Johanna reached for her coffee cup and placed it to her lips. She was tired and her back ached from sitting so long, but she had managed to spend the past two hours setting up a computer file with the records of the palace employees. Everything she would need to know about them would be in an easily readable and searchable format. She had nearly finished the task when a loud knock sounded at her office door. She jumped with the interruption to the silence, spilling coffee into her lap. The door opened, and Russell stepped in, followed close behind by Samuel.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” she growled as she leaped out of her seat, wiping at the moisture soaking through her jeans with her hand. “I swear to God, I’m going to put cowbells on every person in this bloody place, just so I know when you’re near.”
“Captain Carrington is here, your Highness,” Russell announced fighting the urge to smile at the young woman’s angry expression.
“Please have a seat,” she said as she moved to the adjoining bathroom and retrieved a dry hand towel.
This was not the way she expected to greet the handsome man.
She rejoined the two men, glancing to Russell who was standing to the side of the door as a young maid set down a silver tray of coffee and pastries. Russell bowed obediently and backed out of the room, chuckling under his breath as he walked quietly down the hallway.
“Are you alright?” Samuel asked, standing from his seat as she moved around the side of her desk.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she mumbled in a disgusted voice as she wiped the spilled coffee from the chair’s seat. “I was just startled. This place is so blasted quiet, it’s like living in a monastery.”
“That’s most likely the only thing we don’t have on Westerly,” Samuel chuckled, causing the woman to turn her narrowed eyes on him.
“I’m sorry Captain, but I find no humor in any of this.”
“That’s because you’re far too serious for your own good.”
Samuel sat back down, hiking his pants up slightly as he crossed his ankle over his opposite knee.
“Well, thank you for your analogy, Captain Carrington. Now, if you’ve finished laughing at me, I’d like to get down to business. That is, if that’s alright with you.”
“By all means, Princess. How may I be of service to you?”
Johanna sat down glancing up to the man who continued to stare at her. His sky-blue eyes watched her with such intensity, she felt as if he were looking through her and into her soul. Her mouth felt suddenly dry and her mind became fuzzy, but that was the least of her worries. The recently exposed skin of her groin felt warm as her jeans pressed against it, causing her to fight the urge to wiggle in her seat. The sensation was so new and so intriguing that she lost all thought of the man in front of her until he softly cleared his throat.
“I have been discussing the state of Westerly with some of the staff, and frankly I’m not very pleased with the way things have changed,” she said after adjusting her position in the chair. “If I’m going to bring order back to the island, I’m going to need all the help I can get.”
“What can I do to help you?” he asked with an expression of skepticism on his handsome face.
“How many guards do I have?”
“Fourteen hundred and fifty-seven with another three hundred junior guards.”
“Are they voluntary or are they like the military, where they have bases they report to and training they undergo routinely?”
“A lot are voluntary but are at your assistance when you call. Most of us are available whenever or wherever you need protection or security. Five hundred of us are full-time guards and routinely go through advanced skill training, though we do live in private homes rather than camps or bases and carry out normal lives. The others go through intense training once a week every month”
“I know we have a military, or at least a Navy and an Army, but what I’m looking for is a team who is willing to travel with me throughout Westerly, to the poorer Regions and restore order.”
“I can arrange whatever you need, whenever you’re ready. Do you have an itinerary or an idea of when you plan on leaving and how long you’re going to be gone?”
“I’m not sure right off and I won’t know how long I’ll be gone until I see the depth of the damage,” Johanna said. “It may be weeks - or even months. There’s no real guarantee.”
“Do you have an idea of when you wanted to leave?”
“I plan on leaving as soon as the coronation is over, and I want to take a strong team with me. I’m going to need security to enforce the laws and curfews, and to help me put the Regions back in order.”
“You may be in for more than you expect,” Samuel said seriously. “The Northern Shores itself have been in virtual chaos for years. Most of the families either lost their homes or property due to back taxes or are struggling to hang on to what little they have left.”
