What a Difference

Pat K.

Catherine Chandler sat on her balcony and stared at the city below her.  She had always loved New York -- the shops, the entertainment, the beauty, the excitement.  The world in which she had been reared was one of elegance and plenty.  It was a world where women went to afternoon teas, couples went to stylish cocktail and dinner parties, and children went to dancing classes accompanied by nannies.

Both of her parents came from affluent, if not wealthy, families.  Her father had passed the bar exam and hit the ground running, rising quickly in his profession and becoming a partner at an early age.  Her mother worked on committees for the arts, the symphony, and other cultural affairs.  Their circle of friends consisted of the 'right' people.  And the friends with which Cathy associated had maintained that status quo.

With the exception of her mother's death, her youth had been carefree and selfishly indulgent.  She shook her head as she admitted to herself how shallow and useless her life had been.

There was a time, while she was away at college, that she exhibited a streak of rebellion; nothing to worry her father but enough to make her feel daring.  It was during those college years that she met people who did not fit into the cookie-cutter mold of the New York City upper crust. One of those people would become a close and cherished friend.

Jenny Aronson had attended Radcliffe on a scholarship.  She was extremely intelligent and gifted; and, though many of the students ostracized her for her lower middle-class background, Cathy admired her spunk and shared a similar sense of humor.  With the addition of Nancy Young (now Tucker), they became known as the three Musketeers, and a rash of pranks and incidents seemed to follow them around.

While at college, Cathy was exposed to differing viewpoints and radical ideas. Gradually, she realized that there was a whole world outside of her limited sphere of existence.  Though she did not totally embrace the ideas or causes to which she was exposed, the plight of the average person -- his struggle to survive and care for a family -- touched her heart.  The seed that was sown during those years took root, waiting for a sun to help it grow.  That sun rose on a terror-filled evening in April.  That sun was Vincent.

He was the sun to her, giving her strength and love to light her life.  The radiance of his very being infused her soul, helping her commitment to take root and sustaining her when she faltered on the uncharted waters of her new life.  His faith in her provided the ballast to keep her on an even keel.

Much had changed in her life since that fateful night.  She had joined the District Attorney's office, wanting her law degree to mean more to the world than an iron-clad contract between two corporate entities.  She wanted to help stop the jackals that preyed on the innocent people of the city: the ones who killed and stole; the ones who peddled drugs or flesh; the ones who hurt and abused the children.

During that time she had met Isaac Stubbs and learned how to defend herself.  There were two barriers to taking responsibility for her own safety:  the fear left on her psyche by the slashing, and the "nice girls don't behave that way" training of her youth.  Her sessions with Isaac had broken through both of those shells, dispelling the sense of being a victim that had haunted her since the attack.  Her heart was lighter, and she had a new friend.

Most of her so-called friends from her former life had drifted away, some because of the mundane direction her life had taken, and some through neglect on her part.  Her free time was almost non-existent, due to the ever-present stack of cases on her desk that never seemed to decrease in size regardless the number of hours she worked.  Though friends did try to entice her to one party or another, she kept her nights available for Vincent, and eventually the calls ceased.

Jenny and Nancy were still constants in her life, but with Nancy in Westport and Jenny traveling for her job, their times together were limited.  An occasional lunch or dinner and frequent phone calls maintained their friendship, a friendship that none wanted to lose.

Her relationship with her father had changed since she had left his firm.  He had been upset with her decision, but upon seeing how involved she was with her new job he had realized that the move had been for the best.  He recognized the passion that she felt for her work and knew from his own experience that doing something you loved made all the difference in the world.  They had become better friends in the past months, and he truly admired this young woman who was his daughter.  He adored her and wanted her to be happy.

And she was happy.  Oh, not ecstatically happy, but she was working on it.  The one thing she wanted most in the world she couldn't have, and sometimes she found herself pouting like a six-year-old.  Though her life had changed, it was hard to break the conditioning of almost thirty years of getting everything you desired.  And that was the problem now, she was being denied the one thing in life that she desired -- desired with every fiber of her being.

Vincent.

Everything always seemed to come back to him.  As she sat gazing at the lights that twinkled in the pink and blue sunset, she smiled ruefully.  Of course everything came back to him -- he was the center of her life, her reason for being, the man that she loved. She'd tried to be patient -- God knows she'd tried.  She'd tried to be understanding.  She'd told him of her love and had shown it to him in every way possible, always alert to the fact that too bold a display would frighten him away.  No matter what she did, he held her at arms' length. Sometimes she wondered if the only way to knock some sense into his noble head would be a swift kick in his furry butt.  She chuckled; she supposed it was furry, that was one of the things she'd like to find out.

