The cars pulled up to the curb outside the secured ornately decorated wrought iron fence surrounding the large brick palace, waiting for Johanna’s limousine to pass by the guards who opened them quickly. She glanced out the window to four men who stood at attention, their hands across their left breast in respect for her title. The shouts and cheers of people waiting along the streets escorted them up the brick driveway to the front of her new home. She watched the guards who had marched beside her car the whole two miles from the airport, disperse in a long line surrounding the drive. They stood at attention with their rifles in their hands, swords strapped to their sides as they were joined by at least another hundred, armed men, in white uniforms.
Her driver stopped the car at the foot of a long stairway that led to the front doors of the palace, allowing Johanna a few moments to look at the ancient brick structure. She had seen this place before when she visited with her grandfather and then with Alissa, but it all seemed so different - so alien - to her now. The idea that all of this was hers was overwhelming and she felt a surge of panic rise up inside her chest.
“They are the palace staff,” Mary said assuming Johanna was watching the arrival of the people in a variety of black and white uniforms as they filed out of the front door.
Johanna glanced to Mary, then back to the men and women who formed a row on the stairs leading up to the palace, and down onto the concrete landing. There were women in maid uniforms and men in tuxedos, all of different ages and skin colors. She quickly counted the servants as the driver once again opened the back door. Three hundred and fifteen people waited patiently for her to step out of the sleek black vehicle.
“I don’t remember this many people before. Why are there so many?” she asked her new personal assistant.
“The palace needs every one of them,” Mary answered as they emerged from the car. “There are six hundred and forty-two rooms in Westerly Palace. That’s too much for one or two people to maintain.”
“Good Lord,” Johanna gasped. “I knew the place was large, but I had no idea it was that big. I don’t recall reading anything about the size of the place, when I was reviewing Black Jack’s journals.”
“It wasn’t all that spectacular back then,” Mary informed her as they walked slowly toward the steps. “Back then, there were only about twenty rooms. Every generation of royalty, since Black Jack, has added their own touches to the palace, up until about a hundred years ago. That’s when the last brick was laid on what you see now. About all the royal family does now, is redecorate the interior.”
“What am I going to do with a place of six hundred and forty-two rooms?”
“They are for visiting dignitaries, family, guests, that sort of thing,” Mary smiled. “There are one hundred and fifty guest bedrooms, two hundred staff bedrooms, 85 offices and 94 bathrooms. There are three dining rooms, six parlors, four libraries, a full fitness center with an indoor pool. There are two fully operational kitchens, as well as a grand ballroom. The Royal Residence has eighteen bedrooms, nineteen bathrooms, three sitting rooms, two parlors, two libraries, five offices, one family game room, a nursery, and a private play room.”
“Why is the residence so large?”
“It wasn’t that large at first, but over the years it was added to. Queen Angelique and King Ian, or Bloody John, and his wife had four children. After about a decade of marriage, King Ian’s mother became quite ill and the doctors told her she needed to go somewhere warm for her health. His father brought her here, so he needed a place for her as well. That, as well as visiting family members, made the need of more bedrooms a necessity. It was his son who added the last room, but that was before the curse, and then the play room was added once the Bordellos became a common part of life.”
“I certainly hope I’m not expected to fill every one of those rooms with a child,” Johanna grumbled causing Mary to laugh.
“You won’t have to remember everyone’s names,” Mary continued as they neared the first maid. “Everyone wears badges, so you don’t have to remember who they are, or what their jobs are. The most important ones to remember are your private maid, the head chef, the chauffeur, the head gardener, and the butler. The others will fall into place as time goes by.”
“How do I greet them?”
“You won’t have to shake anyone’s hand,” Mary whispered when they came to the maid standing on the bottom step. “Just nod your head. You can call them by their name if you wish, otherwise, just keep moving up the steps.”
The next thirty minutes was spent walking up the twenty steps to the large front porch. The double doors that opened into her new home looked so far away as she nodded to each staff member and repeated the name they gave her. She felt hot and tired under the afternoon sun and the constant shouting of her name, though she continued to smile and nod. The last thing she needed was to create a spectacle her first day on the job, especially with the number of reporters and cameras watching her every move.
At last she was introduced to Annette Morgan, her private maid, Saku Wong, the Head Gardener, Mrs. Beverly Reynolds, the Palace Chef and Baker, and finally Russell Reynolds, Beverly’s husband and the Palace Butler. It was Russell who kept life running smoothly within the palace walls, and the one person she remembered most from her previous visits. She was certain she would learn to rely on this man as time went by.
With Benjamin Roscoe, the chauffeur who had driven them to the palace, she had managed to greet each and every one of the staff as politely as possible, with the exception of the Captain of the Royal Guard. Mary assured her that he would introduce himself as soon as the guard had been dismissed, and the crowd had dispersed from the front gates.
