And so we come to the end of a very long journey...over 1 year, 300 pages and 128,222 words - the epic tale of Hidden Moments is coming to an end. In an effort to make sure it finished well, the last chapter is the longest of the 37 chapters and was painstakingly written and reviewed numerous times. My gratitude goes out to my dear friend benswoman for all of her editing and letting me bounce ideas off of her. if I had a PD question, she would have the answer or go find it for me so I could focus on writing.
I appreciate all of the kind reviews/comments that many of you have left over the past year. You have fed my writer's soul well and for that I am very grateful.
Thank you for taking this journey with Clarisse, Joseph and myself...we're glad you were along for the sneak peak into the hidden world of Princess Diaries.
I did my best to edit this for posting here...please note that this chapter definitely ventures towards "M" territory but I have removed as much of the "M" content as possible and still keep the flow of the story there. For those of you who want the complete unedited version of the chapter...you know the drill...send me an email and I'll send you the link.
It is with mixed emotions that I give you the final chapter, aptly titled "Home"
Chapter 37: Home
Chapter 37: Home
Scene: After the wedding celebration
Joseph carefully lowered Clarisse to the floor, making sure she was steady on her feet before releasing her.
"That really wasn't necessary, you know." She smiled at him.
"One must never argue with tradition. I've probably jinxed us for not doing it the first time we came home after the wedding."
Clarisse cupped his cheek, "Home…that sounds nice. So why was it my threshold that you felt compelled to carry me across? Why not yours?"
Stepping closer, he pulled her into his embrace, feeling her heart beating next to his. He whispered in her ear, "Isn't it obvious? You have the nicer place." He could feel her body shake as she laughed. It was a beautiful, rich sound that he knew he had not heard enough of over the past several years. Silently, he promised himself to give her as many reasons as possible to smile and laugh in the future.
Before they could say anything further, there was a knock at the door.
"Oh for heaven's sake…" Clarisse complained.
"I'll take care of it, dear…" He walked towards the door as he mumbled, "and whoever is disturbing us."
"At least they knocked this time…" Clarisse teased.
Joseph opened the door. "Shades."
"You'll have to give me a day or two on that. Ok, Boss?"
"OK. Is everything situation normal?"
"Yes, sir – situation normal."
Joseph looked at the young man, a little perplexed. "Is there something you needed then? My wife and I are making every attempt to enjoy some privacy. You'd be surprised how hard that is to come by around here."
Breaking his stoic face, Shades smiled just a bit. "Not really, sir. That's what I wanted to talk to you about."
"I just wanted to inform you that the security cameras in the Queen's suite have all been turned off for the night. Felix will be stationed at the end of the hall and since your room is the only one before the end, there should be no breaches."
Realizing his protégé was offering him the most privacy one could fantasize about in the palace, he asked the question that had been haunting him all evening. "Were the cameras off earlier?"
Shades smiled again. "Yes, sir." He knew why his Boss was asking…Charlotte had shared with him her embarrassment regarding what she had witnessed.
"Thank you, Shades. I know the Royal Family is in good hands with you in charge."
"Thank you, sir. If you don't mind, I may still have a question or two from time to time…"
"Of course, whatever you need. Just ask though…I don't want to be in the way."
"Understood and sir,"
"Good night, Boss."
Joseph smiled…it would take a day or two for everyone to adjust to all that had happened today. "Good night."
He closed the door and locked it. Returning to the sitting room, he heard soft strains of music filling the room. "Clarisse?"
She emerged from the bedroom with a bottle of champagne. "Courtesy of Charlotte…seems she feels very badly about the inordinate amount of interruptions she was responsible for earlier today."
Joseph laughed, remembering the last time she had interrupted them. "I think she realized that last time exactly what she was interrupting."
"Mmmm…yes, not very good timing on her part. Had she been successful in…diverting us from our goal, I may have had to hurt her myself."
"Well, I've been assured that all cameras in your suite have been turned off; Felix is stationed at the end of the hall; and I have locked the door. We are as alone, my dear, as you can possibly be allowed."
"Sounds like a slice of heaven already."
"Mmmm indeed. So what shall we do with this new-found privacy?" He asked as he removed the layers of his tuxedo down to just the shirt and pants, unbuttoning for more comfort.
Clarisse subconsciously licked her lips as she observed Joseph getting comfortable. She looked forward to a more leisurely exploration of the wonderful body that rested beneath the white shirt and black pants.
"If I didn't know better, I'd say you were staring." He teased.
Her smile was sly and the look in her eye was unmistakably desire. The timbre of her voice sent warm tendrils of pleasure throughout his body. "Oh but I am."
"I thought Queens did not stare."
"Queens do not. Wives may, on occasion, find cause to do exactly that." She smiled as she held up the bottle. "Champagne?"
It was Joseph's turn to lick his lips and take a deep breath. On rare occasions in their time together, Clarisse had played the aggressor. Perhaps tonight she would seduce him and he found he couldn't be happier about that. "You get the glasses and I will take care of the cork."
Moments later, the bubbly liquid had filled the slim, crystal glasses. Clarisse lifted her glass in toast. "To finally being alone."
"To home." Joseph replied.
They drank their champagne in companionable silence, watching the firelight cast shadows across the darkened room. After several minutes, Clarisse sat her glass down and turned towards Joseph. "I know what I want to do." She whispered.
Joseph sat his glass down next to hers. "You have my undivided attention."
