Thank you all for your patience - my day job, my novel and my need for sleep thank you :) Partly to blame are Clarisse and Joseph for sharing a little more of the secrets from their past with me that they want to, eventually, share with we had to get some of that in here too. Please note this has been edited (trust me) for content - so if you want the more adult version - please check out 24-1 Hours.

Thanks to my beta for the quick turnaround! You rock Benswoman :)

OH and for those who haven't stopped by Facebook yet - sometimes there are sneak peeks given out of the next chapter. Would I try to bribe you? Of course not, just sharing information *grin*

Happy reading my wonderful, amazing readers! *hugs*

Chapter 8: Pleasure and Pain

"Your Majesty?" Charlotte whispered.

"I'm awake, Charlotte." Every nerve ending in her body was awake. Ignoring the dampness between her thighs, she carefully swung her legs to the floor and sat up. "Did everything go well with the negotiations?"

Charlotte turned on a small lamp. Immediately she noticed how red her Queen's face was, "Are you feeling well, ma'am? You look flushed. Should I get the doctor?"

Dear God, no! "I'm fine, Charlotte, just a little warm. It's been a long day. The negotiations?" If she didn't get some information and then some sleep soon, she may have to hurt someone.

"All finished and ready for you and the Sheik to review and approve in the morning. We have a 6:30 a.m. meeting with him and then, provided all goes well, there will be a press conference to announce it to the public at 9:00 a.m. The trade documents will then be officially signed at 10:30 a.m. and then Genovia One will disembark with us at 11:30 a.m."

"Thank you, Charlotte. You must be exhausted."

"A little tired, yes ma'am."

"Get some rest. The alarm is going to go off entirely too soon." Clarisse wanted to crawl in bed with Joseph and fall asleep in his arms. She was confident it was the only way she was going to get some rest. But he has made it clear that your company isn't welcome tonight. Nevertheless, she was still tempted to suggest to Charlotte that she stay with Shades tonight and let Joseph stay with her. It was what everyone wanted…why couldn't they just be honest and admit it?

Both women looked longingly towards the other side of the tent and then with matching sighs, turned out the light and tried to sleep.

5:30 a.m.

Joseph had needed to punch something for about the past eight hours. As he slammed his fist onto the helpless alarm, it failed to bring him the satisfaction he had hoped for but it did bring some quiet. The return trip to Genovia couldn't get here quick enough as far as he was concerned. Shades had told him about the 6:30 a.m. meeting. In addition to his other annoying traits, the Sheik must be a morning person too! He was tired. He was cranky. And, yes, he was horny. It was shameful to admit at his age, but it was true. Their little escapade last night had only served to heighten his need and desire for her. If they weren't careful, he WAS going to take her up against the nearest wall. Looking at the material surrounding him, he amended that thought…IF he could find a wall, he was going to take her up against it.

Taking some calming breaths, he amended the thought again. Clarisse had been very clear that night in her suite that she wasn't ready for such things…not yet. He would need to keep things more controlled. That didn't stop him, though, from wanting to lose control with her.

The alarm blared again and, reluctantly, he turned it off and managed to get himself out of bed. His sleep, what there had been of it, was restless. He kept picturing Clarisse pleasing herself and those mental images were far too powerful to be ignored. Someday, he would ask her to repeat the performance with him as the highly captive audience. And, admittedly, a participating audience as well.

He busied himself with getting ready and by 6:15 a.m., he decided to check on the women…

"Are you ladies ready?" He asked through the pseudo door separating their rooms. As much as he wouldn't mind catching Clarisse not fully dressed, the fact that Charlotte shared the room dictated restraint.

There were several seconds of waiting before Charlotte replied, "Just a minute."

With each passing minute, Joseph got more concerned. He shot Shades a look which was answered with only a slight shrug that gave the message You know how women can be… he did know, but it was getting close to the appointed time and he didn't her to be late. "Your Majesty?"