“I am going to bring order back to that Region first, Captain,” Johanna said with a stern expression. “I need the help of the guard, but if you’re not willing to assist me...”
“I never said I wasn’t willing, and as Captain of the guard, I will go to any lengths to protect you. I’m just concerned that you may be biting off more than you can handle.”
“I’m not afraid of hard work, Captain Carrington,” she said with narrowed eyes.
“I didn’t say you were, Johanna,” he told her gently calling her by her given name. “I’ll form a brigade and we’ll be ready to leave on your orders. I assume you are planning on leaving after the Opening of The King’s Warf?”
“I was thinking of leaving right after the coronation.”
“But…the King, or in your case, the queen, always starts the festivities,” he told her with a curious stare. “You’ll be expected to give a speech, and people will be coming from all over the island to meet you. It’s tradition, Johanna.”
“I didn’t think about the festival,” she said in a distracted voice.
“It begins the Friday after your coronation and lasts throughout the weekend.”
“I suppose I don’t have much choice. I’ll have to postpone my plans for a little while.”
She ran her finger across the mouse of her laptop and removed it from hibernation, then began typing in notes.
“The island has a considerable amount of festivals and celebrations,” Samuel continued a moment later. “After the opening of the King’s Warf, there’s the Founder’s Day, the Spring Craft and Arts Festival, then the Pineapple Festival, and the Summer Carnival, and the Festival of Lanterns, followed by the Music Under the Stars Festival, the Taste of the Island, then the Birth of the Bordellos Jubilee, the End of Fishing Season Gala, and finally the Christmas Festival.”
“Good Lord,” Johanna frowned. “Does this island do anything else but party?”
“Of course,” Samuel chuckled. “We also have a Farmer’s Market during the spring for the early harvest, then the summer for the mid-harvest, and the autumn for the final harvest.”
“I’m living on an island of debauchery and gluttony,” she exclaimed in a tone of disgust.
“Westerly isn’t called The Island Sex Built because of our pineapple fields,” he laughed, amused by the expression on the attractive woman’s face.
“I’m not waiting for all of that to end before I get started to work,” she insisted. “We’ll stay until the festival is over, but no more. If I have to, I’ll leave Alissa and Martin in charge of the rest of the propensities.”
“The most important celebrations for you to attend personally is the Opening of The King’s Warf, the Founder’s Day, the Festival of the Lanterns and the Birth of the Bordellos. You’ll need to open the Christmas Festival, but you don’t have to be present for the rest of the celebrations if you can’t make it. Reginald opened every festival, but that was because he loved the attention and the food and wine.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, Captain, I’m not my cousin.”
“Trust me, Johanna,” he said with a half grin as his eyes roamed down to her chest, lingering on the swell of breast hiding beneath the thin satin fabric. “I’ve definitely noticed.”
“Back to the itinerary,” she said fighting the urge to blush as she quickly took in his attire.
His tight green pullover shirt that hugged his muscular torso, the tight strain of his black jeans across his thigh muscles, made him appear seductive in a comfortable way. She moved her eyes away from the slight swell in his pants, demanding the heat to cool from her face.
“We’ll need to get a full survey of the damage of Northern Shores since I want to start there first. I’ll need to know what sort of materials we’ll need to take with us, and we’ll need to arrange lodgings for while we’re there.”
“I know a lot of the homes have been in disrepair for years, and most of the businesses have closed down. You won’t be able to get a decent meal within miles of the main village, but there is a hotel on the outskirts of the city. It’s a five-star hotel with a nightclub, a restaurant, and very exclusive visitors.”
“What’s it called?” she asked with a slight frown as she walked to the filing cabinet and removed a folder of Reginald’s then returned to the desk and opened it.
“Northern Lights,” Samuel answered. “It sits on the beachfront and has an impeccable reputation for its service and hospitality, even though it is on the outskirts of Northern Shores.”
“I’ll need to check into this further, but Reginald has it listed as one of the assets belonging to the throne.”