She turned around. "Help me with my jacket?"
"Of course." His hands slid down the length of her arms, caressing the soft skin. He lifted her right hand and kissed the inside of her wrist, still adorned with the bracelet he had given her. His hands glided back up her arms and under the small jacket she had been wearing that evening. Ever so slowly, the garment slid away from her body, revealing a brief expanse of freckled skin. Joseph's lips leisurely covered the area, taking time to carefully kiss every inch.
"The zipper…" she commanded. Moments later, cool air whispered against her flesh as her dress was lowered to the floor.
Joseph's eyes drank in the sight of creamy flesh, sparsely covered in ivory and lace, glints of gold adorning her neck, ankle, wrist, chest, ears, and now her hand. "You are so beautiful, my love. It still seems so surreal to me."
"You, my love…" Delicate fingers lifted his chin to gaze into his beautiful blue eyes. "are overdressed."
"Would you care to assist me?"
"Seems only fair since you were so kind to help me."
"It was my pleasure." He murmured as he felt her fingers start to work the remaining buttons on his shirt . "As a matter of fact, I shall make that one of my new duties. Olivia and Priscilla will just have to find other things to occupy their time."
Buttons completed, Clarisse slid her hands under the fabric, spanning her fingers out to feel the warmth radiating from his body. She smiled slightly as she heard his breath hitch, enjoying that she was getting to lead the dance for the moment. Moments later, she let his shirt drop to the floor just as her jacket had. Her eyes witnessed a compact, muscular chest – no doubt thanks to the years of weightlifting and training necessary to stay fit for his responsibilities. She noticed the tanned hue of his skin and asked, "How is it you are so tan and my skin more like ivory?"
Joseph let his breath escape in a small stream as he fought to find his voice. Having Clarisse so brazenly touch and look at him was slowly unwinding his carefully woven control. His hand slid over her shoulders, arms and waist as his eyes focused on the contrast of his skin over hers. "Part of it is genetic I'm sure. You are European by birth and I am Puerto Rican. I also have the liberty of jogging without a shirt on during the summer months."
Clarisse's hands covered his shoulders and slowly drifted down his chest, over the light sprinkling of hair and lower to where his frame tapered to his waist. A half smile formed on her lips as she felt the muscles contracting under her touch. "It is a shame I was never able to witness that."
Joseph couldn't speak. He could feel her slim fingers tracing under the waist band of his pants, slowly moving towards the fastenings to release the hold. He couldn't see her eyes as they were lowered, focusing on the task at hand. The zipper lowered and his breath shuddered as he felt the cooler air in the room as another layer was removed.
Pure feminine power. That was the feeling seeping through her veins. Power accompanied by desire - desire to feel this man under her, filling her, completing her. There had been precious few times in her life when she felt such a heady rush of adrenaline solely focused on the completion of one goal. As a general rule, she had to be in control of every facet of her life and thousands of others on a daily basis. Because of that, she had willingly turned over control in intimate matters to her partner, whether it be her husband and King or the love of her life who she now held control over, literally, in the palm of her hand. With Rupert it had been about creating an heir and fulfilling a duty. Later in their years together, it had simply been about satisfying the needs that every human feels – the need for intimacy and the need for closeness.
With Joseph it was about something else entirely.
Their connection was something more primal. It infused their entire being, leaving little room for rational thought when it was unleashed – which is exactly why they had fought to keep such a tight rein on it over the past several years. His voice found some strength as he exhaled. "Clarisse!" His eyes were an interesting cross between pleasure and restraint. There was a battle raging in his body. One part wanted to let this slow, wonderful torture go on for hours – the other wanted to take this beautiful seductress against the nearest wall.
"Please…I can't take much more."
She nodded and with one last loving caress, stepped back to allow him to kick off his shoes and the pants that were now pooled at his ankles. She moved to stand in front of the fire; the subtle glance over her shoulder beckoned him to join her.
He removed his socks and then came to stand next to her…close, but not touching. "So…what did you have in mind, my dear? I like the path you've taken thus far." His hand clasped hers and brought it to his lips.
With a voice thick with seduction, she offered. "I intend to make love to you in front of the fire."
Joseph licked his lips in anticipation; his mind filled with images while the rest of his body tensed with expectation. He watched as she took the quilt from the couch and spread it over the plush rug in front of the fire. Random pillows were tossed to the floor for additional comfort. His pulse increased as he realized she intended for them to make love on the floor. "Clarisse, darling? Are you certain the floor is the best choice? I don't want to hurt you."
Her expression was indescribable as she turned to face him. He couldn't remember seeing that look on her face before. His breath caught as she stepped closer; her hands sliding up his chest and over his shoulders to pull his body closer to hers. Her breath was warm as she whispered, "I suspect your body will provide all the comfort I need."
Realizing her intent, his body shuddered with pleasure. "Yes ma'am." He answered as he slowly lowered his body, leaving a trail of kisses along her front during the journey downward.
Clarisse watched and made an effort to keep her composure as Joseph's lean body slid down hers, his hands and lips touching everything they could reach. Her legs felt like jelly and the tingling sensation coursing through her body was becoming harder and harder to ignore. She wanted to give this gift to Joseph – to take care of him as he had taken care of her for so many years. There seemed to be a lifetime of repayment to be made to the man who had stood by her side, protecting her – supporting her – loving her – waiting for her. A shiver ran down her body, remembering she had almost lost him.
