GOOD TO READ!

Barbara Hill


"I just donít understand how you could..." Fatherís voice filtered out into the passageway outside the chamber. "What on earth am I going to do with you?"

Catherine paused at the entrance. She now knew why Vincent hadnít met her at their threshold. He should have sensed her arrival, he always sensed her arrival, but he was busy being lectured by Father for whatever latest infraction the tunnel patriarch had accused him of.

Quickly deciding it would be easier for Vincent, not to mention herself since the wrongful act he had supposedly committed was surely due in part to her, she thought she would wait for him in their chamber.

"Father, I really donít think what Mouse has done is all that serious. Surely whatever punishment you decide upon should fit the crime."

Vincentís soft voice obviously trying to diffuse the situation stopped her. Catherine sighed with relief. Whatever the problem was this time, she could sense Vincentís amusement, and while Father obviously did not share his sonís feelings, the situation didnít seem too intense. At least Mouse wouldnít be condemned to another day of silence.

"Excuse me a moment, Father."

Catherine listened as the sound of Vincentís footsteps came closer. Through their bond, she felt the gentle pulsing that enveloped her whenever they were close. It throbbed steadily as Vincent turned his thoughts toward her, silently welcoming her home. His deep voice beckoned from the other side of the entrance.

"Itís all right, Catherine. You may come in."

Catherine stepped into the chamber, glancing at Father and Mouse. The older man stood behind his desk, one hand resting tiredly on top of it. The other hand held something he seemed very displeased with. Mouse stood, staring guiltily at the ground as he once again experienced Fatherís anger.

Catherine gazed down at Vincent from atop the steps, her look filled with love, and more than a little curiosity. She took the hand he offered, squeezing it affectionately. Once she was on the floor, Vincent leaned down to kiss her cheek, whispering, "Iím afraid Mouse is in a little trouble again. This wonít take long."

Catherine nodded as his meaning registered. Mouse had committed another "crime." Not a serious one, but Father would still insist upon trying to instill in the boy a sense of responsibility. A feat, the older man simply could not accept as hopeless. She could see that he was holding a magazine, and wondered how on earth something so innocuous could possible illicit such anger.

"Mouse, youíve been told over and over again about taking things."

"Didnít take... found. No one wanted."

"Yes, yes, of course... " Father looked at the offending item, and dropped it on the desk in obvious disgust.

"I can certainly understand why no one would want this... thing, Mouse, but I really wish you hadnít brought it Below. The next time you find something like this Above... "

"Didnít find Above. Found book here... Below."

Fatherís shocked gasp startled Catherine. She saw the look of suspicion that filled his eyes as he hesitantly asked his next question.

"Mouse, where exactly did you find this... " He fingered the offensive object, refusing to glorify it with the term book. "... thing?"

"In chamber Below." Mouse stabbed at the dirt floor with the toe of his boot, too frightened to meet Fatherís angry gaze. Somehow, the boy knew that his latest revelation was not going to go over any better than his actual find. He was right.

Once again, Fatherís shocked gasp filled the chamber. Realizing the older man might think he had actually entered someoneís chamber and taken their property, Mouse hurried to clarify his remark.

"Old chamber, Father! Empty chamber. No one used for long time." He pointed to the magazine. "Found it in old desk." His look implored Father to understand and believe him. "Itís old. All yellow! No one wanted!"

"Yes, well, itís no wonder."

"Left others."

"Others! There were others?"

"Sure. Lots, but Mouse didnít want them. Only that one." Mouseís grin reached ear to ear. "Thatís Catherine! Never saw Catherineís picture on book before."

Catherine stared at Vincent in surprise, only to find him suddenly as interested in the chamber floor as Mouse had been earlier. She could scarcely believe he would not look at her.

Reaching for his glasses, Father slowly slipped them on, his anger and indignation suddenly taking a back seat to his curiosity. He hadnít really paid much attention to the picture on the cover once heíd seen what it was. Using two fingers, as if trying to avoid making full contact, he picked the magazine up by one corner, flipping it over. This time his gasp was probably heard throughout the entire tunnel, and Catherine was certain sheíd never, ever seen him look so utterly shocked. Glancing up at her, he dropped the magazine as though it had actually burned him.

