“I’d like to thank everyone for an amazing festival,” Johanna said, addressing the large crowd over the microphone. “I’d also like to thank all those who supplied treats and baked goods over the past week, and congratulate the winners of the crafts, cakes, pies, and livestock, and the number of other categories that would take too long to mention. I promise; all the winners will be acknowledged in the papers tomorrow.”
The crowd came alive with applause and whistles, as she continued to review the notes, sitting on the pedestal in front of her. She wanted to get this finished, and see the last fireworks with her siblings, then get back to her office. If she hoped to have a relaxing honeymoon, she had to get the twenty-year old nightmare out of the way.
“As a special mention, I’d like to thank the ladies of the bordellos for their continued support to our island, and to the safety of our people.”
Again, the crowd whistled and yelled.
“With the restoration of the Iron-Fist, this has been a festival far better than any Westerly has seen this century, and I hope it is only the first of many more to come.”
Johanna looked to Samuel, who smiled supportively as the crowd whooped and yelled.
“At the completion of this year’s Founder’s Day, I’d like to thank all of you for your continued support and for making this celebration such a memorable one. Now, on to the fireworks.”
Samuel reached his hand up the steps of the platform she had been standing, and helped her walk down them, so she wouldn’t fall off the high heels she was forced to wear. They passed multiple lines of people who applauded them, congratulated them, and wanted to shake their hands. When at last they managed to get to the clearing reserved for the queen and her family, she felt as if her face was going to crack from smiling, and her hand was numb from all the shaking.
“Are you coming to my house tonight?” Samuel asked as they sat on a bench together.
“I still have a lot of work to do,” she told him with a half grin. “I think you should consider staying over. I may need some protection from paper cuts, and eye strain.”
“About the most protection I can offer, is a distraction.”
“I think that would work, too,” she giggled.
The fireworks began, and Johanna looked around to see Alissa and Martin sit on a wide blanket, allowing a comfortable spot for her parents and siblings to join them. They all looked up at the display of colors above their heads and laughed. The children were delighted with all the activity and excitement of the festival. She knew they had been frightened at first, but after a few hours, they managed to relax and began enjoying the rides and food. She hadn’t been able to spend much time with them over the past few days, but she did manage for her parents to purchase gifts and treats for them, from her. It might not have been the same as her being there, but they claimed to understand the reasons why she had to work.
As the fireworks continued, so did the oohs and ahhs. Samuel felt relaxed and comfortable next to her, and she stopped hiding their relationship from the press. She didn’t care what anyone thought anymore. So long as Samuel was with her, she knew they were invincible. They had a strong team, and she knew it was only going to get stronger as time passed.
At last the firework finale began with loud, thunderous popping and banging that echoed the island. Fifteen long minutes passed before the smoke was all that remained of the expensive display. She smiled to her family who stood from their blanket and turned to her.
Faith was tired, but excited about the festival. She hugged Johanna around the neck and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Then it was Hope’s turn, and at last Johanna stood and hugged Christopher, before saying goodnight to Destiny, who was cradled on her father’s shoulder.
“I’ll see you back at the palace in a little while,” she told her parents, accepting the hugs they gave her, and hearing Alissa tell Hope she couldn’t stay with Johanna.
“Don’t be long,” her mother told her. “Remember, you have a fitting tomorrow for your wedding gown.”
“Can I stay with you?” Hope asked, pushing away from Alissa.
“I’m not going straight home,” Johanna told her. “I have some things to take care of before I can go back to the palace, and you need to get to bed. It’s late.”
“But I can help you,” the child argued.
“Not tonight, Hope. Princesses need lots of sleep, so they don’t have wrinkles and bags under their eyes come morning.”
Johanna hugged Alissa and Martin, while Juliet took Hope’s hand, insisting she leave Johanna alone for a little while. Samuel kept Johanna close by his side, until the crowd began to thin out, then walked slowly behind the waning groups. They again shook hands and stopped to speak with people who offered their congratulations.
Once they were far enough out of the way of the people who lingered by the booths, taking them down until the next festival, Samuel wrapped his arm around her waist, steering her toward his waiting truck.
“I can’t go,” she argued weakly.
“Yes, you can. I’ll help you with whatever needs done tomorrow. But tonight, you’re mine.”
“You’re incorrigible,” she giggled softly.
“And you’re beautiful. I want you in my bed, and I promise to spend an extraordinarily long time rewarding you for coming with me. Afterwards, we’ll discuss going back to the palace.”