Time lost any further meaning as she sought to show him how much she loved him through her actions. She leisurely explored his body, learning the ripples of the muscles under her touch. Her tongue teased and tasted, driving him slowly to the edge of insanity.
"Oh god…Clarisse… Esta es la más dulce tortura, mi amor."
Joseph saw her through the sexual haze that had overcome him since the moment her long legs trapped him and the exquisite torture began. He vaguely remembered her saying that this had been the favored position between her and the King…but somehow the picture he had in his mind seemed much tamer than what he was experiencing right now. "Joseph." Her voice cut through the haze and his eyes lifted to meet hers.
Slim fingers traced his lips and he drew the digits into his mouth, bathing them in warmth. His eyes darkened further as she let the moistened digits trace down the gold chain to the swell of her ample bosom. Moments later, the tiny clasp connecting the delicate material was released and its contents spilled out, giving him free access to their treasure. Her body lowered and her eyes closed as he returned some of the pleasure she had been giving him.
Taking control again, she returned to an upright position. "Tell me what this feels like, Joseph." Her husky voice commanded as their hands clasped.
Short breaths escaped as he tried to put into words what he was feeling. "It's heaven…no, even better…it's home."
As they made love, she felt the dark hopelessness that had been surrounding her soul for the longest time being edged away – being replaced by his love for her. All of the fear, the loneliness, and the chains of duty that had held her captive for so long were being freed. He was the home her heart had searched for. Moments later their mutual cries filled the air.
"Merde, Clarisse…that was amazing."
She lifted her head enough to kiss him gently. "I wanted to do that for you. When I thought…" She let her words drift off.
Gently rolling them so they were on their sides, he cupped her cheek. "Thought what, my love?"
Wanting to avoid his gaze, she rolled onto her back, staring at the ceiling. "When I thought I had lost you - When you turned in your resignation, I truly thought that was the end of the story for us."
Joseph's index finger turned her face so she was, once again, looking at him. His smile was gentle as he answered. "I was trying to be brave and do the right thing. My guess is that I wouldn't have lasted more than a few days and I would have been kneeling at your feet begging you to let me protect you again."
"So you would have just wanted your job back?" She tried to keep the hurt out of her voice.
"Clarisse, my darling, if there is one thing I have learned about you over the years – it is that no one can force you to do anything. I love you and I would have waited for you, despite my claims to the contrary, until the day I died. I would have learned to be content just to be one step behind you again until that day when you could finally admit that you wanted me to be more to you than just your personal protection. Forcing your hand has never gotten me, or anyone for that matter, anywhere with you."
"You may have a point." She smiled. "Although I'm certain that I wouldn't have survived even twenty-four hours without you. So before your three days were even started, I would have led the Royal Guard out to retrieve you and bring you kicking and screaming back home, if necessary."
He returned the smile. "Now that gives me quite a mental image…you dressed in the Royal Guard uniform riding out to capture me…I will have to add that to the list of fantasies."
Laughter filled the room as they settled into each other's arms. "Thank you for making this fantasy come true for me."
"So you've never made love like that in front of the fireplace before?" He asked, silently hoping it was true.
"Never. I shared with you before, Joseph, what my love life was like. I was….content…but it was very…" she searched for an adequate description.
"Vanilla," he offered.
"Yes…that would sum it up."
"Mmmm – the most decadent chocolate with a wide choice of toppings."
Joseph moved so his body covered hers. "I look forward to satisfying your sweet tooth for the rest of our lives."
Their mouths joined in a heated kiss as the passion started to slowly burn within them again. Clarisse broke the kiss, gasping for air. "I can't wait to…taste…all that you have to offer. For now, though, will you help your wife to her feet?"
Joseph kissed her once more before standing and then offering his hands to pull her to an upright position. "Wait right here."
He watched as she disappeared into the bathroom, returning a few minutes later with a warm cloth for him. "Thank you, love."
"I rather like taking care of you."
Once they were both freshened up, Clarisse turned to him. "Is it too much to ask for you to make one more fantasy come true this evening for me?"
Joseph pulled her into his arms. "There is nothing you could ask that I would deny you, my love."
"Dance with me."
He pulled back slightly to look in her eyes. "Here? Now? Like this?" He gestured to their mutual state of undress.
A slight blush covered her face. "I know it sounds silly…"
"Dancing with you is never silly. You caught me by surprise, that's all. I would love to dance with you."
He kicked the pillows out of the way and bowed to her as he extended his hand, asking for hers in the dance. A satisfied murmur of pleasure escaped his lips as she stepped into his embrace, skin touching skin as the next song began. It was amazing the difference he felt as they moved in time to the music. It was more than just the physical contact; it was a state of mind. Inhibitions vanished; the controlled measure of the steps relaxed and the emotional intensity magnified to the point that he felt transported to another time and place with her in his arms.
Clarisse felt a connection to him in the music that she had never felt before. Dancing with him, like this, should make her feel self-conscious; rather with each brush of his body against hers, it further freed her from the restraint that had been her constant partner in her intimate relationships. She felt alive and connected to the other half of her soul. It was unlike anything she had experienced before and it felt almost spiritual.
As the music faded, she lifted her head. "Thank you."
"It was my pleasure."
Clarisse stifled a yawn. "I'm sorry."
"No need to apologize; it has been a very long day. Maybe we should try to get some rest."
