Jo Fredericks

With a frustrated sigh, Catherine sent an apologetic surge through the Bond to her beloved. Sometimes, despite her sternest attempts to control them, her physical needs overwhelmed her. On those occasions - and she tried to keep them few and far between - she succumbed to the momentary and limited relief available to her. She knew he could sense her mounting sexual desire, and that it was impossible for him to ignore either it or the completion that followed. It shamed her...and she knew he felt that too. But this was the price they both had to pay for the barriers, the limits placed on their relationship. Catherine prayed that soon those barriers would be allowed to slip, that those limits would be removed...but until then, try as she might...there were times when her body could not be denied.

Stepping into her shower, Catherine allowed the warm water to soothe her, and she endeavored even at this last moment to allay the demands of her no avail. She had been thinking of Vincent since early afternoon...fantasizing...picturing how it might be with him...although she knew she shouldn’t. But sometimes...regardless of how unwise such thoughts would prove to be...she couldn’t help herself, couldn’t keep her desire for him in check, couldn’t master the ache within her for the one aspect of love they had never shared. And inevitably, the fantasy had taken hold too deeply to be dismissed to a corner of her mind - she was helpless as it played out over and over again, enhanced and intensified each time, until she felt her knees grow weak and her insides melt with the need for him she could barely contain.

Tonight it was bad as it ever got. Her vain attempt to banish the traitorous feelings instead aroused her to a fever pitch. She wanted him so much...yearned for him.... And as she stood beneath the shower, her hands began to travel over her water-slicked body, imitating the motion of his hands within her fantasies...across her breasts, lingering at her tightened nipples...then lower, into the humid cleft at the juncture of her thighs...caressing herself as she envisioned him doing...slowly and lightly at first...then with increasing rhythm and pressure...until her surging, swelling need broke and shattered into a completion so hollow, so frustrating, it drew tears from her eyes.

Sagging against the shower wall, her breath coming in short gasps, Catherine closed her eyes and let the hot, bitter tears fall. After a long time, the tears stopped. She pushed away from the wall, turned off the taps and climbed out of the shower, dispiritedly catching up a towel to dry off. Running a comb hastily through her short brown hair, she decided not to take the time to blow it dry. She didn’t care; it didn’t matter.

Catherine wrapped herself in the pale blue silk robe hanging at the back of the door and knotted the ties loosely. Then for a long while she just stood at the sink, staring at herself in the mirror. Unhappy and angry with herself, she shot an accusing look at the woman who stared back at her. Melancholy questions drifted through her mind: Why does it have to be this way? Why feel guilt for normal, healthy urges? Why must I torture us both when the solution is so simple?

The woman in the mirror had no answers.

As she turned off the bathroom light and emerged into her bedroom, a sudden shift in the shadows at the French doors caused her to start. Vincent...?! Rushing to the doors, she threw them open and called out to him in a loud whisper. He didn’t respond, but she persisted, standing at the edge of her balcony, her back to the cold brick, and looking up toward the roof overhang where she knew he would have gone. "Please, Vincent, I know you’re there. Come back!"

A hesitant voice called down, "’re alone, Catherine?"

Baffled, she answered with a confused, "Yes."

A slight rustle was all the noise she heard, then suddenly he was there before her, an imposing presence in black and gold. His dark cloak settled around his legs, his untamed hair a burnished halo in the moonlight framing his unique and compelling face - now a mask of carefully constructed dispassion. He took no step toward her, just stayed where he was, partially consumed in shadow, as he asked in a breathless, disbelieving whisper, "Did...he...leave you...already?"

"Who?" Catherine’s perplexity deepened. Who could he mean?

"The...m-man...." He stumbled over the words, then found he could not go on.

Puzzled, Catherine shrugged as she said, "Who are you talking about, Vincent? No one’s here. No one else has been here in days." A sudden horrifying thought hit her. "Do you sense a presence? Someone...nearby?" She turned to look out across the balcony, thinking perhaps he sensed another Watcher, and her chest tightened in sudden fear.

"No...." Now she heard the unmistakable misery in his voice, and as she turned back to him, saw his face collapse into pained lines.

"Then...what?" Her bewilderment was complete.

At a loss, Vincent tried to express the inexpressible. "I...felt your...reaction to...him. Just before...I also felt your regret...and apology.... And after...your...shame." He rallied, not willing to share the depth of his pain over this most recent incident with her, anxious to spare her feelings and assuage her guilt. "You shouldn’t feel so, Catherine. You are only reaching out for...what I...cannot give."

She stared at him in stupefaction. He thought she was with...another man? Suddenly, the ramifications of her actions hit her - the apology, the guilt...he thought it was because she’d turned to another in her need! Oh, God....

"No! Oh, no, Vincent, I could never...I have never...." How could she explain this? It was bad enough what she’d put him through...but now she realized that she’d also inadvertently caused him to believe that she was making love with another man. And all this time...all these long, lonely months...when they’d been together...he’d believed she’d shared her body with another. And he’d never said one word, never accused, never questioned. Just...accepted. In pain and silence.

She stepped toward him, but he stepped back, keeping just out of reach. The stillness within him was a thin veneer, she knew. If she touched him now, he might break, might shatter into a million pieces.