“What exactly did you have in mind, Captain Carrington?” she asked when they stopped by the passenger side of the truck, so he could unlock it.
“I thought I’d start with your lips and work my way down that incredible body. Once I’ve done that, I’ll reverse the process and spend a few long minutes enjoying all the detours between your toes and your nose.”
“Very funny,” she scolded with a smile.
“You’ll enjoy it, and you know it.”
Johanna climbed into the front seat of his truck and sat down, watching him walk around the front and climb in next to her. She moved across the seat to sit next to him, and leaned her head against his broad shoulder, as he started the engine and began driving back to the house they had reserved for their brief encounters.
The closer they got to his house, the more she realized, she didn’t care how long they stayed there, or who knew. She was with Samuel, and that was all she cared about. As far as she was concerned, the world could end tomorrow, so long as she had tonight with the man she loved.
Johanna once again sat at her desk, this time enjoying the solitude of the morning. The past few days had been long and intense. The audit from the electronics company in England was back, and as she suspected, Tim Drake looked guiltier than ever before. She sent an invitation to the man, inviting him and his wife to the island as her guests for the wedding. She wanted him on her island when she confronted him, and where she could arrest him without complications.
She managed to approve the final touches for their wedding next week, and finally talked Samuel into moving in with her. They agreed to keep the house as a secret hideaway, but at least she had him with her when she fell asleep. With his help, the playroom had been cleaned out, as was the nursery, but Samuel insisted on keeping them as designated rooms. He knew they would one day need a nursery, and he was anxious to have his own rendering of the bordellos close by to introduce Johanna to.
The room had been emptied of all Reginald’s perverted toys, the carpet had been replaced, and the lighting changed to an old-fashioned ceiling light. Samuel told her he wanted a replica of the bordellos and with the help of Walter’s two men, who were sent over to help remodel the room, he had gotten his desire.
Johanna reviewed the guest list once more, before moving on to the task of how to trap Tim Drake. She didn’t like the idea of inviting the jerk to her wedding, but she wanted him here where she could reach him. Samuel insisted that he was going to be present when she confronted the man, but first she had to figure out a way of making him confess, or possibly try to correct the mistake that left her parents alive.
A soft knock sounded at the door as Johanna flipped through the pages of Oscar’s journal they had found in the playroom, one at a time. She had a strong feeling she was overlooking something, and it was starting to make her frustrated.
“Are you busy?” Samuel asked, as he poked his head around the corner of the door.
“Not really. I was just going over the journal we found.”
“Again? You’ve read that thing a dozen times.”
“Fourteen, but who’s counting?”
“It’s not going to change, Johanna, no matter how many times you look at it.”
“I know,” she said with a deep sigh. “I just keep hoping I’ll find the missing pieces if I read it close enough.”
“Why don’t you take a break from the computer, and come upstairs with me? The children are busy with their studies, and I’ve got something special to show you.”
“As much as I would love to see your special side, I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
“If you keep refusing me, you’re going to give my ego a sexual conflict. I won’t know if I’m cumming or going.”
“Funny,” she smiled as another knock sounded at the door.
They turned and looked at Russell who pushed his way into the room, a leather file of papers in his hand.
“I beg your pardon, your Majesty,” he said. “Mrs. Crosby asked me to give you the list of wedding guests who have confirmed.”
“Thank you,” Johanna answered, taking the file and glancing through it. “Why didn’t Mary bring it up herself?”
“She had a doctor’s appointment and was running late. She asked that I inform you she will be available by phone if you need her.”
Johanna didn’t answer, she merely nodded her head and began looking through the lists. Mary had assembled the information with the person’s name, the number of people coming with them, and the date they planned on arriving. It was precise and detailed, as everything her young assistant did. Six pages down, was the one name she was anxiously looking for.
“Tim Drake and guest will be here tomorrow,” she told Samuel, setting the file aside and picking up the ledger again.
“Guest?” Samuel asked, picking up his coffee cup. “I thought he was married?”
“He is, but from Carson’s investigation, not very happily.”
“So, he’s bringing his mistress instead of his wife?”
“Perhaps. It doesn’t say,” Johanna confirmed.
“I think we should show him the island’s hospitality by sending Roscoe with the limo. I’m eager to see him in person and see how he reacts to your parents.”
“He knows they’re alive. Hell, the whole planet knows they survived the plane crash. I received an email from him asking to pass along his congratulations and well-wishes to them.”
