A Slow and Steady Light

Eliza

(Author’s Note: This story follows Beautiful Things and Touch, located in Tunnel Tales.)

The lantern was held aloft and cast a warm glow on the tunnel walls. Catherine watched the shifting patterns of light and shadow as she trailed behind Vincent, far from the populated tunnels, moving down with him into the earth. At intervals, steam from unknown sources swirled around their feet like the white water of a phantom river. She had to smile to herself. Where would Stephen, Tom, or Elliot have taken her on a honeymoon? Paris, Venice, the Maldives? She could have gone anywhere with them, seen any wonder of the world. Yet here she was, underground, and her anticipation was unbearable.

She looked down at her feet again and a feeling of déjà vu rose in wispy tendrils with the steam. It was before her mother’s illness; she was eight-years-old and they were visiting the Grand Canyon. Daddy parked the Oldsmobile at a lookout on the north rim. Young Catherine climbed out of the car, slowly for blinking, and walked to the precipice. There at the railing, looking over the expanse, she marveled how this place could be in the world. And now once more she was experiencing something beyond the natural realm, and he was walking right in front of her.

Vincent. The lantern light illuminated him as well. He certainly looked other-worldly. Strands of his golden hair flashed like sun flares, and stars glittered among the folds of his cloak. My very own celestial body. That thought grabbed and held on, and Vincent’s pace slowed to a stop. He turned around. Shoot, betrayed by the bond again. She grinned at him, so happy that she no longer had to guard her thoughts. "What?" All innocence now.

"What are you thinking, Catherine?" The spark in his eyes tripped her pulse.

"Geography. Astronomy." He looked unconvinced, but said nothing. "Would I lie to you?" He tilted his head as he considered her question. Her smile grew wider. "What’re you thinking about?"

For a moment, Vincent debated giving a full confession, but decided that the fewer the words, the better. He leaned down, slowly enough for Catherine to have time to moisten her lips – but no. She looked at him, trying to learn his intent. He kissed a cheek. Lifted. Kissed the other cheek. Paused. Pressed his mouth to her forehead. Waited. She lifted her chin, and then he came to her mouth. The kiss they had shared only hours before at the joining ceremony was brief and chaste, conscious of its public place. This kiss was no less brief, so why was she left breathless, wanting? Her body tingled in private places, and she knew that he could feel it. His eyes bore into hers; he stroked her hair and straightened. "We’re almost there."

"Oh." The air down here seemed thin. "Good."

***

The chamber appeared on the right. Vincent looked in and was pleased. His instructions had been followed to the letter. It was a large, comfortable space with simple furnishings: a small wooden table flanked by two chairs, an antique armoire containing towels and blankets, a sideboard for kitchen supplies, and an overstuffed armchair. Two large Persian rugs, faded with age, covered the floor. But it was the bed that dominated the room. A bundle of dried strawflowers, tied with satin ribbon, lay across the pillows, just as he had requested. Another bouquet in chipped Limoges graced the table. And candles, candles everywhere, on every flat surface, and tucked away in nooks and crannies. Mouse had scavenged well. He stepped back and allowed Catherine to enter first. Her expression told him that all of his planning had been worth it.

"Oh Vincent," she breathed. She looked around and slipped off her shoes; this place was too fine for footwear. She began a circuit of the room, fingering the furniture as she went, until she reached the bed. The cream-colored bedspread was vintage chenille. Twin peacocks, plumage spread, faced each other proudly. She touched their cobalt feathers then picked up the profusion of strawflowers. Purple, pink, lemon, white; the crisp, pointed petals were papery to the touch. Her mother’s favorite. Every summer until her death these flowers had grown in a long row in the back garden. How could he have known? Catherine heard Vincent come up behind her, felt his hand on her shoulder. Her throat ached. "My mother called these everlasting flowers. The colors never fade." Carefully she returned the bundle to the bed and turned around. Her eyes brimmed with tears. "It’s all so lovely," she whispered. He gathered her in his arms and for several minutes simply held her. Finally rousing herself, she leaned back. "What is this place?"

"A sanctuary for people who need some privacy."

"It’s four-star, Vincent."

He smiled. "I’m glad you approve." He set their pack down beside the bed. "Are you hungry?"

"You mean for food?"

He gave a short laugh but answered her seriously. "You ate next to nothing at the party and we just walked for two hours."

"I honestly don’t know if I can eat anything."

Vincent took in her wave of soft hair, almond eyes, and generous lips. He barely restrained himself from scooping her up. "Catherine – if you don’t eat now, you will not be eating for some time."

She tried to stem the flow of images his words implied; she sighed and moved to the sideboard. "You’re right. Let’s see what’s on the menu."

Several minutes later they had assembled a simple meal and sat down at the wooden table. Catherine bowed her head and closed her eyes.

Vincent was surprised. "Are you praying?"

She looked up. "I’m saying thank you."

"You’re not religious."

"No." She shrugged. "But Someone must love me." She reached across the table and grasped his furred hand in her smooth one. He looked down at her fingers, so delicate. He raised them to his lips.

***

She watched him surreptitiously as he moved about the chamber, blowing out candles. Although she busied herself at the sideboard putting away food, she found that she could barely concentrate on the task. The cupboards had been generously stocked for their stay. They had muffins and rolls and loaves of freshly-baked bread, a variety of fruits and vegetables, dried meat, canned goods, tins of carefully-packed cakes and cookies, and bottles of water and wine. They would eat simply but healthfully. She cast another glance over her shoulder and saw Vincent lift the strawflowers off the bed and place them on the armchair, safe from the remaining candle flames. Turning back again, she looked down at the butcher-block counter and breathed out heavily. Please come to me. Perhaps he would prolong her suspense. Perhaps he would suggest they read a book together, play Scrabble, discuss Reaganomics….

"Catherine." Two strong arms stole around her waist; a bright head nuzzled hers. Her heartbeat accelerated. He placed a kiss on her neck and she felt the warm breath from his nostrils. "What are you thinking?"

She leaned back into his arms, wondering where to start. She thought of the lingerie she had tucked into the bottom of their bag; flimsy gowns of satin and lace that were better designed for Paris and Venice than for cool underground chambers. But she thought they would please him. "Should I change into something more comfortable?"

