Johanna pulled onto the road leading to her mother’s estate. The heavy wrought iron gate made an imposing entrance. Twelve-foot tall, impressive and black, signaling the area was closed off from the rest of the world. An island of sanctuary meant to keep its inhabitants and possessions safe. Security was extremely tight by design. Her husband’s premature death left Charlotte Kearns, “Lottie” to her friends, cautious, maybe paranoid, but gave her reason enough to build an impenetrable fortress for protection. Johanna had the gate code plugged into the visor of her new Ferrari. The Italian salesman said she looked hot. He called her, ‘molto jalapeno’, and added his opinion that a car should match the woman who drives her.
Johanna thought, “He’s not the first; my entire life men have told me I’m beautiful in some way or another, depending on the guy – enchanting, Severine, hot – it didn’t come as a surprise.”
She leaned back while adjusting the rear view mirror for a quick check. “Mother can be so critical,” she puckered her cherry lips, chosen to match the car, checking their reflection in the mirror.
The drive to the house took under a minute. On the way, she checked her hair because, ‘Mother will notice’. It was a good thing she’d visited the salon.
“I like my new color, sassy blond with brown lowlights.” She fussed with her hair.
She vowed that now that her stint as Secretary of State was over she’d be dressing more to please her man. Lower cut blouses, shorter skirts, and high heels would once again fill her closets.
She placed her hands higher on the steering wheel where she could see them. “My nails look good. I like red for a change. The Bentley’s silver and the Benz is black.” Johanna smiled to think her three favorite car colors were coordinated so well in her garage. She floored the pedal, enjoying the brief dash of spirited acceleration mixed with vibrating adrenaline.
“Too grand,” she judged her mother for painstakingly transporting a French castle piece by piece from Charleville Mezieres to Ashland, Wisconsin.
Lottie’s Springhouse, as she called it. “Mother wintered in Florida, spent summers in France, and lived in Ashland in between.” Lottie thought poorly of anyone who stayed in Naples after Easter.” People will think I’ve gone senile if I stayed in my seasonal house too long.” She often told Johanna, “You must never let me do that.”
Johanna swung open the door of the F12berlinetta and leaned back, maneuvering her legs out of tight quarters. Feeling for the cobblestones with the toe pad of her heels, she leaned forward gracefully pulling herself out of the low seat.
“Not very comfortable; feels like sitting on the floor,” she thought as she smoothed her skirt, fixing herself one last time before stepping onto the fitted stone landing. She skipped up the stairs for exercise, then rang the bell and looked up at the camera waiting for someone to unlock the door.
A kindly voice greeted her over the intercom. “Oh, Miss Johanna, please come in. Your mother’s waiting for you in the garden.”
“Thank you, Elsa.” She thought about how nice her mother’s help was as she opened the door leading to a lavish grand hall then walked the length straight through. She enjoyed the majestic view of Lake Superior. She passed the library, commercial kitchen, and entertaining areas finally reaching the rear porch. The expansive focal point of the mansion overlooked stately gardens high above the lake.
“Mother, I’ve been summoned?” she called out playfully.
Charlotte’s head, covered by a sheer white kerchief, turned to greet her. “Oh, Johanna, you’re so dramatic. I wish you wouldn’t put it like that.” She pooh-poohed, dismissing the comment, removing her gloves then motioned to one of the loungers.
“What mother wouldn’t want her daughter to be with the love of her life?” Johanna thought to herself as she walked closer. ‘Lottie,’ such a hypocrite. She married Daddy as a debutante, fresh out of school.
Lottie patted the chaise lounge for her. “Come sit, Dear.”
Johanna tried to make nice. “The garden looks wonderful, Mother,” she commented, sitting sideways on the upholstered cushion, careful not to let her skirt ride up.
“Do you know what I’ve done to legitimize this family?” Her mother cut off Johanna’s attempt at small talk.
“Getting into it so quickly, Mother? I never know if you’re going to be horribly critical or vaguely supportive. I see you got a bone to pick today. “
“You’re always sensitive Johanna, but today you can add selfish!”
“How so mother? I went to law school for you and then became Secretary of State to help you establish this family’s pedigree to the presidency. I think I’ve done my fair share!”
Her mother waved a dismissive hand. “Please, Johanna. Peter did all the heavy lifting at state. Even taking the fall for that blunder you mismanaged overseas.”