He'd tried to send her away to find the love he felt she deserved with someone Above.  She'd ended up running back to him in the middle of the night.  She knew that he loved her. Though he'd never admitted the depth of his feelings, she knew this with certainty. Why couldn't he see that her love for him was as deep and as strong as his love for her? Why couldn't he trust her to decide how to live her own life?

The rueful smile changed to an impish one.  Perhaps that was the key.  She mulled this thought over -- it might work, it certainly couldn't hurt.  It was a lot more restrained than the alternatives she had come up with . . . everything from getting him drunk to locking him in a vault with her so he couldn't escape.

She caught herself as erotic visions popped into her head.  She had become quite adept at suppressing these types of emotions from the bond.  Then again, maybe she shouldn't try to block these feelings.  Maybe that was part of the problem.  Closing her eyes, she relaxed and let the emotions sweep through her as her imaginings played themselves out on the back of her eyelids.

The rustling of leaves behind her heralded his arrival.  She opened her eyes but didn't turn around, looking instead at the panorama before her.  She knew he could sense her chaotic emotions and tried to calm herself.  A sense of resolve finally stilled the troubled waters of her soul.  She fervently hoped that this would work.

"Catherine?"  The sound of his voice washed over her like a warm summer breeze.  She turned to him and smiled, indicating that he should sit beside her.

"Something weighs heavily on your mind, Catherine.  Tell me."

Her fingers lightly traced his cheek as his beauty overwhelmed her.  She lowered her hand and clasped his where it lay on the bench between them.

"I do have something on my mind . . . something I've tried to repress . . . but now I believe it's time to bring it out into the open.  It's something you need to know; and I want you to promise to listen carefully, to both my words and my heart."

"You can tell me anything, Catherine.  I promise to listen to all you have to say."

"You've always said that I should find someone to love me . . . someone who could give me the happy life I've always wanted.  Well, I've met someone."  She felt him tense at her words.  His eyes glistened with pain and unshed tears; his fingers slipped from her grasp as his hands clinched into fists on his knees.  "I've been suppressing my feelings through the bond but as that's getting harder to do, I felt it only fair to tell you."

His head lowered as he hid his stricken expression behind a veil of blond hair.  The dejection he felt tore at her heart.

"Do you love this man?  Is he a good man?" he quietly asked.

"Yes, he is a good man.  He's intelligent, kind, loving and held in high regard by his friends.  I love him with all that I am . . . all that I ever will be.  I want to be a part of his life, to have him beside me in the good times and bad . . . to have his children."

"You know that I have always wanted what was best for you . . . that you should have the full life you deserve."  His voice was barely a whisper.

"I've looked at this as objectively as I can and have realized that a life with him is the best thing that could happen to me.  I'm just unsure of your reaction to my taking this step."

"You know your own heart, Catherine.  Only you know what will make you happy.  If this man fulfills you, then you should go to him.  I would never stand in the way of your happiness."

"Then you do trust that I know what's best for me?  That I'm the best judge of what will make me happy?"

Not trusting his voice, he only nodded.  A sigh escaped his lips.  Catherine's fingers trembled as she reached through the golden veil and took his chin in her hands.  She turned his face to look at her before she continued.

"Would you like to know the name of the man I'm going to spend my life with?"  His eyes closed as he tried to control the pain.  "It's you, Vincent.  You're the man I love, and you're the only man I'll ever love."

His eyes flew open, and he started to protest.  Catherine stopped him by placing her fingers to his lips.

"You said that you trusted my judgment, Vincent.  You said that I knew what was best for me.  You told me that you would never stand in the way of my happiness, but you are . . . you're the only one standing in the way of my happiness.  I'm sorry to have scared you like that, but you wouldn't have listened if you'd known I was talking about you . . . about us."

Tears glistened in his blue eyes as he looked at her.  He had felt the truth of her words as she had spoken.  She was correct; he would have discounted that truth if he had known she was speaking of him.  The anguish he'd felt at her words made him recognize the depth of his feelings for her, feelings that he had been denying for so long.

"Are you sure, Catherine?"

"More than anything in the world, Vincent.  More than anything in the world."  Her green eyes shone in the dim light as her love comforted him.  "I've been honest with you, Vincent, and told you my feelings.  Now I need to know how you feel.  I need to hear you say the words."

"There are no words profound enough to explain how I feel.  I love you, more than life itself.  If you were to go away I know that I would cease to exist.  Your existence has given meaning to mine.  I feel that I have spent my entire life preparing to be here, at this moment.  I know with certainty that whatever deity there is created us for each other -- that our love was pre-ordained.  I was called to the park that fateful night in April, I was following my destiny."

