Author's Notes: Can you just believe it? I can't! I wrote this piece yeeeeears ago, as sequel to the first part of this story! Now, life interfered and I've been MIA here on FF for quite some time and now that I'm back I find out I posted the second part on the JAO forum but not here! Goodness, I must be really crazy. *rolls eyes*

Really, really sorry! I think it's high time I post this... after all, a third part is in the works. ;) This one isn't very emotional, it's not as exciting as the first two chappies, but I guess it will suffice. Enjoy! :)

Part Two

The remnants of winter continued to hang in the air and, though the snow has stopped its descent since the middle weeks of January, the cold air still moved about the gardens and around the palace, coercing most of the residents to stay cooped up inside the walls of the ancient building. The days still had its moments of gray skies and starless nights, and the birds that usually welcomed the arrival of spring have not yet arrived from their journey around the world, finding places where there are bright sunny skies and warmer hours of darkness.

Ever since the start of time, February has always been a rather dull month in the royal palace of Genovia. There were never much events or activities participated in by the staff and the royal family. The month of hearts, love and interest has often been left empty, if not for an affair or two, in the background features of the event calendar. Although the people managed to show courtship and merriment in a subtler and less festive way than other countries around the world, the concept of the celebrating love and affection never left their minds and are still incorporated into the staff's February schedule.

Even the queen has a slot in her calendar for a certain quiet date. Of course, it was private and only two people know about it—that was herself and her head of security.

He had approached her that morning, citing security reasons, but once he was inside her office, he didn't even say a single word. He had neared her desk, meeting her rather puzzled blue eyes and smiling that charming smile of his. He stopped and just looked at her, letting his love surface from the deep recesses of his being for her to see. Then, he had touched her hand, pulling her from her chair, and had slipped a note into her hand before he had engulfed her in a warm, loving embrace, cherishing the moment as she wound her arms around him, too. The butterflies arrived before long.

Now, reading the short note in her hands, she couldn't deny the fact that she was utterly anxious and excited about this meeting. He would be at her door in a few minutes and every single part of her body tingled in nervous anticipation. She had never tried this sort of thing, since Rupert had never taken the time to privately take her to dinner before thought of marriage—and all throughout their married life, their dinners were always public and guarded by the press. This time with Joseph, however, would be as secret as a pearl inside a mother clam; a clandestine dinner date, lovely… and, most of all, intimate.

Looking at herself in the mirror, she wondered if she was dressed properly for the occasion. Feeling the familiar string of pearls around her neck, she smiled. The little black dress had a wonderful empire cut with a wide, rounded neckline, was knee-length, and made of a flowing, flimsy material and of silk—it looked heavenly on her figure, hiding the parts where gravity had made its pull. She wore very light make-up, showing just how nature had been kind to her, and her natural glow and beauty showed in all their glory.

A knock suddenly sounded on her door, interrupting the mental observations of her appearance. She turned towards the sound, and the warm note in the lowest parts of her stomach erupted into thousands of butterflies; she felt warm and slightly giddy in her nervousness. Walking the short distance to the door, her knees buckled underneath her—she was still quite blank. She didn't know what to expect, didn't know what to do. This was the moment she's been waiting for. God help her.

The first thing he saw as she opened the door was her smile—her warm yet apprehensive smile. It was actually a little comforting to know that he wasn't the only one anxious about this meeting. True, this date wasn't his first, but it made him feel like a nervous wreck nonetheless. This was Clarisse, for heaven's sake, and he didn't want to cause her any sort of disappointment regarding tonight. He had been waiting for this moment for far too long and he didn't want to mess it up.

"Hello," he said, holding out a beautiful bouquet of fresh red roses to her, smiling handsomely. Her smile widened as she accepted the flowers. She closed the door behind her as he moved further into the hallway, pausing to wait for her.

"Where will we be going?" The question was simply, simply Clarisse—and it made him realize that the night has, in fact, definitely started.

