Hidden Moments

By Shakayla

Rating: overall MA.
Adult material. If you are underage, you should go read another story.

Disclaimer: I own none of these characters - that privilege belongs to Meg Cabot and Disney. I simply tell their story for my own enjoyment.

Chapter 1

Scene: Beginning of PD1 – what takes place the night after Amelia flees from the consulate after learning she is Princess of Genovia and the sole Renaldi heir.


“Clarisse, Your Majesty…surely you can’t be serious?” Joseph asked the woman sitting across from the table. They were sharing a late night cup of tea trying to sort out everything that had gone wrong earlier that day when she shared with her granddaughter that she was the sole heir to the Genovian throne.

Clarisse fought the urge to rub her temples in frustration. She looked across the table to her most trusted adviser and friend. She knew she was asking a lot from him; but what choice did she have? “Do you have another suggestion?”

“Let me arrange for security for her. We have several good men here. You are my responsibility, Clarisse.” He offered earnestly. The thought of spending time with an American teenager didn’t appeal to him – even if she was Clarisse’s granddaughter.

“Your duty is to the crown and protecting the Renaldi line is your responsibility, Joseph…surely you haven’t forgotten that.” She knew she was being unduly harsh but desperate times called for desperate measures. She had lost a great deal of sleep to nightmares that involved handing the throne over to that weasel, Baron Von Troken.

His tone was equally direct, tempered only slightly out of respect for her and her position. “I never forget my duty, Your Majesty.”

She sighed and decided on a softer approach. Her hand tentatively covered his and her eyes locked with his. “Please, Joseph…I need to know she is safe and being watched over by someone that I trust implicitly. There is no one I trust more than you. The thought of losing another member of my family…” Her voice drifted off as the pain of the recent loss of her son and husband seeped into her conscious thoughts.

He turned his hand under hers so he could clasp her hand and offer support. “I’m sorry, Clarisse. Of course, I will do as you ask…don’t I always?” He asked with a slight tease in his voice in an effort to make her smile.

He was rewarded with one corner of her mouth upturning slightly. “Eventually…”

Clarisse felt him clasp her hand as he smiled in response to her answer. There was something about this man that touched her on a level that went far beyond the normal employer/employee relationship. The slight flutter she felt in her chest when he touched her suggested that perhaps it even went beyond friendship. For the moment, though, she could all herself no thoughts in that direction. The future of Genovia was at stake; therefore her personal future was irrelevant at the present moment. She allowed herself a few more moments of his comforting touch before pulling her hand away. “Thank you, Joseph.”

Joseph immediately felt the loss as she withdrew her touch. What was it about this woman? What was it about him that he set his sights on the one woman in all of Genovia that was most definitely off-limits? She was his employer! His Queen! His friend… He fought to contain a sigh and then pushed all of those feelings into the back of his heart to be examined later. Right now, they had to win over a princess. “So here’s what we need to do…”


Chapter 2

Scene: When Mia is with Charlotte and Clarisse for her “evaluation” and then the next day Joseph picks her up and has a new pair of black heels for her to wear as Clarisse…”never wants to see those shoes again!”

Clarisse needed someplace that she could think – somewhere peaceful. She was exhausted; but, more importantly, she was worried. After evaluating Amelia this afternoon, she had serious concerns about even her ability to transform this young woman into the Princess she needed to be before the Independence Day Ball. She knew she had been hard on the young woman; but, truth be told, it was painful to look at her. Not because she was unsightly – no, that wasn’t it. Underneath that untamed mane and bushy eyebrows was a beautiful woman just waiting to be revealed. No the problem was that every time she looked her granddaughter in the eyes, she saw Philippe. She realized it the first time their eyes locked and Mia removed her glasses and smiled at her. It was in her eyes, her smile, her ears, and, above all, in her sense of humor.

Clarisse couldn’t swear to it; but she was certain Amelia had been mocking her behind her back and, thereby, causing Charlotte to erupt in an uncustomary fit of giggles this afternoon during the Princess lesson. Philippe had been known to do similar things to both she and Rupert over the years.

Joseph stood in the shadows of the dimly lit library and watched her. She was wringing her hands slowly – something that she only did when she was very troubled. Her eyes were focused on the moon that hung over the landscape of San Francisco, but he knew her thoughts were troubled. When he saw the tears slowly slip down her cheek, he couldn’t help himself. He moved out of the shadows to sit beside her on the loveseat.

She was startled when she felt him sit down. Usually she was aware of him watching her. She must have been very distracted with her thoughts. She hastily wiped the tears away. “Oh Joseph…I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Shhh…come here.” He didn’t allow her to refuse him as he put his arm around her and pulled her body toward his providing the proverbial shoulder to cry on.

After a few minutes, he quietly asked. “Do you want to talk about it?”

She let out a deep breath. “Would you let it go if I said no?”

“Of course. Although…” he paused for effect. “then I will just have to guess. And you know how bad I am at guessing.”

Clarisse thought back to some of the times she had asked him to guess what she had purchased for him as either a Christmas gift or birthday gift. For being a highly astute and perceptive security guard, he was very bad at guessing. She sat up and smiled slightly at him. “Indeed I do.”

He waited for her to start; but when she remained silent, he decided to help her out. “So I’m going to guess this has something to do with Amelia?”

Clarisse’s thoughts drifted back to her youngest son that was so cruelly taken from her at such a young age. “In part…yes.”

Joseph smiled. “See I’m getting better at this guessing!” He offered, trying to get her to smile as well.

She rewarded him with another small smile before she stood and walked to the large picture window she had been staring out of for the last thirty minutes or so. “I am concerned about her being ready in time…I’m sure you’ve noticed there’s a lot of work to be done.”

“Such as?” He inquired softly as he rose from the sofa to come and stand just slightly behind and to the left of her.

“Oh Joseph, surely you’ve noticed?! Her hair, those eye brows, fingernails, and don’t even get me started on those shoes. They were…” she paused, searching for just the right word. “…hideous.”

“All outward adornments that don’t even begin to reflect the true beauty that she possesses.”

She sighed heavily. “I know and I have asked Charlotte to contact Paolo to work his magic. As annoying as the man is, he certainly can work miracles. After all, he performed nothing short of a miracle by making me presentable that morning…” Her voice drifted off as the painful memory surfaced.

Joseph stepped closer, letting her lean back on him for support; his hands resting lightly on her waist. “Yes, outwardly, you looked as beautiful as always.”

“Even if I was ravaged on the inside…”

“No one expects a mother to keep it all together on the day she buries a child…not even the esteemed Queen of Genovia.”

Clarisse decided not to debate that one with him. They both knew that there were some people in Genovia that really didn’t expect the Queen to be human – to show emotion – to have feelings – to love. “She looks so much like him.” She whispered.

That was it…she finally told him. “And that makes it very hard for you, doesn’t it?”

“Her eyes, her smile, even her ears. I see so much of him in her.”

“As it should be.”

“I miss him.”

Joseph wanted to pull her into his arms and just hold her; but he knew that even if she were to allow that to happen, she would be so embarrassed by it later that it would create tension between them. “As do I, your Majesty…as do I.”

He let her work through her emotions and when he sensed she was calmer. “You can see Amelia as a double blessing. Not only will her accepting her destiny save Genovia from the hands of the Van Trokens; but her presence in your life will allow you to get a small glimpse of Philippe each time you are together. “

She turned and touched her hand to his cheek. “You may not be a good guesser, Joseph; but you are a very wise man and my best friend.”

He smiled. “Don’t forget your knight in shining armor who will scour the stores in San Francisco until he makes sure that he has a suitable pair of shoes for the Princess to wear in the presence of the most beautiful Queen there has ever been.”

“Thank you, Joseph. There’s just one more thing…”

Joseph bowed slightly. “At your service, ma’am.”

“She will need to practice her ballroom dancing tomorrow and no one is a better dancer than you.”

“You ask a lot, Clarisse – the child can barely walk as you instruct and you want me to lead her in the dance?”

“I have confidence in my knight in shining armor.” Her smile was much brighter now.

Joseph sighed. “Let us hope that although she may look like her father that she possesses the grace and dance skill of her grandmother.”

Clarisse wanted to kiss him – even if it was on the cheek to show her gratitude. She wanted to…but didn’t. Instead, she let her fingers trail along his cheek as she slowly pulled away, enjoying the slight five o’clock shadow that was present on the normally smooth skin. “Thank you again, Joseph. I feel much better now.”

He escorted her back to her suite and then kissed the back of her hand as he bowed. “Good night, Your Majesty, sleep well.”

“You as well, Joseph. We will conquer tomorrow together.”

He smiled. “Always.”


Chapter 3: It was Time

Scene: The evening after the “wango” dance – day before Mia’s transformation by Paolo.

In Joseph’s private suite…

Joseph sat in recliner looking out the window – much as Clarisse had done a couple of nights ago in the library. The day had been…unsettling. That was the best way he could describe it. On one hand, it had been utter bliss. He still wasn’t sure where he found the courage to ask her to dance. He had just walked right up, invaded her personal space and reached in front of her body – so close he could almost touch her – and pressed the play button to start the music again. He didn’t move. She didn’t move. Finally, he found his voice and told her, in the best way he could, that she needed to move on with her life. While he loved her in any color, the blackness went deeper than her choice of attire; it was settling into her soul and that was never good.

His heart had moved up into his throat when she agreed to the dance by just the subtlest nod of her head. He had taken her hand and with great flourish led her across the dance floor. His eyes had been drawn to the blue scarf that hung loosely down her front admiring the way it glided across her body as she moved to the center of the dance floor. They had begun to move to the music, her hips sensually swaying. His eyes had been drawn to the movement of her body. Sensing her gaze, he had found his attention drawn up to those mesmerizing blue eyes.

He had been thankful that he had danced that particular dance so many times that the movements came naturally. The feel of the sway of her lower body as his hand rested against the small of her back was nothing short of heaven. He guided her through the turn and then moved just as gracefully under her upraised arm before she spun out and back in… “without hurting anyone.” A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips as he thought of Mia’s proud statement from earlier that day.

They had moved, wrapped in each other’s arms to the back of the ballroom and then the music had faded all too soon. She had turned in his embrace, their faces mere inches from each other. Their breathing had been labored; but he knew it had nothing to do with exertion from the dance. No it had everything to do with…

In Clarisse’s Private Suite…


His body had been so close to hers that it had totally unnerved her. She had been in a trance and unable to move – his eyes holding hers captive to his unwavering gaze. She had fought to keep from licking her lips, a subconscious activity that indicated anticipation of a kiss - a kiss that she found herself wanting more and more with every passing moment.

Clarisse had been staring into the fireplace for close to an hour now, replaying the events of the afternoon over and over in her mind. The dance had been…unsettling. Yet it had been pure bliss. That was the only way to describe it. He had invaded her personal space so effortlessly; his velvet, husky voice had caressed her inner ear as the vibrations sent a tingle of pleasure throughout her brain. She was still unsure how she had found the nerve to turn her head and face him. Her voice had failed her when she tried to accept his invitation to dance, so she had simply nodded her head. Even that gesture had been small; but it had been enough.

She was grateful that she had danced that dance at least a thousand times as she had been unable to think straight with his hand resting on the small of her back. That simple touch had branded her and she knew that she would never be able to think of his guiding touch in a crowd the same way again. She had watched his face, but noticed that his eyes had been drawn to the movement of her body. The heat she had seen in his gaze when his eyes did find hers again had ignited tendrils of passion that had lain dormant for years.

Clarisse stood and began to pace again. It was a habit she had developed over the years when she needed to concentrate…needed to think…needed to calm frayed nerves. How could one dance that lasted only a few minutes change so much? How could her carefully guarded control slip so easily? How could she be unfaithful to Rupert’s memory? How could one person, with one look, unlock years of pent up…

Joseph’s suite…


That’s what he had seen in her eyes. At the end of their dance, she had stood in his embrace – her heart beating in her chest so fiercely he could feel it in his; the soft pillow of her breasts rising and falling as she drew precious breath in and out of her lungs. He could almost feel the air around them charged with electricity from the connection they now shared.

Time stood still as their eyes spoke volumes to each other – saying what they couldn’t say yet with words. He wanted to kiss her so badly, every fiber of his being cried out to just close the small distance and bring their desires to fruition.

Joseph stood and began to pace. Had the nature of their relationship changed that quickly? When did it start this metamorphosis? Had they been aware of it before and just ignored the signs? Could he resist nature and not kiss her?

He ran his hands through the small fringe of hair and thought about what had happened next. His hands had slid up from her arms until they were on either side of her long, beautiful neck. He had felt her pulse racing just below the surface. Time began to move in slow motion as he leaned towards her. The lavender scent of her perfume infused his senses washing over him like a comforting blanket of…

Clarisse’s suite


That’s what she felt as Joseph pulled her closer. Her eyes had closed, anticipating their first kiss. She was nervous, but excited at the same time. When his path diverted to place a tender kiss on first her right cheek, then the left, and finishing on the right one last time, she wasn’t certain if she was disappointed or relieved. It had been a customary Genovian kiss that one would share when greeting a dear friend, but somehow from his soft lips – it had meant so much more.

He had smiled at her as his fingertips maintained the touch as long as possible as he slowly pulled away. He kept one hand which he held while he bowed before her, kissing the back of it before offering, “Thank you for the dance, Clarisse.”

He had then left her standing there in the middle of the ballroom feeling as giddy as some school girl that had just been paid attention to by the star athlete. Perhaps he had been right. Perhaps it was time to stop wearing black. The customary year of mourning had long since passed and maybe…just maybe it was time to start thinking of living again.

Chapter 4: The Scent of a Woman

Scene: Day after Mia’s transformation – the day the Prime Minister arrives

Clarisse was busy. No, it was more than just busy – it was overwhelming. Besides the daunting task of running a country that was currently half a world away, grooming a would-be princess, and overseeing the details of the upcoming state dinner AND Independence Day ball, she was also trying to sort out her ever growing and ever changing feelings for her head of security. Fortunately or unfortunately, she wasn’t certain which, there had been little time to devote to that final item on her “to do” list. She had been very pleased with Mia’s transformation yesterday with Paolo, but had been a little puzzled by Joseph’s reaction. He had simply shrugged and explained that Paolo’s transformation hadn’t changed the beauty he had already seen in the young Princess. Charlotte’s knock on her office door broke into her musings. “Come in.”

“Good evening, ma’am. Dinner is being served in fifteen minutes and then tea with the Prime Minister to discuss the current state of affairs in Genovia. After that, you have your final meeting of the day with security to review the status of present and upcoming events.”

Clarisse ventured a quick glance at the clock on the wall. It was seven forty five and she still had several hours worth of work ahead of her. She was getting too old for this. She allowed herself a small sigh before she gave Charlotte a smile and said, “Then I will freshen up and then adjourn to the dining room.”

Two and a half hours later, Clarisse nodded at Felix as she entered her private suite. She was drained. The conversation with the Prime Minister had focused on the general unrest among the elite of Genovia regarding the future of the monarchy and the dissension sowed by the Von Trokens. She had done her best to reassure Sebastian and she knew he was on her side and very loyal to the Renaldi family; but it was his job to keep her apprised of what he knew. The people of Genovia were very happy with her continued service as Queen as they had prospered under King Rupert, may he rest in peace, and her rule. It was only the power hungry that wanted the throne for themselves that called for change to the status quo.

She removed her blazer. It had been a rather warm day and she had been in this outfit since about seven that morning. The shoes followed. She made a mental note to never break in a new pair of shoes on a day filled with endless meetings. All she wanted was a quick, hot shower followed by comfortable clothes, a cup of tea and some Beethoven to finish out the evening. She had just started towards the bathroom when she heard the knock on the door. Only years of training kept the frustration out of her voice. “Come.”

Joseph stepped through the door into her living area. “Good evening, Your Majesty. Charlotte advised me you were now free for our security meeting.”

Because it was Joseph and only because it was Joseph, she let her façade slip a little. “Oh yes…I forgot. I…” She looked longingly towards the bathroom.

Joseph didn’t get to be head of security by not being perceptive. “You were just looking forward to a hot shower, rather than another meeting, right?”

He was rewarded with a small smile. “You know me too well.”

“How about a compromise? I will tell Felix to take his dinner break since I will be here. You grab your shower and then you can have your tea while I brief you on security matters.”

“That sounds like the best offer I’ve had all day. Thank you, Joseph. I won’t be long.”

Joseph returned her smile and watched her retreat to the more private section of her suite. He tried not to think of her in the shower just on the other side of the wall. Instead, he decided to make himself useful. He picked up the phone and ordered decaf tea for her and coffee for himself. Once that task was completed, he put the folder with the security information on the table and then he spotted the blue blazer she had been wearing all day laying across the back of the couch. He picked it up with the intent of hanging it on the small hook near the door. He couldn’t resist the temptation, though, to bring it up to his face and inhale. Her perfume was still prevalent in the garment and the scent of honeysuckle infused his senses. He had been around her long enough to know she chose what scent she wore depending on what she was facing that particular day.

Her roses brought her a sense of inner strength and calm. As a result, that fragrance was chosen for public speaking engagements and meetings with Parliament along with other high level guests. The honeysuckle was a light scent that calmed her and helped her through troubling days. She had worn this scent quite often since her arrival in San Francisco. The fact that she was worried and troubled…troubled him. His job was to protect the Crown – even if that meant protecting her from herself. He enjoyed the scent a few moments longer before putting it on the hook. He noted with a sense of pride that some splashes of color had been added to her wardrobe the last couple of days. He secretly hoped that was because of him.

The final bit of straightening came in the way of her shoes. He picked them up and gave them a critical stare. The black leather had what appeared to be a very narrow space for her toes. The heel was at least three and a half to four inches. How did women wear these…much less dance in them as beautifully as Clarisse did? He chuckled as he remembered someone saying that Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire had done except she did it backwards and in high heels.

A husky voice interrupted his thoughts. “If you really like them, I will buy you a pair for your birthday.”

Joseph almost dropped the shoes. He felt like a kid caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty. I was just attempting to tidy up a bit for Olivia when I tried to fathom how it could possibly be comfortable to walk in these.”

Since he was already in trouble, he allowed himself a quick survey of the woman who was quietly becoming more than just an employer. She was in black slacks and a pale blue v-neck sweater that appeared to be angora. The sweater clung to curves in an utterly feminine manner that could bring men to their knees. Her face was absent of her makeup, for which he was pleased as it signified she was very comfortable just being Clarisse with him. He could see the freckles that were normally concealed under foundation and powder and vowed that one day he would kiss each and every one. Her short hair was slightly damp on the ends. He surmised that those errant strands had escaped from the shower cap. “Feel better?”

Clarisse was proud of herself. She knew he had been drinking in her appearance and she not only had allowed it; but had enjoyed it. If the look in his eyes was any indication, he had enjoyed it as well. “Yes, a little better, thank you. And to answer your question, most times they are comfortable. The pair you hold in your hands, however, was quite the opposite. My poor feet paid the price today for my attempt to break in the new ones.

A bold idea jumped into Joseph’s mind. His instincts told him the circumstances were right, but his heart screamed at him to be careful and not ruin the fragile ground they had been gaining. He decided to go with his instincts. “Perhaps I can help with that.”

“Unless you can design a shoe that doesn’t need to be broken in, I’m not sure how.” She had moved from the door to stand close to him.

“Trust me?” He challenged.

“Always.” Came her quick reply.

He sat down her shoes and took her hand and guided her to the couch. She sat down and he sat two cushions away. “Swing your legs around now so your feet are on my lap and your back is resting against the arm of the couch.”

She hesitated…dancing with him was one thing. This seemed more…intimate. Did this cross a line? She thought back to their dance and the feel of his hands on her back – the heat it generated on her skin and the tendrils of warmth it created throughout her body. What could it hurt? She could allow herself a few moments of being pampered by someone who truly wanted to take care of her…not just because he was being paid to do so. Her voice was hesitant, but she began to do as he instructed. “I suppose it can’t hurt.”

Joseph smiled. “On the contrary, I think it will be quite pleasant and comforting for you.”

Clarisse didn’t voice it, but thought…”That’s exactly what I’m afraid of…”

Before he could start, though, there was a knock on the door. “Who could that be?” Clarisse asked, fearing a crises or another meeting was going to interrupt her alone time with Joseph.

Joseph patted her leg affectionately. “It’s just the tea I ordered for you. I’ll take care of it.”

Clarisse leaned back against the sofa arm and closed her eyes. She heard Joseph conversing quietly with whoever had brought the tea; but she wasn’t really listening. She felt him lift her ankles so that her feet once again rested on his thighs. Moments later his thumbs began to make circle patterns on the bottom of her foot, easing away the soreness and tension of the day. “Ohhh…Joseph…that feels heavenly.” She practically purred. She couldn’t help it…her feet were so sore and the massage felt so good.

“I’m glad it is helping. I’ve heard doctor’s say that that each area of the foot corresponds to an area of the body. By relaxing the areas on the foot, you can relieve a lot of stress and take care of problems in other areas of your body. You just focus on relaxing and I’ll brief you on the security matters.” Joseph had to admit to himself that he was thoroughly enjoying watching her face as the Queen mask slipped slowly away to be replaced by an unguarded woman’s face. It was nothing short of breathtaking to watch the transformation take place. He silently prayed that he would get to witness this more and more; something told him there was so much more to this woman than she had even allowed him to see.

Clarisse tried to focus on what he was saying. Truthfully, though, he might as well be citing Parliamentary rules of order for the attention she was paying. His voice was calming…a very deep, quiet, yet rich tone that seeped deep into her being lulling her into lowering a carefully constructed barrier between herself and the rest of the world.

Joseph watched as she tried to stifle a slight gasp has he massaged the area at her ankles. He had studied reflexology and knew that the area he was currently manipulating was tied directly to her groin, lymph nodes and certain parts of her female anatomy. He worked that area thoroughly before moving his attention to moving lower to the area that was linked to her chest, breasts, and lungs. The deep inhale and exhale from her body showed that the study had paid off.

Several minutes later, she was on the edge of sleep. He wanted to stay; but knew he needed to leave. Wishful thinking that they could share every night together like this was not helping his motivation to do what was right and proper. He slipped her feet carefully from his lap, trying not to disturb her. She was still reclined against the thick cushions on the arm of the couch, the beautiful line of her neck fully displayed to his ever watchful eye.

He stood watching her for a moment longer. She sensed his gaze and opened her eyes, exposing the deep sapphires that were cloudy with the haze of sleep. “Thank you.” She murmured.

“It was my pleasure.” He returned.

“How can I ever thank you? That was wonderful.” Her eyes were a little more focused as she gazed into the depth of his cerulean eyes.

“May I?” He asked as his head slowly lowered toward hers.

Clarisse felt every nerve ending start to wake up as his face neared hers. What was he asking permission for? Did she truly care? Would she deny him…even if he were to desire a kiss? Before she could answer, his face dropped to the curve of her neck and she stifled something between a giggle and a gasp as she felt him inhale her perfumed skin.

Joseph drew in the scent – surprised that it was one he did not recognize, but found the scent to be very…alluring, seductive even. Had she chosen this scent for him? Had she anticipated that they were getting closer and closer to a more personal relationship? She was drawing him further and further into her hidden world and he was helpless to resist. He allowed himself one small freedom as he placed a small kiss on the pulse point on her neck. He swore he heard a small “mmmm” murmured from her lips.

Reluctantly he pulled away. “What fragrance did you choose for tonight?” He asked in a husky whisper.


“You haven’t worn that before.”

“Not for a very long time…” her words left room for a great deal of interpretation; but he decided to do that musing in the privacy of his own suite.

“I like it. It was a good choice.” He offered. “Perhaps you will wear it for me again some time?”

He couldn’t help the grin that surfaced on his face as a small smile crept onto her serene face. “Perhaps.”

“Good night, Clarisse.”

“Good night, Joseph.”

Chapter 5: Just Clarisse

Scene: The evening after Mia was “outed” by Paulo

Joseph watched, a slight expression of amusement on his face, as his Queen transformed before his very eyes. The moment the door closed behind her, Clarisse sighed, kicked off her shoes, lost her jacket and then uncharacteristically flopped onto the couch in her sitting area. He felt a twinge deep within his psyche as she propped her feet up, ankles crossed of course, and rested her head on the back of the sofa. She seemed so…real – so…normal. A part of him loved that she let him see her this way and a part of him hated it. He hated it because he wanted so much more with her yet knew it was completely implausible. Oh he supposed he could possibly one day share her bed, the physical attraction between them was undeniable. But he wanted more than that…so much more.

“Joseph?” Her voice broke into his thoughts and he was certain he had been caught staring again. But when he brought his mind into focus with his eyes, he noticed her eyes were still closed and she was still in the same semi-reclined position.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Are you going to stand there just looking at me or are you going to come sit down?”

So he had been caught anyway. Apparently she was just as aware of him as he was of her. “Would you prefer my company this evening?”

“I would prefer someone that I can share my frustrations of the day with in a very non Queen-like manner.” Her eyes opened and she turned her face towards him. “Can you be that someone, Joseph?”

Her sapphire eyes conveyed so much as they gazed into his as she asked her question. It was posed as such a simple question; but seemed to be asking so much more. He phrased his answer carefully, hoping to answer both the spoken and unspoken questions. “Yes, Clarisse, I believe I can.”

Her eyes sparkled as they lit in response to her smile. “I am very glad to hear that. Please, come sit.”

Joseph sat on the couch next to her but turned sideways so he could look at her while they talked. “So, Clarisse…” He started with a slightly sarcastic and humorous tone. “How was your day?”

Clarisse laughed, thankful for the endorphins that were now dispersing to ease the throbbing that had been present in her head since Charlotte had informed her of Paulo’s inability to keep his mouth shut. “It was challenging to say the least.”

He chuckled. “Well, for the record, I thought you were brilliant.”

“Brilliant? Now that seems a bit of a stretch. However, I am intrigued now…so please share.”

Joseph loved the fact that she was having this entire conversation with him with her eyes closed. As soon as he had sat down ,she had resumed her initial position. Watching the different expressions cross her face in such an unguarded manner was more precious to him than all the crown jewels in Genovia. “The way you handled the press outside of the school; you were very calm and collected. And don’t think I didn’t’ see you stuff the microphone inside that one reporter’s pocket!” He teased.

“The man was being incorrigible. I’m not sure what part of ‘no comment’ was unclear to him.” She brought the back of her hand to her forehead as if to block out the light of the room as she continued. “And the tea…if one could truly call it that…was horrible; honestly someone should teach the Americans about the virtues of a proper cup of tea.”

Joseph couldn’t help but laugh at her statement. “They do seem to be lacking somewhat in that area. Perhaps you should educate them! Speaking of education, you caught me off guard a bit when you asked me to take the ‘fine educator’ on a tour to discuss our concerns with their lack of security.”

This time Clarisse laughed. “The look on your face was priceless! But you recovered nicely.”

Joseph absently wondered if this is what ‘home’ felt like. He had been searching for it his entire life; a relationship with someone he could live, love and laugh with. There was something inherently intimate and comfortable about tonight and the time they had been spending together over the past few days. Something that said perhaps ‘home’ truly was wherever you happened to be, rather than a place. He silently scolded himself…he used to be able to control his thoughts about such things. Well at least in her presence, but this unguarded time he was spending with her was slowly undermining his tenuous control.

This time he had been caught. “Joseph? Are you alright?” Her gaze was fixed solidly on him and she looked worried.

“Just thinking about how beautiful you look.” He offered a reassuring smile.

“I am totally disheveled, my makeup is disappearing allowing the wrinkles free reign, and my posture is abhorrent.”

He loved the totally serious look on her face as she rattled off all the things she felt subtracted from her beauty. His hand reached over and tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. His voice was warm enough to heat her favorite cup of English tea. “As I’ve told you numerous times, outer beauty doesn’t begin to capture what makes a woman beautiful.”

Clarisse sat up and turned towards him, studying his eyes to learn his intent. She saw nothing in the depths but sincerity and appreciation. A deep flush covered her body at his compliment and she could not find her voice to respond. She simply nodded and then returned to her former position on the couch. Her mind screamed at her to ask him to leave; to fortify the barriers around her heart that were slowly crumbling under Joseph’s careful and deliberate erosion of the walls she had so carefully built after Rupert’s death. Her heart, however, begged just as intensely to feel companionship, warmth and, perhaps even love again.

Joseph was worried he had crossed a line. He was totally in unfamiliar territory here. During the day, she was most definitely the Boss – his Queen. At night, though, the personal side of their lives was taking precedence over the professional. He was not as adept at dealing with that and knowing all the rules. He decided to fall back on common ground. “I spent some time with Mia and Lilly after school today.”

Grateful for the slight diversion, she asked. “How was she feeling after the excitement of the day?”

“In need of reassurance.”

This diverted Clarisse’s attentions back to things other than herself. When she sat up this time, her eyes were clear and focused, intent on making sure her Granddaughter was alright. “How so?”

“She wanted to know if she could ‘quit’ being a Princess.”

“Quit?! She’s barely begun! What did you tell her?” Fear that her brilliant plan to save the Renaldi rule might be crumbling served to shore up the barriers around any her personal feelings that were breaking through.

“I advised her just the same as I would any person, young or old…” His eyes bore into hers. “No one can quit being who they are. She could refuse the job, but she would still be a princess.”

Clarisse sensed there was advice hidden in there for her as well; but she disregarded it. “Sounds like very good advice.”

“Lilly was also contributing. She, of course, had a slightly larger flair for the dramatic than I; but still made some good points.”

“I can only imagine.” She decided not to ask what Lilly had advised. She seemed a well-meaning girl; but certainly not of the upbringing that would render the kind of advice that Amelia truly needed.

“In all of the drama, however, she made one very valid point, though. Privacy would be almost non-existent.” He had to throw that out there; had to find a way to let her know he understood the situation she was in.

Clarisse’s eyes found his again. There was a sadness present in them that he hadn’t seen earlier in the evening. His eyes registered a slight dismay…it seemed they had slipped slightly backwards tonight rather than forward as he had hoped. “Yes, a lack of privacy makes many things seem almost…impossible.”

“Almost, but not quite.” Joseph moved closer to her on the sofa, invading her personal space. He repeated his actions from the night before leaning in and whispering. “May I?”

Clarisse knew what to expect this time. Knew she should stop him…knew she wouldn’t. Instead she angled her head to allow him this liberty. Her breath caught in her lungs as his lips grazed lightly over the elegant lines of her neck.

“You chose the rose scent today…that makes perfect sense.” He offered.

She willed her heart rate to slow so she would sound coherent and normal when she answered. “It calms me and gives me a sense of strength.”

His next statement caught her off guard. “You may want to share your secret with your granddaughter. She needs to hear from you that YOU think she’s ready along with your trade secrets for handling stress and pressure. I told her today that you said she was ready for the State Dinner.”

“I said that?”

Joseph smiled that disarming smile of his and shrugged. “Not in so many words…but she needed to hear it.”

“Do you think she’s ready?”

“I think if you believe in her and that she’s ready, she will be.”

“You are just filled with words of wisdom tonight, aren’t you?” She teased.

“Of course, that’s why you keep me around.” He retorted.

She couldn’t help the look of longing that filled her eyes. “Somehow, I think it is more than that.”

“May I share one more piece of wisdom before I leave?”

“ Please.”

“I recently read a quote by Pearl Buck that reminds us ‘The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. Her heart withers if it does not answer another heart. Her mind shrinks away if she hears only the echoes of her own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.’ Will you think about that Clarisse?”

Tears brimmed as she listened to him share the words…words that spoke directly to her withering heart. Her voice was nothing more than a mere whisper. “I will.”

“I hope I haven’t overstepped my bounds tonight.” He added sincerely.

She shook her head. “No. It was just Clarisse and Joseph tonight. As I said earlier, I need someone that I can be just Clarisse with…which means I can’t – or shouldn’t – pull the Queen card against them when they are being honest with me. I can’t promise how I will respond; but I promise you I need someone in my life like that. With Rupert gone…”

Her voice trailed off and he sensed the pain of loss that she still keenly felt at her husband’s absence. She had often said that they were best friends and he was certain that they had the kind of relationship where they were both free to be themselves in, rather than the King and Queen. “I understand and while I could never take his place, I will try to be what you need me to be…whatever that is.”

“Thank you, Joseph…for reassuring Mia and…well, for everything.” It was his turn to close his eyes and try to breathe as her hand cupped his cheek; her thumb gently stroked adding a gentleness to the gesture that made his insides turn to mush.

He finally forced himself to separate from her touch. His gaze seared into her soul as he whispered. “Good night, Clarisse.”

“Good night, Joseph.”

Chapter 6: Simply Trying

Scene: At the Genovian Consulate the night of the State Dinner.

Clarisse had changed out of her pale blue evening gown in favor of black slacks and a royal blue silk blouse. She would have loved to be in more comfortable clothes, but with a handful of Genovian elite now present at the consulate, she could not risk any breach of etiquette or protocol should one of them be wandering in the halls. She slipped on the black heels that Joseph had been holding a couple nights ago; a twinge of guilt flickering in her mind. Not guilt over what had transpired in her suite that evening, but guilt over what had transpired tonight. Tonight had been…

Unbelievable! The woman was nothing short of unbelievable. Joseph shook his head as he drove back to the building they currently called home. He had been stationed just outside the door of the dining room so although he couldn’t SEE what was happening, he could certainly HEAR that it wasn’t going well. If he had had any doubts about the course of events over the evening, they were washed away in the deluge of tears shed by the Princess as he drove her towards the refurbished fire station that was her home. She had insisted that she be taken home without attending the after dinner coffee. Charlotte had made her excuses for her citing school responsibilities demanded that the Princess get home at a decent hour.

He was unaccustomed to dealing with such an outward display of emotion. Clarisse always held her emotions very close and guarded. He had never seen her lose it and never truly thought he would. She had always kept herself distant – at least in public; he was uncertain if she ever truly let herself go…even in private. He could hear the young Princess’ whispers to herself echo in his head, “I let her down tonight. I let him down. I’m so sorry Dad.”

He had tried to console her when he opened the door for her. “It was just one night, Princess. You faced the battle and you survived…there is something to be said for that.” His heart had broken when her only reply was, “I simply tried as you said…but it wasn’t enough.”

Unable to reason with her like he could her grandmother, he had simply pulled her into his embrace and let her cry for a few moments before giving her a handkerchief to dry her eyes and leaving her in her mother’s care.

He gripped the steering wheel tighter in an effort to deal with his rising anger. He would have to speak to Clarisse about this…there was no way to avoid it. It would just be a matter of…

“Time. What time is it, Charlotte? “Clarisse asked her patient assistant who had answered the same question about three times in the last fifteen minutes.

“9:30, Your Majesty. Would you like me to order some tea?” Charlotte bit her tongue to keep from adding what she was thinking, “Would you like me to call Joseph to find out when he will return?” as she knew that was the reason for the Queen’s agitation.

Clarisse closed her eyes, willing herself to calm. Why was it that Charlotte always thought tea or food would solve the world’s problems? “No, thank you. I’m just anxious for Joseph’s return and to see how Amelia is doing.”

“I understand, Your Majesty. In retrospect, perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to set the Princess next to Lord Fricker.”

Clarisse fought to keep the sarcastic tone out of her voice. “Indeed it was not.” Unable to just sit around and wait any longer, Clarisse ordered. “Please have security notify me when Joseph returns. I’ll be in my suite.”

Charlotte’s head was beginning to hurt as well from the stress of the night and the tension that she knew was going to be present between her Queen and the Head of Security when he returned. “Yes ma’am, I’ll see to it.”


Joseph hadn’t been in his room for five minutes when the phone rang. He picked it up and answered gruffly. “Romero here.”


“Yes, Your Majesty?”

Clarisse sighed. He was definitely upset. “I was wondering if I might speak with you in my suite.”

“Is this a request from the Queen or from ‘just Clarisse’?” He asked, reminding her of their conversation the other night.

It was late. Her head hurt. She was tired. But she knew, without a doubt, that if they didn’t have this conversation tonight, sleep would be painfully absent. “Clarisse wishes to speak with Joseph.”

“Joseph would rather not come to your suite. We need neutral ground this evening.” The stage for the battle had been set.

“Well I certainly can’t come to yours. That would be a difficult one to explain to the Von Trokens or even Sebastian.”

Joseph rubbed his forehead. Being involved with royals was sometimes a royal pain in the … “Let’s go to the garden. I’ll escort you from your suite to the gardens. We should have the needed privacy there.”

“As you wish. Five minutes?”

“Five minutes.”


The couple walked in silence as they made their way to the far border of the garden, desiring as much privacy as possible. Once they were there, Joseph leaned up against the tall brick wall that offered both security and privacy to the consulate. He bent one leg and propped his foot up against the wall and waited. She wanted to talk…he would listen.

Clarisse knew he was not going to make this easy. While others might not be able to tell Joseph was upset as he generally displayed a very stoic demeanor and calm voice; however, Clarisse had noticed the subtle clenching of his jaw. The dead giveaway, though, had been his eyes. The usually crystal blue orbs that closely matched her own had been clouded with emotion – and not the kind she had been privy to see once or twice when he thought she wasn’t looking: The unmasked desire and affection he occasionally allowed to quickly spark in his eyes before masking it again. She recognized it because she knew it mirrored her own on occasion. No, this closely resembled anger and frustration; and, she was fairly certain that most of it would be directed at her. Her voice was quiet. “How is Amelia?”

His Spanish temper had rarely gotten the best of him and he didn’t intend for it to happen tonight either. He did not tamper his sarcasm though as he responded. “Does her Queen want to know or her Grandmother?”

Clarisse’s eyes flashed but she kept her voice even and quiet. “We are one in the same.”

“Tonight, you were not.”

“What would you have had me do, Joseph? I tried to make the best of a difficult situation.”

“Why didn’t you have her sit next to you? Wouldn’t that have made it easier to do damage control? Instead you sit her next to a drunken man who is constantly bickering with his wife!” He demanded, though still keeping his voice level and low. It would not do for anyone to overhear this conversation.

“Protocol deemed she sit at the middle of the table on my right. Our intent was to have her sit next to Sebastian. He proved himself loyal tonight when he attempted to do damage control for her multiple times tonight. The fact that Lord Fricker was on the other side was an unfortunate oversight.” She admitted.

“Indeed. Occasionally one must throw protocol to the wind.”

“Not many share that same opinion.” She offered with a tone of sadness. “Is she alright, Joseph?” Her eyes pled for an answer.

His gaze found hers and he found he could offer nothing but the truth. “No, Clarisse, she is not. She cried the entire way home and I heard her whisper her apologies for disappointing you and her father. She wasn’t ready; she shouldn’t have been there tonight!” He felt an instinctive need to protect the Princess.

This time when Clarisse’s eyes flashed, she didn’t try to keep the anger out of her voice. “And whose fault is that? YOU were the one that told her I said she was ready. How could I retract that statement you made on my behalf without hurting her? Tell me, Joseph…how??!!”

Joseph rubbed his face with his hands…she had him on that one. He sighed. “You’re right – there was no way. I’m sorry.”

Clarisse stepped in closer, invading his personal space. Her hand tentatively touched his chest as their eyes locked once again. “I don’t need apologies, Joseph. I need advice on how to fix this. We both made mistakes tonight. I forgot to be a grandmother first and a queen second – that’s what I needed to do tonight. I’m afraid I truly don’t know how to be anything but the Queen – she comes much more naturally to me than anything else.”

Joseph eyes closed at her nearness. There was something about this woman that could make him forget even his name and certainly forget his anger towards her. He closed his hand over hers and repeated the same words of advice he had given to Mia. “By simply trying.”

Clarisse fought the deep instinct to lean into his embody and rest in his embrace. It had been far too long since she had felt the protective comfort of a strong pair of arms. There was something about it that made her feel as though she were hidden away from the world…safe, secure, and sheltered from all of the ugliness and hardships of life. But potentially prying eyes from pompous politicians kept her from seeking that refuge. Instead her eyes found his in the dim light and she admitted. “I truly don’t know where to begin.”

“Why do you think the people of Genovia love you?” He asked in response.

She stepped back, slightly thrown off guard by his question. “I beg your pardon?”

Joseph surveyed the woman standing before him. She was absolutely breathtaking in the moonlit night; the beams of light reflecting off of the dark blue silk blouse casting an angelic glow around her. Her eyes bright and inquisitive and sapphire mirrors into the depth of her soul, telling more about herself than she would ever care to believe. “Do you find that a hard question to answer?”

“I suppose I haven’t given it much thought. They have prospered under Renaldi rule…it stands to reason they would be happy about that.”

“I think you seriously underestimate the people of Genovia.”

“How so?”

“I believe they would follow you to the depths of hell and back.”

“That is quite the exaggeration, Joseph.” Clarisse admonished.

He simply shrugged his shoulders. “I know I would.”

She granted him a small smile. “You’re different.”

“Charlotte would. Shades would. Anyone on your staff would. The people of Genovia would. The question is…do you know why?”

Clarisse just looked at him, stunned by his statements.

“Because they know you; they know you care about them as individuals. When you hold audience with them every week, you truly try to learn about each of them and want to help them with whatever their problems are. It is a sincere, deep caring for more than just their economic health. And that is why everyone would follow you to the gates of hell.”

Clarisse thought of the people of her country and of her deep abiding love for each and every one of them. She quirked her mouth into a half smile and countered. “I don’t think the Baron and Baroness Von Troken would follow me.”

Joseph chuckled, glad that the tension of the moment had passed. “Sure they would…they would just leave you there and come back to steal the throne.”

She laughed as well. “The hell they would!”

“Such language, my Queen.” He teased.

“You started it!”

“Indeed I did.”

“So I just need to spend some time getting to know my Granddaughter, don’t I?”

“Yes. Put the Princess lessons on hold – just for a day. No Queen and Princess…Just a grandmother and her granddaughter.”

“I think you may have just saved the day once again, my Knight in shining armor.”

“All in a day’s work.” He started to push away from the wall to escort her back to the consulate when she closed the distance between them again and invaded his personal space.

“May I?” She asked huskily.

Joseph couldn’t speak…couldn’t breathe, just mutely nodded as Clarisse nudged his head aside a bit to allow herself access to his neck. She repeated his actions from prior nights by inhaling his scent and then placing soft, delicate kisses along the pulse point of his neck. “Mmmm…I like that scent, but don’t recognize it.”

Somehow, Joseph found his voice. It was little more than a whisper, though. “Black Suede.”

“Hmmm…don’t think I’ve heard of that…but I like it and it seems very appropriate for the man wearing it.”

Joseph had to fight with himself from smiling like a school boy. “Thank you.”

“Perhaps you’ll wear it again for me sometime?”


Clarisse turned and started walking towards the consulate. After about twenty feet, she realized Joseph was still standing in the same spot. “Are you with me?”

Her question brought him out of his haze and he hastened to join her. “Always.”

Chapter 7: “A very good day.”

Scene: Evening after Clarisse spent the day with her granddaughter, a “true San Franciscan”

Joseph tried to contain the smile on his face as he made his way to the Queen’s private suite. She had just retired for the evening after dinner and had asked him to join her for tea. He smiled at Felix and told him to go ahead and take a break. As he would be with the Queen, there was no need for security outside the door. Felix smiled in gratitude and gave no further thought to the amount of time that Joseph was spending with the Queen. He was just glad it netted him less time standing guard and more time enjoying the leftovers the cook always saved him.

“Come in.” Clarisse answered to the quiet knock on the door.

Joseph stepped in the room and didn’t even try to hide the appreciation for the sight that greeted him. Clarisse had changed back into the pink dress and scarf she had been wearing that morning before her outing with Mia. He had had to stifle a whistle of pure male appreciation when he saw her emerge from her suite this morning dressed in pink. It wasn’t just the color that complemented her blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin; it was the way it clung to her curves in such an utterly feminine manner. The scarf added a touch of simple elegance that was definitely befitting the woman wearing it and his eyes couldn’t help being drawn to the way it draped effortlessly across the swell of her breasts. The fact that she had put it back on told him that she had noticed his appreciation from this morning and was not opposed to it happening again.

“You look simply breathtaking, Your Majesty.” He said in way of greeting.

The healthy blush that had colored her light features, a result of a day spent in the sun and fresh air, deepened considerably as she nodded her thanks and reminded. “Clarisse.”

“You look simply breathtaking…Clarisse.” He repeated.

“Shall we have tea?” She gestured to the china set waiting patiently on the side table.

“Of course.”

Joseph moved to sit on the couch as Clarisse began to pour the tea. She commended herself for not shaking as she poured despite the dreadful combination of nervousness and excitement she was currently feeling. “I wanted to thank you again, Joseph, for today. I’m certain it must have been difficult for you.”

Joseph thought about her statement as he accepted the dainty china cup from her. He deliberately let his fingers graze along hers as the exchange took place. “It was certainly…unusual, but not unheard of. I appreciate your cooperation in not running off without security.”

“Your idea of a silent shadow proved very effective. Mia and I were able to experience the day without someone being right there…”

“And I was able to experience a small modicum of peace knowing someone was close by.” Joseph finished for her with a smile.

“Scott did a wonderful job. I must admit I was surprised when the troops didn’t come barreling in when we had our little mishap.” Clarisse had the good nature to look slightly abashed as she confessed.

Joseph laughed. “It was quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done…just sitting here, waiting to receive updates from Shades. He was a bit surprised when I told him to hold back and let you handle it.”

“I was a bit surprised as that as well. I’m glad you did; but may I ask why?” Clarisse had spent a little time on the ride home in the police car wondering about that herself.

He shrugged. “I figured you managed to handle an entire country on your own…you could certainly handle a little fender bender. Once I was assured no one was hurt; I decided to let you decide if you wanted to call in the troops.”

Clarisse nodded her understanding. “Thank you for today, Joseph…it truly was wonderful.”

“Seeing that beautiful smile on your face is thanks enough. I hope it went a long way in mending the proverbial Genovian lace with Mia?”

Clarisse sat down next to him, close enough to be considered his personal space. She sat her tea cup down and turned towards him, an earnest look on her face. “I believe so. I hope she had as wonderful a time as I did.”

Joseph placed his hand over hers causing her to focus intently on his eyes. She saw the smile in his eyes and thought this may be the happiest she had been since the loss of her husband and son. “Tell me your favorite part.” He asked.

Clarisse drew the one half of the bottom of her lip between her teeth as she thought back on the day. “Well, let me see…I did get to sit in the front seat!” She admitted with delight.

He chuckled. “Now that I know you like it so much, perhaps I can arrange for that to happen more often.”

“Only if you’re driving.”

“Deal. Anything else?”

“We spoke of Philippe.” Her voice took on a more sentimental tone.

Joseph let his thumb circle the hand in a comforting caress. “Go on.”

“She asked me if he always wanted to be King. I answered her honestly. She needed to understand that he did consider abdicating because of her and her mother.”

“But the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” He finished.

She nodded slowly, lost in memories from long, long ago. Finally, she added quietly, “or even the needs of the one.” She hoped he understood what she was trying to say.

Joseph lifted his hand from hers and cupped her cheek, raising her head back up to look at him. Once he was certain he had her full attention, he spoke quietly. “I understand, Clarisse.”

Her eyes closed for a moment, thankful that he understood. They opened again as he continued. “I need you to understand also that often times by meeting the needs of the one…she is better to meet the needs of many.”

“It could be a long road.”

“I’m a patient man.”

“I’m quite stubborn.”

He chuckled. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“I want to dance with you.”


“Now.” Clarisse stood and extended her hand to him.

They walked silently over to the stereo system where with a touch of a few buttons, music filled the room. Joseph joined his hands with hers and they began to move in time to the music. The feel of the soft material against the palm of his hand caused forbidden thoughts to spring to the forefront of his mind. Subconsciously he pulled her closer, ignoring all protocol regarding the proper amount of dance space between partners and a host of others he was sure. When Clarisse laid her head against his chest as they swayed to the rhythmic strains, he was certain she would be able to feel the pounding of his heart against the confines of his chest.

He closed his eyes as her softness gently melded into his muscular frame. It had been so long since he had held a woman like this…never mind a woman as beautiful as Clarisse. The hand on her back began to circle in the same comforting gesture his thumb had provided on her hand earlier. “This feels nice.” He whispered softly, afraid to break the spell.


They continued to move in time with the music, neither speaking, just enjoying the simple pleasure of being together. As the music faded between songs, Joseph stepped back slightly so he could see her face. “May I ask you a question, Clarisse?”

Her smile was gentle. “Anything.”

“Where do you see this going?” He hated to break the spell, but he knew he had been in love with his Queen for quite some time now and he was about to fall head over heels for her. If she didn’t feel anything for him, he needed to distance himself somehow before he lost it completely with her.

“This being…you and me?”

He released one hand and brought it to her cheek, gently stroking. “Yes. You and me.”

Clarisse considered her answer carefully. She didn’t want to make promises that she knew she couldn’t keep; yet she couldn’t lie to him either. “I see the promise of a future together, but I fear it isn’t a certainty. Not because it wouldn’t be something that I would not want; but rather that others would not allow me to have.”

“Duty to country first.”

“It’s the only way I know.”

He kissed her forehead gently. “Then we shall take one day at a time?”

“One day…one moment.” She replied.

“Days in the public eye…taking care of your country and their soon to be princess.” He added.

Clarisse moved her hands so they clasped behind his neck as she stepped closer to his body. The music had resumed - soft strains of piano and violin filled the air. “Hidden moments with just you and I when we will be free to be simply a man and a woman taking it one step at a time.”

Joseph moved one hand lower to the small of her back while the other rested higher, holding her firmly to him. He was acutely aware of every inch of her body as it moved against his. The softness of her curves and the contours of her body fit very well against his muscular planes. “Chanel?” He whispered.

His heart almost stopped beating in his chest as she responded, her voice a husky whisper. “You tell me.” After placing a soft kiss on his cheek right next to where her warm breath had sent shivers of pleasure down his spine, he felt her back begin to arch as her head fell back, offering him full access to her long graceful neckline…and ample bosom he noted.

Taking a small step forward with one foot to provide some balance for them, he lowered his head to the hollow of her throat, kissing the small indentation. He could feel the vibrations in her throat as a small “mmm” escaped her lips. “Clarisse…” her name was spoken with a mix of desire and reverence.

She heard him speak her name and, at that moment, felt every nerve come alive as his lips began to dance across her exposed flesh. She could feel the intensity in his body as he explored and tasted her at a leisurely pace. The pressure and weight of responsibility she carried so regally with her every day melted away under his touch…she was certain that if he continued, eventually there would be nothing left but the woman beneath. That thought excited her and frightened her at the same time. With no duty or responsibility to hide behind, she would be open to experience more love than she had ever felt before in her life and also more hurt. His voice brought her out of her musings.

“Definitely Chanel.” He smiled as he lifted her back up to a standing position.

Her face was only inches from his and she looked absolutely beautiful, even this close her skin was flawless and there was a radiance about her that defied explanation. That he was holding her in his arms at that moment defied explanation and made him incredibly happy. She had been loved by many – loved by a King and now she had admitted that she was open to being loved by him…today was definitely a good day.

“So, Joseph?”

“Yes, Clarisse.”

“Do you think you might ever kiss me properly?” Her smile was brilliant.

His face turned a bit more serious as his hand cupped her cheek. Her eyes closed as his thumb slid across her lips. “There is only one thing I want more than to kiss you right now.”

Her eyes fluttered open as she found his gaze. “Oh?”

“I want to ensure that the future Renaldi rule is secured by the Princess accepting her duty. Only then will there be assurances that one day you might be free to love me fully. Because, Clarisse…?”


His thumb slid painfully slow across her lips as his body remained so close to hers that their hearts seemed to beat in tandem. “Once I kiss you…things will change. You will always be my Queen but, from that moment on, Clarisse will be first in my heart and the person that I will want to spend the rest of my life with. I know that can’t happen until Mia takes the throne.”

Clarisse took in his words and the intensity with which they were spoken. She mimicked his gesture by putting her hand on his cheek. “Then I shall wait with great anticipation for that day.”

He smiled, knowing that if all went as planned, he could be kissing her in just a couple of days and starting them on a path that could end with happily ever after. “It will be a very good day.”

She nodded. “A very good day.”

Chapter 8: Hope for Tomorrow

Scene: The Baker Beach Party Incident and the days after…


Clarisse had retired for the evening, but she wasn’t sleepy. She was worried. Worry seemed to be a constant companion of hers. In the weeks since she’d met her granddaughter, though, the worrying seemed to have intensified. As she drank her tea and tried to focus on her needle point, she found yet another reason to worry. Charlotte had turned the television to Lilly’s cable program before retiring for the evening as she had indicated the Princess was going to make an appearance. Clarisse had been anxious to see how Mia would perform in front of the cameras…little did she know at the time that cameras would find Mia that night – just not the ones she had anticipated.

An hour later, her phone rang. “Hello.”

“Good evening, Clarisse.”

She couldn’t help but smile, despite her troubles. “Good evening, Joseph. How are you?”

“Better now that I’m talking to you.” He admitted.

“Is something wrong?” It was never good when both of them were disturbed.

“Shades called in saying there had been an ‘incident’ at the beach party but before he could go into details, Coach Harbula arrived with Amelia and he had to go.”

“Well that explains why she didn’t appear on Lilly’s cable show as she apparently had promised to do.” Clarisse answered. “I’m certain Lilly is very unhappy with her right now…as I am becoming with each passing minute.”

“We should reserve judgment until we know the whole story.” Joseph offered. He was already well aware of the Princess’ misfortune for getting herself into situations that caused herself as well as those around her a great deal of grief.

“I suppose…but, Joseph?”


“I have a bad feeling about this.” She admitted.

“Would you like me to come over and try to cheer you up?” He asked, hoping she would agree. He felt himself hungering for private time with her now.

“I’m afraid I’m not dressed for company.” Why was she blushing?

His chuckle came through the line and his voice took on a deeper tone. “What are you wearing?”

“Joseph!” She admonished.

Joseph laughed. “Does that mean you’re not telling me? And here I thought we were becoming close friends who would tell each other anything.” He teased.

She was grateful he could not see her blush deepen. Never one to show weakness, she countered. “I’m afraid we aren’t to that point in our relationship yet.”

Joseph didn’t miss a thing. She said…yet! “Well perhaps not. I guess if you won’t tell me, I shall have to leave it up to my imagination. Let’s see…”


“I’ll see you in the morning, Clarisse. Sweet dreams.”

“Good night, Joseph. Sweet dreams to you as well.”

“I have no doubts they will be.”



If it had been anyone but the Queen, the employees would have said that someone was “storming” through the Consulate that morning. Since it WAS the reigning Queen of Genovia, the story was told that she had “walked with purpose” through the halls looking for her Head of Security. Unfortunately for Shades, she had found him first. He had been trying to make a retreat but she had seen him. “Scott, I’d like to have a word with you.”

Scott stopped, exhaled slowly and put on his best ‘game face’ before turning around. “Yes, Your Majesty?”

“I just got off the phone with Amelia. Would you care to explain what happened last night?”

Before he could begin to explain, she continued. “Are you or are you not her primary security? How could you have let this happen? How could SHE have let this happen?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. It’s proving difficult to guard the Princess and meet the expectations of her school, her mother, and even the Princess herself. She wanted a ‘normal’ night just as any of her other classmates would have. The principal and the coach assured me that there would be plenty of adult supervision…and there was. So Jerome was set up on the perimeter.” He offered in way of explanation.

The Queen was not impressed. “Jerome?” She shook her head knowing that of all the security personnel with them in America, he was the least motivated to do his job well. “And when the helicopter came in – what did he do then?”

“He radioed for backup and then left to find the Princess. By the time he made his way through the teenagers ogling for attention, the Princess had gone. “

“And none of those teenagers knew where she was?”

“None that was willing to talk to Jerome. They apparently all are very loyal to this Josh character.” He knew it sounded lame and he also knew that Jerome would no longer be with the Royal Security after today.

“So when he couldn’t find her, what happened then?”

Scott sighed. It was going to be a long day. Joseph had already reamed him out for sending Jerome in the first place and now the Queen was having her turn. They were both well within their rights to do so; he just wished it was over with. “He came back to his post and radioed for me to assist.”

“Where were you? Joseph told me that he had spoken with you on the phone yesterday evening.” She advised.

“It was my evening off, ma’am.”

Clarisse bristled. She knew he had a right to an evening off; but she was certain if Scott had been on duty, none of this would have happened. She wondered what it felt like to have a day or evening off. She had to be Queen twenty-four, seven…no breaks, no reprieve. “Fine. Where is Joseph?”

Before Shades could answer, Clarisse jumped slightly at the deep voice behind her. “He’s right here, Your Majesty. Were you looking for me?” He asked.

She whirled around and found herself face to face with her Head of Security. “As a matter of fact, I was…and have been for awhile. Where have you been?”

“Terminating the security personnel responsible at last night’s fiasco.”

Temporarily mollified, Clarisse answered. “I see. Might I have a word?”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

They walked in silence to her office. Once inside, Joseph shut the door behind them to ensure they wouldn’t be disturbed. Clarisse began pacing.

“How was your conversation with Mia?” Joseph asked quietly, trying to calm her.

Clarisse kept pacing. She always did that when she was upset. She wasn’t sure why – she just did. “Needless to say, it did not go well.”

“Would you like to talk about it?”

She stopped pacing and turned all of her aggravation towards him. “What is there to talk about? In the matter of a few hours, her poor choices have led to what will, no doubt, be plastered all over the front pages of the newspaper as the biggest royal scandal since Charles and Camilla.”

He worked hard not to laugh at her statement. “You can’t be serious, Clarisse. There’s more to this story. Did you hear her side of the story?”

Blue eyes blazed. “I BEG your pardon?”

Joseph wondered how many rules and protocols he was breaking by thinking she looked very sexy when her eyes became like daggers – especially when they were focused on him. “It was a simple question; but from your reaction, I can guess the answer.”

“You have NO idea, Joseph.”

He stepped closer, invading her personal space and dared to put his arms around her, pulling her in a loose embrace. “Then tell me, Clarisse.” He whispered.

She let herself be comforted for a few moments before pulling back. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. “It’s over.” She whispered.

“What’s over?” He asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

“Mia told me on the phone that she doesn’t want to be Princess anymore. Which means…”

“You will have to continue to reign…”

“Which means things change between you and I…” Her words hung in the air like a thick smoke that threatened to choke the life out of all who breathed it.

Joseph knew her words were true but thought they might be a bit premature. “Surely we have some options before that occurs.” He rubbed his hands up and down her arms to reassure her and himself that it was not all going to end just because one of his new security staffers had a bad night.

“Such as?” Clarisse hated that she was being so emotional but it just felt like everything she had been hoping for and working towards was disappearing through her fingers like grains of sand…the tighter you tried to hold on, the faster they disappeared.

“Such as…I find out what really happened last night and in the meantime you try to make amends with your Granddaughter. She is still family.”

Clarisse audibly sighed. “I know that…but she is also my future Queen. I’m just not sure that I can separate the two.”

Joseph kissed her on the forehead. “You must simply try.”


Joseph escorted the Queen out of the press room and back to her private suite. As soon as the door closed, she allowed herself the luxury of rubbing her temples as she sat in the Queen Anne chair next to the window. Joseph walked over to stand behind her. His hands replacing hers, he continued the attempt to assuage the headache to a dull ache rather than the piercing sharpness she currently felt. She murmured, “And I thought Elsie was a pain in the…”

“As they say, Clarisse…all journalists are hunting for the next front page story.”

“Blood thirsty piranhas if you ask me.”

“You did very well.” He complimented before moving his hands lower to work some of the knots in her shoulders loose.

Clarisse’s eyes were closed. She wondered how much longer she could allow herself and Joseph such liberties. It was one thing when there was a future waiting. Now her only future including fighting for the throne of Genovia against would-be usurpers who wanted the throne for the power it brought – not for the good it could be for the people that served the crown. She sighed deeply, a habit that was becoming all too customary for her, and put her hands on his. “I’m not looking forward to tomorrow.”

“I can come in with you, if you want.” He offered as his fingers continued to knead the tight muscles eliciting a small groan of pain from her.

“I’d like for you to drive me, if you don’t mind. I need to speak with Amelia alone, though. I want to give her the diary and remind her that she must officially renounce the throne.” With her words, she stood and came around the chair to face him.

“I will be happy to drive you. You can even sit in front if you like.” He offered to make her smile.

“I’ll consider your offer. I’m not certain I will be very good company.”

He pulled her into his arms once again. A small amount of fear crept into his heart…what if she truly pulled away from him? He had become accustomed to their closeness and knew, without a doubt, he was falling in love with her. Every fiber of his being told him that the Princess could do the job – it was just a matter of her believing it. Perhaps Clarisse could talk some sense in to her when she visited tomorrow before the ball. He thought of the kiss that he had dreamed of for weeks now. Had he been wrong to deny both of them that simple pleasure? If Mia really did renounce her throne, would she permit such an overture even with no hope for a future? Her soft voice broke through. “I don’t suppose I could get a kiss for good luck?”

He looked at her face, turned slightly upwards towards him. Her eyes were gentle, but haunted with the burdens of thousands and the lines of time and stress showed at the corners of the sapphire pools. Her lips looked very kissable and he decided that one tiny kiss wouldn’t hurt. It wouldn’t be the soul searing one he had planned for after the Ball, but it may be the only one they had. “I think that can be arranged. We’ll consider it a down payment for the one I have planned to give you once Mia accepts her title.”

She smiled a bit at his optimism. Hope was never a bad thing…just the dashing of one’s hopes. Her eyes closed as his mouth moved closer to hers. She felt his velvety softness touch first of her mouth and then the other, before brushing lightly over her slightly parted lips. The phantom touch continued as both simulated the act of kissing with feather light touches. Clarisse had never experienced anything like it. With each whispered touch, she was drawn deeper and deeper mentally into the kiss. The world around her faded away to a muted grey, leaving only herself and Joseph.

After what seemed an eternity, he applied a small amount of pressure to the kiss, releasing tiny waves of pleasure throughout her body. Her hands gripped his arms as she lost herself fully to this exquisite sensation – unlike any other kiss she had experienced.

When they finally broke apart, her eyes were wide and she was breathless. “If that’s the down payment, I look forward to the remainder.”

He smiled at her gently and cupped her cheek, his thumb stroking the soft lips he had just kissed. “Consider it incentive for you and I to find a way to make this work.”

“You are a skilled negotiator and strategist…perhaps your talents would be better served on a trade detail.” She teased.

He laughed. “Guarding your body is the only job I will ever need; and,” he added huskily, “I intend to do my job well.”

“I am indeed a lucky woman and there is hope for tomorrow!”

Chapter 9: It is Time

Scene: Day of Independence Day Ball

10 a.m.:

“Your Majesty, are you ready to go?” Joseph asked as he stepped into the office just as the Queen was lovingly running her hand over the diary.

Clarisse glanced up, a sentimental look on her face that was tinged with a bit of sadness. “Yes. Yes, I suppose it can’t be delayed any longer.”

He put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently, offering comfort and encouragement. “It’s not over until she formally renounces. You mustn’t give up hope.”

She clasped her hand over his for a moment, taking a deep breath before she stood and faced him. “I will do my best to one last time convince her that she should follow her destiny.”

Joseph cupped her cheek and kissed her on the forehead. “That is all you can do.”

She shook her head slightly. “No. That’s not all. I’ve thought a lot about what you said to me yesterday before the press conference. I was too hard on her. I jumped to conclusions and I must apologize to her for that…regardless of what decisions she makes.”

The embrace came as naturally as breathing to them; strength drawn and shared in a moment of need. Finally, Joseph whispered. “This is why you are such an amazing Queen and…” he pulled back to look her in the eyes. “why you are a wonderful grandmother.”

Clarisse smiled slightly and tilted her head in thanks. “I’m not so sure about that, but appreciate your kind words. Thank you, Joseph…for everything.” She looked at him with a longing in her eyes that betrayed her statement from only a couple of days ago that things would have to change between them if Amelia was not willing to rule.

Joseph read the look in her eyes and softly reminded her again. “It’s not over…we’re not over…until she formally renounces.”

They embraced again before she pulled away and said. “It is time.”


11 a.m.:

Joseph had been busying himself by conversing with Mr. Robetuson while Clarisse spoke with Mia. He had been fiddling with his jacket, his gloves, anything to keep his mind off of what was going on inside the old fire station. Finally he saw Clarisse emerge through the door. From the looks of things, Mia had not had a change of heart and his Queen’s heart appeared to be breaking. He quickly made his way to her side and placed his hand on the small of her back as they walked to the car. Instead of opening the back door, he opened the passenger door and gestured for her to get in. She looked up at him and seemed to be debating with herself. After a moment’s hesitation, she lowered herself onto the seat and allowed Joseph to close the door.

He exhaled slowly as he made his way around the car to the driver’s side. He would need to tread very lightly; Clarisse needed her space. He needed to be just far enough away so he could be there when she decided she needed someone…and he definitely wanted it to be him that she needed. He put the car in drive and started towards the consulate. Without saying a word, he stretched his hand out and covered hers. He wasn’t sure if he was pleased or disappointed that she neither pulled away nor acknowledged the gesture. She just continued to stare at the passing scenery out her window.

A few miles into the return trip, she spoke. “Joseph.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I’d like to go to the beach.”

“Now, ma’am?”

“Yes. I need time to clear my head, time to think, and time to pull myself together. I find that the ocean helps me do all three.”

He knew this was true. There was something about the rhythmic crashing of the waves into shore and the ebb and flow of the water off the shore that had a calming effect on her. She had spent whatever free time she could carve out of her very busy schedule at the beach after both Rupert and Philippe died. Often times, she commented about the beauty of the sun reflecting off of the water’s surface like a million tiny diamonds and was awed by the fact that the moonlight created the same visual effect. Sunrises and sunsets over an ocean seemed more brilliant and breathtaking, she always said. He squeezed her hand gently. “Your wish is my command.”


He watched her from a respectable distance. It had taken a little while to find a stretch of beach that was remote enough for his comfort level then several more minutes to contact Charlotte and reassure her that she was perfectly capable of handling a slight change in plans…and, yes, the Queen would arrive in plenty of time to perform her responsibilities for the ball…and, no, the world would not cease to revolve if the Queen diverted from her schedule for an hour or two.

Joseph listened to Charlotte as he watched Clarisse walk a little ways down the beach and stare out at the water. He finally interrupted her nervous chatter. “Charlotte. You must trust me on this. Your Queen needs this time.” He listened for a moment longer. “The Queen is never late.”

He smiled as he heard Charlotte recount, “Everyone else is simply early.” They ended the call and he resumed his patient waiting. There was a slight breeze off the ocean and he was mesmerized by the way it tousled her short, blonde hair; the way her scarf floated effortlessly around her in the gentle wind; and the regal way she held her head high in the breeze as though challenging it and asking for its peace and strength at the same time.

After an undetermined length of time, she turned to him and beckoned with her eyes for him to join her. He came to stand slightly beside and behind her, just close enough so she could draw on his strength, but not too close for any ambitious reporter or lucky tourist to get a picture that would make the front page. After a few moments, she finally spoke. “Regardless of what happens tonight, I want to thank you for always being everything I need you to be. Whether it be a babysitter, chauffer, listening ear, or friend…you have never shirked your duty or gave less than one hundred and ten percent.” She turned her head slightly so she could see him. “I fear I am less optimistic than you about the events of this evening; but whatever may come, I’m certain that I will fight to the end to keep the Von Trokkens from ever ruling Genovia.”

His hands gently rested on her elbows and he leaned in and whispered. “WE will fight to the end. No matter the outcome of our personal relationship, I will stand by your side and fight against any who threaten the Crown of Genovia. Long live Queen Clarisse.”

Clarisse hastily wiped a tear the broke free and trickled down her cheek before turning and facing him. “Thank you, Joseph.”

He simply nodded and then gestured towards the car. “It is time.”


6 p.m.:

Clarisse made her way down the long hall towards her office. It had been decided that rather than meet the press prior to the start of the festivities, she would remain there until the Princess arrived. At that point, she would make one last plea to the young woman to claim her birthright as Princess of Genovia. In a show of true faith, she even arranged for the very first tiara she wore to be ready for the Princess in the hopes that her reticence would fade and she would become the woman, Princess, and eventually the Queen she knew she could be.

6:30 p.m.:

Charlotte knocked softly on the door. “Your Majesty.”

“Yes Charlotte.”

“I’ve taken care of everything up to this point, but I’m afraid everyone is clamoring for a glimpse of the Queen.”

“Has Amelia arrived?”

“Not yet, ma’am.” Charlotte avoided any further answer as she was not very good at lying and didn’t want to alarm the Queen.

“Thank you, Charlotte.”

With a deep inhale and exhale, Clarisse smiled and went to work.

6:45 pm.

Clarisse had made her way through the receiving line. She kept looking for Joseph, but he didn’t seem to be anywhere in sight. She thought that rather odd after promising only a few hours ago that they would fight together anyone who threatened the Crown of Genovia. It certainly felt like the Von Trokkens were threatening and it would all be decided tonight. Finally, she spotted Charlotte. “Do we have any problems?” She asked her.

“No everything’s perfect. Perfect. It’s wonderful.” Why couldn’t she stop talking?

Clarisse smiled at her young assistant and appreciated her trying to keep the trouble at bay. “You’re not very good at lying, Charlotte.”

Charlotte looked away. “No I’m not, Your Majesty.” She never expected what happened next.

“But the garden looks beautiful.” Clarisse offered sincerely.

The praise caused Charlotte to look back at her Queen and smile. “Thank you.”


“Do you see her yet, Felix?” Joseph asked his driver as they peered through the pouring rain looking for Mia’s “baby”.

“Not yet, Joe…but we have to be getting close. Do you think she is really running?” Felix asked.

Joseph exhaled slowly, thinking of all that was riding on the actions of such a young woman. She may be a bit flighty, but at her core, he believed her to be the Princess that she was destined to be. “No, Felix…I believe she is headed for the consulate. Turn here and head up this hill…she knows it’s the shortest way to her grandmother and the ball.”

Joseph breathed a quick prayer of thanks as he saw the baby blue Mustang sitting at the top of the hill. It appeared to be empty, but he had to check. “Pull over, Felix. Honk your horn. I want her to know we’re here in case she’s headed out on foot.”

Felix grasped Joseph’s shoulder in a show of excitement as they saw Mia’s very wet head pop up from the seat at the noise. “I’ll get her and then you get us there as quickly as possible. Time is running out!”

7:00 p.m.:

Things were not going well. Clarisse had just been informed that Joseph had gone out after the Princess and neither could be reached due to the storm. Sebastian had advised her that the press was getting antsy and starting to complain about making their deadlines. It seemed the vultures were circling. “If she’s not here in ten minutes, I’ll make the announcement.” Her head was starting to hurt and a lump was forming in the pit of her stomach. She worked very hard to keep from showing any frustration, irritation, and most importantly, resignation. She tried hard not to think about the fact that the outcome of perhaps the rest of her life would be determined in the next ten minutes. That seemed a little too much to process.

7:10 p.m.:

Clarisse stood when she saw Charlotte come in the room. Clarisse looked at her hopefully but was not met with a similar response. Charlotte shook her head. “No, ma’am.”

She turned and looked at Sebastian, wishing things could be different and knowing he felt the same way. She took a deep breath and stated with as much regal authority as possible. “Then it’s time.”

7:20 p.m.:

A sweeter sound had never crossed Clarisse’s ears then her Granddaughter’s “Ahem”. Though she presented a frightful sight; things were made so much better with Joseph standing right behind her. He had brought the prodigal heir home! Clarisse thought it was the most beautiful sight she had ever witnessed. As Amelia came to take her place behind the podium, Clarisse took Joseph’s hand and took her place…beside him. The lump was still sitting heavily in her stomach; but for the first time that day, she had the feeling that maybe…just maybe…everything would be alright.

