"24 Hours"

Author: Shakayla

Rating: T, progressing a little further in the ratings in later chapters.

Summary: A glimpse into 24 hours that changed the nature of Clarisse and Joseph's relationship.

Disclaimer: We all know I don't own them and make no money from this work of fiction. So why do I do it? Well…let's see: I love writing. I love C/J. I love letting them do what Disney and Meg Cabot never would. I love all of the C/J fans – you are awesome!

Special Thanks to my Beta – Benswoman – You rock!

A/N: I noticed that the formatting of my document didn't keep during the upload (most noticeably the indents for the paragraphs) As time is not my friend right now and I'm guessing (and hoping) you are more interested in reading this than whether the first line of a paragraph is indented 5 spaces...I'm going to leave it. Thanks for your understanding!

This story was inspired by comments from fans over on Facebook. All of the friends there get updates on story progress (both fanfic and the novel) and we have a lot of fun getting to know each other a little better, sharing our love for great PD stories. Want to learn more? Check out my profile for details!

Without further ado…enjoy!


Chapter 1: Heaven or Hell…

Joseph watched as Clarisse walked into the room. To the untrained eye, she would appear no different than she did yesterday or any other day for that matter: Calm, cool, collected and in control. His sapphire eyes saw a different woman, however. He still saw what everyone else saw, but now he was privy to so much more. The woman behind the Queen. Watching Clarisse would never be the same again. It was amazing how much twenty-four hours could change a person's perspective…could change their life.

24 hours earlier…

8:00 a.m. Thursday. The Queen's Birthday

"Good morning, Your Majesty. Did you tell Chef what you wanted for your birthday dinner?" Joseph asked as Clarisse made her way from her private rooms to the sitting room in her suite where she took her tea. He astutely observed that she was moving much slower today than usual.

"What I want…Chef can't give me." Clarisse uncharacteristically sighed.

"Come now, Clarisse. You have the finest Chef in all of Europe at your beck and call. What is it that you want for your birthday that he can't give you?" Joseph took a step closer to her, trying to ignore how stunning she looked in the black skirt, white satin blouse and red jacket she had donned for her wardrobe choice today. It wasn't so much the clothing, but rather the way they hugged her body in just the right way to send his overactive imagination into hyper drive.

"What I want, Joseph…is to feel young again. No one can do that for me." Clarisse hated to whine. Queens did not whine. But it was her birthday so she should be entitled to a small amount of such petty behavior, shouldn't she?

Her admission drove Joseph's gaze back to her face, to those beautiful blue eyes. Eyes that had spoken volumes to him over the years. Today they looked tired…wistful. He took another step closer and leaned in so he could speak softly, "Age is only a number, my friend."

Clarisse tried to keep her voice steady. Joseph was so close she could smell his cologne, a subtle spice scent that was just as masculine as he was. His nearness and husky voice sent a ripple of desire through her body. It had been that way since they had danced the Wango in San Francisco a couple of years ago. Something had changed that day. Nothing so overt as her admitting her feelings about him – not to him…not to herself.

No. She simply became aware of him on a different level. A level that she simply couldn't risk right now. The realization that Mia still had a couple of years before she could assume the throne tampered the wave of desire threatening to wash over her. "Today the number feels very high, my friend."

Joseph saw her smile faintly. One of a million things she did every day to keep those around her feeling comfortable and appreciated, regardless how much she might be suffering on the inside. There had to be a way he could make her feel better. He had bought her a gift for her birthday, an opaque scarf that shimmered when the light caught it just right. Jewelry had been a consideration, but honestly what do you buy the woman who happens to own the crown jewels?

He would give some serious thought to how he might find a way to bring the number she was feeling today down significantly. If anyone could do it – was going to do it…it was going to be him!

~~ 10 a.m. ~~

Clarisse was seated behind her desk trying to refrain from rubbing her neck from the tension that was building as more and more stacks of paperwork were placed on her desk. When Charlotte stepped in to the office again, Clarisse considered retrieving the ceremonial bow and arrow and shooting her so she wouldn't place one more item on her "to do" list, but noticed quickly that she was empty handed so refrained from any further violent thoughts about her assistant.