Tears streamed down Catherine's cheeks at the poignancy of his words, the beauty of the love they expressed.  He kissed her hand and looked questioningly at her.  She could feel his nervousness as well as the hunger that burned within.  Slowly, she leaned forward and tenderly touched her lips to his.  As she pulled back, she smiled at his startled face.

"See, that didn't hurt, did it?"

Her voice was sultry and caused a shiver down his spine.  His breathing quickened and a wave of apprehension hit her through their bond.  His hands shook as he held her away from him.

"No."  The word was almost a moan.  "Catherine, I must leave."

She clutched the edges of his cloak to hold him still.  Her eyes flashed with determination.  This was going to be settled, right now.

"No, you're not leaving.  You're going to tell me what's wrong, and we're going to talk this out.  We've both just confessed that we each can't live without the other, so we're going to make this work.  There is nothing we can't face as long as we're together."

He was startled by the ferocity of her words, the certainty of her convictions.  How could he tell her?  How could he explain how he felt?

"Catherine, I must go.  You can't understand."

"Tell me . . . make me understand."

He gently removed her hands from his cloak and moved to lean against the terrace wall.  She sat perfectly still, waiting for him to begin.

"I love you with all that I am, Catherine.  But I cannot love you as you wish . . . as I wish.  These feelings, these desires that I have are so strong . . . so violent.  They are not the passions of a normal man, they are the carnal lusts of the beast within me.  If I give in to these feelings, I will lose control . . . control over the beast . . . and I could hurt you.  If I did that, I would die."

He hung his head in resignation, but not before Catherine saw the tears rolling down his cheeks.  She wanted to yell at him, to shake him until his teeth rattled.  She wanted to run to him, to wrap her arms around him and never let him go. She wanted to hit something, hard!  But what she did was sit quietly, collecting her thoughts.  Breathing deeply to center herself, she rose from the bench and slowly walked across the balcony.  His arms hung limply at his sides.  She took his large, furry hands in hers and raised them to her lips.

When she spoke, her voice was soft and calm.  "Vincent, listen to me.  You say that your feelings and desires are not natural, that they're the carnal lusts of the beast within you.  I say they are natural . . . they're the natural hungers of a person in love.  I have these same desires for you, you know that I do.  And if you don't recognize the intensity of my feelings, it's only because I work very hard to protect you from them.  I'm not going to do that any more.

"Making love is a time of letting go, of letting your passions take control.  But you could never hurt me, Vincent.  I know that to be true, and if you really thought about it, you'd agree with me.   The side of you that you call the beast, I prefer to call the 'protector', and I know in my soul that he would never hurt me.  Even when you were affected by Paracelsus' drug, and you truly had no control . . . even then you couldn't hurt me.   I love all of you, Vincent, and I believe that all of you loves me.  Loving someone is a leap of faith.  Will you have faith in yourself . . . in me . . . in us?"

She slipped her arms around his waist and laid her head on his chest.  She could feel his heart beating, even through all of the layers of his clothing.  A slow, strong beat.  But she could also feel his tension, and she sighed.  She tilted her head back to look into his face and slowly rose on tiptoe to gently kiss his lips.  She backed away.

"Now, you can leave."

He looked at her in confusion.

"I'd like you to stay . . . I want you to stay . . . but I won't force you.  I'll be here when you're ready, when you've decided that our love can move forward.  Our lives are in your hands, Vincent."

She went into the living room, leaving the French doors open to catch the evening breeze.  As she turned to sit on the sofa, she could see that he was no longer there.  Now, she would wait.

###########

The next five days were torture for Cathy.  The Wilson case was going badly, Joe was on a tear, all of her leads in the Juarez case led nowhere, and the stack of files on her desk was growing.  She worked late every night and when she finally did go home she couldn't sleep.  She hadn't had a decent meal all week, and the thought of food made her nauseous.  By Friday she looked like death warmed over, her only goal was to make it to the end of the day in one piece.  The day didn't cooperate.

The morning was spent in fruitless hours trying to track down a witness on a hit-and-run case.   Then, the breakdown of the Magee deposition mysteriously disappeared after she had spent six hours writing it.  After what seemed like days on hold, she had finally gotten through to County Records only to be told that their computer system was down and she'd have to call back.

Joe came over and dropped some files on her desk as she slammed the receiver into the cradle.

"No," she moaned as she saw the stack grow.  Then, to her embarrassment, she started to cry.  Once the dam was opened there was no holding back.  All of the stress she had been under, both from work and her worry about her relationship with Vincent, had to vent itself, and the gentle tears turned into uncontrollable sobs.

