Shifting a little to gain feeling back in his legs, he turned his head to a more comfortable angle. His nose breathed in deeply, taking in a sweet and wonderful aroma. "Hmm." He moaned softly, before his eyes blinked open.
"You fell asleep." She tipped her head back to see his face.
"I'm sorry." He said softly and returned her smile.
Turning her hand in his, she laced them together and studied them. "I rather enjoyed it. Just being here, with you."
"Falling asleep during a pleasant evening is quite unforgivable." He said with a rough voice. Blinking away the sleep from his eyes and moving to sit up, he slipped his hand from hers to stand. "I had better walk you back to the palace." He checked his watch and sighed. "I am sure security is panicking."
Clarisse stretched elegantly before reaching up her hand to him. She smiled as he pulled her to her feet and stood looking down at her with an affectionate look. She took his right hand and moved closer until their bodies touched. "I have had a wonderful time."
"I will make it up to you." He chuckled, clutching her hand in his. "Like I said, falling asleep was unforgivable."
She bent her head to rest against his shoulder. "Just being with you…" She sighed. "Being with you has this rather calming affect on me. I feel completely at one with myself just being near you."
"I'm flattered." He smiled and she laughed into his jacket. Gently pushing on her shoulders, he looked into her eyes as her head came up. "I have enjoyed this evening too." He said in a quiet voice.
Reaching up to hold his face, she pressed a few light kisses to his lips. Smiling widely, she brushed the back of her fingers over his chin. "When did you start growing this?" She asked, referring to his speckled beard.
"You don't like it?" He asked, running his own hand over the growing stubble.
"Oh no, I rather enjoy the feel of it on my skin." She blushed.
Chuckling, he kissed her cheek once and then her lips for a long and languid moment.
"Mmm." She sighed contentedly. "I do like this." Her fingers lightly scratched his chin as her face bore an assault of gentle kisses.
"It's getting cooler as the night goes on. We should go." He pressed one final kiss to her lips before bending to fold the blanket and pack up the empty containers of fruit.
Joseph left the boxes and blanket in the stables to collect in the morning. He escorted Clarisse to the palace without being seen by Kevin or the guards dotted around the grounds. Having set up the system himself, Joseph knew where the cameras were and managed to avoid them. It wasn't easy, but there were no acrobatics involved.
Stopping at the double doors which opened onto the main stairs, Clarisse hesitated going inside. She looked over her shoulder and gave him a small smile. Joseph reached for her hand and kissed it. "I will see you in the morning, my darling." He then smiled softly as he said, "Sueños dulces."
Matching his smile, she whispered, "Sweet dreams, Joseph."
King and Queen's Suite.
Slipping on her robe, Clarisse made her way from the bathroom to her dresser, where she sat every morning and evening. Uncapping one of her night creams, she looked up and caught her reflection. At such a late hour, she had voted on a short shower to refresh herself. Her face was still full of colour from the warmth, but she could see a difference in her cheeks and eyes.
Applying the cream to her skin, she couldn't help but think back to being startled by Joseph in the stables. A liquid feeling had practically flooded her stomach and her heart had literally beat itself to oblivion. She had been expecting him, but hadn't hoped to expect anything but a small walk and pleasant conversation.
She wiped her fingers on a tissue before spending a moment staring at the bed in the mirrors reflection. Untying the robe and laying it over a chair, she pulled back the covers and slid between cool sheets. When she was settled and had switched the lamp off, she felt Rupert shift around.
"You're coming to bed late." He said in a deep rumble, his voice full of sleep. "Did you notify security?"
"I didn't, but I was safe. You needn't worry." She told him quietly, her voice dropping to match the stillness of the room. "Go back to sleep, dear. I didn't mean to wake you."
"I was hounded by security when they could not locate you." Rolling to his side, he reached for her hand and held it between them.
She smiled into the darkness. "I'm sorry."
"Kevin was beside himself when he could not find you in the stables."
Hearing a teasing tone beginning to hint his words, she pulled her hand away. "Don't you start. I'm tired."
He chuckled. "I'm sure if they knew the truth, a few rumours might fly by morning."
"And they would be just that, rumours. Of which there would be no truth to it." She turned over and pushed her hand under the pillow.
After getting comfortable in the new position, she felt his arm move over her waist to capture her hand. "Are you really tired?"
"I have an early start and a long day ahead." She let out a small breath. "But no, I'm not too tired."
"Pierre came to see me." He told her immediately. "He has come to the decision of becoming a parish priest where he can be free to marry. In fact," He paused long enough to roll onto his back. "He has told me of his love for another."
Clarisse quickly turned and gave him her full attention. "He hasn't spoken of this to me. Who does he love? Oh Rupert, think of what this could mean."
"I know, I know." He smiled.
"An heir. Oh goodness," She laughed lightly. "This is truly a good thing, Rupert."
"I know." He said much quieter.
Reaching for the lamp, she turned it on. "Are you alright?" She looked at him.
"I'm fine. The last few months are just catching up with me. I think Pierre has grown into a good man."