7:25 p.m.

Joseph looked at Charlotte…things were going well.

Mia looked at her grandmother, who now had unshed tears of pride in her eyes, as she began. “So this morning when I woke up, I was Mia Thermopolis… But now, I choose to be forevermore…”

Clarisse realized in that instant that she was going to do it – she was going to become…

“Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi…Princess of Genovia.”

9:55 p.m.

“You’ll see to it all, Charlotte?” Joseph asked.

Charlotte smiled at Joseph. Ever since she had seen him dancing with the Queen and the subsequent change that had come over her, she had secretly been hoping that the two might find a way to spend some time alone together. If she could help in that endeavor…even better. “Consider it done, Joe. I’ve even seen to a few personal arrangements for the Queen to help her celebrate the night.”

Joe leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Thanks, Charlotte. You’re the best. Oh, and lest I forget…the garden looks lovely.”

Charlotte blushed again. “Thank you, Joe. No go…it’s time!”

10:05 p.m.

The door to the Queen’s suite closed behind them. Clarisse felt like she had floated on a cloud throughout most of the journey. From the moment Joseph had dismissed the security lining the halls and raised her gloved hand to his mouth, she had been in heaven. She hadn’t even been able to truly feel his lips on her skin, but the tenderness in his touch had almost melted her where she stood.

She thought about the past few hours. In that short time, she had gone from resignation to exhilaration. With Mia’s acceptance of her future role in the monarchy, Clarisse had felt the chains of duty loosen slightly. Her actions were still quite limited, but there was hope; and with hope, she could be patient…and she prayed that Joseph could be as well.

Joseph watched with admiration and joy as his Queen, his Clarisse, radiated with happiness as she moved about the suite. It was almost as if her happiness was too much to be contained inside her body and she had to maintain movement to keep the energy level high. When she twirled around, he couldn’t resist; he stepped into her dance embrace and began moving with her. Her smile almost melted him where he stood. “You look very beautiful tonight, Clarisse.”

“And you look very handsome. It’s been entirely too long since you’ve worn your tuxedo.”

“Well it is not the most comfortable thing I wear.” He replied, a look of mock pain crossing his face.

“Oh and you believe these dresses I have to wear are?!” She teased.

He stopped their movement and pulled back away from her, still holding her hands. He let his gaze sweep over her entire body. His voice was deep and decidedly husky. “Trust me. It’s worth it.”

Clarisse felt his brazen scrutiny and her skin tingled. Her breath caught in her throat as he released one hand and used both of his to slowly remove the white glove from her left hand. He gently pulled at the end of each finger until the glove had worked loose enough to pull off. Then he carefully pulled on the fingertips until the glove slid down her arm, revealing more of her skin to his gaze.

He repeated the action on the other side and then carefully laid the gloves on the back of the couch. He laced his fingers through hers again and brought one hand to his mouth. He slowly and deliberately kissed the tips of each finger.

“Oh Joseph…” she whispered, before closing her eyes to revel in the feel of his lips on her skin again…even if it was just the tips of her fingers.

Once again, he repeated the action on the other side. When he finished, he anointed the backs of her hands and the insides of her wrists with a soft kiss as well. He couldn’t believe how soft her Chanel scented skin felt to the touch of his lips.



“Are you ever going to kiss me properly?”

“Do you believe it is time?”

“Oh yes…it is time.”

Joseph didn’t say anything further, but gently guided her in their dance until she could feel the coolness of the wall against the heated skin of her back. Their eyes met. Blue against blue, matched with a thin sheen of barely veiled desire. He lifted her hands, which were still intertwined with his above her head. He leaned in and kissed one cheek and then the other before whispering, “Then it is time.”

Clarisse was overcome with so many sensations, she couldn’t even focus. Joseph’s body had her effectively trapped between his solid mass and the unyielding wall. Her hands were resting just above her head and she found she loved being totally in Joseph’s hands and care. He kissed first one cheek and then the other; but this time she knew, with all certainty, that very soon his lips would be upon hers and she would be given her very first true taste of the man who had become such an important part of her life. She moistened her lips in anticipation.

Joseph watched as her tongue slid across her own mouth, wetting it for the moment that was upon them. Breaths mingled and chests moved together in counterpoint as their lungs worked to supply oxygen. Finally the moment was upon them and he leaned forward and touched his lips to hers.

She had expected a light teasing at first as he had done before; but instead he claimed her mouth with purpose. His lips slid over hers, not demanding but with intent. She felt years of friendship deepening and growing to a new level as they shared this new height of familiarity. Her head moved slightly to allow his mouth to slant over hers and deepen the kiss. A contented “mmmm” escaped from her mouth.

Joseph became lost in the sweet taste of her kiss. He released her hands to thread his fingers through her hair, his thumbs stroking her cheeks gently. His mouth parted slightly as he kissed kiss first her top lip and then the bottom. He could feel her body respond to the more intimate gesture as she parted her lips and moved her hands to hold him tightly to her.

Their kiss danced as well as their bodies, generating energy as they tasted and teased, learning each other and basking in the glorious feel of losing yourself deeper and deeper in another. Clarisse felt his kiss become more demanding. It was as if he was asking for all that she could give. She gave herself over to the kiss, returning it with as much fervor and passion as he was giving. She understood now why he said that once he kissed her, he couldn’t go back. Joseph was an intense man who gave his all to everything he did, including this kiss.

Finally, it was time, and they broke apart; the breathing labored and their hearts racing. Clarisse’s eyes closed as his thumb brushed across her well kissed lips. “That was…”

“amazing.” She finished for him.

“I will find it hard not to kiss you at every opportunity.” He admitted. “Now that I’ve tasted you; I fear I may never get enough.”

Clarisse leaned against the wall, still holding him close to her. “And I shall find it hard to resist you wanting to kiss me at every opportunity.”

Joseph closed his eyes and leaned against her. He could feel her chest moving against his and the steady beating of her heart in time with his. “I should let you get changed so you will be more comfortable.”

“The dress is rather cumbersome, isn’t it?”

He stepped away to allow her to go change. She started to walk away and then stopped. “What is it, Clarisse?”

“I just noticed that Olivia wasn’t here when we returned and hasn’t been up to assist me. That’s unusual.” Then she added with a blush. “Not that I’m complaining. I much preferred your company.”

Joseph smiled at her. “I asked Charlotte to instruct them to allow you some privacy to celebrate and then rest before the journey home. They were instructed that you would call if you needed them.”

At that moment, Clarisse noticed the champagne that was chilling over on the end table. “It seems you’ve thought of everything, except who will help me out of my dress.”

Joseph groaned inwardly at the thought of helping Clarisse undress. It wasn’t that he found the idea distasteful, quite the contrary; rather he wasn’t sure he could control himself. He was, after all, a red-blooded male. “Charlotte arranged for the champagne. I’m afraid I can’t take any credit for that.” He exhaled slowly. “I can help you, at least some, if you like. I don’t want to be inappropriate.”

Clarisse thought about his offer. Was it going too far? Would they be able to be mature adults and stop acting like pubescent teenagers? The thought of his kiss sent ripples of desire throughout her body. The thought of Joseph undressing her was almost her undoing. However, she didn’t want the mood to be broken by calling Olivia to come assist her. “Perhaps if you can just assist me with the zipper, I can do the rest?”

He gave her a half grin, in an effort to keep from grinning ear to ear, and replied. “It would certainly be my pleasure to serve in that capacity.”

“Seriously, Joseph…behave!” She teased.

Joseph held three fingers up. “Scouts honor.”

Their mutual laughter filled the air; but the levity quickly turned to a heightened sense of awareness of each other as Clarisse stood in front of him and then turned slowly to allow him to reach her zipper. Her arms crossed in front of the dress to ensure it stayed in position once the zipper was lowered. She couldn’t help but turn her head to watch as Joseph stepped closer. She held her breath as his fingers slowly explored the expanse of flesh already bared by the cut of the dress as he made his way to the zipper.

Joseph exhaled slowly as he neared the small metal tab. With painstaking slowness, he began to lower it inch by inch. Despite his promise to behave, he couldn’t help leaning forward and placing small kisses on her back as he accomplished his task. “So very beautiful.” He whispered.

Clarisse’s eyes had closed the moment she felt the soft kisses on her back. It was so soft, so sensual, so affectionate. Unlike any tenderness she had been privy to before. Rupert had always been a considerate lover; but Joseph’s touch seemed to calm and excite her all at the same time. When he had finished, she whispered her thanks and advised, “I’ll just be a minute.”

Joseph was thankful that he would have a few moments to compose himself while he tried not to think about her changing in the next room. “I’ll pour us champagne and when you return we will drink and be merry, toasting to the prosperity of Genovia under the continued Renaldi rule.”

“I’ll toast to that anytime.”

Chapter 10: To hidden moments…

Scene: Two days after the Independence Day Ball – Clarisse and Joseph are preparing to head home to Genovia.

Joseph watched from a respectable distance as Clarisse and Mia said their goodbyes. Clarisse had earlier confided in Joseph how sad she was that she had to say good-bye to Mia.

“It seems as though I’ve only truly just gotten to know her, Joseph.”

“She will be coming for a visit this summer.”

Clarisse sighed. “I know. I also know it will go by quickly; but I’ve grown accustomed to seeing her every day. She has brought such joy and pride…”

Joseph couldn’t help but add, “…and a little drama.”

Clarisse nodded and laughed. “Yes, a little of that too. As I recall, though, drama is inherent with teenagers.”

Thinking back to the time that both Pierre and Philippe were in the Palace, Joseph nodded his head. “Indeed.”


“I wish I could come with you, Gramma.” Mia offered, tears forming in her eyes.

“You will come visit soon.” Clarisse tried to keep her tears from spilling over as well. “Besides, you could probably use a break from Princess lessons.”

Her grandmother’s attempt at humor helped and Mia admitted. “Well, you may have a point there.”

“I cannot wait, however, to show you the beautiful country of Genovia. From the small city charm of Pyrus to the rolling countryside to the mountains of LIbet where the winter palace resides.”

“There is more than one palace? How cool is that?!”

Clarisse smiled. “Very cool indeed.”

They embraced one last time before Mia came over to Joseph. She hugged him with an intensity that surprised him. “Thank you, Joe…for everything – especially for coming to my rescue and whisking me away to the ball.”

Joseph thought of what had been personally at stake for him as well as his country that night. “I always enjoy being the knight in shining armor.” He cast a smile in Clarisse’s direction.

Clarisse blushed slightly as she thought about the evening they had shared and how often he had been the knight that came to her rescue. “He is the best in the business.” Clarisse added.

“Well I’m glad his main priority is taking care of you, Gramma.” Mia added.

Mia watched with interest as her grandmother smiled softly and her eyes sparkled as they reflected the deepening connection she had with Joseph. “He is pretty good at that too.”

Mia quietly added. “I bet…” but she noticed that neither of her elders seemed to notice she was still there. She watched them for a moment as their sapphire eyes seemed to convey so much. She wondered how close they truly were. She realized she didn’t really know very much about her grandmother and the life that she had led up the moment they met just a short time ago. She knew very little about her grandfather, King Rupert and the relationship they had shared. Perhaps she could get some more information from Charlotte during her next visit.

Final hugs were exchanged. Everyone else had already boarded Genovia I and had taken off from the private air strip. Mia stood and continued to wave until the door closed behind Joseph as he followed Clarisse up the stairs to Genovia I.

Once inside, Clarisse took her seat in the private compartment, accompanied by Joseph. “Once we take off, I will give you some privacy.” Joseph offered.

She touched his arm gently with well-manicured nails. His eyes were drawn to her hand. Joseph remembered his grandmother telling him that you could tell a lot about a woman by looking at her hands. Clarisse’s were delicate, yet strong; smooth, yet aged; beautiful, yet practical. It spoke of the contrasts that made Clarisse the wonderful Queen that she was. Her quiet statement brought his eyes to hers. “I’d like you to stay with me…if you will.”

His hand covered hers. “Of course.”

Moments later they felt the engines gaining power under them as Genovia I began to taxi out to the take-off point on the runway. Clarisse allowed herself one final look and wave out the window to the fading form of her granddaughter. Unshed tears brimmed in her eyes as she turned back to face forward. Joseph squeezed her hand one final time and whispered. “You’ll see her again soon.”

Clarisse simply nodded and continued to stare forward. She felt Joseph remove his hand and knew she had to do the same as the flight attendant would be coming through shortly to make sure everything was in order for takeoff. Moments later, pre-flight checks were complete and Genovia I began the journey home.

Once airborne, Joseph looked at Clarisse. “Would you care for anything to drink right now, Clarisse?”

“No, thank you. I am going to try to rest some as I’m sure there will be much to do when we get home.”

Joseph thought about her hands…strong, practical, and not as young as they used to be. The last year or so had definitely taken its toll on her. She remained strong in the face of great challenges; her reign guided by practicality…what was best for the people. It had been the only way she could survive such personal tragedy and still hold it all together. He let his hand graze over hers gently before replying. “I’ll let the flight attendant know so you won’t be disturbed.”

“Thank you, Joseph. You truly are my knight in shining armor.” She smiled at him before reclining her seat and extending the leg rest.

Joseph checked in with the flight attendant and the rest of the crew and passengers. He advised that the Queen was resting and should not be disturbed. About fifteen minutes later, he closed the door behind him to the private area. He stood and stared for a moment at Clarisse’s sleeping form. There was a look of utter tranquility on her face as her dreams took her far away from the duty and responsibility that plagued her waking hours. He wanted to kiss her; but feared waking her. So instead he sat in the seat to her and leaned his chair back, closed his eyes and remembered the night he did get to kiss her…

Clarisse emerged from her bedroom in pale blue silk pajamas. Joseph was grateful that he had removed his jacket and tie and even loosened the top couple buttons on his shirt. Otherwise, he would have felt grossly overdressed for the occasion. The hairpiece had been removed and she had finger combed her hair. The overall affect was utterly feminine.

Clarisse fought to keep her composure as she took in Joseph’s appearance. The jacket had been tossed over the back of the couch along with his bow tie, the top several buttons of his starch white shirt had been undone, revealing a glimpse of white hair and bronzed skin. The tailored shirt and pants highlighted his lean, muscular frame. The overall affect was strikingly handsome.

Joseph found his voice first as he needed a distraction to avoid his eyes being drawn to areas of his Queen and friend that would be less than appropriate, even considering their new found romance. In time, though, he hoped to enjoy a thorough view of the woman who was capturing his heart and enveloping his senses. “Champagne?” He asked as he offered her a glass.

Clarisse took the glass from him, her fingers caressing his before she pulled away. “Yes, thank you. What shall we toast to?”

“We could toast to the continued prosperity of Genovia and the Renaldi rule.” Joseph offered.

“Yes, I suppose that would be very appropriate…”

Joseph held the champagne glass in his left hand and with his right cupped her cheek, relishing the softness that he held there. “Or…” he said in a soft, husky voice. “We could toast to finding hidden moments…just for the two of us.”

The fine crystal clinked delicately in the quiet of the room. “To hidden moments…” Clarisse offered.

“To hidden moments…” Joseph echoed.

They sipped the champagne before moving to sit on the couch. Clarisse let Joseph put his arm around her and she snuggled in close, her feet and legs tucked up next to her on the couch. Soft strains of music filled the room while they listened in contented silence, enjoying the simple luxury of holding each other.

Clarisse hated to - but duty compelled her to…the spell was broken with the words they both knew needed to be said, but neither truly wanted to hear. “We should talk about what will happen when we get home.”

Joseph knew they should. But tonight had been filled with dreams being realized and needs being attended to…he didn’t want to talk about the “should”. He pulled her closer and kissed the top of her head, inhaling the light fragrance of her shampoo. “Perhaps there will be time to deal with that once we ARE home? I’d prefer to savor every moment this evening has to offer before I am forced to face the harsh realities of tomorrow. Dance with me?”

She turned her head, sapphire eyes meeting the dark blue of his, communicating so much without words ever being spoken. “Kiss me first.”

“With pleasure.”

Clarisse snuggled even closer into his embrace despite the odd angle and position of their bodies. Joseph’s hand cupped her cheek; the softness of their lips fused together as they sought to learn what pleased the other. Starting with a tenderness spawned by years of friendship and deep trust, the soft caresses fanned the embers of a deeper passion that was simmering below the surface.

With each light touch, Joseph found himself hungering for more. Clarisse’s essence infused his sense…her smell, her touch, her taste. His hand slipped from her cheek to her neck, his fingers curling behind her head in the soft fringe of her short hair, pulling her to him – deepening the kiss.

Joseph’s touch was awakening sensations within her body that she thought long forgotten; her body literally aching for his touch…for his kiss. Normally very quiet and reserved, she allowed herself a small murmur of pleasure as his mouth moved over hers. When he deepened the kiss, she blissfully lost herself in the joy of the moment.

Reluctantly, Joseph pulled away. Keeping his distance from her once they returned to Genovia would prove far more challenging than he had initially thought. He looked into her eyes and noted that she seemed as surprised by the intensity as he was. Her eyes closed when his thumb brushed across her swollen and well-kissed lips. “Could I have that dance now?”

He watched her lips curl in a smile, even though her eyes remain closed. “With pleasure.”

He shifted their bodies so he could stand and then offered his hand to her. She stood and accepted his invitation with a slight curtsey. The dance started off normally in the traditional ballroom dancing stance; but Clarisse soon determined that, for tonight, her last night of freedom for a while, she wanted to enjoy each moment, hidden though they may be. She released Joseph’s hands and stepped in closer, never ceasing the sway of her body in time to the music. Her hands clasped behind his neck and he followed suit by resting his at the small of her back. “This is much nicer, don’t you think?” She asked in a voice that he was quickly learning to appreciate.

He pulled her even closer and dropped small kisses along her neck line, responding only with an “mmmm…”

They swayed to the music through several more song; their bodies close, moving in tandem to a song that their hearts had known for a while but their bodies were just beginning to learn. Joseph tried not to focus too much on the softness of the woman in his arms. He couldn’t remember the last time he had held a woman in such an intimate manner. He knew that his arms had never held a woman of Clarisse’s beauty – she was unparalleled in his mind. No other woman would ever compare now that he had tasted the sweetest wine – or to quote an old Peter Paul and Mary song…”kisses sweeter than wine”. Yes, he definitely was in well over his head and couldn’t be happier about it at that moment.

Clarisse was having the best night she could remember in a very long time. The future of her country was secure for the moment, her burden felt lighter and her mind filled with happy thoughts for a possible future with the man that held her tonight in his strong, capable arms. She took the lead for a few moments and danced them backwards until Joseph’s body was trapped between hers and the marble wall just as hers was when the evening began. “I don’t want this night to end…”

“But it must.” He finished for her as he tried to breathe in and out slowly as her body pressed into his, the softness a welcome contrast to the hardness against his back.

“A kiss good night?”

He smiled as his hands moved up and down her back slowly, holding her close. “I’m in no position to refuse such a beautiful woman who has me totally at her mercy.”

Her smile was brilliant as she leaned in further and whispered. “I believe the feeling is mutual.”

They lost themselves again in the moment as they experienced the sweet connection that was as old as time, yet so new to the two people hiding away from the world and from those who would try to keep them apart. There was still much to be experienced and much time before those experiences could be allowed to come to fruition. But for tonight, this hidden moment that they could share would be one that would warm them for many nights to come.

Joseph smiled as he recalled the happiness they had together that night. He placed his hand gently over hers; enjoying the simple connection that another few hours of privacy would afford them. Once they touched down on Genovian soil, things would get more complicated. But for now, over the great expanse of deep blue sea, the beautiful woman whose hand he now held, belonged solely to him rather than a country of thousands.

Chapter 11:

Scene: Thirty days after Clarisse and Joseph return home from San Francisco – Year 1 (May)

To say life had been hectic when they returned to the palace would have been one of those gross understatements that people sometimes make when they don’t like to acknowledge the reality of a situation.

Clarisse had done her best to keep up with things while she was in San Francisco; but, truth be told, a country simply cannot be governed in absentia. There were endless political meetings that had to be attended to ensure that everyone was of one accord, with the exception of a few members of Parliament, with regards to the future reign of the newly discovered Renaldi heir. She had missed her people as well. Over the years, she had come to look forward to the weekly sessions when they would come and share their lives with her – it gave her an important connection to them and made her feel that all of the hard work and sacrifice she had made over the years was indeed worth it. Between Parliament and the people…there had been little time for anything else.

Joseph couldn’t understand how he could be so far behind when the most important part of his job responsibility had travelled with him to the States. Oh he knew that security encompassed far more than just protecting the Queen; but he was uncertain how everything could have fallen so far behind while he was away. He knew it meant that both he and Shades would need to spend more time with the junior members of the security team. He could never knowingly allow any harm to come to any member of the royal family or their staff, for that matter. They WERE a family and he saw it as his job to protect them all.

This family, just like other families, was affected when distractions and the busyness of life kept them from spending quality time together. It wasn’t something that happened noticeably – nothing like an argument or fight that clued others in that there was tension in the family. No. It was more like a slow growing tumor. By the time you realized it was there…it was almost too late.

“What do you mean Genovia II will be ready for me tomorrow morning?” Joseph asked Charlotte as they shared a cup of coffee in the kitchen while the Queen was having dinner with the Prime Minister. Shades was providing security while Joseph was on his dinner break.

“Joe, I told you two weeks ago…” she started.

“How can I be expected to remember something that far in advance?” He interrupted.

“And a week ago…” she continued.

“Really?” He asked as he rubbed his eyes, the tiredness seeping into his bones. Not only had they all been operating at a non-stop pace since they returned home from America; but the absence of quality time with Clarisse had been wearing on him mentally.

“You know I’m no good at lying.”

“How long will I be gone?”

“Ten days.” She advised and then braced herself for the outpouring of negative emotion he was about to unleash.

“Ten days!! Charlotte! How can I be expected to be away for ten days??!! I’ve only been back from America for a little longer than that!”

Fortunately Charlotte knew he wasn’t angry at her, merely at the situation, so she shrugged her shoulders and answered. “The Royal Security conference information arrived by messenger exactly two weeks ago from tomorrow. The location will be radioed to the pilot just prior to take off. You know the drill.”

Indeed he did. Once every year for ten days, heads of security for prominent people including royal families, gathered at undisclosed locations for anywhere from five to ten days, to discuss current security concerns and political factors. Joseph knew it was important that he attend; but feared he may never get caught up again. “Fine. I’ll go pack.


Later that evening…

Clarisse collapsed on her sofa; she was exhausted. Responsibilities had been overwhelming and had left her little time for any personal interests. It had taken its toll on her and, she knew, on Joseph. Her eyes closed as she remembered:

“I will find it hard not to kiss you at every opportunity” … “Now that I’ve tasted you; I fear I may never get enough.”

“And I shall find it hard to resist you wanting to kiss me at every opportunity.”

It seemed a lifetime ago and even longer since they had kissed. As much as she hated to admit it, she missed the closeness. She had been neglectful. She needed to make it right.

The knock on the door roused her from her thoughts. She sat up straighter and held back a sigh. “Come.”

Warmth filled her veins as she heard his voice. “Good evening, Your Majesty.”

She turned in the direction of the deep voice and smiled. “Good evening, Joseph. To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“I came to say good-bye.”

Clarisse stood, an uncertain and unexplainable fear gripping her heart. “What do you mean…good-bye?”

His hands rubbed over his face. “The annual security conference. I leave for it tomorrow. Charlotte swears she has been reminding me for two weeks. Apparently I’ve been pre-occupied.”

Clarisse momentarily lost her train of thought as she watched Joseph’s eyes run appraisingly over her body. Her breath quickened as she recognized the look reflected in his sapphire depths: A look of longing, desire, need, and a myriad of other emotions that she feared to give name to. She shook herself mentally. “How long will you be gone?”

“I assure you, Shades is capable of providing security in my absence. I would not leave otherwise.”

His tone took her by surprise. “I have no professional concerns; surely you know I trust you and the men you choose.”

His jaw clenched slightly. “Then what are your concerns?”

“I don’t have any…concerns. I shall simply miss you.”

With her statement, his control started to slip, letting the frustration and hurt he had been holding back since she had shut him out. He knew it was irrational; but he couldn’t seem to stop it. “I’ve been missing you since the moment we returned to Genovia. You, on the other hand, don’t seem to even notice the change in our relationship until I’m not going to be in the palace.”

“Joseph…I…I don’t know what to say. We’ve both been so busy. I…” She could see the hurt clearly displayed on his face.

“I know we’ve been busy, Clarisse. We agreed, though, that we would find moments to be together.” He stepped closer, invading her personal space, his hand tentatively tucking a strand of errant hair behind her ear. “Apparently our relationship wasn’t important enough…”

At his implication, uncustomary anger surged through Clarisse. She pulled away from his touch. “It’s not that simple, Joseph! And what responsibility do you take in all of this? A relationship is a two way street – or so I’ve been told. You haven’t made much of an effort either. I’ve been trying to run a country. What is your excuse?” She couldn’t believe she had just lost it with Joseph. There was something about the emotion that he evoked in her that caused her to say and do things she never thought possible before.

Joseph just stood there in stunned silence. She was right to ask the questions. Her statements were accurate. How could he explain? He couldn’t. Not here. Not now. Perhaps not ever. He finally found his voice. “I have none. If you will excuse me?”

Clarisse found she couldn’t speak either. She knew her words had been harsh; but there was a haunted look on Joseph’s face that she felt could not be attributed to her statements. He looked as though he had seen a ghost. Before she could say anything further or move to comfort him, he had turned and was gone.

*One week later*

Joseph had been miserable over the past seven days. He was unable to focus on the conference. He called to check in with Shades on the secure line that had been provided for him, the reports revealed that all was quiet and within acceptable parameters. He asked about the Queen and was told that she had been very busy and had been taking meals in her private suite. Joseph shook his head. It was just like her to withdraw. They had not spoken since their encounter a week ago. Why did he always fall in love with women that he couldn’t have? He crawled into bed, praying that at least a fitful rest would be granted him.

Joseph grabbed Camilla’s hand and pulled her into the alley way. “Joseph!” She giggled. “What do you think you are doing?”

“Stealing a kiss.” He answered as he trapped her body between his and the brick wall of the corner store.

Her voice was thick with desire as the merriment lingered. “Since when have you ever had to steal a kiss from me? You know I cannot resist you.”

Their kiss was ardent: filled with passion and laced with the excitement of forbidden love. Joseph loved her with his whole heart and gave of himself unselfishly to her. She came from a different world than he was a part of – privileged and pampered. But fate had crossed their paths and together they had found a connection that defied logic, rules and class. Camilla would sneak away when she could so they could have stolen moments together. Her father had other plans for her; but the love she felt for Joseph had blinded her to anything but wanting to be with him.

Joseph broke the kiss. “Meet me tonight at the park – the gazebo in the back.”

Camilla was breathless from the kiss. “I’ll be there.”

She kissed him quickly again before stepping back out of the shadows and into the sunlight. Joseph watched her go. He had been patient for five years; being content to love her in the shadows. They were both twenty-one now and, he believed, on the brink of their future together. Tonight…tonight, he would ask her to marry him.

He watched as Camilla approached the gazebo he had chose for its location hidden amongst a dense covering of trees. Her white dress complimenting her bronzed skin; her raven hair blowing gently in the night breeze. Joseph took her hand and kissed it. “I love you, Camilla.”

“And I, you, Joseph.”

“I want to spend forever and always with you.”

“Oh Joseph…”

He knelt before her taking her left hand while his right reached in to pull the small box out of his pocket. With practiced ease, he flipped open the box to reveal a moderate sized diamond surrounded by smaller cut emeralds. He had thought they matched the brilliance of her jade green eyes.

He admired the piece that represented five years of hard work and savings for a few moments before turning his gaze upwards to see her reaction. Rather than sparkling, excited eyes, he saw fear, confusion and, even more importantly, doubt. It was the doubt that worried him most. What was she doubting? Fears can be allayed; confusion cleared up; but doubt…doubt was a very powerful force.

He stood and asked the question he most needed to hear the answer to. “What are your doubts, my love? Do you doubt my love for you?”


“Do you doubt my ability to provide for you?”

“Of course not!”

“Good. Because someday, Camilla, I will live in a palace fit for a King! So what is it, Camilla?”

Her face was sad…sadder than he could ever remember. “I doubt my father’s blessing. I have responsibilities and a duty to uphold to my family.”

“And you cannot marry me without his blessing?”

“It’s not that simple, Joseph. It’s not just about me and you and our love.”

“That is ALL it has ever been about for me.”

“I’m sorry.”

He had left her standing there as he turned to walk away. The next day he had sold what possessions he had, including the ring, vowing to never buy another. He had set sail the next week for England and become a part of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. He had never seen Camilla again.

Joseph sat up in the unfamiliar bed, a slight sheen of perspiration covering his entire body. It had been years since thoughts of Camilla had surfaced from the deep place in his soul to which he had relegated them. He went to the bathroom and rinsed his face. This situation with Clarisse was opening up old wounds. Could he allow himself to be put in a position to try to love someone again? Someone who was definitely out of his league; someone who had been a slave to duty and responsibility her whole life; someone who was not free to love him?

Both women were different – yet so much the same.

The question that hung heavily in his mind was simple to ask but not simple to answer: Was he willing to risk the hurt? Clarisse was right. It was just not that simple.

He climbed back into bed and prayed that the answer would be revealed.


Clarisse couldn’t decide if she was happy or nervous about Joseph’s return. She had missed him fiercely. Seven days had been the longest they had ever gone without speaking to each other. She felt a gaping hole not only in her heart; but also in her life. He was such a part of her life – in many ways she had not even realized until he wasn’t there.

She continued to pace in her suite, trying to think. What could she do to carve time out of her schedule to ensure they had time together? He was right in that it had to be her taking the initiative. He had very little control over her schedule unless a security matter was involved so it had to be up to her to find those moments for them to share.

Suddenly she stopped pacing. She had an idea! For the first time in ten days a smile crept across her face. With renewed purpose, she picked up the phone. “Charlotte? No everything isn’t alright. I want to see my Head of Security the moment he arrives home. I have been considering changes that must be made to security once Mia starts regular visits and I want to discuss those concerns with him. Also, Charlotte, I want you to make room on my schedule for a weekly meeting with Joseph so we can ensure that we have all basis covered. Thirty minutes will be acceptable, I suppose. Thank you, Charlotte.”

Satisfied with her plan, she sat at the chair near the window and watched and waited. It might not be simple – but it wasn’t impossible.

Chapter 12:

Scene: The evening Joseph arrives home from the Security Conference. Clarisse has attended a formal dinner prior to his arrival.

Clarisse watched Joseph from her hidden vantage point in her bedroom as he entered and stood, at ease, in her sitting room. As much as she wanted to run into his arms, she wanted to drink in the sight of him. She had missed him so much. They had never gone that long without at least talking to each other. Her eyes paid close attention to the details of the man that she couldn’t currently be with – yet couldn’t be without either. It was all very perplexing and exhausting. He was apparently exhausted too if the dark circles around his eyes were any indication. She was too far away to be able to read the emotion deep in his eyes; but the surface emotions appeared troubled and tinted with the same haunted look that had shown in his eyes before he left. She knew she needed to find out what was causing him that pain and she prayed to heaven that it wasn’t her…

He was wearing the customary black shirt and pants, looking as pressed as it had been when he had donned them this morning she was certain. She had no idea how he did that; but wanted someday for him to share that secret with her. His legs were shoulder length apart and she knew from dancing with him and brief touches that they were well toned, lean and muscular. She tried to not let her thoughts stray to how they would feel… She mentally shook herself; it was time to face the music and see if he missed her as much as she had missed him.

Joseph watched her step from the bedroom. He had felt her watching him; but he had avoided making eye contact with her as he wanted to let her start this own her own terms and in her own way. He fought to keep from inhaling sharply as she emerged; she looked positively breathtaking. She had not changed after her formal dinner. He suspected that was for his benefit; and, looking at her right now, he was very appreciative of her gesture. She stopped about five feet from him and waited patiently…just as he had…as his eyes drank in their fill.

Her hair had remained unadorned, but was naturally lightened by the sunlight. He suspected she had spent time out in her gardens, preparing the roses to make sure they would bloom soon in a wide array of beautiful colors. Her face was sun-kissed as well and had a very healthy glow. The sapphire pools were marred with concern, hesitation, and perhaps even longing. Normally, he would have spent longer looking at her eyes; but the view lower beckoned him. Her shoulders were bare, save small straps of red satin that held up a bodice which lifted and emphasized her ample breasts. It was not the first time that thoughts of resting his head on those soft, heavenly pillows had crossed his mind. His fists clenched and released in an effort to aid his calm. The black skirt was straight and went to her ankles; however a slit that cut the fabric to above her knee on one side aided her movement as she walked. Her legs were long, lithe, and well-toned from years of dancing. He tried to not let his thoughts stray to how they would feel… He mentally shook himself. It was time to see if their reunion went better than their good-bye.

“So I’m gone for ten days and you start wearing things like this…” he gestured to her outfit, “to formal dinners.”

She graced him with a beautiful smile. “Well, I’m afraid the guests were only privy to a toned down version that included a black jacket that covered, shall we say, most of my assets.”

“Good.” He refrained from adding that that small fact would keep him from having to hunt down and throttle any man that had leered at his Queen.

“It’s good to hear your voice…I’ve missed it.” She admitted. “I’ve never gone that long without hearing your voice.” She watched him for any reaction. His jaw clenched slightly, but from what emotion, she couldn’t be sure. So she plunged forward and closed the distance between them, putting her arms around his neck and pulling him into her embrace.

Joseph was feeling guilty and was trying to ascertain the best way to respond to her when he felt her body pressed against his and her breath hot against his ear as she whispered, “I’ve missed you…missed this.”

Any resolve he had been trying to keep melted away when he felt her nip at his earlobe, her tongue toying with the earring he had refused to give up from his youth. Her name was some type of primal growl emanating from deep within his soul. As the sound came out, his arms encircled her, crushing her body to his. They clung to each other like two souls reunited after years apart. His mouth claimed hers with the same intensity as their bodies speaking to each other in a language as old as time itself.

Clarisse felt intoxicated with his touch, with touching him. Their hands explored familiar territory, still careful not to cross any lines that had not been crossed before. Too much was tenuous at the moment and neither wanted to do anything to break the spell. His large hands caressed her back as his lips adorned her face with small kisses each time they broke for air. For her part, her hands covered the circuit from the broad expanse of his back, up to his neck and even to playfully toy with the fringe of hair covering his head.

Joseph knew they needed to slow down. Not only were they a long way away from being able to truly be together; but they needed to talk – needed to clear the air. He decided he would allow himself one more kiss before slowing down though. After all…it had been ten days since he had even seen her and much longer since he had been able to hold her like this.

His kiss was possessive and demanding and she yielded to him as the electricity surged through her body, heating her blood, making even the light blouse she wore feel constricting. She loved every moment of it. He made her feel truly alive – something that, before their trip to San Francisco, seemed a pipe dream after all the loss she had suffered. Finally, he broke the kiss. His breath was shallow as he offered, “I’ve missed you too.”

“Shall we sit?” She asked, fearing that if he let her go, her knees may not support her.

He led her to the Queen Anne chair while he sat on the end of the sofa. She was a little surprised that they weren’t sitting next to each other, but opted not to mention it. She moved forward in the chair so she could turn her body to face him. “I know you were angry when you left.”

He knew there was no point in denying it so he simply nodded his head to indicate his agreement.

“Since I had ten days to think about what you said, I have come to the conclusion that you may have had at least one valid point.” She smiled a little in an effort to lighten the mood.

Joseph returned her slight smile and asked. “Just one?”

She nodded emphatically. “Only one that I’m willing to admit anyway.”

“Curiosity demands that I know which point was valid.”

“It is up to me to find some time in my schedule for us. Unless it is a security matter, you are at the mercy of my schedule.”

He inclined his head in agreement once again.

Clarisse exhaled slowly – so far, so good. “I have advised Charlotte that I need at least a half hour a week to review upcoming security matters with my Head of Security as I want to make sure we are prepared for Amelia’s visits and upcoming rule as Princess. I know it is not much; but it is a start.”

“Thank you, Clarisse.” He wanted to say so much more, but sometimes words just got in the way.

It was her turn to nod.

Joseph exhaled slowly. “I’m sorry I didn’t call – it was immature of me. I was afraid I would say something…more…that I might regret.”

She inclined her head in agreement once again.

“And I will acquiesce that you had a valid point as well.”

“Just one?” She smiled.

He nodded. “Only one that I’m willing to admit anyway.”

She chuckled and mimicked his reply from earlier. “Curiosity demands that I know which point was valid.”

Joseph stood from the couch and moved to kneel in front of her. She started to say something, but he put his finger to his lip to silence her. Using the slit in the dress to his advantage, he coaxed her thighs apart so he could move closer to her body. His hand slowly made its way up the back of her leg that was now revealed, starting at her ankle. He closed his eyes as he memorized every contour. Just as he suspected, they were well toned and very shapely. As his exploration neared her knee, he moved his hand to the top, slipping it under the fabric until it came to rest just an inch or so above where the slit ended.

Clarisse couldn’t breathe. Joseph had kneeled in front of her more times than she could remember. But this wasn’t about service. This was about a man and a woman. The intimacy of the simple act was overwhelming. She had no idea what he was trying to do – she only knew she couldn’t stop him. His voice was nothing more than a whisper; but he was close enough that she could hear every word clearly. “You were right when you said that relationships are two way streets and that I was just as much to blame.”

She slowly exhaled and brought her hands to cup the sides of his face. She was trying not to focus on the heat from his hand branding her thigh as it softly caressed the flesh just above the hose on her garters. Her eyes held his and she asked the question that had plagued her since the day he left. “Tell me why those beautiful blue eyes of yours are shadowed with something that haunts you.”

Joseph should have known she could see what he could not hide. They both had spent the professional life together developing a way to communicate without saying a word. A simple touch, a look, a gesture – designed to guide through a crowd, comfort, share with each other what words could not. He had never been able to keep his eyes from revealing his emotions. But he wasn’t ready to share this with her. The nightmare had made his emotions concerning Camilla raw and made him feel exposed and vulnerable all over again. He just wanted to be embraced by her love. Embraced so he could convince his heart that it was worth the risk to love again. “Please accept that I’m not ready to talk about it. I just want to be in your arms. Will you let that be enough for tonight?”

Clarisse saw the pain in his eyes along with the vulnerability. It was so unlike Joseph. It unnerved her and brought out her protective instincts. Whatever or whoever had hurt him had driven the dagger through his heart to his very soul. “Of course, Joseph.” She answered before circling his body and pulling him closer to her; her breasts providing a soft resting place for his head.

Joseph closed his eyes and, once again, prayed that his heart would forgive him for opening it up to potentially being hurt even more than the first time. As he felt the soft beating of her heart under his cheek and her soft whispers of comfort, all he could think was…”The heart does things for reason – that reason cannot understand.”


Chapter 13

Scene: Mia’s first visit to Genovia – Year 1 (July)

Joseph sat across from Clarisse at the small table in her private library. A fine china cup, painted with delicate pink roses sat on one side; a sturdy black ceramic mug labeled in white letters reading “#1 Boss” sat on the other. One filled with tea, the other with coffee. This was the usual scene for their weekly “security” meetings. Clarisse had teased him initially about the coffee cup. He had just shrugged and replied that it was a gift from the security team and he thought it would be in bad form not to use it. He had added that if he used such a tiny, fragile cup as Clarisse did, it would require entirely too many trips to refill it and increased the likelihood of it getting shattered on the hard floor of the security hub.

And so the meeting began…

“I must admit that I’m looking forward to seeing Amelia, but I’m going to miss my head of security while he’s away.” Clarisse smiled as she covered Joseph’s hand with hers.

Joseph picked up her hand and brought it to his lips for a gentle kiss. “Almost as much as he will miss you. Fortunately, it will only be for a few days.”

“Fortunately.” She squeezed his hand before returning it to her tea cup for another sip. “Is Amelia adjusting to the security that has been provided for her State side?”

“Better than Helen has.”

“I don’t think she ever truly understood that there are people who would want to harm anyone in the Renaldi family. She saw the monarchy as an antiquated system of government and more of a figure head rather than a real job with the responsibility and welfare of an entire nation resting on their shoulders.”

“Hopefully her daughter will someday be able to prove differently to her…when she has her chance to rule – her chance to make a difference in the lives of so many people.”

Clarisse thought back to the awkward teenager she had met a few months ago and sent a silent prayer that Amelia would, in fact, be able to do just that. “Hopefully.”

“I wish she could stay longer. Six weeks is not much time to begin to prepare her for her responsibilities.”

“Six weeks is not much time for her to spend with her grandmother.” Joseph reminded gently.

“Of course…that too.” Clarisse became lost in thought for a few moments as she contemplated how she was much more being comfortable being Queen than she was being grandma. She had been fulfilling the role of queen for far longer than being an active grandmother in Amelia’s life.

Joseph watched her as she lost herself in thought. He found that she did that often in order to convince herself of what she must do. She would weigh all of the facts, what she liked, disliked, and then do what was expected of her regardless of which way the scales tipped. In this instance, it was a matter of determining how she could blend the two roles she must play in Amelia’s life. It was critical that she be the queen that would prepare her to rule her country, the country Clarisse had loved and served from a very young age. It was also critical that she never forget that Amelia was her granddaughter first. It was a painful lesson she had learned in San Francisco when she almost lost everything and she knew it could not be repeated. “Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you look when you’re lost in thought?”

“Has anyone ever told you that you spend entirely too much time looking at me?” She teased.

Joseph shrugged. “Actually, no; they tell me I take my job of guarding your body very seriously.” He gave her a dramatic sigh. “It’s a tough job, but someone must do it.”

Clarisse laughed. “I’m a very lucky queen to have such a diligent bodyguard.”

He extended his hand to have her join him on their pseudo dance floor, which amounted to the small space between the shelves of books. As he pulled her body to his and began to sway to music only they could hear, he whispered. “I’d rather dance with you than debate which of us is luckier.”

She let her body meld to his as she laid her head on his shoulder. “No argument here.”

Five weeks later

“A moment, your Majesty?” Joseph asked as he stepped into her office. He had to hide a grin at the look of frustration that surrounded Clarisse’s features and the look of sheer boredom that covered her granddaughter’s.

“Certainly, Joseph.” She replied, thankful for a diversion.

“In private, please?”

Unsure of whether he was being serious or just attempting to rescue her, she decided it didn’t matter. “Certainly. Charlotte?” She looked towards her ever diligent assistant.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Would you mind escorting Amelia to the kitchen for a snack while I speak with Joseph?”

Both Charlotte and Amelia looked relieved to be given a break from the endless paperwork. “Certainly.” She turned towards Amelia. “How does an ice cream sundae sound?”

“Perfect!” Mia answered, unable to contain her excitement at getting out of the office for a while. She had thought that her visit to Genovia would not so closely resemble her time in school and she had to admit she was frustrated and bored by the amount of time she had spent in her grandmother’s “classroom”. Didn’t she understand it was summer time and that was a time for high school kids to just chill and relax? Future queen or not – she needed some relaxation time; and, from the looks of it, her grandma could use some downtime as well.

“We will meet back here in thirty minutes.” Clarisse advised.

Joseph interjected. “Perhaps an hour, your Majesty? It is such a beautiful day and all three of these beautiful ladies…” he gestured to each one of them in turn, “have been cooped up in the office all day. I thought perhaps I would escort you on a walk outside while we discussed our business. If that is acceptable?”

Clarisse looked at the stack of paperwork and then to the hopeful faces of both Charlotte and Amelia and then finally to Joseph. She sighed. “I suppose a small break wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps that will help us be more effective when we return.”

Collective sighs of reliefs were stifled throughout the office and Charlotte and Mia were out the door within a matter of minutes. Clarisse watched them hasten away and smiled at Joseph. “I think you’ve just facilitated a prison break for them – they will forever be in your debt.”

He smiled in return. “I’m more interested in rescuing you for a few minutes. You’ve been working entirely too hard these past few weeks.” He extended his arm to escort her from the office.

Clarisse stood and looked longingly out the window. “It really is beautiful out there, isn’t it?”

“Yes and very warm…you may want to lose the jacket for our walk outside.”

“Good thinking.” She answered as she carefully removed the jacket, revealing a short sleeved royal blue satin blouse. She nodded towards Joseph. “I suggest you do the same.”

Joseph shrugged out of his black jacket, revealing the standard black t-shirt that security wore under their jackets during the summer months. He felt Clarisse’s eyes on him and he met her gaze. “If my attire makes you uncomfortable, your Majesty, I can put the jacket back on.” He offered, unsure of how she felt about walking the grounds with him not in his standard attire.

Clarisse walked over to him and put her hand on his cheek and whispered to avoid anyone walking by the office overhearing. “I think you look strikingly handsome – I just hope I can control myself.” She added, a slight tease in her voice.

Not to be outdone, Joseph leaned in and whispered back. “I think my shirt would look even better on you.”

Clarisse’s face registered surprise as an embarrassed blush appeared on her face. She ignored his statement, took his arm and began to walk out of the office. “Shall we?”

Joseph couldn’t help the boyish grin that remained on his face and the desire that filled his eyes as he pictured her dressed in nothing but his black t-shirt. Fortunately, his feet knew the way to the grounds so his mind could focus on that image for a few minutes longer.


Clarisse felt so much better. For the last thirty minutes, she and Joseph had visited her beloved roses. The luxurious scents had recharged her mind and body and Joseph’s company soothed her emotions.

They had just reached the end of her gardens when Joseph asked. “Walk with me through the maze?”

A flutter of excitement spread throughout Clarisse’s body as she contemplated the meaning of his words. They would have a small modicum of privacy and alone time, something they had had precious little of since Mia’s arrival. She nodded in agreement as she hooked her arm through his again.

Once safely hidden away from the eyes of the palace in a small corner of the maze that was in a blind spot of the cameras, Joseph turned Clarisse so he could work on the remaining knots in her shoulders that the roses had not spirited away. “Oh Joseph…” she moaned as he worked the tight muscles. “That feels heavenly.”

“You have been spending too much time behind the desk, Clarisse. You know your body protests when you don’t get regular walks and time away from the office.”

She sighed, both in pleasure and acknowledgement. “I know, but Amelia will be leaving soon and there is still so much to cover.”

Joseph let his hands slip down her arms and around her waist, his lips replacing them on her neck. He could taste the faint traces of her perfume…lavender as he sought to kiss her troubles away. “I’ve missed holding you like this…kissing you…touching you.” He offered between kisses. “Mia will not be assuming the throne for at least five years, my dear. There is time.”

Clarisse’s eyes were closed as the deep tones of Joseph’s voice washed over her while the softness of his mouth added to the comforting stanza. “You have no idea, Joseph, how little she knows and how unprepared she is…at this rate, I’m not sure fifty years would be enough.”

“Perhaps you are putting her learning in the wrong order.”

“How so?”

“Perhaps you should teach her to love Genovia and its people first…before she learns all the parliamentary rules of order and other facts which make her feel she is back in school cramming for an exam, rather than reading a book that tries to interest her to learn more.”

Clarisse turned in his arms; her eyes sparkling with affection and a small glint of humor. Her arms snaked around his neck as she settled even further into his embrace. “I think you should ask your boss for a raise. I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t think of that. I’ve been keeping her locked up in an office when I could be giving her a grand tour of Genovia, letting her see why caring for it and the people here is so important.”

Joseph beamed in response to her praise. “I’ll forego a raise if I could just have a bonus.”

She couldn’t help but laugh at the suggestive look on his face as he mentioned the bonus. “And what, pray tell, would qualify as an acceptable bonus for my highly competent and wise head of security?”

The levity of the moment was suspended in a cloud of passion as his index finger traced along her lips, the desire dark within his eyes. Clarisse’s eyes closed as his finger trailed from her lips along her jaw line and then along the shoulder that he had just so lovingly nursed the tension away. She could feel his breath mingle with hers a moment before the heat of his lips scorched hers. Her arms tightened around him and she gave herself over to the kiss. They were hidden away from the rest of the world for just a moment. All of the stress of the past several weeks seemed a lifetime away as everything else melted away, leaving only her and Joseph. As his tongue traced the same path over her lips that his finger had moments before, she let a slight “mmmm” slip before parting to accept his invitation to dance.

Merde she felt so good against him; tasted sweeter than the juiciest berry. It had been weeks since they had been able to be alone like this and he had missed the feel of her body connected to his in such a tangible manner. They were always connected on a metaphysical level in a way that he could not explain. While he loved that he could “sense” her, regardless of where she was, there was no substitute for being able to touch her, see her, and taste her. He was just about to explore the soft satin of her blouse when he heard a twig snap a few feet away. He abruptly pulled away and put distance between them.

Clarisse almost lost her balance as she was quickly brought out of her haze of deep satisfaction as Joseph stepped away. “Jo…?” Before she could finish even saying his name, he placed his finger on her well kissed lips to silence her…


Mia had finished her ice cream sundae and then begged Charlotte to let her walk the grounds until her brief reprieve was revoked by their well dressed prison matron. Charlotte had stifled a giggle at Mia’s reference to her grandmother and had agreed, provided the princess promised to be back at the office at the appointed hour. Shades had arranged to keep a watchful eye from a distance so she could explore the grounds a little. The hub would also keep an eye on her via the numerous cameras scattered throughout the landscape.

After walking by her grandmother’s gardens and admiring some of the statues and various shapes of the shrubs, she had arrived at the entrance of the hedge maze. Without even glancing back at Shades, she slipped into the maze; grateful to be away, if even for a few minutes, from watchful eyes. It seemed like she was in another world as the brightness of the sun faded as it filtered through the thick layers of shrubs. She thought about all of her friends back home. They were probably hanging out on the beach, sailing, having bon-fires, running around in shorts or bathing suits, and having a great summer. While she was here, locked up in a palace, forced to wear suits, pantyhose AND heels every day. She had met diplomats, attended dinners and danced at balls, but everything seemed to be a “lesson” and she just wasn’t having any fun. She had hoped to get a chance to really get to know her grandmother – to pick up where they had left off after the Independence Day Ball in San Francisco; wanted to learn more about her and her grandfather that she never knew; wanted to see the country that had inspired her grandmother to love and serve so tirelessly. She sighed out loud…like THAT is ever going to happen.

Mia looked around and realized that she had wandered deep into the maze and had not been paying attention to the various turns she had taken. The once comforting dimness now seemed ominous and she was giving second thoughts to ditching Shades. Her imagination was starting to play tricks on her as she thought she heard voices.

“…letting her see why caring for it is so important.”

Mia stopped moving in an effort to try to hear or discern who was doing the talking, silently praying it was not her imagination.

“I’ll forego a raise if I could just have a bonus.”

That sounded like Joseph…

Was that what he wanted to meet with Grandma about? It seemed an odd place to have such a discussion.

She heard the uncharacteristic laughter of her grandmother before she answered him. “And what, pray tell, would qualify as an acceptable bonus for my highly competent and wise head of security?”

Was her grandma being coy with Joseph? That was certainly a side she had not been privy to before. It went silent after that and Mia decided to try to get closer to hear what was being said. She could’ve sworn she heard some more noise, but it didn’t sound like words. She took another step and a twig snapped under her feet. She froze in place to see if she had been discovered.

What seemed like an eternity passed before she realized that she didn’t hear any more voices. As a matter of fact, it was eerily quiet again. She also realized that she had no idea how to get out of the maze. She decided it was better to face her grandmother’s wrath than spend the rest of her visit lost in this horticultural puzzle. She forced her feet to move around the next turn. She came face to face with Joseph and her grandmother, looking like they had just been caught coming in past curfew.


Clarisse’s eyes looked questioningly at Joseph, neither speaking a word. His look conveyed that she should remain quiet, so she complied. Had someone overheard them or worse seen them?

What seemed like an eternity passed before Joseph placed his hand on the small of her back to indicate that they should begin to make their way back to the palace. As they started to round the first corner, they came face to face with Amelia.

“Grandma…Joe…fancy meeting you out here.” Mia attempted some humor to test the waters.

Clarisse was the first to find her voice, deciding she needed to take control of the conversation right away before Mia had too much time to ponder what she and Joseph had been doing. “Yes…fancy meeting you here…without your security.”

Mia raised both hands. “You don’t need to lecture, Grandma. I was just deciding that I was not using good discretion when I ran into you. It won’t happen again. Which, by the way, what are you two doing out here?”

Clarisse smiled and totally ignored Mia’s question. “Good! Now speaking of good discretion…I think that perhaps I haven’t used good discretion on your visit.”

“Not sure I follow.” Mia was still learning to interpret her grandmother’s tone and looks. She was smiling, but that didn’t necessarily mean the news would be good for Mia.

“I’ve kept you locked up in an office doing paperwork far too much, especially for your first visit. I intend to correct that mistake over the next seven days for your final week here.”

Mia perked up for the first time in weeks, forgetting that Clarisse had skirted her question. “And how are you going to correct it, Grandma?”

“I’ll speak with Charlotte when we get back in the office and have her start making arrangements. We’ll go on a weeklong field trip so you can see all the beauty and wonder of Genovia and meet the citizens on whose lives your reign will have the greatest impact. And trust me when I tell you that they are far more enjoyable company than the dignitaries and parliamentarians you’ve been getting to know. We’ll visit all of the outlying areas; see the countryside, the mountains, the ocean and everything in between.” Clarisse was beaming now as she shared, the love for her country clearing showing through.

“Sounds like fun, Grandma and a great way to wrap up my first visit.”

Clarisse nodded in agreement and then began to lead the way out of the maze. Mia hung back a bit and whispered to Joseph. “I think I may have you to thank for this and, if so, I hope you get that bonus you wanted.”

Joseph coughed to cover up his surprise that Mia had overheard at least a portion of their conversation. He only hoped that she hadn’t realized what had transpired after that snippet of conversation. Not wanting Clarisse to realize the extent of what Mia may or may not have overheard, he whispered in reply, “You’re grandmother is a fair woman, I’m sure she’ll take proper care of me.”

Mia stopped in her tracks and replayed the conversation she had overheard and then the silence that had followed. She recalled that even though she had been the one “caught” without her security, she couldn’t help but wonder if she had almost caught her grandma WITH her security. Mia patted Joseph on the arm and answered as she laughed. “Something tells me she does, Joe…take VERY good care of you.”

Once back in the office, the staff along with the Queen and Princess had a renewed sense of energy as they prepared for the “field trip”. Joseph had coordinated with Charlotte to make sure the areas were screened in advance and that proper security would be available. It had been a wonderful trip and Mia was being introduced to the small country that the rest of them had loved and called home for most, if not all, of their lives.

Joseph had enjoyed watching Clarisse as she met with people in the city markets and introduced Amelia. She pointed out historical markers and landmarks and interwove Genovian history as she shared information about each piece of land or building that made their country so great. He noticed as the trip was winding down that she didn’t seem quite herself. The love and enthusiasm was still there and he could even see her being more affectionate with Mia; but there was something in her eyes…something he couldn’t place, that bothered him. He supposed it could be that she was just starting to get tired; but it seemed to go deeper than that.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have an opportunity to really speak to her about it. He went to her suite the night before he was to leave to escort the Princess back to America. As he entered, he noticed her staring out her window at the starless sky. “Clarisse?”

She paused a moment before turning around, a smile planted on her face. He knew that it was definitely put there for his benefit and to prevent him from asking any questions. “Joseph! I’m so glad you were able to stop by.”

He chuckled. “I would never miss the opportunity to say good-bye in private to you, especially when I will be gone a week.”

Clarisse nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She had been dreading the end of Amelia’s visit. Not only would her granddaughter be away again until Christmas, but Joseph would be gone for a week to ensure she was settled back in and that the security plans were all in place for her to start the new school year. That wasn’t the only reason either…but she didn’t want to think about that and didn’t want Joseph to worry either. She wanted Joseph to be the one to ensure Amelia’s safety…Clarisse’s personal crises or concerns should not – and would not – stand in the way. She felt his arms around her and she forced herself not to cry. She was a survivor and she would make it through.

Joseph saw the same emotion in her eyes that night as he had noticed the last couple days of their trip. He felt her arms around him and he held her close. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I just want you to hold me…please.” She whispered as she held him closer and drew from his strength.

Remembering how she had honored his request for privacy the night she had asked about what was troubling him, he decided that it wouldn’t hurt to give her some space…at least until he returned. “Of course.”

Joseph had no idea when he left that next morning how wrong he had been.


Chapter 14: “All the Time in the World”

Scene: During Joseph escorting Amelia back to America and then his return. August – Year 1

Her eyes watched him as his eyes drank in the sight of her body, pale against the crimson sheets. “Beautiful.” She smiled at his compliment and extended her arms in invitation, wanting to feel his flesh against hers. There was something comforting, yet primal in the feel of flesh against flesh. It spoke of barriers removed, fragility exposed, and desires fulfilled.

There was a rush of adrenalin as his muscled and slightly hairy frame brushed against her soft and smooth one. Years of friendship had proceeded this moment and it only served to deepen the physical connection they were embarking on. Her eyes closed as his hands began its exploration, touching her where he had touched her countless times before – yet it felt like the first time.

She returned his caresses, reveling in the way his heart beat erratically at her touch. “It seems forever since I’ve felt this way…” she whispered.

“I’m so sorry.” Came his whispered reply.

“No apologies – you’re here now.”

His hand drifted over the swell of her breasts, his fingers gently teasing the enervated flesh. He smiled gently at her quick intake of breath. “So much time wasted…” he mused.

“We weren’t ready – we needed time.”

“Now we have all the time in the world.”

“Yes…all the time in the world…”


Clarisse sat up in bed, her heart pounding from the dream. She reached for the glass of water that she always kept by her bedside and sipped slowly, willing her body to calm. She hadn’t had a dream like that in a long time. She stood and walked to the window, staring out into the dark night. Joseph had been gone only two days and already it seemed like a lifetime…


Charlotte watched with concerned interest as her Queen went about her daily routine. While she continued to perform all of the activities required of her during the run of a day, she seemed distracted and troubled. At first, Charlotte thought it was because she missed Joseph; but closer study had convinced her that it was more than that. Usually when Joseph was gone, there was a longing in her sapphire depths; but this time there was something else…


Clarisse sipped her evening tea, making a slight grimace as the beverage washed over her taste buds. She had selected a decaffeinated green tea this evening, hoping that would help her sleep. Unfortunately, it did not appease her in the taste category. The last couple of nights, though, had not resulted in anything close to the rest she normally required to function efficiently, so drastic measures were enacted. Just as she was making her way to the bedroom, her phone rang. “Hello?”

“Hello Clarisse, I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“Joseph! No. I was just getting ready to turn in, but I would much rather speak with you first.” She closed her eyes to let the sound of his voice wash over her like a warm rain. “How is Amelia?”

“She is settling in nicely and approves of her new security. I believe she said he was and I quote…totally hot.”

Clarisse laughed as she pictured Amelia getting a dreamy look in her eyes as she thought about her new security detail. Admonishing herself, Clarisse realized that SHE got a dreamy look in her eyes when she thought about her security as well. “Well, you can’t blame a girl for wanting a handsome security guard to watch over her…I know I enjoy it.”

Joseph loved it when she used THAT tone when she referred to how she felt about him. Usually he would repay her compliment with a kiss that warmed them both to their toes. “Clarisse…” he warned. “that’s not fair…I still have five days before I can see you and thank you appropriately for your compliment.”

Clarisse sighed. “I am sorry, Joseph…it is a habit I fall into when we have private conversations. Five more days? It seems like you’ve been gone so long already. I miss you.”

“I miss you too. How are you doing?”

“I’m fine.” She lied. “Just busy, as usual, trying to catch up after being out last week on our field trip.”

“Would it be alright if I called before I go to bed in the evening as well, just to give me another opportunity to hear your voice? I’ll keep it on the professional level – an Amelia update and then you can have Charlotte transfer me to Security and I’ll get an update from Shades. Sound like a plan?”

“It sounds like a very good plan.”

“I should let you get to bed…you sound tired.”

“I don’t sleep as well knowing you’re not nearby.” It was true, but not the whole truth.

“I’ll hurry home as fast as I can. And, when I return, I will be happy to tuck you in and hold your hand until you fall asleep.”

An image of Joseph holding her while she slept flooded her mind. Her eyes closed, willing it to stay with her as long as possible. “Hurry home.” She answered quietly.


His body held her motionless as he moved into position over her. There was something far deeper than friendship smoldering in his eyes and she sought to memorize what that looked like, wanting to hold onto the feeling forever.

She felt his body join with hers and felt complete for the first time in her life. Before it had been duty that had driven her to such a place, but this time there was more. She couldn’t explain what had brought about the change; she only knew that she was relieved that she finally was able to experience what it felt like to know the man that held her loved her and wanted her for more than creating an heir to the throne.

Moments later she was awash with pleasure as her body climbed nearer and nearer to the heights of ecstasy. His breathing was hard and his heart beat in a rhythm that seemed out of sync with the normal.

They cried out their mutual release as he collapsed on her from his efforts. She held him tightly as tears of joy slipped from her eyes. Finally she knew what love was really like and she had a lifetime left to explore it.

All the time in the world…


Clarisse awoke with a start. She couldn’t believe it had happened two nights in a row. A fine sheen of perspiration covered her body and it trembled from the memory of the dream. It had seemed so real. She repeated her actions from the previous night, taking the glass of water to the window to stare into the darkness – a darkness that was slowly seeping back into her heart. Her heart finally accepting what her mind had been trying to tell her in her dreams. Coldness gripped her as she predicted what would await her as she slept tomorrow evening.


Charlotte had to cover her mouth to keep from gasping out loud as her Queen stepped into the office the following morning. There were dark circles around her eyes that the makeup could not completely hide; they drew attention to the sadness…yes that’s what it had been that had been present that she had not been able to name before. Not just sadness that Joseph was away…this ran much deeper. There was a haunted look in them that had been absent since San Francisco. She couldn’t ignore her attire either. She forced a smile and offered. “Good morning, Your Majesty.”

“Good morning, Charlotte. What does today look like?” She asked as she sat at her desk, sipping her morning tea, thankful for the strong taste, warmth and caffeine now flowing into her system.

Charlotte scanned the schedule, quickly making a note of the items she could easily reschedule for another day when her boss felt better. “Not too bad. You should have time for a visit to your gardens.”

Clarisse could have sworn that her schedule was busier today than that; but her lack of sleep prevented her from questioning it too much further. She was grateful for the reprieve and maybe the gardens would calm her troubled soul. “Thank you, Charlotte.” She started to review the papers when she remembered her conversation with Joseph last night. “Oh, Charlotte?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Joseph will be calling later this morning to give me an update on Amelia. After speaking with me, he would like you to transfer him to the security hub to speak briefly with Scott. Apparently, he doesn’t trust my ability to transfer him.”

Charlotte smiled. “He just doesn’t want to you to have to worry about it as you have other things to focus on.”

She graced Charlotte with a small smile. “You’re very kind dear.”

Charlotte was glad for an opportunity to speak with Joseph…he needed to know what was going on.


A couple hours later, Charlotte answered the summons from her Queen. “Yes ma’am.”

“I’ve finished speaking with Joseph. Will you handle the transfer, please?”

“Certainly.” Charlotte walked over to the phone and punched a couple of buttons and then stepped out of the office. “I’ll be back in just a minute, your Majesty.”

Clarisse had already resumed reading the next document and simply nodded. Speaking with Joseph had calmed her troubled spirit…at least for the moment.

“Joseph?” Charlotte whispered.


“No, it’s Charlotte.”

“Why are you whispering?” Joseph asked, confused as he thought she had just transferred him to security.

“I don’t want her Majesty to overhear me speaking to you.”

“What’s wrong?”

“She’s wearing black again, Joseph. She’s not sleeping and she’s troubled.”

Thousands of miles away, Joseph sighed and rubbed the weariness away from his eyes. He really should just stop going anywhere without her. Every time they were apart, one of them seemed to have an emotional crisis. “Theories?” He asked.

“Only one.”


Clarisse lay in bed, listening to the ticking of the grandfather clock that occupied one corner of her suite. Her conversation with Joseph before bed had been brief. He had been fishing for information as he suspected that something was bothering her; but she had evaded his questions and then claimed exhaustion…which wasn’t a lie…to end the conversation with him. His parting words to her had been…”call me if you need me, Clarisse…regardless of what time it is.”

She had wanted to tell him about the dreams, but had not been able to bring herself to do so – especially not over the phone. It was just bad timing that he had to be away right now. Exhaustion finally claimed her and she drifted away to the place between peaceful rest and wakefulness…a place where dreams could either mesmerize or nightmares would terrorize.


She turned to look at the man resting peacefully next to her. “Good morning, dear.”

He did not respond.

She shook him gently. “Time to get up, sleepyhead.” He still wasn’t answering. She leaned over to kiss his forehead and pulled back at the cool feeling of his skin. Fear gripped her heart…something was wrong. She jumped out of bed and pulled her robe around her as she dialed the security room. “Send the physician…the King…” she swallowed hard to be able to say the words out loud. Finding she could not bring herself to utter the words, she settled for, “The King is non-responsive.”

Thirty minutes later, the palace physician called her into the room, a grim look on his face. “I’m sorry Your Majesty. King Rupert has died. May he rest in peace.”

Clarisse stood in shocked silence. They had finally taken their relationship to a new level, wanting to leave fondness and friendship as a foundation; but explore if their connection could go further…they thought they had all the time in the world. Now he was gone – a heart attack robbing her of the chance to ever know if they could sustain a passion that was so new that it took them both by surprise. Now she would never know…

She thought she had had…all the time in the world.


Clarisse’s eyes snapped open, her heart beating quickly as her mind replayed the day Rupert had died. She glanced at the digital numbers, glowing brightly in the otherwise dark room. Two a.m. The anniversary of the day King Rupert, may he rest in peace, had been taken away from her. The guilt washed over her like a wave crashing into shore. She had always blamed herself. She had noticed his heartbeat had been erratic and the rhythm not normal, but she had allowed, even encouraged them to proceed. They had been on the cusp of a new level of their relationship and her desire to explore that had, in her estimation, been the catalyst that had ended her husband’s life prematurely. Oh all the experts had said that his heart had been bad for a while and the physician had assured her that their “copulation” as he had termed it had not directly caused the King’s death. She had nodded mutely…but she knew in her heart…a woman always knows.

Not only did she feel guilt about that night; but she felt a sense of guilt that she was betraying Rupert with Joseph. It was irrational – she knew this…her mind assured her of that. But her heart…her heart couldn’t be sure.

The nightmares had started to plague her when she took Amelia to visit the place her Grandfather rested. The painful memories, which she thought she had dealt with, had resurfaced and slowly began to eat away at her. She let the tears flow. She grieved for her late husband, who was lost to her and a nation of people who loved him. She would visit the grave site later today and pay her respects. However, there would be others there and she would not be able to express the emotions as was the norm when a widow visited her late husband’s grave. So tonight in the stillness of her suite, in the quietness of the night, and in the loneliness of her heart, she cried for her dear friend and hoped that he truly was, resting in peace.


Clarisse noticed Charlotte had adorned herself in black this morning, as well as the rest of the staff. “Morning, ma’am.”

“Morning, Charlotte.”

“May I make a suggestion, ma’am?” Charlotte offered.

“Before I even have my morning tea?” Clarisse teased her in an effort to lighten the mood some, even though she clearly wasn’t feeling anything but gloomy herself.

Her efforts garnered a small smile. “Wait for your visit until sunset. I think the King would enjoy sharing a Genovian sunset with you today.”

Clarisse closed her eyes to keep the tears from spilling out again. She composed herself for a moment or two and then answered. “I think that’s a beautiful idea, Charlotte. Will the gravesite be closed to the public by that time?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I’ll make a brief appearance around lunch and then go back at sunset. I fear it would be frowned upon if no one saw me there today.” She hated that she had to be a slave to public opinion; nevertheless, it was the way it was.

“Of course, ma’am; I’ll arrange it.”


Clarisse stood stoically in front of the massive tombstone that displayed in cold marble the dates of Rupert’s birth and his death. The dash in between represented so much more – so much that could never be captured in a few sentences. Rupert had made his dash count and his legacy would live on forever. She wiped a solitary tear from her cheek as she glanced around at several other people, adorned in black, who had come to pay their respects. She touched the tombstone gently and then turned and walked away, smiling gratefully at those who were standing nearby.


The afternoon passed by interminably as Clarisse tried to get through the paperwork. To make matters worse, Charlotte told her that Joseph had called while she was out. “How many more days until he returns, Charlotte?”

Normally her impatience and lack of personal discretion in asking a question that would raise suspicion about the nature of the relationship between her and her head of security, would have made Charlotte smile a bit, but today, she knew that her friend really needed Joseph here. Before Charlotte could answer, Clarisse interjected. “Never mind. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ask questions to which I already know the answers.”

Charlotte walked over next to her and put her hand on her shoulder. She smiled sympathetically. “It’s alright, ma’am – I understand.”

Clarisse clasped her hand over Charlotte’s for a moment and nodded her appreciation. “Let’s get back to work, shall we?”

“Yes ma’am.”


Charlotte had paid her respects and then she and Shades had moved to a respectable distance to allow Clarisse her privacy. High brick walls surrounded the gravesite, with ivy providing a green contrast to the red brick; the height of the walls provided privacy and, with only a small entry way to the tomb, allowed security to remain at one guard. The sun was setting in the west and colored the sky with hues of purple and orange. “Your vantage point is probably far more breathtaking, Rupert, but the sunset is nevertheless beautiful tonight.”

“I’m certain he wishes he could be here to share it with you.”

Clarisse spun around to see Joseph standing just a few feet behind her. “How?”

“My Queen, my friend…needed me. So I wrapped things up early and convinced the pilot of Genovia One it was in his best interest to comply with my request. I only had to mention six of the forty six countries that I have diplomatic immunity in to secure his cooperation.”

“Oh Joseph…” she moved into his waiting arms and let herself be comforted.

Joseph held her as her body shook from all of the emotion she still needed to get out. He could feel the dampness of her tears as they soaked his shirt. He slowly caressed her back as he held her tightly, whispering words of comfort. Once she composed herself somewhat, he repeated the question he had asked before he left to take Amelia home. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Her voice was muffled as her answer was directed into his chest. “Not here.”


They broke their embrace, but continued to hold hands as they faced the tombstone. Once the sun settled down for its evening rest behind the mountains, Joseph released her hand long enough to pick up the roses he had brought with him. He placed them carefully on the tomb and then knelt down, his hand resting on the marble slab. After a few moments, he stood once again and took her hand. “Are you ready to leave?”



Back at the palace, Charlotte had brought tea for Clarisse and coffee for Joseph before retiring for the night. Before she left, Clarisse asked. “You knew Joseph was coming home early?”

Charlotte knew where she was going with her questioning. “I knew he was going to try, Your Majesty. I didn’t want to say anything in case it didn’t work out.”

Clarisse understood. “Thank you, Charlotte…for everything.”

“You’re welcome, Your Majesty. Sleep well.” She answered before exiting the suite, leaving Clarisse and Joseph alone.

“With the surprise of your return, I didn’t ask if you’re certain everything was settled satisfactorily for Amelia.”

“Everything is fine, Clarisse, I promise you. Amelia was very helpful in finalizing the details. She said it was important for me to be here for you.”

Clarisse looked up sharply. “You don’t think she suspects…?”

Joseph reassured her. “She suspects that you and I are best friends and she told me that she would want her best friend beside her on a day such as today.”

Relief washed over her. “Thank you, Joseph. I’m sorry I’m so on edge. I haven’t been sleeping well.”

“Are you ready to talk about it?”

