Then love alone can make the fallen angels rise.

Chapter 20

The conference had been closed a few hours ago and Clarisse was now sitting on the couch in the living room of her suite. She had showered and changed into her nightclothes to enjoy a calm evening after two hectic days. She wasn't hungry and had rejected a dinner invitation from Henry. Even if he wanted her to join him in his suite, she didn't want the hotel staff to think Henry was more than just a friend. She was still married and she was already annoyed by the (unjustified) gossip the tabloids spread about her and Joseph. The worst thing she ever read had been that she banned him to North Dakota, where he lived aimlessly on some farm, locked away from the world and his family. Really, the press had some nerve…

Although it was hard to admit she had been thinking a lot about him and she missed him as much as ever, but for the first time in her life, she was living her life without depending on a man and that part she enjoyed a great deal. She had success and it didn't depend on her title and her status which was something she had never experienced before. Her work for the people suffering from Aids satisfied her enormously and gave her a feeling of being useful after Mia had taken over the throne.

She had written countless letters to Joseph that she carried with her all the time. All she had to do was ask Mia for his address, but every time she wanted to, she got cold feet. The content was often the same. Sometimes, full of love and desire for him, on other days, filled with hatred and despair, because she still loved him but didn't allow herself to do so. She had waited so long for him, had ached and cried and when they had been free to be with each other she had found out, he had betrayed her oldest son and almost ruined the institution she had dedicated her life to.

She didn't doubt his love for her, but she had started doubting his integrity and that was what had hit her the most. The Joseph she knew was devoted to her and his service to his country and he didn't sleep around with women half his age who were betrothed to her son.

A soft knock on her door got her attention and she looked up.

"Yes?"

The door opened slowly and her new bodyguard, a choice Mia had made on her behalf, came in.

"There's a visitor for you, Ma'am," he announced in his gentle voice. She had to smile. The guy was really easy on the eyes. Her smile turned into a smirk as she tried to imagine what Joseph would think of him.

"And who is it?"

"It's his Royal Highness, Prince Pierre," he announced and Clarisse felt how she lost her colour.

"Send him in immediately!" she ordered, almost jumping up from the couch. She ran her fingers through her hair, feeling nervous all of a sudden. She fixed her robe, her eyes were glued to the door as she waited for Pierre to enter. When he appeared in the doorframe a wide smile crossed her face. They met in the middle of the room and embraced tightly.

"Pierre!" she said emotionally and closed her eyes in relief. "Where have you been so long?"

"Trying to be a good boy," he tried to joke. "I stayed in the clinic until Sunday and then I went back to my old parish to collect my things." He freed himself from her embrace and looked at her.

"You look wonderful, Mother."

"As you do!" she said and caressed his cheek. "Let's sit down." She pulled him with her to the sofa where they sat down. "How are you?" she asked curiously. He wore jeans and a blue jacket with a white shirt. No sign of his white collar or any other indication to his priesthood.

"I'm fine…" He smiled when he saw her questioning eyes. "Really, I am. I've never been more content with my life… and I haven't felt this healthy in years!"

"I'm so glad to hear that!" She touched his cheek again and smiled at him teary-eyed. "I was so worried about you… why didn't you let me visit you?"

"Because I had to cope with everything all by myself… especially after all the trouble I gave you. I'm so sorry, Mama!"

"I know you are. But let's not think about this anymore! Those people are in jail and will remain there!"

"Is it true that Father's cousin was the impostor?" he asked and turned his gaze down to the floor.

"Yes, it was Richard… he is at a place where he can't stir up trouble anymore."

"Good." Pierre gave her a sidelong glance and drew a deep breath, as if it would cost him a lot of courage to say the next sentence. "You know… I had a long conversation with Frankie a few days ago. She paid me a visit… out of the blue, of course. You know how she is."

"Oh…" Clarisse cleared her throat. "I think I'll have to order some tea for us."

