Clarisse sat staring out the window of her suite. Her heart hurt, like someone had ripped it in two, and she knew why. She'd hurt Joseph earlier. She'd seen it in his eyes even though he'd tried to hide it from her. As tears continued to stain her cheeks, she wrapped her arms around herself and leaned her head against the glass. Cold…she felt so cold. How could she have repeated the same betrayal of his love as she had when they were young?
Clarisse nudged her horse making it go faster. Her Joe was waiting for her in their special place. Her heart beat faster as she thought of Joe and his charming smile, his sparkling eyes, his tender embrace…his loving kiss. Her face burned as she thought of the last time they were together. They'd been so close to going too far, but they'd both pulled away, knowing that they couldn't do that no matter how much they wanted to.
Finally reaching her destination, Clarisse smiled down at Joe as he stood by her horse with open arms. "Hello, my darling Joe," she breathed as she leaned into his arms and let him gently pull her from the saddle.
"Hello, my darling." Joe whispered just before touching his lips to hers softly. "How long can you stay?" he asked, his hand gently combing through her wind tousled hair.
"I'm free for the day. Father thinks that I'm with Mary out shopping in the city." She smiled up into the green eyes she adored.
"What about your mother?"
Clarisse hung her head. "I'm so sorry, Joe. I know that we promised to keep us seeing each other a secret, but Mother is very astute and she guessed that I had fallen in love." She looked up at Joe with a soft smile. "She knows about us, Joe. She knows that I'm with you."
Joe sighed, "You love me?"
"I love you." Clarisse caressed his face. "You know that I do."
Joe kissed the hand that had caressed his face. "Yes, my darling…I know that you love me." Leading her over to a tree, he pulled her down with him and leaned back against the trunk, Clarisse resting against his chest. "I know that you love me when I see you smile at me or when I look into those beautiful blue eyes. I was just teasing because I love to hear you tell me you love me." He smiled when she looked up at him and playfully smacked his chest.
"A rat that loves you very much." He pulled her close. "What are we going to do with our time today?"
"Nothing but this. I just want to spend my time here in your arms."
"As you wish."
Opening her eyes, Clarisse quickly wiped her tears and regained her control as another knock sounded on her door. "Yes…come in," she called. Looking toward the door, she pasted on a smile when she saw Mia enter. "Hello, Darling."
"Gran'ma." Mia frowned as she got a good look at her grandmother's puffy eyes and cheeks that were streaked from crying. Sitting next to her grandmother, she rested a hand on her knee. "Are you alright?"
Clarisse smiled at the girl she'd grown so close to over the last six years. "I'm fine, Darling. It's nothing for you to worry about."
Mia frowned. "Gran'ma…you've been crying. You don't cry. Queens don't cry, especially over nothing."
"Oh Mia." Clarisse sniffed and pulled the girl into her arms. "There is something, but it is something that I have to deal with on my own. I made a mistake, one that hurt someone, and one that I'm not sure I can fix." Her voice cracked as she held Mia a little tighter.
Mia wrapped her arms just a little tighter around Clarisse. She'd never heard her grandmother's voice crack before, and it was breaking her heart. Wishing that her grandmother would talk to her and let her help, but knowing that she wouldn't, Mia offered the only comfort she could. "Can I stay with you for a little while? Maybe you could tell me more about my father and uncle Pierre when they were boys."
Clarisse caressed Mia's hair and kissed the top of her head. "I would love for you to stay with me, but shouldn't you be spending time with Lilly?"
"But Gran'ma…" Mia pulled away and looked at her.
"I'm going to be alright, Darling. You needn't worry about me. Go spend time with Lilly."
Mia frowned knowing that she'd lost. "Alright." She hugged Clarisse one last time before quietly leaving.
Clarisse watched Mia leave. She was so lucky to have such a beautiful, tender hearted granddaughter. Deciding that she needed a cup of tea, she got up and wrapped her robe tightly around her before heading for the kitchen. Maybe a nice hot cup of her favorite tea would help her calm enough so she could sleep.
"Probably not," she muttered as she entered the kitchen and set about fixing her tea…glad that she was alone.
Joe stared down into his still full cup of coffee. How had things gone so wrong? He'd thought she loved him. They'd spent so many nights together talking and just holding each other as they had done when they were young, that he had thought they had recaptured what had been lost.
Evidently he was wrong.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't stop his heart from hurting. She'd chosen her duty to Genovia over him…again. Couldn't she understand that she could be the guide and teacher that Mia needed and still have a relationship with him? Why couldn't she see that he would never do anything to keep her from helping Mia learn what she needed? He loved Mia too, she was his girl, just as Clarisse had always been. Didn't Clarisse know that he would never hurt Mia by being selfish?
Joe watched as Clarisse twisted her hair to wring some of the water out of the long locks. He couldn't believe she'd let him talk her into swimming with him in the river. He smiled at the way her slip clung to her body and dreamed of the day that body would be his to explore and love.
"Joe…what are you staring at?" Clarisse looked at him with a raised eyebrow knowing exactly what he was staring at.
Joe grinned. "You know exactly what I'm staring at."
Moving to where Joe sat watching her, Clarisse knelt down beside him. "I'm so glad I could provide the entertainment."
"Lady Clarisse." Joe raised an eyebrow at her then laughed. "What would the nobles think?"
"Damn the nobles." Clarisse frowned. If only she hadn't been born the daughter of a nobleman.
Joe laughed. "You really hate being a part of that body of society, don't you?"
"Yes, Joe, I do." She snuggled next to him as they sat in the sun to dry off. "If it weren't for my position in society, I could see you freely. We could be together in public and I wouldn't have to lie to my father."
"I'm sorry, Clarisse."
Clarisse heard something in Joe's voice and she leaned up to look at him. "Joe, I'm not ashamed of you. If it were up to me, we would be together publicly, but it isn't up to me. If my father found out that I was seeing the son of the palace gardener, I would never be allowed out of the house. He would most likely send me away to study abroad." She touched his cheek. "I would never see you again, Joe." A tear ran down her cheek. "I couldn't bear that."
Joe wiped the tear from her cheek. "I couldn't bear it either. I rush through my daily chores so that I can get ready to meet you here. You're always on my mind." He kissed her softly. "Marry me, Clarisse. Run away with me to somewhere where it doesn't matter that we're from different parts of society."
"Oh Joe." Clarisse sighed.
"I understand. Will you just promise to marry me? Wear this as a token of my love and our promise?" Joe slipped the ring from his pinky.
"Wasn't this your mother's?" Clarisse asked as she held her hand out and accepted the ring.
"Yes." Joe smiled. "You remembered."
"Of course I remembered. I remember everything you've ever told me." She looked at the ring encircling her finger. "I can't keep it here," she whispered.
"I know. Just keep it with you. Wear it when we're together."
Disgusted with his cold coffee, Joe spit the drink he'd just took back into the cup and decided a trip to the kitchen to pour it out was in order. Maybe a nice walk afterward would help him clear his head so that he could sleep.