Joseph stopped and opened his eyes to glare at her. "I don't care," he said and continued his progress toward his goal.
Clarisse buried her face in his chest, avoiding the kiss. "It's true," she said in a muffled voice. She felt his heavy sigh.
"Ok," he said. "Finish the damn story."
She laughed nervously and began to speak.
Two days after their conversation about the King's health, Clarisse and Rupert attended the swearing in ceremony of new palace guards. This included a promotion ceremony for several of the existing guard members.
Hans, who had been the Queen's most recent bodyguard, was leaving work at the palace to become head of household security for one of the members of parliament. Clarisse was not sad to see him go. He had been an effective bodyguard but he had the conversational skills of a piece of furniture. His wooden presence had been a source of strain for the Queen. She disliked ignoring those around her but Hans seemed to prefer it that way. She was tired of dealing with him.
She hadn't complained, but the head of security had heard all about it from Hans himself. He was evidently as unhappy with the situation as she was. When the Queen was informed of the change in her bodyguard she asked who would be replacing Hans. She was given a name – Joseph.
She knew who he was. He'd been on the security force at the palace almost a year. He had even occasionally been her driver. He was often a subject of gossip among the maids. She didn't know anything about him, other than he was quiet and respectful. The one thing she remembered most about him was his eyes. Whenever his job brought him into contact with her, she always noticed his eyes. His gaze was markedly intelligent and alert. He was quick to anticipate her needs when he worked with her. She couldn't remember him ever speaking to her, but there were several times she observed his amused eyes as he watched the scenes unfolding around him. The humor she saw reflected there matched her own inner thoughts at times and she was frankly somewhat fascinated by his silent demeanor. His silence, which communicated volumes, was so very different from the wooden silence of Hans.
Clarisse was excited, for the first time in her memory, by the prospect of a new bodyguard.
As night fell, she retired to her rooms and changed into a soft, flowing gown and wrapped a matching robe loosely around her shoulders. It was a gorgeous evening and she couldn't help stepping out onto her balcony to survey the night sky before curling up in bed with a good book.
When she looked out over the grounds, her eyes stopped on a patch of lawn, illuminated by the soft landscape lights. She could see a man clothed in black. He seemed to be dancing. After watching a few moments she realized he was going through a series of complicated Karate forms. She also realized who it was – Joseph. He had moved into the palace earlier that day.
She leaned out over the balcony railing. She was enchanted by the lithe movements of his body, almost like those of a ballet dancer. Her gaze was locked on his body as it shifted through the pools of dim light. His movements were fluid and smooth. Her heart beat loudly and her breath was shallow and quickened as she watched. It was a thrilling tableau. He was obviously an expert and her appreciation for the scene was limited to an artistic appreciation for the beauty of expression and movement capable in the human form.
Or so she told herself.
Clarisse found herself wondering how often he practiced like this. She leaned a little further over the balcony. Her bodyguard continued leap and twirl, making her oblivious to the warmth of her bed or the beckoning of her novel. There was a full moon and the moonlight seemed to infuse his body with light as he moved quietly below her.
The breeze picked up and stirred the hem of her gown, billowing it slightly around her bare feet. The moonlight reflected from her hair, giving it a halo-like sheen.
"What a lovely sight," a voice behind her said.
Startled, she whirled to see her husband standing at the open French doors.
"Oh! Rupert! I didn't expect – are you -- did you want me for something?" she asked falteringly.
He didn't seem to notice her flustered state. He appeared to be staring at her, but not really connecting with her gaze.
"You look beautiful, Clarisse," he said softly.
"Th-thank you, Rupert." She stepped away from the balustrade. He stepped out on the balcony to meet her. "Was there something you needed?"
He smiled wistfully and said, "I came to see if you had the report from the Agriculture Committee that we were going over this afternoon," he said.
"No, I gave it to Charlotte when we finished. It will be in her office somewhere. Do you really need it tonight?"
"No. That's ok." He looked at her for a moment, then reached up to affectionately push a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "I love your hair Clarisse. It is the most beautiful color. Especially in the moonlight." His voice was soft and sincere.