"What she told me hurt, but on the other hand it made a lot of sense. But as far as I am concerned the past should be past." He held her hand, keeping her from grabbing the receiver. "I have the crazy feeling that your reluctance to reconcile with Joe has something to do with me and my failed relationship with Francesca…"

Struggling for composure her mouth opened and closed. "Well, that's part of the problem," Clarisse admitted finally.

"But you love him and he loves you… whatever happened between Francesca and him happened before you became an item. It shouldn't be a reason for you to push him away."

She didn't answer and didn't look at him either.

"What is it, Mama?" Pierre asked tenderly and squeezed her hand.

"I guess it's just… I always thought that if it hadn't been for Francesca you would have become King… Philippe could be alive and our family would be a family and not…" She wiped at a single tear that ran over her cheek.

"Francesca and I weren't made for each other… it would have never worked out and my wish to become a priest had nothing to do with Francesca. It was a stupid attempt to escape my role as heir of the throne… it didn't work out and that's one of the reasons why I've asked the church for permission to leave the service. It's time to stop living one lie after the other. I have to get to know myself."

He gave her his handkerchief and she dried her tears. Patiently he waited until she had calmed down and added: "What happened to Philippe was an accident. You know how much he loved to chase down the roads with those motorcycles. I never told you, but he called me the day he died. He told me that he wanted to take over the job… he really wanted it. He was ready and felt prepared. He said he didn't hate me, although I never really believed him. But today I know he meant what he said." He paused for a moment and added lovingly: "And Mama, I know that he wouldn't want you to stay away from the man you love. He always wanted to see you happy and Joe is the man who makes you happy."

He gave his mother a kiss on the cheek and embraced her. For a few minutes she just let him hold her while she tried to gain her composure.

"I guess you're a better priest than I'm a mother," she said after a while and backed off. He shook his head and an ironic expression appeared on his face. "Let's not go there… You're my mother and I love you. But…," He drew in a deep breath and changed the subject. "I guess I have to search for a new job sooner or later. Do you think a drug addict ex-priest with royal blood could find some work in his old mother country?"

"I'm sure he'll find a very useful and fulfilling job." Behind her last tears a smile brightened her face and she rose from the couch. "Do you want some tea? I think I could use something stronger."

"No alcohol."

"Alright… tea." Before she could pick up the receiver the phone rang. Bewildered about the late call she answered and rolled her eyes when she realized who talked on the other end of the line. "Mia… do you know how late it is? I beg your pardon… a wedding in three weeks?" Her eyes became bigger and she covered her forehead with her hand. "Are you insane? That's impossible!"

***

As always when the sun started setting Joe sat on the porch of his house and enjoyed the end of the day with a glass of good dry Spanish wine. Maybe, it was the letter in his hand that made the wine taste sweeter.

Mia, his Mia was going to marry and he was invited. The way the invitation looked it was obvious that Clarisse had chosen the layout. Was she the one who had wanted him to come as well? Or was it Mia's work?

When he had seen her with DeLesseps in that hotel he thought he must die, but a phone call to Mia had assured him that DeLesseps was nothing but a friend. And yet he was closer to her than he was. He was able to enjoy her closeness while he was living in exile, waiting for her to make the first step. Was this invitation her call for him? Knowing Clarisse he knew what it took her to let down her defences. He sipped from his wine again and turned his gaze to the horizon. Maybe the time to act had come…

***

"With this ring, I thee wed, and with it, I bestow upon thee all the treasures of my mind, heart, and hands."

Clarisse sighed as the vows that Mia and Nicholas had exchanged a few hours ago echoed on her mind. She had heard and spoken the words as well a short time ago. Half a year had passed since she and Joseph had gotten married, but it felt as if a lifetime lay between both events.