"I'm going to get your tea, Ma'am. Would you like anything else?"

"Perhaps a couple of aspirin? All of this paperwork is hurting my head more than usual today." Clarisse hated admitting a weakness, but since Charlotte and Joseph were the only ones privy to her admission, she felt safe enough to let the words escape.

The air left the room only a few moments after Charlotte shut the door when strong, capable hands covered her shoulders and began gently massaging. She tried, but couldn't stop the murmur of relief combined with pleasure that escaped her lips, "Mmmm…Joseph…"

Hearing her say his name like that sent liquid fire to his center and warmed his entire body by several degrees. He forced a much calmer response than he was feeling. "Just relax and let me see if I can help." He knew he would only have a few moments before Charlotte would be back, but wanted to help however he could.

An idea had also formed as he had stood watch this morning. It was a risky move, but the payoff could be huge. The time for executing that plan would come later. For now, he would continue to try to bring her a small modicum of relief while trying very hard not to listen to the way her breath would catch each time he touched her or the small sounds that slipped from her carefully guarded lips.

A few moments later, the sounds became a word, "Charlotte…."

Joseph smiled and leaned down. He just couldn't resist. "I'm hurt that you're thoughts are of Charlotte right now…" he let the implied meaning of his words drift over her as he waited for her reply. His breath caught as her hands covered his, effectively stilling them.

"More so thoughts of being caught by Charlotte."

In a totally unexpected move, Joseph felt one of his hands being lifted as her head turned slightly. He swore his heart stopped beating for a moment as her lips brushed across the flesh on his hand, igniting every nerve ending in his body. "Thank you, Joseph. That helped."

His fingers were so close to her, he couldn't resist. As a matter of fact, he was confident no mere mortal could have resisted the temptation. As she released his hand, he let his fingers graze gently across her chin and along her jaw line until he playfully toyed with the ruby dangling from her ear. "You are welcome."

At that moment, the doorknob turned and he stepped back to a more appropriate distance. Charlotte entered followed closely by Priscilla bearing the silver tea service. Once she had finished serving the tea, Joseph got Priscilla's attention and directed her over to where he was standing. He took a piece of paper from the drawer of the desk that Charlotte often used when Clarisse needed her nearby. Handing it to Priscilla, he asked, "I can count on you to take care of this for me?"

She quickly read over the note. "Of course, sir. Consider it done."


"Yes, Your Majesty?"

"Is everything alright?"

"Yes. I just needed Priscilla to take care of something for me later today as I will be tied up in a meeting. She will still be available to meet any request you might have."

Clarisse smiled. He was up to something, but after the wonderful massage he just gave her, she would play along. "Of course, thank you Priscilla."

Priscilla curtsied and then excused herself. Business returned to normal in the Queen's office.

~~ 1:00 p.m. ~~

The morning was rounded out with the Queen enduring brief meetings with three members of Parliament. Though not long in duration, the tension between the Crown and those who also helped govern the great land of Genovia grew thicker each day. Joseph feared if something didn't break soon, it may break his Queen. She had been fighting the good fight for many years, but she needed to be able to pass the gauntlet on to Mia to usher in the new era of Renaldi rule.

He would never tell her, but those meetings seemed to be the largest culprit in adding the years onto her body. It wasn't the people of Genovia…they weren't responsible. Clarisse cared about them so deeply – had given her entire life to serving them. When she held court and the people came to see her, there she thrived. She appeared young, vibrant, and fulfilling her purpose. Parliament was responsible for the majority of the stress and worry she faced every day. Parliament, along with a small minority of the Genovian elite, who wanted the crown for themselves…

As they returned from the final meeting, Joseph received a nod from Priscilla as they passed by the kitchen area. That was his signal. "Charlotte, it's time for the Queen's lunch now, correct?"

A quick glance at her watch provided confirmation, "Yes and there is only one appointment this afternoon, which called just a short time ago to reschedule." She smiled at the Queen, "They must have learned it was your birthday and didn't want to trouble you."

