TANGLED WEBS

(title courtesy of Elly Lister)

Janet Rivenbark

"íLo?" a voice answered the phone at the other end after the third ring.

"Charles? This is Cathy. Is Devin there? Can I speak to him?" Cathyís voice sounded strange even to Charles.

"Just a minute, Cathy," he said. "Devís outside. Iíll get him."

She listened and heard the handset clunk on the table then she heard a screen door slam.

Outside, Charles called to Devin.

"Dev, telephone. Itís Cathy." As Devin joined him on the porch, he added. "She sounds funny."

Catherine heard footsteps approaching before a familiar voice answered.

"Well hello, BeautifulÖCharles said you wanted to talk to me."

At the sound of his voice, Catherine broke down and the sounds of her sobs shook Devin; he sat down quickly.

"Cathy! What is it? Whatís wrong? Tell me, please," he pleaded as Charles looked on in concern.

He had to listen hard; barely able to make out the words.

"Oh DevinÖ" she gasped out. "Heís dead, so are a lot of the others and itís all my fault. Iím so sorry."

"HeísÖWhoís dead, Cathy?" he asked with trepidation.

"VincentÖHe told me that he killed him. Used explosives and caused a cave in that killed a lot of them. I donít want to live without him, Devin."

"Whoa!" Devinís heart was pounding and he was hoping he hadnít heard her right. "Now, slow down and catch your breath," he directed. "Who told you this?"

"The man who kidnapped me."

"Kidnapped? What in the world is going on?" Devin was totally confused now. "No one said anything about you being kidnapped."

"That isnít importantÖ" she almost shouted at him. "What is important is that they killed Vincent and I donít know how many of the others, and itís my fault."

Devin rubbed his hand over his face, and took a deep breath of his own.

"OK, hon. Iíve got to go to New York to find out what is going on. Where are you now?" he had a feeling she wasnít in the city.

"Iím at the cabin in Connecticut. I couldnít go back when I found out what had happened," her voice still sounded thick with tears, but she had stopped sobbing.

"I donít want to take Charles into a potentially dangerous or traumatic situation," Devin told her. "I have to pass close to where you are to get to the city. Can I bring Charles to you? I donít like leaving him alone."

"Sure, Devin," she told him.

"Weíll be there in a couple of hours," he told her. "You just sit tight till we do."

The last thing she heard as Devin hung up the phone was him calling to Charles.

"Pack a bag, Charles. Weíre going to see Cathy."

Catherine dropped the handset into its cradle and covered her face with her hands. She didnít think she had any tears left. She drew a deep breath, picked up her pen and checked Call Devin off her list. Devin and Charles were living in the guest house on the grounds of a large estate not far away in Massachusetts. They were caretakers and she knew how to get in touch with them because sheíd been helping with some of Charlesí medical expenses.

She picked up the papers that were on the table in front of her and read the handwritten pages.

It was her will. It all seemed in order: her apartment, all the contents, her clothing and jewelry were to go to Jenny and everything else went to Peter to use as he saw fit; for himself or for charity. Coming up with that phrase so as not to give anyone any clue to the community Below and give Peter a free hand to do as he pleased with her millions, had kept her occupied for some time.

She signed the papers and dated them. She had no other formal will, just some insurance policies that named Peter as the beneficiary. But then, she knew that most insurance companies stipulated that they didnít pay if the insured committed suicide. She just hoped that the state honored her handwritten, unnotarized will. Maybe she could get Devin to witness it for her when he arrived.

She puttered around the cabin for a while, making notes and checking a couple more items off her list. She was surprised when Devin and Charles arrived barely an hour and a half after Devin hung up the phone.

"I broke the speed limit a little," he told her, as he grabbed her and hugged her.

He pulled her over to the sofa and told her to sit. "Charles, go see if you can rustle us up something to eat and drink," he requested, then he sat down next to Cathy and took her hands.

"Now, from the beginning. I know itís hard, but I have to have the whole story."

Cathy pulled tissue out of her robe pocket and mopped at her face. It was then Devin noticed the state she was in. She looked like sheíd lost more weight than she could afford to and her face was red and blotchy from crying. The dark circles under her swollen eyes, old robe and bare feet bespoke sleeplessness and an ĎI donít care any longerí attitude.

"You knew that Vincent had been sick?" she asked, and at his nod she continued. "He was recovering, and I went back to work. There was an incident and Joe was hurt. I had a piece of evidence that he asked me to keep safe. It was a book, all in some kind code. I couldnít break it, so I took it to a friend who has resourcesÖpeopleÖwho can do those things."

Tears were flowing, as if she couldnít stop them, and she stopped again to mop at her eyes with a sodden tissue. Devin grabbed a box of tissues off the end table and put it in her lap.

"I was in the parking garage when a man walked up to my car and stuck a gun in my face. I tried to get away, and I think if Iíd kept going I might have made it, but I decided leave my car and go back into the building. I thought Iíd be safe there. I made it to the elevators and was sure I was OK. John Moreno met the elevator and turned me over to two men." She stopped to catch her breath.

"Moreno? The DA?" She could hear the surprise in Devinís voice. "Moreno kidnapped you?"

"No, not really. He turned me over to two men who took me to someone else. They were trying to find out what Iíd done with the book. Iíd given a copy of it to John, so they knew what was in it, that is, if they broke the code, but they didnít know who else besides me and Joe had access to it. At first they questioned me and threatened. Then they tried to beat it out of me. When that didnít work, they drugged me. I donít think I told them anything because they didnít kill me. At one point I got clearheaded enough to realize that there were pipes running from floor to ceiling in the corner of the room I was in. I used my shoe and tapped out a message. I kept repeating it until they came in and dragged me out again.

"They told me later that Vincent almost rescued me. They had video of him breaking into the building and killing some guards; but they moved me before he could get to me.

"The focus of the questions changed then, and they were trying to get information about Vincent. The man who was holding me wanted Vincent and he said he would use me as bait."

"Who was holding you, Cathy?" asked Devin.

"His name was Gabriel, but I only saw him a couple of times. He was angry that I wouldnít tell him anything, not even while I was drugged. He told me that heíd found out some things by himself, and that he knew about the tunnel entrance in the park. Heíd posted men there who had seen Vincent coming and going, and he planned to send someone down who would learn all the secrets.

"I was beside myself. I wasnít sure if the Bond had returned, but I was doing my best to keep all my feelings under control. If it had returned, I didnít want Vincent to sense anything and be able to find me. Gabriel wanted Vincent to try to rescue me again. He said he was going to send someone Below to deliver a message."