He did not answer immediately. From his position behind her, he gazed down the length of her body, lingering at her breasts and hips. She was wearing a plum turtleneck and gray cords, and everything he wanted was under those clothes. He knew his voice trembled but he was beyond caring. "Just your skin."

She turned in his arms and they fell together in a tangle of lips and tongues. Vincent had no experience to guide him, but he had eyes and ears and the gift of their bond, and they told him everything he needed to know. As he took her mouth in hot deep kisses, mewling sounds came from Catherine’s throat. Her skin was flushed; her pupils dark and dilated. His hands came up to anchor her face. He probed with his tongue and stroked her intimately. When he retreated, she advanced and swept the roof of his mouth. A low growling sound – and then Vincent raised his head.

If she had not known him, loved him, the sight of his face would have terrified her. The cords of his neck stood out, his canines gleamed in the candlelight, and his eyes blazed like black diamonds. It was not terror she felt but triumph. This was what she had waited so long to see: her Vincent, finally, accepting himself. And now, some fuel for the fire….

Very deliberately, she leaned in and pressed her breasts to his chest. Rubbed, paused, rubbed again. Her body ached with need. The turtleneck she wore was lightweight and did nothing to hide her state of arousal. Up the ante, Chandler. She tilted her pelvis and rocked against his thigh. Vincent’s growl intensified. Shaking, he reached down and grasped her hips. His clothes, elaborate and multi-layered though they were, did not hide his arousal either. For a long minute they held each other in that fevered grip where any movement increased their torture. Enough! Her hands went to the hem of her sweater.

"No, not yet."

Both of them were panting, wild-eyed, in heat. She started to whimper in protest, but then lowered her hands obediently. "Vincent, please – "

A blush stained his cheeks. "One more minute?" His hands kneaded her hips then moved to cup her shoulders. "I’ve dreamt of this."

She nodded mutely. Oh God, how was she going to survive? She yearned to feel her bare skin against his. Slow down. Patience. You have forever now.

Then his hands were upon her and all thought fled as he gently caressed her breasts and their hardened tips through her sweater. It was incredible. She threw back her head and looked at the rough ceiling. They say that everything is connected, and she could prove it. With every stroke of his fingers across her nipples, she felt a corresponding tightness in the core of her body. She tried to ease the ache by clamping her legs together, but he noticed. He could feel it. So his hands went there, stroking her hips and the curve of her bottom. Then he placed a hand low on her belly and just held her. One second…two…three. Her eyes fastened on his. Please, just do it. Rotating his wrist, he reached low, cupping her between her legs.

If Vincent had not felt the jolt of pleasure through the bond he would have whipped his hand away. But her look of pain was not pain and he kept his hand where it was, squeezing her, supporting her as she sank into the rub. He was sinking too at the sight of this beautiful woman losing herself in his touch. His touch. Oh, how he loved her!

And then she moved upon him, seeking to return the pleasure. Her fingers traveled along his jawline to his chin, stroking the short fur until his lips parted in a warm pant. Her attention then turned to the tender skin of his neck. Something fascinated her there and he watched her curiously. She leaned forward and treasured his Adam’s apple with a moist kiss, then inched her lips across his neck, searching for some particular spot. She must have found what she was looking for because she stopped and gave a strong suck. His body shuddered with surprise and arousal. "What? Catherine…did you just…give me a…?"

"Yup. Pretty adolescent, huh?" she whispered seductively. She didn’t wait for a response but continued her ministrations. Vincent bowed his head and kissed her hair, letting his own mane fall about her like a screen. She started pulling on the lacings of his vest. One of the leather ties knotted up and she grunted in frustration. Quickly he cut through the narrow tie with a sharp claw and tossed the garment onto a wooden chair. Now only a thin cotton shirt shielded his chest from her view.

This was entirely new territory for Vincent, so new that he had to stop himself from clutching his shirt to his body. Who had ever been allowed to undress him or touch him before this night? Father and Mary, certainly, while he was young had freely provided help and affection. But when he had learned to dress himself, when he had left young boyhood behind, the tender touches to bare skin rarely happened. Since then it had only been Father, tending to injuries, who had placed gentle hands under his clothes.

But now Catherine. Now Catherine. And her touch, so different from Father’s, inflamed him. Vincent remembered the words they had spoken to each other at their joining: I am yours and you are mine. Here was his first opportunity to fulfill his vow. Your body is hers now. Let her get used to you. Let her look. So he relaxed his hands and stood his ground, and opened himself up to the waves of love coming to him through their bond.

When she touched him beneath the cotton, she felt his muscles jump and quiver. She guessed that it was costing him mightily to stand still under her hands, but she was greedy to know him. Lovingly she explored the planes of his stomach, then hiked up his shirt to stroke his sculpted chest. The warmth that radiated from him heated her fingertips as she dove through whorls of fur. Overwhelmed, her head sagged against his shoulder. "Please…."

And he would please her. In one brisk motion he swept the shirt over his head and Catherine saw with her eyes what she had just cherished with her fingers. He was copper, beautiful shining copper. Goosebumps rose on her skin and she shivered. His hands went to the hem of her turtleneck. He peeled it off and uncovered a lacy white bra. Lacy, white…sheer. He took two steps back, transfixed by her body. She twisted her arms, reached behind, and unhooked the strap. The lace slid slowly away.

Vincent bent over slightly, trying to relieve the pressure in his groin, but he could not stop staring at her. He had seen one lovely breast the night before at the threshold of her apartment. He had allowed himself a tentative touch, a limited taste. And now there were no limits, and the reality of it pierced him like a lightning bolt. You are mine. The firm, round breasts and dusty rose nipples were his. And Catherine was begging him to touch her again. So he retraced the two steps and reached out with both hands. Warm and full, she fit perfectly in his palms. She moaned and leaned into the caress, seeking more. He flicked her erect nipples with the pads of his thumbs until she cried out. Then she grasped his hands in hers. "Try this." She turned over his hands. Vincent watched uncomprehendingly as she lifted his fingers to her breasts and brushed the peaks with the smooth, hard curves of his pointed nails.