"Oh, well, thank you again, my dear." She was still agitated. Not by his presence, but something else. Her heart had been beating faster for several moments before she'd first turned and seen him in her room. She felt somewhat light-headed.
Rupert gazed down at his wife's face. Her eyes were sparkling, her skin slightly flushed. She was gorgeous. He couldn't help himself. Slowly he reached out and took her face in his hands and tenderly kissed her. She didn't pull away.
Clarisse stopped her narrative, suddenly embarrassed by what she was telling Joseph. She was normally never so forthcoming about her feelings or her personal life. They had crossed a line this night and both of them knew it. Suddenly she felt herself growing nervous and anxious. His proximity was beginning to tear at her nerve endings and she stood to move away from him once more, crossing the room to stand in front of the unlit fireplace. The imposing portrait of the royal couple loomed over her as she closed her eyes and silently remembered how the rest of that evening played out.
Clarisse was surprised at the look in Rupert's eyes as he bent his head to wards hers. He hadn't looked at her like that in years – so tender, yet heated. She closed her eyes as his lips met hers. Just as they touched, the face of her new bodyguard appeared before her mind's eye; his bemused expression, his sensuous mouth. Would it feel like this to kiss him? Her mind was curiously torn between the sensations of kissing her husband and the vision of the face of her bodyguard. His expressive brown eyes danced before her. She could see the warm grays peppering his beard and all but hiding the laugh lines around his mouth. His mouth, so expressive, so –
She couldn't believe she was having those thoughts. She resolutely forced them from her mind. Rupert deepened the kiss, and slowly took possession of her mouth, his tongue dancing with hers. Suddenly all her thoughts centered on him and what he was doing to her body. His hands took hold of the collar of her robe and slipped if off her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. He moved his arms to her waist and pulled her against his body. She struggled to keep her balance as he bent her over backward so he could attack her neck. They stepped back together, as if planned, and he pressed her against the railing. She groaned and spread her arms to grasp the rail on either side of her body. He trailed his fingers down the length of her bare arms, to rest them on top of her hands, while continuing to kiss her neck and jaw line.
He moved a hand to her thigh and began to work the fabric of her gown up her leg. She put a hand on his to stop his progress, then gripped his shoulders and pushed him back. "Rupert, we should go inside – what if someone sees…"
"I don't care," he murmured and began to slide her gown off her shoulders baring more of her creamy skin to his attentions. She moaned again and felt the strength leave her legs. She leaned in to him.
Holding her against him with one arm, his eyes searched the balcony. A chaise sat to one side. He pulled the cushion from it and dropped it on the balcony floor. He grinned at Clarisse and swept an arm under her legs, lifting her off her feet, only to lay her gently on the cushion.
He knelt at her side while he removed his jacket and tie. Then he unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it free of his trousers. He wadded it up and threw it over the edge of the balcony.
"Have you lost your mind, Rupert?"
"Quite possibly," he said, staring down at her. "I know I've committed my transgressions and treated you shamefully, Clarisse. But you've always had an uncanny ability to make my blood boil."
She laughed - a throaty, husky sound - and opened her arms to him. His smiled and lowered his body over hers. Clarisse lost herself in the moment, forgetting the anger she had carried towards her husband for so long. Rupert continued his attentions to her body as he had rarely, if ever, done before. His hands worked like magic and she found herself unable to remain quiet under his ministrations, no matter how hard she bit her tongue. He laughed softly, expressing his delight in her evident pleasure.
The breeze tickled her skin in delicious places. She let her hands roam freely over his body, leaving a web of small scratch marks across his exposed skin. He groaned his delight at this but she sensed that his body wasn't responding as well as his mind.
Clarisse decided to take matters into her own hands.
Rupert groaned again as her touch sent shockwaves of electricity through his body. Eventually her attentions proved effective and his physical response was sufficient. Rupert whispered her name as he wrapped his arms around his wife and rolled her underneath his body. Their lovemaking was slow and sensuous, mimicking the many times they had waltzed together across a ballroom floor. He seemed to worship her body as he made love to her. Somewhere deep in her mind she realized that this was his apology.