"Radcliffe, are you okay?"  Joe looked around in panic.  He didn't know what was wrong but he felt way out of his league.  He saw Edie in the office delivering some files and waved her over.

Seeing her friend in distress, she dumped the files in Joe's arms and went around to hug Cathy.  "Whoa, girlfriend, it's okay.  It's okay."  As she rocked her friend, she shot Joe a look to kill.

"Don't look at me, I don't know what's wrong."  His distress was evident.

Cathy tried to stop the sobbing but felt she couldn't breathe and began to gasp.  Edie recognized the signs and started looking around.  She rushed over to a desk across the way and grabbed a McDonald's bag out of the trash.  She brought it back and made Cathy breathe into the sack -- the gasping finally stopped.

"Are you okay, girlfriend?"  Cathy nodded as she removed the bag.  "You were hyperventilating.  My cousin used to do that all the time.  Now . . . you're going home."  Edie looked at Joe as if daring to contradict.

Cathy tried to protest but both of her friends insisted.  She went to the ladies room to put some cold water on her face.  While she was gone, Edie jumped on Joe.

"How many hours have you been working that girl?  Last time I saw someone who looked like that was in a movie about prisoners of war."

"Hey, I don't chain her to her desk."

"No, but you take advantage.  You know she cares, so you give her more work than anyone else in this office.  I've talked to Mike, the cleaning guy -- do you know she's been here 'til midnight all week?  And that's not unusual.  And I can guarantee you that no one else was here keeping her company.  Everyone has a breaking point, Joe, and if you're not careful you're going to find Cathy's."

Joe was stunned at Edie's words.  He did depend on Cathy -- she was smart, reliable and managed to get results in cases that seemed hopeless.  When she returned to her desk, he took a good look at her and saw what Edie was talking about.  Cathy had dark circles under her eyes and looked like she'd lost ten pounds.

As she went to sit behind her desk, he grabbed her arm and pulled her up.

"You're going home, Radcliffe.  I mean it.  And you're taking Monday off too.  I want you to get plenty of rest . . . and for God's sake eat something.  Edie, you go down with her and make sure she gets a cab."

#############

Catherine reclined on the chaise with her eyes closed, and enjoyed the evening air.  She had managed to eat some soup and crackers when she'd gotten home and had taken a long nap.  She cringed as she remembered the spectacle she had made at the office that afternoon.  Well, she'd gotten a day off out of it . . . though the work would still be there when she got back on Tuesday.

All of a sudden she felt that Vincent was near.  She concentrated on the feeling until she heard the rustling of leaves.  She slowly opened her eyes and saw him standing in the shadows.  Neither moved, but waves of love converged in the bond.

"Vincent."   His name was like a caress on the breeze.

"Catherine, you are unwell."  He came to kneel beside the chaise.

"I'm just tired.  I've been working late all week and haven't eaten properly.  Today was a really bad day and I'm afraid I made a scene at work."  She explained her crying jag to him and that Joe sent her home early to rest.

"Your work is important, Catherine, but you mustn't push yourself."  There was worry in his voice.

"Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it . . . especially on days like today.  I could have stayed home and slept for all that I got accomplished."

He could feel her exhaustion.  "I should go and let you sleep.  I just wanted to see that you were all right."

"Please don't go.  I've missed you these past few days.  I can sleep late tomorrow."  Catherine shivered in the cooling night air.

"You should go inside where it's warm."

"Won't you come with me?  I'll rest better if you're here." Her green eyes pleaded with him.

Vincent was torn.  He had spent the last few days at the nameless river, trying to sort out all that they had discussed.  He finally realized that there was no way to know how he would react without actually taking the leap of faith.  If Catherine was willing to try, then so was he.  If he had come to that conclusion, why did he still hesitate on going into her apartment?

Steeling himself with resolve, he picked her up from the chaise and carried her into the bedroom.  He carefully laid her on the bed.  As he stepped back, she grabbed his hand.

"I'm not leaving, Catherine."  His gentle voice eased her fears and she fell back onto the pillows.  "Would you like something to eat or drink?"

"Just some water."

Vincent removed his cloak and laid it across a chair.  He then closed and latched the terrace doors so that Catherine would not catch a chill.  Without turning on the lights, he made his way to the kitchen and returned with a glass of cool water for his love.

Catherine sipped the water and placed the glass on her bedside table.  Vincent removed his boots and belt and reclined on the bed next to her.  She snuggled to a comfortable spot beneath his arm, her head resting on his chest.

"You've been away a long time."  Her statement held no accusation.

"Yes.  There was much to think about after our last conversation."