Clarisse continued walking towards her office, "It's too bad Parliament didn't take that into consideration."

Charlotte cast a worrisome glance in Joseph's direction. She knew, as well as he, the pressure the Queen felt on a daily basis. Parliament was just waiting for her to slip – to show some sign that she was no longer fit to rule. Of course both Charlotte and Joseph knew that she would die before she would ever let that happen.

Joseph touched Charlotte lightly on the arm to reassure her then increased his stride so he was even with Clarisse. "Your Majesty, if I may? I've arranged a very special lunch for you today."

For a moment, the burden that Clarisse carried on her shoulders lifted slightly. "Will you and Charlotte be joining me?" She really didn't want to have to share her birthday lunch with anyone else. Truthfully, she preferred a private meal with Joseph, but Charlotte was always good company as well.

Charlotte took that opportunity to speak up, "I'm sorry, Your Majesty. I have a prior commitment. I can try and change it, if you like." Because both Joseph and the Queen were in front of her, she felt safe in letting a slight grin cross her face. Joseph would kill her if she intruded on the few moments of private time he had arranged with the Queen.

Clarisse stopped and turned, offering a sympathetic grin, "Of course not, dear. I understand. You go on ahead. As a matter of fact, since there are no pressing matters, why don't you take the afternoon off? We've both been working entirely too hard this week."

"Yes ma'am, and thank you." Charlotte grinned and then continued, "Happy Birthday, Your Majesty. I hope your day improves."

Clarisse nodded, "Thank you dear. Now that my dealings with Parliament are over for the day, I'm sure it will. Enjoy your day and I'll see you in the morning."

Charlotte walked away, thinking to herself, "I'm sure that's not the only reason your day is improving. You kids have fun."

Once Charlotte was out of range, Joseph extended his arm to Clarisse to escort her to the special lunch he had planned. Once her hand had slipped into place, he leaned over and whispered conspiratorially, "Now that Mother has gone, we can play."

Squeezing his arm a litter tighter, Clarisse gave him a bright smile and secretly hoped that she could let herself go – just for a little while- and play. It had been so long since she had truly been able to relax – to let go – to just be…

An afternoon alone with Joseph would be the culmination of both heaven and hell. Heaven because she knew, if she encouraged him, he could make her forget her name. Hell…because she knew she shouldn't…


Roused from her thoughts, Clarisse realized they were standing outside, just in front of the hedge maze. "Yes?"

"The sky has clouded over a bit; a storm may be on the horizon. Our lunch was to be an outdoor affair. Are you still game?" He had given her a way out, but Joseph truly hoped she would still come along with him. So what if they got a little wet. Neither would melt. Don't lie old man, the thought of seeing her in soaked clothing… Joseph shut down that line of thinking…it was way too early in the day to entertain thoughts that would necessitate a cold shower.

Looking towards the sky, she noticed that it was much darker than earlier…a somber sky to fit the mood of the day. She was tired of feeling that way, though. Remembering Joseph's hands on her shoulders and the pleasure she felt at his touch, she couldn't deny them some alone time. Time to explore a little bit of heaven…and hopefully avoid the depths of hell. She offered him a sincere smile, "My father once told me that I wouldn't melt. Perhaps it's time we test that theory?"

Joseph's smile matched hers and, once again, he offered his arm in escort as they made their way through the maze to the fountain that lie deep in the heart of the landscaped hideaway. With the exception of their bedrooms, which wasn't on the list of possibilities at this time, it was the closest thing to privacy they could hope for at the palace.

"A picnic!" Clarisse exclaimed as they rounded the final obstacle that led to the open area of the fountain.

"Nothing like a picnic to make one feel young again," Joseph was delighted in her reaction to his surprise.

"Oh Joseph, this is lovely." She turned and cupped his cheek to try to convey to him, the best way she knew how…how she felt about him. Inwardly sighing…she admitted her assessment wasn't correct. It was the only way she would allow herself at this moment to convey those feelings. Maybe that will change today…

Her warm hands on his cheek sent small tendrils of pleasure through his body. He decided that before the lunch was over, he would return the gesture…adding a little touch of his own. "I'm glad you like it. May I take your jacket and help you into your seat?"

