Little Girl Lost
The harsh cry tore through the office, caused some to jump others to freeze in their tracks, all to turn instinctively towards the sound and rush to soothe the terrible pain imbedded in the single syllable.
Joe flew from his office at the sound in time to see Catherine slump to the floor, phone receiver dangling over the edge of her desk. First to arrive at her side, he squatted down in front of her putting his hand on her shoulder. “Geez, Radcliffe, what’s up?” Aware of the others gathered behind him, he added, “You scared the hell out of all of us.” When Catherine did not move or respond, Joe gave her a gentle shake “Come on Radcliffe, it’s your best buddy Joe, talk to me.” Still nothing.
Alarm levels rising, Joe checked her eyes to see the pupils widely dilated, totally focused somewhere well beyond her physical location. He checked her pulse to find the beat much too slow but not particularly weak. He turned to those behind him. “Anyone know what happened?”
“She came in late this morning, all smiles and excited, said she had some good news and had to make a couple of calls,” Rob told him. He forestalled further questions by adding, “Don’t know who to or what about. I had to leave then to see Sue about a case we were working on.”
“Anything else?” Joe asked the assembled group. They all shook their heads no, worry and concern etching their faces into solemn masks.
“Ok,” Joe made snap decisions. “Rita, call an ambulance. I’ll go with her. Run a trace on her calls. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
Joe was pacing the waiting room, tie askew, Styrofoam coffee cup mangled in a tight fist, muttering angrily when Jenny arrived. Unaware of her presence until she touched his arm, he looked up and grabbed her in a fierce hug, scaring Jenny even more.
“Is she …?” Jenny asked hesitantly.
“No,” Joe rushed to assure her as he released his hold. “She’s alive.”
“How bad is it?”
“They haven’t told me much yet,” he ran his fingers through his hair exasperated and feeling helpless. “They’ve run some preliminary tests and the best they can determine is that she is fine physically but that mentally and emotionally she has shut down completely. She’s in some kind of catatonic state. I don’t understand it. I don’t think they do either. The doctor told me they have to run more tests but it will all take time.”
“Can we at least see her?” Jenny asked anxiously.
“Yeah, we can go in. I was waiting for you.” The sight of Catherine, lying so still and looking so small beneath the hospital sheets, surrounded by so many machines, hooked up, plugged in, wired, alarmed them both. They looked at each other fearfully, tears welling in Jenny’s eyes. “I know,” Joe said softly squeezing her hand in a futile attempt to reassure. They moved closer and Jenny reached for Catherine’s hand, talked softly to her, crooned soothing words, begged her to answer. Catherine was so still, her eyes wide open staring at nothing, so far from them that Jenny could no longer hold back the tears. Joe stood at her side, an arm around her shoulder and cried with her.
“What are we going to do?” Jenny asked through her sobs.
“Now that you’re here, I’m going back to the office,” Joe said gruffly as he swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. “I need to try to find out what caused this. It happened so suddenly and all we know is that she was making some phone calls. I had Rita trace them and I need to follow up. You’ll stay with her?”
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Joe tightened his hug briefly and left.
It didn’t make any sense, damn it. None at all. She had come into the office happy and excited and made three calls. The first to a restaurant in China town, the second to an old magician and the third to her doctor friend and then collapsed with that terrible cry. He had gone to the restaurant first, talked to a woman named Lin who told Joe that, yes Catherine Chandler had called wanting to get a message to Vincent.
“What did you tell her?” Joe asked.
“I said that I had no idea what she was talking about,” and then I hung up.
“Did you know what she was talking about?”
“Why did you deny it, then?”
“Because the caller was an imposter. Catherine is dead.”
There had been no way to convince the Chinese woman that Catherine was not dead and no way to convince her to put him in touch with Vincent, whoever he was. In fact pressuring her only caused her to clam up completely and cling more tightly to the toddler on her lap. Joe was forced to leave when her husband came to her rescue, politely but very firmly asking Joe to refrain from further upsetting the pregnant woman.