Finally, the women made their way through the door. No explanation, simply a "Ready gentlemen?"

Either she was very angry or…he caught a quick look at her as she walked by…She was exhausted. He surmised that she had been using any myriad of crèmes and cover-ups in order to hide the dark circles and she had been very successful. Only someone who had studied her face intently would ever see the tell-tale signs. He would make damn sure she got some rest on the plane – even if he had to lay down and take a nap with her. Right – like you would want to sleep! Her voice brought him out of his thoughts.

"Joseph? Are you coming or have you now decided that I no longer need to be accompanied?"

Ouch. He really didn't deserve that, but he understood the point she was trying to make. She was still upset about him not being there when she came out from the Sheik's tent last night. He wouldn't apologize for his decision that she shouldn't go alone; but he would make it up to her that he had abandoned his post. "Yes ma'am, right behind you."

11:30 a.m.

Finally, five incredibly long hours later, the delegates from Genovia were standing on the tarmac preparing to board the plane and leave the land of Tunisia.

"I will miss you, Clarisse." Vanessa offered as she pulled her into a hug.

"And I you, my friend. Thank you so much for everything."

"Please forgive my husband for last night. He can be very blunt and often times that gets him into trouble."

Clarisse smiled at the younger woman and felt a pang of jealousy that she was free to speak of the man she loved and publicly show her affection for him. She cast a quick glance in Joseph's direction. His gaze was off in the distance, but she knew he had heard. "Of course I forgive him. I hope he has forgiven me for my blunt reply."

Vanessa laughed, "He admires you for standing up to him. Not too many people, man or woman, have told my husband that something is none of his damn business - especially if they are in the midst of negotiations with him."

A blush crept up Clarisse's body. It was unlike her to swear…especially in such a delicate situation, but she often did things she wouldn't normally do when it concerned Joseph. "Well, it's always good to let the other party know where you stand on certain issues if you are going to have a long standing agreement, don't you think?"

The younger woman winked, "Of course, Your Majesty." Vanessa declined to share the rest of the conversation she and her husband had shared where they speculated over whether in fact the Queen was enjoying the affections of her very handsome body guard.

"You will come visit soon?"

"Very soon. I love Genovia and I cannot go long without seeing my new friend."

A friend. A female friend. Other than Charlotte, there was no one else that she counted in that category. It felt normal. It felt good. "Agreed. Now, I must be going. Send my thanks and regards to the Sheik."

Vanessa nodded, "I will." Placing a disc in the Queen's hands, she whispered, "A gift from the sheik for you. His words were…'I want her to see what I saw…'"

With a final hug, Vanessa was gone.

"Your Majesty. It's time."

Clarisse turned to find Joseph gesturing towards the stairs leading up to Genovia One. His expression was guarded, but concerned. She knew he had seen through her efforts to conceal her exhaustion this morning. She and Charlotte had both spent extra time knowing the cameras would be present. She really did need some sleep.

"Good morning, everyone, this is the Captain speaking. We have reached our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet and clear skies are ahead. Please feel free to move about the airplane.

The sole flight attendant checked in, "Can I get you anything, Your Majesty?"

"No, thank you, Miriam, I…"

Joseph finished the sentence, "have a meeting with her head of security. We're going to be in the office area as Her Majesty will need to try to rest once we are finished. If she needs anything, I'll come get you."

Miriam looked at the Queen, wanting confirmation. Though she had no reason to question Joseph, she still took her final orders from the woman sitting next to him.

Clarisse nodded at Miriam. There was no need to make a scene in front of everyone.

"Very well, just ring the attendant button if you need anything. Otherwise, I won't disturb you unless the Captain has special instructions or it's time to land."

Both Clarisse and Joseph responded, "Thank you."

Miriam went back towards the front of the plane. Clarisse rose out of her seat and was going to let Charlotte know what was going on when she noticed both Charlotte and Shades were sound asleep in their seats. She felt Joseph's presence right behind her, making her breath catch.