Clarisse considered his question. She thought about his reassurances in San Francisco that they would deal with whatever came their way together. Yet, he had not shared what had been troubling him during the time of the security conference. Normally, his reticence would keep her from sharing. But she was so tired and she wanted the nightmares to stop…and, he HAD made a transatlantic flight to get back to Genovia to be with her. She decided she would tell him. “I started having dreams after we visited Rupert’s grave with Amelia a week or so ago.”

Joseph decided they needed to be more comfortable before they were too deep in discussion. He offered her his hand and led her to the couch. She sat down next to him and he put his arm around her and pulled her close, offering strength and reassurance. “Go ahead now.” He whispered and kissed the top of her head.

“At first they were just pleasant memories that Rupert and I shared so even though I felt a sense of loss when I woke from the dream, it wasn’t overwhelming.”

Joseph slowly rubbed her arm as he placed gentle kisses in her hair.

Realizing he was going to let her talk it all out, she continued. “I almost told you about them before you left, but I thought I could handle it...I should’ve been able to handle it.” She admonished herself as an afterthought. “Anyway, once you and Amelia left, the dreams became more…intense.”

“How so?” He asked quietly.

She paused and breathed deeply, trying to find the right words. “Each night you were gone, I dreamed about a small segment from the night that Rupert died. It was like watching a movie for a while then hitting pause. The next night, it would pick up right where it left off. Last night, I woke up shortly after the doctor pronounced him dead.”

Her tears started fresh again as she remembered vividly that day and the reliving of it last night. “It was terrible, Joseph.”

“It’s only normal to grieve the loss and feel pain when we lose someone we love.”

“It’s more than that…it was my fault.”

Joseph sat her up so he could turn her to look at him. “That’s ridiculous, Clarisse.”

She simply shook her head.

“Clarisse?” He placed his finger under her chin to raise it so he could look in her eyes. “The King had a bad heart. As head of security, I had access to the physician’s final report since the King passing unexpectedly is considered a matter of national security. I saw the file and I can understand why you think it was your fault…but it wasn’t.”

Her eyes widened in surprise as her cheeks colored in embarrassment. “You know?”

“I know.” His hand cupped her cheek as his thumb brushed away the tears that continued to fall. “I also know it wasn’t your fault. His heart was badly damaged.”

“He might have lived longer, though…”

Joseph kissed her forehead gently. “Clarisse, he would have lived, at best, another few days. Please forgive me if I upset you by what I’m going to say next. The King loved you; he was your best friend; and I can’t imagine him regretting spending his last night in your arms. Oh that we could all spend our last hours here on earth in the arms of those we love most.”

“Oh Joseph…” she sought his embrace once again as the tears fell anew. His words made sense and brought her an odd sense of relief. She still felt guilt, but the intensity of it was not as great.

Finally she had cried all of her tears and felt somewhat at peace. She prayed the nightmares wouldn’t return. “Why don’t you go change and then I’ll tuck you in.”

He was surprised by the feel of her lips against his. They were soft and filled with tenderness. His eyes closed as the feather-light touch danced across his mouth. He responded slightly, sensing she wanted to be in control. She increased the pressure slightly as Joseph murmured his approval. Before he could get too carried away, she broke the connection. “Thank you, Joseph…for everything.” She whispered.

“We’re in this together…and, you are welcome.”

Clarisse cupped his cheek once more before standing and excusing herself to the bathroom. A few minutes later, she emerged in a pale blue set of pajamas, her face washed and teeth brushed.

While he was certain that he would prefer her in a nightgown or even his t-shirt, he thought she looked equally beautiful in the pajamas. “Are you ready?”

Clarisse nodded. He took her hand and led her into her bedroom. The bed had already been turned down so he simply pulled the covers back a little more to make it easy for her to slip under the comforter. He sat down on the side of the bed, leaning down to kiss her. “Good night my angel, sleep well.”

“I’m glad you’re home. I wish I could stay awake to visit with you more. I’m just so tired.” She admitted, her eyes closing as her hand held his.

“Don’t worry.” He whispered. “We have all the time in the world.”


Chapter 15: An afternoon at the beach

Scene: Late October (Year 1) Parliament is winding up their session before the break in November and December holiday (hey…it’s my story and I want them to have 2 months off – it’s a small country…they’ll be fine! Besides – they have Queen Clarisse and she can handle it!)

Joseph heard the purposeful tapping of her heels on the marble floor even before the doors were opened. They were purposeful which meant…

The doors flew open and Clarisse walked right by him, anger flaring in those sapphire eyes. She need only speak one word in passing. “Joseph!”

He fell quickly into step right behind her. “Your Majesty.”

Neither said a word until they were well out of ear shot from anyone in the palace. “Clarisse?” Joseph asked, much softer than their original exchange.

Clarisse stopped, turned slightly and leaned against the wall, exhaling slowly in an effort to expel the anger from her body. “Those…men…” she stopped to breathe in and out a couple more times. “Those men…are already making attempts to undermine Amelia. That is MY granddaughter they are talking about…right in front of me, almost as if I’m not there.”

Joseph saw the emotions in her eyes – there were so many. Anger, hurt, and protectiveness were chief among them. There was also some fear. Fear that maybe her granddaughter would not be ready or Genovia wouldn’t accept her. In reality, Genovia didn’t HAVE to like their monarch; but the love and support of the people gave the reigning monarch a very important advantage: power in Parliament. Without it, the King or Queen was nothing more than a lame duck waiting for someone to stage a coup to overthrow their reign. The Renaldis had been loved for generations. That didn’t mean, though, that those in Parliament who wished for the throne themselves wouldn’t seize the first opportunity that came their way to change it. A Princess from America could be just the ticket for them. The Von Trokens had tried…and failed. It was just a matter of who would step up next. “Shall I have them hung by their toes in the courtyard?”

Clarisse couldn’t help it when the side of her mouth turned up in a half smile. The thought of Arthur Mabrey and his cohorts hanging by their toes gave her an odd sense of pleasure. “I need to get out of here for awhile, Joseph.” She stated matter of factly.

“Where would you like to go, Clarisse?”

“Horseback riding along the coast.”



Joseph saw the look of finality in her eyes and knew it was pointless to argue. “I’ll get it arranged with Charlotte and Shades.”

“Make arrangements for two.”


“You’re coming with me.”

Joseph smiled. Alone time with Clarisse, riding along the shore, a beautiful Genovian sunset…this day was definitely improving. He kissed the back of her hand. “As you wish, your Majesty.”


An hour later, Joseph watched as Clarisse, attired in beige riding pants and a light cream button down shirt and brown leather vest, mounted her stallion with exactly no assistance from anyone. She had always enjoyed riding…well the exception being when she was forced to make it look like she was riding side saddle, and was an accomplished equestrian. He turned and smiled at Shades as he mounted his own horse. “The area is secured?”

“Yes, Boss. This portion of the shoreline is considered private property of the royal family. It’s secluded and private and, most importantly secure.”

“Thanks, Shades. We’ll rendezvous back here in two hours.”

Shades watched them ride off, quickly moving the steeds into a canter. “You kids have fun.” He said to no one in particular.

Joseph rode alongside Clarisse and did his best to keep up with her, guide his horse, and still spend as much time as possible looking at her. He wasn’t sure there was a more beautiful sight in all of Genovia. Her blonde hair was illuminated with a halo effect from the light of the sun starting to set over the water; her face was free of worry and stress as the breeze caressed her body while she guided her mount in an all out gallop. Her body moved in fluid motion as one with the horse. She was as graceful on the horse as she was on the dance floor. He allowed himself to dwell on thoughts of her strong thigh muscles gripping the powerful animal and keeping her upright. So lost in those thoughts he was that he missed her pulling on the reigns and stopping. It took him about fifty feet before he stopped. When he turned around, he saw her laughing at him.

“Were you a little distracted, dear?” She teased, admiring the boyish grin that now lit across his face like a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

“More like a lot distracted.” He admitted as his horse trotted back to her location.

“I’d like to stop here and give the horses a rest. We can watch the sun set over the water, if that is acceptable?”

They both dismounted their horses. Clarisse took the blanket out of the satchel they had brought along and spread it on the sand while Joseph guided the horses to a tree that was just a short distance behind the shoreline. Once they were tended with some carrots and water, he joined Clarisse on the blanket.

They sat in a companionable silence as the sun slowly began to set over the horizon. Joseph always remembered listening for the hissing sound as the sun slipped into the water. He could see that Clarisse was deep in thought as she stared into the distance. Finally, she took the satchel and placed it at the top of the blanket and then laid back, her eyes closed. Joseph followed suit, except that he was on his side and used his hand to prop up his head so he could look at her.

Her left leg was still out straight, but the right was bent slightly. He assumed that was to take pressure off of her lower back. Her unbuttoned vest was lying open to either side. Her arms were bent at the elbows and raised above her head, hands tucked behind the satchel that was doubling as her pillow. Due to her position, the white cotton of her shirt was stretched tight across her chest, drawing his eyes to the slow rise and fall of her chest. He wondered if this was a normal sleeping posture for her or just the most comfortable the surroundings provided at the moment. His hand came to rest on her knee and then slowly started to move upwards; his fingers slowly dancing over her thigh, over her abdomen and finally coming to rest just below her ribcage.

Clarisse could feel the blood humming through her veins at Joseph’s touch. She opened her eyes to watch him as she knew he was watching her. His hand seemed to brand the place it rested on her body and it made the rest ache for the same touch. “I know what I want to do, Joseph.”

His heart beat wildly in his chest unsure of what her statement meant. “And that is?”

She moved one hand to cup his cheek and then slip it behind his neck. As she pulled him towards her, she whispered. “First, I want to kiss you.”

Joseph left his hand in the same position as his mouth descended on hers. The kiss was passionate and filled with a growing need, both physical and emotional. Her lips were soft and pliable under his touch and he took his time tasting and teasing her, enjoying the satisfied murmurs she was making in response. He finally pulled away, wanting to see how far she wanted to take this.

“Mmmm…that was wonderful, Joseph. I don’t think I will ever tire of being kissed by you.”

His hand slowly caressed the area right below her chest as he replied huskily. “I’m certain I will never tire from kissing you.”

“I hate to mix business with pleasure…” She started.

“But for now you must be a Queen first and a woman second.” He finished.

Clarisse thought of the heat of his fingers and the searing passion of his kiss. “Sometimes you make me forget the Queen entirely.”

He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “Good. Sometimes she needs a rest.”

She smiled up at him sweetly. “Yes she does. Our ride helped me think clearly about the best way to deal with the problem with Parliament. We need to rally support for Amelia with all of our allies – make them fall in love with her. Once she gains some popularity and notoriety, it will be harder for them to discount her as a viable heir to the throne. While they might not hesitate to make life difficult for me when no one else is watching, it will be much more challenging for them when the whole world is paying attention.”

Joseph loved the fierce look of determination that highlighted her features when she spoke passionately about a cause or a decision. “Indeed it will. How do you propose to gain this support?”

“When she comes for her visit over her winter break, we will schedule another field trip. Instead of Genovia, though, we will visit all of our allied and neighboring countries. She can learn about them by visiting them and meeting the various dignitaries and powers that be at dinners, dances, and other non-business related functions. I want to also make a stop in Puerto Rico. They are allies and it has been a long time since you’ve been home.”

Joseph’s heart skipped a beat when she made her last statement. It had been a long time since he had been home. His parents had died years ago and he could think of no good reason to return. All that was left there for him was painful memories and heartache. “I appreciate the thought, Clarisse, but it isn’t necessary.”

“Tosh! I insist. It will be good for Amelia and it will be a nice change from the cold winter we will be enduring at that time.” Satisfied with her decision, she let the woman in her reassert its wishes. Her voice turned decidedly deeper. “Now I must insist on another kiss. Business is over…”

Joseph let her hand guide him lower so that he was once again kissing her. He tried to focus on her warmth and eagerness, even the way her body was now turned more towards him. Her other hand had moved from behind her head and had come to rest over his that lay motionless now on her rib cage. An involuntary moan escaped him as she moved his hand upwards to cup the fullness of her breast.

Clarisse couldn’t believe how forward she was, but it had been a difficult day and she needed to escape to a world where only Joseph could take her. His kisses and touch had inflamed her, leaving her breasts aching to feel the same warmth. She knew he would never make the first move, so she decided to encourage him. They may be a long way from being able to fully culminate their relationship, but surpassing a couple milestones along the way couldn’t hurt…could it?

Joseph deepened the kiss in response to the precious weight he now held in his hand. His thumb instinctually made small circles over the fabric, bringing the tiny bud to attention. As they continued to explore and enjoy this moment hidden away from the world, Joseph’s mind took him back to another time…another woman…a raven-haired beauty that had stolen his heart…

Joseph pulled back abruptly, blinking rapidly at the image that had slipped into his conscious mind. He rolled away from her and lay on his back, his hands over his face. “I’m sorry, Clarisse.”

It was Clarisse’s turn to prop herself up to look at him. “Joseph? What’s wrong?”

Joseph took a few calming breaths. There was no way he could share with Clarisse what had just happened. He wanted to forget about Camilla…NEEDED to forget about her and put her to rest once and for all. “I’m sorry, Clarisse.”

She was more than a little hurt by his actions, but she was more worried than upset at the moment. “Joseph…” she cupped his cheek again and turned his head so he was facing her again. His eyes refused to open. “Joseph. Please tell me. “

He finally opened his eyes to look into hers. He saw worry tinged with caution. She had taken initiative and, to her perspective, he had not welcomed her advances. “It’s not you, Clarisse. I promise. I can’t tell you how many waking and dreaming hours I spend imagining what it is like to touch you.”

She sat up further, slight annoyance coloring her features. “You will forgive me if I fail to understand your reaction as it appears you were revolted by the simplest touch.”

He knew she had a right to be upset. He reached out to touch her and she pulled away, getting to her feet. “I think this has been enough for one day. Either there is something you aren’t telling me or we should accept that this relationship doesn’t have a future.”


“Shall I get the horses?”

Joseph sighed. She was really upset now. “No. I will get them.”

A few minutes later, there items were packed back into their proper places and the horses were ready to go. He made one last effort to get through to her…to repair some of the damage that had been done. He grabbed her hand and explained. “I swear to you that this has nothing to do with you.”

She looked at him earnestly, her voice almost pleading. “Then tell me what it does have to do with.”

“I’m not ready to do that.”

“Then we have nothing more to say on the subject.” She turned away from him, mounted her horse and rode back towards the rendezvous point. She didn’t even turn around to see if he was following.

Joseph followed a few feet behind. It was going to be a long ride back to the palace.


Chapter 16: Ghosts…

Scene: Two weeks after the “beach” incident. November – Year 1.

Clarisse watched Joseph intently as he entered her sitting room and sat on the sofa. It was obvious he was uncomfortable with the fact that she had decided to resume their weekly meetings. She had never been one to run from her troubles and she wasn’t about to let him take that road either. She picked up his “#1 Boss” coffee mug and her china cup and decided it was time to engage.

Smiling, she offered the mug to Joseph. “One coffee, black, no cream – no sugar, just as you like it.”

Joseph felt miserable. Things had been strained between him and Clarisse ever since the beach incident. No one was more surprised than he when Charlotte advised him that their weekly “security” meeting was scheduled for this evening. He offered a small smile. “Thank you.”

Clarisse moved to the other side of the coffee table and sat with her ankles crossed, sipping her tea and continued to watch Joseph. She found a lifetime of being in politics gave her an indefinite amount of patience.

Joseph found his coffee cup highly interesting and did his best to avoid Clarisse’s gaze. He couldn’t remember ever being more uncomfortable in her presence. Though he was accustomed to waiting, he was more akin to be the one doing the watching, rather than the one being watched. Finally, he could stand the silence no longer. “Are you going to say anything?”

“I’m fairly certain we are at a juncture in our relationship where it is you that needs to be doing the talking.”

“So you aren’t going to speak to me anymore unless you get whatever information you think it is you need?”

Clarisse chuckled slightly and shook her head. “Don’t be ridiculous, Joseph. You and I are friends and we work together every day. Of course I will speak to you.”

Joseph was a smart man and he quickly figured out where Clarisse was headed with this. “But when we’re alone…”

“When we are alone, it is you who will need to do the talking. You are keeping something from me, Joseph, something very important. I don’t know what it is and I can’t imagine what could be so terrible that you could not confide in me. Whatever it is…is keeping our relationship from moving forward.”

Joseph sat the coffee cup down and rubbed his eyes. He wasn’t sleeping well. His unfinished business with Camilla…whatever that was…would not give him peace. His blue eyes pleaded with hers to let this go. “It’s not that simple, Clarisse.”

Her expression was one of sympathy tinged with resolve. “It rarely is, Joseph.”

The remainder of their time together, all twenty five minutes, was marked with silence.


Three weeks later…December 24th

“Welcome home, Joseph.” Clarisse smiled and gave him a quick embrace as he entered her suite.

Joseph had just returned with the Princess for the winter break. She had agreed to celebrate the holidays early with Helen in order to allow her to celebrate her first Christmas in Genovia. He accepted the steaming cup of coffee and took up his usual place on the sofa. He took a minute to just look at her as he drank his coffee. He had missed the physical connection between them: the simple touches, the hugs, and…yes, the feel of her soft mouth against his. He couldn’t believe that he had been so stubborn as to deprive both of them for the past six weeks. She was as beautiful as ever. The emerald green blouse, tucked carefully into the knee-length black skirt, caressed her body and provided a striking contrast to her creamy, delicate skin; the firelight cast an ambient glow over the entire room and surrounded her like a halo. “You look beautiful…as always.”

Clarisse smiled softly. “Thank you, Joseph.”

They sat quietly for a few moments, sipping their drinks. Clarisse broke the silence. “Amelia is all settled in?”

“Yes. The time change ‘kicked her butt’ as she put it. She sends her love and says she promises to see you first thing in the morning.” Joseph grinned as he watched the look of affection that crossed Clarisse’s face as he shared the story.

“I assumed that would be the case. She told me earlier this week that she had been invited to a great deal of holiday celebrations. It didn’t sound like she would be getting much rest.”

“Well she will have a couple of days to catch up before we head out on the tour.”

Clarisse nodded. “Are all of the arrangements in order?”

“Yes. Charlotte completed confirming the schedule earlier this week and security teams are out doing the preliminary checks now.”


After a few more minutes, Joseph stood and moved next to her on the couch. Seeing her look of surprise and, perhaps, warning, she started, “Joseph…?”

“In the spirit of the holidays, could we call a cease fire for just a few minutes?”

“We’re hardly at war…”

Joseph nodded. “Bad choice of words, but all I could come up with. Please, Clarisse? I’d like to give you your Christmas gift now.”

Her gaze met his and studied those intense blue eyes. She saw that the dark circles and the haunted shadows she had seen before in his normally crystal blue depths were still present. She couldn’t help herself; she reached up and cupped his cheek, her thumb gently caressing. “All I truly want for Christmas is for you to share your burden with me.” She whispered.

Joseph closed his eyes; the pain from his past almost overwhelming him. As the rejection from years gone by crashed over him like a tidal wave, his eyes closed to hide the emotion. “I have to go…”

Clarisse was too surprised by his reaction to respond initially. By the time she recovered, he was at the door. “Joseph…no…”

“I’m sorry.”

And then he was gone.

Clarisse stood and placed her tea back on the serving table. She suddenly felt very tired and decided to take a hot bath and then turn in for the night. As she turned towards her bedroom, her eye caught sight of a small box on the table beside the door. She picked the velvet box up and ran her fingers across the festive ribbon affixed to the top of it…even without a tag, she knew it was her gift from Joseph. Feeling even more worried about him than before, she held the package close and retreated to her bedroom.


Clarisse kept tossing and turning – unable to find the comforting haven of sleep. Thoughts of Joseph kept running through her mind. Had she done the right thing by keeping him at arm’s length? She had been certain it was the right decision until it hadn’t produced the desired result after the first week…and then the second…and then tonight…

She sighed and turned over again, exhaling slowly in an effort to calm her troubled spirit. She glanced at the clock. It was five minutes after midnight. Another lonely Christmas in Genovia awaited her. She would be surrounded by family and, of course, thousands when she made her public appearance…but it wasn’t the same as having one special person to share it with. She wiped away and errant tear that refused to remain in its rightful place by slipping quietly down her cheek. The sound of the phone ringing startled her. “Hello?”

“May I come over? I need to talk to you.”

His voice sounded strained. “Of course.”

“I’ll enter through the secret passageway.”

Before Clarisse could say anything further, the line went dead. She hung up the phone and sat up in bed, turning on the small light on the nightstand to provide a dim illumination. Less than a minute later, she watched as the bookcase that housed some of her favorite selections from the library slowly pulled away from the wall, allowing Joseph to pass through into her room. She watched him pace slightly and she decided to simply wait as he seemed lost in another world. She adjusted the pillows so she could lean against the headboard and simply waited.

Joseph felt himself moving, he had been pacing for several minutes now. He had not said a word and Clarisse had said nothing to encourage or discourage him. She was doing for him what he had always done for her…waiting. He remembered his mother saying that confession was good for the soul. He stopped pacing and closed his eyes for a moment as he prayed that she was right. Once opened, they were gazing in Clarisse’s direction but his focus was a lifetime ago…

“A long time ago, I fell in love with a woman – a woman I wanted to marry. She was the daughter of a nobleman, heiress to an empire, and a raven haired beauty that stole my heart from the moment I first laid eyes on her. Her name was Camilla…”

Joseph continued telling his story as a tear rolled silently down his cheek. He neither felt it nor made any attempt to brush it away. He was no longer in Genovia, but rather on a warm summer night in Puerto Rico…

”I left her standing there as I turned and walked away. She wanted my friendship but couldn’t commit to being with me forever. She was someone with whom I had wanted to spend the rest of my life. I left Puerto Rico the next day after selling whatever possessions I could and set sail for England. The rest, they say, is history.”

Exhausted from his tale, Joseph sat on the edge of her bed. Moments later he felt warm arms embrace him as she held him close, whispering words of comfort. He wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that; but he knew he felt a little better because of her actions. The intense pain had subsided somewhat, leaving merely an echo of the sadness and loss.

Clarisse’s sense of compassion had moved her forward, regardless of where they were and what had transpired between them before. Joseph needed her and she needed to be there for him. He had buried the pain from his past so far below the surface that it may never have rose to the point of feeling again had it not been for his feelings for her. She held him tightly, trying to comfort him as she softly whispered in his ear.

Joseph slowly became aware of where he was and who he was with. He could feel the softness of her skin against his. He turned slightly so he was facing her causing her to sit back on her heels. The comforter and blankets were bunched slightly between them he noticed, but his eyes were quickly drawn to her creamy thighs that were revealed below the hemline of her midnight blue gown. His gaze continued upwards; his breath caught in his throat as he saw the resting place for all of the freckles that seemingly disappeared beneath the neckline of her blouses and gowns. “Clarisse…” he whispered.

Their mouths clashed with a fierce hunger born of a need to assuage the pain, guilt and loneliness that they had been suffering. Joseph’s hand was on her neck, holding her close to him while her hands moved over his back and arms. The healing magic of physical touch began to wash over them, providing them the refuge and comfort they both so desperately needed to find in each other. Breaking for air, Clarisse whispered, “I’m so sorry, Joseph – so sorry for pushing you away.”

Joseph quickly put his finger to her mouth. “Shhh…it is I who is sorry. I have always been a loner and relied solely on myself. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”

Clarisse let her hands wander over the broad expanse of his muscled chest. “Not so old…” she offered.

Joseph let his hand slowly drift from her neck to her shoulder and then his fingertips caressed the area over her heart. He was certain if he concentrated, he could feel each and every beat. A flash of gold was captured in the dim light. His hand slipped under the chain and moved lower until it rested on the swell of her breast. He lifted slowly, watching the sapphire tear drop rise from its hiding place. “I see you opened your gift.”

She couldn’t find her voice so she simply nodded. The back of Joseph’s hand seemed to spread warmth throughout her entire body.

“It reminded me of your eyes…such sparkle regardless of whether they are happy, angry, or…” he leaned across the small space separating them to place a gentle kiss on her collar bone. “when they are filled with desire.”

Clarisse finally found her voice. “It is beautiful; I know I should have waited…but I missed you and it made me feel close to you; and…” she gave him a mischievous smile, “it was Christmas.”

He smiled, relieved that some of the easy camaraderie between them had returned. He leaned in to kiss her again, but a hand on his chest stopped him. She chuckled. “I need to get off of my knees – they are protesting at supporting me for so long.”

Joseph watched as she gracefully maneuvered back to a sitting position, using her right arm to support her as she reached for him with her left. He moved closer, this time surrounding her with his arms and pulling her close as his lips found hers again.

Clarisse knew that there was more healing to be done; but he had made an important first step tonight. She told herself that she should slow things down and give things time before they picked up where they had left off at the beach. She then told herself to relax and enjoy the precious gift she had been given…her Joseph had returned to her. She banished any further thoughts as Joseph’s tongue lightly traced her mouth, releasing the need that she had kept at bay for the past several weeks.

Joseph marveled at how soft, how utterly feminine she felt under his hands. He had never been this close to her while she was dressed in so little. He deepened the kiss when Clarisse’s lips parted in response to the gentle teasing of his tongue. She tasted so good. He couldn’t believe what a fool he had been; almost losing an angel in the present for a ghost from the past. He gave himself up to the sensations that were flooding through him as he sought to intensify their connection.

Never before had she been kissed in such an all consuming manner. It overwhelmed her senses and flooded through her body like a raging river rushing towards the ocean, controlled but chaotic. She pulled him with her as she moved to lie down again, needing more – wanting more of the blissful haze his touch brought.

He moved with her as she lowered them to the bed, relishing in the softness of her body under his. He broke the kiss out of a strong desire to see her. His mind had imagined a thousand times the first time he would see her; surrounded in the satin of her sheets, her body framed by a delicate gown of the same silky substance, her lips well kissed, her hair tousled, and her breath coming in short gasps from her desire for him. His eyes opened and he found that reality was even better than fantasy.

She was nothing short of a vision that took his breath away. His fingers traced her well-kissed lips as he studied her. He loved that her eyes closed in response to the simple, yet intimate gesture. He continued his exploration down the slight dimple in her chin to the hollow at the base of her throat. He smiled as he could feel her swallow her nervousness or perhaps it was her excitement. He was learning that with Clarisse, he could never assume to understand all of the complexities that made her who she was.

He watched as her chest expanded as she drew breath in and then contracted as she slowly let it out when his finger continued its journey, tracing the delicate gold chain that rested on her freckled skin. When he reached the lace border of the bodice of her gown, he changed the direction to trace along the line of the fabric. His heart began to beat faster at the small gasp his actions garnered. He leaned down and whispered, “Let me make it up to you.”

Her eyes didn’t open, but she whispered. “Make what up?”

“The day at the beach…the one I messed up so badly.”

Clarisse knew they should stop – knew they would have to soon; but she couldn’t deny herself a small bit of pleasure. Her hand found his and, just as she had done on the day at the beach, she moved it to cover the fullness of her breast. Any further thoughts about the future dissipated like smoke as his mouth claimed hers once again while his fingers renewed their exploration of the new terrain. Her hands found a resting place on the back of his neck and held him to her.

Her senses reeled as she felt his fingers delicately trace the underside of her breast through the satin of her gown while his thumb made gentle circles around the tip until it strained mightily against the fabric now holding it captive. His touch was so light, yet spread a fire through her that could rapidly grow out of control. Being with Joseph was unlike anything she had ever experienced before.

Joseph felt as though he were a drowning man, losing himself in the essence of Clarisse. Her responses were so genuine, so feminine that it pushed him to the edge of his restraint. The curves of her body and the reactions to his touch overwhelmed him. Being with Clarisse was unlike anything he had ever experienced before. He couldn’t process at the moment why that was so…but he knew it to be true.

As if they both knew they had to stop, they pulled away from the kiss. Joseph collapsed onto the bed next to her, his hand still holding her body possessively. Their breaths mingled as they said together, “We have to stop.”

Laughter followed at the timing and shared sentiment. Joseph found his voice first. “I know we had too…but, for the record, I didn’t want to.”

Clarisse sighed and placed her hand over his. “Neither did I, but…”

“But we are a long way from Amelia being crowned Queen and cannot risk a scandal.”

Clarisse didn’t confirm what they both knew to be true. They both had witnessed this evening how quickly out of control they could become. They would have to be careful and they would have to wait. “Merry Christmas, Joseph.”

“Merry Christmas, Clarisse.”


*10 days later*

Clarisse accepted Joseph’s hand in assistance as she stepped out of the car. She was exhausted, but it had been a great trip. Despite the oddities and awkwardness that her granddaughter possessed, there was an innocent charm about her that drew people to her and made them want to love her. The trip had been very successful as dignitaries from several key countries had pledged their support to the future face of the Renaldi rule. When they left the last meeting to head back to the hotel…although to call it a hotel seemed a crude label for such a beautiful place.

The El Conquistador Resort was a magnificent collection of buildings that were situated on the side of a mountain overlooking the ocean. The lush greenery of the golf course and surrounding area below served as an idyllic picture that led up to the sparkling blue ocean that stretched as far as the eye could see. They had been there for a couple of days and she had managed to enjoy her tea out on the balcony overlooking the aquamarine water both mornings. Perhaps she and Joseph could return here after things were settled with Amelia to avail themselves fully of all the amenities and beauty the site offered.

Joseph led the small entourage, his eyes scanning the crowd to ensure the safety of those who followed. Clarisse and Amelia were in the middle while Charlotte was to the right of Clarisse, Lionel flanked the left side of the group and Shades and Felix covered the rear. They had just entered the lobby. Clarisse was busily chatting with Amelia, following a step or two behind Joseph. Had she been paying attention, she might have been able to stop in time. As it was, though, Joseph had stopped abruptly and Clarisse walked right into the back of his immovable stature. Thankfully, Charlotte grabbed her arm quickly in an effort to steady her. Shades went on high alert and the outer group moved in a tight ring around their monarchs. Clarisse’s hand was on Joseph’s hip; she leaned forward and whispered, “Joseph?”

Several moments passed when no one moved. Finally, Joseph his head towards Shades, his look unreadable. “Get the Eagle and Sparrow to their suites.”

Shades knew better than to ask questions now. The look on his boss’ face told him there didn’t seem to be imminent danger but something was definitely amiss. “Sure thing, Boss.”

Charlotte and Felix moved to the back of the group while Shades took Joseph’s position at point. In the brief moment that Clarisse could see in front of her, she saw what had stopped Joseph cold in his tracks. A tall, raven-haired woman with dark eyes and an emerald green dress accented with jewelry that indicated class and wealth. The look on her face said as much, if not more, than Joseph’s actions. They both looked as if they had seen a ghost. Having heard the story only a week or so ago, Clarisse knew in a heartbeat who she must be. She stepped forward before Scott could take up his position and extended her hand and smiled. “You must be Camilla.”


Camilla seemed to regain her composure and smiled pleasantly at the woman who stood before her with her hand extended. She took the proffered hand and bowed slightly as she replied, "Yes ma'am and, judging by your complement of staff, you must be Her Majesty from the beautiful land of Genovia."

"Please, call me Clarisse."

Camilla smiled warmly at her and nodded. "Clarisse it is then. I am sorry that I did not have the opportunity to personally greet you when you arrived. As owner and general manager, I try to be available for our special guests, but I was called away to a meeting at another of our properties and only returned today."

Clarisse gestured to the outdoor patio. "Would you join me for tea? The view offered your guests is breathtaking."

Shades shot Charlotte a look that expressed alarm not only at the Queen deviating from the schedule by meeting with a woman that had not been cleared through security and someone who obviously the sight of had upset his boss so much that he ended his shift early. He knew he had to do something. He stepped forward slightly and expressed quietly. "Your Majesty, I'm not sure how wise such an action would be. I'm certain we can schedule a meeting with this young lady once Charlotte has an opportunity to arrange everything."

Clarisse appreciated the situation he was in; but she was not going to let the opportunity pass. She placed her arm on his and replied in a tone which was sympathetic yet unrelenting. "Nonsense, Scott, I'm certain that tea in a private area of the patio can be arranged." She glanced towards Camilla for confirmation. At her nod, Clarisse returned her attention to Scott. She moved closer to him and lowered her voice to a mere whisper. "I will handle any problems that arise with Joseph. You must trust me that this is necessary."

Shades decided that if the Queen was on his side and understood, everything would have to work out…wouldn't it? He nodded. "Yes ma'am; but I, personally, will oversee your protection and will be close by."

Clarisse smiled at him. "Of course, Scott." She turned to the others in the group. "Lionel and Felix, please see that Amelia gets settled in her suite. I will join her for dinner as per our schedule."

There was a chorus of "Yes ma'am" in response.

Amelia had watched everything unfold. "Grandma, is everything okay?"

Clarisse gave Amelia a quick hug. "Everything's fine dear…just some personal matters that I must attend to. Get some rest and I will meet you for dinner."

Minutes later, Clarisse and Camilla were seated in a secluded area of the patio that overlooked the ocean. Neither spoke while tea was being served. Once they had taken the first sips of tea, Camilla gestured towards Scott. "Are they always that over protective of you?"

Clarisse smiled affectionately. "I'm afraid so…it comes with the territory. They are truly more like family rather than employees…I think that is why it appears the way it does."

"It seems that feeling is mutual – you care for them as much as they care for you."

Clarisse nodded. "I do indeed which brings me to why I ask you to tea with me today. I'm certain you recognized my head of security."

The same haunted look that Clarisse had seen in Joseph she now saw in Camilla. Her eyes seemed far away as she answered. "I knew him a lifetime ago."

"Joseph has been in the service of my family for many years and I consider him a close friend. As both of you seem to be hurting so deeply, may I ask what happened?"

"He left me." Camilla stated flatly. "When he didn't get what he wanted the moment he wanted it, he left without a word and I never saw him again…until today. While he may have aged, his eyes – his expression remains the same."

Thinking of how intensely Joseph would look at her, Clarisse could understand that a woman could never forget that look and those beautiful blue eyes of his. "Go on, please." She urged gently.

Camilla shrugged her shoulders. "There's not much more to tell. We were both very young. My father had arranged a marriage for me; I was not free to love him…though I did with all of my heart." She added quickly.

"I believe you did. I believe he loved you as well."

"It wasn't enough. You wouldn't understand."

Clarisse exhaled slowly in an effort to keep her tone soft. "As I was part of an arranged marriage, I believe I do."

The other woman turned towards her, the look on her face earnest. "Were you in love with someone else when you were forced to marry?"

Clarisse decided she couldn't lie to the woman. She shook her head slowly. "No. I was betrothed at such a young age, there never seemed a point in even looking at anyone else. It would serve no purpose."

Camilla sat back in her chair, feeling vindicated yet deflated all at once. "Then you don't understand."

"So the old adage, 'It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.' isn't true?"

Camilla thought back to the times she had with Joseph. As painful as his leaving had been, it paled in comparison to the emptiness her life would have been had she never felt his love. She turned and looked at the stately woman sitting across the table from her. She saw a lifetime of duty and sacrifice reflected in her eyes and knew the answer. "No, it's true. The time I had with Joseph, regardless of the pain I felt when he left, is a bright spot in my past that has warmed me on many a cold night."

"Did you marry the man your father arranged for you?"

"Yes. Yes, I did. With Joseph gone, there was no reason to fight for anything different."

"Are you saying if he had stayed, things might have been different?" Clarisse had to know.

"I'm saying that we'll never know."

Both sat in silence for a few minutes, just watching the sun gently set over the water. Finally, Clarisse spoke again. "Do you love him?"

"My husband?"

"Yes. I'm assuming you are still married."

"Do you love yours?"

"Mine died a few years back. I thought I loved him; but now I'm not so sure." Clarisse admitted candidly.

"I love Alajandro, but I don't believe I'm in love with him. We have two daughters and have built a successful resort empire together. We make a good team."

"Rupert and I were best friends. We had two children and Genovia prospered under our leadership." Clarisse set her tea down and turned towards Camilla. Blue eyes pierced green as she asked the final question to which she needed the answer. "Are you still in love with Joseph?"

Camilla studied her counterpart intently. She had not become a real estate mogul and successful business woman without being able to read people. She saw far more than a typical employer-employee or even friendship relationship in the eyes of this woman others called Queen. She thought of several answers she could give…all of which would be true. She answered. "No…I cannot love someone who left me."

Clarisse, as well, was an astute observer of people. She decided she had pressed enough and that pushing any further might open herself up to reveal information that was not for public knowledge. Camilla was a formidable woman and engaging her in a battle of wills could prove more than either woman was interested in revealing. Clarisse nodded and stood. "Thank you, Camilla, for agreeing to have tea with me."

Camilla stood as well, knowing that while much had been said…it was what wasn't said that really mattered here. "Thank you for staying at my resort. It will be very good for business." She smiled.

Clarisse chuckled. "Always willing to do what I can to help out our allies and supporting countries."

"Spoken like a true diplomat."

As Clarisse started to walk away towards Scott, she felt Camilla's hand on her arm. She turned around and saw an intense look on the woman's face. "When the time is right…don't let him leave you."

Before Clarisse could respond or say anything further, Camilla turned and walked away. Clarisse stood there for a moment to gather her composure. Perhaps the woman had seen more than Clarisse intended for her to see. Inhaling and exhaling a deep breath, she resumed her course. "Thank you, Scott, for being agreeable with me on this. Would you please escort me to my suite? I would like to change and then find Joseph to talk to him before dinner."

"Yes ma'am, it would be my pleasure."


Thirty minutes later, Clarisse had changed into a pair of soft grey slacks and a light pink blouse; the high heels were exchanged for a pair of comfortable, strappy sandals as she anticipated that they would find Joseph on the beach. Scott walked in silence beside her as they made their way to the waterfront. He pointed towards a stool at an outdoor bar where her head of security had taken up residence for the past hour or so. "I don't suppose you'll let me approach him alone, will you?" She looked towards Scott for confirmation.

Scott smiled slightly and shook his head. "No ma'am. You know I can't do that."

She nodded. "Understood; shall we?"

When they arrived, Scott turned his back to give her at least some semblance of privacy while still watching out for anyone who might do her harm. Clarisse placed her hand on Joseph's arm. "Walk with me on the beach?"

Joseph stood, paid for his soda and extended his arm to escort her. "I will take it from here, Shades. We will see you at dinner."

"Yes Boss." Shades left gratefully and headed out to find Charlotte. He knew she would want to know what was going on.

There was a gentle breeze swirling around them providing a slight reprieve from the warm, humid night. They walked for several minutes in silence, just enjoying the view. Finally, Joseph spoke. "I'm sorry I abandoned my post. I will put an official reprimand in my personnel file and take whatever discipline you deem necessary."

Clarisse squeezed his arm a bit in consolation. "That won't be necessary. Your team did an admirable job and I'm fairly certain you were entitled to a break as you had been on duty for well over eight hours. I fear if I attempt to reprimand you, there may be some union that will file official protests. The red tape alone will be such a nightmare it makes my head hurt already just thinking about the number of diplomatic pouches that will arrive as a result."

Joseph stopped and looked at her. She was grinning widely in an effort to keep herself from laughing at the tale she was spinning for his benefit. He couldn't stop the smile that crept onto his face. "Well I wouldn't want to unnecessarily burden you. Perhaps you can just provide a verbal reprimand and I will swear to you that it will never happen again."

"Deal. However, I think I shall save the verbal reprimand for another day as I am quite tired from all of my official duties today."

"And those duties you took upon yourself today that were more…personal…in nature?" He hedged, looking for answers. "I know you had tea with her." He raised a hand to stop Clarisse's defense of her straying from the established schedule. "I will save my verbal reprimand for another day as well as I know you will swear to me that it will never happen again."

Clarisse tilted her head to the side and offered a crooked smile. "Never is a very long time."

Joseph smiled, knowing she would never agree to such a restriction. "Are you going to tell me what happened?" He had to know, even though he didn't truly want to.

Clarisse tucked her arm in his and began walking again. "What is it that you want to know?"

Joseph thought about that for several steps. What did he want to know? What knowledge would finally free his heart to love again? "Did the memory of what happened the last evening we were together leave the same gaping hole in her heart that it did mine?"

She thought about the statements Camilla had made and the way her eyes had told her so much more than her words. "Yes, perhaps even greater."

"I find that hard to believe."

"Why? You left and started fresh. She was left to try to pick up the pieces and carry on with the life that had been planned for her by others. There was no change of scenery, no fresh start, no happy ending for her either."

"She said that?"

"Not in those exact words; but I know. We are more alike in the paths that our lives have traversed than you might think." She stopped walking to face him; her gaze seeking understanding. "The only difference," she whispered, "was that she loved you and knew you first. I had to live with the pain and knowledge that I never really knew what love could be like until I met you. She had to live with the pain and knowledge that she would never really know love again."

They broke their gaze and turned to stare out at the water. "Do you think I should have stayed to see what might have happened – what could have happened if I had not left?"

She thought back to Camilla's words. "We can never answer those type of 'what if' questions and it is fruitless and painful to ask such things of ourselves."

"Is she happy?"

"I think she has learned to be content…to find happiness where she can. She and her husband have made quite a name for themselves in the real estate business."

"It is what she was born to do. She was groomed almost from birth. Her schooling, her trips all over the world, her marriage…they were all designed to make her the successful woman she apparently is today."

"Sounds vaguely familiar." Clarisse admitted sadly. She had had a very good life; it just hadn't been one she had any choices in.

"I suppose it is my fate."

"What is your fate?"

"To love women that I can't have."

"Is there something about my future that you know that you aren't telling me?"

"Just that you are very similar to Camilla and we both know how that worked out for me."

"Similar, but different."

He took her hand and placed soft kisses along each knuckle before turning it to place a final gentle kiss on her palm. His eyes found hers and she felt, once again, that intense gaze that Camilla had referred to earlier. "Let us pray that those differences will show when the moment arrives."

Clarisse thought about the parting warning that Camilla had given her… "When the time is right…don't let him leave you." She raised the hand that he had just kissed to his cheek. "Yes, we shall pray that it will be different."

"I wish I could kiss you right now."

"I wish you could too."

"Can I at least sneak over to your place for a nightcap tonight after the parents go to bed?" He asked, a hint of humor replacing the seriousness.

"As long as you bring the wine."

"It's a deal!"

*Several hours later*

Joseph kissed Clarisse good-night after sharing a bottle of wine that had been a gift from one of their diplomatic hosts. "Sleep well, Clarisse. I'll alert Lionel that he is on first shift for guard duty."

"You sleep well too, Joseph. Enjoy your walk."

"How did you know?"

Clarisse smiled and touched his cheek. "I know you. I hope you find the closure you seek."

He kissed her again and then bid her good night. After informing Lionel that guard duty was to begin, he made his way down to the shore. The full moon brightened the otherwise darkened waters and provided a breathtaking luminescence as it reflected the stillness of the night.

"I see you still enjoy watching the water." A soft voice stated…a voice he hadn't heard in decades.

"I find peace here…even when my soul is troubled."

"Is that why you took to the water when you left?" She asked.

"You know…I hadn't truly thought of it from that perspective; but perhaps that is why." He turned and looked at her…the woman who had haunted his dreams of late. "At the time, I was just looking for the fastest way to get away."

Her laugh sounded somewhat bitter, but resigned. "This I am aware of."

"I was young, foolish and suffering from a broken heart. I did what I thought necessary to protect myself and, maybe, even you. No, that's not a fair statement. I did it to protect myself from further hurt. Now that I'm much older and, hopefully, wiser, I realize what a wrong choice that was."

"You would have left…eventually. You were always destined for greater things."

"I would only have left had you gone through with marrying the man your father had chosen. I could not have stayed and watched you with him every day."

They both turned to watch the waves gently lapping into shore as the tide came in, each considering the choices they made in the past. Finally, Camilla spoke. "You were destined for greater things, my Joseph. Look at you now…you live in a palace."

Joseph chuckled. "In the servant's quarters – not exactly the royal suite."

She shook her head. "You are far more than a servant and you know this. I saw the way Her Majesty's eyes reflected far more than concern for a servant when she spoke of you."

Not willing to readily confide in his old flame, he denied it. "Perhaps your eyesight has diminished over the years."

It was her turn to chuckle. "Not so much that I didn't recognize you."

"True. However, Clarisse has a country to run and a granddaughter to prepare to assume the throne in a few years."

"Hmmm…nicely done – evade the issue by redirection. That may work on others, Joseph, but it won't work on me. I understand, though, why it is necessary for both of you to deny that the love is there. She is not free to love you at the moment."

"Seems to be the story of my life."

"My grandmother shared with me a proverb about two years into my marriage that helped me survive and find a sense of peace. Will you allow me to share it with you now so that you may find some peace?"


"Just because someone doesn't love you the way…or for your purposes…when you want them to, it doesn't mean that they don't love you with all that they have. Promise me that you will remember that, Joseph."

"I can't make promises about an uncertain future, Camilla. You should know that better than anyone."

Green eyes flashed, but she kept her tone even. "I'm simply asking you to remember that no matter what…she loves you…and, someday, you may have to decide that it is enough…even if it's not all that you want – when you want it."

"I promise to try."

Camilla smiled. "I suppose that is the best I can ask of you."

"I am sorry that I left without saying good-bye. It was wrong of me."

"And I am sorry that I could not find the courage to be with you."

Joseph turned and leaned in, kissing her first on the left cheek and then the right. "I'm willing to forgive, if you are."

Camilla leaned in slightly, placing a tender kiss on his"As difficult as it has been, I am glad I got to see you again."

"Closure is always a good thing."

Joseph smiled. "Even if it takes over thirty years."

Camilla smiled and nodded. "Even if it takes over thirty years."


Chapter 18:

Scene: June – Year 2: Mia has arrived in Genovia this evening for the summer. The Summer Solstice Ball is planned for the next evening.

Joseph was in heaven. Clarisse was in a semi-reclined position beside him on the couch, relying on the vast array of pillows to support her body which vacillated between total relaxation and tightly strung…depending on the varied reactions to his touch. His hand had managed to free her emerald green blouse from the crème colored skirt and even undo a couple of the tiny buttons both at the top and bottom of her blouse as their tongues battled, deeply embroiled in a kiss. All jet lag had been forgotten at the sight of her and her eagerness to show him exactly how much she had missed him.

Clarisse was awash in wave after wave of sensation. Joseph’s body was so close to hers and his hand was exploring the skin hidden beneath her blouse while his mouth hungrily sought out the taste of her as though they had been separated for months rather than days. Things had been so good between them since their return from Puerto Rico six months ago. Their physical relationship hadn’t progressed much further than what they were doing now; but, oh, how she was enjoying this phase. A small gasp escaped as Joseph’s lips left hers and kissed their way down to nibble on her ear, then a trail of kisses along her jaw. She angled her neck to allow him better access.

“Have…missed…you…” he whispered in between kisses to her delicate collar bone

“Mmmm and I you…” she managed in reply, even as she slipped deeper and deeper into the blissful haze of pure pleasure as her brain relegated duty and responsibility to a back corner of her mind and let sensation and feeling have free reign through her body.

Joseph bent further down and undid another button, allowing him a view of the emerald satin and delicate lace that covered the generous swells that now held his attention. The soft light in the room glinted off of the delicate gold chain and sapphire pendant that was now part of Clarisse’s daily attire. He began to slowly and deliberately kiss the chain, moving tenderly down its length to the treasure hidden below. Her skin was so warm and the pounding of her heart in her chest seemed to drown out everything else but her. Just as he was about to delve into the luscious space surrounded on both sides by her soft curves, reality crashed in and he jerked up quickly sending the muscles in his shoulder into knots and pain shooting throughout his upper body.

“Joseph?” Clarisse was pulled roughly out of the haze as she heard Joseph’s grimace and felt the loss of his warmth as he jerked away.

Joseph grabbed his right shoulder and attempted to reduce the shards of pain as he issued his instructions. “You have to get in the bathroom and get presentable – you are about to have a guest.”

Clarisse looked at him strangely, but followed his orders. Just as she cleared the room, she heard the knock on the door before it opened straightaway. “Grandma? Oh…hi, Joe. What are you doing here?” Mia asked as she made her way into the sitting room, carrying two gowns with her.

Joseph willed his voice to be calm and ignore the pain. “Security briefing.”

“Wow, doesn’t she ever let you have a night off?” Mia teased.

“Sometimes things cannot wait, Amelia.” Clarisse offered as she stepped back into the room, a little more put together, but still far from her normal calm and cool demeanor.

“There you are, Grandma. I wanted to get your opinion on what to wear for the ball tomorrow night.” She held a gown on each side of her and waited.

“Can this wait, Amelia? Joseph and I were in the middle of our debriefing.” Clarisse tried to stay calm, even though her body still tingled from Joseph’s touch.

“More like disrobing…” Joseph thought but kept it to himself.

Mia smiled and, in her best ‘grandma’ voice, she replied, “Sometimes things cannot wait, Grandmother.” She hid her face behind one of the gowns as she was on the receiving end of one of Clarisse’s scowls. “Besides, Joe looks like he’s in pain. What did you do to him, Grandma?”

“It’s just a muscle spasm – probably from all the hours in the plane.” Joseph interjected.

Clarisse could see that Amelia was going to keep asking questions, so she decided to try to hurry her off. “The blue one.”


“You asked which dress I thought you should wear. I think you should wear the blue one.”

Mia looked between the midnight blue dress and the red one. “You’re absolutely right, as usual. Thank you!” She answered, while secretly she decided to wear the red dress.

“Will there be anything else dear?”

“Just promise me that you will let Joseph get to bed soon.”

Clarisse’s mouth quirked into a half smile. “I promise and you should do the same.”

“Soon?? I’m too excited about the ball to sleep just yet. Will there be any handsome princes there?”

Clarisse laughed. “At least one or two…but, keep in mind, you are only 18 and have a ways to go before you assume the throne. You need to keep your focus on preparing for that rather than a young, would-be suitor.”

“Gee, Grandma…way to kill the mood.” Mia started to say more but decided against it. She felt almost sorry for her grandmother and the fact that she had spent her whole life preparing to be who everyone else thought she should be. “Don’t forget your promise.” She teased, not wanting to cause problems her first night back in Genovia. “You two work entirely too hard.”

Once the door had been closed behind Mia, Joseph renewed his efforts to stop the spasm. Clarisse noticed and asked, “How did you know or hear her coming? Here all this time I thought you were focused totally on me.” She teased.

“Instinct, I suppose. Years of training. My job is to protect you…and that includes your virtue from prying young eyes.” He started to laugh but the pain escalated and a grimace surfaced instead.

“You poor dear. Wait here just a moment. I’ll be right back.”

Joseph struggled to get in a comfortable position as he waited. He heard rustling in the bedroom, but his eyes were closed as he drew breath slowly in and out in an effort to ease the growing tension in his upper back.

“Joseph.” She spoke quietly, afraid she might wake him.


“Would you mind joining me in the bedroom?”

Joseph turned sharply to look at her which sent a fresh wave of pain over his body. “Ohhhh….”

Clarisse rushed beside him and guided him to a standing position. “I’m sorry; that didn’t come out the way I intended. I’ve arranged things so I can massage your shoulder and back, but the only place that will work for both of us is on my bed.”

Joseph walked slowly beside her, hating his weakness and wishing that the first time she asked him to her bed was not so she could play nurse maid. Once she had him sitting on the end of bed, Clarisse retrieved the glass she had filled and gave it to him. “Scotch. It should help ease the tension a bit.”

Joseph took the glass with the hand on his good side and downed the entire contents in one attempt. Almost instantly, he could feel the warmth spreading through his body, bringing a slight sense of comfort as it numbed the nerve endings. Clarisse could see the alcohol begin to work its magic. “Now we need to get your shirt off of you.”

He started to undo the buttons, but his movements were slow and unsteady. Clarisse exhaled a slow breath and stepped forward. “Here, let me help.”

Both tried to keep their breathing steady and even as she unbuttoned her way down his chest. The shirt was tucked into his pants so she grabbed the material on each side and pulled gently until the tails were free, along with his undershirt. With a calm she certainly wasn’t feeling, she slid her hands along the inside of the shirt and up to the shoulders, trying not to think about his hard chest and the rigid points that gave away his excitement. She gently pushed it over and off of his shoulders. “That was the easy part…the t-shirt will be harder.”

“You can leave the t-shirt.” He offered, afraid of what his body’s reaction would be if she continued the slow undressing. Though romance wasn’t the intent; his mind knew that but his body had no clue. All it knew was the feel of her strong, sure hands sliding over his chest and arms sending strong pulses of desire throughout his entire body.

“Tosh. I have warming massage oil that I want to use to help the spasms and I don’t want to get any on your clothes.”

“Fine – but I’ll get the shirt off.” He grumbled.

Clarisse smiled. “Are you always this testy when a woman offers to undress you?” Before he could answer, she added, “Besides, I promised Amelia that I would see that you got to bed.”

“You’re a tease, Clarisse Renaldi.”

“Queen of Tease.” She corrected.

“Just remember what they say about paybacks.”

“I look forward to it. Now either take your shirt off or I will have to do it for you.”

With one quick movement, Joseph grabbed the edge of his shirt with one hand and pulled it up and over his head, effectively removing it. There was a sharp pain, but better than the pain of feeling Clarisse’s touch and not be able to do much about it. He opened his eyes and found her staring.

Clarisse had watched with rapt attention as the shirt was removed from his toned chest. She was certain it must have been chiseled in his youth; but still the years had been kind and he had kept up with his workouts. He was magnificent and she was mesmerized. She had never seen him without his shirt on this close. Before it had always been at a distance while he was on a jog or exercising in the gym and she happened by. She couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be to explore, touch, and taste…

Joseph allowed himself a small smile as she drew her bottom lip into her mouth and tucked an imaginary errant hair behind her ear – both signs of nervousness that she unconsciously displayed. “Shall I lie down on the bed?” He asked.

Clarisse finally tore her gaze away and answered. “Yes. Please. On the towel. On your stomach.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She watched as he settled on the large towel she had placed at the end of the bed. She moved the oil to the stand on the side of the bed where his head was positioned. She poured a generous amount between his shoulder blades and then began to work the oil into the taut muscles. It took concentrated effort on her part not to get distracted by the muscled, tanned and raw strength that created a stark contrast with her creamy, perfectly polished hands.

The tension and knots that had taken up residence in his upper back were slowly being dissolved by Clarisse’s skillful hands. Though they appeared delicate and well manicured, there was a hidden strength within them that surprised him. It was also evident that she knew exactly what she was doing. Her hands would skim over the area, feeling for knots and areas of tightness. Once they were discovered, she systematically revisited each spot applying just the right amount of pressure to fatigue the muscle and force the spasm into abeyance. Another pass would gently massage to bring comfort and relief to the soreness left from the healing.

Satisfied that the worst of the flare-up had been dealt with, Clarisse moved lower on his back in order to provide relief from his days of travel and countless hours of standing, waiting and watching as he watched over both her and her granddaughter – she felt it was the least she could do to say thanks. Now that she didn’t’ have to concentrate as hard, she let herself enjoy the feel and the sight of her hands moving in a rhythmic pattern over his middle and lower back.

The tension and pain in his upper back had subsided only to be replaced by a different kind of tension as her hands gently caressed the entire expanse of this back and sides. His breathing had moved from shallow to deep, cleansing breaths in an effort to keep his emotions and responses under tight reign. Not only did he have to contend with her hands, but her lower body was so near his head that he couldn’t ignore the back and forth movements as her hands worked different areas of his back. The scent of her perfume permeated the room and aided in both his relaxation and his torment, giving new meaning to aromatherapy. When her fingers slipped just below the waistband of his trousers, he knew he had to stop her. “That’s much better, Clarisse…thank you.”

Clarisse pressed her fingertips deep into his lower back before drawing them out from the material and performing one last, long caress up either side of his spine. She admitted to herself how very disappointed she was that he stopped her; she was rather enjoying herself and could have continued for quite some time. “Did I hurt you?”

Joseph carefully rolled onto his side, testing the muscles and gratefully finding the sharp pain was gone. “Quite the contrary, you are very skilled.” He took one of her hands and kissed the back of it. “Perhaps too skilled…” He looked up at her, his eyes dark with desire.

“Oh…I…” Clarisse flushed with embarrassment.

“May I ask where you learned to do that? I can’t imagine it was part of your ‘queen’ lessons.”

Clarisse laughed. “No, I’m afraid it was more of an elective life lesson that I learned while on a tour of Switzerland. Rupert’s business dealings took far longer than mine and so I was looking for something to occupy my time. The young woman who had provided me with a Swedish massage had been willing to share some of her secrets and techniques with me over my remaining time there.”

Joseph took her hand, still clasped in his, and guided her to a sitting position on the bed in front of him. “You must be a quick study.”

Clarisse’s gaze focused on his chest once again and her voice was thick with emotion as she answered. “That fact has been mentioned to me before; and…” she boldly used her free hand to caress Joseph’s chest, relishing in the reaction his body made to her touch. “…it has proven beneficial on a professional level for the people of Genovia and personally to those closest to me.”

He thought of her applying that quick ability to learn to making love to him and images poured into his mind, unbidden and unrestrained. He grabbed her other hand and whispered. “I believe our cuddling was cut short earlier. Now that you have healed me, might we resume where we left off. You can join me here as I complete my recovery.

Knowing she shouldn’t, but wanting to so very much, Clarisse acquiesced. “Just for a bit more and then we both should get some rest. I certainly don’t want Olivia to happen upon us…” She carefully slid onto the bed so she was facing Joseph.

“I promise to listen closely and I can always sneak out the back way.”

“Just don’t hurt yourself again.”

Joseph reached over and began to slowly undo the buttons of her blouse. “Oh, I don’t know…the treatment made the pain worth it.”

Clarisse’s chest began to rise and fall in a slow, steady motion as she watched Joseph’s hand gently, but surely reveal more and more of her freckled skin to his heated gaze. “Joseph…” she whispered.

Moments later, the silk blouse was discarded carelessly on the floor next to the bed. She gave little thought to that or the fact she was, for the first time in her life, laying the ‘wrong’ way on the bed; but all of those thoughts mattered little when Joseph pulled her into his strong arms. Their mouths found each other and began a lazy exploration, slowly seeking to build anticipation for the moment when they were free to be together completely. They both knew they were subjecting themselves to an exquisite torture that was the equivalent of giving a starving man a few morsels of food and expecting that to suffice. It may take the edge off of the hunger, but would never completely satisfy. Such was their lot in life at present moment…the touching, the kissing, the increased boldness in their discovery of each other served as morsels that just took the edge off of their strong hunger to possess each other fully.

After several minutes, Joseph broke the kiss and moved her so she was lying on her back. He propped himself up on one elbow and while his fingers traced lazy patterns on her stomach. “You are so very beautiful, Clarisse Renaldi…”

Clarisse’s eyes closed at the intimacy in his voice and the gentleness of his touch. “I wish things could be different, Joseph…”

He pulled her back into his embrace, relishing in the feel of her softness pillowed against his hard body. “Shhh….I know; but it will be here before you know it.”

For a moment, he let himself forget that she was currently forbidden fruit and kissed her with passion and abandon…willing her to know how deeply he loved her and wanted her. He moved them again so she was on her back. He rained kisses on her neck, collarbone, and began to follow his earlier path down the golden chain towards the pendant. Her hand was on his head, guiding his efforts and holding him to her. He could feel her body arch, encouraging him and seeking his touch. His goal was scant millimeters away when the phone rang…

He rolled away from her, his arm resting over his head. “Unbelievable…can they not survive a couple hours without you?” To say he was frustrated was an understatement.

Clarisse willed her heart to stop racing and her breath to calm so she could answer the incessant ringing of the phone. She carefully sat up and pulled the receiver from its cradle. “Hello?”

She exhaled a frustrated sigh. “We were just finishing up…”

“I’m very tired…”

“Alright, I will be there in ten minutes.” She hung the phone up and cast an apologetic glance back towards Joseph.

“Let me guess…Amelia.”

“Yes. Apparently another wardrobe crises; I am uncertain why she doesn’t call upon her ladies’ maids…that IS part of what they are there for.”

Joseph carefully swung his legs around so he could sit at the foot of the bed. He extended his hand and guided her to a standing position between his knees. “I’m certain she is not yet accustomed to such amenities and would much rather ask her Grandmother. Go to her…she needs you.”

“And you?”

His arms went around her and he pulled her closer. Without any warning, his mouth closed around the taut, silk covered bud that had been begging for attention for what seemed like hours now. Clarisse gasped and held tightly to him as new sensations flooded her body. His teeth nipped before his tongue gently circled and then released her. “I will be taking a cold shower and then trying to sleep while dreams of you dance through my head.”

“And will you dance with me tomorrow at the ball?”

“At the end, as usual, if her Majesty shall but ask.” He smiled.

“She shall…especially now that she knows how spectacular you are under your tuxedo.” She leaned over and kissed him on top of his head. “I supposed I should put myself back together before Amelia calls again.”

Joseph stood and dressed as well. “Thank you for the massage…it really was very helpful. Someday I will have to return the favor.”

Clarisse allowed herself, for a moment, to imagine what it would feel like to feel Joseph’s strong hands kneading all of the tight muscles in her body. The thought alone caused a rush of pleasure to course through her body. “You keep talking like that and I will need a cold shower too.”

He laughed as he escorted her to the door before they parted ways. “Sounds like a fair deal to me…I shouldn’t be the only one suffering at the hands of the ‘Queen of Tease’”

Chapter 19: He Watched

Scene: **The next evening at the Summer Solstice Ball**

He watched as the dancers moved around the room in time to the music. He watched them all; but focused on a select few.

He watched the hands of time slowly make their way around the stately grandfather clock sitting in the corner of the room reminding all that time did, indeed, march on. His gaze moved away from the clock and back to the dance floor where…

He watched hands daring to go where they should not go and a subtle attempt to change their course.

He watched as the man pulled her body closer than the dictates of propriety allowed.

He watched as the first stirrings of panic or perhaps even fear flitted across her face.

He watched as her eyes found his…a silent plea for assistance.

He moved quickly and deftly across the dance floor, weaving through the bodies with the grace of a lioness hunting its prey.

He watched the alarm in the man’s eyes as his hand formed a vice grip around his bicep and forced him solidly, yet quietly, across the dance floor and out of the room.

He watched the fear in his eyes as he slammed the would be aggressor against the unyielding marble wall before offering in a menacing voice, “Never…ever…touch her like that again.”

He saw the slight snarl that curled the man’s mouth into a half smile. “She wanted it and who am I to say no to…”

His fist connected with the man’s jaw before he could finish his sentence and he watched him crumple to the floor.

He heard the sound of heels on the marble floor and he turned just in time to open his arms for her as she sought his protective embrace. “Thank you…thank you…thank you…” she whispered, “I didn’t know what to do.”

Moments later, there were murmurings and more footsteps before a voice spoke. “Joseph? Do you care to explain why Viscount Daltry is unconscious on the floor of the palace?”


Chapter 20:

*An hour later*

Joseph stood in a stance somewhere between “at ease” and “attention” as he waited for Clarisse to return to her office. He was uncertain what emotion would greet him upon her return so he wanted to be prepared for anything. He had thought back over everything that had transpired earlier in the evening and he found no evidence of wrong doing on his part and certainly no regret. Perhaps he had been a tad overzealous, but if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t change a thing.

The ticking of the clock in the quiet room reminded him of his days being sent to the principal’s office for a transgression, usually fighting. He couldn’t help but smile a bit to himself as he remembered some of the heated disagreements they would have as he passionately spoke about the bullying or harassment that he simply had been trying to stop. It seems he was destined to protect people from even early on.

He heard her enter the room and caught a whiff of her perfume as she walked by…Chanel. He momentarily regretted his actions as having to deal with all of this would surely put a damper on any activities that her wearing Chanel could have led them to later.

Clarisse sat down in her chair and fought the urge to rub her temples to diminish the pounding headache that had taken up residence in her brain over the past hour. “That will be all Charlotte.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Joseph heard the door close as she left and knew they were now alone. Because he wasn’t sure of her mood, he decided to let her take the first step to set the tone. “So Amelia filled me in on what happened.”


“And I provided her with a Princess lesson on how to evade roaming hands.”

Joseph grinned. “Wish I could’ve seen that. I would have been prepared to assist you by playing the adversary in that scenario.”

Clarisse returned his grin. “There’s more…” He smile faded away and a mask of doubt slid over her features.

He moved to stand next to her and touch her shoulder reassuringly. “What is it?”

“I’m afraid I may have implied…” she let her sentence drift off, hoping he would gather her meaning without her having to vocalize it again.

Joseph’s eyes closed and he slowly exhaled. “Tell me you didn’t, Clarisse…”

She knew he would not be happy; but she couldn’t leave out the detail. She was certain Amelia would fill him in first thing in the morning and she wanted to be able to tell her version of the story first. She stood abruptly and moved away from his touch. “As future Queen, she must understand how her attire affects the Crown and others, especially at her age. I DID tell her to wear the blue gown rather than the red one.” She finished, her head held high and her gaze burning into his, challenging him to argue with her.

Deciding not to debate the wardrobe issue…yet, he asked. “And did Viscount Mabrey’s young cousin, Viscount Daltry, receive a similar lecture on the merits of proper behavior and how to treat a lady?”

The pounding now resembled a bass drum. “I spoke with Arthur in an effort to maintain peace as a result of your actions.” She looked pointedly in his direction.

He moved into her personal space, his face so close she could feel his barely controlled agitation emanating from every pore of his body. “Tell me you did NOT apologize for my behavior?”

“Not directly, no.”

“Is Viscount Mabrey and his cousin still here?”

She didn’t answer.

“Charlotte!” Joseph called out, never moving from his close proximity to his Queen.

A moment later, Charlotte appeared in the office. If she was bothered or surprised by what she saw, she kept it to herself. “Yes?”

“Is the Viscount and his guest still here?” He saw no need to elaborate as to which Viscount he was referring.


“Please ask them to wait in the holding area off of the main ballroom until I can speak with them.”

Charlotte looked to her Queen for confirmation; but received neither approval nor any indication that she shouldn’t comply with Joseph’s request. She looked back to Joseph, whose look left no doubt that he expected his request to be followed. “Sure,” she answered hesitantly and then left the office.

Before Clarisse could say anything, Joseph spoke. “I am going to take care of this here and now. If you need to put me on report, feel free to do so. If you need to terminate me, that is your choice as well. I will not, however, stand idly by and let that young man OR his uncle treat the Crown with such disrespect and not be dealt with accordingly. I will make it clear that I am acting on my own accord in order to protect you.”

Clarisse waited for him to leave the room before sitting back in her chair and giving in to the desire to massage her temples. She would have to deal with Joseph’s wrath later regarding her comments to Amelia, but she was prepared for that and was certain she knew the quickest way to end that fight. A small smile crept across her face as she thought of Joseph dealing with Mabrey and his insolent cousin. As Queen, she had to be diplomatic in an effort to keep peace with Parliament. However, she was afforded the benefit of a head of security that was skilled in dealing with difficult situations and convincing the involved parties to never speak of it again.

Oh she was certain there would be ramifications in the future from the Viscount as a result of this incident, but those would be there anyway. She knew without a doubt that Arthur Mabrey had his eye on the throne of Genovia and would stop at nothing to get it. He probably invited his cousin thinking Amelia would succumb to his advances and, thereby, creating a scandal for him to capitalize on. He had just failed to factor Joseph into his equation. Regardless of whether the Princess had been willing, Joseph would not stand idly by and let someone be so flagrant and obvious with public groping. He would have put a stop to it straightaway. She shuddered to think how he might react if some poor soul tried to get overly friendly with her.

About twenty minutes later, Mia interrupted her grandmother’s quiet musings as she burst through the doors. “You sure missed the fun, Gramma!”

Clarisse smiled at her granddaughter’s excitement. “I am certain you are going to enlighten me.”

“Joe was awesome! He ‘convinced’ the jerk to apologize to me. Even Viscount Mabrey appeared contrite, though I’m certain it was just an act to keep Joe from using his right hook again.” She turned to beam at Joseph. “You rocked!”

“It sounds like things worked out very well then.” Clarisse offered.

Remembering the debate she had had earlier with her grandma, Mia replied with an edge to her tone. “Thanks to Joe.”

Joseph moved forward to put his arm around Amelia while his gaze found Clarisse’s. “Actually it was your grandmother’s idea for me to handle this situation.”

Clarisse’s mouth gaped open, surprise coloring her features. “How could he have known?”

Mia looked up at him, a shocked expression on her face. “Shut up!”

Joseph continued. “It’s true. She feels very bad about some of the things she said to you earlier; but knew that as Queen her hands were tied, diplomatically, to how far she could push this situation without causing a media nightmare. You wouldn’t want another one of those, would you?”

Mia thought back to the “Baker Beach Incident” and shuddered. “No.”

“I, however, have a little more latitude in dealing with sensitive situations such as this. While she couldn’t directly ask me to…be a little more persuasive in convincing the Viscounts in the error of their ways, she could simply just not intervene when I demanded justice.”

The young woman looked to her grandmother who simply inclined her head in agreement. She flung herself dejectedly on the couch and sighed, “I’m not going to be very good at this royal thing…there are too many unspoken rules. According to my grandmother, I can’t even make the right choices when it comes to what I wear.” She cradled her head in her hands as she lowered it, dejected by the events of the night.

Joseph looked to Clarisse, his eyes pleading and his body language urging her to go to Mia. Clarisse hesitated for a moment and then moved to sit beside her granddaughter. “Look at me, Amelia.” She commanded gently.

Clarisse saw the uncertainty and innocence in the dark, large eyes. “I was…wrong…earlier.”

“No, Gramma, you weren’t. You told me the right dress to wear and I deliberately did just the opposite. It was my fault.”

Clarisse pulled her into her arms. “Tosh. Doing the exact opposite of what adults tell you to do is very normal and commonplace for teenagers. Regardless, you looked beautiful and there was nothing inappropriate about your dress. Most assuredly nothing that would have warranted the advances of that young snake, Daltry.”



“So I did the right thing, sending the ‘please help me’ look to Joe?” Mia had sat up straight and was feeling a little better about things.

Clarisse looked up at Joseph and smiled. “Rest assured that sending Joseph a ‘please help me’ look can never be a wrong thing.”

Mia was smiling now. “He was very impressive, Gramma. You should give him a raise.”

Clarisse laughed. “I will certainly look into that. How does that sound to you, Joseph?”

Joseph pretended to give it some thought. “I believe I will try to negotiate a bonus, but; thank you, Princess, for putting in a good word for me.” Had Mia not been in the room, the smoldering look he would have sent towards Clarisse would have told her exactly what type of ‘bonus’ he was interested in. He ventured a glance in her direction. By the gentle blush covering her features, she knew anyway.

“So you aren’t mad at me, Grandma?”

“Of course not. Are you still angry with me?”

Mia stood and hugged her Grandma. “Of course not.” She turned and gave Joseph a hug as well, whispering. “Thanks again, Joe. You’re my brave knight.”

He returned her hug and whispered, “and you, my beautiful princess.”

Feeling all was right in the world once again, Mia returned to her suite, leaving Clarisse and Joseph alone again.

“So I suppose you are feeling pretty cheeky with all of this. Here I thought I had actually pulled something over on you…” Clarisse stood and moved towards him.

Joseph extended his hand to lead her onto their ‘dance floor’ in the middle of her office. “You should really stop trying to do that,” he teased. “It is my job to stay one step ahead of you.”

Clarisse stepped into his arms and began to follow him in the dance. “Here all this time, I thought you were always walking one step behind me.”

He pulled her close and let his hand slip up her back until it encountered the bare flesh exposed by the cut of her dress. “Mmmm…thank you for not changing. I thought I had missed my opportunity for the last dance.” He whispered into her ear, enjoying the shivers of pleasure he felt ripple through her body.