Gathering her thoughts, she began to speak clearly and distinctly, in order to dispel his erroneous conclusions...and diminish the terrible pain she must have inflicted. "I was not with another man, Vincent. What you felt from me own attempt to lessen the burden on both of us. Sometimes, my need is so great that I can’t control myself. My body must have that release. But I would never think of turning to another to gain it. It was just the shower...thinking of you...and allowing my natural impulses to have their sway."

He stood quietly, absorbing what she told him, but still he did not speak or move to her. She was terribly embarrassed to be talking of such a private matter, but she needed him to understand completely. "What you felt from me - apology, shame, sadness - was my acknowledgment that what I was doing would hurt you. I understand now that you took those feelings to mean...something else, and for that I can never apologize enough." God, she needed to hold him, but she restrained herself with great effort. "I can’t imagine the anguish I put you through, unknowingly. But I swear to you, I have never been with another man, Vincent, not since the night you found me in the park."

Stunned, he murmured, "Not even...Elliott?"

She shook her head adamantly. "Not even him. We kissed, yes, but our...physical relationship never progressed much past that point. It didn’t feel right even then, even before I realized how much I cared for so much more than a friend."

Vincent sagged then, nearly collapsing to the balcony tiles. Catherine rushed forward to put her arms around him, partially to try to hold him up and partially because she needed to be close to him now. But her strength couldn’t match his own, and his greater weight carried her down to the ground with him. Still, she didn’t let go.

His head came up, nearly level with hers, and he stared into her anxious green eyes. He saw in them the mortification and remorse she felt that their Bond, true as it was, had been the source of such an agonizing misinterpretation. His own relief was almost palpable - beyond any right, she was still his, wholly his.

Always before, when he’d felt that particular sexual energy begin to rise within her, he’d stayed Below, in misery, wrapped in his cloak somewhere dark and deserted. He’d try to focus his mind on other things, but always, always, the image of her came to his mind - her rising desire, her aching hunger...and finally, her physical fulfillment. And the fact that he could not face her need, could only hide away and be a helpless, hopeless witness to what she was experiencing, mocked him. At first, there was Elliott. He imagined him - handsome, experienced, suave - lavishing Catherine with the kind of sensual intimacy he himself did not know how to offer, did not dare to offer. Later, when Elliott was no longer in Catherine’s life, the face of the man with whom she sought that physical release became a shrouded mystery - but still, those moments of strange yet wonderful pleasure occurred, and he fought within himself to tame the seething, jealous rage such moments compelled from him – he had no right to be so possessive, so angry, so.... In the end, defeated and demoralized, he realized that what he felt most was...envy.

Tonight, he couldn’t stand not knowing any longer, and had come to her apartment to gain one glimpse of the man he felt would one day capture all of Catherine’s love. He wanted only to know, to finally see, and perhaps, by seeing, to understand. When he had found no one within but Catherine, he had been confused at first, and it hurt him to think that the man could share such sweetness with her and then forsake her so carelessly. As if he were unaware of the treasure he held in his arms, that he could leave her side, abandon her, after knowing the gentle touch and tender bliss of her dear flesh.

Oh, the agonies he’d suffered as he’d contemplated that inevitable moment when she would make the decision that a full life with someone Above was incompatible with the half-life he shared with her in shadows. Now he knew it was all a fabrication built upon his own cowardice and fear. Catherine had been true to him...only her body had betrayed him, betrayed them both, in a way that was totally understandable, given the limitations he himself had imposed upon their relationship. And as much as he had suffered, he knew that she, in her own way, had suffered too. Knowing that her acts of self-gratification could be seen as a reproach to him, she had made them as infrequent as she could. She had denied herself to make him comfortable in his apprehension about taking their relationship further.

She was waiting for some word, some sign that she was forgiven...when it was he who should be begging forgiveness. "I’m sorry, Catherine. If I hadn’t remained silent all this time...."

"NO!" He always believed that everything was his fault, and she wouldn’t allow him to take this totally upon himself. "If there’s blame, we share it. I could have told you more clearly of my...frustrations. Perhaps then, you’d have understood...when you felt...."

He shook his head, but managed a shy smile. "I’m afraid I am ...too have understood completely, Catherine. These things...well, I understand myself...but you...."

She relaxed enough to laugh a bit. "You didn’t think me capable of such things? Vincent, I’m not some ice princess! Surely you know that!"

With a voice full of earnest fervency, he declared, "To are...the quintessence of everything that is good and true and lovely in life."

She snorted softly in derision of this paragon he’d just described who bore little relation to her. "Well, you know better now, don’t you?!"

His arms reached out to her, and she fell into his warm embrace. Murmuring against the golden brown glory of her hair, he said, "You are my perfect beauty, Catherine. My ivory rose."

Tears glistened in her eyes at his avowal. She loved this man with a love so fierce and powerful, it nearly overwhelmed her. How could she ever make him understand that she was not some archetype to be loved from afar, but a real flesh and blood woman who wanted everything he had to give? Mentally shrugging at the complexity of that task, she decided baby steps were in order. Leaning back within the circumference of his arms, she brushed the silken tendrils from his forehead and said, "It’s cold out here, Vincent. Come inside and let me make you some hot chocolate?"

He froze at the suggestion. Go inside...?! The thought petrified him. To be cross that invisible barrier from one world to another.... But his reconciliation with Catherine was still too fresh to deny her this one small request. He had to find the courage within before what he’d feared actually came to pass. She couldn’t wait and hope forever.