Nodding, Clarisse slipped gracefully out of the red jacket, enjoying the slightly cooler fall air as it whispered through the silk material. Joseph carefully hung the garment over the back of the padded bench that had been provided for their comfort. In his younger years, he would have preferred sitting on the blanket folded neatly at the corner of the table, but somehow the thought of the aches and pains they would have to endure when they tried to get up…well, that just didn't seem romantic at all.

They took their places at the table. A checkered table cloth covered the eating area and a picnic basket completed the picture. Joseph opened the basket and retrieved some wine, glasses, crackers, cheese and fruit. He poured the wine and then lifted his glass to toast, "To feeling younger."

Clarisse smiled, recognizing all of this had been done since she made her comment this morning. She lifted her glass and hit it gently against his, "To a wonderful friendship…and, to feeling younger."

"Here, here." Joseph sipped his wine while watching her enjoy her first taste. The vintage was from his personal selection and he was certain she would be able to appreciate the gesture.

The liquid washed over her tongue, filling her senses with black cherry and subtle hints of other berries. Her taste buds tasted a faint spice and just a hint of chocolate. It was unique. It was special. It was… "Joseph, this is divine. Where did you find such a unique combination?"

"I'm glad you approve. It's from my personal collection. I've been saving it for a special occasion. Your birthday seemed pretty special." He tried to meet her eyes, but his were drawn to the moisture glistening on her full lips. As though sensing exactly what he was focused on, her tongue slipped out and licked the moisture, sending a fresh wave of desire straight to his groin.

"Well thank you for such a wonderful gift. Shall we eat?" Clarisse asked as a way to change the subject. Though she knew Joseph always watched her…intently, today his gaze seemed to bore straight through her and into the depths of her soul. It made her feel slightly self-conscious. If he peeled away the designer clothes, jewelry and crown – would he still be pleased with what he saw? She prayed that would be the case.

Joseph smiled and nodded in answer to her question. He took a cracker and put a slice of cheese he guessed to be provolone on and then lifted it towards Clarisse's mouth. Her expression widened a bit at his boldness, but she opened her mouth slightly to accept the gift.

As her soft lips closed slightly around his fingers, Joseph's pulse jumped at least fifty beats a minute, he was certain. Reluctantly, he withdrew from the warm cavern of her mouth and desperately tried not to think about how wonderful her lips would feel on other highly sensitive areas of his body.

Clarisse knew this was trouble, but she couldn't and didn't want to stop herself. Following his example, she placed the cheese on the cracker and lifted it towards his mouth. Her gaze was riveted on his mouth as it closed around her well-manicured fingers. She felt his tongue under her fingers as he took the morsel from them. The desire to feel his tongue glide across her lips was overwhelming. Oh she was definitely in trouble.

They continued to feed each other, slowly, from the offerings Joseph had brought. With each taste, Joseph found it harder and harder to control the emotion he normally kept hidden in his gaze. His eyes had darkened and he knew before the day was over – even if it cost him his job – he was going to have to kiss her…and kiss her well.

By the time they arrived at the strawberries for dessert, the sexual tension between them had grown to an unbearable level. Clarisse had to admit to herself that Joseph had succeeded. She felt younger – felt adventurous – felt daring even. She felt like she was walking up to the pearly gates of heaven when Joseph lifted the strawberry he had just dipped into the powdered sugar.

She knew it was decision time…heaven or hell…

If Joseph's eyes were darkened with desire before, they became the deepest shade of blue when Clarisse's tongue slid out of her mouth, swirling the ripe berry, to lick off some of the powdered sugar before closing her mouth around the lower half and biting, allowing the juice to slip down her chin and slowly make its way to her neck.

"Clarisse…" Joseph growled as his hand went to her neck, pulling her face close to his. He lowered his head as he tilted hers back, his tongue catching the errant liquid just as it reached the hollow of her throat.

