"Good afternoon, Your Majesty."

"Joseph," Clarisse barely acknowledged her swarthy bodyguard as she stepped past him into the limo. Joseph quickly shut the door and half jogged around to the driver's side. Evidently she was ready to get out of here.

He started the big black car and pulled into traffic before looking into the backseat through the rearview mirror. Clarisse was flipping through the pages of a report she'd picked up off the seat. She'd studied it all during the ride to the parliament building.

"Long day?" he asked.

"Absolutely, Joseph." She barely looked up from the paperwork. Joseph drove on in silence. After a few blocks, she sighed and tossed the paperwork to the side. "Bah. Enough work! Today is Friday, isn't it?"


"And it is nearly 5:00 o'clock as well. The end of the work week." She laughed a trifle sarcastically. "So, if there is no more work, what shall we do?"

"I take it your normal routine is not sufficient for tonight?"

"Absolutely. The fact that I even have a routine for Friday evening makes me feel old Joseph. I really don't fancy another quiet dinner followed by paperwork until bed time."

He laughed quietly. "Well, it's not as if you could stop at the pub for happy hour on your way home."

"I don't know why not." There was a hint of challenge in her voice.

"I do. Because you body guard would consider that to be a nightmare scenario for security and he would complain to your Head of Security. And that guy is a real son of a bitch and he would pitch a huge fit about it and there would just be an ugly scene which quite possibly would end with someone getting tossed on a shoulder and carried out of the pub and locked in the limo. That's why not."

"Fine, then. Give me another option, Shaft." She turned her head to look out the window, but he still caught sight of the smirk playing at the corners of her mouth.

"Excuse me? Shaft?"

She grinned at him in the rearview. "I noticed Lilly call you that several times. I had trouble sleeping last night, so I turned on the television. I watched the whole movie."

He rolled his eyes at her in the mirror.

She laughed. "Well, I did see a resemblance in your fashion taste. I must say I'm a little relieved that you don't have a lot in common when it comes to dialogue."

He smiled broadly at that. She could see the crinkles around his eyes, the ones that peeked out from behind his sunglasses when he smiled. She loved to see those wrinkles.

"What do you do on Friday nights, Joseph? I know you're often gone from the palace." She raised her eye-brows at him and said archly, "I've checked."

His laugh wrinkles deepened as he chuckled quietly. "I don't know that I want to tell you."

"Hmm. I imagine you have some lusty Spanish mistress somewhere. Does she cook, Joseph?"

He tried to look hurt. "I occasionally spend my Friday nights at a pub. An old friend owns it and plays in a small band that performs there on Fridays. Sometimes the drummer doesn't show up and I fill in for her."

"Shut up!"