Johanna scowled at that. “That’s what deputies do, Mother. Underlings take the risk for operations. Terrorism, in case you haven’t heard, is unpredictable. The world is volatile, that blunder as you call it wasn’t my fault.”
“Maybe not,” she acquiesced as she motioned for a maid to serve the lemonade. “I don’t want to argue with you, Dear. That’s not why I called you here.” The maid brought over a tray and poured the first of two tall ice-filled glasses while pretending not to listen.
Johanna tilted her head. “None for me, Elsa.” Her long hair fell and brushed the tabletop.
“What can I do for you, Mother?” she queried, brushing her bangs behind one ear.
Charlotte pursed her lips as though she had already sipped the lemonade and found that it lacked enough sugar to make it sweet rather than sour. “Johanna, there is too much at stake for even the hint of rumor about you and your brother.”
“He’s my cousin, Mother! Must you persist in calling him my brother?”
“The world doesn’t see it that way. Do you have any idea what’s at risk? Do you know who we’re dealing with?”
Johanna crossed her arms over her chest. “Friends of Lottie Kearns? Lions and tigers and bears – Oh my!”
“Don’t be flip with me, Daughter. I’m dead serious. We are less than a year away from your brother becoming the President of the United States. Do you understand what that means?”
Johanna smirked. “That I will be moving into the White House. Kolbe promised. Make no mistake; Kolbe will have Secret Service protection as President. He’ll do as he pleases!”
Charlotte slapped a hand down on the table. “Johanna, these people killed the Kennedy’s. They decide who’s going to be President two terms in advance. Your brother has been groomed for years for this.”
“You’re delusional, Mother!”
Charlotte raised one elegant eyebrow. “Oh really? Have you ever wondered why Jacqueline Kennedy, just ninety-nine minutes after her husband was killed, stood by as LBJ took the oath of office?”
Johanna widened her eyes in mock fear. “I can’t wait to hear this. Why, Mother?”
“To put an end to it! Really, Johanna, you should do the same. There are whispers.”
“What are you saying?”
Charlotte’s voice was at its most imperious. “You’ll announce your engagement to Marshall Fairchild and put to rest any concern that you’re having some illicit affair with your brother.”
Johanna started sobbing, “Never! You can’t ask me to do that. Kolbe promised we’d be together.”
“Darling, Mommy’s concerned for your well-being. How will you handle your brother’s women?” Lottie placed her hands on her daughter’s shoulders.
Johanna shrugged her mother’s hands off her shoulders. “He wouldn’t need those whores if we had your blessing. He needs your help to be President, that’s why he agrees to your demands!”
“Johanna, listen to yourself.”
She stood and glared at her mother. “It’s disgusting that you’re holding your influence and inheritance over his head. I don’t fault him, I blame you.”
“Do you have any idea what I’ve gone through over the past three decades to gain prominence for this family?” Lottie demanded. “I did it all for you, Johanna. The Derby winners, the French wineries...”
“You own a slaughter house, Mother,” she interrupted.
“That money bought you a seat in the state legislature.”
“I never wanted it. That was your dream!” Johanna raised her voice.
“My work has brought us admiration in the world.”
“No one cares about your status in high society mother. Least of all, me!”
“Silly girl. America is a kingdom, run by the powerful for their own benefit.”
Johanna made a dismissive noise. “We live in a democracy, Mother, or haven’t you noticed?”
“You think? I’m not going to debate you. I know what I know and your brother agrees with me. You’ll announce your engagement this weekend. You can break it off after he’s President if you wish. It’s a good match. The Fairchild’s are on-board. Marshall, will give you a ring and demonstrate his intentions in public. Our friends in the media are ready to push the announcement to the hilt.” Lottie was clearly brooking no opposition.
“Kolbe agreed to this?” Johanna was now struggling not to break down.
“Yes, it’s for the best, Johanna. You must trust your mother.”
Johanna took a deep breath, but still sounded petulant. “I’m not marrying him.”
Lottie patted her shoulder. “Whatever you say, Johanna dear, but you’ll do this for your brother and me.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, Mother.”
A tear rolled down Johanna’s cheek as she gazed at the lake. She was resigned for the moment to her fate, pouting, “Mommy, you can be so mean.”
Charlotte got to her feet and gave her daughter’s shoulder one last condescending pat. “It’s for your own good.”