She felt his tongue flick across her skin, quickly at first to stop the juice and then a much slower, deliberate stroke to remove any trace of strawberry. Was it possible for him to feel the blood pulsing through her veins with his brazen caress? It definitely wasn't possible was for her to stop the low moan of satisfaction from that very same caress. "Joseph…"

He pulled back slightly. The desire to see her face so strong he couldn't resist. His blood heated and every nerve came to life as he drank in the vision she offered. Her eyes were closed and her glistening, full lips were parted. The pad of his thumb slipped slowly across her bottom lip. "Clarisse…" he whispered, "If you don't want me to kiss you, tell me now." Truthfully, the vortex of emotion she had pulled him into was so strong, he wasn't sure that he COULD pull away. But for her, he would try.

Her lashes remained lowered, eyes closed. The only response was the tip of her tongue slipping from her mouth to wet her lips…a subconscious acceptance and preparation for being kissed. Joseph took that as encouragement and slowly lowered his lips to hers for their first kiss.

Definitely heaven…

Clarisse felt a slight pressure as the softness of his lips gently touched hers. She held still for a moment, relishing the connection…it had been so long since she had experienced intimacy of any kind. She had almost forgotten how wonderful it felt…almost. Now that she had allowed this step, she could show him – in a very tangible way – just how much she truly cared for him. Angling her head slightly, she deepened the kiss, her hands sliding up his arms until they could slip to the back of his neck. She didn't want this kiss to end anytime soon. Her heart sped up as she felt his right hand move to rest on her waist. The heat from his touch sending pleasure spiraling throughout her body and creating a very familiar, but long forgotten sensation…need.

Joseph sensed the slight change in her body…she doesn't want you to stop. With this realization, he moved his body even closer to her as his tongue slid along her lips, asking to deepen their connection even further. Meanwhile, the hand that rested on her waist involuntarily tightened. It took a great deal of effort to not allow it to move higher…or lower.

Time ceased to exist for both as the leisure exploration they had been engaged in no longer seemed to be enough. Warmth spread throughout their bodies as Joseph's tongue slipped in to the sweet cavern of her mouth for his first taste. Strawberries and wine permeated his senses as he took his fill of her, drawing her further and further in to his embrace.

Clarisse was certain of only two things at this moment in time, none of which had anything to do with Genovia. First, every nerve ending in her body was attuned to the closeness of Joseph's body. It felt as if each one was straining for just the briefest of touches to feed the desire awakening deep inside of her. Second, this afternoon with Joseph would never be enough. Now that she had shared these moments in time with him, there would be a constant longing for more. More than she should want. More than she could have.


Joseph felt his closely guarded control slipping slowly away with each murmur of pleasure that reached his ears. This kiss was everything he had ever hoped for and it left him longing for more. Her hands slid from the nape of his neck down his back as far as their position would allow. Even this fairly benign touch heated his desire and melted the walls he had built around his desire and, more importantly, around his heart.

The hand resting on her waist could no longer be stilled. Tentatively it began to move. First it ventured lower to caress the gentle curve of her hip. Just as he suspected after years of walking behind her, there was a lean firmness that rounded out nicely and led to shapely thighs that he had imagined seeing hundreds of times. Grateful she didn't break the kiss or pull away, he continued exploring. Taking it slow on the return trip, he settled in at her waist for a few moments. Though the years had left a softness there, her figure was still reminiscent of the hourglass figures for which women strive. If anything, her breasts had filled out more in the later years of her life – something that had definitely not gone unnoticed by her diligent head of security.

As though it had a mind of its own, his thumb slipped away from the fingers and with an arc motion swept along the underside of her breast. This time he was rewarded with a gasp as she broke away slightly from the kiss. His breath caught in his throat as he waited for whatever repercussions would follow.

At Joseph's bold touch, flames of desire licked at Clarisse's body fanning the embers that had been simmering just below the surface. The depth of the reaction made her pull away – not because she wanted it to stop – quite the contrary. Rather it created an intense yearning for more. Before she could determine the best way to share that with Joseph, she heard him whisper.

"I'm sor…"

His words were cut short when he felt her index finger press against his lips requesting silence. The words were replaced by a moan as Clarisse took his hand and slowly guided until it palmed the precious weight he had just grazed. Venturing a look at her, he saw her eyes close, head tilt back and her breathing grow shallow sharing more of how it affected her than words could at that moment.

