Better to Give
“By all that’s holy, what was I thinking? This way lies
madness!” Vincent paced through his bathing chamber, his massive
chest heaving for oxygen. His state of desperation was rapidly
spiraling beyond even his normally iron-clad control. He felt a
cold, nervous sweat born of panic and adrenaline burst out across his
features. “This is surely the worst idea anyone has ever had! I
cannot go through with this.” He slumped against the cavern wall, his
head thrown back in dejection.
Today was Catherine’s birthday and he expected her arrival Below any
moment. His inspiration for her birthday gift… Oh, this had
seemed like such a good idea when it first occurred to him! Indeed,
he’d thought it was the product of divine inspiration. He had
even convinced himself that this was, in fact, something for which
Catherine had been hinting. Now that it was nearly time to present his
gift to her, though, his confidence in it was rapidly waning.
He had been struggling for weeks to think of some present that could be
worthy of the one that Catherine had given him for his birthday a few
* * *
Since the night he had rescued her from drowning in her stalker’s
trunk, he’d allowed himself to enter her apartment. They’d kissed
that night for the first time, the most fleeting brush of lips, fueled
by fear, desperation, and years of denied desire. Crossing the
literal threshold of her balcony that evening had begun a series of
more figurative, yet even more meaningful, steps. Soon they were lovers
On the evening of his birthday, he’d arrived on her balcony to find the
doors ajar, heedless of the January cold. Inside, Catherine was curled
on the loveseat, surrounded by candle flames whose shadows licked her
luminous skin. She was wearing a new sweater that night: a lush angora,
the palest shade of pink, the color one might find inside some exotic
As he approached her, he realized that the luscious, luxurious sweater was all she wore.
Eyes made of pale jade and moonlight surveyed him seductively. “Happy
birthday, Vincent,” she had sighed. “Would you like to open your
“Are you my birthday gift?” he had managed to whisper, his voice made of distant thunder.
She nodded. “As you see, I have adopted the custom from Below of a gift
being something that one does for someone, rather than something that
one buys. So yes,” her dainty hands smoothed the angora across her
chest, “here is your gift, wrapped in something I thought you might
Exploring her body that evening... the slopes and summits of her firm
breasts swaddled within the feathery sweater…the taste of her flesh
mingled with the tickle of the angora’s delicate tendrils on his
cheeks… not even its silken softness could match delicious down of
Catherine’s skin… They had danced to unheard music again that night… a
dance with music all its own… a song of delectable sensuality… its
beat, a pounding rush of blood in his ears…
* * *
He shook his head to clear the memories that threatened to intoxicate him.
He raked his fingers through his mane of hair and groaned, “The best
laid plans of mice and men… and morons like me… who come up with the
worst, most cursed gift ideas in human history… I cannot do this. I
cannot!” His pacing resumed.
Just as he resolved to abandon his scheme and pray that the Fates would
guide him to some plausible Plan B, he heard Catherine’s voice call his
name. He’d been so wrapped up in arousing recollections and abject
anxiety that he hadn’t caught the least hint of her presence Below.
So desperate was he for escape that he actually took several steps
toward the passageway that led to Father’s chamber before skidding to a
stop. No. That path was the only one less desirable than his present
original course of action.
She called down the hall to the bathing chamber, “Vincent, are you in there?”
Despite his nearly all-consuming urge to flee and hide, he realized
that if he didn’t reply to her, she might come in here looking for him.
There was no avoiding answering her.
“Yes, Catherine. One moment. Please.” He paced some more. At the
entrance to the bathing chamber, he pulled his cloak off its hook. As
he was draping it around himself, inspiration struck. “Catherine, why
don’t you run down to the kitchen and get us a pot of tea? William just
got some more of your favorite herbal mix.” Yes, that might buy me a few minutes!
“I’m way ahead of you,” Catherine replied amid the soft clink of china
cups on saucers. “I passed William on my way in, and he insisted that I
bring us some.”
Indeed, he caught the scent of tea as well as that of William’s scones.
He cursed under his breath; now he wouldn’t be able to distract her
with food either. What am I to do?
“Come on. It’s getting cold.”
“Yes! One moment!” He grimaced as he heard the desperation in his own voice.
“Vincent? What’s wrong?” His chin fell to his chest when he realized
that she, too, had heard that panic. There was no way out now.
“Nothing,” he lied. “I’m coming.” He wrapped his cloak about himself as
if it were armor and he were preparing for battle. He fastened its
closure snugly at his throat, gulped a deep breath and stepped toward
his chamber. Each footfall of his boots on the granite steps echoed in
his mind like a countdown to certain doom.
How beautiful she looked sitting there at his table, more delicate than
the mismatched Limoges china in her hands. Unable to meet her eyes, he
pivoted, his back to her, and occupied himself with a meaningless
shuffle of books on the credenza. “Perhaps you can go see if William
still has some of the strawberry jam you like so well?” As soon as the
words left his lips, he knew that she had seen right through his lame
ploy. He could feel it. He stood there, miserable, fighting the urge to
flee, the well of tears.
“Vincent…” Catherine set down the teacup she had been about to offer him. “Something is wrong. What is it? Tell me, please.”
Waves of her concern, her fear, jolted through the Bond to make his own
stomach lurch. His absurd actions were causing Catherine to worry, and
on her birthday, no less. Now he felt guilty as well as frightened and
foolish. You dolt! Imbecile!
Were these condemnations her thoughts or his own? He couldn’t tell amid
the jumble of panicky emotions. He could control neither the clenching
of his fist nor the fidget of his feet.
