Wine and Courage

Janet Rivenbark

It was Tuesday evening and since his illness almost a year before Vincent and Catherine had fallen into a routine. Catherine spent most Sundays Below and Vincent would usually spend Wednesday and Friday evenings at Catherineís. They attended concerts in their private music chamber whenever possible. Sometimes, when there was something special planned Below on Saturday evening, Catherine would go Below on Saturday afternoon and spend the night. It was never enough time, but they knew that they measured their time together differently from other couples and they accepted what they were given.

Vincent had been sensing unusual feelings from Catherine through the Bond since the previous morning. He knew she wasnít at work, that sheíd taken some time off. He had no idea how to interpret the feelings. She just felt so content. He was determined to find out what was happening tonight. It was only Tuesday evening. She wouldnít be expecting him.

He was impatiently waiting just inside the park culvert. A heavy, cold spring rain had been falling since mid afternoon and even though it was still early, the park was deserted and traffic sounds were muted.

He pulled up the hood of his cloak and stepped out of the culvert into the rain and made his way from shadow to shadow on his way to Catherineís.

When he arrived on her balcony ten minutes later he stopped to shake water from his cloak before he tapped on the glass of the French door. He waited a minute but there was no response. He probed the Bond and knew she was inside, but she seemed to be concentrating on something. He walked over to the door into her bedroom; she wasnít in there and there were no lights.

Back at the door into the living room, he noticed that there were no lights on in that room either. The only light he could see came from her kitchen. He tapped again, this time louder but there was still no response. He reached down and tried the door and it opened, so he stepped inside and called to her.

"Catherine?"

Catherine was taking a baking pan of cookies out of the oven when she heard the door then his voice.

"Iím in the kitchen, Vincent," she called out.

She quickly put the sheet on the rack on the counter and rushed out to meet him, oven mitts still on her hands. She wore jeans, a tailored cotton blouse with the sleeves rolled up and was barefoot. She had pulled her hair up into a ponytail but as she worked tendrils had escaped and curled around her face. Vincent thought she looked adorable.

"Catherine," said Vincent he sniffed the air, "it smells wonderful in here. What are you doing?"

She pulled off the oven mitts and reached up to hug him.

"Iím baking cookies," she said, as if stating the obvious.

He returned her hug with enthusiasm.

"Baking cookies? I thought you didnít cook," he said pulling back to look at her.

She laughed as she flapped the oven mitts at him and backed away.

"I cook a little. I can do breakfast rather well, I havenít burned the bacon or toast in ages. I have a Crockpot and that is almost idiot proof, and I bake; nothing fancy, but I can do all kinds of cookies and some candy."

She turned and headed back to the kitchen. "I still have some in the oven; come to the kitchen and Iíll make some tea and you can try some of them."

Catherine went back to the kitchen and as she removed three more sheets of cookies from the ovens she rejoiced in the fact that since his illness last spring when heíd spent several days in her apartment, Vincent seemed to have gotten over the hurdle of coming inside. He said he still preferred the balcony where he could look out over the park and study the stars, but when she invited him in he usually came.

A few minutes later he joined her in the kitchen.

"I took my cloak into the bathroom and hung it over the shower door, and I left my boots in the shower. They were wet and I didnít want to leave spots on the carpet."

"Thank you," she said with a smile. "That was very thoughtful." She crossed the kitchen and held something in front of his face. "OpenÖ" she said.

"Hmm?"

"Open your mouth."

He obediently opened his mouth and she popped a small dark brown ball into it. He bit down and then closed his eyes with a look of bliss on his face.

"Umm, chocolateÖand peanut butter," he said through the scrumptious bit in his mouth. "That is delicious."

Catherine had a galley style kitchen with her washer and dryer in a small separate room at the far end. One side of the kitchen had the stove, sink, dishwasher and a double wall oven, the other side had the refrigerator at the end of a long counter. She had just enough room that she had been able to put a small cafť table and stools at the end just inside the door from the living room. That was where Vincent made himself comfortable.

"Peanut butter balls," she said as she turned back to the counter and plugged in the electric kettle. "My mother used to make them. I love them."