She hadn't thought that Mia would invite Joseph to her wedding. She hadn't told her and she had never mentioned it. But now he was here and she felt caught off guard. She had come alone, although Henry was there as well. Joseph had come alone as well. They were still married but didn't arrive together. The gossip machinery must be working like a charm by now. Tomorrow's papers wouldn't speak about the wedding, but the dowager Queen's husband who came alone while his wife danced with another man. Mia must have been out of her mind to risk a disaster like this, but it was too late now.

The dinner was almost over and soon Mia and Nicholas would open the ball. Clarisse was supposed to join them as soon as the dance started, but to avoid trouble, it had been decided Sebastian Motaz would be her dancing partner. Now with Joseph being present the solution was just as bad as if it had been Henry.

Joseph sat on the groom's side of the table next to Nicholas' cousin, his only relative since Viscount Mabrey had been banned from Royal events last year. Clarisse had noticed with a hint of jealousy that Francesca DeLesseps was invited as well. She sat (far away from Henry) two chairs next to Joseph and she had seen them chatting at the reception earlier and watching them had felt like a cold knife twisting in her heart. It enraged her that she couldn't keep her feelings under control and it enraged her even more that she didn't find the courage to go and get her man. There was still this last barrier in her heart that didn't allow her to do what was necessary.

***

After Mia and Nicholas had opened the ball Joe decided to get a drink or two. He felt incredibly displaced at this wedding. Clarisse avoided him like the plague and Delesseps was always on her heels. Naturally, she looked simply gorgeous in her red dress. In Madrid he had noticed that she had lost some weight – all in the right places. Her beauty was breathtaking and it drove him mad that DeLesseps didn't make a secret of his desire for Clarisse. His eyes clung to her and very often, when Clarisse wasn't watching, they just rested on her perfectly shaped neckline.

People were talking about them and there was no doubt about the topic of tomorrow's headlines. He should have known she didn't send the invitation. He should have known she wouldn't make the first step. He should have known she didn't forgive him. He had thought patience was the key to her heart. In the past he had spent a lifetime waiting for her and the one time he had tried to push her, had almost been the end for them. Now he knew that hoping for a miracle was delusional. He was banned from her life, like those people who had wanted to install an impostor as King were banned from Genovia. It was hopeless and the only thing he could do was leaving this Palace before he got drunk and made a scene in front of everyone. He wanted to keep his dignity before he told his lawyers to end the farce his marriage had become.

"Joe?" He felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned and his eyes widened in surprise when he saw Pierre smiling at him.

"Pierre!"

"I'm glad you're here," Pierre said and blushed a bit. "I see Mia was right when she assumed you couldn't resist."

Joe raised his eyebrows. "Why do I feel trapped now?" he asked suspiciously. Pierre shrugged and patted his arm. "Forgive us, but the opportunity was too inviting to let it pass. Why don't you try to talk to Mother?"

"Well, it's clear she doesn't want to talk to me." He looked over Pierre's shoulder where Clarisse stood and talked to Henry. "She'll dangle him in front of my nose for the rest of my life," Joe complained bitterly and emptied his drink.

Pierre made a sad face. "I know I'm to blame for a lot of things that happened between you and I'm sorry for it. I wasn't myself, not that it excuses anything."

Joe shook his head and placed his hand on Pierre's shoulder. He squeezed it and said: "Believe me when I tell you that this mess was created all by us alone. Actually, I'm the one who has to apologize."

"Don't." Pierre raised his hand. "It's past. Maybe you've done me a favour without knowing it." He looked at Francesca who was chitchatting with Mia and Nicholas. "I doubt I could have coped with her back then… I doubt I could cope with her now."

Joe nodded slowly. "Still, I'm sorry for everything."

"So will your bad conscious allow me to take you to my mother? I have a feeling that all it needs is a little encouragement for the two of you."

Joe eyed Clarisse and Henry with growing disappointment and turned his gaze away. "No, thanks."

"What's going on here? Can I help?" Unnoticed by Joe, because he was occupied with staring at Clarisse, Francesca had approached both men. She gave them a smile and sipped from her glass of champagne.

