The satin had been a bad idea. The new maid had dressed the bed in creamy satin sheets. They looked lovely, but on this unseasonably warm evening they were terribly uncomfortable. It was highly unusual for October nights in Genovia to be so sultry, but this one was positively sticky.
Clarisse was tired of tossing and turning. The bedclothes wrapped themselves tightly around her waist and legs. Finally, frustrated and irritable, she freed her body from the satin shackles and crossed the room to the balcony doors. When she opened them a deliciously cool breeze greeted her. The light wind swirled her gown around her feet. She stepped through the door and onto the balcony, eager to let the breeze engulf her and work its magic. Sleep still felt very far away.
The moon was full. The light spilled out across the palace lawns. White roses seemed to glow in their beds below. Their silky white petals reflected the radiance of the harvest moon. When she closed her eyes, she could almost smell their perfume.
After several minutes her breathing slowed and her body relaxed. Sleep would come now, no doubt. Taking a final deep breath, she went back inside her room, leaving the doors open so the breeze could continue its work.
This time the bed felt cool and inviting. She slid between the sheets and relished the feel of the satin as she ran her hands across its cooled expanse. A relaxed smiled curved her lips as she closed her eyes and started to drift away.
Just as she was about to surrender to Morpheus, something in the atmosphere changed. Nothing specific, just a feeling in the room, a presence. The air cooled even more, yet the wind had stopped. She twisted slightly, fingers clutching the fabric of the sheets. Consciousness returned slowly and she opened her eyes.
The moon lit up the room. Everything was the same as when she had closed her eyes. She could see nothing out of the ordinary, but she definitely felt the presence of someone – something? – there with her. The light faded as a shadow passed in front of the moon. She turned he head towards the French doors. A dark figure filled the doorway. She gasped aloud. "Who's there?" she demanded.
There was no answer. Clarisse struggled to sit up, but her limbs would not respond. Her heart beat faster; she could feel eyes caressing her body. The figure in the doorway shifted slightly, allowing the emerging moonlight to sculpt his profile. She breathed a sigh of relief. "Joseph? What in the world are you doing out there?"
"May I come in?"
She knew that was what he said, but she wasn't at all sure he'd spoken the question aloud. "Of course you may come in, but what in the world are you doing here?" She would have been annoyed, but her attention was distracted by her still uncooperative appendages. The sheets seemed to have wrapped themselves tightly around her again, molding to her body like a second skin. She felt trapped – but by the twisted bedclothes or the man in her bedroom, she wasn't sure.
When she looked up again, Joseph was standing at the foot of her bed. He was dressed in evening wear, a picture of old world formality, even down to the velvet cape draped over his broad shoulders. His eyes seemed to blaze out at her, burning with a light of their own. Forgetting her inability to move, she found herself unable to take his eyes off of him. He stood immobile, one hand wrapped around a bedpost, the other hidden under his cape. Finally his lips – blood red, Clarisse noted; were they always that color? – parted and he smiled at her.
Joseph reached out and took the edge of her sheet in his hand, slowly running the fabric between his fingers; releasing her from its confines as it slid from his hand. As simply and as easily as that, she was free to move, although she was still captivated by his gaze. Clarisse pushed herself up a bit and leaned back against the headboard. "What are you doing here, Joseph?" she asked quietly.
"You invited me in," he stated simply. This time she was sure he spoke out loud. Her eyes registered the movement of his lips.
"What were you doing on my balcony? And how in heaven's name did you get there?"
He laughed; a sound almost as velvety as his clothing. "Heaven didn't have anything to do with it, Clarisse." As he spoke he slowly circled around the corner of the bed, coming to stand beside her.
Clarisse cleared her throat nervously. She wasn't sure what to say.
Joseph placed his hands on the mattress and leaned over, his face hovering over hers. When he spoke his voice was quiet and caressing. "I think the more important question is what are we going to do, now that I'm here?"
Clarisse swallowed audibly. She wasn't really sure what was going on or what she should do. She long suspected he had feelings for her, strong feelings. She knew he saw her as more than a friend. There had been many moments between them in the years since her husband's death – slow, sweet kisses and long, lingering looks – but they'd never really been free to speak about how they felt. And there had certainly been no impropriety. Their kisses were innocent. They'd never even considered taking things further. It just wasn't possible. Joseph accepted that fact as much as she did. She was sure of that.