He nodded, then rose and offered his hand to her. As she took it, she looked up at him and smiled a smile of such happiness it nearly took his breath away. Almost numbed by her joy, he allowed her to lead him into the apartment. She came to a stop at the fireplace in her living room. Bending to open the flue, she said, "If you’ll see to the kindling and logs, I’ll get the cocoa."

He was finished setting the logs and had lit a match to the kindling before she returned, so he looked around, thought for a moment, then tugged his cloak off and swirled it in a broad arc to land outspread on the carpet between her couches and the fireplace. He pulled a few pillows from the nearer couch and laid them down as a backrest. When Catherine came in carrying a tray, she found him partially reclined on the pillows, staring pensively into the now crackling fire.

"I’m sorry I only have instant cocoa mix. If I have some notice, next time I can be sure to have the real thing available...and some marshmallows to float on top."

He perked up at the suggestion. Marshmallows were a rare and much enjoyed treat for him. Smiling, he took the offered mug from her hand and said enigmatically, "Next time...."

Catherine laid the tray on the coffee table, then knelt next to Vincent and reached back for her own mug of cocoa. A sudden tremor had taken her at his words. "You...don’t think there’ll be time?"

Concerned that he’d inadvertently hurt her feelings, Vincent responded, " all so new...and you treat it as...such a natural thing. your living room...sharing cocoa."

Catherine laughed softly. "It is natural - for two chocaholics like us!"

Sipping their drinks, they gazed at each other, each devouring the sight of a beloved face. Their thoughts, kept to themselves, centered on the beauty and love so apparent when each looked upon the other. Occasionally, Catherine would drop her eyes shyly, overwhelmed for the moment by what she found in Vincent’s eyes. Vincent, too, would sometimes glance into the fire, trying to assimilate the astounding truths he read in Catherine’s honest green eyes.

Eventually they finished their cocoa, both slightly flustered from the unspoken energy vibrating between them. Catherine accepted the empty mug from Vincent and turned to replace both mugs on the tray. The fire had burned a bit low, and Vincent bent forward to toss another log on and stoke the fire. His hands trembled slightly, betraying his nervousness. Catherine noticed, smiling to herself as she realized that she, too, was feeling a bit shaky. She needed to do something to control the restless fluttering which seemed to have settled in the pit of her stomach. So, when Vincent leaned back from the fireplace, from which a cheery blaze once again emanated, Catherine knelt closer to the fire. She bent her head forward, running her fingers lightly through her hair to encourage it to dry. She hoped the activity would give her time to regain the composure she was rapidly losing.

As she concentrated on her task, Vincent took in the sight of her - the exposed nape of her delicate neck, the gentle curves and lines of her highlighted by the clinging silk of her robe, the undulating halo of hair through which glimmers of firelight filtered. He was mesmerized by her loveliness. It amazed him, how she could exude an aura of coolness and heat at the same time.

His eyes lingered on the soles of her bare feet, partially exposed as she half-sat, half-knelt by the fire - the translucent pink-tinged skin looked so enticing. He longed to take one bare foot in his hand and kiss those toes, stroke that gracefully arched instep, then run his fingers along the flesh of her well-shaped calf until he came to the dimple behind her knee...and perhaps he might lean down and kiss that soft, delicate skin before leaving it to trace a path of kisses up her smooth, creamy thigh....

His reverie was broken as Catherine, satisfied that her hair was now dry, scooted back toward him. Although before she had kept a modest distance from him, now she drew nearer until she was snuggled against his side. He lifted his arm to accommodate her closer to him, and together they sat, not speaking, just staring at the fire.

Vincent became uncomfortably aware that only a thin layer of material separated his hand from the warm, fragrant body of his beloved. As she burrowed deeper into his embrace, the silk slid under his fingers, tantalizing in its own way. Unable to help himself, he began a tentative stroking, running trembling fingertips lightly up and down Catherine’s arm from her shoulder to just above her elbow. He felt the firm muscle under the softness of her skin, covered by the sleek slipperiness of the silk robe. And he felt something more - the deep sigh of pleasure that was exhaled against his chest by the woman in his arms.

He thought back to what seemed mere moments ago, when he had arrived on her balcony to face his worst fear...and found, instead, an unexpected reprieve. For, he forced himself to admit, a reprieve was all it was. If not now, if not day, some day, if he did not face up to the situation, Catherine might tire of waiting, and what he had only imagined to be real all this time...might become reality. And what would he do then? He recalled the sheer, blessed relief he’d felt when Catherine had told him that there had never truly been another man in her her bed...since they’d met. It was a relief totally unjustified by any action on his part, due entirely to Catherine’s faithfulness in the face of an uncertain future. She deserved much more. And he had to admit to himself what he’d always felt through their Bond - that what she wanted, needed, desired...was him. His embrace, his kiss, his hands on her warm, willing body.... Oh, how he craved her, all of her - yet all the while denying the truth of her desire for him. No more, he told himself; no more! I have to find a way, allow Catherine to lead me to a way, to get past the fears, past the insecurities of a lifetime.