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
"I have the pleasure of the rest of my life to be with you. I get to sleep with you in my arms tonight. I get to wake up next to you. We no longer have to hide our love. I can't imagine minding any of that, can you?" He smiled as he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.
"Well when you put it that way."
"You go get ready for bed and I'll tidy up in here a bit."
"Worried about what Priscilla and Olivia might think?" She teased as she looked around at the clothes strewn all over the floor; pillows and the blanket from the couch on the floor in front of the fireplace; and a half empty bottle of champagne sitting on the service tray.
"More worried about what they will SAY." He laughed.
"Indeed. Alright you tidy up a bit and I'll get ready for bed. Thank you."
Joseph made quick work of cleaning up. The blanket and clothes were put in the hamper to be washed or dry cleaned and the pillows arranged back on the couch. He left the champagne – let them say what they will about that. He made a quick stop in the bathroom to take care of his nightly routine, slipped on his boxers he had worn earlier. He guessed they would have to work out the clothing situation since Clarisse's closet was filled with her garments. Walking into the bedroom, he stopped in his tracks.
"What's wrong?" Clarisse asked, concern evident in her voice.
"You look so damn sexy in my t-shirt. I hope I CAN sleep." He grinned.
"I'm glad you approve. It's much more comfortable than my other choices." She answered as she slipped onto her side of the bed.
"I definitely approve."
"Are you alright with that side of the bed?"
"As long as you're on the other side, I'm alright."
"Come to bed, my husband."
Joseph slid under the covers, kissing his wife before she turned to spoon her body against his. He snuggled close, fitting their bodies together as his arm rested over her midriff possessively. He inhaled the soft scent of her perfume and knew he would sleep better tonight than he had in years.
"Good night, my beautiful wife."
"Good night, my love."
Clarisse had been awakened by her husband in the most luxurious manner. For several minutes…she was unsure how long, she had hovered in the blissful place between wakefulness and sleep; relaxation and anticipation. It wasn't until things had progressed to a point her mind could no longer ignore the signals her body was sending her that she crossed the barrier and became fully awake.
It was pure heaven and it was utter hell. Her body was drawn tense and filled with pleasure…yet he denied her release. Every time she got close, he slowed his efforts leaving her gasping and pleading with him to end the sweetest torture she had ever experienced. Just when she thought she couldn't take anymore, he took pity on her and consummated their love in such an intense way that pleasure crashed over her entire being like a blinding light, sending her spiraling to the sky.
"That was certainly an interesting way to start the day." She smiled.
"Sure beats a cup of tea to wake you up."
Her laughter filled the room. "Indeed."
They laid quietly for a few more minutes as their bodies returned to normal. Finally Joseph spoke, "So what's on the agenda today?"
Clarisse leaned against the door frame to her office, quietly watching Charlotte and Amelia hard at work, preparing for the upcoming coronation. There was an odd feeling settling over her as her Granddaughter looked very much "at home" behind her desk. As excited as she was about her life with Joseph, letting go was not going to be easy.
"Gramma! I didn't expect to see you today. I…I'm sorry…I'll clean up your desk and work somewhere else."
Clarisse raised her hands to stop her and smiled. "It's alright dear, please continue. Joseph wanted to check in with Scott and oversee final arrangements for the transition. I thought I would stop in and say hello and see if there was anything I could be of assistance with."
Amelia cast a quick glance at Charlotte, trying to decide if they should ask for her help, even though she was technically on her honeymoon. They had decided she deserved at least twenty-four hours before they started bothering her. "We weren't going to bug you until tomorrow."
"Well, I'm here now. Why don't we get started?"
Two hours later, Charlotte excused herself to secure some lunch for the three of them. Mia watched as her Grandmother finished up a few details. "For what it's worth, you look positively radiant today." Noticing the raised eyebrow and half grin she was receiving in response to her compliment, she added. "Not that you don't look great every day…"
"Thank you, dear. I suppose not having to hide our feelings any longer and openly being with the one you love does something for your appearance."
"How long did you have to hide?" She knew it could get her in trouble for asking, but her curiosity got the best of her again.
"That's rather private, isn't it?"
Mia's eyes held Clarisse's, not backing down. "Perhaps, but I would like to know."
"Why does it matter?"
Mia slouched back in her chair and stared out the window. "I suppose I am trying to prepare myself for the potential sacrifice I may have to make when it comes to finding MY Prince Charming. I'm not sure there are too many guys out there willing to wait as long as I think you and Joe did."
Clarisse removed her glasses and went over to stand by Amelia. She placed her hand on her shoulder and stared out the window along with her. "The situation between Joseph and I was…complicated. There were many reasons…"
"How long, Gramma? How long did you keep your feelings hidden?"
Clarisse sighed and answered quietly. "Over five years for me…I suspect longer for him."
"Oh Gramma…." Mia wasn't sure what to say. "Did you love my Grandfather? You said before you grew very fond of each other. Did you ever love him?"
Clarisse was silent for a long time, unsure the best way to answer. Finally she decided that Amelia deserved the truth, as best as she could explain it anyway. "Not as I love Joseph; but in a way, I did. I loved who he was and what he represented, even though I'm not certain it could be said I was in love with him. Do you understand what I mean?"
Mia pondered her words carefully. "I think I do. In a way, I love Andrew. He is sweet, kind and such an honorable man; but I wasn't in love with him. I just didn't have the courage to marry him like you did."
