Saturday, February 15, 2020

WINTERFEST 2020


TO SERVE IN HEAVEN

Janet Rivenbark
A To Reign in Hell episode expansion… sort of… 

They’d been moving at a swift pace for several hours, and Vincent could sense Catherine’s exhaustion and thirst, but she didn’t complain or ask him to slow down; just concentrated on keeping up. He was always astonished at the courage and strength packed into one small body. 

He could smell water long before they reached the banks of the subterranean river he and Devin had discovered when they were young. 
They’d explored their side extensively, but they’d never explored this side of the river. On his way down, he’d been going on instinct and a very faint thread of the Bond, the part of the Bond that only told him that Catherine was alive. There had been nothing else.

When they exited the tunnel onto the bank of the river, the faint phosphorescence on the cliffs around them showed little of the landscape, but it was enough for Catherine to see the river. She stumbled toward it, and Vincent caught her around the waist and lifted her off her feet.

“Don’t drink the water,” he warned. “It’s never been tested, and I don’t know if it’s safe.”

She groaned and went limp against him. “I’m so thirsty!” she declared. Her first complaint. 

“It’s not much farther,” he assured her. “I left my pack on the other side of the river. There’s water and a safe place we can rest.” He set her back on her feet and waited until she felt steady before he stepped away. “Wait here. I’ll just be a minute.”

She watched as he walked down the rocky beach to a pile of boulders. He could feel her eyes on him and was grateful that the Bond seemed to be free-flowing again.

He climbed over the pile of boulders and walked to where he’d hidden the flat-bottomed boat. He pushed it off and climbed in. Picking up the long pole, he pushed it down the waterway about a hundred feet and beached it again near Catherine.

He helped her in and directed her to sit in the back. She shivered as she passed him. They’d stayed warm enough while they were moving, but away from the heat of Paracelsus’ abode, and back to the chilly ambient temperature of his underground world, especially this close to the icy water, her overheated body was quickly cooling down. He wrapped his cloak around her before helping her to the seat.

“How far?” she asked as he pushed off the beach and allowed the slight current to carry them downriver.

“Not far, only about ten or fifteen minutes, depending on how swift the current is. Relax and rest. We will have a short climb when we get there.”
She did as he told her and closed her eyes.

Vincent allowed his eyes to travel over her body. Even sweat-soaked slightly singed and exhausted, she was still the most beautiful thing in his world. As he guided the boat and watched her, he remembered. He reached into his pocket and took out the crystal necklace he’d found draped around the neck of a skeleton; a skeleton that had also been wearing Catherine’s shirt. A very unsubtle hint from Paracelsus of his intentions.  

“I found this on my way to you,” he said. His voice quiet as he held it out to her.

Catherine’s head snapped up, and she smiled slightly. “Oh, I thought it was gone forever!” She took the pendant and wrapped her fingers around it protectively.

Vincent knew he had to speak, to ask her, but he wasn’t sure where to start, but, “Catherine… On the journey, I felt for the first time, as if, somehow, you were lost to me. I knew you were in danger, and yet I could sense no fear!”

“I was afraid, Vincent,” she admitted, “but I couldn’t allow myself to feel the fear.”

“You didn’t want to draw me,” he said, understanding.
“I couldn’t.”

“You’d sacrifice so much?”

“I would sacrifice everything for you!” she said with quiet adamancy. “What Paracelsus said… about your past…”

He ignored her last comment and continued his thought. “Before I left, Father told me something that I’m just now beginning to understand. He said that there is a truth beyond knowledge, beyond… everything we could ever hope to know.”

Catherine smiled slightly as she understood too. “Yes.”

“And that truth… is love…” he added.

He beached the boat a few minutes later and helped her out. He turned and pointed across the narrow beach to the barely visible rock face.
“I don’t know if you can see it, but there is a path carved into the rock. It goes up at a fairly steep angle, but it’s wide. We need to climb that. There is a chamber halfway up the cliff. I left my supplies there.” He took her hand and urged her along. “One last effort, then you can rest,” he promised.

When they reached the wall, she took off his cloak and handed it to him, to ensure she wouldn’t trip on the climb. He put her in front of him and kept his hand on her waist as they climbed. When they reached the opening in the rock wall, he turned her and guided her inside.

“Let me light the lantern,” he said as she leaned against the wall.

The match flared, and the lantern caught. He lowered the glass and adjusted the flame before taking her hand and guiding her around a corner and into the chamber.

The chamber they entered had always been a wonder to him. He and Devin had found it when they were children. It was obviously man-made and had been lived in at some point; the burned area in the small hearth and the soot on the ceiling proved that, but it had been completely empty when they’d found it. Empty except for the ledges and niches that had been carved into the rock.

He and Devin had started furnishing it; laboriously hauling down the necessities of life. Later, after Devin left, Vincent hadn’t revisited for a few years. After that, it had become the refuge he sought when life became overwhelming. This was the first time he’d shared it with anyone since Devin. Father knew about it, so did Pascal and a few others, but no one knew exactly where it was.

Catherine looked around in amazement as Vincent lit candles and another lantern.

“You did all this?” she asked.

“Not all of it,” he admitted. “The chamber was here, as you see it when Devin and I found it, but it was empty. We brought everything in it down over the years.”

“And the boat? Where did that come from?” she asked, sitting on the one chair in the chamber.

Vincent crossed to the small table where his pack rested. He pulled out a bottle of water and offered it to her.

“Drink slowly,” he directed as he draped his cloak around her again. 
When he was satisfied that she was going slowly, he answered her question. “We built it.” He smiled slightly at the memory. “First, we tried a raft, like Huck Finn, but it didn’t work out. It wasn’t very stable and dumped us both in the river before it broke apart. We salvaged as much of the wood as we could and decided that maybe we should check the library and see if we could find plans for a real raft. All we could find in Father’s library was a plan for a flat bottom boat like they use in swamps. We figured it would be a good choice since we’d found out that the river is shallow in this section. We were only half done when Devin left, and I didn’t come back here again for several years. I finished the boat but have never taken it very far from here.”

He turned away and started building a fire on the small hearth as Catherine watched. Now that they were safe, he was plainly ill at ease.
“How long will we stay here?” she asked.

“As long as you need to rest and recover,” he told her. “Tonight, at least, more if necessary.” He went to his pack and took out several cans that he carried to a shelf that contained more cans. “I can put together several meals out of what I have. But we need to make sure we have something for the trip back. It’s going to take at least a day.”

“I am starving,” she admitted. “Paracelsus gave me water and juice, but the only thing I’ve had to eat was a couple of bowls of thin oatmeal.”

“I’ll have a meal prepared soon.”

“Is there somewhere I can clean up?” she asked uncertainly. “I reek!”

Vincent walked over and offered his hand. She took it, stood, and dropped the cloak on the chair.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think.” He picked up the second lantern and guided her into a small opening in the back of the chamber. The low ceiling had him bending, but she could walk upright in it. The short tunnel opened into a second small chamber.

“Where’s a shallow pool in here,” the told her as he set the lantern on a flat-topped boulder. “It’s about three feet deep, and it’s warm. The bottom is sandy. You should find everything you need in the basket.” He handed her a ragged towel.

“Are there any clean clothes I can put on?” she asked. “I can wash these out, but I’ll need something until they dry.”

Vincent turned and left and was back in a few seconds with one of his shirts.