“Sounds a bit odd, considering he’s supposed to have been such a good friend of your family’s.”
“We’ll have to wait until he gets here to see what kind of an actor he is,” Johanna said, shutting the ledger’s cover and tossing it to the edge of the desk. “I just wish I could figure out why Reginald fired Oscar the day he was killed, and why he had this in the playroom.”
“I beg your pardon, Miss Johanna,” Russell began, glancing to the book she was still staring at. “Perhaps I could be of assistance.”
“Do you know anything about this?” Samuel asked, watching the queen frown up to her butler.
“If you are referring to the documents the king was keeping on Lord Oscar, I do.”
“What do you know about it?” Johanna asked, feeling slightly more hopeful than she had a little while ago.
“King Reginald would confide many things in me, ma’am, and one of them was his concerns with Lord Oscar. He discovered that he had been embezzling money from the bordellos’ accounts and sending it to his sister in England.”
“He didn’t give an excuse that I’m aware of, but I know the king was determined to bring him to the Punishment Circle on charges.”
“He would have to have had a considerable amount of evidence for that,” Samuel said with a frown. “Even a king can’t bring charges up against another person without proof, and the Punishment Circle is the last resort.”
“During the confusion and chaos after King Reginald’s death, Lord Oscar returned to the castle and began sorting through papers. He claimed to have been trying to find how to contact you. When he left, it was after midnight. The next morning, he appointed Mrs. Crosby and said he was going to England to visit his sister.”
“Did he have anything with him when he left?” Samuel asked, watching the frown deepen across Johanna’s young features.
“No sir, and he didn’t appear very happy.”
“Was there anywhere else Reginald would keep important documents, other than the safe?” Johanna asked.
“Not that I’m aware of, ma’am, but I know he would take work to his apartment at night. I was always under the impression he had a hidden safe there, but it was never my place to look for one.”
“I would have found one, if there was,” she said, watching the amused expression on Samuel’s face.
“You didn’t know about the playroom, either,” he teased.
“Where would he have it, then?”
“Hard to say. It could be behind one of the paintings or hidden behind the bookcases. Safes can be put in any number of places.”
Johanna drew a deep breath and stood up. Without waiting for the other two, she walked directly to the door and opened it. She was getting tired of all the suspicions, all the sidetracking and really just wanted to have one night where she threw her hands up and yelled I Quit!
The elevator was waiting for her as she pressed the button and stepped in, watching Russell and Samuel hurry behind her. She was tired, exhausted in fact, and would do anything to fall asleep in a warm bath. But she had to get this settled. She knew she would never relax unless every piece of the puzzle was in its place, and Tim Drake was in the dungeons.
Samuel wrapped her hand in his and squeezed gently as the doors opened again. They walked down the corridor to the double doors of the royal suites and opened them. Johanna paused for a moment in the foyer, looking around. She didn’t know where to begin, or what to check first.
“Look behind the portraits,” Samuel told Russell, then turned to Johanna. “I’ll take the music room, and you can take the game room.”
Forty-Five minutes were spent looking behind wall hangings, in drawers and under cabinets with no success. They searched the game room, the theater, and every nook-and-cranny they could find, but to no avail. They moved into the library together, the last room on the main level, and began their investigation all over.
The desk was checked, as was the fireplace and the mantle, the portraits, the cabinet beneath one large set of bookcases, and even the side tables. Johanna moved to the last set of bookcases and began pulling out books. She was on the six books of the shelf closest to the floor when she saw the shiny metal trim of a hidden safe. Setting the books aside, she laid down on her stomach and looked at the small combination dial in the front of the steel door.
“Any idea what the combination would be?” she asked the two men.
“The combination for the small safe in King Reginald’s office…I beg your pardon…your office,” Russell began with a soft pink to his cheeks, “is the birthdate of Prince Thomas.”
“The big safe could be a date as well,” Johanna said, recalling the numbers that easily represented a month, day, and year.
“Try Prince Andrew’s birthdate,” Samuel suggested, knowing her photographic memory would recall the information.
Johanna spun the dial around, listening to the soft tick of the tumblers until a loud click assured them the door had unlocked. She pulled the handle and looked inside, seeing a stack of papers, another of Reginald’s famous handwritten ledgers, and several bundles of cash. She pulled the papers out and sat up, looking first through the ledger.
There were several familiar entries, from those she remembered from the ledger they had found in the playroom, but this one had more listed than the first one. She quickly glanced through the papers, seeing bank statements, personal expense records from Ethan Oscar, and a sealed manila envelope.
