The sound of a loud beeping made Johanna jerk awake as she sat up and looked around startled. The room was bright and for a moment she wasn’t sure where she was. After a few deep breaths to calm her raging nerves, reality began to seep back into her sleepy mind. She reached beside her and shut off the alarm, then fell back against her pillow.
She felt well rested, though the images of making love with Samuel still echoed in her consciousness. It seemed so real that she had a hard time pushing them aside. When she closed her eyes again, she could feel his hands caressing her bare skin, her lips tingled with his kisses and between her legs…
Johanna sat up again with a gasp. She had never felt moisture there before, and she wasn’t sure if she liked it or not. Her stomach seemed to be flipping with a strange tickle that she couldn’t name, and her heart beat a rapid thumping inside her chest. Could this be real? Could she possibly have experienced her first sexual encounter with a man…in her dreams?
Shaking her head hard, she swung her legs across the side of the bed and stood up. It was a ridiculous idea, she argued as she moved across the thick carpet to the bathroom where she relieved herself before brushing her teeth. She would push the thoughts far from her mind and ignore the senseless notions bouncing about in her befuddled brain.
Taking the rug once again from beneath the table in the sitting room, Johanna moved out onto the veranda and closed her eyes. After her usual morning prayer, she began to bend in the many positions that would stretch the stiffness of sleep from her slender limbs. She fought to keep the image of Samuel from her mind while she twisted and turned in ways that would make a grown man cry.
Annette entered the room with a glass of pineapple juice and paused only for a moment when she saw the princess once again trying to bend herself into a pretzel. With an amused smile, she set the glass on the table in the sitting room and moved into the wardrobe where she began to gather the items Johanna would need for the day’s events.
The gown Janessa Andres had made her was simple, yet elegant in a formfitting black taffeta. The style was old, seventeenth century, as tradition dictated, with a delicate black Chantilly lace covering the bodice. The sleeves were long and simple with puffed shoulders and the skirt was slender but flowed just enough to provide a full appearance. The undergarments were about the only thing that had changed in the style over the centuries.
King Edward, and then King Ian, dictated that women should not be burdened with knickers or undergarments, especially in the Bordellos, so most of the women on Westerly never bothered to wear them. However, Johanna was far from an ordinary woman, and Annette assumed she would wish to wear a simple pair of cotton panties. She pulled them out of the drawer she had placed them the day before, along with a white lacy bra, and removed the new pair of stockings from its package. She opened the box Lars Christian had sent over and carefully lifted the black satin covered low heeled shoes.
Johanna was pulling the rug back inside when Annette emerged from the wardrobe, catching her off guard. She paused for a moment with a startled expression, but quickly recovered and continued to place the rug back under the table.
“Good morning, Miss Johanna,” Annette said cheerfully. “If you would like, I can have a carpet made for the veranda, so you can exercise in comfort.”
Annette set the items she had in her hands on the bench at the foot of the bed, then began pulling the blankets and sheets across the mattress.
“That might be easier than taking this one out every morning,” Johanna answered as she went to the vanity and sat down, pulling the brush through her hair.
“I’ll have Russell order one to be measured immediately after the funeral,” Annette assured her.
Johanna watched the woman move into the bathroom, then frowned when she returned with the black gown she was supposed to wear. She wasn’t happy about having to wear a dress, and even less about wearing a black one. She knew from her years in the hot sun of the desert, black was not the desired color to wear, and the thick heavy material was going to make it unbearable.
“Mrs. Reynolds has prepared a special breakfast, and Miss Andres will be here in forty-five minutes to make any alterations you or your aunt may need,” Annette said hanging the gown on a hook outside of the wardrobe.
“Remind me to discuss my diet requirements with Mrs. Reynolds,” Johanna complained as a soft knock sounded at her door.
“Is there a problem, ma’am?” Annette asked before seeing who was knocking
“No, not really, it’s just that the woman seems determined to make me fat. I’m not used to eating large meals, and I don’t particularly care for three of them every day.”
“I’m sure she will be happy to make whatever you would like,” Annette said with a smile as she walked to the door and opened it.
“I sound ungrateful, don’t I?” Johanna asked setting her brush back on the vanity and watching as Mary Crosby entered the room, bobbing a quick curtsey.
“No ma’am, you don’t,” Annette assured her. “The staff is used to King Reginald and his…unique way of doing things. They aren’t used to having a young woman in the house, yet. It will take some time to adjust.”
“For all of us.”
“Would you like me to bring your breakfast up here while you get ready, or will you be dining downstairs?” Annette asked as she continued to set Johanna’s clothes out across the end of the bed.
“I’ll eat with my aunt.”
“Very well, I’ll let Russell know.”