"I think our friend here prefers to fall into depression before he accepts some help," Pierre explained and winked at Frankie who understood when she followed Joe's eyes. Henry was leading Clarisse to the dance floor and swung her elegantly into his open arms. "I see…," she smirked and gave Pierre her glass. "Would you please take care of that for a moment or two?"

"Of course. But the next round is mine!" He took the glass and Francesca took Joe's hand. "Alright, Your Highness. And now come on, Joe – Ladies choice!"

Reluctantly he followed her onto the dance floor. He doubted the use of this whole thing and imagined what people would say about them.

***

Clarisse couldn't say she was much into the dance. Actually she tried to catch a glimpse of Joseph. She had seen him talking to Pierre and then Francesca had joined them. What was it with that woman and her men? Pierre had apparently forgiven her and even Henry had admitted that he missed his daughter. And now Pierre was alone and Francesca and Joe had vanished. Her heart beat faster and she wished the waltz would be faster so that she had the possibility to search the room quicker.

"Are you sure you feel alright?" Henry asked, noticing her nervousness.

"Yes," she answered sharply, tilting her head.

"Wish you were an owl, don't you?" he asked, slightly angry, because he sensed whom she was searching for.

"Eagle," she corrected and gave up. "I'm sorry," she apologized, "I'm a bad dancing partner tonight."

"I would say you're just very distracted by the presence of a certain someone. It wasn't very wise of Amelia to invite him. She's ruining the whole wedding."

"Knowing Mia she doesn't care much," Clarisse mused. Her mood was changing for the worst and she knew she was close to lose it. The evening was a catastrophe and the idea of locking herself into her bedroom to cry her eyes out seemed quite tempting.

"Excuse me?" Henry startled when he felt a hand patting on his back and Clarisse swallowed as she watched Francesca asking Henry for the next dance while Joseph still held her in his arms. "I hope you don't mind a quick exchange of partners, Ma'am. And don't be too hard on Joe! He's clumsy at times, but a perfect dancer!" Frankie bowed well-behaved and grabbed her father's hand before he knew what to retort. The younger woman tore her father away, leaving Joe next to Clarisse.

"Before this gets more embarrassing you should dance with me," Joe suggested dryly. Knowing she had no other choice she gave him her hand. From everywhere curious eyes followed them and aware that they were both now the center of attention for the rest of the evening, she tried to fake a smile.

"Was that your idea?" she asked through clenched teeth as they started to dance.

"No," he answered coldly. "I was about to leave when Frankie tore me into this mess."

"Well, she has quite an influence on you!" Clarisse said bitterly.

"Must be a talent that lies in the family. She has her father's genes it seems," he retorted and pulled her a little closer.

Unsure whether the growing physical contact was what she wanted, she gave him a stern glance – and continued to dance.

***

"Well, Harry, you should really listen to me instead of trying to figure out what these two are talking about!" Francesca said in annoyance. Catching her father off guard, she took the lead and pulled him around so that he couldn't see what was going on at the other end of the ballroom.

"What do you want, Francesca?" he asked angrily.

"I want you to get over it!" she explained eagerly. "She'll never love you; she'll never be with you, no matter what happens between Joe and her! Relax, for your own good!"

He mumbled something she couldn't understand and her facial expression softened when she noticed the grief in his eyes. "Hey… you know it as well as I do. Now, get over it and stop wasting your time chasing someone who will never be yours… who never was yours. I know what I'm talking about so better take my advice before you have a heart attack!"

"It's not that easy, my dear."

"I know… but maybe there's something that could distract you for some time."

"And that is?"

"Well, first of all, I've decided that my children have spent enough time in boarding schools. I had a long conversation with both of them and we decided to make a whole new start – here in Genovia. Unfortunately, they think you belong to our family as well…" She smirked and he gave her a look. "Admit you need help to raise them."

"I don't need help to raise them – but I do need help to raise some money for my new project."