"What kind of message?"

"Probably where I was so Vincent would come after me. He wanted VincentÖI donít know why, and he knew there was a connection and he was using me draw Vincent in."

Devin smoothed her tousled hair back from her face. "Go on," he urged.

"Gabriel came to me. Iím not sure how long Iíd been there, probably a week or two. He told me that his hit man, someone by the name of Snow, had been Below. Heíd used explosives to blast his way through the door at the park threshold, and then heíd used more explosives to decimate the community. He told me that Snow killed Vincent. The people had gathered together and taken refuge in a large chamber and barricaded themselves in after sending Vincent and a few of the men out to try to drive Snow away. He said that after Snow killed Vincent, heíd gone back to the chamber where the people were, set charges and buried them all alive."

She put her hands over her face and started to sob again. Devin pulled her into his arms and held her as he shed a few tears of his own.

"If he wanted Vincent, why would he kill him?" asked Devin, thoughtfully.

"I donít know. Maybe he was thinking that if he couldnít have him, then no one would," Catherine supplied with a sniffle.

"How did you get away?" he asked her when she quieted.

"Iíd taken the book to Elliot Burch and when the code was broken and he read what was in it he went to Joe. Joe used what was in the book to get a warrant to arrest John, and when they did John told them everything. John thought I was probably dead, but he told Joe where Gabriel would be holding me if I wasnít. The police came in, Joe was with them, but Gabriel was already gone. Heíd left Snow behind to kill me. He tried to use me as a shield to get out, but one of the policeÖa female plain clothes detective with red hair, shot him before he got far and before he killed me.

"Gabriel was involved in organized crime so the FBI was in on the bust and they took me into protective custody. They kept me in an apartment in New Jersey for a couple of weeks. They wanted me to testify when they found Gabriel. When they did finally find him, he was dead, along with a lot of his people. Iím not sure what happened.

"They decided that I was no longer in danger; didnít need anything beyond a statement, so they released me. I just couldnít bring myself to go back to my apartment, so I told Joe I needed some time, and I rented a car and came up here. I didnít even go into the city."

She looked extremely weary as she finished the story.

"Did you try to contact anyone Below?" he asked her.

"No, but I tried to call Peter right after I got here. I found out that heís in Santa Fe. Susan is getting ready to have twins. I didnít want to put all this on him when she needs him. Then I decided to call you."

"Cathy, I need to go and find out exactly what happened," he told her. "Iím going to leave Charles here, and Iíll be back as soon as I can."

She pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around them. "Iím so sorry, Devin, if it hadnít been for me, none of this would have happened, and Vincent and all those people would still be alive. When I think of the childrenÖ" she started to sob again.

"Cathy," he said sternly, sounding surprisingly like Father, "the way I see it, the people who are responsible for whatever happened are that Gabriel and Snow. They were using you to try to get what they wanted."

As they talked, Charles had brought in a plate of sandwiches. Heíd returned a few minutes later with two glasses of milk. Devin picked up half of one of the sandwiches and put it into her hands.

"Eat!" he ordered.

"Devin," she protested. "I canít."

"Yes you can, and you will." He picked up another one and started to eat.

She managed to finish the half sandwich and he handed her the glass of milk. "When you are done, Iím leaving." He looked at his watch. "Itís a little after 11PM, I should be there around 1AM. Iíll try to call as soon as I know anything," he promised.

She didnít even question this time. She drank the milk. She admitted, if only to herself, that she did feel a little betterÖstronger.

As he headed to the door he beckoned for Charles to follow him.

"Keep an eye on her for me," he said as he opened the driverís side door of the camper he and Charles traveled in. "Iím worried about her."

"I am too, Dev," said Charles. "I think Iíll stay up. I donít want to go to bed and leave her aloneÖ" He hesitated then continued. "It it true, Dev?" he asked. "Did someone kill Vincent and the others?"

"I donít know," Devin told him. "Something just doesnít sound right about the whole story. From the way Cathy told it, there were a hell of a lot of explosives being used, and if there were enough used to cause a cave in Below, I would think that there would have been some evidence topside. I havenít heard a thing about unexplained explosions in New York City. Itís possible that she doesnít have the whole story. Iím hoping and praying thatís what it is."

"Why didnít you tell her that, Dev?" asked Charles a little reproachfully.

"Even though it seems the logical thing to me, Iím afraid to get her hopes all built up and then to have her crash again," Devin told him. "Itís better that I go find out the truth by myselfÖBut Iím not finding out sitting here. I should be there in a couple of hours. Iím going to try the entrance in the park first, if I canít get in there, I might have to wait until morning and use a private entrance at one of the Helpers places. Iíll be back as soon as I can."

He hugged Charles and left.

Charles went back into the house and found Cathy putting sheets on the bed in one of the bedrooms.

"You can sleep in here, Charles," she told him. "The bathroom is right next door and the bedroom a door to the porch."

She finished the bed, then turned to go.

"I think Iíll go to bed," she told him. "Make yourself at home," she indicated the TV in the corner of the bedroom. You can watch TV, there are plenty of books in the living room, and the Ďfridge and pantry are stocked."

"Iím sorry, Catherine," he said she passed him on her way out.

She looked at him and gave him a weak smile.

"Thanks Charles." She patted his arm as she left the room.

Charles took Devinís charge seriously. I wasnít going to leave Catherine alone. There was a sofa outside the door to her room and Charles found a book and took up his place on guard. He even opened the door and checked on her every so often. She appeared to be sleeping, if not peacefully.

Devin drove from Connecticut to New York at the same high speeds heíd driven on his way to Catherineís earlier. He was amazed that he didnít get a speeding ticket. He found a place to park and was on his way across the park to the tunnel entrance just after 1AM.

He didnít know what he expected to find when he reached the door, but he knew he hadnít expected to find everything intact and looking normal. Cathy had said that the man Snow had used explosives on the door at the park threshold, but everything looked just like it had the last time he was there. The place where he and Vincent had carved their names when they were boys was still there.

He flipped the lever and the door slid to the side as it should. He opened the gate, stepped through, pulled the gate closed behind him and tripped the lever to close the door. Then he stood and listened. The pipes were quiet, but not silent. He heard, 0130 allís well, post 1 go out, then listened as the other sentry posts responded down the line. Everything sounded normal.

He knew where the first sentry post was and called out as he approached it.

Jamie stepped out and greeted him.

"Kind of late to come visiting, isnít it?" she joked.