But if that was the case, what was he doing here? In her bedroom, practically sitting on her bed, in the middle of the night? And why couldn't she bring herself to summarily dismiss him? This was wrong, all wrong. And yet…
She looked up into his face and could see him smiling down at her. Only it was more than a smile, it was a smirk. He could see right through her – he knew what she was thinking. It was as if he was reading her mind. 'Oh God,' she murmured, her face coloring at the thought that he knew what his proximity was doing to her. He laughed quietly in response.
She had to stop this. She put a hand on his chest, intent on pushing him away. "Joseph, you mustn't…" her voice trailed away as her mind locked onto the beating of his heart beneath her hand.
"Mustn't I?" he said teasingly. He covered her hand with one of his, guiding her into a tactile exploration of his chest, weaving their joined fingers beneath his shirt. She was mesmerized by the feel of his well defined body. Her own body began to tingle in response.
This time her eyes didn't meet his as she said, "We can't do this. We have to…to…stay apart."
"No one will know, Clarisse. And just imagine how much stronger we will be together, rather than apart." He sat down beside her on the bed and reached out, brushing his fingertips down her neck, stopping just above the swell of her breast. She shuddered at his touch. He smiled knowingly and lifted her chin, waiting for her eyes to again meet his.
She felt…clouded. Nothing was clear. She realized if she looked into his eyes, all would be lost. She would be his willing servant. And somehow, suddenly, she wanted that more than anything else in the world. She could hear his voice in her head, cajoling, beguiling, tantalizing and tempting her. Her perception narrowed until there was only him. Their eyes met again, and she was lost.
She reached up and pulled him to her. He laughed wickedly and his tongue flicked across her lips. It was all she could do to keep from crying out with desire. She gripped the collar of his shirt, pulling the tie away from his neck and struggling to open the buttons.
Joseph sat astride her body, keeping his weight on his heels. He divested himself of his cape and evening jacket as Clarisse tore at his shirt. He threw back his head and leaned into her hands, moaning at her touch. She reveled in the muscled flesh quivering beneath her fingers. Eventually, he leaned forward, putting his weight on his elbows and lengthening his body out over hers. To her great delight, she could feel the physical proof of his arousal as he lowered his weight onto her.
His hands claimed her breasts, massaging and stroking. He manipulated her body skillfully, pushing her to greater and greater heights of ecstasy. Her hands moved to his back, kneading the flesh and raking the skin. Clarisse kissed him with a wildness and abandon that was completely unlike her. She couldn't get enough of him – his touch, his taste.
He seemed oblivious to her ministrations. Instead he shifted his attention; fixated on her neck. Clarisse caught sight of her reflection in his eyes, just as she slipped her hands below his waist and pulled his belt free of his trousers. His eyes frightened her momentarily with their animal intensity.
Slowly his fingers traveled across the creamy skin of her neck. He enticed her with the lightest of touches. "Clarisse," he whispered, drawing out the final syllable of her name. Where had she heard her name spoken like that before?
"Let me kiss you," he pleaded, eyeing her neckline hungrily.
Now she laughed, "You've been kissing me and if you don't hurry and do it again, I may hurt you!"
"You don't understand, my love." His voice dropped perceptibly. "If I kiss you, you are mine, now and forever, for all time. Your beauty will be immortal. Our love will be undying and ever-lasting. Let me make our love eternal, Clarisse."
She searched his face. The seriousness she saw there suddenly cut through the heat of her desire. What was he trying to say? She loved him. She would never stop loving him. Even before the first time she'd ever kissed him, she knew that.
He could read her confusion. He licked his lips. Her grip on him tightened. Then he smiled. Widely.
She gasped and she understood.
He cocked an eyebrow at her questioningly while running his tongue over one of his elongated canine teeth. Without thinking she arched her back and pushed her head further into the pillow, baring her throat to him – surrendering her body to him.
He growled deep in his throat and leaned in, his warm lips worshiping her skin before his teeth sank deeply into her vein, completing his possession of her body. This coupling was like nothing she'd ever experienced. She'd never felt anything even remotely as erotic as this before in her life. He moved within her, driving her futher and further on, keeping his lips firmly locked with her neck. Her body thrummed with joy, her blood rushing through her veins faster and faster as he sucked harder and harder. She willingly surrendered her life's essence to him, yet he was giving her so much more in return. He thrust harder into her body and removed his lips from her neck. Just as her body began to pulse in climax, she looked at her lover – and saw her blood dripping from his mouth.