“Looks like you found your cousin’s evidence against his personal assistant,” Samuel said, accepting the papers she handed him, after looking through each one briefly.
“Russell, please feel free to inform me of anything else you may have been told by King Reginald. This could have saved me weeks’ worth of research.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Russell said with a small smile.
“I think we need to get things put back together here and take this down to your office,” Samuel smiled. “We need to compare them to the first set of records we found.”
Johanna closed the safe, placed the books back on the shelf and stood up. It was getting close to supper, and she knew her sisters would be coming up to change into another dress for their evening meal. The best she could hope for was an early night, so she could sort out everything she just found.
As predicted, Johanna barely began comparing the ledgers, making note of the differences and the amount of money missing from the first set of records, when Hope and Faith came barging into her office.
“Supper is ready,” they said in unison as they spun around in the ruffles and lace decorating their matching dresses.
“We’ll be down shortly,” Johanna said in a distracted voice.
“Please come with us,” Hope said. “You haven’t even told Mama happy birthday at all today.”
“What?” Johanna asked with a frown, taking her attention off the work in front of her.
“It’s Mama’s birthday, and you haven’t said anything to her.”
“I…I didn’t know…” she said with a strange feeling gripping her stomach.
“Mama said she knows you’ve been busy, and she didn’t mind, but I think she’s sad. Daddy said this is her first birthday with you. Ever. They left before they could celebrate any holiday with you.”
Johanna’s frown deepened as she stared at the girls. It was true. Her parents left for Africa a month before her mother’s birthday, and four months before their anniversary. She had been born a week before Easter and was too small to enjoy the holiday. Now, her family was back together, and she was the one who was separating herself from them.
“We’ll be down as soon as we get cleaned up,” Samuel said in response for the queen.
They watched the girls bounce out of the room, before he turned to see the confused look on Johanna’s face. Samuel stood and closed the door, then walked to the young woman’s side and took her hand, pulling her to her feet.
“We can work on this in bed,” he told her in a soft whisper. “Let’s get washed up and celebrate with your family.”
“I didn’t even remember,” she said sadly.
“You’ve been busy, my love. Juliet understands that, and the girls are most likely just excited about having cake for dessert.”
“But Mrs. Reynolds doesn’t know…”
“Yes, she does,” he assured her, wrapping her in his embrace. “Alissa provided Russell with a list of birthdays when we returned from Australia. She’s prepared a cake and homemade ice cream. All that’s missing is us.”
“What kind of ruler am I, that I can’t remember my own mother’s birthday?”
“A remarkable one,” he told her in a firm, almost scolding voice. “You are a strong, proud, intelligent woman with a heart of pure gold. Your itinerary is so full, I’m surprised you have time to remember to pee. Nobody is going to hold this against you, and there will be other birthdays. Many of them. So, stop beating yourself up over this, and let’s get things cleaned up. I promise to take time out of making love to you, to help you sort this bag of snakes out before Tim Drake arrives tomorrow.”
Johanna didn’t say anything, she simply nodded, accepted the kiss he gave her, then turned back to the desk and gathered the papers together. No matter how much he tried to convince her, she would always feel isolated from the rest of the world. Her only concerns had been putting the man responsible for her grandfather’s death, for everything that had happened to her family, behind bars. It had consumed her every waking moment, even to the point of invading her conscience when she was in Samuel’s arms. It was a miracle she hadn’t turned everyone against her.
Samuel walked beside her to the lift that was waiting for them and sat down on the bench once the doors closed. He pulled Johanna down to his lap and kissed her, his large hand trailing up the outside of her hip. He knew she was kicking herself for not knowing, or remembering her mother’s birthday but it really wasn’t her fault. She had taken on every aspect of the island and was drowning beneath the weight of it, despite his willingness to help.
As the lift stopped and the doors opened, he was beginning to develop a plan to give her a break. They had arranged to spend their wedding night aboard Bloody John’s Iron-Fist, but with a little-added persuasion, he would be able to keep her aboard the galleon for a week of relaxing in the sun. He knew how to steer the vessel, and with a little help from his own guard, he could easily take it out to the middle of the ocean, far enough away from prying eyes, to allow her time to relax and surrender to his wicked ideas.