"Poor kids, they were exhausted." His warm breath washed over the curve of her neck.

Clarisse turned, her face mere inches from his, "As am I, Joseph."

He took her hand and led her towards the back of the plane. A small office area had been set up for when the Queen needed to conduct private meetings. Fairly spacious considering it was in a plane, the room was carpeted in soft beige with light oak wood for the furniture. A small leather sofa with dual reclining seats occupied one wall while the desk and a couple of chairs the other. It was simple and functional.

Once the door was closed, Joseph pulled her into his arms and simply held her. Her body was tense, but she didn't pull away. "I'm not sorry I did my job; but I am sorry I let jealousy get the better of me last night," he whispered.

She looked up at him, noting the tired lines around his eyes as well. Men didn't have the luxury of concealers and other miracles of modern make-up to hide their flaws – they were there for everyone to see. "You left because you were jealous? What did you think was going to happen, Joseph?"

He could sense her frustration, but wasn't sure what to do about it. Jealousy was an emotion that didn't really make much sense when viewed in the full light of day. "I didn't know. I'm accustomed to being with you every waking hour – so I never have to wonder."

Clarisse pulled out of his embrace. "Just so we're clear…you have been the very best friend I've had since Rupert, may he rest in peace, passed away. Knowing how much I cared about you all those years and nothing happened between us until a month or so ago, yet you think the first time I meet a man that I will be swept away and do something reckless? A married man?! Honestly, Joseph. Sometimes I don't think you know me at all."

Joseph could hear warning sirens blaring in his head. He needed to fix this and now! Her back was to him so he stepped closer and put his arms around her. Again, she stiffened but didn't move away. A good sign as far as he was concerned. "It wasn't you I was worried about, Clarisse. And even as much as I knew the Sheik loved his wife, you are an incredibly beautiful and powerful woman. You truly have no idea how attractive men find you, do you?"

"It's ironic. You worry about the Sheik being inappropriate with me and he asks me if I was sleeping with you."

"He what?!" Joseph knew he should have strangled the man. "What did you say?"

"I told him that even if it were true, it was none of his damn business."

Joseph couldn't help but laugh. She would never cease to amaze him. "So that's what Vanessa was referring to at the airport earlier."

"I knew you were listening."

He turned her around and gazed into those crystal blue eyes. "I'm always listening and I'm always watching."

"Except last night…"

Exhaling slowly, he agreed. "Except last night. I swear to you I will never leave my post again – even when you are being stubborn." He smiled a bit at his last statement. "For the record, Shades was there and he is my second in command."

She pulled away from him, pacing a bit in the small room. "You just don't get it, Joseph. It wasn't about security. It was about sharing a moment with you – a special moment. A moment when the aging Queen of Genovia sealed a deal that will ensure her people have the necessary energy supplies for many years to come."

Her admission hit him like a wet mop. To him last night had been about the Queen and her Head of Security. To her, it had been about Clarisse and Joseph. "I'm so sorry, Clarisse. I've been in employee mode for so long, sometimes I miss the exit ramp. Please forgive me."

Clarisse knew she should apologize too. She had definitely been out of line by forcing his hand on her security when it came to the private meeting with the Sheik. But she didn't want to say it right after his apology. She didn't want him to think she was only apologizing because he had. She would tell him later. "We're in unchartered territory, Joseph. This new side of our relationship will take some adjusting to. But I need you to believe me when I tell you that no matter how many men may have eyes for me, I only am interested in one man. That man is you, Joseph Romero."

It wasn't the other men's eyes he was worried about. Men had lusted after Clarisse with their eyes from the moment she had stepped into the spotlight when her betrothal was announced. It was those who would cross the line to a more physical appreciation that kept him awake at night. "I believe you when you say it like that."

"Can we please take a nap now?"

"As long as I can lay beside you."

"We'll just sleep?"

"You seemed interested in more than sleep last night," Joseph teased.