"Catherine! Not my claws!" He would have wrenched his hands away had he not been fearful of hurting her. But she did not let him go.

"No, it’s wonderful." Again she teased the straining tips of her breasts with his nails, then released his hands. She would not force him. Vincent looked at the incongruous sight of his lethal nails upon her, and remembered his pledge once again.

I am yours. Tentatively he copied the movement she had shown him. Over and over, until her body was drawn taut as a bow. Suddenly she leaned over and wrestled off her gray cords and matching socks. He glimpsed long, slender legs and another scrap of lacy material. And then that last lace was gone too. She unfurled, a goddess from a fiery dream.

"Take me to bed Vincent."

Hardly daring to breathe, he bent down, scooped her up, and strode across the room. With one hand he tugged aside the twin peacocks and laid her gently on the sheets. Then he sat at the far edge of the bed and looked upon her body. Her legs were slightly splayed, the dark triangle of springy curls pointing to lips that already glistened with moisture. Lips that were open, inviting.

Vincent had a vast catalogue of pictures in his mind, images of Catherine – in the gown she wore on their first anniversary; rain-drenched in the music chamber; curled up in jeans and a sweatshirt on his bed, reading; and clad in so many silky robes – but from now on it would be this image that he would see, every time he thought of her. Catherine the seductress. Offering herself – to him.

He arched his head, seeking oxygen. He felt like he was drowning in heat. So he stood up and, with an economy of movement that never failed to impress her, removed the rest of his clothes as well.

Oh Vincent. Vincent. He was magnificent, and she rose to her knees. She held out her hand. "Come?" She wasn’t sure he would; he was like a bronze god rooted to the earth. So she kneed her way to the end of the bed and took hold of his softly furred hips. "Come." And she drew him down beside her.

The contact of their bare skin seemed to galvanize Vincent and he took her mouth in a blistering kiss. Nor were his hands idle. They ran from the top of her head to as far down her legs as he could reach, then returned to linger on the central regions of her body. Tenderly he stroked her breasts and her slightly rounded stomach, then reached behind to pet her bottom. Her hands were busy too and she returned stroke for stroke. His response was electric: every new touch elicited a groan or growl, a pant or sigh. Together they rolled around the bed, limbs tangling, mouths crushing, bodies straining for completion. And Vincent, so careful not to harm Catherine with his full weight, nonetheless completely abandoned any attempt to conceal his arousal. His cock burned at her thigh, and her whole attention spiraled to that spot. Suddenly he paused and framed her face in his hands. He bent his forehead to hers. "I love you!" It was half whisper, half sob.

"I love you too," she said as she trailed her fingers down his back.

He nuzzled her ardently. "I want to touch you."

Hot and eager she opened for him, but he was hesitant. "What is it?"

"I’m afraid of hurting you."

Oh, the nails again. "You won’t hurt me." And she took his hand and pressed it between her legs.

Both of them groaned. Vincent, because she was warm and wet; and Catherine, because finally this was no dream. She snuggled into the curve of his shoulder, his arm cushioning her head. She didn’t care anymore how brazen she might seem to him, but she suspected that he wasn’t worried about that since he was dripping pearls of semen onto her thigh. She opened her legs wider and two of his fingers slid into her slippery folds.

Vincent gritted his teeth so hard that his jaw ached. He felt like he was going to burst. He shut his eyes to block the wanton sight before him, but it was no use; the image flashed neon in his brain. Although their lovemaking had barely begun, he knew that she was close to climax. So was he, but he ignored his own body to concentrate on hers.

Still keeping her tucked into his side, he shifted a little so that the arm around her neck reached her breasts. He nestled one warm globe in his palm and softly pinched the nipple. Catherine whimpered and lifted her chest, pleading for more. The minute movements of her hips spoke of another need and slowly, slowly, he started moving his fingers on her wet lips, mesmerized by the feel and smell of her. Mesmerized, too, by the sight of his hand upon her. It no longer looked foreign to him as his fur blended with hers.

Ah, Catherine, my love. He swallowed painfully. Come. As she writhed in his arms, he noted her quick, shallow breathing and the delicate flush on her skin. He probed deeper between her legs, carefully sliding his fingers up and down and up and down. And up. He found what he was looking for: a little round button, pink and hot, hiding just there at the top. Come, my Catherine. He rubbed her gently, slowly, then with increasing frequency until her hips left the bed. Taking her mouth in a searing kiss, he squeezed everything he had his hands on. Catherine cried out as she lost herself. She ground her pelvis into his hand, then fell back against him, exhausted.

***

Minutes later she was still panting. "How…how did you know...?"

"Father has some descriptive medical texts. I read them carefully."

Catherine stretched languidly. She was still coming down. "I’ve been dreaming of this for three years, you know." When he did not respond except to caress her leg, a new idea formed in her mind. She searched out his gaze. "Vincent…you felt my orgasm through our bond." It was not a question.

He looked away for a moment before turning back. "Yes I did. I feel everything you feel."

A few seconds ticked by while she chose her words. "Then…you know about all the times I thought of you…wanted you…since we met." Her fantasies of Vincent were many and varied. At first she had only indulged herself occasionally, but as their relationship developed she had dreamed about him often. And of course he had known. She debated feeling embarrassed.

"Catherine, I share your feelings, not your thoughts. But I confess, when you were dreaming about me, I desperately wished that I knew your thoughts too."

She smiled. She decided not to be shy. "Well I can tell you what I was thinking…or I can show you."

Vincent quickly lowered his gaze, but not before she saw the spark of hunger in his eyes. Her body had been satisfied but his hadn’t, not yet. She traced the curve of his cheek. Finally he looked at her. He had chosen honesty over embarrassment as well. "I don’t know how to talk about this."

"Say what you want. Say what you feel."

"I feel like I’m going to explode."