“I always save the last dance for you.”

“Even tonight?”

“Especially tonight.”

The executed a few more moves, putting their own special twist on them which usually resulted in increased body contact and movement of their hands to places that would definitely put security on high alert. Clarisse spoke again. “I am sorry…”

She felt Joseph shrug his shoulders slightly. “You apologized to Mia – there is nothing to apologize to me about. You did your job and I did mine.” He pulled her closer as his body moved against hers. His voice was deep as he added, “Make no mistake, though…if anyone EVER tries to touch you like that…”

“He will have more than a sore jaw to worry about?”

“Much more.”

“Thank you for…well, as you stated, doing your job. You do it far better than anyone else. You truly are my brave knight.”

His mouth crushed down on hers as he pulled her even closer, their bodies melding and conforming to each other as though they simply belonged. A low moan of satisfaction escaped Clarisse’s lips, allowing him to deepen the kiss as their tongues engaged in a primitive dance that connected their bodies in the only way they would currently permit.

Joseph finally pulled away for air, relishing in the ravished look on Clarisse’s face as she attempted to recover from their kiss. “Brave knight and so much more?” He questioned as his hands soothed her.

“And so much more.”


Chapter 21: Sometimes Love Just Isn't Enough

Scene: New Year's Day – Year 3

Clarisse took Joseph's hand as he led her out onto the dance floor. The music of the "wango" filled the air and infused their souls. It was their song – their dance. As they moved in time to the music, she felt herself getting more and more lost in him. Every fiber of her being cried out to feel his skin against hers; his lips paying homage to her body; his strength surrounding her. She spun around and back into his embrace, her lips mere centimeters from his face. The music had stopped and the only sound in the room was their breathing…in and out, give and take. Finally, she could take no more. She tilted her head and whispered into his ear.

Her heart leapt at his nod of acceptance. He took her hand and they walked in silence to her suite. There was no guard at the door as she was not expected in her rooms at the present time. They continued into the bedroom, locking the door behind them. The tenderness he showed as he slowly undressed her was almost her undoing. She loved him with her entire being and felt as though she had waited a lifetime for this moment. She watched as he disrobed and swallowed hard as his entire body was revealed to her for the first time.

She gasped as he stepped closer providing their first full skin to skin contact. "Joseph…"

It was as though all the years of restrained passion were unleashed as his lips met hers. Hands sought to touch and explore, bringing to life nerve endings that were long forgotten. No longer able to stand, they tumbled to the bed…arms and legs continually moving, increasing the contact as the inability to think clearly dissipated as tendrils of smoke in the air.

Her eyes closed as the sensations threatened to overwhelm her. She had wanted slow – had thought that's the way it should be between them…especially their first time. Now that the moment was upon her…she wanted all of him…needed all of him now. "Please…" she whispered, not knowing how else to voice her request.

She felt his hands clasp hers and pull them above her head, holding her captive. His voice sounded deeper than she remembered, more menacing. His words sent chills down her spine. "I knew you had a secret…and now I will use it to claim the throne of Genovia all for myself."

Her eyes flew open to see Arthur Mabrey over her, his eyes gleaming with a predatory satisfaction. He had won…he had finally been able to snatch the throne of Genovia from her tentative grip.

Clarisse sat up in bed, her body glistening with a sheen of perspiration from the nightmare she had just experienced. She looked at the clock on the bedside table…4 a.m. She took the bottle of water she always kept next to her bed at night and tried to open it with visibly shaking hands. She had always believed that dreams were your mind's way of telling you things and pulling out the fears you had hidden in your subconscious. There was only one thing that dream could mean…she had to slow things down with Joseph.

"Happy New Year, Your Majesty." Joseph greeted her as he stepped into her suite. He made a move to kiss her, but the look on her face gave him pause. "What's wrong?"

Her expression was one of longing and sadness mixed together, dulling her usually bright blue eyes. "I think we should…slow things down."

Joseph was shocked by the statement that seemed to come from nowhere. It was New Year's Day – a day of new beginnings, potential for dreams to be realized and hopes to be fulfilled. As such, he couldn't help the frustrated sound that escaped his lips. "I'm not certain how we could go much slower, Clarisse. We basically do what teenagers consider making out. I would suspect that most teenagers have gone further than we have."

She started to argue, but she knew he was right. Instead she offered a weary, "We have more responsibilities than teenagers, Joseph. We cannot succumb to our physical desires and have a casual affair."

Anger flared and Joseph stepped closer to her. He fought to keep his voice at a controlled level. "Let me be very clear, Clarisse Renaldi, the feelings I have for you are anything but casual and, if you think that all I want from this relationship is an affair…then you don't know me at all."

He turned and started out of her suite. Not even two seconds later, he felt her hand on his arm. "Joseph…please."

Clarisse came up short in order to avoid running headlong into Joseph when he stopped and quickly turned. She could feel the heat emanating from his body, the breath being forcefully expelled from his lungs as he fought to control his emotion, and the rigid stance of his body.

"Please what, Clarisse?" What was it she expected from him? To be content with feeling her hand through the crook of his arm as he walked her to her suite; to limit his touches to the small of her back as he guided her through crowds; or his kisses to the back of her hand?

She sighed and stepped backwards slightly to give them space. Her eyes found his and pleaded with them for understanding and for patience. "I don't know, Joseph…I just know that I can't risk everything to fulfill the desire of my body and of my heart." Her hand reached out to touch his heart, remained there for a moment before slowly slipping down his body pulling away inches above his belt, remembering how the muscles felt and looked beneath her hands the night she gave him the massage. "No matter how strong those desires may be."

His tentative control snapped and he pulled her into an embrace, plundering her mouth with a heated kiss, moving her backwards until her body was caught between his and the unyielding marble wall. His hands clasped and fingers intertwined with hers, bringing them to rest on his hips. Joseph wanted to run his hands over her body and to prove to her that her desire for him was too strong to be put on a back burner for two days, much less two years; but he feared if her hands were free, she would push him away…and that he could not bear.

Clarisse felt her body's intense reaction to Joseph's kiss and, more importantly, to the intimate way his body was now pressed against hers. His tongue demanded entrance and her mouth complied as though it were the most natural thing in the entire universe. Rivulets of sensation poured through her body causing shivers of pleasure and murmurs of delight to betray the words she had spoken mere moments before.

Joseph continued his assault on her senses, mindless of the fact that someone could walk in on them, proving her very point of the necessity of issuing a cease and desist order on their physical relationship. He had no idea, though, when he would be allowed to touch her, to kiss her like this and he couldn't stop – wouldn't stop until she made him. She needed something to remember him by as well. Her taste was intoxicating and there was no doubt that she wanted him as badly as he wanted her. The body didn't lie. Words could be spoken that the heart dictated and the mind believed necessary; but the body...yes, body language spoke volumes.

Finally, it was the dampness he felt on his cheek and jaw that stopped him. He pulled back and found tears streaming down her face. "Oh god, Clarisse…" he released her hands and pulled her into a gentle embrace. "I'm so sorry…"

Clarisse let the tears flow freely now. There had been a battle going on within her from the moments she felt the fervent touch of Joseph's lips against hers. Her body sang with joy as the pleasure mounted, spiraling to the farthest reaches of her body igniting flames of desire that continued to melt the icy walls she kept trying to build around herself. Her soul rejoiced as it felt the connection with its other half and for a moment had experienced the utter bliss that washes over you when you know you are with the one with whom you were destined to spend forever. Her mind, though, had been the enemy that morning. Dredging up the nightmare and telling her she was risking it all…everything she had worked her entire life for – in order to satisfy her own personal needs – needs that had been pushed aside for so long, they no longer warranted priority in her life. The result had been a loss of control over her emotions and the tears had amassed until they streamed down her cheeks, mindless of the moment they were destroying.

Finally, she pulled back, her blue eyes watery with the remnants of her tears. "It is I who am sorry, Joseph."

"Just tell me why. Help me understand."

Clarisse sat on the sofa, exhaustion from the restless sleep and the uncustomary outpouring of emotion taking its toll. "I can't jeopardize the throne."

Joseph came and sat beside her, but was careful not to sit too close. "I'm afraid that doesn't quite explain your proclamation this morning. How is today different than yesterday? Less than twenty four hours ago, you were fine with the nature of our relationship. Now you hesitate."

Her thoughts went back to her nightmare and Arthur Mabrey's voice was heard inside of her head. "I know your secret…I will claim the throne of Genovia all for myself." A shudder tore through her body at the image of a Mabrey sitting on the throne, his trite laughter and arrogant posturing filling the room. She could envision the prosperity that Rupert and all of his predecessors had worked so hard to give to Genovia slipping away as a darkness settled over the land.


"Clarisse!" Joseph was more than a little concerned at her lack of response and the look of fear in her eyes.

"Joseph." She finally replied.

"What is wrong?"

"I truly don't want to discuss it, Joseph. Not right now. Please…"

Joseph exhaled slowly and rubbed his forehead. He remembered back to a time when he pleaded with Clarisse for understanding without explanation. She had tried to be patient with him. He owed her no less. "Alright, I will let the discussion drop for now – despite my better judgment."

"Thank you."

"But Clarisse?"


"You can't expect me to spend my off time alone with you. I'm flesh and blood and the feelings I have for you run too strong and too deep to be with you and not be able to touch you, hold you, or kiss you. Before I didn't know fully what I was missing; but now that I have had the privilege of your touch, it will be difficult to now be without it. It is not my intention to make this harder for you; but I have to put some distance between us if I am to honor your request."

Clarisse nodded her head but could not force herself to look into his eyes, knowing the pain she would see there. She also knew he would see how deeply his words had hurt her. "I understand." And she truly did; but that didn't mean she liked it.

Her gaze remained solidly fixed on the pattern of her skirt as one hand held the other still. "You know I love you."

Joseph's eyes closed at her admission. He knew she did and he loved her. Unfortunately, today, it was not enough to overcome their obstacles. "And you know how much I wish that was enough."

He knelt down in front of her and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "I love you too. I will be waiting for you when you are ready to put action to those words."

Clarisse waited for the door to close before allowing tears to fall once again. She leaned her head against the back of the couch and cursed the day she had ever met Arthur Mabrey.

She could only pray that this year improved as time droned on.

Chapter 22: The Man for the Job

Scene: Spring – Year 3

“You have to do something, Joseph.”

“I’m not sure what you expect of me, Charlotte.”

“I expect you to do something! You can see how miserable she is.”

“She is my Queen and my boss; I’m not sure what I can do to improve her tense and melancholy mood.”

“Shame on you, Joseph! Even you don’t believe that. I can tell from the look on your face that you don’t. She may be your Queen. She may be your boss. She is also your friend. Your best friend.”

Joseph’s rubbed his eyes and then his forehead in an effort to relieve the tension headache that had formed the moment Charlotte had entered the kitchen and challenged him with her dilemma. “Fine, I will talk to her.”

Pleased that he had acquiesced, she grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and joined him at the table. “For the record, you’ve looked like hell lately too. Something you want to tell me?”

He studied her intently, knowing that Clarisse considered her a close, personal confidant as well. Weighing things carefully, he finally spoke. “Are you certain you want to know?”

Charlotte laughed. “Honestly, I’m not sure. I just know that you two are my best friends and you are both suffering. I would like to help if I could.”

Joseph placed his hand over Charlotte’s and squeezed gently. “If I can think of anything, I promise to let you know.”

An icy voice interrupted them. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize the kitchen was occupado. Please excuse me.”

Joseph and Charlotte immediately realized how they must have looked, despite the fact that it was totally innocent. The determined clicking of heels on the marble tile indicated that the only way to catch her now would be to chase after her. As angry as she appeared, neither thought it a good idea. “Whiskey?”



Clarisse sat in the darkness, playing the image of the scene she had witnessed over and over again in her mind. Truthfully, she had only seen what amounted to a few seconds of interaction between her two best friends. Joseph had said something to Charlotte and then held her hand. Was it possible that he was just being a friend to her? Just comforting her? Perhaps she had overreacted. Of course, neither came after her to clarify the situation. A single tear escaped unbidden down her cheek. She was lonely and she had no one to blame but herself.

A slight scraping noise interrupted the silence of her thoughts. She was too tired and too lethargic with negative emotion to even turn her head in the direction of the sound. Perhaps it was because she knew, intuitively, the source.



“It wasn’t as it appeared.”

“I realize that…now.”

“I fail to see how this…arrangement…is good for either of us. Charlotte is being affected as well.”

“I am open to suggestions.”

“Trust me. Trust us. We can handle this.”

“Do you think I prefer things this way? That I don’t miss you, your touch, your kisses – the way you make me feel?”

“I can’t be near you and not want to do those things. Just getting through my shift some days is pure hell.”

“I am sorry. I know this can’t be easy for you either.”

“You still have never told me what made you confine us to solitude.”

“I don’t suppose it would make things better or worse at this juncture.”


“I had a dream that turned to a nightmare.”

“I’m listening.”

“We were dancing the Wango and, as is customary when you and I dance alone, things heated up.”

“So far all seems well.” There was a slight smile in his voice.

“You and I retired to my suite…to my bedroom.”

Images of what she was saying…yet not saying flooded Joseph’s mind. His voice sounded strained and filled with emotion. “Clarisse…”

“Yes, it was beautiful – passion filled just as I have imagined it a thousand times.”

“So what happened?”

“When I opened my eyes to see my love, my lover – there was another...you were no longer there, Joseph. There was…someone else…who said that now that he knew my secret, he would use it to steal the throne of Genovia.”

Joseph heard the disgust in her voice as she spoke of the man who had invaded her dreams. “Who was it?”



A sigh filled the room. “Arthur Mabrey.”

Joseph started pacing. “I will throttle him with my bare hands.”


“He deserves it and I am the man to do it.”


Realizing it was the pain that was making him say such things, he abated. “Clarisse.”

“It was a nightmare. Never in a million years would I allow Arthur Mabrey to see me…to touch me like that.” She shuddered again. “It is all I can do to tolerate the dances I am forced to accompany him in for the sake of protocol and tradition.”

“If you know it was only a nightmare, why did you let it change you – change us?”

“Because even though the dream wasn’t a reality, the truth revealed in the dream was. If Viscount Mabrey learns that I am involved with my Head of Security, he will use it to take the throne.”

He knew she was right; but he hated the situation nonetheless. “The Viscount doesn’t stay at the palace. I know we can control ourselves the little bit of time he IS here. Meet me halfway, Clarisse.”

“I’m not sure that I can. I want to; but it’s not about what I want, it’s about what is best.”

She felt him move closer to her, kneeling down in front of her, insinuating his body forward until her knees separated to make room for him. The room was bathed in darkness completely now as the sliver of moon took refuge behind dark storm clouds that had ventured in from the east. His breath was quietly washing over her as he waited patiently. The sexual tension in the room was slowly rising as their hearts beat faster in anticipation. Her eyes closed as his hands slid up the outside of her legs, stopping close to her hips. His voice was nothing more than a husky whisper. “Tell me you can survive for two more years without this. I can feel the hum of your body – the anticipation, the wanting…the desire.”

Her entire being cried out for her to move the fraction of an inch forward to press his lips against hers. She pulled her bottom lip into her mouth in an effort to quell the emotions surging through her veins. “I have no choice.” She whispered.

“If that’s the way you have to look at this…then, I will gladly take the choice away.” Joseph quelled any further arguments that she may have had the moment his lips brushed across hers. He could hear her breath catch and the tension struggle to maintain its claim over her body as he tenderly rained soft, gentle kisses over her mouth and face.

Clarisse’s hands gripped the side of the chair as she resisted the urge to pull his body closer and deepen the kiss. Her voice was strained as low, but he heard each word. “Your logic is not taking into account one very important factor.”

Joseph stopped kissing her. His finger traced over her moist lips, relishing in the soft, involuntary sigh that escaped. “What would that be?”

His eyes closed as her soft hands spanned his sides and slid upwards, moving to center to feel the broad expanse of his chest, the strong muscles of his neck, the soft fringe of graying hair and finally, the velvet touch of his mouth.

“It is I who fear I cannot control my thoughts, my actions, or the way I look at you…in private or in public. Despite decades of training, you have found a way to melt my cool façade and remind me of what it feels like to be a woman – a desirable, wanted woman.” She strained to see his reaction to her admission. It was against her nature to confess such things, but she felt it only fair to explain her continued reticence.

Joseph held her hand to his mouth and gently kissed each fingertip. “I think you underestimate the will power of the Queen. She is a force to be reckoned with.”

A slight hint of laughter was heard. “Don’t I know it? I battle with her daily.”

“She has never faltered. You mustn’t lose faith in her.”

“Perhaps, but the woman in me is reasserting itself with a vengeance. You make me feel so…” she struggled to find the words.

“Beautiful…desirable…sexy…wanted…” Joseph punctuated each pause with a brief kiss.”

“Yes…” her voice was a mere whisper.

“Then let’s find a compromise. I have been miserable without you.”

“And I, you.”

“If I promise to slow things down, or at least try…will you reconsider your decision to deny us both any physical affirmation of our feelings?”

“Is that your way of saying you missed kissing me?”

Her eyes closed as his index finger traced her lips again. How could something so simple be so…erotic? Her prior experience with romance and intimacy had been fulfilling…she thought. But somehow everything with Joseph was more – charged, more electric, more…exciting. She felt the desire and need in every pore of her body and every sense was heightened. She was worse than a teenager.

“Somehow that doesn’t quite describe the loss I have felt.” His voice was deep and had a husky quality to it that drew her in even further.

Her body tingled and she let the world fade away…the Viscount, the Palace, her awkward granddaughter, her fears, her self-imposed solitude, and the citizens of Genovia, all became muted pictures on the edge of her consciousness as she experienced again the rush of satin against velvet, tasting the sweetness of his kiss once again.


Charlotte noted a subtle, yet distinct difference in her friend the next day. There was still an underlying tension that seemed to guide the Queen’s actions and behavior that still remained. There was something in her eyes, though, that seemed more…at peace. The dark circles, though still there, were diminished slightly and her feature seemed less conflicted. “Good morning, Your Majesty. You look well today.”

“Thank you, Charlotte.” Clarisse smiled. She hesitated for a moment. “I wanted to…apologize for misreading the situation in the kitchen yesterday evening. I generally am a little less quick to judgment.”

“No apology necessary, Your Majesty, I’m certain that it must have looked inappropriate.”

“Well, I certainly didn’t stay long enough to give either of you an opportunity to explain. For that alone, I am sorry.”

Charlotte smiled. “You were being human. It is allowed.”

“Rarely, it seems; but thank you for understanding.”

Charlotte paused at the Queen’s words. She thought about commenting but decided against it. The Queen seemed better today and she wasn’t going to be the one to challenge her on the first good day she had had in months. “I understand, Your Majesty. Shall we get started?”


“What did you do?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Please pass me some bread for my sandwich. You know exactly what I’m speaking of, Joseph.”

“Charlotte, I rarely know what you’re speaking of.”

“Funny. She seems much better today. Last night you said you would do something. You’re a man of your word. So, I’m asking, what did you do?”

“It’s classified.” He teased.

Charlotte laughed. “I will have you know, I have top security clearance.”

“I had it revoked last night after you got us in trouble with the Queen.”

“I will have you know that it was YOU who put your hand over mine…not the other way around.”


“You’re not going to tell me are you?”

“There’s nothing to tell.” He answered with a gleam of mischief in his eyes.


“You asked me to address the matter. I did. You didn’t tell me I had to provide a written report on what transpired.”

Knowing the battle was lost and it was fruitless to continue, Charlotte winked. “Well, just remember it was MY idea.”

Joseph chuckled as she picked up her sandwich and strolled out of the kitchen. Somehow he was certain that seducing Clarisse into kissing him had not made Charlotte’s list of ways to make the Queen feel better. She may have prompted his action – but he was definitely the man for the job.


Chapter 23: We Willingly Sacrifice

Scene: Fall of Year 3 – Evening of the Pear Harvest Celebration

Clarisse sat in the dimly lit room, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest. The bedside lamp provided muted illumination to the darkness, which suited her just fine as it closely matched her troubled soul. The face that she had come to love, in secret of course, was transfixed in a state of sleep. Though she had never been privileged to watch him sleep before, she knew that his features carried faint echoes of the pain not subdued with the drugs provided by the doctor. His legs were carefully propped on pillows and ice packs were regularly replaced with heat packs in an effort to alleviate his discomfort.

A single tear slipped unbidden down her cheek as her heart hurt for the man that had so willingly chased after danger in an effort to protect her. Security was a risky business and ironically, just about the time a security guard achieved the seasoning, maturity and full mental awareness necessary to be exceptional…the body started to show signs of wear and tear that took its toll even on those in the best of shape.

Clarisse moved her chair forward slightly so she could reach out and hold his hand. No one knew she was here. Everyone thought she was asleep in her suite, exhausted from the day’s events. Remembering the passageway Joseph had shown her years ago between their rooms - a passageway only he had used before, she had quietly made her way through the hidden corridor about an hour ago and had remained by his side ever since. She had worried about waking him, but quickly realized that he was sedated in order to give his body a chance to recover from the trauma. Her eyes closed as she remembered the events that had brought them to this place…


“It is rather warm for this time of year.”

“Yes, Your Majesty, it is. Perhaps I should have selected a more suitable outfit for today.” Joseph teased.

“I don’t know…I’ve rather grown accustomed to how wonderful you look in black.” She admitted, her voice low so others could not hear.

Joseph leaned in closer and whispered. “I find that you look good in any color.”

A blush covered her cheeks, making them even rosier than before. “Thank you. Perhaps later you can stop by for tea?”

“Make it coffee and you have a deal.”


Clarisse was brought from her train of thought by a low groan. She turned her attention to Joseph, quickly standing to help him as he tried to adjust to a more comfortable position. His sleeping mind had forgotten about his injuries but reality quickly asserted itself as the pain coursed through his body evidenced by a grimace on face.

“Joseph…dear, Joseph…” she whispered as her hand stroked his cheek in an effort to calm him. After a few moments, he returned to a deeper sleep, back in his original position. She double checked the ice packs to make sure they were in the correct position. It was almost time for the heat…


The heat had been insufferable making the people in the crowds irritable and impatient. The festival was in its final hours and the Queen was preparing to make the closing speech. She adjusted the neckline of her blouse, trying to relieve the stifling humidity that had been ever present. Not for the first time today, did she wish she had worn a lightweight dress rather than this constricting suit. A tepid shower would feel so good. A tepid shower, comfortable clothes, tea (and coffee, she amended) along with Joseph’s company would make this day much better.

She heard her name being announced and stepped out from behind the curtain of the stage. She ventured a quick glance to her right and saw Joseph in a standard body guard stance, ever vigilant eyes surveying the crowd. Shades was covering the left side. She sighed – it was sad that protection was even necessary for a celebration in her own country. But alas she knew it was.

Only a few minutes into her speech, something started to not feel right. As a woman who had developed and honed her instincts to assess situations and make sound decisions, she intuitively knew something was amiss. Another quick glance in Joseph’s direction and she knew he felt it too. His body was on high alert. She had watched HIM long enough to know that, even though her look was not more than mere seconds.

Then it started…

“Your Majesty!”

“Your Majesty!”


“Your Majesty? Are you alright?”

Clarisse looked up to see Dr. Weston standing next to her, a concerned look on his face. “What? Oh yes, I’m fine, just lost in thought. I didn’t hear you come in.”

The doctor turned his attention to his patient, carefully exchanging the ice for a heat wrap. “I apologize. I wasn’t expecting anyone else to be here.”

“I couldn’t stay away. I needed to be here.”

“That is understandable.”

“Is he going to be…?

The kind, old doctor turned to the woman whom he had cared for since she first came to the palace. He touched her shoulder and squeezed it gently. “After some rest and physical therapy, he will be fine. He will need to be respectful of his knees and avoid putting undue pressure on them.”

“So no more kneeling for him?” She ventured an attempt at humor to cover her anxiety.

“No, I’m afraid not. He will have to find other ways to show his loyalty, I’m afraid.”

“There has never been any question when it comes to Joseph.”

“No, Your Majesty, there is not.”

“Doctor, shouldn’t you think about calling me Clarisse? You did deliver both of my sons. I think that qualifies us to be on a first name basis, don’t you?”

He chuckled. “Well as you still refer to me by my title, I shall keep yours.”

She smiled slightly. “As you wish. Is there anything else I can do for him to make him comfortable?”

“I’m certain your presence is providing a sense of comfort for him. If he wakes up and needs anything, he will ask. In the meantime, you should try to get some rest. I will be back in a couple hours to check on him.”

Dr. Weston made it almost to the door, when he heard his name, well rather his title being called out. He turned to see a pleading look on her face. He smiled at her and winked. “You were never here, Your Majesty.”

Clarisse nodded, reassured that her secret was safe with him.

Safe…today that word had garnered a deeper meaning for her. She absently rubbed her arm where Shades had knocked her…


“On the ground!”

She heard Joseph’s voice a fraction of a second after she had seen a gun extended above the crowd. Within seconds she felt two impacts: The impact to her body when she hit the stage floor as Shades effectively knocked her to the ground in order to allow his body to shield hers; and the impact to her soul as she heard two shots fired. Though she couldn’t see, she heard the screams and the chaos that ensued as people ran for safety.

If someone had shot a citizen, it would be devastating for the country.

If someone had shot Joseph, it would be devastating for her.

Feeling the protective weight of a body covering hers, she knew beyond all doubt that the men who had pledge their service to protecting her would feel the pain of molten lead and willingly sacrifice their lives for her.

To be honest, she had often questioned their willingness to do so. She was an individual, just like them. Why would her life demand such sacrifice? Long hours of thought in her older years had reminded her that she, too, had willingly sacrificed her life. Not for one, but for thousands. She had sacrificed her needs and put those of a country above hers for as long as she could remember. Joseph had once told her that his job was much easier than hers yet carried as much responsibility:

“I must protect the one in order to protect the thousands. If the people lost their Queen – lost you - neither they, nor I, would ever be the same again. I willingly sacrifice my life for their continued happiness and prosperity, just as you do – we just do it in different ways.”

Joseph had leapt from the stage and chased the gunman on foot. She had been able to maneuver enough under her protection to see the flash of black weaving through the crowd towards the area from which the commotion had originated. He had stopped just for a moment and looked back. His eyes had locked with hers and she felt his resolve. He was going to stop this person. No one threatened HIS Queen or HIS fellow countrymen. It was his duty.

Fear clutched her heart as she saw him disappear down the street as the chase gave way. The Royal Guard was only seconds behind him. Sensing the immediate danger to her was over, Shades allowed her to stand and escorted her behind the curtain again. Seconds later, Charlotte appeared with a frightened young woman at her side.

“Your Majesty, are you alright?”

She was distracted with thoughts of Joseph, but she forced herself to focus. “Yes, Charlotte, I may have a few bumps and bruises from Scott’s enthusiastic protection, but I will be fine.”

The young man blushed. He would have preferred for Joseph to cover the Queen while he made the chase, but protocol dictated that the more tenured guard apprehend any threat to the crown. Scott had known immediately what his role was and he would do it again with the same…enthusiasm as before. No way in hell was he going to explain to his boss how the Queen was injured on his watch. “It was necessary, Your Majesty.”

Clarisse patted him on the arm and offered a gentle smile. “And I thank you, Scott. You performed your duty exceptionally well.”

She turned her attention back to the young woman with Charlotte. She caught Charlotte’s eye and asked the question she felt improper to ask out loud during the circumstance: Who is this and why is she here?

“Your Majesty, May I introduce Anna Kristoff. She was the young woman in the crowd who tried to alert us regarding the danger.”

Clarisse remembered. “You kept calling out to me.”

The young girl came and knelt before Clarisse. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Please, please stand up. Tell me what happened.”

“Everyone was a little grumpier than usual due to the heat, but the man standing next to me seemed very agitated. He kept mumbling something about Parliament, policy and…” she hesitated.

Clarisse urged her on gently. “Go on…whatever it was, even if it was about me, please tell us.”

Anna looked into the Queen’s eyes and saw compassion and understanding. She nodded and continued. “An antiquated monarchy that wouldn’t understand progress if it bit them in the arse.”

Clarisse nodded. It was not the first time she had heard dissension over Genovia’s perceived lack of progress compared to the rest of the world. Perhaps it was something that she and Amelia could work on together.

“Anyway, I was about to tell him to move if he didn’t like it, when I saw the gun tucked in the waistband of his pants. I didn’t want to yell gun and cause panic, but I thought if I drew attention to myself, your security would come and then I could discreetly tell them as they removed me from the crowd so he could be subdued without incident.”

“That was very brave and smart of you, Anna.”

“But it didn’t work. Instead, when I started calling out to you, he panicked and pulled the gun out. When I heard those shots…I was so scared…”

The young girl started to tremble.

“Charlotte, please get Anna some…”



Clarisse pulled herself from the memories when she heard Joseph’s voice. He was awake and asking for a drink. She wiped the tears from her eyes and immediately poured him a small amount from the pitcher that had been left on his nightstand. She held his head up so he could sip from the straw. “Is that better?”

Joseph rested back against the pillows. “Yes, thank you.”

“How are you feeling?”

“All things considered, not bad.”

“You frightened me. I don’t think I have ever been so scared, Joseph.”

“It is my job, Clarisse. I do it willingly. I would trust no one else to protect you.”

“I understand. You must understand, though, from the moment you kissed me – things changed. Perhaps even before that. I became more than your boss. Your Queen thanks you for doing your duty. Your…” she hesitated, unsure of how to proceed.

“Girlfriend?” He offered, with a slight smile and tease.

Clarisse smiled brightly for the first time in hours. “That doesn’t seem to do it justice, but I am too tired to try to find a better way to say it. So, your girlfriend, experienced fear and trepidation as she waited to hear news of your safety.” She leaned forward and gently stroked his face again. She kissed his forehead, cheeks and then finally a gentle kiss to his lips. “I would be lost without you.” She whispered.

Joseph slipped his hand around her neck and pulled her close for another kiss, one that was emotionally charged as he sought to convey all that words could not. He could taste the saltiness of her tears, but he couldn’t stop. He had seen his life flash before his eyes when he followed the man off of the bridge and realized that the distance between him and the ground was entirely too far.

The pain had ripped through his body when the impact of a falling object, which happened to be his body, hit the unforgiving concrete. Shin splints and tiny stress fractures, that had been present in his legs due to years of training, were exacerbated by the brutal impact. His knees had taken damage as well as they bore the second brunt of the impact. His military training had served him well, though. As he rolled forward to absorb any remaining impact, he pointed his gun, aimed and fired. He was granted the satisfaction of seeing the assailant drop to the ground before the world around him faded to black.

Later he had been identified as a member of a very small extremist group that was disenchanted with all facets of leadership and progress in Genovia. What they lacked in numbers, they made up for with terror. They had been quiet for several months; but today’s actions would ensure that all law enforcement and military personnel would renew their efforts to find and eliminate them. Today they had stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest and they were going to get stung.

Clarisse returned his kiss with a fervor that understood that life was precious. Tears fell unashamedly as she felt his warm body under hers. He was alive! Fate had granted her a second chance – one which she prayed she would not squander. Reluctantly she pulled away. “The doctor will be here any minute to check on you. He was very understanding about my being here, but this may be pushing it.” She gave him a watery smile.

“Once he leaves, let me hold you? I need the affirmation and the comfort of your touch.”

Clarisse nodded her agreement. She worried about being seen but she couldn’t in good conscience deny him his request. As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. Clarisse moved back to her chair and wiped away her tears. “Come in.”

Dr. Weston entered with the ice packs and some more pain medicine. “I see our patient is awake, Your Majesty.”

“Yes, Doctor. A few minutes ago. I gave him some water.”

“How are you feeling, Joseph?”

“Other than the pain in my legs, I feel much better.”

“That’s to be expected. It will take a while for the pain to completely go away and you will need to be on bed rest for a while.”

Joseph started to interrupt, when Clarisse cut him off. “I will personally see to it, Doctor.” She cut Joseph a look that dared him to argue with her. “Please. Go on.”

“After that, you will need to change your workout routines to low impact. May I suggest swimming, elliptical and other similar equipment? And, finally, as I explained to the Queen, no more kneeling for you.” He smiled and winked at Clarisse.

“I can’t make any promises, Doctor, but I will take your recommendations under advisement.”

“Why am I not surprised?” The Doctor made a final adjustment to the ice packs and then left a two small cups on the table. “This one is for you, Joseph, more pain killers and an anti-inflammatory to help the healing process. This one is for you, Your Majesty. Just something to help you sleep; you’ve had quite a day as well.”

Two voices in unison answered, “Thank you, Doctor.”

“I will leave you until morning then. Should you need more pain medication in the night, just dial extension nine on your phone and will put your number on my pager. I should be here in less than ten minutes.”

“Understood. Thank you again, Doctor Weston.”

Moments later they were alone again. Clarisse assisted Joseph with taking his medicine and then carefully positioned herself next to him on the bed, her head on his shoulder while his arm held her close. Since she couldn’t really turn on her side up against him, she opted to hold the hand that was draped over her shoulder and chest with one hand and let the other rest on his thigh.

“I noticed you didn’t take the sleeping medicine the doctor left for you.”

She was quiet for several moments. “I thought it best not to take them.”

“You are afraid you won’t wake up in time and someone will find you here in my arms.”

“I wish it didn’t have to be that way. I am truly sorry that it does. There are times when the sacrifice seems too high – this would be one of them.”

Joseph knew it was difficult for her to admit. As much as he would love waking up with her in his arms, he knew it couldn’t be. He placed a gentle kiss to her temple. “You are here now. I appreciate your willingness to take even this risk. It demonstrates your care and concern in a very tangible way. I will never forget that.”

Her eyes closed at his tender, understanding words. Today he had been willing to sacrifice his life to protect the crown and tonight he was sacrificing his heart to protect her reputation. Words seemed to fail her and would seem trite in comparison to all that he had done today. She simply snuggled in closer and squeezed his hand. “Sleep well, Joseph.”

“Good night, Clarisse.”


Several hours later, Clarisse extricated herself gently from Joseph’s arms. She hated to leave him, but there were no suitable alternatives. If she were not in her bed in the morning, the maids would talk. Thinking back to her nightmare of several months ago, she knew she could not allow that to happen. She tucked the blankets around Joseph’s body and then kissed him softly on the lips. “I love you.” She whispered. She could not tell him just yet, but her quiet confession to his sleeping form made her spirit feel more at peace.

She gave one last look to the man who had come to mean the world to her. If anything were to ever happen to him, she knew with unwavering certainty that she could not go on. As she stepped through the small opening in the panel, her heart constricted.

Tonight, though she complied, the sacrifice to leave him seemed far too great and she had been anything but willing.


Chapter 24: Week between Christmas and New Year’s – Year 3

Scene: Celebrating Christmas with Amelia in Northern California at a resort and spa that has been reserved for the Royal Family’s use for the week between Christmas and New Year.

“The Deep End”

Joseph eased into the hot water, his muscles ached and the cold was affecting his knees making them hurt more than usual. One of the perks of this particular resort was the large hot tub that had been secured for Clarisse and her senior staff. As Clarisse was out shopping with Mia and Charlotte, with Shades and Lionel providing security, he was afforded a rare opportunity to indulge in this luxury.

The jets of warm water pulsed against his body, the rhythm and force providing a pseudo massage bringing welcome comfort to sore joints and tired limbs. As he relaxed, thoughts of a massage that Clarisse gave him last year flooded into his mind. The way her hands, delicate yet strong, moved against his skin relieving the tension there, yet creating a tension of another kind. He closed his eyes and allowed his mind to stay with the memory, reliving each moment in sharp detail.

His breathing had moved from shallow to deep, cleansing breaths in an effort to keep his emotions and responses under tight reign. Not only did he have to contend with her hands, but her lower body was so near his head that he couldn’t ignore the back and forth movements as her hands worked different areas of his back. The scent of her perfume permeated the room and aided in both his relaxation and his torment, giving new meaning to aromatherapy. When her fingers slipped just below the waistband of his trousers, he knew he had to stop her. “That’s much better, Clarisse…thank you.”

His eyes remained closed but, without a doubt, he sensed her presence in the room. He opened them just in time to see her robe drop to the tile floor. The black suit was a stark contrast to her creamy skin. A plunging vee neckline adorned the front while French cut bottoms directed his vision to the long, shapely legs. “Merde…” he whispered.

Clarisse was sore and exhausted. She had, against her better judgment, allowed Mia and Charlotte to convince her to traipse around the downtown area visiting all of the local shops for the after Christmas sales. They had definitely found some wonderful items, including a special gift she had purchased for Joseph. She had given him a standard gift as a member of her staff; but this was something far more personal. She hoped that she would be given the chance to give it to him while they were in this wonderful place far away from the prying eyes of her country and the discerning eyes of parliament.

Her hands untied the robe and moments later, the garment was falling in a whisper to the floor – but the whisper she heard sounded more like…”Joseph?”

“Clarisse.” He wasn’t entirely sure how he found his voice.

“I…I didn’t expect anyone to be here.”

“Neither did I.” He noticed the hesitant look on her face and decided to be chivalrous. “If my presence makes you uncomfortable…”

Realizing how foolish she was being, she quickly interrupted. “Don’t be silly – there is plenty of room for both of us. I’m sure the cold is affecting your muscles and joints as much as they are mine.”

Subconsciously he massaged his knees as he answered. “I’m afraid I can’t argue with you there.”

Guilt and grief washed over Clarisse as she lowered her head so he couldn’t see the emotions that she couldn’t hide quickly enough. She knew that protecting her that day had cost him so much both physically and emotionally. There is no way to make that up to a person, especially a person who meant as much to you as Joseph meant to her. Her hands trembled slightly as she held the rail and took the few steps necessary to lower herself into the warm water.

Joseph watched as she immersed herself in the swirling water. Once seated, her eyes closed and her head lolled back to rest on the padded railing around the hot tub. The graceful line of her neck was fully exposed and he couldn’t help but imagine his lips trailing along the freckled skin. The internal temperature of his body was rising to match the temperature of the water and his body stirred as he remembered exactly how soft her skin felt under his lips.

She didn’t move and her eyes remained closed, but she spoke softly. “How is your therapy progressing?”

“Slowly, but surely.”

“Dr. Weston is a highly capable physician.”

“Indeed he is. He is not responsible, however, for my physical therapy.”

Clarisse opened her eyes, traces of surprise coloring her features. “Oh? Who are you seeing?”

“Dr. Weston referred me to Dr. Amanda Adams. She has been very helpful but still believes that I will need replacements in the next year or so.”

“Because of…?”

Joseph realized immediately that she felt guilt over the situation. His body sliced efficiently through the few feet of water separating them and he sat down beside her. “No, Clarisse. Not because of my job protecting you. This is the cumulative effect of years of abuse on my joints, especially the knees. The incident that happened a few months ago just pushed the timeline along quicker.”

“So the answer is yes. You need to have knee replacement surgery within the next year because you protected me.”

“I did my job.”

“I feel very guilty. I wish there was something I could do.”

“Mandy is taking very good care of me.”

Clarisse sat up straighter, her eye brow raised inquisitively. “Mandy?”

Joseph gave her a half smile, baiting her slightly and enjoying the small spike of jealousy he just witnessed. “Dr. Adams I mean.”

“And what, pray tell, does Mandy do in order to take good care of you?”

Joseph let his foot slide up the side of Clarisse’s leg as he explained. “Well, she goes through different therapies with me designed to strengthen the muscles and improve my range of motion.” He demonstrated a couple of the exercises under the water to illustrate.

“Go on.”

“Once the exercise portion is done, she connects tiny electrodes around my knee cap and along my thigh and leg which provide electric stimuli to the muscles.”

“Is that painful?”

“No, not really, and the part that comes after is very nice.” He added the last part with a twinkle in his eyes.

Clarisse felt another surge of jealousy. She had to admit that it was both an unfamiliar and uncomfortable emotion. She had never truly had to experience jealousy before. Rupert and she had been betrothed at an early age and they both had honored their duty with unwavering commitment…so she had never had to worry. She worked hard to keep her voice light and even. “What comes after?”

“The massage.”

Clarisse sat up a bit straighter and turned towards him, her hand moving to his knee. Her voice was low and sultry. “Are her massages better than mine?”

Between her hand on his knee, her voice and the almost predatory look in her eyes, Joseph felt as though the air in the room was charged with a sexual tension that had been very subdued in their relationship lately. He had missed that aspect and had almost forgotten how formidable Clarisse could be when she took control in situations like this. He placed his hand over hers and moved it up to his mid thigh. “Perhaps you could refresh my memory as it has been a while?”

Clarisse glanced around the room. “Is our privacy guaranteed?”

“Only three keys.”

Calculating that both she and Joseph had a key…that left one more. “So no?”

“The Princess is the only other person who has a key besides you and me.”

“Amelia is busy reviewing her purchases and then calling her mother to check in.”

“Then our privacy is guaranteed.” Joseph’s heart beat sped up as Clarisse moved closer and her hand inched slowly up his thigh with each exchange between them. The passion burned in his blood as her mouth claimed his in a fiery kiss. His hand left hers to slip behind her back and pull her close.

Clarisse wanted to blame her reckless behavior on the thin air at the resort; but she knew it went far deeper than that. The sight of Joseph in only his black swim trunks had awakened impulses that she had been trying to bury beneath layers of fear and duty. Add to that the thought of another woman being able to touch him freely had vaulted her into action. She had missed him…had missed this.

Highly attuned to her body, he could feel the circular motions of her hand on his thigh as her tongue tasted and explored his mouth. His restraint was tenuous and he needed to know exactly how far she was willing to go with this. The kiss was broken and he panted. “Your touch is far better than anything else in this world.”

Her forehead rested against his. “Good to hear…I was afraid I had lost my touch.”

Clarisse felt his hands running up and down her arms; his breath hot against her skin. His next question sent quivers of pleasure to her core. “How far are you willing to avail yourself of this private moment we’ve been given?”

She moved closer and whispered. “I am feeling rather reckless tonight.”

She let out an uncustomary yelp as Joseph pulled her to sit on his lap. One hand rested on her hip to hold her steady while the other tangled in her short hair to pull her close for another kiss. Clarisse turned her body as much as her position allowed so she could hold his face with her hands to take control of the kiss.

The kiss deepened and they explored with an urgency that spoke of how precious this alone time was to both of them. Joseph couldn’t help the low moan of satisfaction that escaped as he felt her body pressed against his. Even though she was sitting sideways on his lap, the soft pillow of her breasts could be felt against his chest. Her tongue slid across his parted lips, slipping into the warm depths; his hold on her tightened further.

He wanted more.

She wanted more.

They broke apart, their breathing heavy and labored. “Clarisse…”

Understanding without any further words that they both wanted the same thing, she stood and then moved to straddle his lap, fully facing him, mere inches separating their upper bodies. “Joseph…” she whispered in return.

“Merde woman,” he replied as his lips sought the soft curve of her neck.


His hands slid up her thighs around to her bottom, cupping the fullness and sliding her even further into their intimate embrace. The water swirled around them adding to the chaos churning in their bodies. Joseph felt her hands gripping his shoulders, nails making impressions that would be a pleasant reminder later when he retired to his room for the night. Her soft, freckled curves were too close to resist and his lips sought the generous flesh…nipping and kissing.

Clarisse felt her desire increase ten-fold as her body straddled his. Never before had their bodies been intertwined in such a blatant mimicry of an act that they both had resolved to abstain from until they were free to love. Desire pooled low in her abdomen as she felt his aggressive touch on the swell of her breasts. Her back arched to encourage his touch even further and her lower body moved of its own accord, a response imprinted in her soul before the beginning of time. She could also feel, without a doubt, the response of his body – which excited and frightened her as she felt she was losing control as her body shifted into the dark, deep end of desire.

Joseph was most definitely in the deep end…he knew he was in over his head. What had started as playful was quickly turning into something far more dangerous…something that was quickly spiraling out of his control. He could feel Clarisse’s body moving seductively against his; the feel of her lips adorning the top of his head with kisses; her heart beating strongly in her chest; and shallow breaths escaping into the night air.

He needed control…

She needed control…

Suddenly...the water ceased its churning and fell silent, causing them to cease their activities.

“Joseph?” she whispered.

Once refocused, he realized what had happened. “The system is on a timer…it stops periodically to encourage people to get out thereby avoiding overheating.”

“I definitely feel...” she kissed him gently on the lips, “overheated.”

It was eerily quiet and he returned the whisper. “Me too.”

His hands rested on her waist, holding her close. He toyed with the idea of untying the knot behind her neck that would allow the top of her garment to fall away and provide for unrestricted access to her supple flesh. Instead, his hands skimmed upwards, the thumbs grazing over the sensitized tips before slipping below the fabric to directly caress and tease.

A low moan escaped from Clarisse’s lips at his brazen touch as the pad of his thumbs made the arousal in her body almost unbearable. She gasped as his fingers replaced his thumb under her suit, caressing and inflaming her even further.

“I want you so badly, Clarisse. You make me lose whatever self-control I can muster and the thought of making love with you fills me with an unquenchable thirst.”

“Waiting is much harder than I ever imagined. When you touch me like this…” her hands covered his, separated only by the thin material of her suit. “I can think of nothing else but being with you.”

“I must confess that I don’t know how I can wait another year and a half.” Passion linked their blue eyes together, adding to the significance of the moment.

“We are resourceful…we will figure something out.”

Joseph wasn’t sure if that meant she was agreeable to shortening the moratorium on their lovemaking or not and he hated to ask…he would much rather believe there was hope for a quicker time frame. “Kiss me.”

Clarisse lifted her hands to cup his face and her lips sought his – tasting and teasing, seeking the forbidden fruit of unrestrained passion. Her tongue traced along the fullness of his silky mouth, their heartbeats pounded as they resumed the tantalizing dance they had started earlier. The combined temperature of the water and the rising desire was heating her to a boiling point that thrilled her and made her consider that waiting might not be such a good idea after all.

A loud crash outside the door followed by laughter was tantamount to ice water being heaped on the raging fire they had been building. Clarisse felt bereft as Joseph quickly pulled his hands from under her suit…she knew they had to hasten out of their compromising position as she was certain the voices on the other side of the door were her trusted aide and her granddaughter.

“You stay here.”

“But, Joseph…”

“Stay.” He reluctantly and carefully lifted her off of his lap and placed her back into a seated position. He couldn’t resist the temptation to drop a quick kiss in the curve of her neck, enjoying the slight hum of pleasure in her response. He took the steps, inwardly upset that he couldn’t just hop out like he used to in his younger days. His knees had felt very good in the warm water, though, and he didn’t want to undo all the good the whirlpool had done.

Just as he donned his robe and sat down, Mia and Charlotte came through the door. “I can’t believe you dropped the ice bucket, Princess.” Charlotte teased.

“Well perhaps if you hadn’t pointed out the handsome young attendant making his way down the corridor, I wouldn’t have been distracted.”

“Perhaps if you had allowed me to hold the ice bucket while you tried to unlock the door…” Charlotte stopped teasing and fell silent as she finally noticed they weren’t alone. “Your Majesty, Joseph…I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” Clarisse asked, willing her voice to sound normal. Her arms were crossed loosely in front of her body in an effort to hide any residual responses to Joseph’s caresses.

Charlotte glanced nervously at Mia, wondering if her bantering with the young woman would be considered inappropriate by the Queen. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“Tosh – I was getting ready to get out before I turn into a prune. It seems this amenity is very popular as I interrupted Joseph earlier.” She interjected, hoping to explain his presence.

Sensing what she was trying to do, Joseph continued. “I was just about finished anyway with my therapy; but decided I would provide security for Her Majesty.”

“But he wouldn’t remain in the water with me, claiming it would be…inappropriate.” She cut Joseph a small glance and, as a result, missed the exchange between Mia and Charlotte.

“Well, we wouldn’t have told, Gramma. Would we, Charlotte?” Mia grinned.

“Of course not, Princess.” Charlotte seemed shocked that it would even be suggested.

“Well, I…we appreciate that. However, it isn’t necessary.” Clarisse stood slowly and moved to the steps of the hot tub. “Joseph, might you provide me some assistance?”

Joseph extended his hand and watched, transfixed as Clarisse’s body emerged. Droplets of water slid over her curves and disappeared under the black fabric that provided a striking contrast on her creamy skin. He had to bite his tongue to keep from sharing his appreciation for the vision she presented.

Clarisse felt the heat from Joseph’s stare and a warm sensation infused her as she remembered their passionate kisses and intimate embrace. She fought to control her breathing as she slipped into her robe. She smiled brightly to cover her emotions. “Thank you, Joseph.”

He merely nodded as he was certain his voice would not cooperate at the moment.

“Amelia, Charlotte…don’t stay in too long. I hear that over exposure to the heat can cause serious health problems.” She warned with a stern glance.

Mia wasn’t fazed and smiled. “Well it certainly seems to have done wonders for you and Joe.”

Charlotte covered her mouth pretending to cough in order to stifle a giggle while Clarisse opened her mouth to offer a smart retort. Feeling Joseph’s hand softly on the small of her back, she decided she would not deign Mia’s sassy behavior with a response. “Good night, ladies.”

“Good night, Your Majesty.”

“Good night, Gramma.”

Mia watched as her grandmother accepted Joseph’s arm in escort. As soon as the door closed behind them, she whistled. “Well, the heat in here isn’t just from the hot tub.”

“Princess!” Charlotte admonished.

“Don’t Princess me, Charlotte. You saw it too – don’t even try to deny it. There’s something going on between Grandma and Joe.”

“They are best friends.”

“With benefits, I bet.”

“You would lose that bet, I’m afraid.”

“Come on, Charlotte…this isn’t the sixteenth century. I know what I saw and there were sparks flying between them.”

“Just because there are sparks, doesn’t mean that they have acted on their attraction.”

“Shut up! What would stop them? She’s not married…he’s not married.”

“She is the Queen.”


“And…Parliament along with some people in Genovia subscribe to very old fashioned rules about the monarchy and with whom they should be allowed to, shall we say, fraternize.”

“That sucks, Charlotte.”

“Yes, Princess…it does.”

Both were silent for a few moments, allowing the bubbling water to absorb their thoughts. Finally, Amelia spoke. “Well I know one thing for sure.”

“What’s that Princess?”

“Neither Parliament nor anyone else is ever going to tell me with whom I can and can’t marry or fall in love. I’m going to have my fairytale ending…” she looked at Charlotte with decidedly less determination than her words conveyed.

“I hope you’re right, Princess. I hope you’re right.”


Chapter 25: Scene: Spring – Year 4: Waiting

Waiting: to remain inactive or in a state of repose, as until something expected happens


Clarisse stood looking out the window. Below her the earth was coming back to life as spring flourished throughout the land of Genovia. There was still a chill in the air, evidenced by the glass fogging up each time she exhaled. She was alone as she waited. It had been her choice. Generally she enjoyed the alone time…it was a precious and rare treat for her. Today, though, it left an ache in her heart that reminded her of how lonely her life truly was. There were precious few people that were close to her…only a couple she considered true friends. One of her friends was filling in and managing things in her absence. The other…well, the other was the reason for her waiting.

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear to keep from wringing her hands. Generally she was very patient and very good at waiting. Her mother had taught her the importance of waiting and it had served her well over the course of her life. Today, though, there seemed more at stake to her personally than there ever had been before. It was a critical day and despite all of the power afforded her by the Crown of Genovia, she was powerless to do anything but wait.

With nothing to do but think…she let her thoughts wander. She forced her mind to take herself back to a pleasant memory…

Three months ago…the night before the Royal family left the resort in Northern California

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Joseph. I know you had other options for this evening.”

“Let’s see…darts and drinking with the guys or a night cap with a beautiful woman. It really wasn’t a difficult decision.”

Clarisse smiled and offered him the glass of brandy. She raised her glass to offer a toast. “To the continued prosperity of Genovia and to the start of year four.”

Joseph clinked his glass with hers and took a long sip before asking, “Start of year four?”

“Well, we have made it through three years and now we embark upon year four.”

Joseph wanted to follow her logic and generally he knew what she meant…but either it was the brandy or her attire that was distracting him.

“There are five years between the time Amelia accepted her role as Princess and when she will be eligible to become Queen. We are now entering year four. Once she takes the throne in year five…”

Joseph smiled as recognition dawned. “Then you will be free to step down and pursue your own personal agenda.”


“I’ll toast to that!” He raised his glass again. “To the start of year four.”

They enjoyed their brandy in front of a roaring fire, Clarisse snuggled into his embrace. “You look absolutely breathtaking in that crème cashmere sweater. It’s as soft as you are.” He spoke the words as he nuzzled her neck.

“Mmmm…this is very nice, Joseph. As much as I hate to leave your embrace, I have something I would like to give you.”

Joseph watched as she stood and retrieved a small, wrapped box from a drawer in her desk. His hand held hers for an extra moment as she handed it to him. “Thank you.”

“You haven’t even opened it yet.”

“If you picked it out, I know I will like it.”

Her smile lit up the room and her excitement showed through. “Please…just open it.”

Joseph carefully unwrapped the festive gold paper and opened the black velvet box. Inside was an exquisite pair of cufflinks. The opals were a creamy white and they were framed by black onyx. “They are beautiful, Clarisse.”

“They reminded me of us.”

“The opal, your birthstone and a beautiful reminder of that beautiful, creamy skin of yours.” He reached out and stroked her cheek.

“And the black onyx representing you and your strength, surrounding me at all times.”

“It’s perfect.”

“It’s you.”

“Thank you.”


Clarisse wiped away the tears that had slipped unbidden down her cheek. It had been such a happy time – a time away from all of their responsibilities and the prying eyes of parliament. If only life could be that simple all of the time. But of course, life had gone on and they had returned to Genovia and back to the roles and responsibilities that awaited them there.

Things had gone along quite smoothly for awhile. No major political issues and her personal life had been progressing as well. Besides their weekly “meetings”, they had found time to walk together or go for a drive now and then when the weather and schedules permitted.

A few weeks ago…that had all changed…


“Your Majesty! Your Majesty!” Charlotte hastened into the office, remembering that one did not run but rather hastened.

“What is it, Charlotte? You seem very upset.” Clarisse was alarmed by the look on Charlotte’s face. “Is it Amelia?”

“No, Your Majesty. It’s Joseph.”

The color drained from Clarisse’s face and she fought to keep her calm. Where was Joseph today? Her mind raced for the answer to give her some clue as to what could have possibly happened. Before she could reach that place in her mind, Charlotte interrupted.

“He’s at the hospital. He was hurt during the training of the new guards.”

Clarisse stood and began issuing orders. “Get my coat, Charlotte. Call for a car. Take your phone so you can clear my schedule for the afternoon on our way to the hospital.”

Thankful to feel useful rather than the bearer of bad news, Charlotte quickly complied. Within thirty minutes, the Queen of Genovia was escorted into the hospital to the private room that had been established for her Head of Security.

She motioned for the others to wait outside and she moved to his bedside. Taking his hand, she whispered. “Joseph? Are you alright? What happened?”

Joseph squeezed her hand to reassure her. “It wasn’t necessary for you to come, Clarisse. I am fine.”

“Tosh! Don’t start with me, Joseph. Of course, I would come. You are a….” she looked around to see if anyone was within hearing range. Just to be safe she added, “a valuable employee and,” she whispered, “a dear friend.”

“Thank you, my love.” He whispered in return.

“What happened?” She inquired again.

“It’s rather embarrassing actually. I was helping Shades with the training and conditioning of the new guards. Shades usually handles the more intense conditioning, including the obstacle course and hurdles.”

Clarisse gasped and covered her mouth. “Joseph! Tell me you didn’t?!”

“I did.”

“What were you thinking?”

Joseph chuckled. “Apparently I wasn’t…either that or my ego got in the way of my better judgment. Either way, it was stupid.”

“So where does it hurt?” She smiled gently.

He returned the smile with a bit of a twinkle in his eye. “Are you offering to kiss my boo-boos?”


The small chuckles were a welcome reprieve from the stress of the last hour. “It’s my knees.”

“Oh no. What did the doctor say?”

“He said the replacements will have to come sooner than later.”

“How much sooner?”

“Within a couple of weeks. He wanted to do it even sooner, but I insisted that arrangements needed to be made.”

“Of course. I will have Charlotte clear any meetings or events that require travel. I’m certainly not going out of country without my head of security.” She squeezed his hand to imply there was more to her words than simply what she said.

“I will work with Shades to make sure the rotation is set and he will be primary for you until I am back on active duty.”

“You will recover in the infirmary at the palace until such time as you can move back to your suite.”

“Sounds good. I hate hospitals. And,” he lowered his voice again. “I will remain hopeful that my own personal Florence Nightingale will attend to me once I return to my suite.”

“One can always remain hopeful.” She replied, a gleam of mischief in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Clarisse.”

“Whatever for?”

“Causing so much trouble.”

“I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it up to me.”

“You can count on that.”


The first week or so had gone by without too much trouble, Clarisse recalled. Everyone was very busy making the necessary arrangements and ensuring that the security detail was ready to perform in Joseph’s absence. He had insisted he would still be available after the first couple of days, just not physically present.

With no activities left to do, Joseph only had time to think. Clarisse began to see a change in him three days before the surgery was scheduled. He had become increasingly agitated and short with the staff and even her. Everyone had tried to be patient as they knew he was worried about the surgery, but would never admit it to anyone.

Yesterday had been…interesting…to say the least. Clarisse hugged herself and let a fresh stream of tears escape as she took herself back…

Night before the surgery:

Clarisse sat on her sofa, staring at nothing. Today had been a very bad day and she had been helpless to either stop it or to make it better. Joseph had been cranky and unreasonable for days now and today was the worst. She understood the reason for his crankiness…but it had taken its toll on the entire staff…and today, especially, on her.

The knock on her door came as a surprise as the hour was very late. She sat up and straightened herself before answering. “Come in.”

She should have known it would be him. He was the only one, besides perhaps Charlotte, that would dare knock on her door this late at night. He was also the only one that could get by security after ten as well.

Joseph watched her as she acknowledged that it was him. His heart lurched as she didn’t say anything but rather turned back to her original position on the couch and stared forward. He was right; she was annoyed. He decided he had nothing to lose tonight, so he sat on the coffee table right in front of her. “I came to apologize.”

“Am I the last stop on your list? As I recall you were rather…difficult…with many of my staff today.”

“I spoke with Charlotte and my security team. The maids were already in bed. I left notes with Charlotte for them.”

“So I am the last then.”

He rubbed his face tiredly. “I figured I had the most to apologize to you about, so yes…I waited until the end.”

“There’s no need to apologize…I’m certain you are very…unsettled right now.”

He laughed, a bitter tinge to the normal jovial sound. “Unsettled doesn’t begin to describe it.”

Her compassion and love for the man sitting in front of her won out over her annoyance. She moved forward and placed her hands on his. “Joseph…please just tell me.”

Joseph lifted their joined hands to his cheeks. “I fear there are things…unfinished in my life. Things that I want to experience before I die.”

Clarisse’s breath caught in her throat. She could easily surmise that at least some of those things had to do with her. She cleared her throat and spoke in her best authoritative voice. “You listen to me, Joseph Romero. You are NOT going to die.”

Joseph stood, abruptly pulling his hands away from hers, anger coloring his face and his words. “Don’t do this, Clarisse. Don’t ignore the reality staring us in the face. Don’t do to me what you did to Rupert.”

The color drained from Clarisse’s face as she heard his words. She knew he was upset. But this…this was striking below the belt. Before she could respond, he started in again.

“I know you refused to accept that he was ill, that he was going to die. Instead of attending to his final wishes, you refused to accept that anything had changed. As a result, his death traumatized you far worse than it would have if you had dealt with the emotion and started the grieving process while he was still here to help you through it. That’s all he wanted…”

Clarisse was numb. How could he say these things to her? How would he have known? She finally found a whisper in her voice. “What do you want from me, Joseph? What is it you want?”

“I want you to realize that our time is precious. I want you, for just one night, to not let the stodgy members of parliament or the over critical citizens of Genovia dictate who you love and what you do with that love.”

She knew what he meant…what he wanted. “Joseph…this surgery is not life-threatening…you are going to be fine – even better.”

“Or there could be a complication and I could die.”

“I don’t know what to say…”

Joseph sighed, realizing his words had fallen on a hardened or perhaps duty bound heart. He walked over to her and pulled her into an embrace. He could feel her heart pounding and knew he had upset her. It hadn’t been his intention; he had hoped for a much better outcome to the evening. He should have known better. He framed her face with his hands and his lips met hers in a gentle kiss that was filled with all of the love he had in his heart for her. Reluctantly he pulled away. “I love you, Clarisse. Regardless what happens tomorrow, I will love you for now and always. I have only truly loved two women in my life and it seems fate has destined that neither would be free to love me.” He kissed her forehead and walked away so he wouldn’t see the tears running down her face.

Clarisse had sat, motionless, for at least an hour – she couldn’t’ be sure as time had lost meaning for her that night. Finally, she stood. Her decision was made. She went to her bedroom and changed then made a stop at the bathroom to wash her face. Her emotions were jumbled and the numbness of his attack had worn off. Her own personal demons would be dealt with later. Tonight. Tonight was for Joseph.


He heard the door of the private entrance open, but he made no move to turn towards the sound. She had probably come to fire him – or worse…tell him it was over between them. He wouldn’t blame her. He had said things that one should not say to their worst enemy…much less your best friend. His back was to her and he remained motionless. His breath caught as he felt her slip into the bed; her body spooning against his; her arm draping protectively over his chest; her breath on his neck; and, the softness of silk against his bare back.

The room was still, save the deep breathing of the two occupants.

His breath caught when he felt the softness of her lips raining kisses along his neck and back. “Clarisse…please…stop.” His voice was hoarse with emotion.

“I believe I was invited to share your bed tonight. Was I not?”

He turned in her embrace and his words were stopped as he took in the vision before him. The full moon bathed the king size bed in a softness that washed across her body in an ethereal stroke of light. The black silk and lace framed her breasts in a sensual and alluring manner. “Merde” he whispered.

Clarisse closed her eyes as she felt him slowly surveying her body. Her breath hitched as she felt his fingertips gently tracing her face, down the curve of her neck and over the swell of her breasts where he traced small, invisible patterns above and around the bodice of her gown. She felt his lips feather across hers in an airy kiss that made her body crave more. Her lips parted and she lifted her head in an effort to deepen the kiss. Perhaps the timing was not what they had discussed, but circumstances had changed.

Tomorrow…everything could change. She had tonight. They had tonight. Waiting was no longer an option.


Clarisse was brought from her thoughts by a gentle knock on the door. “Just a moment.” She made an effort to wipe the tear stains that she was sure now resided on her cheeks. She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “Come in.”

Shades opened the door quietly. “I brought some lunch, your Majesty. I also checked with the nurses. They said that the doctor has completed one replacement and they are starting on the other. So far – so good.”

Clarisse let out a small sigh of relief and offered the young man a small smile. “Thank you, Scott, for the information. I think I will pass on lunch right now. My stomach is not feeling very hungry at the moment.”

“Ma’am, you know he would want you to eat something…to keep your strength up. How about if I just set it on the table and you can pick at it?”

Realizing it would be easier to agree rather than take a stand, she simply nodded.

After setting the tray down, he returned to the door. “I will be right outside, your Majesty, if you need anything.”

“Thank you. I will be fine once he is fine.” She turned and looked out the window, not wanting any further conversation. She just wanted to be alone with her thoughts.



Her hands held Joseph’s head and pulled him into a deeper kiss. All of their emotions were just below the surface and she was having a hard time controlling them. If she lost him…what would she do? She couldn’t prevent the small trickle of tears that escaped from her tightly closed eyelids.

Joseph was in turmoil. He wanted her so badly it hurt and the thought of never experiencing this with her had been tormenting him since learning about the impending surgery. Tonight he could allow no other thoughts in his mind…no other thoughts but her. She was here. She loved him. She wanted him. That was enough, wasn’t it?

Clarisse felt his hand move lower and slip under the silk to cup her breast as the kiss deepened. His fingers caressed and teased, driving them deeper into the abyss of pleasure. When he rolled the tip between his fingers and squeezed lightly, she couldn’t prevent the gasp that escaped as she broke off the kiss. She could feel his hardness against her thigh and knew this wouldn’t take long. They both had waited…and now they couldn’t wait any longer.

Joseph opened his eyes when she broke away from the kiss. He saw that the tears on her face mirrored his. The emotions were just too much to keep contained. Despite the tears, her face was a picture of desire: eyes closed, head thrown back, lips parted, deep breaths causing her chest to rise and fall. He needed her – needed to make them as one. He let his hand drift lower, slowly raising the hem of her gown until his fingers were able to comb through the soft curls.

The loss Clarisse felt when Joseph removed his hand from her breast didn’t compare with the heat she felt rush through her body when his fingers quested lower and sought to explore her most private sanctum.

Pure instinct, driven by their love and their fears guided them. Legs parted, touches became bolder, breaths became more labored, bodies were prepared.

Joseph felt her body pressed against his as they became one flesh. Her nails were solidly imbedded in his back and she held him close. This went beyond physical…this was an emotional bonding that circumstances had demanded and they had acquiesced. Neither moved as their bodies adjusted. Joseph could feel the tightness of her body, both within and without – it was as though she was holding him as close as possible. He could wait no longer…

She felt him slowly start to move, a primitive yet perfect dance that could connect people on multiple levels: mind, body and soul. Tonight, for Clarisse and Joseph, it was about the soul and meeting the needs that were held in the deepest recesses of their bodies. Heart rates accelerated and breaths became gasps as the tension climbed higher. In a final determining moment, everything stopped as the universe waited…

They fell over the edge together and for one moment in time, they existed as one in the universe; sharing all that they were with each other. Slowly they came back to earth and back to reality.

Clarisse kissed him and whispered. “I love you.”

“And I love you.”

“I should go.”

“I suppose you must.”


Fearing her legs could no longer hold her, Clarisse moved to sit in one of the recliners. She had such mixed emotions about last night. She had wanted their first time together to be a celebration of their love, not a necessity borne from fear and guilt. It had been beautiful, but in a sad way. She couldn’t say that she regretted her actions; but she honestly had no idea the effect it would have on their relationship.

She hadn’t been able to see Joseph this morning. He had to be at the hospital very early and she had no choice but to attend to a few pressing matters before she could steal away to be here. Charlotte was handling the phones and any minor things that arose and had promised to contact Shades if anything came up that required the Queen’s attention. He had left a rose next to her pillow; but she hadn’t heard him come in. It had taken her hours to fall asleep once she returned to her room. She must have succumbed to exhaustion just before he arrived.

Deciding to be less than queen-like, she slipped off her shoes and curled up in the recliner and closed her eyes. She prayed for Joseph and then prayed for sleep to come.


“Your Majesty?” Charlotte jostled her Queen slightly, trying to wake her. “Your Majesty.”

Clarisse heard her title being called and she awoke with a start. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Charlotte put her hands on her arms to both calm and steady her. “Nothing’s wrong, ma’am; he’s awake and asking for you.”

“Oh…good – thank you. I must have fallen asleep.”

“You needed the rest.”

“How long have you been here?”

“About an hour.”

“Everything is handled at the Palace.”

“Yes ma’am – the country did not self destruct in your absence.” Charlotte teased gently with a smile.

Dear Charlotte…always knew how to make her smile. “Thank you, dear. You are a most valued employee and,” she touched her arm, “an even more dear friend. I won’t forget this.”

Charlotte blushed at the compliment. “I’m glad I could help.”

Clarisse slowly stood, slipping her shoes back on. She stretched, endeavoring to get the kinks out and straighten her body from the unusual position she had forced it in. “I’m going to freshen up and then would you take me to him?”

“Yes ma’am.”


Clarisse stood in the bathroom, having done what she could to fix the damage her minimal sleep and unending tears had done to her face. Her heart felt lighter; he HAD survived. Now they would need to figure out what their eleventh hour actions had done to their relationship…


Clarisse covered her mouth to hide the gasp that escaped unaware from her throat when she saw Joseph. He seemed very pale and there were numerous tubes and wires attached to various parts of his body. His knees were propped up on pillows and were wrapped with gauze and ace bandages. “Joseph…” she whispered.

Hearing her voice, he opened his eyes. She was definitely a sight for sore eyes…and knees. “Hello beautiful.”

She smiled. “Liar.”

“No it’s true. Yours was the face I saw in my sleep and it was yours I wanted to see when I woke.”

She moved to sit beside him and took his hand. “I must say, sir, that you’ve looked better.”

He laughed, immediately regretting it as it caused pain to shoot through his legs. “You should see the other guy.” He grimaced.

She took his hand and lifted it to her lips, gently kissing him. “I’m so grateful you are alright. Of course, I did predict as much.” She teased slightly, trying not to bring up the events of the prior evening. “I know the recovery will be difficult, but you take as much time as you need.”

“Clarisse.” His voice turned serious.


“Forgive me?”

“For what?” Her heart started to pound in her chest and she consciously tried not to squeeze his hand in response.

“For the things I said to you last night.”

“You were distraught.”

“That’s no excuse.”

“I’m still processing things, Joseph. You don’t need my forgiveness; but I need to think about some of the things you accused me of to determine if there was truth in them or if they were…” She searched for the right words.

He supplied them. “If they were just the words of an angry man who wasn’t getting what he wanted?”

The words sounded harsh, but were true. “Ah, but you did get what you wanted.”

Guilt flooded over Joseph’s features. “I had hoped it was what you wanted too.”

Clarisse closed her eyes briefly; she didn’t want to have this discussion right now. This was a time to be happy that the surgery had been successful, not replay actions that could not be changed. “I wanted it too.”

“But…” he challenged.

This time her eyes flashed. How dare he? She fought to keep her tone even. “But, I must be honest and admit that the circumstances were far from what I had imagined they would be like the first time we made love.”


Chapter 26: June of Year 4

Charlotte opened the door to her suite, wondering who it could be at this time in the evening. As soon as the door opened, she was enveloped in a hug.

“Charlotte! It’s sooo good to see you.” Amelia exclaimed.

“Princess – it’s good to see you to.” Charlotte smiled. She and the Princess had formed a friendship of sorts over the past few years. She surmised it was because she was closer to her in age than most others at the Palace and that she could share things about her Grandmother with Charlotte, knowing it would be kept in the strictest confidence. She had also told her once too that, besides Joseph, no one knew her grandma like Charlotte did.

“OK if I come in and visit for a bit? I know it’s late, but I’m still wired from the trip.”


“Oh Shades said he needed to speak with you for just a moment.” Mia gestured to the man standing quietly just to Mia’s right.

“Just have a seat and I’ll be right in Princess. There’s some tea I just brewed on the table. Please help yourself.”

Mia smiled her thanks and went in while Charlotte stepped out.

“Welcome home.” She whispered, casting a glance each way to make sure no one else was lurking in the hall.

“I missed you.” He lifted his hand to cup her cheek.

Charlotte’s eyes closed at the gentle gesture. She had seen Joseph touch the Queen in such a manner and now understood how it must make her feel. “I missed you as well.”

“Did things improve any while I was gone?” He asked as he continued to caress her cheek with his thumb as his hand slid further into her hair.

“Not really. They are communicating, but there’s an underlying strain between them. I’m still not sure why. She won’t say anything, despite my gentle prodding.”

Shades stepped forward a bit, letting his other hand go to her waist. “Perhaps it’s time you pushed a little harder.”

Charlotte’s heart was pounding and her breath seemed to escape her. “Easy for you to say. You won’t be the one who will get her glare should she feel I’ve stuck my nose where it didn’t belong.”

“You’ll think of a way.” He smiled before kissing her gently.