"That was your fault as well. Which, by the way, I fully expect you to make up to me very soon."

"You have my word on that."

Clarisse removed her jacket and shoes and placed them neatly by the desk. Joseph did the same. Moments later, they were both reclined back in the loveseat with a blanket over them. Joseph pulled Clarisse's body towards his until she was spooned up against him. "So was that our first fight?"

She chuckled, "I guess it was."

"We messed up the last part."

"What's that?" She yawned.

"We are supposed to kiss and make up. We've made up…at least I think we have. I asked for forgiveness – the least you could do is kiss me."

She turned her upper body so she could face him. "Just one kiss. I'm so very tired and I need your arms around me to sleep."

His fingers gently traced the delicate skin under her eyes, causing them to close at the tenderness. He could see the dark circles hiding underneath the concealer, foundation and powder. He knew those flaws were there out of a love for her people. She worked tirelessly to give them everything they needed for a bountiful , healthy and happy life. It was his job to see what she was afforded the opportunity to have nothing less than that same life for herself. "So beautiful," he whispered.

"My kiss, you handsome liar." Her smile lit up her eyes and he knew he was forgiven.

The hand touching her face, slid behind her neck and closed the gap between them. The kiss began gentle, like a soft rain as they awakened to each other's touch once again. As his lips slid over hers, he tasted the remnants of the tea she shared with Charlotte and Vanessa before they came to the airport. There was an underlying sweetness that permeated his senses drugging him into a blissful haze.

Deepening the kiss, low moans of satisfaction filled the small room. Arousal warred with exhaustion in their bodies. Normally, kissing and touching would have been sufficient to abate their desire, but that moment was long past. This tension had been building for a month now and Joseph knew that nothing short of feeling her wet heat surround him as their bodies moved together would satisfy him. Reluctantly breaking their connection, he let his thumb slip over her kiss-swollen lips. "I'll stop at one kiss, but know that very soon I will require much more from you my dear."

Joseph's breath caught as she pulled his thumb into her mouth and sucked gently. Was the woman trying to kill him? He was trying to be respectful of her exhaustion and need to take things slower, but when she did things like this… "Woman, you keep that up and I will have to take you here and now, right on this couch."

Clarisse released his thumb. She wasn't sure what had prompted her to be so forward…she had never done anything like that with Rupert. Besides, he was always the aggressor, the initiator, and the dominator. Mostly, she had been an unwilling recipient. Her inexperience in reciprocal lovemaking was basically non-existent. Seeing Joseph's eyes darken with passion at her actions made her believe that maybe she was more of a sexual being than she had ever allowed herself to believe. It was definitely something to give some thought to…once she had more sleep, that is. "Forgive me? I just…it just felt right."

He kissed her forehead, "Nothing to forgive, you can do that…and anything else that feels right to me anytime. Just know that with every action comes a reaction and when I can't do anything in return, it only makes me want you more."

"I want you too, I just need sleep more right now." Her statement came out with a yawn.

"Turn over, snuggle in and let's sleep. We'll make up for lost time when we get home."

"Mmm…like the sound of that."

Moments later, he heard the soft sounds of her breathing as she drifted off. He took a few calming breaths, inhaling the soft scents of her shampoo and perfume. Softly, he kissed a few freckles adorning her neck before settling in with his arms holding her close to his body. Yes, this is the way it should be…falling asleep with the most beautiful woman in the world.

1:30 pm

Joseph's internal alarm clock woke him. It was a holdover benefit from his days in the military when he learned he could tell himself what time to wake up and, without fail, his body woke him each and every time. He knew the flight attendant would be coming in soon to tell them to return to their seats and he wanted just a few moments to watch Clarisse and wake her with gentle touches and kisses.

Once they landed, duty would sweep her away from him for a while. But tonight, he would make good on his promise to require more from her. His dreams had been filled with loving thoughts of Clarisse. He looked forward to awakening the sexual being that lay dormant deep within her damaged psyche right now. It would take patience, but he was a patient man and he was certain it would be well worth the effort.

