The Education of Vincent


"Tell me, please. What do you want Catherine?" The question was a little desperate. Vincent had finally decided that in order for them to move forward he had to gain insight. Insight into a more intimate relationship with Catherine, so who better to ask than the woman herself?

Just weeks ago, he had proposed, she had joyfully accepted. He had met her father, and taken her promises to heart. It had all taken great courage on his part, but somehow he had done it with an ease he had not expected. Two weeks later, they were now being given a no-holds-barred engagement party Below. They had yet to choose a date, but Vincent was just as anxious as Catherine now that the decision was made. But, there was a glitch. He still felt like he was stumbling around in the dark. Their kisses were out of this world, and left them both breathless and wanting … more. Now what?

At first Catherine threw him the easiest and most obvious answer. "I want us, Vincent. You, just as you are … all that you are."

It was simple and true, but by Vincent’s expression, not enough for what he was earnestly trying to figure out. Taking a deep breath, Catherine closed her eyes and searched for the words to help explain.

He wasn’t sure what he expected perhaps something a bit more solid, but again his Catherine showed her depth of character.

"I want what most people want if they search their hearts deeply enough. I want to be real to myself and someone special. I want to feel every emotion, be everything I can possibly be. I want to feel as alive each moment as possible and I want to give every ounce of myself to you." She took his hand in her own and held it to her cheek. "I want to know every second of the rest of my life that I am loved and if I were no longer there, it would matter."

She was doing her best but felt a little frustrated trying to verbalize such a monumental notion. Vincent was listening intently, absorbing her words and her demeanor.

"Everyone wants to be loved, Vincent. They want to be the very breath of that other person that is their soul mate … and they want someone to trust them enough to be the same." Her voice had turned tender and it stroked his spine with its honeyed timbre.

"Vincent, you give me everything I need. Stop worrying so very much. We’ll work it out as we go. But please, if nothing else makes sense but this one thing … then know it in your heart … I am only fully alive when I’m with you." A happy smile tilted up at him and she brought his hand to her lips, seeing his still intent, serious blue eyes. "I love you, Vincent."

"Ah Catherine." For such a learned man, the words he found seemed so inadequate in revealing his feelings. He would have to practice. He pulled her into a tight embrace and whispered into her hair. "You are the reason I breathe. I do love you, my Beloved." He felt her arms tighten around him in response.

* * *

Mid November in the tunnels was chilly, but the room was warm with good spirits. Jenny Aronson couldn’t help the feeling of wonder as she looked around the Great Hall and the people gathered there. This was her second visit to the tunnels since Catherine had finally "fessed" up to why her life had gone from secretive and troubling to brimming with suppressed glee. Meeting Vincent had to be one of the most surreal moments of her life. Catherine had prepared Jenny somewhat, but really, who could prepare you for someone like Vincent? Then she had been introduced to Father and this wonderful place … it was like stepping into a fairytale world and she still felt like she was dreaming.

"Nope, it’s not a dream." A voice spoke at her shoulder and she turned and smiled at Devin Wells.

"Was my mouth hanging open in awe?" She wasn’t embarrassed at her staring. She was totally enchanted.

Devin smiled and moved beside her, passing his glance at the merrymakers around them. "No, it just showed in your rapt expression."

He saw Chandler standing with Sebastian and Pascal. As he watched, she said something that had Pascal grinning sheepishly while a blush stained his cheeks and Sebastian’s shoulders moving in silent mirth. Even as her mischievous laughter floated over the melee, Devin saw her covert glance at Vincent standing half way across the room listening to something Mouse was saying. Catherine’s father, Charles stood talking to Father and Peter. It was odd to see so many top-siders in the Great Hall, but it wasn’t everyday Vincent got engaged and the engagement party was a jovial one.

"Watch his body language." Jenny too, was a people watcher. But then, not many people could keep their eyes from the unique couple. See how he stands so that he can see her with just a subtle glance?"

Devin nodded. "It’s the same with Chandler. They always know where the other one is."

Jenny sighed and took a sip of her punch. They stood silently watching as Vincent gently patted Mouse’s shoulder as their conversation ended then moved toward Catherine. She angled her body towards him and looked up with a welcoming smile, touching his forearm briefly.

"You can see the love surrounding them." Jenny’s voice was soft, watching the two interacting. "Your brother is amazing. He takes you back to a different time, one of knights and dragons."