Mia had walked back to the door, which was still open partway, to ask Charlotte if she had any more sugar, but stopped in her tracks as she witnessed Shades making a move on her and Charlotte letting him. Their words were whispered, but it sounded like they were talking about her Grandmother. Perhaps they noticed the same thing she had when she saw Joe and her Gramma together upon her arrival. Something was going on. She stepped back to give them a few minutes of privacy. Apparently the only way to have a relationship in the palace was to sneak around. She would have to keep that in mind for the future. Mia sat on the couch, sipping her not quite sweet enough tea and waited for Charlotte. If anyone knew what was going on between Joe and Gramma, it would be Charlotte.


Clarisse sipped on her tea, willing it to clear her mind and allow her to focus on all of the things she needed to accomplish with Amelia during her visit this summer. Only one more year to groom her into the Queen she needed to be in order for the people of Genovia to accept her. She definitely had a heart for the people, but due to her schooling, she had not been able to spend a lot of time in Genovia. Clarisse worried that could come back to haunt them in the near future.

Speaking of the future, she couldn’t help but wonder where her future with Joseph stood. Just six months ago, they were excited about the prospect of beginning year 4, and now things seemed more unsettled than ever. It was difficult to describe their relationship; it had never been normal and now seemed even more out of sorts. It had certainly cooled off physically, but regardless of the events of that one evening, that would have happened due to the necessary recovery time. His recovery had to be first and foremost. She needed him standing by her side, both personally and professionally.

Many things had been left unsaid that afternoon in the hospital room. Joseph was too tired and still feeling the effects of the medication to truly discuss what had happened…

At the hospital, after the surgery

“But, I must be honest and admit that the circumstances were far from what I had imagined they would be like the first time we made love.”

“I promise to make that up to you, Clarisse.” He had smiled weakly. “I know I can do better.”

Realizing that he was in no shape to have this conversation right now, despite his intentions, she leaned over and kissed his forehead. “We both could have done better, my love. Now rest and we’ll deal with all of this later. Agreed?”

His eyes closed and he whispered, “Agreed” right before he slipped into a drug induced sleep.

Clarisse caressed his cheek and then sat by his bedside, holding his hand, allowing the tears to fall yet again.


After he came home from the hospital, he had been focused on getting better and she on running the country. At least during the day that was her focus. At night she continued to be haunted by Joseph’s words to her about the way she had handled things with Rupert before he died. She had gone round and round in her mind, looking at things from all angles. Two months ago, he had confronted her during her daily visit to his room after work.


“Exactly how long are you going to punish our relationship?”

“Exactly how am I ‘punishing’ us as you so eloquently put it?”

“Things aren’t the same between us anymore and haven’t been since…”

“Since the night we made love.” She finished for him.

Joseph rubbed his face and wished that he could pace to relieve some of his nervous energy. “Since the night you comforted me, giving the beautiful gift of yourself, and alleviated my fears. Why can’t you accept it for what it was and let us move forward?”

“What it was…was emotional blackmail.” She answered quietly.

“Those are harsh words, Clarisse.” He was stunned by her words, knowing she would never speak them lightly.

Clarisse was thankful that she was able to pace. She stood and began walking around his room, careful not to bump the bed so as to avoid causing him any further pain. “I have given a great deal of thought to what you said about the way I handled things with Rupert.”


“Please let me finish.”

He closed his mouth and nodded for her to continue.

“After much thought, I decided that even if I had done what you suggested, the result would have been the same.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is that with Rupert, I refused to give into fear and remained adamant that he could pull through. He never asked me directly for what he wanted, but he certainly gave me ample opportunities. I refused to let guilt or fear make me tell him the words I’m sure he wanted to hear before he died.”

Joseph thought he knew what those words were, but kept quiet to see if she would speak them.

Clarisse sat down in the chair, emotionally exhausted. No tears fell, but her voice communicated a fact that she had come to terms with and accepted as truth. “I couldn’t tell him I loved him, because I didn’t…not as a wife should love a husband. You were right, that was all he wanted from me. Our relationship was harmed and things were never the same. I had to live with that guilt and loneliness for years. While I am not as lonely anymore, the guilt has never faded.”

She looked up at Joseph, seeing love and concern in his eyes as she admitted to him what she had never said out loud to another living soul. The room remained quiet for several minutes until she broke eye contact and continued.

“One month ago, I was faced with the same emotional dilemma. I knew what you wanted and I knew it was fear that was motivating you.”

He had to interrupt here. “It was more than that, Clarisse. I love you and wanted to make love to you and had for years. There was no secret in that fact.”

She nodded and continued as though he hadn’t said anything. “I was faced with a choice: give into fear and let guilt alter the natural course of our relationship – the course we had both agreed on or refuse and live with the overwhelming guilt and loneliness that would have plagued me should your fears have been realized and you…” She couldn’t say the word.

“Clarisse…” he reached out and took her hand, trying to offer comfort and support.

“So this time, I decided to not risk overwhelming guilt and loneliness. Thankfully there were no complications and our worst fears were not realized. But now, I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness that our first time together was not what it should have…what it could have been. And, the worst part is that I can’t rid my mind of the feeling that you took the knowledge you had about my past with Rupert and used that to effectively blackmail me.”


Clarisse visibly shuddered as she brought herself back to the present. Her heart felt heavy as she knew she hadn’t given him an opportunity to respond. The look on his face, however, had spoken volumes. Awareness filled his eyes followed by deep remorse; he had taken her hand and just slowly shook his head as a tear slipped out. She inhaled slowly and then exhaled, forcing herself back to the tasks at hand. There would be more time for retrospect later when sleep failed her…as it often did these days.


Recovery had taken longer than he had anticipated. Dr. Adams…Mandy, his physical therapist, had assured him that he was progressing ahead of pace, but he was discontent. He hated being dependent on others for help. It was not in his nature to be dependent. From the time he left Puerto Rico at a tender, young age to his not so young age in his late fifties, he had taken care of himself. These past few months had been torture on him both physically and emotionally. To say things had been strained between he and Clarisse was putting it mildly.

Things were at their worst about a month after he came home from the hospital. Once Clarisse decided to be forthright, she could be downright brutal. She did it with such a calm resignation, though, that it took away your ability to fight back. You couldn’t yell at someone who was quietly sharing her perspective with you. She had called a spade a spade and he couldn’t remember feeling worse than he did at that moment in time. He hadn’t been able to find the words while she sat in front of him to adequately justify his actions…not that there were any that she wanted to hear at that moment anyway.

He knew all hope was not lost, though. Despite her harsh words to him, she continued to visit him every evening. Often times they would watch television or read in companionable silence. He couldn’t be certain why she still came, especially if she was that hurt or angered by his actions; but he held fast to the fact that she DID still come. Two weeks later, he had finally worked up the nerve to broach the subject with her again…


“Good evening, Clarisse.”

“Good evening, Joseph. How are you feeling today?”

“A little better each day. Here, I have something for you.” He reached under the covers to pull out a peace rose. He watched in fascination as she closed her eyes and inhaled the scent.

“Joseph, this is beautiful. Thank you…but how?”

“Dr. Adams provided a little assistance. After my therapy, I asked her to wheel me over the gardens so I could select the perfect one for you.”

“Joseph! What if she…” Alarm was clearly coloring her features.

He reached out to touch her hand to reassure her. “Relax, Clarisse. I told her I felt bad that I was still out of commission and how much you love roses. She thought it was a thoughtful gesture and didn’t even hint that she suspected anything romantic – just long term friendship.”

Clarisse relaxed visibly, realizing his explanation was plausible. “I’m sorry…old habits.”

“I understand, Clarisse. You are in a precarious position and you have to be careful. I would never do anything to jeopardize that…ever.”

He clasped her hand tighter. “I selected a peace rose because I have given a lot of thought to what you said a couple weeks ago.”

“Oh?” She had thought the subject taboo as they had not spoken of it since that night.

“I’ve had a lot of time on my hands recently…which affords me a great deal of time to ponder.” He smiled gently.

She nodded.

He took a deep breath and forged on. “I understand your perspective and how things must have appeared to you and I deeply regret that I didn’t realize it prior and take it into consideration.”

Clarisse raised one eyebrow. “Is that your way of saying you never took the time to consider how I might feel about your approach?”

“Somehow it sounded better the way I phrased it. You make it sound willful.”

“Wasn’t it?”

Damn this woman could be infuriating, especially when she righteously indignant. Another deep breath. “No, Clarisse. I acted on emotion, not well thought-out, carefully planned logic taking time to consider alternatives, backup plans and all sides to the matter.” This was not going the way he had planned.

“Perhaps now you see the error in that approach?”

His knees hurt from the way he had been pushing himself and now his head hurt from this tireless argument. “I believe you have pointed it out to me on one or more occasion.”

“Maybe we should discuss this another time?”

“I’m beginning to think that’s a good idea. It’s obvious you aren’t ready for an apology yet.”

“If that was the way you intended to start it, then you’re right…I’m not ready.” She stood and leaned over and kissed his forehead. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She turned to leave his room, but his voice stopped her.


She looked back at him, one hand on the door knob. “Yes?”

“Why do you keep coming back? It’s obvious you are very angry with me…” he held his hands up in a defensive gesture, “rightfully so. I just don’t understand…”

She didn’t understand it herself, truly, but she answered him honestly. “I don’t say I love you lightly, Joseph, as you well know. When I said that to you, I meant it. Just because I am angry or hurt, it doesn’t change anything. We’ll work this out…eventually.”


He had decided that night that he couldn’t fight for her until he could walk again – that way he could chase after her if necessary. She had a tactical advantage, an emotional advantage, and the fact that she was right on her side. He needed to be able to deal effectively with all of those advantages and he couldn’t do that until he could walk again. So he had focused all of his energy into that. He knew she had been a little disturbed by the fact he hadn’t made an effort to apologize over the next six weeks but, true to her word, she still visited for a while every evening.

His inability to hold her, comfort her, kiss her or touch her was taking its toll on both of them – even though she would never admit it. The dark circles illustrated her lack of sleep and the uneasiness they felt when in other people’s presence was growing. Everyone knew something wasn’t right, they just didn’t have any idea what it was.


“So what’s going on with Gramma and Joe?” Mia asked Charlotte the next morning over breakfast in her suite.

Charlotte tried not to choke on her eggs as she took a quick sip of juice. “What do you mean?”

Mia shot her a look that spoke volumes. “Really, Charlotte? We’re going to play this game?”

Charlotte chuckled. “You’re becoming more like your Grandmother every day.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“It was intended as one.”

“Well, as my Grandmother would say, don’t try to change the subject.”

A deep breath was slowly exhaled. “No one truly knows, Princess. Things have been…distant between them since his surgery.”

“You know nothing?” Mia shot her an accusing look.

“Am I good at lying?”

Mia sighed. “No. No you’re not.”

“Believe me, I’ve tried to get her to open up to me; but she’s a closed book.”

“Perhaps I can get her to open up.” Mia thought out loud.

“Get who to open up?” Clarisse’s voice preceded her into the room.

Charlotte stood up abruptly. “Your Majesty…what a welcome surprise.” She cast a glance to Mia that said she hoped the Queen hadn’t overheard their conversation and implored her not to say anything…at least not until she could get out of the room.

“Please sit…I just wanted to stop in and make sure you were all settled in and had a good night’s rest, Amelia.”

“From the looks of it much better than you did, Gramma. Here have some tea, you look exhausted.”

Clarisse smiled at her granddaughter. “I wish I could, dear; but I have matters to attend to before you and I get started today. I will see you in one hour?”

“Sure, Gramma; and…” she added before Clarisse could say anything, “I promise I won’t be late.”

Clarisse nodded and turned to Charlotte. “Thirty minutes?”

“Yes ma’am; I will be there.”

Both women watched as the Queen left, thankful she hadn’t questioned them about their conversation; but more than thankful…they were worried.


Several hours later, after completing mounds of paperwork, Charlotte entered the Queen’s office in an effort to move their schedule along. “Your Majesty, Princess, it’s time to go to the stables.”

Clarisse looked up with a confused look on her face. “Stables? I didn’t see that on the preliminary draft of the schedule.”

Charlotte shot a quick look to Mia, hoping that their plan wouldn’t backfire. “It was added in the final draft, Your Majesty.”

Clarisse rummaged through the papers on her desk to uncover the elusive schedule. She peered through her glasses and saw that, indeed, an hour had been allotted for a visit to the stables and riding practice for Amelia. “So it was. I can’t believe I missed that. Charlotte, why don’t you escort Amelia to the stables and see to her lesson? I will continue working through the paperwork here.”

Amelia took a deep breath and prepared to begin her act. “I can’t believe you, Gramma.”

Clarisse looked up at her sharply. “I beg your pardon.”

The Princess stood and put herself between Charlotte and the Queen, knowing Charlotte was very uncomfortable with this part of the plan they had hatched up over tea this morning. “You heard me. Since my junior year of high school, I have spent every summer here in Genovia, studying, learning how to be Queen, attending diplomatic functions, and whatever else you have asked me to do. Now you have the opportunity to take a few minutes out of your day, time that is scheduled I might add, and spend some time outdoors with your only grandchild doing something we both love, and you want to send your aide? Really, Gramma?”

Clarisse studied the young woman’s face. While she had the distinct impression she was being “handled”, the look on her granddaughter’s face and her compelling argument made it difficult for her to refuse. “It’s good to see that your debating skills are coming along nicely.” Clarisse smiled at her. “I suppose it won’t hurt and, as you pointed out, it is part of the schedule.”

The evidence of her granddaughter’s youth returned as she squealed and ran towards her to enclose her in a tight embrace. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I’m going to change.” She ran out of the room.

Clarisse stood, much more slowly and straightened the papers on her desk. She walked over to Charlotte, who was still standing quietly by the door. She leaned in a bit and lowered her voice. “Just so you know…I did review the schedule this morning and horseback riding wasn’t on there. You switched them at some point.”

Charlotte’s face told Clarisse everything she needed to know, without her ever saying a word. She did try, though. “Your Majesty…I…”

Clarisse smiled and put her hand on the young woman’s arm. “It’s alright, Charlotte. I could use some fresh air.”

She watched as her aide exhaled a visible sigh of relief. She winked at her and added. “I just wanted you to know that while my body may not be as young as it used to be, my mind is still just as sharp.”

Charlotte smiled and nodded her head, admitting Clarisse had played them perfectly in return. “Yes ma’am.”


The wind caressed her and invigorated her soul. The mighty steed under her was powerful and totally at her command – it was a heady feeling and one which she never grew tired of. She focused on Amelia, who was a few lengths ahead of her, pushing Sandy into a full gallop. There was a warmness that flooded her as she thought of this common bond that she and Amelia shared – something that connected them even though they were often worlds apart.

They pulled their horses to a stop at the top of the ridge. They were afforded a beautiful view of Genovia from this vantage point. Mia offered. “It’s a beautiful country, Gramma. From here I can see the ocean, the flowering meadows, the farms…it’s all so…”


“That’s the word.”

They were quiet a few moments longer and then Amelia took a deep breath and asked. “Is it all worth it, Gramma?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is all the sacrifice worth the breathtaking country that lies below us?”

Clarisse thought about playing coy, but found she was tired of playing games in her relationships. “At times, yes and other times…it seems a high price to pay, even for the wonderful land of Genovia.”

Feeling emboldened by her Grandmother’s cooperation, Mia continued. “What’s going on between you and Joe?”

Clarisse fought the urge to glare at her granddaughter for that would only tell more than she wanted her to know. Instead, she continued to stare forward. “I’m unsure what you mean, Amelia.”



“Fine – if that’s the way you want to play it…I’ll tell you what I see. I see two people who are the best of friends, have shared everything in their lives and practically every moment of their lives for as long as they can remember. Perhaps it’s the kind of friendship that everyone wishes they could have with another human being or perhaps it’s more. Either way, something has come between the two of you.

“Amelia!” She cast a cursory glance, including the infamous glare.

“Don’t Amelia me…I know what I saw. Don’t worry, though, it’s not evident when you both are in public together. Anyway, it’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it. My point is, Clarisse, that when I saw you two together this time, it’s obvious there’s something wrong. You aren’t sleeping; he looks miserable.” She turned and faced her Grandmother fully as she finished. “And that, Your Majesty, is what I mean.”

Without another word, Amelia turned Sandy the rest of the way and headed back towards the stable. Clarisse took a deep breath and thought about the love of her life that must remain hidden away. She spoke softly and into the wind. “Today, Amelia, is one of the days when the sacrifice seems almost too much.”

She turned her horse around and headed back towards the Palace but at a much slower pace than Amelia as she was in no hurry to get back to the constant reminder of sacrifice that awaited her there.


Clarisse was exhausted by the time she knocked on Joseph’s door. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep this up. She was used to being strong for everyone else in the country, but Joseph was usually strong for her. Over the past three months or so, she had held back from leaning on him either personally or professionally as he had enough to worry about. But it had taken its toll on her. Even if they had not been dealing with the emotional ramifications of their actions, this would have been hard. Those matters just further complicated things. She took a deep breath…she needed to be strong.

“Good evening, Clarisse.”

“Hello, Joseph. Amelia sends her regards and said she would stop by later if that was acceptable.”

“Of course. I always enjoy time with her.”

“I wouldn’t bet on that tonight.” She warned.

“Why is that?”

“During our horse ride today, she lectured me and tried to pry out of me what was wrong between you and I.”

“What did you say to her?”


“She let you go with that.”

“She didn’t even give me a chance to respond, really. She shared her point of view, turned and rode off into the proverbial sunset.”

Joseph took a long look at Clarisse. She was tired, the lines around her eyes were more pronounced and the sadness in her eyes was overwhelming. “Come here, please.”


“Please, Clarisse, just come and let me hold you for a few minutes. No strings, no expectations…just a friend lending support.”

He watched her battle with herself and thanked God when she stood to move over closer to him. “How shall we do this? I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Just come sit next to me and I’ll take it from there. I won’t be able to hold you as I want to in order to provide full support; but I shall give you all that I can right now.”

She felt his arms come around her body and she leaned in to lay her head on his shoulder. He was right; it wasn’t the same as being fully embraced by him, but as he gently rubbed her arms and she felt the beating of his heart, she decided it was better than being alone.

He continued to hold her until he heard her steady, even breathing. He allowed himself to kiss her hair gently and whisper. “Tomorrow, Clarisse…I promise to try to set things straight again. For now, just rest my love…just rest.”

He would let her sleep for a little while before waking her. If Amelia came in and found Clarisse in his arms like this…there would be hell to pay. Of that, he was certain.


Clarisse woke to the sound of her alarm, which was unusual. Generally, she woke long before the alarm and enjoyed the few minutes of quiet time she had before Olivia came in to start their day. She blinked rapidly to focus on the small table in the corner of her suite. Moving out of bed, she slowly made her way over to the corner of her room, smiling as she inhaled the fragrance of the half dozen peace roses that were ensconced in a delicate crystal vase. She knew who they were from without even opening the card, but her curiosity as to the contents of the note won over.

“C, I’ve been working on my apology and am looking forward to trying again tonight. Dinner at 6 pm, my place – casual attire. J”

She was unsure how he arranged the delivery of the flowers, but trusted that he kept it a private matter. Feeling a bit of hope creep into her tired bones, she made her way to the bathroom to start her daily routine. Maybe tonight, they could experience some progress in their relationship…something that had been dreadfully absent for months now. They couldn’t go back and change things and she truly understood what had motivated Joseph…she needed him to understand how hurt and used she felt – even if she had been willing.


Clarisse exited from the morning session of Parliament and headed towards the small dining room for tea. Charlotte and Amelia were in Pyrus today touring the orphanage, museum, and Center for Genovian History. As a result, Olivia was pulling double duty. While not as efficient as Charlotte in handling the day to day operations, she had been cross trained on the basics and provided an adequate substitute for the rare times Charlotte was unavailable.

Olivia saw Clarisse entering the corridor. “Good morning again, Your Majesty.”

“Good morning, Olivia.” Clarisse smiled and started towards her destination. Olivia’s voice made her stop and turn around.

“I put the diplomatic pouch along with this morning’s newspaper on the table.”

“Thank you.”

“All went well in Parliament this morning, ma’am?” Olivia smiled as though discussing this was the most natural thing in the world.

Clarisse angled her head slightly and she was certain that her look conveyed that this was not the most natural thing for the two of them to be discussing. “As well as Parliament can go, I suspect.”

“I’m sure you handled everything well, ma’am.”

“Thank you, Olivia. If you don’t mind, I’d like to go ahead and have tea before it gets cold.” She decided she would add the last bit before the questioning continued.

“Certainly ma’am, enjoy. Let me know if you need anything else.”

Clarisse smiled and then made her way to the dining room. “Odd…” was the only thought that came to her mind. She entered the room and sat at the large mahogany table. As she expected, the china tea setting was waiting for her along with the diplomatic pouch and paper. There was a small surprise, though, as a single rose lay next to today’s newspaper. The card simply read:

“Eight hours until I have the chance to wine and dine you and sweep you off your feet again.”

Clarisse looked about to see if anyone was around; but she was alone. Perhaps Joseph had asked Olivia to assist him? She allowed herself the luxury of inhaling the wondrous scent and a small smile to cross her lips. If she wasn’t mistaken, it sounded like she had a date tonight! Realizing her time was limited, she set the rose down and hastened to finish her tea and review the paperwork. She would need to take the rose to her suite before her late morning appointments started. Another deep breath calmed her excitement and she focused on the tasks at hand.


At lunch time, Clarisse decided to take her lunch in the staff kitchen. She didn’t want to trouble the culinary people with setting up in an entirely different room just for her. When she arrived, a plate of baby greens with pear vinaigrette dressing and a warm roll waited…along with another peace rose. Her fingers trembled slightly as she opened the card.

“Eat well, my Queen as you will need energy for what I have planned for tonight. Six more hours…”

While her mind was sounding its endless warnings, her heart fluttered in anticipation. This sounded more like the Joseph from before the surgery…the man who had captivated her attention from the moment she met him. Life with Joseph wasn’t easy…but, then again, life with her certainly wasn’t a day on the beach either.


Throughout the remainder of the day, Clarisse would find a rose at various locations throughout the palace, each with notes promising a delightful evening. She was trying very hard to stay upset with him and to not let herself forget that there were still issues to be resolved. It had been challenging…perhaps that had been his plan? He could be quite the strategist when required. She smiled and put the last of the roses in the vase that had started off with six this morning and now held a perfect dozen. The scent filled her room and calmed her spirit.

She indulged in a quick bath before donning a crème colored pair of slacks and blue silk blouse that highlighted her eyes. Carefully adjusting the necklace Joseph had given her so the pendant rested in its rightful place, adding a pair of earrings that closely matched; she added a spritz of perfume, Chanel; slipped on a comfortable pair of high heels; one last check of her hair and makeup; a deep breath and she was ready to go.


Clarisse stepped into Joseph’s room through the private entrance, her senses immediately drawn to the soft lighting and the faint smell of cinnamon. Soft music was playing and it made her want to dance…it seemed a lifetime since her body had moved in time to the orchestral strains that called to her dancer’s soul. She missed it terribly. Glancing around the room, she noticed she was the sole occupant. “Joseph?”

A voice came from the bedroom and she turned in that direction. Her hands covered her mouth as a gasp escaped.

Joseph stood in the door frame, absent a cane or walker. “Dance with me, beautiful?”

Words escaped her as her tall, dark and handsome knight walked towards her. He was dressed all in black with the exception of the cufflinks she had given him for Christmas; the opal standing out against the black background. His gait was not as strong yet as it had been before; but he was walking on his own power and he was walking towards her. She simply nodded her head and stepped into his arms.

A warm blanket of contentment covered the two bodies moving as one on the makeshift dance floor. Everything else could be wrong in the world; but when they were on the dance floor together, it all faded away as the darkness of night leaving only the music flowing in and around them. Joseph closed his eyes as her body moved in counterpart to his. It felt so good to hold her in his arms again, feeling the sway of her body and the warmth of her hand in his and the feel of her well toned back under his palm.

Clarisse was at home here in his arms. She allowed him to guide her and reveled in his touch. This was safe. This was right. This was where she belonged. The song ended and another, slower song began. She gently pulled her hand from his and clasped both behind his neck, stepping further into his dance space. His hands slipped slower to hold her at the small of her back. She whispered into his ear, “I’ve missed this terribly.”

Joseph pulled her body closer until they were almost flush. “I’ve missed holding you.”

She didn’t need to vocalize her response; they both knew. She rested her head on his shoulder as they continued to move gently to the music wanting to enjoy the moment for as long as they could make it last.

Finally, they broke apart to enjoy their dinner. Clarisse watched as he poured the wine. “Did your doctor clear you for all of this, Joseph?” She asked, concern marring her features.

“It took a little persuasion; but yes.” He smiled.

She fought back her first thought – he seemed to be very good at getting what he wanted. Instead she simply smiled and nodded. If he noticed her silence, he didn’t say anything. She inwardly sighed, picked up her fork and began to eat.

Joseph was trying to keep his emotions under control. Did she have any idea how absolutely beautiful she was? How the moment she stepped into his arms, all well thought out plans and logic evaporated as smoke from a small candle. She made his heart beat faster, his blood heat and his mind mush. Deciding he needed to regain a modicum of control before he tried his apology again, he followed her lead and began to eat. He wasn’t sure he would get another chance.

Dinner passed with polite conversation regarding the events of the day and anticipation for Mia and Charlotte’s return. Clarisse was certain she would be regaled with tales of her escapades for hours later in the evening.

Finally, Joseph knew he had to speak. He didn’t want Amelia to return and rob him of everything he had tried to accomplish today by stealing her grandmother way from him. “Clarisse?”

Her heart rate increased…she knew this was it. The moment they both had been anticipating and avoiding all evening. “Yes?”

“I am truly sorry that I did not consider the full impact of the words I spoke to you that night. I used knowledge that had been safely tucked away for years to negotiate an advantage over you. It was wrong and I’m sorry. While I am not sorry that I physically shared my love with you that evening, I am sorry for the circumstances surrounding it.”

She knew he meant it and that he was sincere…she could see that in his eyes; and the eyes never lie. “No promise to never do it again?” She asked softly.

“Never make love to you again?”

She quickly shook her head. “No…I certainly hope that is on a future agenda and that we both are afforded an opportunity to try again.” She smiled.

He returned her smile, glad that she wasn’t precluding a future for them. So far – so good. This was the hard part though…the part that might get ugly. He had thought long and hard about this and determined she deserved the same honesty she had given him.

“I want you to know that because you have been so very honest with me, I can be no less with you.”

“I appreciate that…I think…” she added the last bit hesitantly, unsure what he would say.

“Your relationship with me will not and cannot be the same as your relationship with Rupert.”

Clarisse looked at him quizzically. What he said seemed obvious, Rupert was King and the father of her children. It was an arranged marriage and they had what she had come to term as a working relationship.

Joseph continued. “I’m not talking about our roles in this world. I’m referring to our roles in your life and in your heart.”

She just looked at him, holding her expression neutral until he said more. He took another deep breath and continued. “With Rupert everything was arranged, predictable and basically set in stone. The two of you were to marry, produce heirs, and run the country. With me, none of that is true. The same things that draw you to me also scare you.”

Her face registered surprise; but not necessarily denial. Her silence continued as did he. “I’m not predictable; I’m not safe; I’m a passion filled man that, on occasion, lets his emotions get the better of him. You are excited and frightened by the way I make you feel.”

She thought about his words. While they certainly had a comfortable working relationship, there was another level to their relationship that she had never experienced with Rupert. With Joseph she had experienced desire, passion, jealousy and emotions that went far below the surface into her very soul. Since honesty was the theme of the night, she quietly said all she had just thought in one simple word. “Yes.”

He took her hand and pulled her to a standing position, pulling her body to his until they were fitted perfectly against each other. She immediately felt her body’s response and was angry at herself for her lack of control. “Whether you are willing to admit it or not, those feelings make you do things you wouldn’t normally do, finding forbidden pleasures in touches and kisses – enjoyment most people accept; but you fight valiantly against. For you that means a loss of control. In your position, that is a dangerous place to be.”

“It’s the monarchy…I have responsibilities.” She whispered; but it sounded hollow even to her own ears.

“I would never ask you to stop being who you are. It’s not possible, no more than I can change who I am.”

“So what are you saying?” She was quickly losing her ability to focus as the heat from his body seeped into her body, both calming and exciting her.

“I’m saying that I promise to never….EVER use my knowledge about your relationship with Rupert as a tactical advantage against you. If I do, you should slap me.”

He felt her head nod against his shoulder. He slipped a finger under her chin and lifted her face to look directly into those mesmerizing sapphire pools. “I cannot, however, promise that I can stop being who I am - which means that sometimes my emotions get the best of me and I’m not above telling you exactly how it is. I will respect your authority in our professional relationship; but in our personal one – we are both here of our own free will. You were safe with Rupert – he wasn’t going anywhere…you two were pledged until death do you part. I love you and have no intention of leaving you; but what holds me here is not parliament, Genovia or some outdated rules regarding arranged marriages. You always have a choice as do I.”

Clarisse stared into his blue depths as she processed what he was saying. Before emotions didn’t truly play a role in her relationship. She felt something for Rupert; but nothing like she felt for Joseph. Rupert had to be with her…Joseph didn’t and vice versa. There was something strangely liberating and terrifying about that understanding. She smiled coyly. “Of course, once you marry me, that will all change.”

His smile broadened as he pulled her lower body even further into his. His voice was husky as he replied. “That’s right…once you agree to marry me, you will be stuck with me forever. I take my vows very seriously.”

In her heart, she already knew she would be his forever…it was just a matter of convincing her mind and the rest of Genovia. “So are you finished with your apology?” she offered him a raised eyebrow and crooked smile. “Such as it was?”

“I think that was a fantastic apology and one I have been rehearsing for weeks.”

“One doesn’t generally mingle an apology with a ‘take me as I am’ lecture.” She teased.

“I told you…I’m not like other guys.”

Her arms circled his neck again. “Indeed you are not.” She whispered before claiming his mouth in a demanding kiss.

Joseph let one hand tangle in her hair while the other slipped lower to the curve of her bottom. Merde this woman felt so right in his arms. He felt her tongue pressing for entrance and he opened to her, deepening the kiss as his hands tightened on their targets, igniting the heat between their bodies once again.

Clarisse explored and reacquainted herself with the man now holding her so fiercely against his hard body. He was right…this was unlike anything she had ever encountered before. It was primal and cried out to her to give it free reign. It was more intoxicating than the strongest alcohol and offered more pleasure than the finest chocolate. Needing air, she broke the kiss and let her head fall back, allowing him to more closely sample her perfume. The feel of his lips across the taut skin sent shivers down her spine. “Joseph…”

His mouth lifted enough to ask. “So apology accepted?”

She couldn’t help but smile and it came through in her voice, even though her head didn’t move. “Only if you keep kissing me like that.”

Joseph took a deep breath, relieved that perhaps that chapter was finally behind them. “As you wish…” he chuckled and lowered his mouth to taste her once again.


Chapter 27: Scene – Fall Year 4 – Amelia leaving to go back to America.

It was still early and the Palace was just coming to life. Clarisse had not been afforded much sleep due to an impromptu going away party the staff had given Amelia last night. The tone had been just right; the food and attire choice very casual in deference to the preferences of the Princess, and sent a solid message of support to the young woman who would someday be queen. Because of the late night, Clarisse had told everyone that the day could start an hour later than normal. She apologized to security that she had to exclude them from the late start; but they had been very understanding.

Clarisse made her way into the archive section of the royal library; the muted illumination from the lamps on the wall created a surreal atmosphere. She loved coming here – she could almost feel the history that these books held between their bindings. The dimness that was ever present due to its location deep within the palace made it feel like you were in another world regardless of the time of day. Though open to the public, few availed themselves of the historical archive section.

Spying the book that had brought her here, she moved the ladder along its rail to a position that afforded her the best access to the finest rendition of Genovian history she had ever read – a history that she wanted to share with Amelia. She smiled to herself imagining the face her granddaughter would make when she asked her to take it with her to read between now and her Christmas break. Of course, Clarisse mused, when faced with the alternative, “Parliamentary Rules and Procedures”, she was certain the young woman would acquiesce.

Carefully, she climbed the rungs of the ladder until she could reach the top shelf. She pulled the thick book out of its resting place, pleased that Mrs. Cowts diligence and attention to every detail ensured that she didn’t get a face full of dust. With even more caution, she began her descent. An unexpected voice in the stillness startled her causing her foot to slip.

Only a pair of hands on her hips, just below her waist, kept her from falling. “You must be careful, Your Majesty. We wouldn’t want you to break something or hurt yourself just as your Head of Security has recovered.”

Very conscious now of whose hands were holding her, she turned her head slightly and explained. “You startled me. I wasn’t expecting anyone here at this early hour.”

“Early bird, as they say, Your Majesty.”

“Yes, well, I believe I can handle it from here.” Her eyes motioned to his hands.

“Of course.” He replied and stepped away.

Clarisse finished her descent and now stood in front of her would-be rescuer. To avoid an awkward silence, she held the book up and shared, “A little light reading for the Princess.”

“Hopefully she can find time between basket weaving and soccer practice.” He mumbled.

Clarisse’s spine straightened and the Queen mask locked fully in place. Her voice carried a hint of venom, her distaste for the man barely concealed below the surface. “I’m not certain that I appreciate your tone, Arthur.”

“My apologies, Your Majesty, you know what they say about American colleges.”

“I assure you that Amelia is in one of the finest schools and has ensured her classes will help prepare her for ruling Genovia in the near future.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.” His voice held little conviction that what she said was true.

Clarisse gave him the benefit of her glare for a few moments longer before making her exit. “If you’ll excuse me?”

Viscount Mabrey bowed slightly. “Good day, Your Majesty, and safe travels for the Princess.”

“I will relay your sentiments to the Princess. Good day, Arthur.”



“Yes, Your Majesty?”

“How long until Joseph returns?”

“A couple hours, ma’am, after seeing the Princess off at the airport, he was headed to see his physical therapist for his weekly appointment.”

“Good. Is Scott on duty?”

“Yes ma’am. Is something wrong?”

“No, I would like to speak with him in private for a moment, please?”

Charlotte’s face was marred with concern…there was very little that transpired in the palace without her knowledge and the Queen rarely kept things from her. Had she discovered their secret? Was she going to question Shades about it? No – that didn’t make sense. The Queen knew Charlotte couldn’t lie; she would ask her if she wanted to know the truth. So what could she possibly want…?



“Could you ask Scott to come in for a minute?”

Charlotte tried to hide her sigh. “Yes ma’am.”


Charlotte watched with curiosity as Shades and the Queen came out of her office only a few minutes later. “Charlotte, please clear an hour later this afternoon on my schedule after Joseph’s return. I’d like to take a walk and review some matters with him.”

Her stomach felt like she had several pounds of heavy weight resting uncomfortably in its pit. She ventured a quick glance at Shades to see if he seemed as distressed as she felt. True to the stoic nature of security, his face revealed nothing. “As you wish, ma’am.”

“Are you feeling alright, dear? You look rather pale.”

“I don’t think my breakfast is settling well.”

“Why don’t you take a break and have some tea. I will be with Scott for the next thirty minutes or so.”

Charlotte shot Shades one last quick glance. “Yes ma’am. I’ll clear the hour for you and then have some tea.”

“Wonderful. I’ll find you when we’re done and join you…if that’s acceptable?”



“Start the recording around seven thirty this morning, please.”

“Yes ma’am.” Scott hit the rewind icon on the computer screen to take the security tape back to the appointed time.

Both pairs of eyes were glued to the screen as they watched the archive section of the library come to life in front of them. “I’ll fast forward until we see some activity.”

“Good idea. I’m glad you know how to work this thing.”

Scott smiled. “It’s all in a day’s work, your Majesty.”

Clarisse returned his smile and then they both refocused on the screen as it made its journey through the morning in double time. A few moments later, the screen moved back to real time as they saw the Viscount enter the room. “There he is!” Clarisse whispered loudly. “Can you see what book he’s interested in?”

“I can try to zoom in.”

The playback was paused as he worked the controls. Finally he had it close enough to make out the title. Shades looked up at the Queen to see the astonished look on her face. It only lasted a moment before she started issuing commands. “Please get Charlotte on the line for me. Also, ask Joseph to meet me along the path to the stables when he returns. I should be on my evening walk by then.”

“Yes ma’am.”

A few moments passed and then he handed Clarisse the phone mouthing to her that it was Charlotte. “I’m sorry to interrupt your break, Charlotte. As soon as you finish, could you please call the Prime Minister? It is imperative that he and I meet sometime this evening.”

Clarisse hung up the phone and turned back just in time to see security’s second in command see the Viscount’s hands in inappropriate places on her body. He turned to look at her. “There’s a reason I wanted you to see the footage and not your boss. I know you are loyal to him, but I hope you will agree with me that nothing good will come from him seeing this. You must trust me that I handled it.”

Shades nodded. There was no way he was going to tell Joseph that another man had touched the Queen, especially when it appeared she had handled the situation and was in no imminent danger. He suspected there was far more to the relationship between the Queen and his boss than they let on. If that was so, seeing Viscount Mabrey’s hands where they most definitely did not belong…would not be received well. “Yes ma’am”

“Thank you, Scott. Now that this is all taken care of, I should get back to my office.”

“Would you like to stop by for tea first?” Scott asked, remembering she had said she would join Charlotte.

“I’m afraid tea will have to be taken in the office as I have a great deal of work to complete as my schedule will be filled with meetings this afternoon.”

“Yes ma’am. I’ll ask Charlotte to arrange it for you.”

“Thank you, Scott…and thank you for your help this morning.”


Clarisse had finally completed the workload necessary to keep the country running another day, had changed into a pair of slacks, light blouse, jacket and comfortable pair of shoes for her walk. She expected that Joseph would find her along the path and then they could talk. While it had worked out well that he was away from the palace earlier today, his absence for most of the day left her missing him. She hesitated to admit how much a part of her life he was – not just professionally, but personally. His presence was important to her, essential even to her overall happiness and contentment. She loved him…needed him…and was looking forward to the day she could love him freely and in the open.

She inhaled deeply as the crisp, fall air invigorated her senses. She loved this time of year, almost as much as she loved spring. While the beautiful colors of flowers as they bloomed and the lush green of the trees in spring were always a welcome sight, the rich colors of fall were just as beautiful. The red, gold and browns combined to paint a beautiful landscape of rich colors and varying hues. Despite the stress from the day, her steps were light as she made her way along the path towards the stables. She couldn’t help but smile from the beauty surrounding her.

As she rounded a corner, she saw him. Her breath caught as she drank in his appearance. Dressed in his customary black and leaning against the trunk of a stately oak, he was confident, virile and exuded a sex appeal that she found harder and harder to ignore. After a moment of just looking at each other, she managed a smile and greeting. “Well hello.”

Joseph smiled at her involuntary response. He loved that his presence could affect her, although he was certain that the effect she had on him far outweighed his on her. Even after a long day at the office, her eyes were bright and her smile lit up the twilight of the evening. Her crème slacks and matching blouse contrasted nicely with the chocolate jacket she had donned for her walk. The ensemble was completed by silk scarf that tied both colors together and draped enticingly over her ample bosom. Yes – she definitely engendered responses in him. “Hi yourself.”

“Walk with me?”

“Of course.” He pushed away from the tree and walked over to her, extending his arm in escort.

“Such a gentleman.” She teased.

“An excuse to touch you.” He admitted in a low tone.

Clarisse felt her heart speed up at his admission and wished that her schedule permitted more alone time. She responded quietly. “I have missed you.”

Knowing that the direction of their conversation could not continue…at least not out in the open as they were at that moment, he changed the subject. “Charlotte said you wanted to see me?”

Inwardly grateful for his intuitiveness, she answered. “I ran into Viscount Mabrey in the archive section of the library this morning.” She decided to leave out the unnecessary details.

“What was he doing there? He doesn’t strike me as the leisurely reading type.”

“Indeed. From what I could ascertain, he is researching the various royal lines in Genovia.”

“You believe he’s planning something?”

“I’m sure of it…I’m just not sure what “it” is.”

“Have you spoken to the Prime Minister yet?”

“Charlotte tried to reach his office earlier today and they advised he was overseeing labor negotiations with the Genovian Lace Company. She left a message that he is to call me on my private line this evening when he returns.”

“Wouldn’t that normally fall under your purview?”

“I’ve occasionally attended, but it isn’t required unless they anticipate a problem. I thought it would be good for Sebastian to be familiar with the process.”

“So that the Princess won’t need to worry about that initially.” He finished for her.

“Exactly. Plus it bodes well politically for him, the more the people trust his abilities and judgment, the longer his tenure as Prime Minister.”

“And, of course, if the people respect his judgment and he supports the Princess…” he couldn’t help but smile as she turned towards him as he made the connection and winked. It was no wonder why she had been so successful as the sole ruler of Genovia, despite her lack of ‘royal’ lineage…she was an amazing strategist and politician. “You never cease to amaze me, my dear.”

At that moment, they stepped beyond the last tree lining the path. Joseph took her hand and led her away from the path until they were standing behind the stable. He pulled her free hand into his and backed her against the solid wall. Lifting her hands above her head, his body pressed into hers. His voice was a husky whisper near her ear. “I missed you too.”

Before she could find her voice, his mouth descended onto hers, effectively silencing any response she might have made. The kiss was hot, demanding and filled with need. Somewhere in the back of her mind, logic screamed at her that she shouldn’t be allowing him such liberties in an area where anyone could see them. The pulsing need in her body, however, outweighed any other concerns at the moment. The feel of his hard body pressed so intimately into hers connected with her on so many levels – some of which she didn’t even understand, but knew it felt right.

Joseph broke the kiss, but kept his body close to hers. “Does this excite you or frighten you?” He asked, remembering his words to her from a few months ago.

“Both…” she admitted through shallow breaths.

He released her and let his hands trail down her arms and side until they rested on her hips. “Me too.”

She pushed away the memory of Arthur Mabrey’s hands touching her in the same place and asked. “Really?” She moved her arms to rest on his shoulders, letting her fingers gently play with the fringe of hair along his neck.

He nodded as his hands slipped under her jacket. “The feel of your soft body against mine excites me more than I should allow…” his hands slid upwards allowing the pads of his thumbs to caress the underside of her breasts, “and I’m frightened that the forces of nature will conspire to keep us apart.”

Hearing his admission made her heart hurt that he doubted their future. She moved one hand to cup his cheek while the other slid lower on his back to pull him closer. “Do you really believe that there is anyone out there that could keep us apart?”

Joseph saw the intensity of her eyes and what he saw made him believe. He could feel the warmth of her body, the soft exhale of her breath, and the strong beating of her heart. “I believe you hold the key to my heart.”

“And you to mine…”


Charlotte knew the Queen was on her evening walk and she was fairly certain that Joseph was going to meet her. She also knew, without a doubt, she needed to know what was going on. The Queen had been preoccupied for most of the day. She had met with Shades, Joseph, and had requested a meeting with the Prime Minister. Something was going on and Charlotte was not happy that she was being left out of the loop. Her main concern was that she had done something that made the Queen feel like she couldn’t trust her – otherwise…why would she not have told her?

Not wanting to attempt sleep on such a troubled mind, she set out to find the Queen. She was just about to give up when she cleared the line of trees by the stables. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the black of Joseph’s attire. Before she could say anything, thankfully, she saw a hand…a female hand, slip down his back, pulling him closer. She quickly stepped back behind the protection of the trees, knowing exactly whose hand she had just seen. She told herself she would just wait a couple minutes and see if she could somehow make her presence known without embarrassing either them or herself. She knew the Queen would not approve of spying; but she couldn’t deprive herself of this opportunity to see another side of her employer and friend.

Peering through the cover of trees, she watched as the Queen pulled Joseph into a kiss. It was gentle; but even from this distance, Charlotte could feel the connection and the love between the two. It was obvious this was not their first stolen kiss. A blush slowly crept up her face as the kiss deepened. She couldn’t see Joseph’s hands under her brown jacket, but was certain that they were making the most of the opportunity.


Clarisse knew she was addicted to his kiss…the more her lips moved against his, the more she needed it. The kisses had started off light, but her need was rapidly spiraling out of control. When she felt his thumbs lightly circle her turgid peaks through the satin of her blouse, she broke the kiss as a gasp escaped. “Joseph…” her voice was a husky mixture of surprise and desire.


Charlotte saw the look of desire across her friend’s face and knew it was time to give her the privacy she deserved. Just as she started to walk away, Shade’s voice came through her earpiece. She whispered, “Yes?”

“Where are you?”

“Looking for the Queen”

“Why are you whispering? Did you find her?”


“Charlotte? Are you alright? What’s going on?”

“She’s in a meeting with Joseph right now.” She decided over the com was not the appropriate place to divulge any information…not that she would anyway.

“Well I have the Princess on the line…she’s arrived and wants to speak with her.”

“Then call his cell…I’m not interrupting their meeting.” She was hoping Shades knew her well enough to pick up on the things she wasn’t saying.

“Must be some meeting. Ok, Charlotte, for YOU, I’ll be the one to interrupt them.”

“Thanks. I’ll try to find a way to make it up to you later.” She teased.

“I’ll hold you to that.”

Thinking of her friend pressed against the barn wall and the look of pleasure on her face caused the blush that had been on her face to suffuse her entire body. “I’m counting on it.”


Joseph was in heaven. Clarisse was responding with such passion that it was harder and harder to control. He could feel the precious weight of her breasts in his palms and her tongue was teasing, tasting and demanding he join in the tussle. His body was beginning to be aroused beyond the level which he could control his physical responses to her closeness. He knew they should stop…but he just couldn’t find it within himself to tear away from her.

Clarisse was grateful that his body was so close to hers as it made it easier for her to continue to stand. Never before had she been as responsive as she was to this brave knight who had fought so valiantly for her heart. Things with Rupert had been…different. Not bad – but definitely not like this. Her blood thrummed in her veins and pounded in her head as a mixture of adrenalin mixed with raw need pulsated through her body. She knew she needed to stop this…before it went too far…if it hadn’t already. She just couldn’t find it within her willpower to push him away.

An incessant vibration finally broke through the fog of desire clouding their minds. Joseph realized that it was his cell phone. Reluctantly, he withdrew slightly from her body, feeling the loss instantly. Whoever this was on his phone had better have a damn good reason for calling him. He moved one hand to cover her heart, enjoying the frantic rhythm of its beating while the other retrieved the cell phone from his pocket. Hitting the appropriate button, he growled. “Speak!”

“Sorry to interrupt you, Boss. I have the Princess on the line for the Queen. I apologize for breaking up your…meeting.”

Joseph almost imagined a slight smirk in his underling’s voice at the end of his statement, but decided he would deal with that later. “Fine, patch her through.”

Clarisse was trying to calm her breathing and bring her body back into submission. Of course, Joseph’s hand on her chest was not helping matters at all. Her eyes were still clouded over when he handed her the phone and mouthed…”The Princess.”

She nodded and accepted the phone. “Hello.”

“Hi Gramma! Just wanted you to know I arrived safely. I made a big dent in the book you gave me. You were right, this is some great stuff.”

Clarisse closed her eyes and tried to focus, even as Joseph’s hands began to soothe over her body. She knew he was trying to help calm her frayed nerves; but his touch only reignited the passion that was simmering just below the surface. “I’m glad to hear that dear. Amelia…” she added with a serious tone.


“I know you’ve been working very diligently in school; but promise me you’ll redouble your efforts this year. We only have one year left. It isn’t my intent to frighten you, just to make sure you’re prepared.”

“I know, Gramma. I am frightened though – this is a big responsibility. You’ll help me, won’t you?”

Feeling Joseph’s lips on the soft skin of her neck was almost Clarisse’s undoing. Was he trying to drive her mad with unrequited desire? She exhaled slowly. “Of course, dear, I will always be here for you. You will always be a priority…”

”But I need to learn to stand on my own two feet, without tripping, right?”

Admiring Amelia’s ability to poke a little fun at her own clumsiness brought a smile to her face. “You will do just fine, dear, I have no doubts. I was just going to say that I will need to step back into the shadows,” she cast a look at Joseph, knowing he would catch the reference that their love had been relegated to the shadows due to her role as Queen, “so you can be free to shine.”

“I understand, Gramma, probably more than you realize. I love you. Tell Joe I said hi and that I miss you both already. I will see you at Christmas break.”

“I will tell him and I love and miss you as well. Hurry home.” She cut the connection just before a moan escaped her lips as Joseph captured her earlobe in his warm mouth. “Joseph…”

He licked the sensitive skin behind her earlobe before answering, “Mmmm?”

“Amelia says hi.”

He lifted his head to smile at her. “I’m amazed at how you can talk so calmly. Here I thought I had such an effect on you.” He teased.

“Years of practice.”

Joseph was surprised. “Really? I had no idea the King was that…”

Realizing he had misunderstood. “Hardly. What I meant was that I’ve had years of practice separating my emotions from my duty. It is often necessary.”

He cupped her cheek and kissed her forehead. “I’m not sure if that makes me proud for you or saddens me that you were never driven to distraction.”

“YOU drive me to distraction.” She teased, not wanting to have the discussion about her past, at least not at this particular moment in time.

“It brings me a great deal of pleasure to distract you.” He replied as his hands slipped around to cup her bottom and squeeze gently.

“Join me for a nightcap tonight?”

“Does that mean our meeting is over?”

“I’m afraid so…duty calls.”

“Your schedule provides for little distraction. You know that, right?”

She laid her head on his shoulder and enjoyed the strength and support she found there. “I know - which is why I’d like you to distract me again this evening.”

He smiled at the thought of being alone in the privacy of her suite tonight. “On one condition.”

“Feeling rather brazen, aren’t we?”

His hands caught hers and lifted them above her head again, returning them to their original positions. He could feel her chest move as she inhaled and exhaled and knew that, regardless of whether she admitted it or not, it excited her to be held like this. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.” He punctuated his statement by lowering his head to kiss her neck again at the pulse point, loving the way it sped up as he kissed and nipped at her neck.

“Your condition, sir?”

“No earrings tonight.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. I don’t want a mouthful of diamonds or pearls every time I want to nip at your earlobe.”

Clarisse felt her arousal intensify as she thought of all the places on her body that he could nip. Her body slightly shuddered as she let that train of thought go further than she had intended. “Agreed.” She whispered. “Dress code is casual.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“We should go.”

“You need to go first.”


He chuckled lightly as he released her and stepped back a bit. “Because I need a moment to compose myself before I go strolling back into the palace.”

Clarisse let her eyes dart lower for just a moment as she realized what he meant. She nodded and started to walk away. Then she stopped, turned her head and with a wicked smile, she added, “Guess I’m capable of a little distracting myself.”

She yelped as he swatted her playfully on the bottom. “Go woman, before we both get into trouble. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Clarisse laughed, feeling light hearted despite the threat of a coup from Arthur Mabrey. “Yes sir. I’ll see you around nine?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.”


Clarisse was tired. It had been a long day and she had been getting updated reports via an old friend who had retired from the Genovian Lace Company, but still sat on the board, that the negotiations had hit a few snags. That had explained, at least, why Sebastian hadn’t returned her call yet. Charlotte had been a little off all day as well. Normally, she would have insisted that they sit and have tea, but her excitement over seeing Joseph this evening won out.

Of course, the fates don’t always agree with our motivations and decisions as she had to admit when Charlotte stopped her in the hallway near the grand ballroom.

“Your Majesty?”

Clarisse closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, trying to calm her nerves. She smiled and turned. “Yes, Charlotte.”

“I know it’s late and I know it’s been a long day. I also know that you’re still waiting on the call from the Prime Minister, which means in all likelihood, your day isn’t over yet.”

Clarisse quirked her mouth into a half smile, “Thank you for reminding me.”

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty. Never mind. It can wait until tomorrow.”

Seeing Charlotte’s distress, a young woman she considered her closest female friend, she couldn’t just walk away. “Nonsense, Charlotte, I’ve sensed you’ve been upset about something all day. Time didn’t permit me to follow-up with you before; but, as they say, there’s no time like the present.” She tried not to think of Joseph’s talented mouth or hands as she guided her into the small room where she often waited to be announced at a dance or other state function. They took seats at each end of the small couch. Clarisse noticed that Charlotte was wringing her hands and, now that she took a close look at her, she appeared even more troubled. “Dear, please tell me what’s bothering you.”

“Have I done something to upset you, Your Majesty?”

“Heavens, no. What makes you ask such a thing?”

“I have always been very trustworthy, haven’t I?”

“Of course.”

“Yet something apparently happened today. Something that required a meeting with Shades, with Joseph and with the Prime Minister…something that I know nothing about. I can respect your wishes, ma’am, and if you say I don’t need to know – then I will leave it at that. I just…”

Clarisse stood and moved to sit next to her. She put her hand over hers. “Charlotte, look at me.”

Charlotte lifted her head and met the Queen’s gaze. “Ma’am.”

“Next to Joseph, you are my most trusted friend and confidant. You have done nothing to betray my trust.”

Charlotte had the decency to blush remembering what she had witnessed earlier that evening. Though she would never speak of it, she still felt like she betrayed the trust in violating her privacy.

“I’ll tell you what happened…woman to woman…then perhaps you’ll understand my actions and my desire to put it behind me as quickly as possible.”

Charlotte smiled. “Woman to woman, yes ma’am.”

A few moments later, Charlotte had been brought up to speed. “So you can understand, I hope, why I had to do things as I did. In my haste to put the unpleasantness of Mabrey behind me, I inadvertently left you out of the loop.”

“I understand and I’m sorry I doubted you or your trust in me.”

“Never doubt that, my dear…never.” She patted her leg and stood, signifying she needed to make her way to her suite.

Charlotte smiled as she followed the Queen out of the room and then turned the opposite way. She and Shades were meeting for a drink tonight and she didn’t want to be late. She wondered if he would mention seeing Mabrey on the video. She quickly decided that he probably wouldn’t as neither thought it good to speak out loud something that Joseph need never hear.


“You’re late.”

“I was distracted.”

“Not by another man, I hope.”

“My diligent aide was troubled and I had to tend to her first.”

“Charlotte is alright now?”

“Yes, I believe so. She was feeling a bit left out from the activities today.”

“I don’t think it would have been appropriate to ask her to join our meeting.”

Clarisse blushed. “Don’t sass your Queen.”

He stood and kissed her passionately, enjoying her murmur of pleasure as she immediately gave in to the kiss. He stepped away and smiled. “I was sassing my girlfriend, not my Queen.”

“You’re incorrigible.”

“And you’re overdressed. I thought you said this was casual.” He gestured to his black t-shirt and pants.

“Give me fifteen minutes?”

“You have ten and I’ll pour the drinks.”

“You have been incredibly bossy today.”

“You like it when I take control.”

Clarisse felt that same surge of desire she had felt when he had held her captive earlier today. She gave him the benefit of a half-smile and shrug, “Perhaps I do…sometimes.”

She hastened away before he could respond. As he watched her backside when she retreated, he heard her command. “Drinks in my room.”

With those few words, Joseph had been reduced to a young teenage boy who was fighting to not lose his cool with the best looking girl in school. He carefully picked up the decanter of whiskey and the bottle of wine that he had been chilling in his suite for her earlier and placed them on the table next to the love seat. The glasses were placed carefully along with a few candles he had brought along for ambience. Since she had moved the festivities to her bedroom, he wasn’t sure the candles could compete with the large four poster bed hovering just in the background.

He chose a CD of soft music and set it to play and situated himself in the middle of the love seat and then waited. One of the great things he loved about their relationship was that each time he thought he was going to try to seduce her; she seemed to turn the tables and render him a nervous man who was completely at her mercy. When she stepped out of the bathroom in a matching light blue satin pajama pants and button-up short sleeved top, he knew it was all over. It had been the same thing she wore the night of the Independence Day Ball when they shared their first real kiss.

“Thank you for waiting.”

His eyes roamed over her entire body, noticing every curve and the way the satin clung to it in a very enticing manner. “I find I can deny you little.”

She smiled. “Is that so?” She asked as she poured him a glass of whiskey and wine for herself.

“I’m afraid so. You’ve discovered my weakness – it’s you.”

He watched as she finished off half of the glass of white wine and then set the glass down. “May I sit with you?”

He smiled. “It’s your couch.”

She returned his smile and gestured for him to finish his drink, which he did. Once finished, she set his glass beside hers and then carefully maneuvered her body until she was straddling his, the back of the couch providing the necessary support she needed until Joseph caught up and put his arms around her. “Merde Clarisse.”

She leaned forward and whispered huskily into his ear, “You did say it was my couch…and this is where I wanted to sit.”

“Indeed I did. I think this is the best seat in the house.” He pulled her body closer to ensure they were both comfortable and very close.

She bent her head and initiated a kiss that picked up where they had left off earlier that day. She could feel his muscular thighs against her soft inner thighs; his hands holding her bottom to keep her firmly pressed into his lower body; and his mouth yielding to her demanding kiss. Before things got too far out of control, she broke the kiss. “May I ask you a personal question?”

Joseph’s blood was pulsing and his desire was steadily increasing to a fevered pitch. He looked up to see her eyes were sincere…almost serious which seemed an odd contrast to her well kissed lips. “Sitting here with me as you are, you could ask me for anything in the world and I would move heaven and earth to give it to you.”

“A simple answer will suffice.”

“Ask me anything.”

“I’m a little embarrassed, but considering the nature of our relationship, I assume it is within acceptable parameters.”

He chuckled. “Only you can make asking what I believe will be a simple question into something so complicated.”

“Tis the nature of politics.” She admitted.

He let his hands slip lower on her bottom, his fingers slipping along her inner thighs as he moved them slowly away from the center. He felt her body tremble with desire. “This is far from political…”

She took a moment to catch her breath and steady her voice. “Fine, I will opt for direct. Do you prefer the bottom or top?”

He had been so busy feeling the softness of her inner thighs that her question caught him off guard. Was she really asking what he thought she was? “I beg your pardon?”

“It’s a simple question…apparently.”

He let his hands caress the satin over her legs. “Clarisse, my love, I must be honest and say that as long as you were the one either over me or under me…I would be the happiest man that has ever walked the earth.”

She held his cheek with her hand. “You make me feel desirable.”

“Which do you prefer?”

She hesitated.

“It’s a simple question…apparently.” He teased.

“I don’t know.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Other than the one brief time we were together, and…” she added remembering that one night with Rupert that had haunted her dreams a few years back, “one night with Rupert, I’ve only been on top. So I really have no basis for comparison.”

“Never before?”


He moved her back slightly so he could look in her eyes. He tried to keep the astonishment from his. “Would it be too bold to ask for more information?”

“I think it was easier for him that way…or perhaps he did it for me.” She gently shrugged her shoulders.

Joseph’s mind was trying to process the little bit of information she was giving him. Both the King and Queen had always been very private about their private life – very few public displays of affection. Yet no one doubted that they cared for each other. “I’m sorry – I don’t follow.”

“We both cared for each other and were very good friends; but the type of love that I now experience with you…we never really had.”

Joseph simply nodded his head, encouraging her to continue.

“I think…choosing that position…was easier as it limited the amount of physical contact and my gown provided the coverage necessary.”

Joseph sat up straighter at her admission. He let his hand drift slowly over the swell of her breast, watching her eyes close at the intimate touch. “Why would he not want to touch you?”

She exhaled slowly…she had never shared this with another living soul. “Because he was honorable and knew that we didn’t have the kind of love that would permit such an intimate touch.”

“And he never saw you unclothed?”

“Only once…” she whispered.

His heart saddened that neither his King nor Queen had been able to share what most married couples took for granted. He wanted to ask, but couldn’t find the right words…

Clarisse saw the expression on Joseph’s face and knew it was more sadness than pity. Sadness she could endure…pity she could not. She smiled lovingly at him and raised his chin so their eyes could meet. “Don’t be sad – it wasn’t all that bad. As a matter of fact, until our relationship progressed to the point it did a few years ago, I didn’t even truly realize what I was missing. I was content and my needs were met.”

“So you shared a bed for purposes other than to produce heirs?”

She nodded her head. “We decided early on that it would be for the best to do so. We recognized there were certain basic human needs that must be met and it made us feel closer. I cared for him deeply.”

“And he for you. There was never any question of that.” He stopped himself from adding that he truly believed the King had fallen in love with her towards the end of his life. However, since he knew that Clarisse had not been able to return the feelings, he opted to not bring that up.

“Thank you for saying that. He was an honorable man.”

“Yes he was.”

They were silent for a few moments, just deepening their connection by communicating wordlessly as they had always been able to do. “Clarisse?” His voice was husky.


“I want you to know that the next time we make love, regardless of our positions, I will see and feel every inch of that beautiful skin of yours.”

Clarisse felt a delicious heat spread throughout her body as his words washed over her senses like waves over the sand. “I look forward to that with much anticipation.” She let out a satisfied murmur as he sucked and nipped at her unadorned earlobe.

“Thank you for not wearing earrings.” He murmured into her neck.

“It seemed a reasonable sacrifice to make, all things considered.”

He continued to pay homage to her neck, ears and the small vee of skin exposed at her pajama top. The room seemed uncomfortably warm for Clarisse and she felt a strong desire to feel his hands and mouth on her heated flesh. She pushed away slightly from him, loving the look of desire she saw coloring his features. She watched him intently as she slowly began to unbutton her top. Inch by inch, her freckled skin was being revealed to him.

Joseph’s eyes were transfixed on Clarisse’s movements as she slowly began to undress herself. His chest expanded and contracted in a deep, slow manner as he fought for control. His eyes became darker and his pupils dilated as he focused on the beautiful flesh right in front of him. “Magnificent.” He whispered when she reached the final button. “May I?”

She whispered in reply, “I would be very disappointed if you didn’t.”

Needing no further encouragement, he rained kisses all along the skin that he could reach in their current positions. He noted with excitement that her lingerie of choice that night was a bra designed to lift and cinch which caused its valuable cargo to almost spill out of the delicate lace. His fingers lightly traced the area both above and below the lace, her peaks hardening in response.

“Joseph…” she whispered as she slowly began to give herself over to the sensations that were gathering deep in her abdomen. Her lower body moved against his as he paid homage to her upper body.

She was so beautiful and responsive. Joseph felt like they had been engaging in foreplay since their meeting earlier this afternoon behind the barn. He corrected himself – they had been engaging in foreplay for years. His body was taut with desire for the amazing woman he now held so very close. He rolled one of the lace covered peaks between his thumb and forefinger enjoying the gasp it elicited. His eyes caught sight of the front closure on her bra…could it be that she wanted to take this even further or was it a coincidence?

Clarisse felt his fingers moving to the center of the lacy garment, finding the small clasp that could take their relationship to the next level. Both sets of eyes were dark with desire as one sent a wordless question and the answer was received. She held her breath as strong, capable fingers slowly and carefully unhooked the tiny metal clip.

Joseph felt his body respond as the precious weight filled his hands. He felt her chest stop moving as she held her breath while his tongue gently traced the dusky tip followed by a gentle stream of air on the damp area.

Her body shuddered with pleasure as she released the breath she had been holding. Her fingernails imbedded firmly in his shoulder as he repeated the intimate gesture on the other side. “Joseph?”

His name sounded husky and filled with desire as she spoke it. “Yes, my love.”

“Assist me?” She began to slowly remove herself from his body. He held her waist, providing support until he was certain she was standing on her own. He tried to hide his disappointment as he stood. He couldn’t believe he had misread the signals. Before he could voice a proper apology, he felt her warm hands on his skin as she started to lift his shirt. “You were entirely overdressed.” She proclaimed with what could only be described as a sexy smile.

As soon as the shirt cleared his head, he tossed it aside and pulled her body against his. He held them perfectly still as he memorized the way her skin felt against his. Her skin felt like the softest rose petals; her breasts soft and yielding against his firm chest; her heart racing in her chest; and her breath shallow against his neck. “I need you, Clarisse…I want you.”

Clarisse heard the raw need in his voice. She wanted to pull back and look in his eyes, but she couldn’t bring herself to separate their bodies just yet. “I love you.” She whispered in reply.

Joseph pulled her closer. “I love you, too.”

She realized the moment was upon them. She had led them down this path and it was time. Pulling back slightly, she looked into the deep blue eyes. “I…”

Before she could finish her sentence, the phone that represented her private line rang loudly in the quiet room. She lowered her head onto his shoulder, a deep sigh escaping both of them as they knew who was on the other line. “I have to get this.” She murmured.

Joseph gently released her as he mumbled. “I have to throttle Mabrey.”

Clarisse chuckled as she picked up the phone that had continued its incessant ringing. “Hello.”

Joseph listened absently as Clarisse conversed with the Prime Minister. He loved that she was so comfortable with him that she made no attempt to redress yet. He walked over and stood behind her, wrapping his arms around her. His lips found the curve of her neck while his hands moved upwards to caress the soft mounds he had been worshiping only minutes before. He smiled into the soft skin as her breath hitched mid-sentence.

Clarisse was listening to Sebastian as he summarized the negotiations that had been successfully completed, despite the late hour. She felt Joseph’s warmth behind her and she couldn’t help from melting into his embrace and allowing him to distract her yet again. Her breath caught in response to his caressing prompting Sebastian.

“Are you alright, Your Majesty?”

“Yes, Sebastian, I…I just stubbed my toe.”

“So I will see you in approximately fifteen minutes?”

She sighed lightly so he couldn’t hear as she said, “I will do my best, Sebastian. I will need to change and arrange for Joseph to be there as well. I will ask Charlotte to arrange for some tea or coffee for you.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty. Take your time.”

“See you shortly. Good bye.” She hung up the phone and allowed her hands to cover Joseph’s. “I am so sorry, Joseph.”

He removed their joined hands and led her to the bed and turned her into his embrace. Relishing the feel of her skin against his again. “No apologies, but thank you for allowing things to progress as far as they did.”

“I was prepared to go further.”

He looked longingly at the bed. “But duty calls…”

She followed his gaze and sighed against his chest. “Every time your lips kiss mine, your hands caress me, and your body presses against mine, it serves as a promise of the pleasure that is yet to come.”

Moments later she reluctantly pulled away. “I’m going to need to freshen up before I meet with Sebastian.”

“And I’m going to need a cold shower.”

“Once this business with Mabrey gets cleared up…” she let her hand drift over his chest, “perhaps we can pick up where we left off.”

He grabbed her hand and kissed each fingertip. “You can count on it.”


Chapter 28: “Dear Diary”

Scene: Christmas break between Year 4 and 5

Dear Diary,

It is almost midnight on January 1 of the year I am expected to take the throne of Genovia. I have spent the past couple of weeks in Genovia for my winter break. Mom wasn’t exactly thrilled about my decision, but I know she has a new life in front of her with Trevor and Mr. O’Connell (I still can’t think of him as “Dad”) and I have my life awaiting here in Genovia.

My visit started out on a positive note at Christmas. Of course, we celebrated with mass and then the Annual Christmas parade. I know Gramma was secretly pleased that I didn’t stop the parade to walk with people on the streets. I did successfully negotiate with her to allow a few of the orphans to ride with us in the carriage. She said I was turning out to be quite successful in the area of negotiation. As my dutiful Queen and Grandmother doesn’t hand out compliments all that often, I will hold to the memory of that one for as long as possible. I think, though, that it’s more about my love and concern for those poor children than my skills; but one never argues with the Queen.

Getting back to Christmas…that evening it was just “family”: Gramma, Joe, Charlotte, Shades and me. Uncle Pierre couldn’t make it in this year for the holidays. I know that made Gramma sad. She understands duty, though, and knows he has to put his duty to the church first just as she has always put Genovia first.

We exchanged gifts after a light dinner and dessert. Joe gave me a beautiful pair of diamond earrings. It was one of the nicest gifts I’ve ever been given. Of course, my natural curiosity got the best of me – which I should know by now always gets me in trouble…


“These are beautiful Joe! Thank you so much.” Mia exclaimed as she leaned over to hug her favorite man in black.

“You’re welcome, Princess. I’m glad you like them.”

“Like them? I love them!”

Clarisse interjected. “They are very lovely dear. Perhaps now that we are done opening gifts, we can have some tea?”

Mia did a quick review in her head of the gifts that had been exchanged. “Wait!”

Clarisse turned to look back at her granddaughter. “What is it, dear?”

“I didn’t see the gift Joe gave you.”

A quick hush fell over the group waiting to see the Queen’s reaction. They all assumed the couple had exchanged gifts in private already or would later that evening. The relationship between the Queen and her Head of Security was like the giant elephant in the room – everyone knew it was there – but no one spoke of it…at least not in public and NEVER in front of them.

Clarisse smiled patiently at Amelia. “Joseph and I exchanged gifts earlier.”

“Well that doesn’t seem fair – the rest of us had to wait.”

“Sometimes it is good to be Queen.”

“I’ll remember that one next Christmas.”

“Indeed you should. Now can we have tea?”

“So we don’t get to see the gift?”

Clarisse fought to keep her tone even. Amelia may be skilled at negotiating, but she had a lot to learn when it came to reading people. She shot a pleading look to Joseph; he simply inclined his head to give her the decision whether to share or not. She exhaled slowly and sat back down. “Very well, since you are relentless in your curiosity.” She moved the garment of her skirt where the slit was to expose her long leg, revealing a sapphire and diamond ankle bracelet. As Mia and Charlotte looked on with appreciation, Clarisse allowed herself to remember receiving the gift earlier that evening…


“Come in.”

“Good evening, Clarisse.”

His warm, velvety voice washed away the last remnants of the chill that had seeped into her bones from sitting in the open carriage earlier today. “Good evening, Joseph. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas. You look stunning, by the way.” He enjoyed watching as she blushed at his compliment.

The red silk provided a beautiful contrast to her creamy white skin. The bodice was fashioned in a square cut neckline that revealed just enough to drive even the most disciplined man to distraction. He noted with pleasure the glint of gold that rested around her neck and disappeared below the neckline. His heart rate sped up slightly as he knew that where the chain ended, the pear shaped sapphire he had given her for Christmas a couple of years ago rested where he longed for his lips to be right now.

Joseph mentally shook himself from that line of thinking before it took him where they definitely didn’t have time to go right now.

A black sash provided distinction between her blouse and skirt. The skirt flowed effortlessly down the length of her legs to just below the ankle. What drew his attention, though, was the slit that ran from just above her knee to the ankle – placed in the skirt, no doubt, to aid in movement. For all red-blooded males, however, it served to provide a glimpse of the treasure that lies underneath. Long, muscled and yet delicate legs that generated many a fantasy.

“Thank you. You look rather dashing yourself.”

He chuckled, gesturing to his standard black pants and shirt with the added red handkerchief in the breast pocket to show his Christmas spirit. “This old thing?”

Clarisse closed the remaining distance between them and placed her hands on his sold chest. Her voice was low and sensual. “You look very sexy in black.” She pulled him close for a kiss. His lips were soft and warm and she found pleasure in the familiarity of his taste.

Joseph’s hands caressed her back through the silk. She was definitely his Aphrodite…a goddess of love that had ensnared his heart. The smell of her perfume, the softness of her body, and the sweet taste of her lips as they moved over his weaved a web of desire from which he had no intention of trying to break free.

Reluctantly Clarisse pulled away from the kiss. Their kisses were like a drug and she was definitely addicted. “I have your Christmas gift.” She mentioned breathlessly.

He let his fingers move over her kiss-swollen lips, fighting the urge to kiss her again. “You mean that wasn’t it?”

“No…but I’m certain we can find a few minutes after our gift exchange to try that again.”

“Then this is a wonderful Christmas – perhaps the best yet.”

Clarisse turned back to him and cupped his cheek. Her eyes were filled with emotion as she whispered. “No…next Christmas will be the best as we will finally be out of the shadows and sharing our love freely.”