Russell escorted the future Queen through the double doors and stood aside as she moved to the open door of the parlor, the one room she remembered from her visits as a child. She glanced over her shoulder as the rest of the staff filed through the front door and disappeared throughout the palace to return to their normal jobs. Johanna looked around the grand entrance with awe. As a child, she would sit on the bottom step of the ornately decorated stairs and look up at the massive chandelier. She would watch the rainbows dance about the room, created from the light striking against the hundreds of crystals dangling from the twisted arms. Three tiers of crystals and lights formed one very large, and no doubt very heavy, object. Looking up at it now and seeing the familiar rainbows dancing against the walls, she smiled. At least the nostalgia of one thing from her past was still the same.
The walls were covered in a variety of paintings and portraits, with the largest directly across from the door. It was Black Jack and his young bride Angelique. If the painting served him justice, he was indeed a very handsome man with long blonde hair, seductive violet eyes, and a half smile that seemed to hide his inner thoughts. He wore a white shirt with a dark purple sash, like that of the guards she had seen at the airport. His long muscular legs were hidden beneath a tight pair of tan breeches and his large feet were in a pair of brown leather boots.
Black Jack looked proud and powerful as he stared at her from the gilded frame. He looked dignified and sophisticated on the outside, but there was something behind his eyes that revealed his bloodthirsty past. He held his right hand on the jeweled hilt of his sword, his left arm around his wife’s tiny waist in a very protective manner.
Angelique was draped in an off the shoulder gown of deep purple to match her husband’s sash. Around her neck was a diamond and amethyst necklace, with a pair of matching earrings positioned in the lobes that appeared beneath the thick dark braid that lay across her shoulder. She was young and quite beautiful, but there was something very innocent in her brown eyes that seemed alluring. It was no wonder Black Jack had fallen in love with her.
Johanna moved through the foyer to the large mirror with its elaborate golden frame. The first time she had visited here was the year before her grandfather died. He wanted her to meet their cousin and to become familiar with the island, so they arrived in time for the Founder’s Day celebration. It was a weeklong event, with food and music, hundreds of booths and tents where the islanders would sell their trinkets and crafts. A spectacular fireworks display ended each day of the celebration then the people would go home, only to come back the following day and do it all over again. Thousands of visitors came to the island just for their festivals - and there were a lot of them.
“Would you like to rest before lunch?” Mary asked her, pulling her out of her trance as she handed the laptop case back to her.
“I think I’ll just unpack and check my emails,” Johanna told her as she looked at the massive staircase.
“Very well, your Highness,” she replied. “Your private residence is on the fifth floor. Perhaps you’d like to take the lift rather than walk up two hundred and eighty steps.”
The idea of walking all those stairs right now didn’t exactly make her feel very eager to go to her room. She was just about to walk down the back hall to the lift when the front bell rang, and Russell moved casually to the double doors. Johanna paused for a moment dreading the idea of meeting anyone else, but she knew her day was far from over.
“Your Highness,” Russell said bringing Johanna’s attention back to him. “Captain Carrington is here to speak with you.”
“Very well,” she sighed. “Please show him in.”
Russell stepped aside to allow a tall, very handsome man to enter behind him. He wore an outfit very similar to the one Black Jack wore in the painting. His blonde hair was longer than customary, resting just below his collar, and his strong muscular chest strained against the white fabric of his shirt. Around his waist was a purple sash and beneath that was strapped a sheathed sword. His long firm legs were wrapped in tan colored pants, and his feet were hidden in a pair of brown leather boots. If logic hadn’t been a constant in her mind, Johanna would have sworn she was looking at Black Jack’s brother.
“Your Highness,” the man said with a small bow. “I’m Samuel Carrington, Captain of your Royal Guard.”
“Hello…” she said in a weak voice that seemed suddenly dry and very distant.
“I’ll bring some coffee, if you’d like to step into the parlor,” Russell told the two watching as Samuel extended his hand toward the room. Johanna stepped cautiously toward the open door, entering ahead of the tall man.
Once inside the parlor, Russell closed the door and left the two alone. Johanna hadn’t been in this room since she was sixteen, but she remembered every detail without really paying much attention. She managed to make her way to the settee and sat down, eager to stop her knees from wanting to knock together.
Samuel slipped his sheathed sword off and sat in the chair opposite Johanna, placing the sword on the floor. The room was quiet for a few uncomfortable moments before he cleared his throat softly.
“I’m not sure if you’re aware of it or not,” he began watching her eyes lift to look at him, “but our fathers were once close friends.”
“Who is your father?”
“Lord Walter Carrington of Spring Arbor. You met him and my mother, Lady Franny, this morning.”
“I’m sorry…I didn’t make the connection. Yes, I do remember Aunt Alissa saying something about my father having a close friend on Westerly. Old school mates if I recall.”