Devin turned to look at Jenny more thoroughly than before. A modern day romantic in New York City, he had thought Catherine the only one left! Finally, she became aware of his regard and turned in silent question.

After a brief second, she laughed. "No, I’m not in love with Vincent … but I do appreciate what Catherine sees in him. He is a unique person, not just in appearance, but also in the way he brings out the best in people."

Devin fell just a little in love himself at that moment. Meeting a woman who saw and accepted Vincent for what he was inside and out, was not an everyday occurrence.

Jenny looked back at the couple, seeing her friend brimming with happiness. "Catherine is just as unique as your brother in her own way."

"You’ve been friends a long time." Devin also watched Vincent and Catherine as they stood listening to Father and Peter who had joined them.

"Since the first semester of college, so … yes a little over ten years now." A fond smile lit on Jenny’s face. "We were barely eighteen. There I was, a poor Jewish girl working every free moment to pay for books and food … and there was Cathy … this rich, beautiful debutante. She comes over to the table in the lunch area where I’m studying…and stuffing down a dry bagel." A chuckle escaped at the memory. "I look up as a cup of coffee appears at my elbow and she says … ‘Here—you look like you can use this more than me.’" Jenny’s grin turned sheepish. "At first, I was all ready to take offense … you know … that I couldn’t afford to buy my own coffee? I couldn’t, by the way … but then she smiled at me. There was no derision or pity or snobbishness, just pure warmth, understanding and openness."

Her eyes were steady on his. "She has a generous and loving heart. She’s passionate about people and issues that matter to her and she has a will of steel beneath that softness. I have no doubt; she’d walk through fire if I needed her."

Devin nodded in solemn understanding. "Vincent is the same."

They watched silently as Vincent listened attentively to Peter and Father’s conversation. He stood tall over Catherine’s shoulder, close but not touching. His hands were clasped behind his back. As the musicians struck up a waltz, he bent slightly to speak quietly in Catherine’s ear. A wide, pleased smile was his reward as she turned and nodded eagerly. With a brief word to the other two, Vincent swept his arm out in invitation toward the dance area. His other hand lingered just shy of touching the small of Catherine’s back.

Jenny’s voice was low, as if she was just speaking her thoughts aloud to herself. "It’s beautiful, but somehow almost painful to watch. He surrounds her protectively without ever touching her. Yet, he accepts her touches so easily, so eagerly… but then is so hesitant to reach out to her. It’s like he’s…" Her rambling words stopped as she searched for a way to describe the … longing.

"Parched." Devin watched Jenny slowly drag her eyes back to him.


"Parched … They soak each other up like they’re so thirsty but not for water—for each other." He explained.

Jenny nodded. "Yes that’s it exactly. Why? When it’s so clear to everyone around them? It’s almost like Vincent is afraid she’ll break."

Devin looked down at the cup in his hand. The conversation from earlier with Vincent replayed in his head.

* * *

… "I want so much, Devin to give her everything she needs ... to be everything that she wants." Vincent’s voice and eyes were filled with confused frustration. Being willing to accept and give everything was one thing; knowing how, a very different one.

"Vincent, Chandler is an upfront kinda woman. Can’t you just ask her?" He saw a tender expression cross Vincent’s face before he spoke.

"She simply tells me that I give her everything she needs…but, I don’t! She needs me to accept all that she is and I want that so badly…but I’m unsure how to ‘claim’ what she offers so selflessly…so whole-heartedly." Frustrated, Vincent paced back and forth in the small chamber.

"I feel so ill-equipped to deal with this. I want…" He stopped abruptly, growled in growing, self-directed temper then spun to face Devin again. "How can I know what it is that Catherine wants when I can’t even identify my own wants and needs?" He cocked his head and shifted his eyes away then back to Devin. "What if my instincts … are … unusual?" This last was said in a very low voice.

Vincent held out his huge, furry hands palm up in sad resignation. "I am hopeless."

Devin couldn’t stand the despair he heard in his brother’s voice. Easily, he moved to clasp Vincent in a reassuring one-armed embrace.

"You’re not hopeless, Bro." He decided to tackle part of the problem head on. "These instincts or urges that you have now … Have you felt them before?"

At Vincent’s questioning look, he went on. "With other women? Have you felt these urges …?"

Quickly and definitively, Vincent shook his head. "Never … these are so strong, so vivid and beyond…" He caught himself as he noticed his brother’s arched brow. "No."

Devin suppressed the urge to tease. Now was not the time. "So, just for Catherine … the woman you love … right?