“So, as owner, you should be able to pull some strings and have a decent room,” he teased, watching the disapproving look she offered him.
“I’ll have Mary make the arrangements after the funeral,” she told him. “Have you any idea how many guards you will be needing?”
“At least fifty, seventy-five would be better,” he replied seriously. “Of course, we’ll have to switch them out every couple of weeks.”
“Why?” she frowned looking up at the man.
“You’re asking men to leave their homes and families for a considerable amount of time,” he told her. “That’s a lot to ask of any man, especially when you’re visiting a Region without a Bordello.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” she conceded. “I’ll leave those arrangements up to you. I’ll have Mary arrange for rooms for all of us, and I would appreciate any suggestions you may have for the rejuvenation of the Region.”
She stood with a heavy sigh and walked to the silver tray sitting on the table in front of the sofa, pouring two cups of coffee.
“What are your ultimate plans for the Region?” he asked, when she returned, handing him a china cup before sitting back down at her desk.
“I want it restored to what it was when Angelique and Ian were on the throne, or even King Arnold,” she told him with a determined gleam in her eye. “I want peace for the people of Westerly.”
“Then you’re going to need to work on the four factories in the area first, and get them back up and running,” Samuel suggested watching while she once again woke her laptop up.
“What type of factories?” she asked as she began typing.
“There’s a fish factory, a textile factory, and a cannery that were closed down about six or seven years ago. You’ll need to hire a mechanic to look at the machines, and a carpenter to investigate the structure. My father owns one of the largest construction firms on the island. I’m sure he’d be willing to help with your project.”
“I’ll ask him after the funeral. You said there were four factories. What’s the fourth one?”
“It’s a factory that used to produce conjugal aids.”
Samuel watched the woman across from him closely for any reaction to his comment. He had heard the rumors of her strict morals and lack of understanding for the Bordellos and was curious as to how far she was willing to go, to bring the Region back in order.
“Conjugal aids?” she asked with a frown then glanced up to see his blue eyes staring at her.
“Dildos,” he said boldly. “Vibrators, whips, genital clamps, anal plugs…”
“Thank you, I get the idea,” Johanna said with a soft blush.
“There’s a question that has been on everyone’s mind since Reginald died,” he said in a tone that told her he just wanted to talk.
“And that would be?” she asked.
“What are your plans for the Bordellos?”
Johanna’s eyes widened, and her mind went blank for a whole five seconds. She had no idea what he meant. The Bordellos were a part of Westerly’s heritage, and the biggest part of their economy, so why would she want to do anything to them.
“Thanks to the press, and Nora, everyone knows how religious you are and how high you hold your morals,” Samuel continued a moment later after seeing her stunned expression. “The future of the homes is under question whether you plan on closing them or not. After all, the idea of a queen who based her major on the Science of Religion ruling over an island of debauchery seems like an oxymoron.”
“Remind me to have a long talk with your sister,” she said as she took Reginald’s file and stood up, walking to the filing cabinet.
She really wasn’t finished with the file, but she needed to distance herself from his intensive stare and the heat she could feel tinting her face.
“The Bordellos have been here a very long time. They are a part of this island, as much as the water or the sand. I have no intension of closing down the homes, and I never tamper with a system that has lasted through centuries of feast and famine.”
“I’m sure there are a lot of people who will be quite relieved to hear that,” Samuel said as Johanna returned to her desk and opened a drawer to retrieve a pen.
“Aren’t you one of those people?” she asked still trying to avoid his eyes. “I thought all Westerly men spent their nights in the arms of some wench.”
“I don’t have many free nights, and it’s been a very long time since I made use of the Lady’s services,” he told her as he lowered his leg, shifting awkwardly in his seat.
“I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to pry…” Johanna had no idea why she was apologizing, but she suddenly felt jealous.
If he wasn’t taking advantage of the women of the Bordellos, then that meant he had another woman he was turning to for comfort. The idea, somehow, didn’t set very well on her ragged nerves.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” he assured her. “After my…after Melinda died, I chose to concentrate on my career and my horses. I don’t have time to waste with a whore.”