“Thank you, Annette,” Johanna said before the woman left the room with a friendly smile, closing the door behind her as she uttered a soft yes ma’am.
“Good morning your Highness,” Mary said setting down on the settee in the sitting room. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here yesterday. I had a personal matter that came up.”
“Is everything alright?” Johanna asked, sitting in the chair opposite her assistant.
“Oh, yes ma’am, thank you for asking. It’s just…well…I’m not sure how to say this…”
“Just say it.”
Johanna frowned at the girl’s reluctance. She hated people that beat-around-the-bush, as her aunt would say, and she especially didn’t like it today. She felt awkwardly nervous and was quickly beginning to lose patience with the whole day.
“I found out…I’m expecting a baby,” Mary said with a soft blush. “My husband and I have been trying for almost two years. We had given up the effort and decided to concentrate on our careers for a little while longer. This has taken us by surprise, but I promise it won’t interfere with my job.”
“There’s no need to explain yourself, and I’m sure we can work around your condition.”
Johanna watched the relief spread across the young woman’s face.
“Thank you, your Highness,” Mary said.
“Do you mind if I ask you something?” Johanna continued a moment later watching as the girl opened the leather case on her electronic tablet. “How old are you? I mean…you look younger than I am, and yet you said you’ve been trying for two years to have a baby. That seems rather unlikely.”
“I’m eighteen, ma’am,” Mary said sitting a bit taller on the settee as if she was trying to make herself appear older than she was.
“That means you were married at sixteen?”
Johanna knew she sounded critical, but she couldn’t help it. Sixteen was so young. And to have a baby at eighteen seemed…foreign to her. She had always assumed that girls married in their twenties and had a baby within three years. At least that’s what Lady Catherine had told her when she was a child, and she never bothered to doubt her.
“It’s very common for girls to marry at fifteen or sixteen on Westerly, especially in arranged marriages. My husband and I have known each other our whole lives, and we married the year before he went to Westerly University.”
Johanna could tell by the look on Mary’s face that she felt she had insulted her, and that was the last thing she wanted to do.
“Mary, forgive me, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. It’s just that…well, I’m from a different world than you are…to me, this all seems…eccentric.”
“Life on Westerly Island is far different than the rest of the world, your Highness. We don’t conform to the same beliefs as other countries, and our laws are very unusual for outsiders to understand.”
“That’s an understatement,” Johanna said under her breath then quickly cleared her throat. “What are we up against today…besides the funeral, that is.”
“Charlotte-Anne would like a few minutes of your time to discuss your speech and Captain Carrington has asked for a moment to go over the security for the funeral procession and the service.”
“I completely forgot the speech,” Johanna said as she hurried to the desk to retrieve the paper Annette told her about the night before.
She quickly scanned the paper, thankful for being a very quick reader. She had never forgotten anything this important before, and frankly, she didn’t like how it felt now. She seemed to be slowly spinning out of control and she was determined to find a way to stop it as quickly as possible.
“Tell her I’ll discuss it with her after breakfast.”
“Yes, ma’am. And Captain Carrington?”
Johanna’s heart seemed to skip a beat at the mention of the man’s name, and she fought herself to remain calm. She only hoped the girl across from her didn’t notice the color she could feel burning in her cheeks.
“I’ll meet with him in my office after I go over the speech with Charlotte,” she said returning to her vanity where she began braiding her hair.
“I beg your pardon, ma’am,” Mary said in a soft voice, like that of a child asking for a cookie. “Charlotte-Anne doesn’t like being called Charlotte. She’s a very forward woman and very…demanding. I wouldn’t want you to start out on her bad side.”
“I seem to be apologizing for an awful lot today,” Johanna said with anger in her voice. “If there isn’t anything else, Mary, I’d like a few minutes alone to collect my thoughts.”
“Yes ma’am,” Mary said quickly closing her tablet and standing up.
Johanna nodded to the girl who did another short curtsey, lifting the hem of her floor-length black skirt then left the room and its occupant alone.
“I’m going to lose my bloody mind,” she growled, unbraiding her hair and brushing through it again with the vigor of her pent-up irritation.
She was about ready to scream with frustration. It was barely nine o’clock in the morning and so far, she had insulted two women with whom she would be spending a considerable amount of time with, for a long time to come. If she had her way about it, she’d run as far away from this gilded cage she was living in as she could, and never look back. She felt angry with the way things were being handled around her, and for her, she hated being told how to dress and what to wear, and she hated herself for allowing these people to dictate to her.
Johanna slammed her brush back on the vanity and stood up. Tradition dictated that the queen wear black at funerals, especially for those of royalty or for prominent members of society. The King, however, had a suit similar to the one Samuel and his guards wore. She knew she was the queen - or soon would be - but she was also the future ruler. Surely, that gave her some leniency in her decisions. After all, the last heir to be queen was Angelique, King Edward’s daughter. Back in those days, women wore dresses and obeyed the choices and orders from men. There was never an option for them, but there was for her.