"Yes." Thoughtfully, Vincent answered.

"Then truly, these feelings, desires … they really belong only to Catherine?" Devin pushed home his point.

Vincent considered this for a moment, and then nodded. "Yes, they belong only to and for her."

Devin nodded decisively. "Catherine will never give up on you, Vincent. You’re not alone here either … your big brother will figure something out." He pulled back to look at Vincent and couldn’t resist a little fun. "And Vincent, these urges…you have, I bet they’re not so very unusual from the rest of mankind in love and in heat!" He saw Vincent’s slight blush before Vincent averted his eyes and easily shoved Devin away. "Catherine is your equal in every way, she’ll be up for any ‘instinct’ you want to try."

"I hope you know what you’re talking about, Dev." Vincent managed.


* * *

Devin sighed. Maybe Jenny could help where he seemed to be floundering.

He had to choose his words cautiously in order not to totally break Vincent‘s confidences.

"Has Catherine discussed her relationship with Vincent, with you?"

Jenny smiled a little. "Only how wonderful, beautiful, smart, and special he is. However, if you are asking if she talks about their sex life … then no. She’s not the type to go into details." She looked at Devin, suddenly suspicious. "Why? Do you know what’s holding them back?"

Serious brown eyes met hers, no hint of his usual carefree demeanor shielding them.

"Vincent is … awestruck … I guess is a good descriptive word. Awestruck each time he is faced with the full concept of Catherine loving him … It’s like a miracle to him. He knows there’s more but he doesn’t know how to reach out for it."

He could see sad understanding dawn in Jenny’s eyes. "Vincent is super intelligent, but lacking in true ‘hands on’ experience—excuse the pun." Devin shook his head as he felt frustration himself at being unable to help his brother.

"If it isn’t in a book … well needless to say, no book in Father’s library is going to hold anything titled ‘Taking Care of the Intimate Needs of Vincent and Catherine.’

Jenny listened and understood. Suddenly, the biggest, prettiest smile she owned broke free. ‘Oh how marvelous.’

"Oh Devin, I know just what he needs. It’s perfect!"

Her enthusiasm was contagious. Devin felt the beginning of a hopeful smile of his own, touch his lips. "Yeah, for real?"

"Yes!" She gave him a quick hug, and then smiled again into his eyes. "You’re right. Nothing in Father’s library … but Catherine Chandler’s … You bet!"

* * *

Two days later, Vincent sat in his chamber looking at the gift-wrapped book in his hands. He had been surprised when Devin had delivered it to him a few minutes before with a toothy smile.

"From Jenny." Devin had said while handing him the gift. "She impressed the hell out of me at the party. Never met anyone who can observe and size up matters so quickly."

Vincent nodded, but was still puzzled as to why she was sending him a gift.

"Yes, Catherine is always saying that Jenny is special … She has dreams that are more like premonitions. I’ve encountered it a couple times myself."

Casually, Devin moved to leave. "Well, happy reading. I’m meeting the old man for a game of chess. I’ll catch you later."

There was a small note card accompanying the gift.

Dear Vincent,

I know you and Catherine like to read and share your favorite books or passages. This is one of her favorites. She’s had it since college. I "borrowed" it because I know it’s not the usual classics you both enjoy and I wasn’t sure Cathy would expect you to enjoy it. I, however think you will find it very interesting … even if it’s just because something about it struck a chord in Cathy. Well, enjoy.

Much love, Jenny.’

Carefully, Vincent removed the wrapping paper to find a paperback novel inside. It had obviously been read and reread numerous times. The binding was cracked and some of the pages were loose.

The front cover was a simple one. A deep red rose with sharp thorns wrapped around the hilt of a sword. It was entitled simply "The Claiming" by an author he had never heard of.

An old concert ticket dated seven years before acted as a bookmark about half way through the book. That would have put Catherine in her very early twenties if that’s when she first read the book. Curious, he opened it to see what passage Catherine had left marked.

"Not by word, but by deeds and subtle looks did she dare hope he loved her. At times, she thought she sought to fool herself into believing them to be tangible evidence of love. Giana knew of Xander’s noble heart beneath his gruff exterior, this alone could explain his protectiveness and gentlemanly manner. The glances she held so dear could be those of mere friendship, for indeed as difficult as society rules dictated, they were friends. She had known him for six years as her brother’s best friend … but sometimes— With an impatient sigh, she turned her face into the gentle rain letting it cool her.