"Did you come to a decision?"  Trembling apprehension was evident in her voice.

His clawed hand stroked her silky hair.  "I am here, Catherine."

Her pulse quickened and she hugged him, listening to the sound of his heart beneath her ear.  She raised her head to look at his face and saw him smiling at her -- that endearing smile that she so seldom saw.

"Yes, you're here."  A tear of joy escaped from the corner of her eye, and he dried its track with the back of his finger.

"You're tired, Catherine.  Sleep now."  She started to protest but he stopped her. "I will not leave.  Sleep."

She laid her head back on his chest, his arms wrapped securely about her.  Within minutes, the slow, steady rhythm of her breathing and the peacefulness of the bond told him that she was asleep.  He lay there, holding her in his arms and marveled again.  She had no fears, no doubts.  She was a miracle . . . his miracle.  After a while his eyes closed and he too slept.

Cathy awoke to the morning sun shining on her face.  The French doors were closed against the cooling breeze, and the sun rapidly warmed the room.  She turned away from the light and found herself alone in the bed.  Afraid that she had dreamed last night, she sat up suddenly to look around.  She found that this act caused the room to spin, and she quickly laid back down.

She lay there gaining her bearings and heard a sound from the other room.  She also realized that she smelled coffee.  Slowly, she sat on the edge of the bed.  Before she could stand, the louvered doors to her bedroom where pushed back and Vincent entered bearing a tray.

"Catherine, you should be in bed."  His quiet voice melted her heart.

Obediently, she situated herself beneath the covers, sitting against a mound of pillows, and smiled.  As he balanced the tray on her lap, he kissed the top of her head.  Cocking his head questioningly he asked, "What makes you smile?"

"Do you know how long I've waited to hear you say that?" she joked.  "Actually, I'm smiling because I'm happy . . . happy you're here, happy it wasn't a dream."

"I'm glad that you are pleased, because I must impose on your hospitality until dark."

"That kind of imposition I could get used to."  Her smile turned impish.  "And I can think of lots of things for us to do to fill the time."

"Catherine, you must eat.  You are still unwell."

"I'm not sick, I was just exhausted, but that was taken care of by the sleep I finally got last night. Having you near allowed me to sleep really well.  But now I'm starving."  The tray in her lap contained eggs, toast, orange juice and coffee.  "Where's your breakfast?"

"I ate my breakfast while preparing yours.  Now, while you eat, I will try to repair the mess I made of your kitchen.  Do you need anything before I do?"

"I can think of only one thing I need."

"Yes, Catherine?"

"A good morning kiss."  She looked up at him with desire in her eyes.

He leaned forward, mindful of the tray, and gently kissed her upturned lips. Though tender, the touch sent a surge of heat through him, his body tingling with its fever.  He slowly withdrew from her mouth, their bond pulsing with the desire that each felt.  They both breathed deeply and his eyes met hers with a promise of 'soon'.

Catherine slowly ate her breakfast as the memory of their kiss replayed in her mind.  All of the anxiety that had plagued her for the past week melted away and was replaced with a mixture of anticipation, joy and passion.  Vincent was stuck here, in her apartment, all day. Boy oh boy, could she think of things to do, and Father would have a heart attack at any and all of them.  She heard a noise that sounded like flatware being dropped and realized that she had not suppressed her rush of desire from the bond.

Finishing her breakfast, she carried the tray back to the kitchen.  Vincent was wiping the stove as she stood in the doorway and watched.  The sight of him in her apartment filled her with delight.  He turned and relieved her of the tray.  She sipped a new cup of hot coffee as she sat at the small kitchen table and watched him wash and dry the dishes.

"I could get used to this," she said, dreamily.

"Having breakfast in bed?" Vincent inquired.

"That too, but I meant having you here . . . with me . . . all of the time."

His eyes locked with hers as she rose from the chair, and his arms encircled her.  Her arms around his waist, she leaned back to maintain his gaze.  No words were necessary; the need was evident in each other's eyes.  He bent his leonine face to capture her full lips with his.  The spark that had surged through him before repeated itself, setting his blood on fire.

The deluge through the bond of their passion and desire engulfed them in its intensity.  Vincent swept Catherine into his arms and carried her to the bedroom.  Trembling to control the feelings that were possessing him, Vincent gazed into Catherine's eyes.

"Are you sure, Catherine?"

Her voice was soft but steady.  "More sure than I've ever been in my life, Vincent.  Love me, Vincent.  Let me love you."

Slowly, lovingly, she removed his vest and shirt.  As she unbuttoned the top button of his jeans, she felt him tense.  She slowly continued, gazing into his eyes and projecting all of the love within her heart.  Her fingers brushed lightly across the evidence of his desire, causing them both to tremble.