Walking to the phone, she quickly flipped through the numbers that had been programmed into the device and found the one she wanted. Dialing the phone made her feel a bit daring, but it was time Westerly knew what kind of queen they were going to have, and there was no better time than the present.
Johanna had changed her mind about eating downstairs and spent the morning with her seamstress in her private chambers. Alissa and Martin ate in the dining hall with Mary, Charlotte-Ann, and Samuel, spending two full hours talking about Westerly’s past and the prospects of the future. They never thought to be concerned as to why Johanna hadn’t joined them. They all knew she had a lot on her plate, and she needed time to pull all of it into order.
It was shortly after eleven o’clock when Alissa returned to her room. After a quick shower, she pulled on her undergarments and sat down at a small vanity to have her hair styled. She spent half an hour with a young maid having her hair pinned to the back of her head in a mass of curls. Once that was complete, she had a layer of makeup applied to her tanned face, making her look less aged and softer than the sun had made her. She pulled on the traditional black gown and placed a black hat and veil in front of the curls, then grunted as she slipped her feet into the tight heels.
Like her niece, Alissa hated wearing dresses and she particularly hated wearing high heels. She avoided wearing black, mainly because of where she had spent the past several years and hadn’t worn the color since the day she buried her mother. Lady Catherine’s funeral was the last one she and Johanna had attended together. Alissa frowned as she remembered how angry Johanna had been, that day. It was then that the young girl had turned her heart to stone. She refused to accept comfort from either Alissa or those who wished to extend their sympathy. Death and love had become her enemies, and Johanna had spent the past fifteen years shunning both.
As Reginald’s only living relatives, it was expected for Alissa and Johanna to walk behind his coffin from the mortuary to the church where his service was to take place. It was a tradition for the casket to be driven to the church in the back of a black carriage, pulled by a single horse. It was Reginald’s personal horse that would deliver his casket to its final resting place, passing by the palace one last time. The heir to the throne would walk in attendance, flanked on either side by her personal guard. Bagpipes would play the entire two miles, and those who lined the walkways to say goodbye to their king would throw flower peddles into the street in front of the horse.
Reginald’s polo team had asked permission to walk beside the carriage, in honor of their leader’s love of the sport, and the palace staff would be assembled outside the main gate to bid the king their goodbyes. Johanna would be expected to give the eulogy, and this made Alissa concerned. She knew the girl hated crowds, especially those where she was the center of attention, but more than that, she hated funerals.
Charlotte-Ann was called to Johanna’s room earlier that morning, where they reviewed the speech she would give after the funeral, as well as the eulogy. Samuel returned to his guards without seeing Johanna but instructed Mary to inform her that he and his second in command would be her escorts. They would meet her at the mortuary at twelve thirty and would quickly brief her on what to do if there was an emergency or a problem.
By the time the clock in the main foyer struck noon, the group of mourners had assembled and were waiting anxiously to get the event started. Alissa hadn’t seen Johanna since the night before but understood she was busy with her own problems. At least they would be together for the next few hours.
“What’s keeping her?” Martin grumbled pulling at the tie around his neck. He didn’t like dressing up any more than the rest of the family but knew he didn’t have much of a choice. Funerals were a formal affair, regardless of how much he objected.
“She’ll be down in a few minutes,” Alissa insisted. “You know Johanna. She is never late.”
Just then the sound of the lift doors opened down the hall, followed by a sharp echo of gasps. The sound of heels against the marble floor assured them Johanna was approaching, but what they saw when they turned around was far from what they expected.
Johanna paused momentarily for the effect to catch up to the group. She was dressed all in black as tradition dictated. Black pants, black tunic with the traditional ruffle down the front, and black boots. Her hair hung down her back lose and free and around her waist was a purple sash and sheath for her sword. The color of royalty. She accepted the sword Russell handed her, ignoring the shocked expression on the man’s aged face. She slid it casually into the sheath and strapped it to her leg.
“Oh my,” Alissa said with wide eyes as Martin began to laugh.
“That’s my girl,” he said cheerfully. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”
“Martin, control yourself,” Alissa scolded before turning back to Johanna. “Do you have any idea what people will say, or worse, what they’ll think when they see you dressed like a…like a…”
“Pirate,” Johanna answered proudly as she placed the black cap with its purple plume to her head. “The heir to the throne has always dressed in black tunic and breeches for funerals, and I will not disrupt tradition.”
“But…but…” Alissa stuttered.