“I heard about your wife and baby,” Johanna heard herself saying though the words sounded like they were coming from some unseen intruder to their conversation. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”
“It was a long time ago,” Samuel insisted clenching his jaw twice as if he was trying to control his response. “Can I assume you’re going to stay in Westerly Heights until The Opening of The King’s Warf has finished?”
Johanna understood the change in subject meant he wasn’t willing to discuss his past with her. She was, after all, a perfect stranger to him.
“I want to work on restoring order to this island immediately, but I suppose I won’t have much choice but to remain here for a while longer. I’d like to leave no later than Tuesday, however.”
“I will make certain everything is ready on my end.”
Samuel acted like he was about to leave, but Johanna wasn’t ready for him to go. There was a part of her that wanted him to stay longer, and she would grasp at any straw to keep him at the palace.
“Besides the mechanic and contractor, who else do you think I should speak with?”
That was a reasonable excuse to continue talking with him, she thought.
“You’ll need an electrician,” Samuel suggested adjusting his position in the leather wingback chair. “And I suggest an engineer to inspect the land grade. I’ll send some men to secure the hotel once you’re ready to leave, and I’ll arrange transportation.”
“I’d rather nobody knew what I was planning until after I speak with the Elders,” Johanna insisted. “I do not want anything to complicate the renovation.”
“Wise idea. I don’t think they will be very happy if they knew you were going to reopen factories they closed down, especially Sorensen. His Region has made a great deal of money by transferring the work from Northern Shores’ factories to those of West Hallow.”
“Sorensen owns one of the factories that inherited the work from Northern Shores, and the textile manufacturing in Red Bluff has more work than they can handle. Both produce high profits for Jackson and Sorensen.”
“That means they’ll be very unhappy at the loss of business,” she surmised. “It’s going to be interesting to see their reaction.” She smiled wickedly causing Samuel to chuckle.
“I have a feeling you’re going to set quite a few people on their ears. It’s one thing to have a queen who is young and beautiful, but to have one who is strong-willed is going to take some getting used to.”
“As I said, Captain Carrington, I’m not my cousin,” Johanna replied trying hard not to dwell on the fact he just called her beautiful. “I am going to lower taxes immediately and the people of this island will have a chance to recover from the financial nightmare they’ve been forced to endure. Black Jack wanted the throne to be the only law on the island, and I will make certain that law is obeyed. It’s my intention to enforce every one of Black Jack’s regulations, and those of King Edward’s where it pertains to the Bordellos. Since Westerly isn’t like the other countries controlled by monarchs, I don’t have to deal with a Prime Minister or government objecting to my plans. With luck - and a lot of hard work - I’ll have this island back to the paradise it once was.”
“If you’re serious about that, then you can count on my support,” Samuel said with a hint of a smile. “I have never lived under a ruler other than Reginald, so I can’t say that I know of any other way to live, but my parents have. They often talk about the simplicity of life under King Arnold.”
“I have made the simpler life my personal goal, Captain Carrington. In time, peace and tranquility will again be a normal way of life.”
“If we’re going to be working together, perhaps you should start calling me by my first name,” he told her with a soft wink that seemed to surprise even him.
“Alright, Samuel. I’ve never much liked titles, and I don’t plan on getting used to them any time soon, so please feel free to call me by my given name as well.”
“Well, Johanna,” he said lifting his coffee cup in the air, “here’s to a new era.”
“Here’s to a happy future,” she said with a smile as she lifted her own cup and touched the rim to his.
He smiled as he watched her place the cup to her lips and took a drink. Her simple action had him feeling warm in places he had thought were in permanent hibernation. With a tightening of his stomach to control the twitching sensation in his pants, he tipped the cup to his own lips.