Johanna stood in front of the mirror a few minutes later, a clean pair of black cotton slacks across her slender hips, and a deep blue pullover hugging her firm breasts. She had removed the braid from her hair and brushed it straight and smooth, then slipped her feet into a pair of flat-heeled boots. She stood in the closet staring at herself, wondering who the woman was reflected back at her. She seemed so different, so obtuse from the woman she’d grown to know, and she wasn’t sure if she really liked this new side of herself.
“What kind of a child were you?” Samuel asked, stepping up behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist.
“Coldhearted, distant, and rude,” she told him.
“I highly doubt that.”
“It’s true. I was convinced I was cursed, so I refused to allow anyone close to me. I was cold and rude to everyone I knew and stayed by myself as much as possible.”
“I’m very happy you aren’t that way now. I’d hate to think of spending my nights in the dungeons for forcing my way into the queen’s life without permission.”
“You have forced your way into my life, but I’m not complaining. I rather enjoy having you to lean on.”
“You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that.”
Samuel kissed her neck, then walked her back to the bench and sat down, pulling her across his lap again.
“Since I haven’t any photos of you as a baby, laying across a fur rug in nothing but your birthday suit, perhaps I could persuade you into posing for me tonight.”
“I am not posing for any illicit photographs, even for you.”
“But I don’t have any of you to carry in my wallet,” he chuckled as he kissed her neck.
“Even if I agreed, you would never be allowed to carry something like that with you. What if someone finds it, or you lose your wallet? I can just see what the newspapers would do with something like that.”
“Nobody would get it away from me. I’d guard it with my life, just as I do the real thing.”
“If you want a photo,” she said, wiggling off his lap and walking to the set of drawers, “I’ll give you one. You may have any of these you wish.”
She removed a small blue photo album from her top drawer and handed it to him, watching him flip through the pages of her childhood.
“I’ll bet your parents would love to see these,” he said, smiling at the skinny little girl in leotards as she balanced on a wooden beam.
Johanna’s eyes widened as she thought about what he had said. That was the perfect gift for parents who were forced to spend their lives away from their eldest child. She took the album from Samuel’s hand and hurried back into the bedroom.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, following behind her.
“You gave me a brilliant idea. I can give this to my mother for her birthday. All I need is something to wrap it in.”
Samuel smiled and walked to the sitting room, removing the wrapping paper from one of their many gifts. He took it back to her and watched as she sat down on the bed and folded the memories into the elegant wrapping.
“Thank you,” she told him, smiling brightly. “I’m glad one of us has enough brain cells to spark an idea.”
“I’m very happy that I could help, but I still don’t have a photo of you.”
“You’ll have plenty in less than a week. Our wedding is going to be photographed and shared for years to come.”
“But it’s not the same as a personal photo,” he told her, forcing a feigned pout across his handsome face.
“I suppose you can take a photo of your own,” she smiled, seeing through his pretense. “But with clothes on. Nothing perverse.”
“But I like perverse.”
“So, I’ve noticed,” she giggled, watching him smile.
“Let’s get this dinner over with,” he told her as she secured the tape across the makeshift package. “I’m eager to come up and show you the perversion that’s been too long denied.”
“Denied? You had me last night and this morning.”
“It’s been hours, baby. No man should be expected to restrain himself that long when the woman he loves is so close.”
Johanna tensed over the use of the word she’d spent so many years hiding from but quickly shook it off. Knowing she was loved was a surreal emotion, and she was slowly learning to succumb to it. Now, all she had to do was put the bastard who had taken her family from her, behind bars in the cold dungeons below Westerly Hall.
Samuel watched Juliet open the package Johanna gave her, glancing to Alissa and his father. The meal had been delightful with steaks, grilled pineapple, fresh asparagus, roasted potatoes, and a large rose decorated cake.
Johanna called Walter and Franny before going to supper and asked them to come over then kept the family distracted in the parlor until they arrived. They had managed to stop at the store long enough to get Juliet a wristwatch with a compass, joking about always finding her way back home.
Alissa and Martin bought her a beautiful island dress and Edward arranged to give her a mother’s ring that he ordered a week ago. Now, with Johanna’s gift, the night had progressed into an event Juliet wasn’t anticipating.
“Mama, what is it?” Hope asked, hurrying her mother along with the wrapping paper.
“Finish your milk,” Edward told the child, attempting to give his wife a chance to get the wrapping off the gift.
Juliet pulled the last of the elegant silver embossed wrapping off the book and frowned slightly. Johanna watched as she opened the front cover and gasped. Inside were years of baby photos, photos of her with her grandfather, even in the desert of Egypt. There were pictures of her studying, practicing with her instruments, learning martial arts, ballet, and even one taken by Michael after she’d been kidnapped by the nomads.
