Primal Attraction

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Chapter Twenty-Three

Samuel glanced out the window and smiled, watching Johanna with her morning ritual. The smell of eggs snapped him back to reality and he turned his attention to the pan in front of him. They managed to do a bit of talking between lovemaking and came to a mutual understanding. Though her symptoms pointed toward pregnancy, they weren’t positive if she was or not. That would have to be up to the doctor to determine, but it was a subject they agreed to wait on until after their wedding.

“Good morning,” Johanna said, laying the rug back on the floor. “I thought you’d be asleep for a bit longer.”

“The bed was cold without you,” he smiled, shutting off the burner and wrapping her in his strong embrace. “I’ll never get used to sleeping without you.”

“So long as you can tolerate my stubborn streak, there will never be a need to sleep alone again.”

“I can handle anything you throw at me.”

Samuel kissed her lips gently, his hands caressing her spine down to her hips where he massaged each cheek before slapping her - hard.

“What was that for?” she asked, pushing him away and rubbing her backside.

“You deserved it, and more. Leaving the palace without a guard, driving that bloody motorcycle in the middle of the night…”

“I can take care of myself,” she argued, folding her arms across her chest.

“I know you can, but there’s more then just you now. If you are pregnant…”

“Then I’ll learn to be a bit more cautious. I promise, Samuel, I know how to protect myself and I will not let anything happen to our child.”

“I like the sounds of that,” he smiled as his phone began ringing.

Johanna grinned as she embraced her own comment. As the hours passed, the idea of being pregnant began to take hold and she found herself excited - and terrified. Until she met Samuel, she would never have considered taking the time to get to know a man, and she would never have found herself excited about wanting a baby.

“Hello,” Samuel said into his phone, watching Johanna walk to the stove and look into the pan of scrambled eggs, diced peppers, mushrooms, and sausage.

Johanna listened to the one-sided conversation as she retrieved two plates from the cupboard and began dishing up the eggs.

“Everything’s okay, Edward,” Samuel answered, narrowing his eyes playfully at the beautiful woman who turned to look at him. “Johanna came here. I’ll bring her home after she eats, and I spank her ass for taking off without a guard.”

Johanna turned and raised an eyebrow of challenge to him, watching the humor dance in his eyes.

“We’ve decided to take one task at a time, and deal with everything in turn,” he said into the phone. “Right now, we’re more concerned with finding out who was behind your accident, and the murders of your parents.”

Johanna remembered what she wanted to speak with him about when she came here last night and hurried back up the stairs. She found her backpack on the chair in the corner of the room where Samuel tossed it last night, along with her jacket. She unzipped it and pulled out the stack of papers and ledgers she’d brought with her, then turned to go back downstairs.

Samuel stepped into the room with a tray in his hands, their breakfast plates on the wooden surface, along with two glasses of orange juice. He passed her by on his way to the side table next to the bed and placed the tray down.

“Your father isn’t very happy with you,” he told her, walking over and taking the papers from her hands, tossing them to the bed before wrapping his arms around her waist.

“I’ve never needed a babysitter, and I’m not about to start now.”

“You need to understand there are a lot of people who are very concerned about you, and care deeply. Running off has consequences. It makes people worry and they start to panic when they can’t find you.”

“I’m not used to having to answer to people. I do what I want, and I never regret my actions. Last night, I came here to talk to you. Would you rather I regret coming here?”

“No, but you should have waited for a guard.”

“The guards don’t drive motorcycles, and they would never be able to keep up with me. Besides, I didn’t want to wait. I had to talk to you, which we never did.”

Johanna pushed out of his arms and walked the two steps to the bed and picked up the papers once again.

“I found out something interesting about Ethan Oscar,” she told him, flipping through the pages to find the one she had read the night before. “He embezzled twelve million dollars from the bordello accounts, and as soon as he deposited the money into his bank, he withdrew it and sent it to Martha Drake.”

“Who’s Martha Drake?” Samuel asked, walking to the table and picking up one of the plates.

“She’s Tim Drake’s wife.”

“Why would he be sending money to another man’s wife?” he asked, setting the plate on the bed next to her, watching as she sat down on the edge of the mattress.

“Why would he be at the luncheon Lady Catherine gave, or the cocktail party the night of her death?”

“How do you know he was there?” Samuel asked, turning and walking back to the table, then returned with his own plate and sat down on the bed.