He turned to look at her; she didn't move from her position, her back against the door as she awaited his answer, her eyebrows rising in discreet excitement, her eyes sparkling in the warm light. Those same eyes sparkled even more in sweet affection and slight annoyance as she heard his answer, "You will know soon." She was not used to being teased, but he knew she loved every moment of it. He could read it in her eyes. He smiled. So did she. For a moment there, he swore he could have drowned in her eyes, locked in the haze of genuine love that she was showing him. However, he knew that if he didn't stop this staring match, they would never get to their destination, so he broke the silence. "Well, shall we go?" Offering her his arm, together they walked towards the privacy of the royal gardens.

The tension between them increased a thousand times more, enhancing the closeness of their proximity. She kept her eyes down, avoiding his eyes, for she knew that she would lose herself in them as she had experienced every time she looked at him before.

"So where are we really going?" she asked as they reached the curve past the gazebo. He replied with a dazzling smile, looking at her teasingly, lovingly, as he led her to yet another bend. He caressed her hand which was resting on her arm, and this time she looked at him. Her bright eyes were wide, gleaming and, for lack of a better word, innocent, and he had to restrict himself not to kiss her right then and there.

They arrived at a little crossing by the edge of the garden and saw a little black buggy awaiting them. Clarisse gasped a little in surprise at the elegant little thing and he smiled at her apparent delight at having to ride another car besides the protocol limousine, opened the door for her and led her inside. He walked around the front, onto the driver's seat and drove them towards the lake.

"Oh, Joseph, this is wonderful," she exclaimed as, upon reaching the lake, she saw a table set for two, with a beautiful candelabra decorating the centre of the table and providing wondrous, yellowish light on the painted china. The food and wine were beside the little portable radio on another table, the latter producing such romantic music. She turned towards him, a beautiful smile gracing her delicately pink lips. She reached out to hold his hand and the instant their hands touched, she felt warm, beautiful, loved. Nobody had ever made her feel this way—mere touch, a very small connection, and she would feel herself starting to melt into a puddle at her feet. She felt her cheeks grow warm and she bent her head to hide the faint tinge of pink that betrayed her inner thoughts of being as discreet as possible.

He smiled. Clarisse was trying unsuccessfully to hide the blush tinting her cheeks and his manly pride beamed at her reaction to his surprise. Oh, he loved her. She squeezed her hand as she led her to sit on a chair. He took the food from the other table, sat down and poured the wine. The moment he placed the wine bottle on the wine holder, their eyes met and they smiled. They stared at each other for a few seconds, their eyes mirroring the love they have for each other, until the music ended and started another beat. In silence, they ate a sumptuous meal, the occasional glance victorious every now and then.

He loved hearing her laugh. The music that came with it, a melodious, slightly husky sound, never failed to warm his spirits up and to make him forget all his troubles. This time was not an exception.

After their dinner, they had regaled each other with stories of their childhood, the mischievous little pranks that they had set up as a child, the experiences they had in school and the happenings in their houses. Clarisse had been rather giggly all throughout Joseph's monologue, which told of all the mischief he had been up to and all the trouble he had gotten into. She had smiled, chuckled and laughed at his stories and he felt simply like he was in heaven. "Oh, Joseph!" she would say, laughing. They have never had a more enjoyable dinner in their entire lives.

Now, as their laughter slowly subsided, Joseph thought it would be nice to conclude the night with a dance, so he got up and extended his hand to a rather bemused Clarisse. She looked at his hand and then to his face, and smiled at his eagerness. She placed her hand on his and stood up and he led her towards the lakeshore. The moon beaming down at them, reflecting a dim light onto the calm waters, and the wonderful music created an even more romantic atmosphere as they stood there gazing at each other.

"I love you," he said. She smiled and he could see her eyes moisten as she continued to look at him.

"I love you."

He placed his hand around her waist, drawing her close to the warmth of his body. She wound an arm around his neck, tickling his nape with her fingers, and her other hand was encased firmly in his. They swayed gently to the music, her forehead resting against his chin, both their eyes closed to savor their moment of nirvana.

Before they left, they looked back at the lake one more time and smiled. Oh, what a wonderful night.

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