Catherine cringed as Father stared at her, almost sputtering in utter disbelief. "Catherine?" Glancing back down at Mouseís latest treasure, he saw that the pages were faded and yellowed with age. It couldnít be! While the picture of the attractive young lady on the cover could possibly be Catherine, the age of the periodical ruled out that idea.

"Besides, itís good to read. You always say so."

Father almost choked as the implications of Mouseís last statement registered.

"Mouse, did you... read this thing?" Mouse averted his gaze, once more staring at the floor. "No. No time. Just looked at pictures." Suddenly, his head snapped up and Mouse cast Father a glaring look of defiance.

"Pretty girls, Father." He glanced at Catherine, smiling shyly. "Specially Catherine."

"Thank you, Mouse." Through their bond, Catherine felt Vincent chuckle silently. He knew that she had become very fond of their young friend over the years. She was somewhat protective of him, just as he was, and had purposely responded to the young manís comment knowing it would only add to Fatherís annoyance.

Father sighed deeply, his eyes reaching heavenward as though asking, or perhaps begging, for divine intervention. Finally, he accepted the futility of the situation. Mouse was convinced that he had done nothing wrong. A "book" no one seemed to want had caught his attention, and he had done what came naturally to him... heíd taken it, and to the boyís simplistic way of thinking, there was nothing wrong in that. Still, there was one thing he could do something about.

"Mouse, you said there were more of these things." He shuddered visibly at the thought of more of Mouseís "books" lying about for anyone to find. "I want you to take me to the chamber where you found this." He gave the magazine a disgusted push, watching as it came to a halt at the edge of the desk.

"Okay, good. Okay, fine. Letís go." Mouse hurried out of the chamber.

"Mouse, wait. Donít go so fast." Grabbing his cane, Father limped as quickly as possible after the excited boy.

Alone with Vincent, Catherine waited patiently for him to say something, anything, that would explain the situation to her, but he remained silent, still unwilling to look at her. Knowing he was fully aware of her intentions, she walked slowly toward the desk, wondering if he would stop her. She wanted to see the cover of the magazine that had almost caused Father to collapse in a state of apoplexy.

Catherine nervously picked the magazine up, staring in shock at the cover, and understood the reason Father had seemed so shocked. Mouseís newest "treasure" was a copy of Playboy Magazine. An old copy from the almost tame look of the cover. The model was wearing a sexy, revealing negligee over a figure-hugging teddy -- although Catherine was sure they had been called something else in "those days." What was even more amazing, however, was that the model did indeed look like a younger version of herself. In fact, if she didnít know better, sheíd have thought she had posed for the layout.

She thumbed through the pages, relieved to discover that it was, indeed, several years old -- old enough to be downright demure compared to more recent issues. The photos were meant to be sexy and seductive, and while many women would still consider them demeaning and insulting to all womanhood, they were at least tastefully done.

Turning slowly to look at him, she at last understood Vincentís reluctance to look at her. While Father might not have noticed the cover of the magazine without his glasses, Vincentís keen eyesight would have no trouble making it out. Once more, she had the distinct impression that Vincent hadnít been the least bit surprised at Mouseís discovery.

"Well, I can see why Mouse might think this was me -- the face anyway. Obviously, he didnít look any further." Glancing at the date imprinted on the cover, Catherine had a sudden thought. Quickly adding a few numbers, she finally made the connection -- April 1963. Devin would have been around fifteen at the time.

"Vincent, do you know where this book came from? How long has it been in that empty chamber Mouse found anyway?"

He didnít speak at first, and Catherine had the impression that he was trying to measure his words carefully. She could sense a slight embarrassment -- perhaps at finding her likeness gracing the cover of a widely publicized magazine in such a revealing manner.

Realizing that any response he could offer would be moot, since he was certain she had already figured it out, Vincent decided the best thing to do was "come clean."