“Aunt Alissa,” Johanna said in a firm voice that seemed to echo through the house and bring those servants who stood staring to their senses. “Am I, or am I not the heir to the throne of Westerly?”
“And am I, or am I not descended from pirates?”
“Yes, but Johanna…”
“Tradition will not be overlooked. I have been taught to assume the throne as the first female heir in over three hundred years. Queen Angelique was the last female born to the Abbotts. Since there has never been a protocol set for this particular situation, I am merely following tradition and marching in honor of my cousin, and my ancestors.”
The room was deathly silent as everyone seemed to absorb the words she had spoken. Nobody could argue with the logic behind her statement, yet they all knew there was going to be an array of confused feelings regarding her first appearance as the new ruler of Westerly.
“Your car is waiting,” Russell said in a calm voice.
“Thank you,” Johanna said walking past the small group still staring at her.
She moved past Russell and walked down the side hallway that took her to the door that led to the courtyard. Outside the shouts of spectators could be heard calling her name as she stepped out into the sunshine, followed by Alissa and Martin. The noise became notably calmer when they saw her choice of attire but picked up again a few minutes later as the limousine pulled out of the palace gates.
“Well, that was unexpected,” Alissa said softly.
“They don’t care what she dresses like, they care who she is and what she’s going to do for them,” Martin assured her.
The next few minutes was spent in silence as the car drove the short distance to the mortuary. Again, a crowd of spectators were gathered around the exterior of the building, held back by Samuel’s guards. When her car pulled up to the front of the building the crowd erupted in a loud applause with cheers and shouts for their new ruler.
Johanna drew a steady breath, determined to fight back the nerves raging to life inside her. This was the first time in her life she ever doubted her decision, but she was determined to see it through. She refused to allow anyone to know she was scared of what the people of the island would say - or do - when they saw her up close.
As she stepped out of the back of the limousine, the crowd came to an abrupt silence. It was enough to peel Johanna’s resolve, but before she could take a steadying breath, the crowd began chanting her name again.
’Long live the princess, long live Johanna, they screamed.
The sound of female voices seemed much louder than those of male, but she didn’t pause long enough to take notice. She only hoped her speech following the service would be a reason for the Islanders to forget her apparel.
Samuel and his second in command, Patrick Reading, stepped out of the building. They paused only for a brief moment as Johanna turned to them. She met Samuel’s eyes dead on with a challenging glare, waiting for his response. Much to the surprise of those around them, he removed his hat - similar in style to hers - and bowed graciously followed by Patrick, causing the crowd to once again explode in shouts and cheers.
“Captain Carrington,” she said as she approached him and the other man.
“Your Highness,” he said joining her as she walked into the building.
Father Raymond met her as she stepped into the room that held the coffin of her cousin. He frowned at her, looking her up and down twice before speaking.
“Your…Highness,” he said hesitantly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise, Father,” Johanna answered shaking the man’s hand firmly, then turned and introduced him to Alissa and Martin, followed by several minutes of polite conversation.
“The carriage is here,” Patrick said, eying Johanna oddly.
“If you don’t mind,” she said stopping everyone from walking away. “I’d like a moment alone with my cousin. I’d like to say goodbye.”
“Sweetheart are you sure?” Alissa asked with a concerned expression.
She remembered the anger Johanna felt when they buried Lady Catherine and the vow that she would never again mourn a single person, nor allow anyone close enough to suffer what she was convinced was a personal curse.
“I’m sure, Alissa,” she said firmly.
“Your Highness,” Samuel said as he stepped to her side. “I respect your desire for privacy, but as your guard, I cannot allow you to be alone. Your safety is of the utmost importance.”
“What do you think will happen?” she asked with a frown. “It’s not like Reginald is going to jump out of his coffin and attack me.”
“Perhaps not, but that doesn’t mean someone else might not consider this a perfect opportunity to cause you harm.”
“Nobody knows me well enough to try and harm me. The only person who knows me as well as my aunt is you, Captain Carrington? Perhaps you’re the one to worry about?”
“I can assure you, your Highness…” he stopped when she held up a hand.
“I’ll be fine, Captain, and I am quite capable of protecting myself against ghost or man. If it makes you feel any better, you may stand by the door.”
Without waiting for his response, Johanna moved to the room where Reginald’s casket stood, waving the workers away from closing the lid. She waited until they had left the room and closed the door before she turned toward the polished wooden box.
Slowly, she took a step closer to it, then another and another until she was standing beside it. Reginald looked content and calm as if he was sleeping and dreaming happily. His hair had been styled to cover the injuries caused by the horse’s hooves, and he wore the traditional white and purple tunic. He was much older than the last time she had seen him. Even pale in death, she could see the hint of his tanned skin, evidence of the long hours he had spent in the sun. His hair had grayed over the years, as did his eyebrows and lashes, and he had many more wrinkles than she remembered.
