In Her Majesty's Secret Service
Summary: This is a story from Joseph's POV regarding a special service he provided to his Queen.
Rating: MA Adult material. If you are underage, you should go read another story.
Disclaimer: The owners of these characters would NEVER allow them the fun that I do, and I do it all for FREE!!
Thanks to RevSue for her beta work! And, please note that this Chapter was, in part, inspired by a song by Tiffany entitled "Could've Been"
Warning: There's some angst...sorry; but it had to be done..and you KNOW the ending is happy...so just hang in there!!
Chapter 13: Heartbroken
Joseph woke to the most pleasant sensations the next morning: the warm sun streaking through the gaps in the curtains to fill the room with light and renew the scent of roses; the feel of Clarisse’s body resting partially across his; her fingers combing playfully through the sprinkling of hair on his chest; and, most notably, the gentle caress of her breath as she whispered terms of endearment into his ear. He moved his hand down her back and over her bottom, letting it rest on the small of her back in a protective manner. “Good morning, beautiful.”
She lifted her head from where it was nestled on his shoulder and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. “Good morning, yourself.”
“You know…I could get used to this,” Joseph offered.
Clarisse smiled in reply, letting her hand cup his cheek as her thumb gently brushed across his lips. His eyes closed at her touch, enjoying the gentle caress. He felt her move slightly so she was propped up on one elbow. He opened his eyes to find her staring intently at him…she made no attempt to hide the desire smoldering in her blue depths as she whispered, “Make love to me, Joseph. I want only you in my world for just a while longer…please?”
He worried for just a moment that she might be trying to avoid having a conversation that concerned their future; but found that he could not resist her when she looked at him that way. There was something about “that” look that melted his resolve like a hot knife through butter. He tangled his fingers in her beautiful, mussed up tresses and pulled her mouth to his for a probing kiss.
Clarisse reveled in the feel of his mouth on hers and his hands in her hair; his tongue teasing and tasting, enticing her deeper into his body, heart and soul. Among the other sensations she was experiencing; she felt a slight bit of shame. While she certainly wanted to make love to Joseph this morning before she returned to her room; she was trying to avoid any discussions about his marriage proposal or their future. Last night had been so perfect…she couldn’t bear to see the look in his eyes when she told him that she couldn’t make their relationship public…not yet…it would have to remain a secret for just a while longer.
She knew with Mia’s wedding rapidly approaching that Joseph would want an answer to his marriage proposal; and she knew that he would not be pleased with her response. Her heart began to break as she thought of how hurt he would be and she wished there was a way to avoid it. Try as she might, though, she had not been able to convince herself that she could step away from her current path and follow the one that would lead to her own happily ever after. No…there would be no fairytale ending for her.
Clarisse fought to submerge those unhappy thoughts. She had Joseph…even if it was only for a few more days…he was here with her now. She rolled onto her back, pulling him with her; using his body…his touch to vanquish all of the demons that were lurking just below the surface.
Joseph felt something different in her kiss…it was very passionate, as always…but it seemed tinged with sadness or another similar emotion. Just as he was about to break the kiss to make sure she was okay, he felt her hands on his shoulders, pulling him on top of her. Any thoughts of conversation quickly fled as he felt her softness yield and meld to his body.
He moved slightly to take some of the weight off of her. The sunlight fell across her face and chest and he dipped his head to kiss the warmed flesh of her neck. She angled her head to allow him greater access. He trailed his fingertips down the curve of her neck and over her shoulder, his lips following. He heard her sighs of pleasure as he touched and tasted her softness. “The line of your neck is so beautiful, so soft; I could spend forever just looking at you and touching you.”
Her face turned towards his again and she pulled his mouth to hers for a kiss; her tongue skillfully eliciting a groan of pleasure from deep within his soul. Their bodies moved with the kiss until they were perfectly matched against one another…as close as humanly possible. Joseph wanted to go slow and show her all of the other non-typical erogenous zones until she was panting with desire; but when she locked her legs around his hips, he knew that would have to wait. Joseph lifted his head slightly and whispered, “The next time we make love, I intend to find every pleasure point on your body…”
Clarisse rotated her hips slightly in response to his statement and that was all the encouragement he needed. She cried out as he entered her and buried his face in her neck, sucking gently on the area right behind her ear as they both enjoyed the simple pleasure of being joined as one. After a few moments of stillness, he felt her hands move down his back and her inner muscles clenching, signaling she was ready.
He rose up slightly and looked into her eyes. “I love you, Clarisse…mi zorra…you are my life.” With those words, he began to move slowly. He found his movement was limited by the tight grip she had on him with both her arms and legs. He had no desire to break that hold…so he moved with agonizing slowness, knowing when the time was right…she would let him know.
Clarisse wanted to hold onto this for as long as she could. His words, “The next time we make love…” kept running through her mind. She wanted…no needed him to be a part of her, so she had moved her hips to invite him into her inner sanctum and had cried out her relief when their bodies were fused once again. His pace was slow and exactly what she needed. With each thrust, she could feel his love his desire his everything…she silently prayed there would be a next time.
Out of need, she finally lowered her legs; her knees bent, she began meeting him thrust for thrust as the tension grew tighter in their bodies. Their eyes met, locked in a timeless embrace that transported them to a place where only soul mates could journey. They saw their emotions bared for the other to see…all of the love, desire, hope, and yes…even fear. It was only a quick flash, but it was there…in both of their eyes.
The pace continued to quicken and become irregular as Joseph neared his climax. Her arms were stretched out over her head as her hands sought a place to take hold as her body arched and moved under Joseph’s skillful movements.