Not wanting to waste the beauty of the moment, he leaned in and placed feather light kisses on the curve of her neck as he teased and caressed the precious gift he had been given. The rest of the world faded away as her gentle murmurs and gasps of pleasure filled his entire being. He could easily drown in the sensations she brought to life in him.

Pure heaven…

Her skin was soft and he wanted to taste every freckle that dotted her alabaster skin with caramel color. The scent of her perfume was subtle. Yet, if he had to pick a fragrance to represent Clarisse, this would definitely be at the top. Perhaps he would ask her the name so he could purchase a bottle for her. Of course, he would spritz a small amount on a pillow as a pleasant reminder of the afternoon they were sharing.

He was pulled from his blissful haze when he felt drops of moisture falling on his head. Was she crying? Did she regret allowing him these liberties? Fearing the worst, but hoping for the best he reluctantly pulled away to do damage control.


Clarisse was in heaven, of that she was sure. Though the bench did not provide for adequate maneuvering, she and Joseph were making the best of their time together. His kisses and touches allowing every nerve ending the sensation of pleasure - something they had long learned to live without. She wanted and needed more, but their location – private as it was – was inappropriate for anything more than what they were sharing at the present moment. That doesn't stop you from wanting it, does it? Find a way. Consider it a birthday gift to yourself.

Just as she was about to ask Joseph if perhaps they could find a more comfortable place to be alone together, she felt it…

"Clarisse?" At first there was concern in his voice, then confusion. She wasn't crying – thank heavens. Her eyes were clouded, with desire...not tears.

His relief was short lived, however, when he realized that it was starting to, "Rain!"

Joseph made the obvious announcement and abruptly pulled away from her. He quickly grabbed the blanket, picnic basket and their jackets and jogged the fifty feet or so to the gazebo that would provide some shelter from the now pelting downpour. He assumed she would be right behind him.

He assumed wrong.

Once he set everything down, he turned to make sure she was safe. His eyes registered disbelief as he saw his Queen…his friend…his Clarisse slowly twirling, face upturned and smiling, in the pouring rain. It was if his earlier fantasy about her wet clothes clinging seductively to her body was coming to life right here in front of him. She looked carefree…and young. Just as she wanted. You did it! Now go and make the most of this moment!

Spurred by his inner thoughts, he jogged back to her position and pulled her body flush with his. He was rewarded with a bright smile followed by an ardent kiss. Despite the cool of the rain, their bodies gave off a heat that seemed to brighten the gloomy weather all around them.

Clarisse had no idea what inspired her to just stand there in the rain. It felt as though the cool liquid washed away all the filth left on her soul from her dealings with Parliament. She felt young. She felt beautiful. She felt alive!

Joseph's arms surrounded her and she couldn't help but smile at the look on his face. She had surprised him as well. That doesn't happen very often, but I intend to surprise him at least once or twice more before my birthday is over. His hard body felt so good against her soft curves and his kiss…she was quickly becoming addicted to his taste and touch. She inhaled sharply as he lifted her into his arms and carried her to the shelter of the gazebo.

"Well, I guess my father was right," She teased as he lowered her back to a standing position.

"How so?"

"I didn't melt!" Clarisse laughed.

His laughter joined hers and they just stood for a moment enjoying the little slice of heaven they had been given today. Finally, Clarisse stepped out of her shoes and explained, "While I don't regret being so carefree, there is one thing I regret."

Alarm bells resounded in Joseph's head. Did she regret the physical exchange they had shared? Deciding to stay calm, he ventured a reply, "And what might that be?"

Clarisse looked down at her legs, "Stockings are just dreadful when they are wet!"

Relief flooded his body at her admission. Wet stockings he could handle. Regret over what they had shared, he could not. He took her hand and led her to the small bench seat formed from the plank of wood attached to the interior of the structure.

"Joseph?" Clarisse wasn't sure what his intentions were, but the unmasked desire she saw in his eyes both frightened and excited her. She was only frightened because now that she had opened herself up to feel something on this level, it would be too hard to go without it ever again.

