A/N: I forgot to say thank you the last time, so I'm saying an extra thank you to all of you who have favorited this story, followed me as an author, and given me such wonderful reviews. Thank you very much! Now, onto other things. This chapter pushes the T rating to its limits. I've added a love scene where there wasn't one in the original version of the story. It was requested by a friend, and because C/J are fighting her wish for a happy ending in my WIP, I gave in and this is the result.
Clarisse felt her heart beat faster as she looked into Joe's eyes. He smiled and pulled her closer. "Oh Joseph," she whispered.
"You can call me Joe now, my darling." He gently caressed her back.
Clarisse smiled. "It's been a long time."
"Yes, it has, but there is no reason to be that formal anymore."
"I can't believe it."
Joe smiled and kissed the hand that he held as they continued to sway with the soft music that filled the ballroom. "I can't believe it either." He pulled her a little closer. "I'm so glad that I let Mia talk me into giving you another chance."
Clarisse blinked up at him. "Mia?" she questioned then remembered that she had seen Mia darting out toward the gardens. "So that's where she was going this morning." She smiled.
"What?" Joe was confused.
"I saw Mia running out to the gardens this morning."
"Oh." Now he knew what she was talking about. "She came to beg me to give you another chance. I almost didn't listen to her…but she reminds me so much of you and when she started crying…" Joe shook his head. "I was immediately taken back to the times that I had seen you crying and that did me in. I knew that I had to promise her what she wanted because I couldn't stand seeing her cry."
Clarisse smiled. "She's watching us."
"I know. She's very proud of herself, I think."
"Are you sorry?"
"Sorry?" Joe looked at Clarisse with a raised eyebrow. "Sorry that I am holding the woman I love in my arms? Sorry that I'm wearing a gold band on my finger symbolizing that I belong to that same woman? Sorry that I can now kiss you anytime I want…and not have to worry if anyone has seen us?" He shook his head. "Not in the slightest. I'm happier than I have been in a very long time."
"So am I." Clarisse laid her head on Joe's shoulder as they fell into a companionable silence and continued to drift around the dance floor.
Mia watched her grandmother and Joe and wiped a tear. She hadn't gotten her happily ever after, although, she wasn't sure that marrying a man she didn't love would have been a happily ever after. She had found a man to love, but it was going to take a while to get the country used to the fact that she was now in love with the man that had tried to steal the crown. Oh well, she needed time anyway. She had to get used to running a country.
Looking at the way Joe held her grandmother, Mia felt happy. It was as it should have been. This was the true love story, a story that had finally gotten its happy ending. As she watched the newlyweds, she wondered just how many people in the room knew about their past. She knew that some of the staff had been there for a long time, but she wasn't sure if any of them had been there long enough to know about their Queen and Joe when they were young. It was something to ponder and find out about later.
Clarisse couldn't believe the way the day had turned out. A wedding…but not Mia's. She looked down at her ring…a smile brightening her face. She had loved Joe for so many years, and now, thanks to her beautiful granddaughter…that love was able to live in the open.
"Kiss for your thoughts." Joe offered as he pulled her into his arms, placing a tender kiss on her soft neck.
Clarisse smiled. "I was just thinking about today, and how things turned out." She turned in his arms and smiled up at him. "I love you."
Joe smiled. "I love you too, Clarisse." His lips touched hers in a soft kiss. "You're my wife."
"Yes, I am." Clarisse smiled. "Finally."
"Do you know how I ached when you chose duty over love?" his voice was quiet.
Clarisse caressed his face. "Yes…I know…because I ached with you." Snuggling back into his arms, she rested her head on his shoulder. "I loved you so much, Joseph…Joe…so much. I used to lie awake nights and cry because of the choice I had made. Rupert knew that I was in love with someone, although I don't think he ever realized it was you."
Joe looked at her in awe. "You really cried over me?"
"Yes. I loved you and I was stuck with a man that I didn't really know…didn't love."
Joe looked away. "But a man you slept with…had children with."
Cupping his face in her hands, Clarisse made him look at her. "Joe…I had to. I didn't want to. I wanted to be with you. I wanted you to be the one I gave myself to. That wasn't something I could do…but I can give myself to you now." Looking into his wonderful eyes, she tenderly caressed his face. "Know this, my husband. Tonight, when we make love…I will be giving myself to you, wholly and completely…and freely."
