So much had happened and Vincent was remembering it . . . all.
He remembered the edges of his sanity melting away . . . while she had held firm. She had been the lifeline that saved him.
His memories returned with clarity – heart-stopping clarity. He had gone into the cavern because he was dying . . . because he was ready to die. Ready to escape the conquering madness and the relentless, haunting doubts . . .
When her rescue breath became a kiss – a kiss so deep, so tender, so passionate that it opened the two of them – one to the other . . . then, there was no hesitation, no lingering, no longing – the time had come—then and there.
And after, returned to his family, he had struggled daily to recover, while she had been daily in danger.
He, unknowing, his empathic connection lost, could not imagine the cruel treatment she had suffered at their hands!
When she had gone missing, Father and Pascal had arranged for an ‘all quiet’ Below. And then had come that one blazing instant when she had tapped on the pipes and her location was pinpointed.
He had been able to crash through the wall of the abandoned warehouse, crushing the guards, breaching their security. He could still remember the clanging alarm sounding harshly in the night. He could see them putting her in the car down below in the alleyway. He remembered yanking the metal grate from the window and leaping down onto the top of the sedan, smashing the car window as Catherine fainted against her abductors.
One of the assailants had sliced Vincent’s hand with a switchblade as Vincent snapped the man’s neck with a forceful twist. Then, ripping the car door from its hinges to snatch Catherine out and away, his bloodied claws cradled her as she lay unconscious in his arms. The paradox of it sickened him. The car sped away.
He had never relished killing or harming anyone, but he would repeat his violent actions a thousand times if it would save her again. How many chances could anyone ask for in life – much less, second chances?
And he had been given the most significant second chance of all – not once, but twice! To recover from madness, to love her again and, then . . . to almost lose her completely, yet arrive there in time to rescue her at last! Another gift – another chance! It was all unbelievable.
As his physical strength and health returned, his memory and his emotion were coming back in full force. He felt stronger than ever. And . . . the Bond was reopening. Yet, it was different this time. He was not able to detect Catherine’s mood or emotions as he once could. She had told him: maybe the gift will return to you in another form and so it seemed. The sacred connection came now from a different source, farther away, but was as full of power as ever before, and more intimately linked with Vincent himself. It was a mystery . . .
Immediately after the rescue, Vincent had whisked Catherine Below to the hospital chamber.
Father and Mary received them. "Let me tend to her," Mary said firmly, and the two men had stepped outside.
"I’ve sent for Peter," Father said. "You can give him descriptions of everything you saw, the location, the car. He can best decide how to handle the information from there."
"Vincent . . ." Father went on, his voice taking on a paternal tone, "I don’t want you going back there!"
"I will not leave Catherine," Vincent replied, affording Father some small comfort.
When Peter arrived carrying his medical bag, he and Father went in to examine Catherine, and Vincent waited anxiously without, pacing in the corridor.
A while later Peter exited the chamber, stopping to grasp Vincent’s hand in support. "Go in, now," he said, "I’ll be back in touch."
Vincent went immediately to Catherine’s bedside and knelt down to gaze lovingly at her. Tears welled in his eyes as he observed her beautiful lips, cracked and swollen, and the bruising around her eyes and face. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was slow and easy. Vincent wanted desperately to scoop her up in his arms, but he restrained himself.
Mary and Father had moved some chairs a short distance from the bedside to discuss her condition, and they beckoned for Vincent to join them.
"Have you given her something to help her sleep?" Vincent asked.
"No," Father replied, frowning. "I dare not. She’s been injected multiple times. There are needle marks on her arms . . ."
Vincent’s claws gripped the arms of the chair as he fought the rage rising in him.
"Vincent," Mary said gently, seeing his anguish, "Catherine has no memory of before this happened to her. She is traumatized and still very distrusting.
"While she was still unconscious, I was able to undress her, and just quickly bathe her. I observed her skin and moved her arms and legs. I put a gown on her, then she startled awake and began to cry. She cannot tolerate being touched. . ."
Vincent shrank at these words, as he wanted nothing more than to touch her now . . .