Giana prayed for patience. Her love was not going anywhere. It was there, buried within her heart, rooted deeply into her soul, nourishing her spirit. It made her strong, the very best part of her. It could not be willed away or beaten from her. She often sent a fervent prayer that it would not wither and die from neglect--forgotten except as a foolish dream.

Xander approached, she could always sense his presence. Her body became acutely alive at his nearness.

With stubborn will, she lifted her chin and squared her shoulders. Renewed peace tempered the passionate flare that burned within her. A serene smile was presented as happiness at his nearness filled her. Her love was the most precious thing she could give, strong and true. She could not force its acceptance and did not want to. An unwanted gift was a burden, but if recognized as a true treasure … Ah, claiming it would be a grand victory indeed and should be treated as such with pride and joy at its possession."

Vincent looked up and stared at nothing … rolling the words over in his mind. It was definitely not a classic, but the author managed in simplicity to get her ideas across. He was instantly revived, eager to read more. He could feel Catherine’s imprint upon the pages themselves … she had read them, then had taken the meanings that applied to her own hopes and desires. It was personal and private and a gift he would not take lightly.

Vincent quickly turned to the beginning of the book and began to read. He was quickly impressed by the strong characters and with the depth of each facet the author had bestowed upon them. Quickly, he was engrossed in getting to know them; their past, their personalities, and before long time passed unnoticed.

* * *

Supper was announced on the pipes and Vincent broke himself away from the story. The interaction between the two characters had struck him as vaguely familiar and seeing it from each character’s perspective gave him some insight as to how each could view the same things in such totally different ways. One thing that did cause him some discomfort was the developing sexual tension between the two. He had a feeling that things were going to get rather more explicit than his usual reading, but he knew that this also was something he needed. Some sort of reference as to what Catherine and the author considered "natural".

Carefully, he placed the book on the shelf above his bed and went to eat. He ate quickly with an air of distraction that did not go unnoticed. Devin took the opportunity to do a little brotherly teasing.

"How goes the reading, Bro?" He jabbed his elbow toward Vincent’s ribs but was easily blocked by Vincent’s own.

With a steely-eyed glint of warning, Vincent responded. "Well, thank you." He picked up his empty plate and stood, then stopped to throw a glance over his shoulder at his grinning brother and gave Devin an unexpected wink. "Tell everyone I’m unavailable for the next few hours and will see them in the morning."

He walked away, hiding a grin as Devin let out a huff of laughter and a quiet cheer. "Alright, baby brother!"

Back in his chamber, Vincent lowered the rug to block his entrance and quickly took up the book again. Over the next few hours, he went through a myriad of emotions along with Giana and Xander. He blushed, he railed, he grew hard and aroused then blushed some more. Some of the places they made love stunned him and at the same time released him from a lot of his fears. People in love and lust really did want to express themselves often and at inconvenient times!

The writing was explicit and passionate and very descriptive from each ones’ point of view. He had to take a break and pace his chamber, calming his breathing at times. Somehow the characters got confused in his mind and it was he and Catherine playing out the scenes. It was disconcerting to say the least but each time, he again resumed reading avidly. There were things he had envisioned briefly with Catherine—a passionate kiss, caressing soft skin, worshipping her beautiful body. He had been shamed by the fact that at times of weakness, he had even dared imagine entering her heat. All of this was experienced by Xander with his Giana. The writing was flowing, seamless, and a thing of beauty.

Then there was the rest … the "claiming" only intensified after the courtship and vows.

Vincent groaned and his face felt permanently flushed but still he read on as the two experienced everything imaginable together.

"Xander’s eyes were hot upon her as she sat across from him in the other armchair. The crackling flames of the fireplace had brought a rosy blush to her cheeks and he wanted to see her. "Pull up your skirts, Giana." His voice was husky with need, firm in tone. Shyly meeting his eyes, Giana bent to gather the hem of her long skirt and slowly lifted it. The soft material slid up over her ankles and calves, glided gently over her knees and then there was the pale smoothness of her thighs.

"More." He all but growled as he widened his knees to accommodate his growing stiffness.

Biting her lower lip, knowing any of the servants could enter at any time … Giana lifted her skirt, fully revealing the uncovered nest of curls at the juncture of her legs.

"Open for me."

Quickly glancing over her shoulder at the closed door, Giana shifted slightly forward in her chair and slowly opened her legs. Her breathing came quickly through parted lips and her eyes half closed in pleasure.