“That’s right,” Samuel said with a heart-melting smile. “From what my father has said, the Duke sent your father to Westerly to go to school. He felt it was important for him to know more about the island that he was destined to rule one day.”
“That’s the reason he brought me here, and why my aunt insisted I learn as much as I could about my ancestry,” Johanna commented feeling slightly less nervous. “After my parents’ deaths, Reginald declared me his heir, but then it was inevitable that I would become queen. My father surrendered his claim to all titles, so he could marry my mother. I suppose it’s only logical that I familiarize myself with Westerly, though to be honest, I don’t know that much about it. I’ve read the journals of Black Jack and King Ian, but I know very little about the island itself.”
“I’d be happy to show you around,” Samuel said as the door opened, and Russell rejoined them with a silver tray.
He placed it between them on the small coffee table as they continued talking.
“My parents would like to extend an invitation to you, to attend tea with them one day. I understand you have a great deal on your plate as is, but if you feel the need to escape the chaos, you’re more than welcome at Spring Arbor Manor. I know my little sister would be thrilled to meet you. After all, she is the president of your fan club.”
“My what?” Johanna asked with a frown as she accepted the china cup from Russell.
“Your fan club,” Samuel answered with a warm smile as he took the second cup. “Nora has been a fan of yours since she was old enough to understand who and what you were. The fact you are close in age to her, makes you even more of an idol. She follows your activities in the press, and posts photos of you as often as she can. She actually has quite a large following.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound ignorant, but what exactly is a following?”
“She has an online blog and a website dedicated to you,” Samuel explained as Russell once again left the room. “Anyone who is interested in knowing more about you can find out all the little details of your life there. She’s really quite good at writing and she makes everything she learns about you seem like a fairytale.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about that,” Johanna said with another frown as she lifted her cup to her lips.
“I’m sorry if I’ve upset you,” Samuel said quickly. “I didn’t intend to cause any harm. I’m sure if you had the chance to speak with Nora, you’ll see it’s a very harmless admiration. A lot of young girls on Westerly feel the same way. You are an inspiration and an idol to many of them.”
“Because you are the first female to assume the throne since 1669. It offers a degree of romantic fantasy to a lot of young girls. The fact that you are very dedicated in your studies, and you’ve avoided the public eye as much as you have, makes you seem very surreal to them. All young girls find someone to emulate in their lives. Personally, I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather my sister try to imitate than you.”
“Would you care to explain that, please.”
“Don’t get upset,” Samuel said noting the disapproving glare in her violet eyes. “Haven’t you ever had someone you’ve wanted to be like? A historical heroin, or a character from a book?”
“No, actually I haven’t. I’ve never felt the need to be anyone other than myself, and I would never try to mold my life after another person.”
“Then you’re one of a kind. Most everyone has an idol they wished they were more like. Hell, there was a time I wanted to be Black Jack, or Bloody John. The idea of their lives and the stories of their escapades make young boys envy the life they led.”
“I suppose I can see where something like that would appeal to some people, but my life is nothing like that. I’ve grown up in tents in the deserts of Egypt or Africa. My entire life has followed a very strict routine of studies and learning. Very rarely have I ever done anything else.”
“Perhaps that’s one of the things that’s most appealing about you,” Samuel said with a strange expression that seemed to catch Johanna’s breath in her throat. “You’ve never allowed the outside world to interfere with your goals, but now you’re thrown into a life I’m not sure if even you are completely prepared for. Do you have any idea what your world is going to be like now that you’re here?”
“No,” she said after a few moments. “But I’m certain I can develop a new routine that I will be able to fall into. After all, it’s just a small sidestep to the life I’ve always lived.”
“A small sidestep…,” Samuel paused for a moment as he inspected her delicate features, feeling that she had no idea what kind of world she had just landed in. “I’m sorry to have taken so much of your time, your Highness,” he said a moment later as he stood up. “Please forgive me, but I wanted to make myself known to you, and make you aware that I am at your disposal any time you need me.”
“Thank you for stopping by,” Johanna said as she stood and walked him to the front door. “And thank you for all your assistance this morning. I wasn’t prepared for such a…greeting, as the one I received. I have a feeling your men were responsible for keeping the crowd orderly.”
“That they were,” he smiled as he stepped out the front door. “Again, thank you for your time, and please remember the invitation. My parents would love for you to visit.”
“Tell them I’ll keep it in mind, and please tell your sister…well, tell her I’ll be keeping an eye on her fan club activities.”
“If you don’t mind my saying so, Johanna,” he said speaking her name in such a way that she had a feeling he was caressing each syllable. “I hope you’re not in for a disappointment. Your life is going to be different than anything you’ve ever known before. I just hope you’re up for the challenges being ruler of Westerly is going to throw at you.”
