Joe was watching Clarisse leaving the ballroom and knew he had to act quickly. With his lately discovered knowledge and her being hurt he couldn't go on as if nothing had happened. There was no way he could survive this night with Clarisse and him being at odds. The last week was hard enough but now with all the cards lying open the situation had changed completely. He needed to clear things up between them and he needed her.
He whispered into the collar of his jacket.
"Where's her Majesty?"
"Here with me…"
"Alright… tell Olivia and Priscilla to go to retire for the night. Before Her Majesty is back in her rooms."
"Please… just do what I say."
He could hear a small sigh. Apparently she was thinking about his request. After a while she only said, "Okay," and the connection was off again. The next one to put in charge was Shades. He would take over for the rest of the night although it was Joe's job to make sure the guests that had to leave the Palace really did so and those who stayed really stayed. After the way he spread around gossip in the Palace kitchen a night shift would do him rather well.
Shades didn't sound very enthusiastic but Joe's tone of voice had left him no choice and no one dared arguing with the Head of Security unless he loved to live dangerously.
As discreetly as possible he rushed out of the ballroom and upstairs. He used several shortcuts he had gotten to know thanks to his nightly studies of the blueprints and slipped out of a secret door near the Queen's chambers just as Clarisse and Charlotte reached the suite.
"Thank you, Charlotte and good night. I see you tomorrow at 10."
"Of course, Your Majesty and good night."
Charlotte curtsied and earned a small smile from Clarisse. Charlotte left quickly and with blushed cheeks when she saw Joe arriving. He thought back to the night she had kissed him here in this hallway and felt again a wave of shame flooding him. He should have known it back then. She would never cheat on him or only toy with him. But jealous fool he had been he had it coming…
At first Clarisse who was opening her door didn't notice Joseph behind but startled when she felt him touching her. A low scream escaped her throat and Joe quickly covered her mouth with his full hand.
"Shhh, it's me! Don't be scared!"
But nevertheless she bit him into his hand and now it was on him to yell in pain.
"How dare you! Don't touch me!"
"I'm sorry, but we have to…"
An angry slap interrupted him. His head flew aside and he chewed on his inner cheeks.
"You, my dear Joseph, have to go and nothing else!"
She turned on her heels and he understood that sensible argumentation wouldn't help him to make her listen to him. On desperate times one had to call for desperate measures after all…
As she didn't turn and the door threatened to close after her he quickly followed her and with an elegant move he picked her up. Then he shut the door with a kick of his foot. She protested and hit him with her fists when she realized what he was going to do but he ignored it as good as possible and threw her over his shoulder. She stopped banging her fists on his back for a while to catch her falling tiara and yelled angrily…
"Joseph Ramirez! You'll let me down immediately or I will…"
"You'll do what?" He patted her butt and switched the lights on. "Will you call the security? Good luck with that!"
Little Maurice was lying on his bed and observed the whole scenery with the bored expression of a dog that wanted nothing more but its peace to get some well-deserved sleep.
"Hey, Maurice, don't worry your mistress is in very good hands!"
She was still hitting him with her fists but at least she had stopped screaming and just ranted at him. To his surprise he started to enjoy the whole situation and carried her into her bedroom.
"Don't you dare to do this! Joseph, I'm warning you!"
He smiled to himself but didn't bother to answer this time. He didn't even hit her bottom again although it was tempting but he didn't want to provoke even more. Not yet at least.
The room was dark but he could see the contour of her bed and simply decided to throw her onto it. The tiara hit the floor and Clarisse the sheets.
"Here we are!"
He said and covered her body with his. He grabbed her wrists and held her arms over her head.
"Will you listen to me now?" He asked while she was still moving under him and fought to get free.
"I should order to hang you by your toes in my courtyard!"
She hissed and he could not deny that she looked incredible sexy when she was angry. It was dark in there but his eyes had gotten used to it and he could see her face in the soft light of the moon that was falling through the window. Her skin seemed pale but he knew her face was blushed from rage. The passionate glitter in her eyes reminded him about the first and only night they had spent together so far… maybe laying above her hadn't been such a good idea after all…
"Later maybe but not before I've finished to say what I have to say!"
"Then say it and leave!"
Her nails dug into his flesh of his hands and it was almost too painful to bear. He should hire her for his security team. Those nails were really hell and could force anyone to run for his life.
"I know what Mercier is doing here. You want him to write down the whole history of the Renaldis from the time now they were claiming the throne at first till now."
"Congratulations on that. You can go now!"
"I'm not finished yet! You want to make sure the Von Trokens won't again try to steal the throne now that you've finally convinced Parliament that you are the best choice to rule the country until Mia is old enough to succeed the throne. What will happen in almost 5 years when she becomes 21…"
He had been so occupied with spilling out his theory and staring into her eyes that he hadn't noticed that she had given up fighting him. She was breathing heavily under him and her body was still tensed but she didn't scratch him anymore. And now that he finally sensed it indeed felt good.