Joseph placed his hand over hers and turned his head to kiss her palm and then nodded. “The best is definitely yet to come then.”

She closed her eyes for a moment, allowing thoughts of a life with Joseph to run unfettered through her mind. When she opened them again, his blue eyes mirrored the love that she knew he saw reflected in hers. “Christmas gift time!” She announced to break the spell before they could be interrupted. She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a small box, wrapped in gold with an ivory ribbon.

He carefully removed the wrapping and opened the box. A beautiful silver pocket watch rested in red velvet. The Genovian crest was on the front cover and the back was inscribed “Hasta tiempo sea lo nuestro...” along with the date.

“Until time is ours…Clarisse it’s beautiful. I…I don’t know what to say…”

“You could open it.” She teased gently.

He carefully opened the watch. The inside face was opal accented with small blocks of onyx to replace the 12, 3, 6 and 9 numbers of the clock.

“Since I couldn’t put my photo on the left side…at least not yet, I knew you would know what the opal and onyx represented.”

He put his hand on the back of her neck and pulled her into a demanding kiss. Her lips parted under his assault and her tongue joined the intimate dance. They kissed for several long minutes – maybe longer – time seemed to lose all meaning when they were lost in each other. Finally Joseph pulled himself away. “Besides your love, it is the most beautiful gift I have ever been given. Next Christmas, I want the picture to go with it.”


“So now it is time for your gift.” Joseph led her by the hand until she was standing in front of her coffee table. He enjoyed the inquisitive look she gave him as he moved one of the chairs closer to her. He sat down on the table in front of her.

Clarisse started to ask him what was going on, when she felt his hand slip inside the slit of her dress and move slowly up her leg. She realized immediately why he had moved the chair and she placed her right hand on it to steady her now trembling body. She closed her eyes and focused on the sensations his gentle caresses were generating.

Joseph let his hands wander slowly up her calf, marveling at the strength and power hidden there. When his hands reached the area behind her knee, he gently lifted her leg until her foot was resting on the table between his thighs. He leaned over and kissed her knee as his hands moved higher. When he reached the edge of her hose, he placed open mouth kisses along the top of her thigh while the tips of his fingers traced the lace edging. “You have the most beautiful legs, Clarisse…soft, yet strong; the perfect combination of grace and strength. Something of such beauty deserves to be adorned in the finest of jewels.”

She forced her eyes open as she felt him move back momentarily. She gasped as he revealed a beautiful diamond and sapphire bracelet that he carefully put around her ankle. “Do you have any idea how many times I had to practice opening and closing this clasp to make sure I didn’t drop the whole thing and ruin the moment?” He teased.

Clarisse turned her body slightly to more clearly see the jewels glinting in the light. “They are beautiful, Joseph.” She noted the pear shape of the sapphires. “They match my necklace.”

“I plan on supplying the whole set by the time all is said and done.”

“Thank you, Joseph. Of all the jewels I possess, these are the ones I treasure most.”


Fortunately Gramma didn’t stay upset with me too long. She even got this dreamy, far-away look in her eyes as Charlotte and I gushed over the bracelet. My best guess is she was remembering when Joseph gave it to her. It only reinforced to me that there’s more to their relationship than they let on. Of course, if I had any remaining doubts, those would have been washed away like sand at low tide after witnessing what I did tonight. Before, I share about that, I must mention something else that I witnessed before the New Year’s Day parade. I’m not entirely certain what is going on but I know it’s enough to worry the Prime Minister, Gramma and Joe…which makes it enough to worry me too…

“Any updates on the Mabrey situation?” Clarisse asked Sebastian in a hushed tone.

“Our research is continuing, Your Majesty. Mabrey has been unusually quiet, keeping his cards very close, which is not like him.”

“Agreed. Even his behavior in Parliament is rather contrite – which I must confess is very disturbing.”

Joseph finally interjected. “He’s biding his time and waiting for the right moment. It’s his final play for the throne.”

“Agreed, but it is only a play if for some reason Amelia is ruled ineligible to take the throne or she declines. Her past troubles noted, I still can’t see either of those happening. She is next in line for the throne.” Though she spoke with confidence, ancient Genovian law classes from her youth spoke quietly to Clarisse’s subconscious. She considered them, but truly couldn’t see any of those being given as a standard for her granddaughter. Later, she would wish she had heeded more attention…

“Please keep monitoring him as best you can, Prime Minister and the Queen and I will do the same.”

“Of course, Joseph; I have no desire to see Mabrey or any of his relatives given more power in Genovia than they already possess.”


I heard Joseph ask the Prime Minister to keep an eye on Viscount Mabrey. I must be honest and confess I can’t remember which member of Parliament he is, but I will make a note to ask Charlotte the next time there is a function that members of Parliament will be attending.

So enough of politics…tonight marked the end of the first day of the new year. It was one of those nights that was perfect in every way. Perfect it was…right until the very end. It started off with a wonderful party with just the staff and Gramma and I. I had convinced her that those who called the palace their home and those who served our family faithfully every day deserved to celebrate today. I even tossed in how it would be a great “queen” lesson for me as I could practice the different dances with the staff. There was only one condition to the agreed upon practice. She and Joe would have to dance the last dance of the night to a song I chose. Since she is accustomed to performing in such a manner at the various balls she is required to attend, she agreed.

Charlotte and I planned everything and arranged it so even security, with the exception of Joe, had staggered shifts so everyone could attend for a while. The food was placed on tables and easily accessible by anyone who wanted it so no one had to be served. Everyone pitched in with the set up and at eight p.m. sharp, the party started.

After an hour or so, everyone relaxed around Gramma (they don’t seem to be as intimidated by me as they are by her…) and while they were still respectful, we started having more fun. I tribute part of this to my grandmother, who can put anyone at ease – from the highest ranking officials in other countries, to the culinary people who serve our food; she truly is a queen of the people.

So as the night drew to a close, I had successfully danced every dance I had been taught. Gramma and Joe were both very pleased and, I must confess, I felt a small measure of satisfaction at not having tripped, stepped on anyone’s feet, and was able to spin successfully several times – without hurting anyone.

It was time for the final dance and the floor was cleared for Gramma and Joe. I still hadn’t told them what their chosen dance was; but assured them when the music started they would know. I cued Charlotte to dim the lights and the music started…

Joseph stood smiling at Clarisse, thinking about how lovely she looked in the midnight blue dress. Once again the length reached her ankles, a slit providing for ease of movement. The jeweled bodice hugged her body and scooped her neckline…revealing just enough to be dangerous. She was returning his smile and he was grateful the last dance would be his. Perhaps he could even convince her to dance with him privately in her suite once the party ended.

Clarisse looked forward to being in Joseph’s arms once gain. Her happiness turned to…what emotion would it be called? She wasn’t sure. She had just heard Amelia announce them and share with her entire staff that she and Joseph were going to dance the tango. The Tango??!! Had the girl gone mad? That dance was practically the equivalent of foreplay…at least as far as Clarisse was concerned. She caught Joseph’s eyes just before the music started, panic taking over. The music started…

It was too late…

Instinct is defined as an inborn pattern of activity. If there was one thing that was purely instinctual between Clarisse and the man she had fallen in love with, was their ability to dance. Their hands moved as the elements of the dance dictated until they were in the beginning positions and locked tightly into each other’s arms. As the dance began, their lower bodies moved in a fluid motion as though they were one while their upper bodies flowed between the harsh staccato movements and the slow seductive embraces and touches. The rest of the world faded away, and there was only Joseph and his eyes burning into her very soul.

Joseph couldn’t decide if this was heaven or hell. Clarisse was an exquisite dancer who knew how to tango. He had to confess he had never seen her dance this particular dance in all the years he had watched her; but there was no doubt she had been schooled in the art of the sensual dance by someone who knew how to bring out a side of her that few had ever been privileged to see. He knew she had it in her and thanked God every day that he had witnessed it first-hand…but this took him by surprise. When he spun her around so that her back was to him for a few requisite moves, it had taken all his will power not to place his hands where they definitely did not belong. He quickly shifted his focus back to the dance as he felt her hands skim the outside of his thighs, knowing it was the prelude to movement beginning again.

Clarisse’s heart sped up as they continued to move. Moments later she was being tightly held in Josephs’ embrace as their heads made the appropriate turns both towards and away from each other. He turned her again and she felt her body melt against his…she had to find a way to stop this madness. Her heart was pounding as his hand held her tightly, fingers fanned over her bodice. They began the series of turns and she felt the flush of arousal spread across her skin like a wildfire through dry brush. She only prayed that those watching would believe it to be from their exertion and not their mutual desire.

Only about forty five seconds left in the dance and Joseph prayed for strength to see them through. They could not do anything less than their best…it was just not in either of their genetic makeup. But performing this dance flawlessly with Clarisse in his arms was tantamount to making love with their clothes on. A few spins and close embraces later and the music stopped.

The room was silent. The only sounds of breathing in the room were from the dancers, now trying to catch their breath and calm their racing hearts. Clarisse ventured a quick look at Joseph, afraid that their dance had shared too much of themselves and not knowing how to take it back.

A moment later, applause erupted throughout the room. Joseph bowed slightly to Clarisse and kissed the back of the hand he still held before escorting her off the dance floor and out of the room. Neither spoke a word as they made their way to her suite. When the door closed behind them, safely locking out the rest of the world, his mouth crushed down onto hers…releasing the passion he had barely constrained on the dance floor.

Clarisse’s mind was whirling as she tried to calm the range of emotions swirling through her body. Her mind, what rational thought was left, kept focusing on the fact that she had just danced the most sensual of dances with her head of security in front of her entire staff. The other, more dominant portion, told her to stop thinking and just kiss him back. Her body was very single minded in its focus to further explore where their dance had started.

Joseph’s thoughts were only on the warm, vibrant female he now held close. Her hands were on his face, controlling the kiss and her body was pressed fully against his. He could feel the pounding of her heart and the rise and fall of her chest as she drew in the necessary oxygen. Scraping for an ounce of control, he broke the kiss and panted. “Where did you learn that dance?” One hand slipped from her back, lower until it cupped her bottom and held her tightly against him. “You were flawless in your seduction and the execution of the moves. As gifted as you are, not even you could dance like that without practice and training.”

“Are you certain you want me to tell you?” She was grateful he was distracting her at the moment, keeping the Queen at bay for a few moments longer.

Joseph’s lips sought the tender spot on her neck that always made her knees go weak. He nuzzled her softness for a few moments before murmuring. “With you, I am never sure. I leave the choice to share with you.”

Wanting one more moment of passion before dealing with the possible ramifications of their actions, Clarisse moved seductively against him, mimicking some of the earlier dance moves. His moan of arousal was stifled by her lips claiming his. The kiss was passionate and powerful – she took control, yet gave wholly of herself. Their tongues battled as they sought to be as connected as they possibly could allow themselves at that moment.

As quickly as she started it, Clarisse stepped away, moving towards the fire place. Joseph watched in amazement as she fought to control her breathing as she stared into the burning embers. He worked to bring his body back into submission as well. He needed some semblance of control before he moved to be close to her again. Finally, he heard her speak.

“It was my mother’s idea.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“To learn the tango…she thought it would help.”

“Help with?” He was trying to follow her, but desire was still clouding his brain.

“To help Rupert and I discover a more…sensual level to our relationship.”

“I see.”

“She was well meaning…if not, misinformed.”


“She thought it was more Rupert not seeing me that way, rather than the other way around. What better way to get his attention than a dance to seduce him.”

“And did it work?”

“I never tried.”

“I’m not sure if it would be appropriate for me to say I’m glad.”

Clarisse turned her head and offered a smile. “Under the circumstances, I would say that is a normal response.”

“Then I’m very glad that, other than your instructor, I benefited solely from your lessons.”

“But you weren’t the only one…and therein lies our problem?”

Her words concerned him…far more than he should have he was certain. He moved until he was standing behind her, his hands resting comfortably on her waist. “What problem is that?”

“The problem that, thanks to the antics of my granddaughter, my entire staff witnessed quite an inappropriate display of affection between us.”

“Or perhaps they witnessed dancing at its finest. How do you know they didn’t think we were just playing the roles the dance dictated be played?”

She hadn’t fully considered that…but still saw it as a problem. “They will talk…the maids ALWAYS talk…and someone outside the palace walls will hear and make their own determinations.”

“So let them.”

Her eyes flashed as she tried to turn to face him, but his hands held her steady and facing forward. “You can’t mean that!”

“Your staff is loyal to you. Worst case scenario they talk about how accomplished we are on the dance floor. The only ones who would suspect anything differently would be Charlotte, Shades or Amelia…and I can’t imagine them providing any fodder for the rumor mill.”

“You oversimplify things, Joseph.”

He exhaled slowly, knowing the queen had pushed Clarisse, the woman, out of the scene again. He also knew it was useless to argue with her when she had wholly succumbed to the alluring call of duty and responsibility to Genovia. “And you complicate things, Your Majesty.” Placing a soft kiss on her shoulder, he dropped his hands from her waist, turned and sought his escape through the hidden passageway in her bedroom.

Both were so caught up in their conversation that neither had heard Amelia enter. Originally, she had planned on teasing them about running away to finish what they started on the dance floor, but when she overheard the serious conversation and then witnessed Joseph leaving…even she realized it was not a time for teasing. “Gramma?”

“Amelia…I’d ask you to come in, but it seems you are accustomed to entering without knocking. I shall ask you to refrain from that in the future.”

“I’m sorry…I really am. I just didn’t know where you and Joe disappeared to after your dance. You were amazing, by the way.”

“You put me…us in a very difficult position tonight, Amelia.”

“How so?”

“The dance you chose was highly inappropriate for Joseph and I to dance together.”

“I beg to differ.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I, along with everyone else, thought you both were…breathtaking.”

“That is beside the point.”

“No, that is exactly the point. You were among family…what is the problem?”

“You are very naïve if you believe that no one will ever try to hurt you or try to take the throne away, Amelia.”

“So you doubt the loyalty of those in your employ?”

“Of course not.”

“Then I fail to see the problem.”

“One never knows what will happen a day, a week, or a year from now. Allegiances and loyalties can change and the knowledge they gain while within these palace walls, could be used against me…against us…at a future date.”

Mia simply shook her head…saddened that her Gramma was so afraid of what the future may bring that she was refusing to live in the present. “I may be naïve, Grandmother, but your outlook is cynical. I may, God forbid, end up like that someday…but, until then, I will choose my naivety.”

Clarisse continued to stare into the fire, trying to keep the tears from falling. This was certainly not how she wanted to start out the new year. This was to be a year of promises fulfilled and love revealed. Yet on the very first day, she denied the power of that love and casts doubt on the loyalty of the people closest to her. Not her best day by far.


So based on what I saw tonight, I’m sure that Gramma and Joe have deep feelings for each other. I’m sure she’ll forgive me…eventually, for pushing her into that dance. Those of us who saw it, witnessed perfection on the dance floor and despite what Gramma says, I know in my heart it was a very good thing.

So, Diary, that ends my entry for today. I will be preparing to go back to the states in a couple of days. The next time I arrive in Genovia, late this spring, it will be for good. Let’s hope that Gramma is wrong and that there is no one lying in wait to take the throne away from, for the moment, the final Renaldi heir.


Chapter 29: “Returning the Favor”

Scene: May of Year 5 – 3 Weeks before Mia’s arrival

Joseph watched as Clarisse struggled to stay focused on the tasks at hand. Her forehead was creased in concentration and he could almost see the knots forming in her neck and shoulders. He knew from experience that the stubborn side of her personality would adamantly refuse to give in to the temptation to try and massage them away. She had been working ten hour days for weeks now and there seemed to be no end in sight. Preparations for the arrival of the princess were consuming a great deal of her time. That coupled with the constant worry over when Viscount Mabrey would make his play for the throne was taking its toll on her.

Aside from all of her professional stresses, the waiting game she was playing with her personal life was keeping her entire nervous system on high alert. Things had cooled briefly after the “tango incident” in January, but the attraction between them was undeniable – despite their best efforts to do just that. They were drawn to each other like a moth to a flame…unable to resist the allure of the physical connection between them. He had tried to slow things down – he swore he had – but there was something about her that made him question whether he ever had any self-control.


“Yes ma’am?”

“Has there been any progress on Amelia’s suite?”

Charlotte cast a quick glance at Joseph, silently asking for backup if the Queen lost it when she heard the bad news. “No ma’am.”

Clarisse put her pen down and for the thirtieth time that day fought the urge to try to alleviate the tension in her temples and neck. “Honestly?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“Did he give a reason as to the delay?”

“Once I was finally able to reach him, he said that he was working on some other projects and there was plenty of time before the Princess arrived.”


Charlotte wanted to dig a hole and crawl in it rather than relay the rest of the message. “Your Majesty?”

“I’m certain that Victor had something else to say. Heaven knows I spent enough time with him at family gatherings for Rupert’s side. While an excellent plumber, he was always a tad uncouth.”

“It wasn’t important, Your Majesty.”

Charlotte found herself on the receiving end of what some of the staff had dubbed the ‘death glare’. She sighed and decided to paraphrase. “Yes ma’am. He suggested that you find a way to…relieve…some of the stress in your life and relax. He implied that he had everything under control.”

“I beg your pardon?!” Clarisse felt the anger suffusing her body. How dare he? Knowing Victor as she did, she was certain that he had implied…if not outright stated…that a good roll in the hay would make her more pleasant to be around. His attitude towards intimacy and “stress relief” explained why he had never been able to stay married for more than a few years at a time.

“Please don’t blame the messenger, ma’am.” Charlotte had rarely seen her boss this angry. She gave another pleading look in Joseph’s direction, fearing SHE was the one needing protection at the moment.

Joseph took a small step in Clarisse’s direction. She saw him out of the corner of her eye. “Don’t even try, Joseph. I am in no mood to be placated at the moment.”

“I was merely going to suggest a break for tea,” he replied, quietly responding to her rage.

“If I break for tea now, that throws the entire schedule out of sync. How do you propose I run a country if I can’t even adhere to a simple schedule?”

Joseph nodded his head slightly in deference to her. “As you wish, Your Majesty.” He had known her long enough to know when to push and when not. This was a time to restrain.

“Charlotte, what’s next?” She asked without even looking up.

Joseph gave Charlotte a sympathetic squeeze on her arm as he passed by to resume his post by the door. He quietly whispered. “Once she is occupied, see me outside.”

Charlotte nodded, hoping that Joseph had a plan.

About ten minutes later, she emerged from the office and quietly shut the door behind her. “Well that was pleasant.” She offered in a hushed tone.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“That didn’t seem to matter, did it?”

Joseph chuckled a bit, causing a small smile to emerge on Charlotte’s face. “No, it didn’t. Just be grateful she doesn’t keep a hand gun in her desk or the old adage of shooting the messenger might have applied.”

“That might have been preferable to the death glare I received.”

“Fair enough – next time, I will let her borrow my gun.”

“Funny, Joseph. Just be grateful she doesn’t yell at you.”

Joseph’s face registered surprise. “What gave you that idea?”

“Oh come on Joe, everyone knows you’re her ‘favorite’.”

“Trust me when I tell you that I have been on the receiving end of at least my share, if not more, of Clarisse’s anger.”

“Really?” Charlotte couldn’t imagine the Queen being unhappy with Joseph.


“So how do you deal with it?”

He thought about telling her that he kissed her senseless until she forgave him, but decided against it. “I’ve found with the Queen that she is, at heart, a fair and reasonable person. She generally works through things on her own and realizes the error of her ways. At which point, she apologizes…in her own way…and you forgive her because she is an amazing woman more than her fair share of responsibility – which often times, takes its toll on her more reasonable self.”

Charlotte considered his words and found them to be true. However…”Agreed, but Joe, even you have to admit that it is worse than usual this time.”

“She is under a great deal of strain right now, Charlotte. You of all people know that.”

“I know. She won’t accept help, though. I don’t know how to relieve some of her burden.”

“Well Victor had some ideas, I’m sure.” He teased with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Joseph! Victor is incorrigible – more so than you.” She quipped in return.

Joseph silently agreed, but thought that Victor might not have been too far off the mark this time. The sexual frustration level that they both endured was certainly taking its toll on him. He was certain that it was affecting her as well. Part of him understood the reason to abstain…the other part thought it was ridiculous to believe that Clarisse should be held to a higher standard of conduct than the average citizen. What she did in the privacy of her bedroom was no one’s business but hers. Truth be told, they were both a little old fashioned as well, and liked to believe in the romantic and even spiritual notion of waiting until they were bound in matrimony to fully avail themselves of the marital rites. Well, except when he thought he might be facing death…then all romantic notions had dissipated with his desire to be one with her at least once…but that was yesterday and this is now. “What does her schedule look like this afternoon?”

Charlotte had watched as Joseph worked through things in his mind. She wasn’t sure where his thoughts had taken him, but history had taught her to remain quiet and wait. Generally when he had finished thinking, he had an idea to solve whatever problem currently plagued them. She retrieved the schedule. “An informal meeting with Sheila Motaz at one and then a two o’clock meeting with Lord Crawley; the rest of the afternoon is paperwork, meetings with the birthday committee for Mia’s twenty-first celebration, and then dinner with the Genovian Historical Society at five.”

“You call Sheila and ask her if the meeting with the Queen can be postponed. Ask her if it is acceptable if we tell the Queen that she asked for it to be rescheduled. I will do the same with Lord Crawley.”

“So she will have a couple of hours to relax and won’t have to feel guilty.” Charlotte smiled. He was good!

“Exactly and if she tries to fill those two hours with something else, we will remind her of the necessity of adhering to the schedule as she pointed out so clearly to us earlier.”

“YOU will remind her of that. I’ve taken my lumps for today.” Charlotte teased.

“Agreed.” He smiled. “Perhaps one of us can suggest she take advantage of the opportunity to rest for a while in her suite.”

“I am willing to do that if you handle any objections.”

“I can do that.”

Charlotte gave him an admiring grin. “Now I understand why you’re the highest paid member of the staff.”

That statement sent Joseph into laughter. “If I’m the highest paid, the rest of you are in trouble!” Thinking of Clarisse’ sweet kisses, he added. “The benefits are pretty good though.”

“I’ll go call Sheila. We’ll know shortly if all of our planning was worth it.”


Clarisse stepped into the blissful dimness of her bedroom. Olivia had been a dear and pulled the curtains for her and placed a thin cotton blanket over the bedspread for her to rest on. Clarisse had refused to have her turn the bed down stating that she was only going to close her eyes and rest. There was no need to mess up the bed. Truth be told, it had been the first kind act she had done today. She had been horrible to poor Charlotte and not much nicer to Joseph. She slowly rotated her head, trying to relieve some of the pressure that had been building there for weeks. Her whole body felt like one big knot. With meeting after meeting, there had been no time to seek any significant relief to her suffering. The heavens had smiled on her today, though, and two of her afternoon appointments had cancelled citing unavoidable conflicts. It seemed rather suspicious but she had decided to take the two hour gift she had been given and try to get some much needed rest and relaxation.

She removed her jacket and shoes, but still felt the uncomfortable pressure of her own clothing. She was certain a migraine headache was waiting in the wings and desperately wanted to avoid that. Making the decision quickly before she could talk herself out of it citing proper behavior and a multitude of other rules for ladies that had been ingrained in her since a young age, she removed the remaining garments leaving only her bra and underwear. She carefully laid her clothes over the garment rack in her closet. Grabbing another cotton blanket, she made her way back to the bed. Taking up her spot on the left side of the bed, she closed her eyes and tried to relax.

After a few moments, the pain in her shoulders had taken center stage in her mind. The satin straps felt like heavy weights pressing into the tender flesh. Knowing that she was not going to have any relief otherwise, she sat up and removed the offending garment. She instantly felt the difference. Satisfied that she might be able to rest some now, despite the tension in every muscle, she leaned back against the pillows and closed her eyes.


Joseph waited a little over an hour into the two hour reprieve before he quietly made his way into Clarisse’s suite. He had agreed to provide security so she wouldn’t have to worry about being disturbed. Strict instructions had been given that barring a national emergency, Clarisse was not to be disturbed until three. Charlotte would then call the suite to wake the Queen so she had time to get ready for the rest of her day. Joseph had made a quick stop by his suite to pick up the items necessary for the pampering he had planned.

Clarisse had tried to sleep, truly she had. The tension in her body would not permit sufficient relaxation for rest. She knew it was a combination of so many things…some of which she had control over – some she did not. Thoughts of Victor’s message flooded unbidden into her mind. She was still angry at him…partly because he was right. Before she could allow that line of thinking any further recourse, she heard the door to her bedroom being opened. There was only one person on the face of the Earth that would dare brave coming in here to potentially face her wrath. “Joseph.” She called out softly.

“Permission to enter?” He asked quietly, testing the water.

Despite the pain it caused, she smiled slightly. “Little late for that, isn’t it?”

“Better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, I’ve heard.”


“I’d like to help…if you will permit.”

“You’re being very cautious this afternoon.”

“I’m trying to avoid the death glare. I’ve seen it in action already today and want to avoid a repeat performance.”

She sighed. “I was fairly horrible to Charlotte, wasn’t I?”

“She understands.”

“She always does. That doesn’t make it right.”

“I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it up to her. In the interim, why don’t you let me ease your burden for a few minutes?”

“What did you have in mind?”

Joseph walked over to the side of the bed. His breath caught in his throat as he could see the outline of her body under the thin cotton blanket. This task would prove more challenging than he originally thought. “Just keep your eyes closed and relax.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Trust me.”

“With my life.”

Clarisse had kept her eyes closed throughout the entire exchange. She knew if she saw the look in Joseph’s eyes that would set off a whole other set of nerves that would make relaxation impossible. Very aware of her lack of undress and his nearness, her mind’s eye knew without a doubt the look that had crossed Joseph’s face when he came to the same realization. She would not confirm the image by opening her eyes. She heard him softly exhale before his fingers gently traced over her forehead, down the bridge of her nose and then carefully down her cheeks. The soft caress was repeated several times until, despite every intention not to, she began to relax.

Once he sensed that she had given up fighting him, he removed his hands from her long enough to pour a small amount of the warm lavender scented oil he had brought with him into his hands. The blanket covered her body and most of her chest. Her arms were above the cover, causing it to fit snugly over her body.

He moved to the head of the bead and rubbed his hands together gently before placing them on Clarisse’s shoulders. Small, pressured strokes were applied along her shoulders and chest carefully avoiding the area below the blanket. His thumbs worked on her shoulders while the fingers brought relief to the tension in her upper body.

Clarisse carefully controlled her breathing, the calming lavender scent aiding her efforts. She felt his hands, strong and sure, seeking out the knots and working methodically to soothe and calm her frayed nerves. She desperately tried not to think about how wonderful his hands would feel if they slipped below the sheet. A steady ache remained there since the first time he had held and caressed the precious weight in the palms of his hands. Her thoughts were refocused as she felt him move to work on her right arm.

Joseph was thankful for the dim lighting that hid all of the small freckles that adorned Clarisse’s body. He had been infatuated with them for years now, loving them for representing, to him, the playful side of Clarisse. Her skin was flawless perfection just as the world expected her to be. Some thought that freckles marred the perfection, but to him, they simply redefined perfection - the perfect combination of proper and playful. Someday he hoped to have the time alone with her to count and kiss each and every one.

Her arms felt like jelly once Joseph had finished his ministrations. His loving attention to detail ensured that every muscle in her arms was massaged and relaxed before he finished. His next instructions caused her heart to flutter.

“I need you to roll over so I can work on your back.”

Could she do it without revealing more than she should to him? Would it matter? It wasn’t like he hadn’t already seen her partially undressed. Of course, she had never been in her bed being covered in massage oil by her almost lover while in a state of undress either. She could hear the smile in his voice as he sensed her struggle.

“Would you prefer I turn around to give you some privacy?”

His approach challenged her just enough to get a small rise out of her. “That’s not necessary from my point of view…but if it would embarrass you…”

The huskiness of his voice spread heat throughout her entire body. “I assure you, Clarisse, of the many things the sight of your body does to me, embarrassment isn’t one of them.”

She carefully maneuvered under the blanket until she was resting comfortably on her stomach. Her ears picked up on the catch in his breath as he slowly lowered the blanket until the entire expanse of her back was revealed. The warm oil made contact with her skin as his hands slid over the smooth flesh to determine the problem spots, eliciting a small moan from the back of her throat.

Joseph belatedly realized that this probably was an unfair test of his tenuous self-control. A lesser man would have either turned tail and ran or climbed onto the bed to claim her body as his. The muscles under his hands were drawn tight and were at least partially responsible for her inability to rest and relax. He would not abandon her in a time of need, regardless of the personal suffering he might endure. He took a few deep breaths, exhaling them slowly and went to work.

Clarisse tried hard to control her body’s natural responses to his efforts to relax her. After that first moan had slipped out uninvited, she had been focusing on exhibiting more restraint. Apparently Joseph realized it as well. She felt the warmth of his body hovering just over hers as he whispered in her ear, “Just let go, Clarisse. It’s safe to be yourself with me. Don’t fight it…”

He was right. He was the one person in her life that she could truly be herself with and, despite everything she had thrown at him, he had stayed by her side….loving and supporting her. Distinctly feeling the loss as his heat moved away from her to resume his tasks, she sighed as the pressure of his hands focused on her lower back releasing weeks of tightness.

Now that she was finally starting to relax, Joseph redoubled his efforts, listening closely to her breathing and vocal responses to let him know what areas still needed attention. He adamantly refused to give heed to the areas of his body screaming for attention. Her murmurs of pleasure answered any remaining questions of whether she would be a responsive, vocal lover – even after years of holding herself closely in check. A cold shower was definitely going to be in order before he could return to work this afternoon. Sensing he had done as much that could be done on her back without making her overly sore and tender, he slowly brought the blanket to its original position.

Clarisse was just about to lift her head and thank him for helping her feel better than she had felt in months when she felt the blanket being lifted from her feet and legs, carefully folded over her back to provide additional warmth to her back. “Joseph?”

“Shhh…just relax. I’ll be finished soon. He lifted her foot and gently kissed the tips of her toes. “We can’t ignore these beautiful feet and legs. They work hard to carry our Queen to all of her meetings and support you tirelessly as you sit behind that stately desk.”

Having been on the receiving end of his foot rubs, she knew what was coming. Moments later, her breathing deepened as he massaged the areas on her feet that corresponded to the various parts and systems in her body. “Mmmm….oh, Joseph…that is heavenly.”

“I’m glad it is relaxing you…you needed it.” He hoped she would continue to be amenable as he sought to give her all that she needed today.

An involuntary gasp escaped her lips as his hands moved up her leg to create small circles on the lower part of her thigh and calf. The blood that had been moving more freely through her relaxed body now seemed to pool low in her abdomen adding to a different kind of tension.

“Is everything alright, Clarisse?” Joseph asked, trying to keep the smile out of his voice. He was moving towards phase two of Operation Relax Clarisse.

“I…yes…yes…everything is fine.” She was NOT going to admit to Joseph how little self-control she had over her own body.

“Good.” Joseph didn’t elaborate further, but continued to stroke her thighs and calves, venturing a little higher each time but not high enough to cause her undue alarm and make him stop.

Nature and instinct are powerful forces especially where the human body was concerned. Clarisse’s mind battled with those both of them valiantly – but it was losing. Her legs instinctively moved farther apart to encourage his touch and the nerves in her lower body became heightened, aware of every touch. Only a lifetime of exercising self-control kept her from begging him to give her the release her body craved and demanded. Her hands rhythmically clenched and unclenched the comforter as she willed her body into submission. Finally the torment ended as his hands slid slowly down her legs one final time before completely covering her with the blanket. She wasn’t certain if she was relieved or disappointed.

“Scoot over and make some room for your hard working servant, hmmm?” Joseph teased quietly.

Clarisse exhaled slowly before rolling carefully to her right, placing her body more in the middle of the bed and leaving room for Joseph in the spot she had just vacated. Once they were both situated on the bed, she turned her face towards him. “Thank you, Joseph. I feel so much better.”

He leaned over and kissed her gently, enjoying the feel of her soft lips. Pulling away only slightly, he whispered. “There’s more, if you will allow. Let me finish what I started so you can truly relax.”

Before she could say anything in response, she felt his hand slip under the cover, the tips of his fingers lightly caressing her abdomen and ribcage. She closed her eyes and forced her mind to focus. “Joseph, this isn’t playing fair. We agreed…”

He cut her off quickly. “I’m not going back on our decision, Clarisse. This is about helping you relax and taking the edge off so you can do your job better. If you’d rather take care of this yourself…” he let his fingers slip a little lower, just above the lacy waistband.

Thankful he couldn’t see the flush that covered her body at his suggestion, she quickly discounted the idea. She had thought about it from time to time, but had always denied herself that reprieve for fear that the loneliness and emptiness she would feel afterwards would be worse than the original release her body craved. Would it be different if Joseph were the one easing the frustrations? She licked her lips, trying to find the voice to respond to him, which was proving difficult as his fingers continued to lightly dance over her heated skin. “Not fair to you…” she managed.

“I’m repaying the favor. When I needed you desperately, you were there for me; despite the personal sacrifice it cost you. I’m willing to endure another cold shower in order to do this for you, my love. Please…”

Clarisse was certain she could feel the blood thrumming in her lower body. It was an all-consuming fire that would blaze out of control with just the slightest encouragement. Could she bring herself to ask to be pleasured? To put aside everything she had been taught and experienced up to this point? This would not be about procreation; not even about honoring a marriage vow…this was, at its basest point, about the potential for pleasure that existed between a man and a woman. It was an entirely selfish thing for which she would be asking. Her soul mate was asking nothing in return except to give her release.

The reduced lighting made it difficult to read her face. One thing was certain, she was having a grand debate with herself and he was unsure which side was winning. He wouldn’t move his hand lower without her express permission. The days of directly manipulating her in this area were long over. Deciding to make one more attempt and then remove temptation from her easy grasp. “Let go and let me…” he whispered.

Instinct and need won over and she whispered her one word reply. “Please…”

Joseph kissed her forehead to express his gratitude for trusting him. Leaning back for a better vantage point, he adjusted his body so the target area was within easy reach. A moment later, his middle finger gently smoothed over the small scrap of satin offering the last vestiges of protection from what was about to happen. Staying completely tuned to her, he moved deliberately and carefully. Her breathing was becoming shallow and it was clear that desire was slowing being given control of the beautiful body lying next to him.

After a few moments, Clarisse needed more. She needed the pressure of his intimate touch. To encourage him further, she bent her left leg and moved it away slightly from her body, giving him better access. Arching instinctually as his hand slipped below the satin to comb through the damp curls, her arms raised above her head and held fast to the pillows supporting her head. “Oh Joseph…mmmm….”

If he had thought her beautiful before, she held the rank of goddess now. Years were melting away from her face as responsibility, fear, and duty faded away allowing pleasure full reign. He needed more…his fingers slipped into her silken folds taking his breath away at the heat he found there. “Merde, Clarisse…”

A glorious friction was building that erased logic, leaving nothing but raw desire and need…all being fueled by his touch. Clarisse could feel the seemingly rough pads of his fingertips against her smooth folds. Moisture gathered naturally allowing ease of movement and sending her desire level ratcheting up another notch. Her lower body undulated beneath his touch triggering shivers of pleasure building to unbearable levels.

As much as he would love to make this last forever, he knew she needed relief and that time was growing short. He took a deep breath knowing the next few moments would be the greatest test of his self-control. Exhaling slowly, he slipped a finger inside her warm depths. Instinctively her body surrounded the intrusion tightly as though welcoming it home from a long period of abstinence. Trying to ignore the moans of pleasure from Clarisse, his own body screamed in protest that it was being denied the feel of her flesh against his. Slowly, he moved deeper before withdrawing to deliver the heated liquid to the tiny bundle of nerves that would trigger her final release.

This had to be the sweetest torture she had ever endured. Her entire focus centered on the relatively small portion of her body being attended by her lover. Welcoming his intrusion into its private sanctum, the body now yearned for more. With the last shred of rational thought remaining, she thanked God that Mia would assume the throne in a few short months, allowing her to fully explore all that life had to offer with the man lying next to her. Her legs moved further apart to grant silent permission to finish what he had started.

Reading the signals from her body, he increased the speed and intensity of his attentions to the center of her desire. Her breath was coming in small pants, the body in a constant state of motion trying to find an outlet for the building pressure. He could feel his arousal continue to grow in strength and knew that he would have to seek relief soon as well. It was time to finish this.

Clarisse felt his mouth cover hers as his finger slipped inside of her once again, curling at just the right place while his thumb applied the necessary pressure to the sensitive nub. The triple assault caused the cord to break and sent her spirit soaring into the heavens, lifted on clouds of pleasure. Her mouth tore away from his as her body cried out while months, perhaps even years of denial were carried away like waves to the ocean. He continued to caress her swollen folds keeping her hovering far above the planet. Tendrils of pleasure clung to her body, covering and touching the farthest regions of her mind, body and soul, drawing from them wave after wave of release. Finally spent, her hand covered his, signaling that she couldn’t take any more.

Joseph felt the pressure from her hand atop the blanket and stilled his movements. He marveled at the wonders of the human body and the way he could feel her rapid pulse beating solidly under his hand. While the movement of their lower bodies had ceased, she had continued to kiss him with fervor. He would have loved to continue like this for hours, but knew that reality was going to crash in on them soon. He slowly brought the kiss down to a gentle connection before finally pulling away.

Clarisse made no attempt to disguise the look of contentment and satisfaction that she knew colored her features. Joseph had earned the right to witness her reactions, raw and uncensored. “That was…” she searched for the right words and finding none, she finished, “…indescribable.”

“Thank you.” He whispered as he kissed her forehead.

Her smile filled the room as she whispered her reply. “I am certain it is I who should be thanking you.”

“I will never forget the look on your face as all poise and composure were wiped away to be replaced by pleasure…pleasure that I was responsible for giving you. I was privileged to witness you losing the control you hold so dear.”

Clarisse stretched again, enjoying the lack of tightness and pain that was now absent from her body. “Perhaps control is sometimes over-rated.” Feeling the evidence of his desire pressing against her leg, she added, “Although you have exhibited great control today.”

“It is tenuous at best, my dear. And now I must take my leave.”

Clarisse felt a distinct loss as his hand moved away from her. “I wish you didn’t have to go.” She wanted nothing more than for him to stay in her arms this afternoon and forever.

“Soon my love; very soon.”

She watched him as he gathered up the items he had brought with him. She had never before wished time to pass so quickly so that she could step down from the throne and spend the rest of her life with Joseph. Once she ensured Amelia was ready…she would be free to love him and return the wonderful favor he had bestowed on her today. “I love you, Joseph.”

Joseph allowed himself to once more gaze on the beautiful woman on the bed. Her hair was mussed, her body still flushed with desire, and her face…oh that beautiful face…was a beguiling combination of contentment and longing. “I love you, Clarisse.”

“Three more weeks until Amelia’s twenty-first birthday.”

“We’re almost there.”



Chapter 30:

SCENE: Mia’s arrival in Genovia and her 21st birthday bash

“Any word, Charlotte?”

“Genovian One is due to land in two hours, Your Majesty.” Charlotte couldn’t help the small smile that escaped her lips as she answered the very same question for at least the third time that afternoon. The Queen’s mood had been much improved over the past few weeks. The forced rest that she and Joseph had coordinated that dreadful afternoon when things had reached their worst had worked miracles on their friend’s disposition. “You miss him, don’t you?”

Clarisse looked up at the young woman, both impressed and a little irked at her forwardness. She gave her the benefit of a half-smile. “I always feel safer when my Head of Security is close by.”

Realizing the game they had to play, Charlotte replied. “Of course, ma’am – I understand. I’m certain he feels better when he is here to personally protect you as well.”

“Just as you feel safer when Scott is nearby to make sure no harms comes to my favorite personal assistant, trusted aide and dear friend.” Clarisse’s smile was in full force now.

Charlotte had the decency to blush. “Yes, I suppose I can see your point there. By the way, I wanted to thank you again for the generous gift.”

^^Three weeks ago^^


“Yes, Your Majesty?”

“I wanted to apologize for my behavior earlier today. I have been under a great deal of stress lately and, unfortunately for you and Joseph, you seem to bear the brunt of it most days.”

“I understand, Your Majesty. If I may say, your afternoon rest agreed with you. You seem much more relaxed now.”

Clarisse blushed remembering exactly the events to which she owed her new state of relaxation. “Yes, well, it may have well been the best rest I’ve had in…years. It was very fortunate that both Lord Crawley AND Sheila Motaz cancelled at the last minute.” She looked directly at Charlotte.

Knowing she couldn’t lie, Charlotte opted to avoid details. “Sometimes life is kind to us that way, Your Majesty.”

“Indeed.” Clarisse’s eyes twinkled. “I do believe it is time that life showed you some…kindness as well.”


“You have been working just as hard as I have lately, Charlotte, and things are only going to get crazier as Amelia’s arrival nears. I have arranged for you to have a few days off at the Pyrus Pear Spa and Salon. I’m sorry but I refuse to patronize a Von Troken spa location.”

Charlotte was truly shocked. “The Pyrus Spa is the finest in Genovia…I…I appreciate it, ma’am but…”

“But, nothing, Charlotte. It is a gift from me interwoven with an apology for your having to endure my terrible behavior here lately.”

Charlotte was truly speechless.

“Of course, I simply cannot have my most trusted aide cavorting alone in Pyrus.”


“I’ve arranged for security for you.”

“Security? I don’t see why that would be necessary.”

“Charlotte, on any given day there are at least two factions who are looking for ANY opportunity to destroy the Renaldi rule of Genovia. Viscount Mabrey and the Von Trokens being among the chief suspects. If they were to gain access to my most trusted confidant, I’m certain you can see where there could be danger?”

“I suppose…”

“So I’ve arranged for Scott to accompany you on your long weekend.” It took everything Clarisse had not to laugh at the look that crossed Charlotte’s face. It was a mixture of embarrassment, surprise, and…yes…longing and desire. Clarisse had come to recognize that on her own face when she thought of her favorite security personnel.

Charlotte couldn’t hide her blush. “Thank you, Your Majesty, that is both generous and kind.”

Clarisse winked. “Just make sure to rest up – things are going to get really crazy here in a week or so.”

Of course at the time, neither realized just how crazy things were truly going to be.


“Joseph! You’re home.” Clarisse hastened to his arms when he stepped inside her suite. She felt the comforting warmth of his arms around her body and allowed her frame to melt into his. “I’ve missed you.” She whispered before pressing her lips to his.

The kiss was familiar and carried with it a hope for a future together. When they finally broke for air, he smiled and replied. “That was a wonderful homecoming.”

“Oh there’s more where that came from. Come with me.”

Joseph smiled as he took her hand; his heart rate increased as he saw they were headed to the bedroom. He tried to keep his pulse slow as he thought about how soon she would be free to love him. Thoughts of a romantic proposal had filled the time during the flight from the states. After having an arranged marriage the first time, he wanted to be sure that she got the whole fairytale. He had already selected the ring…not a diamond solitaire, though…he had promised himself to never do that again. When the time was right, he prayed the selection he had made would please her.

The room was lit with candles and a small table had been set. Various cheese and fruits adorned a platter accompanied by a chilling bottle of champagne. “To what do I owe this honor?"

“An early celebration? Genovia’s future Queen is now in residence.” Her eyes sparkled with excitement.

“Sounds like reason to celebrate to me…mostly because that means the current Queen will be free to pursue her own interests.”

Clarisse picked a grape off of the plate and lifted it to his lips; a small gasp escaping as he enclosed her fingers along with the grape in the warmth of his mouth. “Joseph…” She whispered as she felt his tongue gliding over the slender digits.

“Mmmm….very tasty. Now your turn.” Joseph picked up a strawberry and dipped it in the powdered sugar. He traced the sweet powder over her parted lips before letting her pull the succulent fruit into her mouth. Once she had taken a bite, his mouth covered hers, tasting the mixture of juice and sweetness. “Even tastier…” he whispered.

“Shall we sit?” She asked in a husky voice. In truth, she wanted to sit for fear that she wouldn’t be able to stand if he kissed her like that again.

“Of course.” Joseph pulled out a chair for her, before taking his own seat. He watched as Clarisse began filling his plate. “So how have things been at the Palace since I was gone?”

“Well Elsie Kentworthy has been at it again….stirring up trouble as only she can do. I swear she must be on Mabrey’s payroll as much as she spreads dissent among the people of Genovia.”

“Do you think Mabrey will make his move soon?”

“I am unsure, Joseph. I don’t like not knowing when he will show his cards but, rest assured, he will.”

“Mia is first in line for the throne. Of that, there is no doubt.”

“If there’s one thing I have learned over the years, Joseph…nothing is certain.”

“Nothing but my love for you.” He replied as his hand covered hers.

Clarisse offered him a gentle smile in return. She hoped his words would hold true when the cards started to fall.


“So Gramma, where were you tonight?” Mia asked as she launched herself onto the sofa in the Queen’s sitting room. She figured that now was as good a time as any to continue to try to bond with the reserved woman who was her grandmother.

“What do you mean dear? I was at your party. Remember my introducing you?” Clarisse had changed into her blue silk pajamas and was sitting in her favorite chair facing the sofa. Maybe having to share a suite for a few nights with Amelia wouldn’t be such a bad thing. She would miss Joseph’s kisses goodnight…but it was only for a few nights.

Mia eyed her grandmother over her cup of tea. “Yes. After you introduced me, you stuck around for maybe an hour…then you were nowhere to be seen.”

Clarisse tried to hide the blush that she knew would surface if she let her mind wander back to her time out on the veranda with Joseph. “Oh, well, I did step out for a bit. I needed some fresh air…and then the Prime Minister requested a brief meeting.” She didn’t want to alarm her Granddaughter about the true nature of their meeting.

The young woman smiled and decided not to press the issue. She had also noticed that Joseph was absent as well since she had scanned the faces in the crowd, looking for him to rescue her from some of the horrible dancers she was being forced to accompany. She had absently wondered if this was how he had felt when he was trying to teach her to dance over five years ago. “We need to get the tradition changed that says I have to dance with all the eligible bachelors.”

Clarisse chuckled, grateful she had dropped the subject of her absence from the party. “Why is that dear?”

“Because not all of the eligible bachelors CAN dance. One man even compared me to small forest animals and wanted me to ‘shimmy’ with him. It was awful.”

“Consider it practice for future balls where you will be required to dance with many dignitaries and politicians.”

“Some of them can’t dance either?” Mia groaned.

“Exactly dear.”

“There was one guy, a Nicholas that danced really well. He was actually kind of dreamy.” Mia sighed happily as she thought back to her dance.

Clarisse smiled at her granddaughter. While she truly didn’t have time for romance in her life right now, being twirled around the dance floor by a capable partner was never a bad thing. It has sustained her and Joseph for far longer than she cared to admit. “He sounds simply wonderful. There’s nothing quite like the dance to warm one’s soul and make us happy.”

“Was Grampa Rupert a good dancer?” She couldn’t help herself. She knew so little about her grandfather and no one ever seemed to want to talk about him except to ask that he rest in peace.

“He certainly knew his way around a dance floor.”

She knew it would get her in trouble, but her edit function still didn’t work properly all the time. “Did he dance as well with you as Joe does?”

“Amelia! Why would you ask such a thing?” Clarisse could feel the color rising in her cheeks.

“I’m curious. It’s my nature.”

“Your grandfather and I danced very well together.”

“Interesting answer…too bad you didn’t actually answer my question.” Mia teased.

“Has anyone ever told you that you were incorrigible?”

Mia laughed. “Not in those exact words, I think, but probably something very similar.”

Clarisse smiled. “I’m glad you’re here, Amelia. I know your father and grandfather would be very proud of the young woman you’ve become.”

“Thanks, Gramma – that means a lot. I’m still not sure I’m cut out to do this; but I promise to give it a try. And, for the record, I know that you still didn’t answer my question.”

“We should probably turn in. I have an early session with Parliament tomorrow.” Clarisse avoided the question one final time.

“Sure thing.” Mia finished her tea and then headed towards the bedroom. She stopped beside her Grandmother’s chair and leaned closer and whispered. “By the way, nice earrings…they seem to match the ankle bracelet Joseph gave you for Christmas.”

Clarisse’s blush deepened. She didn’t have an opportunity to respond, not that she was sure what to say anyway, because Amelia just smiled and walked away. Her cup was empty so she had nothing to keep her from giving her attention to remembering what happened earlier tonight…



“Yes ma’am.”

“I’m feeling rather warm. Would it be possible to step out on the veranda for some fresh air?”

“I’m certain that can be arranged. Give me just one moment.” Joseph touched his earpiece and spoke quietly for a few moments. He allowed his hand to briefly touch the small of her back as he gestured towards the staircase that would lead them outside.

Clarisse could feel his fingertips through the material of her dress. She remembered vividly how they had lovingly caressed her a mere three weeks ago and tried very hard to keep everything together as they walked past the party guests. She smiled and nodded at each as they passed, grateful when they finally cleared the crowd and the cool night breeze replaced the heat building in her body.

Joseph watched as she grasped the railing and used it to support herself. He knew that she was fighting her desires just as he was…they were so close and yet so far away to being able to bring their love out of the shadows and love each other freely. He stepped behind her, just a little to the side so his whispered statements could be heard, but would still appear innocent should anyone walk by or see them. “Is it wrong of me to find the revealing cut of your dress incredibly sexy…even if it is on your back rather than your front?”

His breath was warm as it floated across her exposed skin, sending chills of pleasure throughout her body. “I suppose it is a matter of taste.”

“I’m certain each freckle displayed would taste as sweet as caramel. Shall I taste and see?”

She was certain that her knuckles had turned white from the grip she maintained on the thin iron rail. “Joseph…” Her whispered reply said so much…so much that she wanted to say, but couldn’t. She turned her head slightly to make sure he had understood. She was greeted with a smile that further melted her heart. “You make it difficult…”

“I know. But I’m worth it, aren’t I?”

This time she graced him with a disarming smile. “I suspect you shall have to find a way to prove that to me later tonight.”

She had done it again…turned the seducer into the seduced. He went from confident and in control to a useless pool of molten desire. The effect this woman had on him! Somewhere he found his voice as he tried to bring his body back under control. He determined straight away that women had an advantage by better being able to camouflage their body’s reactions than men did. “I shall make every effort to prove just that.”

Before he could say anything further, Charlotte’s voice spoke into his ear. “Yes, thank you, I will bring the Eagle.”

Hearing her official code name, she knew it must be business. She turned around, trying to ignore the closeness of his body, his scent and the heat emanating between them. Waiting for him to cut the connection before asking, “What’s wrong?”

“The Prime Minister is looking for you. He wishes to speak to you.”

“Now? Here? At the birthday ball…this can’t be good.” The fears she had been trying to keep at bay were slowly creeping into her mind, surrounding her pleasant thoughts and casting darkness over them.

“Clarisse…don’t borrow trouble. Meet with him and then we can determine how much we need to worry.” He hoped his words calmed her, but he knew in his heart she was right. Sebastian would only request a meeting like this…if something was terribly wrong.


“My sources tell me that Mabrey plans to play his first hand at Parliament tomorrow.” The Prime Minister delivered the news with a solemn, perhaps even grim face – very unlike his usually cheery countenance.

“What could he possibly hope to gain by making another heir public? Amelia is first in line.” There it was again…that niggling sensation that she was missing something…something from all of those countless history lessons…that would shed light on this situation.

“His motives aren’t entirely clear…which, when you consider the source, is very disturbing.” Sebastian admitted.

“I suppose we will have a better understanding tomorrow.” Clarisse felt drained. She needed to get out of this small room and needed to think. “Thank you, Sebastian, for sharing this with me. I will be better prepared for tomorrow.”

Bowing slightly, he replied. “It is an honor to serve, Your Majesty. I only wish there was more I could do.”

“You are a tireless supporter of the Renaldi rule, I can ask for nothing greater.”

Sebastian nodded and then left the room. Joseph followed him to the door and then closed and locked it behind him.

When he turned back around, he found his Queen staring out at the window…at nothing. He knew her well enough to know that she had retreated well within herself and was analyzing the latest information she had been given.

“Would you like to talk about it or would you like me to distract you? I’m available for both.” He moved to stand behind her, this time allowing his hands to rest on her hips as his lips found the gentle curve of her neck.

Clarisse sighed as she felt the warmth and softness of his lips and wanted badly to allow herself the comfort of his distraction. “Mmmm….Joseph….as much as I would love to, I really am trying to concentrate.”

The huskiness of his voice washed over her like a warm rain, “According to ancient legend, distracting one part of the brain, allows the other to focus.”

Clarisse felt like a light bulb had been turned on over her head. The enlightened feeling was quickly followed by a sickening feeling deep within the pit of her stomach…There was an ancient law…THAT was the ace for the hand Mabrey was going to play tomorrow…even though they had never enforced such a law…perhaps she could appeal to the common sense of the members of Parliament…that was a laughable thought…but it was all she had.

Joseph felt her body tense…whatever she was working through; she didn’t seem to be winning the argument. Deciding to take matters into his own hands, he began to place open mouthed kisses over the freckled expanse of her back, allowing his tongue to quickly dart out to “taste” each one. As he tasted, his fingers slipped under the fabric and moved slowly down her side. Their breaths caught in tandem as the tips caressed the lace of her bra, the supple flesh yearning for his touch.

She felt his hand slip lower to the gentle curve of her waist. It felt warm and comfortable as it rested there as though it belonged. Part of her argued that she should stop this line of activity. Her alter ego, though, spoke louder this time…Allow yourself this pleasure, Clarisse…your options for the future are not looking promising: either Mabrey’s ploy wins and the Renaldi line will end with your failure, at which point you know you won’t allow yourself another moment of happiness…or you will wage the battle for Amelia, leaving little time to pursue a personal relationship with Joseph. Either way, your future is not shaping up the way you envisioned eight hours ago.

She gently turned in his arms and pulled him away from the window into the shadows. Her body pressed against his, needing to feel the connection – the comfort that she only felt in his arms. She knew he had been patient and understanding; but she truly didn’t know if their relationship could withstand her stalling bringing their love into the light until an undetermined time in the future.

Joseph quickly forgot where they were and what they were supposed to be doing as he felt the softness of her body melting into his. Her arms slipped under his tuxedo jacket as her lips found his. The kiss felt almost desperate as she hungrily sought to taste him and intensify the intimacy of the embrace. He fought the temptation to run his fingers through her hair and hold her even closer; but knew that regardless of her actions in the heat of the moment, she would need to be presentable in a few more minutes. Instead his hands sought the smooth flesh on her back, enjoying the feel of the muscles moving gracefully under her skin as she moved against him.

Finally, needing air, Clarisse broke the kiss, her chest heaving and breath escaping in small pants. She put her hand to his cheek as she rested her forehead against his. “Always remember I love you, Joseph. Promise me, you’ll never forget.”

“Clarisse, what’s wrong? Not that I’m complaining…but this isn’t like you.” The concern was evident in his voice.

“Just promise me…please.”

“I promise.”

Her mind momentarily at ease, she kissed him more gently this time. “We should go…” she whispered against his lips.

“Mmmm….but I rather like it here.”

“Agreed…I wish I could stay in your arms forever.”

“Soon, Clarisse…soon.”

Words failed her, so she simply laid her head on his chest, relishing in the strength, comfort, love and support she found there. After a few moments, she lifted her head and moved away. “I suppose it’s time…”

Looking at the darkness surrounding them and thinking of their future, he took her hand and offered, “Out of the shadows and into the light…yes, definitely about time.”


Chapter 31: “What kind of person…?”

Scene: After the events of Parliament when Viscount Mabrey announces another heir.


Clarisse used the cool damp cloth she clutched in her hand, raising it gently to her throbbing head. She couldn’t remember the last time she had thrown up. Of course, she could count on one hand the number of days in her life that had been as challenging as this one had been. She was currently sitting very improperly on the marble floor of her bathroom and praying for the pounding in her head to go away. She closed her eyes as the day’s events played through her mind on fast forward:

“It was not Princess Mia to whom I was referring…”

“Another Genovian of the Royal bloodline became eligible to assume the throne…”

“Genovia’s rightful king…”

“Genovian law states that a Princess must marry before she can take the throne…”

“Genovia shall have no Queen…lest she be bound in matrimony…”

“…not all of us are sure that the Princess is the most suitable choice to govern our great nation.”

“30 days!!”


“There is no OR…an arranged marriage is my only choice…”

“…and it turned out quite splendidly…he was my best friend…we grew very fond of each other.”

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”


She shakily stood to her feet and summoned her courage. Though, if she were honest, it wasn’t courage she was lacking. She had sacrificed much and would continue to do so in order to preserve the Renaldi rule…of that there was no doubt. The fears she was dealing with were much more on a personal level.

“What kind of a person agrees to an arranged marriage?”

Though Mia had not intended for her words to wound…they had cut Clarisse deeply. Oh she had kept her composure as she reassured Mia – another sacrifice she had made for the good of her country and their future Queen. What she had wanted to do was express her anger. Anger that Arthur Mabrey was so power hungry that he didn’t care who he hurt in quest; anger that Parliament had picked today to enforce a 300 year old rule; anger that she had been helpless to stop either of them; anger that she had not been able to find a way to love Rupert as he deserved…as she had deserved; and, finally, anger that her future with Joseph was slipping out of her grasp.

A gentle knock on the door brought her out of her mental misery. She exhaled slowly to steady her voice. “Yes?”

“Clarisse? It’s Joseph. Are you alright?”

She couldn’t help the slightly bitter chuckle that escaped unbidden. “Is that a serious question?”

“You’re right…that was a stupid question and one to which I already know the answer. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“I need a few more minutes, please. If you could have some tea brought up, I will make myself presentable and then we can discuss what happens next.”

Joseph listened carefully to the tone of her voice…it was very hard to discern how much or how little she was holding it together. He wanted to help her; but also knew that she would ask for whatever assistance the Queen needed. In her own time and in her own way, she would also let him know what help Clarisse would accept. “Of course…take your time.”


“You want to what?” Joseph couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

Clarisse gave in to the urge to rub her temples since it was just her and Joseph. “I believe I was fairly clear. I want to invite Lord Devereaux to stay with us here at the Palace. It’s the best way for me to keep an eye on him.”

“You mean for ME to keep an eye on him.” Joseph challenged.

Clarisse rewarded him with a small smile, the first he had seen in hours. “Perhaps that as well.”

Mumbling he replied, “I’d rather hang him in the courtyard by his toes.”


“Just making my official recommendation as your Head of Security.”

“Noted. Now will my Head of Security please meet with Charlotte and oversee all of the arrangements for Lord Devereaux as well as vetting the list of potential grooms for Amelia? After that, will you please check on Amelia to see how she is faring?”

“Because my Queen asks it of me, I will. Are you sure about this arranged marriage deal? I mean, Clarisse…”

“Joseph, please…not now.”

He sighed. “As you wish. I don’t mind checking on the Princess, but shouldn’t that be something that you do?”

“I will check in on her later; but I have some things I must take care of right now.”

“Anything you need me to arrange for you?”

“No, thank you. If I need anything, I will ask Scott.” Before Joseph could say anything to object, she continued. “I need the assurance that my very best is taking care of the matters most important to me…and, my best, Joseph…is you.”

“Very well.” He leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. “I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you, too.”


As Clarisse sat in silence, the late afternoon air added to the chill that had seeped into her soul earlier that day…

“What kind of person agrees to an arranged marriage…?”

“…and it turned out quite splendidly…he was my best friend…we grew very fond of each other.”

A solitary tear fell as she stared forward, looking at nothing, yet seeing so much from her past. Guilt washed over her in such a deluge that it threatened to drown her. “I’m so sorry.” She whispered.

“And what is it you are sorry for, my dear?”

She knew she must truly be losing her mind now that she was hearing voices. Since confession was good for the soul, she decided to sink fully into the illusion – or delusion – as the case may be. She stared at the marble tombstone that marked the birth and death of Genovia’s last king. “For not being able to love you as you deserved and for not even being able to tell Amelia that I loved you.”

“You have always been truthful, Clarisse…even when it would have been easier to be otherwise.”

Clarisse thought of her inability to tell him that she loved him before he died. “I did love you, just…”

“Just not as a wife normally loves her husband.”

She shook her head silently…”No…”

“We were happy…in our own way. It is not for anyone else to judge.”

“It seems there is always someone standing ready to judge.”

“Since when did you let what others do or say affect you so deeply?”

“Since they possess the ability to take the throne away from your family.”

“They will not succeed. You must have faith that others will make the right choice when called upon...just as you always have.”

“You know how I feel about not being in control...”

”Sometimes it is necessary to let go and let others choose.”

“And if they make the wrong choices…everything we sacrificed for will be lost.”

“And everything you hope for will vanish as well?”

Clarisse felt her face flush as she thought of the dreams she held of a future with Joseph. “It is selfish, I know.”

“Desiring happiness is not selfish, promise me you won’t forget that when YOU are called upon to choose.”

The tears fell silently as she shook her head. “That is a promise I cannot make. I must choose what is right for Genovia.”

“My dearest, Clarisse, you never did make things easy for yourself. Always remember…it’s never too late for a fairytale ending.”

Clarisse wiped the errant tears from her cheek. She rose and placed the roses she had brought to Rupert’s gravesite on his tombstone. Raising two fingers to her lips, she placed a gentle kiss and then touched the cool marble. “Thank you, dear friend. I shall try to remember.”


“So tell me, Your Majesty…do you think that the Princess handled Lord Devereaux’s arrival with what could be characterized as grace, charm and poise?”

“You are not funny, Joseph…not funny at all.” Clarisse shot him a half-hearted death glare from across the room. Mia had moved into her own suite this afternoon and she had invited him up for a night cap to celebrate.

“You have to admit it was funny…and even young Nicholas handled it with an appropriate sense of humor.”

“Apparently you are NOT wanting that good night kiss that you have been doing without the last few days.”

Joseph closed the distance and put his arms around her waist as he held her close from behind, nuzzling the small expanse of freckles at the base of her neck. He heard a satisfied, “mmmm” come from his beloved’s lips. “Does that mean I’m forgiven?”


“Have you forgiven Amelia?”

Clarisse chuckled slightly, “There was nothing to forgive, although I wish she would remember that her behavior in front of members of Parliament can affect how difficult or easy they will make it for her.”

“I’m certain she will learn.” He replied as he held her close, simply enjoying being with her.

“Mmmm….indeed. She seemed to forget all about Nicholas’ deception from her birthday ball once I showed her the closet. You should have seen the look on her face when I opened it for her.”

“A closet is a gross understatement, don’t you think?” Joseph teased.

“A woman can never have too many clothes and shoes.”

Sensing his opening, he reached into his pocket and moved the sparkling jewels in her range of vision. “Or too much jewelry…”

She turned in his arms, grasping the bracelet from his fingers. “Oh Joseph…it’s another piece of the set.”

“Yes, you now have almost the complete set.”

Clarisse smiled. “It’s beautiful. Help me put it on?”


As Joseph secured the sapphire and diamond bracelet onto her wrist, she tried not to think about what piece was left…and couldn’t help but wonder if she would ever see it.


“So where’s your new best friend?” Clarisse teased Joseph as they sat side by side on the love seat in the viewing room. She was feeling a little better now that Amelia had chosen her mate. Andrew Jacoby would be contacted in the morning and the negotiations would begin. He was a delightful young man who would do well alongside her granddaughter. They would make a wonderful couple and be just what Genovia needed.

“Lionel is in the control room with Shades, reviewing proper protocol and procedure with him.” He answered as he put his arm around her and pulled her close. “Just as sometimes it is good to be Queen…sometimes it is good to be head of security.”

“Well, be kind to him…he did offer to take a bullet for me.”

“That is my job and I’ll not have some young upstart taking that away from me.”

Clarisse turned in his embrace and cupped his cheek with her hand. “Joseph…please do not speak of such things. I would prefer that no one be called upon to take a bullet for me…least of all, you.”

His lips moved across hers, tasting the sweetness and warmth that resided there. He spoke against her parted lips, “I don’t wish for such a thing…but whether you are my queen or my wife, it is what I would do…what I must do. Understand?”

Clarisse moved one hand behind his neck and the other clasped his hand and slipped it under her jacket to cover her heart. She felt the beating increase from his touch. Her lips returned his earlier caresses, savoring each moment that they could be together like this. She pulled away, but only slightly and replied. “As long as you understand that without you, my heart need beat no longer. Losing you…is not something that I believe I can endure.”

“I’m not going anywhere…” he whispered before moving his hand lower to caress her through the silk of her blouse. He loved the way her body responded to his touch, the slight gasp from her lips and the way she arched her back ever so subtly to encourage the deepening of his touch. “I do think, however, we need to talk about something very important.”

Clarisse was trying hard to think as his thumb made gentle circles around the tip of her breast serving to deepen the constant ache she always felt for his touch. “Mmmm…and what would that be?”

“It’s about this Prince William fellow…I’m not sure I like the way you responded when his picture came up on the screen.” Joseph teased.


Joseph pinched the enervated tip lightly, eliciting a combination of a gasp and moan of pleasure. “That depends…do you think he would be able to please you as I do?”

Clarisse closed the space between their bodies, forcing Joseph’s hand to slip around to her back before lowering to cup her bottom. Her fingers threaded through the fringe of hair at the nape of his neck as her lips sought his. Giving of herself, she poured a generous portion of the passion she kept barely restrained into the kiss – enjoying the taste and feel of his mouth against hers. Her tongue traced the softness, seeking entrance to his warm depths. As the kiss deepened, she felt her body come to life and knew that he could feel it as well. She broke away, her breaths coming in small pants as she answered, “No one has ever pleased me as you do. You make me feel alive. Can you feel that when you hold me in your arms?”

“I can sense it when I look at you…your eyes often tell me what your body cannot.” He let his hand caress her face and slowly drift down the front of her body. His voice became a husky whisper, “Although I do enjoy it when your body speaks so clearly to me.”

“I anxiously await the day when my body can sing to the heavens of its love for you.”

Knowing that day was still too far in the future to continue, Joseph placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. “As do I, my love…as do I.”


An hour or so later, Clarisse sat sipping her tea and staring out into the darkness of the Genovian countryside. Her mind continued to go over the events of the past day or so and sought to make sense of what was to come in the future. She heard the door open quietly.

“Gramma?” Mia spoke softly, not wanting to interrupt her Grandmother’s thoughts as she sipped her tea and stared out the window.


“I’ve been thinking.”

“Always a good thing for a future Queen to do.”

“I know the answer to my question.”

“What question is that?”

“What kind of person agrees to an arranged marriage?”

Her words brought Clarisse from her thoughts and she turned, a little stunned by the words being verbalized again after tormenting her thoughts for the past two days. “Oh?”

Mia came and knelt beside her Grandmother, placing her hand on her knee. “The kind of person who understands the sacrifice necessary to be a great leader. The people love you because they know how much you love them.”

Clarisse was touched by the young woman’s words. “That is very kind of you to say, Amelia.”

“I’m sorry if my question hurt you…I was caught off guard by Parliament’s decree and I wasn’t thinking straight. I know I have to work on that as a Queen should always be graceful and watch what she says. I promise to be more sensitive…or at least try.”

She turned in her seat and set down her tea, pulling the young woman into an embrace. “There’s one thing I love more than Genovia…” she pulled away to cup Amelia’s face in her hands, “and that is you, my dear. You, too, will be a great Queen – I just know it in these old bones of mine.”

Amelia smiled and stood, feeling better after confessing to her Grandmother. She moved towards the doorway, only stopping once her hand was on the handle. She turned and looked back, wishing she could stop herself from saying what she was about to say as it would probably land her in trouble…but knowing it needed to be said anyway. “Two things, Gramma.”

“I beg your pardon, dear?”

“There are two things you love more than Genovia.”

Clarisse didn’t respond. She wasn’t sure what to say.

Amelia continued in a low voice. “You love Joe, too. I know it. He knows it. You know it.”


“I love you too, Gramma. Good night.” Without waiting for a response, she left as quietly as she had entered.

Clarisse sat back in her chair and closed her eyes, grateful that Amelia had left without her having to say anything. She loved Joseph with all of her heart – more than she had ever loved another single person in her entire life. Did she love him more than all of Genovia? Would she choose him over what she felt best for Genovia?

Only time would tell…


Chapter 32: “Only Time Will Tell…”

Scene: Starting with the evening after the royal proposal and public announcement of Mia and Andrew’s engagement.


“It has been quite a week hasn’t it?” Clarisse asked Joseph as they walked through her rose garden.

“Yes and I thought Andrew did a wonderful job covering for her at the announcement. Considering how graceful you are – I’m assuming she gets that clumsiness from her Mother’s side?” Joseph teased.

Clarisse laughed a bit. “I’m still hoping she outgrows that…and soon.”

“She seems happy.”

“Yes. Almost too happy…”


Clarisse stopped walking and stepped behind the greenhouse, away from any prying eyes or listening ears. “I had years to become accustomed to the idea of an arranged marriage. Amelia has had days. She and Andrew seem to have hit it off well, but…”

Joseph reached out and held her hand; it was the most they could afford to do out in the open without risking too much. “But, you worry that she doesn’t fully grasp the sacrifice she is about to make?”

Her hand rose to cup his cheek in the intimate gesture they shared frequently now. Her voice was a mere whisper. “I worry she will never get to feel the way I do when I’m with you.”

His free hand covered hers and held her warmth against his face. “She must be free to choose – just as you were. For now, she chooses to follow the path that has been laid before her. It is not for us to decide. Only time will tell.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“I know it is hard for you not to be in control.”

Clarisse squeezed his hand tightly and chuckled. “You have no idea.”


“Yes Mrs. Kout?”

“I’m sorry for the intrusion, Joseph, but I wonder if I might have a word.” She looked nervously around the Control room, amazed by all of the monitors and other various gadgets that ensured they were all kept safe each day.

“Of course.” Joseph answered, alarm bells starting to go off in his head. Mrs. Kout was extremely proficient, ran a tight ship, and said very little. She had never been to his office before, so whatever she had to tell him must be extremely important.

She glanced around at the various other members of security in the immediate area. “In private, please?”

Joseph nodded and stood. “Shades, you’re in charge until I return.”

“Sure thing, Boss.”

Thirty minutes later, Joseph returned…a heavy burden on his chest. Mrs. Kout’s words had been hesitant, but he didn’t doubt the veracity of what she said. He had worried about Lord Nicholas being under the same roof as the Princess. Her reactions to him when he had first come to the palace had been strong. Once she knew WHO it was that was trying to take the throne away from her. She hated what he was trying to do; but she certainly didn’t hate him. Clarisse had told him that she got all dreamy when she talked about their dance together the night of her 21st birthday ball. There was a fine line between love and hate and he feared that the Princess may yet cross over that line and seek the love that she had dreamed of rather than the fondness that she had with Andrew. Perhaps Clarisse’s concerns from the day before were well warranted.


“Yes Boss.”

“I need to meet with the Queen and share some news with her. Will you arrange a little privacy for us in the gazebo in about an hour? I’ll coordinate with Charlotte.”

“Yes, sir – I’ll see to it.” Joseph smiled as Shades left the room to make the necessary arrangements. He knew he had chosen well to have this young man take his place to guard Genovia’s next queen. He exhaled slowly. Now to convince the current Queen to come out of the shadows and make their next roles that of husband and wife.


“Perhaps it is time you consider the duty you have to yourself.”

Clarisse tossed and turned in her bed, unable to find the rest she so desperately craved. Giving up, she threw back the covers and made her way to the window. She had always found solace looking at the beautiful mountains and picturing the ocean that lie just on the other side. She wished she could just go there now and watch the moon’s reflection as it glinted off of the glassy surface of the water.