“Are you with me, Clarisse?” Joseph panted.
“Always…” was her breathy reply.
The cord snapped and their bodies surged forward into their climax, “Oh god…Joseph!” came Clarisse’s cry.
“My love…” was Joseph’s reply as his body sank onto hers as his physical energy was now spent.
They shared gentle caresses and kisses as they floated back down to earth. Clarisse ensured that Joseph stayed connected to her by wrapping her legs around his. He listened to the steady sound of her heart beating as the tips of his fingers glided over the satin of her skin wherever they could reach. They remained like that for several minutes; until, at last, the spell was broken.
“Joseph…as much as I hate to…” Clarisse offered quietly.
“I know, love. There is much to be done today.” He moved off of her body and watched as she slowly made her way to the dresser where her clothes had landed when she discarded them the night before.
She pulled his shirt back on, buttoning the same three buttons that had been undone when she started her bedtime story. She smiled at him. “I’ll be keeping this,” she said.
Joseph laughed. “It looks better on you anyway!”
She picked up her lingerie and moved towards the secret tunnel that would take her back to her suite…to her life of duty and responsibility. She turned and looked back, “I love you, Joseph.”
Joseph smiled in return. “Was ‘mi zorra’ pleased with my service?”
Her smile brightened as she noted that he replaced Her Majesty with mi zorra…she decided instantly that she liked that much better. “Indeed she was, Joseph. Indeed she was.”
She turned to leave when she heard him call out, “Clarisse?” and stopped to look back at him.
“I love you too.”
She put her hand to her lips and blew him a kiss. Enjoying his smile and hoping to find a way to keep him smiling, she left to face her day.
The next several hours passed by quickly as Clarisse was busy with political matters and wedding details. Joseph was occupied with handling the last minute security details for the wedding and coronation. With Shades and Lionel being charged to not let Mia and Nicholas out of their sight, this left Joseph with the bulk of the work to ensure the Queen and Princess’ safety at those high profile and very public events. It was worth it, he had decided, to make sure those two did not get into trouble again!
Late that afternoon, Joseph returned from scouting out the route the carriage holding the Princess would take to deliver her to the doorsteps of the church. He found Charlotte, grabbing a quick bite in the kitchen. “Good afternoon, Charlotte.”
Charlotte looked up from her plate. “Hello, Joe.”
“Grabbing a quick snack in between meetings?” he teased.
“Well, things have been a little frantic today. The wedding plans are coming along; but there are so many last minute details and…” her voice dropped off.
That caught Joseph’s attention, “And, what?”
Charlotte sighed; she really did need to learn to watch what she said around Joseph…he picked up on everything. Since she was not very good at lying, she just went for the truth, “Well, Her Majesty seems very distracted today. You wouldn’t know what could be causing that, would you?”
Joseph could tell by her tone that it was not a “good” distracted. “I’m not certain, Charlotte; but I will try to find out. Do you know where she is right now?”
“I know she took Maurice for a walk and then, I believe, she had to make some selections regarding the music and place settings. You might try the Grand Ballroom.” Charlotte offered.
Joseph nodded his head and made his way quickly to that area of the palace. He heard music coming from the terrace door of the ballroom as he approached. He watched for just a moment as the love of his life was transported to a world of her own as the music serenaded her. A smile erupted from his face as she began to move in time with the music, falling into step with an imaginary partner. He couldn’t resist….as she twirled away from his direction; he moved quickly and stepped into rhythm with her.
“Oh!” Clarisse was surprised and elated that she was, once again, in Joseph’s arms. Everything felt so right when she was nestled in his protective embrace. She laid her head on his shoulder to enjoy this gift of a private moment between the two of them.
She quickly regretted this private moment, though, when his voice cut in as the music started to fade. “Have you been thinking about us?”
There it was…the moment she had been dreading…avoiding for days now; the moment of truth when she had to delay him yet again. She lifted her head from his shoulder, took a deep breath and quietly responded, “Yes, I have.”
She didn’t have to say a word…Joseph could tell from the look on her face that whatever she had to say was NOT going to be what he wanted to hear. He quickly contemplated arguing with her or even resorting to begging her to see reason; but, his heart was broken and he was tired. Tired of hiding their love; tired of waiting; tired of wondering what could have been… “I see,” was the only response he could muster.
The look on his face caused her heart to break. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and plead with him not to throw away their love and all that they had shared. As she was considering her options, she felt the first pain of separation as he walked away from her stating, “If you’ll excuse me?”
He hadn’t taken but a few steps when something inside of her snapped and she was propelled into action. She took a few hurried steps to catch up with him and grabbed his arm. “No…Joseph! You had to know what I was going to say! Mia needs me now more than ever before. It’s the monarchy I mean as Queen, it’s my responsibility. You know how it is.” Even as the words left her mouth, she thought they sounded empty.
Although everything she said was true…it just didn’t seem to be enough to deny her…to deny them…a chance at happiness. They were, however, the words that had flowed from her heart at that moment in time. Perhaps she thought calling on his sense of duty and responsibility would make him see the difficult position she was in.
He couldn’t believe she was playing that card. While the Princess had shown a definite problem with the execution of proper behavior when it came to her personal relationships, she had also demonstrated some extraordinary talents for public relations and politics. He could see no reason why he and Clarisse couldn’t move forward with their plans for the future. “You were never just my Queen, Clarisse. You were the someone that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”
She started to interrupt but his words cut her off.
“But…if you prefer that I see you first and foremost as my Queen…I shall oblige.”