“This should work. It will probably reach your knees; you can roll the sleeves up.”

When Vincent left the chamber, Catherine took a few minutes to explore. It was about half the size of the other chamber, and the ceiling was lower. The rock walls were warm, and she figured that the warm water probably kept the whole place a comfortable temperature. There was a rock bench along one wall, and she found that there was a hole in the far end. When she investigated, she discovered that it was an ancient version of a toilet. 
It reminded her of the privies she’d seen in some of the castles she’d visited in Europe.

She finally stripped off her clothes and stepped into the pool. The hot water was heaven, even if it did sting on the small cuts and burns she had on her legs and arms. She ignored the pain and started washing her clothes. Socks, underwear, tank top and sweatpants were soon spread out on the rocks next to the pool. They’d never dry in here; it was too humid. She’d have to move them to the other chamber when she finished bathing. She hoped Vincent didn’t mind her “unmentionables” draped around the chamber.

She soaked in the hot water for a few more minutes before she got down to the business of scrubbing off the sweat and grime. She felt like a new woman, albeit a hungry one when she dressed in Vincent’s shirt. The shirt was so big it had a tendency to slip off one shoulder. She tied the laces as tight at the neck as she could get them, put on her shoes, and picked up her wet clothes.

When she entered the front chamber, Vincent was stirring something in a pot and there was a delicious smell. It was also warmer than it had been when they first got there. He pointed to a line strung across one side of the chamber.

“You can hang your things there,” he told her.

He found himself watching as she stretched up to spread the clothing on the line. The shirt did reach almost to her knees, but when she raised her arms, it raised up considerably higher than that. He mentally slapped himself and turned back to the pot. He filled two bowls and set them on the table.

“You have some injuries,” he said as he turned back to get water for them to drink. He’d felt the sting when she’d stepped into the water.
Catherine picked up her bowl and sat on the wide ledge along one wall.
“Just some small scrapes and burns. They’re nothing.”

“I’ll look at them when you’re done eating.” He obviously wasn’t going to accept any argument.

She nodded and began to eat.

“This is delicious,” she declared between bites. “How did you manage it so quickly?”

Vincent pointed to the empty can on the ledge. “Dinty Moore and I can throw together a pretty good meal,” he said with a smile.

' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' '

When her bowl was empty, Vincent took it and came back with the first aid kit. He knelt on the floor in front of her and inspected her legs.

He ran a finger over some burn marks and melted rubber on her athletic shoes.

“It’s good that you had shoes on, or your feet would have been badly burned.”

There were only a few tiny burns on her lower legs, just red marks. They hadn’t even blistered. Vincent put antiseptic cream and a Band-Aid on each one of them.

“Is there anything else,” he asked.

She pointed out some on her arms, and he tended them too.

By the time he was done, she could barely keep her eyes open. Vincent put away the first aid kit and pulled a rolled-up pad off a shelf then spread it out on the rock ledge. The ledge was about the size of a full-sized bed, and the pad covered most of it. He spread a blanket on top of that then unrolled a sleeping bag. He reached up to another shelf and picked up a plastic-wrapped toothbrush that he handed to her. She looked at it in surprise.

“You do have all the comforts of home here, don’t you?”

“All the comforts of my home, at least,” he corrected. “I often come here on the spur of the moment and don’t stop to gather supplies, so I keep a few extras. I don’t have toothpaste, but there is a container of baking soda. You can use the water in the bucket by the sink.” He pointed at the basin with a hole in the bottom carved out of the rock shelf.

He left the chamber to bathe, and Catherine turned to the sink.

When she was done, she was tired but still restless. She found his sleeping bag, a twin to the one he’d spread out for her. She spread it out next to hers. The fire was dying down, and it was getting chilly again and she decided to zip the two bags together so they could share their body heat. It had to be a job to haul firewood down this far, and she figured he’d probably want to conserve as much as possible; this way he wouldn’t have to keep the fire burning all night.

She slipped into the sleeping bags and moved to the far side. She was exhausted, and the mat made the rock ledge surprisingly comfortable. She turned on her side, putting her back to the chamber and was asleep before Vincent was back.

Vincent glanced over to where Catherine was and smiled when he saw the sleeping bags. He was too tired to worry about the implied intimacy. He hung up his freshly washed clothes and banked the fire. He then set his intruder alarm system up halfway down the entrance tunnel. A stack of empty cans set just the inside the turn in the short tunnel. He’d never used it before, but he felt it prudent to set it up this time, just in case someone had followed them. He didn’t know if the big brute had survived their fight, he rather doubted it, but he didn’t know if there were others like him.

During the entire trip to Paracelsus’ realm, he’d managed to keep the Other under control. He surmised that it was likely because he couldn’t feel any fear from Catherine. He knew she was in danger, but he couldn’t feel it.

As soon as he’d entered the chamber where she was tied to a post, as soon as she’d seen him, she’d let her fear go, and the Other had taken over, even though he knew that Catherine’s fear had been as much for him as it had been for herself.

He’d vanquished the giant, but he wasn’t proud of how he’d done it. He’d never used his teeth before, not like that. The metallic taste of the hot blood that had pulsed from the wound in the man’s neck would take a long time to forget, if he ever forgot it. The taste lingered, and even though he knew that it was all in his imagination, he’d rinsed his mouth before they’d eaten and brushed his teeth and rinsed over and over afterward. His head knew that if he hadn’t used all the natural weapons at his disposal, both he and Catherine would be dead… or he would be Paracelsus’ prisoner and Catherine would still be dead, having died an agonizing death in the flames.

Narcissa had spoken of the simple ones, the lost ones, always in the plural. Paracelsus had obviously recruited at least some of them into his army, and if they were all as big as that behemoth, they were definitely a danger. He doubted that Paracelsus himself would follow them, but it was a distinct possibility that he’d send someone after them if there was someone to send, but he was exhausted and in need of sleep. He couldn’t stand guard, so the crude alarm system would have to do.
Vincent went around the chamber, blowing out candles. He moved one candle to the middle of the table and left it burning; it should be good for at least four hours of dim light. Then in old sweatpants and a t-shirt, he slid into the sleeping bags next to Catherine and relaxed with a sigh. He kept close to the outside edge and turned on his side with his back to Catherine.

' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' '

Vincent woke first. The candle was out, but his innate sense of time told him that it was early morning. He’d slept longer than he usually did, but then he had been almost as exhausted as Catherine.

The second thing he noticed was that both he and Catherine had moved to the center of their makeshift bed, and she was cuddled into his side; his arm was around her, and she was using his shoulder as a pillow. He didn’t want to move. He didn’t want to disturb her, but it wasn’t just that. She just felt good in his arms, right. He relaxed and enjoyed holding her.
Catherine started to stir a little while later. She stretched a little then realized where she was. She began to pull away, but Vincent’s arm tightened.  

“You’re all right,” he assured her. “The Chamber is cold. I didn’t want to disturb you to get up to rebuild the fire.”

Her hand snaked out from under the warm down sleeping bag.

“It is cold,” she said, snatching it back. “I don’t want to move out from under the covers.”

“Stay warm, and I’ll take care of the fire,” he told her as he slipped off the rock ledge taking care not to open the sleeping bag too much and let out the heat.

She watched as he started the fire and set a kettle over it to heat, and she was surprised when he slipped back into the warmth beside her.