The second visit to a guy named Sebastian yielded no better results and was in fact even more frustrating than the talk with Lin had been. Sebastian said yes, someone claiming to be Catherine had called, yes, he had fobbed her off, no he didn’t know any Vincent, no he couldn’t be of further help and had then launched into a series of magic tricks accompanied by a whole lot of babble that led Joe to believe the guy was completely off his rocker.
Joe had entered Peter Allcott’s office sure that he would find answers. He left bitterly disappointed. The receptionist informed him that Dr. Allcott could not be reached under any circumstances, she did not know where he was, when exactly he had left, when exactly he might return, even if he would return. Joe wanted to scream.
Joe and Jenny spent as much time as they could at Catherine’s bedside. They searched her apartment and went over and over the scant bits of information Joe had gathered convinced there were clues that could help solve the riddle if only they could find them. Further tests by the doctors were equally futile. There were no answers, just questions.
“Catherine,” Vincent called, not yet fully awake. “Catherine.”
“She’ll be back soon,” Mary assured him. “She had to go Above for a bit.”
Vincent nodded reluctant understanding.
“You don’t want her gone, I know. But she had no choice.”
“I know Mary. I feel so selfish wanting her here by my side always. But with the bond gone, I can’t know she is safe. I wouldn’t be able to get to her if she were in danger. That makes me feel so helpless, so …” He lifted his hands in a gesture more eloquent than words.
“I know you worry, dear. You always will, but…”
“I have to let go of my fears. Trust that all will be well.”
Mary nodded agreement, adjusted the covers and kissed his forehead remembering all the times she had done so when he was a small child. “Rest,” she told him. “Everything will look better in the morning.”
Alone in the dim candlelight, Vincent remembered. Remembered Catherine’s desire for him that he hadn’t had the courage to meet as an equal. Remembered Catherine coming to him in that dark place. She had such courage, such love, so much more than he deserved. He frowned. There was so little he could make from the shadows of that time, so little he could form into clear thoughts or images, little remained beyond the knowledge that he was back in his own chamber, back in his world, back with Catherine. The Other was still there, holding himself at bay. Vincent didn’t understand the calm of the Other, didn’t understand why he wasn’t threatening to explode through the veneer of his civilized self. He only knew the Other was still there, always would be and he longed for a time when he would be one, longed for a time that he was convinced would never come.
Catherine. She had saved him and he had caused her so much pain. First he hadn’t even remembered her name. The admission had been forced. She had accepted it calmly, assured him it didn’t matter, he had been so ill, all that mattered was that he be well again. But it did matter, if truly not to her, it mattered to him! And the bond, the precious bond, the bond that made him feel more human, less a beast. It too was gone.
Oh God, how could he go on? How could Catherine? How could she possibly love him still after this ultimate betrayal?
Vincent was jolted from his introspection by urgent messages on the pipes. Intruders, three men at the old almost never used Belmont Hotel entry. He leapt up, pulled on his boots and grabbed his cloak. Father stopped him just outside his chamber.
“Vincent, get back to bed.”
“Father, you heard the messages. Intruders.”
“Yes, but you are still so weak. The others are on their way. They can handle it.”
“No. I will go,” Vincent insisted.
“As your doctor, I say no. Go back to bed.”
Vincent shook his head and stepped around the older man. Yes, he was still weak but even in his weakness he was stronger that two or three men combined. Protecting the tunnels was his job, always would be.
“She’s dead,” the man taunted. “She’s dead,” he crowed in triumph. “And now I will have you!”
Vincent ignored the three men circling him just as he ignored the tunnel dwellers hidden beyond to focus solely on the speaker. The man sounded so sure, so smug. Vincent groaned inwardly. If only he could feel Catherine to know she was safe. He let none of his agony show.
The three men began to close in on Vincent. They retreated quickly when he bared his fangs and growled menacingly at them but the voice was not intimidated. “Perfect,” it proclaimed. “Even better than what I was led to believe.”
“You’re lying about Catherine,” Vincent bluffed, his voice low with a forced confidence that he surely didn’t feel.
“Am I?” the man laughed cruelly. He opened his hand and dangled something from it, something familiar that swayed on the end of a gold chain, something that glittered and reflected the light, breaking it into multitudes of rainbows. “She’s dead, I tell you. DEAD.”