Her heart dropped into her stomach; she knew him so well and knew that she had finally done it…she had lost him. She was driven by a need to feel a connection…their connection to try and make him see this wasn’t a no…just a not yet. She reached up and cupped her hand to his cheek as was her custom when she wanted to show him special affection when they were in public. "Joseph.”
She had thought she might have gotten through as his head dipped slightly into her hand. She realized, however, that he was merely bowing to her as he spoke. “Your Majesty.” Her hand withdrew quickly as though it sensed that it had no right to such an intimate gesture under the circumstances. His eyes locked with hers and they spoke volumes. Of all the things his look told her in those few seconds, most importantly it spoke of how he knew about the game she had played this morning and how she had used their lovemaking to delay the inevitable…to delay the moment they were having right now. Joseph finally broke the connection and turned and walked away.
She couldn’t go after him again…it wouldn’t be right; no…that had nothing to do with it; it wouldn’t matter. He was upset and deeply hurt; anything that she would say right now would only make matters worse. She decided it would be best to wait until later this evening and then try to talk to him again. She would go to his room tonight and ask him to give her just a little more time.
She sighed…time was no longer on her side. She was quickly approaching the twilight years of her life; and, she feared that though she was surrounded by thousands…she would face those years alone.
Joseph walked with purpose towards his room; his mind was racing…he had to get away from the palace this evening…he had to get some distance from her…he had to think. His entire life, for as long as he could remember, had been centered around her. Protecting her, loving her, and wanting to be with her…he realized that he had NO idea what he was going to do now; he only knew that he could not stay here. Being around her every day would be too painful; he knew he had to retire as soon as Mia was crowned Queen.
He pushed the button that would activate his earpiece and the comm. system, “Shades?”
The disembodied voice responded, “Yes, boss?”
“I need you to assume responsibility for the Eagle for the rest of the day. Put Lionel on the Sparrow. I’m going to be in my suite for a short time and then will be off-site for the remainder of the evening.” Joseph’s instructions were quick and to the point, leaving no room for misinterpretation or question.
Shades was concerned at Joseph’s tone and manner…it wasn’t like him, “Are you okay, Joe?”
Joseph was not in the mood to explain himself at that moment, “Do you understand what I’ve asked you to do, Shades?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll see to it.” He decided now was not the time to discuss the emotion he heard in Joe’s voice.
Joseph made his way to his suite, thankfully, without running into anyone. He grabbed two sheets of his personal stationary. On the first, he penned his resignation as head of security effective immediately after the Princess was crowned the new Queen of Genovia. Second, he penned the words that his heart felt compelled to share. He angrily wiped away the few tears that had dared to escape his eyes and fall to the parchment below. He sealed both; the one addressed to Her Majesty, Queen Clarisse, which he would deliver to Charlotte on his way out. The other, addressed to Clarisse, was sealed and left in the center of his bed with one of the roses that she had left him placed carefully across the envelope.
“Your Majesty may I have Princess Mia come join you now to go over the wedding meal?”
Clarisse looked towards her trusted assistant who was standing at the top of the stairs. She could see the concern etched on Charlotte’s face; but Charlotte had discreetly avoided mentioning her monarch’s distressed state. “No…I…I. Princess Mia doesn’t need to be…not now, Charlotte.”
Charlotte’s heart was breaking for her friend and Queen. Even though she had backed out of the room, she had heard enough to know that things were not going well between the Queen and Joseph. She was at a loss for what to say; so she pressed on with the business at hand, hoping to bring the conversation to a point where the Queen would feel like she could talk to her. “Did you wish dinner to be served in the dining room?”
Clarisse couldn’t take anymore…her heart was shattering into a million pieces and Charlotte was asking her to make a decision about dinner. The knot in her stomach was hurting so badly that she wasn’t sure she would want to eat again for quite some time… “NO! I just want a second for myself.” Her raised voice a clear indication to Charlotte of the level of distress she was currently feeling.
Clarisse looked up and saw Charlotte still standing at the top of the stairs, her head slightly bowed, waiting for whatever would happen next. Clarisse closed her eyes momentarily, struggling to get a grip on her emotions. She had to keep it together….for a few minutes longer, until she could make her way to her suite. She took a deep breath, “Charlotte…I’m sorry. I’ll just get something to eat from the kitchen later.”
Clarisse held Charlotte’s gaze as she silently pled with her for understanding. A look of compassion surfaced on Charlotte’s face as she replied, “I understand, your Majesty.” With those words, she bowed and backed out of the room leaving Clarisse gazing at the door wishing for Joseph’s return.
Joseph radioed Shades one more time asking, “Shades, can you give me a twenty on Charlotte, please?”
“Charlotte is in her office. Would you like me to radio her?” he offered.
“No, thank you. Is the Eagle with her?”
“The Eagle is in her suite…I’m standing guard outside the door, per your instructions. I’ll stay with her until the night watch arrives.”
“Thank you, Shades. I’ll be back very late tonight. Tomorrow I’ll be making the final security checks and preparation for the wedding…”
Shades cut him off. “I get it, boss…I’ll cover the Eagle until further notice from you.” He had no idea what had happened between the Queen and Joseph today, but knew that life around the palace was not going to be pleasant until they got it worked out. He made a mental note to speak with Charlotte to see if she could shed some light on this situation.
Joseph cut the link…he had nothing else to say and didn’t feel it was necessary to explain himself to Shades. He stopped by Charlotte’s office, handed her the envelope and offered tersely, “Please see that Her Majesty gets this today…it is of the utmost importance.”
Charlotte looked at the envelope and knew instantly what it contained. “Joe…please think about this…” she asked, the sadness evident in her voice.