She reached up and took the teapot out of the cabinet; she rinsed it with hot water then hesitated over which tea to use.

"Herbal or Earl Gray?" she asked.

"Do you still have some of that herbal that tastes like raspberries?" he asked.

"Yes, I just got some more the other day."

She picked it up and spooned some of the loose tea into the pot then she went back to transferring baked cookies from the cookie sheet to the cooling rack.

The water boiled just as she finished and she poured the water into the teapot and then moved the pot and a mug over to the table where Vincent was sitting.

"Help yourself to some cookies or candy," she said, indicating several plates and packages sitting on the end of the counter. "The ones on the table are the ones Iím keeping for myself." She pointed at a several dozen small baskets and a few larger ones all decked out with red and white ribbons and hearts sitting on the counter and in boxes on the floor closer to the refrigerator. "Those are the ones Iím taking Below."

"Youíre doing all this to take Below?" he asked incredulously.

She walked back to the opposite counter and picked up a small scoop and started placing uniform mounds of cookie dough on the cookie sheets in front of her.

"Just my contribution for the childrenís Valentineís party," she said shyly. "I made some baskets especially for the adults, but the small ones are for the children, and there are some separate boxes of cookies."

He was quiet as he munched on candies from one of the plates and watched her move efficiently around the kitchen.

She opened the top oven door and put in two sheets of cookies then she opened the bottom one and put in the other two.

"Two ovens?"

Catherine laughed as she closed the oven and turned to get herself a mug out of the cabinet. "When Daddy bought this place he told me that it had been listed as having a Ďgourmet kitchení. I guess having an extra wide stove with five burners, a double oven and a dishwasher, makes it a Ďgourmet kitchení. He thought it was amusing, because he knew that I was pretty useless in the kitchen except for cookies." She crossed the kitchen and poured herself a cup of tea from the pot on the table. She giggled as she raised the cup to her lips. "Iíve only used the front two burners on the stove; I donít even know if the other ones work."

The conversation continued through eight more sheets of cookies. Then Catherine let out a sigh of relief as she turned off the ovens. Vincent had been quiet for some time and she knew heíd enjoyed testing what she had put out on the table.

Sheíd finished loading the dishwasher and wiping the counters and was washing her hands at the sink when she sensed Vincent standing close behind her. She dried her hands and was about to turn around when his arms circled her waist and he lowered his head so that his mouth was right next to her ear. She was surprised and didnít have the time to control the thrill that went though her body at the first contact. She leaned back against his chest and rested her hands on his at her waist.

"Your cookies are wonderful, Catherine," he whispered "and you were a dream to watch as you worked; so graceful and efficient."

He tightened his hold a little then he very deliberately nuzzled and kissed her just below the ear.

Another shock shot though her body and her knees went weak. Vincent must have sensed that because he tightened his hold, so tight that she could tell he was becoming aroused.

This time she managed to turn around. He loosened his arms just enough to allow her to move. When she faced him he tightened his hold again and dropped his face to the spot where her neck met her shoulder.

"You even smell delicious," he said softly, "like chocolate and cinnamon."

He kissed her again, this time on the spot where heíd just rubbed his nose.

Catherine was very confused. She didnít know whether to relax and enjoy what was happening; finally happening, or to ask him if heíd lost his mind.

She opted to place her hands on either side of his face and move his head so she could look into his eyes.

His eyes looked strange, a little glassy and unfocused, and when he exhaled she knew exactly what was going on.

"Just how many cherry cordials did you eat?" she asked, as she ran her thumbs lightly back and forth across his cheekbones.

"Cherry cordials?" he asked.

"The little round chocolates on the plate on the end of the counter. Chocolate covered cherries; the cherries are suspended in a cherry liqueur. They are from Germany." She leaned out and looked over at the empty plate. "Oh, Iíd say that you had just about a box. I hope it doesnít upset your stomach."

He leaned back, not removing his arms from her waist and dropped his head back to stare at the ceiling. That made him dizzy so he hastily straightened up, leaning heavily on Catherine.

"Iím drunk?" he moaned.

"Well, maybe a little tipsy," confirmed Catherine. "You donít drink often, so it is having more of an effect on you that it would on someone else."