Samuel bowed politely, placing his right hand against the left side of his chest, then turned and walked down the steps to the waiting pick up parked in the circular driveway. Johanna watched for several moments as he started his car and drove to the gate, then out onto the main road before closing the door. She leaned back against it and closed her eyes, drawing a deep breath, then looked up to the picture of Black Jack and frowned.
“I hope I’m up for the challenges as well,” she whispered to the eyes that stared down at her.
The lift was at the back of the long hallway that led to the kitchen, and Johanna easily found her way to the closed doors. She pushed the button and waited its arrival from the upper floors. She had spent the past hour staring out the living room window at the ocean beyond, wondering exactly what kind of life she was about to embark on. Samuel had her thinking in circles, though she doubted it was his intent. It was she, after all, who had insisted that she could handle her present circumstances, but somehow, she felt as if he had seen into her heart. He had felt her confusion and her apprehensions and had made her vividly aware of how unbalanced her life was going to be.
She knew she could handle anything that was placed before her, or at least she always had before. Though this time was much different than anything she’d endured in the past. Even when she had been captured by the band of Nomads in Australia and set on fire for being a demon, she still felt in control. Now, all she wanted to do was run into that ocean behind the palace and fall into its cold embrace.
The arrival of the lift made her snap out of her sudden melancholy as the doors opened and she stepped in. It was large enough to support a dozen or more adults, with an upholstered bench seat in the back. She watched the mirrored doors close behind her before silently inspecting her surroundings. The walls were decorated in an embossed green wallpaper with silver vines and leaves running vertically along the length of the box. There were four small light sconces on the walls that were shaped like flowers, and the bench was upholstered in a green velvet. The floor was carpeted with a thick rug of dark floral designs, and a small chandelier hung from the ceiling. The soft humming of the lift and the buzz of the air vent above her head, occupied the silent space around her as she stood patiently waiting for it to stop.
At last the doors slid open with a soft swishing sound and Johanna stepped out. She walked down the long wide hallway toward the double doors, the only ones on the floor, and paused. The entire palace was a spectacular display of riches and for the first time in her life, Johanna felt inferior to an inanimate object. The vases and statues that sat on the tables in the corridor made her realize that she was no longer just Alissa’s niece. She was soon to be a Queen, and the anxieties she had felt downstairs again began to play with her nerve endings.
The doors opened in front of her and Annette appeared from inside. She smiled as if she had seen Johanna coming and stepped aside, allowing the princess to cross the threshold. The foyer was nothing at all like Johanna thought it would be. It was very simple with pale yellow walls and tiled floors. A much smaller chandelier hung above a small round table and vase of fragrant flowers welcomed her.
Along the west side of the room was a straight, narrow staircase that led up to the guest bedrooms. To the left of the foyer was the game room with a number of free standing video games, a large pool table, a table with a chess board and a wet bar in the corner. A fireplace occupied most of the north wall, while a row of windows and a double glass door on the south wall allowed light to shine through. The doors stood open to allow the warm air of the late afternoon to flow through the room, and Johanna could see the chairs that sat on the veranda outside.
A large flat movie screen hung on the east wall and a dozen theater-style chairs sat facing it. There was a display counter near the bar that held more candies and sweets than Johanna had ever seen in one place, with popcorn and soda machines on a counter behind it. The room was wired with a surround sound system that was playing very soft music, and Johanna couldn’t help smiling. She imagined how Martin’s three children, Sarah, Angela, and Michael, would react when they saw this room.
The walls were covered in a dark burgundy wallpaper of embossed spirals that made her feel dizzy if she stared at them too long, and the floor was covered with a thick, plush carpet of dark gray. Above the windows and doors were a row of black curtains pulled up to allow the light in, but she was certain they were easily lowered to block out that same light when someone wanted to watch a movie.
Turning back around to the foyer, she noticed two closed doors and walked toward the first one. Opening it, she found herself staring into a large library with ceiling to floor shelves. There were more books than she would ever be able to read in a single lifetime, and a dozen or more upholstered chairs strung across the hardwood floor. Like the game room, a large fireplace sat against the wall, silently waiting the authority to come alive. It was a beautiful object with carved white marble cherubs along the sides and dark green Italian marble around the hearth and facing. It was the one room Johanna could see herself spending a great deal of time in.
She stepped back out and closed the door, looking to the second room. She quietly walked to it and opened it to reveal a parlor of pastel oranges and yellows. There were three long sofas, a half dozen wingback chairs, eight small tables, another fireplace, and an arrangement of musical instruments. Johanna walked over to the black baby grand piano and plunked at two keys. There was a guitar and a set of drums beside the piano and a rack on the wall with a clarinet, a flute, and a golden horn.
“We were told that you can play all of these instruments,” Annette said softly. “We wanted you to feel at home here.”
“That was very kind, thank you,” Johanna answered.