His eyes met hers; and, for a moment, the anger was replaced by compassion for the woman who Clarisse considered her best friend. “I just can’t…stay, Charlotte…I’m sorry.” He fought to keep his voice from breaking.
For the second time today, Charlotte saw someone very close to her whose heart was breaking. She exhaled slowly and repeated sadly, “I understand, Joe. I’ll give this to Her Majesty.”
He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently. He knew she was caught in the middle…and that was his fault, for making her an accomplice in helping them keep their secret so many years ago. He inwardly sighed…that seemed a lifetime ago now. “Thank you, Charlotte.” He started to walk off but turned back and added, “For what it’s worth…I’ll miss you as well.”
She simply nodded as the tears started to trickle down her cheeks. She watched him leave and then worked to compose herself; she had to be strong when she delivered the note that would undoubtedly upset her Queen and…devastate her friend.
Joseph headed towards the garage to retrieve his car and to make his way to his favorite local pub. He may not be able to completely drown his sorrows as he was on duty the next morning; but he could certainly dull some of the pain that was coursing through his body at the present time.
Clarisse heard a quiet knock on the door. She had barricaded herself in her office under the pretence of working on the wedding and coronation plans; however, she had spent most of the last hour or so staring aimlessly into space wondering how things could have gone so wrong so quickly. With considerable effort, she squared her shoulders and sat up straight. “Come in,” she responded quietly.
She was relieved at once to see Charlotte enter the room…at least she didn’t have to put on too brave of a façade for her aide. Her relief quickly dissipated, however, when she saw the look on Charlotte’s face and the envelope in her hand. She knew intuitively what bad news Charlotte had been asked to deliver to her.
Charlotte closed the door behind her and made her way towards the desk. She had tried to put on a brave face, but she was not very good at lying and even worse at trying to mask her feelings. After all of these years of watching her Queen, she had thought she would get better at it; but one look at her Queen’s face revealed that she had not succeeded.
Clarisse stood and met Charlotte in the middle of the room. She gave her a sad smile. “So I guess he couldn’t bring himself to deliver it in person?”
Charlotte hung her head, “I’m afraid not, your Majesty.”
“I see…” Clarisse answered as she absently fingered the envelope. “Well, thank you, Charlotte for bringing it to me. I’m sure it couldn’t have been easy. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like some privacy, please?”
The young woman looked up to meet her friend’s eyes and saw them brimming with unshed tears. Despite her even tone, she was about to break down and didn’t want to have any witnesses to her moment of weakness. “Of course, Your Majesty.” Charlotte turned to walk away; but decided she needed to say something to help ease her pain, “Ma’am?”
Clarisse looked up from the envelope, “Yes, Charlotte?”
“Forgive me, but I think you should know that he looks as heartbroken as you do…” She couldn’t believe she had just said that and bit her bottom lip waiting for the outburst that could possibly come.
Instead of an outburst, there was a barely audible response, “Yes, I’m afraid this has been a less than banner day for both of us. I’m afraid, however, that we have reached an impasse. He wants what I cannot give…” Realizing she had spoken rather candidly out loud, Clarisse looked up and was startled to find Charlotte was standing right in front of her. At that moment, Clarisse let down her guard and allowed Charlotte to pull her into an embrace and simply let her cry.
How long they stayed like that, Clarisse had no idea; she only knew that she felt a little better once she had been allowed to cry on her only friend’s shoulder. The ache caused by the huge void in her heart was still present and she imagined that it would never go away as the only person that could fill it had just informed her, via a professionally penned resignation letter, that in less than two weeks, she would never see him again.
“Gee, Joseph…you look like you lost your best friend.” Joseph looked up from his glass to see his old friend, Gretchen, regarding him with concern. He smiled at her weakly wondering if she had any idea how true her words really were. “Nothing quite so dramatic, Gretchen; how are things at the Mabrey household?” He winced as Gretchen took his question as invitation to sit down. It wasn’t that he didn’t normally enjoy her company; he just wanted to be left alone in his misery right now.
“Well, the Viscount is a pain in the arse,” she laughed, “but there’s nothing new about that!”
Joseph found himself smiling slightly in spite of himself. Living and serving in the Mabrey household could not be an enjoyable assignment. He had been very fortunate to serve a very wonderful and caring royal family…nothing like Viscount Arthur Mabrey. “Truer words have probably never been spoken, my friend. Can I get you a drink?” Perhaps a little company would be a nice diversion from his troubles.
“I’d love a beer, thank you. What are you drinking?” Her voice took on an air of concern again as she noted the dark circles and worry lines very evident on her friend’s face.
Joseph held the glass up, “scotch”, he offered before draining the remaining contents of the glass.
“Yeah, they probably don’t have that at the Palace,” Gretchen teased. “I certainly can’t see her royal highness, Queen Clarisse, throwing back a glass of that stuff.” She pointed to the fresh glass that had just been placed before him by the waitress when she brought the beer.
Joseph felt his heart shatter a bit more as he choked back his emotions; less than twenty-four hours ago, Queen Clarisse had done exactly that before she gave him an illustrated bedtime story that would forever be burned in his memory. His voice broke slightly, “You might be surprised, Gretchen. The Queen has many sides to her…”
Realizing she had struck a chord, Gretchen immediately sobered, “Hey, Joe…look, I’m sorry. I know you’re very close to her; and I know that things can’t have been very easy around the palace lately with my boss and his antics. He’s such a snake…On the other hand, though…his nephew, Lord Deveraux…I think he’s a decent young man. He even stood up to his uncle today…” her voice trailed off as she realized she was probably revealing more than she should about the private happenings at her employer’s household.