They crossed back to the table and he sat on the stool and steadied himself on the table.

"They are delicious," he said with a wry smile, "I take it those were meant for the adults."

She nodded as she refilled their teacups. "Iíve clearly marked the larger baskets. There are tags saying what contains alcohol and are to be consumed by adults only."

Vincent abruptly rose and headed for the living room. "I should leave," he was saying as he moved.

Catherine jumped up and ran after him.

"No way!" she said grabbing his arm.

He stopped and turned to look at her. "What do you mean?"

"You are in no condition to go climbing around on this building. I wouldnít let you go if it was a dry, balmy summer night. I especially am not going to let you go on a night like this. It is raining, cold enough to start freezing, visibility it non-existent. It is too dangerous. You are going to stay here until you are sober."

He hesitated then looked down at his toes. "I suppose youíre right, CatherineÖbut only until the room quits spinning."

"Good, Iím glad you agree. Iíd hate to have to use some of the moves Isaac taught me on you," she said with a smile. "Go sit on the couch and Iíll make some more tea. How about a sandwich? It might take the edge off the alcohol."

When she returned to the living room a few minutes later Vincent was on the couch with his feet on the coffee table. Heíd turned on the radio and one of the lamps on the other side of the room.

"I tried to start the fire," he said, "but when I leaned over everything spun, so I thought Iíd better sit down."

Catherine set the tray on the coffee table next to his feet then she went to the fireplace, picked up a long match, struck it and set the flame to the twists of paper under the logs. They caught and the fire was burning merrily before she joined him on the couch.

She poured tea, and handed him a cup.

"Do you drink alcohol at all, Vincent?" she asked as they ate sandwiches and drank tea.

"Occasionally," he answered her. "Once in a while I will have a brandy with Father, or a glass of wine. I like Williamís homemade beer and wine, but it has very little alcohol in it."

"You havenít built up much of a tolerance."

As they drank their tea and talked Vincent nodded off a couple of times and caught himself.

"Perhaps I should lie down," he suggested. "Your new sofa should accommodate me."

He eyed the long leather sofa that had replaced the two smaller floral loveseats. When Catherine had gone shopping to replace the curio cabinet and mirror heíd smashed when he was sick, she had decided to completely redecorate the room. Sheíd replaced the loveseats with a full size leather sofa, and there were now two chairs: a club chair and a wingback. The end tables and coffee table were darker wood and more substantial. The whole personality of the room had changed and become more comfortable. Sheíd had all the rooms painted, but she hadnít changed her bedroom, except the bedspread and curtains and she had added more pillows to her bed. The curtains were still sheer but the fabric was heavier than the old ones and the color complimented the bedspread.

"That might not be a good idea, Vincent," she said. "When I have had too much to drink if I lie down and close my eyes it feels like the bed is spinning, and I start to feel sick. You should probably try to stay awake just a little longer."

It wasnít long before Vincent slid down a little so his head rested on the back of the sofa and he was sound asleep. She glanced at the clock and it was only a little after ten, but Catherine figured heíd be out for a while so she decided that it might be a good idea if she let Father know where he was. She quietly slid on some shoes, grabbed her keys from the mantle and headed for the threshold in the basement.

She didnít know enough pipe code herself to send a message, so she went to the first sentry post and called out to the sentry. Cullen answered her and joined her in the tunnel.

"Cullen will you do me a favor?" she asked.

"Sure, what do you need?"

"Would you send a message to Father and tell him that Vincent wonít be back until later. The weather is still rotten and I donít think he should climb until at least after the rain stops."

"Sure, Catherine. Heís OK, isnít he?" Everyone Below had become just a little over protective since Vincentís illness.

"Heís fine. If the weather doesnít let up, we will wait until sometime in the middle of the night and come down in the elevator. In this case, I think that is less risky than him climbing up to the roof then down the fire escape in a torrential downpour."