Catherine untied the sash of her robe and, with a shrug, the silky garment slid to the floor.  Drawing his hands to her shoulders, she smiled as she waited for him to make the next move.  With the confidence of her silent assurances, Vincent carefully slid the straps from her shoulders and the shimmery slip of fabric pooled around Catherine's feet.  His pulse quickened at the sight of her, his maleness responding.

Lifting her once again into his arms, he settled her on the bed then proceeded to remove his socks and jeans.  He stood there in the golden sunlight, still hesitant, waiting for her response.

"You are so beautiful, Vincent.  I wish I could convince you how truly beautiful you really are."  She held out her arms to him, needing him close.

He lay beside her, wrapped in her love, finding it hard to believe that this was really happening.  "Teach me, Catherine.  Show me how to love you."

"Oh, Vincent, you already know how to love me.  You are the most innately sensual man I know.  Follow your heart, listen to our bond."

She kissed his lips, tenderness becoming fire as their passions ignited.  She traced his lower lip with her tongue and gently sucked on its firmness.  Her tongue then traced his upper lip, relishing its velvety texture before darting into the unique cleft.  The erotic jolt that went through Vincent caused him to tremble and made him gasp.  Catherine took advantage of this and began to explore his mouth, his sharp teeth and slightly raspy tongue.

Vincent was overcome by the sensations produced and his own tongue joined in the dance: darting, twining, exploring.  Catherine's hands began to explore his body, her nails leaving fiery trails on his skin.  She skimmed her fingers up his strong arms, down his muscular chest and along his hip to his thigh.  As her fingers began an upward motion and gently grazed his manhood, he gasped, his head falling back in incredulousness.

Catherine kissed the exposed neck, sucking on the little hollows at its base.  As her hand gently stroked his erection, her lips moved down his chest to find his nipples, hidden in the golden fur. She kissed and licked the sensitive nubs, gently sucking as they hardened.  A low growl rumbled through Vincent's chest, and she found herself flipped onto her back.

Vincent, his eyes dark with passion, looked down into Catherine's heavy-lidded green eyes.  He kissed her face, a thousand butterfly kisses, continuing down her throat and body until he reached her breasts.  His raspy tongue laved one, licking and suckling, while his thumb teased the other turgid peak.  He alternated this action, giving each breast his full attention.  Catherine arched, these sensations alone nearly bringing her to a climax.

His swollen manhood pressed against her thigh and she shifted to move him between her legs.  She urged him upward to position him against the moist heat of her waiting womanhood.  Vincent, observing how large he was compared to Catherine's daintiness, began to have doubts.  She took his face in her hands and forced him to look at her.

"It's okay, Vincent . . . it'll be okay . . . trust me.  I need you in me . . . please love me, Vincent."

Her passionate encouragement reassured him as he slowly and gently entered her.  Her body expanded to allow him access, and the resulting sensations set him afire.  Catherine wrapped her legs around his hips, urging him deeper within her, her nails gently scratching a path down the fur on his back.  This stimulus broke through the wall of caution and restraint that Vincent had built, and he thrust forward in one mighty lunge, filling her completely.

He lay there, embedded in the wet warmth of her, and savored the sensations.  She gave him a little nudge, encouraging him to move within her.  He moved slowly at first, gradually building in speed. Catherine matched his rhythm, her inner muscles clutching his throbbing flesh. They were joined, body and soul; the sensations each felt intensified by the other's through the bond. With a final, shuddering thrust, they were lost in an explosion of ecstasy, which felt to Vincent as if their very beings were scattered among the stars.

Reality gradually returned, and Vincent found himself once again in Catherine's loving arms. He rose onto his forearms to look into her face, searching for any distress that he may have caused.  All he saw was a look of dreamy satisfaction.

Her half-closed eyes watched him, reveling in him.  "Wow!"  A contented smile crept to her lips. "Vincent, you are magnificent.," She nuzzled beneath the golden hair to find his ear and whispered, "And you're mine, all mine, forever."

Vincent trembled and held her close.  He was alarmed by the ferocity of the emotions that inundated him -- love, desire, possessiveness, protectiveness -- until he realized that these were her emotions, that her feelings for him were truly as powerful as his for her.  This kitten within his arms had the heart of a tiger.

"As you are mine, my love."  Light kisses were dropped on her face, falling like rose petals against her skin.

Her hands moved along his body, caressing wherever they could reach.  His feathery kisses traced down her neck.  Vincent was embarrassed by his insatiable need for her, thinking Catherine would be put off by his lust, but everything he felt through their bond assured him that her need was as great as his.  She pushed against his shoulder and he rolled over onto his back, his arms at his sides where she gently pressed them.