"I was able to calm her and she did recognize me and call me by name. She knows where she is . . . and she knows you are near."
Vincent visibly relaxed at this news, but then cast a worried glance toward the bed. "What drugs were given to her?" he asked.
"Catherine was able to cooperate with Mary to collect a urine sample," Father answered. "I did not want to subject her to having her blood drawn. Peter will obtain a lab analysis. Then we’ll know more."
* * *
When Catherine was ready to leave the hospital chamber, Vincent insisted she share his quarters, and he made provisions to keep her safe and secure.
Though she still seemed wary, Catherine walked the distance to Vincent’s chamber, carrying the clothes and personal articles the Tunnel women had collected for her. She needed to feel in control of herself.
Vincent had rearranged the chamber to allow her separate use of the area for dressing and private time. Catherine placed her belongings in the cupboard by the bed. When she saw the dressing table with matching chair and small mirror, she was touched by his thoughtfulness.
She turned to see Vincent entering with a pot of tea. Mustering her courage, she forced a smile and said, "Here, Vincent, let me help with that."
Catherine set the teacups on the table and stood back as Vincent poured. She reached for her cup, then reconsidered and set it back down. Barely able to look at him, she said cautiously, "Vincent, we need to talk."
"I can see that we do," he replied, spontaneously reaching for her hand in his great concern for her.
To the anguish of both of them, she jerked away to stand in the middle of the chamber, clutching herself in an anxious grip. "My body – Vincent, I’m not OK . . ." she began, her tears rising.
Restraining himself with difficulty, Vincent took a seat and looked desperately, lovingly, at her. "My Catherine," he said with sincerity, "I will wait upon you the rest of my life . . . there is no limit to the time I will allow you . . . to heal . . ."
Catherine stood forlorn, weeping quietly, holding herself as if she were all alone.
"Vincent . . ." She spoke with great effort, struggling not to break down sobbing. "I have no memory . . . I . . . I realize there is . . ." Then she did break down. Her body was wracked with weeping; she shook violently and it was all Vincent could do to remain where he was and not rush to her.
"I don’t know what’s wrong with me!" she went on. "It’s all mixed up in my mind! I was held down, injected, tied! I don’t know what to do now – how to fix it . . ."
"Catherine," Vincent began gently, "you must be patient . . . with yourself . . ."
"Vincent, I cannot . . . I have no memory . . . only fear and pain! Oh, Vincent! Please forgive me!!" She staggered to the bed, threw herself upon it and rolled toward the wall, clutching the sheets in her fists.
Vincent was filled with anxiety, but he controlled himself. "See this, my love," he said tenderly, even though she was turned away from him. He pulled a golden ring from his pocket and took a few steps to place it upon the large candle stand in the middle of the chamber. "This is your wedding ring," he proclaimed. "When you are ready . . . we will marry. I am here to be a husband to you."
He stepped toward the entry and, looking once more with love upon her, went out of the chamber.
* * *
They lived as roommates, respectfully accommodating each other. Vincent slept on a daybed across the chamber and allowed Catherine privacy as much as possible.
There was something more than the superficial cuts and bruises, emotionally deeper, about Catherine that the loving family recognized . . . but could not reach. There was a bittersweetness about her now; a soft tragedy behind her smile. Vincent felt like he was pulling a spider’s web away from her; she seemed tightly entangled in the fine, invisible, incredibly strong fibers. Oh, what had been done to her? She recoiled from any offered embrace or touch of any kind and he kept his distance, though he longed to hold her.
Catherine’s imagination was filling in the blanks in her memory. Her breasts were sore and tender and she feared she had been beaten. Was it time for her menstrual period? Perhaps it was overdue . . .
Some nights she would wake and cry, or rage, or twist the bed clothes and tremble in silence. Vincent would light another candle and say simply, "Catherine, I am here," and wait patiently upon her quieting.
* * *
One morning, Vincent left the chamber early. When he returned, he called out to Catherine before entering and she bid him come in. She was sitting up in bed in her nightgown and she could not miss his sweeping gaze over her breasts as he greeted her.