"Touch yourself." Xander held his composure with difficulty, thanking God for this beautiful treasure. He watched her as she obeyed his every demand, without question. He saw her pale slim fingers, stroke her nether lips softly spreading the juices of her arousal before they disappeared inside her heat.

Xander heard her breath catch then a muffled moan as she moved her fingers strongly. He felt the dampness of his pre-ejaculate wetting his trousers and was fiercely proud that his wife could bring him so much pleasure. He pulled his eyes from the beauty below to her face and saw the same pride reflected there. She was looking directly at him as she touched herself, the beauty of her soft arousal showing in glowing eyes, pink-stained cheeks and quickened breath. Her lips were full and tempting and he imagined taking them with his mouth then with his penis.

He could barely speak, he was on the edge and so was she. "Use your free hand to bare your breast, Giana. Your beautiful, soft …" Her erect nipple popped free of the opened bodice and her fingertips enclosed it firmly, pulling on it until they both groaned.

"Come with me, my love." Her husky voice reached him and her thumb flicked over her engorged clit. He saw her hips cant wildly for a second then shudder. He felt the resultant rush coming deeply from his ball sack. His head arched back and a gutteral growl emerged. Her cry was muffled, but their gazes remained locked as both gave up and went over the edge of pleasure…"

Vincent shut the book with a snap, his own body hard and aching … for it wasn’t the dark-haired beauty of Giana he saw in his mind’s eye. No, it was Catherine with her green eyes locked with his as they both came together. It was he that took her standing up, from behind, holding her hands bound together, and then allowing her full access to him; access to his body in a return gesture of love, trust, and passion.

Vincent read deep into the night, sometimes re-reading then taking a moment to process the deeper connotations of thoughts or deeds. Looking beyond the pure eroticism of the writing, he saw it was the merging of two people becoming one on every plane. They savored each other. Every experience, every emotion and feeling that they discovered was fully shared and treasured. They seduced each other with only a look, a smile, and never tired of sharing everything of themselves. Their love and desire for each other was a seduction in itself. Their encounters were tender and loving; rough and passionate.

Vincent read on, his embarrassment faded as did the sense of disbelief until in his soul there ignited a spark of hope. He had thought his lustful urges perhaps too animalistic for his beloved Catherine. They seemed pretty tame by the exploits of this couple.

This was what people did with one another? Women wanted the truth of lust seated firmly in love. Perhaps Catherine wanted his base physical desires along with his fiercely devoted, heart-deep love. Maybe, she had even placed his countenance in the role of loving conqueror … wouldn’t that be totally astounding!

He tried to wrap his mind around it, but even though he desired her fiercely, loved her passionately, could he really open himself up to her so completely? His body quivered in excitement … and yes, fear. What if he failed?

The story was a beautiful rendition and Vincent fully understood why Catherine had taken this book to her heart. He could tell which scenes she had read time after time, savoring the nuances. The passages were not just the passionate sex scenes, most were the musings and discoveries Giana found inside herself. There was a scene that stayed with him so that he read it many times over the next few days. Obviously, it had also been a favorite of Catherine’s as told by the worn pages. It seemed to explain a little more in depth what Catherine had intimated to him.

"Giana stood before Xander in a room filled with family and guests. She watched his eyes pass lovingly over her face, her mouth, before dropping lower to her breasts. Her body responded instantly, her breasts grew heavy, her nipples pulled tight and she felt an instant heat warming her empty womb. With a slight inclination of his head, Xander directed her to a darkened alcove shadowed by heavy velvet drapes. Casually, his hand barely resting on the small of her lower back, Giana felt her will melt into his own. She did not have to coax herself into submitting to him, it was as natural as breathing and just as welcome. She would give him everything of herself because it was already his. Her trust in him was complete and totally deserved. Her desire to please him and thus herself was immeasurable.

He would never hurt her and in giving over control of her body and will to him, she freed herself to only feel. Feel and fully experience everything. Savor each breath, each touch, each gift he gave her as he loved her and centered his whole being just on her. And later, later she would be returning the gift to him. He would feel … everything from her and know that he was the reason her own heart beat. In submission and in dominance, they exchanged more than love, they exchanged trust and pleasure beyond imagining. They gave themselves over to the greater power of not ‘you’ or ’I’ but "Us."

As Vincent finished the book, his mind and body were in a state of hopeful anxiety. He was determined not to allow fear of failure stop him from attempting to fulfill the promise he had made to himself and to Catherine. They would move forward.