“Johanna,” Juliet said with tears in her eyes as she slowly turned from one page to the next. “This is wonderful.”
“Samuel actually gave me the idea,” she said. “You couldn’t be with me during those years, but you can still see that I was safe and happy. Aunt Alissa spent a fortune making certain I was cared for, even though she refused to allow me to pay her back.”
“It was my pleasure,” Alissa said with a motherly grin.
“Alissa may not have allowed you to pay her, but I will reimburse her for every pence she spent. It’s the least I can do as thanks for keeping you safe for us.”
“Speaking of which,” Johanna said after accepting a warm embrace from her mother. “You and I need to sit down and discuss business. I don’t know if you are planning on taking over your companies again, but you need to know the changes I’ve made, and Cherrington Cross is yours if you want it. I don’t know what I’ll do with a palace and a castle.”
“I suppose, I never gave it much thought,” Edward said, glancing to the girls who had gathered around their mother to look at the photos. “I don’t have a bank account anymore, do I?”
“No, actually you don’t. But that can be rectified in a matter of days. As queen, I will declare you alive, and present you with a new birth certificate if England won’t. I will also transfer titles over to you, when you’re ready, and place you in control of the six factories that were once yours.”
“We should consider moving on, once the wedding is over.”
“We’re not telling you, you have to leave Westerly,” Samuel said quickly, picking up on the subtle tone of hurt and insult to the man’s voice. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you wish. Johanna was just suggesting that you try and pick up where you left off.”
“If you aren’t ready…” Johanna began, watching her father sit a bit taller in his seat.
“No, I’m ready, and I know having the children here is a bit distracting to your normal routine. It’s only logical for us to move back to England.”
“Ed…Father,” Johanna began, feeling the eyes fall on her. She had never addressed her father by his name, or his title before and wasn’t sure how to do it now. “You can take over the businesses from anywhere in the world. It’s not difficult. I’ve been doing it for years, and the last time I stepped foot in them was when I was ten.”
“I think…the sooner we establish a normal routine, the better it will be for all of us.”
“We’ll discuss this later,” Juliet said, glancing to her husband. “I never considered where our baby would be born, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to move onward just yet.”
“Baby?” Johanna asked with a frown, watching Juliet’s cheeks flush.
“Being stranded for twenty years…we didn’t have a drugstore close by.”
“That’s great news,” Walter said, as Franny hugged Juliet.
Alissa glanced across the table to Johanna who was staring at the cake on her plate with a slight frown. There was a question she had been wanting to ask her niece for some weeks, but she wasn’t sure how to broach it, until now.
“Johanna,” Alissa began as she came closer to the queen’s side, avoiding the excitement at the opposite end of the table. “When was the last time you had your shot?”
Samuel turned his attention to the two women who were speaking in hushed tones, though little more than a whisper.
“I just had it before I came to Westerly,” she answered, pushing her plate aside.
“Johanna…” Alissa paused, glancing to the man who was listening closely. “You’ve been on Westerly for five months.”
“Alissa,” Johanna began, a frown of disapproval on her face as she turned to the woman.
She was about to argue with her and insist she allowed the decision to be left to her from now on when she realized what her aunt was suggesting.
Johanna’s eyes widened as she mentally began calculating how long it had been since she and Samuel first got together. Even with a three-month window, she had been unprotected for two of the five months she had been on the island. That meant, there was a stronger than a good chance…
“It’s impossible,” Johanna said in a stunned whisper. “It couldn’t…I’ve been on the shots for nine years…it wouldn’t just happen…”
“I think we should take you to the doctor,” Juliet said, making her daughter aware that the room had come to a complete silence to listen to the conversation at the head of the long table.
Johanna glanced around at the faces that were staring at her. Her mind was numb, her ears buzzed with disbelief. She drew a deep breath and stood, then squared her shoulders and put on the cold, distant expression she had perfected after many long years.
“I will take care of my own complications, and I would thank you to stay out of my business,” she told them, looking from her mother to her father, then around the table until she saw the shocked, disapproving expression on Samuel’s face.
“This does not go outside of this room, unless you’re willing to answer to me, personally.”
Johanna clenched her jaw and walked to the doorway, passing by two maids who had just entered. She walked up the stairs instead of bothering with the elevator. She was angry, frustrated, and confused, and she wasn’t ready to argue with anyone over any of this. Especially the man she was supposed to be marrying in less than a week.