As soon as Catherine realized Vincent would not insist on maintaining some distance between them, she nestled as closely as she dared. Breathing in the heady mixture of scents which being this close to him brought to her -- the clean, masculine aroma he always exuded, the subtle fragrance of candlewax and smoke, the slightly dusty earthen odor of the tunnel corridors -- she closed her eyes and immersed herself in the rare luxury of his presence. Beneath her cheek, the firm, solid muscles of his chest gave silent testimony to the many wonders which she knew his clothes screened from her. Rubbing her face lightly against the nubby fabric of his vest, she became lost in the fantasy of him, of what her hands would encounter if they dared to delve beneath the concealing garments he wore.

Catherine reached around Vincent’s waist to embrace him, no longer content to merely cuddle against him. His caress had emboldened her, and she squeezed him gently to show her gratitude for reaching out to her in this intimate way. She felt him respond by wrapping his arms more firmly about her, pulling her closer still. Pressed tightly now against his chest, she felt the slow cadence of his heartbeat quicken, felt the flow of his warm breath on the nape of her neck as it became more of a pant - shorter, quicker, shallower breaths, betokening his rising arousal. Yet he didn’t attempt to hide it from her, as was his usual practice. He was letting her feel it within him, letting her share in it.

For a long moment they sat, just holding each other close. But then, abruptly, Vincent released her. His breathing quickened even further, as he waged a short, losing battle for control. Catherine could see how flustered he was, how unsure of himself. And how embarrassed. His eyes looked anywhere but at her, and Catherine thought that in another moment, he might flee. She couldn’t let that happen. She rose to her knees and knelt before him, stroking his face, whispering, "It’s all right. Everything’s all right."

Vincent pressed his cheek gratefully against her caressing hand. He hadn’t meant to pull away from her, but the realization of what he was doing had overwhelmed him suddenly, and despite his best intentions, he had questioned the privilege granted to him. Had he the right to hold Catherine in his arms so possessively? And to let the control he had always clung to deliberately slip? He wanted so much to move forward, to take what she so clearly offered, but his ingrained caution sparred with his desires, making him distrust his actions. That calming touch upon his cheek, however, brought him back to the moment - to the extraordinary moment he now shared with his beloved.

Sensing that his urge to retreat was passing, Catherine breathed an inward sigh of relief. Tenderly, she enveloped him in her arms once again, sinking down to sit beside him, leaning her head against his shoulder, reassuring him by her touch that this new intimacy between them was nothing to be self-conscious about. Slowly, the rigid tension in his back and shoulders relaxed. She felt his arms once more reach around her. For a long time, Catherine held him thus, and let Vincent hold her, content to give him the time he needed to absorb this new phenomenon. Once more during this time, she sensed more than felt a slight stiffening of his body within her arms, and once more she soothed his distress, easing it away, rubbing his shoulders lightly and pressing her face into the warm hollow of his throat. His embrace, tentative at first, gradually tightened again. Once more he held her close...once more she felt the quickness of his heartbeat, his short, hot breaths.

Eventually, she knew him to be calmed, accepting. She felt he finally believed he had the right to hold her close, to be held. At that moment, she lifted her head and, disengaging one arm from its hold around her beloved, reached up to his face. Cupping one cheek, sliding her thumb tenderly across his softly bristled chin, she whispered, "Vincent?"

His eyes, which had been closed, opened now and she found herself gazing into the deep blue intensity of his unguarded, frank stare, his irises darkening as his arousal grew in power. Catherine rose up onto her knees so that she could face him fully. His features were set with a certainty she had never seen before, as if acknowledging not just her need but his own, and with that a determination that both needs were as one...and would be fulfilled. Their eyes spoke in silent communion - whatever happened now, there was no room for fear, there would be no holding back.

She broke the stillness first, leaning in to press her cheek to his, rubbing lightly to absorb the sensation of the velvety bristles which warmed as they tickled her skin. Sensing a slight shiver of lingering tension within him, she made no further move for the moment, only continued to brush his cheek while murmuring of her love in a low, soothing voice.

Vincent’s eyes fluttered closed again, a long sigh escaping his lips. The feel of his beloved as she caressed him was exquisite. And each word she spoke pulled him further and further into the vortex of emotion that swirled now through their Bond. Suddenly, he felt her kiss - full and hard on his lips. She didn’t shy from the strangeness beneath her mouth, didn’t approach him with any trepidation. Instead of the kind of first real kiss he’d always imagined -- tentative, shy, gentle -- it was sure and passionate...and demanding. It shocked him at first, but in the next moment, he felt a fierce pride that his Catherine felt no uneasiness about loving him. He was simply a man...her man...and she would love him without reservation, without concern. He felt his lingering fears begin to melt away at this first hint of how Catherine intended to approach their lovemaking. The thrill and excitement within him grew a hundredfold at this realization.

While he was still lost in the first sensations of their kiss and what it meant for their future together, words began to toll in the back of his mind - Father’s words. He recalled all of Father’s warnings, all his stern admonitions about the life that could never be, the things he must not wish for, must not allow. Surely this...this bliss...was one of them. But he wanted...needed it so did Catherine. Yet...had he the accept? As the clamor in his head grew louder, his kiss faltered, became uncertain.

Catherine pulled back immediately, realizing she had gone too far too fast. She saw his full lower lip quiver, and the sight of that evidence of his returning fears shook her. She perceived how fragile was this hard-won closeness, and reminded herself to take things slowly.