“Vincent.” She reached for the hand that peeked out from his sleeve,
but he stepped away. He evaded her touch and in place of his fingers,
she grabbed only a handful of his cloak. She twisted the fabric in her
grip, strengthening her hold on it. She did not let him go.
Vincent wearing his cloak and nothing else.
As he took that step away from her, the lowermost left corner of his
cloak was tugged back, revealing the calf and knee of his tall
thigh-high boots. She pulled more on the cloak, exposing the tops of
those boots, the part where the curved upper edges of the leather met
Only this time, there were no pants to meet.
Above the leather of his boots, there was only bare, golden, thickly muscled thigh.
Vincent froze; to take another step was to hoist himself higher on his
own petard. He was unable to draw breath or let himself feel her
through the Bond. She pulled back further on his cloak; he felt it
slither across the skin of his upper thigh. A tremor raced up a muscle
from knee to groin. The chilled tunnel air soon hit his bare derrière
and he risked a glimpse in Catherine’s direction. He watched as her
face transformed from concern into surprise, and then into… he could
only call it predatory delight.
She licked her lips as her eyes met his. She perused him from
head to feet, lingering on the stiff leather encasing his legs, scaling
the slopes and ridges of his taut stomach. She held nothing back
from him. He absorbed her every feeling as her eyes toured his body,
watched her irises nearly vanish as her pupils widened. The licentious
avarice that was broadcast to him by both her emotions and her
expression left him genuinely shocked, utterly relieved, thoroughly
gladdened, and - truth be told - more than a bit intimidated.
“Well…” she purred with a wicked grin. “Happy birthday to me!”
Vincent finally accepted a novel notion: Perhaps this gift is not, in fact, the worst idea since the last invasion of Russia during winter.
“So you…like your present?” he inquired, though he would have to
confess that he already had the answer. He couldn’t help the shy,
self-satisfied smile that flitted across his face, the evening's
earlier agonies of self-doubt forgotten.
“As if you didn’t know.”
* * *
She would not later recall rising from her chair or moving to stand in
front of him, but she’d never forget the sight that was revealed when
she pushed back the edges of his cloak over his shoulders: the vision
of Vincent standing naked beneath his cloak… naked save for the tall,
tooled-leather boots covering his legs up to his finely chiseled thighs.
Once she had freed him from his cloak, she stepped over it carelessly
as she walked around him, studying and appreciating the stunning gift
before her. From behind him, she swept her fingernails down the hard
planes of his spine; waves of shivers followed in her wake. She molded
herself to his back, reached around until she could grab the fronts of
the boots. "I've wanted to debauch you in these boots for years,
Vincent looked back over his bare shoulder. "Catherine! You libertine!"
“Took you long enough to get the hint.” She continued circling, her
fingertips trailing idly along his skin, until she stood in front of
“Then you like…?”
She wrapped her hands around the backs of his knees and caressed first
the skin of the boots and then his own skin as she reached his thights
just above the boot-tops. Ascending further to cup his bottom, she
pulled him closer.
“Oh, yes. I love!”
She brought a finger to his collarbone and skimmed to one nipple where
she drew lanquid spirals in a journey south toward his navel. She stood
on tiptoe to brush his jaw line with her lips, and trailed kisses from
his ear to his throat, then down his chest. She smiled inside as she
felt, more than heard, the vibrations of his moan beneath her mouth.
Moments later - Catherine’s clothes strewn about the chamber floor -she
twined her fingers through his hair and pulled his face to hers,
searing their souls with the heat of their kisses.
Her leg snaked its way up his calf and around his boot-covered thigh as
she leaned into his hard muscled body. His hands grasped the twin
curves of her bottom, and she moaned as she felt the press of his
arousal against her. She lifted her leg higher, rasping it along his
leather-wrapped leg, drawing it up the outside of his thigh. Vincent
groaned as he pulled her knee up higher, pressing her to his skin. It
made her legs grow weak.
He bent his knees, reached around her. "Hold on," he commanded, and
without giving her much time to obey, he stood fluidly, one arm around
her back, the other supporting her bottom. Her legs reflexively wrapped
about his waist. She anchored her arms around his back, fingernails
digging into his flesh. She kissed him where his neck and shoulder met,
nipped at the taut tendon there. His breath came shorter and shallower
as her bites gnawed away at the last shards of his resistance.
She arched against him, leaned back slightly, never doubting that his
strong arms would hold her fast. She pressed her moist core against
him, against the edge of his control.
Secure in his embrace, she was carried to a bare spot of the chamber
wall and braced against it. She felt his arm cushioning her from the
roughness of the rock. He lowered her onto him, her legs gripped the
small of his back, ankles entwined. He held her as still as he could
and drove into her… once… twice…
Catherine’s heart, like a bumblebee trapped against a windowpane, beat
a frantic tattoo against her ribcage. She gasped as lightning began to
build within her body, then she surrendered to the storm of sensations.
Her legs lost their lock around his hips then, but it didn’t matter,
pinned as she was between the granite wall and her lover’s hard body.
She clung to him, muffling moans of pleasure into his shoulder as his
thrusts built in strength and speed. She wrapped her legs lower around
the trunks of his thighs, her calves and ankles finding purchase on the
leather of Vincent’s tall boots.
Later, both of them spent and satisfied, they collapsed onto his bed, Catherine half-draped across his body.
“I’m glad you liked your gift,” he whispered.
She reached down and ran her hand along his thigh. She tucked it behind
his knee and brought his leg to wrap around her hip, the boot cool
against her skin.
“Best present I never unwrapped.”