"Let me help…" It was both a statement and a question.

Kneeling down in front of her, barely feeling the pressure on his knees, he let his hands drift up her calf. The wet hosiery created an odd texture as he moved over the muscled area. So strong, yet so feminine…a dangerous combination.

Clarisse was certain that she couldn't speak nor breathe at that moment in time. The rain was falling harder now and she was certain that lightning and thunder were filling the heavens. But all she could feel was Joseph's hands skimming up her calf, over her knee and under the hem of her skirt to the place where her hosiery stopped and flesh began. After a few tentative attempts to unhook the garment from the clips that held them in place, he lifted the hem of her skirt until he could see the target.


Never before had the simple act of removing hosiery been so…erotic. The pads of his fingers slipped under the band and slowly began to slide the damp material from her skin. She sent a silent prayer of thanks that she had taken a few extra moments in the shower this morning to shave her legs. Otherwise, this would have been too embarrassing to face. Inch by inch the fabric revealed her bare leg, leaving no barrier to the warmth of Joseph's lips as he placed tender kisses along the newly exposed flesh.

Lifting her leg slightly, he continued the process until – at long last – the offending garment was removed and tossed aside. He finished the task with kisses on the top of her feet, bathing each toe with affection. Satisfied, he lowered that leg back to the original position and went to work on the other. Clarisse closed her eyes, took the breath she had been holding as she tried to ignore the tell-tale signs of arousal: tingling in her abdomen, flushed skin, shallow breathing and the pulsing need that was growing in an area that hadn't been touched by a man in years…

As Joseph moved to her right leg, he fought the strong impulse to let his hand venture further along the path of her leg to the inner softness of her thighs…and beyond. He could swear that he could feel the blood pulsing through her veins creating an intense heat just a few inches further than where he had ventured. Maybe someday…but for now, take the gift you've been given. Taste her. Memorize every muscled contour.

Of all her considerable assets, Joseph felt her legs to be the most fascinating and beautiful. Having studied ball room dancing from a very young age, her limbs were strong and well-defined. They were also long and utterly feminine. He had lost count of the times a dress she had worn that sported a slit up the side and offered a glimpse of the rarely seen upper leg had inspired fantasies. Legs wrapped around his body, holding him close as he drove into her welcoming body again and again…Yes, many a night had been spent in a cold shower trying to ease the ache from his traitorous body.

So it was with slow and attentive movements that he paid homage, not wanting to miss one detail of this moment. Once he could prolong it no further, he placed a final kiss to the top of her foot and found her eyes.

"Call security." Clarisse commanded quietly.

Of all the things he expected her to say, that had not registered anywhere near the top. "Clarisse?"

"Call security," she repeated, "and tell them the Eagle is safe and to not send anyone until the storm has passed."

Realizing this would give them some more time alone as they wouldn't have to worry about some young gun trying to make a name for himself braving the worst storm Genovia had seen all year to "rescue" the Queen and her Head of Security with an umbrella. "Yes, ma'am." He smiled.

Pressing a button to activate communications, Joseph hoped his voice sounded normal. Clarisse, sitting there in her bare feet, was definitely having an impact on his ability to think and speak straight. "Shades?"

"Boss! We've been worried. Are you and the Eagle secure?"

"The Eagle and I have taken refuge in the gazebo. We are reasonably protected from the storm and I'm about to take steps to further ensure the safety of the Queen." He shot Clarisse a glance to see her reaction. Her gaze was intense, but she didn't seem overly concerned with his statement. He returned his attention to Shades. "You are to assume responsibility at the Palace until I return. Do not send anyone out to retrieve us unless you hear from me. Is that clear?"

"But Boss…"

"Is that clear?!" Joseph demanded.

"Yes, sir.

"Joseph out."

Clarisse's voice was thick with desire when she spoke, "So now both Mother and Father have been dealt with."

"Along with any meddling brothers and sisters," he smiled, referring to the other members of the security team and Royal Guard.

"So how are you planning on protecting me further from the elements?" She smiled.