"Jamie, has anything happened down here. Any strangers been Below causing problems?

She looked at him, "How did you know about that?" she asked.

Devin raked his hands back through his hair and sighed.

"Hell, I was hopingÖWho was hurt, how many? Is Vincent OK?"

"What are you talking about? No one was hurt. We had an intruder who got through the threshold in the park a few weeks ago. Vincent figured he must have been watching and figured out how to get through. We stopped him here. Old Sam was on duty and Cullen and he confronted the guy. Several of us came up before he left. He was dressed all in black and had white hair and he was carrying a pack. Cullen swore that he was also carrying a gun, but we werenít sure. He claimed that heíd just gotten lost and stumbled in. He was escorted back to the threshold and sent on his way. We couldnít close that entrance, everyone uses it, and Vincent was afraid that Catherine might come back and need to get Below, so he didnít want to close any entrances or change any of the ways. Weíve just put on more sentries and there are more patrols now."

Devin heaved a sigh of relief and grinned at Jamie.

"Thank God no one was hurt," he said. "Do you know if Vincent is in his chamber?"

"Heís got patrol tonight, but he should be there a little after 2AM; you want me to send him a message?"

"No, Iíll just meet him in his chamber. I donít want Father to know Iím here just yet." He patted the girl on the shoulder. "Thanks Jamie."

He headed for the hub and ran into Vincent just as they both hit opposite ends of the corridor that led to Vincentís chamber. They greeted each other with hugs. Vincent was surprised that Devinís lasted longer and was tighter than usual.

They went into Vincentís chamber and after heíd shed his cloak and lit some candles Vincent turned to Devin. "Tell me, Devin," he requested.

"Youíd better sit down," Devin suggested and then he repeated the story that Cathy had told him a few hours before.

"Where is she?" asked Vincent.

"Sheís at her place in Connecticut," Devin told him.

Vincent got up, went to his trunk and pulled out an old leather satchel; he started putting clothing into it.

"What are you doing?" asked Devin.

"You must take me to her," Vincent told him. "This explains the grief and hopelessness Iíve been feeling from her for the last few weeks. Devin, I think sheís planning to kill herself."

"What? How do you know that?" Devin asked.

"At first, when the Bond reinstated itself all I could feel from her was the grief and hopelessness; then a few days ago, I suddenly felt her resolve. She made a decision and I could feel her relief. I canít be sure what sheís planning, Devin, but I do know that if she dies, so do I. I donít want to live without her."

"And if what you say is true, then neither does she." Devin rose and started helping Vincent. "What will Father say?" he asked suddenly.

"I donít plan to ask his permission, Devin," was all Vincent said as he swung his cloak around his shoulders and picked up the bag heíd just packed.

They checked in Fatherís chamber on their way out. Vincent intended to leave a note, but even though it was very late, Father was still up, reading.

His eyes lit up when he saw Devin, but a look of confusion came over his face when he saw Vincent in his cloak and carrying the bag.

"What is going on?" he asked.

Devin gave an abbreviated version of the story to Father.

"I must go to her Father," Vincent said simply.

"You canít, Vincent. Itís too dangerous. Anything could happen on the trip up there, or while you are there, or on your way back. I wonít allow it."

"But youíll allow Catherine to continue to suffer; youíll allow her to end her own life?" Vincent shouted. "Iím not asking permission, Father. Iím telling you that Iím going."

Father was stunned at Vincentís vehemence. "When will you be back," he asked quietly.

"When I get back!" He turned and stalked out of the chamber.

Father turned to Devin with a hopeless look on his face.

"Iíll look after him, Dad," Devin said, "but heís right, Cathy needs him."

"So do weÖShe canít come to him?" suggested Father.

"Not this time." He gave his father a quick hug and then followed Vincent out.

They walked to the park threshold in silence. Devin didnít break it until they were halfway across the dark park to where heíd left the camper.

"Iíve got the camper. You want to ride in the front with me or in the back?"

"Iíll ride in the front with you. Iíll keep my hood up."

"And Iíll stick to the speed limit this time around," Devin promised. "Iíve been burning up the roads since I left the house yesterday evening. Even Charles was telling me Iíd better slow down or I was going to get stopped."

"Just how fast were you going?" asked Vincent, giving Devin a sidelong glance as they reached the camper.

"I got it up to seventy a few times," he admitted.

They settled in, but before Devin started the engine, he looked over at Vincent. "The Bond is back, right?" he asked.

"Yes, it is. Not exactly as it was, but I can feel her," Vincent told him.

"What are you feeling from her right now?" asked Devin.

"Why?" asked Vincent.

"I said I would try to call, but it is after 3AM, and if she is asleep Iíd hate to wake her. She looked like she really needed rest."

Vincent concentrated for a moment. "She is asleep, but it doesnít feel restful. Perhaps you should call her."

"Yeah, I guess you are right. Charles did say that he was going to stay up. Maybe he did and will catch the phone and relay the message to her when she wakes."

Devin stopped outside an all night deli and went inside as Vincent stayed behind in the locked camper, his hood pulled forward as he slumped in the seat as if asleep.

Inside the deli, Devin got a cup of coffee and some change from the cashier and went to the back to use the phone.

It was answered before the first ring finished.

"íLo?" It was Charles.

"Charles, itís Devin. Howís Cathy?"

"Sheís asleep, Dev. Are you in New York?"

"Yes, I am, and everything is fine. No one is dead or hurt. That man lied to Cathy, as I suspected. We are on our way back there right now. We should be there by 6AM at the latest."

"Good, Iíll tell her," started Charles.

"No, Vincent will probably kill me for this, but let her sleep. She needs it, and we will probably be there before she wakes. If she does wake up, then go ahead and tell her, but donít wake her to do it. OK?"

"OK, DevÖif youíre sure."

When Charles hung up the phone, he knocked a stack of papers off the table. He gathered them up and was looking at them to put them back in order when he noticed that one was Cathyís will. He put the other papers back on the table and sat down to read the will.

Devin was right, Vincent wasnít happy that heíd told Charles not to wake her to tell her that everything was OK.

"But want if there is an emergency, Devin?" he asked. "What if she actually attempts suicide while Charles is there?"

"First off, I donít think sheíd do it like that. She wouldnít want to subject Charles to that kind of trauma. Secondly, I think she is still holding some hope that I will call or return with good news. I agree that she has planned it, but I donít think she is in any immediate danger."

"I hope youíre right," said Vincent, dubiously.