Vincent lunged in a rage beyond any he had ever experienced, a rage that had absolutely nothing to do with the Other. The three men who attacked him were as nothing. He swept them aside, not caring where his blows landed, not caring if he killed or maimed. He attacked the speaker, snaring the crystal with his claws, closing his fist about it tightly until the nails dug into his palm. He turned to strike another devastating blow but the speaker was gone, had disappeared. Vincent roared again and again as he spun in all directions searching for his foe.
It was a subdued group of tunnel dwellers who disposed of the bodies of the three dead men and carried home the limp form of a comatose Vincent, his fist still closed tightly around the crystal.
“She looks like a little girl lost,” Jenny said sadly. “Will we ever find her again?”
“I think she’ll have to find herself,” Joe answered thoughtfully. “I just hope the hell she can.”
The two had spent every evening with Catherine, talking to her about anything they thought might help to bring her back. They talked about their workdays, about colleagues and friends, about the weather, about the current Broadway hits, about the latest news and Hollywood gossip, even told jokes. Nothing changed but they refused to give up. Jenny had Nancy come with her family hoping the excited chatter of the children would bring forth a response but the children grew solemn and quiet when they saw Catherine in the hospital bed and clung to their parents for reassurance.
The medical staff forced her to walk, to keep her muscles active. Physiotherapists did several exercises daily to keep her body limber and flexible. Nurses fed her and bathed her and brushed her teeth. She didn’t fight them, nor did she react. She accepted it all with no protests.
It was the sharp thwack like a finger flicked off a thumb that jolted her when all else failed – the thwack internal. One hand groped for her crystal while the other flew to her abdomen as she waited anxiously. It came three more times in rapid succession, then nothing, but it was enough. Catherine identified her surroundings without opening her eyes by the distinct hospital smell. She groped in the semi darkness for the call bell, then caught herself. They would come with their concern, their needles, their tests, probe and push her body and her mind, ask questions she couldn’t and wouldn’t answer.
She lay perfectly still, breathing evenly as a nurse entered the room, took her pulse, straightened the covers and left again. Catherine waited to a count of fifteen minutes, then slid cautiously out of bed and moved carefully across the room to the locker. Yes! Her clothes and purse were there. She dressed hurriedly and slid out the door after verifying that the hall was clear and exit door just ten feet to her left.
She searched in vain for the release lever to open the entrance in the drainage tunnel. “Vincent, where are you?” she called. “Vincent!” she cried as she slumped against the cold wall weak with despair, utterly defeated.
The baby kicked again igniting her determination. In her apartment she rifled through her drawers and jewelry box but couldn’t find the crystal. Finally, unwillingly, she gave up. She didn’t need the crystal to prove Vincent’s existence. His love was more than enough. She changed to jeans, sweater, jacket and runners grabbed her keys and flashlight. She bounced impatiently on her heels waiting for the elevator and tore to the subbasement sure that no one would see her at this time of night.
Devastation slammed so hard she doubled over with the pain of it. The threshold wasn’t there, didn’t exist. She ran her hands over the solid wall of bricks, hammered it till her fists bled. The stinging pain brought her to her senses. She shone the torch on the bricks examining the wall carefully. In the faint light she thought she saw signs of fresh mortar. Tools. She needed tools.
A search of her car revealed a wheel wrench and a jack handle. Not much good but better than nothing. To her immense delight, the maintenance storage area was not locked, left open by a wonderfully careless worker. Chisels and a sledge hammer. Could she have been any luckier!
Almost two hours later, drenched in sweat, she had opened a space in the wall large enough to crawl through. Below she used the jack handle to pound a message on the pipes. Too impatient to wait for a response the headed to the central chambers. Nor did the deadly silence register as she rushed through the tunnels.
“Maybe if we go over it one more time…” Peter let the sentence dangle.
“We’ve been over it at least a hundred times,” Father protested.
“But we might have missed something,” Jamie sided with Peter.
“All right then, one more time,” Father agreed as William poured tea laced with cognac into everyone’s cup. The council had been at this for days and everyone needed a bit of fortification he reasoned. These lower tunnels were sparsely furnished, colder and uncomfortable reminders of the added danger that had driven them from their homes.