With a nod and a knowing smile Cullen went back to the sentry post and started tapping out the message. Before it was done Catherine was back to the ladder and climbing up. When she got back to her apartment it didnít look like Vincent had moved at all. She locked up, dropped the keys back on the mantle, kicked off her shoes. She went to the couch where she tucked a quilt over Vincent. She threw another log on the fire then she lay down on the sofa, put her head on Vincentís thigh, pulled an afghan over herself and she went to sleep.

* * * * * * * * * *

Catherine woke and was surprised to find herself on the couch, then she remembered the events of the night before and slowly looked up.

"Damn! The sun is already up, but from the looks of it, it must still be raining."

Vincent hadnít moved much during the night, but she had turned over and was now facing the back of the couch. Her head had slipped off his thigh and the top of her head was pressed against the outside of it. She was eternally grateful for that, knowing that if Vincent had woke up to find her face pressed into his groin he would have been terminally embarrassed and probably would have fled barefoot and cloakless into the storm. She gingerly sat up and stretched. She got up and crossed the room to the French doors. Her assumption was correct, it was still raining. She couldnít even see the park it was coming down so hard.

She walked back to the couch, but before she woke Vincent she just stood and admired the relaxed giant on her couch. She seldom saw him in daylight and the difference in the light made a difference in what she saw. There were subtle differences in color; his hair looked lighter and his skin a little darker, especially around his eyes. She knew that wasnít normal. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

"Wake up sleeping beauty," she whispered into his ear.

She watched as his eyes opened and slowly focused on her. A smile spread across his face, starting with his eyes, which were locked on hers. Then his eyes slid to the mirror over the fireplace. He could see the light coming through the French doors and he quickly sat up, but before he could get to his feet he clutched his head with a groan.

"Sit still for a bit," said Catherine as she pushed him back. "Iíll get you something for that. Aspirin all right?"

"Yes, thank you, Catherine," he leaned back and closed his eyes against the light.

Catherine went into the bathroom for the aspirin and came back with it and a paper cup of water.

Vincent took the pills without moving his head.

"Iíll fix us some tea; or would you rather have coffee?"

She leaned over and picked up the tray from the night before.

"Tea will be fine, Catherine."

He spoke in just above a whisper as if anything louder hurt. It probably did, she mused as she bustled around the kitchen remembering her last hangover. It was several years ago, before she met Vincent, but she distinctly remembered that everything hurt: the light hurt her eyes, sound made her head pound, the smallest movement made it feel like it was going to fall off her shoulders.

When she went back into the living room and Vincent had managed to sit upright, but his elbows were on his knees and his head rested in his hands.

"Iím afraid Iím going to be stuck here all day, Catherine," he said without looking up. "I should try to get a message to Father so he wonít worry."

"We donít have to stay," she assured him. "I was planning to go down early and take the baskets. Iím pretty sure I can get us safely to the basement and then Below without being seen, so we will go down in the elevator as soon as we are both ready."

"When did I fall asleep?" he asked, finally looking up and taking the mug of tea she was handing him; she knew better than to offer breakfast.

"About ten. Itís almost eight now. We slept almost ten hours."

"You have a very comfortable sofa, Catherine. Even for sleeping sitting up," he said with a pained smile.

"Itís even better if you fold out the bed inside," she said with a laugh. "Are you feeling any better yet?"

At his tentative nod, she rose and offered her hand to him to help him up.

"Why donít you go wash up, and Iíll pack up the baskets, and we can get out of here before everyone in the building is up and wants to use the elevator."

She pointed him toward her bedroom and the bathroom on the other side.

"There is a new toothbrush in the top drawer on the right side, and clean washcloths and towels on the shelves behind the door. Help yourself to anything you need. Take a shower if you like. Iíll jump in the shower when you are done."

She followed him into the bedroom and watched with some concern as he gingerly made his way across the room to the bathroom.

"I think Iíll just wash up and brush my teeth; especially brush my teeth," he said as he went into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

It was midweek, but Catherine had taken a week of vacation so she would have time to bake the cookies, make the baskets and go to the Valentine party. She busied herself packing her duffel. Father had not only invited her to stay tonight, but had told her she was welcome to stay for as long as she wanted when he heard she had the week off. She was looking forward to a nice relaxing stay Below.