Her words did not go unnoticed and Joseph grasped at the tendril of distraction that had just been offered him, “Stood up to him? How so?”
“I shouldn’t be saying anything, Joseph…you know how it is…” She answered in a hushed tone.
“Gretchen…if this has anything to do with Princess Amelia or if it will affect Queen Clarisse, you must tell me; it’s not only your job as my friend, but your duty to your country.”
Gretchen sighed, even though she knew it broke the unspoken rules, she knew she had to tell Joseph everything…including the phone conversation she overheard her boss make to Elsie Kentworthy. She leaned in closer to Joseph so she could keep their conversation as private as possible. A small side of her enjoyed sharing a private moment with a man as handsome as Joseph; but the rest of her knew…as well as the rest of the country that his heart belonged to…
“…Clarisse! Clarisse, where are you?”
“I’m in here…whatever is the matter?”
“I’ve come to try to talk some sense into you.”
“I beg your pardon!”
“Are you or are you not Queen of Genovia?”
“Then help me understand why you feel you can’t do both?”
“I’m sorry…I don’t understand…”
“Duty to country AND duty to yourself…”
“That’s just not possible…and now it’s too late.”
“You’re a resourceful woman, Clarisse…find a way to make it work. It breaks my heart to see you so sad. And, besides, isn’t it you who always says a Queen is never late?”
“I tried to find a way…and there are additional complications now…”
“Ah yes…well, you’ve done wonderful job thus far and I have no doubts that you will continue in that same vein…she’s truly a remarkable young woman who will make a wonderful Queen someday very soon.”
“Yes she will…”
“I have to be going now…don’t let opportunity pass you by; and, Clarisse?”
“Give our granddaughter a hug for me and let her know her Grandfather loves her and is proud of
the woman she has become and the Queen she will be.”
Clarisse awoke with a start…she hadn’t even realized she had dozed off. She felt strangely comforted by the words she had imagined Rupert sharing with her in her dream…it had seemed so real…yet she knew it couldn’t have been more than a figment of her imagination.
“I need some tea.” she said to her empty room. She also made a decision that she would try to work up the courage to go to his room later tonight to try again to talk to him…to explain…to ask him to wait…just a little while longer. Although she was not optimistic regarding the outcome, she found that she had to try…perhaps Rupert was right and it wasn’t too late… She slowly made her way from her suite to the kitchen for that cup of tea.
Clarisse shook her head and looked at the gentlemen who had been assigned to accompany her on her evening sojourn to the kitchen. Poor Shades had been pulling double duty today trying to keep an eye on Amelia and having to guard her since Joseph’s disappearance earlier today. “Did you hear those girls? Brigitte and Brigitta, I believe…that was quite an interesting show they put on for me in the kitchen, wasn’t it?” she offered in an effort to make conversation.
The man simply nodded and Clarisse sighed…she missed Joseph already and he wasn’t even gone yet. They walked in silence the remainder of the way to her suite. Passing by Amelia’s suite, she was relieved to see two guards standing watch outside her doors. Shades had also promised that he and Lionel would be monitoring everything closely from the security office as well. They couldn’t afford any more mishaps with the wedding so close…any more trouble would, most certainly, threaten the Renaldi rule and the future of Genovia.
Once inside her suite again, she waited an appropriate amount of time and made the necessary preparations as though she were turning in for the night. Once completed, she quietly made her way through the tunnel to Joseph’s room.
Her heart grew heavy as she noted that his bedroom was empty and the bed had obviously not been slept in since they had shared it only that morning. Her heart leapt into her throat as she noticed the single red rose resting on the bed next to an envelope that bore her name. She picked up the rose and inhaled its scent, bringing back a flood of memories. She climbed onto the bed and tried to quell the butterflies in her stomach as she opened the letter he had written to her probably within an hour of her rejection…
My dearest Clarisse,
The flowers you gave me are just about to die
When I think about what could've been, it makes me want to cry
The sweet words you whispered this morning apparently didn't mean a thing
I guess our song is over - before we even really began to sing
Our life together could have been so beautiful it could have been so right
You could have been my lover every day and night.
Could've been so beautiful - could've been so right
I'll never get to hold what could've been on what will be a cold and lonely night.
The memories of our loving still lingers in the air
Like the faded scent of your roses - they stay with me everywhere
Every time I get my hopes up, they always seem to fall
Still what could've been is better than what will never be at all.
I'm sorry that I've lost hope, but I cannot do this any longer.
I will always love you and there will never be anyone else...
I shall spend the rest of my life pondering what could have been and I'm sorry that we couldn't find a way to make this work...
I shall miss serving you, both in public and in secret…
All my love now, forever and always,
She made no attempt to stop the tears that were falling freely now as she read his words and fully grasped exactly what ramifications her choices had caused and that she was, in fact, too late. She knew that tomorrow she would have to find a way to pick up the pieces and go on with her life…but for tonight she allowed herself to fully experience the pain of her shattered heart. She pulled his pillow close, holding his letter in her hand and cried until there were no more tears left.
Having emptied her soul once again until she felt the comforting blanket of numbness, she rose from his bed and moved to his desk to pen a response to his letter. She left it under the same rose on his now tear stained pillow and made her way through the tunnel back to her suite for the final time.
The next day left little time for any personal considerations as, despite her security team’s best efforts, her granddaughter had once again made poor choices that ended up on the morning edition of “Eggs with Elsie.”
But Clarisse found that she had grown so much in the past five years…Joseph had been a positive influence in her life and not just in her private life…, so instead of berating Mia for her poor choices, she sympathized with her that she had been “played” and simply asked if there was still going to be a wedding. At this point, Clarisse went on auto-pilot and turned everything over to the “Queen” to handle it. She found that side of her persona could be much cooler and detached and deal with any problems that arose…and God knows her life was filled with problems right now.