"Besides; youíll be amazed at how far Charles has come since he was able to get away from that freak show. Heís really a lot more intelligent than anyone has ever given him credit for. Heís reading very well, devours books at almost the speed you did when you were a boy." Devin grinned over at him. "We have emergency procedures at home, and he knows want to do if anything happens."

There wasnít much more conversation on the rest of the drive. Vincent quietly willed strength and peace to Catherine through the Bond, even though he knew it didnít really work that way; he had to try.

The sky was just starting to lighten when they pulled up next to Catherineís rented car in front of the cabin.

Vincent didnít even notice the house as he rushed inside. He threw his cloak over the back of the chair and looked around the large room frantically. Devin, beginning to feel the nearly 24 hours heíd been up, followed more slowly with Vincentís bag.

Charles was dozing on the sofa outside the open bedroom door, a paper dangling from his hand. He woke with a start when the front door hit the wall as Vincent rushed into the house.

"Where is she Charles?"

Charles was lumbering to his feet as Vincent crossed the room. He pointed at the bedroom, then noticed the door was open. He and Vincent reached it at the same time.

"She was asleep. She must have woke up. I didnít hear her."

Vincent sniffed the air. "Did you make coffee, Charles?" he asked.

Charles shook his head.

"Well, someone did."

Vincent made quick work of a search of the house.

Devin came in the front door as Vincent headed down the hall to check the other rooms.

"Dev. Iím glad youíre here. I found this." Charles shoved the paper under Devinís nose.

Devin dropped the bag, took the paper and began to read.

Vincent came back into the room and saw Devin reading. His heart started to pound. The Bond told him she was alive, but she wasnít feeling much of anything, she was numb.

"What is it Devin?" he asked tightly.

"Itís her will," Devin said. "You were right." He turned to Vincent then looked back at Charles. "Where is she, Vincent?"

Vincent closed his eyes and concentrated then turned toward the back of the house.

"I think she is outside," and he took off with Devin on his heels.

Vincent didnít stop to think; he headed out the back door. He was halfway down the path to the lake when he saw Cathy leaning on the rail on the deck at the end of the dock. She was watching the sun rise over the lake. When Devin reached the porch and saw her he knew she was OK and he turned and went back into the house.

Vincent ran down the path to the dock but stopped before he reached it. He stood and drank in the sight before him. She was only a dark shadow against the brightening sky; the Bond told him that she was more at peace at that moment than she had been since the Bond had come rushing back a few weeks before.

Vincent was wearing soft soled leather moccasin boots and when he stepped on the wooden dock he made no sound. He stood only a few feet behind her when he finally called to her.

"Catherine," he said softly. The morning was so still he felt as if his words could be heard on the other side of the lake, but she didnít move.

His heart started to pound. The Bond told him that she was awake, but she didnít respond.

He called her name again, as he stepped forward.

She heard him this time, and turned. The look on her face put the sunrise behind her to shame. She hesitated only a split second before she flew into his arms.

"He told me you were dead," she repeated over and over between sobs.

"Catherine, please, itís all right," he told her as he held her tightly. "Hush, my love. Iím here."

He finally picked her up then sat on one of the benches with her in his lap. She curled into him, wrapping her arms around his waist and soaking the front of his shirt with her tears. He pulled a clean handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped her face, but it did no good. He turned her face up to his and started kissing her tears away.

"Please Catherine. Donít cry. Iím here. Everything is all right." He punctuated the phrases with small kisses to her cheeks and eyes until she finally quieted. Her eyes were closed and Vincent wasnít sure if sheíd fallen asleep or had just run out of tears.

He gently dried the tears from her cheeks, then pressed her head to his chest and cradled her there.

She finally opened her eyes and looked up at him. She touched his cheek with her fingertips.

"Youíre alive," she breathed.

"Yes, very much so," he told her with a slight smile.

"And everyone else?" she asked with a worried look.

"Devin told me what that man told you and you need to know that he lied to you Catherine. No one Below has been injured or killed."

"Father and all the children are OK?"

"Yes, Father is just as cantankerous and stubborn as heís always been and all the children are well and accounted for."

She rested her forehead on his chest and breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank God," she said in a whisper.

They sat quietly for a few minutes. Vincent watched the sunrise as Catherine relaxed in his arms.

"Catherine, I need to ask you a question," he finally said.

"What?" she didnít look up; just snuggled more comfortably.

"Charles found what you wroteÖIt looked like a will."

"It was a will," she told him. This time she did look up.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because I didnít want to live without you. When that man told me that you were dead, the only thing I could think of was following you. When the FBI said they needed me to testify, I could hardly stand it, but I knew I had to do it. So I made up my mind that Iíd testify then Iíd follow you." She dropped her eyes and stared at the buttons on the front of Vincentís shirt. "Iím just too weak to go on without you."

Vincent hooked his knuckle under her chin and tilted her head back and made her look at him.

"You are not weak! You are the strongest woman I know," he insisted.

"Not without you at my side, Vincent. Iíve told you before, youíre everything, you deserve everything, and I donít want anything if I canít have you there with me to share it."

Vincent pulled her back into his arms and held her tightly. This time he was the one crying.

"You have to promise me, Catherine," he told her, "if anything ever happens to me, you have to go on; you have to live."

"Not without you Vincent," she insisted. "Life is not worth living if you arenít in it, so if you want me to live, then you are just going to have to make sure you outlive me."

"Iíll do my best, my love," he promised, although he knew that if anything happened to her, he wouldnít live long.

She would have been content to sit there like that all day, but after several minutes Vincent stood with her still in his arms. "I think you need to eat," he told her. "Then you need to get some rest."

She wrinkled her nose and pushed her tangled hair off her forehead. "I think the first thing I need to do is take a shower."

Vincent turned and started walking toward the house, still carrying her.

"Are you sure you donít want to eat first?" he asked her as they reached the kitchen.

"No, definitely a shower first," she repeated. "Iíve been here for three days and I havenít done anything except write, plan and drink coffee. Iíll feel much better after a shower, and then Iíll eat."

He set her on her feet when they reached the living room.

"I thought Devin was with you?" she said, looking around.

"He was," Vincent saw a note on the table next to the will Catherine had written. He picked it up.

Bro,

Charles and I are headed for New York; thought weíd pay the old man a visit, keep his mind off you being gone.

You two need some alone time. Weíll be back this way in a few days and will stop and check on you if you arenít home before we leave.

Love to you both,

Devin

"Heís gone back to New York," Vincent told her as he handed her the note.