She was just finishing the duffel when Vincent came out of the bathroom. He looked a little better, but from the way he moved, she could tell he was still in pain. And the dark circles under his eyes made him look like he hadnít slept in a week.

"Go relax in the living room," she suggested. "I shouldnít be long."

Twenty minutes later she was back in the living room dressed in jeans, athletic shoes, sweater and carrying her jacket. She dropped her duffel and jacket on the floor next to the sofa.

"I took the teapot to the kitchen, rinsed it out and left it on the counter," he said as he cradled the mug in his hands.

"Thank you, Vincent," she said as she retrieved her keys from the mantle.

"How are we going to get all those baskets Below, Catherine?" he asked.

"Iíve got them packed into several large boxes and Iím going to go get the dolly from the door man."

She picked up a box from the table just inside the door.

"Whatís that?" he asked, nodding at the box.

"Cookies for the doorman."

She unlocked the door and turned before she left.

"You take it easy, and I should be back in a few minutes."

In the lobby she gave Harry the box.

"Thanks, Miss Chandler. Cookies?" he asked, eyeing the familiar box.

"Yes. I made them for Valentineís day and I thought you might like some. Iím going to be away for a few days," she glanced at the street through the front doors, as if she intended to go outside.

"It iced a little overnight," he said, "and the salt trucks have been through, but I havenít seen any taxis or much traffic yet."

"I wonít be leaving until later," she told him.

"I just barely made it here this morning, be careful if you plan to drive, itís still coming down pretty good."

"I can see that. I was planning to go under my own steam, but I might just have to call someone. Iíll see. When does your relief come in?"

"Iíll be here until around 3:00. Andy said that he would leave home early and take the subway, so he should be here on time."

"I wonít be leaving until after that, so Iíll check with Andy on the road conditions." She brought the conversation back to why she was there. "I need to use the dolly," she said nodding at the piece of equipment that sat behind the counter next to Harry.

"You have that much luggage?" he asked with a smile.

"No, Iím taking some boxes down to my storage in the basement. I want to get it done before I leave."

He wheeled the dolly out from behind the counter and up to Catherine.

"Do you need any help?" he asked.

"No, they arenít heavy, mostly just empty boxes Iím saving for a friend who is getting ready to move."

She took the dolly and headed for the elevator.

"You have a nice visit, Miss Chandler," he called after her.

"Thanks, Harry," she called back as she got on the elevator.

When she got back to her apartment she found that Vincent had put on his boots and cloak and was ready to go. He had also moved all the boxes from the kitchen to the living room.

"I told you to take it easy, Vincent," she admonished.

"Iím feeling better, Catherine," he assured her. "My head still hurts a little, but it doesnít feel as if it is going to explode when I move. I might even be able to eat breakfast when we get Below."

"Iím glad you are feeling better," she said walking up to him and rubbing a finger along his cheekbone and under his eye. "But these dark circles still look bad. Father is going to take one look at you and think you are sick."

"Iím sure Iíll be fine by lunch time," he moved away from her as if he was uncomfortable and went to get the dolly.

He helped her stack the boxes carefully on the dolly, then watched as she went around the room turning off lights and checking that the balcony doors were locked. Her last stop was at the thermostat where she set it a little lower.

"How are we going to do this?" he asked as she put on her jacket and picked up her duffel.

He followed her to the door with the dolly.

"I will go to the elevator and push the call button while you wait by the door," she handed him her keys. "You can lock up while we wait. When the elevator comes we get on it and go down to the basement."

"What if someone gets on while we are on it?"

"I know how to make it go straight to the basement without stopping, even if someone pushes a call button. It will still go to the basement first and then go back to the floor where the button was pushed. Joe showed me, and it has come in handy a few times when I was in a hurry."

At the elevator, she pushed the call button and then checked the hall. It was clear so she signaled to Vincent that he could come out. He was just finishing the last lock when the elevator arrived. He got on with Catherine and the dolly. Her button pushing sequence worked and they went straight to the basement. Catherine got off first to make sure they were alone, then they carried everything to the back.

Vincent moved the crates away from the door and climbed down the ladder. Catherine dropped her duffle to the floor next to him then carefully handed the boxes down to Vincent.