Mia had been able to salvage the wedding plans with Andrew; and Clarisse was relieved that the wedding would take place tomorrow. Once that was finished, the coronation would occur a week later; and after that, she would finally have time to figure out how to put the pieces of her personal life back together. She had barely seen Joseph in the forty eight hours from the time she had left the note for him and their departure to the wedding. She had felt his eyes on her as she took Maurice for a walk that morning. She fought the urge to look up at him as she knew that would only renew the hurt that they both had been trying to bury the last couple of days. She couldn’t do that to him…she couldn’t do that to herself.
He watched her…from a distance…as she made her way through the maze with Maurice. He noticed that Shades was keeping a respectable distance from her, trying to allow her some privacy as she mentally prepared for the day. He knew it had been a difficult couple of days for her as well. His tears had joined hers on the pillow when he had arrived in his room in the middle of the night and had found her note had replaced the one he had left for her. The emptiness inside of him had grown to an unbearable level as he had read the words she had penned in response…
My dearest Joseph,
I have no words to argue with your statements and don’t deny that what you say is true. I, too, will spend a life time wondering what “could have been.”
And there are certainly no words to adequately express how much I will miss you and your service to the Royal family and, without a doubt, to me personally.
I only have one small bit of supposed wisdom that I want to share with you before we part…
Just because someone doesn’t love you the way you want them to…
Doesn’t mean they don’t love you with their whole heart…
No matter what, Joseph, I want you to know that I do love you with my whole heart. I love you as I have never loved another. I am truly sorry that I could not love you the way you wanted in the time frame you needed for your happiness. I shall forever regret that. Live long and happy, my dearest friend.
All of my love, now and forever,
He was such a damned fool…he had pushed her and now found himself between the proverbial rock and the hard place. He loved her…more than life itself…and couldn’t bear the thought of being away from her for more than a few hours. On the other hand, neither could he bear the thought of seeing her every day and never being able to completely claim her as his own…not just in secret…but in public…for the whole world to see the beauty of their love.
He took one last look at her, taking in every detail, before slowly walking away to get begin getting ready for the wedding. It was going to be a long day…
True to the past couple of weeks, the wedding was nothing short of chaos as Joseph watched the Princess turn tail and make her way quickly back out of the church, with Clarisse following closely behind. He waited a minute or so to make sure that a state of relative calm was present in the church before heading out to find his girls.
“…and now I’ve lost the only man I ever loved.” Clarisse turned to follow Mia’s gaze and found Joseph standing, ready to protect them from the crowds…or perhaps themselves…if needed.
She heard his quiet, strong voice, “I’m with the Eagle and Sparrow now.” He couldn’t bring himself to look at her, but he was there and that made her feel safer and somehow gave her confidence to encourage Mia not to make the same mistake she made.
“Mia, I want you to make your choices as a woman. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Make your own mistakes there’ll be plenty of them, believe me.” She smiled at her Granddaughter. Perhaps she couldn’t fix her own life; but she could ensure that her Granddaughter had a happiness she was only allowed to experience in secret.
“Now you can go back into that church and get married; or you can walk away. Whatever choice you make, let it come from your heart.” She felt a maternal sense of accomplishment as Mia pulled her into a hearty embrace. Clarisse knew at that moment that Amelia was going to make a wonderful Queen. Oh she would definitely make her share of mistakes…she had already demonstrated a grand propensity for doing just that; however, she had also shown a resilience and a maturity that far outweighed her years and experience.
This was proven out as Clarisse proudly watched her Granddaughter addressed the guests at the church and her country asking them to rescind an outdated law that had no place in Genovia.
Joseph watched the events unfold before him. He was proud of Amelia for standing up to do the right thing and not marrying a man she didn’t love; and he was proud of Clarisse for encouraging her to do so by allowing her to make the choice…regardless of the ramifications to the Renaldi rule. He also silently wished that Clarisse had been willing to follow her own advice…but that was not to be. He pushed those thoughts to the side and refocused on the job at hand. He wasn’t sure how this would turn out so he stood close by ready to protect his Queen.
His insight turned out to be correct as Viscount Mabrey flew down the aisle in a rage towards his nephew. His path put him on a collision path with Clarisse…at precisely the right moment, Joseph stepped in front of her and, using his hand, he pushed her behind him.
His adrenalin kicked in and his eyes followed Mabrey as he made his way outside to confront Nicholas. Joseph thought for a moment that he would need to thank Gretchen for doing her duty and ensuring that Nicholas made it to the church to throw a wrench into the Viscount’s plans. His heart rate increased even further as he felt her behind him. Her mouth was hovering close to his ear and he felt himself rooted to the spot as he felt her breath on his neck. It wasn’t until she spoke, “the doors,” that he was shaken from his fantasy and propelled back into action.
A few minutes later the future of the Renaldi rule was secured with the words of the Prime Minister, “The ayes have it!”
With those words, the marriage law was abolished and would not require Amelia or any future Queen to have a husband in order to rule. Clarisse was so proud of her Granddaughter. She was reminded of Rupert’s words to her in her dream a couple of days ago… “She’s truly a remarkable young woman who will make a wonderful Queen someday very soon.” It appeared that day had arrived.