She walked to the double glass doors and pulled them open, stepping out onto the veranda. She noticed for the first time the tile concrete patio that wrapped around the entire exterior of her private residence, joining each room to the next. Above her was a single balcony that overhung the veranda and Johanna made a mental note to find out what it was attached to.
There were a number of cushioned chairs, settees, and at least two swings that she could see sitting on the veranda, looking out onto a lush, well-groomed garden and lawn. Beyond a row of fruit trees, she could see the ocean twinkling like diamonds in the sunlight. She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. She could imagine Bloody John standing here and looking out across the water. It must have been a very sentimental experience for him, much as it was for her.
Johanna walked back into the room, leaving the doors open to allow the warm air to circulate around the furnishings, then glanced to Annette who waited patiently by the entrance.
For the first time, Johanna took the opportunity to really look at the woman. Annette appeared to be a little older than Johanna was, chunkier in stature than the girls she had met so far, with very large breasts and tiny feet. She stood about five feet seven inches and wore a pristine uniform of white and black. She had brown skin and eyes, and coal black hair that hung in a thick braid down her back, indicating her heritage came from the original occupants of the island.
“Would you like to see your bedroom, Highness?” Annette asked in a deep voice that didn’t quite seem to match her appearance.
“Yes, thank you,” Johanna answered.
She followed the woman up the stairs and passed eight closed rooms to a large set of double doors set back from the main hallway. Annette opened the doors and once again stepped aside, allowing Johanna to enter first. She couldn’t believe her eyes as she stood gawking around the room, roughly the size of the flat in London where her grandfather’s lady friend had lived. The large king-sized bed sat on a raised platform against the west wall and was covered in a rich mahogany colored bedspread. At least a dozen pillows decorated the headboard making it appear less comfortable than it was intended.
The headboard was upholstered except for a long narrow, rod iron bar that ran along the outside on each end. The footboard was similar in design, and the four large, elaborately carved posts rose to a covered canopy top. Two small bedside tables sat next to the headboard, each one holding a stained-glass lamp. A set of three wooden steps sat beside the bed on either side, allowing the room’s occupant an easy way to climb into the monstrous, hand carved, piece of furniture.
On the east wall stood a row of windows and double glass doors that opened onto the veranda. They had a thin curtain pulled across them to block out a bit of the light, but still allowed the sun and warmth to bathe the room. Beside them sat an area that had been made to resemble a living room. There were four upholstered chairs and an eight-foot-long sofa. A narrow coffee table was positioned in front of the sofa with a small stack of magazines, a vase of flowers, and a remote control on the highly polished surface. A small round table sat between each set of chairs on either side of the sofa. The floor of the room was covered in a thick, soft carpet of deep ivory and the walls were painted in a soft pale orange. Beneath the living room furniture was a room-sized throw rug with an edging of what appeared to be horseshoes.
The fireplace was larger than those she had seen on the main floor, but just as ornately designed. Three smaller chandeliers hung from the ceiling and a large row of shelves occupied the space on both sides of the fireplace. The shelves were clear of dust and held a variety of stacked books, framed photographs - one of herself the last time she was here - and several pieces of expensive looking bric-a-brac. Along the mantle were eighteen awards for polo, all with Reginald’s name, or the name of his team. First place trophies, each one, along with a glass display case of ribbons hanging on the wall above the fireplace.
Several large paintings of horses lined the walls, along with two full-length tapestries of mounted riders on a hunt. It wasn’t hard to see that this room was once that of a man who loved the outdoors.
Johanna walked to the antique vanity and gazed at herself in the oval mirror. She still looked like the old Johanna she saw every day when she washed her face and brushed her teeth, but inside she knew she would never be the same again. She had been forced to walk in a pair of shoes she wasn’t ready to try on and was far from filling.
“I unpacked your clothes, your Highness,” Annette told her as she walked to an open archway and stood silently waiting for a reply.
Johanna stepped to the opening and looked inside. It was a wardrobe - or what appeared to be one - large enough to park her motorcycle and Alissa’s Jeep inside, and twice as wide. There were a number of drawers lining the bottom half of the back wall, with mirrors on the top portion. Long wooden rods held her measly few pieces of clothing on one side of the room and in the center stood an upholstered bench. On the opposite side of the closet were at least a hundred open shelves, two of which held the extra pair of high top running shoes and boots she had packed with her. A chandelier, much like those in the bedroom portion of the apartment hung from the ceiling.
She walked to the drawers and opened one seeing her folded underclothes sitting inside the nearly empty space. Beneath it were nine additional, empty drawers, and on both sides of those were drawers holding a variety of diamond tiaras, earrings and necklaces, ties, scarves, gloves, and socks. Johanna looked over her shoulder to the woman who waited patiently for her new employer to finish investigating her surroundings.