She smiled slightly as she read the note. "Father was upset about you coming, I take it."

"Oh yes, he was," he told her. "He said he wouldnít allow it."

"But youíre here," she observed.

"Yes, I told him I wasnít asking his permission." He gave her a light push toward what he assumed was a bedroom.

"The sooner you get your shower the sooner you eat," he told her.

Cathy walked back into the kitchen just as Vincent was spooning the scrambled eggs onto two plates.

She walked up behind him, slipped her arms around his waist and hugged him from behind, then just as quickly moved to the table and sat down.

Neither of them spoke much as they ate. When they were done, Catherine stood and was going to help Vincent clear the table.

"Go on to bed, Catherine," he told her, "you are exhausted, I can feel it."

"I am tired," she admitted. "But I really should change the sheets on my bed and dry this," she pulled her wet hair off her neck, "before I go to bed."

"You dry your hair, and Iíll change the sheets after I clean up here. Where are the clean ones?" She told him where the linen closet was and went into her bedroom.

Vincent quickly cleared the table, stacking the dishes in the sink. He put away the milk and butter and followed Catherine into her bedroom.

She hadnít bought a hair dryer, hadnít really brought anything so she took a wide toothed comb and a brush out onto the screened porch off the master bedroom to dry her hair in the warm breeze.

Vincent set about striping the bed, then putting on the clean sheets. When he finished, he piled the dirty sheets in the corner and went out on the porch to check Catherine. Sheíd taken off her robe and was still working on her hair.

He could feel her weariness, but her hair was nowhere near dry, so he took the comb from her and stood behind her drawing the comb through her hair and fanning it out over his hands to let the breeze catch it so it would dry. Heíd seen women Below doing this in the chambers where warm breezes blew; where they dried the laundry.

It was soothing to both of them. She was nearly asleep when her hair was finally dry. She scooped her up, carried her inside and settled her into the freshly made bed.

She snuggled down into the pillow. "Umm, clean sheets," she whispered, as he pulled the sheet and light blanket up over her.

"Sleep well, Catherine," he said as he started to move away.

She reached out and grabbed his hand.

"Arenít you tired? You must have been up since yesterday morning."

"Iíll sleep later," he assured her. "Iíll nap on the sofa."

"Stay here with me," she asked him. "At least until I go to sleep."

Vincent pulled the chair over to the side of the bed, then looked down at her before he sat. "Would you like me to read to you until you fall asleep?" he asked.

She smiled and leaned to pull a book out of the bedside drawer. It was a book of poems by romantic poets. She handed it to him.

"Iíd love that," she told him.

He took the book and sat. He opened to a page marked with a ribbon and started to read. Catherine was asleep before he reached the third verse. He put the book down and watched her sleeping for a long time. He could sense that she was much more peaceful, resting comfortably.

He rose to go to the couch just outside the room, but decided he needed a shower too. Heíd been up over twenty-four hours and some of those hours had been spent in hard work.

He went to the living room to retrieve his bag, but the other bathroom was at the other end of the house and he considered that too far away. If Catherine woke and called to him while he was there he wouldnít hear her. He decided that heíd shower in the bathroom off Catherineís bedroom.

He went in, leaving the door slightly ajar. He turned on the shower and stripped off his clothes. He stepped into the shower and let the hot water relax him. The soap and shampoo were Catherineís and he was surrounded by that scent.

The water was starting to cool when he stepped out. He dried then wrapped the towel around his hips, then he used a second towel and dried his hair as well as he could. He was just finishing working the last of the tangles out with a comb when the Bond suddenly told him that Catherine was awake. A split second later he heard her mournful cry from the bedroom: "No, oh no, no."

He dropped the comb and rushed into the bedroom. Catherine was sitting up in the middle of the bed with her face buried in her hands. He sat on the side of the bed and pulled her into his arms.

"Catherine," he whispered into her ear, "Iím here. Everything is all right."

She clung to him. "I woke up and I thought Iíd dreamed it all." She burrowed into his chest and didnít even notice that he was shirtless. "Iím sorry."

"Donít apologize, Catherine," he told her. "That was why I showered in your bathroom. I didnít want to be too far from you." He urged her to lay down. "Now go back to sleep. Iím not going anywhere."

"Stay with me? Please?" she begged. She scooted over toward the center of the bed. "Itís a king size bed and there is plenty of room."

Vincent didnít even think, heíd already promised himself that he would never deny her anything again. She held the bedclothes up and he unhesitatingly crawled in next to her and pulled her back to spoon against him.

It was a few seconds after Catherine started to relax that he remembered that all he had on was a towel, and a damp one at that.

Catherine noticed the damp towel about the same time. "That towel is kind of wet; maybe you should take it off?" she suggested, sleepily.

Vincent did hesitate then, but not for long. If it would make Catherine more comfortable, heíd shed the towel. He shifted his hips a little and pulled the towel off, dropping in on the rug next to the bed. Catherine was asleep again before he finished the maneuver. He reasoned that he would be all right as long as she was asleep. Heíd get up in a few minutes, when he was sure she was sleeping soundly, and put on his jeans, then he would come back. With that plan firmly in mind, he fell asleep too.

Vincent woke hours later, still naked in spite of his earlier good intentions. Catherine was still spooned against him and her night shirt had pulled up to reveal that she hadnít put on panties. Her bare bottom was nestled warmly against his growing erection. Even though he had decided he wanted to take the next step, he hadnít anticipated that it might happen so quickly.

He raised his head up a bit to look at the clock on the nightstand. Theyíd been asleep for nearly ten hours; unusual for him, unless he was sick or injured. Catherineís weariness must have been affecting him. He sensed that Catherine still needed sleep, but he felt heíd had enough.

He was contemplating how to get himself out of the bed without waking Catherine when he felt her stirring. The Bond told him that she was waking.

Catherine woke feeling better and more content than she had in weeks. She was warm and comfortable and Vincent was holding her. She wiggled her backside closer and realized that it was a naked Vincent holding her. She was suddenly wide awake, then she remembered the dream that had awaked her earlier. Vincent had come in and held her then crawled into the bed with her when sheíd asked him not to leave. She reasoned that she must have disturbed his shower. But she wasnít sorry, this was heaven. She smiled secretly to herself and enjoyed the situation. She was sure it wouldnít last long; as soon as he woke, heíd be up and off to put on his clothes.

Then she became aware of Vincentís mouth close to her ear; she could feel his warm breath before he spoke.

"Are you awake Catherine?" he asked.