She shook her head in disgust. Any other person could just get in the car and go. She, on the other hand, would have to wake several people and be accompanied by an escort. Worst of all…there was no way around letting HIM know where she was going. He knew her too well. If he knew she wanted to go to the ocean, he would then know she was troubled. He would suspect that she was troubled by… She stopped herself. What exactly HAD transpired this afternoon? Had it been some sort of marriage proposal? Was it simply him asking for their relationship to be made public? As she had never been proposed to, she couldn’t be certain. She was certain it was not something out of a fairytale. That much was certain.

Deciding the next best thing to the ocean for calming her was a glass of wine, she removed a bottle from the wine rack used mostly for decoration; but still kept well stocked at her request. After a few minutes of batting with the opener, she was able to pour herself a glass of white wine. She sipped slowly, enjoying the false sense of calm that it brought to her muddled emotions.

If Joseph had asked her thirty days ago, she would have been elated at the thought of sharing their love with everyone else. Today, though, things were different. She loved him. She wanted to be with him. However, she also needed to secure the throne of Genovia for the Renaldi family. With that snake Arthur Mabrey breathing down her neck; it was hard to focus on anything more than cutting the head off of the snake. She had to be honest with herself though. If she turned Joseph away now…now that they were so close to their dreams being realized, she wasn’t sure how he would react. Mia’s words came back to haunt her. She would soon have to answer the question of whether she loved Joseph more than all of Genovia.


Joseph tossed and turned in his bed, unable to find the rest he so desperately craved. Giving up, he threw back the covers and made his way to the window. He had always found solace looking at the beautiful mountains and picturing the ocean that lie just on the other side. He wished he could just go there now and watch the moon’s reflection as it glinted off of the glassy surface of the water.

He shook his head in disgust. Any other person would just get in the car and go. He, on the other hand, would have to alert his team as to where he was going and how to reach him should an emergency arise. Though they wouldn’t say anything directly to him, many of them were close to the maids and the maids somehow always knew everything. Worst of all…that meant that they would tell HER where he had gone. She knew him too well. If she knew he wanted to go to the ocean, then she would know he was troubled. She would suspect that he had been more than a little disappointed by her response to his… He stopped himself. Her response to what? What exactly HAD transpired this afternoon? Had it been a marriage proposal he had offered? Was it simply him asking for their relationship to be made public? He shook his head in disgust again. Both times he had made an effort to get a woman to spend the rest of her life with him had not ended well. She hadn’t said no; but there had not been a resounding yes either. It most definitely not what he had planned and was definitely not something out of a fairytale. That much was certain.

Deciding the next best thing to the ocean to drown his sorrows was a glass of scotch. He took the decanter from the bar and poured a generous portion. He quickly consumed the fiery liquid, enjoying the false sense of calm that it brought to his embattled emotions.

He knew his timing was off. It had been selfish and a “hail Mary” attempt to make sure she didn’t let all of the mayhem swirling about them affect their timeline. A timeline they had waited at least five years to see come to fruition. They were so close. He loved her. He wanted to be with her. The rest of Genovia’s needs seemed to pale in comparison to the need he had for her. First Camilla and now Clarisse. He had to be honest with himself. He wasn’t certain he could take rejection again. Soon he would know whether she loved him and the duty she had to herself more than the duty she felt to Genovia.


Clarisse waited patiently for the two tiny tablets she had taken about fifteen minutes ago to take effect. Her headache had gone from bad to worse when she learned that the press intended to put the “chicken situation in the throne room” in print as tomorrow’s leading story. She had asked Scott to secure as many of those copies as possible and destroy them. Sighing she spoke. “Honestly, Joseph, should I HAVE to tell her that a Princess does not chase a chicken?”

He couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped, earning him the beginnings of a glare from his Queen. “She’s curious. She can’t help that. It will serve her well…in time.”

Her words were quiet, but enough that he could hear. “Time is something we seem to be running out of…”

“I’m hopeful tomorrow will be better.”

Clarisse turned around and faced him, a bemused smile gracing her features. “She has to ride side saddle in a floor length gown. Do you really think that doesn’t open the door for all sorts of calamity?”

He returned her expression with a crooked smile of his own. “I suppose you may have a point.” He closed the distance between them, letting his arms slip around her waist, gliding over the white satin blouse she still had on from meeting the public earlier. “I’m certain you will guide her through it with no problem.” He nuzzled her neck gently as he spoke.

“Mmmm…well I do have a few tricks up my sleeve.”

Joseph let his hands slip under the short sleeves of her blouse, caressing the soft skin. “Yes, I do believe I feel a couple of tricks up there.”

She lay her head against his chest and just listened to the steady beat of his heart. She knew how much Mia still needed her; but she knew Joseph needed her as much as she needed him. She just didn’t know what to do about it…


The Next Day

“Joseph!! How could you?!” Clarisse was barely keeping her temper under control. The afternoon had been disastrous and she was lashing out at the person closest to her.

Joseph exhaled slowly; trying very hard not to take her accusations personally. “Perhaps if you had shared the little trick you had planned with the wooden leg, I would have been more cautious in my attempt to save the Princess.”

“I…” she stopped short, realizing he may have a point. “Fine. This entire fiasco is MY fault.”


“Don’t Clarisse me, Joseph…this is a mess. We need answers and we need to fix it.” She was feeling out of control again.

“We’re already working on it, Your Majesty.” He avoided using her name as that seemed to annoy her at the moment. “I am on my way to interrogate one of the stable boys who may be able to provide some insight.”

“Good. Amelia is an accomplished rider. I want to know what happened and I want measures taken to make sure whoever is responsible is held accountable.”

Joseph bowed his head slightly and took his leave. There was never any point to trying to talk to her when she was in this frame of mind.


Clarisse tried to be patient as she waited for her security team to report in. Joseph and Scott were working on determining what had spooked Amelia’s horse and Lionel had been sent to find the Princess. She had also been informed that Nicholas had headed off after Amelia as well. She was fairly certain that didn’t bode well for her granddaughter. Either he would try to comfort her or he would tease her about the disastrous event, Clarisse wasn’t sure which one she preferred…

As each day progressed, Clarisse began to see more and more how she would need to focus all of her time and attention on Amelia and helping her assume the throne. As much as she wanted a life with Joseph…she just couldn’t have it right now. With all of the uncertainty and controversy surrounding Amelia becoming Queen, the last thing they needed was the additional scrutiny that would surround her reign with the secret romance between she and Joseph being made public. Parliament would have a field day even if the people of Genovia found it in their hearts to be accepting.

She rubbed her temples…this headache seemed to be a permanent part of her anymore. She exhaled slowly and waited, trying to determine if there was any way she could secure both her future and Amelia’s.

“Your Majesty?”


“If you’ll follow me, I will escort you to the Princess and fill you in along the way.”

She knew he was upset with her. She couldn’t blame him. She nodded. “Of course.”


Clarisse waited patiently for Mia’s tears to end. It seemed she had spent a lot of time over the past few days waiting…It was, though, something she had been taught since a young age and was accustomed to such things. She handed her granddaughter another handkerchief. “Amelia, please, this is not the end of the world.” She consoled.

“Did you HEAR them laughing at me?”

Clarisse chose her words carefully. “It is often easy for people to laugh at those who attempt to step outside their comfort zone. It makes them feel better about their lack of purpose and initiative.”

Amelia regarded her grandmother carefully. “I hadn’t thought of it that way. It still doesn’t make it hurt less.”

“Of course not, dear. It was a setback – that is certain. The war is far from over.”

“It does seem a lot like war with attacks that are both cruel and damaging.”

“Well at least we know who our enemy is this time.”

Mia’s face turned into a small smile. “I wish I could have seen the look on Viscount Mabrey’s face when Joe threatened him and then put that fake snake on his shoulder.”

“I’m certain Joseph didn’t threaten the Viscount.”

“It sounded that way to me.”

“He simply reminded him of what his duty entailed and that is to protect you and I from those that would harm us.”

“Well, however you want to slice it…I say Joe rocks.”

“Amelia, please, let’s try to focus on the next battle. We need a strategy.” Clarisse wanted to steer the conversation away from Joseph.

Mia threw herself back against the cushions. “I don’t know what to do, Gramma. You’re the expert here. So far everything I’ve tried has failed miserably. Maybe I’m just not cut out for this.”

“Amelia Mignonette, you will NOT talk like that. Do you remember what you said to me a few days ago?”

Looking up at her Grandmother’s sharp tone, she saw a side to her that had not been privy to before. It was a look that demanded respect and compliance. Mia understood quickly that while her grandmother was a fair, just and caring leader, she was also a woman of great power who was very determined. Mia sat up a bit straighter. “We have talked a lot in the last few days, I’m not certain.”

“You told me that the people loved me because they knew how much I loved them. Do you or do you not love the people of Genovia?”

“Of course.”

“Then you must do what is necessary and find a way to convince them of your love for them.”

“Okay Gramma. Can I shower and change before our strategy session?”

Clarisse smiled, knowing she had gotten through. “Of course, dear. I think I will have some tea in the kitchen while you are doing that.” She looked down and realized she was still in her suit. “Right after I change, that is.”


Joseph sat in the darkness of his suite. He had poured some scotch but the glass remained untouched. Today’s events had been unsettling to say the least.

“Joseph…how could you?”

He felt like he had failed on so many levels today that he wished he could have a do-over. Clarisse was upset with him. She didn’t really have a right to be; but that didn’t change anything. He knew she was feeling pressure from so many directions and his conversation in the gazebo with her yesterday just added to the weight she was carrying.

Conversely, the Princess should have been upset with him and his team for not protecting her and preventing the disaster that occurred. Instead, she thought he was some sort of hero for putting the Viscount in his place.

He did feel a small sense of satisfaction at the look of fear he saw in Mabrey’s eyes when he threatened him. Of course, he did it in a way so the Viscount couldn’t accuse him; but both men recognized the statements for what they were.

He sighed. The Viscount had gotten a few punches in as well.

“I think the entire country understands how well you cater for the Crown’s emotions…”

He and Clarisse had been so careful. Had they really failed that miserably to hide their true feelings? If even part of what Mabrey had said was true…and Clarisse heard even a murmuring of it…their relationship would be over before a pear could fall off a tree at harvest time.

Attempting to speak with her earlier, he had gone to her suite only to find it empty. A quick check with the security team told him that she was in the kitchen speaking with Nicholas and then was headed back to the Princess’ suite. It didn’t look like he was going to have a chance to speak with her tonight in order to clear the air.

He sat back on his sofa and propped his feet on the large leather ottoman. Closing his eyes, he thought back to happier, less complicated times. An indeterminate amount of time passed before he heard a soft knock on the door. He sighed, certain it was Charlotte or Shades. “Enter.”

A pajama clad Clarisse entered quietly into the dark room. “Joseph?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” He didn’t even move.

Clarisse exhaled softly…he was still upset. “Joseph, please…can we talk about this?”

“I’m certain you or Charlotte can document my professional failures in my permanent file.”

“Self-loathing doesn’t become you.” Her voice sounded tired.

He reached over and turned on a table lamp casting a soft glow over the room and the weary occupants. Patting the space on the couch next to him, he gestured for her to join him. “It has been a long day for everyone.”

Clarisse was relieved that he didn’t send her away. “Yes and I fear it is not over yet.”


“I’ve called a senior staff meeting in thirty minutes in my suite. We need to plan a garden party in the next two days. A conversation with Nicholas inspired me.” She smiled gently.

“Do you plan on conducting the meeting in your pajamas? I will need Shades there to assist.”

“No…I’m going to change; but I wanted to see you first. I…I wanted to apologize.”

“As I said, it was a difficult day. Mistakes were made by everyone.”

Knowing she had been too harsh on him and his team, “Agreed.” She waited a few moments before continuing. “I don’t suppose I could ask a personal favor of you?”

“A minor disagreement won’t prevent you from asking whatever you wish from me, Clarisse.” He added her name to let her know that the anger was slowly leaving him. He really didn’t like being at odds with her. He was miserable without her and feared that if things didn’t improve in the Amelia situation soon…he didn’t want to think of what that would mean.

“Hold me?”

His heart melted. For all of her bravado and the way she held it together in front of everyone else, with him…she was a woman. A strong, brave woman –yes; but a woman who was flesh and blood who felt fear and experienced the same needs as the rest of the female population of Genovia…even if they didn’t think she did. While she had been queen for as long as he had known her; he had always seen her first and foremost as a woman. “Of course,” he answered before pulling her into his arms.

Clarisse felt better the moment she was in his arms. She hated that she felt so dependent on him; but loved it at the same time. She would debate with herself later. Right now, she listened to the comforting beating of his heart and relished in the warmth of his embrace.

Joseph held her tightly, offering strength and whatever comfort he could. He had no idea what the future would bring. He knew what he wanted; but only time would tell if fate would be kinder to him this time around.



Chapter 33: “Avoiding the Queen”

Scene: Starting with the evening after the Garden Party.

Joseph walked slowly to the Queen’s office. He was never one to avoid things; but he wasn’t looking forward to this. It was a shame that the party had ended so poorly; the only saving grace had been that most guests had left by the time the Princess had emerged from the maze, completely drenched. What made it worse? Lord Devereaux followed a few moments later in the same condition. One could only surmise what had taken place. The Princess was in her room; Charlotte had been doing damage control; and Security was about to be dressed down. He took a deep breath and knocked on the door.


“You wished to see me, Your Majesty?”

Clarisse was all business as she looked up from the documents she had been reviewing. “Who was responsible for watching Amelia this afternoon?”

“I take responsibility.”

“That’s very noble; but not what I asked.”

“Your Majesty, I assure you that the matter has been addressed appropriately.”

He watched as she regarded him carefully, as though she were determining the best approach. “Very well, however, let me be very clear. If your team fails to keep an eye on the Princess and keep her from harm’s way – which, in this case, refers to being alone with Lord Devereaux, I will expect someone’s resignation. Is that understood?”

“Yes ma’am.” He hesitated a moment before continuing. “Permission to speak freely?”

Clarisse closed her eyes…here it came. “Briefly, yes, I’m on a tight schedule.”

He knew it was going to create trouble; but just as he had a duty to the crown, he had a duty to his men. “Perhaps someone should speak with the Princess and remind her that taking measures to elude her security staff is never in her best interest.”

“You do your job by reminding your men that the Princess is their top priority and that I tire of having to deal with the fallout when they fail. I shall do mine by attempting, once again, to remind Amelia of her duty.”

He opened his mouth to speak but knew it was pointless and would only end in an argument. At the end of the day, she was still the boss. “Permission to be excused?”

Clarisse didn’t even look up. She didn’t want to see the look that she was certain was on his face. “Granted.”

He turned to leave, but her voice stopped him. “Joseph?”

“Yes?” He turned, hopeful that they would be able to have a conversation as Clarisse and Joseph rather than employer and employee.

“Please send Charlotte in.”

“As you wish.” He stepped outside and turned to Charlotte. “She wishes to see you.”

“Fantastic.” She sighed.

“Remember the rules?” He smiled at Charlotte, recognizing the look of dread on her face.


“She feels totally out of control right now which means there’s no point in arguing - just stay low and out of arm’s reach. The death glare would be welcome at this point, if you get my drift.”

Charlotte chuckled. Joseph knew his Queen well. “That bad, eh?”

He nodded. “That bad. Just be glad you aren’t the Princess…something tells me she is going to get an earful tonight.”

“I’ll be sure to try and warn her, if possible.”

“You’re a good friend to her – to both of them.”

Charlotte blushed and shrugged. “Me they could live without…you, I’m not so sure.”

Joseph avoided the bait Charlotte was dangling in front of him. “Don’t underestimate your value, Charlotte. Both the Queen and Queen-to-be would be lost without you.”

Realizing she wasn’t going to get him to talk any more about his relationship with the Queen, she nodded and squeezed his arm. “Thanks, Joe.” She exhaled a big sigh. “Wish me luck.”

He smiled. “Good luck.”


Clarisse heard the door slam as her granddaughter stormed out. Her tea was cold; her head hurt; and she felt very alone. Even Maurice had taken his leave. She considered going to Joseph but felt that would be pushing her luck. Two nights in less than three days with the Queen visiting her head of security in her pajamas would be sure to start the rumor mill in full force and that was the last thing she needed. She considered using the hidden passage but was uncertain what she would say to him. It was true that Amelia needed to be more responsible; but where had security been when she and Nicholas slipped away into the maze. Why hadn’t SOMEONE been notified so damage control could be sent after her? Heaven knows the child needed a full time babysitter it seemed.

Deciding she wanted this day to end, she headed towards her bedroom. A good book may be just the thing she needed to distract her. Tomorrow was the parade…perhaps things would go smoother then. Based on the past few days, she was doubtful.

Joseph waited until things had settled into the nightly calm at the castle. There had been numerous meetings and the entire staff was walking on egg shells as a general feeling of unrest hovered in the air. Most of the employees had worked for the Renaldi family for their entire career. They all knew that a change in the ruling family would mean a change in their employment. Though concern for his job was not high on his list as he was near retirement, he worried about many of his friends.

After a final check with the night team, he quietly made his way through the passage that connected his suite with Clarisse’s. He never slept well when they were at odds with each other – and it seemed they had been at odds a lot recently. He wanted to make at least an attempt to smooth the wrinkles in their relationship. As quietly as possible, he slid open the door.

“I thought my entire staff was doing their best to avoid me today.”

Joseph emerged and saw that she was still awake. The small lamp at her bedside was lit and a book rested on top of the covers. He couldn’t hide the mirth in his voice. “Oh they most definitely are. Rumor on the street is that even the Princess got a tongue lashing from the Queen.”

Clarisse turned her head towards him at the statement. “Where did you hear that?”

“The maids know everything.” He decided to go with the standard response rather than share with her that Amelia had sought him out for comfort and counsel after leaving the Queen’s suite.

“So what forces caused you to brave the danger zone and slip into my suite uninvited?”

“Well, while the head of security has no desire to be around the Queen at the moment, Joseph was hoping to say good night to Clarisse.”

She had to give him credit. He had been on the receiving end of her wrath more than once in the past few days and other than one or two measured comments, he had held his tongue and still been there to support her personally. She turned onto her side to face him, allowing the covers to slip lower and reveal her nightwear.

“Merde, Clarisse,” he whispered as he took in her appearance. “Isn’t that…?”

She nodded gently. “The gown I wore the night we first made love.” She hesitated for a moment. “Clarisse wanted to feel close to Joseph tonight as well, but felt it might be pushing it to visit you again.” She patted the edge of the bed. “Perhaps we could say good night a little closer to each other?”

The ivory satin clung to her curves in a gentle, yet provocative manner. The gold of her chain glinted as it caught the light. He felt a small sense of relief that she was still wearing the necklace.

“I never take it off.” She answered to his unspoken thought. In that way, you are always close to my heart.

Joseph moved to sit on the edge of the bed. His hand caressed her shoulder, down her arm, and glided over the satin covering her hip. “That night wasn’t a night I’m extremely proud of…”

Clarisse caught his hand in hers and brought it to her lips for a gentle kiss. “In the end, we shared our love…that is what matters most.” She guided his hand lower to cover her heart. “And I am hopeful we can soon share it again.” Clarisse kept her fears to herself. She remembered Joseph’s words to her from almost five years ago after she had given Mia the diary and made her last attempt to convince her to accept her destiny as future queen…

“WE will fight to the end. No matter the outcome of our personal relationship, I will stand by your side and fight against any who threaten the Crown of Genovia...”

Depending on how the next couple weeks played out, his statement to her could be tested to its limits. She hoped she would not have to remind him of his promise to her.

“May I have that good night kiss now? I fear if I don’t leave soon; my resolve to keep your honor intact will vanish quickly.” He asked as his fingertips threaded through her short tresses.

“Would you stay for just a few minutes? Then I promise you the good night kiss you seek.” She really didn’t want to be alone just yet.

Joseph exhaled slowly – oh how this woman tested him every step of the way. One moment she was dressing him down, the next minute practically inviting him to her bed. He had overheard her tell Andrew that he would never be bored with Amelia…he was beginning to think that the apple didn’t fall far from the proverbial tree. “Have I ever been able to say no to you?”

Clarisse smiled as Joseph slid under the covers and next to her on the bed. Immediately she snuggled against him, enjoying the feel of his body next to hers as his arm went around her. He was dressed in black silk boxers and a black t-shirt. As her fingers absently drew designs on his chest, she murmured. “Do you own anything that isn’t black?”

Joseph smiled and leaned over to kiss her forehead. “That’s classified.”

She laughed. “Oh is that so?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I think I can get you to tell me.” She boasted as her finger circled one of the flat nipples on his chest, eliciting a moan of pleasure from his lips.

“Clarisse…” he warned.

Ignoring his warning and wanting to make sure she could experience this playfulness with him at least one more time before the next few days determined their future, she made her move. With an agility that took him by surprise, her leg slipped over his body until her body was straddling his. Before he could protest, her lips covered his in a kiss that took his breath away. She nibbled at his bottom lip before sucking it into the warm cavern of her mouth.

Joseph lost the inability to think straight the moment her body covered his. He vaguely remembered her mentioning that this had been the position of preference for her and Rupert. As he felt the softness of her inner thighs surrounding his hips; the silky feel of her gown; the suppleness of her chest resting gently against his; and the power in her kiss, he thought perhaps he had underestimated the pleasure the King may have experienced from his lover. His arms encircled her and held her body close to his, their hearts beating as one.

Her exploration and seduction continued at a leisurely pace as she tried to memorize everything about how his body felt under hers. While never a replacement for the real thing, the memory she was creating would warm her many a night. Finally needing air, she broke the kiss. Her voice was deep and sensual, “Are you prepared to answer the question now?”

Joseph chuckled, “Not If it means you will stop what you are doing.”

“Oh no…” she whispered, “If you don’t answer, I’ll stop.”

“You drive a hard bargain. Alright I’ll tell you….after one more kiss.”

Her eyes closed as she lowered her mouth to his, a slight murmur of pleasure escaping as his large capable hands slipped lower to cup her bottom. His mouth was soft and inviting and she took full advantage, using her tongue to gently trace the outline of his lower lip until it opened to her advances. Their tongues danced together as well as their bodies did.

The shrill sound of the telephone ringing broke into their little slice of heaven. Clarisse broke the kiss and moved slowly off of the bed, avoiding looking at him as she was certain the frustration and disappointment she would find there mirrored her own. “I’m sorry…”

“You should be.” He teased.

Hearing the teasing nature in his voice, she turned to look at him before picking up the phone. “Oh and why is that?”

“Because now you’ll never know the answer to your question.” He smiled.

“Cheater!” She laughed.

He enjoyed the lighthearted smile on her face for the fleeting moment it lasted. He watched the transformation take place as the Queen took residence in her body. She picked up the phone and with a curt, but professional voice, she answered. “Yes?”

As she spoke, he went ahead and got out of the bed. He would need to take his leave; they both needed their rest for tomorrow and the last few days had been taxing on them both. He considered asking her If she had given thought to an answer to his question, but decided the timing wasn’t right. Soon though, he would ask her. He knew he would find just the right time.

“Thank you, Charlotte. Please let the Ambassador know that I will make sure to visit her first thing in the morning…Yes, good night to you as well.”

Clarisse hung up the phone and turned to find herself in Joseph’s arms. He kissed her gently. “Good night, my love. Thank you for not tossing me out on my ear and thank you for…” he let his hand slip lower to hold her body close to his, “well, you know.”

She lifted her hand to cup his cheek. “No, thank you for not letting me push you away and you’re welcome for…you know.” She winked.

“Tomorrow will be better.” He proclaimed.

“Yes, tomorrow will be better.”

As Joseph took his leave, he glanced back at her one last time to keep the image with him in his dreams tonight. Though they were hopeful, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of foreboding waiting just around the corner.


Chapter 34: You have to understand…

Scene: Starting after the Genovia Independence Day Parade…


“You were brilliant today, Amelia. It was wonderful public relations to have the children join you in the parade.” Clarisse beamed as she handed the cup of tea to her granddaughter. “Elsie Kentworthy even praised it as the best Genovian Independence Day parade ever, thanks to you. I do believe that is the nicest thing she has ever said about you.”

Mia took the cup and smiled slightly, glad that the day had not ended with her grandmother fussing at her as had been the pattern of late. “Thank you, Gramma, but it wasn’t politics or public relations that made me do it. I did it because I saw the children and felt compassion for them. It was the most I could do for them at the time. But…” she waited to see her Grandmother’s reaction.

Clarisse sat down across from Mia. Her face was serious so Clarisse tampered down her enthusiasm to focus on whatever was troubling her. “Go ahead dear…”

“But, I’d like to do more.”

“I’m listening…” she didn’t want to encourage or discourage the idea until she had heard more.

After the parade, I did some research on the orphans and the care they are provided. I believe we can do better…I believe we should do better…”

Over the next hour or so, Clarisse listened with fascination and respect as Amelia spoke of her plans to provide an alternate place for the children to stay until funds could be raised to build a new one.

“So, Gramma, what do you think?” Mia couldn’t help it…she started twirling her hair with her fingers…a nervous habit that she thought she had gotten rid of after high school, but apparently had not.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea, Mia, and you have my permission to proceed. I’ll ask Charlotte to arrange a meeting with the appropriate members of Parliament.” She thought for a minute, “Oh and I have a wonderful idea that will help…shall we say…move things along. Did you know Lord Crawley had a brother who is an architect?”

“No, I didn’t. He’s never mentioned him.”

“That’s because they don’t really speak to each other and when they do…it isn’t cordial. They fight like young boys. If we put both of them on this project, I suspect the funds will be raised rather quickly…even if Lord Crawley donates most of it himself.”

Amelia smiled, “Very crafty, Gramma. We make a good team.”

“Yes, dear, we do.”


Clarisse smiled, feeling a bit of happiness at how well the evening had turned out as she closed the door to her suite. She hadn’t mattress surfed in years and it seemed like even longer since she had sang. Her heart had felt a momentary reprieve from trying to balance all of the demands of her life. It seemed that, for the moment, everything was working out with Amelia and, once again, she had Joseph to thank…


“Gramma will never go for that, Lilly!” Mia exclaimed to her best friend.

“Are you or are you not the future Queen? C’mon, Mia – you have to find a way to have some fun before they force you to marry someone and you spend the rest of your life doing what other people expect of you.”

Mia sighed, “I understand what you’re saying, Lilly, and I think it’s a great idea…but I’m on her good side at the moment and I don’t want to push it.”

“Don’t want to push what, dear?”

“Oh hi, Gramma…it’s nothing.”

Never one to keep quiet, Lilly spoke up, “It’s not nothing, Your Majesty.”

Clarisse smiled at Lilly’s choice of words, “Then it must definitely be something. Come, Amelia, tell me what it is.”

Mia shot Lilly an “I’ll get you later for this…” look and then turned to smile at her Grandmother. “We were just discussing the bridal shower.”

“Charlotte has been working on the details and Joseph is coordinating with her for security.” Clarisse explained.

Mia sighed as Lilly rolled her eyes. “Doesn’t anyone care what I want?”

Clarisse saw the look on her Granddaughter’s face and recognized the feelings she was displaying on her face. She would need to learn to mask those feelings soon; but at the moment, they helped her Grandmother understand her frustration. “What is it you want, dear?”

“Besides being able to marry for love?”


Mia threw her hands up in defeat, “I know, Gramma…it was a momentary lapse, I’m sorry.”

Clarisse tried to keep her tone soft and understanding. “Tell me what you would like for your bridal shower. I promise to do whatever I can to make at least that happen for you.”


“Really.” Clarisse figured it was the least she could do, really how bad could her request be?

“Well, Lilly and I thought a slumber party would be fun – kind of a last hoorah, you know?”

“A slumber party?” Clarisse pretended to think about it as she tried to come up with an alternative. What would Elsie Kentworthy say if the future queen wanted to have a slumber party?

“See, Gramma, I knew you wouldn’t go for it.”

“What won’t your Grandmother…go for?” Joseph asked as he walked in on the three women.

“Oh hi, Joe,” Mia replied, “Lilly and I want to have a slumber party for my bridal shower.”

Clarisse shot Joseph the ever famous…Please help me… look.

“Why don’t you let me accompany your grandmother to her meeting with the Prime Minister and I will see if I can convince her of the merits of your request.” Joseph’s eyes twinkled.

Mia and Lilly got up from the couch and gave him a big bear hug as Clarisse watched on in amusement. Mia whispered in his ear, “If anyone can do it, Joe…it’s you.”

“Thank you, Princess. I shall try.” He whispered in return before turning and smiling at Clarisse. “Your Majesty, are you ready?”

“Of course.” She took his extended arm and they walked out of Amelia’s suite.

“Thank you for rescuing me.” She said as soon as they were out of ear shot.

He laughed, “Oh I fully intend to do what I promised.”

“Joseph! You can’t be serious. The press will have a field day.” She watched as his smiling face turned very serious as he pulled her out of the main hall into a dark entry way to an unused meeting room.

“Clarisse, you worry entirely too much about what Elsie Kentworthy and her minions think, and…” he continued as his body moved closer to hers, “you are a gifted strategist…surely you can think of a way to make this work for her.”

She found it hard to think straight with his nearness. His body radiated warmth and he exuded a power that, though different from the power she possessed, was a force to be reckoned with. She nodded and simply answered, “I will give it some thought.”

“Thank you,” he whispered and then extended his arm to finish escorting her to her meeting.

Hours later, she had devised a way to make Mia AND Elsie Kentworthy happy. It was nice to know her reputation as a gifted strategist was well earned.


Clarisse poured her tea and smiled as she recalled the irritating woman’s words…

“In a stroke of skilled diplomacy, Princess Mia has invited royal princesses from all over the world to her bridal shower/slumber party…”

Oh yes, she had definitely proven that, at least this time, she had gained the upper hand with the press and they were cheering the Princess rather than castigating her on the front page of every Genovian paper and in that dreadful “Eggs with Elsie” morning show.

She sipped the warm liquid and settled into her favorite chair, her thoughts turning to Joseph. Though things were going well with Mia, there had been more chaos than there had been calm. Joseph had been patient, but she needed him to be patient just a little while longer…


“You don’t want to go in there.” Charlotte quietly advised the Princess as she entered the outer room of the Queen’s office.

“Is Gramma still working? It’s kind of late, even for her.”

Charlotte was no good at lying; but she also knew the sensitivity of what she had witnessed. “There’s a lot to be done before the wedding, Princess. Please, trust me when I tell you it is best she not be bothered right now.”

Mia studied Charlotte’s face carefully. Her grandmother had been teaching her to slow down her responses and to take a moment to truly study the face of the person she was with to see what is underneath. It had been part of her negotiation lessons, but Mia could see how it could prove valuable in many situations.

Charlotte’s face was drawn tight with worry and concern…she had to assume it was for her Grandmother. She thought back to today…when was the last time she had seen her? They had walked Mo together and then she had gone off to her archery lesson and to her stolen moment with Nicholas as they planned for what would take place that evening…her last night of freedom. Her grandmother had said she was going to work on wedding details. “Is she alright?”

“She’s very busy, Princess…please, let’s not give her any other cause for concern today.” Charlotte pleaded.

“OK Charlotte, no problem. I was planning on turning in early today – the big day is only two days away…”

“Yes, Your Highness. I will let your grandmother know you were asking after her. Perhaps she can check on you later, if it is not too late when she finishes.”

Thinking of Nicholas’ promise that he would find a way for them to be together tonight, she quickly objected. “That won’t be necessary, Charlotte. I will just talk to her in the morning.”

Charlotte nodded, thinking that would be for the best. “I will let her know. Good night, Princess.”

“Good night, Charlotte.” Mia walked away giving one last look to the large oak door that kept her Grandmother sealed away from the world and Charlotte was playing the diligent gate keeper tonight. Who or what was she hiding from?


“Lionel!” Joseph shouted as he walked into the security hub. “Report!”

The young man was nervous. He cleared his throat and attempted to speak. “I saw her briefly with Lord Nicholas today, but I made my presence known and that my job was to watch her. Nothing further happened after that, sir. She hasn’t seen him since then.”

“Good job, Lionel. You and Shades and,” he turned to speak to the rest of the room, “all of you need to be extra vigilant over the next forty eight hours. It’s crunch time people. Let’s make sure the citizens of Genovia get their new queen scandal free. Got it?”

“YES, SIR!” A chorus of answers resounded throughout the room.

“Good. I will be off campus for a while tonight. You can reach me on the pager if you need me.”


When Clarisse emerged from her office, she looked fairly composed and her desk was clear. Burying herself in the mounds of paperwork had served its purpose, but now it was time to face the loneliness and the self-incrimination that was sure to be heaped upon her the moment she had nothing to divert her thinking. “Good evening, Charlotte. I’m ready to go to my suite.”

“I will call Shades and let him know.”

“Scott?” A small part of her had hoped Joseph would be on duty this evening so they could have a chance to talk further about the events from earlier today.

“Yes ma’am. Joseph left word that he would be off-site this evening. I have his pager and can contact him, if you like.” Charlotte watched her friend’s face very intently.

“No…no, thank you. That won’t be necessary. He deserves some time off.”

“Yes, Your Majesty. The Princess stopped by earlier. I offered to ask you stop by this evening, but she said she would just see you in the morning.”

Knowing that she was in no condition to try to put on a front for Amelia, she was grateful that she wouldn’t have to face her until morning. “I will make sure to see her first thing in the morning.”

“Yes ma’am.” Charlotte tried to keep the sympathy out of her voice, but she knew she wasn’t succeeding.

Clarisse met her eyes and added softly, “I am…sorry…about snapping at you earlier today. I…” she fought to keep from wringing her hands or letting the tears that had been threatening all afternoon escape.

“Please…it’s alright. I’m here though, should you want someone to talk to.”

Clarisse closed her eyes, fighting to get a grip on her emotions until she could be alone in her suite. She took Charlotte’s hand and squeezed it gently, “Thank you, dear, but I will be fine.”

Charlotte frowned, but didn’t press. “Yes ma’am.”

Before either woman could say anything further, Shades appeared. “Ready, ma’am?”

“Yes.” She cast one final glance in Charlotte’s direction before turning to follow her security to her suite.


Clarisse sat staring out into the night sky as she thought back to the few minutes that earlier that day could signal the beginning of the end of her relationship with Joseph. Across town, Joseph sat on a park bench staring up into the same night sky…

“Have you been thinking about us?”

She had been able to think of little else since the moment he had asked her to bring their friendship out of the shadows. Whether she was in his arms or not, he occupied her thoughts both night and day, torturous thoughts of what could or what may never be...

It wasn’t the greatest of lines, but it asked the question that had been plaguing him for days. Either way, he had to know. She was the other half of his soul and he feared it would be forever lost without her…

“Yes…I have.”

She hadn’t been able to say anything more…he knew her well enough to be able to read the deep sadness that etched her features as she answered his simple question – simple, yet so very complicated.

She didn’t have to say anything more. He could see it written all over her face as clearly as if she had handed him a note in her elegant handwriting that clearly said, “I don’t want anyone to know about us and I don’t see a future.”

“I see…if you’ll excuse me…”

The look on his face had broken her and then he had turned away… She knew how badly he had been hurt in the past and remembered Camilla’s words to her during their visit to Puerto Rico: “When the time is right…don’t let him leave you.”

Disregarding everything she had been taught about proper behavior, she had chased after him. She couldn’t let him leave…not without at least trying…

He had to get out of here…had to leave before he said something that he couldn’t take back; before he fell on his knees begging her to reconsider; before she could see him break down… His heart had been broken once before, he wasn’t sure it could withstand being ripped from his chest yet again. He was older and not nearly as strong as he was the first time.

“No! No, Joseph…you had to know what I was going to say. I…Mia needs me now more than ever before. It’s the monarchy. As Queen it’s my responsibility…you KNOW how it is.”

Had that been the best she could come up with? Why had she not told him she loved him and asked him to be patient just a while longer? She was falling back on her age old excuse of duty. Doing what she felt was right for everyone else and ignoring her needs and desires.

His hand had gone up in protest as she had grabbed him and tried to explain. He heard what she was saying, but he wasn’t really listening. Her arguments were old and tired. What could he do to make her understand?

“You were never JUST my Queen, Clarisse…you were the someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with…”

This was it…the moment of truth…she had to find some way to explain to him…she had tried, and had failed. Before she could even get a word out, he had cut her off…

No more…I can’t listen to this anymore…she wants to call all of the shots, dictate what OUR future should be…then fine – she can let duty keep her warm at night…

“BUT…if you prefer that I see you first and foremost as my Queen…then I shall oblige.”

That wasn’t it at all! Why couldn’t he just stop and let her explain? She had to get through to him…she had to make him understand! She lifted her hand to cup his cheek to assure him of her love for him. As words had failed her, it was all she felt she had left…it was her last play…

How DARE she use that here and now? She had just practically said that she was to be his Queen and that the relationship between Clarisse and Joseph was not important enough to her to put her duty aside long enough to even give it a try… No, she wanted to be Queen, then fine.

He made a slight bow and then they had both spoken at the same time...but to two different people as far as he was concerned:


“Your Majesty…”

Their eyes had locked one last time before he turned and walked away…


Clarisse had replayed those few moments countless times in her head. She needed to talk to him – to make one more attempt to make him understand…he had to understand. She didn’t want to lose him. They were so close to realizing all of the hopes and dreams they had shared. She just needed a little more time.

She had finally decided to take Charlotte up on her offer for assistance; but it was only to ask to be informed when Joseph returned. Until then, there was nothing to do but wait. She changed into her pajamas and decided that she would get a glass of milk from the kitchen and try to read while she waited for his return.


Joseph had no idea how long he walked the streets of Genovia looking for answers. Answers that he knew he would never find – at least not ones that would satisfy the ache that was now present in his heart. She had rejected him. True to her character, she had not minced words and had not backed away from the truth. She was relentless that way. She had been so with Rupert and now with him. There was a small part of him that respected that about her. She had married Rupert but could not tell him she loved him; she had told him that she loved him, but would not marry him. It was as though she felt she deserved a life of unhappiness and that her only mate could be countless Genovians who looked to her as their leader.

When he finally made his way back to the Palace, it was well after midnight. The darkness that now shrouded the grounds matched the darkness in his heart. Perhaps he deserved a life of unhappiness as well since neither of the women he had loved were willing to love him more than their supposed duty to others. Against one man, he might be able to compete; but against the will of a father and his money or an entire nation…no, he fell vastly short.

He sensed her presence the moment he walked in his rooms. He took a calming breath and tried to fall into character. “It is late, Your Majesty. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Joseph, please…can we dispense with the formalities?”

“Apparently we cannot.” He avoided looking at her; he knew his heart would melt if his eyes found hers.

“Is there nothing I can say to make you understand?”

“On the contrary, you made your position perfectly clear.”

An audible sigh filled the room. “Most assuredly, I did not…and, for once, further words fail me at the moment.”

He couldn’t think of a suitable reply so he just waited, his eyes cast away from the sound of her voice. A moment later he heard the door to the passageway open.

“I do love you, Joseph…more than I have ever loved another.”

Clarisse turned and walked slowly away…her heart breaking with each step. She had to suppress a shudder as she heard the door being shut firmly behind her.


If the residents of the Palace had thought there had been bad days in the last few weeks, they paled in comparison to the events that took place that next morning:

“Shades!” Charlotte called out as she barely avoided spitting out her morning tea. She had just ended a phone call from a friend of hers at the news station who had given her a heads up on the top story on “Eggs with Elsie” that morning.

Scott came running from the bathroom, shaving cream still on his face. If the situation weren’t so dire, she would have smiled at how adorable he presently looked; but now was not a time for laughter. She filled him in and sent him to find Joseph and bring him up to speed.

Moments later, she radioed Lionel for a location on the Queen and the Princess…she was too late…she couldn’t stop the Queen from realizing that the Princess had been out all night. All she could do now was to put the information in front of them and then determine the best course of action. Her heart went out to both women as they watched Elsie give the report with such enthusiasm that she found it hard not to want to use that frying pan on Elsie’s head!


“Charlotte, why don’t you take your break?” Joseph approached the young aide, his look brokering no arguments.

“Joe? What’s going on?” She felt her heart begin to pound and her stomach felt very uneasy.

“I need to speak with the Queen and I think it is best if you aren’t around.” He was trying to protect her…if only she would cooperate.


“Charlotte, please.”

She sighed. This was not going to be good. “As you wish.”

He watched her log off of her computer, put the phones on forward and then stepped away from her desk. Her look could only be described as forlorn. He sighed and then opened the door.

“Charlotte, where are you headed?” Mia asked as she bumped into her leaving her office.

“I don’t know…”

“What’s wrong?”

“Something…that is certain.”

“Charlotte, you’re not making any sense. Please tell me. Is it Gramma?”

“Joseph is in there with her now. He sent me away. I don’t think this is going to bode well.”

Mia took her friend by the shoulders. “Is there another one of those secret rooms that we can at least overhear what’s going on?”

“The Queen would not approve of spying.”

“That didn’t stop you and Lilly earlier today, did it?”

Charlotte had the decency to blush as she realized Mia had seen them peeking at her through the window during her conversation and kiss, if you could call it that, with Andrew. “Fair enough…follow me.”

Moments later the two women were tucked in small closet that shared a vent next to the Queen’s office. While they couldn’t see, they could hear what was transpiring between the two occupants…

“Joseph? Is everything alright?” Clarisse looked up from her desk. “Charlotte didn’t advise me you wanted to meet.”

“I didn’t tell her and I don’t want to meet. I only wanted to give you this.” He reached inside his jacket and pulled out an envelope.

“What is this?” She felt her heart start to hammer in her chest and her mouth go dry.

“My resignation.” His voice was devoid of any emotion and his eyes were dark pools of pain.

“What? Why?”

“You demanded. I complied.”

Clarisse remembered her words after the last Mia fiasco: “If your team fails to keep an eye on the Princess and keep her from harm’s way – which, in this case, refers to being alone with Lord Devereaux, I will expect someone’s resignation. Is that understood?”

“Joseph! You weren’t even here last night; you can’t be responsible. This is ridiculous!”

“I AM responsible, Your Majesty.” Joseph said with finality.

Clarisse couldn’t keep the tears from slipping down cheek. “So this is it then? I have lost you?”

“We always said that either could choose to leave. You chose duty over love so I choose to leave.”

“That’s what you do, isn’t it? The moment you don’t get what you want…you turn tail and run. You ran away from Camilla and now you’re running away from me.” She hadn’t meant to say the words, but desperation and hurt had forced them from the recesses of her mind. Her world was falling apart and she felt powerless to stop it.

Joseph felt as though he had been slapped. His response slipped past his lips before he could stop it. “The moment, Clarisse?! The MOMENT? I have been waiting patiently for you for years, taking whatever morsels of time, attention and affection you are willing to dole out as it suits your needs. It’s always by your rules. The King may have not had a choice; but I do. I won’t stand by any longer while you sentence yourself to a life of duty and misery.”

“Joseph, please…I DO love you. You have to understand.”

“Clarisse, please, I’m sorry but that just isn’t enough. I am an old man and time is not on my side. I have loved twice in my life and neither time has turned out well for me. I must leave and figure out how I’m going to live the rest of my life without you while the rest of Genovia continues to have you at their beck and call. My heart is broken, Clarisse. YOU have to understand that.”

Clarisse nodded, making no attempt to wipe away the tears and trying to ignore the moisture she saw in his eyes. She sat down behind her desk and gave him one final look. “My life certainly hasn’t had any fairytale endings either, Joseph. I guess there’s nothing more to say.”

“I will stay until the Princess is crowned, then Shades can assume my role.”

She sighed…it really was ending. “As you wish.”

Joseph looked at her one more time and then turned to leave.

“Charlotte, this is NOT good.” Mia whispered.

“No, Princess, it is not.” Charlotte’s heart was breaking.

“We have to do something.” Mia felt a sense of urgency…like it was not just her Grandmother’s future at stake, but hers as well. While she would do her duty as Queen, she worried that her fate would be the same as her Grandmother’s if she didn’t find a way to fix this.

“I truly don’t know what the two of us could accomplish.”

“I don’t know either, Charlotte, but we will figure something out. It’s the right thing to do. They deserve happiness!”

Charlotte looked unconvinced, but deep in her heart hoped it was true. “I understand, Princess, I understand.”

Chapter 35: The Promise of a Kiss

Scene: The morning of the wedding.

Clarisse felt more than saw the sun begin to rise as the light filtered in through the windows, trying to brighten her gloomy disposition. She was certain that sleep had not come to her other than in small pockets when exhaustion overcame her emotionally drained body. It was certain that she had cried more in the last twenty four hours than she had at any other point in her life, no exceptions. It would take a small miracle this morning to get her appearance ready for public viewing. If it were anything other than her granddaughter's wedding…she would just claim a headache and hide away from the world.

A soft fuzzy head nuzzled her hand indicating that he was ready for his morning walk. "Not yet, dear one, but soon. Let me have a cup of tea and try to wake up and then I personally will take you for your walk today. Olivia and Priscilla will have plenty to do this morning, I'm sure."

Maurice barked his acknowledgment and went back to his doggie bed to wait for the signal that it was time. Clarisse smiled affectionately at the animal…at least HE was willing to wait for her. She sighed – that line of thinking would only serve to bring her further into the darkness that was looming nearby, waiting to engulf her if only she would give in…

Joseph rubbed his eyes, grimacing as it felt like sandpaper scratching the delicate orbs that were rimmed with darkness and bloodshot from lack of sleep. His head pounded and every muscle in his body ached from the tension that had been present over the last few days. He slowly got out of bed, feeling years had been heaped on his frame overnight, making his movements stiff and painful.

He ventured a look in the mirror and knew that he looked as bad as he felt. There was a pain in his chest that cut through to his very soul. Shaking his head to dispel the gloom that was settling over him proved to only intensify the pain. Grabbing some aspirin and his glass of water, he swallowed the tiny white pills…praying they would bring some relief. "I need some fresh air. Perhaps that will help clear my head. If today were any other day than the Princess' wedding, I would take a sick day and stay in bed!" He heard his voice echo in the room and realized that he must truly be losing his mind.


An hour later, Clarisse felt she was presentable enough to take Maurice for his walk. She stepped outside her suite to find Scott waiting to escort her. "I suppose you have been asked to take the morning shift today?" She questioned, not surprised that Joseph had elected to not see her.

"Yes ma'am. The boss will be guarding the Princess today as he felt the security risk for her would be very high."

Clarisse smiled at the young man, understanding that he was making every effort to protect her from the harsh truth. "I'm certain he did. Well I feel very safe in your capable hands."

"Thank you, ma'am. Will you be taking your breakfast in the dining room?"

She shook her head slowly, not wanting the headache to return in full force. "No breakfast this morning. I am planning on taking Maurice for his morning walk in the gardens, perhaps the fresh air will do me some good."

"Yes, ma'am." He agreed, but made a mental note to make sure Charlotte brought her some breakfast at some point this morning. He wasn't going to have her faint on his watch.


Joseph watched as she made her way slowly through the garden while Maurice frolicked among the hedges and shrubs. He was overwhelmed by his love for her; his breath caught in his throat and his heart constricted at the thought of not seeing her every day. He had been such a fool and now it was too late. It always came back to the same dilemma when it came to her: he couldn't live with her and he couldn't live without her… He would have no choice now…he had been a fool and now it was too late.

"She's getting married today, Maurice…" Clarisse spoke aloud to the dog and then finished silently… "and I shall never marry again…" She hated feeling sorry for herself, it wasn't like her; but she could feel his eyes on her, watching her as he always had done. The thought of him no longer being beside her, watching her no matter where she was or what she was doing left a chill inside of her that she felt in the depths of her soul. She had finally done it…had driven away the only man she had ever truly loved. She had been a fool, choosing duty over love, yet again, and now it was too late.

Joseph's cell phone buzzed in his pocket, he retrieved it as his eyes remained fixed on her. "Speak." He listened as his old friend, Gretchen, whispered to him about the latest escapades of her boss. He never understood why she stayed working for him; but as she related the details of the leak to Elsie Kentworthy and the set up, he was grateful that she did. "Thank you, my friend. It may be too late, but I will make sure the Princess knows the truth. What she does from there is her decision."

He closed the phone at the moment her face turned towards him. Their eyes locked across the distance. Though they couldn't see directly, both knew that the cerulean depths would speak of love and regret. Regret for harsh words spoken and letting opportunity slip through their fingers like grains of sand.

Today would be a very long day, indeed.


A few hours later, Joseph found himself standing in the Archbishop's office, a married man. It all seemed surreal, like a dream. He had been in shock; but, thankfully, had been coherent enough to perform his role. He replayed it over again in his mind…maybe it was a dream; but if it was, he never wanted to wake up…

"Hey Joe…I just wanted to say before I do this…I'm sorry you're retiring."

He was surprised that the Princess had heard about it…it was not like Clarisse to share that information. He had to ask, ""Who told you that?"

Mia knew she had to come up with a plausible explanation as he would not have been pleased with her and Charlotte for eavesdropping. She used the old standby she had heard used time and time again, "The maids know everything."

He nodded, knowing that much was true. He didn't want to go into details with her, so he simply offered, "The heart does things for reasons; that reason cannot understand."

"You're preaching to the choir."

She sounded so sad; he knew he had to tell her the truth. He got her attention once again. "Princess…then you should know that Nicholas did not set you up at the lake."

"You're sure?"

"The maids know everything."

Thinking back, he wondered how much of the information he had provided served as the catalyst for the events that took place the rest of the day. The next thing he knew, he was following both the Princess and the Queen out of the church almost before the ceremony had begun. He remembered hearing the shouts of joy and applause when Clarisse stepped out of the church. They loved her and he felt a momentary pang of guilt that he had forced her to choose. In the end, they had won…but that was neither here nor there now. He stepped close enough to protect them, but still tried to offer them some privacy. This was between Queen and future Queen…Grandmother and Granddaughter… He felt a sense of pride and sadness as he listened to the exchange…

"Oh my dear…Mia."

"Oh Gramma, I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry. I just need a minute."


"I can do this."


"I can't do this…"

"I know."

"Darling, listen to me. I made my choice, duty to my country over love. It's what I've always done, it seems. It's been drummed into me my whole life. Now I've lost the only man I ever really loved."

"Mia, I want you to make your own choices as a woman. Don't make the same mistakes I did. Make your own mistakes, there'll be plenty of them, believe me. Now you can go back in that church and get married or you can walk away. Whatever choice you make, let it come from your heart."

He had found it strange that she was giving advice to Mia that she refused to follow herself. It had made him both proud and heartbroken at the same time. If he had thought that was the last surprise he would have that day, he couldn't have been more mistaken. Within the next fifteen minutes, Mia had successfully negotiated her first vote with Parliament, overturning the ancient marriage law.

He had seen Viscount Mabrey barreling down the aisle directly toward his Queen. At the last moment, he had stepped in front of her to ensure she was safe. As he watched Mabrey, looking like a fool, chasing after Nicholas, his senses went on high alert as he felt her step near to his body. Uncontrollably, a shiver ran down his spine and his heart rate increased. When he felt her breath on his neck, his mind flashed to the many times they had shared intimate moments and her lips had feathered across his skin. Unlike those other times, though, when she had whispered of her love, this time only the command of "Door…" had escaped those sensuous lips of hers. It was enough. It had jolted him to action and he effectively barred the Viscount from returning to do any further damage.


Clarisse smiled with pride at her beautiful granddaughter and the success she had just experienced at repealing the marriage law. She had always KNOWN she would make a great Queen…alright, perhaps there were flickers of doubt, but Joseph had always reassured her. She fought to keep the smile on her face at the thought of Joseph. She could feel him standing behind her and to her right and wanted desperately to just throw herself in his arms and beg for his understanding and forgiveness. Fortunately, Charlotte distracted her.

"Your Majesty…the Princess would like a word." Charlotte smiled, hoping that the Princess had thought of a way to fix things between her two best friends.

She took the small piece that Charlotte handed her, but truly had no idea what to do with it. She turned in a circle as she tried to think of what to say…"Oh…ummm…"

"Gramma?" The whispered voice of her granddaughter could be heard through the device. She took a step towards her, forgetting that Charlotte was attached.

"Just because I didn't get MY fairytale ending…doesn't mean you shouldn't."

Clarisse was momentarily stunned…how could Amelia know? Her choice of words haunted the memories that she had been trying so hard to keep subdued. How often had she and Joseph spoke of a fairytale ending…even as recent as yesterday when she felt it was no longer an option for her. She wasn't sure what to say or what to do. She turned to Charlotte for words of wisdom. "Did you hear that?"

In typical Charlotte fashion, she replied very seriously, "Not if you didn't want me to."

She couldn't help but laugh. Charlotte had been by her side for what seemed like always. She was steadfast, supportive and one of the best friends she ever had. "Oh, Charlotte!"

Taking a deep breath, she straightened the jacket to her dress. She made a few audible sounds and words that made no sense as she stalled for time. Could she really do this? What would Joseph think? What would he say? What would everyone else say? She took a deep breath and exhaled. For once in her life, she was going to do what SHE wanted, regardless of the outcome or what anyone else would think. Her life was passing by at an alarming rate and she knew, everything else aside, that she owed it to herself…to her relationship with Joseph to give it one last try.


After watching with pride, the Princess take on Parliament…and win, he felt better knowing that his belief in her was well placed and that his future Queen would serve his country well. At least he could take that knowledge into retirement with him…he had helped shape the future Queen of Genovia. It was unfortunate that the soon to be former Queen would not allow him the opportunity to shape their future together. He had been so caught up in his thoughts that he almost missed her call to him. Almost…


"Your Majesty."

"Dear Joseph…"

Was it his imagination or had her voice taken on a softer, more personal tone. No…it was only his imagination…wasn't it?

"Am I too late…to ask you…to accept my hand in marriage."

Did he hear her right? Yes…yes he had. Unlike his proposal, there was no room for mis-interpretation or second guessing…she had just asked him to marry her...

That was when instinct took over. His mind was spinning wildly out of control and it took all of his considerable training to stay calm and match her reserved demeanor. He cleared his throat, hoping his voice would not betray him now. "Well I thought you would never ask."

He noticed her releasing the breath she had been holding and the relief flood her beautiful face. Rational thought was no longer present in his mind and just before the numbness from the shock totally ruled his brain, he took off his hat and earpiece and turned to his second in command. "Shades, you're in charge now. Good luck with Lionel."

Turning to face forward, standing next to the woman that he had dreamed of for years, he added quietly. "I'm going to a wedding." He lifted his arm to escort his bride to be and they began to walk down the aisle together.

All of his focus was on the Archbishop and making it down the aisle without falling. He heard Clarisse making some comment to the people assembled at the church…that was her way of dealing with the nerves, retreating into his inner shell was his. She was used to the spotlight…he was not.

In usual Clarisse style, once she had put her mind to something, there was no stopping her. When they reached the front, her voice was strong as she made her request. "My Lord, Archbishop, I would like to take this man as my husband." Then much quieter, she added, "if you please…"

Joseph couldn't see Clarisse's face, but was certain that her shock at the Archbishop's response mirrored his own.


They did sneak one quick glance at each other which shared the expression…perhaps their secret had not been as well kept as they thought. Yet the country was still standing….oh how many years had they wasted in fear of what others would think…

Joseph only half heard what the Archbishop was saying, but when Shades pressed a ring into his hand, he knew what motions should come next. He took her hand, and noticed it was slightly trembling. He had no idea where the ring had come from…he assumed it was the band that Andrew was to give to Mia had their wedding gone as planned. He spoke the words he was expected to say, "With this ring, I thee…" he smiled at the Archbishop and then at his love, "finally…wed."

"I pronounce you man and wife." He had waited over thirty years to hear those words said to him. "You may kiss the bride."

Kiss the bride? What would be an appropriate kiss? He knew how he wanted to kiss her…but that kiss would not be for public consumption. He felt her hands in his and knew he should do something…but for the first time in his life, his body seemed immobile. He heard the music and felt Clarisse moving towards him. His mouth made the necessary movement to accept a kiss from her.

The kiss was gentle, yet spoke of so much that was still to come between them. It was a promise…a promise from her that no longer would she allow what others wanted to dictate a decision so important in her personal life. A promise that was sealed with a kiss.


Joseph smiled as he thought of the promises they had made to each other only a few minutes earlier. He heard Clarisse just outside the door, speaking with the Archbishop, Charlotte and Shades, presumably making the arrangements for their departure. His mind was still a muddled mess. Just yesterday, his life was in total and complete turmoil. Now, only twenty-four hours later, everything he had ever wanted was his. He rubbed his head again, willing the swirling thoughts to calm to allow him the ability to take control of the situation as he was accustomed.

Clarisse stepped in the door just in time to see Joseph rubbing his head. A small flicker of doubt crept into her otherwise ecstatic demeanor. Was he having second thoughts? Had he only said yes to avoid embarrassing her? It was not out of the realm of reasonable to think he would take such actions on her behalf…even considering the state of their relationship only twenty four hours ago.


He looked in her direction, but did not answer.

"Are you ready to depart? Shades has already escorted Amelia to the car and the carriage is waiting for you and I."

Nodding, he extended his arm to escort her. As he stepped through the doorway, he was immediately surrounded by a contingent of security personnel that moved along with them. It was an interesting sensation and one he wasn't sure he liked. It seemed surreal that HE was being the one protected now, rather than being the protector. The bodies around him had a suffocating feel, even though they were at an appropriate distance. Had this been how Clarisse had felt her entire life? Maybe it was something one became accustomed to. He could only hope that would be the case.

He felt Clarisse's hand slip down his arm to take his hand. She squeezed it tightly as they stepped out onto the front steps of the church. The crowd erupted into a loud cacophony of noise in excitement for their Queen. Even over the noise, he could hear her whisper. "Perhaps you could wave to them? It would mean a lot…"

Realizing they were cheering for him as well, he snapped out of his musings long enough to lift his arm in greeting to the masses. He tried to remember the lessons Clarisse had taught Mia about waving; but quickly dismissed that as being improper for a man. Moments later, he felt the hand on his shoulder, guiding him to the carriage that would carry them through the streets of Genovia and back to the castle.

Once away from the church, the noise died down some and Clarisse ventured a glance at Joseph. He still held her hand tightly; but had yet to speak. There was so much she wanted to say – to ask him – to reassure him…to reassure herself. He had always been the strong, silent type…but this was getting out of hand. She had taken the initiative but now she faltered. At the end of the day, they needed and drew strength from each other. Instead, she kept quiet and held his hand tightly in her lap. She had finally gotten him and she was not letting go.

By the time they reached the Palace, Joseph was starting to get his sea legs back. The realization that tonight Clarisse would be in his arms and he would be able to kiss her, touch her, make love to her, and wake up next to her slowly made its way through his brain bringing light and clarity to the previously muddled mess.

Neither spoke as they made their way to her suite. Clarisse, due to the nervousness that had now permeated her body, and Joseph…waiting for privacy. They stepped inside and, before closing the door, Joseph silently waved away the security. He had been protecting his Queen for many years now…that would not stop just because she was now his wife.

Clarisse couldn't take it any longer. She moved to stand in front him, her eyes filled with questions and doubt. "Joseph, you have been very quiet. I fear that you may be doubting the wisdom of accepting my proposal. Please…" she reached up to cup his cheek, "say something…"

Realizing the truth of her words, he now understood how she must have interpreted his actions or, more appropriately, the lack thereof. His hand reached up to cup her cheek, mimicking her actions. His thumb slowly slid across her full lips, eliciting a small murmur of pleasure as they parted slightly under his touch; her eyes closing from the sensation. "The only thing I'm doubting is why I didn't do this earlier…"

A breath later, Clarisse felt his mouth crush down on hers, unleashing all of the emotion that they shared between them. Knowing they no longer had to hold anything back, the kiss was filled with passion, love, regret, and many more emotions too myriad to name. She felt his head angle as his tongue swept across her lips, seeking entrance.

His hands slipped from her cheek to behind her head, guiding her in the kiss. He felt hers slip lower to the inside of his jacket, spanning first his chest and then around to his back. Her frame melded against his as her mouth opened to his advances. It was his turn to moan as he tasted the mingled flavors of tea and the mint of her toothpaste. When the tip of her tongue slid around his, he was totally lost. He knew without a doubt that this kiss offered the promise of a wonderful evening to come…

"Now THIS is the kiss that we were all waiting to see at the church."


Chapter 36: No More Hiding

Scene: Following the events of Chapter 35

Hearing the voice, Clarisse reluctantly pulled away from the allure of Joseph’s kiss. She kept her eyes firmly fixed on Joseph as she reprimanded, “I see you still haven’t learned how to knock.”

Mia had the decency to blush slightly, “Sorry, Gramma. I was just so excited and happy for you two; I wanted to see you myself. I didn’t realize you would be…”

Joseph turned and smiled at her. “Kissing? I am married to the most beautiful woman in the world; why wouldn’t I want to kiss her?” To make his point, he placed a tender kiss on Clarisse’s lips.

Mia opened her mouth to say something and then thought better of it. “You’re right…I wasn’t thinking…I’ll give you two some privacy.” She turned to leave, but her grandmother’s voice stopped her.


Mia exhaled slowly, bracing herself for a lecture. She turned slowly back towards them. “Yes?”

Clarisse separated from Joseph and moved to pull her granddaughter into an embrace. “You were magnificent today. I am so proud of you!”

Relief washed over Mia as she returned the hug. “Thank you, Gramma, and thank you for not forcing me to marry someone I didn’t love.”

Clarisse whispered in her ear, “Thank you for pushing me to marry someone I did.”

“You deserve happiness. I’m glad you finally found it and that you can love each other freely.”

“Thank you, Princess.” Joseph interjected. “I know you will find your Prince Charming someday as well.” He pulled Clarisse back into his arms. “Hopefully it won’t take you as long as your grandmother.”

Mia laughed at the look Joseph got from her grandmother. “I will leave you two now. Make her foot pop, Joe.” She called out as she was shutting the door.

Joseph returned his attention to his wife…he loved being able to think of her that way. “So what do you think? Shall I attempt to make your foot pop?” He asked as he slowly guided her until she was sandwiched between his body and the wall.

Clarisse’s voice dropped an octave or so and took on a decidedly husky tone. “I can think of so many more things that you could do to me that would be much better than my foot popping…” To further her point, she let her hands slide under his jacket and up to the shoulders until it relinquished its hold on his body. As it fell to the floor, her hands drifted to the buttons on the vest. “There are entirely too many layers to these tuxedos you must wear.”

“Shall I assist you?” He asked as he slipped his hands between her dress and jacket, intending to return the favor.

“Kiss me again…I’ve missed you…I’ve missed this. When I thought I had lost you…”

Her words were stopped by the weight of his lips against hers, effectively silencing her train of thought. She felt his hands move to her ribs, allowing his thumbs to caress her breasts through the silky fabric. She felt the tingle begin in her abdomen and relished the thought that before long it would spread throughout her body, rendering her putty in his hands.

Joseph was getting lost in the kiss and in the feel of her body against his. He wanted to get her into the bedroom and finally consummate their love; but he couldn’t bring himself to stop touching and kissing her. He could feel her body responding and it was addicting. Searching his memory, he tried to recall if there were any cameras trained on their position. Even though it was her private quarters, the sitting area was often used to conduct meetings, therefore security cameras were necessary.

The sound of a throat clearing pulled the couple unwillingly from the blissful haze in which they had surrounded themselves. “This had better be a national emergency.” Joseph grumbled without even glancing to see who had dared enter the private domain of the Queen.


Charlotte had entered the suite, without knocking, which was unlike her. She was incredibly stressed, though, and needed to make sure that everything and everyone was following the schedule. It was her job and it was a job she took very seriously. There was no security at the Queen’s door, so she had entered quietly, intending to leave a note with the instructions for the events for the remainder of the day. She would then call the Queen’s private number that rang in her bedroom to let them know about the note.

Never had it entered her thought process that they would be…making out…in the Queen’s sitting room. Her mind flashed back to the afternoon she had seen them behind the stable:

Peering through the cover of trees, she watched as the Queen pulled Joseph into a kiss. It was gentle; but even from this distance, Charlotte could feel the connection and the love between the two. It was obvious this was not their first stolen kiss. A blush slowly crept up her face as the kiss deepened. She couldn’t see Joseph’s hands under her brown jacket, but was certain that they were making the most of the opportunity.

Thinking of her friend pressed against the barn wall and the look of pleasure on her face caused the blush that had been on her face to suffuse her entire body.

She had walked in on a similar scene to that day and the blush had been immediate. As she was much closer this time, she could feel the passion that radiated off of the couple. She truly had no idea how they had demonstrated the restraint they had in not giving in to the obvious attraction between them. She knew she would not have been that strong. Hating to do it, but knowing she must, she cleared her throat. As she watched Joseph pull back slightly, she doubted the wisdom of her dedication.

“This had better be a national emergency.”

“Your Majesty…Joseph…I’m so sorry…I had no idea that you would be…”

Despite the situation, Joseph chose to laugh rather than get angry. His hands remained under Clarisse’s jacket, stroking her gently, keeping her attention focused. “Kissing? What is it that people normally do after they are wed?”

Charlotte wet her lips, willing courage to speak. “With all due respect, Joe, nothing about this situation is normal.”

Joseph sighed, “I know, Charlotte. I just would like a few moments of privacy with my wife.”

Clarisse wished she could find her voice; but Joseph’s body that close to hers and his hands working their magic had rendered her speechless. She was thankful that her jacket hid his actions from Charlotte, although it wouldn’t take much to interpret what he was doing.

He had handled problems that arose for many years; she had confidence that he would handle this now. Right now she just wanted to be alone with him.

“You can have a little more than that…but not much more; Paulo will be here as well as the seamstress along with the ladies’ maids to help the Queen prepare for the ball this evening. You will need to wear your tux.” Her eyes gestured to the crumpled jacket on the floor behind him.

“Understood. Now, Charlotte…please don’t take this personally…” Joseph offered.


“Get out!”

Knowing her job was done, she smiled and nodded. “Yes sir.” She glanced briefly at the Queen who had not taken her eyes off of Joseph throughout the exchange. She wasn’t even certain her friend had heard her. “Your Majesty.”

“Thank you, Charlotte.” Came the reply…apparently she had heard.

The door clicked behind her and Joseph let his hands slide up her frame until he could remove her jacket, letting it join his on the floor. “Now that’s some progress.” His hands slid down her now bare arms, once again enjoying the feel of her skin under his palms. When they reached her hands, he intertwined his fingers with hers and then lifted them until they were resting beside her head. It was a position that they favored and had often chosen when they allowed passion to rise between them. “I love you.” He offered as he closed the distance between them once again.

“And I love you.” She whispered before closing her eyes, prepared to allow the pleasure of his kiss to overwhelm her once again. Instead, of the soul-searing kiss she expected, she felt the whisper of a kiss caress her lips; the velvety softness just brushing over one corner of her mouth then gliding over her now parted lips to the other corner. The memories came rushing back as she remembered the last time he had kissed her like this. She had believed that Amelia was going to decline her destiny as Princess and that the Renaldi rule would end. Joseph had pledged that he would not kiss her until they could be certain that there would be a future. Even he, though, had acquiesced and kissed her like this when they both were unsure what path awaited them. His kiss had filled her with hope that all was not lost and now it filled her with hope that they were going to have the life together they had always dreamed.

The phantom touch continued as the passion built; with each whispered touch, she was drawn deeper and deeper into him, never wanting to emerge; the world around her faded away to a muted grey, leaving only herself and Joseph. Finally, he applied a small amount of pressure to the kiss, releasing tiny waves of pleasure throughout her body. “Joseph…” she whispered, her eyes pleading for more.

Joseph stepped back slightly, overjoyed with what he saw. Her eyes were closed as she focused on the sensations slowly building throughout her body; her lips were slightly swollen from their earlier heated exchange; her chest was rising and falling in short bursts as she drew her breath; and her body…her body needed more.

Slowly releasing her hands, he moved them to her neck to remove the elaborate necklace she had adorned for the wedding. His eyes moistened as he saw the glint of gold resting underneath. Setting the bulkier necklace aside, he let his fingers trace the delicate chain that represented more than words could ever say. Despite it all, she had continued to wear the gift - the one that she had promised him she never removed and made her feel close to him.

Clarisse kept her eyes closed as he made his discovery. She wasn’t sure how he would react…but she could not bring herself to remove it…to let that part of him – of them…go. It may have been something she would have had to do someday; but that was something she was not even willing to consider twenty-four hours ago. Her lips parted further as his finger slid gently over the chain. Oh how she wanted him to follow it lower…to touch her as she longed to be touched….to bring them together as they should be – as it was meant to be. She refrained, though. He had been patient for her – she would be patient for him.

Unable to wait any longer, his hands slid around her neck to feel for the zipper. “Turn around.” He whispered.

Her heart started to beat stronger in her chest as she heard his request. Things had been so stressed between them lately that there had been far too little intimacy; she felt almost as nervous as the first time they had touched. She moved slowly, enjoying the feel of his fingertips gliding across her neck as she turned in his gentle embrace. The cool air kissed her back as he lowered the zipper with painstaking slowness. Her body shivered as his warm breath whispered, “Beautiful,” against her neck once the garment was slowly removed. Turning to face him once again, she felt particularly vulnerable in the ivory slip that provided her only covering while he was still almost fully dressed.

Joseph resumed the tracing of the gold chain, following its path lower until the fingertip dipped below the lace to the valley between her breasts. Lifting the chain, he brought it from under the silk to rest on top of the garment. His eyes found hers, speaking words that held a depth of meaning. “No more hiding.”

Lifting her hand to caress his cheek, this time allowing her thumb to graze across his moist lips, she answered. “No more hiding.”

His hand flattened against her freckled chest, moving deliberately over the soft skin. He could feel her heart beating wildly under his hand and the air escaping her lungs in quick succession. Slipping his thumb under one thin strap, he made a sweeping motion with the digit, sliding just over the swell of her breast.

“Joseph…please…I won’t be able to stand much longer.” Her voice was tense with desire as she made her plea.

Feeling the same way she did, he carefully removed his hand, letting it trail down the silk covered mounds, eliciting a small intake of breath. “Let’s take this to the bedroom, shall we?”

“I thought you’d never ask.” Clarisse somehow found the strength to walk. Joseph picked up her clothing and his tux jacket, mindful of Charlotte’s words that he would need to wear it later and followed her. Watching the delicate sway of her hips in the ivory slip was only serving to enhance his desire.

Once inside, Clarisse noticed the bottle of red wine and two glasses; a small card was propped in front of it. She carefully opened the card:

“Congratulations…enjoy! Best wishes, Olivia and Priscilla”

She turned to Joseph, lifting the bottle towards him. “From Olivia and Priscilla…isn’t that sweet?”

“You have many loyal friends and employees.” He replied as he took the proffered bottle and began to open it.

Clarisse shook her head slowly. “No. No, I have a few loyal friends and employees and I am very blessed. Of course, I can no longer count you among my loyal employees.” She teased slightly.

“As I recall, you gave me little choice…” He didn’t want to get into this right now…hopefully she picked up on his non-verbal language and would let them speak of more important subjects. He filled the glasses and offered one to her.

“Thank you.”

“What shall we toast to?”

Clarisse mulled it over and couldn’t come up with any short sentiment that would cover it all. Remembering the Archbishop’s words earlier that day, she lifted her glass and smiled. “To finally…”

His smiled mirrored hers; as they clinked their glasses, he answered, “To finally…”

Just as Clarisse put the glass to her mouth, the door to the suite opened again. Joseph turned in time to see Maurice barreling through the front room and, spotting Clarisse, he made a bee-line for her, excited to see his master.