During sleep, she had rolled onto her back. One arm was crooked above her head while the other was resting on his thigh. Her blouse was gaping slightly, allowing him to see the hint of pink lace underneath. Very carefully, he undid the top two buttons…not enough that she would be embarrassed if she didn't have time to button them back before someone came in; but enough that he could trace the delicate fabric.

The skin on her chest was creamy with just a touch of sun. The caramel colored freckles resembled smatterings of brown sugar and he pledged to himself to taste each one very soon. The gentle curves reminded him of soft swells of satin and he longed to lay his head there as she caressed him in the aftermath of their lovemaking. Leaning over, he kissed the flesh he had just been admiring. Chaste kisses meant to awaken, not arouse. After a few minutes, he felt her body start to stir.


"No one else had better wake you up like this," he smiled against her skin as he continued to kiss her.

"This is a much more pleasant way to wake up than an alarm clock blaring incessantly in my ear."

He let his kisses move upwards to her neck, "The first night I am permitted to sleep in your bed, I will gladly wake you with kisses."

She turned in his embrace and kissed him fully, making his body scream for attention. Yes, this woman was definitely going to kill him…

"That night can't come too soon for me. Once Amelia has assumed the throne, you will share my bed each and every night."


Clarisse hesitated. She had always been told to never make promises she wasn't sure she could keep. If there's one thing she had learned over the years, life was uncertain and unpredictable. She cupped his cheek, her eyes sincere as she spoke. "I promise that is what I want."

Understanding the point she was trying to make, he kissed the tip of her nose. "Then, for now, that will be sufficient. As much as I enjoy this pillow talk with you…"

"I know…we need to get up and get presentable before someone comes to find us. Thank you, Joseph."

"You're very welcome…but, for what?"

"For holding me while I slept. It's comforting and I sleep better when you're near."

"Me too, Clarisse…me too."

6:30 p.m.

As Joseph had predicted, Clarisse had been swept away by duty and responsibility the moment Genovia One touched down. The press was waiting to hear more details about the trade deal she had made with the Sheik. Even key members of Parliament were on hand to congratulate her on a job well done. Waking up in Joseph's arms, securing a prestigious trade agreement, and being appreciated by members of Parliament and the press…all in all not a bad day, Clarisse mused.


"Yes ma'am?"

"Can everything else wait until tomorrow?"

Charlotte quickly flipped through the schedule and the remaining papers stacked at the corner of her desk. "Yes ma'am. We will need to start making arrangements for Princess Amelia's next visit, but that can certainly wait until later this week."

"Then I say we call it a day. Even with my nap, I'm ready for an early dinner and some extra rest in my own bed."

"Agreed, there's no place like home." Charlotte intoned in her best Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.

Clarisse laughed out loud, "You definitely need a few days off, my dear."

"Nothing a good night's sleep won't fix. It was nice to hear you laugh, Your Majesty."

The elder woman smiled, "I know the last few weeks have been difficult, Charlotte."

Realizing what she had said and how it could have been interpreted, Charlotte turned red and stumbled a bit over her words. "I'm sorry…I only meant…I didn't…"

Clarisse held her hand up to stop her, "It's quite alright, Charlotte. Besides my wonderful assistant, you are my friend and I don't mind you being candid with me…or making me laugh for that matter. The past few weeks have been very stressful on all of us. I don't have the luxury of being myself to the rest of the world, so I fear that you, Joseph and occasionally Scott bear the brunt of my frustrations. I would ask forgiveness, but knowing it will happen again, makes it seem inappropriate. However, I do offer my sincere appreciation and thanks instead."

Surprisingly, Charlotte pulled her into a quick embrace. Before Clarisse could even respond, Charlotte whispered, "You're welcome. Thank you for letting me be one of the privileged few to see another side of you."