"Umm, I hope I am and that this isnít a dream." She rolled onto her back so she could look at him. "What time is it?"

"About six in the evening," he told her. "Youíve slept all day. How do you feel?"

"Much better," she assured him with a smile. "Sleeping in your arms is fantastic medicine."

He smiled shyly and lowered his eyes. "I will admit that waking here with you in this setting is idyllic. Something Iíve only dreamed of."

"You have dreamed of us, together, like this?" she asked, hopefully.

"Of course I have, Catherine," he told her as he looked into her eyes. "Iíve dreamed of holding you like this, and more, almost from the beginning."

"But you never told me," she pointed out.

"I know, and Iím sorry for that. I was always so afraid that you wouldnít share my feelings, myÖpassion. I didnít want to offend you by assuming anything."

Catherine turned onto her side to face him and put her arm around his waist. "Oh Vincent, that could never offend me. It excites me to know that you feel the same things I feel. Youíve always had the Bond, youíve always known how I feel, but Iíve always had to depend on you to tell me what you feel. Even though youíve said you love me, youíve never made any moves to show me that it is any more than a platonic love."

"Oh, Catherine," he pulled her closer, sliding his hand down to the small of her back and pulling her lower body against to his. His erection pressing into her stomach told her that what he felt was not a platonic love. "I love you with everything that I am. It is just that you seem so fragile, Iím afraid that I might get carried away in my eagerness and hurt you. I have no experience in this and Iím likely to be clumsy and selfish."

"Vincent, Iíve never known you to be selfish. Have you ever uttered the words I want? And as far as clumsy is concerned you are the most graceful man I know." She looked into his eyes and caressed his cheek. "If it makes you feel any better, I donít think anyone is very graceful when it comes to their first time. Iím not that fragile. Look at all that weíve been through in the last couple years. Iíve been beaten, pushed around, kidnapped, drugged and shot and Iím still here. That doesnít sound fragile to me. I might bruise, but I wonít break easily, Vincent."

Vincent held her tighter and she tried to ignore the erection growing against her stomach. She didnít want to be disappointed when nothing happened.

She snuggled into him, rubbing her cheek against his chest. Just being held like this by him would be enough for now if that was the way it had to be.

"Will you show me how to kiss you, Catherine?" he asked in a tentative tone.

She pulled back a little to look at him.

"You were doing just fine earlier," she told him.

"Earlier?"

"On the dock, when I was crying. You were kissing my eyes and cheeks. It was a lovely start."

Vincent leaned toward her and kissed her forehead, then moved on to her right cheek. Her left eye was next, then she angled her head just right and the next one that had been aimed at her left cheek, landed on her lips. Vincent was startled, and drew back to look at her.

"That wasnít so difficult, was it," she asked. "Now try it again."

He did just that and surprised her. His kisses were slow and deliberateÖand mind blowing.

"You were using the Bond," she stated when he drew away, leaving her breathless.

"I was, and I was copying what you did," he told her as he trailed kisses across her cheek to the scar in front of her ear.

"You never did tell me why you didnít have this scar removed," he said.

"It was a little more trouble than the others. It was deeper, and a slight infection set in. My doctor wanted to make sure it was completely healed before he took care of it, but when the time came, I decided to keep it. It had become part of me, part of us. It may have come from a painful experience, but it was a reminder of the best year of my life up to that point."

"To paraphrase what I said on that first anniversary, only you would turn such a dark time into a positive experience," he told her, nuzzling his nose into her hair.

"How could I not. It sent me to you, and youíve been the best thing to ever happen to me." She reached up and pulled his head back down to hers. "Now, please, kiss me again."

He complied and left her breathless. At first she could tell that he was using the Bond and following her lead. He would mimic things that she did then almost stop for a few seconds as if he was checking her response in the Bond. But he learned fast and was soon improvising and coming up with his own moves.

Even though his kisses were breathtaking, she was a little disappointed when his hands never strayed from her shoulders or her back.

Her first thought was that maybe her nightshirt was impeding his progress, so she pulled away slightly and pulled it off over her head. All Vincent did was look at her as if he was looking at some work of art in a museum. Not exactly the reaction she wanted.

She decided that if maybe she caressed him in the way sheíd like him to touch her, he might follow her lead as he had with his kisses. She stroked his chest, enjoying the feel of the soft hair there, but he didnít follow her example.

She moved down and found one of his nipples with her lips. She kissed it, then licked it and finally drew it into her mouth and sucked gently, but all he did was pull her back up and kiss her senseless again.

She had to admit that his kisses were intoxicating. He learned quickly and was soon exploring her mouth with his tongue and nibbling her lower lip. He even allowed her to run her tongue over his sharp teeth, and nip at him. But his kisses stayed above the shoulders and his hands stayed in neutral zones.

Catherine wanted more, but she didnít want to come right out and say it; to push him. She was hoping that a combination of her actions and what he felt flowing to him through the Bond would give him the idea, but she was beginning to have her doubts.

Finally she reached down between them and wrapped her fingers around his erection and stroked. His whole body when rigid and when she looked into his eyes she saw abject fear. She calmly moved her hand away and went back to stroking his chest and stomach, trying to soothe him.

"Are you OK, Vincent?" she asked after he finally relaxed.

"I am," he said."

"What happened," she asked.

"You startled me; I wasnít expecting that."

"You werenít expecting me to want to make love to you."

"I just thought that things would move slower, thatís all."

"You canít really move much slower than we have, Vincent," she pointed out.

"I know, butÖI donít really know what I expected," he admitted. "Iíd told myself that I would be ready for the next step, but when it started happening, well, I think it scared me."

"I promise Iíll be gentle," Catherine joked, placing a kiss on his chin.

"But Iím not sure that I can promise the same thing," he told her. "Or that I will please you."

"Iím not worried about either of those things. The Bond will never allow you to hurt me, and right now what would please me the most would be to make love to you. All I need right now is to have you inside me. We can worry about the finer points later."

Vincent was surprised at Catherineís bluntness, but the Bond told him that she was speaking the truth.

"You are sure?" he asked.

"Never more sure of anything in my entire life," she told him with a reassuring smile. "I want you; I want you to make love to me, I want you inside me, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I donít know any other ways to say it. I love you Vincent, and I want you."

"I love you, Catherine," he said with a groan as he pulled her back into his arms, "and I want to make love to you." But he still hesitated.

"You can start by putting thisÖ" She lightly tapped his lips. "Öhere." She tapped the same fingers to one of her nipples.

She could see his hesitation.