Not allowing him to think too much about the moment, she pressed her lips once more to his - not softly, but not as demandingly as she had before. And instead of expecting a response from him, she concentrated on the sensations she was experiencing, reminding herself that he was encountering them for the very first time. She brushed her lips across his, nuzzling, nipping lightly, letting them both become familiar with the feel of their mouths this close together, so lovingly, so tenderly. He allowed it, but that was all.

When Catherine began to kiss him again, Vincent’s mind whirled in confusion. These soft, moist pressings of flesh on flesh were exquisite intimacies. This was a sharing unlike anything he’d ever experienced before - of giving and taking pleasure, a celebration of the unity of their spirits. Father expected him to deny this to Catherine and to himself. But why? As a man in love, why did he, of all men, not have the right to share such tenderness with the woman who had proved in every way that she loved him, would always love him? He realized that he craved these touches, and more than anything, he wanted to return them to his beloved, wanted to offer his soul to her, one kiss at a time. No, Father was wrong, his warnings no longer had any relevance. Vincent found that he had outgrown a lifetime of cautions in a moment. Discretion, prudence, self-denial, forbearance....they had no place here, now. Here and now...there was only Catherine. And with that thought, he stirred, his mouth responding to hers.

Catherine’s spirits soared as she realized that he was beginning to engage her more fully, to nuzzle and graze her lips with his own in return. She let him take the lead, and was thrilled when, gradually, his kisses grew more impassioned, more insistent. Yes!

Her good intentions to try to take things slowly were getting lost again. She wanted to give him so much more. She didn’t know just how far he’d let her take him, but suddenly she became resolved to press the limits, to make a bold move and see where that took them.

She loosened the tie of her robe and shrugged it off. It slithered to the cloak beneath her soundlessly. While she kissed her unresisting lover again, she moved closer to him, straddling his thighs and draping her forearms around his shoulders. When Vincent lifted his arms to clutch her to himself, his hands encountered only the warmth of soft silken flesh, not the cool material he’d expected. Stunned, he broke their kiss and simply stared.

Catherine smiled, then pulled him back to her, not stopping until their mouths were kissing close again. She gave him no time to think, but continued the loving assault on his senses - laving his full lower lip with her hot tongue, then drawing it into her mouth to suckle it lightly. His senses buckled under the onslaught of sensations - the heat of the fire on his hands, Catherine’s warm, bare flesh beneath his fingers, her torrid mouth devouring him - and he found he could not think and love her at the same time. He gave up on thought then, and began to concentrate on giving his all to the one he loved above all others.

As his arms pulled her close once again, Catherine smiled to herself. He was proving quite adaptable for someone who usually retreated at the first sign of intimacy. Then her stray thought was interrupted, overwhelmed by the feeling of Vincent’s tongue tentatively probing her own. Its raspy texture surprised and delighted her. She opened her mouth to him, letting him taste her, explore her - and he did, with a thoroughness that astonished her. Relishing the supple delights of his moist, searching tongue, she let herself get carried away by the sensual pleasure of this ardent exploration. Her desire for him - never far from the surface - surged upwards in a tidal wave of hunger. She needed him desperately. And now.

Besieged on all sides by new and compelling sensations, he at first didn’t realize that Catherine’s fingers were busily untying the laces of his vest. She had it undone before he knew it, and she was pulling impatiently at his thermal shirt, tugging it free of his jeans by the time he began to assist her. Then he realized that she didn’t want his shirt off so much as freer access to the buttons of his jeans. It stunned him, the suddenness of Catherine’s seduction. Her fervor, her

eagerness, drew him, buffeted him, overwhelmed him. He wanted time to savor his Catherine’s love, but as she slipped the buttons of his jeans open one by one, he quickly realized that he couldn’t wait either. Later...much later...there would be time and leisure to discover all her hidden secrets. But now...oh, he craved that oneness with her...and it was so very, very close....

Catherine wasn’t thinking coherently any longer. She was all appetite, wanton, her body a living flame of desire. What she needed was so close...just inches away now. As the final button on his jeans came undone, Vincent’s firm, substantial manhood was fully revealed - curving up to rest against her thigh, the long vein so evident from base to tip pulsing hotly, the large crown suffused a deep red, moisture glistening at its center. He was so was she. With a small cry of barely contained impatience, she rose up on her knees and then settled down upon him, taking his steely length deep inside, sheathing him in her moist warmth until she thought she’d die from the glory of it. Finally! Finally...all the long months of frustrated yearning, the tormented dreams from which she awoke alone and aching, the holding back when they were close -- all of that was over. And in its place was this - the completion of their love, the final, long-awaited act which their Bond had urged them to. The pleasure spiked within her, deep and piercing, even as his love pierced her deeply, to the center of her being.

As his hard, hungry flesh entered his beloved’s body, Vincent gasped in astonished pleasure. Ahhhh...the feel of wet and ready for him, encompassing him, sheathing him so hot and tight, taking his length deep into her core. He shuddered in an agony of rapture, so close to completion he couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t imagine a place he’d rather be. Catherine moved once and he felt a gathering tingle at the base of his erection. He grasped her waist and guided her as she began a slow, rhythmic almost-movement, more like a rocking, that teased his already tortured flesh past bearing. He thrust once, hard and deep, and his orgasm burst upon him, sending a cascade of starburst sensations thundering through him. Clutching her tightly, he held her immobile, crushed against his chest, as his breath came in harsh, hot gasps and his mind spun.