Clarisse noted Mia seemed distracted as she looked around. She saw Lionel come to stand beside her. Clarisse was instantly worried…what could be wrong now? She didn’t have to wait long as Charlotte offered her an earpiece to hear her Granddaughter’s voice, “Grandma? Just because I didn’t get my fairytale ending…doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”
Clarisse couldn’t believe her ears…Amelia was encouraging her to…to what? She couldn’t go to Joseph now, could she? Would she be able to make things right? Was she in time to salvage their relationship?
Perhaps Charlotte could offer some advice. She looked at her aide and friend. “Did you hear that?”
Charlotte beamed at her to encourage her; but she also knew this had to be the Queen’s decision. “Not if you didn’t want me to!” Charlotte stated seriously and then laughed along with the Queen as she replied, “Oh Charlotte!”
So this was it…the moment of truth…her last chance. More of Rupert’s words came to her and encouraged her. She was the Queen of Genovia…at least for one more week and why couldn’t she have both? Duty to her country…she had done that her whole life. Today…yes, today she would make one last attempt to honor the duty she had to herself. She straightened her shoulders, took a deep breath and took the step or two necessary to bring her face to face with her destiny. She cast a quick glance at the audience and then, pushing those faces aside in her mind, she smiled and spoke, “Joseph.”
Joseph had no idea what was going on…Mia had just successfully won her first vote in Parliament and then had, almost immediately, summoned Lionel to her side for a private conversation with Clarisse. A moment later, he was being summoned by his Queen. He moved to stand in front of her, bowing slightly in recognition of his employer and quietly stated, “Your Majesty.”
He raised his head to meet her eyes and witnessed her features softening, her head angling slightly as she spoke again. “Dear Joseph.” That got his attention…she had never been that…familiar…with him in public; and certainly not in front of a church full of relative strangers. His eyebrow cocked slightly to indicate his confusion. The next few minutes played out like some surreal dream.
“Am I too late to ask you to accept my hand in marriage?” Her voice had been soft, but strong as she voiced the question that would make both of their dreams come true.
He was momentarily stunned as the realization of what was happening sunk in. So much had happened in the last forty-eight hours, he still couldn’t make sense of it all. But one thing he knew for certain…the woman he had loved for forever had just taken the first step that would allow them to put all of this behind them and start fresh. They had so much to talk about; but he was not going to give her a chance to rethink this and back out…they could sort all of that out later. He cleared his throat and said, “Well, I thought you’d never ask!”
He took off his top hat and earpiece and turned to his second in command. “Shades, you’re in charge now. Good luck with Lionel. I’m going to a wedding.” He took his rightful place beside her and extended his arm to escort her down the aisle. He heard an audible sigh of relief from her as she gazed at his hand and then took a deep breath and lifted her hand to cover his as they began to walk down the aisle.
They both felt the gaze of a thousand eyes watching them and thinking…to be honest, neither had any idea what any of them were thinking. Clarisse felt the pressure and felt compelled to say something…she decided to keep it light as she didn’t want anything to ruin her chance at happiness. “I know it was short notice; but you were all dressed.”
Her words served their purpose and brought some laughter from the crowd and a smile to Joseph’s face as well. That aisle seemed interminably long as they made their way towards the Archbishop. Amazingly, Charlotte had made her way quickly to the front of the church and was waiting for them as they took the couple of steps to elevate them above the rest of the congregation.
Mia greeted them with a beaming smile and served as the Maid of Honor as she took the bouquet from her Grandmother. Clarisse’s voice was strong and confident now as she spoke, “My Lord Archbishop, I would like to take this man as my husband…if you please.”
They collectively held their breaths to see what this respected man of God would say about their proposed union. They were caught slightly off guard as he lifted his eyes to the heavens and answered, “Finally!”
Clarisse stole a look at Joseph and found he was looking at her…it appears they had not been the only ones waiting patiently to be able to bring their love for each other out in the open. While the archbishop may not have been aware of the secret service with which Joseph had been providing his Queen, he certainly knew of the love they shared for each other.
The vows were shared quickly and Clarisse’s heart skipped a beat as Joseph took her hand, slipped the ring on her finger, and said, “With this ring…I thee, finally, wed.”
He heard her excitement and felt her breath and pulse quicken under his touch. They were almost there…the culmination of all their hopes and dreams. They couldn’t take their eyes off of each other; and the rest of the church…the rest of the world faded away as they heard the Archbishop instruct, “I pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
Joseph had to be honest and admit, at that moment, he had no idea what to do. They had shared five years of an intense romantic relationship that no one else, besides Charlotte, knew anything about. Their private life would dictate that he pull her into a passionate embrace and claim her in a heated kiss that would leave no doubt to the rest of the world that they were meant to be together. Their public life…the life everyone else was familiar with was an entirely different story. While he stood, firmly planted in place, trying to decide what to do, he felt Clarisse lean in to kiss him.
As kisses go, it would not set off any alarms and was a far cry from the passion that they normally shared when they came together. It was, however, firm enough to convey the promise of more to come…once they had a chance to sort through the last fifteen minutes that had just changed their lives inexorably.
They turned, hand in hand, and faced their public for the first time as husband and wife. Clarisse was beaming and Joseph was still in a state of disbelief at all that had just happened. A moment later, Shades was at the side of the stage indicating that they should follow him. Shades led them into a small ante-room that the Archbishop had provided for their use.
“I’m sure you two could use a few minutes to decide how you would like to proceed.” the Archbishop indicated. Clarisse nodded and thanked him both for his kindness and for performing the ceremony at such short notice. He winked and replied, “Well, as you said, I was already dressed. It would have seemed a waste to get all dressed up and then not get the joy of joining two people who are obviously very much in love.”