“His name was on the papers Bronson sent me. There was no reason for him to be there, but it must not have been very important to Lady Catherine, or she would have said something. There’s another thing. The nurse who was sent to help at the castle, is Roxanne Parker, the daughter of Tim Drake’s chauffeur. According to the girl’s birth certificate, her father was Roger Parker, but her mother was Martha Oscar.”

“Martha Oscar? Martha Drake?”

“Ethan Oscar’s sister.”

“That seems a little too coincidental to be chance,” Samuel said, watching as she picked up her plate and began eating.

“I found the pages that had been cut out of Reginald’s journal. He did it himself. I’m sure he did it to prevent Oscar from destroying the journal if he ever found it. Russell said he searched the office the night Reginald was killed, claiming that he was trying to find my contact information. When he left the palace, he was unhappy and told Russell he was going to England to visit his sister.”

Samuel took the pages she handed to him, then glanced at the papers she strung across the bed. The room was silent for several minutes while Samuel read the papers, then sat them down and looked at Johanna.

“I know Oscar was the leading force in Reginald setting up the Elders,” he began. “But it’s hard to think of him as a murderer.”

“Reginald didn’t think he was the actual killer, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a helping hand. He has an outline of events he believed led up to Lady Catherine’s death.”

“Your cousin’s journal said he convinced Lady Catherine to send him the information Charles had,” Samuel told her. “Was there ever any mention of it in any of his journals?”

“Not that I’ve found.”

“What’s in the envelope?”

Johanna frowned as she turned and looked at the manila envelope sitting beneath one of the journals. She set her empty plate aside and reached for it. She turned it over and looked at the return address on the front, frowning at the crest from Cherrington Cross England.

“It’s never been opened,” she said, noticing the tape holding the flap sealed.

“I think we need to get you back to the palace,” Samuel told her, stopping her from opening the package. “This is something Edward needs to be a part of.”

Johanna sat beside Samuel as they drove to the palace. They had showered and gathered the papers together, then secured her bike in the back of his pickup before leaving their secret love-nest. She opened the envelope and began reading through the pages of documented proof of Tim Drake’s embezzlement.

There were pictures of a security tape showing the van outside the hangar where her parents kept their plane, with the imprinted digital date and time in the corner. They were taken the day the Painted Lady left England. The photos showed a man in a ballcap taking a box out of the side of the van, but nothing that showed his face. There was something odd about the picture though. The image of the man was tall and thin, which didn’t quite match Tim Drake, but it had been twenty years. A lot could happen in that time.

A letter from her grandfather accompanied the information, and for a moment, all she could do was look at it. It had been written by the old man’s hand. His elegant scrawl outlining his theory of Tim Drake either hiring a hitman to run Edward’s car off the road, or his involvement to the last letter. Charles believed that Drake would not stop until all those capable of bringing him to justice was dead.

Samuel watched the woman from the corner of his eye, seeing the emotion cross her face as she read the information contained in the envelope. He wanted to ask what it said, but he didn’t want to bring her back to reality until she was ready.

The guards met his truck at the front gate, waving him through. Samuel drove to the back of the palace where all the vehicles were kept. He stopped the engine and glanced to Johanna who gathered her papers together before stepping out of the passenger side.

Roscoe arrived in just a few moments to help bring the queen’s motorcycle out of the back of the truck. Samuel knew Johanna’s mood had changed. She was angry and upset, but he didn’t want her to meet with her father in that state of mind.

“I want you to disassemble this bloody damn machine,” Samuel told Roscoe, ignoring the shocked look on the man’s face. “I don’t want the queen having any excuse to leave the palace unprotected again.”

“You dare touch my bike, and I’ll have both of your heads,” she growled.

“What are you going to do when you…become pregnant?” he asked, hoping Roscoe didn’t notice his hesitation. “I won’t let you ride this thing when you’re swollen with my baby, and there’s no room on the back for a car seat.”

“Very funny,” she grumbled, watching the two men lower her bike to the ground. “I learned to ride a motorcycle when I was ten. I’m certain I can teach my own child to do the same.”

“My baby is not going to be on a motorcycle,” Samuel assured her, watching as Roscoe shook his head in amusement, then walked the bike back into the garage.

“Of course not. He’ll have to be big enough to reach the controls before he can ride it.”