“This chamber is unheated for such long periods of time that the walls stay chilled, and it takes a long time to warm them up,” he explained as he allowed her to snuggle back into his warmth. “But at least it’s small, and the ceiling is low. The air warms fast and stays warm as long as the fire is burning.”

They were quiet for a time, enjoying the closeness, then Catherine spoke.

“How long did it take you to find me?” she asked. She hadn’t been all that surprised when he’d shown up, despite her doing her best not to broadcast her fear.

“We left on Wednesday, and I found you yesterday,” he supplied.

“And yesterday was?” she prompted.

“I’m sorry… It was Thursday.”

“So, today is Friday… It seemed so much longer,” she mused. “I wonder if I’ll even have a job when I go back.”

“I think Father took care of that. We couldn’t very well report that you’d been kidnapped, considering who had taken you and to where. Father had a Helper call Mr. Maxwell and tell him that you’d come down with an extremely contagious virus that had caused you to lose your voice and would be out of work for a few days.”

“I assume the extremely contagious part was so that Joe wouldn’t want to visit, and the no voice was so he wouldn’t call,” she said with a smile.

“I think it was.”

“And how long do you think it will take us to get back?”

“It should take us about eight to ten hours from here. Going down, we weren’t sure where we were going, so our route was a bit more convoluted.”

“We?” she asked.

“I didn’t start out alone. Pascal and Wins… low were with me.”

She was curious when Vincent’s voice broke on Winslow’s name. 

“What happened? Why did you send them back?”

“We were attacked early yesterday. The same brute I fought in Paracelsus’ lair. Jamie had been following us at a distance, and she rushed in just in time to save Pascal, but there was nothing to be done for Winslow. He died in the attack.”

“No, Vincent!” The tears were immediate, and Vincent, who hadn’t taken the time to grieve finally let go; they comforted each other.

“Pascal heard a signal in an old pipe code,” he told her once he regained his composure. “He said he’d have to go with me because he knew where the pipes were. Winslow said that he should go too because Pascal said that it could be a long trip, and someone had to stand watch; that three were better than two. Jamie wanted to come, but we wouldn’t let her.”

“But she followed you anyway,” Catherine commented.

“Yes, she did. She’s determined… a lot like someone else I know.” He looked down at Catherine. “Winslow and I talked the night before he died. We talked about things that we had never spoken of before. He was so sure that we’d find you and that you’d be all right, even when I was in doubt. He said he wanted me to know that he wasn’t just doing it because of Paracelsus. That it was for you too. He said you are a good woman. He said that what we have is something that he’d never experienced, but he knew it was real from watching the two of us. He believed in it. 
Winslow knew the truth all along and valued love enough to die for it. It’s something worth protecting at any cost. He knew it as the force that binds us together. And in the end, his death allowed our love to live.”
Catherine was crying quietly by the time Vincent finished, and he held her tightly as she soaked his shirt.

The kettle was boiling, and the chamber finally warmed enough to get up. 

“Go wash your face,” Vincent suggested, “and I’ll fix us some breakfast.”

By the time she was back, Vincent had bowls of thick oatmeal with raisins on the table. He was just setting heavy mugs next to the bowls.

Catherine took a sip from her mug.

“Coffee?”

“Instant, and I’m not sure how old it is, but it’s been tightly sealed.”

“It tastes fine; better than the burnt offerings we drink at the office,” she told him with a smile. “It’s more for the caffeine. I like the taste of good coffee, but I can handle a less than wonderful cup as long as I get my dose of caffeine.”

“And I’m sorry that all I have that is suitable for breakfast is oatmeal.”
She had to laugh at that.

“Compared to that oatmeal that Paracelsus served, this is the gourmet version.”

“When would you like to leave?” he asked after they’d eaten a little. “We can leave today, or if you’re still tired, we can rest and wait until tomorrow.”

Catherine hesitated. She’d love to stay a little longer; spend more private time with Vincent. She’d almost been surprised to wake and find him still in the sleeping bags with her that morning, but she wondered if he was as comfortable with the idea as she was. She decided that they’d made some progress, but that she didn’t want to press her luck.

“What time is it?” she asked.

“Around 8am,” he told her.

“If we head home this morning, we could be back by dinner time,” she observed.

“We could; if you feel up to it.”

“I can spend the weekend recuperating,” she told him. “We should go today.”

He nodded. “As soon as we’re ready.”



About an hour later, they were both dressed, and two small packs were sitting on the table. Vincent was going through the chamber putting out candles.

Before Catherine put on her pack, Vincent handed her a small denim jacket. It had been washed so many times that the fabric was as soft as flannel. Catherine slipped it on. It was a little large, but not nearly as large as Vincent’s shirt had been on her.

“Where did this come from?” she asked as she picked up her pack.

“It was mine when I was a child. I left it here at some point, and I never took it back.”

He picked up the lantern and led her out of the chamber.

“We should be as quiet as possible once we are out of this tunnel. The path we used to come up from the beach continues to the ledge above us. The tunnel is a few hundred feet to the right once we leave the path. I’m going to put the lantern out, just in case someone is watching. I’ll guide you.”

He put out the lantern and guided her out of the tunnel and up the steep path to the top where he moved her closer to the cliff face.

They reached the tunnel, and even the faint glow of phosphorescent algae disappeared when they stepped into it. They walked several hundred feet in complete darkness. Catherine sensed when they walked into a wider tunnel. Vincent stopped her and lit the lantern.

“This won’t be as difficult as yesterday,” he told her as they started their hike. “We will have to go up several levels, but there are either stairs or slopes that aren’t very steep. On our way down, we had to come down a rope through a well-like structure, but this route will avoid that. We will be able to take breaks whenever you need to.”

They walked for about two hours before they took their first short break, and by the time they stopped for their lunch of beef jerky, dried fruit, and water, they’d reached the level of the lowest pipes.

Catherine listened as Vincent sent a message.

“What did you say?” she asked. She knew some pipe code, but Vincent’s was so fast she had a hard time following.

“Just that we are about four hours out and are well.”

The answer started before he’d finished speaking.

“Pascal says that everyone will be happy to hear that. He will pass it on.”
“That was short and sweet.”

“We don’t want to give away our location to anyone, just in case we are being followed.”

That made Catherine uneasy, and she glanced around apprehensively.
“Don’t worry,” he rushed to reassure her. “I don’t think we are, and if there is anyone, they can’t be close. I’d probably hear them or smell them.”
That made Catherine feel better, but she still finished her lunch quickly and was ready to move on in a few minutes.

They stopped again a couple of hours later, and not long after that, they reached some of the outlying inhabited areas.

The first person they met was Mouse, who appeared to be waiting for them. He barely nodded at Catherine as he rushed up to Vincent.

“Winslow’s really gone?” he demanded tearfully.

“Yes, Mouse, I’m afraid so.”

“Too bad Winslow didn’t have nine lives,” Mouse mumbled as he turned and walked ahead of them with his head down.

Vincent took Catherine’s hand as they walked side by side behind Mouse. 
“Just a little farther,” he said. He could feel her weariness again.

They went to Father’s study first. By that time, they’d accumulated a good-sized entourage.

Father and Mary waited for them in the study. After hugs were exchanged all around, Mary sent one of the children to tell William that Catherine and Vincent would be ready for a meal soon.

“What, exactly, did you tell Joe?” Catherine asked after their story had been told.