Immediately, his flesh surged again, hot and ready. Catherine was amazed to find that he still filled her, throbbing and insistent, and he began to rock against her in a delirium, almost in a frenzy. She clung to him, needing the friction, but wanting his pleasure more than her own. Carefully, without dislodging her, he rose to his knees and bent towards her, eyes closed, conscious only of the place where their two bodies were so rapturously joined. He moved deeply into her, the rocking changing inexorably to a more forceful pumping, as if he were pouring his soul into her, immersing himself within her love in this new and breathtakingly transcendent way. He groaned her name into the still night, and it was filled with all the passionate intensity he was expressing to her with his body. Then for a long time, the only sounds in the room were the crackling of the fire and the labored, heavy breathing of the two lovers.

Soon, Catherine felt her own orgasm begin, and she rode it higher and higher, propelled upward and outward by the force of Vincent’s driving thrusts, hard and powerful, giving her all she needed and more. She cried out his name at the peak of her completion, knowing he felt it, knowing he gloried in it. As she came to herself once more, she began to take up the rhythm of Vincent’s stroking, contributing more to enhance his pleasure. His forehead rested against her shoulder now as he drove into her, deeper and deeper, needing her so badly, it was as if he hadn’t just found completion within her. His second orgasm exploded hotly within her, and she could feel the spurting of his seed again as he slowed his movements slightly, until he was only rocking gently within her once again.

Kissing his damp, tousled mane and murmuring his name, Catherine pressed his face to her neck. She wanted him touching her everywhere. Perhaps now.... Suddenly, she felt his hands at her shoulders, gently bending her backwards. Vincent seemed haunted, consumed by a desire to erase those years of denial, unable to entirely break free of the despair which had, until recently, gripped his heart. He seemed almost dazed, not so much disoriented as staggered by what was happening between them. He whispered a plea into her ear, "Catherine, don’t leave me." As if she ever could...or would! But she understood his meaning. He wanted to fully control their lovemaking now, to move into the realm of the sensual beyond mere physical release.

She adjusted her legs, so that she was sitting firmly in his lap with her ankles crossed behind him. He was still within her, still rigid, on fire, as he cradled her head in one hand, her shoulders in the other, and began to trail wet kisses across her chest, down to her sweat-glistened breasts. Lapping at the moisture, he slowly traced his way to the turgid nipples which beckoned to him, rosy upon her creamy skin. He took one into his mouth and she groaned her pleasure. That being all the encouragement he needed, he suckled against her in earnest, tugging strongly and deeply as she communicated her delight by running her fingers through his wild, thick hair. She thought she was whimpering his name over and over, but didn’t know if it was only in her mind or not. She was completely overcome by his eroticism...and by his staying he once again lifted her against his chest and, staring with surprise into her eyes, began to move once more within her, hard and ready and aching for her yet again.

Catherine’s delight deepened as he began to move with long, sure, deep strokes, adjusting his movements slightly to maintain the friction she needed. She was amazed at how masterfully he moved. Had it been only a short while ago that they had shared their first passionate kiss? And now...he was loving her so skillfully, so assertively, with such incredible tenderness yet such power and grace. These thoughts only flitted through her mind, though, as she was nearly undone by the sheer exhilaration that his newly released sexuality brought her. His softly murmured words of adoration were the perfect counterpoint to the sureness of his hands, the movement of his body, as he gave her everything he was.

Vincent’s mind was a whirling vortex of thoughts - disconnected, spinning. He knew one thing for certain, though - somehow, he had to make her understand that it was her confidence in him that gave him the freedom to express himself so intensely, so profoundly, so movingly. He loved her with a depthless, matchless intensity, and to finally express that love not just in words but with his every part intensified his own voyage of discovery into the physical aspects of their love. She gave him that - her belief in him reassured him, bolstered him. He owed her so much...everything....

Catherine’s hands moved to stroke the delicious curve of his bottom, wishing she had the freedom of movement to cup them completely. The tension and release of the muscles there as he made love to her thrilled her, moved her. But holding him there upset the delicate balance of their position, and whatever else she wanted, she desperately wanted her beloved to have the completion he craved...and that she craved for him. And so she moved to wrap her arms around his back, to hold him more firmly as he thrust within her. She would be his anchor now. Later, perhaps, she would have the time to explore him more completely. But now she could feel him gathering himself, feel the surging power of his manhood as his consummation overtook him. It pushed her over the edge once more, and he rode the crest of her own burgeoning completion.

This time, his orgasm almost shattered him. He spilled his life force into his beloved with an urgency that for a moment claimed his senses. When he recovered them, he found himself locked in a tight embrace, Catherine whispering to him over and over, "It’s OK, everything’s fine." He was shocked out of the almost-delirium their lovemaking had produced in him. He realized he must have frightened her -- his lungs were heaving as if he’d run a great race, perspiration slicked his face, and he was growling low in his throat as if warning away anyone who might take his beloved from his arms. He was appalled, ashamed. What had he done? What must she think of him?

"Catherine, forgive me..." He wanted to apologize...for everything. For his presumption, for his intensity, for being unable to stop himself from his mindless drive to completion...over and over again. She must think animal.... His heart plummeted as he pulled back to face her, and he was barely able to draw his eyes up to meet hers.