"What project?" he asked suspiciously.

"Since we all know that Motaz will have to step down by the end of the summer as Prime Minister, his party needs a new candidate for the job…" Her voice trailed off and Henry stopped in the middle of his movement. "You want to become Prime Minister?" he asked dumbfounded. "Are you insane?"

"No. I'm just ambitious."

"I thought one of the reasons you didn't marry Pierre was that you didn't want to become Queen!"

"As Prime Minister I wouldn't be Queen," she explained sheepishly. "Will you help me or not?"

"You're crazy!" Henry sighed before a proud smile crossed his face.

"So… do we have a deal?"

***

As discreetly as possible Joe took Clarisse on the terrace and closed the French doors behind them. They were alone on the terrace cloaked by the peace of the night.

"You look well," Joe said, trying to establish a normal conversation. They stood at the balustrade and enjoyed the view over the beautifully illuminated garden.

"Thank you. You too… seems you get a lot of sun."

"I did… I saw you in Madrid…" He didn't want to mention it, but now he couldn't help to say it.

"When? Where?" she asked surprised.

"I was in the hotel when you arrived…"

"Why didn't you come to see me?"

"I wanted to… then I realized you already had company."

She heard the bitterness in his voice and felt foolish. She felt her cheeks redden and lowered her eyelashes. "I ask you to believe that nothing happened between us."

"I hope so," he said huskily, "because I wouldn't survive it." He made a step towards her, but it cost all his willpower not to grab her to shake some sense into her.

"I wouldn't dream of being unfaithful to you. Never." Her voice was steady now and he believed every word. If someone on this earth was true to her vows, it was Clarisse Renaldi. And yet she hadn't made one step towards him.

"But you didn't ask me to come home either. Clarisse, I can't go on like this!"

"And neither can I. Maybe I hoped…" She made a pause and swallowed. "I hoped that one day I would wake up and realize I had forgiven you, but…" She broke off.

"But what?"

"I know now that forgiveness doesn't happen like this… I thought I had to forgive Rupert for a lot of things, but I never had to forgive him really, because everything he did never hurt me as much as you did."

His heart became heavier and he shook his head. "So it never hurt you that Rupert could have killed you though his irresponsiblity, but the few nights I spent in another woman's bed are unforgivable." His conclusion sounded as cold as he felt deep inside.

"It's not unforgivable. I just don't know how to live with it… I'm jealous and I'm possessive, I know that, but I have no idea how to change it."

"And that's why you let her father worship the ground you walk on… to let me know how it feels." He became angry. "But you know what? I had to live with this kind of jealousy for over two decades! In all those years I feared for every morning… I feared to learn that you had spent the night in Rupert's bed while I lay in mine, aching for you! You were the married one and most of the time I didn't even know if you loved me the way I loved you! And now you have the nerve to talk of jealousy after everything you let me go through to protect your husband's… lifestyle! Maybe it's because Rupert had blue blood while I'm just a commoner? Maybe you still see just the guy who has been good enough to screw you between work and another useless dinner invitation!" He was screaming at her but he didn't care. He was hurting just as she was and she needed to feel at least a bit of his despair.

"You know what… if you're unable to make a decision, fine. But I'm not! Four months… four months I've spent waiting for a sign from you… one little call or a simple note… something that tells me, there's still a chance for us. Now I see it was wasted time. Goodbye, Clarisse!"

With these words he left. "Joseph!" She shouted breathlessly, but he didn't stop. The French doors opened and Mia and Nicholas, followed by their guests, appeared, walking hand in hand. Behind Clarisse the fireworks to celebrate the newlyweds started. She turned around and pretended to watch the spectacle while tears of pain and love ran unchecked over her face.