“I asked Lin Wong, er, Pei to call your office and tell Mr. Maxwell she was a friend and that you had a high fever, and that your doctor wasn’t sure what you had. He was going on the assumption that it was pretty virulent since it had come on so quickly and without warning. You’d gone to bed feeling fine if a little tired, and you’d woke up with a fever of 102 and you could barely talk. No cough, no upper respiratory symptoms or stomach issues. Just the fever and throat.”

“Thank you. I’ll have to thank Lin. I’ll call Joe as soon as I get back to my place and tell him that I’m on the mend and will be in on Monday.”



“You’re going back tonight?” Vincent asked a little while later when the crowd had thinned out. “You haven’t eaten.”

“I’m not really hungry yet, and I think I should go home,” she said regretfully. “I was reheating some leftovers in the microwave that should be pretty nasty by now. Thank goodness I didn’t decide to reheat them on the stove or in the oven. I might have burned the building down.”

He nodded. “I’ll walk with you.”

This time their pace was much slower as if they were reluctant to part.

“Will you come up later?” she asked when they reached the threshold under her basement.

“As soon as I can get away,” he told her. “It shouldn’t be late.”

“That doesn’t matter. Tomorrow is Saturday.”  

It was then that Catherine decided to do what she hadn’t dared to do earlier, something she had never done before, at least not with him. She decided to kiss him. She planned for it to be short, sweet and over quickly. She was in control. But only seconds after their lips met, she was no longer in control. He lifted her off her feet so they were on the same level and he could kiss her without bending over. His hand was at the back of her head holding her exactly right so he could cherish her mouth. He kissed her, and kissed her, and kissed her some more until she was lightheaded and not caring who was in control… or not in control.

“Oh my,” she said breathlessly when he set her back on her feet and stepped back a few inches. They were both breathing hard.

She reached out and grabbed his arm as he started to turn to leave.

“Vincent?”

“Yes, Catherine?”

She was surprised to see clear blue eyes when he turned back to her. She’d expected to see worry and guilt.

“See you later?” she asked.

“Yes,” he agreed with a slight smile. “Just give me enough time to get cleaned up and talk to Father for a few minutes.”

“Good. I want to bathe too. I’ll put the key to the balcony door under the blue flowerpot in case you get there before I’m done. I think I’m going to be locking those doors from now on.”

She pondered the kiss all the way back to her apartment. 


The food she’d left heating in the microwave wasn’t as bad as she’d expected. It was more desiccated than anything. At least it hadn’t turned into a fuzzy green mass.

She tossed the mess into the trash and washed the dishes. There wasn’t much in her refrigerator, but there was stuff for sandwiches. She made a couple, covered the plate, and put them in the refrigerator.

She’d put it off long enough. She picked up the phone and called Joe.
“How are you doing, Kiddo?” he asked after she spoke.

“Much better,” she said as she self-consciously crossed her fingers. “The fever is gone, and my doctor says that if it stays gone for twenty-four hours, I will be officially cured and no longer contagious.”

“Did he ever figure out what it was?”

“Not really. Just some virus. Has anyone else in the office come down with it?”

“Huddleston is out, but he said he thinks he just got hold of some bad take out. His symptoms were different.”

“Well, you should have both of us back on Monday,” she hurried to tell him.

“Looking forward to it… Do you need anything in the meantime?”

“No, nothing. A friend is helping me out. I’ll rest up over the weekend, and I’ll be in, ready to get back to work on Monday.”

“OK, I’ll see you then… and Radcliffe?”

“Yes?”

“I didn’t leave too many files on your desk over the last few days.”

Joe laughed and hung up before Catherine could come up with a response.

She was laughing when she hung up and headed for the shower.

' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' '

Vincent walked slowly back to his chamber. He didn’t know what had come over him when Catherine had kissed him. He searched himself and couldn’t find any guilt; he didn't feel at all bad about what had transpired. Catherine had begun the kiss; she’d obviously wanted to kiss him, and when he’d taken over and returned it with interest, she hadn’t recoiled. She’d given back with great enthusiasm. He touched his lips. He’d kissed Catherine, and nothing had happened, at least, nothing terrible had happened. He had taken over control of it, but the Other hadn’t shown up. He hadn’t felt him anywhere near.

In his chamber, he started a fire in the brazier before he pulled out clean clothing, stripped off his dirty ones and headed for the small, private bathing chamber that he’d used since he was a teenager.

It always took a long time for him to dry. He went through several towels, then wrapped one around his hips and took the last dry one back to his chamber, where he kept working on his hair and upper body as he stood near the brazier.

When working, the other men often stripped off their shirts, but Vincent never removed that last layer of the long-sleeved knit shirt he almost always wore next to his skin. No one had seen him unclothed since he was a teenager, except for Father. And Father had only seen him shirtless lately. He wondered what Catherine would think of all the hair, and there was a lot of it. It grew in the same pattern as most men’s, but there was just so much more of it. So much more that it usually took half a dozen towels and almost an hour to get dry enough to put his clothes back on.

Tonight, he was determined to get dry in less time than that and had ventured out of the bathing chamber very scantily clothed to use the brazier in his chamber to accelerate the process.

He didn’t usually do that since people never seemed compelled to ask permission to enter his chamber. Just as Father did as Vincent was finally pulling on his jeans.

“Going out at this hour?” Father asked as he took in the clothing laid out on the bed.

“I’m going to Catherine’s,” Vincent told him as he reached for a shirt.

“But you just spent the last two days with her.” Father seemed worried about something.

“Which is why I need to see her. She’s still uneasy about her safety.” That wasn’t entirely true. He didn’t sense much uneasiness from her, although she had said that the balcony doors would be locked. It was more that he was the one who was uneasy about her safety. She’d been taken from her balcony once. He wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again.

“She lives in New York City. I’m sure she’s got locks on her doors.”

Father’s attitude was bewildering.

“She does, but she was taken from her balcony. Her abductor must have gotten there the same way I do, from the roof.”

“Is there a lock on the balcony door?”

“Yes, there is, but the doors are glass. I’m going to make sure she is safe.”

Father sat on the side of the bed as Vincent finished dressing. He noted what Vincent was putting on.

“Is that what you are wearing?”

Vincent looked down at his clothing. There was nothing unusual. Jeans, boots, and a denim work shirt. Not precisely formal wear, but it was comfortable and clean and appropriate to visit any Helper, including Catherine.

“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” he asked.

“There aren’t as many layers as you usually wear. It may be almost June, but the evenings are still cool.”

“But it’s warmer in Catherine’s apartment than it is down here,” he pointed out.

“You’re going inside? I thought you told me that you only went inside when there was a problem.”

“Father! What is wrong with you? You haven’t questioned me like this about going Above since I was sixteen. Why the sudden interest?”

“I’m sorry.” Father ran his hands over his face and back through his hair. “It’s just that you came so close to dying, and we did lose Winslow. I guess I’m just overreacting to it all.”

“Catherine came closer to dying than I did, and I feel the need to be with her for that same reason. I need to reassure myself that she is all right. I understand what you are feeling, but I will be safe in Catherine’s home. As safe as I am here in my own chamber.”

“I hope so.” Father looked up as Vincent was reaching for his cloak. “Will you be back tonight?” he asked.

Vincent suddenly understood what was bothering Father and why he’d asked so many questions.