Her words were quiet, but firm. "Tosh, Amelia. You had the courage to do something even greater; and, as a result, changed a law that should never have been in existence in the first place. "
"I think I AM in love with Nicholas." She let her words hang in the silence between them.
"I know, Gramma. I have a country to run and so much to learn that I don't have time for a relationship. That doesn't change how I feel."
"I can understand that dilemma very well."
"It doesn't matter anyway. I will probably never see him again."
"Never is a very long time, dear. I suspect young Nicholas may hold feelings for you as well. Let things settle a bit, then you can reassess."
Their quiet ponderings were interrupted by the sound of a female voice. "Look who I found wandering in the hallways." Charlotte exclaimed as she came in with a tray, followed closely by Joseph.
Mia watched as her Grandmother's face lit up. "Joseph, darling, all finished with Scott?"
Joseph felt like he hadn't seen her, hadn't touched her in days, rather than hours. His hands slid around her waist as his mouth captured hers. He knew he had caught her by surprise, otherwise she would never have allowed such a public display of affection. She had caught herself in time to keep her hands at her side; but she couldn't resist his lips…
Clarisse felt the flush rising on her cheeks – partly from embarrassment and partly from her ardor at Joseph's kiss. The sound of clearing throats broke into their moment.
"See, Charlotte, I told you we needed to wait at least another twenty-four hours." Mia teased.
Joseph broke the kiss and reluctantly turned towards his future Queen, while still keeping his hands firmly on his current Queen's waist. "I always knew you were a smart girl." He teased.
"Would you like to join us for lunch?"
"While I appreciate the offer, I have some matters to review with Her Majesty."
Clarisse's voice interrupted, "That sounds very official."
"It won't take long, Darling; but it is something I need to discuss with you about a breach of protocol."
All business now, Clarisse stepped out of his loose embrace. "Of course, should Amelia be involved in our discussions?"
"What's up, Joe?"
Joseph smiled reassuringly. "It's only a small matter, Princess, and one which I should review with your Grandmother. It doesn't involve any of your current staff, so please don't be troubled."
Exhaling a relieved sigh, Mia nodded. "OK, Joe. I trust you." She turned towards Clarisse. "Charlotte and I will be here working through lunch. If you need anything, Gramma, just let me know."
Clarisse nodded and then followed Joseph out of the room. A few minutes later she found herself in the archive section of the Royal Library. "What are we doing here, Joseph? Who does this involve? Your statement to Amelia doesn't make any sense as all of my current staff, with the exception of you will be her staff."
Joseph leaned up against a shelf of old books and looked at her thoughtfully. "The exceptions being me and YOU."
"Me? What did I do?"
"Not only did you fail to report to your Head of Security a personal offense against you…you enlisted my second in command to help you cover it up."
Clarisse's head was spinning, trying to understand to what he was referring. "I know I have no idea what you are talking about."
"It happened right there." He gestured towards the shelf she was standing in front of.
The realization of what he spoke about washed over her, bringing with it guilt and a shudder as she thought of the hands that had held her that day. "How? How did you find out?
"Before you even draw the conclusion, Shades didn't sell you out. I routinely check the video feeds from each day, especially from times that I wasn't with you in an effort to make sure that my team was doing an adequate job protecting you. I keep a list of all those times and then check them off once I've done the review. I was reviewing the procedure with Shades this morning and that day was the only one not checked. It seems the tape was not available when I went to review it earlier."
"Scott must have been a little anxious when you requested it."
Joseph smiled remembering the look on the young man's face. "That's an understatement."
Joseph closed the distance between them and took her hand, guiding her to a section that he knew to be a blind spot for the cameras. He turned her around and put his hands on her hips, where Mabrey had held her that day. His voice was low and he whispered in her ear, "Why, Clarisse? Why didn't you tell me? I would have beat him for daring to touch the Queen….MY Queen…" the last words were spoken with an ominous tone, laced with jealousy.
Clarisse was trying to think – to form the words he needed to hear to reassure him. Unfortunately, she was never able to think clearly with him standing so close to her; his hot breath on her neck. "I knew how you would react. It was innocent…he was preventing me from falling."
He stepped even closer to her and gripped her hips tighter. "Nothing Mabrey ever does is innocent. I've seen the way he looks at you, Clarisse. Many men have had eyes for you over the years…but his eyes held intent more than admiration."
"Joseph…" His words frightened her and excited her. Had he truly watched her THAT closely over the years? More importantly, so closely watched those who watched her? Regardless of that, she knew he was right about the Viscount; everything he did was for a purpose.
His voice was husky and brooked no room for argument. His hands slid from her hips, under her jacket and cupped her breasts, eliciting a moan of pleasure as he caressed her gently. "We will further discuss this in our suite."
She took a few calming breaths as he stepped away from her. His hand was on the small of her back as they exited the library. Her stomach growled lightly, protesting that the piece of toast and tea she had consumed for breakfast had long since disappeared. The heat from Joseph's touch and the thought of what their discussion might entail when they made it to the privacy of her suite, caused more powerful sensations other than hunger to distract her. As they neared the private quarters, she whispered, "For what it is worth…I'm sorry I hid it from you. It won't happen again."
Joseph's stride didn't break and he didn't look at her. His voice was low, but his intent clear. "If he touches you again like that…let's just say, I will need that diplomatic immunity."