***

It was 4 am in the morning. She hadn't slept a wink after returning home and she had contemplated to deliberately get drunk for the first time in her life. She had lost Joseph. She had messed up the chance for reconciliation, because she had behaved like a selfish brat. She had taken him and his love for granted and thought he would do and say anything to keep her. Just that he hadn't. She had hurt his pride although she should have known better. Had she mistakenly equalled him to Rupert who had been weaker and less proud? Of all the mistakes of her life tonight had been the worst. He wouldn't come back after this; and if she was honest, she understood him. The words he had thrown at her had gotten under her skin. How could he think that she just saw some kind of gigolo in him?

Had she ever given him the feeling of being unworthy of her?

Yes, she had and the realization was almost killing her.

She had been roaming the house for over two hours now. She hadn't changed and froze in her light dress even though the building was well-heated. She felt at home here, but it was definitely too large for one person. It needed life and another person to fill it.

Maurice, her French poodle lay on the carpet in the dark entrance hall waiting for her while she stared into the fire in the open fireplace in the salon. No, she wouldn't sleep tonight, that was for sure. In a bit more than one hour the sun would rise to welcome the new day. The first official day of the rest of her life without Joseph. A new wave of tears swelled in her eyes and she covered her face with her hands. Uncontrolled sobs shook her body and drained her of her last strength. How many nights of crying would she have to endure before she went insane?

Maurice barked one second before the telephone on the antique desk shrilled. She startled but regained enough composure to take the call.

"Yes?" she asked, attempting not to sound too shaken. It was the guard from the main gate of her estate. He sounded tired while he announced a visitor.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but he's quite stubborn and insists on talking to you right now," he yawned.

"Who is it?" she asked with a spark of hope in her voice.

"He says his name is Joseph."

"Let him in," she ordered flatly and let the receiver drop on the floor. "Joseph!" she whispered and rushed into the entrance hall. She passed Maurice who lifted his head in annoyance about the noise of her high heels on the stone floor and tore at the handle of the old wooden door until it flew open audibly.

After a few seconds that seemed to take years he finally appeared on her doorstep. She held her breath, trembling with anticipation, as he looked up and admired the façade of the honourable building.

"Nice house you have," he complimented nonchalantly to ease the tension. Without success. As their eyes met, she immediately threw herself into his open arms. "Joseph!" Tears streamed over her face as she clung to him as if her life depended on it. He closed his eyes as his arms locked around her and pressed her to him. "It's alright," he said huskily and dragged her gently inside the house and closed the door.

Maurice lifted his head, but didn't show any kind of reaction when Joe brought Clarisse inside the house. The proud dog rose from his place at the staircase and trotted into the salon where he lay down by the cosy fire. Not that the couple struggling with their emotions noticed the poodle's change of location.

"I'm so sorry!" she mumbled over and over again without loosening her embrace.

"No, I'm sorry. I said things I shouldn't have said. I went mad because I was jealous! I shouldn't have yelled at you the way I did. I'm the one who is sorry!"

She shook her head while he dried her tears with his thumb.

"I know I hurt you! I was egoistic and I wasn't thinking of anything but my own pain! The worst part is I deserve to lose you!"

"You'll never lose me! You should know that by now!" He kissed her head and revelled in the feeling of holding her again. He had missed her. Her scent, her body, her love.

"I love you, Joseph. I've always loved you. You were there for me when I had no one else to rely on. You were my only friend when I needed one. You were always there for me and I pushed you away!"

"And I disappointed you… we both kept our secrets over the years." He breathed in deeply and added lowly: "Can't we just agree on telling each other the truth from now on… I know we can make it. If we can't make it, who else can?"

He gave her his handkerchief and she did her best to dry her face. "I must look horrible!" she complained and turned away.

"You look as beautiful as ever."

"You're a shameless liar."

"As long as you believe me…" He wrapped his arms around her again. She snuggled up against him and felt how her body relaxed. All the tension seemed to leave under the magic influence of his presence. She finally felt at home now that he was holding her. Joseph. Her life.

"Do you really like this house?" she asked after some time. "It's old… even older to be honest. We can move somewhere else if you want to."