"What is it?" she asked.

"My teeth, they are sharp. I might hurt you," he explained.

She leaned toward him and nipped sharply at his bicep. He jerked sharply away.

"Ouch. Catherine, what was that?"

"My teeth are sharp too," she rubbed her fingers over the red mark sheíd left then dropped a kiss on it. "I could do some damage if I really wanted to. You can control what you do, Vincent. The Bond will guide you."

"You really want my mouth there?" he was still hesitant.

"Oh yes," she breathed. "When I kissed and sucked your nipple earlier, what did it feel like?"

"Wonderful," he conceded. "I felt it all over my body."

"Exactly, itís all connected."

Vincent looked into her eyes and saw nothing but trust, and the Bond told him of her need. He pushed her over onto her back and moved down to gently kiss the breast closest to him.

She smelled so good. He rubbed his nose up and down in the valley between her breasts and was pleased by the shiver that ran through her when he did that. He kissed her breast again and then repeated her actions from earlier. When he finally drew her nipple into his mouth and sucked gently, her groan caused him to hesitate momentarily; but the Bond told him that she was groaning in pleasure not pain. His actions became more assured and he reveled in the control he had over his own actions; something he had not expected. He was so focused on the Bond and want Catherine was feeling that he wasnít paying much attention to what he was feeling.

He transferred his attentions to her other breast and that was when Catherine moved his hand to the first breast. When she felt that he was comfortable with that, she moved his other hand from where it rested on the mattress beside her to her hip.

"Touch me, Vincent," she whispered and then illustrated by moving her hands up and down his back, occasionally moving them lower to caress his bottom. Each time she skimmed her hands over him there, she felt the muscles tighten. She made note that maybe once he was more at ease with his own nakedness, she should give him a massage. She was sure that he would enjoy that. She knew she would.

As before he was a quick learner and not only did he knead her breast gently and run his other hand over her hip and thigh, but he drew her knee up so that her foot was flat on the mattress and he could reach the back of her thigh, and the sensitive area behind her knee. His large hands even reached to the inside of her thigh and almost skimmed the area that had begun to throb with need.

Vincent was beginning to catch on, and did exactly as Catherine had told him. He let the Bond guide him. In fact, he found that when he was touching her this intimately, skin to skin, he could almost read her mind. He was getting pictures of things he could be doing; he just couldnít figure out of it they were coming from Catherine, his own mind or if the Bond was becoming stronger and changing.

Catherine had begun to lose herself in the sensations, and Vincent was amazed that he could cause those feelings in her. He raised his head from her breast and the sight of her was riveting. Her whole body was beginning to flush; if the room had been dark, he was sure that she would have lit it. Her eyes were closed and she was making strange little mewling sounds. Her lips were swollen and red and he kissed his way back up to them and lost himself in her kisses again.

When he had raised her knee to reach the back of her thigh, he had moved one of his legs between hers, now Catherine was urging him to move the other so that both his legs were between hers. He knew what she would soon want, and was suddenly nervous again.

Catherine felt the tensing of his body and opened her eyes and smiled at him. This time when she reached down and gently took his erection in her hand, he closed his eyes and concentrated on the sensation. As she guided him to where she wanted him, he started breathing through his mouth, almost panting.

"Vincent," she said, when the head of his penis finally rested against her, "open your eyes, love. I want to see your eyes as you enter me."

He did as she asked, but she was surprised to see fear there in equal measure with his arousal.

"What is it?" she asked.

"What if I hurt you? You are so small, and even I know that Iím larger than normal," he rasped, clutching at the control he was quickly losing.

"Larger than average, maybe, but not larger than normal," she assured him. "A womanís body is designed to adapt as long as it is treated right. I assure you Iím aroused enough and as long as you take your time we will both survive this." She gave him an encouraging smile as she drew his head down to kiss him.

Her hands stroked down to his bottom and she urged him forward just a bit and suddenly he felt her wet warmth begin to surround him. He drew back his head to watch her as he continued to move forward slowly.

Catherine drew in a deep breath. He was right, he was large, but she was sure she could accommodate him, as long as he kept up the slow forward movement. She didnít pay much attention to the pleasure at first, she was concentrating on keeping those muscles relaxed. She didnít want to experience even the slightest twinge of discomfort, because she knew that Vincent would feel it and panic.

When his pubic bone finally rested on hers, she wrapped her arms around him, pulled his chest down to her and held him tight as she breathed a sigh of relief. Only then did she let her pleasure flow and flood the Bond. She wanted to keep him there forever!

Vincent had monitored the Bond and watched Catherineís face the entire time he was moving into her body. He saw no pain reflected in her face nor did he feel any through the Bond. All he sensed was intense concentration. When he finally felt himself come to rest against her body, he was startled by the intense pleasure that he felt flooding the Bond, Catherineís pleasure. Heíd known heíd given her pleasure before, when he had caressed and kissed her and suckled her breasts, but this was a whole different feeling. A combination of all the pleasure heíd given her before, love, and something else that he just couldnít identify; something heíd never experienced before.

She eased her tight grip on his torso and allowed him to raise himself up so he could look at her. He was resting his forearms on the mattress, and she was caressing his biceps. She nudged upwards with her hips a bit, and smiled.

"Youíre supposed to move," she told him.

"Move?" his voice sounded a bit strangled.

"Up and down, or more like in and out."

He moved and withdrew a bit.

"Then you move back in. Start slowly and then increase the speedÖwhatever feels right," she directed.

He did as she told him, but kept his eyes on her face and monitored the Bond closely.

Catherine had expected this first time to last only seconds. She was sure that once he was completely inside her he would probably last only a few strokes at most before exploding, and she was prepared for that. What she wasnít prepared for was her own orgasm that she felt building as he loved her. She knew that he must be concentrating so hard on the Bond and not losing control that he was able to hold off his own climax.

He could feel the pleasure building in Catherine. Her eyes were tightly closed and she was biting her lower lip as her head thrashed back and forth on the pillow. He suddenly realized that she was holding something back and he knew exactly what it was.

He lowered his mouth to her ear. "Donít hold back Catherine," he told her huskily, "cry out, if you must. No one will hear us here."

As soon as the words were out, her back arched and the sound that she made was the most erotic thing that Vincent had ever heard. She wrapped her legs and arms around him and held him tight.

The feeling of her inner muscles convulsing took him over the edge, but his climax was almost silent compared to hers: a low growl, deep in his chest. She was holding him so tightly that she felt it all through her body.