Johanna spent the next two hours pacing the floor of her private chambers. She dismissed Annette the moment she came in and ordered everyone to leave her alone. She knew Samuel was angry. He said he wasn’t ready for a child. He even asked her not to get pregnant, but how was she supposed to know…
Kicking the edge of the platform her bed sat on, she cursed herself for her so-called photographic memory. It was easy for her to remember things when she was living in a tent. What did she have to worry about? Her life was ordered, structured, and she had little to remember outside of school notes, and the weekly accounting ledgers of her businesses.
Since coming to this cursed island, she barely had enough memory left to remember which foot her shoes went on. What was she supposed to do now? If her aunt was right, she would be going through the next few months alongside her mother as she struggled to make sense of her own life.
Turning her attention away from her inner thoughts, Johanna began to search for anything to keep her mind off her inner turmoil. Spotting the ledgers and papers they had been reviewing, she decided it was enough to keep her occupied while her subconscious kicked in and made sense of her current predicament.
Johanna spread the papers out across the bed’s duvet and focused her mind on the task at hand. The calculations proved Ethan Oscar had embezzled over twelve million Westerly dollars, over the past twenty years. His bank account had shown the deposits, then immediate withdrawal in the form of certified checks payable to Martha Drake. Johanna put her pen down and frowned at the papers in front of her. Why was Oscar giving money to Martha Drake, and for what?
Setting the ledgers aside, Johanna began investigating the papers Reginald had hidden inside the safe. Among them, were seven pages that had been neatly cut from a book. Going to her desk, she took out the journal she’d carried with her for weeks and flipped through the pages that had been removed. Placing them in the small spaces, she found her frown deepening across her eyes. They were a perfect fit, both by sizes, type, and the cut of the margin.
The papers were about Oscar, his embezzlement, Reginald’s discovery of the man whose visits to England, corresponded with the day Charles Abbott-Worthington had been killed, and the last day of Lady Catherine’s life. Reginald had suspected Oscar’s involvement in the situations, though he doubted he had the guts to carry out the actual murders. Then she discovered one very large missing piece of the puzzle.
Ethan has been with me for thirty years, Reginald wrote. I knew he had connections to England, but I had no idea how close he had been to the man I’m convinced murdered, Charles and Catherine. As desperately as I want to see Oscar taken to the Punishment Circle, I have to find out how profoundly involved he is in the accident of Edward and Juliet. With Drake’s assistance, I’m certain the plane went down due to a bomb, rather than the weather.
It’s only logical though since his sister married Tim Drake after leaving Westerly. Her disgrace in West Hallow drove her off the island and into the arms of a homosexual with delusions of grandeur. With a beautiful wife, he would be able to conduct his illicit activities behind her shadow.
When Lady Catherine called me, the night she died, I was able to convince her to send me the documentations Charles had. Scotland Yard is convinced that Charles’ death was accidental, but a man does not stab himself in the back, and the gun club is too far away to have been the cause. I will not rest until I have proven that my own trusted assistant has as much blood on his hands, as his lover does.
Johanna looked at a folded paper and frowned. It was an itinerary of events that made her heart skip. She set the papers down on the bed, then hurried into her wardrobe and pulled on her black leather pants and boots. She zipped the coat up across her tank top and tugged her boots across her feet. Annette told her Samuel decided to go back home for the night, and Johanna knew it had been her own fault. She hadn’t handled the whole issue with Alissa’s speculations as she could have, and she owed him an apology. More than that, she needed his help.
Taking her helmet and gloves, she tucked the papers into a thin black backpack, then silently left her room. The palace was quiet, with only the security lights on in the front hall, and the sound of the old grandfather clock ticking away the seconds. It was five minutes after two o’clock, and everyone was asleep, even Russell.
Slipping out of the back of the house, Johanna hurried to the garages and found her Agusta in the back of one of the six stalls. She knew Roscoe slept in the flat above and starting her bike inside would wake him. She also knew she would have to figure out a way to open the door without being detected.
The garages were as old as the palace itself. They were large and had been built to house carriages. The doors were barn style, and easy enough to open, but the wind that blew across the island that was promising a summer storm did little to make her task simple.
After struggling for several minutes to prop the door open so she could pull her bike out, she finally managed to complete her goal. She closed the doors again, then walked the bike down the driveway. She paused by the front gate for only a moment as the guards stepped out and stopped her. It was more difficult to convince the guards to let her leave than she anticipated. As they returned to the security hut to call out a squadron of guards to accompany her, she started her motorcycle and sped out of the gate.
