took her by the hand, lifting her to her feet.
“I should probably go,” he told her, wrapping his arms around her waist.
“You don’t have to,” she smiled. “I’m the queen, and if I say you can stay, then you can stay. Like you said, even in the 1600’s, Angelique and Ian were sleeping together.”
“I might have to stay,” he said with a wicked grin. “I don’t have my truck here, and it’s a long walk home.”
“I could arrange a ride for you…in the morning.”
“We wouldn’t want to wake Roscoe this late. I’m sure he’s just gotten to bed.”
“Then it’s settled,” she smiled triumphantly. “You’ll have to stay. I was told there are 150 bedrooms in this place. I’m sure we can find one that isn’t occupied.”
“This is a big place, and I might get frightened sleeping alone,” he said, taking her hand, and leading her to the door.
“You can bunk down with Christopher,” she suggested, walking with him down the hall to the elevator.
“But I snore. He’s not used to noise. It might frighten him.”
“Then what shall I do with you?”
Samuel chuckled, pulling her into his embrace and kissing her lips passionately as he pressed the button to call the lift. Johanna could feel her heart pounding the familiar rhythm she always got whenever he kissed her.
The elevator arrived, and they stepped in, closing the doors, and pressing the button for the highest floor in the palace. As he lay her on the bench, kissing her lips with the promise of a long night yet to come, she realized that life was going to be very different from now on. She was getting married, her parents were alive, and she had siblings. If that wasn’t enough to set a person on a new lifepath, she didn’t know what was.