Later they lay exposed on the balcony floor. The breeze had cooled and she shivered at its touch. Rupert reached for her discarded robe and covered her exposed skin with it.
"I'm sorry, Clarisse," he whispered. "I know my performance has been, rather, well, lacking."
"Tonight? Or in general?" she teased lightly, stroking his chest.
He smiled and again his eyes took on a wistful longing. "Both, I suppose." He was quiet for several moments. He trailed his hand down the side of her face. "I know I've made a mess of things, my dear. I won't make excuses. But I can make you a promise."
Clarisse sighed and closed her eyes. "I don't really want a promise, Rupert. We've done that, remember?"
"What do you want, then?"
"I don't know. I'm just tired of being angry with you."
He looked down at her tenderly and then gave a mock salute. "What if I try to do my best to refrain from angering you in the future?"
"That is extremely weak, Your Majesty," she laughed.
"I am apparently beset with weakness, these days," he said ruefully. He offered her his hand. "Do we have a deal, partner?"
"Deal," she agreed and shook his hand before collapsing in laughter on his chest.
Clarisse turned, finally, to face her companion. "So, we made love and we made peace that night," she said.
"And I made a trip to the laundry room," he murmured. He raised himself from the couch and joined her in front of the fireplace.
"The laundry room. Someone threw a shirt off a balcony and it landed on my head. It was a very nice shirt, but not really my color. So, I tried to find where it had come from. I, ahem, noticed two people having a very good time on your balcony, so I decided the best thing to do was just to turn it in to the laundry staff."
She looked a him uncomprehendingly at first, then burst into laughter. She buried her face in her hands and moaned, "I knew someone would catch us! There is no privacy in this place!"
He wrapped her in his arms and she could feel his chest shake as he shared her laughter. After a few moments, he spoke again. "You said that was the last time you made love?" he asked quietly.
She didn't look up, but nodded against his chest. "It takes two to tango and he couldn't hear the music anymore," she said.
Joseph chuckled at her remark. "That was the first night I moved into the palace, which was…" his voice trailed off as he counted the years.
"Which was a long damn time ago," she said, her voice firmer. She pulled back to look at him. "Now do you understand, Joseph? Do you understand why I've been so reluctant to get involved with you or with anyone? Love has brought me nothing but pain."
"Nothing?" he asked as he nuzzled her neck.
She shrugged. "It feels like nothing sometimes."
Taking her firmly by the arm, he led her back to the couch. He sat and pulled her down next to him, holding her tightly around the waist. He nudged her with his arm until she looked directly at him.
"Love brought you two wonderful sons."
"Yes, it did," she agreed. "But even that caused me pain, Joseph. I lost both of them, in a way. Pierre is only just beginning to make his way back into my life. He's been hurt, too."
"And you love him."
"I love him. So much so that it hurts."
He grinned at her stubbornness. "And what about the granddaughter who adores you?"
Clarisse tried not to smile at the mention of Mia. "Perhaps you noticed the upheaval I've caused in her life? I worry that once she comes of age and realizes what I have gotten her into, she'll never speak to me again."
Joseph rolled his eyes at her. "And you had a husband who was terribly in love with you and just didn't know how to show it."
"What do you mean? We became very close in those last years, certainly. We were great friends and I loved that and I miss that. But he was never in love with me."
"Wasn't he? Think about all the women he chose to be with Clarisse. Who did they all look like?"
She thought for a moment then the corners of her mouth turned up ever so slightly. "He had a thing for blondes."
"He had a thing for you." This time his voice was serious.
She looked at him for a long moment. He met her thoughtful gaze unflinchingly. "If, and I emphasize if, that is true; he certainly had a bizarre way of showing it," she said.
Joseph chuckled softly. "I'm not foolish enough to tell you that love is ever present without pain, Clarisse. But that doesn't mean you should give up. Life goes on. You should too."
He leaned forward and deliberately, purposefully kissed her on the cheek. "You should too," he repeated and kissed the other cheek.