Heading straight to Spring Arbor, Johanna found her heart pounding like native drums in her chest. She knew she’d have to account to Samuel when he learned that she had left without permission, but it was little, considering what else she had to account to the man about.
Ignoring the roundabout that would take her to the manor house, she drove through and continued toward their secret hideaway. She wasn’t certain if he was there, or if he had gone back to his parents’ house, but it was the most logical place to start.
Pulling into the driveway, Johanna shut off the engine and removed her helmet. She hadn’t considered how she would get into the house once she got here, but the thought didn’t have time to sink in, when the backlights turned on, and Samuel stepped out onto the side porch.
He looked tired and he wore only a pair of jeans, his chest bare and a long shadow of beard covered his chin and upper lip. He stared at her with disbelief as she walked casually toward him. He had been awakened by the palace guards, and was considering letting her run away, or go after her. He had just pulled on his pants when he heard the noise of the motorcycle. He was still half asleep, and his anger had yet to wake up, so she managed to get the more civilized side of him. For now.
“I need to speak with you,” she told him in a hushed voice, watching as he waved his arm toward the interior of the house.
“What were you thinking, leaving the protection of the palace at two thirty in the morning?” he asked, closing the door behind them.
“It wasn’t two thirty when I left,” she told him, hoping she didn’t sound as irritated as she felt.
“Johanna…” he began, running a large hand through his hair.
“I’m sorry,” she interrupted. “I’m sorry for a lot of things. For the way I reacted at supper, for blocking you out, but more than that, I’m sorry I upset you. I know you don’t want a baby, and frankly, neither do I, but there’s nothing that can be done about it.”
“I know that.”
“I didn’t do it on purpose. I’m sorry I wasn’t paying more attention, but I honestly didn’t think…oh, hell, who am I kidding? I haven’t been thinking straight since I landed on this blasted island. I wanted so badly to prove to the people that I wasn’t my cousin, that I stopped thinking about everything else.”
“You’ve proven your point, a hundred times over,” he told her, walking past her and into the kitchen.
Samuel opened the fridge and pulled out an open bottle of orange juice, then reached in the cupboard and removed two glasses.
“You asked me not to get pregnant,” she continued a moment later, following him into the kitchen. “I know how upset you were about Jason, but I didn’t try to trick you.”
“I’m aware of that,” he said again, handing her a glass of juice before returning the bottle to the fridge. “I don’t have any room to argue with you. I wasn’t thinking either, and as frightened as I am to lose another child, I’m in love with you. That makes it different than it was with Melinda.”
“I should have reacted differently, but I was…shocked. I suppose I still am. I’m not ready for this. I may never be completely ready, but it’s happening, and we can’t stop it.”
“We could if you wanted to,” he told her, leaning his hip against the counter as he took a drink from his glass.
“I’m pro-choice, but I cannot in all good conscious abort a living creature just because I’m scared.”
“Then maybe we should start talking about next week,” he suggested. “You said if you ever became pregnant, you could take care of things yourself. Do you still feel that way?”
“I can take care of a child, as well as the island if that’s what you mean. Are you thinking of breaking off our engagement?”
“No, but I want to make certain you’re comfortable with the choices we’ve made.”
“Do you still want to marry me?” she asked in a quiet tone, holding her breath for the answer she feared.
“How do you feel about me?”
“You know it’s difficult…”
“Samuel…” Johanna paused for a moment, drawing a deep breath and forcing her heart to quiet down. “I…love you.”
Samuel sat his glass down on the counter and closed the distance between them. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her into a tight embrace. His mouth covered hers, capturing the gasp in her throat as he gently caressed her tongue with his.
“You left the safety of the palace, just to tell me you love me?” he asked, moving his lips across her cheek. “I’m not sure if I’m angry or flattered.”
“That wasn’t the only reason,” she sighed as his mouth reached her neck.
“What else was there?”
“I finished reviewing Reginald’s journals, and found some very interesting information that links him and Tim Drake.”
“I see,” he said, repeating her own sentiment.
“It’s…important,” she moaned softly.
“I’m sure it is,” he told her, then lifted her in his embrace and carried her up the stairs.
She knew there was a lot to talk about, but this man had a way of convincing her mind to hibernate for a few hours, while her body awoke to the sensations of his lips.