“I’m not sure when I’ll be back, I may be back before dawn as I often am, but if I’m not, I will be perfectly safe at Catherine’s.” He took a deep breath; he hadn’t been this frank with Father since they’d had the talk when he was fifteen. “Catherine and I are not intimate, Father. We did sleep in the same bed last night... and in this case, sleep is not a euphemism for something else. I can’t say that we will never be intimate. It’s a big step to take, and we both need to know what we are doing if and when we take it.”

“You remember what happened with Lisa,” Father warned.

“Of course I do, and that doesn’t mean that anything like that would happen with Catherine,” Vincent argued. “I didn’t have a Bond with Lisa; I didn’t know what she was feeling. She pulled away for some reason, but you sent her away so quickly I was never able to learn why, but Catherine wouldn’t pull away and if she did, I would know her reasons.”

“How do you know that she wouldn’t pull away?”

Vincent decided he had to share a few of his private moments with Catherine with Father. “Because she never has. I hold her, and she’s happy and secure in my arms… I kissed her, and she kissed me back.”
“You kissed her?” Father sounded shocked.

“Well, actually, she kissed me, but I kissed her back, and she accepted it, and I could tell she liked it.”

Father was shaking his head. “I don’t know, Vincent.” His tone of voice held a warning. “That seems a perilous road to go down.”

Vincent dropped his cloak on the table and sat on the chair facing Father.
“Don’t you remember that time Paracelsus drugged me? You tried to help me, and I struck out at you. Others tried, and I drove them away, but Catherine was able to save me. Her voice was the only one I heard, the only one I understood. No matter how lost I am, she can call me back, and she has many times.”

“Are you sure?” Father asked, looking into Vincent’s eyes. “Very, very sure?”

“Surer than I’ve ever been about anything else,” Vincent assured him. He stood and picked up his cloak. “We’ll talk when I get back.”

He turned and left Father sitting on his bed.

Vincent wasn’t as sure of himself as he’d led Father to believe, but he was sure of Catherine.

What he’d told Father about what had happened was true, but he’d tried to project a self-assurance that he wasn’t really feeling.

Where did he want this evening to go? He wasn’t even certain.  

' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' '

Catherine finished her shower and stood contemplating what to put on. It was still early, not yet 9pm. Vincent usually waited until later when it was darker, and traffic was lighter. But she had a feeling that he might be a little earlier tonight.

She decided against a nightgown and robe. Even though she was often dressed like that when he arrived, somehow, she felt that tonight it might imply that she expected more, especially after that kiss earlier. She might hope for more, but she wasn’t going to push him.

The clothing she’d had on when she was kidnapped had been some of her most comfortable and was some of her favorites to wear when she was just staying home, cleaning, doing other chores or relaxing. She had several pairs of knit pants, so she found a pair in black and added a white tank.   

She’d just finished drying her hair when she heard Vincent’s tap on the living room door. She grabbed a sweater and went to answer.

“Why didn’t you use the key?” she asked as she opened the door for him.
“I didn’t want to startle you by just appearing. If you hadn’t answered, I would have opened the door and called out to let you know I was here.”

To her surprise, he stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind him. She dropped the sweater on the back of a chair and watched him as he took in his surroundings.

“Your home is lovely,” he commented, pushing his hood back and taking off his cloak.

“You’ve been in before,” she pointed out.

“But I wasn’t looking at the d├ęcor while I was looking for a washcloth and the first aid kit.”

She remembered his care of her and was grateful he’d stayed that night.
“I’m glad you were here,” she said, putting her hand on his arm. “My apartment is comfortable and convenient, but I can’t take much credit for decorating it. Daddy was planning to give it to me as a gift when I graduated from law school, but when I broke up with Steven, I didn’t want to move back home, so he decided to give me the apartment early. He had a designer come in and make it livable. It’s nice, but not exactly my taste.” She sat on one of the sofas and patted the cushion next to her. He joined her.

“What is your taste?” he asked.

“Less elegant, less feminine, and definitely less pastel,” she said with a laugh. “Before, I just didn’t spend that much time here because I was always out doing something, going to parties, or charity functions, spending weekends with friends at the beach, traveling with Daddy, and now I seem to spend most of my time at work. I’ve just never gotten around to redecorating. I’ve added a few things, changed a few things here and there, but never completely redone it.”

“If you found the time, what would you do?”

“I think I’d go more for comfort and less for style. More color, but subdued and warm,” Catherine said, then she looked over at him quizzically. “Why this sudden interest in my decorating tastes?”

He shrugged. “We’ve known each other for over a year and have been spending time together for over half that time, and although I know your tastes in music and literature, I don’t know much more. Things like what kind of food you like, what movies you’ve seen, your favorite color.”

And it’s a safe subject? He asked himself.

She laughed.

“I’ll try just about any food, but occasionally, I just have to have my pizza fix, and I love simple home cooking. I haven’t seen any movies lately, at least not in the theater. I think the last one was…” she hesitated, thinking. “I think it was The Name of the Rose with Sean Connery. I like Sean Connery. And my favorite color? That depends; I like to wear different colors than I’d paint on a wall.”

“What do you like to wear?”

“Red, dark teal, dark green; most of my work clothes are a little more on the sedate side, especially what I wear to court or when I interview a witness. Those are usually gray or black. How about you?”

“I’m not picky when it comes to food; it’s not a privilege we have Below. We eat what we have, but I am very fond of William’s carrot cake. I’ve never seen a movie in a theater. In fact, I've seen very few movies at all and the ones I have seen were on black and white TVs at Helpers homes... I have no idea who Sean Connery is.”

“Hmm, we just might have to remedy that. I’ve got a few movies on VHS, and I can get more. We will have to start watching some while you are here sometimes. There are even some classics that you might enjoy. I’ll have to look into it… How about your favorite color?”

“Whatever you happen to be wearing at the moment,” he said with a slight smile.

She looked down at herself then back up at him.

“Black and white?” she asked with a laugh. “I do believe that you need to get Above in daylight once in a while.”

He reached for her and pulled her into his arms as he leaned back on the sofa. It surprised her because, in the past, she’d almost always been the one who had moved into his arms.

“When Father and I were trapped in the maze, we talked, and he said that one of the things from Above that he missed the most was the colors. When I was a child, I used to spend hours sitting on the upper level in the study, looking at the pictures in old copies of National Geographic and the encyclopedia. I think that was why I was so taken with the stained-glass window when Devin first brought it Below. It caught his eye, and he thought someone Below might like it, so he brought it back. As soon as I saw it, I had to have it, even though we had no place to put it. For a while, it just sat on the shelf, but we couldn’t see the colors. That was when Devin decided to enlarge the hole in the back wall of our chamber. It took several months; we took turns chipping away at it until we had it just the right size and shape.  We were both disappointed when we put it in and found that we still couldn’t see the colors because it needed to be lit from behind.”

“What did you do?” she asked. She’d often wondered about the history of that window.

“There is a corridor that runs behind my chamber. It’s hardly ever used; it doesn’t go anywhere. We knew it was there but weren’t sure how to get to it. We studied Father’s maps and figured it out. We put a large candle stand in the corridor behind the window. As long as we kept the candles lit, we could see the colors. A few years ago, Mouse ran electricity from a utility light and installed a light fixture. Now I only have to change the bulb every few months instead of adding new candles every few hours.”

They sat quietly for a while before Catherine spoke again.

“I made some snacks, and I can make some tea. Or would you rather have something else?”

“A soft drink?” he suggested. “We don’t get many Below.”

“I’ve got cola, ginger ale, root beer, and cream soda.”