Her heart fluttered at the strength of his convictions, his love for her, and yes even his jealousy. All of it fueled her need for him even further. Arriving at the door, she quickly opened it and guided him to their bedroom. The door was locked as they had come to expect interruptions. Her eyes were dark as she turned to him, finding his pools of azure grazing over her body hungrily. "What can I do to make this up to you? You're right. I should have told you. I knew you would react in a very…aggressive way and I wanted to avoid anything that might bring undue attention to the relationship you and I shared." As she spoke, her gaze remained locked on him, even as she slowly started to undress.
"He always suspected there was more...even accused me of such – though he was just trying to bait me at the time." He answered as he followed her lead. This was the first time he remembered arguing or making up as he was getting undressed…married life with Clarisse was never going to be boring.
"He was right. It was always you…your hands I wanted touching me; your lips kissing me; and…" she removed the last of her garments, "your body making love to me."
Fortunately, he had fewer clothes to worry about so he finished at the same time she did. At her admission, he closed the distance between them and claimed her mouth in a fiery, passionate kiss. His hands seeking to touch her anywhere and everywhere all at once. Feeling the bed in their path, he commanded. "Lie down on your stomach."
Clarisse found herself in that now more familiar place of wanting Joseph and his touch and battling with her own pre-defined ideas of intimacy. Finding his eyes and seeing the hunger there, she opted to comply.
Seeing her acquiesce, he watched as she pulled the comforter back and moved to follow his instructions. He took a few calming breaths as his eyes gazed over her beautiful body, amazed that he would spend the rest of his life being able to touch her, kiss her, and make love to her. She was such a complex woman; he knew he would never have his fill of her. Just the sight of her alabaster skin against the dark sheets sent his arousal into the danger zone. Her head was turned towards him, watching him, trying to calculate what he was going to do next.
Clarisse was awash with sensations, Joseph's hands were driving her to distraction and they were barely touching her. She had been able to keep her calm somewhat, until his hands smoothed over the inside of her legs to her inner thighs…it heightened her need for him. Her breathing was shallow and her hands were clinching the sheets in an effort to keep herself from begging.
Unable to stop himself, Joseph continued his ministrations…enjoying the way her body responded to his touch. Unbidden, thoughts of Mabrey touching her flooded into his conscious mind. His touch grew more insistent as Clarisse started to move under him. "If he ever touches you again…"
"Never again…no one but you." She answered.
They were the last coherent words either spoke for the next several minutes as their bodies led their minds down the path of pleasure, erasing the ugly memory of what happened that day and replacing it with far better things to think about.
They collapsed in a heap on the bed, bodies straining for air and muscles screaming from unfamiliar use. "Good heavens, Joseph…that was…."
He found the energy to roll the majority of his weight off her, but still covering her. "Decadent chocolate with an amazing topping."
Her laughter filled the room. "Yes, that's one way to describe it."
Joseph pulled the sheet over their cooling bodies and they drifted off to a contented sleep.
The sound of ringing roused the couple from their sleep. "Who could that be?"
"Any of a multitude of people who demand your attention." Joseph teased.
Clarisse grabbed her silk robe hanging near her bed and moved across the room to answer the phone. Joseph admired the soft curves under the fabric as he absently listened to her half of the conversation. It was only a moment later when she turned to him. "It is for you."
Unable to discern the look on her face, he grabbed his boxers and slipped them on and moved to stand next to her. He took the phone. "Hello?"
Clarisse watched as a myriad of emotions crossed his face. Part of her thought she should leave and give him some privacy…the other part demanded she stayed. She compromised and moved back to sit on the edge of the bed, watching him from a distance. Finally, the waiting was over.
Joseph took a deep breath as he placed the phone back in its cradle. He turned towards the blue-eyed beauty that had stolen his heart. Seeing the concern on her face, he moved to her side and sat next to her. His hand took hers and held it close. "So you know that was Camilla?"
"She called to extend her best wishes to us."
"Is that all?"
He sighed and turned to look into her eyes. "She mentioned regrets…but she knows that you alone own my heart now."
"Why do I feel so insecure then?" She hated admitting it; but knew it to be true.
"There have only been two women who have held a place in my heart. She is the other. While she may be a part of my past…YOU, my dear, are my present and future."
He sealed his words with a kiss that she felt throughout her entire body. "When you kiss me like that, I believe it."
"It is the truth."
"Do you think she will ever find true happiness?"
Joseph pulled Clarisse back into bed and spooned his body up against hers. His hand caressed the soft silk of her robe. "Honestly, I don't know. I hope so. Everyone deserves to find the other half of their soul."
"And what if that person for her is you?"
"If that were true, she would never have let me go in the first place."
"Indeed." Clarisse whispered as she pulled Joseph closer against her.
"Shall we play hookie for a while longer?" He whispered into her ear, enjoying the shiver that ran down her body.
"I think we've earned it."
3 days later
Clarisse stood watching as Jerome made the final fittings of Amelia's coronation dress. He had finished hers a little while ago; but this one was taking longer as her granddaughter had more trouble standing still. She allowed her thoughts to drift back to the first time she had met the young woman who, in a few days, would be Queen.
Clarisse made her way quietly down the steps, seeing her Granddaughter in person for the first time. Her hair was curly and untamed, eyebrows that detracted from the beauty of those deep chocolate eyes and those hideous shoes…
Through all of the external adornments, Clarisse had seen a heart that was loyal, compassionate and held the capacity to love the thousands that she would someday rule. It was that beauty that shone through and kept her from giving up on the young girl who would someday be queen.