He wasn’t sure how the future was going to play out for the people of the island, but there was one thing he was certain of. Keeping a close eye on this beautiful young woman was going to prove stimulating, and for the first time in over five years, he found himself looking forward to the challenge.
“The funeral will be at one o’clock with awake at three,” Johanna began in her usual organized tone. “Reginald wanted his wake to be a celebration - like everything else on this island - so there will be music and dancing, despite Lord Sorensen’s objection that it be solemn and subdued. I have to admit, I’m rather curious to see what the Elders have to say about a woman taking the throne next week.”
“What can they say?” Martin asked with a frown. “Reginald declared you his heir and made you legally responsible for the island once he died. The most they can do is grumble.”
“Let them,” Alissa commented with a proud expression as she looked to her niece. “Johanna will make certain they understand who is in charge.”
“I just can’t wait for the coronation to be over with, so I can disband the old bastards,” the younger woman said with a disgruntled expression.
“That’s going to be an event I want to witness,” Alissa laughed.
“You’re expecting them to make a fuss, but they must know, they no longer have anything to say about the island or what happens to it,” Martin commented. “Maybe they aren’t going to object to you relieving them, as you suspect.”
“I hope not,” Johanna answered honestly.
“Well, we’ll see what happens soon enough. As for me,” Alissa said setting her empty glass on the table top, “I’m exhausted and I’m eager to soak in a very hot bath. With luck, I’ll be able to sleep in that monstrous bed.”
“Good luck,” Johanna chuckled softly. “It’s not as easy as you might think.”
“I’m up for a challenge,” Alissa laughed.
“I’m right behind you,” Martin said draining the rest of his drink and placing his glass next to Alissa’s.
“You two go ahead. I still have some work to do before I call it a night,” Johanna said watching the two stand as they intertwined their fingers together in a romantic gesture of holding hands.
“You have a very busy day tomorrow,” Alissa frowned. “You should try and get some sleep, especially since you said you barely had any last night.”
“I will, I promise. I just want to finish the work I started earlier.”
“Very well. Then we’ll see you in the morning.” Alissa smiled and walked around the table to hug Johanna, though the younger woman did not return the gesture. “I’m so happy to be here for you. I’ve really missed you, you know.”
“I’m glad you’re here too, but I’ve only been gone for two days,” Johanna said as she gently pushed her aunt away. “The seamstress is bringing over a dress for you in the morning and she’ll do any last-minute alterations that will need done before we go to the mortuary.”
“I’ll be ready.” Alissa smiled to Johanna as Martin took her hand again and gently pulled her out of the room.
Johanna sat alone for several moments until she was certain the two had left the main floor. She stood and walked to the bar, pouring another glass of whiskey. She frowned as she sipped the amber colored liquid, then turned and left the room, taking her drink with her. She knew her aunt meant well, but she had a bad habit of becoming emotional when she got tired, and she really didn’t have the patience right now to deal with it.
Once inside her new office, Johanna pulled up the list she and Samuel began earlier that afternoon. They made a complete list of materials to take with them, as well as those anticipated for the factories. She had spoken with Lord Carrington shortly after Samuel left and explained what she was planning, then arranged for an engineer and a mechanic to meet them in Northern Shores on the Sunday after next.
Everything was ready - at least on paper. All she had to do was bury her cousin, be crowned queen, fire the Elders, and partake of the first of many, many festivals. Simple, she thought sarcastically. First, before any of that could be done, she had to master sleeping in a real bed.
With a heavy sigh, she shut off her computer and tucked it under her arm as she left the room. Slowly, she climbed the stairs to the top floor and entered her private chambers. As she passed Alissa and Martin’s room, she noticed their shadows under the door. It really was good to have them here. She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to handle any of this without them, regardless of how many years she had spent preparing for the day she’d take over Westerly. For the most part, she was ready and able to perform the job, or at least she hoped she was. She knew people assumed she was calm, logical, almost ice-like, and in control of every situation, but the truth was, she felt as nervous as a canary in a room full of cats.