"And so… that book should destroy every claim the Von Trokens might have and secure your position and Mia's…I even found an interesting family tree of the Von Trokens hidden in a very interesting novel of yours! You have a very witty sense of humour, my dear!"
"What are you talking about?"
"Lady Chatterley… at first I was wondering about your choice of literature but then…" He allowed himself to smile at her but she rolled her eyes.
"It was Rupert's volume. And before it belonged to him it belonged to his father. I guess because no one would expect this kind of information hidden in such a book." She made a break and swallowed. "Not that someone would find out about it. Some pages of the novel are transliterated. Only if you know the original of the book you can maybe notice that some words are changed or replaced. Several data information about the Von Trokens are hidden in those codes," she admitted less reluctantly now, "It starts at the time the Von Trokens lost their claim to the throne after Philippe Renaldi had beaten the French troops in 1456 and Genovia became independent from France."
"The Genovian people made Philippe their King while the Von Trokens became Barons and of course the Renaldis did everything in their power to make sure the Von Trokens would never have the chance again to rule!" He completed the story and shook his head. He knew the history of his proud country by heart but that it could haunt him in such a way he hadn't expected.
"Because they would throw Genovia back to France or Spain in a heartbeat! Just to make sure they could enjoy a good life without having anything else do to but letting someone else make decisions for them!" Clarisse said angrily and closed her eyes. After a few moments of silence she added more calmly. "It started all with King Charles III, who could only become King because he married the only left Von Troken daughter at that time. She wasn't allowed to rule on her own and so they married. He was power hungry and she was only interested in a good life. The perfect connection. She couldn't have children and so they decided to pretend that the illegitimate child of Charles and one of the Queen's Ladies maids was their heir. The lie was uncovered shortly before Philippe became King and so the claim of the Von Trokens on the throne was unjustified anyway but as Rupert always said it can't hurt to remind them about it once in a while."
He had listened to her. When he had first seen the mess of pictures, dates and articles on the several flipcharts in Mercier's rooms he had gone wild. It looked as if an assassin would plan his newest coup but the he had started to search the room and read the small features and notes that were spread everywhere and had started to comprehend what was going on for real. It was like a puzzle. Apparently Monsieur Mercier preferred to work and live in quite a chaotic way…
"Well, that sounds fascinating but I'm still not sure why you have to flirt with that guy to accomplish that mission… "
"I did not flirt with him!"
"Yes, you did!"
"What do you want me to tell you?"
"Everything… start at the beginning! A very good place to start! Don't you think so?"
He could see in her facial expression that she was still fighting with herself. Damn, if she wouldn't talk to him about the guy now he didn't know what to do… if she didn't know by now that she could trust him what was their relationship worth? But thank god she finally started to talk. Still tensed and nervous but she talked…
"But you already know why he is here! I only wished I could have kept his presence here a better secret but when Baroness DeWilde was here for tea she saw him in the garden and was all over him immediately. I had to invite him for the ball… and all I wanted was that no one ever knew what he was doing here. So far we've never allowed any free author to research in our archive. There's too much information hidden that could cause another war! Maybe we have to wait some years more before we can publish the book. No one can ever know that it was me who gave him all the information about my family and the Von Trokens! I can't appear as the aggressor in public!"
"And yet you are."
"For a very good reason!"
She snapped and he finally released her wrists. She rubbed them and he realized that he must have hurt her. He shifted and laid down next to her.
He said gently and placed a tender kiss on her right wrist. She didn't answer but didn't pull away either. So far so good.
"I wanted to tell you about my plans but every time I wanted to somebody came in or was sneaking around us. The night in the hallway I saw Shades hiding behind the corner, the next morning it was Charlotte and after I heard of them talking about us and him behind our backs I decided to give it a rest until he was gone…"
"I see…" It sounded as suppliant as it was meant to be. Why sounded it so simple when she explained it? How couldn't he see the same truth?
"And the sketch?"
"Oh my… he simply needed a break and told me sketching would distract him He asked me if he could draw me and I agreed. God knows I'm used to sit around for portraits!"
"He touched you…"
"Don't be such a macho!"
"And you rolled with him over the floor! In the library! And don't deny it because I saw you with him!"
"Oh tush… I don't know what you saw but one day I stumbled over the ladder in the library and he helped me up. That's all! Who allowed you to spy on me?"
"I didn't spy. I was worried."
To say the least. He couldn't admit that his jealousy had made him that blind. Clarisse hated it when people lost control and that was what had happened to him the last two weeks.
"Anything else you need to know before I throw you out?"
He swallowed and looked at her while she rose from the bed. She adjusted her dress a bit and started to take her jewellery off… the jewellery that was left on her.
"Just one thing…"
He said after a short hesitation.
"I'm all ears."
She stood in front of her big mirror and removed her earrings watching his reflection.