"Come to the dining hall for breakfast," he proposed, a twinkle in his eye. "We will pretend we do not know each other—as if we have never met."
"How will that work . . .?" she queried, but he was already striding down the passageway and she had to hurry to ready herself.
In the dining hall, Vincent sat at the head of the long table, beside Father. Catherine took a seat at the opposite end between Rebecca and Jamie. She and Vincent were positioned to make eye contact with each other, though their looks were fleeting and infrequent.
As Catherine buttered her toast and passed platters of eggs and hash around the table, she stole glances at Vincent. He was engrossed in conversation with Father and later with Pascal who joined them, but he shot her a brief look every now and then. She began to feel in competition with the others for Vincent’s attention, and she became restless for the meal to come to an end.
As everyone rose to clear the table, Catherine was seized with uncertainty. What now? What did she expect? That Vincent would come back to the chamber – and then what?
But her fears were for naught as Vincent tossed his cloak over his shoulder and followed Pascal out of the dining hall. His parting glance to her took her breath away – and left her wanting more.
She followed the men out into the passageway beyond the dining hall then stopped, pressing herself against the tunnel wall, wondering what she was doing. Vincent was a few steps ahead of her and he turned suddenly and bowed slightly. He extended his hand to her. Pascal smiled and continued on without looking back at them.
"I am Vincent," he said in a courtly manner. "Tell me your name."
Catherine felt her knees weaken and her belly quiver. "It’s C-Catherine," she answered in a whisper, chancing a look upward into his crystal blue eyes but cautiously withdrawing from his proffered hand.
"A pleasure . . ." he murmured, bending in a low bow.
He straightened and looked her full in the face. "Do you live here in Tunnels?" he asked politely.
Catherine almost laughed out loud; but she remembered the game they were playing.
"Yes . . . I am staying with . . . a friend," she replied, feeling unexpectedly shy and dropping her gaze.
"May I call upon you later today?" he inquired, the consummate gentleman.
"I . . . I would like that," she answered, feeling flushed and clumsy.
His gaze swept her from head to toe and back. "Until then . . ." he said, his voice husky and seductive. And then he was gone.
Catherine steadied herself against the cool rock wall. This was obviously the man she loved, the man who loved her. But she had no memory of him beyond screaming his name in a dark cavern. She felt the hot tears spilling over her cheeks.
* * *
When Vincent came to the chamber for his visit, he was bearing a gift.
"What a nice clock!" she enthused. "I see the 3 and the 9 are painted in gold."
"Yes," he responded. "When it is three o’clock or nine o’clock, I will be thinking of you . . ."
Catherine set the clock on the bedside table, feeling flustered and unsure as to how to respond. She turned toward him, pulling her face into a smile. "Why, thank you!" she said, feeling a little flutter in her heart. "I – I will think of you . . . as well!" Now, why had she said that??
But it turned out to be true. At nine o’clock that evening, Vincent had not returned to the chamber and Catherine found herself thinking of him. In fact, she thought of him to distraction. By ten thirty, she was pacing the chamber, heated and frustrated that he was not there.
But Vincent was thinking of Catherine. He was sitting by the water falls thinking hard about Catherine.
Vincent’s heart was as open as the sky and he wanted only Catherine to fill that space. He had never known sexual intimacy until that night with Catherine in the cavern. He remembered every detail. And now . . . now that Vincent knew what could be, he could not go back. He wanted this new component of their lives for Catherine and for himself; he knew now what existed beyond their private imaginings and lingering desires. He could not allow them to be deprived after they had just begun. He was too much in love.
Though he still burned with the shame of desire, he was convinced that full expression of their sexuality was the path to wholeness for him and Catherine as partners. He decided to go to her about it.
* * *
Something woke Catherine at 3:00 a.m. and she looked at the clock Vincent had given her. His suggestion was very powerful. She found herself thinking of him. She searched her memory, but it only resulted in tears, as all she could recall was the rough mistreatment at the hands of her tormentors.
Across the chamber, Vincent woke and lay quietly, waiting for her to settle.