"No need to move. I do like it… It's charming… at least what I could see in the dark… but I have to admit a little guided tour would be nice."

"What now? At this hour?" she asked confused.

"Maybe we could start upstairs… in your rooms, before we explore the grounds around the house," he suggested sheepishly and tightened his arms around her middle. "I missed you very much, you know." Finally understanding his hint, a smile appeared on her face.

"Do you think our restored tender bond can endure something like that?"

"I don't know about you, but I'm willing to take the risk."

***

Why she her entire body was trembling while he took off her necklace, she couldn't say. Maybe it was the contact of his skin and hers. Maybe, the way his lips caressed her neck; or his slow movements as he pulled down the zipper of her dress. Maybe, it was just because her emotions got the very best of her, now that she had him back and was close to make love to him after all these months of missing and longing.

Her chest heaved and her excitement grew with every passing second. His breath tickled the back of her neck while he removed the soft fabric of her dress inch by inch.

"Of all the things I've ever seen, you're the most beautiful, unique piece," he whispered hoarsely and kissed her shoulder. The dress dropped to the floor and his hands came to rest on her thighs where he played with her garters and opened them. Greedy for a real kiss, she turned in his embrace and pressed her mouth to his. Driven by greed she pushed her tongue into his welcoming mouth and involved him into a sensual duel. They kissed hungrily until they couldn't breathe anymore and had to break apart.

"I missed you," she panted helplessly while her hands caressed his broad chest. With trembling hands she removed his bow tie and found the buttons of his shirt to open one after the other.

He watched her work with growing arousal and couldn't help but stare at the swell of her breasts. He had missed her freckled skin and the way her body reacted when it became aroused by his actions. His breath was sharp and his self-control low. He couldn't wait to tear the corsage from her body to rediscover the softness hidden beneath the fabric. They removed his shirt and he smiled when he saw her licking her lips as her hands roamed over his chest, down his flat, muscular stomach until she reached his belt.

The remainders of his clothes were gone fast and then it was on him to take care of her. Her shaking intensified when he opened the corsage with one hand while the other lay possessively on her waist. His quickly growing member pushed proudly against her thigh and let her heart beat faster. Driven by desire she touched and explored him gently, causing him to moan out loud. The light touch was enough to drive him closer to the edge and he tore the piece of her lingerie from her body and moved his hand into her slip. She gasped at the intimate contact and then the sound of tearing fabric and her small shout of surprise filled the room.

He groaned her name when he pulled her naked body back into his arms and moved her to the bed. He buried her body beneath his and kissed her senseless while his hands worked his magic on her. Exploring every inch, he did his best to tease her until she begged him for release. His mouth licked and tickled his way from her mouth, down her throat and to her bellybutton where he lingered for a while, teasing it until she arched beneath him and her nails dug into his skin, leaving long red scratches on his shoulder. Then his mouth moved lower and lower until it reached its destination between her milky thighs. Spasms raced through her body and unchecked screams escaped her throat as he kissed and licked skilfully at the most intimate parts of her being and sent her mercilessly over the edge.

Satisfied with his first accomplishment he returned to her mouth and kissed her hungrily, without giving her the chance to recover. She sighed into his mouth and then rolled him on his back. Surprised but not complaining he allowed her to take over as she moved herself onto his lap. His hands explored her upper body and ran from her waist up to her breasts to cup them gently at first and then with growing pressure. They exchanged a loving smile before she pushed her groin forward to tease his erection with her swollen folds. One hand left her breast and found the way between them where he teased her secret button until they both couldn't stand the tension any longer and united with one deep thrust. Both moaned in delight when they set the same old pace that had united them so many times before. They moved in unison, trying to extend the pleasure for as long as possible, but this time the ride was short and as orgasm broke over them she collapsed on his sweaty chest. As both recovered from their lovemaking, she snuggled up against him and wrapped her arm around his chest.