Joe closed his eyes. "He didn't…"
"Shh," she shushed him with a finger on his lips. "No. He didn't. Rupert was very kind to me. We grew fond of each other as the years went by and he became my best friend." Clarisse closed her eyes. "In the beginning, I was never really with him…not mentally or emotionally anyway. And I wasn't with him out of anything other than duty. When we were together, in that way, I think that he thought of the woman he was in love with, imagining that it was she that he was touching and holding. I always thought of you and how I longed for him to be you…for it to be you touching me and sharing my bed. After the boys were born…" She shrugged. "We shared separate rooms, and he only occasionally came to me. I think it was to keep up appearances. You know how the palace staff talks."
Joe rolled his eyes. "Yes, I do." He sighed and pulled her close. "Oh, Clarisse. I'm so sorry. You must have been so lonely…but I'm glad that he was kind to you."
She frowned. "Why? If anyone should be sorry, it is I." Softly she touched her lips to his. "I am the one that let my duty overrule my heart and hurt you." She smiled at him. "Joe?"
"Why did you stay?"
"Because…I loved you. I couldn't leave you, even if I couldn't have you…just being close was enough. I finally managed to put up a wall and stopped thinking of you all the time." Joe caressed her face. "I'm glad that I let you break that wall down."
"Is it enough now?" She gazed into his eyes.
"No," he answered honestly as he caressed her cheek. "Because it no longer has to be. You're mine now."
A soft smile caressed her lips. "Yes…yes, I am." Moving closer, Clarisse dropped her voice. "Make all of me yours."
Joe's hands deftly lifted the straps of the gown she was wearing and let it slip to the floor. He stepped back and sighed, "Beautiful." Pulling her into his arms, his lips were tender as they told her of his love in the sweetest of kisses. "I'll never take."
"I'll always give."
"And so will I."
"I want you."
"Then take me." Clarisse whispered. "It's been so long, Joe. I don't really know how to…"
"Shh." This time it was his turn to silence her. "I've waited for so many years to have you in my arms…to be the one making love to you. It's alright…it's alright," he whispered.
Clarisse shivered as his hands caressed over her body, pausing at her waist and the only garment she still wore. Biting her lip, she closed her eyes as his hands slowly pushed the blue satin down. Hearing his intake of breath, she opened her eyes to find his green eyes burning with desire as he took all of her in.
"More than I ever dreamed," he murmured.
"Younger than your dream," she mumbled in response.
Shaking his head, Joe cupped her face. "No. The woman in my dreams aged with the woman in my life. The dreams I have are of you. It's you as you are now that I've spent my nights with."
A tear rolled down her cheek at his words. "Sweet man."
Wiping at the errant tear, he smiled at her. "Not sweet. Just a man in love and wishing desperately to make love to the woman who holds his heart."
Smiling brilliantly, she reached out and caressed his bare chest. She loved that he'd come to her in nothing but pajama bottoms of black satin. Feeling the muscles ripple and respond to her touch, she made sure to touch each inch of the hard plane that she had rested against so many times over the years when he was protecting her, holding her in her grief, holding her in their youth as they fought against their passions running away with them. Sliding her hands lower over his ribs to his waist, she looked up at him. Holding his gaze, she pushed at the waistband of his pants, the satin pooling at his feet. Letting her gaze roam from his over his body, she swallowed down the rush of desire that flooded her at the sight of him. He was all man, every inch of him. And dear god how she lusted after him.
Seeing the look in her eyes, Joe took her hands. "Come to bed and we can both fulfill our desires."
Letting him lead her, she kept her eyes on his, frowning when he stopped at the bed. "What is it?"
"Did you spend nights here with him?" he questioned quietly.
Shaking her head, she stepped closer to him, pressing her body against his and shivering at the feel of him hard and ready against her stomach. "No. Even the nights he came to me, I insisted we go to his room so that I could come back here and be by myself. He always fell asleep after and I didn't want him spending the night in my bed." She snarled. "He snored and hogged the blankets."
Joe laughed, breaking the tension. "I snore, but I promise I'm not a blanket hog."
Grinning at him, her blue eyes filled with love, mirth, and want, she caressed his cheek. "The snoring I can deal with."
Turning the covers back even more, Joe moved onto the bed and held out his hand to her. "We'll go slow," he assured her when he saw the look of doubt that crossed her face.
Taking his hand, she knelt on the bed in front of him, her free hand resting on his chest. "I don't know how to make love," she whispered. "I was never much of a participant in the act." She shrugged. "It was sex for the sake of gaining heirs to the throne."