“Not a chance, woman,” Samuel told her, wrapping an arm around her waist as they walked to the back of the palace.

“Why don’t you try driving one before you condemn it?” she suggested, aware of what he was trying to do, and very grateful for it.

“Never,” he smiled.

“I’ll teach you.”

Samuel paused outside the door and chuckled, wrapping his arms around her waist. He kissed her too briefly for his own satisfaction, then reluctantly let her go.

“I suppose it’s only fair. After all, I’ve taught you a thing or two.”

“And I’ve appreciated the lessons.”

“Perhaps I’ll be just as appreciative when you’re through teaching me.”

Johanna laughed softly, watching as he opened the back door. Before stepping across the threshold, she placed her hand on his arm and leaned up to kiss his cheek.

“Thank you,” she told him. “You’re always there to help bring my mind back to earth.”

“It’s my pleasure,” he smiled back, then stepped into the palace behind his soon-to-be bride.

“Roscoe left to pick Drake up at the airport,” Samuel said, stepping into the office and closing the door.

“Have you heard from Oscar?” Johanna asked, taking a drink of her lukewarm coffee.

“I had to leave a message for him with his butler. He was out for the afternoon. He may have had plans to meet Drake at the airport.”

“What about Sorensen?”

“Do you still believe he’s involved?” Samuel asked, pouring a cup of coffee for himself and refilling hers.

“They are related. I’m sure if one knows anything, they both do.”

“I hope you’re right. Our wedding is the day after tomorrow and I don’t want anything upsetting the events.”

“Just keep with the plans. I want this to end tonight.”

“Once this is over,” Samuel began, sitting down in the chair across from her, “I want to take you to the playroom. I’m eager to teach you how to be obedient.”

“What makes you think I’ll ever be obedient?” she asked with a wicked grin.

“I know you, and I know you’ll argue until the last second. But I plan on teaching you some very intriguing acts, starting with that spanking I’ve been threatening you with.”

“We’ll see,” she smiled back.

“You don’t think I’ll do it, do you?” he asked with a mischievous grin.

“I have no doubt you’ll do exactly as you threaten, but I’m the one who ultimately decides if I’m willing to play or not.”

“Once we start, darling, you’ll be just as eager as I am. In fact, I’ll wager that you’ll want to go back to the playroom - often.”

“You seem to have an overabundance of confidence today, Captain.”

“You forget, Your Majesty, I’ve been taught how to satisfy a woman. I was an excellent pupil and a quick study. I was at the top of my class all four years.”

“I wasn’t aware the whores taught by the class. I thought it was an individual event.”

“We were taught how to enjoy partners.”

“So, you like a man as well as a woman?”

“No,” he snapped, watching the amusement cross her eyes, though she held her face without expression. “But I have shared a Lady with Thomas a time or two.”

“Don’t even think about it,” she answered with a disgusted snarl on her lips. “I’d rather go swimming with the sharks then allow that creep anywhere near me.”

“What if I found a bloke you’d enjoy? Would you consider it then?”

“No,” Johanna said sternly. “If that’s the kind of physical release you want…”

“It’s not,” he interrupted quickly. “But you should know how to embrace the lessons. All of them. You can’t support the bordellos unless you understand what happens in them.”

“I’ve seen the documentary about them. That’s the closest I ever want to get to one.”

“You don’t argue about dignitaries exploring the perverse side of the island, but you don’t want to try it yourself. That’s a bit hypocritical, don’t you think?”

“I agreed to the playroom, but that’s as close to a bordello as I plan on getting.”

“So long as you let me play with you, I’ll concede the argument.”

“I’ll accept that,” Johanna said with a wide grin. “I rather enjoy the way you play with me.”

“Then shall we make it a date? Tonight, after everyone’s asleep?”

“After Drake is in the dungeons, you mean.”

“Agreed,” Samuel chuckled, watching her take a drink from her cup.

Playing with this man was turning into Johanna’s favorite hobby, and she enjoyed spending as much time as she could perfecting the game. But first, she had to put a murderer behind bars - or strap him down in the Punishment Circle.

Johanna looked at herself in the mirror with a confident grin. She had deliberately avoided Drake and Oscar all afternoon, leaving their meeting for a small cocktail party and supper. She knew Drake had met with Edward and Juliet and spent the last three hours discussing the past twenty years. As much as her parents tried to stay bias, they found themselves laughing about different events on their small island as they relived the past.