And woke up.
Clarisse slept fitfully the rest of the night. This wasn't the first time she'd dreamed of her security chief. Far from it. But this dream was especially vivid and certainly different from her usual nocturnal visions.
When she rose the next morning, her bedclothes were a mess. She'd pulled the blankets free and swaddled herself in them in an attempt to stay warm. Opening the French doors had evidently been real – and they'd stayed open all night. The weather had changed and there was a distinct chill in the air of her bedroom.
Clarisse groaned and rubbed her eyes. The images from her dream played again against her eyelids. She quickly opened her eyes again and purposefully strode into the bathroom, intent on washing away the somewhat embarrassing images from her fantasy. Maybe she should lay off the shellfish at dinner for a while, she mused.
Following her shower, Clarisse toweled her body vigorously, bringing a healthy glow to her skin. When she caught herself unconsciously checking her neck in the mirror, looking for marks, she sighed disgustedly. She slipped into a robe and stepped out to greet her ladies maids, closing the bathroom door firmly behind her. She concentrated on dressing, distracting herself with the details. When she finished and sat down to breakfast, Charlotte entered the suite.
Clarisse smiled at her assistant and inquired as to the specifics of the day's calendar. There were the usual correspondence requirements would be followed by a series of morning meetings, then lunch at an orphanage and an afternoon trip to the children's hospital to pass out candy to the patients.
'Of course! How could I have forgotten!' Clarisse chided herself, mentally slapping her forehead. It was Halloween! She always tried to visit with children on Halloween, enjoying their delight in the ancient holiday. She'd met with Joseph late yesterday to discuss security plans for the visits. That must have been what was playing on her mind when she'd had that dream. She shook her head ruefully and smiled into her teacup.
When she lifted her eyes, Charlotte was looking at her questioningly. She laughed depreciatively and said "I'm sorry - just woolgathering. Shall we adjourn to the office?"
The rest of the morning passed uneventfully.
Joseph and Scott arrived at her office a quarter of an hour before they were scheduled to leave for the orphanage. Both were dressed in their customary dark colors, but Scott wore a white dress shirt while his boss favored the monochromatic approach to his wardrobe, and sported a black shirt.
Clarisse couldn't help but smile as the two men positioned themselves formally on either side of her doorway, standing ramrod straight. Both of them were wearing sunglasses. Joseph noticed her amused expression. "What?" he asked at last, breaking his formal stance.
"I'm accustomed to seeing Scott wear sunglasses indoors, day and night, but what is your excuse, Joseph?" she asked lightly.
He chuckled. "Just making sure I didn't forget them when we left. The sun can be extremely irritating and I hate to be without them."
She opened her mouth to say something else, but promptly shut it again as the images from her dream the night before floated in front of her eyes. 'He doesn't like the sun' she mused before mentally shaking herself and regaining her composure. She smiled somewhat distractedly across the room at her guard then lowered her head to the report she'd been reading.
A short while later the Queen and her assistant Charlotte were safely ensconced in the back of the limousine, headed for a luncheon at the orphanage in Pyrus. Joseph sat in the front with Shades. The partition between the front and back of the car was down.
Joseph turned slightly in his seat and asked Charlotte, "What are they serving for lunch at the orphanage?"
"I have no idea," she responded. "But if you eat all your vegetables, and you manage to behave, I'm sure Her Majesty wouldn't mind a quick stop for ice cream on the way home," she finished with a grin.
Clarisse smiled, Joseph and Shades laughed out loud. "As long as it's not something smothered in garlic, like it was last year," Joseph said.
"You don't like garlic?" Clarisse asked.
"Not really. Especially not in large quantities. I prefer the natural taste of the food and too much garlic covers up the flavor."
"Oh," she was all she managed to say. 'The sun bothers him and he doesn't like garlic…' she thought. Clarisse ignored the continuing light-hearted banter of her staff and instead contemplated the landscape rushing past a side window. 'This is crazy. Absolutely insane. It was just a dream. Just a dream.' But even as she reminded herself the experience wasn't real, very real sensations pervaded her body. She felt someone looking at her and she shifted her gaze, locking eyes with Joseph.