Pulled from her thoughts, she smiled at her granddaughter. "Yes, dear?"
"How long did it take you to get used to this?" She looked down at Jerome who was cutting her a look. "Not that you aren't doing a great job…really…I'm just not very patient."
Clarisse noticed the slight roll of the eyes that Jerome gave her in response. "You will get used to it. I might also point out that the more you fidget…the longer it takes."
Mia rewarded her statement with an exaggerated sigh. "Yours didn't take very long."
"Your dress is considerably more fitted than mine. You look beautiful. It's very becoming. Jerome has outdone himself with designing your gown."
Mia took a long look at herself in the three way mirror. "It is beautiful." She glanced down at the man who was kneeling on the floor next to her, working on the hem. "Thank you, Jerome. I appreciate all of your hard work."
The man blushed at the compliment. "Thank you, Your Highness."
Turning her attention back to her grandmother, she confessed. "I am more than a little nervous still about the flaming arrow gig."
Clarisse chuckled. "If it helps any, I was very nervous about that particular event as well."
"Did you make it through the circle and light your eternal flame?"
Clarisse winked at her, "I'm still here, aren't I?"
Mia's whole body shook as she laughed, earning her another glare from Jerome. Her hands rose in a defensive gesture, "Sorry, Jerome."
Clarisse watched as her granddaughter became lost in her thoughts. Deciding to be as curious as Amelia generally was, she asked. "Penny for your thoughts."
Mia glanced up and met her eyes in the mirror. "What? Oh I was just wondering if Nicholas was going to be at the coronation."
Clarisse smiled a knowing smile, but decided to keep it a surprise. She had asked Joseph to hand deliver an invitation to the coronation and to perhaps encourage Nicholas to slowly…very slowly pursue a relationship with Amelia. "One never knows what the future may bring, my dear. Now please, stand still so Jerome may finish and we can get on with our day."
Amelia feigned a bow to her grandmother and with a cheeky smile replied, "Yes, Your Majesty."
3 days later...
Joseph stirred slightly in his sleep, reaching for Clarisse. When he encountered an empty pillow, his eyes opened, searching for her in the darkness. His eyes finally rested on her frame, silhouetted in the faint moonlight streaming through the window. "Clarisse?"
She turned towards his voice. "I'm sorry, darling. I didn't mean to wake you."
"Not feeling the warmth of your body next to me caused me to wake. What's wrong?"
Knowing it was certainly something, Joseph moved to stand beside her at the window. He placed a soft kiss on her neck and pulled her close. "You know you can talk to me, if you want."
"It's silly, really."
"I've never known you to be silly, my dear."
Clarisse allowed herself to snuggle further into his embrace, relying on the strength he was offering. She remained silent for a long time before finally speaking. "I'm not certain how to let her go."
Realizing she was referring to no longer being the official Queen, he chose his words carefully. "It will take time. You have been the Queen for most of your life. Just because they take the crown off of your head and place it on Amelia's, doesn't change who you are. For many Genovians, you will always be their Queen; they will love Amelia and will follow her rule…but you, my dear, will be queen in their hearts."
"I don't want to stand in her way."
"She will find her way. You have taught her well and will continue to do so. Your legacy will live on through her and…" he pulled her closer, "our great grandchildren."
At the thought of that, Clarisse turned in his embrace and kissed him soundly. "It would be nice to have children around the palace again…it's been a long time."
"Indeed it will."
"Thank you, Joseph. With you by my side, I know the future will be easier."
"Are you ready to come back to bed and get some rest?"
Clarisse let her robe fall to the floor and pressed her body into his as she whispered, "I'm ready to come back to bed…but it's not rest that I want."
Joseph smiled as he let her lead him back to bed. "Yes, MY Queen…I am here to serve."
The Next Evening…
"You did a wonderful job, Charlotte. Everything was beautiful and went according to plan." Clarisse offered in sincere praise as the final guests were meandering towards the exit of the Grand Ballroom.
"Thank you, ma'am. The Princess…I mean Her Majesty, Queen Amelia, was a big help as well."
Clarisse smiled and clasped the woman's shoulder. "It will take time…for all of us. I'm glad she was more help than hindrance."
Both women glanced across the room as Amelia bid goodbye to the last of her guests. Nicholas stood in the shadows, patiently waiting to get her attention all to himself. "She has come a long way, hasn't she?"
Thinking back to their first meeting, Charlotte smiled. "From an awkward teenager to graceful Queen…yes ma'am, you did a wonderful job."
"WE did, Charlotte. I couldn't have done it without you." Looking at her aide, she continued. "I understand you spoke to Amelia about pursuing some additional opportunities."
Charlotte exhaled slowly; she wasn't sure how Clarisse would react to the news. "Yes ma'am. When Queen Amelia advised she was going to lobby for women to serve in Parliament, it sounded like a wonderful opportunity. Not that I didn't enjoy serving you." She added quickly.
Clarisse smiled at the young woman who had grown so much as well in the time that she had known her. "Dear Charlotte, the thought never occurred to me. It has occurred to me, however, how fortunate Parliament will be with the addition of your wisdom and experience. Truthfully, it is long overdue. I fear that I was so concerned with upsetting the delicate balance of 'the way things were' that perhaps I overlooked 'the way things should be'…"
"You served your Country well, Your Majesty and brought her through some very difficult times. Sometimes one must focus on holding things together before moving forward. You were just what Genovia needed over the past several years."