The Archbishop smiled and kissed her on the hand before leaving the new couple alone for the first time since this whirlwind of a day began. The silence was palpable in the room as both waited for the other to speak first. Joseph finally spoke, “Well, you certainly surprised me today.”
Clarisse lifted her gaze from her intent study of her hands to look into his eyes. “I supposed I surprised myself as well.”
Fear gripped her for a moment and she had to ask the words that were haunting her since the Archbishop left. “You aren’t changing your mind, are you?”
He heard the fear in her voice and the uncertainty and moved to take her into his arms. Both of their bodies released a sigh of relief as they were, once again, melded to each other. Her head was resting on his chest as her arms encircled his waist, holding him close. He whispered into her ear, “Never. But Clarisse?”
She lifted her head to drink in his dark eyes. She saw the fragments of the hurt and pain from the past few days; but along with that, she saw that his love for her had not faded…despite all of the turmoil. “Yes, my love.”
“We will need to talk about this. I need…I’m not even sure what I need. But I know I can’t just pretend that the last couple of days didn’t happen.” He didn’t want to hurt her or dampen her happiness; but he had been on a rollercoaster of emotions that had left him in a haze and trying to deal with the fact that he would never get to see, touch, hold, or make love to her again. Then, in an instant, that all changed. He couldn’t adapt that quickly…
“I understand. However, there is the matter of the reception…do you want to put in an appearance?”
He sighed; he knew they should…but he wanted nothing more than to whisk her away and start the first day of the rest of their lives. “I supposed we should…but first things first.” He framed her face with his hands and brought her mouth to his and kissed her the way he had wanted to earlier.
She had watched as he battled with himself while trying to decide what the best course of action would be. There was a definite sense of relief as she felt his hands on her face and his mouth descended to claim hers. A moan surfaced and escaped from the back of her throat as his tongue invaded her warm depths to seek out the familiar territory of her mouth. Her hands snaked around his neck to pull him as close as possible. His moved lower to pull her body flush with his. There were still some unresolved issues between their hearts, but their bodies knew they had found their home in each other’s arms.
A cough from the doorway brought them back to reality; they ventured a look over in the direction that the sound originated from, relieved to find Charlotte discreetly looking at the floor as she waited for them to stop. Clarisse rested her forehead against his, not wanting to break the contact any more than necessary…she had missed him terribly these last few days. “Yes, Charlotte?”
“The limo is ready to take you to the reception, your Majesty. You will be attending the reception, correct?” she asked, a little nervous about how she would explain to the press if they decided to not at least stop by for a little while.
Joseph straightened and turned to smile at Charlotte. “Of course, Charlotte; it would be improper not to do so. I believe we’ve agreed to attend for a short period of time, Clarisse will then make a quick statement to the press, and then we will be incognito for a couple of days.”
He noticed Charlotte’s look of panic at his last statement; so he quickly added, “I know the coronation is only a week away, Charlotte. I am confident, however, that you can handle the details for a couple of days to allow us some time to work out a few details ourselves?”
Charlotte’s panicked look was replaced by a slight blush. “Of course, Joseph…I understand. Perhaps we can arrange for a brief meeting each afternoon…just so I can get her stamp of approval on any pressing matters?”
He smiled at the young woman, delighting in the blush now covering her face. “Agreed; now shall we?”
The reception had turned out wonderfully, with everyone being very enthusiastic in their support of the Queen and her new husband. They had visited with all of the appropriate people and had danced a couple of dances together. The press had been everywhere and Joseph had felt a little strange at the notion that HE was the one that had to be protected and shielded rather than being the one doing the protecting.
He stood by Clarisse as she addressed the press. Her presence never ceased to amaze him; she was regal, poised and confident as she spoke:
“My fellow Genovians and honored guests, I wanted to take a brief respite from the celebration this evening to thank you for your kindness and support to me these past several years as we have journeyed together towards the progress and prosperity that we now enjoy today. I have all of the confidence that you will continue to be as loving and supportive of my Granddaughter, Amelia, when she assumes the throne next week and ushers Genovia into a new era that will bring even greater success. As Genovia moves into a new chapter in its story, I am doing so as well. For a long time, King Rupert…may he rest in peace, was my husband and my friend. When I…when we, lost him; we both suffered the loss of a great man and friend. From that point on, each of you collectively became my companion as we walked together on life’s journey. I loved my duty to you as I would love a spouse and sought to make decisions that would bring you happiness and the prosperity that each of you so richly deserve.” She smiled and made eye contact with as many as possible as she looked around the room. She did so love these people and would miss them; but knew she was leaving them in good hands.
She finished her perusal of the room by resting her gaze on Joseph and smiling sweetly at him, extending her hand to pull him even closer to her side. “So now the time has come for a new chapter in my life as well. Joseph has been my friend for many years; and, more recently, that friendship grew. As I embark on a new chapter of my life, I know I can count on your continued love and support of me and the Renaldi family. I know you desire the same happiness for me that I have always wanted for you and that you will celebrate with me as Joseph and I begin our walk together as well. May each of you find the happiness that you have so generously given me. Thank you.”
She flashed Joseph a brilliant smile as a roar of applause erupted throughout the Grand Hall. He raised their joined hands to his lips and gave her a gentle kiss on the back of her hand. Her features softened as she looked with love at the man with whom she was privileged to spend the rest of her life. She decided, at that moment, that she wanted nothing more than to get back to their suite and remove any remaining obstacles that would stand in the way of their complete happiness so they could finally be together….forever!
She stepped closer and spoke in his ear, loud enough so he could hear over the thunderous cheering and applause, “Shall we?”
He pulled her hand through the crook of his arm as he started to escort her off of the platform. “Indeed we shall.”