She stepped back and smiled, "So 9 a.m. tomorrow then?"

Clarisse returned her smile, "9 a.m. Good evening, Charlotte."

"Good evening, ma'am."

7:00 p.m.

Clarisse finished off the last of her soup and freshly baked bread. All that was left to make her feel normal again was a nice long, hot shower. She had hoped to see Joseph when she left the office, but Scott had advised he was catching up on things in the security center and promised to update her later. She took that to be his way of telling her that he would stop by later to claim what they both had been anticipating for weeks now. Just the thought of it made her stomach flutter and pulse quicken.

As she slowly unbuttoned her blouse, she remembered the way Joseph had awakened her from her nap earlier today. The whiskers from his goatee tickling her skin igniting flickers of desire throughout her body. His lips…oh those lips…soft as satin gliding over her body taking the small flickers and building them into strong flames. She sighed…he wasn't even physically present, yet her body remembered. "A shower, Clarisse…get in the shower. You don't want him finding you half undressed and fantasizing about him."

The dual shower heads worked their magic as the hot water streamed over her body, bringing calm and comfort from the stresses from the day. In an effort to truly relax, she tried to focus on her roses rather than Joseph. The beautiful colors and smells always brought her a sense of peace when the rest of the world didn't make sense. They had been her salvation during the worst years with Rupert and she found comfort even now when things were much, much better.

So lost in her thoughts, her mind barely registered the quick burst of cool air as the shower door opened and then closed again. Before she could turn around or yell, a strong hand covered her mouth preventing any sound from escaping. Adrenalin spiked as fear soared through her body.

"Shhh, it's me," Joseph whispered as his other hand circled her body to taunt and tease the flesh he had restrained himself from earlier.

She relaxed against him, the fear quickly being replaced with desire as his hand moved over her body, gradually moving lower until questing fingers found their target. He could feel her moan vibrate off of his hand sending quivers of desire throughout his body. Reluctantly, he uncovered her mouth, worried that she might feel he was being too aggressive. He stilled his fingers for a moment, "Olivia is in your bedroom doing your turndown service and arranging your tea. Can you keep quiet?"

Clarisse was breathing hard as her body was overwhelmed with sensations. Joseph's solid frame was against her back, supporting her; the water cascading against her sensitive flesh; and his hand doing such a better job than hers had done last night. While the hand covering her mouth had frightened her at first, knowing that it was Joseph that held her captive didn't scare her as much. And he wasn't really restraining her as Rupert had…this was more about keeping her quiet so they could enjoy this time together to its fullest. Capturing his hand in hers, she lifted it to her lips and kissed it before covering her mouth once again.

Joseph was overwhelmed at the trust she had just placed in him and intended to reward her accordingly. He loved that he could feel every verbal response – every gasp, hitch and whimper as her body climbed higher and higher towards release. It was as if his hand amplified the sound through vibrations rather than noise – allowing her to be more vocal and his ego to be stroked as he could "feel" her responses.

She was thankful for his strong arms holding her upright as the effort to stand was becoming more difficult by the moment as the cord drew tighter. The flames of desire licked at her nerves until her body could no longer contain the pleasure. With a deep groan, she fell apart in her lover's arms as the heat consumed every fiber of her being.

Once she was sure she could stand on her own, she turned to face him. "Thank you. You did a much better job than I did last night."

He took a few steps forward, forcing her backwards until her body was nestled between his and the shower wall. "I would have given everything I own to have watched you last night. My imagination did not do it justice, I'm sure."

Clarisse was certain that her entire body turned red from embarrassment. The thought of Joseph watching as she…well, that just wasn't going to happen. "I believe your imagination will have to suffice."

Joseph smiled and lifted her hands above her head and began to kiss her. His body pressed into hers, sharing with her how very badly his body needed her, "I believe I require more from you right now."