"They belonged to Devin. He used to help out one of our helpers who had a newsstand, and every once in a while he would bring home one of those. He said he liked to read the articles."

Catherine snickered inadvertently at the excuse given by more men than could be counted since the first publication of Playboy Magazine.

"And I suppose you believed him."

"Catherine, I may have been young and naive, but... " His blue eyes twinkled mischievously. "Devin went to far too much trouble trying to keep Father from discovering his new interest, and since Father always encouraged us to read, I knew there had to be some reason why he insisted on keeping them hidden."

Catherine smiled as she realized what her trustworthy, though sometimes painfully honest lover was getting at.

"Vincent, you peeked at them, didnít you?"

A tiny hint of pink colored his face as he turned his head to avoid her teasing glance. "Just once. Devin used to keep them in an old chest in a chamber that was used for a recreation room for the older children. Only he had the key. I went there looking for him one day and found the chamber empty. Most of the children had gone Above for a game of baseball in the park. Someone had left one of the magazines lying out, and I.. "

"Couldnít resist?"

Vincent nodded, the pinkish hue deepening as he whispered almost guiltily, "Yes."

"Vincent, that was almost thirty years ago. Why would the magazines still be there? Surely someone would have come across them before now."

"The area in which that chamber is located was deemed unsafe shortly after Devin left the tunnels. It was declared off limits and the tunnel leading to it was boarded up. Mouse probably found a weak board and with his over active imagination and curiosity... "

"Mouse once again found himself in hot water. That boy does have a knack for rubbing Father the wrong way, doesnít he?"

"Yes, and unfortunately when Father discovers where Mouse found the magazines, the water is going to get even hotter." Vincent shook his head sadly. "Father is going to be furious when he finds out Mouse has gone into that part of the tunnels."

"Poor Mouse." Catherine glanced at the magazine again, her curiosity piqued. "Vincent, do you know if it was this particular magazine you 'peeked' at?"

"I honestly donít remember, Catherine. I really didnít get to see much of it before Devin came back and caught me. He made me leave. I think he was afraid I would tell Father. I could never seem to convince him I wasnít a tattletale. Anyway, as I said, Devin left shortly afterward and that area of the tunnels was declared off limits. I guess those magazines have been sitting there just waiting for Mouse to come along."

Catherine walked toward him, searing him with her penetrating gaze. Smiling seductively, she wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned against him, bathing his face with her warm breath.

"With all this excitement, you neglected to give me a proper welcome home." Her moist lips beckoned silently, her green eyes smiled invitingly.

His breath caught in his throat as the world around him seemed to tilt, and the floor beneath him lurched slightly. Slowly, his head lowered, drawn like a moth to a flame to the luscious, full mouth awaiting his attention.

Trembling with passion as Vincentís tongue parted her soft lips, Catherine melted against his hard body, welcoming his gentle attack with a deep sigh.

Reluctantly pulling back, Catherine gazed up at him, her voice a breathless whisper, "You keep that up and Father just might well come back here and find an even better reason to be indignant." She kissed him lightly.

"But keep that thought. Right now, Iím starving. Why donít I stop by the kitchen and find something for us to nibble on? We can skip the community dinner and eat together in our chamber."

His piercing gaze told her without words that he could think of several things heíd like to nibble on, but Vincent was pretty sure Catherine was referring to food -- at least for now.

"Iíll meet you in our chamber in a few minutes, Catherine. I really should give Father a hand with Mouseís little find. Heíll need help disposing of them."

"Knowing Father, heíll probably want to throw them in the Abyss so no one else can become corrupted by them. Are you going to tell him how they came to be there in the first place?"

"I donít think Iíll have to. Once he discovers out where Mouse found them, I think Father will put two and two together."

"I know, and you want to be there to diffuse the situation when Father discovers that Mouse disobeyed the rules about going into that area."

"I think Mouse has endured enough of Fatherís anger for one day, Catherine."

"Well, maybe Mouse will get lucky. Maybe Father will be so mad about how the magazines got there, that heíll consider Mouseís infraction the lesser of two evils."