"Then explode." Without further ado she rose and straddled his hips, bending forward for a deep, open-mouthed kiss. His penis pulsed against her stomach but she ignored that to focus on the treasure of his mouth. She stroked his tongue with hers, then pulled out to explore the unique contour of his lips. When her tongue dipped into the cleft he shuddered, so she did it again and was rewarded with a muffled growl. He was close, so close. Sinuously she wriggled her hips and sat up, aware of the picture she presented, but the sight of him nearly knocked her backwards. To say that Vincent exuded animal magnetism was an understatement. Clothed, he was a formidable presence, but naked and in a state of sexual arousal…. The effect was devastating. She took a shaky breath. He was beautiful, beautiful. Blinking back tears of gratitude, she plunged her fingers into the soft mat of fur on his chest. On impulse she wondered how he would react if she used her nails instead of her fingertips, and she scratched two long tracks down his torso. Perspiration popped on his skin and he grabbed fistfuls of the sheets beside him. Again and again she scratched him, traveling the same path, until his heels dug into the mattress. Let me give you this, please let me. She scooted down his body and lowered her head.

"Catherine! You don’t have to…." She glanced up and saw desire and mortification warring within him. She hoped that desire would win.

"Vincent – you wanted to know what I was thinking." She bent down again before he could protest further. Resting her head on his hip, she breathed deeply the musk of his body and looked at her love.

One questing finger down his length caused Vincent a previously unknown form of pain. Of course he had touched himself before; he attended to his bodily functions as did every human being. He also knew what it meant to touch himself in desperation, and as his desire for Catherine had grown, so had his need to assuage that desire. But her touch needed no interface of imagination or hope to reach fulfillment. Vincent looked down his body. There, there she was, her hair fanned out on his stomach and her mouth so near to…. He tossed his head on the pillow and shut his eyes tight. Then more fingers joined the first, moving boldly now, pressing the heated skin. When her small hand wrapped around him, he growled and rose on his elbows. She was curled up beside him like a swan on water, her breasts tucked demurely into the fold of her body. Except there was nothing demure at all about what she was doing, what she was going to do. Her lips moved closer; he glimpsed her tongue….

It all happened at once. He grabbed her arms and hauled her upward as his body exploded with a primal roar. Holding her tightly to his side, he released all of his love for her. When he was finished, spent, he looked at her fearfully. He had come all over her breasts and belly; a milky rivulet pooled at her navel. Will she think I soiled her? But the bond spoke only joy to him, only joy. He gazed into her face and saw those shining eyes, that astonishing smile. What could he say? I love you Catherine. She nestled against him and began to massage the wetness on her skin as if it were precious lotion. He gaped at her, speechless, then let his head fall to the pillow.

"I love you too, Vincent." She reached up and smoothed his hair against the fine cotton. He scanned the ceiling of the chamber as if one of the crevices contained his next words.

"I’m sorry I finished so quickly. I couldn’t – "

"Shh, shh," she interrupted. "It was wonderful. You were wonderful." Then her eyes took on a teasing glint. "But fair warning," mock seriousness now. "Next time? I won’t let you pull me up."

***

The mattress shifted beneath her. Catherine opened a bleary eye and searched for her alarm clock, but no light relieved the darkness. She wrinkled her brow, then felt him bending over her, strands of his hair tickling her shoulder. Vincent! "Is it morning?"

His voice slid over her like raw silk. "No…is that all right?"

She smiled sleepily, absolutely loving this new life. "Uh-huh. Come ‘ere." And he covered her like a big furry blanket, showering warm kisses on her face and neck, fondling her eagerly. Wide awake now, Catherine tugged him overtop her and spread her legs, locking her ankles behind his thighs. And that was just…perfect. She executed a sinful wiggle and he paused, a hot chuff at her ear. The complete darkness heightened every other sense, and every other stimulus. Her lips searched for him and found his cheekbone, so she kissed that and then trailed more nibbling kisses down his jawline. Her hands, which had been playing with his hair, moved down to knead his shoulders and the muscles of his back. She reached as low as she could and brushed the soft fur of his buttocks. Gently, but not too gently, she flexed her fingers against the solid flesh. Perhaps her nails scored his cheeks as well; it was too dark to be sure. Vincent bucked against her and she giggled into his neck.

"You’re playing with fire, Catherine," he rasped.

"Oh, sorry, I was wondering what that was." Another giggle.

He growled something unintelligible and then began kissing her mouth earnestly. She realized that there was still too much need in him for playfulness. But what a joy his kisses were! Every part of her received the same unbridled enthusiasm: her lips, her chin, the curve of her neck, the hollow at the base of her throat. Oh God, please. As he moved down her body, she strained upwards. Don’t tease me now. And he didn’t. His lips glided over the swell of a breast and found the peak, hard and aching. "Catherine?"

"Yes please." And he drew her nipple into his mouth in one deep suck. She gasped and felt moisture gather between her legs. Vincent continued to suckle one side while he tormented the other with his fingers, then he reversed his attentions. Catherine could not endure this pleasure for long. Barely a breath escaped – "Wait!" She reached down and grasped him, stroking boldly along his length. He was huge in her hand, stiff and pulsing. Vincent gave a loud grunt and ground against her palm. She squeezed the shaft again then traced one prominent vein up, up, to the smooth, hot skin of the head. She circled round and round. Her fingers were wet now, and her groan joined his. Deciding to press her luck, she forayed just a little farther back and cupped his warm, furry balls in her hand. Ah, beautiful….

Swiftly, Vincent rose up on his knees, dislodging Catherine’s hand and spreading her legs even wider. He reached down between her legs and tested her. She was open and slick, her fragrance full of sexual promise. "I’m ready, Vincent." He paused, but her hands went to his hips to encourage him. "Here," – and she showed him his place.

Cautiously he pushed forward, restraining the urge to drive home. Sparks of pleasure ignited inside his body. Just the head was inside her, and her sheath was tight around him. Another push. It was exquisite…pain. Pain. It throbbed through the bond and he froze, desire ebbing away like a frightened tide. Catherine! He withdrew and lay alongside her. What have I done? She made a strangled sound and in anguish he leapt from the bed.