Quietly, she closed the door to her own room and kicked her shoes off aiming them toward the foot of the bed. The bedside lamps were on, reflecting soft shadows across the nearby tapestries hanging on the wall. Her bed had been turned down with the multitude of pillows fluffed to perfection. The door to her veranda stood open, just enough to allow the warm air of night to clear out the staleness of Reginald’s cigars and brandy. She was certain, with a few days of open doors and windows, she would have her cousin’s lingering stench erased from the palace once and for all. But no matter how much island breeze she brought into the house, she doubted it would ease the awkward feelings plaguing her. She only wished she could walk through the halls of the six-hundred-year-old palace, as comfortably as she had moved around the desert sands of Egypt.
Johanna glanced around to the boxes sitting near the door of the wardrobe. Alissa told her she had brought the rest of her belongings back with her, and she assumed this must have been them, though she didn’t remember having so much stuff. She switched on the overhead chandelier and blinked at the bright light twinkling off the dozens of crystals hanging from its elaborate brass arms. She set her computer on the edge of the bed then moved to the wardrobe, pulling the lid off one of the boxes. Instead of finding her collection of textbooks, she found Reginald’s trophies. She looked up to the shelves by the fireplace and frowned. They were empty of pictures, awards, and polo memorabilia.
“Good evening your Highness,” Annette said entering the room, a silver tray in her hands. “I thought you might like a cup of tea before bed. You said you had a hard time sleeping last night, and I’ve always found the sweet blend of Westerly’s tropical teas to be the perfect sleeping aid.”
“Thank you,” Johanna answered watching the woman move to the sitting area of the room where she set the tray on the low coffee table. “Annette, did you pack Reginald’s things?” she asked when the woman turned around.
“Yes, ma’am. I didn’t think you would mind. After all, this is your room now and Lady Alissa said you had a number of books that you liked to use as a reference. I thought you might like to have your own belongings in the room.”
“That was very thoughtful, thank you,” Johanna said hesitantly as she packed up the items she had removed from the box and closed the lid.
“Did I do something wrong, your Highness?” Annette asked.
“What?” Johanna looked up with a frown and noticed the concerned expression on her maid’s face. “Oh, no, you didn’t do anything wrong. I suppose I just wasn’t expecting…I mean…” Johanna sighed as she tried to put her feelings into words. “I know he’s gone and the palace is mine now, it’s just going to take some time to adjust. Removing his trophies and awards makes it seem…I don’t know…real, I guess.”
“I’ll put them back if you’d like, Princess,” Annette said with a motherly smile.
“No, that’s alright. Perhaps we should send them to his lodge. They can display them there, for posterity.”
“I’ll have the staff move them out in the morning,” Annette said as she moved toward the wardrobe. “I took the liberty of unpacking the clothes your aunt brought you. Janessa sent over a number of dresses and blouses she’s been working on, and your funeral gown has been pressed and is hanging on the back of the bathroom door for tomorrow.”
Johanna listened to the woman who moved around her room-sized closet as she spoke, then frowned again when she returned with a nightgown and a robe. She watched Annette lay them out on the end of her bed before moving her computer to the desk.
“Your tea is going to get cold your Highness,” Annette said turning back to Johanna. “Would you like me to pour it for you?”
“No, thank you,” she answered and sighed again. “Annette, I know you mean well, and I know you’re only doing your job, but…”
“You aren’t used to anyone fussing over you,” Annette said, finishing her sentence with a caring expression. “I understand, your Highness.”
“It’s just going to take some time,” Johanna said with a soft color tinting her tanned cheeks.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve set your nightclothes out and I’ve taken the liberty of filling the bath for you. I wasn’t certain when you would be up, so the water may be a bit hotter than you’d prefer, so please be careful. If you need anything else, please call. All of your most important numbers have been programmed on your bedside phone with names and corresponding numbers.”
“Thank you,” Johanna said with a genuine smile. “Perhaps one day I’ll get used to this.”