She was shaking her head in response to his nearly breathless apology. Taking his face between her hands, she kissed him tenderly, then pulled back to speak. "Don’t, Vincent. Don’t even think it. Our feelings for each other are powerful...overwhelming. Why would our loving be any less so?"

"But...I couldn’t...stop...." His eyes begged for understanding, nearly breaking Catherine’s heart.

"I didn’t want you to." She kissed him again. "I confess you took me by surprise," she admitted gently, a hint of humor in her voice, "but trust me, it wasn’t an unpleasant one!" She hugged him hard, and when she felt his arms come up to embrace her, she knew she had gotten through to him. Murmuring into his ear, she promised, "I love the way you love me...all the many ways you show your love...."

Relief coursed through his heart. He hadn’t known what to expect, but he never would have thought he could ask, no...demand so much of his beloved. Although she had started things this night, he had quickly taken the upper hand, directing their lovemaking as if he had all the right in the world to do so. But his Catherine didn’t seem to be holding that against him. She seemed, rather, it. He was amazed and comforted by that fact.

Catherine tugged gently against his back, and they fell softly together to lie upon the cloak. The fire had burned low now, the smoldering embers giving off a warm glow of heat. Catherine’s legs were still wrapped around his waist, but now she loosened them. As they parted slightly, she captured his now only partially aroused penis in one hand, cradling it, protecting it from the chill it might feel after leaving its warm nest. He smiled at the way she treated him, as if he were precious, cherished.

Lying close, face to face, Vincent ran his hand along Catherine’s back, tracing her spine until he came to the sweet cleft of her backside, then cupping her bottom gently within his palm. Her firm body intrigued him. She was incredibly soft, yet below the supple flesh lay the solid play of sleek muscle. He realized that what she’d always told him was true -- she was strong...not easily breakable.

Catherine reveled in the sensations he was producing as his hand explored her body. She so longed to do the same for him. She yearned to run her fingers across the corded muscles of his shoulders, the bunched hardness that defined his biceps, the ridged flatness of his stomach. Yet Vincent was still clothed, although everything he wore was in glorious disarray. She’d had teasing hints of flesh and brief moments of touching as they’d loved, but she’d been prevented from doing any leisurely exploring due to the intensity of their lovemaking. Not that she was complaining at all - they had all the time in the world, now...a long future stretched before them to fill with their love. And that future...was now. She smiled at that thought. Opening her eyes, she gazed into her beloved’s spellbound countenance and in a throaty whisper asked, "Let me see you...all of you?"

Gulping around the sudden knot in his throat at the thought, despite the intimacies they had just shared, Vincent struggled to draw his courage around himself. After the way Catherine had loved him tonight, how could he deny her anything? He couldn’t possibly be everything she desired in a man, but perhaps she had found enough to desire so that the sight of him naked would not put her off...too much. Besides, she had seemed to cherish every part of him she had seen...touched...tonight. He drew hope from that thought as he hesitantly pulled the rest of his clothing off. Soon he was lying bare to his beloved’s eyes, and as he apprehensively watched her take him in, a look of rapt wonder on her face, his inhibitions fell away. His Catherine loved him...all of him...everything she’d seen...and touched...and felt...and everything she hadn’t.

Catherine stroked his nude body lovingly, with achingly tender motions, letting him know by touch alone how she treasured him, cherished him, adored him. Despite the fierce, extended round of lovemaking she had experienced so recently, she felt herself succumb to the glory of his physical presence. She wanted him again...soon. As she thought this, her hand drifted down to caress his manhood, and she wasn’t entirely surprised to find him already fully engorged. He had an amazing capacity for recovery...and she paled a little at the genie she’d let out of the bottle. Looking up at him, surprise lighting her eyes, she met his, already smoky with renewed passion. Just before she captured his mouth in a penetrating kiss, she whispered against his mouth, "Who knew hot cocoa was such an aphrodisiac!"

This time, Vincent was anxious to go slowly, to savor their lovemaking. He wanted to please Catherine...thoroughly...before seeking his own release. She had given him so much tonight...and asked for so little in return. Still amazed that he could touch her with such freedom, he began to stroke her bare skin, reveling in the reactions he evoked from her by just his touch. Catherine’s eyelids fluttered shut, an expression of such pleasure lit her face, and she arched her body to meet his questing fingers.

He whispered, still shy despite all that had gone before, "Show me?"

She responded by guiding his hands to her lips. After kissing them each in turn, she shook her head. "Just do what you did before," she responded huskily. "Whatever feels...right."

He shivered in delight at her words. What feels right? Everything...every touch, every caress, every moment since they’d kissed tonight

He bent to her then, capturing her lips in a deep kiss, eliciting a low, sighing moan from her. The moans became whimpers as he caressed her breasts, reverently sliding his thumbs across her hardened nipples. Becoming bolder as her sighs increased in frequency, he bent his head to tongue her where his thumbs had been. He felt her tremble and soon the sounds she was making changed to soft panting cries. Catherine’s fingers delved into his tangled mane, distractedly brushing his hair free of his face as he labored lovingly over her, stroking and cupping her breasts as he took her nipples into his mouth one at a time, teasing them with his rough tongue.