“We heard the message on the pipes. I tried to stop Vincent but he insisted on rushing to the rescue and you have all seen the result.” Father did not need to say more. Vincent lay immobile in the next chamber kept hydrated and nourished by intravenous.
“We were already there, Kanin, Mouse, Jamie, William and I,” Cullen added. The sentry’s alert said four intruders. We only saw three. Then Vincent arrived and a fourth man spoke from the shadows.
“He said Catherine was dead but none of us believed it,” Jamie explained. “Vincent didn’t either. He told the man so.”
“Had Catherine’s crystal,” Mouse mumbled. “Mouse made for Vincent to give to his love.”
Jamie sighed. “He did Mouse. He dangled it from his hand, taunting Vincent. Said Catherine was dead and that now he would have Vincent too.”
“That’s when all hell broke loose,” William added. “Vincent swept the three men out of his way. They were insignificant annoyances. He was after the speaker. Got the crystal too.” Everyone knew it was still clutched in Vincent’s fist.
“But not the man,” Jamie said regretfully. “Not the damn bastard.”
“Jamie,” Father admonished.
“Sorry Father, but I wish Vincent had killed him. I really do!” Mary patted her shoulder trying to calm the distraught girl.
“You’re sure you haven’t left anything out?” Peter asked. “Even something that seems insignificant. Think carefully.”
“Gabriel,” Mouse muttered. “Gabriel took Catherine’s crystal. Not taking, stealing.”
Mouse’s words were followed by a deadly silence. “Mouse,” Jamie said evenly, “What did you just call the man?”
“Why did you call him that, Mouse,” Peter asked.
“His name. Heard other man say it.”
The council members stared at each other for several moments, too stunned to react. Then Peter spoke. “We need Joe Maxwell.”
The signal on the pipes interrupted the conversation. Another intruder, this one headed directly for the home chambers.
Everything was there in the chamber, everything but Vincent. Likewise in the other chambers she had checked. Everything there but the occupants. Catherine turned slowly, searching for clues, searching for something to help her find Vincent. She refused to believe he didn’t exist. Lin had denied his existence, pretended to not know her, to not have a clue what Catherine was talking about. Sebastian had been worse, acted the fool, played the idiot, babbled a whole lot of nonsense. And Peter’s receptionist. That call had been the worst. She said Peter was dead, had been dead for five years. Her crystal was gone too. Only the baby moving convinced Catherine it was not a nightmare, convinced Catherine to leave the hospital, to come below, to find Vincent. Now, as she turned again shining her flashlight on the walls, the multitude of topside rejects, the various paraphernalia that spoke so eloquently of Vincent, the big chair, the table, the bed, all there - but no Vincent. Now she wasn’t so sure. The baby, that marvelous, wonderful tiny bit of life chose this precise moment to remind Catherine of its presence and kicked vigorously. The thwacks delighted Catherine and she took heart.
“We’ll find him little one, we’ll find him. I promise.”
The phone was ringing as Joe stepped out of the shower. “Who the hell is calling at this hour?” he grumbled, deliberately refusing it hope it could be good news from the hospital. It was and it wasn’t. Catherine had disappeared sometime after the midnight nursing check. That might mean she had revived. It might mean she had been kidnapped. It might mean… His overactive mind leapt to all sorts of possibilities as he picked up the phone to call Jenny.
They met at the hospital and decided that since her purse and clothes were gone and her hospital gown found on the floor, the most likely explanation was that Catherine had revived and split. A kidnapper would not have taken the time to dress her.
It was evident that Catherine had been to her apartment. Her suit was thrown carelessly on the bed. “Someone else has been here,” Joe announced as he surveyed the half-open dresser drawers, contents spilling over. “She obviously changed and left, but who the hell ransacked her apartment? And why? It wasn’t like this last time we checked.”
“I think Cathy did this herself, looking for something important,” Jenny told him. “The disarray is typical of her when she is frantic. Keys aren’t here,” she added after a quick search of Catherine’s purse.