“I’m disappointed with you,” she whispered to him, watching as if expecting him to react. “You told me how proud you were to be an Islander, and yet you turned your back on everything that was expected of you. You had a duty to your people and you let them down. You let me down, cousin. I thought you were better than this.”
She paused as she drew a deep breath.
“I spent years admiring you. Did you know that? When I was a child, I thought you were the greatest ruler ever to be born to Westerly, but now…” she trailed off as she drew a deep breath.
“You left a mess for me to clean up,” she continued a moment later. “The least you could have done was warn me. Were you ashamed of your actions? Is that why you never told me you’d given your power to a group of money-hungry bastards?”
Again, she paused, drawing a deep breath and standing taller, prouder, beside her deceased relative.
“I’m not going to allow your legacy to dictate my reign,” she told his corpse. “I’m going to restore Westerly to the pacific gem Black Jack created. Still, I don’t wish you ill on your final journey. I wish you peace and contentment, and I pray for your soul. I pray that God forgives you for the sins you committed in your life and that he forgives you for what you have done to this island and its people.”
Johanna crossed herself and closed her eyes whispering a small prayer then turned and walked back to the door. She paused once more before opening it and looked back over her shoulder.
“I’m going to restore the name of Abbott-Worthington and make it one to be proud of,” she said then opened the door to find Samuel standing on the other side.
The look in his eyes was one of knowledge and she couldn’t help but wonder if he had heard her. It really didn’t matter. She didn’t care what he thought. She had a mission to do and a service to provide Westerly, and nothing was going to stop her from doing what she set out to do.
It took another twenty minutes before the casket was loaded in the carriage. The funeral home had been bombarded with flowers from well-wishers and those wanting to pay their respects. Most of those flowers were put into the carriage with the coffin, the others were loaded into a van and sent ahead of them to the church.
Johanna drew a deep breath as she stepped back out into the sun, flanked by Samuel and Patrick. Roscoe was assigned to drive the king on his last trip, and he pulled the reins of the horse, slowly moving out into the center of the street. Johanna took her place behind the carriage, flanked by Samuel and Patrick and followed by Alissa and Martin, along with a number of other guards. She walked with as much dignity as she could gather around the anxiety begging her to run and hide.
At first, the crowds they passed weren’t sure how to react. Their future queen was dressed as a man, but there was no denying she was all woman. The tunic was tight and exposed just a hint of a rather healthy cleavage, while the pants were tight, caressing her curves perfectly. As the walk continued the reaction began to grow. There was the occasional booing, though most were drowned out by the sound of the bagpipes. As they approached the church the mood took on a somber tone and the pipes silenced.
The crowd that lined the streets and followed behind the casket became silent out of respect for the late king of Westerly. The horse pulled to a halt in front of the church and Johanna stepped forward as the coffin was lowered from the carriage by Reginald’s polo teammates. She placed her hand on top of the lid and closed her eyes. Once again, she whispered a silent prayer for the forgiveness and salvation of Reginald’s soul, then crossed herself and stepped back. That one single act brought tears to the eyes of those watching from the sidelines, or on the large screens, set up to broadcast the service. It was enough to win her the support of the people she served, more than she would ever know.
Samuel stayed right beside Johanna as she entered the church and followed the casket up the aisle to the front row of pews. There, he and Patrick stepped to the sides of the podium, as a hundred guards filed in. They lined the inside walls of the church all the way up to their Captain and Patrick who stood at the head and foot of the coffin.
The choir sang religious songs as the organist accompanied them, sounding like the voices of angels. Mourners began to take their seats in silence and Johanna tried to focus on what she was going to say, not on how anxious and nervous she was feeling. The scent of the multitude of flowers drifted around the room, flowing across those assembled by the open windows. It was a pleasant aroma, though Johanna barely noticed it.
She glanced up to see Samuel staring at her, a look of encouragement shined in his blue eyes and for a moment she forgot where she was. Her mind returned to the dreams from the previous night, and she could feel the heat tinting her cheeks. Lowering her eyes, she tried to force his image from her mind, though it was extremely difficult with him standing right before her.
Once the church pews were filled, Father Raymond walked up the aisle, bowing to Johanna as he moved past her to the pulpit. The choir ceased singing and the organist stopped playing, as a hush fell over the church. Johanna watched the middle-aged man step forward and bow his head. Sweat formed across his nearly bald head reminding her of just how hot the day truly was. The only reason the church was not basking in the cool air-conditioned interior, was because it had gone out on them earlier that morning. A fact Mary had informed her of, while she was editing her speech.
“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Father Raymond began, quoting a passage from the bible. “Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be.”