Vincentís climax did exactly what heíd always feared: he lost all control, but amazingly that didnít lead to mayhem. His muscles had all the strength of cooked pasta and his bones were like Jell-O. He collapsed on Catherine and couldnít move. Part of his brain was telling him to move but another part was saying "Youíve got to be kidding." He was concerned that he was crushing her, but just couldnít get his body to obey his brain.

Catherine was in heaven. Vincent was finally her lover, in every sense of the word. He was dead weight on her and if she hadnít felt his heart thudding against hers she would have been concerned. But in spite of a slight difficulty in breathing, she was loving the feel of him against her; loving his weight on her. Sheíd keep him here forever if it was practical.

After a couple of minutes and a few false starts, Vincent managed a few barely coherent words.

"That wasÖthat wasÖ" he seemed unable to come up with a word so Catherine supplied a few.

"Incredible? Stupendous? Wonderful? Impressive? Outstanding? Exceedingly pleasing?"

"All of the above," was all he could manage, but he was able to finally move off Catherine. He kept his arm around her and pulled her close to his side.

They lay like that for a time, and Catherine thought that Vincent had fallen asleep. She jumped when he shifted to look into her face.

"Iím sorry Catherine, I didnít mean startle you." He smiled down at her. "I just wanted to see your face. You look quite content, but I can feel a little discomfort. Are you all right?"

"Iím wonderful, Vincent. I just havenít done that in a while. I assure you that any discomfort Iím feeling will pass." She sat up. "In fact, I was thinking that a soak in the hot tub on the porch might be just the thing."

"Hot tub?" he asked.

"Like your hot springs Below, only on a smaller scale."

She stood next to the bed, grabbed his hand and tugged.

"Come on! Youíll love it."

"If I love it any more than Iíve loved everything else Iíve done today, it might just kill me," he moaned as he rolled over and into a sitting position on the side of the bed. "I donít think my legs will hold me."

"What a wuss!" she exclaimed. "That was only once. I was counting on at least once, maybe twice more."

She walked across the room and out onto the screened porch where she started pulling a lightweight cover off what Vincent had thought was a large table.

He managed to get to his feet and reach her side just as she tossed the cover onto a chair. The hot tub was a large one, it looked like it would hold four people, more than enough room for his six foot plus frame and her barely five foot four one.

She pushed a button and the water started to boil and bubble furiously. He wrinkled his nose at the faint chemical smell that rose from it.

"I know, but itís necessary to keep it sanitary," she told him as she used the steps moved up and into the tub.

She sat on a bench at the far side and beckoned him in.

"Come on, it is perfect. I donít keep it extremely hot, just hot enough to soothe sore muscles and relax. It might even feel a little cool to you after the temperatures in the pools Below."

He climbed in and settled next to her with a groan.

"You werenít serious were you?" he asked as he leaned back and relaxed.

"About what?"

"About one or two more times," he said.

"Yes, I was, but not right away. I meant over the course of the night. And I definitely didnít mean in the hot tubÖalthough," she said as she scooted closer to him, "that doesnít mean we canít play." Her hand grazed his nearly flaccid penis on its way to his chest, and he was surprised when it rose to attention again.

He put his arm around her and pulled her against his side.

"You are certainly feeling better than you were this morning," he commented as she kissed his chest before settling against him.

"I found that the love of my life wasnít dead after all, which means that I have a long happy life ahead of me, and now said love of my life is my loverÖI should say that Iím happy; ecstatic actually. Probably on the verge of hysteria, but Iím loving every minute of it," she told him.

As she talked her hand had drifted back down and was stroking his now not so flaccid penis.

He was only catching part of what she was saying and didnít even notice that she stopped talking and was concentrating on what she was doing, watching his face closely.

His second climax of the day came quicker than the first had, and it drew the same reaction from him: the low rumbling growl deep in his chest that Catherine was quickly growing to love.

When he was finally able to move after the utter relaxation that followed his climax he drew Catherineís hands to his mouth and kissed them.

"You have magic hands, Catherine," he told her. He rolled his head to look at her. "After I regain my strength, I was wondering if there is a way I could please you the same way."

"Yes, there is," she said, pleased with his question. She started to draw his left hand down through the water to the patch of soft hair between her legs. Just as his fingers touched her he snatched the hand back, startling her.

"What is it, Vincent?" she asked.

"My claws! Iíll hurt you."

"Let your hands soak in the hot water for a while. They will soften up, then you can touch me."

Even soaked in hot water, his claws would be a hazard and he would still have to be careful, but she knew he would be.

When he felt that his claws were sufficiently soft he allowed her to draw his hand down again. This time she took one of his fingers and gently touched it to her clitoris.

"Feel that?" she asked.

"That little nub?"

"Yes, that is a pleasure point. Stroking, rubbing, putting pressure on it all feel good. The whole area is packed with nerve endings, but that is the peak. When you are inside me, your penis puts pressure on it and strokes against it and that is part of what causes my orgasmÖ" she paused for a moment and looked up at him. "Havenít you ever read about any of this, either in novels or in Fatherís medical journals?"

"Yes, I have, but Iíve never had a model to practice on, not even pictures, at least not after Devin left. He used to have magazines."

He took Catherineís leg that was closest to him and hooked it over his leg and she braced the other against the side of the tub to keep from sliding around. He slid his hand up the inside of her thigh and started a tactile exploration of her that had her ready to climb the walls in minutes.

He would concentrate for a time on her clitoris, then at just the right moment, back off to explore some other part, then unerringly move back to the clitoris. He did this several times until she finally exploded, and would have probably slid down into the water and drowned if he hadnít been there to hold her up.

When she recovered Vincent kissed ear and whispered into it. "Did I do it right?" he asked and she could hear the mischief in his voice.

"Did you do it right?" she gasped. "Any righter and the top of my head would have blown off."

She snuggled into his shoulder and would have stayed there the rest of the night if Vincent hadnít made a move to get out.

"Youíre hungry," he stated after he checked the bond.

"A little," she admitted grudgingly. Eating would mean they would have to get out of the tub and put on clothing. She didnít want to give up her view.

"You may be only a little hungry, but Iím a lot hungry," he told her. "I took the liberty of putting a couple of steaks from the freezer into the refrigerator to thaw this morning. I was planning to cook you a lovely dinner as a prelude to seducing you tonight, but I think youíve turned the tables on me, so how about a lovely dinner to restore our strength?"

"For the next round?" she asked with a giggle.

"Whatever you say my love," he sealed that with a toe curling kiss.