They descended to the parking lot expecting to find Catherine’s car gone. It was there, the trunk open, the jack left lying half in half out, the jack handle and wheel wrench missing.
“What the hell,” Joe muttered. He had no idea what Catherine could possibly be up to and he was frustrated beyond belief.
“Joe, come here,” Jenny called. Some instinct had directed her to look around the parking lot. She had found the door to the subbasement open and had descended the stairs. The light was on although no one was there and that in itself was enough to make her call Joe as it was still much too early for workmen to be about. Together they examined the space and crowed with delight when they found some boxes that had been shifted aside to reveal an open door to a space below.
“The super should have a flashlight,” Jenny suggested.
“Are you suggesting Cathy’s down there?” Joe asked hopefully.
Jenny nodded. “I can’t explain it Joe but I feel she is. We have to check.”
A second signal in the abbreviated early tunnel code told of two more intruders coming from the direction of Catherine’s apartment.
“Damn and blast,” Father exploded. “We had that entrance sealed off. What is going on?”
“Don’t worry,” Jamie assured him. We’ll take care of it.” She and Mouse set off to investigate with Cullen, Kanin and three others.
It was a silent and somber group gathered around Vincent’s bed. Catherine had been brought down first. She had insisted on seeing Vincent immediately and had held tightly to his hand, not letting go for an instant, giving Joe and Jenny one-armed hugs when they were escorted into the remote chamber.
The questions and answers and discussion that had followed had clarified so many things. For Joe and Jenny’s sake they had decided to start at the beginning. Father and Peter explained the development of the tunnel world, with frequent interruptions from many as they explained their reasons for living Below. Catherine explained how she had become a member of the community when Vincent saved her. Both Joe and Jenny cast frequent curious glances at the still figure in the bed but couldn’t see enough in the dim candlelight to form strong impressions. Catherine’s demeanor on the other hand spoke volumes. Even without the explanation of the bond, there was no doubt this was her mystery man.
“Joe, before I tell you more, you have to decide something,” Catherine said. “You have to decide if you can hear what I have to say and do nothing about it.”
“Why?” Joe asked mystified.
“Because of the bond Vincent and I share,” Catherine paused, looked around the group and then to Father, who nodded that she should continue. “He did many things that in the world above would put him in jail. Or worse,” she added sadly.
Joe stood and moved closer to the bed. He regarded the reclining figure, the long hair, the unique profile, the face that couldn’t show itself above, the large clawed hand held tenderly and possessively in Catherine’s. The side show freak in a cheap travelling carny, he thought. Except that everything about Catherine’s response to this man told him it was so much more than that. Joe looked directly at Catherine then, held her gaze. “I will listen and do nothing. I promise.”
“Why, Joe?” She had to know.
“For him,” Joe told her. “For everyone here,” he gestured around the group. “And for you… because I love you.” Jenny reached for Joe’s hand then and held it to her heart sensing what this last had cost him. He smiled at her gratefully and pulled her closer to listen.
Catherine spoke with love as she talked about her relationship with Vincent, what he had given her, how he had loved her, how he had protected her, her devastation at his illness. She told it all.
“But I don’t understand what happened that morning at the office,” Joe said. “Cathy, it was like you had a complete breakdown.”
“I guess I did,” she replied. “I had been dealing on a brownstone with a tunnel entrance. I wanted a place for Vincent and I to live,” she looked meaningfully at Father, who, much to her surprise offered no protest, only nodded agreement, “a place that would be safe for him, that wouldn’t involve coming to my balcony. I wanted to get a message to Vincent so I phoned Lin first and then Sebastian but they both denied knowing a Vincent. Lin hung up on me and Sebastian acted the fool so I hung up on him intending to phone Peter.”
“What happened when you phoned my office,” Peter asked.
This question was the hardest for Catherine to answer. “They told me you were dead. Had died five years ago,” she answered, her voice breaking.
“Oh, honey,” Peter crooned. “You poor baby.”
“Your receptionist said you couldn’t be reached,” Joe informed Peter. “But why did they tell Catherine you were dead.”