* * *
The next evening, Vincent and Catherine joined Father and Mary in the library as requested.
Once everyone was seated, Father began. "We have the lab results from the urine analysis . . .
"The sample was positive for tranquilizers—morphine and scopolamine. This combination produces a drug-induced amnesia and was sometimes used as ‘truth serum’," Father said.
"It was once used for women in labor—to make them compliant . . . and make them forget," Mary put in. "Thankfully, it’s no longer in use."
Suddenly, Catherine gasped. One hand went to her face while the other cupped her belly protectively. "Vincent!" she exclaimed. "That’s why I wanted to see you that night! I was going to tell you . . ."
She turned to face him with tears streaming down her face. He was stricken at the news. Neither of them could move toward the other, though Vincent knew now where the new Bond came from.
* * *
Catherine’s pregnancy was a complication. It proclaimed explicitly that sexual contact had taken place between her and Vincent. It also set the stage for Catherine’s emotions to vacillate and for her to be moody and unpredictable.
Father was not able to examine her for her prenatal visit. "Catherine," he said kindly, "it’s necessary for your health and the health of your baby."
"I realize that, Father," she replied, wiping her tears, "I don’t know why I can’t allow it . . . it’s just that I . . . I can only remember being violated and hurt . . . please don’t tell Vincent. I will talk to him myself."
"As you wish, my dear," Father answered, full of concern for the three of them.
* * *
That evening, Catherine returned from the bathing chambers belted into a terry robe with a towel wrapped around her hair. Three candles were placed and lit around the chamber. A note was left on the bed pillow. Catherine picked it up and unfolded it to read the flowing, left-handed script: Let us take time this evening ~ V.
Intrigued, she rubbed her hair briskly with the towel and combed it straight back over her head. She sat at the dressing table and applied lotion to her face and neck. The chamber was completely quiet and still, the underground air cool and dry as usual. The candles stood in silent witness to the evening. No sound could be heard.
She could not help glancing toward the candle stand where Vincent had placed the gold ring. His words echoed in her mind: When you are ready, we will marry. The intimate meaning of this was full upon her.
Catherine turned down the heavy quilt on the big bed and fluffed the pillows in their quilted shams. She tamped out the two farthest candles; leaving the one closest to the bed to burn. She pulled away the thick cotton sheets and sat on the side of the bed to remove her robe. Situating herself between the top and bottom sheets, she relaxed against the pillows.
She was completely languid in the candlelight when he entered the chamber.
He stepped to his side of the chamber and began to clean up from the day’s work. Without looking in Catherine’s direction, Vincent pulled his tunic and shirt off over his head, revealing his sculpted chest and shoulders, softly furred. He poured water from the pitcher into the wash basin then scooped water into his hands and splashed it over his face. He combed his thick golden tresses with wet fingers and pulled his mane back from his face, twisting his hair behind his head. He soaped his hands and scrubbed his face, hands and arms, then rinsed in the basin. His face was beautiful in the semi-darkness, his neck, his shoulders, his chest furred red-gold, his strong arms, his large hands . . .
The candlelight flickered seductively over his naked torso as he buffed with the towel, his body hair glistened golden, and his chiseled musculature was outlined in the low light.
Catherine caught her breath sharply at the sight of him. He was a vision. She felt no fear, though she was held between knowing and unknowing, seeing him there. She felt her pulse increase and she became warm under the sheet.
He moved close to the bed, seemingly unaware of her. He stretched gracefully, as if tired from the day and ready for bed. He kicked off his boots, then loosened the ties at his waistband and stepped out of his leather leggings and soft woven pants. He turned away from her to reach into the cupboard. His sculpted buttocks were defined in the low light and Catherine felt a small stirring in her belly at the sight of him.
Vincent turned to face the bed, but still seemed not to recognize Catherine’s presence. The full frontal nudity of him was exhilarating, but Catherine could not respond. As he donned his nightshirt, Catherine stared wide-eyed at his wheat-colored phallus and softly-furred scrotal sac, fully displayed.