"And Amelia is what she needs for the future." Clarisse smiled, realizing that she had done her job and her granddaughter would do the same. "Thank you, Charlotte."
Amelia walked back towards the two women with both Nicholas and Joseph by her side. "I seem to have found two very handsome men. Can I interest you in one, Gramma?" She teased.
Clarisse hesitated, pretending to try to choose between the two men. Extending her hand towards Joseph, she answered. "I have experience with this one; I will take him off of your hands."
Joseph kissed her extended hand and winked at Nicholas and Amelia, "I'm glad she chose me…for a moment there I was a little worried about the younger competition."
Nicholas smiled at Clarisse. "While I would have been honored had you chosen me, Your Majesty, I think Joseph may have been willing to use his diplomatic immunity to see that I posed no threat."
Everyone laughed as Joe nodded in his direction. "That's right and don't ever forget it."
Taking Nicholas' hand, Amelia spoke above the laughter. "Now as I understand it, there is one final tradition before the evening ends."
Realizing to which tradition Amelia was referring, Joseph and Clarisse joined hands and began to leave the dance floor. Amelia's voice stopped them.
"However, since I have done a pretty good job of breaking a fair amount of tradition in the past week or so, I've decided to break at least one more…today." She declared.
Clarisse turned around and cast a wary glance in the direction of her new Queen. "Amelia, this is one tradition that should be upheld."
"There will still be a last dance, Grandmother. Instead of the now reigning Queen dancing, I've decided that I want you and Joe to do the final dance."
"Amelia…it isn't right."
Amelia looked to the remaining staff and her closest confidants, including Charlotte, Shades and Nicholas. "Am I or am I not the reigning Queen of Genovia?"
Everyone around her smiled and answered in chorus, "Yes, Your Majesty."
Triumphant, she turned towards her Grandmother. "So will you not honor a request from your Queen?"
Not waiting for a response from his wife, Joseph bowed slightly. "We would be honored, Your Majesty."
"Thank you, Joe. Everyone please clear the floor for the final dance."
Once they were standing alone on the dance floor, the lights dimmed and Joseph ventured a glance at Clarisse. Her smile was indulgent as she whispered. "I suggest we not make a practice of giving in every time she plays the queen card."
"It always worked for you, my Queen."
The music of the Wango filled the air and negated any further words. Clarisse felt her heart warm as Joseph bowed and kissed her hand to begin the dance. She was grateful that she had changed into a tea length gown that was not only more comfortable than her coronation gown, but also allowed greater movement for dancing.
Joseph did not think it was possible to be any happier than he was at that moment in time. The woman he loved more than anything else in the world was wearing his ring, sharing his bed, and openly loving him in public. Now they were the honored guests at the final dance at the coronation ball. In no scenario could he have ever imagined it being this perfect. Feeling her body sway to the music and making no attempt to hide how they felt about each other gave a depth to their dance that had not been there before. As the strains of music came to an end, rather than bowing and walking away as they had done in the past, Joseph's lips found hers and kissed her with a tenderness that held both their hearts captive. It was only a slight clearing of a throat and a tap on his shoulder that caused them to break apart. "Really, Charlotte? Haven't you done enough interrupting for a while?" Joseph teased.
Charlotte good naturedly blushed remembering how many times she had bothered them on their wedding night. Never to be deterred from her task, though, she handed a rose to Clarisse. "You'll need this for the remainder of the dance."
Unsure what she meant as the music had ended, Clarisse took the rose. Before she could ask anything further, Charlotte stepped away and the music of the Tango began. Clarisse spun around to fuss at her Granddaughter and noticed that the darkened room seemed to be empty, except for the retreating form of Charlotte. She turned to look at her husband, whose eyes had turned dark with desire when thoughts of dancing the seductive dance with her again.
"Dance with me, mi' amore. No more hiding."
"No more hiding." She placed the rose between her teeth and began to move in time with the music.
"Are you sure they can't see us?" Charlotte whispered to Amelia.
"If she could see me, she would have found a fan to smack me with." Mia whispered in return.
"True. I'm still not…"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"Shut up and enjoy. It's not every day you get to see love acted out in the dance." Mia instructed.
"Yes, Your Majesty."
Unaware they had an audience, the couple created the essence of love, desire and passion through their dance. Having finally been able to experience the full physical indulgence of their love, it heightened every touch, every turn, every step in the dance.
"They dance it beautifully." Nicholas whispered to Mia.
"Yes, they do…better than anyone else I have ever seen…even in movies."
"Do you think you and I will be that good together someday?"
Turning in his arms, she kissed him. "Someday…yes."
Charlotte felt the gentle squeeze of her hand that was nearest to Shades. Their love still had to remain in the shadows, but both knew that someday they would have their moment to shine as well.
The music finally stopped and the only sound filling the large room was the echoes of their breaths as they struggled to catch it. Not wanting to lose the moment, Clarisse whispered, "Joseph…take me home."
Hand in hand the couple walked out of the Grand Ballroom at the Royal Palace in Genovia ready to begin the rest of their lives…together.
Spanish Translation: Esta es la más dulce tortura, mi amor." (This is the sweetest torture, my love.)