Slowly, Johanna reached to a large cupboard door in the corner of the room, next to the row of mirrors and pulled it open. Inside were smaller drawers, each one filled with more jewelry than she had ever seen. There were enough diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires to make Tiffany’s jealous. Then she spotted a familiar necklace and earring set of diamond and amethyst and she suddenly felt a strange connection to her heritage.
“They are your family jewels,” Annette remarked noticing the shocked expression on Johanna’s face. “They are the accumulation of five hundred years of Abbott and Worthington women.”
“They’re beautiful, but not exactly something I would wear,” Johanna answered closing the door and turning around.
“Your seamstress will be around tomorrow morning,” Annette said. “She will start working on your coronation gown as well as the rest of your wardrobe. I have taken the liberty of informing the cordwainer of your size and he will be by in a few days with some new shoes and boots for you.”
“I suppose that’s necessary,” Johanna said softly leaving the near empty room. “Isn’t there a Wal-Mart or a shopping mall nearby?”
“Yes ma’am, there are both, but a princess - or a queen - does not shop there. Your clothes are hand sewn and tailor made for you specifically. You’ll have designers making your clothes, and the stores will be selling similar outfits for those women who want to dress like you.”
“I wear jeans and tee-shirts,” Johanna remarked with a soft smirk. “If people want to duplicate my style, then all the more power to them.”
“Your bath is over here, your Highness,” Annette continued with a smile as she walked across the room.
She swung a closed door open and stood out of the way as Johanna moved inside and looked around. Like everything else she had seen over the past hour, the room was massive. It held a large jetted garden tub big enough for two people, in the center of the room on a raised platform. It stood in front of a marble fireplace, and two upholstered bench seats, sisters to the one in the wardrobe, sat on either side. The floors were covered in green Italian marble and against the south wall stood the shower. Johanna walked over and stared inside the tiled masterpiece.
The dark blue, green, and brown tiled shower was nearly as long as the fourteen-foot room itself, cut off only by a built in linen closet. It was approximately five feet wide, with a long bench of three narrow strips of cedar wood, running the length of the back wall. More than two dozen small round metal jets darted out of the walls in an array of heights, and above her head were sixteen showerheads emerging from the tiled ceiling. There was a small control panel on the back wall that allowed the user to adjust the recessed lighting in the ceiling and baseboards, to display different colors of soft blue, pink, yellow, or violet.
Built into the corners of the shower were round speakers and the box on the wall controlled the volume, radio station, or CD track that would accompany the occupant during his or her shower. A dark brown phone sat in a recessed shelf next to the control box, and a floor to ceiling mirror stood at the far end, reflecting the Full Monty of the person bathing.
There were no doors to the shower, but a wall of wavy glass blocks that held back the water, and an opening roughly the size of a sumo wrestler to enter through. Johanna frowned as she tried to absorb the luxury of the sites before her wide eyes. She had been told her entire life not to have anything electrical near water, and here this place was wired up like a Christmas tree.
Along the wall opposite the shower were double sinks set into a long ivory marble counter. They were separated by a six-foot-long, waist high set of drawers on either side. In the corner of each end of the counter stood a ceiling high cupboard that held a number of shelves for personal toiletries. Mirrors covered the wall behind the sinks along with a number of recessed lights. The faucets of the sink were gold in color, as were all the faucets of the room.
The last remaining wall, on the east side of the room, stood an ivory colored toilet, a matching bidet, and wall mounted urinal. There was a long narrow, plush carpet runner between the tub and the fireplace, and above the benches next to the hearth were two clear glass windows that looked out onto the ocean.
Johanna shook her head softly. The entire room was like something out of a dream, and nothing like anything she’d ever experienced before. Even the castle back in Cherrington Cross didn’t compare to this. It was definitely a palace, in all its glory and all its splendor.
“Would you like a bath before supper, Princess?” Annette asked as Johanna returned to the main part of the bedroom.
“No thank you,” she answered glancing around to see a small desk on the wall near the bed. “I’m going to do some work before I eat, then I think I’ll just go to bed early.”
“Very well, Princess. Lunch will be ready in an hour.”
Johanna watched Annette bob in a soft curtsey then turn and leave the room before she sat down at the desk and opened her laptop. After a few minutes to adjust the device to the palace’s Wi-Fi, she managed to log onto the internet and connected with her email provider. She had just begun typing in a message when a small photo in the corner of her screen popped on, displaying her aunt’s image.
“Hello Sweetheart,” Alissa said in a cheerful voice. “Did you make it to Westerly alright?”
“Yes, Aunt Alissa, I’m here,” Johanna smiled back, pulling the image up to fill the screen. “You wouldn’t believe this place. This bedroom is the size of our castle back in England.”
“Well it is a palace, and like all palaces, it’s built for a Queen. The larger the better, as your grandfather would say.”