Catherine could not have been more surprised – or more aroused. She sat up in bed, not knowing what to do. She would love to call him to her – but, for what? She knew she was not ready for what she was feeling . . . or . . . was she?
Just then, Vincent looked toward her, crossed over the chamber, and knelt down in front of her. He pressed his hands against his chest as if holding back his own emotion. "Catherine," he began with some apology in his voice, "Only know . . . that I love you with my every breath."
Suddenly, an erotic idea came to Vincent. "Catherine," he whispered, "will you allow me to be near you, very near, though without touching you?"
Catherine felt a little shiver run through her. She nodded her head, unable to speak.
Vincent positioned himself directly in front of her. His long hair was still pulled back so as not to touch her. He leaned in close to her. She felt the heat of his body and she took in his earthy scent. She closed her eyes.
Now she could feel his face next to hers, and he breathed gently on her cheek. She was paralyzed with uncertainty and she wanted him to never stop. He moved to her ear and she felt strands of her hair lift with his warm little huff. Now he was at her jaw and moving down her neck, his breaths caressing her skin, though he did not make any other contact with her at all. He paused at her throat, where his breaths combined with a lovely, low rumbling sound that was not a purr and not a growl, but a resonance that touched the depths of her. Catherine felt as if she was part of a prayer.
Just then, the sensations stopped, and Catherine wanted to open her eyes, but she could not. She felt Vincent’s large body changing position. She sat very still, listening for him. His head was bent over her lap and she now felt his hot exhalation through the sheet. He continued the bass rumbling sound, louder now, so that she could actually feel the vibration against her flesh.
Her heart was racing. Her face was flushed and she felt damp in the place where Vincent was hovering over her.
"I love that sound . . ." she murmured, "it makes me feel . . ."
"It makes you feel . . ?" Vincent responded.
"It . . . opens me . . ." she breathed.
Now the air around her became cooler, and Catherine realized Vincent had moved away from her.
She opened her eyes to behold him sitting on the ground at her feet. He rested back on his hands with his legs extended and crossed in front of him. He looked up at her, love and acceptance in his eyes.
"Vincent . . ." she began hesitantly, "what happened—between us—in the cavern?"
"Let me show you," he answered, lying back, open and vulnerable before her.
She observed him there for a moment. Then she rose from the bed to kneel beside him on the floor of the chamber. His eyes were closed and he lay perfectly still. Hesitantly, Catherine placed her hands on either side of his face. She positioned her face over his face, her mouth over his mouth. The memories flooded back to her. Vincent was dying. She had no option but to save him—to breathe for him.
Maddeningly, another memory surfaced. She, kneeling on a cold floor, retching, suffering—under the influence of drugs and torture . . .
"Ahhhhh!" she groaned in frustration, drawing away from Vincent and pushing herself against the bed. She clutched her knees to her chest, confused and lost.
Vincent sat up, crossed his legs, and looked at her.
"My Catherine," he said, "you and I . . . we have known intimacy . . . we have built a private, a personal, a physical bond . . . I know now that I want that returned to us. It is the last frontier for us. We are parents now . . . with a new responsibility for our family . . ."
"Vincent, help me . . ." she whispered, imploring him with her eyes.
"Go back now, my love . . ." he soothed, "Go back to the time when I was suspended—between life and death . . . when your strength—your love—saved the two of us."
With effort, Catherine relaxed into Vincent’s suggestion, desperate to trust him. She closed her eyes.
He moved closer to her and she felt his hot mouth against her cheek.
"I want to kiss you . . ." he breathed, and she could feel the words forming against her face. She desperately wanted to allow his touch, his kiss.
Her eyes could not open. She inhaled sharply and almost pulled back from his touch, but she did not. She was hot and startled.
"Yes . . ." she whispered, "I want you to kiss me . . . please."
"Open to me, my rose," he whispered, "I will never harm you."
She allowed him to press his lips to hers. She felt the unique outline of his mouth, and she responded, physically and emotionally, to the difference. Their mouths opened slightly and the tips of their tongues touched. She felt the cool firm surface of his teeth, again so different from her own. A glimmer of recollection opened in her mind . . . she had tasted this kiss before . . .