"Watch and see." He stood and grabbed the blanket and their clothing that he had quickly delivered to the gazebo when the rain first began rendering it mostly dry. The blanket was folded in half and placed on the floor of the gazebo and under the seat area. His jacket was made into a makeshift pillow and placed under the bench as well. Pleased with his preparation, he turned back towards her and extended a hand, "Your Majesty, if you will please lie down."

Looking at the makeshift pallet he had made, she uttered, "You have got to be kidding…"

"Clarisse, the storm is worsening and you didn't want to be rescued, so I need to try to protect you as best I can from the lightning and rain. Under the bench, on a blanket with me next to you is the best I can do under the circumstances."

"You are joining me?" This got her attention.

"May I?" He wanted to, badly, but wouldn't pressure her unless it truly became necessary for her safety.

She stepped closer and kissed him. It wasn't as heated as their earlier exchange, but it held a promise that they could pick back up where they left off. Pulling back slightly, she answered, "Only if you promise to stay close…you know how frightened I can be of storms."

He couldn't help but smile. Clarisse loved storms and often sat in the seat of the bay window in the palace library and watched the lightning and rain while the thunder serenaded her. He sighed dramatically, "If you insist."

Carefully they lowered their bodies until she was tucked, at least partially, under the shelter of the wooden planks that comprised the seat in the gazebo and he was tucked in next to her, his right arm acting as a pillow and holding her close while the left drew lazy circles over her abdomen and began to slowly unbutton the tiny pearl buttons of her blouse until the satin and lace of her undergarment came into view.

"I must confess that in all my imaginings, I never pictured we would be in a place such as this when we shared our first intimate moments," Clarisse admitted quietly.

Joseph's heart skipped a beat. Had she just confessed to fantasizing about the two of them together? Using his index finger, he traced a path from her temple along the delicate cheek bones, strong jaw, beautiful curve of her neck until it rested at the gentle swell of her breasts. His voice was merely a whisper, "You imagined us….together?"

Clarisse fought the urge to sigh. "Despite what people may think, I am a warm blooded woman who has needs and desires just like everyone else."

His finger moved lower until it grazed the very attentive tip straining against the delicate fabric of her bra. He watched as her eyes closed in response. "You aren't like everyone else."

Immediately her eyes flew open and searched for his, trying to understand what his words meant.

"You are far more beautiful and desirable than anyone else I have ever met. To hear your admission that I was the one you imagined with you awakens and acknowledges more desires and fantasies than I would ever care to admit."

Clarisse's heart pounded in her chest. Joseph had just admitted to fantasizing about her, too. Could she deny them the realization of at least a fantasy or two?

Heaven or hell…

She hated to ruin this beautiful moment. A moment that seemed to transcend the brutal storm raging all around them. "While the woman in me wants nothing more than to fall into your arms and live out every one of those fantasies…" She let the words drift off, hoping he would catch the meaning and keep her from uttering the horrendous word duty to him. That one word had defined her first relationship and she acknowledged, but hated, that it would also play such a significant role in what she hoped was her second and final one.

"The Queen has responsibilities….as does her Head of Security." He finished for her.

She exhaled a slow breath, hating that this sweet escape was ending. Before she could force her eyes to find his to see if there was any resentment in the crystal blue depths, he continued speaking.

"Does that preclude Clarisse and Joseph from escaping from those responsibilities on occasion to seek comfort as a man and a woman until the country of Genovia no longer requires their services?" As he asked the question, he let the index finger that had been resting just below her ribcage trace a line between her breasts until it lifted her chin to bring her gaze back to his.

Her heart now slammed against the walls of her chest at the possibility of stealing windows of time with Joseph to share the more…human…aspects of their relationship. Her eyes darkened as the woman deep within her filled her mind with images of Joseph's body pressed to hers. She could almost audibly hear the pleas to throw caution to the wind and say yes. The not so small voice of the Queen, the ruling voice in her life for so long, reminded her of the million things that could go wrong. She had a decision to make…a decision that would change the course of her relationship with Joseph…could change everything…

Heaven or hell?

~~2:30 p.m.~~