'Oh God! He's looking at me the same way he did in my dream!' Joseph smiled at her and she felt the flush rise on her cheeks. She ripped her gaze from his and moved closer to the window, further away from his line of sight.
Charlotte noticed the Queen run a hand across her forehead before leaning back against the seat cushion. "Are you feeling all right, Your Majesty? You look a little pale."
"I'm fine, dear. The weather is certainly warm, isn't it? It was terribly warm last night, too." She gave Charlotte what she hoped was a brilliant smile. Charlotte seemed satisfied. Clarisse didn't look at him, but she could still feel Joseph's gaze. She hadn't fooled him one bit.
It was just a few short minutes later when they pulled into the large circle drive at the front of the orphanage. When she took Joseph's hand as she stepped out of the vehicle, Clarisse could feel his questioning gaze even behind the sunglasses. "I'm fine, Joseph. Really," she whispered.
"Of course, Your Majesty," he whispered in return. She could swear she heard a trace of laughter in his tone.
The visit went well and the children were delighted by the attention from their monarch, not to mention the bags of candy she distributed to each one personally. The frivolity was followed by a standard institutional chicken dinner. Conversation was light and relaxed. Clarisse enjoyed the enthusiastic stories the orphanage directors and employees had to tell about the exploits of various children.
Joseph was seated to Clarisse's left and smiled indulgently at the young brunette across from him who was determined to engage him in conversation. Clarisse had seen this happen innumerable times before. Her handsome Head of Security could seem dark and mysterious in his all black clothing and the accompanying leather jacket. His eyes, most often hidden behind dark glasses, were watchful and inscrutable when he was working, even in a social setting such as this. His somewhat enigmatic personality, coupled with a heavy dose of sex appeal made him an almost irresistible challenge to many women.
Truthfully, she found him irresistible as well. But she gave in to him only in her dreams. Last night's dream touched at the edges of her memory. Her subconscious had succumbed to him many, many times, but last night was more vivid, more real. The memory was still so vibrant, so fresh – it was affecting her even now, so much so that she heard innuendo in everything he said.
For the most part, Joseph appeared to be oblivious to the effect he had on these women, but Clarisse knew better. She knew that he was usually rather embarrassed by the attention and sometimes actually angered by it when he felt someone was getting in the way of him doing his job. His constant presence at her side made him a sort of celebrity by association. Clarisse found the whole situation highly entertaining. Today's luncheon was no exception.
"Oh my, Joseph! May I call you Joseph?" the brunette asked. Without waiting for his reply she continued, "You've barely touched your food. Is there something wrong?"
"No, not at all," came his smooth reply. "I'm just not particularly hungry."
The young woman laughed coyly. "I thought perhaps it was the garlic. The cooks always drown the food in it. I like garlic, but it can get in the way when you plan on being…close to someone." Clarisse almost laughed out loud at the woman's exaggerated eyelash flutter that accompanied her statement.
"Well, I will admit, garlic is certainly not my favorite spice," Joseph admitted dryly.
"Which spice is your favorite?" Her voice all but dripped with innuendo.
"Chocolate," was his swift reply.
This was completely unexpected and the woman was temporarily silenced as she tried to absorb whether he was flirting with her or mocking her. Clarisse, who'd ostensibly been listening to the Director's explanation of child placement policies, turned to him with an amused smile. "Chocolate?" she inquired.
He raised a rakish eyebrow and explained, "I like dessert." His eyes twinkled with barely contained laughter.
"Dessert," she repeated. Suddenly the room seemed very warm – as warm as the night before.
"Dessert," he agreed.
The brunette tried to catch his gaze. "I love sweets, too."
"I always eat dessert first," Joseph said in a husky voice, turning away from Clarisse in time to see his dining companion all but melt into a puddle across the table from him at the sound of his voice. Clarisse swallowed hard and raised her napkin to her mouth. She was trying not to laugh out loud, but truthfully, she could understand how the woman felt. Oh, yes, she understood quite well.
"Chocolate is best when it's dark, smooth and sweet," Joseph continued in the same husky tone as he leaned across the table towards the young woman. "I find it particularly delectable when it's hot... and melted." Both the brunette and Clarisse were practically quivering at the sound of his voice; the brunette from barely concealed desire and Clarisse from repressed merriment. Then he sat back and looked towards the queen again, suddenly serious. He dropped his voice to a level audible only to her. "Not garlic though. I hate garlic."