“I expect that they had control of my office by then,” Peter replied. “Catherine would have been told something different because they didn’t have her and were trying to find her. You would have been given a standard answer designed to keep you or anyone else for that matter off their trail.”
Father took over then relating the story of the intruders. Told of the threats to the community. Told of the move to the lower tunnels. Told of reverting to the abbreviated early tunnel code.
“Which is perfectly serviceable,” Pascal defended.
Told of the threats to helpers most especially Peter. Told of the boast that Catherine was dead. Told of the apparent proof with the crystal as evidence. Told of Vincent’s subsequent lapse into a comatose state.
“We warned all the helpers immediately. Told them to be extremely cautious. About everything,” Pascal said with an apologetic glance to Catherine.
“It’s ok, Pascal. I understand,” she reassured him. “What I don’t understand is how he got my crystal. It was the first thing I reached for when I came to in the hospital. When I realized I didn’t have it, I almost started to believe that I had imagined all of this.” She gestured around the chamber and no one failed to notice that her grip on Vincent’s hand tightened.
“We haven’t been able to figure that out either,” Peter told her. “Were you wearing the crystal that morning?”
“I don’t think so,” Catherine told him. “But so many things have happened to make me doubt myself that I can’t be sure anymore. Normally I would have been but I think I put it on my dresser when I went to shower. Vincent seemed to be sleeping normally so I thought it was safe to leave him for a bit. After my shower, he wanted to come below immediately, so likely the crystal was still on the dresser.
“I didn’t see it on you that morning,” Joe told her.
“I’m guessing that some how whoever is behind this knew the significance of the crystal and maybe found it in your apartment when they didn’t find it with your things at the hospital,” Peter added.
“But if they were at the hospital, why not take Catherine too,” Mary asked. “From what he told Vincent, we know he would have wanted Catherine.”
“Security there is pretty tight, although Cathy obviously was able to circumvent it,” Joe grinned at her as he answered.
“There is something I don’t understand,” Jenny interrupted. “You’re here now Cathy. Why hasn’t Vincent responded?”
Catherine’s face crumbled and Father answered for her. “We don’t know. Perhaps Catherine needs time to talk to him, to get through to his unconscious state. We just don’t know.”
“I know I’ll never stop trying. He will be well,” Catherine vowed. “He will be.” She had told no one she was pregnant. Vincent needed to hear it first.
“Back to the intruders,” Joe would not be sidetracked. “Any idea who they are and why they were after Cathy?”
“I think they were using me to get to Vincent,” Catherine suggested.
“Catherine would have been the perfect bait to get Vincent,” Peter agreed.
“To destroy him?” Father asked fearfully.
“More likely to use him,” Joe replied. There was collective holding of breath as all waited for Joe to elaborate. “Think about it from the criminal’s point of view. A man of Vincent’s capabilities, if I understand correctly from your description Radcliffe, could be a valuable tool, an unexpected asset to derail enemies and the police.”
A man! Catherine stared at Joe wondering how she could ever convey her love and gratitude to him for using that one little word.
“Gabriel,” Mouse muttered.
“Gabriel?” Joe straightened. “I know that name! Did he know about Vincent? About Vincent’s abilities?”
“We can only assume so,” Father replied. “He also knew where to find Vincent and how to torment him.”
“I don’t understand how anyone could,” Catherine stated. “We, all of us, have always been so careful to safeguard the tunnel secrets.”
“Mitch.” Father’s answer was abrupt, the name spat out with hate. “From prison.” It was the only conclusion he could come to.
More explanations followed. Plans were made. Joe refused all tunnel dwellers’ help not wanting to endanger them further and made them promise to stay tight until he got word back to them that Gabriel was no longer a threat. He knew now who he was after, had a good idea where to find him and the resources to do so. Kipper and Samantha escorted him out. Jenny offered to stay and Catherine accepted her friend’s presence gratefully. There was still so much she wanted to tell and Jenny had always been the one she wanted to share it all with.
It was a full two weeks before a message came that Joe wanted to see them. A full two weeks of uncomfortable living and limited communication in the lower tunnels. A full two weeks and still no change in Vincent. His cheeks were sunken, his skin gray, his hair limp and dry. Father and Peter continued to keep him alive and hydrated with intravenous feeding. A full two weeks that Catherine spent glued to his side with the tunnel dwellers’ and Jenny’s constant support.