“I’m going to need a bloody GPS just to find the exit.”
“So how is everything going?” Alissa asked after laughing at her niece’s descriptive complaint.
“Well, I arrived to find a massive crowd of about a billion people, all waving welcome signs and shouting my name,” she said leaning back in the chair, fighting the image of Samuel from her mind. “I learned I have a fan club and I’ve met every Regional Leader from here to Hawaii. Then I come back here to find a trillion more people outside the palace walls, and the entire city of London lined up on the front steps to greet me. I’ve smiled so much my cheeks hurt, and I’ve shaken enough hands to make my fingers numb. Other than that, everything’s going splendidly.”
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Alissa laughed.
“When are you going to be here?” Johanna asked folding her arms across her chest and smiling.
“We’ll be closing up the dig site this evening and we’ll catch the first plane out of Egypt in the morning. If all goes well, we’ll be there tomorrow afternoon. Martin is excited to finish up this venture. He’s been complaining nonstop about the heat.”
“Hey Kiddo,” the man said as his head popped into the picture beside Alissa. “We miss you.”
“I miss you too,” Johanna answered with a soft chuckle. “When you get your flight times, please let me know. I’ll have a car waiting for you at the airport. I don’t know if I’ll go along. I really hate people staring and pointing at me, and I’ve about had my fill of hearing my name screamed out loud.”
“That’s what happens when you become a legend,” Martin teased. “I’m always fighting the urge to swoon at your feet.”
“Knock it off,” Alissa laughed shoving the image away from the screen. “Seriously, Johanna, how are you doing?”
“I’m alright, just nervous I guess. I met the Elders today when I arrived. I’ve decided to confront them once the coronation is over. I don’t want to rock the boat by letting them go just yet. I think I should put a little time under my belt first and show Westerly that I can manage without them.”
“You may have a fight on your hands. Reginald assigned them to that committee over twenty years ago. Giving up the position may not be as easy as handing them a severance check.”
“I know, but it has to be done. Reginald had no legal right to give them as much authority as they have, and I’m not about to allow them to continue. I want to spend some time going over the books, as well. Did you know the people of Westerly are paying fifty-three percent of their income on taxes? That’s practically barbaric.”
“Well, if anyone can find a way to slim the budget it’s you,” Alissa said with a supportive smile.
“Aunt Alissa,” Johanna began a moment later, hesitating as she tried to put her question in a way that didn’t make her seem…interested. “Do you know the Carrington family?”
“Yes, I do,” she answered. “In fact, Walter and your father were very close friends. Edward went to Westerly for his senior year of school and stayed to get his degree at Westerly University. Even though he stayed at the palace, your father spent most of his time with Walter and his family. Why do you ask?”
“I met them today,” she continued. “Walter and Franny - they were there to greet the plane when it arrived. The Carrington’s are the Regional Leaders of Spring Arbor.”
“Yes, they are. If I’m not mistaken, the original leader was Black Jack’s Quartermaster, Mighty Swen. It’s the largest Region outside of your own.”
“I see…” Johanna said absently as she thought back on the handsome man who had been occupying her every thought since she had met him.
“Why are you so curious?” Alissa asked with a slight frown.
“It’s nothing…well, not really…I don’t know. I…just…I was curious…I mean…I should learn more about them…Walter is a Regional Leader and all.”
“Johanna,” Alissa said firmly. “You’re a very bad liar.”
“I’m not lying…I don’t lie,” she said proudly.
“Then tell me why you’re so curious about them?”
Johanna paused for a moment, drawing a deep breath. She should have known she couldn’t fool Alissa, and she really was a bad liar, which was why she didn’t like to do it. She prided herself on her honesty, even to the point of insulting another person who asked for her opinion.
“I had a visit from their son. He’s the Captain of the Royal Guard,” she said after a moment, feeling the color tint her tanned cheeks.
“Ah, you met Samuel,” Alissa said with a wide smile. “I assume he’s as handsome as he always was.”
“What do you know about him?” Johanna asked, skipping past the embarrassing description of his looks.
“He’s a very good man. That much I know for sure. He’s very proud of Westerly and he takes pride in his job. When he’s not protecting the royal family from tyranny, he raises horses, thoroughbred Arabians. He breeds them and trains them for racing. In fact, his horses are so sought after he ships them across the ocean to other countries.”
“Horses,” Johanna mumbled under her breath. At least they have one thing in common.
“He was married once,” Alissa continued capturing Johanna’s full attention. “It was a horrible time in his life, and from what I remember, he vowed never to marry again.”
“No, he’s a widower. His wife died in childbirth, along with his son. You know how much Reginald loved gossip. As soon as his wife died, he had to write us about it. Let’s see…it must have been…five years ago. At the time it was the hottest news in all of Westerly.”