The priest paused as he removed a cloth handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his forehead and the top of his head.
“Our Lord has told us not to regret death because you will rejoin the Father in the Kingdom of God. This is where Reginald, King of Westerly, has gone. He sits beside the throne of the Lord as a witness to the rebirth and resurrection of Christ which saved our souls from damnation.”
Johanna listened for a short time before her mind began to wander. She had heard this speech, or at least one similar to it, twice before and she was getting tired of listening. She had studied religion her entire life. She knew what was expected in life and in death, and yet she couldn’t help but wonder if Reginald had truly made his way to the celestial kingdom.
The music began to play again and those gathered in the church stood to sing. Johanna knew her turn was coming, and she was once again feeling the twitch of nerves. She feared making a fool of herself, knowing she had already made a spectacle by wearing the formal mourning clothes of a King. The last thing she needed was to have all of her day’s mistakes splattered across every newspaper on this planet.
“So few knew the king as a man,” the priest continued once the song ended and everyone was back in their seats. “Those who had the privilege of knowing him, found him to be a true friend and a kind man. Among those few select people, was his only heir and future ruler of Westerly. The day Princess Johanna was born, King Reginald declared it the Day of Redemption. Her birth was proof that the curse that had plagued the Abbott-Worthington family for generations was over. There was never a prouder man than King Reginald, for he loved his cousin as his own child, and never allowed anyone to forget that she would one day be their queen.”
The sound of the crowd cheering outside on the streets echoed through the church, forcing Father Raymond to pause his speech momentarily.
“Princess Johanna has been asked to say a few words in our hour of despair,” he began when the noise quieted. “As the one who will lead us, we look to her for guidance and comfort. It is in her, that we place our faith and trust, just as King Reginald had. Princess, if you will.”
The priest stepped aside as he waved her forward, and the church began to mumble in a hushed tone when she stood and walked up the four steps to the podium. She drew a deep breath and closed her eyes, drawing on her memory for her speech, then opened her eyes and looked out among the faces that watched her.
“King Reginald was a man from a long line of proud leaders,” she began in a firm strong voice. “His ancestors - my ancestors - were far from being the stereotypical idea of nobility. They were pirates, pure and simple. Their blood ran through his veins, as they do mine. Black Jack was a man among the faces and names of men during a time of darkness and sin. Loved by many, feared by most, he sought to find a new way of life that would provide a safe future, not just for him, but for his crew. After rescuing a maiden from a hell that only man can create, he found the path to this future he sought. When asked by Mighty Swen, his Quartermaster, in which direction to sail, he answered with a simple word. Westerly.”
The sounds of shouts and cheers echoed through the open windows from those who watched her speech from televisors set up outside.
“As a pirate, life was hard and uncertain. When one of the crew died, whether by disease or in battle, a funeral of great dignity was performed. Black Jack wrote in his journal of such a time after a valued crew member had been ruthlessly and unjustly killed. It was his duty to perform the funeral, and it is his words in which I offer to my cousin today.”
Johanna paused momentarily as she looked to the back of the church to the men who waited patiently for their cue.
“As the body of his friend and crewman was brought on deck, wrapped in gauze bindings for his final voyage, Black Jack called for the pipes to play.”
The sound of the bagpipes echoed through the stillness of the church as the pipers who had escorted the carriage, slowly made their way up the aisle, playing Reginald’s personal selection of Amazing Grace. All eyes turned to the men who played with the skill and expertise of a practiced hand. They stopped walking and turned to stand in front of the coffin and played on for another minute or two. When they finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the building - except for the guard and Johanna.
“Black Jack writes; There are only a handful of people who come into this world who touch our lives in a dramatic way,” she began, reading the page from her ancestor’s journal. “This was such a man. For those of us who travel this world with uncertainty, we learn that life is like a candle, flickering in the wind until it blows out. Sometimes those lives are recalled with joy, others with sorrow.
This man was a brother and a friend to all of us and he will be remembered with fondness. Today we bid our farewells to a man worth remembering, a man whose name will go down in the annals of our travels. A man who did much in the short time he was with us. We will remember him as a man who laughed, who cried and yelled, a man who fought valiantly and loved fiercely. We will remember him when we look upon the ocean’s waves and when we hear the song of the gulls’ overhead
We will not mourn his death, for it is not what he would have wanted. We will not feel sorrow for his soul, for this life is a path we have all chosen, but rather we will celebrate his departure as he would have wanted. We will drink in remembrance of his name and the times we shared. We will toast his adventures and praise them as he once did, and with him in our hearts, we will see him to his grave with the promise that one day we shall join him on the journey through a world yet to be explored’.”