Before finally retiring for the night, Vincent looked at the book’s cover once more and this time recognized the deeper symbolism in the beautiful red rose with its thorns wrapped tightly around the breadth of the broadsword’s hilt. Because at the end of the book, you were in no doubt that it wasn’t just Giana being claimed; but Xander also. With the ending of the story was the realization that the "claiming" was unending. Beyond the vows, beyond death, claiming the gift of love made those people complete and their love … immortal!

* * *

"So, do you have a plan, Bro?" Devin stood arms crossed and leaning against the carpentry chamber’s stone doorway. He watched Vincent plane a board to replace one on a table from the Great Hall. The long, slow, powerful strokes were calming for Vincent but had just sent a flushed and flustered Catherine from the room with a vague excuse of "finding William" and "Winterfest food." Devin smiled in delight at his brother’s future sex life shining bright with promise.

Vincent paused briefly, checking the board for evenness and then straightened and looked up at his brother.

"A plan?" He cocked his head slightly.

Devin straightened too and walked around the table. "Yes, a plan. You know—I thought maybe reading and thinking … you’d have possibly gained enough insight to make a plan. A way of striding more confidently toward your relationship with Chandler."

Vincent stood quietly for a moment, then nodded.

"I did gain insight…but, I have not developed a ‘plan’ as you call it." He tentatively met Devin’s interested gaze. "I understand my ‘instincts’ were not so far out of the normal scale." He smiled a little, drawing a twinkling grin from Devin. More seriously, he added. "I think I found the clue that was not hidden, so much as difficult to define."

Devin’s attention sharpened; there were always things to learn about the workings of women’s minds. When Vincent paused too long, he prompted. "Well, tell me, Vincent."

"What Catherine already understands and practices with grace and seemingly effortless ease …" He paused, choosing his words carefully and paraphrasing the author. "…All that anyone truly wants is to love and be loved by another person completely. Beyond breath, beyond death … the ultimate victory of life and the reason for our existence is to be everything we can be."

Thoughtfully he continued, aware of Devin’s full attention. "Love in its purest form is a gift beyond measure and when presented must be received as the great treasure it is. In order to do that, you must open yourself fully to love … in complete trust, give and demand in return … everything. No limits, no bottom to that love, to experience every atom of every emotion … to live life fully and with clear awareness."

He stopped and took a deep breath.

"I suppose it means you have to press past everyday boundaries if you plan to grow and break mediocrity."

Devin’s quick mind tried to process the most simple yet most complex idea presented to him.

"So, it’s like throwing yourself off a cliff to gain the gift of flight and trusting the person you love will give you the wings. While at the same time pushing her off the cliff with full faith that you’ll be able to catch her and bring her safely with you … right?"

Vincent’s mouth dropped and he looked at his brother in wonderment. How did he do that?

"Yes, exactly."

"And on the way down, every mili-second you’ve never felt so alive in the face of watching the Earth rushing up to meet you, trusting and then soaring on the wings that appear."


"Wow." Devin summed it up neatly.

"Yes." Vincent sighed.

Devin nodded solemnly and moved across to stand in front of Vincent. He knew Vincent was not usually the kind to leap without thought, but leap he would. There was no other recourse.

"Hmmm … well, that’s the way it has to be then." He saw Vincent cock his head and then nod slowly. There was acceptance and slight wariness in the eyes that met his.

"Whatever it takes, Devin." He was wary but determined. A treasure like Catherine was worth anything … any leap. "Catherine deserves a man worthy of her own courage and depth of commitment. She has chosen me and I won’t let her settle for less than I can give her."

Devin felt a swell of pride for his brother. Vincent was so much more than he gave himself credit for. He was thankful that Catherine saw and realized this and had the determination to make Vincent acknowledge it in himself simply by loving him as she did. She was at once the key and the prize.

"I do have a word of advice, Vincent."

Vincent tilted his head with interest. Any advice Devin gave him would be welcomed whole-heartedly.

"Tell me."

"Use the bond you have with Catherine. Test the waters and tune in to her, see what pleases her. Looks, words, touches." Devin pushed on. "Start recognizing her reactions to you. You totally missed her watching you in here just a few minutes ago. Most men would trade their right arm to know what turns their ladies on. Start walking toward the cliff, so to speak. You’ll feel a bit more confident when you rush forward to leap off … and sweep Catherine right along with you."