"Iíll go call someone to bring the flatbed cart so we can get all this to the dining chamber in one trip," he said when they had transferred everything.

"Good, Iíll take this back up to Harry and Iíll be back in a couple of minutes."

Catherine quickly rearranged the crates to cover the door just in case someone should come down in the short time she would be gone. Then as an afterthought, she took off her jacket and tossed it on top of one of them. It wouldnít do to have Harry wondering why she was wearing it when everywhere inside the building was warm.

She was back in about five minutes and as she climbed down the ladder, she heard the rumble of the cart rolling up the tunnel. She joined Vincent just as Mouse came around the corner pushing the cart.

"Good morning, Mouse," she called out.

"Hi, Catherine. Vincent called for cart, Mouse brought. Need something moved?"

Catherine nodded at the boxes. "Be careful, some of the stuff is fragile, breakable. It all needs to go to the dining chamber for the childrenís party later."

The three of them carefully stacked the boxes on the flatbed and as Mouse started pushing it up the tunnel Vincent called after him.

"We will meet you in the dining chamber in a few minutes," he winced as the sound of his own voice echoing off the walls hurt his ears.

Catherine placed her hand on his arm. "Are you all right?" she asked.

"Yes, I just didnít realize how loudly things echo down here."

He picked up her duffel and led the way down the tunnel.

They didnít meet anyone on their way to Vincentís chamber, and Vincent didnít speak the whole way. Catherine could feel that he was upset about something. She didnít need the Bond to tell her that, it was in the way he carried himself and didnít take her hand as they walked.

They stayed in his chamber only long enough to leave her bag, jacket and his cloak. They joined the rest of the stragglers in the dining chamber for breakfast. Catherine noticed a slight hesitation as they entered the chamber and the smell of food greeted them. At the serving tables William handed Vincent his usual plate of scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, toast and a piece of fruit. Vincent took it but was beginning to look a bit green around the edges.

They joined Father at his table and Catherine poured them all tea from the pot on the table.

"Are you feeling all right, Vincent?" Father asked, noticing the dark circles and reaching over to touch his sonís forehead.

"Iím fine, Father," Vincent assured him. "I just have a headache."

"A headache, Vincent?" exclaimed Father. "You never have headaches."

"Well, I do occasionally, but nothing like this," he glanced over at Catherine then at the flatbed with the boxes stacked on it. "I overindulged a little at Catherineís last night."

"Over indulged?" Father was confused.

"Some of the candies that Catherine put in the baskets she made have alcohol in them. I didnít realize it and ate quite a few while she was finishing her baking."

"Youíre hung over?" Father asked incredulously.

"Iím afraid so," said Vincent as he nibbled on some toast and sipped tea. The rest of his breakfast didnít look very appetizing.

Father turned to Catherine. "Catherine, would you mind going to the kitchen and getting a pitcher of cold water and a glass?"

"Not at all, Father." She got up and headed to the kitchen.

"Are you going to pour the water over my head to bring me to my senses?" asked Vincent wryly.

"No, son. I know how fond you are of chocolates. What were they?"

"Chocolate Cherry Cordials from Germany; she made some Valentineís baskets for the adults and put those in them."

"I like them too, I hope you didnít eat them all," said Father with a chuckle as Catherine returned with the pitcher and the glass. She set the glass down and poured some water into it and then sat back down.

Father pushed the glass toward Vincent. "Drink this and Iím sure that you will feel better soon."

Vincent picked up the glass, "Water, Father?"

"Yes, water. Alcohol dehydrates you and dehydration in its mildest form causes headaches. Iíve found that the best cure for a hangover is water. It rehydrates the body and dilutes the acid in the stomach that causes the stomach upsets."

Vincent tipped up the glass and started to drink and was immediately surprised at how thirsty he was. He finished three glasses before he felt that his thirst was quenched. He was also surprised at how much more appetizing his breakfast suddenly looked. He finished it and went back for seconds.

After breakfast, Catherine knew that Vincent was feeling better physically, but that something was still bothering him. And she had an idea that it was what he had done the night before while Ďunder the influence.í Most men would think nothing of it, but Vincent would look at it as somehow crossing one of those invisible lines that he had draw for himself.