“Cream soda sounds good,” he said, but he didn’t move.

She sat for a moment.

“You’re going to have to let me go so I can get it,” she whispered.

He sighed and loosened his arms.

A few minutes later, she was back with the plate of sandwiches and the drinks on a tray. Vincent was looking at the framed photographs on the small desk in the corner.

“You look like your mother,” he commented as he put a frame back on the desk and joined her on the sofa.

“You think so?” she asked. “She was taller than me; I ’m short like Daddy’s mother.”

“You have her coloring.”

“Daddy says that I reminded him of her. He says my voice is a lot like hers, and some of my mannerisms.”

“How are you like your father?” he asked as he reached for the glass of soda.

“Besides being a lawyer?” she asked, then laughed. “I think my brain must work a lot like his. He used to give me client files to read, and I almost always came to the same conclusions he did. We usually came to the same conclusions about people too… Except for a couple of my boyfriends.”

“How did your opinions differ on them?”

“He didn’t like Steven, and I thought I was in love with him, and he liked Tom and thought we would be a good match. I think I figured Tom out pretty quickly, much quicker than Daddy did.”

Vincent was very quiet.

“I think Daddy would agree with me about you,” she said after a short silence.

“You sound so sure of that.”

“I am sure. Daddy’s primary concern is that I’m happy, and I am.”

“Have you ever thought about what he would think if we were to meet?”

“I have, very often, and I’ve wondered how I could make it happen. It would take some preparation, but I’m sure that he would like you.”
Vincent set down his glass and was on his feet.

“Maybe if he was just meeting me; if you introduced me as a friend, but what would he think if you introduced me as… as your…” He was standing at the door to the balcony looking out.

“As my boyfriend… or as my lover?” she finished for him. “Vincent, I love you, and I think that is the most important thing. I don’t love you in spite of who you are; I love you for who you are: the gentle, loving man who takes care of everyone around him. The scholar, the music lover. I have more in common with you than I’ve ever had with any other man, except maybe my father. That means you have a lot in common with him. Vincent, you have to remember that he’s the man who raised me. He’s the one who taught me and set the examples for me to follow.”

“But what would he think of his daughter being intimate with a being like me?”

Catherine rose from the sofa and went to stand behind Vincent.

“Does it always have to come back to that?” she asked as she stepped in front of him and slipped her arms around his waist. “I think he knows that I’ve met someone. We haven’t talked about it, but he’s usually pretty perceptive. I didn’t see a lot of him for the first few months after I started at the DA’s office, but once I was settled in there, we made a point of getting together for dinner now and then. I’m going to a concert with him and Kay in a few weeks. Maybe I’ll put a bug in his ear.” She hesitated. “You know, I was thinking that he and you might have someone in common. You might have a Helper who knows him, and he could help with the introductions.”

Vincent returned the hug after a moment.

“You are always so positive,” he commented.

“I do have a tendency to see the glass as half full, and as Jenny often tells me, the glass is also refillable.”

That made Vincent chuckle.

“Your Jenny is quite the philosopher.”

“She has her moments,” Catherine agreed. She took his hand and tugged him back over to the sofa. “Now come on. Relax. Have something to eat, and maybe I can find a movie that I can put in the VCR, and we can watch.”

“I think I’d rather just sit here with you and listen to some music.”

“That’s good too. The classical station always has a good mix.”

She got up, turned on the radio, tuned it to a station playing classical music, and returned to sit next to Vincent and nibble on a sandwich.  

If nothing else, the previous few days of being together full time had made them more comfortable with each other.

He chose a sandwich from the plate, and neither spoke until he was finished. He took a sip of the cream soda.

“That is very sweet,” he commented.

“You’ve never had one before?””

“No, when you told me what you had, I’d tried all the others. I’ve never had a cream soda before.”

“Have you ever had an egg cream?” she asked.

“I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never had one. What are they?”

“Well, despite the name, an egg cream contains neither eggs nor cream. I’ve never seen them anywhere except New York. The ingredients are milk, seltzer, and chocolate syrup. It’s usually served in a small glass, but there’s this place in Brooklyn that serves them in a pint beer mug. There is a soft drink, it’s called Yoohoo, that’s originally from New Jersey, but I’ve really only seen it in the South. I think it’s supposed to be something like an egg cream, but it’s not carbonated. I’d make you an egg cream, but I don’t have any seltzer. I’ll get some the next time I go to the store.”

“You don’t need to do that, Catherine,” he protested.

“But there are so many things that were fixtures of my childhood that you’ve never had the opportunity to try. I’d love to share some of those things with you. Things like cream puff hot fudge sundaes. There is this bakery chain in Detroit; they have soda fountains in the bakeries and they have their own hot fudge recipe. I don’t know what it is, but it’s better than any hot fudge I’ve ever had anywhere. They make the sundaes with fresh cream puffs that they make in their bakery and creamy French vanilla ice cream. Then they pour hot fudge over it and top it with whipped cream. It’s so good!

“Or shrimp and grits from Charleston, South Carolina, Cajun and Creole food from New Orleans, Cuban food from Miami. Cuban coffee will really wake you up!”

“Do you cook, Catherine?” he asked.

“A little. The housekeeper we had when I was a teenager taught me the basics, and she taught me how to follow a recipe.”

“Perhaps you could find the recipes for some of the things you like, and you could cook them for me,” he suggested.

“That would be fun,” she agreed. “Is there something you’ve heard of that you’d like to try?”

“Surprise me.” 

“This is going to be a lot of fun!” she repeated before she settled herself on the sofa close to him. He reached out and put his arm around her, pulling her closer.

She sighed in contentment and turned her face up to him, not exactly inviting, but giving him every opportunity to kiss her again. After a moment, he took the opportunity.

It started softly and grew into something that neither of them had expected. When he finally left her mouth, his lips didn’t leave her body. He kissed his way down her neck, then down farther until he was nosing her breast through the fabric of her tank top. His hands found bare skin, and his fingers made mesmerizing circles on her back. Her whole body was a mass of sensation.

If he stopped now, she wasn’t sure if she could stand it. It seemed to go on forever. It was beautiful and frustrating at the same time. His hands stayed on her back; his mouth stayed near her breast but separated from it by the fabric of her tank top.

She’d never been this turned on in her life, even though he’d done little more than kiss her.

“Vincent, please,” she didn’t recognize her own voice.

“What, Catherine?” he asked, raising his head and looking down at her.

She could tell when the Bond carried her feelings to him. He slowly sat up and gently took her shoulders in his hands and set her away from him.

Her whole body was buzzing, but she did her best to rein everything in. 

She put her hand on his arm.

“Are you OK?” she asked after several deep, calming breaths. 

“Yes, Catherine, I believe I am.”

The muscles under her hand were tense, but at least he didn’t look panicked and ready to run.

He took a breath to speak, and she interrupted him.

“Don’t apologize! I’m just as responsible for that as you are.”

“But I kissed you.”

“And I kissed you back. I’m willing to kiss you anytime you want to indulge. I enjoy kissing you.”

Vincent stood and began to pace, but it wasn’t the fast, furious pacing she’d seen in the past. Catherine kept her seat on the sofa.

“But I wanted more,” he said in a low tone, almost as if he was talking to himself.

“And so did I, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Even though I wanted more, I’m quite willing to slow things down. I just don’t want to go back to where we were.”