Johanna stopped reading as the pipes again began to play. She closed the book while the pipers made their way back down the aisle, ending their song at the back of the church.
“As we lay my cousin to rest today, I ask that we do as Black Jack suggested, and remember him joyously. Reginald was only a man, flesh and bone, like all of us, and he was only human. He made mistakes and forged paths that we will travel throughout our own lives. I have set aside a time this afternoon in which I ask all of you to join me in remembering him. At five o’clock, the time in which Reginald’s life ended, I ask that we all raise our glass in his memory and celebrate his life with a drink and song. As a gesture of this request, I have instructed all the taverns and Bordellos of the island to pause for one minute of silence. The wine will be a gift to you from me, in honor of King Reginald.”
Again, the cheers erupted outside, forcing her to pause once more.
“I wish to conclude with this one thought. Through the journey we all pave in this world, we meet many who will make a significant impact on our lives. When you return to your homes this evening, look at those around you and ask if you have made a difference in their lives. What have you done for them, that they will remember until the end of their days? Try and leave a lasting memory of the good you can offer to them, and humble yourselves to that gesture, for just a few moments. Thank God for all that he has given to you and praise his name in the eyes and the tears of your children. It is in them, that you will live eternally.”
Johanna finished speaking and left the pulpit to a round of cheers and shouts of her name echoing from outside. She sat back down next to her aunt who dabbed at the tears streaming down her cheeks. She locked gazes with Samuel once again, seeing the curiosity in his eyes. Despite the murmurs, she knew exactly what she was doing. She knew this was the one trick to make the Islanders forget her choice of clothing, and the first step to swaying them to her side when she announced the end of the Elders. It was a trick that was both honorable and daring, but one that was worth the cost of a few thousand bottles of wine.
Father Raymond concluded the service with a prayer and asked the congregation to leave the church reverently, so the casket could be loaded back into the carriage. Johanna, Alissa, and Martin waited as those crowded inside the hot building moved outside before standing. They watched Reginald’s teammates once more lift the coffin and carry it outside for the last time.
“I think you just made three million friends,” Samuel told her in a very quiet voice as they took up the stance behind the wooden box.
“Simply brilliant,” Martin said in a soft whisper of praise.
“Let’s hope so,” she answered, stepping out to a crowd of tears and sniffles.
The funeral ended at the cemetery as Reginald’s casket was laid into a hole beside his wife and sons. Johanna couldn’t help but think that the family had been reunited at last. Despite all he had done, Reginald was still a man who had lost a great deal in his life. Perhaps in this one moment of peace, he found the arms that he desperately longed to be embraced by.
The limousine met them at the cemetery and drove slowly through the streets as the guard took up vigilance beside it. She looked out the front window and saw Samuel and Patrick leading the Royal Guard back to the palace. She tried not to stare but admired the way the man held himself. He was tall, proud, dignified as only a man of strict discipline could stand. Perhaps that was why she was attracted to him, she thought, sitting back against the seat. His life was orderly, organized. Just as hers was.
With a heavy sigh, Johanna lay her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. She had never felt so emotionally or mentally drained. The reception of her eulogy was received well, as the shouts and cheers that followed her car indicated. She had to offer a speech to the island in an hour, but until then, she was going to kick her boots off and try to relax.
The car pulled to a halt in the courtyard of the palace and Roscoe opened the door. He bowed to Johanna as she stepped out, catching her eye.
“I am sorry for your loss, your Highness,” he told her with a stern expression.
“Thank you,” she said as she moved past him and into the house.
Russell met them at the door as they entered. His normally stern expression seemed less rigid and much softer, making him look years younger. Three of the maids appeared with trays of drinks as the door opened again allowing Samuel and Patrick to enter, their hats in their hands. Johanna glanced to the men, watching them toss their hats to the end of the sofa, before turning back to the maid in front of her. She took the wine and thanked her, then slowly made her way into the parlor.
“That was some service,” Alissa said as she fell onto the settee, kicking her shoes off under the table.
“I’ll say,” Samuel commented accepting a glass of wine.
He stepped up to Johanna’s side as she turned to stare at him with a frown.
“What was wrong with it?” she asked.
“I didn’t say there was anything wrong with it,” he said in defense as he reached up and gently removed her hat. “It was a very nice service and well received. I just can’t help but wonder what you’re going to do for an encore.”
“Just wait,” she told him, fighting to remain calm as she stared up into the bright blue eyes. “I’m full of surprises. Some of them are even pleasant.”
“I’ll have to reserve my judgment until I see it,” he chuckled as Russell entered the room.
“The press is assembling in the large library, your Highness,” he told her.
“I’ll be right there,” she assured the man.
She set her wine glass on a table and moved to the bar in the corner of the room. Samuel and Patrick watched her pour a generous amount of whiskey into a crystal goblet, before exchanging curious glances.