“His father insisted he be betrothed and produce an heir for Spring Arbor,” Alissa continued. “It’s a very common practice a lot of people still observe on Westerly. She was very pretty with blonde hair and big green eyes, but she was younger than he was. Nearly three years. They were married the year after he started Westerly University. He was eighteen and she had just turned sixteen.”
“That must have been after we were last here,” Johanna said trying to map out the timeline in her mind.
“I believe it was, actually. Reginald said the marriage was destined for failure from the very beginning,” Alissa continued a moment later. “Melinda came from a rich family, Samuel was from a rich family, so the union was favorable for both sides. They were married less than a year when she died.”
“How could it have been a failure? They weren’t married long enough to give it a chance.”
“No, Sweetheart, they weren’t, but she wasn’t exactly a very lovable person. I met her once when Reginald had them to the palace for one of his many parties. She was conceited and spoiled and expected her life to be filled with servants and diamonds. Reginald said that after she married Samuel, she learned that he planned on continuing his horse breeding, and she was furious. Rumor had it they separated just a few weeks after they were married but reconciled their differences and moved back in together. Within days the announcement of their pregnancy made the papers.”
“That sounds like they were in love,” Johanna said with a tone that made Alissa’s eyebrow rise, though she ignored the comment and continued with her story.
“I don’t know what happened exactly, but Reginald said Melinda had gone into labor a couple of days prior to her death. Apparently, as the rumor went, she and Samuel had been living at Spring Arbor Manor, so someone would be around to help her. When she went into labor, she refused to tell anyone, even her husband. They weren’t sharing a bed, so he had no way of knowing what was happening. She insisted that she would never give birth vaginally and made that public knowledge. She claimed that it would distort and deform her vagina, and no man would ever want to have sex with her again. She intended to wait to tell anyone until it was too late, and she’d have to deliver by caesarian section.”
“But a scar from a surgery would be worse than a stretched vagina,” Johanna said with a frown.
“Not from her way of thinking. She could have the scar removed with cosmetic surgery and she had no intention of ever having another child. Hell, she didn’t want the one she was carrying. Reginald said she was heard more than once, calling the baby a demon and a bastard.”
“What happened to her?”
“Reginald said Lady Franny found her unconscious and laying in a pool of blood. Her water had broken two days before, but she refused to tell anyone. If she had gone straight to the hospital, her and the baby could have been saved, but her vanity cost them both their lives. The doctors delivered a stillborn baby by c-section, and she died a few hours later. She had developed a fever and had a horrible infection after her water broke. That combined with the loss of blood, made it impossible for her to survive. She never regained consciousness. The rumor at the time was that when Melinda arrived at the delivery room, her legs had been tied together with the sash of her robe. Nobody knew if it was real or not, and there was never any mention of it after she was buried.”
“How horrible,” Johanna said with a soft gasp.
“Samuel was furious and refused to attend her funeral, or so Reginald said. It was a huge scandal for weeks. He arranged the funeral for his infant son, and the entire Region turned out for it, but only a few close friends and family attended Melinda’s funeral. If she had lived, there wouldn’t be a person alive who wouldn’t have turned their back on her.”
“That’s so sad,” Johanna said under her breath.
“Westerly is a large island and a very peaceful country, but the people aren’t forgiving when it comes to placing blame, and the person involved usually becomes an outcast. Recovering from something like that could take years, if ever. That’s what happened to King Edward’s wife. She killed herself from grief and shame after being caught in bed with another man.”
“I’ll remember that.”
“So, back to my question, why are you so curious about Samuel? I know he’s very handsome…but are you attracted to him?”
“Aunt Alissa, please,” Johanna snapped as she straightened in her chair. “I have enough on my plate to keep me busy for decades. The last thing I need is a man hanging around my neck.”
“You know you’ll have to produce an heir for Westerly, sooner or later,” Alissa said with a knowing smile. “If you have to choose a suitable husband, then I suggest Samuel. He’s not just handsome, but he’s a very kind and loving man, and you’ll be spending a lot of time with him. He is the Captain of your guard, after all. It’s his duty to protect your body from harm.”
“That is something I do not want to think about for many more years,” Johanna assured her. “I have to go. Lunch will be ready soon and I have to get washed up.”
“And dressed,” Alissa said with a wide smile. “Royalty always dresses for their meals.”
“Well, the last dress I wore was to my parents’ funeral when I was six months old. Either they accept the jeans, or they don’t look at me.”
“You’re priceless,” Alissa laughed. “I’ll let you know when we have our flight plans. I love you, Sweetheart.”
“No, you don’t,” Johanna snapped angrily, a stern expression tensing her delicate features. “I will send a car to meet you at the airport. Goodbye Alissa.”
She reached up and snapped her computer lid closed then pushed it to the back of the desk.
“Love,” she mumbled standing from the chair and pushing it into the desk. “What a useless waste of time.”