Kneeling beside him, she began to acquaint herself with the wonders and mysteries of his body. All of her senses partook of the heady experience: her fingers touched him everywhere, stroking, fondling, scratching, massaging; her tongue followed their path, tasting the saltiness of his skin; her nose inhaled his arousing, musky scent; her eyes feasted on the glory of him, muscular and golden in the sunlight; and her ears heard the contented purrs that rumbled from his chest and built to low growls of passion.

Her exploration took the object of her investigation to almost painful heights of pleasure.  His hands clutched at the sheets as he tried to refrain from grabbing her.  He didn't want to curtail the enjoyment he felt in her.  His growls vibrated throughout the room as she made her way back to his ear.

"Take me, Vincent.  Take me now," her husky voice demanded.

Released from their invisible bonds by her words, his arms enclosed her.  His mouth began an assault on hers. Their ardor drove the two lovers out of control.  Their loving this time was not gentle, was not tender . . . no this was frenzied, untamed passion at its best.  The red-hot hunger in their blood consumed them, driving them onward to culminate in a fiery explosion of release.

Collapsing beside her on the bed, Vincent pulled Catherine into the shelter of his body, and they both gave in to exhaustion.

The sun was still high in the sky when Vincent awoke.  Catherine's smiling face was his first sight as he opened his eyes, filling him with peace.  In his heart, he wished that she could be with him always, that her face could be the beginning of every new day. As he leaned forward to kiss those smiling lips, his progress was halted as his eyes focused on her neck.

Pushing away from her in alarm, he eluded her hands as she reached for him, confusion reflected on her face.  He looked around as if trying to escape, but knew that he was trapped here in the apartment with her until night.

"What is it, Vincent?"  She could feel his panic, and it frightened her.  She couldn't imagine the cause of his dismay.

He kept moaning 'no'.  Her worry finally manifested itself in anger.  "Vincent!  Tell me what's wrong."  She grabbed his shoulders and shook him as hard as she could.

"I'm sorry, Catherine, I'm so sorry."  His panic had dissolved into tears.  "How you must hate me."

"Sorry about what, Vincent?  Why would I hate you? Please tell me."  The anger gone, she now tried to hold him, but he pushed her away.

"I hurt you, Catherine.  How can you ever forgive me?"  The sadness in his voice tore her heart.

"You didn't hurt me, Vincent.  What are you talking about?"

"I did, I did."

He rose unsteadily from the bed to get her silver hand mirror from the vanity.  Bringing it back to the bed, and taking care to keep as much distance between them has possible, he handed it to her.  Catherine looked in the mirror, trying to see what had frightened him so.  She saw nothing wrong with her face and turned her head from side to side.  Seeing the red mark on her neck, she began to laugh.

"Oh, Vincent, are you talking about this?"  Green mirth-filled eyes found panicked ones of blue across the expanse of sheets and blankets.  Realizing that to him this was much more serious to him than to her, she sobered.  "Come," she said as she rose and extended her hand.

He wouldn't take her outstretched hand but did follow her into the bathroom.  They faced each other in the small, well-lit room -- closer than Vincent would like, but as far as the room would allow.

Calmly, her voice filled with love, Catherine spoke.  "You think that you hurt me, that I should hate you because of it."  His bowed head nodded as he refused to meet her gaze.  "Do you hate me, Vincent?"  He finally looked at her, his blue eyes puzzled.

Catherine chuckled and turned him toward the large mirror, the one that he had tried to avoid.  As his eyes rose to look at their reflections, they widened in shock.  He leaned forward to study his image more closely and joined in her laughter.

Scattered about his neck and chest were several of the marks he had seen on Catherine's neck.  As he stood between her and the mirror, her chuckles escalated to full-blown laughter, but he felt concern through the bond.  Worried, he turned to look at her.  She held his shoulders and told him to look in the mirror.  There, scattered across the muscles of his back, faint but still visible through his light coat of fur, were bright red scratch marks.

"Oh, Vincent, I'm sorry that I hurt you, but I'm not sorry about how it happened.  That was wonderful.  You are wonderful."  Feeling that it was okay to approach him, she hugged him tightly and was rewarded by his return embrace.

"Luckily your hair should cover the mark on your neck, and no one but me will see the others -- at least no one else better see them."  She looked at him with mock sternness.  "I, on the other hand, will need to find some blouses with high collars.  Perhaps I should be prepared and buy several, just in case."  Her eyebrow wiggled at the suggestive remark.

Vincent, relaxed at last, responded seriously, "That may be a good idea, Catherine.  A dozen or so should suffice."