“You will,” Annette chuckled. “I’ll be back in the morning to help you dress for the funeral. The service will be broadcast over Westerly television, and the press will expect a speech afterward. Your Press Secretary, Charlotte-Anne Finlayson, has prepared one for you to review. She will rewrite it tomorrow after you’ve had a chance to make the changes necessary. It is on your desk. Unless you need anything else, I’ll say goodnight, Princess.”
“Good night Annette…and Annette,” Johanna said stopping the woman from leaving the room. “You don’t have to call me princess. My parents gave me several names, but princess was not one of them. Please call me Johanna.”
“It wouldn’t be proper to call you by your Christian name, your Highness.” Annette watched the disappointed expression cross the young woman’s face and felt guilty for denying her this one request.
“Perhaps,” the older woman said with a smile, “Miss Johanna would be more to your liking.”
“It’s much better than highness or princess, I suppose.”
“Very well then, good night, Miss Johanna. I will see you in the morning.”
“Good night and thank you again, Annette.”
Johanna watched the woman leave the room, closing the door behind her. Lifting her braid over her shoulder, she pulled the fastener loose and ran her fingers through the long strands. She felt tired and realized it was more from frustration than fatigue. She had only been on Westerly a short time and was confronted with more destruction and more depravity than she anticipated.
Taking a deep breath, she walked to the sitting room as she pulled her blouse off over her head and looked at the silver tray. She could smell the sweet aroma of the small stream of steam coming out of the teapot’s spout and instantly her mouth began to water. Cautiously, she poured a small amount into the china cup and took a sip. It was hot but very delicious with a slight hint of pineapple and orange. Pouring a full cup, she took a drink then carried it with her into the bathroom. Annette had lit several candles on the fireplace mantle, illuminating the room in a very soft yellow glow. She set the teacup on a wooden pedestal next to the bathtub and reached her fingertips into the water.
The water was indeed hot, but not so much that she couldn’t take advantage of it, and there was a very light fragrance of lavender that drifted upwards as she stirred her fingers through the heat. Johanna wrapped her hair up on top of her head as she walked to the vanity in her bedroom, securing it with a clip she had in the top drawer. She stripped off the rest of her clothes, tossing them to the back of a nearby chair, then padded naked back into the bathroom. She stepped into the shower and turned on the radio, filling the room with the soft sounds of a violin solo. The sound of the strings wound around her, relaxing her in a way nothing else could, making her feel momentarily at ease with her life.
She moved back to the tub, cautiously stepping into the softly scented water, gasping once at the sting of heat as it met her delicate skin. Easing herself under the surface of the water, she carefully sat down and leaned back against the upholstered headrest. She pressed the switch that started the jets to spray across her tired muscles and lay her head back. Her eyes closed, and she allowed the setting of the room to embed her in its comforting embrace. The events of the day began to flow through her mind again. She relived every conversation, every detail of her plans and reviewed her itinerary for each day of the next two weeks.
As she thought over her conversation with Samuel, she began to feel a strange, stimulating tingle twitch in her low abdomen. She could actually feel the butterflies in her stomach, Sarah and Angela always spoke of whenever they discussed boys. She had always thought they were childish, even foolish, for allowing their emotions to dictate their desires, but now she was experiencing a similar reaction. She had overheard Alissa earlier that afternoon, telling Martin that she thought her innocent niece was attracted to Samuel. At first, Johanna refused to acknowledge the idea, rejecting it as wishful thinking on her aunt’s part. But as the day progressed and she continued to think about him, the more she felt perhaps her aunt had been right - to a point. She would admit there was a slight physical attraction to the man. But then who wouldn’t be, she thought.
He had all the masculine attributes that had attracted women for millenniums. The strong, primal appearance Neanderthal females would look for in a mate. The chiseled features poets wrote about, that drew women to him like moths to a flame. His smile seemed to wind its way into a woman’s soul, and his eyes made her feel as if he were reading her every thought. He had a reputation of kindness and understanding that made women trust him, and a history of loss and rejection that brought out the maternal instinct to comfort him. When a person thought about it in this manner, it was only human nature that she would feel an attraction to him.