Images from the past flitted across Clarisse's mind. A time when she was not a willing participant and the man who had invaded her shower was not as courteous and patient as Joseph. Her heart told her to stay calm but her mind couldn't let go. When she felt her leg being lifted to his waist, she pulled it back down. Her breath was ragged, "Joseph…wait."

His eyes opened to see that haunted look in her eyes again. Damn it. He stepped away. "I'm sorry, Clarisse. I got carried away."

"Please, don't be sorry. You did nothing wrong. Demons from my past joined us."

Seeing the vulnerable look on her face, he longed to chase those demons away… to make her feel better. Offering a quick wink and a smile, he shut off the water. "I thought I was pretty clear that I wasn't sharing you with anyone else. So the demons will have to stay here while you and I move this party to the bedroom."

Clarisse fought back tears at his understanding. She needed to be able to move away from the past; but prior to Joseph, she had just buried the nightmares thinking nothing would ever resurrect those memories again. Never had she imagined a physical relationship with another man. Had she done so, she might have realized that her failure to deal with all of this and put it behind her would make the memories reassert themselves at the most inopportune times. Times like now.

He took her hand and led her into the bedroom, grabbing some towels along the way. Olivia had finished the turndown service, so they shouldn't be bothered again for a while. He tossed a few of the towels over the bedspread and lay down. "Come here."

She started to lay down next to him, but he took her hand and guided her until she was straddling him. "Joseph?"

"Just relax. Kiss me and let's see where this leads." He was pretty sure Rupert had never let her be on top, so he was hoping to keep the demons at bay for a little while until she was fully aroused again.

She could feel Joseph's body between her legs; his chest expanding and contracting under her with each breath he took; his hands moving slowly up and down her back. The embers began a slow burn so she leaned down to kiss him, trying not to think about the awkwardness of her position.

Slowly, the bodies overtook the brains as their pleasure mounted. Clarisse pushed herself into a sitting position allowing her to more fully explore Joseph's chest. She watched as his eyes darkened and his breath caught when her nails raked gently across his flesh. She could feel his hands squeezing her bottom in response.

"Ready?" Joseph asked as he stilled her body.

She pulled her bottom lip into her mouth and nodded, "I think so."

"Let's try it just for a minute, okay?"


The cords began to slowly wind and tighten as the pressure built within her body. She tried moving faster, but release seemed just beyond her reach. After thirty days of waiting, she needed to feel Joseph driving her over the edge. "Joseph?"

His eyes opened to find beautiful blue orbs staring down at him. He tried to ignore how alluring her body looked hovering over him. "Do you want me to take the lead?"

"Please…I'm so close…just need a little more…" her air was coming in small pants from the exertion.

Pulling her close, he rolled them over until he was now on top. "Ready?"

"God, yes…please finish this." Her voice was thick and filled with need and it sent fire to his groin.

Her nails scraped down his back as she searched for an outlet for the building pressure. As the pain filtered into his mind, it spiked the endorphins and urged him on. Reality meshed with the blissful plane between heaven and earth as they climbed the mountain together.

He felt her muscles seize as waves of pleasure rewarded their efforts. It felt so good to finally finish what they had started that evening in the ballroom. He collapsed onto her body, completely spent. Not wanting to put too much weight on her, he moved off slightly but left his head cushioned on the pillow he had fantasized about earlier that day. Her chest was rising and falling, he didn't mind though as he could hear her heart beat and the soft exhale across his skin with each breath.

Clarisse smiled as Joseph had found himself a new resting place. Her fingers lightly caressed the top of his head down to the nape of his neck…it just felt right. They lay that way for a few minutes until their bodies started to cool. Joseph turned his face upwards and gave her a small kiss, "I'll grab some warm cloths."

"Mmmm, thank you." Her limbs felt sated and heavy, definitely not encouraging movement. She turned her head slightly to watch him leave. What she saw made her shake off the lethargy and sit right up, "Dear God, Joseph!"

Alarmed, he turned around, "What's wrong, Clarisse."