"I can't believe we're here… doing this after all these months," she said dreamily and played with the soft hair on his chest.

"Well, I didn't think it was in our cards either," he admitted softly and gave her a kiss on the head.

"I feel like I'm in heaven… I wish things could stay this way forever."

"They won't, but we could try and make it work day after day."

"You're so wise…" she teased, but in her eyes he saw an underlying seriousness. "Really, in many ways, you're much wiser than I am."

"See it as a blessing."

"I do… at your side I feel incredible blessed." She felt blessed indeed. They kissed one more time and after a few minutes both were sound asleep while the sun rose at the horizon to welcome a brand new day.

***

Epilogue

"You owe me 100 € and two hours of your life!" Joe said with a wide grin, as he entered the bedroom, waving the newspapers in his hand. They had made the deal to spend one half of the year in Genovia and the other half in his Spanish home outside Madrid after Clarisse had put her foot down and let the house undergo some major renovations before they moved in to spend the winter in Joseph's homeland.

"I beg you pardon?" Clarisse asked astonished. She was still in bed, though leaning against the headboard while checking the condition of her fingernails.

"Seems as if your country has a new Prime Minister since last night," he said with a grin and placed the morning paper on her lap, before he dropped his robe to join her under the covers again.

Clarisse rolled her eyes and unfolded the paper. "I thought you were joking when you suggested that bet," she said and studied the headlines. "Besides, we already knew the result. Mia called us last night, before the final results were announced."

"Yes, but now it's official," he said and added sheepishly: "We can add your debts to the amount of time you have to devote yourself to me, if you want… I would be satisfied with 3 hours. I mean, you never have cash with you, have you?"

She gave him a look. "I don't think so." Then her mien changed slowly and a concerned expression appeared on her face.

"What is it?" he asked worriedly. "I thought you and Francesca have buried your differences."

"Yes, we have…," she said slowly. "It's just… I don't know if this is healthy. I mean… so far no one has found out that she and Pierre are seeing each other again – privately… but what if? He's a member of the Royal Family… she is the Prime Minister. How long will she be in this position, if anyone learns about this relationship?" She closed the newspaper and dropped it on the floor. He understood her reservations, but to him the case was less hopeless.

"Well, first of all… Pierre has no official function in the family. He's helping you with your Aids foundation and doesn't represent the Royal Family and…," he made a meaningful pause. "They are both adults and you should let them make their own decisions. Should it be the case that they get married, they have to find a way to deal with the circumstances."

"Thanks for the advice!" she retorted ironically. "But I want to see your face when Henry DeLesseps sits at our table at family gatherings. Christmas will turn into a delightful occasion!" She smirked when his facial expression lost its cheerfulness.

"You haven't even given it a thought, right?"

"Let's say, I try not to think too much about him," he answered, avoiding her eyes.

"I see, I have to overcome my reservations towards Francesca, but you still prefer to be at odds with Henry. Now that's interesting."

He cleared his throat, obviously uneasy with the situation. "Well, the difference is that I don't want to bed Francesca, DeLesseps on the other hand…"

"It takes two to tango, Joseph," she reminded him and shifted her position in bed to get closer to him. She placed her leg over his thighs and seductively rubbed it against him.

"You think so?" he asked and slipped his hand under her nightgown to caress her leg.

"Oh yes… and now, I would love to pay my debts, because we've got an invitation for lunch from your sister and you know she hates it when people don't sit at her table on time!"

She lifted herself on top of him and started to assault his neck and chest with kisses. Feeling already lost he let his fingers glide over her arms to her shoulders.

"You know that you're my slave, not the other way round, don't you?" he asked huskily before her mouth captured his and forced him into a passionate kiss.

"What did you say?" she asked with a broad smile and licked his lower lip. "I don't think I heard you…"

"Witch," he mumbled, rough tenderness darkening his voice, and began to pull down the straps of her nightgown.

*** The End***