Vincent reached for her, his large hands gentle in her hair. She met his caress with her own and they began to build their passion.
Under his nightshirt, Vincent’s sex increased in readiness for intercourse. He was ready to fill her, yet, he waited . . .
"My love, my own . . ." he murmured, as he lingered . . .
Never the less, Catherine hesitated, full of fear. "Vincent," she said with tears in her voice, "I know that we loved! Our child is proof of that! It’s what I was planning to tell you . . . that night . . ."
"Be still now," he sighed, "allow me to adore you . . ."
Catherine’s breaths came in ragged gasps. She froze in recollection of pain and degradation. The horrible image formed in her mind—then shattered and faded against her desire for her one true love.
She submitted to his ministrations, poised between fear and trust, as he proceeded ever so gently, with caution and with care.
Vincent placed his hands on her ribs, just the flat palms of his hands, holding his fingers away from her skin. "Go on . . ." she whispered, and, gripping her ever so gently, he lifted her to sit on the side of the bed. She was naked and revealed now and he parted her legs to nuzzle her heated core.
Catherine’s breath caught in her throat and her fingers clutched Vincent’s mane as he advanced upon her.
At first, she felt only his hot breath against her most intimate flesh—and then, oh God!—she felt the sweet searing of his tongue. He licked her from her base to the top of her clitoris—again and again. Her engorged labia parted to allow him access to her wet entry—and he answered the call, thrusting his wide, hot tongue into her womanly space.
Catherine fell back across the bed, her head tossing feverishly, her hands gripping the bedclothes. With Vincent’s help, she raised her legs, her knees bent, her ankles beside his head. As her climax neared, she began to shudder, her legs shaking uncontrollably. He gripped her hips, keeping her mons in contact with his hungry mouth.
He bore down on her, licking and thrusting, until she screamed his name and bucked under his passion, her sweet emulsion gushing onto his tongue.
He licked her until she was whimpering and trembling in the aftermath of her ecstasy. Then he traveled upward on her body, licking and nuzzling her belly, her navel, her ribs, her breasts where he loitered at her nipples, licking and suckling her erectile flesh until she cried out and clutched his great golden head in her hands.
Gently, Vincent positioned himself over her, until they were face to face, his hands behind her head, lifting her to his kiss.
Catherine’s body responded to her lover, her mouth opened to his. Their tongues began to predict the action of their private parts. They moaned, and gasped for breath, between their deep kisses.
His heated erection found her moist entry and poised to penetrate her slick folds. She trembled with decision; he paused with extreme patience.
Just then, he embraced her fully and rolled over in bed to position her on top. As she gazed down into his beautiful face, she experienced the emotion she had felt in the cavern that fateful night—he was hers and she was his and their connection was meant to be.
As she shuddered with joy, he entered her, shaping her passage to his measure. He stroked her internally with a lovely scooping motion against her G-spot, producing miniature fireworks throughout her body. She, responding in turn, tightened her special muscles to massage every inch of his thrusting phallus.
Vincent climaxed first and maintained his erection as Catherine responded to the liquid heat of his release with her own peak of rapture. They rolled over in the sheets, still entwined, and Vincent lifted and supported her hips to adjust to the new position. Their combined liquors, saline and honey, lubricated their frenzied friction into the sweetest caress as he rode her, so that once again, they were able to reach their libidinous heights.
* * *
Snuggling later, Catherine’s hips tucked into a spooning embrace against Vincent’s thighs, the two lovers breathed together and rested peacefully.
"Happy?" he murmured against her hair.
"Delirious," she answered and he could hear the smile in her voice.
"So I may fetch the ring from the candle stand?" he asked.
"Don’t you dare move!" she answered, gripping his hands and pulling his arms tighter around her, loving his touch now and never wanting to lose it. Then, more gently, "I know it’s there . . ."
"As am I—always there," he purred.
The lone candle burned low in the stand, the golden ring gleamed in the soft light, and Vincent and Catherine were together again.