"Philippe will too. Just give him some time. He will surprise us both." Leaning over him, she pressed a kiss to his forehead. "Let's sleep on this good news and celebrate with Pierre tomorrow."
"Hmm." He nodded, closing his eyes. "Did Pierre find you?"
She stopped in her twist to reach the lamp. "No. Was he looking for me?" Her eyes focused on the window as she thought of Pierre walking down to the lake and finding herself and Joseph in such a position. Though nothing had actually happened, she knew if Pierre knew about them, things could only go two ways.
Joseph checked in with Steven and found Kevin and Samuel also in the room. Apparently the Queen had disappeared and they had been trying to page him all evening. When he checked his belt for his pager, he realised it was actually in his desk drawer.
He told them he found the Queen by the stables and had played chaperone until she retired. Which was the truth, just without the details on how he was looking for her in the first place or that he had planned to whisk her away for a few hours.
With his pager in hand, he left the office to retire himself to bed for the evening. Stopping in front of his door, he searched for his keys. He looked up at the sound of footfalls on the tiled floor. "Your Highness?"
"Can I speak with you, Joe?" Pierre asked, casting a look behind him and then over Joseph's shoulder.
"Certainly." He unlocked and opened the door. "What can I do for you?" He shucked his jacket and hung it on the back of the door. Unclipping his holster, Joseph let it hang open while he reached into his wardrobe.
Pierre never liked guns, so his focus zoned in on the weapon for a second. Snapping his eyes to Joseph, he instantly came to the point of his visit. "I saw you by the lake this evening."
Joseph stared into the darkened depths with a sudden sinking feeling.
Knowing this wasn't a casual conversation, Pierre strode to the door and closed it. Joseph's jacket whacked lightly against the wood at the sudden momentum. "What are you doing, Joe? You can't be serious about this." He turned. "Another man's wife?"
"Are you sure it isn't the fact that she is your mother?" Joseph questioned calmly as he removed his gun and pulled out the magazine.
"Her being my mother has nothing to do with why I'm here." Pierre told him hotly. "It's who she is that is the problem. Her status. Joe, you can't-"
"Can't what?" Joseph turned his head to look at the young prince. "Be human? Can't have feelings? Can't love another? Can't what, Pierre?"
Stunned, Pierre's eyes widened.
Catching himself being disrespectful, Joseph sighed. "I'm sorry, Your Highness. That was out of line. I apologise."
Pierre swallowed. "I didn't mean to accuse you of anything, Joe. I'm here to advise you against it. If my Father found out, I very much doubt he would be forgiving."
Joseph closed the wardrobe and turned to face Pierre with a look of understanding. He'd had those very same thoughts until Clarisse spoke to him. With Pierre knowing about them, it could be beneficial or it could turn to be awkward.
"Your Father knows." He moved across the room.
"What?" Pierre stuttered. "How? Are you going to be arrested? Joe?"
"Do you mind if I sit? My feet hurt every evening after I come off shift." Joseph sat down in the only armchair in the room. "Pull up a chair and I'll tell you what is going on. But this is between the two of us."
Grabbing the ottoman from in front of the dead fire, the young prince sat down. "You have my word."
"I love your mother." He said as he looked through Pierre with a faraway look in his eyes. "I have for a long time."
Scribbling on a piece of paper to find if there was any life left in her pen, Clarisse reached into her desk to pull out a similar black fountain pen. Her thumb brushed something cool as she pulled her hand from the drawer. Glancing down, a smile quickly formed at the sight of a small peach coloured rose.
Lifting the neatly cut flower to her nose, she closed her eyes. The heavenly smell immediately transported her to the time she and Joseph had stood in the rose greenhouse. The day she approached him about his staring and his feelings. She remembered the smell of roses and the young roses she had been tending to.
Completely forgetting about her work for the moment, she stood and strolled slowly to the large glass doors. Looking out over the grounds, she caught sight of the man on her mind talking with Steven and two other men. They were on the other side of the lawn, but she could see he was wearing a light coloured shirt with dark pants. His gun was on display as was the radio attached to his belt.
Feeling the heat of the sun through the glass, she twisted the lock and pushed the door open a little to let in some of the fresh breeze. Checking the time, she knew she must get back to work if she planned on finishing a majority of the reading, signing and writing before lunch.
After one last inhale, she placed the rose in a small glass on her desk. She sat down and rummaged for the pen she had in her hand a few minutes ago.
5 Hours Later.
Entering with a stealthy pace, he was across the room unnoticed for a good few minutes. It was almost one and time for a midday stroll around the gardens. It was mostly to break away from a vigorous workload, meeting or a boring morning, but more often than not it was to steal a few minutes alone. Though they had stolen moments together over the years without letting themselves know consciously, they did use the time to talk about palace matters and upcoming events.
With her ladies maids standing by the window and the palace housekeeper talking with the Queen about some matter, he let himself cast his eyes over the desk. Spotting the rose sitting in a glass, he could somehow tell she was having a rather quiet day.