She eyed him appraisingly for a long moment, her eyes narrowed in suspicion, before returning her attention to the Director.
The rest of the meal passed uneventfully. Clarisse watched Joseph out of the corner of her eye whenever there was a lull in her conversation. What sort of game was he playing with her? Or was this only a product of her imagination, like the tryst of the night before? Try as she might, she couldn't avoid the memory of him from her dream – smooth and sweet – and in the darkness of her room, she had given herself to him.
The visit to the children's hospital was emotionally challenging. Clarisse never failed to be moved by the hope she found in the young faces there, while at the same time deeply sorrowed by the suffering of the innocents. She spent longer there than she was scheduled, but she couldn't bear to leave without visiting each child at least briefly.
The mood in the limo was quiet as they left the hospital. Each person was lost in their own thoughts. After a few blocks, Clarisse spoke to her aide. "What else is on the schedule for this afternoon, Charlotte?"
"You'd blocked out some time for correspondence and you have the ambassador later this evening, but essentially your afternoon is free, Your Majesty."
Clarisse nodded, then leaned forward. "Scott, please take us to the old cathedral. I want to check on the progress of the renovations."
Before Shades could reply, Joseph spoke up. "Your Majesty, we've not planned a visit. There will be workmen and machinery about. And the neighborhood is not the safest. It would be better if we had a bit of lead time to arrange security before you make a visit."
"I understand, Joseph, but I would really like to see the progress they're making. No one knows I'm coming, so they can't have planned to do me in while I'm there." She smiled.
"True. But, --"
"And I don't really have time to make an official visit for the next few weeks. I am hoping the renovations are finished in time for the Christmas Eve mass. I'd love it to be held there."
"I haven't been in it since the new cathedral was built. I was married in that church."
Joseph sighed loudly. "I'm not going to win this argument, am I?"
Clarisse sat back triumphantly and smiled broadly. "No, you're not."
Joseph shook his head ruefully and told Shades, "Take us to the old cathedral, Shades. Her Majesty has spoken."
Shades and Charlotte both laughed.
"Thank you so much, Joseph," Clarisse purred. "I'd hate to have you beheaded over such a trifling disagreement."
Joseph rolled his eyes and joined in the laughter.
When they reached their destination, Clarisse was mesmerized by the work completed so far on the ancient building. The craftsmanship was absolutely stunning. The frescoes were being restored and the shining colors were exquisite. The aisle was just as terrifyingly long as she remembered from her wedding.
Clarisse and Charlotte wandered through the sanctuary, murmuring their delight in the renewed beauty surrounding them. They kept their voices low, but still their words echoed in the largely empty space. Clarisse noticed Scott at their side, occasionally excitedly pointing out a detail Charlotte had missed. She had almost completed her inspection when she realized Joseph was not with them.
She inquired of Scott as to his whereabouts.
"He said he was going to check the perimeter," Shades told her. "He's scoping it out, looking for the best spots to put men during the re-opening ceremony. He said he would meet us outside when we're done in here."
Clarisse nodded somewhat distractedly as she admired the huge silver crucifix hanging behind the altar. A few minutes later the small group, their exploration concluded, wandered out the doors of the church.
Joseph was leaning against the car door.
"Joseph," Clarisse said as she drew closer, "you should really come inside and see the work they've completed. It's beautiful."
"No thanks," he said nonchalantly. "I'll save it for another time. We should get back to the palace."
"It's stunning. Are you sure you don't want a chance to see it up close?"
He shook his head. Then he smiled somewhat grimly. "Did they keep that giant crucifix behind the altar?"
"Yes and now it's been restored and polished. It absolutely gleams!" Clarisse gushed.
"I've never really liked it," he said as he held the car door open for her. Clarisse stopped just as she was about to step into the vehicle. She put a hand on the top of the door and looked at him. "Why ever not?" she asked.
"I don't know. The beaten body of a huge, naked, grey man looking down on me with those haunted eyes – it was just sort of frightening when I was a child." He chuckled softly.
"You were frightened by a crucifix?" she asked incredulously.
He grinned and cocked an eyebrow. "Maybe I still am."