Her hand covered her mouth, something akin to horror in her eyes. "I'm so sorry…I can't believe."

"Clarisse, what are you talking about? You're scaring me."

"Your back, Joseph…can't you feel that?"

He stepped in front of the mirror next to her walk-in closet and turned so he could see his back in the reflection. A smile crossed his face as he saw the deep red scratches covering a good portion of the area.

"Why on earth are you smiling?" She seemed truly perplexed.

"Let me grab those cloths and I'll explain."

A minute later, he returned and they set about cleaning up. Clarisse used a fresh, warm cloth to wipe away the blood from his back. "I'm so sorry…I don't know what got into me."

He moved one of the towels so his back would rest on it just in case – he didn't want to get anything on her sheets. Pulling her close, he tried to reassure her, "Passion got into you. It's a wonderful and beautiful thing."

"I caused you pain…pain is never a good thing." She couldn't believe she had done the same thing they had cursed Rupert for just a short time ago.

"Clarisse!" He could see she was drifting away into a personal hell.


"I want you to listen very closely to what I'm going to say to you. Are you listening?"

"Yes, I'm listening."

"There is a distinct difference between the kind of pain Rupert caused you and the kind you caused me tonight."

"Pain is pain, Joseph."

"No, Clarisse, it isn't. Rupert caused pain out of either cruelty or neglect. You caused pain out of pleasure. It barely registered and when it did, it only served to heighten my desire for you."

"That's the most absurd thing I've ever heard. You're just trying to spare my feelings."

"Right, because that's what I've been doing the last day or so, right up to the point where I called Shades in to be a witness to your stubbornness."

He did have a point…Joseph was probably the only one who would more forward even if he knew she wouldn't like what he had to say. "I'm listening…"

"I can tell you all night and you're still not going to believe me. Can I show you?"

"What do you mean?"

He exhaled slowly. This was moving a little faster than he planned, but he feared if he didn't resolve this now, she may regress. "I need you to trust me to take you through an exercise to prove that you didn't hurt me. Will you do that for me?"

Her guilt outweighed her fear. He had been so patient and understanding, she owed him at least a chance to try to convince her. "Only for you, Joseph. I trust you with my life daily. I suppose I should trust you with this as well."

Wanting to distract her as they got started, he began to kiss her slowly. At first, she didn't respond but after a few minutes her lips softened and she began to kiss him back. He took his time, drawing her in and helping her forget about the demons lurking just outside the door to her pleasure center. His lips traced hers, pressing for entrance. He was rewarded with a low moan and access to her tongue.

Clarisse tried to focus on what they were supposed to be doing, but so far everything Joseph had done had been so pleasurable. It was making it hard to concentrate. When his tongue began to flick and tease the sensitive skin of her chest, she no longer cared about the point of the exercise, only that it shouldn't stop. He continued to pleasure her, sucking and teasing with his tongue. A moment later, she felt the first rays of pain as his teeth bit into the delicate flesh. But instead of feeling fear and pulling away, the pain mixed with the pleasure flooding her mind with endorphins that heightened every sensation.

She felt him move to the other side and repeat the exercise. As before, she was so lost in the haze of pleasure that when the pain came, it only enhanced rather than detracted from what he was doing. Finally, she opened her eyes to find him watching her carefully.


"I suppose I can see your point," she admitted with a small smile.

Relief flooded his features, "I need you to understand that I will never, NEVER, hurt you like he did."

"Most of me knows that, Joseph. It's just a small part, tucked way far away that comes out at the most inopportune times. Please know that it's not really's just old memories resurfacing that I never dealt with."

"So you want to tell me about what happened in the shower?"

"If you'll come snuggle in beside me, I will."

7:30 p.m.

He smiled at her and gave her a lingering kiss. It would seem the most natural thing in the world to say I love you to her right now; but he held back. Held back for reasons that could only be justified by his own personal demons. He would deal with his issues later – for now, he focused on her.