Clarisse was jolted as Maurice skidded into her, wanting the love and attention he had been missing all day. The glass didn’t connect with her lips and the red liquid spilled all down her front, with some splashing on the poodle as well. Maurice looked up at her, an annoyed look on his face before turning to run to his bed. “Oh…” she exclaimed, surveying the damage to her slip.

Joseph couldn’t help but notice either. The wet garment clung seductively to the curves of her chest, the cool air in the room causing her nipples to stand erect under the wine soaked fabric. His head lowered to capture the tip in the warm cavern of his mouth, sucking gently, eliciting a gasp from his wife.

“Joseph!” Clarisse exclaimed as her hands went to his shoulders for support, shards of desire striking through her body from the point where his mouth touched her. Time seemed to stand still as his tongue and teeth alternated their attention on the sensitive area.

Joseph could feel her nails in his shoulders and knew neither would last long. Of all the things he wanted at this moment in time, another interruption was not one of them. Reluctantly releasing his hold, he took her hand and commanded, “Come with me.”

Accustomed to following his orders when it came to how and where she should go, she followed without question. It only took a moment for her to realize that they were leaving her room through the secret passage that connected their suites. Once inside, he quickly moved to the door, turning the lock. He was certain that once they were discovered missing from the Queen’s suite, his would be the next one they checked. Turning around, he stopped to take in the essence of the beautiful woman that stood before him. His Queen. His Friend. His Wife.

Clarisse watched as his eyes drank her appearance in. She knew she must look quite the mess; but his face showed that he saw nothing but perfection. Her eyes grew dark with desire as he quickly removed his clothing, leaving only his black silk boxers. In his haste to undress, she had still caught sight of the cufflinks that he wore. Her heart skipped a beat as she recognized them as a Christmas gift she had given to him. She couldn’t help the moisture that filled her blue depths. “He hadn’t been able to let go either…”

Joseph saw the tears in her eyes and immediately went to her. “What is it, darling?” He whispered as his arms enfolded her. “You’re shivering…”

“The cufflinks…you were wearing them…”

His lips kissed away the tears and pulled her in closer. “Just because I foolishly saw no choice but to walk away doesn’t mean that I stopped loving you. Surely you realize that I would never stop loving you?”

Her hands framed his face and she kissed him with a tenderness that spoke of all the love she held inside for him. “I may have eventually come to that realization; but I always liked hearing you say it. When I feared that was no longer a possibility, my thoughts were less than positive.”

“You never have to fear that again; I love you and I will never leave you.”


“Till death do us part…”

They embraced again, just relishing the closeness and the knowledge that they would be together for the rest of their natural lives. Concerned, Joseph pulled away slightly. “You’re still shivering.”

She chuckled slightly. “I’m soaked and in a silk slip. What exactly would you expect?”

Taking her hand, Joseph guided her into his bathroom. He reached into the shower and turned the water on, adjusting to make sure it was the right temperature.


“You need to warm up and we need to do it quickly. Now while I can think of some wonderful ways to get you warm, we don’t have that kind of time as I suspect they will be hunting you down soon to steal you away from me. I don’t know about you; but I would like to make the most of our time together.”

Her heart rate jumped quickly with the thoughts of everything Joseph had just suggested. She barely had time to process what he had said when she felt his body near hers again. His hands were resting just below her hips and he had a small bit of the fabric clasped. “May I?”

Years’ worth of waiting was culminating in this moment. Despite the intimacy they had shared in the past, he had never actually seen her naked…at least not entirely and not all at once. She swallowed hard and nodded, just barely, but it was enough. Her breath held as he began to raise the material slowly up her body. The fabric whispered over her skin like a lover’s touch, igniting small cascades of sensation as she slowly came to life.

Joseph’s eyes raked over her body as it was slowly revealed. The long, sensuous legs leading up to the gentle curve of her hip; the slight indentation of her waist to the fullness of her breasts; the elegant line of her neck to the soft strength of her arms as they raised above her head, allowing the garment to be removed.

Tossing it to the floor, his hands returned to her body, skimming up her arms around to her back to locate the small hooks that held one of the last two garments in place. With a surety he did not feel, he deftly unclasped the hooks and slowly slid his hands under the garment until it released the generous mounds held captive.

Clarisse tried to remember to breathe as his hands cupped the milky globes, testing their weight and enjoying the way they filled his hands. “Merde, Clarisse…this is better than any fantasy.”

She was unsure how she was still standing. He was effectively reducing her muscles to rubber and the way her heart was beating wildly in her chest made her fear that it might burst forth from her body. She frantically looked around for anything to hold onto as his hands skimmed lower until his thumbs hooked in the last remaining vestige that stood between him and an unhindered view of her body.

Joseph ignored the slight protest of his knees as he reverently lowered the garment over the gentle swell of her hips, the muscled strength of her thighs to the sinewy curves of her calves. His hands caressed each one as the small piece of satin journeyed to the floor.

Clarisse felt his hands glide over her body, similar to the silk when it was removed, as he made his way slowly back up her body. She was slightly self-conscious that he was so close to her…he would see every flaw. Thankfully, the towel rack was nearby and she used it to steady her body as he explored.

When they were standing face to face again, he placed a gentle kiss on her lips. “Perfection.”

“You, sir, need to have your eyes checked.” She teased, trying to keep her mind off of her current state of undress.

“We will debate that later as I need to get you warm.” He gestured to his boxers. “Would you like to do the honors or shall I?”

Realization dawned…he intended to get in the shower WITH her! She had never showered with another individual her entire life. Rupert had never asked and…well there had been no one before or after Rupert…until Joseph.

Joseph smiled understandingly at her “deer caught in the headlights” look as she tried to find the words to say…once she decided what she wanted to say. Deciding it was time HE took the initiative, he took advantage of her current state of self-imposed paralysis and slipped his boxers off and then guided her in the shower.

Before she even realized what was happening, Clarisse felt the warm spray gliding over her shoulders and down her body. Her back was to Joseph and she cast a quick glance over her shoulder to see the broad expanse of his back as well. His shower had been equipped with dual shower heads. Her mind vaguely wondered if he had ever invited anyone else to “share” in his shower with him. Deciding that was a question for later, she ventured another look in his direction.

His muscled back was tanned and the rivulets of water ran smoothly over them as they journeyed lower. Her eyes followed their path, stopping to appreciate the perfectly shaped buttocks that had always looked so inviting under the black pants.

“Like what you see?” A warm voice gently teased her.

Her head quickly returned to facing front as a blush covered her body, embarrassed at being caught. She felt strong hands sliding over her shoulders and down her arms; the sparse hairs on his chest tickling the soft skin of her back.

Somewhere, somehow, she found her courage and her voice to respond. “Mmmm…yes, as a matter of fact, I did.” She offered, wanting to return some of the compliments he had given her, “You are incredibly handsome.”

Soft lips kissed her shoulder as he reached around her to retrieve some liquid soap from the dispenser mounted on the wall. She heard more than saw his hands rubbing together to create a lather, gasping slightly as soap covered hands slid down her back.

Joseph loved the sensation of his hands gliding over her soft skin. He could feel every contour and curve. Sliding around her waist, his hands moved upwards to cup the fullness of her breasts before slowly circling the luscious mounds, eliciting murmurs of pleasure from his beloved.

Clarisse felt the pleasure mounting at a steady pace…the hot water streaming down over their bodies; warm, capable hands gliding effortlessly over her skin; and the feel of flesh against flesh as his chest melded against her. She realized in an instant that she wanted to be more of an active participant. Carefully adjusting her head to avoid the spray, she retrieved some of the liquid soap and then turned easily in his embrace.

Soft, pale hands slid across his chest, leaving a white trail of lather in its wake. Questing lower, the hands explored the taut muscles of his abdomen and with one finger traced the fine line of hair that would guide her towards the physical evidence of his mounting desire. Her eyes locked with his and her gaze never wavered as her soapy hand clasped around his arousal, causing his tenuous control to snap.

Joseph took a half step to the side, careful to not do anything to disturb the connection they now shared. His hand cupped her cheek and pulled her face towards his to claim her in a fierce kiss. His tongue swept across her mouth demanding entrance. The moment she acquiesced, the fire in his veins moved through his body as liquid fire, heating him completely in his desire for her. His tongue matched the stroking tempo that her hand had set and it felt as though nothing in the world existed at the moment except for their needs finally being satiated.

“Clarisse…” her name tore from his mouth in a husky plea…

Hearing her name spoken in a way that brokered no confusion as to what he wanted was her undoing. She could feel his hardness and her body shuddered with pleasure knowing that very soon they would be one in every sense of the word.

One spirit almost from the first time she met him…

One mind…well most of the time. They did occasionally have a different perspective on things; but always came together in the end.

One heart…oh yes, she believed they shared one heart…for when he was hurting, so was she and vice versa.

One body…though they had joined once before…all of the other pieces were not in place. This time, though…this time they would truly be one.

“Joseph…” the way she spoke his name told him everything he needed to know.

She took a couple steps backwards and pulled him along with her. Once her back hit the warm tile, she slipped her arms around his torso, letting her hands drift lower to roam freely over the taut muscles she had been admiring earlier. Her head lolled to one side, inviting attention to the long expanse of her neck.

Joseph’s lips sought out the tender flesh…kissing, licking, and nipping the generous gift he had been offered. His ears were filled with her moans of pleasure as she lost herself in the moment; his body enticed by the feel of her nails embedding in his flesh, leaving visible proof of her desire for him. With considerable effort he pulled away from her and turned off the shower.

Merde, she was beautiful. Her creamy skin was a marked contrast with the dark tiles that framed her heaving body. Damp hair was beginning to curl from the moisture and lips swollen from their ardent kisses parted as small breaths escaped. Love marks along her elegant neck led to full breasts begging for his touch. His eyes paused as the water beaded over her body, creating the appearance of small jewels. Continuing his descent, his focus came to rest on her legs …god those legs - they seemed to go on forever. The thought of them wrapped around him as he drove into her body again and again prompted him into action.

“Not here, Clarisse…I don’t want our first time to be like this.”

As she began to respond, he opened the door and grabbed a large towel from the hook beside the shower. It was quickly wrapped around her body and she was guided out of the shower. He scooped her into his arms and began to walk towards his living room. She felt herself being lowered onto the giant, overstuff leather ottoman situated in front of the couch. The towel was reverently opened to reveal her body, glistening with water and ever so ready for his touch. Finally, her voice came to her, “It isn’t our first time, love.” She smiled sweetly at him.

His eyes raked over her body yet again, thankful that she was finally his. It had seemed to take a lifetime; but finally they would be together…forever. Hearing her response to his earlier statement, he simply replied, “I didn’t want our second time to be like that either.”

She nodded her head gently, understanding what he was trying to say. Her legs parted as her hand lifted towards him. “Come to me, my love.”

“I love you, Clarisse.”

“I love you, Joseph.” She stretched her hands above her head, holding the edge of the towel that separated her body from the cool leather. Her eyes found his as those long legs, that he had just been dreaming of, circled his lower body, opening herself further and inviting him into her most secret of places. “Make love to me, Joseph…”

“As you wish, my love…” he answered before claiming her body completely.

Clarisse’s body arched as he slid into her warm depths. She felt him adjust slightly; his hands covered hers and his lower body was resting more on his knees, allowing for greater movement. Their lips met as the passion began to build again…slow, steady strokes causing them to climb further and further up the mountain that would set their spirits free.

Joseph wanted to continue to go slowly…to make this moment last forever. The sensations were sending his body into overload…it had been over a year since the first time they had made love and this time it was going to be so much better between them. He quickened his pace, letting instinct take over. The water from their showers had eased the movements of their bodies as they moved in counterpoint to each other…giving and taking…needing and fulfilling.

He could feel her body under his, the softness of her breasts, the feel of her nails digging into his hands, strong legs moving with his thrusts and, finally, the warm heat as her body surrounded him, both inside and out, strengthening their bond to be as strong as two people could possibly make it. He picked up the pace, racing towards completion…her body was tensing, preparing her for the release that was about to come. Everything was a blur – the long ache in his heart and in his body was about to burst free. “Clarisse…I…”

Sensing his struggle, she raised her head enough to kiss the concentration prominently displayed on his brow before joining her lips to his. “It’s alright, love, don’t wait for me. You’ve done so much for me; let me give you this gift…let go…let it happen.”

He briefly opened his eyes to see only sincerity and love. Knowing he had her blessing, his eyes closed again and he concentrated solely on the woman lying underneath him. Fantasy upon fantasy began to come true in his mind as he drove into her willing body again and again until the pressure inside of him became too much. He cried out her name as his body achieved its release, sending a tidal wave of pleasure crashing down over his mind, body and soul leaving in its wake a sense of peace that he had never experienced before in his life.

Clarisse exhaled slowly as Joseph’s body collapsed next to hers, his breathing ragged and his body spent. She heard him whisper his thanks before releasing one of her hands. “You’re quite welcome.”

Joseph leaned over to kiss her again as his hand continued to move lower, stopping first to pay loving attention to the parts of her body that that seemed to beg for his attention. He ended the kiss and moved his head lower to pay proper homage to the woman he loved.

She felt the warm cavern of his mouth close over one nipple while his fingers teased the other into an aching point. Her body was strung as tightly as a newly tuned piano and she desperately needed Joseph to ease the ache that remained. As if he read her mind, his hand trailed lower until it encountered the damp curls. She couldn’t believe how brazen she was being…it was late afternoon and she was sprawled out on a piece of furniture unashamedly enjoying the ministrations of the sexiest man she had ever known.

Just as two of his fingers found their target, a loud knock was heard on the door. She would have cried out except Joseph’s other hand had released hers and covered her mouth, his eyes pleading with her for quiet. His voice was stern as demanding as he shouted towards the door. “What?!”


“What do you want, Charlotte?”

“Is the Queen with you?”

“Where else would she be?”

“Well, they were concerned when you two weren’t in her suite.”

“It’s because others were IN her suite…that we weren’t.”

Ignoring that statement, Charlotte forged on. “May I speak with her?”

Looking down at the heaving frame of his wife…one hand covering her beautiful mouth; the other circling slowly over the tiny bundle of nerves, working her into a small frenzy. “She’s indisposed at the moment.” He smiled down at her as her eyes rolled back in her head and her lower body jerked as he continued to drive her mad with desire.


“Joseph! Paulo and Jerome are here and they are waiting…”

“I’ve been waiting for years, Charlotte. Go away. I will return the Queen safely to her suite in plenty of time.”

He could’ve sworn he heard her sigh through the door. “Fine, Joseph, but don’t be late.”

Clarisse heard her aide’s statement and used what little strength and sanity she had left to move Joseph’s hand away from her mouth to comment. Her voice was filled with a sensual quality that she couldn’t have disguised, even if she had wanted to… “A Queen is NEVER late, Charlotte…now be a dear…”

It only took a moment for Charlotte to realize what must be happening on just the other side of the door. Her blush returned and she quickly retreated, calling out as she turned away, “Yes, Your Majesty…I’m sorry…again.”

Hearing her retreating footsteps, Clarisse looked up at her lover. “Joseph…be a dear and finish this please…before someone else comes after us.”

“Yes, Your Majesty…” he whispered before capturing her lips in a demanding kiss, his tongue matching the movements of his fingers as they moved in, out and around the sensitive flesh sending shards of sensation and pleasure throughout her body. The tell-tale tingling was gaining in intensity and Clarisse abandoned all pretense of control as Joseph masterfully brought her to the brink of ecstasy time and time again. Finally she could take no more. Her mouth tore away from his, dragging out her final plea…”Joseph…please…”

His fingers slipped deep within her body and curled at just the right place to send her careening over the edge. Her back arched; her toes curled; and her head tossed from side to side as blinding pleasure consumed her, leaving no one in the world except for the two of them. Her own hand covered her mouth to prevent her cries being heard from anyone who may have dared venture near his door.

As their bodies calmed, satisfied for the moment with the release they had received, Clarisse sighed happily, “So that’s what all the fuss is about.”

Joseph rolled on his side to face her, his eyes were deep pools of desire and the look on his face warmed her to the very depths of her soul. “That was just a precursor, my love. When I get you home tonight, I intend to make love to you until you have to look down to see heaven.”

Clarisse turned to her side so they were face to face. “Being able to be with you, openly and freely IS heaven to me, Joseph.”

A smile replaced the seriousness on his face as his hand slid down her side and over the curve of her hip, garnering a murmur of pleasure from his wife. “Agreed, but I have years of hidden fantasies…moments that I want to recreate to see if reality can be better than my imagination.”

Clarisse smiled and pushed him onto his back, quickly straddling him and quieting any protest he would make with a kiss. Her tongue slid without resistance into the warmth of his mouth and the passion quickly surfaced. His moans of pleasure fueled her desire to please him. Dragging her mouth away from his, she panted, “I assure you, my love, reality is going to be so much better.”

Joseph raised his head slightly to kiss her softly. “I have no doubt, my love.”

“But…” she interjected, knowing it would only be a matter of minutes before the knock on the door came again.

“But…I must allow them to whisk you away now so I can have you all to myself later.”

“I look forward to it.”

“As do I.”

Clarisse carefully untangled herself from Joseph’s body and looked around. Her gaze finally fell back to his as she smiled. “It seems for once in my life, I truly have nothing to wear.”

His chuckle filled the room. “Well, we can’t have that, can we? Give me just a second.” Pulling two items from his drawer, he handed them to her and watched with interest as she slipped them on. Once finished, she twirled around as though she were in a tailored, ball gown.

“What do you think?”

Eyeing her body clad in nothing but a pair of his black silk boxers and his trademark black t-shirt, he replied, “I think you are incredibly sexy.”

“Glad you approve. Shall we meet in my room or yours?”

“I will get ready and then come to your suite. I’m certain it will take you longer than me to get ready.”

Clarisse laughed as she made her way to the secret passage between their rooms. “I’m certain you are correct. See you in a bit.”

“I love you, Mrs. Renaldi-Romero.” He called out to her disappearing form.

“Love you too!”


Thirty minutes later, Joseph entered the front door of Clarisse’s suite encountering a full entourage of people. Olivia and Priscilla were moving in and out of the dressing area. Paulo could be heard from within the dressing room dictating orders to his assistants and shamelessly flattering Clarisse. Jerome was cursing under his breath as he hurried to finish the alterations to the dress that would, without a doubt, fit Clarisse perfectly and compliment every flawless feature she possessed. Charlotte looked more than a little stressed as she spoke into her mic, giving last minute instructions and Shades stood in the corner trying to fade into the woodwork.

Joseph cleared his throat, getting the attention of everyone in the room. He turned slowly and then found Charlotte’s eyes. “Does this meet with your approval, my lady?”

Charlotte immediately noted the twinkle in his eyes and knew that he wasn’t still angry with her…thankfully. “Very handsome,” she offered.

“Is my wife about ready?”

Charlotte ducked into the dressing room to get an estimate on when the Queen would be finished. Emerging a moment later, she answered. “At least fifteen more minutes…apparently it took Paulo longer since her hair was wet.” She admonished.

Joseph had the decency to blush slightly. It had been his fault. He knew Clarisse was trying to keep her hair away from the spray of water when they were in the shower together, but once desire took over, that just didn’t rank high on his list of things to care about. He shrugged his shoulders and explained, “That was probably my fault…if it helps any, my hair got wet too.”

An irritated Italian voice could be heard from the other room. “You wanna know big secret? Only Paulo could take this wet head of hair and give you the most beautiful bride this country has ever seen. Paulo will be exhausted; but he does this for Majesty…not for his own glory – well maybe some for his own glory. It is pride and ego that drives Paulo to show the world the beauty of Majesty.”

Joseph chuckled, “Guess that didn’t help.”

Charlotte smiled, but fussed at him in order to appease Paulo. “No, Joe, it didn’t help.”

Joseph passed the rest of the time catching up with Shades and getting briefed on the security for tonight’s gala. About fifteen minutes later, Charlotte emerged from the dressing room with everyone but Clarisse in tow. “Alright everyone out.” She commanded, then added softly, “Let’s give the lovebirds a few minutes before they make their appearance.”

Everyone cleared out but Charlotte. She paused at the door. “No more than ten minutes, Joe, okay?”

“Sure, Charlotte, you have my word. I will have the Queen at the doors to the ballroom in ten minutes.”

Reassured, Charlotte nodded and closed the door, leaving Joseph standing in the room by himself. “Clarisse?”

A moment later, the doors from her room opened and she stepped into his line of vision. “Clarisse…” he whispered as he drank in the beauty of the woman that he now called his wife. Her gown was stunning. Soft ivory overlaid with the finest of Genovian lace that hugged every curve perfectly; the trademark slit allowing a remarkable view of the length of her leg and a flash of gold at her ankle displayed part of the set he had given her. The bodice boasted a sweetheart neckline that prominently displayed her ample cleavage. Again, the glint of gold resting between the swell of her breasts and the one at her wrist formed a perfect complement to the delicate fabric. Her shoulders were covered by a black mini jacket covered in dark lace as well – the ebony and ivory representing them perfectly.

“Almost perfect…”


“You’re missing one thing…” he offered and then knelt down on one knee before her.


“Everyone deserves a fairytale ending.” He stated before lifting the final piece of the set into her line of vision. The sparkling sapphire sat on a bed of smaller diamonds, making the color more vivid; tear drop shaped diamonds rested on either side of the adding to the overall brilliance of the ring. Since she had already asked him to marry her, he asked, “Spend happily ever after with me?”

Clarisse fought back the tears as Paulo would have a royal fit if he had to do her makeup for the third time that day. She lifted her left hand to clasp his. “There is no one else I would rather spend the rest of my life with.”

Joseph reverently slipped the ring on her finger and then kissed each fingertip. Slowly getting to his feet, he extended his arm. “Shall we?”

Stepping closer, Clarisse kissed him gently, sharing her love and appreciation for the man that he was and the way in which he showed his love for her each and every day and in so many ways. Pulling away after a moment, she threaded her arm through his. “We shall.”


The resounding sound of the staff hitting the marble floor twice echoed throughout the room and silence fell over the crowd.

“Announcing Her Majesty, Queen Clarisse Marie Renaldi-Romero and Sir Joseph Antonio Romero.”

The double doors opened and the couple stepped through, knowing from that moment forward they need never hide their love again.

Chapter 37: Home

Scene: After the wedding celebration

Joseph carefully lowered Clarisse to the floor, making sure she was steady on her feet before releasing her.

“That really wasn’t necessary, you know.” She smiled at him.

“One must never argue with tradition. I’ve probably jinxed us for not doing it the first time we came home after the wedding.”

Clarisse cupped his cheek, “Home…that sounds nice. So why was it my threshold that you felt compelled to carry me across? Why not yours?”

Stepping closer, he pulled her into his embrace, feeling her heart beating next to his. He whispered in her ear, “Isn’t it obvious? You have the nicer place.” He could feel her body shake as she laughed. It was a beautiful, rich sound that he knew he had not heard enough of over the past several years. Silently, he promised himself to give her as many reasons as possible to smile and laugh in the future.

Before they could say anything further, there was a knock at the door.

“Oh for heaven’s sake…” Clarisse complained.

“I’ll take care of it, dear…” He walked towards the door as he mumbled, “and whoever is disturbing us.”

“At least they knocked this time…” Clarisse teased.

Joseph opened the door. “Shades.”


“Not anymore.”

“You’ll have to give me a day or two on that. Ok, Boss?”

“OK. Is everything situation normal?”

“Yes, sir – situation normal.”

Joseph looked at the young man, a little perplexed. “Is there something you needed then? My wife and I are making every attempt to enjoy some privacy. You’d be surprised how hard that is to come by around here.”

Breaking his stoic face, Shades smiled just a bit. “Not really, sir. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Go on.”

“I just wanted to inform you that the security cameras in the Queen’s suite have all been turned off for the night. Felix will be stationed at the end of the hall and since your room is the only one before the end, there should be no breaches.”

Realizing his protégé was offering him the most privacy one could fantasize about in the palace, he asked the question that had been haunting him all evening. “Were the cameras off earlier?”

Shades smiled again. “Yes, sir.” He knew why his Boss was asking…Charlotte had shared with him her embarrassment regarding what she had witnessed.

“Thank you, Shades. I know the Royal Family is in good hands with you in charge.”

“Thank you, sir. If you don’t mind, I may still have a question or two from time to time…”

“Of course, whatever you need. Just ask though…I don’t want to be in the way.”

“Understood and sir,”



“Thank you.”

“Good night, Boss.”

Joseph smiled…it would take a day or two for everyone to adjust to all that had happened today. “Good night.”

He closed the door and locked it. Returning to the sitting room, he heard soft strains of music filling the room. “Clarisse?”

She emerged from the bedroom with a bottle of champagne. “Courtesy of Charlotte…seems she feels very badly about the inordinate amount of interruptions she was responsible for earlier today.”

Joseph laughed, remembering the last time she had interrupted them. “I think she realized that last time exactly what she was interrupting.”

“Mmmm…yes, not very good timing on her part. Had she been successful in…diverting us from our goal, I may have had to hurt her myself.”

“Well, I’ve been assured that all cameras in your suite have been turned off; Felix is stationed at the end of the hall; and I have locked the door. We are as alone, my dear, as you can possibly be allowed.”

“Sounds like a slice of heaven already.”

“Mmmm indeed. So what shall we do with this new-found privacy?” He asked as he removed the layers of his tuxedo down to just the shirt and pants, unbuttoning for more comfort.

Clarisse subconsciously licked her lips as she observed Joseph getting comfortable. She looked forward to a more leisurely exploration of the wonderful body that rested beneath the white shirt and black pants.



“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were staring.” He teased.

Her smile was sly and the look in her eye was unmistakably desire. The timbre of her voice sent warm tendrils of pleasure throughout his body. “Oh but I am.”

“I thought Queens did not stare.”

“Queens do not. Wives may, on occasion, find cause to do exactly that.” She smiled as she held up the bottle. “Champagne?”

It was Joseph’s turn to lick his lips and take a deep breath. On rare occasions in their time together, Clarisse had played the aggressor. Perhaps tonight she would seduce him and he found he couldn’t be happier about that. “You get the glasses and I will take care of the cork.”

Moments later, the bubbly liquid had filled the slim, crystal glasses. Clarisse lifted her glass in toast. “To finally being alone.”

“To home.” Joseph replied.

They drank their champagne in companionable silence, watching the firelight cast shadows across the darkened room. After several minutes, Clarisse sat her glass down and turned towards Joseph. “I know what I want to do.” She whispered.

Joseph sat his glass down next to hers. “You have my undivided attention.”

She turned around. “Help me with my jacket?”

“Of course.” His hands slid down the length of her arms, caressing the soft skin. He lifted her right hand and kissed the inside of her wrist, still adorned with the bracelet he had given her. His hands glided back up her arms and under the small jacket she had been wearing that evening. Ever so slowly, the garment slid away from her body, revealing a brief expanse of freckled skin. Joseph’s lips leisurely covered the area, taking time to carefully kiss every inch.

“The zipper…” she commanded. Moments later, cool air whispered against her flesh as her dress was lowered to the floor.

Joseph’s eyes drank in the sight of creamy flesh, sparsely covered in ivory and lace, glints of gold adorning her neck, ankle, wrist, chest, ears, and now her hand. “You are so beautiful, my love. It still seems so surreal to me.”

“You, my love…” Delicate fingers lifted his chin to gaze into his beautiful blue eyes. “are overdressed.”

“Would you care to assist me?”

“Seems only fair since you were so kind to help me.”

“It was my pleasure.” He murmured as he felt her fingers start to work the remaining buttons on his shirt . “As a matter of fact, I shall make that one of my new duties. Olivia and Priscilla will just have to find other things to occupy their time.”

Buttons completed, Clarisse slid her hands under the fabric, spanning her fingers out to feel the warmth radiating from his body. She smiled slightly as she heard his breath hitch, enjoying that she was getting to lead the dance for the moment. Moments later, she let his shirt drop to the floor just as her jacket had. Her eyes witnessed a compact, muscular chest – no doubt thanks to the years of weightlifting and training necessary to stay fit for his responsibilities. She noticed the tanned hue of his skin and asked, “How is it you are so tan and my skin more like ivory?”

Joseph let his breath escape in a small stream as he fought to find his voice. Having Clarisse so brazenly touch and look at him was slowly unwinding his carefully woven control. His hand slid over her shoulders, arms and waist as his eyes focused on the contrast of his skin over hers. “Part of it is genetic I’m sure. You are European by birth and I am Puerto Rican. I also have the liberty of jogging without a shirt on during the summer months.”

Clarisse’s hands covered his shoulders and slowly drifted down his chest, over the light sprinkling of hair and lower to where his frame tapered to his waist. A half smile formed on her lips as she felt the muscles contracting under her touch. “It is a shame I was never able to witness that.”

Joseph couldn’t speak. He could feel her slim fingers tracing under the waist band of his pants, slowly moving towards the fastenings to release the hold. He couldn’t see her eyes as they were lowered, focusing on the task at hand. The zipper lowered and his breath shuddered as he felt the cooler air in the room as another layer was removed.

Pure feminine power. That was the feeling seeping through her veins. Power accompanied by desire - desire to feel this man under her, filling her, completing her. There had been precious few times in her life when she felt such a heady rush of adrenaline solely focused on the completion of one goal. As a general rule, she had to be in control of every facet of her life and thousands of others on a daily basis. Because of that, she had willingly turned over control in intimate matters to her partner, whether it be her husband and King or the love of her life who she now held control over, literally, in the palm of her hand. With Rupert it had been about creating an heir and fulfilling a duty. Later in their years together, it had simply been about satisfying the needs that every human feels – the need for intimacy and the need for closeness.

With Joseph it was about something else entirely.

Their connection was something more primal. It infused their entire being, leaving little room for rational thought when it was unleashed – which is exactly why they had fought to keep such a tight rein on it over the past several years. Her eyes found his as she stroked him through the silk fabric of his boxers.

His voice found some strength as he exhaled. “Clarisse!” His eyes were an interesting cross between pleasure and restraint. There was a battle raging in his body. One part wanted to let this slow, wonderful torture go on for hours – the other wanted to take this beautiful seductress against the nearest wall.


“Please…I can’t take much more.”

She nodded and with one last loving caress, stepped back to allow him to kick off his shoes and the pants that were now pooled at his ankles. She moved to stand in front of the fire; the subtle glance over her shoulder beckoned him to join her.

He removed his socks and then came to stand next to her…close, but not touching. “So…what did you have in mind, my dear? I like the path you’ve taken thus far.” His hand clasped hers and brought it to his lips.

With a voice thick with seduction, she offered. “I intend to make love to you in front of the fire.”

Joseph licked his lips in anticipation; his mind filled with images while the rest of his body tensed with expectation. He watched as she took the quilt from the couch and spread it over the plush rug in front of the fire. Random pillows were tossed to the floor for additional comfort. His pulse increased as he realized she intended for them to make love on the floor. “Clarisse, darling? Are you certain the floor is the best choice? I don’t want to hurt you.”

Her expression was indescribable as she turned to face him. He couldn’t remember seeing that look on her face before. His breath caught as she stepped closer; her hands sliding up his chest and over his shoulders to pull his body closer to hers. Her breath was warm as she whispered, “I suspect your body will provide all the comfort I need.”

Realizing her intent, his body shuddered with pleasure. “Yes ma’am.” He answered as he slowly lowered his body, leaving a trail of kisses along her front during the journey downward.

Clarisse watched and made an effort to keep her composure as Joseph’s lean body slid down hers, his hands and lips touching everything they could reach. Her legs felt like jelly and the tingling sensation coursing through her body was becoming harder and harder to ignore. She wanted to give this gift to Joseph – to take care of him as he had taken care of her for so many years. There seemed to be a lifetime of repayment to be made to the man who had stood by her side, protecting her – supporting her – loving her – waiting for her. A shiver ran down her body, remembering she had almost lost him.

He was reclined on the pillows; his boxers were removed. He resembled a Greek Adonis in his splendor as the shadows from the firelight danced along his bronzed skin. Dark eyes watched her carefully as the ivory silk undergarment was lowered before she straddled his body. Settling in and fitting his body to hers, her eyes found his again. “See how comfortable this is.”

She felt his hands slide up her thighs, forcing the muscles in her legs to contract under the caress. Her back subtly arched as his hands moved upwards to cup her lace covered breasts. “Very comfortable.” His eyes drank in her body and he added, “The firelight compliments your beauty.”

Time lost any further meaning as she sought to show him how much she loved him through her actions. She explored every inch of his chest, learning the ripples of the muscles under her touch. Her tongue flicked the dark, flat nipples and his moans of pleasure filled her ears. Her lower body undulated over his, coating his desire – preparing them to join as one.

“Oh god…Clarisse… Esta es la más dulce tortura, mi amor.”

Joseph saw her through the sexual haze that had overcome him since the moment her long legs trapped him and the exquisite torture began. He vaguely remembered her saying that this had been the favored position between her and the King…but somehow the picture he had in his mind seemed much tamer than what he was experiencing right now. “Joseph.” Her voice cut through the haze and his eyes lifted to meet hers.

Slim fingers traced his lips and he drew the digits into his mouth, bathing them in warmth. His eyes darkened further as she let the moistened digits trace down the gold chain to the swell of her ample bosom. Moments later, the tiny clasp connecting the delicate material was released and its contents spilled out, giving him free access to their treasure. Her body lowered and his hands and mouth began feasting on the delicacy.

Clarisse gave herself over to the passion coursing through her body. The fire heated her skin along with Joseph’s relentless touch. A fine sheen of perspiration covered their bodies from their efforts enhancing the light show dancing across their bodies from the brightly burning flames. His hands ran up and down her back sending tendrils of pleasure that careened through her body before centering low in her abdomen. The pressure there had been building steadily since the moment he had removed her dress and she knew it wouldn’t be long before she would have to give in to the temptation and fill the void that only he could complete.

Joseph felt a distinct loss as she pushed her body away from his to return to her original position. Their eyes locked for a moment before he felt her use her hand to position him at her warm and waiting entrance. It took all of his will power not to let his eyes close at the overwhelming feelings running rampant through his body. It was only moments later, but seemed like an eternity when she lowered her body quickly to take all of him deep within her core. His hands squeezed her thighs tightly as he struggled for control. “Merde, Clarisse.”

“Tell me what this feels like, Joseph.” Her husky voice commanded as their hands clasped.

Short breaths escaped as he tried to put into words what he was feeling. “It’s heaven…no, even better…it’s home.”

Satisfied with his answer, she slowly began to raise and lower her body; his hands providing the necessary leverage she needed for balance. Each time she welcomed him into her depths, it felt as though the dark, hopelessness that had been surrounding her soul for the longest time was being edged away – being replaced by his love for her. All of the fear, the loneliness, and the chains of duty that had held her captive for so long were being freed. He was the home her heart had searched for.

Joseph felt her nails in the back of his hand and could feel her body tightening as the coil wound tighter and tighter. He bent his knees to give him more leverage and began countering her thrusts.

“Oh god…Joseph…yes…Yes….Yes!!!” She cried out as her body splintered into a thousand pieces replacing darkness with light. She vaguely heard him cry out her name as his body succumbed to the allure of mindless pleasure along with her.

She collapsed onto his body, their labored breathing filling the room.

“Merde, Clarisse…that was amazing.”

She lifted her head enough to kiss him gently. “I wanted to do that for you. When I thought…” She let her words drift off.

Gently rolling them so they were on their sides, he cupped her cheek. “Thought what, my love?”

Wanting to avoid his gaze, she rolled onto her back, staring at the ceiling. “When I thought I had lost you - When you turned in your resignation, I truly thought that was the end of the story for us.”

Joseph’s index finger turned her face so she was, once again, looking at him. His smile was gentle as he answered. “I was trying to be brave and do the right thing. My guess is that I wouldn’t have lasted more than a few days and I would have been kneeling at your feet begging you to let me protect you again.”

“So you would have just wanted your job back?” She tried to keep the hurt out of her voice.

“Clarisse, my darling, if there is one thing I have learned about you over the years – it is that no one can force you to do anything. I love you and I would have waited for you, despite my claims to the contrary, until the day I died. I would have learned to be content just to be one step behind you again until that day when you could finally admit that you wanted me to be more to you than just your personal protection. Forcing your hand has never gotten me, or anyone for that matter, anywhere with you.”

“You may have a point.” She smiled. “Although I’m certain that I wouldn’t have survived even twenty-four hours without you. So before your three days were even started, I would have led the Royal Guard out to retrieve you and bring you kicking and screaming back home, if necessary.”

He returned the smile. “Now that gives me quite a mental image…you dressed in the Royal Guard uniform riding out to capture me…I will have to add that to the list of fantasies.”

Laughter filled the room as they settled into each other’s arms. “Thank you for making this fantasy come true for me.”

“So you’ve never made love like that in front of the fireplace before?” He asked, silently hoping it was true.

“Never. I shared with you before, Joseph, what my love life was like. I was….content…but it was very…” she searched for an adequate description.

“Vanilla,” he offered.

“Yes…that would sum it up.”

“And now?”

“Mmmm – the most decadent chocolate with a wide choice of toppings.”

Joseph moved so his body covered hers. “I look forward to satisfying your sweet tooth for the rest of our lives.”

Their mouths joined in a heated kiss as the passion started to slowly burn within them again. Clarisse broke the kiss, gasping for air. “I can’t wait to…taste…all that you have to offer. For now, though, will you help your wife to her feet?”

Joseph kissed her once more before standing and then offering his hands to pull her to an upright position. “Wait right here.”

He watched as she disappeared into the bathroom, returning a few minutes later with a warm cloth for him. “Thank you, love.”

“I rather like taking care of you.”

Once they were both freshened up, Clarisse turned to him. “Is it too much to ask for you to make one more fantasy come true this evening for me?”

Joseph pulled her into his arms. “There is nothing you could ask that I would deny you, my love.”

“Dance with me.”

He pulled back slightly to look in her eyes. “Here? Now? Like this?” He gestured to their mutual state of undress.

A slight blush covered her face. “I know it sounds silly…”

“Dancing with you is never silly. You caught me by surprise, that’s all. I would love to dance with you.”

He kicked the pillows out of the way and bowed to her as he extended his hand, asking for hers in the dance. A satisfied murmur of pleasure escaped his lips as she stepped into his embrace, skin touching skin as the next song began. It was amazing the difference he felt as they moved in time to the music. It was more than just the physical contact; it was a state of mind. Inhibitions vanished; the controlled measure of the steps relaxed and the emotional intensity magnified to the point that he felt transported to another time and place with her in his arms.

Clarisse felt a connection to him in the music that she had never felt before. Dancing with him, like this, should make her feel self-conscious; rather with each brush of his body against hers, it further freed her from the restraint that had been her constant partner in her intimate relationships. She felt alive and connected to the other half of her soul. It was unlike anything she had experienced before and it felt almost spiritual.

As the music faded, she lifted her head. “Thank you.”

“It was my pleasure.”

Clarisse stifled a yawn. “I’m sorry.”

“No need to apologize; it has been a very long day. Maybe we should try to get some rest.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind?”

“I have the pleasure of the rest of my life to be with you. I get to sleep with you in my arms tonight. I get to wake up next to you. We no longer have to hide our love. I can’t imagine minding any of that, can you?” He smiled as he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.

“Well when you put it that way.”

“You go get ready for bed and I’ll tidy up in here a bit.”

“Worried about what Priscilla and Olivia might think?” She teased as she looked around at the clothes strewn all over the floor; pillows and the blanket from the couch on the floor in front of the fireplace; and a half empty bottle of champagne sitting on the service tray.

“More worried about what they will SAY.” He laughed.

“Indeed. Alright you tidy up a bit and I’ll get ready for bed. Thank you.”

Joseph made quick work of cleaning up. The blanket and clothes were put in the hamper to be washed or dry cleaned and the pillows arranged back on the couch. He left the champagne – let them say what they will about that. He made a quick stop in the bathroom to take care of his nightly routine, slipped on his boxers he had worn earlier. He guessed they would have to work out the clothing situation since Clarisse’s closet was filled with her garments. Walking into the bedroom, he stopped in his tracks.

“What’s wrong?” Clarisse asked, concern evident in her voice.

“You look so damn sexy in my t-shirt. I hope I CAN sleep.” He grinned.

“I’m glad you approve. It’s much more comfortable than my other choices.” She answered as she slipped onto her side of the bed.

“I definitely approve.”

“Are you alright with that side of the bed?”

“As long as you’re on the other side, I’m alright.”

“Come to bed, my husband.”

Joseph slid under the covers, kissing his wife before she turned to spoon her body against his. He snuggled close, fitting their bodies together as his arm rested over her midriff possessively. He inhaled the soft scent of her perfume and knew he would sleep better tonight than he had in years.

“Good night, my beautiful wife.”

“Good night, my love.”


Clarisse slowly began to wake up. She was having the most pleasant dream…yet it felt so real. Soft lips covered her body slowly with open mouthed kisses while the cooler air from the room whispered across her bare legs. Strong hands stroked her inner thighs as she hovered in the blissful place between wakefulness and sleep; relaxation and anticipation. It wasn’t until she felt skilled fingers slowly combing through her curls that she crossed the barrier and became fully awake.

“Joseph…oooohhh…” She couldn’t stop the moan that escaped as the tip of his tongue slid along her outer folds even as she tried to sit up.

“Good morning, love.” He murmured as his hand slid up her thigh to rest on her abdomen, effectively stilling her movement.

“What…oh god…what are you…doing?” She found it hard to speak as he continued his efforts.

“Starting the day off right by pleasing my wife…”

The vibrations from the deep timbre of his voice so close to the sensitive skin sent another wave of sensation over her body. “Joseph…I…please don’t…”

This got his attention. He lifted his head slightly. “Why?”

“I…” She wasn’t entirely certain – only knew that this was unfamiliar territory.

Soft kisses on her inner thighs punctuated pauses in his reply. “Why not…give me…two…minutes…if you…still want…me to…stop…I will…Trust me?” Once finished with his request, his eyes found hers. There was uncertainty, maybe even a small bit of apprehension…but there was desire. Despite her small protest, she had been enjoying herself.

Clarisse saw love and passion in his darkened eyes. She was nervous, but Joseph had never intentionally hurt her. So far this had been pleasurable. The intimacy of the act itself was overwhelming. She had heard rumors; hushed talk among girls about this but had never experienced it personally. Exhaling slowly, she nodded her head slightly and whispered. “Two minutes…”

Realizing the trust she had just placed in him, he settled in between her legs and set about making good use of his time.

Not even a minute and a half later, Clarisse was alternating between sighs, gasps and moans of pleasure as Joseph teased, tasted, and licked her into a frenzy. Her hands clinched and released the satin sheets as she fought to control the sensations that were infusing her entire being. The entire world seemed to be centered wherever Joseph was touching her, everything else was muted and peripheral. Moments later…it all stopped. Her voice was thick with passion. “Joseph?”

Trying to keep the smile out of his voice, he shared. “Two minutes are up…do you want me to stop?”

“I…please…don’t stop.” Apparently all of the rumors she had heard were true. The simple, yet effective use of his tongue had reduced her to a wanton, writhing woman that would do anything for his touch. She saw a look of pure male satisfaction cross his handsome face…he had won this battle and he was very proud. As she felt his hands open her further; his tongue finding the sensitive nub that seemed capable of controlling the rest of her body, she decided he had earned the moment. Her body arched, the tension building again as her mind gave itself over to the blinding pleasure awaiting her.

It was pure heaven and it was utter hell. Her body was drawn tense and filled with pleasure…yet he denied her release. Every time she got close, he slowed his efforts leaving her gasping and pleading with him to end the sweetest torture she had ever experienced. Just when she thought she couldn’t take anymore, she felt his body cover hers. In one swift motion, he entered her and the dam broke. Pleasure crashed over her entire being like a blinding light, sending her spiraling to the sky. “Joseph! Oh god…”

He focused on slow, measured breaths as her body quaked from the force of her orgasm. It took every shred of self-control to hold on and wait for her come back to him. She was absolutely beautiful in the throes of passion. All of that carefully constructed poise and control tossed aside as her body trembled, heaved and thrashed. Watching the control snap and heated lust and raw passion given free rein…it was nothing short of breathtaking.

Once her breathing calmed somewhat and her eyes opened, she was greeted with a demanding kiss that introduced her to her own unique taste mingled with her lover’s. Their tongues dueled as he initiated a small rocking motion, building the fire yet again. Her nails imbedded in his flesh, leaving her distinct mark on his shoulders and back; somehow she found the strength to wrap her legs around him, drawing him in deeper.

“Clarisse…merde…what you do to me, woman.” He groaned as she responded. He had awakened a tiger and would have the marks to prove it later.

“You started it…now finish it!” She commanded.

He rose up on his elbows and increased the tempo. All of the fantasies of driving into her welcoming heat danced through his head as he relentlessly pounded into her until sounds of pleasure were all that you could hear in the room.

“Yes…oh Joseph…god…yes…harder…Joseph!!!”


Their mutual cries broke through the gasps and moans as they fell into the abyss together, joining them in a place where souls connect and bodies experience nothing but the sheer pleasure that comes from being one.

Joseph collapsed onto her heaving frame as they both fought for the necessary oxygen. He felt her arms circle him and hold him close; their hearts beating wildly. He remained there, feeling every movement of her body as her chest would rise and fall until she tapped gently on his shoulder indicating he was becoming too heavy for her.

“That was certainly an interesting way to start the day.” She smiled.

“Sure beats a cup of tea to wake you up.”

Her laughter filled the room. “Indeed.”

They laid quietly for a few more minutes as their bodies returned to normal. Finally Joseph spoke, “So what’s on the agenda today?”


Clarisse leaned against the door frame to her office, quietly watching Charlotte and Amelia hard at work, preparing for the upcoming coronation. There was an odd feeling settling over her as her Granddaughter looked very much “at home” behind her desk. As excited as she was about her life with Joseph, letting go was not going to be easy.

“Gramma! I didn’t expect to see you today. I…I’m sorry…I’ll clean up your desk and work somewhere else.”

Clarisse raised her hands to stop her and smiled. “It’s alright dear, please continue. Joseph wanted to check in with Scott and oversee final arrangements for the transition. I thought I would stop in and say hello and see if there was anything I could be of assistance with.”

Amelia cast a quick glance at Charlotte, trying to decide if they should ask for her help, even though she was technically on her honeymoon. They had decided she deserved at least twenty-four hours before they started bothering her. “We weren’t going to bug you until tomorrow.”

“Well, I’m here now. Why don’t we get started?”

Two hours later, Charlotte excused herself to secure some lunch for the three of them. Mia watched as her Grandmother finished up a few details. “For what it’s worth, you look positively radiant today.” Noticing the raised eyebrow and half grin she was receiving in response to her compliment, she added. “Not that you don’t look great every day…”

“Thank you, dear. I suppose not having to hide our feelings any longer and openly being with the one you love does something for your appearance.”

“How long did you have to hide?” She knew it could get her in trouble for asking, but her curiosity got the best of her again.

“That’s rather private, isn’t it?”

Mia’s eyes held Clarisse’s, not backing down. “Perhaps, but I would like to know.”

“Why does it matter?”

Mia slouched back in her chair and stared out the window. “I suppose I am trying to prepare myself for the potential sacrifice I may have to make when it comes to finding MY Prince Charming. I’m not sure there are too many guys out there willing to wait as long as I think you and Joe did.”

Clarisse removed her glasses and went over to stand by Amelia. She placed her hand on her shoulder and stared out the window along with her. “The situation between Joseph and I was…complicated. There were many reasons…”

“How long, Gramma? How long did you keep your feelings hidden?”

Clarisse sighed and answered quietly. “Over five years for me…I suspect longer for him.”

“Oh Gramma….” Mia wasn’t sure what to say. “Did you love my Grandfather? You said before you grew very fond of each other. Did you ever love him?”

Clarisse was silent for a long time, unsure the best way to answer. Finally she decided that Amelia deserved the truth, as best as she could explain it anyway. “Not as I love Joseph; but in a way, I did. I loved who he was and what he represented, even though I’m not certain it could be said I was in love with him. Do you understand what I mean?”

Mia pondered her words carefully. “I think I do. In a way, I love Andrew. He is sweet, kind and such an honorable man; but I wasn’t in love with him. I just didn’t have the courage to marry him like you did.”

Her words were quiet, but firm. “Tosh, Amelia. You had the courage to do something even greater; and, as a result, changed a law that should never have been in existence in the first place. “

“I think I AM in love with Nicholas.” She let her words hang in the silence between them.


“I know, Gramma. I have a country to run and so much to learn that I don’t have time for a relationship. That doesn’t change how I feel.”

“I can understand that dilemma very well.”

“It doesn’t matter anyway. I will probably never see him again.”

“Never is a very long time, dear. I suspect young Nicholas may hold feelings for you as well. Let things settle a bit, then you can reassess.”

Their quiet ponderings were interrupted by the sound of a female voice. “Look who I found wandering in the hallways.” Charlotte exclaimed as she came in with a tray, followed closely by Joseph.

Mia watched as her Grandmother’s face lit up. “Joseph, darling, all finished with Scott?”

Joseph felt like he hadn’t seen her, hadn’t touched her in days, rather than hours. His hands slid around her waist as his mouth captured hers. He knew he had caught her by surprise, otherwise she would never have allowed such a public display of affection. She had caught herself in time to keep her hands at her side; but she couldn’t resist his lips…

Clarisse felt the flush rising on her cheeks – partly from embarrassment and partly from her ardor at Joseph’s kiss. The sound of clearing throats broke into their moment.

“See, Charlotte, I told you we needed to wait at least another twenty-four hours.” Mia teased.

Joseph broke the kiss and reluctantly turned towards his future Queen, while still keeping his hands firmly on his current Queen’s waist. “I always knew you were a smart girl.” He teased.

“Would you like to join us for lunch?”

“While I appreciate the offer, I have some matters to review with Her Majesty.”

Clarisse’s voice interrupted, “That sounds very official.”

“It won’t take long, Darling; but it is something I need to discuss with you about a breach of protocol.”

All business now, Clarisse stepped out of his loose embrace. “Of course, should Amelia be involved in our discussions?”

“What’s up, Joe?”

Joseph smiled reassuringly. “It’s only a small matter, Princess, and one which I should review with your Grandmother. It doesn’t involve any of your current staff, so please don’t be troubled.”

Exhaling a relieved sigh, Mia nodded. “OK, Joe. I trust you.” She turned towards Clarisse. “Charlotte and I will be here working through lunch. If you need anything, Gramma, just let me know.”

Clarisse nodded and then followed Joseph out of the room. A few minutes later she found herself in the archive section of the Royal Library. “What are we doing here, Joseph? Who does this involve? Your statement to Amelia doesn’t make any sense as all of my current staff, with the exception of you will be her staff.”

Joseph leaned up against a shelf of old books and looked at her thoughtfully. “The exceptions being me and YOU.”

“Me? What did I do?”

“Not only did you fail to report to your Head of Security a personal offense against you…you enlisted my second in command to help you cover it up.”

Clarisse’s head was spinning, trying to understand to what he was referring. “I know I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“It happened right there.” He gestured towards the shelf she was standing in front of.

The realization of what he spoke about washed over her, bringing with it guilt and a shudder as she thought of the hands that had held her that day. “How? How did you find out?

“Before you even draw the conclusion, Shades didn’t sell you out. I routinely check the video feeds from each day, especially from times that I wasn’t with you in an effort to make sure that my team was doing an adequate job protecting you. I keep a list of all those times and then check them off once I’ve done the review. I was reviewing the procedure with Shades this morning and that day was the only one not checked. It seems the tape was not available when I went to review it earlier.”

“Scott must have been a little anxious when you requested it.”

Joseph smiled remembering the look on the young man’s face. “That’s an understatement.”

Joseph closed the distance between them and took her hand, guiding her to a section that he knew to be a blind spot for the cameras. He turned her around and put his hands on her hips, where Mabrey had held her that day. His voice was low and he whispered in her ear, “Why, Clarisse? Why didn’t you tell me? I would have beat him for daring to touch the Queen….MY Queen…” the last words were spoken with an ominous tone, laced with jealousy.

Clarisse was trying to think – to form the words he needed to hear to reassure him. Unfortunately, she was never able to think clearly with him standing so close to her; his hot breath on her neck. “I knew how you would react. It was innocent…he was preventing me from falling.”

He stepped even closer to her and gripped her hips tighter. “Nothing Mabrey ever does is innocent. I’ve seen the way he looks at you, Clarisse. Many men have had eyes for you over the years…but his eyes held intent more than admiration.”

“Joseph…” His words frightened her and excited her. Had he truly watched her THAT closely over the years. More importantly, so closely watched those who watched her? Regardless of that, she knew he was right about the Viscount; everything he did was for a purpose.

His voice was husky and brooked no room for argument. His hands slid from her hips, under her jacket and cupped her breasts, eliciting a moan of pleasure as his thumbs circled the hardened tips. “We will further discuss this in our suite.”

She took a few calming breaths as he stepped away from her. His hand was on the small of her back as they exited the library. Her stomach growled lightly, protesting that the piece of toast and tea she had consumed for breakfast had long since disappeared. The heat from Joseph’s touch and the thought of what their discussion might entail when they made it to the privacy of her suite, caused more powerful sensations other than hunger to distract her. As they neared the private quarters, she whispered, “For what it is worth…I’m sorry I hid it from you. It won’t happen again.”

Joseph’s stride didn’t break and he didn’t look at her. His voice was low, but his intent clear. “If he touches you again like that…let’s just say, I will need that diplomatic immunity.”

Her heart fluttered at the strength of his convictions, his love for her, and yes even his jealousy. All of it fueled her need for him even further. Arriving at the door, she quickly opened it and guided him to their bedroom. The door was locked as they had come to expect interruptions. Her eyes were dark as she turned to him, finding his pools of azure grazing over her body hungrily. “What can I do to make this up to you? You’re right. I should have told you. I knew you would react in a very…aggressive way and I wanted to avoid anything that might bring undue attention to the relationship you and I shared.” As she spoke, her gaze remained locked on him, even as she slowly started to undress.

“He always suspected there was more...even accused me of such – though he was just trying to bait me at the time.” He answered as he followed her lead. This was the first time he remembered arguing or making up as he was getting undressed…married life with Clarisse was never going to be boring.

“He was right. It was always you…your hands I wanted touching me; your lips kissing me; and…” she removed the last of her garments, “your body making love to me.”

Fortunately, he had fewer clothes to worry about so he finished at the same time she did. At her admission, he closed the distance between them and claimed her mouth in a fiery, passionate kiss. His hands seeking to touch her anywhere and everywhere all at once. Feeling the bed in their path, he commanded. “Lie down on your stomach.”

Clarisse found herself in that now more familiar place of wanting Joseph and his touch and battling with her own pre-defined ideas of intimacy. Finding his eyes and seeing the hunger there, she opted to comply.

Seeing her acquiesce, he watched as she pulled the comforter back and moved to follow his instructions. He took a few calming breaths as his eyes gazed over her beautiful body, amazed that he would spend the rest of his life being able to touch her, kiss her, and make love to her. She was such a complex woman; he knew he would never have his fill of her. Just the sight of her alabaster skin against the dark sheets sent his arousal into the danger zone. Her head was turned towards him, watching him, trying to calculate what he was going to do next.

Moving to a kneeling position next to her on the bed, he began to lightly trace the curves and expanse of her body lightly with his fingertips. A light touch, meant to heighten and stimulate. He started at her neck, moving over her shoulders…arms…the gentle curve of her breast along her sides…back…bottom… and legs. The phantom touch moved to the inside of her legs, leading her to part them to allow for more of his touch…her murmurs of pleasure growing more vocal as her breathing became shallow. He continued his efforts until there was enough room for him to move in between her parted thighs.

Clarisse was awash with sensations, Joseph’s hands were driving her to distraction and they were barely touching her. She had been able to keep her calm somewhat, until his hands smoothed over the inside of her legs to her inner thighs…it heightened the need for him to touch her somewhere else. Her legs had parted, instinctively…a thinly veiled attempt to guide him to where she burned for his touch. The feelings intensified as she felt him kneeling between her parted thighs, his hands continuing their assault but still not touching her where she desperately needed it. Her breathing was shallow and her hands were clinching the sheets in an effort to keep herself from begging.

Unable to stop himself, his hands glided over the rounded globes…how many years had he spent fantasizing about their shape and firmness as he walked the customary two steps behind her? Unbidden, thoughts of Mabrey touching her there flooded into his conscious mind. His touch grew more insistent as Clarisse started to move under him. Leaving one hand on her derriere, the other slipped under her to give her what she had silently been pleading for since she led him to the bedroom.

The sheet bunched in her hands as she clutched it when his touch finally journeyed to her warm and moist center. “Oh god…yes…finally…” she gasped into the sheets. She was so close; it didn’t take long to bring her to the edge…just as the coil wound unbelievably tighter, he stopped.

She rhythmically clutched and released she sheets a couple of times, inhaling and exhaling slowly until she felt she could speak. “Joseph…?” she whispered. Large hands rested tenderly on her bottom. She could hear his labored breathing.

“If he ever touches you again…”

Sensing what he needed to hear, she adjusted her body and arched her back, lifting her lower body off of the bed. “Make his touch vanish, Joseph…make love to me as only you can. I want no other touch but yours.”

Her words cut through the darkness brought on by the primal need he felt to protect her; he felt her body being lifted as an offering to him…a plea to erase the memories the Viscount had been responsible for. Quickly coating his arousal with her juices, he positioned himself and with a growl buried himself fully in her body.

Her hiss of…was it pleasure or pain…echoed through the room and he stilled himself until he knew how to proceed. His hands covered where the Viscount’s hands and been; his breathing labored as he waited.

Clarisse fought to recover the breath that had been forced out of her when his body joined with hers. She was totally unaccustomed to this position and the initial angle of penetration had been overwhelming. She felt him still and held herself motionless as well, just letting their bodies adjust. Once she could breathe again, she slowly moved against him, creating a rocking motion to signify that she was ready again.

The subtle movement of her body triggered his response, pulling her up a little further onto her knees, he began to move in and out of her body, listening closely to make sure he wasn’t hurting her. His hands held her hips tightly, steadying his thrusts. As her gasps turned into moans of pleasure, he increased his speed. His words were unsteady, but she got the message. “Feels…good…so tight…mine…forever…”

For her part, Clarisse could only vocalize inaudible sounds that conveyed with each thrust, her pleasure was mounting. She felt his cadence falter and knew he was close. Adept fingers reached around her body and brushed against the tiny bundle of nerves creating an explosion that sent them both over the edge into oblivion.

They collapsed in a heap on the bed, bodies straining for air and muscles screaming from unfamiliar use. “Good heavens, Joseph…that was….”

He found the energy to roll the majority of his weight off her, but still covering her. “Decadent chocolate with an amazing topping.”

Her laughter filled the room. “Yes, that’s one way to describe it.”

Joseph pulled the sheet over their cooling bodies and they drifted off to a contented sleep.


The sound of ringing roused the couple from their sleep. “Who could that be?”

“Any of a multitude of people who demand your attention.” Joseph teased.

Clarisse grabbed her silk robe hanging near her bed and moved across the room to answer the phone. Joseph admired the soft curves under the fabric as he absently listened to her half of the conversation. It was only a moment later when she turned to him. “It is for you.”

Unable to discern the look on her face, he grabbed his boxers and slipped them on and moved to stand next to her. He took the phone. “Hello?”

Clarisse watched as a myriad of emotions crossed his face. Part of her thought she should leave and give him some privacy…the other part demanded she stayed. She compromised and moved back to sit on the edge of the bed, watching him from a distance. Finally, the waiting was over.

Joseph took a deep breath as he placed the phone back in its cradle. He turned towards the blue-eyed beauty that had stolen his heart. Seeing the concern on her face, he moved to her side and sat next to her. His hand took hers and held it close. “So you know that was Camilla?”


“She called to extend her best wishes to us.”

“Is that all?”

He sighed and turned to look into her eyes. “She mentioned regrets…but she knows that you alone own my heart now.”

“Why do I feel so insecure then?” She hated admitting it; but knew it to be true.

“There have only been two women who have held a place in my heart. She is the other. While she may be a part of my past…YOU, my dear, are my present and future.”

He sealed his words with a kiss that she felt throughout her entire body. “When you kiss me like that, I believe it.”

“It is the truth.”

“Do you think she will ever find true happiness?”

Joseph pulled Clarisse back into bed and spooned his body up against hers. His hand caressed the soft silk of her robe. “Honestly, I don’t know. I hope so. Everyone deserves to find the other half of their soul.”

“And what if that person for her is you?”

“If that were true, she would never have let me go in the first place.”

“Indeed.” Clarisse whispered as she pulled Joseph closer against her.

“Shall we play hookie for a while longer?” He whispered into her ear, enjoying the shiver that ran down her body.

“I think we’ve earned it.”


3 days later

Clarisse stood watching as Jerome made the final fittings of Amelia’s coronation dress. He had finished hers a little while ago; but this one was taking longer as her granddaughter had more trouble standing still. She allowed her thoughts to drift back to the first time she had met the young woman who, in a few days, would be Queen.

Clarisse made her way quietly down the steps, seeing her Granddaughter in person for the first time. Her hair was curly and untamed, eyebrows that detracted from the beauty of those deep chocolate eyes and those hideous shoes…

Through all of the external adornments, Clarisse had seen a heart that was loyal, compassionate and held the capacity to love the thousands that she would someday rule. It was that beauty that shone through and kept her from giving up on the young girl who would someday be queen.


Pulled from her thoughts, she smiled at her granddaughter. “Yes, dear?”

“How long did it take you to get used to this?” She looked down at Jerome who was cutting her a look. “Not that you aren’t doing a great job…really…I’m just not very patient.”

Clarisse noticed the slight roll of the eyes that Jerome gave her in response. “You will get used to it. I might also point out that the more you fidget…the longer it takes.”

Mia rewarded her statement with an exaggerated sigh. “Yours didn’t take very long.”

“Your dress is considerably more fitted than mine. You look beautiful. It’s very becoming. Jerome has outdone himself with designing your gown.”

Mia took a long look at herself in the three way mirror. “It is beautiful.” She glanced down at the man who was kneeling on the floor next to her, working on the hem. “Thank you, Jerome. I appreciate all of your hard work.”

The man blushed at the compliment. “Thank you, Your Highness.”

Turning her attention back to her grandmother, she confessed. “I am more than a little nervous still about the flaming arrow gig.”

Clarisse chuckled. “If it helps any, I was very nervous about that particular event as well.”

“Did you make it through the circle and light your eternal flame?”

Clarisse winked at her, “I’m still here, aren’t I?”

Mia’s whole body shook as she laughed, earning her another glare from Jerome. Her hands rose in a defensive gesture, “Sorry, Jerome.”

Clarisse watched as her granddaughter became lost in her thoughts. Deciding to be as curious as Amelia generally was, she asked. “Penny for your thoughts.”

Mia glanced up and met her eyes in the mirror. “What? Oh I was just wondering if Nicholas was going to be at the coronation.”

Clarisse smiled a knowing smile, but decided to keep it a surprise. She had asked Joseph to hand deliver an invitation to the coronation and to perhaps encourage Nicholas to slowly…very slowly pursue a relationship with Amelia. “One never knows what the future may bring, my dear. Now please, stand still so Jerome may finish and we can get on with our day.”

Amelia feigned a bow to her grandmother and with a cheeky smile replied, “Yes, Your Majesty.”


3 days later...

Joseph stirred slightly in his sleep, reaching for Clarisse. When he encountered an empty pillow, his eyes opened, searching for her in the darkness. His eyes finally rested on her frame, silhouetted in the faint moonlight streaming through the window. “Clarisse?”

She turned towards his voice. “I’m sorry, darling. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Not feeling the warmth of your body next to me caused me to wake. What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing…”

Knowing it was certainly something, Joseph moved to stand beside her at the window. He placed a soft kiss on her neck and pulled her close. “You know you can talk to me, if you want.”

“It’s silly, really.”

“I’ve never known you to be silly, my dear.”

Clarisse allowed herself to snuggle further into his embrace, relying on the strength he was offering. She remained silent for a long time before finally speaking. “I’m not certain how to let her go.”

Realizing she was referring to no longer being the official Queen, he chose his words carefully. “It will take time. You have been the Queen for most of your life. Just because they take the crown off of your head and place it on Amelia’s, doesn’t change who you are. For many Genovians, you will always be their Queen; they will love Amelia and will follow her rule…but you, my dear, will be queen in their hearts.”

“I don’t want to stand in her way.”

“She will find her way. You have taught her well and will continue to do so. Your legacy will live on through her and…” he pulled her closer, “our great grandchildren.”

At the thought of that, Clarisse turned in his embrace and kissed him soundly. “It would be nice to have children around the palace again…it’s been a long time.”

“Indeed it will.”

“Thank you, Joseph. With you by my side, I know the future will be easier.”

“Are you ready to come back to bed and get some rest?”

Clarisse let her robe fall to the floor and pressed her body into his as she whispered, “I’m ready to come back to bed…but it’s not rest that I want.”

Joseph smiled as he let her lead him back to bed. “Yes, MY Queen…I am here to serve.”


The Next Evening…

“You did a wonderful job, Charlotte. Everything was beautiful and went according to plan.” Clarisse offered in sincere praise as the final guests were meandering towards the exit of the Grand Ballroom.

“Thank you, ma’am. The Princess…I mean Her Majesty, Queen Amelia, was a big help as well.”

Clarisse smiled and clasped the woman’s shoulder. “It will take time…for all of us. I’m glad she was more help than hindrance.”

“Most definitely.”

Both women glanced across the room as Amelia bid goodbye to the last of her guests. Nicholas stood in the shadows, patiently waiting to get her attention all to himself. “She has come a long way, hasn’t she?”

Thinking back to their first meeting, Charlotte smiled. “From an awkward teenager to graceful Queen…yes ma’am, you did a wonderful job.”

“WE did, Charlotte. I couldn’t have done it without you.” Looking at her aide, she continued. “I understand you spoke to Amelia about pursuing some additional opportunities.”

Charlotte exhaled slowly; she wasn’t sure how Clarisse would react to the news. “Yes ma’am. When Queen Amelia advised she was going to lobby for women to serve in Parliament, it sounded like a wonderful opportunity. Not that I didn’t enjoy serving you.” She added quickly.

Clarisse smiled at the young woman who had grown so much as well in the time that she had known her. “Dear Charlotte, the thought never occurred to me. It has occurred to me, however, how fortunate Parliament will be with the addition of your wisdom and experience. Truthfully, it is long overdue. I fear that I was so concerned with upsetting the delicate balance of ‘the way things were’ that perhaps I overlooked ‘the way things should be’…”

“You served your Country well, Your Majesty and brought her through some very difficult times. Sometimes one must focus on holding things together before moving forward. You were just what Genovia needed over the past several years.”

“And Amelia is what she needs for the future.” Clarisse smiled, realizing that she had done her job and her granddaughter would do the same. “Thank you, Charlotte.”

Amelia walked back towards the two women with both Nicholas and Joseph by her side. “I seem to have found two very handsome men. Can I interest you in one, Gramma?” She teased.

Clarisse hesitated, pretending to try to choose between the two men. Extending her hand towards Joseph, she answered. “I have experience with this one; I will take him off of your hands.”

Joseph kissed her extended hand and winked at Nicholas and Amelia, “I’m glad she chose me…for a moment there I was a little worried about the younger competition.”

Nicholas smiled at Clarisse. “While I would have been honored had you chosen me, Your Majesty, I think Joseph may have been willing to use his diplomatic immunity to see that I posed no threat.”

Everyone laughed as Joe nodded in his direction. “That’s right and don’t ever forget it.”

Taking Nicholas’ hand, Amelia spoke above the laughter. “Now as I understand it, there is one final tradition before the evening ends.”

Realizing to which tradition Amelia was referring, Joseph and Clarisse joined hands and began to leave the dance floor. Amelia’s voice stopped them.

“However, since I have done a pretty good job of breaking a fair amount of tradition in the past week or so, I’ve decided to break at least one more…today.” She declared.

Clarisse turned around and cast a wary glance in the direction of her new Queen. “Amelia, this is one tradition that should be upheld.”

“There will still be a last dance, Grandmother. Instead of the now reigning Queen dancing, I’ve decided that I want you and Joe to do the final dance.”

“Amelia…it isn’t right.”

Amelia looked to the remaining staff and her closest confidants, including Charlotte, Shades and Nicholas. “Am I or am I not the reigning Queen of Genovia?”

Everyone around her smiled and answered in chorus, “Yes, Your Majesty.”

Triumphant, she turned towards her Grandmother. “So will you not honor a request from your Queen?”

Not waiting for a response from his wife, Joseph bowed slightly. “We would be honored, Your Majesty.”

“Thank you, Joe. Everyone please clear the floor for the final dance.”

Once they were standing alone on the dance floor, the lights dimmed and Joseph ventured a glance at Clarisse. Her smile was indulgent as she whispered. “I suggest we not make a practice of giving in every time she plays the queen card.”

“It always worked for you, my Queen.”

The music of the Wango filled the air and negated any further words. Clarisse felt her heart warm as Joseph bowed and kissed her hand to begin the dance. She was grateful that she had changed into a tea length gown that was not only more comfortable than her coronation gown, but also allowed greater movement for dancing.

Joseph did not think it was possible to be any happier than he was at that moment in time. The woman he loved more than anything else in the world was wearing his ring, sharing his bed, and openly loving him in public. Now they were the honored guests at the final dance at the coronation ball. In no scenario could he have ever imagined it being this perfect. Feeling her body sway to the music and making no attempt to hide how they felt about each other gave a depth to their dance that had not been there before. As the strains of music came to an end, rather than bowing and walking away as they had done in the past, Joseph’s lips found hers and kissed her with a tenderness that held both their hearts captive. It was only a slight clearing of a throat and a tap on his shoulder that caused them to break apart. “Really, Charlotte? Haven’t you done enough interrupting for a while?” Joseph teased.

Charlotte good naturedly blushed remembering how many times she had bothered them on their wedding night. Never to be deterred from her task, though, she handed a rose to Clarisse. “You’ll need this for the remainder of the dance.”

Unsure what she meant as the music had ended, Clarisse took the rose. Before she could ask anything further, Charlotte stepped away and the music of the Tango began. Clarisse spun around to fuss at her Granddaughter and noticed that the darkened room seemed to be empty, except for the retreating form of Charlotte. She turned to look at her husband, whose eyes had turned dark with desire when thoughts of dancing the seductive dance with her again.

“Dance with me, mi’ amore. No more hiding.”

“No more hiding.” She placed the rose between her teeth and began to move in time with the music.

“Are you sure they can’t see us?” Charlotte whispered to Amelia.

“If she could see me, she would have found a fan to smack me with.” Mia whispered in return.

“True. I’m still not…”


“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Shut up and enjoy. It’s not every day you get to see love acted out in the dance.” Mia instructed.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

Unaware they had an audience, the couple created the essence of love, desire and passion through their dance. Having finally been able to experience the full physical indulgence of their love, heightened every touch, every turn, every step in the dance.

“They dance it beautifully.” Nicholas whispered to Mia.

“Yes, they do…better than anyone else I have ever seen…even in movies.”

“Do you think you and I will be that good together someday?”

Turning in his arms, she kissed him. “Someday…yes.”

Charlotte felt the gentle squeeze of her hand that was nearest to Shades. Their love still had to remain in the shadows, but both knew that someday they would have their moment to shine as well.

The music finally stopped and the only sound filling the large room was the echoes of their breaths as they struggled to catch it. Not wanting to lose the moment, Clarisse whispered, “Joseph…take me home.”

Hand in hand the couple walked out of the Grand Ballroom at the Royal Palace in Genovia ready to begin the rest of their lives…together.

The End


Spanish Translation: Esta es la más dulce tortura, mi amor.” (This is the sweetest torture, my love.)