***

"It’s all right Vincent. You can come back." Her small, soft voice reached out to him. She heard his labored breathing, but the darkness disoriented her and she couldn’t tell if he was on the far side of the bed or the far side of the room. Damn damn DAMN! Catherine curled into a ball, jammed a fist between her legs, and for the first time cursed the bond. She started to cry – a soundless cry that she had learned after her mother died; a cry perfected with Stephen and Tom. Never once had she woken them up. Not again, not with Vincent! And the memories rained down like shards of broken glass.

***

What’s the matter with you? You need to relax.

I am relaxed.

Here, look at this. This’ll get you in the mood.

No thanks.

What’s the big deal?

I’m just not into that, Tom.

Well whaddya know? The beautiful Catherine Chandler: a prude.

***

I know this couple who can help us.

Are they counselors?

Not really.

Sex therapists?

You could say that. They like to experiment. They’re…open. It’d be great.

Oh come on Cathy!

***

Why don’t you go see a doctor or something? Someone who can help you with your…problem.

***

I like my women with bigger tits anyway.

Well go find a pair of them and leave me alone.

You’re no fun, you know that, Ice Princess?

***

Frigid

***

Vincent finally got his breathing under control. He was slumped on one of the wooden chairs, his head buried in his hands. He knew that she was delicate and had tried so hard to be careful. Wasn’t she ready for him? She had been wet as a river – he had made sure of that. Catherine, forgive me. He felt stupid and clumsy. He felt like…a beast.

Something alerted him to the still form on the bed. Not a sound, and certainly not a glimpse of her. The bond. Shutting off the noise of his own thoughts, he lifted his head and gazed in her direction. She was still in pain. Not physical pain, though; this time it was emotional, deep and swift-moving. He paused only a moment. Would he wallow in what he was? Or would he take Mary’s advice once again and allow love to cast out fear? Vincent returned to the bed. Kneeling beside Catherine, he drew her into his arms. Still she made no sound, yet her cheeks were damp so he kissed them with great gentleness. He sensed her looking at him. "Shh," he said. "I’ve got you now."

***

Catherine fixed her eyes on the uneven ground before her. The tunnels below the pipes were seldom traveled and very rocky, but Vincent held the lantern high and she did not stumble once. Where are we going? she had asked at breakfast. A special place, he replied. He had found a sack in the armoire and had packed some food, a blanket, a book, a bar of soap and two towels. Somewhere with water, apparently. She was grateful; she needed a bath.

On the way, Catherine’s thoughts were consumed with how to talk to Vincent about what happened during the night. She had never had difficulty talking to him about anything – until now. In her mind she tried a dozen ways to start the conversation, but nothing seemed right. How was she ever going to make this up to him? Hadn’t he been through enough already? Thirty-odd years of rejection by society, three years of care and caution with her, and Lisa – damn you Lisa. Brooding darkly, she bumped into Vincent’s cloaked form. He had stopped at a fork in the tunnel. She looked up apologetically. The lantern swayed slightly in his hand as he indicated the bend to the right. "It’s this way." He smiled at her and took her hand.

A few more paces brought them to their destination. "Wait here, Catherine." Vincent stooped low through a rough doorway and lit several torches around the cavern entrance. He beckoned to her; she entered and straightened slowly. And once again she felt like she was eight-years-old, gaping over a precipice.

This place was not carved by men. It was smaller than their honeymoon chamber, but the ceiling was high and stalagmites encircled half the room like fat fingers – or erect phalluses. How appropriate, she thought with amusement. That’s just about his size, too. In one corner was a natural pool of pure malachite green. Catherine shook her head. How many secrets could this underworld give up? "It’s beautiful, Vincent," she said, then gestured to the pool. "How deep?"

"About five feet."

"And the temperature?"

"People say it’s no colder than your average swimming pool." He rummaged in the sack and retrieved the towels and soap. She started to unbutton her sweater but then Vincent was there, brushing aside her fingers. "Let me," he said. He undressed her slowly, taking his time with the buttons and zipper, the elastic and the hooks and the lace. And though his touch did not linger on any one part, the tender intimacy of his actions left her breathless. When she was naked, he stood back and gazed at her as if she made up all the magic in the room.

"My turn," she said, and returned the favor until he too was naked before her. Then she came to him and hugged him as if she would never let go. He picked her up and carried her to the pool.

The coolness of the water was tempered by the warmth of Vincent’s body. He held her close until she stopped shivering, then set her down gently on the pebbled floor. "I forgot shampoo." His hands came up to cradle her head and his fingers wove through her glossy hair. The torchlight gleamed in his own mane; the fur on his face sparked copper.

"It’s all right." And she tipped backwards until her face was nearly underwater. When she stood up again the water streamed down her hair and over her shoulders, and through the fingers that still held her head. "See?" She smiled at him, loving the look in his eyes.

"Yes, I see." And the eyes came closer, eclipsing everything else in the room. She parted her lips to receive his kiss. Deeply he drank from her, and the water rippled around them and their hands touched freely and Catherine felt the weight of failure start to lift.

Panting softly, Vincent reached behind him and grasped the bar of soap. "Let me," he said again, and she submitted to his care. If he had not lingered as he undressed her, he lingered now. The soap glided across collarbone and shoulder, past the surface of the pool and down the indentations of her spine. Hips…buttocks…oh God…arms and wrists…belly and…breasts. Catherine hoisted herself up in Vincent’s arms until she was half out of the water, the malachite cascading off her body. Her breasts were now at eye level. She knew that they were heaving sufficiently, but although he fixed his eyes there, he continued bathing the legs that were wrapped around him. Feet…calves…thighs…. With an unsteady hand he replaced the soap on the rock ledge. Thighs…inner thighs…. She tried to hoist herself higher, but he found her unerringly under the water. All she could do was hold on. His thumb rubbed her mercilessly, and then his mouth covered her breasts. Catherine felt that hot ache building inside her. Again she tried to lift higher, needing more, needing the cool cavern air on her body, wanting his lips there too…and then the strangest thing happened. Vincent tipped her backwards and Catherine tumbled ingloriously into the water, head under heels in a regulation flip. She thrashed around, broke the surface and came up sputtering, every inch the irritated mermaid. You scoundrel….

"You did that on purpose!" she scolded, shaking her head so the water could drain from her ears and nose.

"You needed a rinse," he said innocently, then flashed her a wicked smile and dove below the surface.