"Do you love me?"
Silence. Then: "That's a very good question…"
She turned and but didn't move towards him. For some more endless painful moments she just stared at him.
"Can I love a man who thinks I'm sleeping with someone who I hardly know? Someone who thinks that I'm a cold-hearted schemer?"
"I never said something like that!" He bowed his head and studied his hands while he thought about her last words. "I just wished…"
"That I'm not a Queen? Join the club then."
She came to the bed and sat down next to him. To his surprise she took his hand and caressed it gently with her thumb. Her voice was very low when she spoke to him again: "My life isn't easy, Joseph. I'm caught in a golden cage and I'm watched like a hawk… not by you." She added quickly when she saw that her words had hurt him. "It's not you, I'm talking about. I know I can trust you! It's the whole country… Parliament, the press. They all wait for me to fail and make a mistake. You know how it is… you've seen how difficult it was to find some private time in the last few weeks…"
Her voice trailed off and she shrugged.
"Does that mean you want me to leave?"
"I want you to understand…" She said tenderly and cupped his cheek with her hand. "I won't have much time to be there for you. I'll be busy and eventually grumpy and I'll need time for myself once in a while to collect my overfilled mind. I'm not easy to get along with because I'm demanding and I don't like to sneak around."
The unhappy expression on her face was the opposite of what he felt right. He sensed hope and a second chance…
"What are you saying, Clarisse?"
"I'm saying I do love you, Joseph Ramirez, but that I can't make any promises… I can't even tell you if a relationship could ever work between us because there are more boundaries than options for us! I don't even know if I should sit here to tell you all this…"
He interrupted her stream of words with a quick kiss. At first she stiffed and then she pulled slowly back and gave him a flabbergasted look.
"I don't care for boundaries. I'm your Head of Security. There isn't a boundary I wouldn't take to be with you! You're my Queen, Clarisse… you own my heart and my life. You always have and you always will!"
"Oh Joseph…" Tears sparkled in her eyes and lost of words she simply bent forward and kissed him impulsively. His arms flew around her and pressed her to him while their mouths melted passionately. Forgotten was the torture of the last few weeks and of tonight. The sensual dance their tongues performed ended slowly when the air of the lungs faded.
couldn't bear to lose you." He whispered at her lips. "Not
after I had waited so long for you." He caressed the back of her
neck and played with the strays of her short hair.
"You have no idea no confused I was… and I missed you so much and I couldn't reach you. Promise me that from now on we'll talk to each other and not just sneak around when we have a problem… or think we have one."
"I promise." She caressed his cheek and leaned into him for another tender kiss.
"Do you still want me to leave?"
He asked with a wide grin and she chuckled.
"Yes, I think you should leave… in the morning."
"That's an agreement I could live with."
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
"Now that's a very good place to start!"
Her head was lying at his chest and she listened to his strong, regular heartbeat. Their clothes were spread in front of and over the bed and the messed up sheets that barely covered their bodies could tell about the sensations and the lust they had just experienced. And yet laid peaceful in each other's arm's and listened to the soft music of the upcoming winds outside the window.
"Fall is coming."
Joe said lowly and kissed her forehead.
"Seems so… but to me it's spring, you know."
He chuckled proudly and said: "I'm glad to hear that."
"There's something I haven't told you yet…maybe I shouldn't but on the other hand…"
"You said you were in Antoine's chamber - what I really don't approve by the way."
"Haven't you noticed something… about you?"
She shifted her position and slipped up in bed to look into his eyes. "Yes, about you…"
He thought for a moment and reviewed the time he had spent in Mercier's quarters. "The pictures of you, your family and some persons that work here or belong to Parliament made me a bit nervous. I thought he could be a killer."
"What? Whatever…let's not go there. And yes I meant the pictures. There was one of you as well, you know."
"Yes, I saw it but since I hung next to Mrs. Kout…" He shrugged. He didn't understand what she wanted to tell him and waited.
"He found the photo one day. I used it as bookmark for the book I was reading and he started to suspect something… so I…" She broke up and the tremble in her voice told him that she was rather nervous.
"So you what?"
"Well, me and you having a relationship… it can't appear in that book and so I told him that you were gay and that my secret crush on you wasn't something that needed to be told to the public. He agreed…"
She made a face awaiting his reaction.
"You told him I'm gay… me of all people?"
"Well, yes… but don't worry he won't tell anyone!"
"That's a real comfort." He remarked dryly and swallowed. What if the guy would have a bad day and decided to spill the beans because he simply wanted to?
"Please, don't be mad at me…"
"I'm not mad. Just… surprised." That could ruin his reputation. The gay bodyguard of the Queen… the press would have a field day.
"Oh and another thing…"
"Yes…" He feared the worst but after all it seemed to be a night of truths. "Just say it." It couldn't become worse anyway…
"In case he decides to invite you for dinner just tell him Shades wouldn't approve of something like that."