She had no idea what to say. Finally she turned away and stepped into the car. Wordlessly he closed the door and got into his seat. The trip home was full of chatter between Charlotte and Shades, neither of whom noticed the silence of their companions.
When they arrived back at the palace, Clarisse went straight to her office and attacked her paperwork. Charlotte checked on her at 5:00 to see if the Queen needed anything before she left. Clarisse assured her she was set for the evening and wished her assistant a good night.
It was another hour and a half before Clarisse left her office. She had time for a quick dinner before a late meeting with the German ambassador. He was coming to the palace to present her with some documents that would finalize their latest trade negotiations.
Dinner was rushed but her meeting went well. The ambassador was in a talkative mood and stayed later than intended. However, he was an interesting conversationalist and Clarisse found herself enjoying his stories. Nonetheless, she gave a small sigh of relief once he left.
Joseph was still on duty when she emerged from the conference room, headed towards her suite. She smiled at him. "Are you working all night again, Joseph?"
He grinned mischievously. "I do my best work at night, Your Majesty."
"Somehow, I don't doubt that," she said, regretting the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. She knew he wouldn't let such a blatant opportunity pass by, and with the prior evening's seduction still fresh in her mind – it was only a dream – she wasn't sure if she could carry on their usual bantering conversation without blushing.
He lengthened his stride and came along side her as they continued down the hallways towards her apartment. "Would you like a demonstration?" he asked licentiously. "I'd be only too happy to exhibit my…skills."
She stopped dead in her tracks and gave him a rather severe look, then burst out laughing. His eyes were rolled skyward and he gave her his most innocent altar boy expression; his hands clasped prayerfully in front of his chest.
They were still laughing when they reached her doorway. He took her hand and kissed it softly. "Good night, Your Majesty."
"Good night, Joseph."
The footmen opened the doors and he turned to leave her. Her voice called him back. She was standing in the doorway. "Practice those skills, Joseph. You never know when they might be needed." Her eyes gleamed with mirth.
He responded with a low, sweeping bow, before turning on his heel and walking away.
Clarisse spent the rest of her evening with a book. As the evening wore on, she debated with herself about going to bed or staying awake. Part of her was worried that if she went to sleep she would have last night's dream all over again. And part of her worried that if she went to sleep, she wouldn't have the dream again. Finally, she finished her book and decided she had to get some rest.
Unfortunately, sleep wouldn't come. She tossed and turned for what seemed like hours. Her mind raced, alternating with not unwelcome images of her bodyguard and feelings of guilt for harboring such thoughts about him. Eventually, she gave up and got out of bed. She pulled on her robe and padded barefoot out of her suite and next door to the private library. Only the royal family and a few trusted members of the live-in staff had access to this room, so she was surprised to see a dim light emanating from under the door.
She was all but certain he was in there. Hesitating, she weighed her options. She was still weighing them when her hand reached out, completely unbidden by her head, and twisted the knob. She was still berating its traitorous action when her feet took her through said same door and into the room. She looked down, regarding her feet as if seeing them for the first time when someone spoke.
"Good evening, Clarisse."
She started violently, having momentarily forgotten that she was not alone.
"H-hello, Joseph. What are you doing here?"
"Reading." He was seated in the arm chair next to the fireplace.
He waited for a further response and receiving none, he continued. "It is a library, you know."
"Oh. Well, yes." She looked back down at her feet.
"What?" She finally looked up.
"I, too, have a thing for your feet, but they are hardly the most interesting thing in this room at the moment." He raised an eyebrow at her.
She swallowed. "What are you doing here?"
He stared at her then answered with painfully slow diction. "I. am. read-ing."
"Oh." She gave a little laugh. "Well, me too. I – I'm looking for a book."
"You've come to the right place. Don't let me interrupt you." He indicated the shelves with a sweeping gesture and turned his eyes back to his book.
She cleared her throat and nodded before she stepped over to the wall of bookshelves and tried to focus her eyes on the titles. The letters swam together before her vision. Running a finger over the leather spines didn't help a bit. She could feel his stare. It seemed to sear her skin, right between her shoulder blades. She whipped around, planning to catch him staring.
Her sudden movement barely registered with him. He raised his eyes from his book briefly as he turned the page. "Can't find anything you want?" he asked, dropping his gaze back to the page.
"No. Maybe you have it."
Deliberately marking his page, he closed the book and gave her his full attention.