He turned and looked at her. “We both wanted more, and we both stopped.”

“Well, you did,” she said with half a smile. “I took a little convincing, but we are both responsible adults, and that’s what responsible adults do.”

“But there was an incident when I was younger…” his voice trailed off, and he seemed lost in thought.

“What kind of an incident?” she asked.

“There was a girl,” he said after some hesitation. “She was Below, but she wanted to go above to dance. She loved ballet. I used to love to watch her dance. It was as if she was dancing only for me.”

“Did she know you were watching her?”

“Yes, she used to invite me to watch her practice. One time I reached for her. I just wanted to hold her, but she pulled away, and…” He looked down at his hands. “And I couldn’t let go. I scratched her. It must have been bad because Father sent her away.”

The picture Vincent had just presented was disturbing, but not so disturbing that she was about to give up. What disturbed her most about it was Father’s reaction to it.

“Vincent, you hold me all the time, and you’ve always let me go. Just now, even in our heightened arousal, you let me go. In fact, you pushed me away. It’s not the same.”

He looked at her, and she could see the love in his eyes, but also his fear.
“We go slowly, Vincent,” she suggested.

He remembered what he’d said to Father earlier. “I didn’t have a Bond with Lisa; I didn’t know what she was feeling. She pulled away for some reason, I never knew why, but you wouldn’t pull away, and if you did, I would know your reasons.” He repeated out loud.

“Exactly!” she agreed.      

He stood still for a few moments, then she was pleased when he moved back to the sofa and sat down beside her, and even more pleased when he put his arm around her again. She settled back against him, and they both relaxed.

There was something else that Catherine wanted to say, needed to reinforce and she decided that now as good a time as any.

“Vincent, there is something that I said earlier... I love you; I’m sure you can feel that. I’m committed to you…”

He started to speak, and she held up her hand.

“Let me finish… I love you, but you don’t need to say anything. I’m not saying it to get you to say it back. I just want you to know how I feel. And it also doesn’t mean I expect anything from you. We go on from this point; however you feel comfortable and if I’ve made you feel awkward, then I’m sorry, but I need you to know how I feel.”

She finally stopped talking, and Vincent took that as his cue to speak.

“Catherine, I’ve been hesitant to say it to you because I didn’t want you to think I was trying to tie you to me in any way.” He sighed and shook his head. “I’ve loved you since the beginning. I don’t think I actually realized it until the day you left that first time. I said I’d never regretted what I was until that day, and I was telling the truth. I truly realized my limitations in that moment. Father may have told me over, and over that I would never have the kind of relationship with a woman that every man longs for, but I don’t think it actually ever sunk in until that moment. I knew that I loved you, but that I could never have you.”

“But that’s what I’m trying to say,” Catherine protested. Sitting up straight and turning toward him. “You can have me, but I’m willing to do this any way you want. I want you in my life any way you want to allow it. We can stay where we are, or we can move forward. I’m willing to let you make those decisions, as long as you don’t make a decision that you don’t want me in your life. I don’t think I could handle that.”

Vincent pulled her back into his arms and held her tightly.

“That won’t happen,” he assured her. “And I would like to move forward, but I don’t know where to start.”

“I think you’ve made a good start,” she told him. “You’ve let me in, a little. We already talk about almost everything.”

“Almost everything?” he questioned.

“Well, we don’t get very personal about you. In fact, that story about Lisa was almost the first thing I’ve heard about your childhood except for the stories Devin told when he was here. I’ve told you a lot more about my childhood.”

He nodded agreement. “I think the only other time we talked about my childhood was when I told you about Mitch Denton.”

“Mary and Father have told me a little, but only amusing things.”
“And you want it to be deeper? More personal.”

“That’s how people get to know each other,” she pointed out. “They talk about things, more things than just music or books or the kind of food they like.”

“So, you’d just like to talk?” She heard something in his voice that sounded a lot like disappointment.

“For starters,” she told him. “But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make out a little while we are doing it.”

“Make out?” he asked, not quite sure what she was talking about.

“Kissing and touching,” she said, then stretched up and kissed his cheek. 
“I can see that I’m going to have to teach you some slang.”

“Hmm… Touching?”

“You were touching me earlier when you kissed me,” she pointed out. “But you kept your hands in relatively safe places.”

“But I wouldn’t want to assume. I wouldn’t want to touch you in a more… intimate way without permission.”

Catherine wanted to sigh and roll her eyes, but she managed not to. “Consider permission given,” she said.

She almost laughed at the surprise that registered on his face.
“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Very!” And to prove it, she picked up his left hand and placed it over her breast.  

She would have given anything for their Bond to be a two-way street at that moment.

His hand remained still for several seconds as he stared at it, then he closed his eyes for a moment.

“You like this,” he said as he listened to the Bond.

“Yes,” she whispered. “Very much.”

His eyes remained closed as he adjusted his hand and swept his thumb across her nipple through the fabric of her tank top.

It hardened, and he opened his eyes and looked at her.

“It would feel even better if it was skin to skin with nothing between us,” she added when he was looking at her.

He removed his hand and looked down at it.

“But my hands are so rough!” he protested as he curled his fingers into his palm.

“That’s one of the best parts,” she told him. “The differences. Your hands are working hands, but they are gentle. My hands are softer because the hardest work I do with them is pushing a pencil or washing a glass.”

She grabbed his hand again and carefully uncurled each finger. She kissed the calluses at the base of each finger, then turned his hand over and rubbed her cheek against the soft hair on the back of it before cupping his palm over her cheek. “I love your hands and I want to feel them on my body.”

He pulled her back into his arms and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. She sensed that he needed to think about what she’d said, so she sat quietly and enjoyed the embrace.

Catherine was dozing, halfway between sleeping and waking when Vincent spoke.

“This touching,” he asked. “Does it go both ways?”

“Absolutely. I don’t think you realize how hard it is for me to keep my hands off you, sometimes.”

“And the male body, does it react the same way as yours?”

“Erogenous zones might be different, but from what I’ve heard, the whole body can be an erogenous zone with the right person.”

“If you touched my chest… the nipple, would it react the same as yours?”

“You’ve never noticed?” she asked.

“To be honest, I haven’t,” he admitted.

“Let’s see.” Before he could protest, she’d unbuttoned his shirt and had pulled the tail half out of his pants. She knew the likely reaction, but then everyone was different.

The profusion of silky hair on his chest was distracting. All she could think of was how it would feel against her bare breasts. She pulled herself away from those thoughts and trailed her fingers through the hair. She found a flat nipple and swirled her finger around it. Vincent watched in fascination as the tiny button rose up and hardened.

“I guess they do,” she said, looking up at him without removing her hand.
He was very quiet for a moment; then he grasped her shoulders and set her to one side as he rose. 

“I think I need some fresh air,” he said.

Catherine watched as he went out onto the balcony and went to lean on the rail. She was worried that she might have just gone too far. She picked up his empty glass and went to refill it.

"Vincent, what are you thinking?" Catherine asked as she joined him on the balcony a few minutes later, a glass in each hand.

He turned toward her and leaned back on the rail. He looked like some kind of Greek or Egyptian god, all blonde curls and muscular body. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath at the thought of kissing him again and finally touching that body. He seemed to snap out of whatever he was thinking and smiled at her.

"You are beautiful, Catherine." He said sincerely. “Flawless!”

"Hardly," she contradicted with a blush.