He cleared his throat quietly but not imposingly. He watched her head turned towards him as she continued to talk to Mrs Kout, the housekeeper.
"Thank you, Mrs Kout. We can discuss this more later." Clarisse nodded to her ladies maids and waited for them to follow the housekeeper from the room.
"It is midday, Your Majesty." Joseph told her needlessly.
She removed her reading glasses as she looked up at him. He was still without his jacket, but she could now clearly see he wore a black tie and a grey shirt, which was tucked into black pants held by a black leather belt.
"How warm is it outside?" She asked as she sat back and pulled either side of her suit jacket over her chest.
"Warm enough to walk outside without a coat, ma'am." He waited as she stood and checked her hair in the wall mirror behind the desk. His eyes watched closely as she used a fingertip to rub away some lipstick from the corner of her mouth.
Catching his eyes in the mirror, she raised her eyebrows at him and smiled when he looked away. "I think Pierre is riding with Anna. Maybe we could walk by the stables and catch him on his return."
"Is there something you wish to speak to him about?" He asked.
Walking through the double doors and onto the patio, she waited for Joseph to walk beside her. "I haven't spoken to him this morning. He had already left when it was time for breakfast. I should like to see if he is alright. He was looking for me last night, apparently."
Joseph nodded. "I know. He came to see me."
"Oh?" She looked across the lawn. "Anything I should worry about?"
"Not really. Lets just say, he was rather concerned about my behaviour towards you."
Clarisse smiled. "I gather he was quite upset."
"I'm afraid I snapped at him." He confessed.
Taking a deep breath, she stopped and turned to him. "You apologised, I'm sure." Knowing he would have, because he wasn't the kind of man to be deliberately disrespectful. "I'm not surprised he confronted you. He is his Father's son, after all."
"He was quite concerned, adamant even, that I stop what I'm doing." He looked down for a moment and then up to see her frown. "I'm not going to stop." He told her solemnly. "I couldn't if I tried."
Glancing at his eyes from her slightly turned stance, she nodded and started walking again.
"We talked for a while. After I had told him of the King's knowledge about us and his consent. He was confused." Joseph explained quietly.
"His image of his Mother-" She started to say depreciatingly, but Joseph gently placed his hand on her arm to stop her. She turned to face him with a look of surprise.
"I'm sorry." He said quickly, dropped his hand and looked over at the gardeners tending to a privet bush and a line of small shrubs. His eyes returned to hers. "If you wish for this to end-"
The silence between them hit with a jolt. They turned as one and continued walking until they came upon the private garden they took shelter in many times during their midday strolls. Clarisse stared into the fountain as Joseph stood at the entrance. He didn't want to be surprised by any visitors while they talked.
"We both knew this wasn't going to be easy." She turned.
He nodded. "We did."
"We knew some would eventually notice."
"How do you feel about that?" He asked.
Clarisse looked at the ground. "I'm not sure."
"Would you prefer to keep things like they were before?"
Uncertain of her answer, she walked towards him. Once she was close enough to talk in quieter tones, she placed her hand on his forearm. "What do you want, Joseph?"
He stared into her eyes thinking about what he wanted from this relationship. He knew it was a potential failure in the beginning, but had tried to hold onto the forbidden love between them. Even now he wasn't sure the depth of her own feelings, and yet he hoped there was something there.
"Whatever I want is impossible." His voice was thick with emotion. "What I can give is plausible." He covered her hand. "But right now, I can't have anything."
"Do you think we should stop this pursuit?" She questioned quietly.
Turning towards her, he lowered his voice. "I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you." He closed his eyes with a sigh. "Right now I am in no position to court you." His face contorted as if pained by the words he spoke. "I don't even have the honour or the permission to dance with you. If I can't have such a simple thing, then we should both know it is quite impossible to hide a relationship."
"Joseph." She whispered.
He shook his head at her. "I'm sorry, Clarisse. I was thinking with my heart instead of my head when I allowed this to continue."
She squeezed his arm. "We both made the decision. We were listening to our hearts. I am also to blame."
"No." He smiled to lighten the sullen mood as he stood up straight. "You are Queen. And Queen's, are never to blame."
She smiled and closed her eyes. "Oh Joseph. You are so good to me."
"Just remember, Clarisse, that I will always be with you. Whenever you need me. I'll be here." He promised, sliding his hand up her arm to touch her cheek and hold it in his palm. His thumb caressed her smooth skin lovingly.
Her eyes smiled into his as she leaned into his broad chest. She kissed him slowly to savour the moment, the taste and the love she felt. With that lasting kiss etched into their memories, they pulled back and moved to safer distances.
"I shall escort you to the stables… Your Majesty." He checked their surroundings before walking along the path behind his Queen.
At least they still had walks and moments they could share. If it was deemed impossible to carry out a relationship, which it was with so many eyes around them, then they had to hold onto the only things they could have, each other being there.
End of Part I
Summary for Part II: Rupert is worried about Clarisse and Philippe get into trouble.