What the…? She looked around but he was beneath her, parting her legs and giving her the kiss she had longed for. Shamelessly she sank down onto his mouth, wondering how long he could hold his breath under water. His tongue encircled her clitoris for a maddening minute, then began to flick the small bud. More! Please, one minute more. But while she was still reaching, he streamed upward, gulping air. He grasped her arms and pulled her close, his wake lapping at her neck. His stiff cock nudged her stomach; he was suffering too. She looked up at him helplessly.

"Do you trust me Catherine?" he rasped.

She nodded. "Yes." And he handed her the bar of soap. She held it for a moment, then smiled. Yes, she trusted him.

The water dripped unheeded down his face as he watched her hands move over his shoulders and chest. She lathered the soap in wide whorls, enjoying the jump and shudder of his muscles. Only the upper third of his body was exposed, but it was enough – for now. She trailed her soapy hands down his arms, which Vincent helpfully raised above the water. She thought of the many times these arms had defended her, carried her, held her…. Her hands slithered upward again until they nestled in the hollows of his underarms. The fur here was longer and soft as down. Shyly she stroked him, wondering if this area was too private for her inspection. A low rumble rose from Vincent’s chest; Catherine’s breathing hitched and her eyes flew to his. Desire, delight…love. Well, she wasn’t invading his privacy. Gently she urged him to turn around so her fingers could play upon his back. The torchlight caught a sheen of copper, and she gazed at his sodden hair. It hung across his shoulder like heavy fabric loosed from the bolt. The cool water lipped her skin as she leaned back, surveying his broad strength. This was no bath he had invited her to. She let the soap slip from her fingers and ventured below the waterline, massaging, caressing, inflaming every part. She pressed herself against his length and wrapped her arms around him, stroking his stomach, moving down into the thicker fur around his erection. Vincent quivered within the circle of her embrace and she lightened her touch until he caught his breath. She placed her mouth on his back and let him feel the smile on her lips, then slung a leg around him as well. This rub was bold, intimate, unmistakable in its purpose. She shut her eyes in bliss. His rumbling grew louder, then she was lifted from the water in a great spray of droplets. Bathtime was over.

Vincent deposited her beside the pool and carefully dried her off. He pulled the blanket from the sack and spread it on the ground, then bundled her in his cloak and laid her down. Catherine had never felt so treasured. Centering her thoughts, she directed all her love for him through the bond, and prayed that her plan would work.

Their failed attempt at intercourse made her feel ashamed. She wanted everything to be perfect for Vincent. They were destined for each other, they were meant to be, so why was this hard for her? Why couldn’t she take him into her body as easily as she had taken him into her soul? She knew he wouldn’t understand what she was going to do, but she had manipulated the bond once before and she would do it again. Any pain she felt she would bear, and project it back to him as pleasure. There was nothing that mattered more to her right now than Vincent’s sexual fulfillment, and she planned to see that he got it. All of it. The way that it was meant to be.

She watched him as he reclined beside her, glorious in his nakedness. He was watching her as well, with an intensity that might have made her wonder had she not been so gung ho. Which was why his next words were so unexpected.

"Catherine…would you like something to eat?" Not waiting for a reply, he pulled two bran muffins and a bunch of grapes from the sack.

"Something to eat?" she parroted. "No, I…but you go ahead," she continued as he popped a muffin top into his mouth and chewed heartily. He seemed unconcerned about his state of undress, yet he was clearly still aroused from their foreplay in the pool. So why was she wrapped in a cloak, watching him get his daily fiber? Perhaps he doesn’t want a repeat of last night either, she reasoned. Suddenly resigned, she decided to let him set the pace. What the heck…. "Okay, pass the grapes." She popped one into her mouth and appraised the other phallic symbols in the cavern.

***

The next time Vincent reached into the sack, he pulled out the book and handed it to her. It was a trade paperback, the cover creased and worn, the spine reinforced with surgical tape. She looked at it; she did not recognize the title or the author.

"Read to me?" he asked her, still naked.

"I’d love to, Vincent." Oh well, this was his honeymoon too. She opened the book, flipped a few pages. "Book One, Chapter One: Sarn Mere. It was at a love-spinning that I saw Kester first…."

***

"Everything she said seemed to mean a deal more than the words, and times it was like a person fumbling in the dark, or going a long way down black passages with a hand held out on this side, and a hand held out on that side, and no light."

Twenty minutes later, Catherine was still reading. She set down the book. Vincent had a faraway look in his eyes, and she did not know if he was taken with the story or lost in contemplation. His body was relaxed now; his furred skin, dry. Reaching out, she brushed his arm and he started in surprise. He took her hand and squeezed her fingers, and said absentmindedly, "It’s lovely Catherine, keep reading."

With a graceful motion, he stood up and walked among the stalagmites. She felt a skitter of apprehension and could not quite keep a plaintive note from her voice. "Is everything all right?"

He heard it, but only answered "Yes." He turned to the rock wall and studied it as one does when deciding where to hang a picture. Catherine picked up the book again and searched for her place. But before she could resume reading, she heard the most curious sound. What on earth…? It was like nails on a chalkboard. Or claws on limestone. Cringing, she looked again at the leonine man standing with his back to her, his hand upon the rock.

"Vincent, what are you doing?" But he didn’t answer; he didn’t need to. She could clearly see two fingers scratching the wall, again and again, grinding down the nails. "Vincent…?" She lowered her head. Oh Vincent. She had filed her own nails many times, preferring shorter, gently rounded tips to the longer lengths currently in fashion. But how tough was the keratin of those nails, and what was it like to file them? She looked down at her page, seeing nothing, yet feeling so much.

A hand on her shoulder, and he was faraway no longer. He stretched out beside her and drew her into a close embrace. Catherine was still enfolded within the warmth of the cloak, but sure hands now found their way inside. Quickly he was becoming master of her body; he knew where to graze and where to press, where to skim and where to stay. Eating and reading may have temporarily banked her passion, but he brought it roaring back to life. Trembling with excitement, she returned every caress and kissed every inch that she could reach. But a touch from him stopped her. "Catherine…this time…for you."