Drake was a charming man, there was no doubt to that. Even Johanna remembered how suave he was from the few times she’d been with her grandfather when their paths crossed. Fortunately, Johanna wasn’t a pushover, and staying strong and distant was a skill she had learned and practiced over the years. Her cold demeanor could make a grown man quake at her feet.

“You look stunning,” Samuel told her, stepping into the wardrobe to find his queen still staring into the eyes of her reflection.

“I was hoping for a bit intimidating,” she smiled, glancing across her shoulder to him.

“You’ll never intimidate me, my darling, but I’m sure our guests will have to fight to remain calm.”

Johanna smiled again, then walked to the shelves of jewelry and unlocked the drawer with her day crown, special events tiaras, and diamond hair combs. She removed an elegant tiara made of diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds. It had been used by queens during special functions for hundreds of years, and it was perfect for putting a bit of royal fear into her guests.

Samuel took the tiara from Johanna’s fingers, amazed at how heavy it was. The light from the chandelier danced off the stones, casting rainbows across the walls and furnishings of the wardrobe. He gently placed it on top of the mass of curls pinned to her head and smiled. She looked beautiful, confident, and secure. Samuel frowned briefly, fighting the thoughts running through his mind, warning him that he was far from being good enough for Westerly’s queen.

He watched her turn and inspect her appearance again, before wrapping his arms around her waist. He had to hold her to convince his conscience that their love was stronger than his state of mind.

“How do I look?” she asked, glancing at the woman staring back at her.

“Stunning,” he assured her.

“I hope I can do this.”

“You’ll be amazing, like always. You look beautiful and ready to face anything that comes your way.”

“I think you have more confidence in me, then I do. This may be the only time I’m willingly going to wear a dress.”

Samuel chuckled, stepping back to look at her when she turned around to face him. The elegant gold colored satin and taffeta gown was draped across her shoulders and hugged her torso. It flared out at the waist, just enough to demonstrate the air of sophistication. Her feet were tucked inside a pair of gold heels, bringing her three inches closer to his lips.

“You never cease to amaze me,” he told her, inspecting her beautiful face that was accented with cosmetics. “You are more beautiful then any woman I’ve ever laid eyes on, and far greater than I deserve.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be back in my jeans and boots by morning,” she said with a soft giggle as she kissed his lips.

Samuel walked with her out of the wardrobe and stopped by her vanity, retrieving his tuxedo jacket and slipping it across his chest muscles. There was something sensual about this man in a tuxedo that made Johanna’s blood warm inside her veins. She was eager to get this evening over with, so she could be back in Samuel’s arms.

They walked down the hallway and into the waiting elevator. It took only a few brief moments before the doors slid open again, and they stepped out into the long corridor between the grand foyer and the kitchens.

Johanna took Samuel’s arm again and walked smoothly down the passage. She could hear the voices of her parents and the deep voice of Walter as they neared the foyer where the party had already began. It was the moment she had dreaded all day. She was about to face the man who had killed her grandfather and stolen her family from her. She knew it would be a long evening, and she had to force herself to remain in control. If she tipped her hand now, she may never get a second chance to learn the truth.

“I’m right beside you,” Samuel whispered as Russell came out of the dining room.

Johanna smiled with renewed confidence while Russell smiled his support. He stepped forward and cleared his throat, then squared his shoulders.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Queen Johanna and Captain Carrington,” he announced, bringing the room to a quick silence.

Lord and Lady Reading had been invited, as well as Lord Sorensen and his son, Julius, much to Samuel’s disapproval. The Carringtons were there, as were Alissa and Martin, Patrick and his wife Olivia, Tim Drake and Roxanne Parker, Lord Oscar and, much to their surprise, Martha Drake.

The group looked at Johanna and Samuel. The looks on their visitors’ faces was worth the time and hassle it took to prepare Johanna for the evening. It was obvious, nobody expected the young desert rat to clean up as well as she did.

Sorensen looked stunned but glanced around when the Readings and the Carringtons bowed to the couple. Alissa and Martin followed suit, joined by Edward and Juliet. Within a few brief moments, everyone was curtseying or bowing.

Samuel raised a single eyebrow as Julius hesitated to offer a bow to the couple. It was a look of challenge to the man, but one he quickly relented to and bowed at the waist.