His mouth continued to plunder her breasts as one hand dipped lower, to stroke against the silky, wet curls at the juncture of her thighs. Slipping his fingers lower still, he felt her body tense slightly as he sought, then found, the nub which was the center of her pleasure. He let their Bond and her ever-increasing cries guide him then, caressing her, teasing her, while she writhed in ecstasy beneath his hand. He could feel her astonished pleasure as he brought her to the brink time and again, only to calm her, then return her to the almost-moment. When he knew she could take no more, he held nothing back, giving her everything she needed until she reached the pinnacle one last time. The tension in her broke suddenly, and he felt her orgasm as it rushed through her, surging, peaking, crashing like a wave through their Bond, then slowly spiraling away as his touch gradually lightened and lessened. His fingers were coated with the wet, warm evidence of both her recent arousal and their earlier lovemaking as he spread her thighs and lowered himself upon her, once more pressing his own aroused flesh against hers.

Lying upon her in this way, finally, with no clothing as a barrier between them, he was almost unmanned by the incredible feeling of warm flesh meeting warm flesh. His body, his skin so highly sensitized, was inflamed beyond thought merely by the feel of her sweet satin body bare beneath his. He knew Catherine felt the same as he heard her deep moan of pleasure, and she rubbed herself sensuously against him until he thought he might expire from the sheer rapture of it.

When his hard, thick length slipped inside her again so easily, he couldn’t suppress the groan of satisfaction which he exhaled against her throat. As before, the feeling of being so firmly, hotly sheathed within her body nearly undid him. His beloved was holding him inside herself, taking him into her as deeply as she could. She craved this...her body begged for this...her soul gloried in this! It was almost more than he could believe...that this physical act could be so beautiful, so inspiring, so fulfilling - beyond anything his mind had conceived, beyond fantasy, beyond imagining.

He began to move slowly within her, the sweet, slick friction causing them both to cry out. His control for the moment firmly in place, he slid almost all the way out of her, listening to her mewl of protest and silently promising the withdrawal would be brief. A long, excruciatingly slow impalement followed. Catherine squirmed against him, driven nearly mad by his deliberate, ecstatic assault upon her senses. Feeling her reaction both physically and within their Bond, Vincent knew her pleasure was so intense it nearly veered into pain. A sweet, hot pain - he felt it too, it shuddered through him and he knew he could never deny Catherine...or himself...this pleasure again.

Teetering on the brink of control now, he gathered himself and drove forcefully into her, then pulled back, drove deeply again, then back, until a hard rhythm was established. The pace picked up, Catherine’s movements urging him on, and they rocked together in a building frenzy until, finally, their simultaneous orgasms burst upon them - dizzying, electrifying, astonishing. Vincent grasped Catherine firmly and rolled them both onto their sides, legs entwined to cling together, as their pulsing pleasure slowly faded. Spent, exhausted, gasping for air, still they found the breath to whisper of their love, their commitment, their overwhelming need. As one, they spoke their beloved’s name and whispered, "Always."

With a fierce tenderness, Vincent cradled Catherine’s form against his. He loved her so deeply, so passionately, he doubted if he could ever let her go from his side. Now...after all they had shared...he didn’t know if it would be possible to ever part from her again. He nuzzled against her hair, drinking in the scent of her - barely distinguishable now from the scent of their lovemaking, which rose to overwhelm him, a reminder of the intense intimacy they had shared.

"Vincent...." Her voice was muffled against his softly furred chest, but she didn’t seem inclined to lift her face from where it rested there.

"Hmmm?" He hardly had the strength left to make even that minimal reply.

"Take me Below?"

Her question shocked him. He opened his eyes wide, then gently tugged at her shoulders until she leaned back to look at him. "Catherine...? What....?"

She smiled sleepily at him. He noted distractedly that she had the slightly disheveled look of a well-satisfied, well-loved woman. "Let me love you in your bed, too?"

"We never...actually...made it to...a bed, my love," he reminded her gently, smiling despite his surprise.

"Better yet. Then yours can be the first...and if I get my way, the only...bed we’ll ever make love in." She nuzzled his chin with her nose, then began to kiss him again, concentrating on his jawline. He reached up a restraining palm, pulling her back to look at him again. Her eyes opened and he could see that she was cross at being interrupted. His smile broke wider, and sharp incisors gleamed in the dim light cast from the dying coals.

"You...want to go" His frankly disbelieving look caused Catherine to laugh. Vincent shivered deep inside. He loved that full-throated laugh. He loved everything about his beloved.

She caught her breath and said, "There’s no time like the present. Isn’t that what Father always says?"

Vincent’s arched eyebrows tilted upward at an alarming angle. " that you mention him - Father. Yes. Shall I let you explain to Father the reason you are coming Below with me so late tonight?"

This time Catherine collapsed against his chest, laughing so hard she nearly choked. Tears glistening in her eyes, she eventually got control of herself and replied, "On second thought...let’s stay here a little longer." Her laughter died away completely, and Vincent was intrigued to see the sudden shift in her demeanor. "In fact," she murmured, "let’s stay here a lot longer. Mmmmm...." Whatever else she was about to say, she forgot it, as Vincent silenced her, his eager mouth descending to capture hers in a long, slow, deep, devastating kiss.

Kissing Catherine was an art form, Vincent decided. He wanted to become an expert at it. He knew if he applied himself, worked very hard and practiced every chance he got, he’d perfect it. He intended to do just that. Settling into this still new and so compelling venture, he put all thoughts of Father...and beds...far from his mind. Time enough tomorrow to think about such Fathers...and beds...and moving Catherine Below....