"I doubt that, but I do think Father is going to be upset that Devin pulled such a stunt and, worse, that he got away with it. Never mind that it all happened almost thirty years ago."

"Well, at any rate, go do what you have to and meet me in our chamber as soon as you can." Catherine stood on tiptoes to kiss him gently. "Iím anxious to start nibbling."

Vincent watched as she walked slowly out of Fatherís chamber. Once she was safely out of sight, he reached for the magazine that had caused such an uproar and tucked it under the sweater he wore.

***

Catherine put away the load of wash Mary had left in the chamber she now shared with Vincent. Familiar footsteps drew her attention to the entrance. She looked up to find Father standing just inside.

"Catherine, have you seen Vincent? He came to the lower chamber to help me with the disposal of those... Mouseís discovery. We bundled them up to send Above with a helper. With winter approaching Iím sure they will be put to good use in someoneís fireplace or stove."

Catherine was surprised. She was certain the Abyss would have won out. She was sure that the only fire those magazines would probably come near would be some helperís hot little hand. If heíd really wanted to dispose of the offending material, Father should have tossed them in the Abyss, but she would never tell him that.

"Vincent went to the kitchen to get us a pot of tea, Father. He should be back shortly." As if on command, Vincent appeared in the entrance.

"Were you looking for me, Father?"

"Yes, Vincent. I just wanted to thank you for your help this afternoon. I know I went a little overboard again, but Mouse always seems to have that affect on me. At any rate, I want that area boarded up again and warning signs posted this time."

"Iíll get Kanin to help with it first thing in the morning. Donít worry, Father."

"All right. Good night then. Sleep well." He turned to leave, but paused. "By the way, Vincent, did you get the magazine I confiscated from Mouse that started this whole thing? I went back to get it from my desk, but it was gone. I was hoping you had taken care of it. Iíd hate for that thing to fall into the wrong hands again. It has caused quite enough of a stir already."

"You neednít worry, Father. Mouseís magazine has been taken care of."

"Good. Thank you."

Catherine waited until she was certain Father was out of earshot. Sheíd heard the slight hesitation in Vincentís voice when Father had asked about the magazine.

"What did you do with it, Vincent?"

Vincent glanced at her, his eyes filled with feigned innocence.

"Donít give me that sweet, innocent look. That magazine was on the desk when I left the chamber. I saw it. Father didnít see you with it, which means you didnít include it with the ones you bundled up to send Above. So, what happened to it?"

"Itís... in a safe place, Catherine?"

She sensed a slight hesitation in his answer, and smiled knowingly.

"Youíd better hope so, because if Father ever finds out you lied to him about it... "

"I did not lie to him, Catherine." Her knowing smile disarmed him. "I just didnít tell him the whole truth. The magazine has been taken care of. There is no danger of it falling into the wrong hands."

"Vincent, why didnít you just put it with the rest of Devinís hoard?"

Ď"Catherine... " Vincent paused, trying to find the right words, knowing that even they might sound a bit strange. "The picture... It looked so much like you... " He shrugged, helplessly lost for words.

Catherineís heart swelled with love. Vincent had hidden away a magazine he knew Father totally disapproved of simply because the picture on the cover looked like her. Going to him, she wrapped her arms around his neck, whispering softly, "I love you."

"I love you as well, Catherine."

He claimed her mouth in a kiss -- a deep, thorough, soul-shattering kiss filled with a promise of much more to come. Catherine couldnít help but wonder, in between breathtaking kisses, if he hadnít taken a quick peek at the magazine in question before hiding it safely away. Sensing her curiosity and its source, Vincent pulled back to gaze down at her, laughing softly. His powerful hand trailed slowly down her back to rest at the swell of her hips.

"Catherine, why on earth would I care to peek at pictures of a woman I donít know just because she looks like you, when I have the real thing right here in my arms?" With one swift movement, he swept her up in his arms, heading for their bed.

"If I want to peek at anything, my love, Iíll peek at you."

Catherine buried her face in the curve of his neck, whispering softly, "Trust me, Vincent. Youíre going to get much, much more than a peek."