“Dear,” Edward began, smiling to his daughter, “I’d like you to meet an old friend from England. This is Tim Drake and his wife Martha, and a friend of theirs, Roxanne Parker.”

“I already know Mr. Drake,” Johanna said, a stern, cold expression on her beautiful face. “We’ve had dealings in the past.”

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Johanna,” Drake said with a crooked smile.

“You will address the queen by her title, not her name,” Samuel said in a strong, threatening tone.

“Forgive me,” the man said, glancing from Samuel to Johanna, then turning back to Edward. “I’ve…never met royalty before.”

“I’m sure it’s a mistake that won’t be made again,” Johanna said, her arm remaining inside Samuel’s.

“I beg your pardon, Your Majesty,” Russell began. “Supper is ready.”

“Then shall we adjourn to the dining room?” she asked, walking with Samuel across the foyer.

She moved to her usual chair at the head of the table and waited as Samuel held it out for her, then watched as he walked around to the opposite end and sat down. It was the first time he’d used the chair at the foot of the table, and she had to admit, she didn’t like it. He seemed so far away, and she liked having him close. His presence was enough to give her strength, and tonight, she definitely needed all she could get.

The couples took their seats as the maids came into the room and began placing bowls of soup in front of each person. Wine was poured in the crystal glasses, then the women left to prepare the second course.

“How was your trip to Westerly, Mr. Drake?” Johanna asked with a brief glance to Samuel.

“It was very pleasant, though not as nice as the ride back to the palace,” the man said in a deep accented tone. “It was very considerate of you to send your limousine to meet me.”

“It was my pleasure, but I understand you arrived at the palace alone. I was under the impression you and your wife would be coming together.”

“Yes…well…” the man began, glancing up to the woman across the table from him.

“I’m sorry,” Johanna interrupted. “I do seem to recall my assistant telling me you would be arriving with a friend. I assume that was you, Miss Parker?”

“Um,” the woman said, her cheeks a deep red color.

“Miss Parker accompanied me on the trip,” Drake continued.

“Martha didn’t think she was going to be able to make it,” Lord Oscar said, attempting to explain the situation. “Her trip was a last-minute decision.”

“I see,” Johanna answered, glancing again to Samuel who raised an eyebrow at her usual sentiment. “I must admit, I was surprised to see you, Miss Parker. It’s been a long time. I believe the last time we met was the night Lady Catherine died.”

“I…um…” the woman stuttered, looking from Martha to Drake.

“Of course, I was only a child,” Johanna continued. “I suppose you could have been there at the funeral. I don’t recall everyone who was in attendance.”

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty,” Roxanne began, swallowing twice as if trying to control her nerves. “I don’t think I knew Lady Catherine.”

“Yes, you did,” Johanna said boldly. “You were her nurse. I never forget a face, even one fifteen years older.”

“I must say,” Sorensen began, looking down to his dish in front of him, “this is quite delicious.”

“It’s Mrs. Reynolds’ special mango and pineapple soup. She won a ribbon at this year’s Founder’s Day Celebration for it.”

The conversation switched to the more comfortable subject of the recent festival, allowing Roxanne a chance to relax and eat. Johanna listened, adding her comments when it was necessary, but for the most part, she remained silent, listening to those around her. She glanced back up to Samuel and nodded once, as the maids removed the bowls and delivered the pineapple and coconut salads.

“Darling, I forgot to tell you,” Samuel began when the conversation took a pause, “the forensics report on your parents’ plane came back. It was as you suspected. They found traces of an incendiary device inside the engine. They don’t believe it was powerful enough to blow the plane apart, but it did manage to knock out the engine. The report said it was the cause for the crash.”

“Well, it looks like my grandfather was correct,” Johanna said, glancing to Edward. “It seems someone was anxious to put a halt to your investigation, Father.”

“So, it would seem,” Edward commented, lowering his eyes before he was tempted to look at Drake.

“You believe someone placed a bomb on your plane?” Drake said with a frown as he looked from Johanna to Edward.

“According to the forensic report, that’s exactly what happened,” Samuel answered.

“Who would do such a thing?” Martha asked with a frown that matched her husband’s.

“Well now, that is a curious question, isn’t it?” Johanna answered with a smile that was so sweet, she had her parents and Alissa blinking to see if they’d seen it right.