"Why donít we pick up your things from my chamber," he suggested. "I will take you to the guest chamber so you can get settled while I bathe and change. Iíll meet you there when Iím done and we can go help the children decorate for their party."

"Iíll get my stuff and go on by myself. I know the way," she assured him.

It only took her a few minutes to put away the few things she brought and she decided to wait for Vincent in his chamber. She wanted to talk to him, find out what was bothering him. She knew that they wouldnít have another chance to talk privately until evening and she didnít want to go through the whole day with this uneasy feeling.

Vincent entered his chamber wearing jeans and a white Henley that he usually wore under another shirt. He had a towel over one shoulder and was rubbing his hair dry with one end of it as he walked. He came to an abrupt stop when he saw Catherine sitting on the side of his bed.

"So that is how he dresses when Iím not aroundÖI like it," she mused to herself as she noted that the top two buttons on the Henley werenít buttoned.

"I didnít realize you were here, Catherine," he said as he hung the towel from a hook next to the door and turned to his wardrobe to get a shirt.

"Iím sorry. I wanted to talk to you and knew that if you came to get me we wouldnít have a chance to talk until later."

He heard her rise from the bed.

"What do you want to talk about?" he asked with his back to her as he pulled a worn denim work shirt off a hanger.

"I can tell that something has upset you, Vincent. What is it? Please tell me."

"It is about last night, Catherine. My behavior was reprehensible. I just want to apolÖ"

"Vincent, please donít apologize for that," Catherine interrupted as she came up behind him and touched his back. "You only did something that Iíve always wished you felt at ease enough to do." She moved a little closer and leaned her forehead against his back and she felt his body tense. "I love you, Vincent. I love when you touch me. I love it when you hold me. I would love it if you would feel free to kiss me like you did last night. I would love to have that kind of closeness with you." She slid her arms around his waist and hugged him. "Iíve heard that whatever a man says or does while he is intoxicated is what he truly wants to say or do," she added in a mischievous tone.

"Ovid said that wine gives courage and makes men more apt for passion," Vincent said quietly, relaxing a little.

As he started to turn, Catherine released her hold on him and moved back a step. She caught her breath at the look in his eyes. He gathered her into his arms and held her.

"I felt so free and open, last night Catherine. You are correct, it felt right, but that isnít the way I want it to happen. I want to be sober and in control when it happens, Catherine."

He lowered his face to her shoulder and nuzzled her hair away from her neck.

"When what happens, Vincent?" she asked breathlessly.

"When we move forwardÖwhen I love you the first time, Catherine."

He picked her up and carried her to his chair where he sat down with her on his lap.

"Iíve dreamed of it, Catherine," he said closing his eyes and leaning his head on the back of his chair.

"Can you tell me?" she asked, cuddling close.

"It is too overwhelming for words, but I want to be able to love you without resorting to Ovidís wine for courage."

Catherine didnít speak, just nestled closer in his arms and nuzzled his neck where the Henley was unbuttoned.

"Catherine, we are due in the dining chamber to help the children decorate for their party," he reminded her in a rough voice.

"I know," she said with a sigh, "but we have a few minutes, and this is nice. It is just one more step toward love. You took one last night, and I think that when you did you felt my response and know that I welcomed it."

She felt him nod, then heard his voice in her ear.

"It never ceases to amaze me, Catherine. Iím not surprised that I love you. How could anyone not love you? But you love me. That is what stuns me every time I feel it flowing to me through the Bond. And I felt it last night."

He looked down to find her looking up at him. The love in her eyes would have pulled him to her even if he hadnít felt it though the Bond. He lowered his head until his lips touched hers.

The kiss started sweet and innocent, but his innate sensuous nature and her sweetness drew him in and the kiss deepened until it left them both gasping for breath.

"Oh Vincent," she sighed as she slipped one hand up his arm and into his hair. "I hope there is more where that came from."

He nuzzled her ear like he had the night before. "But first we have a chamber to decorate and children to amuseÖ" he kissed her ear lightly, "By the wayÖHappy Valentineís Day."