"The book," she said quickly. "Maybe you have the one I want."
"Not unless you intend to take up 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'."
He laughed now and stood up, coming closer to her. She didn't move, but somehow managed to give the impression of shrinking away from him. "Please tell me what is wrong, Clarisse. You've been acting strangely around me all day. Like I have the plague or something."
"Nothing is wro…" the denial died on her lips as he reached out and brushed her neck with his fingers. "D-don't do that," she whispered.
"Why not?" he answered in the same quiet tone, stepping even closer to her. Now she could feel his breath on her face.
"Don't you ever sleep?" she blurted out the question, surprising herself as much as him.
He cocked his head to one side. "Yes, but maybe not as much as most people."
"Insomnia, I guess. I just always feel more energized at night."
Her mouth dropped open, operating under much the same rebellious spirit as her hands and feet had previously. Joseph gazed at her questioningly for a long moment before turning away from her. She grabbed his sleeve and pulled him back. When he looked at her this time, his eyes seemed darker than before.
"Are you…? Are you…? Oh, this is so stupid!"
"I couldn't agree more," he groused. Then his voice softened. "Please tell me what is wrong." He took her arms in his and pulled her closer, studying her eyes intently.
"I feel like a fool," she laughed apologetically. He didn't answer. "I had a dream," she paused and took a deep breath. "It was about you and…you were a vampire. It was so real and all day today it seemed like every thing you said and did…was…"
"You dreamt about me?" he asked very, very quietly.
"Yes." She met his eyes fully for the first time since coming into the room.
"You dream about me." This time it wasn't a question. She nodded and tried to look innocent, failing miserably thanks to the traitorous nature of her eyes which swept hungrily up and down his body.
Joseph grasped her chin and lifted her face. His lips captured hers and positively branded them with a ferocious kiss.
"Happy Halloween, Clarisse," he murmured as he pulled back from her. She whimpered softly at the loss of contact, and then gasped sharply as his lips attacked her neck. He spoke into her silky skin. "A vampire, eh?" he growled.
They both collapsed into a fit of laughter. Eventually they moved to sit in front of the fire and she explained what he'd said that day that so affected her – the garlic, the sunlight, the church. He laughed delightedly, but refused to let her get by without telling him the details of her dream. Her embarrassment was tempered somewhat as he kissed the insides of her wrists, her arms, her shoulders and finally her neck as she told him the story. She left out some of the steamer parts. Perhaps she would tell him about them someday. Someday when they were in a more…intimate situation.
They laughed and talked for over an hour in the floor in front of the fireplace. Finally Joseph ran a finger gently down the side of her face. "It's getting late," he told her. "You need to sleep and you can't afford to be caught here with me."
"Yes, you're right, I suppose."
"As usual," he teased. He helped her to her feet. "You should leave first. I'll stay here a while longer."
"Fine," she sighed. "At least I know now I can finally sleep." He smiled softly at her and placed a gentle kiss on her now pouting lips.
He led her to the library door. He kissed her once more, then reached for the doorknob. His lips were close to her ear and he whispered to her. "Sweet dreams, Clarisse."
Before she could respond, she found herself in the hallway, a book in her hand. The footmen standing down the hall outside her suite, tried to disguise their curious stares. She squared her shoulders and strode confidently back to her room. She couldn't wait to find out what her dreams would entail tonight. She certainly had plenty of inspiration.
Inside the library, Joseph walked back to his chair and picked up his neglected book. He hefted it thoughtfully in his hand while his mind played back over the pleasant hour just passed with the woman he loved.
"A vampire," he said aloud, laughing to himself. He was still laughing when he looked up to the mirror hanging over the fireplace.
His reflection laughed back at him, then shimmered slightly, and ever so slowly, it disappeared.
AN: I'm sorry. Really. I wrote this with tongue planted firmly in cheek. This is what happens when you take a long drive down a deserted country road with nothing in the CD player except a really stupid CD called "Music for Vampires". Of course Joseph would never be a vampire, but...he'd be darn good at it, don'tcha think?
I realize I'm about seven months too early with this, but I hope you enjoyed it anyway. Next time I have an extended drive, I'll try to have some more appropriate musical accompaniment. Any suggestions?
Thanks to Mellie for being my beta again. You are the best. By the way, Morpheus was the Greek god of dreams.