“Papa found evidence of embezzlement with one of Father’s companies. He learned that more than four million euros had been siphoned from the books, though there is evidence of much more missing. Too bad he was murdered before he could bring the guilty one to justice.”

“I heard the news that your grandfather’s death was reinvestigated,” Walter said, adding to the arranged conversation. “I can’t believe he’d been stabbed and shot. How horrible.”

“Well, at least Scotland Yard has the evidence now,” Johanna added calmly. “Along with Papa’s research. I’m sure the guilty party will be in jail before long.”

“I heard the British authorities have also exhumed your grandmother’s body,” Lord Reading added. “Is it true that they suspect she was murdered?”

“That’s the thought,” Johanna said. “They believe she was poisoned with an overdose of Vitamin K. Their theory is, she was given the lethal medication over a period of several hours, and that caused her to develop an aneurysm that created her stroke.”

The room paused for a moment as Roxanne began coughing on her wine. Johanna glanced to Edward who set his jaw but remained silent.

“Lady Catherine and I never got along very well, but I would never have wished such ill acts on her,” Juliet said as Roxanne wiped the wine up with her napkin. “It’s nothing less than cold-blooded murder.”

“That is up to the authorities to determine,” Edward said softly.

The look on the man’s face was calm, though Johanna could feel his anger. She saw it in the way he held his fork, the way he continued to clench his jaw, and his slightly harder breathing. She knew he was angry and eager to have Drake behind bars, as much as she was, but they had to try and trip them up.

Roxanne’s reaction was the first step.

The meal continued through four more courses, ending with pineapple upside-down cake for dessert. They sat around the elegant table, the conversation lighter than it had started, as they discussed the island and all that had happened to it since Johanna arrived.

She listened very closely, watching the interactions between Drake, Sorensen, and Oscar. Twice she had actually seen Drake glare angrily at Oscar, who avoided his eyes and looked to Martha. Johanna knew there was something going on between the two, and she didn’t want to allow either to leave the palace until she had her answers. With the help of Reginald’s outline of events, she was quickly beginning to surmise which puzzle pieces were missing from the picture she’d been trying to construct for weeks.

“Northern Shores is back up and functioning, better then they ever had,” Walter was saying as he picked pieces of the pineapple off his cake. “The factories are in full production, and the children are back in school. With the bordellos back in operation, life seems to have calmed down drastically.”

“Lord Sorensen,” Johanna began, capturing the man’s attention, as well as those of the other guests. “We’ve had our differences in the past, but I am curious as to how you feel about the progress. I understand your own factories have had a slight decrease in work since Northern Shores has been set right, but it isn’t enough to warrant layoffs.”

“Yes. Well,” the man said with a soft cough to clear his throat.

“Were you aware, the island’s export on conjugal aids have tripled since the new factory started? The textile factory has been exporting material at an amazing rate, and the profit margin has doubled in less than two months.”

“I still believe that lowering the taxes was hasty and unwarranted,” Sorensen said with his usual stuffiness.

“Indeed,” she commented. “If it was hasty, then please explain how it is, mortgages and utilities are being paid on schedule for the first time in twenty years. Shops are showing profits, and the medical facilities are seeing a decrease in illnesses caused by famine and exposure.”

The room was silent for several long moments as the older man stared at his plate. Johanna knew he would never apologize for his past comments, and she would have been disappointed if he had, though a part of her dared him to change his opinion.

“The island is very excited about your upcoming wedding,” Franny said, breaking the silence. “Nora hasn’t stopped talking about it in weeks. I’m not sure if she’s more excited about being a part of the lineup, or the fact that her brother is going to be king.”

“King?” Julius said in a shocked gasp. “You’re not making him king, are you?”

“Is there a problem with that?” Johanna asked, ignoring the angry expression on Samuel’s face.

“The last queen was Angelique, and she made Ian her Prince Consort when they married. I would think you’d want to make certain your marriage will last before placing a crown on the head of a man, known to have a…questionable past.”

“What is questionable about it?” Walter asked in an angry voice.

“Everyone remembers the fiasco of a marriage he had with Lindy,” Julius continued with an arrogant tone to his voice. “He didn’t have the decency to show up at her funeral. What kind of husband does that?”