She looked at him, dumbfounded, then started to laugh again.  Her arms went around his neck as he held her close.  "Maybe two dozen," she corrected as her mouth began to nip the contours of his neck, working her way over to his mouth.

Their romantic moment was interrupted by the rumbling of Catherine's stomach.  Realizing that it was well past noon, the two lovers decided to postpone the current activity and get something to eat.

Catherine and Vincent waltzed around each other in the tiny kitchen as she prepared the food and he set the table.  He commented that she needed a larger kitchen and she responded, rubbing up against him, that this one was just perfect.  She was thinking how great it was to have him all to herself when another thought hit her.

"Vincent, we have to get a message to the tunnels.  Father must be frantic because you didn't come home last night."

"It's all right, Catherine.  I told him that I might not be home until this evening."  His reassuring words calmed her, and the implication behind them gave her a thrill.

After their lunch of sandwiches and chips, they decided a shower was definitely in order.  Though the room itself was small, one of the things Catherine liked most about her bathroom was the large shower enclosure.  Many an evening she had envisioned his body sharing the steamy space, and now she had the opportunity to actually experience it.

The shower was long and sensuous, only ending as the water cooled.   After wringing the water out of his long hair, Vincent carefully dried Catherine and she him.  The passions left smoldering during lunch had sparked during their watery interlude, and Catherine led her beloved back to the bedroom where they made love once again.

This time Vincent was the explorer, as diligent in his scrutiny as she had been in hers.  Though he had never made love to a woman before, Vincent had read various texts on the subject; and that knowledge, combined with a natural sensuality and curiosity, served him well.  The taking of his pleasure brought Catherine to orgasm several times, and the resulting ecstasy fed back through the bond and took him with her.

The ache in his loins begged to be relieved.  Kneeling between her thighs, he raised her hips, joining their bodies again.  The sight of his glistening manhood moving in and out of her body mesmerized him.    Her soft mews and the clinching of her inner muscles combined with this image to inflame him.  His thrusts grew stronger as he leaned forward to nibble on Catherine's ear.  Though this session was not as tumultuous as the previous one, the release was just as volcanic.  He could feel her nails across his back and knew that he would have a few more 'battle scars' to cherish.

They lay together, spent, enjoying the closeness.  Once again he wished to have her with him always but dismissed the thought as impossible.  As his mind drifted, something she had said last week came to the fore, 'I want to be a part of his life, to have him beside me in the good times and bad . . . to have his children.'  The realization of that statement hit him.  He had felt the truth of those words when he believed them to be about some other man; therefore, he must continue to believe in their truth.  His dream was her dream.

As the shadows of dusk filled the room, they knew that he must leave shortly.  They rose and dressed, neither wanting to lose sight of the other, even for a moment.  They ate a simple dinner of pasta and salad, their hands clasped across the table.

"I'm afraid for this day to end," Catherine said.  "It's been so perfect that it must be a dream.  I'll wake to find myself alone in my bed, and I don't know if I could stand that."

"It's not a dream, my Catherine."  He brought her hand to his lips, nibbling her small fingers.

"Don't start something you can't finish," she teased, warmth spreading through her aroused body.

"I have a request of you, Catherine . . . two actually."

"Anything, you know that."

"Would you come Below and spend the rest of the weekend?  I couldn't bear to be apart from you, not now."

"Of course I'll come Below.  I don't want to be apart from you either.  What's the second request?"

"May I tell my family that you have agreed to be my wife?"

His quiet question registered in her befuddled brain and she squealed.   Her small body scooted around the table and flung itself at him. "Yes, you can tell your family . . . you can tell the entire world!  I love you, Vincent, and I'd love to be your wife."

They tidied her kitchen together, enjoying the domesticity of the actions.  Then they put fresh sheets on the bed, both eyeing it with longing but knowing that now was not the time.  Catherine packed a bag with the things she would need for the next few days, thinking that soon she would be packing for the rest of her life.  They stood together on the balcony and looked out upon the city, Vincent behind Catherine wrapping her in his arms, his cloak, and his love.

"You will be giving up so much," he murmured.

"I don't feel like I'm giving up anything, Vincent."  She leaned back into the solid feel of him.  "I'm gaining everything . . . I'm getting you."

He kissed the top of her head before backing away to slip silently over the terrace wall.  He would meet her at the basement threshold to take her home.  Before leaving the terrace, she thought back to the previous weekend.  Oh what a difference a week makes!  Now she was ecstatically happy, and, she giggled, his butt wasn't furry.  Smiling, she grabbed her bag and headed for the threshold -- and her heart.