She closed her eyes. "Two lost children, one feckless husband, and now you. Is that what love has in store for me, Joseph?" He continued to kiss her face, lips brushing her eyelids, her chin. "How will love make me describe you, Joseph, if I give in to you?" she whispered.
"You'll just call me Joseph." And with that he attacked her lips.
"Joseph" she murmured. She turned to meet his embrace, and together they stretched out along the length of the couch. "But that's what I've always called you," she said, propping herself up on his chest with her forearms.
"Exactly, Clarisse." He smiled up at her and tapped her nose affectionately with the end of his finger. "Nothing will change between us. You aren't losing a friend by gaining a lover. I can't imagine loving you more than I do right now. My greatest desire is to show you the depth of that love. You'll never have cause to regret this, my dear," he said solemnly. "Now, will you please shut up?"
She grinned and ever so slowly lowered her mouth to his. He groaned as she grasped his shirt and tore at the buttons. His hands traveled down the sides of her body, causing her exquisite shivering. He reached the hem of her nightshirt and reversed direction, this time moving beneath the fabric. She moaned his name again and molded her body more perfectly with his.
Joseph reached out with his foot and pushed the coffee table out of the way. He grasped Clarisse's slim form securely and gently rolled them off the couch onto the floor. The last few buttons holding his shirt closed were soon undone and she pushed the fabric back, exposing his chest to the lamplight. She studied his body silently, her expression betraying her indecision and a touch of anxiety. He waited patiently for a few moments before speaking, "Is it that bad?"
The sound of his voice seemed to startle her. "Ooh, it's not bad at all," she whispered. She ran her hand over the skin of his chest. "You are a gorgeous man," she said in a throaty voice. She looked into his eyes then and he could see that the last traces of doubt erase themselves from her face. She leaned into him and began to kiss his neck, her mouth hot against his skin. As she traced his pulse with her tongue, her fingernails traced a pathway down his body, resting lightly on his abdomen. Then she moved her hand again, this time tantalizingly tweaking the skin at his waist. His body to jerked involuntarily at her touch and he wasn't sure how much more of this he could take without pinning her down and ravishing her unmercifully.
He ran his hand through her hair, grasping just hard enough to pull her back from his neck. "Do you realize what you do to me, woman?" he growled. She swallowed apprehensively at what she saw in his eyes.
When she didn't answer, he grabbed her almost roughly and rolled over so that she was pinned beneath him. He held her wrists tightly, just above her head. She shifted slightly. The feel of her moving under his body almost sent him over the edge.
He gritted his teeth and rasped, "This is not a game, Clarisse. If we do this, this is forever."
"I'll take nothing less than forever, Joseph. I tired of games years ago."
He kissed her, long and hard. She gasped aloud when he finally released her to draw breath. Desire flashed in her eyes and she returned his kiss with a fury of her own. The passion between them grew even stronger. Clarisse touched the cool metal of his belt buckle. She was momentarily distracted from his kiss as she worked to undo the buckle. She managed, at last, to help him divest himself of the last of his clothing.
He yanked her nightshirt open and drew his mouth along her shoulder and down the front of her chest. She whimpered softly as he tasted her body. His physique practically pulsed with delight.
Her body registered the touch of his hands on the tops of her thighs. She kissed the taunt muscles of his chest as his hands moved higher. His fingertips tenderly brushed her skin, driving daggers of desire deep into the core of her being. His lips followed his hands and soon her body was on fire like never before.
Joseph knew exactly what he was doing to her. He planned to torture her just as long as she had tortured him this evening. His body screamed for release but he wouldn't give in; he was determined to make her want him just as badly as he wanted her. His lips pressed one final, featherlight kiss to her flushed skin and she moaned aloud, her nails digging in to the skin of his back. He smiled with relief, knowing he'd achieved his goal. At long last he joined his body with hers.
Clarisse clung tightly to her bodyguard, her friend, and now her lover. "I'll always call you Joseph,' she whispered, voicing her last coherent thought.
(Well, not really, I suppose. It's never really the end, but now it's your turn to use your imagination. Have a good time.)