“The kind who was tricked into marriage by a deceitful, hateful witch,” Johanna snapped angrily, bringing the eyes of her guests to stare at her. “That woman deliberately killed her child, and in doing so, caused her own death. A respectable, decent woman would never put her own vanity over that of her unborn baby.”

Again, the room was silent, and Johanna found herself clenching her fists to remain calm. She drew a deep breath, then looked to Samuel who was staring at her. His expression was steady, though she could see the emotion in his eyes. She wasn’t sure if he was angry that she told the truth, or that she had found it necessary to defend him.

“I suggest, from this moment forward, you remember your place and to whom you verbally abuse,” she continued.

She had gone this far, why not give Samuel a real reason for wanting to spank her, as he often threatened.

“In two days, Samuel will become my husband, and will rule this island by my side. If you have anything to say about it, I suggest you bring your concerns to me, personally. I’ve already knocked four loud mouth bastards on their arses, and I’m not afraid to do it again.”

“I doubt you and I will have much to discuss,” Julius said, arrogantly glancing down the table to Samuel who remained silent.

“I certainly hope not. Unlike my fiancé, I will not hide behind social acceptance to call a person out for their lies and deception.”

Johanna stood from her seat and drew a steady breath, watching Samuel stand, followed by the rest of their guests.

“I think we should take coffee in the parlor,” she said in a steady, calm voice. “I’d hate to have the evening end on such a sour note.”

Russell nodded, then watched as the guests quietly began to file out of the dining room, leaving the queen and her future husband alone. He clapped his hands and the maids turned and left the room, allowing the young couple a moment to speak in private.

“I know you’re angry with me, and I’m sorry, but I will not stand by and allow that pompous jackass to criticize my husband,” she told him boldly.

“I realize how many lies Melinda told me, as soon as I made love to you,” he said, walking slowly toward her. “She wasn’t a virgin, and despite the child’s paternity, he was mine because I loved him. I may not have been the one to help create him, but I was his father.”

“Every baby needs a daddy,” she told him quietly as he stopped in front of her.

“I was there when our child was created, and I will be there to see him grow. I love him, and I love his mother, despite her bad temper and short fuse.”

“I do not have a short fuse,” she said with a frown.

“My love, you have a very short fuse, and I can feel your frustrations. But if you promise to continue as planned, I promise to help you burn off your anger when we’re alone.”

Samuel wrapped her in his embrace and kissed her tenderly, holding her against the firm wall of his chest. She sighed into him and slipped her arms around his neck. She may have a short fuse, but he had a great way of helping her regain her composure.

“Tell me, Miss Parker,” Johanna began as the group reclined on the sofas and chairs of the parlor, “what have you been doing the past fifteen years? Are you still in nursing?”

“Um…” the woman hesitated, glancing to Drake as Johanna stood and walked to the bar. “I…decided to give that up.”

“Really? That’s very curious. From my investigation, you were never a nurse. In fact, Lady Catherine’s physician said he never sent you to the castle, and the employment agency never heard of you. So, I’m curious. Who sent you to Cherrington Cross?”

The woman didn’t say anything as she stared at Johanna with wide eyes. The only good thing arguing with Julius had done, was assure her guests that she would not be pushed around, and she was willing to stand her ground.

“Roxanne wasn’t at your castle,” Drake said in defense of the woman. “I believe you are mistaken.”

“No, I’m not. Roxanne has all but admitted that she was pretending to be a nurse, and I have proof of her being at Cherrington Cross. The medicine bottles my butler confiscated from her, the night Lady Catherine died, has her fingerprints on them.”

“Are you accusing my…daughter…” Drake began, watching Johanna stand and pace her way to the bar.

“But she’s not your daughter. You arranged for Martha to sleep with your chauffeur just a week after she married you, so you could convince him that he had gotten her pregnant. Despite his willingness to raise the child, you agreed to stay married to Martha, and keep Roxanne as your ward

“How did you know…” Martha asked, watching Johanna’s half grin caress her lips.

“My private investigator is very thorough.”

“Well, it’s been an interesting evening,” Drake said, standing to straighten his jacket, ignoring the look from his wife. “I think it’s time we left.”

“Samuel,” Johanna said, as she poured a glass of whiskey.

Samuel stood and walked to the rope that called her staff to the room. Instead of Russell appearing, three armed guards stepped into the room, blocking the exit.

“The party isn’t over yet,” Johanna said. “We’re just getting started.”

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