The next thing that happened was entirely accidental, Catherine moved to set the fresh glass of cream soda on the rail next to Vincent and her arm grazed his. She pulled back to avoid any closer contact, then as she took a sip from her own glass, a strand of hair slipped across her forehead. She set her glass down on a table and looked up at Vincent.

Only inches separated them, they often found themselves close to each other. Normally it would not have been awkward or heated in any way, but the thoughts that were in both their minds were extremely sensual, mostly due to the conversation they’d had a little while before.

A brush of her arm against his, even through his shirt, drew them both out of their private thoughts. Vincent's hand brushed against her cheek as he tucked the hair back behind her ear. Catherine visibly shivered under that touch and reached out to rest her hands on his chest. Before she knew it, she was trailing her fingers down his chest to his abdomen, still bared by the open shirt. She scraped her nails gently across his skin. His hand slid down her cheek to her neck, to finally rest lightly on her shoulder.

"We shouldn't," Vincent whispered, the words barely audible.

"Who says?" Catherine asked as they drew closer.

"Everyone?" he suggested. Catherine pushed herself up on her tiptoes, pressing her smooth, cool lips against his chest, she moved upward dropping kisses as she went, finally sending shivers through him when she nipped the skin on his neck.

"That’s doubtful, but anyway, they're not here," Catherine said softly.

"I could hurt you," he said. He turned his head and pressed his lips to her cheek.

"I doubt that, too," she said before his lips reached hers, not kissing, just moving against each other, breathing in and out, taking in the tastes and scents.

"Catherine…" he started.

"Don’t say it," she said.

He growled low in his throat as she claimed his mouth, kissing him roughly, not taking ‘no’ for an answer this time.

Vincent felt the tension and heat that had been there for so long. He pushed his mouth against hers, both of them wanting to control the kiss, their tongues intertwining and their bodies pressing against one another.
He growled again and ran his hands down her back and over her bottom. 
She moaned into his mouth when he gripped her bottom and pulled her upward; she went along wrapping her legs around his hips. Her tank top was pushed up and over her head, his head dropped down and he ran his lips across her breast, the nipple pebbled under his mouth.

He moved fast, they both knew this first time would be quick and maybe rough, but it was what they both needed and wanted. Catherine's back slammed against the rough brick wall of the building as Vincent's mouth took one of her nipples. She moaned loudly and arched into him. There was mild pain radiating from her back where it was pressed against the rough brick, but it was more than offset by the feel of his mouth on her breast.

Maybe it was her discomfort that got through to Vincent, she wasn’t sure, but suddenly he stepped backward, pulling her away from the wall. Her feet dropped to the floor, but she managed to hold on to him.  

“No, not like this!” he said. “Not here. The brick is rough, and the cement floor is hard and cold.” His eyes were slightly unfocused, and she knew he wasn’t thinking entirely clearly.

“There’s a bed,” she suggested, pointing through the open door into the bedroom.

Catherine was relieved when he scooped her up into his arms, carried her into the bedroom and deposited her on the bed.

Then he finished undressing her before he stripped the rest of his clothing off. Catherine felt the press of his erection against the inside of her thigh right before his hands wrapped tightly around her hips, and he slipped into her. She wrapped her legs around his hips again, to keep him there.

The pleasure was so powerful that Catherine almost screamed, not from pain but from the intense pleasure of him feeling him finally inside her. It would have been a first for her, screaming during sex, but open balcony door and the sounds of the city served to remind her where they were. The thought of being heard kept her quiet.

"God!" Catherine moaned as he began to thrust deep. His hands tightened around her hips, and she knew she would have bruises, but she was not feeling anything but pleasure right now. She arched her back pressing her chest into his; the sensation was as incredible as she’d speculated it would be. His forehead dropped to her shoulder. Catherine could feel her orgasm building as he released her hips and put his hands on either side of her head to get better leverage. Catherine stayed wrapped around him as she tipped over the edge.

"Vincent!" she called his name and moaned as she shook around him, her inner walls clenching, his body went rigid, and he let out a deep groan.

Catherine knew the feelings of regret might soon start, and she didn't want to feel anything but Vincent right now. She ran her hands up his back, caressing his shoulders. She dipped her head down and licked his neck.

"Mmmm, Catherine," he said as he caught his breath.

"Again," she whispered, almost pleading.

Vincent wasn’t entirely coherent, but he slid his arms under her and moved them to the center of the bed. He eased her into the new spot as he hovered over her. This time he'd be slow and gentle; he'd revel in every cry from her soft lips.


Catherine squinted her eyes tighter shut as the sun hit them, she moved slightly, scooting across the soft sheets. She was sore and stiff, her aches had aches, which was expected. She’d done things just a few hours before that she hadn’t done in years.  

Catherine felt no regret for what had happened, but she wasn’t so sure about Vincent. It had been great, she had to admit, Vincent had been wonderful.

She turned her head to the side; Vincent was lying on his stomach, his arm tucked under his pillow and head, the other arm thrown carelessly across Catherine's stomach. Catherine eased his arm off her and slid off the bed slowly, careful not to wake him. She tiptoed to the bathroom, trying her hardest to be quiet.

She returned to the room and was carefully heading back to bed when she heard his voice.

"No!" Vincent said.

Catherine's eyes jerked up to his, he was sitting up on the bed, staring at her.

"Um… what?" Catherine didn't know what he meant or how to respond.
Vincent moved quickly, leaping from the bed, and he walked over to her. 
Catherine almost smiled. She wondered if he realized that he was also naked.

"I'm so sorry, Catherine. It's just, I was clumsy, I've never done that before and… well, I'm sorry." He stumbled through the words. Catherine raised her eyebrows; she didn't understand what he was apologizing for.

"Vincent, it’s OK. What’s wrong?" Catherine touched his cheek and tried to reassure him, but she was baffled by his reaction.

"I'm a blundering oaf!" he said running his hand across his face.

Catherine was confused until she realized he was still staring down at her body. She took a step back and glanced in the full-length mirror. She quickly understood what he was talking about. Several purple and blue bruises covered her hips; small red spots littered her skin, moving down and across her collar bone, breasts, stomach, and thighs. She turned and looked over her shoulder. There were tiny scrapes on her back. She had a moment of panic but then calm washed over her.

Yes, I’m a little bruised and sore, but Vincent is strong. He’s just not used to doing that. Small sacrifice!

"It's fine, Vincent. They are just bruises and some tiny scratches. I’ll heal," she said, patting his chest. “Besides, you didn’t come out of that totally unscathed.” She brushed her fingers over several small marks on his neck and shoulder. “And there are scratches on your butt,” she added.

Vincent turned so he could look at his butt in the mirror, and sure enough, there were three red welts almost six inches long running from the base of his spine to the middle of his left butt cheek.

“But you didn’t break the skin,” he pointed out.

“Neither did you!”

“But, your back.”

“That was the wall. If we ever decide to do it that way, we’ll just have to have the forethought to pick a smooth wall, or I’ll keep my shirt on. Wasn’t it my discomfort that stopped you and made you move?”

Vincent dropped to sit on the edge of the bed.

“I don’t remember,” he admitted. “I wasn’t exactly thinking.”

“Me either,” she agreed, sitting next to him. “And it’s daylight,” she pointed out. “Looks like you’re stuck here for a while.”

He surprised her by putting his arm around her and pulling her close.

“This is like heaven; there is no place I’d rather be stuck,” he assured her.