Gently maneuvering her around and settling her back against the pillows, Joe laid down beside her, his hand caressing her soft skin as he smiled down at her. "Then let me make love to you. It will be my pleasure to teach you the difference between sex and making love."
Biting her lip, she shivered when his hand moved up her thigh over her ribcage, cupping her breast. "Oh," she moaned when his thumb swirled around the nipple causing it to tighten in response. Closing her eyes when his head lowered, she bit her lip at the feel of his warm breath blowing against the sensitive tip before gently taking it in his mouth and suckling. Her toes curled and her breath quickened. Lifting her hands, she held his head to her when he kissed a path to the other breast and repeated the action.
Moving his mouth from her breasts, Joe kissed his way across her skin to her mouth. Pressing tender, light kisses to each corner, he softly covered her mouth with his. Slowly and with a purpose, he drew her into the kiss before deepening it, his tongue pressing for entrance. He smiled slightly when he felt her responding, remembering their bygone kisses as her tongue moved against his, her hand cradling his head. Moving his hand over her hip, he trailed it lower and lower until his finger was tracing around the wet swollen flesh of her center.
Feeling his finger slip between her wet folds, gently thrusting in and out, Clarisse arched her back and gasped as her fingers dug into his shoulders. "Joseph!" she cried out.
"That's it," he gently coaxed as he inserted another finger. "Just let it happen, Clarisse. I promised to give, not take…let me give this to you. Just follow your body's responses."
Taking a deep breath, she concentrated on his voice then turned her attention to her body, listening to the thrumming in her veins, the pounding in her ears. Letting all of the sensations guide her, she rose high with the swell of desire then crashed as her orgasm burned through her, ripping a cry from her chest.
Settling himself in the cradle of her parted thighs, Joe softly nuzzled her neck as he waited for her to calm. Nibbling her ear, he felt her hands come up to caress his back. Moving his mouth to hers, he kissed her lightly before leaning back slightly so that he could look down at her. "That was beautiful," he whispered.
"That was," she sighed. "Amazing. I've never felt that way before."
Caressing the damp hair from her face, Joe tenderly traced her cheek with his thumb. "You'll feel this way every night as long as you ask it of me." Moving his hips against her, he smiled when her breath caught in her chest. "I know it's been a long time, I'll go slow and easy."
Biting her lip, she nodded and squeezed his hands when he entwined their fingers. Inhaling a sharp breath at the feel of the first inch of him stretching her, she held tighter to his hands and closed her eyes to concentrate on her breathing. In and out, a sharp intake of breath here and there, until she felt him completely filling her. "Oh god," she moaned.
Pulling out, Joe gently pushed forward again, this time a little faster. Waiting patiently for her to adjust, he repeated the action, going faster each time, until she was whimpering his name, her body growing restless beneath his. "Lift your legs and wrap them around me," he whispered against her ear.
Opening her eyes, she stared up at him, doing as told and moaning at the change in angles when he thrust forward and ground against her. "Oh," she murmured in surprise. "Oh."
Watching her face, the look of bliss softening her features, spurred Joe on as he continued to thrust in and out of her, grinding against her with each forward motion. He knew at this angle he was hitting her g-spot, and he knew she would be feeling like she was going mad as the release built to a fevered pitch…exactly how he wanted her.
Eyes going wide, Clarisse stared up at her husband. "Joe?" she queried just before her mind shut down, her body taking over completely.
Letting go of his control, Joe moved wildly against her as he buried his face in her neck, his release coming on him hard and fast at the feel of her body arching up into his, her inner muscles clenching around him.
Laying limply, legs and arms sprawled on the bed, Clarisse took as deep a breath as she could with Joe's weight still pressing her into the mattress. Feeling him shift to her side, she smiled when his head continued to rest on her shoulder. Tilting her head down, she pressed a kiss to his bald pate, sighing in pure contentment. "Mmm," she hummed. "So this is what it feels like?"
Joe smiled and pressed a kiss to her damp skin. "Yes, Love. This is what it feels like." Rolling onto his back, he pulled her against him, his hand caressing her bare shoulder. "This is how it will always be between us."
"Mmm," she hummed her approval. "I think I'm a very lucky woman."
Shaking his head, he lifted her face up. "No. I'm the lucky one."
"No, Joe. I'm the lucky one because you gave me another chance even after I'd hurt you a second time by choosing duty over my love for you."
"Shh," he pressed a finger to her lips. "None of that matters now. What matters now is that you're my wife and we get to spend the rest of our lives together."
"I like the sound of that."
He smiled. "I love the thought of it."