Once more he took the sack. Oh please God, not another book. He pulled out a small tube. She had not noticed it before. "Where did you get that, Vincent?"

He did not look at her, but squeezed some of the lubricant onto his fingers – the two fingers whose claws were now short, blunt. "Peter sent a box of items for the pharmacy. I told Father I would add them to the inventory." He recapped the tube, looked up and gave her a wink. "He’ll never miss it." Tossing the cloak aside, he drew her close and gently parted her legs. His hand was warm, his fingers almost as slippery as she was. He began a slow rub, and his thumb found its home on her clit. She cried out in pleasure but the sound was lost in his mouth as he bent down for a deep kiss. Then slowly, slowly, he inserted one wet finger inside her body.

Although he continued to kiss her, she could have sworn that he was watching her, listening to her intently. Perhaps that was the work of their bond. His finger filled her, but it was his thumb that she noticed as he rubbed her little button in tight hot circles. Again and again, and his finger moving in and out, and each time a little further in. Catherine felt herself begin to rise – then he lifted his thumb. "Wait," he whispered. He withdrew his finger as well and resettled his mouth on her breast. He must enjoy devising new tortures, she thought. Now it was his tongue encircling her nipple; her head turned on the blanket. For a moment she wondered where his hand had got to, then it was back, two fingers probing. This time her body stiffened and her mouth formed a startled ‘O’.

Vincent raised his head and watched her, but left his fingers where they were. Gently they massaged her, just barely inside. When her discomfort eased, he pressed in a little deeper, stretching her carefully. Lowering his head again, he lapped at her erect nipples, then kissed his way down her ribcage and across her stomach to the delicate dip of her navel. Her breathing quickened. She laid a hand on his hair; sapphire eyes met green. "Vincent…?"

He looked at her a long moment. "Catherine, I adore you." And he bent his head. Softly he skimmed over the brown curls, pausing to breathe in her fragrance. Then making use of his other hand, he separated her lips and pulled back the hood. He gazed at her, desire and pain mingling on his face. She herself felt no more pain as his mouth came down on her and his tongue worked and worked. It was over too soon. She moaned loudly and half-sat, then slumped back on her elbows.

Panting, Vincent laid his head on her thigh. What a lovely weight; she wanted him never to move. His fingers remained inside her, and when he pulled them out, her body missed them. She blinked back tears. What had she ever done to deserve him? "Thank you," she said.

He drew himself up alongside her again and held her close. His words were serious but joy was in his eyes. "There will be no dark places for us, Catherine. None."

Now the tears brimmed over, and her voice only a croak. "I’m sorry you can’t just take me. I’m sorry you still have to be careful!" She rested a soggy cheek on his shoulder.

He did not respond at first, then his great chest started to vibrate. Alarmed, she looked up into his face. Tears clung to the corners of his eyes as well, but he was…laughing. "Oh my love," he said, stroking her head, "until a few weeks ago, I thought I could only ever kiss your hair."

***

"So tell us all about it, Cathy!" Jenny’s living room was a good size, but Catherine felt a little crowded when her two friends sandwiched her on the couch. She blushed at their enthusiasm and tried being coy.

"Sorry guys, there’s nothing much to tell. We had a nice time."

"Jen, we need to loosen her tongue a bit. Get the girl some wine. Bring the canapés too." As the mother of two young children, Nancy was used to giving orders.

A few moments later, Catherine felt a glass being placed in her hand. She took a polite sip. Mmm, a Zinfandel. Well, maybe she could spare a few details. She looked at her friends and a giggle escaped. "We had a very nice time."

"Okay, come on, come on," Jenny urged. "What did you do for ten days? You can’t just have had sex the whole time. Or did you?" She gave Catherine a lecherous look.

"Hey, go easy on a blushing bride," she dodged. "There are some magical places down there. Caverns with crystals and lakes. If NYC Tourism got wind of it, we’d be in big trouble."

"Swimming in an underground lake," Nancy sighed. "That sounds so romantic!"

Catherine turned bright pink. "It is."

"What else did you do?" They were not going to let her off easy.

"Um…." Catherine paused, hoping her friends wouldn’t be too disappointed. "We read books." Aloud, clad in candlelight, with Vincent’s hands covering my body. "We talked." About every fantasy we had, and how we made each other feel, with his fingers deep inside me. "We hung out." Over the armchair. And off the edge of the bed. She shrugged. "You know, typical honeymoon stuff."

A long pause. Nancy and Paul had gone to Hawaii for surfing and snorkeling. Jenny dreamed of a Tuscan villa next to a monastery and fields of sunflowers. They looked at her in sympathy. "We also played Scrabble." Nancy and Jenny groaned in unison, so Catherine finally gave them what they wanted. "The sex was absolutely amazing." And she took another sip of wine and reached for a puff pastry.

***

He should have known that Scrabble would be her game. Lawyers were famous for their ability to manipulate language, after all, but he had not thought that she would trounce him quite so soundly. He squinted at the board, searching again for a place to lay quorum. But. There. Was. Just. No. Room.

So he looked at her instead. She sat on the chair with her knees tucked under her chin, absorbed in their book. She had started reading between turns when he found himself with six vowels and one consonant, and his speed had not improved since. And how was he supposed to concentrate with her so lovely, sitting across from him? Her hair was glossy from their recent bath, her face fresh, unadorned. She wore tunnel clothes tonight; a simple tunic over loose-fitting pants. He watched her eyes track across the page and saw their expression lift and fall at turns. She was captivated – and so was he.

"Oh Vincent, what a wonderful book." She leaned back with a sigh. "Kester and Prue must be the most underrated lovers in English literature."

Vincent smiled wryly. "A heroine with a harelip is a tough sell, Catherine."

She looked thoughtful. "Perhaps. But there will always be those who recognize true beauty when they see it."

"Yes, you’re right." His smile this time was no longer wry. He stretched out his legs under the table. They looked at each other for a long moment.

A shift in mood; she had a game to win. "So…are you going to take your turn, or do I read another chapter?"

"I can see that I’ve been wasting my time playing chess with Father all these years," he said. "I should have been memorizing words that end in "Q". He picked up three tiles from his holder and laid them on the board. "Aura on a double word score. Eight points."