Joe’s news was all good. Gabriel was dead by his own hand, apparently preferring that to jail and the breakup of his organization. Moreno, a key player, had been arrested and indicted for murder. That bit shocked Catherine and saddened Joe who had always respected and looked up to his boss. Most of Gabriel’s group had been arrested and Joe assured them there was absolutely no evidence that Gabriel had shared his knowledge of Vincent and the tunnels with any of his subordinates.
It took them only hours to move home. Vincent was carried carefully to his chamber, Peter returned to his practice, the helpers were informed that things were more or less back to normal and that Catherine was indeed alive and well.
“Father,” Catherine asked two days later, “now that everyone is home and settled, how could I assure some completely private time for Vincent?”
Father looked at her shrewdly but said only, “Put an unlit lantern in the passageway about twenty feet from the chamber entrance and lower the tapestry,” he told her. Then he turned to Vincent. “He can do without this for a while,” Father added as he disconnected the intravenous and removed the tape and needle from Vincent’s hand. He looked back to Catherine and her bright blush confirmed his suspicions. “Good luck, my dear,” he whispered as he enveloped her in a bear hug. When he released her they were both teary.
“Thank you,” she replied gravely.
Father picked up the unlit lantern and pulled the tapestry across the chamber entrance as he left. Catherine looked at Vincent but debated her plan no longer. Drastic needs demanded drastic measures and she could think of nothing else that might work.
Vincent was wearing only a tunnel nightshirt. Still he was a big man and it required some maneuvering to wrest his arms out of it after she had unfastened the ties. She didn’t even bother to try to slide it out from under him. She covered him then with the patchwork quilt to ward off the chill as she undressed herself, but not before she had taken a long lingering look at him, all of him. God, he was so beautiful, so virile, so… Slowly and deliberately she slid under the covers to lay beside him.
She began by running her hands lightly over his face and torso and down his arms, increasing the pressure gradually, increasing the intimacy of her touches, pressing the length of her body against his. To her dismay there was no change. Vincent didn’t move, didn’t respond in any way, not even with an involuntary shift in breathing pattern.
Damn it! She had been sure that bare skin to bare skin would shock him sufficiently to arouse him. It certainly had aroused her and she wasn’t the one who needed more arousing, never had been truth be told. She would have laughed with the irony of it if she hadn’t been so desperate. Now what? She lifted herself to lie half on him and looked down at his immobile form.
“Ok Vincent. Enough!” she muttered, almost angry. “Enough denying yourself. Enough feeling sorry for yourself. You are going to wake up this instant and make mad passionate love to me. Do you hear?”
Thwack. The baby’s kick diverted Catherine and inspired her too. She lifted Vincent’s hand and placed it on her abdomen and waited hopefully for more kicks. As if knowing help was desperately needed the baby kicked several more times, sharp demanding kicks. Concentrating on the feeling of the baby’s movements and fascinated by the delightful sight of Vincent’s hand on her bare skin, she didn’t see Vincent open his eyes, didn’t see him look down at her incredulously, didn’t see him raise his other hand to tentatively reach out to her.
Oh God, he didn’t deserve this, not even in his dreams. He closed his eyes again to savor the image and feelings it evoked, to hold them for as long as possible, not wanting to see her fade away into wisps of vapor as in all the other dreams. The baby kicked. Hard. Vincent’s eyes flew open and he stared down at their two bodies mesmerized by the sight, frightened by the intense feelings that enveloped him.
“Catherine?” he whispered unbelievingly. “Is it really you?”
Her head snapped up then and she found herself drowning in those startlingly clear blue eyes. She didn’t move for the merest instant, nor did she waste time with totally inadequate words but she did attack his mouth voraciously in a wild and passionate kiss that seemed to go on forever.
“Catherine?” Vincent said breathily when they finally broke apart and her name came out as one big question mark.
“I’ll explain everything. I promise. After,” she answered quickly and kissed him again.
It was a long and mutually satisfying, very satisfying time, before her promise was kept.