Sliding further below the warm water, Johanna allowed herself to fall deeper into a calm, almost meditative mood. She began to review her cousin’s life as the water caressed her body. She thought about his last few years, and all that she had learned about him over the past twenty-four hours. He was not just greedy and arrogant, but he was a lecherous, perverted tyrant. At this point in her mind, there was nothing anyone could tell her about him that would surprise her. Because of him, because of his dictator-style leadership, she was faced with having to repair more damage than she had imagined. He used and controlled women for sexual pleasure yet ignored his country for his own selfish desires.
With a heavy sigh, Johanna opened her eyes. The night hours were passing quickly, and she knew she had to attempt sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a day like those of her past. A day she once promised herself she would never again experience. In her short twenty-years, she had survived the loss of her parents, saw her grandfather buried, and watched her grandmother die before her young eyes, and now this. Death was a part of life, this much was not just truth but fact, though she refused to acquaint herself with it. Logically, she knew there would never be a way of avoiding it. Her grandfather told her once, nobody got out of this life alive. It was a sentiment she had made her moto over the years, though secretly she chose to reject it.
Johanna slowly sat up, washing her face and body, then shut off the humming jets, and pulled the lever to drain the water. She sat in the tub for several long moments, watching the water slowly flow down the small hole. A part of her felt as if this simple, innocent act was symbolic of her life. Once she had been full, filled with a desire for a simpler existence. She had a life that was organized, structured, satisfying. Then with the flick of a finger, like that of pressing the jet’s control, it was all taken from her. For the first time in her life, Johanna felt as alone and vulnerable as she currently was in this porcelain basin.
Standing, she reached for the large thick towel and wrapped it around her slender body, then stepped out of the empty tub and moved to the sink. She brushed her teeth and pulled the clip from her hair before blowing out the candles. Taking her teacup with her, she returned to her bedroom, once again pulling her fingers through her hair.
The ceiling light was still on and the room was bright with twinkling rainbows that seemed to bounce off the walls and furniture. She set the teacup on the bedside table then walked into her wardrobe where she dropped the towel on the bench, then removed the tank top and shorts she preferred to wear to bed. She easily slid them across her womanly form, then picked up the towel and returned to her bedroom.
The door to her veranda was still open and the air was turning cool enough to cause a shiver to run down her damp skin. Tossing the towel to the back of one upholstered chair, she moved to the door and stepped out on to the concrete patio. The night was quiet, and the sound of the ocean lapping against the shore below the palace was soft and pleasant. The faint echo of music drifted up to her and she looked in the direction of it but saw only darkness. The giggle of a woman made Johanna blush. She recognized her aunt’s voice as Martin’s deep chuckle blended with the moan that followed.
Moving back into her bedroom, Johanna closed the veranda doors and walked to her bed. The clock on the small table showed eleven twenty-six in red numbers. With a tired sigh, she set down on the edge of the thick mattress and lifted her teacup to her lips. Even cold, it was delicious, and she drank it down in one large swallow. Returning the cup to the small table, she flipped off the bedside lamp and removed all but one of the pillows from the stack Annette had placed against the headboard. Johanna laid down, pulling the covers across her legs and up to her waist. The bed seemed a bit more comfortable then it had the night before and she quickly found herself drifting to sleep.
Dreams of pirates began to float before her eyes, and Johanna slowly fell into a deep sleep, embraced in the arms of her pirate lover as he carried her to the cabin of his ship. He lay her on the bed and stretched out next to her, kissing her moist lips.
Johanna moaned in her sleep as her dream-lover began to undress her, caressing her delicate flesh with gentle, calloused fingers. As he spread her legs and settled between them, he raised his head and smiled down to her. The blonde hair fell across his shoulders and his bright blue eyes twinkled at her as he whispered the words, “here’s to a new era, my beloved Johanna.”