She looked unimpressed and brought out her jury tone. "Vincent, you’re more than a hundred points behind me. Your mind has been elsewhere."

He stared at her until she blushed and looked down at her toes. "Guilty," he whispered. Ah, there it was. From deep within his body, he felt her heart start to pound, and heat settle over her, and that beautiful ache. He continued to stare at her and slowly her gaze returned to his.

"Do you want to finish the game?" she asked.

"No. You win."

She tipped her remaining letters into the bag, took the board, vee’d it, and the rest of the tiles slid in as well. She sat back in her chair and looked at him through half-closed eyes. That ache was getting stronger, almost indistinguishable from his. "What do you want to do now?"

Catherine, have mercy. Vincent tried to smile but it probably seemed more like a grimace. What did he want to do now? He felt his body harden with need as he considered the possibilities. The past several days had been a grander feast for him than William’s finest Winterfest fare. Catherine had given herself without reservation, loved him, accepted him. He now knew her body as intimately as he knew his own, and there was nowhere he could not touch or taste. He marveled that she trusted him to penetrate her with his fingers. His fingers, long and hairy, with claws that were ground down but still dangerous. He had apologized once as he was easing into her: I wish I had the hands of a normal man. She had kissed him, and smiled. The normal men I once knew did not show such love for me. His thoughts had momentarily darkened as he remembered her pain and silent tears. What kind of men had trampled on his rose? Rutting beasts.

Vincent extended his hand, and Catherine got up and came around the table. She sank down by his chair and laid her head in his lap. When she spoke her voice was soft, beguiling. "Do you know what I want to do?"

He had never been able to read her mind but he had no doubt what she wanted now. Her head lifted and she opened his pants. Moving to the edge of the chair, he helped her adjust his clothing. Then he spread his legs and leaned forward, enclosing her within the arc of his body. When he felt the touch of her tongue and lips, he shuddered and sucked in a rough breath. His own dreams had once mocked him for daring to imagine this bliss. The reality of it was…. He lost his train of thought as her mouth covered the head of his penis and her hands enclosed the shaft. His gaze lost focus and a rumble rose from his chest. He knew that the sounds he was making were more animal than human, but his Catherine had come to love him, and that was all that mattered.

He placed his palms on her shoulders, carefully so as not to dislodge her. Not yet, not yet. He tried to visualize his last chess game with Father. He should let him win more often. Was Devin humoring him in his absence? Then she moved a hand to his testicles and he forgot everything except her touch. "Catherine –" He nearly lost the last syllable. Her tongue was traveling that ridge again, one long lick. "Catherine!" Got all the syllables that time. "I can’t take…much more."

Two days ago she had fulfilled her promise to stay down. Afterward she held him until the tremors passed, and had fallen asleep nestled within the curve of his arm. But he had lain awake watching a candle flame consume the wick, reliving the memory.

"Vincent," she said now, lifting her mouth but leaving her hands where they were. "I can stay here…or we can try again." She looked up at him and smiled, her gaze clear, steady.

For a moment he didn’t move. He had been waiting, hoping, watching for a sign from her that she was ready. He had also been learning about her body, her size and shape; he had seen her, touched her, stretched her so carefully. He knew her interior dimensions now, and the angle of those narrow, silken walls. And he had learned many ways to make her come. This was the most amazing, joyous thing to him: that she would throw herself off the cliff, and let him catch her.

He took her face in his hands. "I never want to hurt you," he said hoarsely.

"You’re healing me, not hurting me." Her smile turned enticing. "If we have to stop, that’s okay. I can think of a great way to make it up to you."

Vincent laughed, loving her absolutely. He stood up and swept her into his arms. If she was surprised that he didn’t take her to the bed, she didn’t show it. He set her down in the armchair and walked to the armoire. Finding the item he wanted, he turned back towards her but the look on her face stopped him. It was a blend of humor and heat, and it centered straight on his groin. She barely smothered a giggle. "Oh Vincent! I can’t tell you how many times I tried to imagine you like this. You certainly exceed expectations."

He looked down at his disheveled clothing and protruding erection, and tried to muster some chagrin but failed. He was rapidly losing self-consciousness around her. It felt…wonderful. Casting aside his clothes, he knelt on the rug in front of the armchair and put the small tube beside him. He drew the tunic over her head and deftly unhooked her bra, then helped her wriggle out of her pants and briefs. Yes, wonderful. "You also exceed expectations," he said, staring at her body. Grasping her hips, he drew her forward in the chair, parted her legs and loved her with his mouth.

When she was moaning and tangling her fingers in his mane, he flicked his tongue against her clitoris one more time then sucked it up into his cleft. She gasped his name, stiffened, and went boneless in his arms. He tried to slow his breathing but he was barely hanging on. I am yours. Yes, I am yours.

"God, I love you," she said, opening her eyes. He stroked her cheek and the curve of her lip, then rose and picked her up again. Gently he laid her on her side along the back of the armchair until her body formed an "L". He fondled her bottom and brought it up to his hips. Her green eyes were wide, trusting.

"Shall we try it like this?" He tilted his head as he awaited her answer, hoping the change of height and angle would make a difference. Here he could enter her in a long, straight line. But if this position didn’t work, perhaps another….

"I’ll try anything with you Vincent." Her smile banished all his dark places.

He retrieved the tube and prepared his body for hers. Leaning down, he took her mouth in a tender kiss. "I love you, my Catherine," he whispered. He straightened and raised her upper leg, holding it against his side. A sharp intake of breath, then he penetrated her slowly, one inch at a time.

At first his eyes fastened on hers, watching for any discomfort. When there was only welcome, wonder, his eyes closed. Catherine, you are mine! He kept his rhythm slow and his thrusts shallow, but his soul knew where it was. Catherine! He could wait no longer. He gripped her leg as his body shook, pouring his life into her. And behind his eyelids, light.

THE END

***

Any comments? Tell me what you think: eliza384@gmail.com.

Author’s note:

The book that Vincent & Catherine were reading is Precious Bane by Mary Webb. Trust me, it’s a gem.