“You should probably go easy with that stuff,” Samuel warned with an amused grin. “The day isn’t over, and I don’t know how it would look if your guards had to carry you out of the room.”
“Why would you feel it necessary to carry me?”
“You’re drinking whiskey. That stuff is hard on the system, especially if you plan on drinking it straight.”
“For your information, Captain Carrington, I have never gotten drunk and I often drink whiskey - always straight.”
“This I’d like to see,” Patrick chuckled.
Johanna glared at the man as she lifted her glass and placed it to her lips, drinking the contents in a single swallow. She set the glass down and filled it again, ignoring the shocked expression on the two men’s faces.
“Johanna was eased into liquor by drinking watered down whiskey at an early age,” Martin said in a tone, less than amused. “Alissa felt it may become necessary for her to get used to alcohol, so she would never find herself at the mercy of a man’s unwanted affection.”
Alissa stared at Martin disapprovingly for his comment, but Johanna ignored them. It was a long-standing disagreement between the two. Martin always felt she should be raised like the young woman she was, and Alissa wanted her to be tougher than beautiful in order to defend herself.
“I knew if she grew to be as lovely as her mother - which she has,” Alissa began, “she would have men crawling out of the woodwork to steal her virtue, and she had to know how to protect herself.”
“In other words, she thought some big mouth, narrow-minded jackass would try to have sex with me once he got me drunk,” Johanna said, taking her drink and walking up to stand in front of Patrick, locking her violet eyes with his dark brown. “I can drink any man under the table and barely feel a buzz, and I can break him in two when I’ve finished. Care to challenge me?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Samuel told her as he came to his friend’s defense. “Patrick is a married man and I doubt his pregnant wife would be pleased if she got her husband back in a body cast. His duty begins and ends with protecting you.”
“Is that your decision or his?” she asked turning to look at the man next to her.
“Mine,” he answered her sternly.
“And what exactly is your duty, Captain?”
“Besides protecting that…body…” he paused as his eyes traveled down her tight black clothing. “We’ll have to see the extent of my duties as time goes by. After all, we will be spending a considerable amount of time together.”
“There will be a limit as to the extent of your duties to my body.”
“That sounds like a challenge, Johanna,” he smiled.
“I never run away from a fight, and I always win,” she assured him with an arrogant expression.
“Perhaps you should go to your press conference before they accuse you of being late, on top of wearing men’s breeches,” Alissa suggested as she pulled her niece toward the door.
Johanna stared at Samuel with an unspoken challenge shining in her violet eyes, then quickly swallowed the drink in her hand. She set the glass on the table next to her empty wine goblet, then left the room with Alissa, but not before taking one last look at Samuel. Martin remained until the two women left, then stood up and walked to the door.
“I’d be very careful with that one if I were you,” he warned in a quiet voice. “She may look like a tame kitten, but she’s as deadly as a bloodthirsty panther when her temper rises. She knows how to defend herself and has done so multiple times. As for that body, you’re so eager to protect, she’s been trained to use it as a lethal weapon, and she’ll strike you down before you have the chance to blink an eye.”
“I think Sam can handle her,” Patrick snickered.
“I wouldn’t be so eager to take sides,” Martin continued looking between the two men. “She’s not your typical woman. She’s a hard fighter and she’s not afraid to back up her words with force if needed.”
“Are you warning me or threatening me?” Samuel asked.
“Just a friendly piece of advice. I’ve seen what happens when she gets angry. When she tells you she can defend herself, believe it. She’s not wearing that sword just for show. She’s very skilled with a blade, as well as her fists. She never lies, she never breaks a promise, and she never runs away from a challenge, and like she said, she always wins.”
Samuel watched Martin leave the room as his mind began racing through a series of challenges he’d love to confront the young woman with. He had spent the past two nights dreaming of Johanna and could feel the heat of desire warming a certain part of his body he’d thought was in a permanent deep freeze.
“I thought you were a confirmed woman-hater after Melinda?” Patrick asked with a frown.
“I am, but…life has a way of catching a man off guard.”
“Do you honestly want to start something with her? What in God’s name are you thinking?”
“I’m not thinking of starting anything…I’m just…window shopping.”
“Well, look in a different window. That girl has a serious attitude problem and a temper to match. If I were you, I’d take Martin’s advice and steer clear of the wench.”
“I’m not afraid of her,” Samuel said with a wicked grin. “And the danger makes the hunt exciting. Besides, can you imagine anything more fun than being attacked with a body like that?”
“If you ask me, you’re playing with fire, Sam, and I think you’re going to get burned.”
“Maybe,” Samuel laughed. “But what a hell of a way to go.”